International Women's Day: Jackie Rockey
On International Women's Day we round off our profiles of five women involved in five different aspects of life at Swansea City. Last, but certainly not least, we have long-serving football secretary Jackie Rockey, who has been right at the heart of an incredible two decades in the club's history.
It’s fair to say that Jackie Rockey has just about seen it all during her 19 years at Swansea City.
The popular and much-loved club secretary can recall a time when staff’s cheques bounced on payday, but has also seen the Swans enjoy one of the most successful periods in their 107-year history.
Should she ever choose to write a book about her experiences over nearly two decades at the club it would surely make for an engrossing read.
From securing a late signing by filling out the paperwork on the boot of her car with seconds to spare, witnessing a manager delivering a team talk to a room full of sponsors, to chatting all things football with one of the greats of the European game. She has been there through it all.
Jackie was born and raised in Barry and she can clearly recall the moment the football bug bit for the first time.
From that instant, at the age of 12, she knew exactly where she wanted her future career to lie.
“I’m from Barry, I went to school at Barry Island junior school and my love for football started at a really early age,” she says.
“It was the opening ceremony of the 1966 World Cup, and my mother said that we had to put it on the television as she wanted to see the Queen.
“So we put it on, the first game was England against Uruguay and, after the ceremony had finished, I just kept watching it and I was hooked.
“I just loved the game and it just evolved from there. I started going to matches and got involved in the game.
“Mike Lewis, who was here at the time and is a very good friend of mine, asked if I wanted to come and work at Swansea City.
“It was a job I had always wanted to do, but there’s no denying that during that first few years it was very hard.”
To say it was very hard underplays the gravity of the situation during the early stages of Jackie’s tenure. Given the circumstances, she could have been forgiven for wondering what she had let herself in for.
They were dark days for Swansea City with the club’s very existence in doubt. On one particular payday staff had the choice of being paid in cash or by cheque.
Those who chose the latter saw them bounce.
But, despite the difficulties, those final years at the old Vetch Field are among the fondest memories Jackie holds.
“I became club secretary in the summer of 2000 and it’s fair to say it’s had its highs and lows over these 19 years,” she says.
“Things were good initially as John Hollins was the manager and we were promoted, but from there we had the CVA, people left, others were not paid. Tony Petty came in and that was just an awful time.
“It was the only time in my life where I have physically seen my wages. We used to run up the bank with our money and it was just unbelievable.
“I can remember Colin Addison the manager gathering all the staff together and delivering a rallying cry to us to keep going and stick together.
“But all my best memories and funny stories are from the days at The Vetch. I know football evolves over time and it is different now, but I can remember after every game we would all gather in the Harry Griffiths bar.
“Everyone would be in there. Chairmen, board members, turnstile operators, backroom staff and those were lovely times.
“There are so many stories. I think everyone remembers when Eddie Donne (Cyril the Swan) ripped the Millwall mascot’s head off and drop-kicked it into the North Bank.
“There was another occasion when – because I was often the last person at the ground after a game – I locked Mike Lewis in and went out for the evening and I didn’t see his calls.
“Mike was a big guy, a bit accident prone, but somehow he managed to climb over the big gates to get out. It was a really fun time.”
Among the innumerable duties Rockey has overseen has been the task of completing and filing the necessary paperwork for the completion of transfers in and out of the club.
She still recalls Ashley Williams pulling into the Liberty Stadium car park with minutes to spare before a 5pm transfer deadline. There was no time for him to go inside, the future Wales captain had to sign there and then.
“The changes over time have been incredible, but particularly in that step up to the Premier League it was phenomenal,” she recalls.
“The staff we had to take on and the way the club grew, but we had a fantastic seven years there and everything was so professional being in that top-flight and I was gutted when we went back down.
“Again there have been so many memories. When Roberto (Martinez) was manager we literally signed Ashley Williams on the bonnet of my car.
“Roberto was so laid back about it, I had the papers ready but at quarter to five there was no sign of Ashley.
“Roberto is saying it’s no problem and he’s on his way, but at five minutes to five there is still no sign and I’m panicking.
“We did things by fax then, and everything had to be at the Football League on time.
“So, at three minutes to five Ashley drives in, I see him and I come running out of my office and out of the stadium with the papers and I just said to him: “Sign this.”
"He wanted to ring his agent and it was a case of, 'Nevermind your agent, just sign this now!'
“Roberto said I was like Linford Christie going back to my office to fax the paperwork, that was the closest shave I ever had.”
But, while she has seen so many players come and go, there is one signing that will always have a special place in Jackie's heart.
“My first signing was Andrew Mumford, and Andy Robinson and Lee Trundle were ones I remember well but, if I had to pick one, it would be Ferrie Bodde,” she says with a smile.
“He pretty much became my adopted son. Even when he rings me now the first words he says are ‘Hello Mum’!”
Jackie adds that Martinez and Michael Laudrup would rank as her favourite Swans managers, with the latter often stopping by her office prior to his weekly press conference to sit and talk football.
She also fondly recalls John Hollins meeting sponsors in the East Stand before games, turned out in his tracksuit and talking them through his selection and tactics for the day’s fixture.
Occasionally he would get so engrossed in it that he would be late going to the dressing room to speak to the players.
But it’s another former Swans boss who holds a particularly special place in Jackie’s affections.
“Frank Burrows was a tremendous inspiration to me and he gave me some of the best advice, if not the best advice, I’ve had in my career,” she says.
“He told me ‘Don’t take a Mills and Boon book to bed, take the Football League handbook and learn the rules.
“’I know it’s not the most exciting book but your manager won’t know all the rules, your chairman will not know all the rules. But you do’.
“Those are the wisest words anyone ever said to me, he was a great inspiration to me and he still is.”
Jackie’s time as club secretary is set to come to an end when she retires at the conclusion of the current season and it goes without saying that she will be greatly missed by many – both on a professional and personal level – following her years of sterling service to Swansea City.
As she reflects on the past two decades, there is almost inevitably one day that stands out above all others.
“The highlight will always be the play-off final,” she says, breaking into a wide smile.
“Being in Europe was wonderful and I went to countries I never thought I would go to.
“But that day at Wembley I will never forget. Being on the pitch, with Brendan (Rodgers) hugging me. My son James was in the stands and Ashley Williams allowed me to lift the trophy in front of him.
“Coming back on the coach was wonderful, I can’t remember the celebrations, it was just a blur.
“I had sorted the travel for everyone to go up to Wembley, not just the team but the wives and girlfriends, the VIPs, the staff. Everyone.
“So we got back to Llandarcy and it was a blur, what a wonderful day.
“I’ve just had the best time. I know my last day here I will be in bits.
“There are things I want to do, I’ll get my life back and time at Christmas too.
“This was the job I wanted to do, I think I have done it to the best of my ability.
“I have no regrets at all, none whatsoever. I just feel privileged to have been given the chance.
“Hopefully, I have done it okay.”
Everyone who knows Jackie will tell you, to say she has done okay would be a vast understatement.