Jack the Lad: Putting in the hard yards
This week, long-time Swans fan and website columnist Jack the Lad discusses what it's like to hit the road for the Jacks.
With the Swans facing two away trips this week, I thought it would be a fitting time to pay tribute to the travelling Jack Army and away fans in general.
Week-in, week-out, thousands of fans travel up and down the country’s motorways and railways – and sometimes even airways – following their favourite football teams.
It’s not cheap, and it takes up hours and hours of their time, but still they turn out of bed at unearthly hours, endure traffic jams, train delays, rescheduled kick-off times and dates, along with the worst of the British winter weather, to make sure that when their team’s players step out on the pitch at an unfamiliar ground, there are some friendly faces in the stands cheering them on.
This week isn’t the most testing of away-day doubles for Swans fans with Chelsea and Stoke being far from the most difficult trips distance-wise – although both pose their own particular problems.
Getting up to, across and back from London on a Wednesday evening isn’t the easiest of tasks, and I remember enduring a particularly tortuous trek back from Stoke on a Sunday evening after a 2-0 defeat.
Everything was going well until we hit delays and eventually a full closure on the M5. We were diverted off the motorway and one careless wrong turn transformed the next part of the journey home into a magical mystery tour of Welsh border towns, until we eventually got back on track late into the night.
Chelsea fans have recent experience regarding the perils of away travel, even when it appears that everything has been planned with military precision.
After last weekend’s match at Liverpool, coaches had been laid on to bus Blues fans to a railway station where a chartered train was waiting to speed them back to London.
Or at least it was supposed to be waiting for them. Due to heavy traffic outside Anfield, by the time some of the Chelsea fans reached the station their train had already departed, leaving them stranded until midnight when a replacement bus back to the capital arrived.
Every regular travelling football fan will have a similar story to tell about their adventures getting to or from an away ground, such as the Watford fans who eventually arrived at St James’ Park last Saturday courtesy of a fleet of taxis laid on by the club after their bus broke down en route to Newcastle.
The home fans would have had sympathy for their visitors. No-one in the Premier League has to travel further for domestic matches than followers of the Tyneside club.
Unsurprisingly, given their geographic location and local rivals Sunderland and Middlesbrough’s absence from the Premier League, the Toon Army clock up more miles watching league matches than any other top-flight club.
Their ‘local derbies’ this season are the likes of Burnley and Huddersfield – both 100-plus-mile one-way journeys.
The Swans have the next highest mileage in the division. Our not-so-local derby is the 134-mile trip to West Brom, who by contrast are the lowest travellers in the Premier League.
Life was even more challenging in the lower leagues, where the number of midweek games meant Swans fans were regularly travelling away twice in the space of three or four days.
Away travel is complicated further these days by matches being rescheduled at relatively short notice for television purposes, making it difficult for fans to plan cheaper transport and accommodation with any certainty in advance.
‘Weekend’ kick-off times can range from anywhere between 7.45pm on a Friday to 8pm on a Monday, which was the Swans’ first kick-off time in the Premier League.
With the match not finishing until 10pm and us not getting out of the car park near the Etihad Stadium until close to midnight, it was the very early hours of the morning before we got back to South Wales.
That is the lot of fans who travel to see their team playing away from home.
But what would football would be like if it wasn’t for a boisterous, colourful and partisan away end to add to the matchday atmosphere?
To all the Swans fans heading to London and Staffordshire this week, be safe, be classy, be noisy and have a brilliant time.
C'mon you Swans!