In the Spotlight | Jake Bidwell
This afternoon will not be the first time Jake Bidwell has played at the Liberty Stadium, but the new Swansea City signing is hoping the season-opening clash with Hull provides better memories than his last league outing in SA1.
The 26-year-old full-back joined the Swans at the start of July, becoming head coach Steve Cooper’s first acquisition and putting pen to paper on a three-year contract.
Having been rapidly thrust into the midst of Swansea’s week-long training camp in a Spanish heatwave shortly after his arrival, the Everton product has quickly settled into life in SA1, and started all five of the Swans’ UK friendlies as he built up his fitness ahead of the new season.
That quintet of games against Crawley, Yeovil, Exeter, Bristol Rovers and Atalanta all ended in Swansea wins and Bidwell will be hoping that run of victories extends through today’s meeting with the Tigers at the Liberty.
He will certainly be looking for a different outcome than the 3-0 defeat he suffered while here with QPR last season, but readily acknowledges that painful experience stuck in his mind when a move to the Swans became a possibility.
“I’ve been on the receiving end of a Liberty crowd after playing here for QPR last year, so I am looking forward to getting out there again and hopefully playing in front of a full house,” said Bidwell, who was one of three Rs players booked as goals from Courtney Baker-Richardson, Connor Roberts and Jay Fulton gave the hosts the spoils.
“But that was a game that left an impression on me because it was a long afternoon for us.
“It was 3-0 in the end but we were chasing shadows for most of the afternoon. The style of play is obviously attacking football, which is what the fans want to see.
“But the most important thing is that, when you get it right, it is winning football and – as I say – the result was 3-0 that day, so it is a winning style.
“I think it will suit me well, I like the chance to try and get forward from full-back and hopefully I can add to the team and help them improve.
“I feel like I have settled in well, the lads have been great with me and the understanding has been growing on the field and I want to do my best to help us have a good season.
“I know people say you should not read too much into pre-season results, but it’s good to have a winning habit and we had a real good test against Atalanta last weekend.
“So hopefully that stands us in good stead and we can continue with the good results we’ve been picking up in pre-season with the crowd behind us against Hull.”
While the Swans did their homework on Bidwell, the defender also made sure he did his own due diligence on his new employers.
And he revealed how he turned to Swans defenders past and present for a view on what to expect in South Wales, and was quickly convinced that SA1 was the place for him to be.
“It was a different situation for me this summer being a free agent,” he said.
“There were a couple of options, but I tried to do as much homework as I could on Swansea and all the feedback I had off various people was positive.
“I played with Angel Rangel at QPR last season, he knows the area and the club really well and he had nothing but good things to say.
“He felt it would be a good fit for me and - being the old, wise head that he is - I would have been silly not to take his advice. He definitely sold it to me and told me what a great club it is.
“His recommendation was more than enough for me, but I also spoke to Connor Roberts through a mutual friend and he was so positive too.
“He admitted he might be a bit biased as he is a local lad, but again he was so positive about the club and the set-up and it just meant I could not wait to get here and get down to work with the coaching staff and the rest of the squad.”
Bidwell brings considerable Championship experience to the Swans rearguard having made over 200 appearances in the second tier for Brentford and QPR.
But it was at Premier League Everton where Southport-born Bidwell took his first steps in the professional game.
He had initially joined the club as a goalkeeper but quickly fell out of love with life between the sticks and made the decision to opt out of the club’s academy.
He made the switch to an outfield role at left-back, and it was not long before the Merseyside club were inviting him back into the youth set-up.
He progressed through the ranks at Goodison Park to make his first-team debut against BATE Borisov in the Europa League in 2009 under David Moyes; an appearance that made him the youngest player to represent Everton in European competition.
Bidwell – who was capped by England at under-16, 17, 18 and 19 level – also skippered the Toffees to a Premier League academy title during his time there.
“That game in the Europa League was a massive thing for me, I had been part of the set-up for Everton for a little while but it came out of the blue,” he said.
“It was almost something you are thrown into, but I look back on it now with a lot of pride.
“That was my only appearance for Everton, but that is one more appearance than an awful lot of players get to make for a club like that.
“I had some great memories there, we won the title with the under-18s and a few things like that and I will always be grateful for what Everton did for me in terms of moulding me into a professional player.
“They set standards and set morals for you that go with you for the rest of your life.
“It was a great club for me, I would love the chance to go back there and play in the Premier League and it would be great to do that with Swansea.”
During his time at Everton, Bidwell spent two spells on loan at Brentford – like the Swans a club long renowned for an attractive style of play - to gain first-team experience before making the move permanent in 2013.
In his first full season he helped the Bees secure automatic promotion to the Championship, being named in the PFA League One Team of the Year for the 2013-14 campaign.
Bidwell went on to help the Bees establish themselves in the second tier and become regular play-off contenders with their attractive style of play, before moving to QPR.
“I enjoyed my time at Everton but, in the life of every young professional, there comes a time when you need to go and play games and you need that first-team experience,” added Bidwell.
“For me, Brentford was the perfect place to get that opportunity.
“I was only 18 when I had my first spell there and it’s not easy for clubs to do that and go for youth over experience.
“But they gave me that platform to kick on and really launch my career.
“I have a lot to thank them for, we had a promotion and were in the play-offs in the Championship in our first year and we achieved a lot in a short space of time.”
Having come up agonisingly short of making his way back to the Premier League with the Bees, there is no doubting what Bidwell’s goal is after being impressed with the set-up and facilities he has found since making the move to Swansea.
“There is everything here, the infrastructure is that of a Premier League club,” he said.
“It’s a squad with a lot of young lads who, I am sure, are only going to get better.
“We have a young head coach with new ideas and while we know we have a lot of work to do, if everything comes together then we will have a chance to be successful.”