Swansea City story Jack to a King to hit the big screen
- 25 August 2014
- From the section Wales
As Swansea City embark on another Premier League campaign, memories of their remarkable ten-year rise from near extinction are never far away for fans who have followed them through thick and thin.
Those who came together to save the club they love have now told their stories for a documentary film - Jack to a King - celebrating the Swans' survival.
Executive producer Mal Pope - a musician, writer, broadcaster and life-long Swans fan - says it is a heart-warming tale with an appeal far beyond football.
The film is directed by Marc Evans of Hinterland fame but Pope says they decided to forgo many of the usual documentary techniques to give the fans their own voice.
"These people tell the story themselves so well so there's no outside expert ... the film just needs the people who lived the story, who passed the baton as the story changes over the 10 years."
In 2001 Swansea City were sold for £1 to businessman Tony Petty whose turbulent three-month reign almost brought the club to its knees.
His plan to cut costs by sacking players met huge opposition from supporters who joined forces to take over the club and rebuild its fortunes.
The film shows how close the club came to going under, Pope says, until fans on the terraces became heroes of the hour.
"There's this lad David Morgan who runs an insurance company and is just a Swansea City fan - it was great finding out how involved he was in just putting the pieces together," he said.
"The fact that he had to go to the local cash point and take out £20,000 is not easy because you've got to go lots of different places and put it in a carrier bag.
"During that journey he was scared that if he made the wrong move he could be blamed for his football club being destroyed.
"That's part of the story that not everyone will have heard about."
Victory on the last day of the 2002/3 season ensured the Swans escaped the drop into the lower leagues and gave them the chance to regroup and rebuild.
By 2011 they had climbed from the bottom of the fourth-tier of English football to clinch promotion to Premier League in a play-off final victory over Reading at Wembley in a game reputedly worth £90m to the winner.
Pope describes the true-life rags-to-riches story as "Under Milk Wood meets Gladiator".
"The scale is enormous because at the end it's Wembley with 90,000 supporters and you're in the tunnel going out into battle.
"But it starts with all these local people talking very funnily and passionately about their club and why they did what they did at the time."
Even some of the supposed villains of the piece can be seen in a different light as a result of the film, Pope adds, most notably Tony Petty.
Reviled by fans, the businessman says if he had not stepped in when he did to buy the club, it would have folded within weeks.
"He was incredibly brave to want to take part in the film and give his side of the story," says Pope.
"I asked everybody who took part in the film what they would say to Tony Petty if they met him now. I think without exception everyone said they'd have to say 'thank you'.
"You know what Wales is like - you need someone from outside to galvanise the troops, one enemy rather than fighting among ourselves - I think he played that role and we've moved on."
Building on success
Now enjoying a fourth season in the Premier League, Swansea City is still largely owned by its supporters, in terms of individuals with large stakes and the 20% held by the supporters' trust.
Pope says the threat to the club's existence brought out the best in those involved in the drama.
"What's been great is to see the growth of someone like Huw Jenkins - he starts off as a minor character in this story and by the end of it he's in charge.
"You can see the growth in him as a person as well as chairman of the football club."
As football's financial bonanza sharpens the divide between the elite and the rest, the makers of Jack to a King believe the film can inspire fans of other clubs teetering on the brink.
But Pope says preview screenings have proved it has a wider appeal.
"The reaction from a non-football audience has been incredibly positive because they fall in love with the characters," he said.
"This film isn't really for Swansea or even about football - it's about these strange characters. If it was in America it would be about people in New Jersey taking over a steelworks. It's a universal story.
"Marc's done a great job - I think he prefers rugby - but his thinking behind it was that it wasn't about football, it's just a great film."
Jack to a King goes on general release on Friday 12 September.