Centenary feature: 1923-1931
1st May 2013
The team started the season in a carbon copy of the previous year. The side were winning games, the crowds were turning up and by November the side were on top of the division. After last season's near miss the supporters were hoping that this would be the year when promotion would be achieved. With the team at the top of the league it was back to FA Cup duty early in the New Year. Once again the side would need three games to overcome opponents Clapton Orient, with the third game ending in a 2-1 win at White Hart Lane. The prize was a home tie against Aston Villa in the next round, where a large crowd was guaranteed. Even though the team played well and had been on top for large parts of the match, the class of the visitors in front of goal told, where two Capewell goals ensured the First Division outfit progressed. After returning to league action, the Swans completed the signing of Plymouth Argyle striker Jack Fowler but unfortunately the team again missed out on promotion in the final few games.
The previous two seasons had shown the side to be among the leading clubs in the division, but although there were many good players in the team it was felt by the management that the side required a leader on the pitch. With this in mind the close season saw the purchase of centre half Joe Sykes from Sheffield Wednesday. Joe was a leader and a ball playing defender who would go on and serve the club both on and off the pitch with distinction for nearly 50 years. The opening dozen fixtures saw a steady if unspectacular start to the season. Jack Fowler, with his goal scoring exploits, was becoming the darling of the fans while the only problem was a lack of points being picked up away from home. Despite this, the Swans were top of the league at the turn of the year and this form continued throughout as they battled with Plymouth for promotion. In the final week of the season, the Devon side held a one-point lead over the Swans after finishing their league programme and Bradshaw's side had to beat Exeter on the final day to be crowned champions. A record crowd of 24,000 people packed into the Vetch to see a 2-1 win and witness history in the making, courtesy of goals from Len Thompson and Jack Fowler.
The first ever game played by the Swans in the Second Division was against South Shields in August 1925. Although the side would lose 2-1 they played well enough to give confidence to all supporters for the coming season. By late November the club were sitting above mid-table when they met Exeter City in the first round of the FA Cup. The Swans performed well and earned a 3-1 win and this was followed up with a win over Watford and a shock victory over Second Division Blackpool at Bloomfield Road. This meant the Swans progressed to the fourth round for the first time in the club's history. The excitement in the town was evident and they were rewarded with a home tie against Stoke in the next round. The Potters, another side from the Second Division, endured a torrid afternoon in South Wales as the Swans secured a 6-3 win, with Jack Fowler helping himself to four goals. Cup fever was everywhere in the town and the draw took the club to London to face Millwall, with an estimated 4,000 plus Jacks at the game. It took a late goal from Fowler to edge the team into the quarter-finals and a home game against the mighty Arsenal. The Swans once again stood up to the task and recorded a famous 2-1 win at the Vetch Field to send the club into a semi-final against Bolton at White Hart Lane. The Lancashire side had won the cup three years earlier at the new Wembley Stadium and three early goals were enough for them to sweep past the Swans despite a gallant effort from Bradshaw's men. The city of Swansea had a football club to be proud of and the future was bright.
The previous two seasons had seen the club establish itself in the Football League, and after another successful tour of Sweden and Denmark everyone was looking forward to another campaign. Then out of the blue a bombshell was dropped on the club, with manager Joe Bradshaw resigning his position to join Fulham, stating personal difficulties as a reason for his decision. It was here that the board took the unusual decision to carry on the season without anybody in the manager's chair. This decision seemed justified in the early part of the season with the side playing well and scoring plenty of goals. In fact, in Thompson and Fowler the Swans had two players whose goal scoring exploits placed them at the top of the leading scorers for the division. By mid-November the team was heading the division while the talk once more around the town was of promotion. But when everything on the pitch seemed to be progressing, a 7-1 defeat away to Middlesbrough seemed to knock the team's confidence and they slid down the league to eventually finish 12th. After the run to the semi-final the previous season it was hoped the team could go one better and progress to the final of this season's FA Cup. Things started off well with a fine victory over First Division Bury, followed by victory over Barnsley at Oakwell in the next round. And when the team finally beat South Shields after a replay, cup fever was once more in the air. But even though the draw was kind to the Swans giving them a home tie with Reading, they failed to take advantage on the day and suffered a 3-1 defeat. The outcome of a very disappointing end to a season full of promise was the realisation by the board that a manager was urgently required. So in April 1927 it was announced that James Thompson was to take over the reigns.
John Thompson was certainly quiet in the transfer market over the summer. Whether he wanted to take a good look at his squad of players that he had inherited, or that there was no money available to him, we will never know. But it was a case of as you were in terms of the playing squad for the new season, one that opened with a 2-2 draw away to Blackpool. The campaign was not short of goals both for and against during the opening months, with the team loosing heavily away to Manchester City (7-4) but beating them at the Vetch a fortnight later (5-3). And when the new Double Decker stand was opened against Wolverhampton Wanderers, over 16,000 turned up to see the Swans win 6-0. Once more they were a match for anyone at the Vetch, but struggled away from home to find a winning formula. The team stayed around mid-table in the New Year, but surprisingly lost in the first round of the FA Cup at Wrexham. And when the side lost a Welsh Cup tie away to Cardiff City it meant that the Swans played out the rest of the season with no chance of silverware, eventually finishing 12th. Off the pitch the club caused outrage amongst the fans when, seemingly out of the blue, Len Thompson was sold to Arsenal for a fee of £4,000.
The gloom that lay over the Vetch showed no signs of abating, and an opening-day hammering at Chelsea (4-0) did nothing to help the cause of all supporters who forecast a long, hard season ahead. The Swans were firmly at the wrong end of the table by late November, but Jack Fowler showed a glimmer of hope when he scored his 100th league goal for the club in a 4-0 victory over Tottenham at the Vetch. Once again a leading player was transferred from the club, this time Wilf Lewis for a record fee of £6,500 to Huddersfield Town. With a depression throughout the country raging and gates at a low, the board would point to this as a necessity to keep the club solvent. But the quality of the players brought in to replace the ones leaving the Vetch was inferior and the results only proved this. The FA Cup saw the side win at Nottingham Forest before losing in the next round away to Leicester City. While in the Welsh Cup, the Swans crashed out following a 5-1 defeat to Newport County. The club would eventually save itself from relegation by finishing 19th, but it was a trend that would continue into the next decade.
The feeling of depression around the Vetch was evident during the opening months of the new season. After the first two months the Swans had only two victories to their name and were lingering towards the bottom of the league. When Christmas came they found themselves rock bottom, with a meagre 10 points. On Christmas Day, young Ronnie Williams was given his debut against Notts County and he repaid the faith shown in him by scoring a hat-trick in a 3-2 victory. This was a boost for everyone connected with the club and led to a small upturn in results. But true to form, the board transferred both Lachlan McPherson and Ben Williams to Everton for substantial fees, while not investing in adequate replacements. Ronnie Williams continued to score important goals for the remainder of the season and with a late run of victories, the Swans finished 15th and just three points clear of relegation.
This was yet another season of struggle for the Swans, with poor crowds and little or no money to spend on players being a recurring theme. The fans that did turn up to watch quickly found another goalscoring hero in the form of Ronnie Williams. The youngster, who broke into the side during the previous season, continued where he left off by scoring goals a plenty. He was the obvious replacement for Jack Fowler, who left in the close season for Clapton Orient. Early results were mixed with the Swans sitting in mid-table at the turn of the year. However, an alarming run of results from March onwards saw the side fail to win in ten consecutive games and leave them sitting in the bottom two. It all came down to the final game of the season at home to Barnsley, and a win thanks to a solitary goal from George Thomas was just enough to help the club retain its Second Division status. There was no glory in the FA Cup, however, with the Swans losing in the first round to Notts County.