United is a common word within football
26th April 2014
United is a common word within football.
From the likes of Manchester United to Southend United, it's one of the more common names associated to football clubs.
I suppose, as the word suggests, it promotes a sense of unity within the individual clubs.
But the weekend before last it wasn't the case of a club being united, it was a case of football being united.
The whole football community came together to remember the 96 Liverpool fans who died at Hillsborough 25 years ago.
It was fantastic to see supporters from throughout the Premier League and Football League standing united in remembrance of those who died.
But over the past few years, there seems to have been a definite shift in attitude within football in general - not just on occasions like the Hillsborough anniversary.
When news broke of Gary Speed's death on the morning of the Swans' clash with today's visitors two-and-a-half years ago, Villa supporters joined home fans in paying tribute to the former Welsh manager by firstly standing united in silence and then spontaneously bursting into applause.
The theme of unity was reinforced in another way two weeks ago on that Hillsborough anniversary weekend.
Walking away from the match it struck me how nice it was that Chelsea and Swans supporters were making their way from the ground side by side in the evening spring sunshine.
Fans leaving the away end were happily filing past home fans exiting the home stands, without any aggravation or incident. This is a scene which is now regularly played out after matches here at the Liberty Stadium and across the country.
How far football has come in the last 35 years.
I can remember Chelsea's visit on a similar spring day back in 1980 which was played in a far different atmosphere.
The Blues needed a win to go back up to the First Division and brought an estimated 10,000 fans down to Swansea. There were even reports of them sleeping on the beach.
With so many Chelsea fans making the journey, not all of them managed to squeeze into the away end at the Vetch.
Some managed to find their way onto the North Bank. I can remember hearing a bottle smashing and all Hell breaking loose before the police managed to get the invaders out of the North Bank and away to safety.
The match ended in a 1-1 draw, scuppering the Blues' promotion chances on goal difference and leaving the large travelling contingent in a particularly bad mood.
I can remember our bus passing Swansea railway station after the game and being pelted with stones by Chelsea fans. One of my friends even climbed up into the luggage racks above the seats to avoid the missiles.
There were reports of Chelsea fans causing trouble as far away from Swansea as Pontardawe after the match.
What a contrast to the other Sunday, which saw fans mingling happily after the game and uniting in the pre-match minute's silence for the tragic Liverpool fans.
Admittedly, there had been a slight disruption to the tribute by Chelsea fans singing in the concourse below the away end, but as the saying goes "every circus has it's clowns".
It's probably unrealistic to expect any gathering involving tens of thousands of people in an emotionally charged atmosphere to pass without any incident whatsoever.
Even rugby, which has a reputation for harmony amongst rival fans, has it's occasional problems. Apparently there were reports of fighting breaking out during the Wales v South Africa match at the Millennium Stadium before Christmas.
But violence at Premier League matches has now become a rarity and long may that continue. Football has now become a family game and the last thing we need is for a return to the bad old days.
Things are far better on the stands and terraces of our country's football grounds than they used to be.
You need no better illustration of this than the fact that the Swans have played two Premier League derbies against their arch local rivals Cardiff City this season without a hint of serious trouble.
Massive police operations at both games obviously helped keep any trouble at bay, but there's no doubt matches are played in a less threatening atmosphere these days.
Go back again to the Eighties and there are memories of awful violence during derby matches between the Swans and Cardiff.
I can remember horrendous scenes at a Welsh Cup Final in a packed Vetch Field with rival fans hurling lumps of masonry at each other, fighting on the North Bank and a policeman being stabbed in the head with a dart.
Although the absence of violence is to be welcomed and commended, I wouldn't want our stadiums to become totally sterile and devoid of atmosphere either.
But this season's derby matches showed that fans don't need to literally be at each other's throats for them to be passionate occasions with plenty of banter and rivalry.
The atmosphere at both matches was electric, as it was at the Chelsea match, where the home fans generated amazing support in an effort to inspire 10-man Swans in their bid to overcome Chelsea.
And with so much riding on this afternoon's match I'm sure there will be a fantastic atmosphere here again this afternoon as Villa are sure to bring a large and vocal support from the Midlands.
Both sets of supporters will be firmly on opposite sides in their support for their clubs, but they will be united in their desire to cheer on their respective teams to Premier League safety.
Hopefully it's going to be the Swans who are celebrating at the end of 90 minutes and we can enjoy another fantastic occasion here at the Liberty Stadium this season.