Friday, May 23, 2008

Big Test in the Algarve

While we are all still swanning round in our post-Wembley euphoria, and basking in the adulation gushed upon us by members of the National press, the pre-season tournament in the Algarve seems a natural step for a club on the up. It's certainly a long way from our historic pre-season warm ups against Hednesford and Forest Green Rovers.

But it's a big test for this new Cardiff City. Not on the pitch, where we will be watching the sporting equivalent of Ray Winstone in "Sexy Beast", but off it.

Prompted by Harry Redknapps pre-match call for the fans to stay behind at Wembley and applaud the winners, we have been beatified for our sporting good play. Whisper it, but we only stayed to give our own team a send off. And we've also been lauded for our good support and general enthusiasm. Well compared to the soporofic theatre attenders that normally view these events when they're contested by Manchester United or Chelsea, I suppose it was pretty raucous.

But hidden in this impressionistic view of our rattle clacking fans are countless stories of yobbery, ignorance and fuck-you attitudes. Once again, families were mixed in with the lads, and were forced to deal with loutish behaviour. The lads in turn were irritated by the "plastic fans" and their perceived lack of passion.

There's a culture shift at Ninian Park, and the two forces clashed at Wembley. Only verbally of course, but it left a nasty taste in the mouths of some parents who are usually cocooned in the relative calm of the Spar Family Stand.

So who will win? I think that depends on the footballing success achieved by the club. If they do well again this season, more new fans will be attracted who don't see posturing and abuse as a pre-requisite for passion. The old Stone Islanders will feel more and more disenfranchised.

And the pre season tournament in the Algarve will be an early test of the new era. Can we go there peacefully for games against Celtic and Vitoria Guimaraes, with Middlesbrough also mooching around? This will certainly be an attractive option for a family holiday, but everyone knows it might well kick off.

Can our lads cope with the sun and the lager? Can they party happily for a week with our friends from Glasgow and the North East? Or will the plastic chairs be flying when the sun comes down? I think our behaviour in the Algarve will pretty much be a mark of our progress away from the nasty unloved club of the 1980s and 1990s. And I'm afraid I'm not that confident.

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