Forgotten grounds: The Imps and Vetch Field, Swansea

 

As rapidly as Swansea had risen through the divisions so they fell almost as quickly back again, and City’s next visit came in the Third Division again in the 1984/85 season when a 2-2 draw was once again achieved with a late equaliser, this time through an own goal by defender Colin Sullivan, City’s other goal being scored by young midfielder Neil Redfearn. A return by Swansea to the Fourth Division was avoided by a single point with City finishing one place above them. However, both clubs were to be relegated a year later, with Swansea in bottom place. They were already down to 21st when City visited them in October 1985 but were good enough to beat the Imps who were 6th at the time by 3-1, Neil Redfearn becoming the third City player to score in consecutive games at the Vetch Field. The game signalled the beginning of the end for City manager John Pickering as it was the first in a run of 10 defeats in 11 games.

The next game was to be the most significant played on the ground by City. On the last day of the 1986/87 season and needing a point to be safe from automatic relegation to the GM Vauxhall Conference they capitulated 2-0 to a Swansea side that had just lost five games in a row. The game saw no less than eight players make their last appearances for the Imps.

In the meantime, changes had been made to the ground due to the safety concerns of the mid-1980s, most noticeably involving the removal of the wooden upper tier to the West Stand behind the goal. With the terracing underneath retained, the base of the upper tier became the new roof giving it a rather heavy looking appearance. The ground capacity was further reduced by the closing off of the rear of the North Bank terracing leaving the total at around 12,000.

While City were making an immediate return to the league by winning the Conference Swansea also won promotion through the play-offs to Division Three where they stayed until relegated back to the fourth tier, by then named Division 3 for the 1996/97 season. What turned out to be City’s last win on the ground came by 2-1 with both goals scored by Gareth Ainsworth.

With Swansea this time losing out in the play-offs the two sides met again the following season with the Swans in the lower reaches of the division. City under John Beck maintained 4th place with a 0-0 draw in a heated encounter that saw a debut off the bench by teenage striker Gavin Gordon signed from Hull City for £30,000. This was also my only visit to a match at the Vetch Field. Having always reckoned it too far to travel from my home in Nottingham I had no excuses following my re-location to South Wales.

After City’s promotion and a solitary season in Division 2 the two clubs met again in February 2000. Another debut-maker on the ground for City was Paul Mayo but Lee Thorpe’s goal couldn’t prevent a 2-1 win for the home side to put them top of the division. They were still there at the end of the season as the two clubs went their separate ways again. Swansea though made an immediate return and the Vetch Field score in the 2001/02 season was 0-0.

2002/03 was to be City’s first play-off season and a 2-0 defeat at the end of January against bottom-placed Swansea was the only loss in an otherwise unbeaten run of 15 games. Paul Mayo featured again the following season, scoring with a penalty and later being sent off as Richard Butcher got the other goal in a 2-2 draw with a Swansea side who were in 2nd place at the time but who fell away to finish mid-table.

City’s last ever game at the Vetch Field came on the 30th August 2004 when a side featuring such players as Nathan Peat and Adrian Littlejohn – the latter making his only start for the Imps – were beaten 1-0 by Swansea whose side included former City favourite Kevin Austin and later Swans managers Gary Monk and Roberto Martinez.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

City went on to lose in their second play-off final but Swansea were promoted in third place and were to begin their League One campaign the following season at the new Liberty Stadium. The final Football League fixture at the Vetch Field was a 1-0 win for the Swans against Shrewsbury Town on 30 April 2005. They had one more game to play on the ground though, beating Wrexham 2-1 in the final of the FA of Wales Premier Cup on the 11th of May.

After the closure of the ground plans were announced to build a community centre and housing development on the site but it was nearly six years before demolition work began. In August 2011 it was confirmed by Swansea Council that the Vetch would be used temporarily for allotments, with the former centre circle to be a green area used by the public as an open space. New housing is still planned along with a community orchard with the centre circle retained as a wild flower meadow.

As well as football other sports also found a home at the Vetch, with eight rugby league matches played there between 1990 and 1999 including six by the Wales national side. Several high-profile boxing matches also took place there including British Empire and Commonwealth title fights. It was also used as a music venue, most notably hosting The Who in 1976 and Stevie Wonder in 1984.

Lincoln City’s visits to the Vetch Field all involved Football League games with regionalisation of draws contributing to the lack of any cup ties between the two clubs. In their total of 28 games played there the Imps could manage only 4 wins with 8 draws and 16 defeats. The distance to be travelled to the venue could perhaps be put forward as an excuse! Goals scored totalled 29 with 56 conceded to make the average scoreline on the ground almost exactly 2-1 in favour of the home side.

No player scored more than two goals on the ground for City – Roy Chapman, Rod Fletcher and Gareth Ainsworth getting theirs in single matches, while Ernie Whittle, Fred Middleton, Andy Graver and Neil Redfearn each scored in separate games.

Imps fans at Vetch Field, 2004 – Courtesy Graham Burrell