SWINDON Town should be inspired by Swansea City’s success on and off the pitch as they look to launch a bright new future in Wiltshire, according to manager Mark Cooper.
After six months of substantial change at the County Ground, the dissenting voices amongst the Robins’ fanbase can still be heard despite the fact new-look Town sit eighth in League One, narrowly missed out on a place at Wembley in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and fought their way to a third-round League Cup tie with Chelsea.
Cooper never seems surprised by the small swells of angst amongst Swindon supporters. Like most, he understands that the kind of radical change witnessed in SN1 this past year is not easy to accept. Town have completely switched their mentality - from big-budget spenders to savvy scrimpers - as well as their chosen style of play.
Gone are the flash-bang counter-attacks, low-lying defensive lines and three-pass-cross-goal tactics used so potently by Paolo Di Canio’s teams in 2011/12 and 2012/13. Patience is the buzz-word now - patience in the way Cooper’s side plays, patience in the stands on a matchday, patience long-term as owner Lee Power builds a squad capable of challenging for promotion to the Championship on a tight budget.
It’s a similar model to the way Swansea started out. Ten years ago the Swans secured their Football League survival on the season’s final day and then rebuilt and rebuilt and rebuilt until they found the formula that took them into the Premier League.
There are distinct similarities between the two teams. Swansea’s 239,000-strong population compares to 209,000 in Swindon and the surrounding area; the two clubs’ grounds are both owned by the local authority; each had previously experienced life in the top flight - and Cooper thinks Town should look up to the example set by the South Wales side as they build a new future for themselves - even if that future does not necessarily ever reach such lofty heights.
“You look at Swansea and where they were 10 years ago, and we’re trying to do something similar here because that’s the only way the club can survive,” he said.
“Swansea 10 years ago were playing a match to stay in the Football League and you look at them now. They’re going to Liverpool and at times outplaying Liverpool, who are being touted as one of the best football teams in the country.
“It’s not going to happen overnight, it’s going to take us time. We’re trying to put something in place that we think will serve the club well for a long, long time to come rather than buying overnight success.”
Town’s annual footballing budget has fallen to around £2.3million from £4.5million at this time last season, and it’s projected to be cut further this summer. As a result, Cooper and Power will have to search out diamonds in the rough - intelligent, ambitious, young footballers who have untapped potential.
“You look at Swansea, maybe Brighton to a certain extent, and they’ve decided to go along the route of trying to play a brand of football, attracting young players to fit into that brand of football, because gone are the days we can attract 10 or 15 29, 30, 31-year-olds that are proven and earning big money,” he said.
“We have to try and coach and work with young players and try to make them into really good players so we can maybe sell them.
“I think when Swansea started they wouldn’t have been getting seven or eight thousand. The journey started in League Two, then League One, the Championship and now the Premier League.”
A major part of Swansea’s rags to riches fairytale was their relocation to the Liberty Stadium from the dilapidated Vetch Field. A decade ago, the Swans’ average gate was a little under 6,000, whereas they now regularly sell-out their 20,500-capacity arena.
Cooper accepted that modern facilities attract a wider audience.
“Is Swansea historically as big a club as Swindon? I’m not sure it is gates-wise over the years when they were at the Vetch Field. I think the new stadium factor kicks in,” he said.
“When you get a new stadium you automatically get three or four thousand people extra and it’s up to you to keep them.
“I’m not saying we want to emulate them. All I’m saying is to look where Swansea were 10 years ago. You have to start somewhere and we started this year by the way we’ve played and the players we’ve had to bring to the football club because of what had gone on before.
“We’re on a journey now where we’ve got a style of play we believe in and we’re going to stick to it and then it’s up to us to bring the right kind of players through and add to that group of players to take us forward.”