Going Over Old Ground - Vetch Field
Continuing a new regular feature focusing on stadiums West Ham United have visited that no longer exist. Today, Swansea City's Vetch Field...
Following the publication of the Taylor Report in 1990, following the Hillsborough Stadium disaster the previous year, all clubs in the top-two divisions of English football were required to play in all-seater stadia by the start of the 1994/95 season.
The new regulation resulted in a succession of clubs moving from their historic old grounds, many of which had at least one terraced stand in place, to new purpose-built stadia which fulfilled the required all-seater criteria.
With many of those old stadia situated in tight, residential areas in or near to the centre of their respective towns and cities, a number of clubs left their traditional homes for new locations which offered space for larger developments and future expansion.
Chester City and Millwall were the first clubs to move – from Sealand Road and The Den to the Deva Stadium and The New Den respectively – in 1992 and 1993 respectively, followed in 1994 by Huddersfield Town and Northampton Town.
In 2005, it was the turn of Swansea City, who vacated their beloved Vetch Field home immediately west of the city centre for the purpose-built Liberty Stadium, two miles to the north.
Historically a patch of waste ground used to grow an edible vegetable called a vetch, the land was given to the newly-formed Swansea Town AFC by the Swansea Gaslight Company.
The new club hosted Cardiff City in the inaugural fixture at ‘The Vetch’ on 7 September 1912, drawing 1-1 with their South Wales rivals, before going on to win the Welsh Cup at the end of their first season in existence.
Vetch Field was developed in stages over the following decades, with a double-decker West Stand the most notable improvement in 1927, as interest in the club continued to grow.
However, the position of the pitch, diagonal to surrounding streets, meant the stands did not reach the corners, with neighbouring back gardens coming to within a few metres of the playing surface, giving the ground a strangely lop-sided appearance.
Vetch Field’s record attendance – which remains Swansea’s highest-ever home crowd – was set in 1968, when Arsenal were the visitors for an FA Cup tie.
The 1970s and 1980s saw Swansea’s fortunes fall, rise and fall again.
In 1974, with money running short, Vetch Field was sold to the local council. However, by 1981, the Swans had sailed up the divisions under the management of John Toshack, winning three straight promotions to reach the top flight for the first time in their history in 1981.
That same year, a new £800,000 East Stand was opened on the same day West Ham visited for a top-of-the-table Second Division fixture, while Vetch Field also played host to Ray Stewart’s Scotland debut in a 2-0 British Home Championship defeat by Wales.
Despite that investment, the ground as a whole gradually deteriorated and the capacity reduced, while the team dropped from the First Division all the way back down to the fourth tier.
There were still some glory days left in ‘The Vetch’, though, including a memorable 1-0 FA Cup third-round win over the Premier League Hammers in January 1999, when Swansea were in the bottom tier.
The 2004/05 season proved to be Swansea’s last at their beloved old home and, fittingly, the club marked it by winning promotion from League Two under manager Kenny Jackett.
A towering performance
The 1980/81 season was a momentous one in the histories of both West Ham United and Swansea City, for both clubs ended it by winning promotion to the First Division.
The record-breaking Hammers were crowned runaway champions to end a three-year stay in the second tier, while the Swans finished third, edging out Blackburn Rovers on goal difference to win a third promotion in four seasons under manager John Toshack.
While Swansea’s ascent continued as 1980 became 1981, John Lyall’s FA Cup holders were also flying high, top of the table and still competing in four competitions – the Second Division, League Cup, FA Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup.
When the Hammers arrived at Vetch Field on 10 January, both teams were determined to enjoy a happy New Year.
Swansea marked the occasion by opening their new £800,000 East Stand – a bizarrely-shaped construction behind one goal which did not span the width of the pitch and whose roof-mounted floodlight tower jutted out at a strange angle, due to objections from local residents.
The celebratory mood was dimmed by half-time, as goals from Trevor Brooking and Geoff Pike put the leaders two goals clear.
Swansea pulled one back eight minutes after the break through Alan Curtis, but a defensive error allowed David Cross to add the Hammers’ third moments later and the game was all but over and the vast majority of the 22,160 in attendance, including the 2,500 in the new stand, went home with rare glum faces.
Stewart's favourite spot
Vetch Field is a stadium that holds special memories for West Ham United legend Ray Stewart.
The right-back was not only part of the aforementioned 3-1 win during the 1980/81 promotion-winning season, but he was also in the starting XI when the Hammers thrashed Swansea City 5-1 at their old home in April 1983.
The Perth-born favourite netted 76 of his 84 goals in Claret and Blue from the penalty spot, including two in a 3-2 League Cup second round second-leg win at Vetch Field early in the famous 1985/86 season.
What’s more, the Irons’ penalty king also made his senior debut for Scotland at the Vetch, earning the first of his ten caps when he started for Jock Stein’s men in a 2-0 British Home Championship defeat by Wales in May 1981 – a game which saw the Scots wear their surnames on the back of their shirts, 12 years before the practice was introduced in English football for the first time in the 1993 League Cup final.
Swansea City scored a shock FA Cup third-round win over West Ham United in January 1999
Biggest Win: Swansea City 1-5 West Ham United, First Division, 5 April 1983
Heaviest Defeat: Swansea Town 4-1 West Ham United, Second Division, 4 April 1953