A beginner’s complete guide to the Swansea/Cardiff rivalry



David Collins is a South Wales based football writer, broadcaster and author.

A Season Ticket holder at Cardiff City, he is a member of Cardiff City Supporters Club and Cardiff City Supporters Trust, having sat on the Trust Board in recent times.

A Welsh speaker, David is also a keen follower of his national team. His portfolio of work includes an earnest attempt to justify his obsession, a contemporaneous dairy of life in the Premier League and several football quiz books.

He is a regular guest pundit on the Cardiff City Phone In and pops up on various digital platforms. His non football writing includes the whimsical yet informative “Little Book of Cardiff” .

In this topical piece, David examines the links between two great South Wales football rivals, drawing on anecdotes and recollections from across the 40 mile divide, players and places remembered and recounted. The “Jacks” of Swansea and the Bluebirds of Cardiff.

United by a common loathing.

Photo: cardiffcityfc.co.uk


Some football rivalries take little deciphering. The Old Firm, the Merseyside Derby, United v City. Two teams, one city. “This Town ain’t Big Enough for the Both of us.”

Some are born of envy, history, even politics. El Classico divides a nation.

In South Wales though, the rivalry has a mindset of its own.

2020 could, could, see the two rivals meet at Wembley. Covid-19 would put this behind locked doors. Police forces from Gower to Gatwick might puff out their cheeks with unwitting relief.

For lovers of the oval ball, it’s a case of “As Long as we Beat the English we Don’t Care.”

[As Long as we Beat the English  – by the Stereophonics

See Also: It’s not fair but I don’t care, as long as we Beat New Zealand]

Cardiff City and Swansea City though, the rivalry is characterised by an animosity rarely seen in other aspects of Welsh culture.

Jonathan Taylor (“Twenty Seven Years in a Black and White Scarf”) writes gleefully of how he managed to sneak onto the infamous Grange End at Ninian Park, Cardiff, to quietly enjoy watching the home side exit the FA Cup at the hands of Everton back in 1977.

He also talks of dodging the “Cardiff City psychopaths” at a 1984 encounter between Newport County and the Swans. Cardiff City weren’t even playing.

We also read that “Swansea hate Cardiff with a passion I couldn’t begin to explain,” from Tony Rivers, co-author of Soul Crew, Cardiff’s A-Z of hooliganism.

Inevitably though, two worlds sometimes collide.

This article will contemplate players who have crossed this great divide, hoping the stories bring the rivalry to life. Some of these boys are viewed as traitors. “Judas 30” on their shirts. Some though, remain figures of lasting affection in both camps.


“Swim Away.” Ok, let’s get this one out of the way first.

In 1988, a number of Swansea based fans chased their capital counterparts after a game. The Cardiff lads ended up fleeing into the sea. Honest.

Stories differ as to the numbers involved but the overall gist of the tale is true.

Inevitably the story is more popular down west than in the capital. Swansea City fans gleefully sing “Swim Away” at derbies 30 years later.

Even Swansea players/ex players have been known to decorate goal celebrations against the Bluebirds with swimming gestures. Such antics make them heroes to fellow Jacks of course. Rivers even describes how teams such as Millwall and Wrexham have sung about it against Cardiff City to try and provoke a reaction – which worked.

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Hats off to the singer/songwriters of Cardiff though.

Terrace culture rose above such shenanigans in 2009  when the home side featured one Dimitrios Konstantopoulos in goal. He had made five appearances for Swansea City on loan from Coventry City. Three days after returning to Warwickshire he was loaned to Cardiff City. In a rare outing against, I dunno, Barnsley or Doncaster, the fans had chance to really taunt the ex-Swansea keeper.

But no. Listen to this chant from the home fans – to the tune of Karma Chameleon……

“Dimi, Dimi, Dimi, Konstantopoulos…..he Swam Away….to Cardiff Bay.”

Beautiful. Takes it on the chin, turns it around, and demonstrates a not inconsiderable lack of verbal and lyrical dexterity. Dimi’s achievements in the game have been largely unremarkable, yet for inspiring this chant alone, he remains memorable.


Cardiff fans like commitment. Their heroes include Jason Perry, Phil Dwyer and Sean Morrison. 100%’ers all. And when they see such enthusiasm in a blue shirt from a guy who played 200 times for Swansea, well, respect is due.

Andy Legg joined the Bluebirds in relatively dark days.

Yet his efforts as City – or as home fans say….”The” City, found themselves rarely off the floor. Player of the Year in 2000 as relegation climaxed 15 years of failure and average home attendance stalled at 6,895.

Those hardy souls would have seen 59 full blooded appearances from Leggy that year and four goals. The Neath born battler also earned the POTY award the following season. His luck eventually turned as he later played an important part in the club’s promotion to the First Division (aka Championship) in 2003.

He played 207 games for Swansea and 209 for the Bluebirds and is arguably the most popular player to have bridged the divide. This is a far cry from a tale Legg himself tells, of how he once had to wash his hair at half time while playing on the wing for Swansea at Ninian Park, such was the amount of phlegm deposited on his golden locks by the home fans.

Nice, eh?

Over the years I have occasionally watched reserve matches at Cardiff, even the odd youth game.

Many years ago I recall being especially impressed by a young lad tearing things up down the wing for Swansea at Ninian Park. I kept a close eye on that lad over the years and it came as no surprise that Jason Bowen went on to enjoy such a fine career.

If I am honest he never quite fulfilled his true potential for me but, when he joined the Bluebirds in 1999, his quality was there for all to see. He seemed several passes ahead of most of our lower league stars in his 134 appearances. But memories fade fast in football.

Bowen turned out for Newport County at Ninian Park in a 2008 FAW Premier Cup tie….one of five former Bluebirds in the County line up that night. Bowen scored with a diving header.

“Cardiff City and Swansea City though, the rivalry is characterised by an animosity rarely seen in other aspects of Welsh culture.”

As a penalty shoot out unfolded though, sections of the home support could not resist reminding him of his 124 appearances for Swansea City. The inevitable “YJB” taunts went up from sections of the 1,960 home supporters. Bowen looked incredulously at the skies.

He had earned promotion three times with the Bluebirds and scored more goals for them than for the Swans. Sad innit? County won on penalties.

In the 60s and 70s, it seemed that many former Bluebirds ended their careers down at The Vetch, Don Murray above for instance. But come the 80s, the football hierarchy had changed. John Toshack had seen to that. My next two choices are 100% Swansea legends, though between them, they also made over 170 appearances for Cardiff City towards the end of their playing days.

Alan Curtis and Robbie James formed an integral part of the Swansea City success story under Toshack. Curtis was a stylish and graceful player, the ball seemingly tied to his foot at times. A wonder goal against Leeds is cemented forever into the Swansea legacy as Curtis led the club’s transformation through history. Curtis later scored an almost identical goal at The Vetch Field in a Welsh Cup Final against Wrexham for Cardiff City.

Robbie James was also a fine supporting actor, contributing over a century of goals as these boys led the Swans from Under Milk Wood to the highest echelons of the game. Both are held in high affection down west.

Mal Pope, lifelong Swans fan and Executive Producer of the hit movie “From a Jack to a King,” still proudly tells of his appearances alongside James for Brynmill Colts! A bust of James was unveiled outside Swansea’s Liberty Stadium in 2007 following his sad death in 1998. The bust, located next to the ticket office, was made possible by fans raising nearly £7,000 in memory of the midfielder, who played almost 400 games for the club.


So these two Swansea legends bring much needed grace and decorum to our tale. Between them they show that sometimes, in the right hands, even this bitterest of rivalries, can be set to one side. Sometimes.“Dad, do you know the Piano’s on my Foot??” My favourite football auto biography is Tosh, by John Toshack.

“Tosh” is littered with the most detailed analysis of many of the author’s glorious games as both player and manager. To any students of the South Wales derby, it is essential reading.

Tosh tells a lovely tale of how, as a talented Cardiff City apprentice, he was asked to help move a piano from the social club at Ninian Park to a supporter’s house in nearby Grangetown. The supporter was Alan Giles whose son David went on to join Cardiff City and later played under Tosh at the Vetch.

David Giles played, and scored, for Cardiff, Wrexham, Swansea City, Newport County and Wales. This is some feat. He even scored for Swansea against Cardiff in 1980. His, busy, hustling style earned him many admirers.

You’d have thought that such achievements would give him privileged status amongst Welsh fans but no. Following his career as a media pundit, he tells of the grief he attracts from Swansea fans who think he is pro Cardiff and Bluebird supporters who can’t forget his feats as a Jack. You just can’t win can you?

Toshack likes his piano stories by the way, often recalling how Bill Shankly used to say “A football team is like a piano. You need eight men to carry it and three who can play the damn thing.”

Finally, there’s a striker who has scored for Cardiff against Swansea, and for Swansea against Cardiff. Jimmy Gilligan.

I used to love Gilligan in his Ninian Park days. I swear that my son’s first word was Gilligan, such was his status in my house in 1988.

Two goals against Swansea City and the second in that “Curtis Goal” 1988 Welsh Cup Final described above, all helped cement his place in my heart. But romances do not always last for ever. In 1989, Cardiff boss Frank Burrows left the Ninian Park hot seat for Portsmouth, quickly taking Gilligan with him for £215,000. Gilligan later returned to South Wales to join the Swans.

Fate intervened to add yet another twist to the tale.

The first round of the FA Cup threw the great South Wales rivals together in November 1991. Gilligan up front for the West Walians. The writing was on the wall.

Inevitably it was Gilligan who grabbed the winner that day, collecting a ball hooked through from a certain Andy Legg. Just one touch was all the striker needed to score from 25 yards. My heart sank. Jimmy peeled away to the ecstatic home supporters piled onto the mighty North Bank.

Their glee at the sight of an ex Cardiff hero now putting the Bluebirds to the sword was simply uncontainable.

So we see above, many examples of the great rivalry. Sometimes fierce, yet sometimes forgiving. Often naughty, even nasty. But what we do not see …..is “why?”


Is it a jealousy thing down west; the “Cardiff gets Everything” syndrome?

Or have the capital city followers never really forgotten that it was their former hero John Toshack who took Swansea City to the heights of the football world, while they wallowed in the shadows. Had he re- joined Cardiff, which looked a prospect in 1978, the history of the two clubs may have looked very different.

What remains evident though, is that these rivals, are now joined at the hip.

They cannot escape one another. If there are such things as the Football Gods, they must spend endless hours rolling their dice to see what agonies, expectations and simple twists of fate they can unleash to throw the two sides together.

They taint each result with “yeh, but how did that lot down the road do today?” They throw our fortunes together, in ever decreasing circles.

I do wish they wouldn’t.

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