Rivalry between Swansea City and Cardiff City will outlast the present

But Saturday’s derby clash between the two top Welsh sides is also going to be about survival in the English Premier League, writes Andy Mitten.

Supporters of Swansea City and Cardiff City have always loathed each other. Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images
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It is a beautiful afternoon in South Wales as the sun dips behind the silhouette of the vast Port Talbot steelworks.

On the nearby motorway, a scruffy flag distracts motorists. “CCFC Port Talbot Blue Birds” it reads. The flag’s owners wait for the approaching convoy of 30 coaches carrying the entire Cardiff City support to Swansea.

Police close motorway junctions as the procession, flanked by 25 police vehicles and a helicopter, moves west on its 65-kilometre journey.

The 2,600 Cardiff fans are herded into a grim steel pen adjacent to the away turnstiles. Many of the travellers are in a state of foaming hysteria. One opens the coach skylight and spews a barrage of verbal fire. Welcome to the biggest game in Wales.

The year was 2008 and this was the first meeting in nine years between the two biggest clubs in Wales.

In a study commissioned by the New Football Pools, the battle between Cardiff and Swansea was seen as bigger than Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal, the Sheffield derby, Aston Villa v Birmingham and Newcastle v Sunderland.

The survey result becomes more pronounced considering the teams’ respective histories moving up and down the leagues ensured they avoided each other in league competition for decades at a time.

Not that they needed to play each other to keep the rivalry going. Following their 2006 success in the Football League Trophy at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, the Swansea players Lee Trundle and Alan Tate carried to Cardiff a Wales flag embellished with abuse.

When the teams met in 2008 in English football’s second tier, fans thought it would be a one off. They assumed that one of the teams would be relegated.

Within five years, both would be promoted to the Premier League.

They meet today in Swansea for the first time as a top-flight league game.

Both clubs have moved from their decaying old homes to new stadiums in the past decade, with today’s game at the Liberty Stadium, a clean black-and-white bowl of 20,500 seats – the Premier League’s smallest venue.

Like Cardiff, they are expanding their stadium.

They are both hopeful of a Premier League future and want the capacity to give them the revenue to compete.

The Cardiff fans will make the same journey along the motorway, with security heavy and, hopefully, as effective as the reverse fixture earlier in the season when no arrests were made. The only difference is that their buses will be free tonight.

Cardiff won the November game 1-0, but with the side at the bottom of the table and Swansea only three points ahead in 14th, the likelihood of both clubs staying up is slim. It is a desperate relegation battle. Swansea dismissed manager Michael Laudrup this week after their slump in form. The Dane is considering legal action against his former club.

Cardiff last month appointed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to replace Malky Mackay after the latter fell out with the Malaysian owner Vincent Tan.

Swansea will become the centre of attention for a couple of hours today.

Despite the stunning coastline outside the city that stretches towards the Mumbles lighthouse and the Gower Peninsula, Swansea itself does not exactly rival fellow port cities like Sydney or San Francisco for aesthetics.

Even their most famous son Dylan Thomas described it as an “Ugly, lovely town”, but there have been improvements and the city’s football team have mirrored the uplift.

After decades of disappointments, until recently fortunes had been looking up at both clubs.

Both sell out their 20,500 and 27,000 capacity homes. A decade ago, Swansea averaged 5,000 and Cardiff around 10,000.

Both cities have the population to support a top-flight club and both clubs have slick off-the-field operations.

They have also made considerable and successful efforts to curb the hooligan problems for which they long endured an uneasy reputation.

The issue is, Cardiff and Swansea fans really do loathe each other and nothing will ever take that away.