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Mal Pope on Jack to a King: The Swansea Story

Mal Pope

Presenter, BBC Radio Wales

In 2016 Swansea City are what they call an ‘established’ Premier League team. Oh yes, there were some nerves a month or so ago that maybe this might be the year when things would start to unravel, but with a couple of wins that fear disappeared. With one game to go there is the possibility that Swansea might once again finish the season in the top half of the wealthiest league in the world.

Now, the club are planning for next season: talking to wealthy Americans about further investment, looking to sign new players for millions of pounds and hoping to start work on developing the Liberty Stadium to add another 10,000 seats to the 21,000 they already have because the demand for tickets for every home game is overwhelming.

Fifteen years ago things were very different. The club was reportedly millions of pounds in debt, the crowds were dwindling and the old Vetch Field was literally falling apart at the seams. Somehow the club was owned by a company that traded in windscreens. It was said they bought the club hoping to make some money on a future property deal, but with little progress on and off the field - even they lost patience.

How the club went from that position to where they are now is unbelievable, it’s a fairy tale, its rags to riches, its pure Hollywood. In recent years other clubs have done well moving rapidly up the leagues - think of Bournemouth and Leicester! But bankrolling these clubs are billionaires who have been prepared to spend big money to make their dreams come true. The remarkable thing about Swansea City is that the club was bought by the fans. The Supporters Trust was right at the forefront of putting together a consortium of people who had a little bit of money that they were prepared to risk with little chance of ever seeing it again in the hope that they could save the club they loved.

At the time, the progress seemed imperceptible but looking back in truth each season saw improvements. Moving to a new stadium helped accelerate that progress and a new style of football and confidence in the boardroom meant that in 2011 the world had to take notice of ‘The Swansea Way’.

Producer Mal Pope talks to one of Swansea City FC's owners, David Morgan

I have watched the Swans march though the leagues sitting next to my friend Edward Thomas, who as a production designer has created the Tardis and Daleks and worlds from the past and the future for Dr Who, Da Vinci’s Demons and Resident Evil. I can’t quite remember when we said to each other – “someone ought to make a film about Swansea City” or even more importantly, when we said: “we ought to do it ourselves”. But that is the Swansea Way. We took our cue from the club. We believed in the story and in the Welsh talent we knew we could assemble to be able to make a feature film.

I’m sure lots of people thought we were nuts but then again the people who have run the club for the past 15 years are used to that as well. When we walked out of the film’s premiere at the Empire Leicester Square I turned to Ed and smiled. We shook hands and again I can’t quite remember who said, “right when do we take this to New York?”

PS The film had its New York Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in June 2016!

Watch Jack to a King – The Swansea Story on Saturday, May 14, 9.20pm - BBC Two Wales

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