Centenary feature: 1912-1923
1st May 2013
With the new football season only 12 weeks away, it was all systems go. Former Exeter goalkeeper Walter Whittaker was named as the club's new manager. By September 7, everyone connected with the club was ready for the first-ever competitive game against Cardiff City. The match ended 1-1, with striker Billy Ball having the honour of scoring the first ever goal for Swansea Town.
This first ever season saw the Swans finish a creditable third in the league, but the real highlight of an incredible campaign was the 1-0 win against Pontypridd to lift the Welsh Cup.
After the success of the inaugural season, anticipation was high in the town with fans eager for the start of the new campaign and it was the first year that the Swans would compete in the FA Cup.
The side performed well during the opening months of the season and was in a good league position ahead of the qualifying rounds.
There was progress in the FA Cup as the Swans reached the second round, but their run was halted with a 2-1 defeat against QPR at the Vetch Field. Unfortunately, the cup run meant a backlog of fixtures and the club were forced to play a league match and a Welsh Cup tie on the same day in March 1914!
The end of the season saw the Swans finish fourth in the league, while the directors shocked the fans by sacking Whittaker - his failure to win promotion being muted as a possible reason for his dismissal.
John William Bartlett was the man chosen by the board to succeed Whittaker as manager prior to the new season.
Bartlett had been manager of Leicester Fosse and was highly thought of in the game. Meanwhile, behind the scenes at boardroom level there was many more comings and goings, with several newcomers joining the board. But whatever was happening at football clubs throughout the country, no one could escape the fact that within weeks the whole continent of Europe would be plunged into the horrors of the First World War.
With no conscription in place the football authorities gave it's blessing for professional football to continue following the outbreak.
The club's league form was consistent once more as they finished fourth once more.
For the second time in two seasons the Swans found themselves in the final of the Welsh Cup and after a goalless draw against Wrexham in the first game, Bartlett's side lost the replay at the Ninian Park.
However, it would be the FA Cup that provided the drama for the team and supporters alike.
After Newport, Port Vale and Leicester Fosse had been disposed of in the qualifying rounds, the Swans were drawn against reigning Football League champions Blackburn Rovers in the first round proper.
Over 16,000 fans packed into the Vetch Field to witness one of the greatest shocks in the tournament's history as the Swans recorded a memorable 1-0 win, with the only goal of the game being scored by amateur Benjamin Beynon.
The reward was a trip to Newcastle United and despite a heroic 0-0 draw in the north-east, the Swans' FA Cup adventure ended with a 2-0 defeat at the Vetch in a replay.
There was to be no more competitive football while the war in Europe raged and as a result players were no longer under contract to the club.
Many of these young men joined the slaughter in northern France, while at the wars end in November 1918 three Swans, Cleverly, Mitchell and Bullock would be killed in action while others never returned to competitive sport again.
But the reality for the directors of the club was that the lease on the ground and the upkeep for the stadium still had to be paid. And with this in mind there was a series of games arranged between select sides, charity matches and games between the Army, Navy and Royal Flying Corps that brought in much-needed revenue to help keep the club afloat through the next two years. Then, when the Armistice was announced in November 1918, it was a case of starting all over again for the fledging club.
The end of the First World War once more found the club in need of a new manager and players. Due to many Southern League clubs going under as a result of the conflict, there was a considerable reorganization amongst the powers to be, resulting in the expansion of the First Division to 22 clubs. The Swans were proactive throughout this period both on and off the pitch, and the result was that on April 3, 1919 the club had been voted in to the newly-formed Southern League First Division for the coming season. Much of the credit must go to chairman B. Watt Jones who worked tirelessly behind the scenes, while on the pitch the new players showed a lot of promise by winning 16 out of 20 games played. Meanwhile, homegrown youngster Billy Hole was making people sit up and take notice with his play on the right wing and a bright future was predicted for him.
The management were aware of the meetings between the representatives of the Southern League and their counterparts at the Football League, but even they must have been surprised with the outcome of these discussions where an agreement to form a Third Division of the Football League was passed at the annual AGM in 1920.
This meant that after just four competitive seasons, Swansea Town would find itself playing in the English Football League, something that could only be dreamt of eight years previous. Joining the team in the new league would be fellow Welsh sides Newport County and Merthyr.
There were some prominent signings like Edmonson during pre-season, but the most important signing would be Wilf Milne, a diminutive full-back who would go on to play a record 585 league games for the club - a record that still stands some 92 years later.
The first ever Football League match for the club was at Portsmouth where they suffered a 3-0 defeat. However, on the following Tuesday the Vetch would hold its first Football League game and the Swans marked the event in style with a 2-1 in over Watford.
Despite results in the first half of the season being poor, the squad pulled together in the latter half of the campaign to eventually finish fifth.
Despite the club's healthy finish towards the end of the previous season and the expectant start to the new one, the thing all clubs could do nothing about was the depression throughout the country. With jobs at a premium, the first sacrifice that people had to make financially was spending money on entertainment, and that included football.
The season opened up with a hard-fought point away at Watford, and for the first home game of the new campaign, over 18,000 filled the Vetch as the Swans lost 2-1 against Aberdare Athletic.
Despite the good crowd, attendances declined as the season went on and only 3,000 turned up for the visit of Bristol Rovers in April 1922. Ironically, that game gave the Swans their biggest win to date with an 8-1 scoreline at the Vetch.
However, it was the FA Cup that helped the club ride out this financial storm, with Swansea Town reaching the third round for the first time, only to be beaten 4-0 by a rampant Millwall side. The highlight of the cup run was a three game tie against West Ham United where after two drawn games, the Swans won by a single goal at Ashton Gate.
The close season saw manager Bradshaw bring in a total of 12 new signings, a result of a disappointing campaign. Among the signings would be Harry Deacon and Len Thompson, players who would give the club solid service in seasons to come. The team started off well with the new signings bedding in and unlike last season, were scoring goals a plenty. In fact, by the time Christmas came the side were handily placed near the top of the league and had in-form centre forward John Smith as top scorer with 16 goals. On and on the team marched, confidently scoring goals and winning games and by the time March came around the Swans sat second in the table. They then hit a bad patch and missed out on promotion after finishing third. At the end of the season the club became the first Welsh side to play abroad when they played games in Denmark.