On February 8th, 2014, Cardiff City left the Liberty Stadium, thoroughly beaten 3-0 by Swansea City in Gary Monks’ debut as the Swans manager. That result rubbed salt into the wounds of an already torrid season for Cardiff City, as poor results and managerial controversy led the Bluebirds to a immediate relegation from the Premier League.
Few would have believed it would take almost five years until the next meeting between the two South Wales clubs, as while Cardiff flirted with promotion back into the top flight, Swansea faced insurmountable odds to remain a Premier League club, with last-gasp survival a consistent fixture of the Swans’ season in the following years. However exciting the latest drama surrounding the South Wales Derby, the history of the tie has produced some of the most infamous moments in the Football League.
History of the South Wales Derby
The fierce South Wales rivalry dates back all the way to the early 1900s. On September 7th, 1912, both teams met for the first time in Vetch field (the precursor to the modern Liberty Stadium in Swansea) in the old Division Two south, in a friendlier affair than we’re used to.
A 1-1 in that encounter wasn’t indicative of the excitement and ferocity of fixtures to come, with a drastic change of footballing culture in the 1960s leading to more aggression and loyalty to clubs around Britain. Fans settled on supporting just one team rather than many.
This lead to a rise in what became known as ‘Football Hooliganism’, in which fans became more tribal towards their teams, and unyielding support and supporters violence became a large part of footballing culture at the time. Also known as ‘English Disease’ in Europe, this new direction for football fans didn’t exclude the two largest South Wales Clubs.
The friendlier relationship between the two sides began to falter, when in 1960 Cardiff City fielded a reserve side against Swansea in a Welsh Cup fixture. This was due to anger over a scheduling conflict from the Bluebirds Boss, and taken as a direct insult and a matter of disrespect by Swansea. In addition to Cardiff directors refusing to join the Swansea board in their boardroom during the match, and a fine and condemnation by the Welsh FA, the fiery rivalry between the sides and just began to simmer.
The rivalry took a darker turn with the change of culture, especially into the 1980s with the advent of the infamous ‘Cardiff Soul Crew’, and other football firms, bringing an air of violence into the beautiful game, in addition to a lack of fixtures between 1965 and 1980, due to both teams being in different leagues at the time. Both teams traded wins around this time, no team getting the clear advantage over the other, but it was the fans performance that garnered attention, and infamy, throughout the country.
Perhaps the most infamous of these games was the aptly named ‘Battle of Ninian Park’. This South Wales took place in 1993. On 22nd of December, Swansea fans travelled to the capital for an away fixture in the 2nd Division (Third Tier, now known as League One).
The game had to be delayed due to the arrival of 1000 Swansea fans, and it all kicked off from there. After Cardiff took the lead 1-0, thanks to a strike by English footballer Garry Thompson. Swansea fans responded by ripping up seats and throwing at rival fans sitting below, prompting a large-scale pitch invasion and increased violence between the two sets of supporters.
Astonishing scenes which were halted by police on horseback and dogs and delaying the game by nearly three quarters of an hour. All in all, 8 fans were hospitalised, whilst 9 were arrested, and it became the first fixture in English football to ban away fans from the ground. It marred the fixture and has been voted most heated by fans around the country.
Since the dark days of the Battle of Ninian Park, or the infamous ‘Swim away’ inciden, in which a Swansea city firm, the ‘Pure Violence Mob’ chased 6 Cardiff fans onto the beach and into the sea, whilst pelting them with stones, the derby has become a less violent affair, but still as heated as ever.
Since the turn of the millennium, both teams have built and moved into brand new, modern, all-seater stadiums fit for Premier league purpose, and have both taken part in the Premier League, albeit Cardiff City with a much briefer stay. Yet the rivalry is still as big as ever, and I interviewed football fans of both
One Cardiff City fan who was interviewed claimed that his favourite moment in the derby was ‘A few years back’ when a ‘Bellamy goal and Ramsey assist’ helped Cardiff win 1-0 at the Liberty Stadium, Cardiff’s last victory away at their biggest rivals, back in 2011 in the Championship. He goes on to say that he think ‘Cardiff should be going up’ and if they don’t, ‘It’s our own fault’, ‘I’ve been burned too many times before’, likely referencing the multitude of failed play off pushes and lost cup finals, including FA Cup final loss in 2008 to Portsmouth, and the penalty shootout heartache against Liverpool in 2012.
The Cardiff City Stadium, which has hosted many memorable South Wales derbies since 2009, pictured here in the first home game this season, versus Aston Villa. Credits: Picture Taken by Me[/caption]
However, a Swansea chose the last time the two teams faced as his premier moment in the South Wales Derby. He said it was ‘Our captain’s (Birmingham Manager Gary Monk) first game as manager’, in a game that ended 3-0 to Swansea and helped send Cardiff back down to the Championship.
Whatever the history that the two clubs have acquired throughout the years, the best South Wales derby will always be the next one, as one of the most anticipated fixture for the two sets of fan throughout the season.
In 2022, Swansea City became the first Welsh side to “the double” in the South Wales derby. They beat Cardiff City home and away, something that had never happened in the fixture’s near-100 year history