Steve Phillips Blog: Ten years of Glory Covering Swansea City. Part 2 The Wembley years.
My abiding memory of Wembley had always been watching Scott Gibbs storm towards the try line through my lens as he scored his dramatic try to beat England in 1999. I never thought I would be back there twice covering Swansea City. In my last blog I talked about how we covered Swansea City's promotion to the First Division. This time I will talk about the journey since then.
If you like your sport, there are not many jobs in the regional press better than working at the South Wales Evening Post. We get to cover the Scarlets, Ospreys and Swansea City as well as Welsh premiership rugby and football. We also get to cover international sport, Wales soccer and of course Wales rugby. There are not many regional press photography jobs that allow you to cover a World Cup final which I was lucky enough to do in Cardiff in 1999.
The dreamlike journey the Swans have travelled has been fantastic to cover but it was a very frustrating time in 2008 when Swansea clinched promotion to The Championship. Because of the uncertainty over Leeds points appeal I think Swansea where promoted three times in one season! We went to Gillingham and covered the match and celebrations only to find that there was no trophy for the swans because of the Leeds situation.
Now when I was a six year old kicking a football around with my friends in the mid 1970's Leeds where the team to follow. Most of the older kids supported them and players like Alan Clarke, Peter Lorimer and Billy Bremner where household names. So they were the team I supported – or should I say followed. Theirs was always the score I looked out for first and when I was in Sheffield doing my press photography exams I even went to see them play against Aston Villa at Elland Road.
But what happened in 2008 really put me off the club. I was glad they did not get promoted that year and I have not been interested in them since. The controversy over their points reduction for me ruined Swansea's year. The headlines should have been more about Swansea being promoted not Leeds' appeal.
One of the best atmosphere's I have experienced was in the championship semi-final second leg play-off at The Liberty against Nottingham Forest. It was electric. The Swans fans were on fire just like the team and I will never forget the roar when Darren Pratley scored from the halfway line in the last minute and caused the ground to erupt. But I will never forgive Brendan Rodgers! We had three photographers at the match and had planned beforehand what each of us would do.
At the end of the match just like the game at Bury I planned to be as close to the dug-out as I could be to get Brendan and his team celebrating at the final whistle. Imagine my horror as I saw Brendan sprint down the touchline away from me when Pratley scored. All I got was a picture of his backside disappearing into the distance. Luckily one of the photographers from Huw Evans Agency, Ben Evans was in the right place and managed to get a fantastic series of pictures of Brendan face on which we were able to get. I guess you win some, you lose some.
The play off final against reading at Wembley required serious planning. Passes and car parking where applied for straight away. Again there where various supplements including a 32 page fans supplement for which most of the pictures had to be sent back before the match. So staff photographers Jonathan Myers and Amy Husband, and news reporters Jason Evans and Richard Youle set off early for Wembley. We stopped at services en-route and did some fans pictures and after picking up our passes and dropping off gear in the press room we headed out onto Wembley Way. The Swans fans where in jubilant mood and there where thousands of them so it was not difficult to get the pictures we needed. After a little hard work we sent the pics back to the office in Swansea
There are various ways to send pictures back, and we would normally use a 3G network and use FTP (file transfer protocol) or email to send pics back from our laptops. However the Wembley press room is fantastic and there are enough links onto their network which is very fast so we used that. Pictures were flying back to Swansea via FTP in a matter of seconds, which made our life so much easier. The first half was of course fantastic and again the stadium was bouncing to the tune of Swans fans celebrations. We joke in the office that the Swans can never do anything easy. And right on cue Reading hit back causing the Swans fans some flutters.
This was a huge match. It was very tense for a while in the second half. It was vital Swansea won for the fans, city and newspaper. The celebrations at the end were incredible. The joy etched on fans faces as Brendan Rodgers and his players saluted them made great pictures. Again as photographers we worked as a team – one covering the tunnel side of the pitch, one behind the goal and one on the other side of the pitch. It would have been pointless all three of us chasing around after players all getting the same shot. By working as a team we were able to get events from different angles which paid off. Our photographer Amy Husband got the picture of the day of Brendan Rodgers being thrown into the air by his players which made our front page next day.
Both Jonathan and myself had the shot but Amy's was the best. Then it was a matter of getting all the pictures back. This is when the pressure is really on because you have a deadline to meet and literally thousands of pictures to choose from. So it's a matter of selecting the best images, captioning them and getting them back to the office as quickly as possible. Only then could we leave, after many of the fans had long gone and headed back to Swansea.
It's a long drive back from Wembley, especially if you get stuck in the London traffic which we did. But such was the buzz in the car that the journey flew by. We even picked up an extra passenger, Swans club photographer Dimitri who scrounged a lift home with us. There was a large queue of traffic at the Severn Bridge Tolls but it was a fantastic site. People hanging out of windows waving flags and scarves, horns beeping and even some young ladies exposing some flesh in a minibus. No we didn't get a picture.
Then just a few days later it was the victory parade. What an occasion. Thousands of people lining the streets of the city, everyone happy saluting their heroes. We managed to get a photographer on the lead bus and a colleague and myself shot stills and video from ground level moving in front of the parade. At times when we could, we blagged a spot high up on a building to get shots from above. Another superb occasion that will stick in the memory for ever especially for a generation of fans too young to remember the Swans past glories under John Toshack.
We certainly did not think we would be back at Wembley so soon. This year's Capital One cup final win over Bradford was in many ways a carbon copy of the Reading game. Again we worked as a team of three and had to send a lot of pics back before the match, but hey we are old hands at it now! Again it was another fantastic occasion and my team performed admirably but I found the occasion was not as intense as the play-off match. Maybe it was the opposition and early goals, maybe it did not matter as much as promotion to the Premier League maybe as fans we are getting to used to Swansea City's success? However the victory parade after this match was just as exciting and enjoyable as the promotion parade.
I first worked at the Evening Post in the early 90's and photographed the Swans in the old third division. On many occasions there would only be two or three photographers at a match. Covering them in the Premier League is brilliant, as is the quality of the football. It's surreal to see teams like Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool at The Liberty. Sometimes now there are 30-40 photographers at the ground for a high profile match. But the dream goes on. It's Europe next season and a new chapter in the adventure. It will continue to be a privilege to photograph Swansea City for the Evening Post I hope the memory of covering matches against the likes of Mansfield and Brentford on a wet dark Wednesday night at The Vetch will forever be a dim memory.