Connor Roberts: Swansea City defender driven by pain of Premier League relegation

By Gareth VincentBBC Sport Wales
Connor Roberts says he cried when Swansea dropped out of the top flight in 2018

It is two years, eight months and seven days since defeat by Southampton signalled the end of Swansea City's seven-year spell in the Premier League.

Yet for some, the pain of relegation remains.

Some footballers go through careers without appearing to develop any significant attachment to a team.

Others, like Swansea's Connor Roberts, build a bond which means that when the club suffers, they suffer too.

Southampton at home, in May 2018, was Roberts' fourth league game for Swansea.

A win would have all-but ensured Carlos Carvalhal's team avoided relegation with a game of the season to spare.

The Saints' 1-0 victory left Swansea needing a final-day miracle which did not come.

Southampton survived and are now thriving in the Premier League. Swansea, meantime, are midway through their third season back in the Championship.

Connor Roberts bows his head in disappointment as Southampton players celebrate a season-defining victory at Swansea in May 2018
Connor Roberts bows his head in disappointment as Southampton players celebrate a season-defining victory at Swansea in May 2018

Things are going well under Steve Cooper and Roberts is enjoying a fine campaign, yet memories of Southampton remain vivid.

"I was sitting with Andre (Ayew) the other day and saying it's just something inside of me, and he admitted it's something inside of us," Roberts tells BBC Sport Wales.

"Me and him played in that game when we lost against Southampton.

"It was a terrible night. It pretty much sealed that we were going down.

"I just said to Andre, imagine the feeling if we got promoted and we could say that we are still here. We came down, we love this club, we love playing for this club, we have got that hunger and we managed to get back up. We brought us down but we could take us up and contribute to that.

"That would be some achievement."

Roberts displays passion which is rarely seen when a footballer speaks to the media, and comes close to shedding a tear when contemplating what promotion would mean.

A local lad who was shaped in Swansea's academy, he says the "devastating" feeling after Southampton drives him on.

Connor Roberts has been one of Steve Cooper's star performers at Swansea this season
Connor Roberts has been one of Steve Cooper's star performers at Swansea this season

"I won't lie to you. That night I was crying. I cried all night and I cried for days after it," he says.

"The emotion that not only me but everyone - us as a club - shows when we win big games, when we beat Cardiff City the other day, when we reached the play-offs (last season) - the other end of the spectrum was the day we got relegated.

"It is the emotion of people who are connected to this club and have been here a very long time.

"Don't get me wrong. There are players who played for Swansea who probably didn't really care if we got relegated. They probably didn't really care if we were successful or they were successful.

"But I think with a lot of players in this group, it does mean something.

"If I could sit here next year and say we got promoted and I played well for the whole season after being so emotional and so down when we got relegated, to help get us back up there and be part of it would be an unbelievable achievement and something I would never forget."

There is a long way to go, of course, but after 23 Championship games in 2020-21, Swansea are second in the table.

Roberts has been a central figure in their success so far, a "ridiculous athlete" - according to Cooper - who has played every minute of a congested league campaign.

On average the wing-back runs 11.7 kilometres a game, which usually puts him top of the charts. The team average is 10.5 kilometres.

"I always get a little message from Wayne Routledge before every game," Roberts says.

"He doesn't say anything, just 'up and down, up and down'. He knows that's me. That's what I do.

"I am in a privileged position to be playing for Swansea. The least I can do is work hard."

Roberts has scored two Swansea goals this season - only Ayew and Jamal Lowe have more - and claimed four assists, while his tally of 53 chances created is bettered by only one Championship player, Norwich forward Emiliano Buendia.

When he is not patrolling Swansea's right flank, Roberts can often be found doing carpentry in his garage.

"It gives me a little bit of satisfaction when I make something that's worthwhile," he explains.

"Why be the same as every other footballer - why not do a bit of carpentry?"

Connor Roberts says he plans to go into carpentry professionally when he has retired from football
Connor Roberts says he plans to go into carpentry professionally when he has retired from football

Among Roberts' recent creations are a dining table for one of Swansea's physios, a desk for a club massage therapist and "a mud kitchen for the sports scientist's son".

Former Swansea winger Nathan Dyer also has an order in, though Roberts has had to turn a few down.

"Although I enjoy doing it, I don't have that much time," he says.

"I play football for Swansea and sometimes for Wales. I am not in the house all the time and I can't always be in the garage. I have to cook, clean and spend some time with my missus."

All being well, the woodwork will be on hold for a few weeks this summer.

Roberts will not say as much himself but, assuming he is fit, the 25-year-old is a shoo-in for Wales' Euro 2021 squad.

"If I can put on the shirt, even if it's just for one game, I will be so honoured and so proud to play at the Euros for my country," he says.

"People have very fond memories (of Euro 2016). It's going to be very different this time because of coronavirus, but hopefully we can create some good memories for the people of Wales and for ourselves."

Connor Roberts (left) joins celebrations during Wales' win over Hungary in November 2019 which booked their place at Euro 2020
Connor Roberts (left) joins celebrations during Wales' win over Hungary in November 2019, which booked their place at Euro 2020

The immediate focus is club football, and on Swansea's bid to keep hold of their top-two place after last season's play-off defeat to Brentford. The next challenge is a trip to Barnsley on Saturday night.

Roberts took to social mediaexternal-link this week to post pictures - dug out by his mother for a club media campaign - showing him as a young boy in the stands at Swansea's former Vetch Field home.

"It's mad that I was watching them play 'thinking this is amazing', and now I am out there on the pitch myself," he says.

"It's just a nice story isn't it? Here I am all these years later living the dream."

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