Nothing can beat a game under the lights
21st February 2015
The bright lights of the Hawthorns illuminating the dark Birmingham skyline generated an extra tingle of excitement as we approached along the M5 the other Wednesday night.
It's not that I have any particular affection for West Brom's home ground, but it just added to the sense of anticipation seeing the glow of a stadium in the distance, almost providing us fans with an extra guiding light on our way to the midweek league game.
Since the Swans moved up to the Premier League, midweek league matches have been few and far between in comparison with the Championship and the lower reaches of the Football League.
I know this will be unfamiliar to United fans, but us Swans supporters have been used to regularly turning out for the bread and butter games on a Tuesday and Wednesday night for many, many years.
I know there were several midweek European games last season - albeit on Thursdays - but somehow the atmosphere and excitement didn't seem the same - especially at the Liberty. I think we'd forgotten how to do European games - another feeling unfamiliar to our visitors today. Then again . . .
But back to the other Wednesday, another factor which added to the feeling of midweek nostalgia was the sight of floodlight pylons high above the stadium - albeit rising from the roof like the old East Stand at the Vetch rather than the old fashioned electricity pylon-like towers almost all grounds used to have in the four corners.
The new fashion of having the lights running along the length of the roof of the stands may have all kinds of practical advantages, but it's not the same as seeing four large clusters of lights rising high from the corners as you approach a ground. That will always be the iconic image of night time football for me.
So that's why it felt like a real old fashioned football night out as we approached the ground.
Although my nostalgic feelings for midweek away league games were diminished considerably first by the 2-0 defeat and then by the queue to get out of the Allied Bakeries car park and on to the log-jammed Birmingham Road which runs alongside the ground.
And they were dented even further when our relief at eventually getting back onto the M5 dissipated as we spotted the seemingly endless row of red brake lights curving away into the distance and over the horizon ahead of us.
Two lanes shut and a 150-odd miles still to go before bed . . . really?!
I'm sure we'll look back fondly on the homeward trip when we reminisce in years to come! But the 45-minute crawl to get past the roadworks wasn't the speedy getaway we'd imagined when we planned the "up and back in an evening" trip.
Of course Birmingham is the shortest jaunt for the Swans in the Premier League, so it could have been much worse.
As I said to my friend as the moving lanes converged into a single static one . . . "it could be worse, we could have just left St James' Park in Newcastle!"
Only the Magpies at 8,198 miles and their near neighbours Sunderland (8,053 miles) travel further during the course of a season than the Swans, who clock up 7,905 miles - over 1,100 miles more than the next highest travellers Southampton, during the course of a season.
But at least the North East rivals get one genuinely short jaunt each during a season when they play each other.
And today's visitors don't even have to travel outside of their city for a derby match. Mind you that statement may not be applicable to many of their fans, who have to travel well out of their home cities to get to Manchester! Sorry you lot in the away end, I just couldn't resist!
Our "local" derbies involve that trek up the M5 to West Brom and Villa, now that our friends from just up the M4 are back in the Championship.
Ironically, Villa travel the least number of miles during the course of a season - a paltry 4,237.
Anyway, the traffic delays on the way back from West Brom, weren't so bad as they gave us the chance to do what football fans do best - talk about the game.
There's nothing us supporters enjoy more than dissecting the minutiae of a game on the drive home, especially one that extends into the early hours.
And it does look like there will be more night league games from 2016, if not exactly midweek matches, with the advent of Friday night Premier League football.
While this may be unfamiliar in some quarters and may draw dissent, Swans fans are more than used to watching games on Friday nights.
Back in the day, the Swans would bring forward matches that clashed with Wales rugby matches to the Friday night before the international. The reality in those days, particularly when we were in the lower leagues, was that the Swans attendance would suffer in competition with the rugby.
These Friday night games produced some of the most memorable atmospheres I experienced at the Vetch and here in the early days of the Liberty. They were the perfect way to unwind after a long week and literally kick off the weekend ahead.
It's ironic now that the Swans have no worries about losing fans to the rugby that they may be returning to Friday night football, but this time in the Premier League.
Mind you, we might be in direct competition with the rugby again now that they have started playing matches in Cardiff on a Friday night.
However, judging by some of the reports of drunken behaviour at the Wales v England game that kicked off this year's Six Nations, the WRU may prefer to avoid Fridays in future.
Football has had its own serious problems with bad behaviour in the past, but one of the genuinely pleasing improvements in the game in recent years has been the reduction in violence in the stands and around grounds.
Walking back to the car the other night, my friend and I - both wearing Swans scarves - found ourselves walking against a tide of hundreds of West Brom fans flooding out of the ground.
Now they may not have been as friendly had they just lost, but the only vaguely irritating behaviour we encountered amongst the throng of Throstles were one group of youngsters who started singing: "Your big day out and you lost 2-0".
The only thing about their little ditty that made it irritating was that they thought our trip to West Bromwich was "our big day out"!
We have much bigger - and as I pointed out earlier, much longer - days out than a trip to Birmingham. But I have to admit I did thoroughly enjoy going in search of three points on a Wednesday night again - even if we travelled home empty handed.
C'mon you Swans!