Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Swim Away

For years now, Swansea fans have been goading Cardiff with the animated breast stroke action, and the "swim away" chant. As it happens, I was a participant in the scenes that inspired the taunt.

It was Christmas time in the early nineties I think. In another spontaneous decision, I had made my way to Cardiff station to catch the train to the Vetch. But, unbeknown to me and dozens of other Cardiff fans, the trains weren't running that day. Not to worry - I offered a lift to a couple of lads from Ely and off we drove.

I don't remember much about the game itself, but I do remember that for some reason, probably the lack of public transport, that the City following was very poor that day. It was a low key affair, and the police let us out immediately after the whistle, which was unusual in those days.

As we walked across to the Courts car park, I could see a large mob of Swansea had gathered and were deciding on their best course of action. I looked around, and the Cardiff fans consisted of kids and families with the odd group of spotty fanzine writers. Swansea charged.

I'm not ashamed to say that I ran. Shat myself in fact. There was a mob coming straight for me and I ran into the law courts. To my horror, I found myself up a blind alleyway with no way out. I turned around, fully expecting a nightmare scenario, only to find myself quite alone. I peered round the corner, and saw the Swansea lads chasing a group of 'Diff towards the sea.

The car park was mayhem now. The police were conspicuous by their absence, and pockets of fans were fighting all over the place. I made it to the car where my new friends from Ely were eagerly waiting my arrival.

I found out later that those City fans had been chased into the sea by the Jacks and stayed there until they were able to be rescued by the late arrival of the police. And that is the origin of the "swim away" chant.

The end of the spontaneous journey

Cardiff City are playing away at Sunderland this evening. The Stadium of Light is one of the grounds that I have yet to visit, and it I was tempted to go. But these days, being tempted isn't enough. The all-ticket statues of most matches at this level means that plans have to be made, tickets booked, and the decision made well in advance of the game. It was not always so.

Some years ago, I made a last minute decision to travel to Shrewsbury for Dai Thomas's debut. He scored a goal and ran about so effectively that we were convinced we had seen the new local hero. It was a 7.30pm kick off, and when I happened to finish work early, I just jumped in the car at 5 0'clock and made the game.

I woke up very early one Saturday morning to find a car full of the Gregarious Crew outside my front door. Apparently, a few hours earlier in Clwb Ifor Bach, I had decided that I wanted to travel with them to Brunton Park, Carlisle. Seven hours later I was regretting that decision when Carlisle scored a last minute equaliser.

A different sport, but I rose instinctively on one dark morning a couple of years ago, and knew I had to go somewhere. I got in the car and made the 5 hour drive to Murrayfield on impulse. The pull was too great. Logistically, financially and sensibly, it didn't make sense, but a sense of occasion drew me, and I packed my bags. That first feeling of exhilaration when you have made the snap decision to go is a thrill that compares to the event itself. Again, my instinct was correct, and I saw Welsh rugby's most brilliant performance for 30 years.

Off the top of the head, I can list a number of games that I shouldn't have gone to. But as the match drew nearer, my senses became blurred and I was drawn unthinkingly to the game like a loyal St Bernard searching out his Master in a deep, icy crevice. Chester about five years ago, for example. Terry and I left late after we could no longer combat the impulse to go, we arrived at half time and saw a nothing game. The worst one was Exeter away in the Leyland Daf. Nothing to play for - it was a dead rubber, but towards 5 o'clock, the gravity from St James' Park was too much, and off I went. There were thirty City fans in the away end.

This evening's game has the same potential. There is nothing stopping me jumping in the car and driving up to Sunderland. It isn't a sensible thing to do. It would be an expensive, long journey, and I don't have that sense of duty, loyalty and martyrdom that I used to have. But there is always the possibility that my newly discovered enthusiasm would throw me behind the wheel and send me to Carlisle before my faculties could argue otherwise.

This is no longer an option.. There is no pay-on-the-gate at The Stadium of Light. I would need a ticket. And to get a ticket I need a membership, a fan number. I can't legally even pick up a spare. No, to travel to this game, I would have had to have made my decision sometime last week. And sometimes that's not the way it works.

Monday, October 30, 2006

St Davids Cross

In the past, when a new terrace phenomenon came along, it would be submerged into the culture and its origins would be lost. Thankfully, we now have the internet to document the starting point of these things, and I was pleased to come across the birth of a recent initiative documented in some posts to the Cardiff City mailing list.

This is the history of the St Davids Cross being used as the background for Cardiff City's current badge. It was man called Mervyn Ham who made the first flag up. Emblazoned with the legend "Llancadle Blues", Muhz put together the original flag in about 1998. This is the first mention that I could find of the cross, dated January 25th 2000.

In a message dated 25/01/00 11:36:55 GMT Standard Time,
Did anyone ever see those those enamel badges that were knocked up for theEuro Summit in Cardiff? three flags,Welsh Dragon / St Davids Cross / Euro Union Flag. Really neat!Well along the same theme - hows this for a balaclava badge?St Davids Cross / Skull & Crossbones / Bluebird Or St Davids Cross / Skull & Crossbones / Football Rattle. With the words "theres a bluebird in my heart" underneath. Tee Hee.Muhz

Not many people know that there are two versions of the flag:

At 06:49 25/01/00 EST, Eric the Red wrote: I was researching Welsh heraldry today and came across mention of the St David's cross. Black, on a gold background !!

This is the first mention of the actual flag:

Tue Jan 25, 2000 7:10 pm
Hi Mark, yes I'll probably be going.I'm taking the Llancadle Flag, and possibly getting a couple of smaller St Davids flags to raise the profile a bit. Did Nigel Blues mention that his mum and dad were listening to the Cambridge Away game on Capital Gold when they heard Phil Suarez commenting on the Llancadle Flag. Whats a yellow and black cross doing among Cardiff City fans? he kept asking - what is this Flag? . Muhz

And if you need any more evidence, here's NigelBlues from Tue Oct 15, 2002
Nobody knew about the St Davids Cross until Muhz told us all about 2 or 3 years ago and introduced his Llancadle flag. I don't know whether this development makes Muhz a hero or means he should be driven out of Wales but how was he to know it would be hijacked and misused in this fashion?

So there we have it. Documented proof of the first use of the St Davids Cross as a football flag.
It is prominent now throughout Wales, and not just within football. And we all know who started it - Mervyn Ham.

Eric the Dinosaur

It appears that this blog has finally reached the masses of Hammamistes on the Cardiff City Mad messageboard. To be fair, their criticisms of me and my blog are difficult to defend.

Firstly, the complaint that I didn't properly accredit the piece on Ridsdale's meeting. I'm not sure what more I can do. The problem is that if you post a link directly to Mike Morris's messageboard, the thread disapears after a few days and the link becomes dead. The piece was written by somebody called "The Lone Gunman", an old skool fan who I know and respect from way back . He likes Hammam, I don't. He wants to see the club playing in front of 40,000 in the Premiership. So do I.

The Lone Gunman points out the hypocrisy in my blog. I talk about dignity when I used to run around the terraces like a buffoon, making an arse of myself. He has a point. Guilty as charged.

Generally, elsewhere, the feeling is that I'm a dinosaur who likes his football "grim". That's partially true, though I might phrase it differently. I get just as much pleasure from small time football as I do from the big occasion. For me football is about companionship, laughter, competition, the shared sense of community, and the opportunity it gives the underdog to succeed. you can get that at any level. I support City because historically they have been the underdog.

The connection began in 1976. Even though we were top of the Third Division, the other clubs were bigger. Crystal Palace away was my first game, and from then on I always felt that City needed me as much as I needed them. It was a partnership more than anything. The Lone Gunman understands that well enough. I still struggle to support the favourite, even when Cardiff are involved. If that means liking your football to be grim, then mea culpa. For a football fan, the bigger the martyrdom, the higher the rewards.

But you talk to anyone who was around in the 1990s. Ask them about Halifax away when Pikey scored the winner, ask them about the Ayatollah procession after Blakey's overhead kick at Hereford. Ask them about the Ayatollah races at Peterborough. Find one of the several hundred people who witnessed our first ever penalty shootout at home to Exeter in the Leyland Daf trophy. And when you ask them to remember, they will beam. They were great times, and they suited some of us more than a sanitised £40 experience in an all seater stadium. I won't apologise for wanting something different from my football.

Cardiff City 2-2 Derby County

It was dark when I left at 7.30am. But the early start gave me a record journey time of 3 hours 36 minutes on the A470. Nothing much on the road, and there is still no sign that anybody lives in Commins Coch. I now look forward to Christmas, and to finding out whether the good citizens of Clatter will once again totally disregard the traditional display of festive decorations. Is Clatter a Satanic enclave ? It certainly feels like it sometimes.

By mid-day I had spent a fortune in the club shop. This was the first time in 6 years that I have been able to buy anything with Hammam's badge on it. Until now, it has been the old skool Bluebird, Dragon and Daffodils for me.

I felt liberated. Hammam is gone, and I'm proud to be a City fan once again.Hammam's vulgarity turned my club into a circus sideshow for "crazy bastards". Dignity's in short supply in football, but Ninian Park's boardroom has been bereft recently, of humility, propriety, and class. Let's hope that Peter Ridsdale keeps his head down, stays off the pitch, and doesn't do the Ayatollah.

Some City fans think that it's a case of out of the frying pan..., but we've had bad Chairman before. It goes with the deal. Tony Clemo, Jim Cadman, and even the mad Ukranian, Stefan Terlezki were all targets for campaigns and protests. But generally, you could ignore them. That's how it should be with Chairmen.

As for Saturday, credit goes to Ali for ignoring the Directors Box, and the ovation was fair enough. Plenty of people liked the old goat, and they're welcome to applaud. But to say that it was emotional is over-egging it. In my part of the ground, the Canton Stand, people weren't even sure what it was all about. We thought that Lewin Nyatanga had been spotted.

It has been a criticism recently on the battle ground of the messageboards that some of us were happy with 2,000 crowds and a rubbish team. Well I think that's obvious, otherwise we wouldn't have gone. It doesn't mean we don't enjoy the big occasion, but believe me, there is just as much satisfaction to be gained out of beating Plymouth 5-4 in front of a few thousand as there is at The Emirates for a 1-1 draw with Everton.

There have been comments in the media recently that Cardiff is a "proper" club with a "proper" ground. I know what they mean. Liverpool's second goal against Villa on Saturday was celebrated with a "yayyy". Not a "Waarggh, or a Yaarrggh", but a "Yayyy". That is not a proper celebration. That is a lazy, overfed, gout suffering, souffle of a cheer. If that's what a new stadium will bring, you can keep it.

Derby fans celebrated properly on Saturday. They jumped around, made crazy unplanned dashes across the terracing and generally went mental. Fair play to them. If you watch the highlights, Cardiff fans are already streaming out of the ground. Top of the League, 2-1 up, and under pressure deep into injury time. And thousands were leaving the ground. Comment is unnecessary.

This is the best City team I have ever seen. The result is just a statistic caused by the ball being round and happening to cross a white line a couple of times. Derby should already have been withdrawn to their corner. I don't mind drawing games like that. We are magnificent.

I was in my local by 10pm, and did that thing that all fans do when they arrive back at their pub after an away game. I took the match programme in and laid it out casually on the bar, face up, so that everyone would know that I'd just travelled 8 hours to watch a football match. But I make no apologies for that. I am proud again to be a City fan.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Ridsdale's Meeting with the fans.

This message was posted on Cardiff City.com a few minutes ago. I might as well publish it here in its entirety.
An informal meeting took place in the Ninian Park boardroom yesterday morning (25/10/06) between new Cardiff City Chairman Peter Ridsdale and a small group of the club’s supporters. Present at the meeting were Gwyn Davies, Paul Corkrey and Wayne Crichton of the Valley RAMS, Vince Alm of the Cardiff City Supporters Club, Mike Morris and Dave Sugarman from the Cardiffcity.com website, Ninian Park stadium manager Wayne Nash, and Julian Jenkins from the football club’s media department.

A wide range of topics were discussed during a relaxed forum. What follows is a brief summary of the main issues covered:

THE CLUB’S FINANCES – Peter gave those present a detailed breakdown of the recent changes to the club’s financial situation. He said the new investors will be putting up an initial sum of £12 million in the takeover deal currently being brokered by Keith Harris of Seymour Pierce. £9 million of that money will go towards paying off some of the club’s £25 million loan notes debt, and the other £3 million will go towards meeting the running costs of the football club.

This investment is seemingly critical in order to improve the club’s financial health, and it’s apparent that Cardiff City FC will continue to be run on a very tight budget for the time being. I think it’s safe to say that those who think large sums will be spent on new players during the January transfer window as a result of this takeover will be disappointed. However, the Chairman did suggest that efforts will be made to find the necessary money for new players if and when the manager feels his team needs them. He also informed the fans that a hefty seven-figure tax bill has recently been cleared, and negotiations are continuing to clear the club’s remaining debts, including loans from former directors. He said the initial aim of the new investment programme was to make the club debt-free within 12 to 14 months, and to finally get work started on the new stadium project.

THE LOAN NOTES – While the identity of the owners of the club’s loan notes still remains a mystery, Peter told the supporters that the terms of their repayment have been satisfactorily renegotiated as a part of the new takeover deal. He also said the Council have at long last received the assurances they require from the loan note holders’ bankers, which removes the stadium project’s final major stumbling block.

THE STADIUM PROJECT – The Chairman sounded confident that problems with the stadium bid are now a thing of the past, and that work will begin shortly. He talked of how unrealistic the club’s business plan had been before he took control of the project, and said he wasn’t at all surprised that the Council’s financial advisors had dismissed it out of hand. As an example, he made mention of the fact that retail units within the structure of the stadium itself had been an important feature of the initial designs, and the income the club could’ve derived from these units had been factored into the prospective budgets. However, the truth is that planning permission has never actually been granted for any such units. The club does have planning permission to include its own club shop and offices within the stadium structure, but units from outside retailers are not permitted.

Peter said he now felt that all of the major difficulties with the project had been ironed out and that the latest financial information provided by the club should satisfy the Council and therefore enable work to start in the very near future.

THE GROUND-SHARE TALK – Several of the supporters present voiced strong opposition to the idea of a possible ground-share with the Cardiff Blues rugby club at the new stadium. Peter was at pains to point out that such a scheme is merely a consideration at the current point in time, and would only ever become a reality if it was in the best interests of the football club. He also stressed that the football club will always be in control of the stadium, and the rugby team will merely become tenants if a suitable agreement can ever be reached between the two clubs.
The current agreement between Reading FC and the London Irish rugby club was used a prime example of the sort of deal which may be possible here in the future, and it was stressed that the Swansea City and Ospreys ground-share model would definitely not be followed in Cardiff. Stadium manager Wayne Nash dismissed fears that the involvement of a rugby team would seriously damage the playing surface. He said that modern pitch technology is such that any damage can be kept to an absolute minimum, as is the case at places like Reading, Hull and Wigan.

CAPACITY OF THE NEW STADIUM – This issue was discussed only briefly, as nobody in the room had seen the Echo’s report before the meeting. Peter told the fans that the exact capacity for the first phase of the new stadium had yet to be decided, and was dependent upon finances at the time of build. He said a minimum of 25,000 seats will initially be installed, although the number is more likely to be somewhere between 27,000 and 30,000. No mention was made of any further phases of the stadium’s development.

THE NEW BOARD – All City fans will no doubt be pleased to hear that director Steve Borley is to remain on the club’s board for the foreseeable future. Peter spoke very highly of Steve, and it’s clear he is still seen as an important influence in the Ninian Park boardroom. The future of the two remaining directors, Ned Hammam and Jonathan Crystal, is currently unclear, although the Chairman said he felt they were unlikely to remain on the board, and that new directors could step in once the takeover deal has been completed.

SAM HAMMAM – Peter confirmed that current owner Sam Hammam has been offered the position of Life President, and as such he will always be made welcome in the Director’s Box and the boardroom on match days. However, Sam will no longer play any part in board meetings; he will not be involved in the day-to-day running of the club and will not sit on the bench during matches. Peter said he was anxious that Saturday’s game against Derby County should be all about Dave Jones and his team getting back to winning ways after the defeat at Norwich rather than being about Sam.

NINIAN PARK AND THE PREMIERSHIP – The Chairman confirmed that Cardiff City will make an application for the continued use of the Ninian Park terraces should the club get promoted to the Premiership before the new stadium is completed. Many fans, including myself, have been under the impression that the club would either have to put seats on the Ninian terraces or close them down altogether if promotion was secured, as Premiership rules would preclude their use. However, it seems that the rules regarding all-seated stadiums are the same in both of the top two divisions, and it is therefore possible for City to gain continued special dispensation to use the Ninian terraces provided that work on the new stadium gets underway.
Peter totally dismissed the idea of renting the Millennium Stadium for future Premiership fixtures, and said that both he and Dave Jones were convinced that the atmosphere generated at Ninian Park would be a distinct advantage to City’s players if they got to the top flight. He said the idea of playing against the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool at the Millennium Stadium was quite simply a non-starter. The subject of ticket prices at the new stadium was discussed, and particular attention was paid to the likelihood of increases should the club reach the Premiership. The Chairman outlined his intention to keep prices well within reach of the average supporter, just as he did during his time in charge of Leeds United. He said the club would be looking to significantly increase its revenue from areas such as corporate hospitality and sponsorship at the new stadium as opposed to from drastic ticket price increases.
MASCOTS – Peter talked of his keen desire to market Cardiff City as a family club and indicated that, with that in mind, match day mascots will be returning almost immediately. The Bluebirds will also be looking to have a new club mascot very soon. Exactly what it will be and what it will be named will probably be the subject of a forthcoming competition for the children.
THE CLUB BADGE – The possibility of altering the current club badge to include the words ‘CARDIFF CITY’ instead of ‘BLUEBIRDS’ was discussed briefly, and will be examined shortly by the relevant people at the club.

The Chairman closed the meeting by saying that he and his staff will always welcome suggestions from City’s supporters, and he urged fans to contact the club with their ideas, observations and concerns whenever they feel it necessary to do so.

The King is Dead - Long Live etc...

No sooner is Hammam out of the door than the new boss, Peter Ridsdale is calling a summit of "fan leaders" to meet with him. Where other clubs have a PR officer and a press list, Cardiff City have a list of punters. This club cuts out all the middlemen, and the Chairman spins the news through the most committed fans. This is a particularly unsavoury way of doing things. Whereas a cynical and independent (in theory) press might question some of the club's statements, the fans are less likely to do so. The angle that gets peddled to the club's supporters comes stright from the horse's mouth. It is a disingenuous, manipulative abuse of trust and loyalty. We thought the tactic might have disappeared with Hammam, but it appears that Ridsdale is taking the same route.

So what came out of yeterdays meeting ? Ridsdale obviously wanted his version of events to seep out of Ninian Park and into the Lansdowne, the Napier and the King's. The version above is an edited/censored summary of the meeting. Other things were apparently said, but that won't go public. These things get round by word of mouth.

It's safe to say that the club is in the middle of one big gamble. If we go up and onto to better things, a lot of people stand to make a lot of money. If we don't, then the club will sink. My money is on the latter. Quite literally - I've laid City against promotion on Betfair.

Cardiff City are not the only club making this gamble, and you could say that it is an achievement that we are even allowed to play at the table.

Out of respect for my sources I don't want to reveal too much about what was said at the meeting, but I am a little happier today that my scepticism about Sam Hammam appears to have been justified.

Will this unpublished message filter through to the messageboard today ? If it does, then we might be able to enjoy Saturday's match without the toe-curling banners and sycophantic chants about Sam Hammam. Crossed fingers are what this club needs at the moment.

It is worth repeating my opposition statement now that I have a platform via this blog. This City does not need another retail park. It does not need another stadium. We have plenty of both.

Another voice of reason

From the message board at Cardiff City Mad

Just my thoughts:-

£30m in debt - Thanks Sam!
Got rid of our brilliant badge even though the majority wanted it kept - Thanks Sam!
Paul Guy keeping us afloat - Thanks Sam!
Got rid of mascots - Thanks Sam!
Caused in-fighting beteween loyal fans - Thanks Sam!
Peter Risdale actually got Dave Jones in - Thanks Sam!
Threatening to change our name and colours - Thanks Sam!
Lost any family atmosphere - Thanks Sam!
For having the minority love him, who then shouted down the majority who didn't - Thanks Sam!
Saying we represent the whole of Wales when we quite obviously don't - Thanks Sam!
Banning fans, Jack Brown bookmakers and anyone else that displeased him - Thanks Sam!
Not being a 'family' but a one man ego show - Thanks Sam!
For the continuous lying (administration error etc. etc.)- Thanks Sam!
For finally going - Yes, Thanks Sam!
And yet people are still saying 'thanks Sam'.
Like I said, just my thoughts............

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Voices of Dissent

Not everybody is fawning with gratitude at the feet of Sam Hammam. Here are some emails that I have received from less enamoured Cardiff City fans.

It's shades of grey though, isn't it ? If you want to call it a bereavement, then I will be taking the same actions as I took when the Queen Mother's passing was "celebrated" at PN - except I won't be in a seat on Saturday that I can remain seated in, quietly. By the same token, if others want to applaud him, that's their choice, and that's up to them. I won't be joining in, but I do respect others' rights to do so if they so choose.

Eric, you're right on the legacy - take away the means, throw in a bit of luck, and the club is marginally in a better place now than it was 6 years ago. Where were we exactly ? Sloshing around the lower leagues, no money to sign decent players, no sustainable long term infrastructure. Prognosis ? On a blunt kitchen knife edge - we could have gone down to the Conference - or someone with a few pennies could have come in (probably a couple of million), stabilised the club, and realistically, we would have spent the foreseeable future at a slightly tarted up Ninian Park, oscillating between the Third and Fourth Divisions.

Instead, we got Sam. Due to family connections, and some previous, he was able to get his hands on a bit more than a couple of million, and therefore in six years,
he's delivered two promotions, and we've had a decent first quarter to this season. We have an Academy, which has started to produce good players. Some dreadful purchases - Barker, Prior, Gavin Gordon - and many forget David Hughes, who even before injury struck him down prematurely hardly looked like a half million pound player. Rumours of grossly inflated wages. So as well as the positives, we also have a £30m debt. We're on a very sharp machete edge - we saw the shape of things potentially to come on Black Friday - home grown heroes being sold in a fire sale. There is no permanence in the Academy. And I mentioned his previous earlier - Wimbledon, from non league football, to the FA Cup and half a dozen years in the Premier League - their fans had a great time for half a generation. But where are they now ? And how much heartache has that caused along the way ? How do you begin to weigh up the pleasure against the pain of lifelong Wimbledon fans - but moreover, what right has one man got to dictate that equation coming into being in the first place ?

Then you've got the bullshit - the bigger than Barcelona., shirt burning, Big brother little brother bullshit - the unnecessary braggadocio which never backfired on him, but on each and every one of us, making us look like blind followers of some mindless cult.

To use a metaphor, before Sam we were a point to point horse - turning up week in, week out, always fishing the race, occasionally coming in as an each way bet, often following most of the rest of the field - but it was always there next week with a chance of giving us a return on our money, and even occasionally making a small profit, sharing the transient glories of victory amongst us all. Then Sam turned us into a Grand National horse - at the end of the first circuit, we were up with the leaders, with a real chance of real fame and glory in a lap's time. But the stakes were a lot higher - as the horse gets more tired, a fatal fall can take place. Don't forget the last horse he'd taken through the Grand National - it competed for a long part of the race, but then fell, and had to be put down. It was never going to come back for the next race.

This time, he got lucky - for whatever reason, whether it was his choice or someone else's, they've changed the jockey half way round. But the horse is still tired - it
still carries a lot of extra weight - £30m of lead in its saddlebag. But a big bottle of lucozade is possibly on offer, to give the horse a bit of extra energy. It may go the course - and provide some transient glory. But it can still fall.

So what is Sam's legacy then ? He's put us in a race where the rewards are quantatively bigger - but the the penalties for failing are a lot harsher, and more permanent. Some people are happy for others to make this decision for them - and either don't care about the harsher penalty for failing - or can't see it till it hits them like a bullet between the eyes. Personally, I'm not happy for other people to hijack my fortunes in that way, which is why I'm glad Sam is going. Unfortunately, I'm not sure yet what the new jockey is like, and anyway, this isn't a race I really wanted to be in anyway. I think I would have preferred the Derby - when you finally fail
there, you get to spend the rest of your days shagging in a nice field, rather than being shafted, permanently, in the race that Hammam entered us into.

Which is why I'll be silent on Saturday.


And from another dissenter:

I had to try and explain to an Arsenal supporting colleague why I was so happy about Hammam fucking off yesterday. Although I offended him deeply by using a Hitler comparison, I still feel it was a fundamentally sound analogy. City from 2000 – 2006 was much better on the field than the previous 20 years. Its something like the improvements seen in the German economy after the National Socialists came to power, between 1933 and 1938. For you average German things seemed great, compared to the hyper-inflation experienced in the 20s. But there was a cost. Sections of society (the fanbase) were persecuted, and though popular support for the leader remained strong, there were those who could see that ultimately there was a terrible price to pay. The soul of the nation/club, was deeply disfigured by those who supported the success at any costs mentality and either didn’t care about, or actively supported, the evil agenda of the leader.


And finally

No one can make any kind of judgement based on the PR campaign we have had so far, only the reality of the next few years. I don't think our situation has changed very markedly, someone will still want a return on their "serious money" that has "replaced the debt" and the future well-being of the club is still staked on a property development.

Getting in to the Premiership does not in itself guarantee healthy finances even with the new TV deal starting, it depends on what you spend when you're there. Obviously I think having Hammam's unstable and possibly incompetent character out of the way is probably a positive and I am very glad he's gone due to my personal dislike of his actions, pronouncements and methods.

Most of all I won't have to suffer his horrendous cult of personality and the lie that he "wasn't doing it for money"So, in summary, I think we MIGHT be slightly better off, slightly more stable and with a very slightly less odious man at the helm. Also, I wonder if the excellent work the council have done in protecting us from Hammam's unworkable (no one disputes this now do they? His having to walk away pretty much confirms that) and dangerous plans will ever be remarked upon en masse by the fans?

Sound familiar ?

This is a report of the 2002-02 season at Leeds United:

It was not the first time that the question of money had been raised as a major issue. The Guardian carried the following report a month earlier: "The scale of the financial implications of Leeds United's underachievement this season became clear yesterday when the chairman Peter Ridsdale announced that they had lost almost £14m in this financial year and that they would have to sell £30m-worth of players this summer in order to reduce their debt by £15m to £20m.

"Leeds are believed to have received a bid of £30m for Rio Ferdinand alone but would not countenance selling their captain, so the mooted sale of Mark Viduka to Roma should account for half the £30m. Internazionale and Juventus have offered a similar sum for Olivier Dacourt but his season has been affected by injury and the likelihood of him not making France's World Cup squad will affect his value. Despite all the speculation surrounding Harry Kewell, Leeds have not received one bid for the Australian.

"The ease or difficulty of reaching the £30m figure then depends to a degree on how Leeds finish this season. Were they to secure a Champions League place, their players would end their season on a high note and values would rise correspondingly. However, if Elland Road experiences another downturn, the marketability of fringe players such as Stephen McPhail and Robbie Keane will decrease. The manager David O'Leary will also want to bring in at least two new faces, so Ridsdale's estimate that up to six players may leave the club could be correct.
"He said: 'One of the transfers will probably be more than £10m with three or four more smaller deals made up of squad players who are not regular first-teamers. The amount left for the manager to spend will depend on European qualification.'

"The situation has been forced on Leeds as they try to reduce long-term borrowings that have risen to more than £85m after a £90m spending spree that has brought no silverware. An indication of how results-driven the economics are is that when they topped the Premiership in September, Leeds's shares were worth 14p. Yesterday they fell to 7p.

"Ridsdale was speaking after Leeds unveiled a £13.8m full-year loss which served to compound fears in the City that the stock market-listed club has borrowed too much in its quest for success on the pitch. Leeds have had the squad independently valued at £198m but the City values the entire club at just £25m. But Ridsdale remains bullish. 'There are a lot of people waiting for Leeds to have a hiccup,' he said, 'but we're committed to a strategy of building one of Europe's biggest clubs and all our shareholders support us. We have no concerns about either our cash or debt levels.'

"A sign of Ridsdale's confidence, or concern, is that along with his fellow director Allan Leighton he is preparing to buy out one significant investor in the club, the bank UBS Warburgs, who own 11%. At yesterday's prices that would cost around £3m.

"Explaining the yearly loss, Ridsdale said the uncertainty surrounding the Lee Bowyer-Jonathan Woodgate trial and the injuries to Lucas Radebe and Michael Bridges had forced Leeds to carry more players on their wage bill than they had originally wanted. 'We didn't know who was going to be available to the manager,' he said. 'It was not an ideal situation.'

"Ridsdale also insisted that plans to move to a new stadium and fund it by selling naming rights were unaffected by the impending player sales. He said: 'We're in discussions with three multinationals over naming rights and already have one indicative offer.'"
It was an astonishing turn of events and few supporters could recall when financial pressures had put the club's on-field performances so much in the shade.

Hammam's Legacy

If you have a browse around the net, it will seem that I am a lone voice in my cynical assessment of Sam Hammam's tenure at Cardiff City. I feel like a salmon swimming upstream, such is the outpouring of gratitude and even grief in some quarters.

Even my attitude has softened. Take away the personality clash, the embarrassing proclamations, and the crass behaviour, and Sam's legacy is on the face of it, pretty impressive.

He has proved me wrong over past few years on several occasions. I thought he would walk away as soon as things got tough. I was sure that "Black Friday" was the end of him, but through sheer persuasiveness and hand pressing, he won the fans back. He has stopped his on the pitch shenanagins, has seemingly brought in serious investment and maybe history will prove me wrong again.

It appears that he took a struggling 4th Division club, and through a mixture of connections, chutzpah and bravado, has put the club in a position where it is on the verge of its biggest success for half a century.

So what is the problem ? Firstly, I am irritated that all of the club's recent success is attributed to the Chairman. There have been significant contributions from a number of people, who have then been discarded, and their reputations tarnished unnecessarily. I am thinking of David Temme primarily, who has received little recognition for his part in the stadium development, which was in place for some time before Sam arrived.

There are other dissenting voices, but as the editors of "The Thin Blue Line" will tell you, it isn't easy to criticise, or even question the regime at Ninian Park.

One man who is yet to be convinced that all is as rosy as it seems is Leighton Andrews AM, who raises important financial questions in his blog.

I am now playing a waiting game. I am prepared to admit that I might be wrong about all this. In ten years time, history might prove that I am just a bitter ex-employee, disgruntled at perceived unfair treatment. Cardiff could be playing in "The Sam Hammam Stadium", and there might be a statue in the forecourt of the man who saved the club.

But you know, when Leeds United played in the Semi Final of the Champions League, and Ridsdale was spending the money, as the fans were demanding, nobody wanted to consider the implications of the gamble. In hindsight, Leeds fans now revile a man they once adored, in the same way that City fans love Hammam. Ironically, Ridsdale is the man now in charge of another club building up huge debts which are apparently going to be wiped clean when they win the League.

A coincidence ? Let's wait and see.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Good Riddance Sam Hammam

When I heard the news that Sam Hamam was leaving Cardiff City, I bought a round of drinks to celebrate. However, more informed research, from more reliable sources than "Bubs" the Spurs fan has made me more cautious about the finality of Sam's supposed departure.

I should state a personal involvement here. I was working at Cardiff City when Sam Hammam took over the club. After a couple of months, it was obvious that our personalities "clashed", then we had a stand up row before one game and I walked out the following morning.

In one swipe, my twenty five year relationship with the club was hanging by a thread. It seemed that every moment of satisfaction from an increasingly successful Cardiff side was to be framed by the image of my nemesis striding around Ninian Park, waving a Welsh flag and generally "rubbing it in". It was like watching someone shag my girlfriend - in my own bed.

Recently, however, Sam has been keeping a low profile, and it is much easier to support Cardiff City when he is out of the picture.

This is not the place where I tell you about Sam Hammam. You have all heard stories about his behaviour. Let me just tell you that if you ever hear a story about Sam that sounds just too extreme in its cruelty, arrogance, narcissism, crassness and crudity, then it is probably true.

What really hurts me is that people that I have always respected, good genuine Cardiff City fans, have been flattered by the attention that he dishes out, and have been blinded by the success of the team. Most have seen the error of their ways after time, but even now most have blinkered themselves to the back stage workings of this currently successful run of theatre. They wouldn't care if Pol Pot scored the goal, as long as we won the Cup.

Suspiciously, the announcement comes just as Week in Week out is due to broadcast an apparently controversial documentary on the progress of the new stadium. And Sam's footsoldiers have been active recently, encouraging action against the BBC for publishing negative content about the club at the time of its most successful period for 35 years.

What interests me in this "resignation" statement is that Sam denied that he was ever Chairman of the club. He was always adamant about this. He used to mumble some platitudes about being the "Head of the Family", but I'm not sure that he was ever officially Chairman. How then can he resign?

Semantics apart, I am not convinced that he is about to disappear. He is still President. That's not an abdication in my book, that's just a cabinet reshuffle. But with family in America, maybe he'll go.

Last night, I walked around feeling like I did on the day that the Tories were voted out of Goverment in 1997. But this afternoon, after a day when more information has become available, I feel like I did when I discovered that Labour were no better.

I'll be at Ninian Park on Saturday, and I'm sure that it will be an emotionally charged experience. "We want Sam Hammam walking round the pitch" and all that. He will be there, waving his flags, and Ali will play "Thanks for the Memories." There won't be a dry eye in the house. Personally, I am delighted that I can once again support Cardiff City without the smallprint disclaimer.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Lighthearted Tannoy Announcements

There is nothing funnier than a lighthearted tannoy announcement. Official.

"Could the owner of a robin reliant please remove their vehicle from Sloper Rd, or it will be towed away." Manna for the terrace wag.

"Happy Birthday Ronnie from the lads at Panasonic. Big Bertha from accounts sends you an extra special kiss." Ho Ho Ho.

But the one that everyone craves, the King of the tannoy announcement is the following:

"Could Simon Forthwinkle please go home immediately as your wife is giving birth." Such is the fame that this announcement would bring, such is the kudos amongst your fellow fan that is gained by such dedication to your team, that many people aspire to missing the birth of their child in order to attend a Division 3 relegation struggle.

Four years ago, I set my targets a bit higher.

My second son was due on the day that Wales played Italy in a European Qualifier. The due date itself was handy, and it gave me plenty of opportunity to bluster my way through pre-natal conversations with concerned female friends. "Of course I'm going to the match. Some things in life are just too important." They would then rush home to break the horrific news to their partners, who would jump on the chance to concur with me . "Bloody right too. I'd do the same thing in his position."

It's all bravado of course, but when my wife started having contractions on the morning of the match, I found myself really having to make the decision; it was no longer simply a hypothetical wind-up opportunity. I went to the match, but I didn't drink, which I think was an admirable concession on my part. I gave her the number of the Millennium Stadium and left her with a cup of tea. Glengettie of course.

When we went 2-1 up, everyone else was praying for the final whistle, while I was praying for the tannoy call. Just imagine it. In the dying moments of the game, there would be a "bing-bong" and the crowd would fall silent. "Would Eric the Red please go home immediately as your wife has gone into labour." I would rise amongst my cheering companions, face the crowd, who by now would have identified me as the absent Father, wave regally, and decisively and hilariously remain at the game. I would be a legend.

When I got home that night, her bags were on the front doorstep, the front door was open and she rushed into the car. She had begun serious contractions half way through the second half, but seeing the score had decided that it would have been pointless to call me. A sensible sort, my wife.

As it happens, Eric Jnr. was born the following day after several hours of discussion about whether we could call him Simon, Bellers, or Craig.

I may have failed in the tannoy attempt, but at least now it is easy to remember my son's birthday. He was born on October 17th, 2002, the day after Wales beat Italy. My first son was born on April 27, the month and year when Cardiff won the FA Cup. See? - It's easy, this Fatherhood lark.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Let's have a pop at the English again

I am including some excerpts from Ronan O Gara's attack on English rugby published in the Guardian yesterday. I do so here, without reservation, bacause his comments could just as easily apply to English football, and indeed to the English in general.

"We no longer suffer from being beaten before we even travel to England or France any more. We expect to win when we go over there. It's the same with Ireland. I've played against England six times and won four of those matches. That's not surprising to me because, between the walls of our dressing room, we always expect to beat England.

But the English public and their team have a hard time believing that. They still assume they should come out on top every time because, apparently, the natural order in rugby is that England are the greatest. It's probably down to the way they've been brought up."

I watch some Premiership rugby and I have to switch off the sound because I wonder if I'm seeing the same game. Their commentators are enthusing about the quality and excitement and I'm just like, 'Oh my God!' "Sky do an incredible job in dramatising the whole of English rugby, but the way they hype these English guys is unbelievable. I've toured with some of the players they're now saying are the best in England - and it just doesn't make sense. We all talk about the English players so this is the general opinion in Irish dressing-rooms. Some of the people they are trying to put on a pedestal just don't deserve to be there."

Celtic v Benfica

This is the era of multi-kitted teams, when clubs will wear a special kit for each different competition, when they not only have second kits, but third kits too. Sometimes, a team will also produce a special commemerative kit which they never even wear.

In this environment, you would think it possible for Celtic and Benfica to come up with a couple of kits that made it possible to distinguish between the two teams on television.

Evidently not. Last night's match on Sky was almost unwatchable due to the similarity of the pale kits under the floodlights. It doesn't look too bad in this photo, but on TV from the gantry, it was only the dark shorts of Benfica that gave you a chance of identifying the teams at a glance.

Benfica's kit was disgusting anyway. It was pale grey, but it seemed to have a light pink tinge from distance. They usually play in red, so why they changed it for Celtic was anybody's guess.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

When Saturday Comes

Some people have told me that this blog as been awarded the presumably prestigious "Blog of the Month" award in November's When Saturday Comes.

Unfortunately, this magazine is now unavailable in Gwynedd after WH Smith decided to concentrate on selling things like Hello! and OK!

If there is anybody out there who still lives in 1989 and buys WSC, could they please put on their round glasses, slip into their Philosophy football t-shirt, or their Non Alla Violenza 1990 World Cup sweatshirt, and pop into Sportspages to confirm my recognition as the spokesman for the nostalgic, postmodern beardy wimp.

I last heard of WSC in about 1995 when I wrote them a letter telling them they should give up as they weren't funny any more, that inflatable bananas had all burst by then, that their monthly round up was lazy and insulting, and that the Internet would kill the fanzine.

Apparently they pinned my letter to the wall and had a good laugh about it. Who's laughing now eh ? Blog of the Month? I should coco.

Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau in Prague

Who says that football fans don't sing ?
Oh.. it was me was it ?...

Wales v Scotland 1985

Never a penalty.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Welsh not British

During a job interview at the BBC a few years ago I was asked this question from a well-meaning executive down from London:

"Why do you think that it is important for Wales to have its own area on the BBC Sports Website ?"

I responded with a question:

"Why is there not a link to the English sports section of the site ? I'll tell you. Because you begin with the assumption that England is Britain, and therefore England is your starting point. On the BBC Sports website, you can navigate to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. England is the default. That is wrong in so many ways"

I didn't get the job. And you still can't navigate to England from the BBC Sport homepage. You see, you are already in England.

This confusion about England's status as the dominant force in Britain has reared its head recently in the letters page of the Sunday Times following an article by Ian Hawkey on Euskadi's and Catalunya's claims for a representative National football side. Here is an extract:

Obliging Catalans and Basques to play for Spain is like telling Barry
Ferguson, Craig Bellamy or David Healy they can only play international
football for a Britain team called England.
Leaving aside the disgusting, arrogant and insulting misnomer that is the England Cricket Team, Hawkey has made the same inflated claim for England's status. William Morrell wrote a letter that to the Times that corrects this assumption:

Further to Ian Hawkey's article...it was stated that Fifa works on the principle
"that to have a national side, you need to be a sovereign state, with a seat
at the UN. But vagaries do exist, like Wales, Scotland and Northern

Wales Scotland and Northern Ireland ? But not England ? You will notice that Hawkey makes the same BBC Website assumption. i.e. that England is somehow above the squabbling claims of the minor Celtic nations. Morrell goes on to explain:

England also falls into this category, in that it is no more a sovereign state
than the other three countries that make up the United Kingdom. Many Catalans
and Basques are misguided in their belief that Spain and England are equal
political/sovereign entities. They confuse England with the UK and draw fake
comparisons, wrongly thinking that the Scots have been granted special
dispensation not to play for England. They miss the point that England are only
permitted to compete as an individual nation subject to the same historic
agreement as their UK partners. What the Basques and Catalans want is a seperate
team from the sovereign state, Spain.

Well said that man.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Lee Trundle

I see that Lee Trundle scored his 100th League Goal yesterday. The iconic Lower League Celebrity has entertained fans at Wrexham and Swansea, whilst being patronised by Tim Lovejoy and Soccer AM. He has achieved his minor fame by scoring a lot of great goals, and wearing flashy gear. His broad Mersey wit and an eye for the ladies certainly helps to cement his position as a postmodern Frank Worthington.

Decades ago, Lee Trundle would have been an obscure cult figure at a small club. Think of Tommy Tynan, Don Rogers, or Tarki Micallef. But in the time of digital media, when so many channels are desperate for content and interest, Trundle has been built up into more of a player than he really is. Then came the Millennium Stadium incident, the image rights, and all the hyped up attention that might have spoilt his big time move.

It could all have been so different.

In the late 90's , I used to run a website that channelled most of its energies into the humiliation and ridicule of then Welsh manager, Bobby Gould. Gould was universally despised by Welsh fans at the time due to his "quirky" man management techniques aligned with absurd tactical decisions. To his credit, he did a lot of positive things for Welsh football away from the 1st team, which were unceremonously dropped by Mark Hughes' during his own star-pampering tenure. But at the time, Bobby Gould was the Number One Hate Figure.

It was with some embarrassment then, that I found myself working alongside Mr Gould in his time as Cardiff City manager in 2000. I was information manager at the club, and to all extents and purposes, I was Bobby Gould's PR man.

Apart from a tricky situation when we chose Bobby's nemeses, Manic Street Preacher's "You Love Us" as the run-on song for the season, I tried to do the job professionally, and we worked closely together for a time.

One Friday afternoon, I was speaking with Bobby and mentioned that I was going to Rhyl that evening to watch their game against Connahs Quay Nomads in the League of Wales. "Do me a favour", said Bobby. "Take a look at their front pair, and let me know what you think. I've heard good things about them". He was talking about Danny Barton and Lee Trundle.

So there I was, a scout for Cardiff City, running my watchful eye over a couple of potential signings. I had seen them both play before of course, but this time I would concentrate, and even maybe write a few things down. I told the Rhyl board that I was representing Cardiff, and I even got a free cup of tea and a biscuit. Live the Dream, Eric, Live the Dream!

I soon wrote Barton off as one of those players who excel at LoW level, but who would struggle to hold down a place in a professional side.

Trundle however was different. He demanded your attention. But that evening, the fates conspired against him. Maybe he was nervous knowing that the newest, but most influential figure in Welsh football was watching, but he didn't have a good game.

The Nomads defenders were winding him up about something - the now-forgotten incident in a Mersey nightclub perhaps ? Whatever they said, it was working. Every time the ball came to Trundle, he looked for an opportunity to have a dig, a stamp, or an elbow. He was distracted.

There was a late penalty which Trundle took, and I can't remember if he scored it, or missed. And I think he might even have been sent off eventually.

My report was uncomplimentary. It was negative, while still leaving the door open for the portly Scouser. I told Bobby Gould that Trundle was overweight, that he lacked sharpness in the area, and he was easily wound up - (known in the scouting game as a questionable temperament). But I also added that he was skillful, and that I'd seen him play better.

Bobby Gould never signed Trundle. I would hope that he saw the player himself, and made up his own mind. But my ego likes to think otherwise. I like to think that I drove Lee Trundle into the arms of Bryan Flynn. I don't think he was "a Cardiff City player". I never scouted agin.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Wales vs Cyprus - Highlights

Hogia Felin

The future of football in Felinheli is in safe hands.

Back Palace

With McNaughton out, City's squad will be tested properly tomorrow at Selhurst Park. I know that this is a tight unit that is well capable of getting a result, but we have a new loan signing, and 3 players who have been away all week. Add an injury to Scimicar, and we are up against it, away at a decent side.

Betfair's odds of 6/4 on a Palace win look tempting and I have taken a tenner. Let's hope I'm wrong.

Ashton Gate in 2003

In 2003, Cardiff City faced Bristol City in a 2-legged Division 2 play off semi final. Cardiff had won the first leg, but were not expected to progress, as Bristol City were a talented side, and confident that they could beat Cardiff by a couple of goals at home. It turned out otherwise as the Bluebirds held on with a magnificent defensive display. This game was the beginning of their transition from joke team into serious contenders. I wrote this poem about the occasion:


In a corner of West England
The people sat in wait
For seventeen hundred bluebirds
To pillage Ashton Gate
Their sounds of guilt were carried
On The Waterfront's lapping waves
The streets were paved with gold they earned
By selling African slaves.

In a cold and windy tunnel
The ghost of Scoular howled
At the injustice of that April day
When the ref said Gabbi fouled
But tonight it would be different
As Lennie called them in"
Remember you don't always need
To score a goal to win."

The bridges were suspended
And Gareth Ainsworth too
So Wille Boland played out wide
And did the work of two.
Old Leggy ran away the years
Defending City's honour
But when his limbs began to ache
We replaced him with Mark Bonner

The Robins swarmed around the pitch
But they found no way to goal
Their only hope a Christian,
Who they thought had sold his soul.
But you can't turn a Cardiff man
With tainted trader's plunder
And when he lunged to get sent off
We just began to wonder.

The daffodils wilted and the dragon breathed
A defiant roar of fire
And its spirit filled the heart that night
Of the reborn Spencer Prior
Then Wilson played his final cards,
But all their hope was gone
When they saw the man they had to beat
Was Daniel Gabbidon

The Celts stood strong against their foe,
And the Anglo-Saxons whined
As Tinnion's header met the palm
Of Braveheart on the line
The night closed in and the lights came on
As the Bristol air grew darker
And still the enemy were repelled
By Weston, Croft and Barker

And as the moon shone brighter
The Men of Harlech sang
And they waved the black and yellow cross
Of Pembroke's Water Man.
The whistle went, and battle-hardened
Men began to cry,
You won't forget this famous night,
And brother, nor will I.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Wales 3-1 Cyprus

Well that’s better. Immense credit should go to John Toshack and the boys for their character, and for having the balls to begin this game with so much verve and pizazz.

This was our youngest ever side and the back six had an average age of just 21. I wouldn’t like to see them with their backs to the wall away to the Germans, but for tonight, they stood up well to the task. But Ireland, how did you concede five goals to this lot?

At the back, Lewis Price stepped in, after Paul Jones was dropped. I now think that Toshack was a bit harsh in giving the armband to Bellamy while Jones was earning his 50th cap. If he’d been made captain, then Paul Jones wouldn’t have shaved his head. I’m sure of that. Lewis Price doesn’t fill me with confidence, but what 12 year old would?

While England were moaning about McLaren’s decision to play 5-3-2, Toshack has stuck to the very same system, even at the expense of playing his best players. There is merit to his argument though, and Mark Hughes took a long time to get his team used to the 4-5-1 game. Tosh should also be given time with his new “systemat”.

The system means that Duffy is preferred to Rob Edwards for his better attacking ability. But the tactic is dependant on Mark Delaney to succeed. And as Aston Villa know, it’s dangerous to bank on Delaney’s fitness.

In the centre, I was mightily impressed by Craig Morgan. I like my centre halves to be a little bit intimidating, and the gruff Morgan fits the bill. He now needs to move from Franchise FC, and join a proper club. Meanwhile, Nyatanga is starting to show his age. But let’s stick with them, and be patient.

In midfield, Koumas stroked the ball around well in front of his family, who were sat amongst the 1200 Cypriots at the game. But he tired severely in the second half, and I have to ask the question how a professional athlete earning vast sums of money can allow themselves to degenerate to that extent, even if they do miss pre-season training. There are thousands of amateur cyclists, triathletes, and even footballers who could run for 90 minutes, even with a day job. Koumas insults us every time we buy a ticket.

Simon Davies relished the chance to show Everton what he can do, and Wales looked a threat every time they went forward. He’s another one who needs a new club and regular football. As for Robinson, well…. He tries his best, and who can ask for more?

Up front, Bellamy and Earnshaw improved as a partnership. One came short while the other went deep. I don’t think Earnie should come short too often though. It’s not his game really is it?

Credit too, to the 20,000 Welsh fans who supported the team when they needed it most, and also to the FAW for their continued cheap ticketing policy.

I managed to catch some of the television coverage, and was again impressed by Sky’s studio analysis. They are a lot less patronising than the BBC England crowd, and if Andy Gray seems disinterested, that’s OK with me. Meanwhile on the Beeb, Gary Lineker uses every opportunity to make in jokes, referring to Bellamy as Shearer’s “mate”. Gary, it’s over. Save it for the Groucho Club.

The post match interviews showed that the squad were hurt by media comments after Saturday’s game. They had a point. The South Wales Echo editorial was disgraceful, calling on Toshack to sort out “his” mess by bringing back Speed and Savage. Their ignorance was all too evident. But let’s not forget that the printed media have an agenda here. Who sells more papers? The Premiership “personalities” Speed and Savage, or the water-carrying Robinson and Fletcher?
All credit to Gary Speed for supporting Toshack’s philosophy in the Sky studio.

I was also disappointed to hear Neville Southall attacking Toshack and his team on the morning of the game. Big Nev was eagerly endorsing Bryan Flynn as Tosh’s replacement. It was unhelpful to say the least. Yes, this is Flynn’s young team to all extent and purposes, and he will surely get his deserved chance with the National side one day, but Big Nev just sounded bitter.

At the Millennium Stadium, there was no big screen action, which is apparently a UEFA dictum. It didn’t stop Northern Ireland having live footage at Windsor Road last night. But I also noticed that they still use terracing in Belfast, which was never allowed at our National Stadium in the nineties.

And finally a nice touch by the tannoy man to play Gwyneth Glyn’s “Adra” as we left the stadium. A lovely heartwarming song, which suited the occasion as we walked out with a nice fuzzy feeling after seeing our young team’s impressive recovery.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

No roads lead to Cardiff

The prospect of a dull, uninspiring, lethargic but most importantly pointless football match attracts the self-righteous fan like a magnet. And tonight, whilst the majority of my compatriots will be settled comfortably in front the High Def broadcast of the game, I will be at the Millennium Stadium, wishing I was somewhere else.

It's ironic. When I lived in Cardiff, a short walk from the Stadium, I missed several Wales home games. But now that I live 170 miles away, it seems much more important that I make the effort.

That 170 miles mainly traverses the A470. It is a legendary trek that makes transport experts of anybody who lives West of Colwyn Bay. We know every passing place, we know that there is no hope if you are stuck behind a lorry between Rhayader and Caersws. We know there are traffic cameras in Penrhyndeudraeth and Ganllwyd. We know that the people of Clatter do not believe in Christmas decorations. The names of Llanbrynmair, Carno and Talerddig vist us in our never ending nightmare along the most beautiful, but most soul-crushing, and dispiriting journey that constitutes a primary route. This is the main road from the capital to our main port at Holyhead.

We share this narrow, precarious road with tractors, lorries and people who are simply popping out to buy a paper. As they pull out from their farm gate, they are joining traffic that has been stuck behind a horse box for 35 miles. There is steam coming out of our ears. Where do all these people go in their horse boxes ? Don't horses have legs in Mid Wales ?

I should take the train of course. In theory, it's the best option. Tickets are as cheap as £20, and you can reach Cardiff in under 4 hours. But the reality is that there are no trains back from Cardiff after the match. The cheap tickets are sold out about 3 months in advance, and if I were to book today it could cost me nearly £100. But the main problem with the train is the certainty that you would have to share a carriage with half a dozen cider heads from Mochdre. On a 4 hour trip, that's a frightening prospect.

When I lived in Cardiff, I would listen in awe to the travel plans of our friends from the North. In those days, the Bala lads were certainly committed. After a 4 hour coach drive to Cardiff in midweek, 50 of them would have a good drink before the game, and then would stay in Cardiff until 2am, before leaving for the trip home. My old mate Berwyn the Butcher would get back at 6am, put his apron on, and start chopping up pigs. Dedicated.

On Saturday, a quick scan of the Mochyn Du spotted 25 people from my village. All had travelled down separately that morning, and some were driving straight back after the game. One percent of the village was in that pub - 5 hours and 170 miles away. If one per cent of Wales bothered to watch international football, then the Mill Stad would need 250,000 seats.

I think that it's an incredible statistic and one which proves beyond doubt that Felinheli is the centre of Welsh football. The FAW should relocate, and there should be a new stadium at the Faenol.

The awe is gone now that I am one of the distant travellers. It is no hardship to travel to a World-class stadium in your Capital City. I'm looking forward to it. I'll see the old familiar faces from Cardiff, London, Ponty, and Holyhead and we'll all have that weary "what are we doing here?" look on our faces.

You can get 9/2 on a Cyprus win tonight. I hope that I'm right in declining those odds. I have laid Wales again, as I can see a recuperative 0-0 draw, but I don't expect Cyprus to beat us at home. That would be ridiculous.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Wales 1-5 Slovakia

You just knew that it would all go wrong when Paul Jones walked out with his age shaved into the side of his head. Add a messy dragon of hair, surrounded by patches of bald white scalp, and our goalkeeper looked like a 15 year old skank. But, you imagined, our venerable custodian couldn't lose any more dignity after the ill-advised haircut. You were wrong.

They start to lose it with the long shots. I well remember the incomparable Neville Southall starting to concede from 30 yards, usually against Hagi, and crucially against Romania at the National Stadium in 1993. Paul Jones has gone the same way.
He is the last old stager to be considered by Toshack, and his role was to help out our young and inexperienced defence. When he fails in that task, as he did yesterday, he should be pensioned off to give experience to Brown or Price, in this already doomed campaign.

The general fan reaction to yesterday's record defeat was resignation. It was difficult, becuase there was no-one to blame. The referee was faultless, the selection was reasonable, the tactics were fine, and the attitude wasn't bad. But when a small country like Wales has a dozen professional players unavailable for various reasons, it is unfair to attack the players who are prepared to stand up and be counted.

And make no mistake. Slovakia are no mugs. History will judge this performance. It looks shocking now, as did our big score defeats to Georgia, Romania and Turkey. But those teams went on to prove themselves as difficult international opponents for many sides , and we should also remember that Slovakia did well in the World Cup Finals. It would be no surprise to me if they qualify from this group.

There is only one thing we can do now. Sit tight, and watch our young team improve. I much prefer to watch a young team get hammered, than a team of 35 year olds. We should stick with Toshack and be patient in the knowledge that he will start to develop a team that will flourish in 4-6 years.

Get to the Cyprus game if you can. It is now they need our support. And if you decide against it, I hope I won't read your letters in the Western Mail, complaining because you can't get a ticket for the big game against Italy, England, or Romania, as has been the case in the past. If you don't back the team now, you forfeit your right to share in the good days. And there will be good days.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Not Singing Anymore

The Cardiff City squad apparently started singing Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" during their pre-season tour. I had heard that it had caught on with the supporters, and was looking forward to joining in with a new tune that was both catchy and original, in football terms at least.

I should have known better. In the hands of the City fans, the tune is all but lost, as the mob hurries the tune to an aggressive, slurry grave, turning it into an anthem of lazy yobbery.

It has always been thus with Cardiff City. No tune shall survive intact at the hands of the Ninian park faithful. The "singers" are much too hard to be giving time to vocal performance, preferring instead to throw the head back, raise the arms and produce a guttural belch which begins in the diaphragm and spout forth from the mouth, somehow bypassing the vocal chords.

Other teams know the value of a slow rhythm. Listen to Celtic or Liverpool singing"Fields of Athenry". What a tune. What a way to raise the spirits of your team. It could never happen at Cardiff. We even managed to rush our way through "You'll Never Walk Alone" when we used to chant it in the 80's. "Wok on" clap clap. "Wok on" Clap clap, "with ope" clap clap "in yur ah" clap clap.

Wrexham started singing "Men of Harlech" some years , back, and it travelled, via the Welsh National Team to Ninian Park. We destroy it of course. We sing it like we can't wait for it to finish. So why start ?

I went to a game between two Spanish sides recently, and the warm up to the game consisted of both sets of fans outsinging each other for a full hour before kick off. Not chanting - singing. They sang club songs, pop tunes by local stars, local folk songs, political songs. Anything and everything. And they still attacked the police with rockets and flares, thus proving that you don't have to be a wuss to enjoy a good tune.

We have one song which is unique to Cardiff, and which used to be a stirring anthem along the lines of Athenry. "I'll be there" is a Welsh folk tune which has been sung at rugby clubs for yonks. It is the closest thing we have to a club song. But in recent years, it too has been struggling to hold back the rushing Burberry chorus as they belch out their graceless version in consonant-free estuary English .

I can't understand why this hatred of a tune should be particular to football. Rugby crowds linger over the refrain from "Sospan Fach", they positively dwell on the long held notes of "Cwm Rhondda" while we can't wait to get to the end of our version of the hymn. "You're not singing anymore?" - We're not singing any more.

Time to Lay

There are some people who refuse to bet against their own team in a display of loyalty. It is misplaced. There is money to be won. You should use the only area where you have an advantage over the bookies; specialist knowledge of your team.

That is why Cardiff City have been such a good bet recently. They have been underestimated by a begrudging and sceptical media, and this has influenced the public to ignore them in the markets. But now, people are catching on, and their odds have been slashed for promotion to the Premiership.

Now is the time to bet against them. The 1st team is superb, but outside that eleven, the squad is threadbare. Part of the reason for our success so far is that Dave Jones has a settled team. This can't go on.

Apart from injuries which will surely fall (probably to Paul Parry), Ledley and Gilbert are young players who will do very well to maintain their form over a season. Chopra should be the subject of Premiership interest in January, and Scimica is getting on a bit.

our results recently have looked very impressive, but there lies a story behind them. Luton and Wolves both played with ten men. Southend were abject, as has been proved by their recent form. The one game where we were seriously tested, away at Preston - we lost. Next up is Crystal Palace away.

As I write, you can lay Cardiff at 15/8 for Promotion on Betfair. i.e. you put up £150, and win £80 if we are NOT promoted to the Premiership. Apart from the practical reasons for opposing Dave Jones' team, the truth is that this is Cardiff we are talking about. Things like that just don't happen to us.

Likewise Wales. Without Giggs, Collins, and crucially, Mark Delaney, we look a bit short against a decent Slovakia side. In fact, you could put out a better eleven of Welsh players who won't play:

Brown, Duffy, Collins, Page, Thatcher; Speed,Savage, Johnson, Hargreaves; Giggs, Hartson,

Isn't that depressing?

Back to the bet. I can't see Wales getting a win out of this game, and they will be good to lay. Probably at odds of just under evens.

If all this goes against the grain, learn from my experience of betting against Cardiff when we played at home to Stoke in the playoffs a few years back. I had bet £100 at 3/1 on Stoke, and when the final whistle went on a 2-0 Stoke win, it certainly helped to ease my pain.