A recipe for Swans success
8th October 2016
A lifelong Swans fan, head chef Chris Watkins plays his part behind the scenes at the club. Here he talks favourite players - and the players' favourite foods.
Every time Swansea City play away from home, a skylight on the team bus is pushed open at half-time.
Otherwise, lifelong fan Chris Watkins would not know the score.
"At home I have a season ticket," the Swans' head chef explains.
"I travel with the team to every away game and I am able to watch the first half in the stadium.
"But at half-time I go out to the bus and start preparing the players' food for the journey home.
"We have a full working kitchen on the bus - a fridge, oven, microwave, ice machine and a sink.
"What I do is open the skylight above the kitchen. If I hear a big roar, I know it's bad news. But if there is a smaller roar, I know it's our fans and that we've scored."
Watkins has just started his fourth season in what is a dream job for a man whose first Swans game came back in 1978.
"We beat Halifax Town 2-0 to win promotion," the 46-year-old recalls. "I have been supporting the club ever since."
Watkins reckons he missed around 15 games between that first trip to the Vetch and September 14, 1996 - the day he married wife Natalie.
Since then, he has attended every single Swans home game, with 14-year-old son Tom alongside him these days.
Even in his time as a trainee chef in London, Watkins would travel back to Wales at weekends to watch his team.
He eventually returned home permanently, becoming head chef at the DVLA, then spent 18 years at what is now the Mercure Hotel in Llansamlet - where guests included new Swans signings such as Michu and Chico Flores.
As a result, Watkins got to know Swans player liaison officer Huw Lake.
"He told me there was a part-time chef's job going at the club, but I said there was no way I could do that alongside my job at the hotel," Watkins explains.
"He told me to write to the chairman, so I sent a letter saying that if the club wanted any help or advice getting their project off the ground, I would do it for nothing because I was a lifelong fan.
"That was the Wednesday. On the Friday I was in the chairman's office and on Monday morning, Huw Lake phoned to tell me I had a full-time job.
"I remember my first day at Landore when the players reported for duty. Meeting the likes of Ashley Williams, Angel Rangel and Leon Britton was incredible for me.
"They are all good lads - although some of them can be a bit fussy!"
Watkins names Britton as one of his favourite Swans - "probably the best player we've ever had", he suggests - alongside the likes of Alan Curtis and Jason Scotland.
"Then there is Neil Cutler," he adds. "He is probably No. 1 because of that save he made against Hull (in 2003).
"I could have kissed him that day."
If only Cutler was still around. Watkins could cook him something special as a reward for his key contribution to that most critical of Swans games.
Watkins and his team ensure the club's current crop of players get everything they need when it comes to diets, with food provided before and after training as well as on matchdays.
"We have a high-carbohydrate menu and a high-protein menu through the week," says Watkins, who is currently doing a diploma in sports nutrition.
"I co-ordinate with the management team so that the players have the right food on the right days.
"On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, for example, the lads will generally work very hard, so there will be a lot more carbohydrates.
"On Thursdays and Fridays, they will do a lot more tactical and set-piece work, so we will give them more protein.
"On a matchday, they have a pre-match meal three hours before kick-off where they have high carbohydrates to get their energy levels right up for the game."
Watkins reckons around 70 per cent of the dishes eaten by the first team are seafood-based. Fillet steak is also popular, as is chicken.
On away trips, the players might even be treated to a dessert the night before the game.
"We might make a cheesecake with quark, a really low-fat cheese, because that means they get a sweet fix without going to buy a chocolate bar," Watkins says.
Where possible, everything the players eat is locally sourced.
"We use top-class ingredients - it's all really good quality," Watkins continues.
"Everything we have at the training ground is local produce. We try to keep within the city. It's our city and it's our club. I think that's important."
When they get back on the team bus after a game, Britton and Co will be offered a hot snack - such as a steak and red onion marmalade ciabatta sandwich - before a meal is served later in the journey.
"They might have spaghetti bolognaise or some sort of chicken," Watkins adds.
"I cook the dish in Landore, then the meals are packed and chilled down. It's a bit like an aircraft meal, but a higher standard."
High standards are a recurring theme. The theory is that the Swans must do things right off the field to improve their chances of doing well on it.
"The players are well looked after," Watkins says, "but it all counts.
"We are all trying to get the one per cent more on the pitch because that might make the difference for the club."
This article first appeared in the Liverpool edition of our Jack Magazine programme, which can be purchased onlineHERE