Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Mansfield were relegated from the 3rd Division last night. Thank God for that. Hopefully I'll never have to go to Mansfield again.
There are some places you just take against. I remember going to Mansfield for the first time in 1993, the Saturday after we had been to Liege to watch City in the Cup Winner's Cup. If I remember correctly, a week earlier we had played Millwall away. And then we had to go to bloody Mansfield.
I had the flu. It was an open terrace and it was raining. It was quite the most miserable afternoon anyone could hope for. And then on the way out, and I'll never forget this, their poxy little excuse of a football firm, called The Carrot Crew, cornered me and mocked my clothing. Unbelievable. I had the flu for God's sake, so what if I was wearing my cosy Fruit of the Loom sweatshirt.
Then about a decade later we played Mansfield in an end of the season affair. It was fancy dress I was told, so I dressed up as a woman. Typically I boarded the coach to find everyone else in various shades of grey - not a clown in sight. Oh well. I drunk so much and so quickly at the pre-match pub stop that I was sick against the bus. If I remember correctly there was a bottle of Gold Label involved.
Then when we got to Mansfield I got lost. I wandered round terraced streets in drag, with my Tina Turner wig on. At least there was no Carrot Crew this time. Oh no, this time I ran into Forest's firm ; about 30 of them. There was no choice, I would have to braisen it out. I walked straight through the middle of them, said "Hiya Boys", and winked. To this day I don't know how I got out alive.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
I popped into a City Centre sportshop the other day on the lookout for a football. Just a normal ball for a seven year old lad. You think I could find one?
It wasn't that they didn't have balls, they had loads. they had one that cost £75. (Because it had Euro 2008 stamped on it. Don't UEFA know how to look after their football family?). But they didn't have any footballs for children.
I then nipped into Tesco (full of self-hatred of course). They keep their footballs in with the the children's toys. But every one of them was a full sized, size 5 football. What's the problem you might ask? A football's a football isn't it?
Well no it isn't. Under 8 players should be using a size 3 football. This is for a couple of good reasons. The first is a health and safety issue. Young players just don't have muscles developed well enough to be able to cope with prolonged use of a full sized ball. My own son regularly gets size 5 balls as gifts from well meaning parents and relatives. And it seems churlish not to let him play with it. At least it did until he had that sleepless night in pain after 4 hours of shooting practice with his mate.
The other reason is that a smaller ball is simply better for their technical development. It's a little harder to control, and the sweet spot is a little smaller. But the action they use to kick a size 3 ball replicates the action an adult will use with a full size ball. If you ask a little player to kick on over-sized ball, all their effort goes into just making it move.
THe Brazilians develop their skills through a game called futebol de salao. Generations of Brazilian footballers grew up playing a game with a size 2 ball. And they're not bad are they?
But the message doesn't seem to have reached all of our own coaches. there is still some sort of ridiculous macho kudos attached to playing with a bigger ball. I played an Under 8's game recently against a team run by a well qualified Academy coach. I was surprised to see his team use a Size 4 ball. When I brought this up he scoffed; "Oh, we breed big lads in Abercwmscwff." I saw an Under 9's game last weekend when the home team insisted on a size 5 ball. The 7 year old goalkeeper could hardly clear his box, but the home team's giant centre forward scored five goals.
I feel strongly enough about this that I think there should be some sort of control over ball sales. Why on earth are Tesco allowed to sell only size 5 balls? I'm sure the vast majority of their football sales are intended for use by children. Why is there no information given to parents at point of sales?
Here's the important information.
Size 3 balls are the smallest balls and are generally used for children under the age of 8
These balls are generally 23-24 inches in circumference and weigh between 11-12 ounces
Size 4 balls are used for players between the ages of 8-12
Size 4 balls weigh between 12-13 ounces and have a circumference of 25-26 inches
This is the international standard match ball for all ages 13 and older, including all adult play
The size 5 ball weighs between 14-16 ounces with a circumference of 27-28 inches
Saturday, April 26, 2008
3-1 on a windy and exposed Cae Top.
Felin were up against it from early on when they lost two influential players, Jason Bayliss and Danny Hughes to injury within the first ten minutes. After a competitive first half livened up by the usual antics of our player-manager Chris Hughes the teams went in at 0-0 which was a fair score at the time.
Felin took the lead through Chris Hughes after about an hour and never really seemed in danger of losing the game. I was just thinking how comfortable we were when Wanderers equalised.
With twenty minutes left our energy levels dropped alarmingly, and then when our keepr Marc Wyn was carried off injured, the momentum seemed to swing to the home side. Chris Hughes took over in goal.
It looked like the only we would score a goal would be through a defensive mistake and so it proved. With five minutes left, a long Chris Hughes kickout was fumbled by his opposition goalkeeper and Carwyn Dafydd finished well.
A minute later, Carwyn squared for Archie to finish things off and we were in the Final. I'm not sure which Cup, against which team, where or when, but I know it's a Final and that's something to celebrate.
During the game we had used six players from last season's Under 17s team which is something that we can all be proud of.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Well, well, well. In the news today:
An FA statement said:
The board has given full approval for Cardiff City to participate in next season’s Uefa Cup as one of England’s representatives, should they win this season’s FA Cup. It was also decided that the Welsh national anthem would also be played ahead of the game.”
This is a turnaround that has surprised me greatly. Firstly the news that Cardiff will represent the English FA. This has enormous implications.
By following this route to Europe, Cardiff have effectively ruled out any return to European Competition via the Welsh Cup. Instead of using this opportunity to leverage their claim for UEFA Cup football via participation in the Welsh Cup, they have gone down the English route.
Now that's bad planning by any measure. It could well be another 80 years before they get this close to Europe in the English system, but Welsh Cup victories would probably come along ever other year. So instead of potentially playing European football regularly over the next decade, they will probably have just this one shot. Amazingly short-sighted.
On the other hand, has the FA's decision guaranteed the club's future in the English system? It looks like it. It seems that UEFA and the FA are officially recognising Cardiff's unique position as a Welsh club within the English system. There will be no imminent threat of political manouvering and Cardiff won't be forced to play under the Welsh FA's pyramid. Now that's good news for the club. It also means that any concerns about claiming future promotion to the English premiership have gone.
I am astounded that the Welsh anthem will be played. That is a magnificent coup for Wales. Wales' status as an independent nation is being recognised on the World stage. Even though we have no political independence the FA are tipping their hat to our cultural claims. I can't think of any precedent for that. Teams from the Basque Country, Brittany and Catalunya will be preparing requests for their own anthems at Cup Finals across Europe. It's that big.
Of course pragmatically, the FA are just trying to keep the peace. They will remember the serious crowd trouble that occured after God Save the Queen was played at Wembley before the Swansea v Northampton play-off in 1997. The thinking will be that if we get the Welsh National Anthem, then we will be less inclined to boo God Save the Queen, thus avoiding an awkward and potentially explosive situation. It will certainly help, though I think the FA may be over-estimating the evaluating skills of the average meathead.
Either way, we will get to sing Mae Hen Wlad fy Nhadau at Wembley. Let's all learn the words, through off our scowls and posturing and self-consciousness, and let's bloody outsing the English. Pleease try to sing a bit more than the "Gwlad, gwlad" in the middle. And for God sake, don't let Tom Jones anywhere near it.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
It was quite a performance. If you haven't heard Tom Jones' attempts at the National Anthem before Joe Calzaghe's fight in Las Vegas against Bernard Hopkins this weekend, then here it is.
Now I love Tom. But this was embarrassing. He's a professional singer. Opera singers might learn to speak a dozen languages fluently. It wouldn't be unusual for Bryn Terfel to have to sing a 3 hour show in Czech.
Like me Tom Jones is from Pontypridd. People in his generation might not have learnt Welsh, but they can certainly say "Ll, Ch, and Dd". What was Tom thinking of? He must have had a language coach? Were they completely honest with him? Or did they have the same conversation that I understand Bryn Terfel had with his good friend after the fight? (Bryn had cleverly arranged a concert in Las Vegas for the same weekend.)
TJ: "Bryn, how was I? Did I sing it well?"
BT: "Yes Tom, you were very erm...passionate."
Yeah passionate as a newt I reckon.
So at least they have been put out of their misery. Wales' oldest surviving professional club have been relegated into the Conference, following Newport County who went awol twenty years ago.
So let the mud slinging begin. Who's fault is it? Dickens the Chairman? Brian Little the Manager? Complacent players sloshing around Chester's bars suuporting the rumoured piss-up culture at the club last season? I think the answer lies closer to home unfortunately.
Wrexham FC have just never had the support of the North Wales public. The front cover of the North Wales Daily Post led with Liverpool's draw last night, announcing Wrexham's demise as an afterthought. That just about tells you everything you need to know. Liverpool are the main side in North Wales, followed closely by Manchester United, Everton and even Manchester City. Wrexham might be looked on as a plucky second team, but they're not even that for most.
A lot of South Walians reading this will find it strange. If you're North-Walian, you must be a Wrexham fan they assume. I mean who else is there? Well there are lots of teams actually. And somebody from Holyhead or Bangor is generally no more likely to have a connection with Wrexham than Cardiff people are to follow Swansea. Indeed, if they want to follow a professional a Welsh team then they are more likely to look further afield to Cardiff.
So the average North Walian will be a fan of a big Lancastrian club. He may have a season ticket, or he may go to Anfield three times a year. Every other Saturday will probably be spent following his village side. His two sides are Liverpool and Ragged Arse Rovers. Wrexham don't really come into it.
I'll attempt a curious analogy. Take a theatre-goer from Anglesey. She loves the West End shows, and will often go to Llandudno Theatre for big opera productions, or performances of Oliver. She will also help run the local amateur dramatics society in Llangristiolus and will attend events in the Church Hall. But somehow, the performance of Siwan in Theatre Gwynedd this weekend won't be so attractive. It falls between two stools, just like Wrexham FC. It's neither part of her community, nor glamorous enough to warrant a bit of slap and a fur coat.
I fear for Wrexham, I really do. They have one chance. One season with an umbrella payment. But the Conference is a very strong league, and I'm not sure that Wrexham have the backing to compete. And that would be a disaster not just for Wrexham, or for North Wales, but for the whole of Welsh football. We will lose a respected academy, and a whole generation of young players will be lost.
Ironically, Wrexham Academy opened a new Development Centre in Bangor last week. It's another area where Wrexham are important. Thirty young lads are being introduced to good habits by good coaches early on in their career. This sort of work may carry on when they are in the Conference-North, but I honestly doubt it.
But all across North Wales now, people are talking about the big football story over their tea and biscuits. Some will be laughing and taking the piss. More will be defensive and proud. they can recover from this set back. But believe me it's the biggest topic of conversation all across Gwynedd, Conwy and Clwyd. What was Jon Arne Riise thinking of? Can Liverpool now get a result at Stamford Bridge? What's that you say? Wrexham? Who are dey?
And that's why Wrexham went down.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
According to reports, former Swansea defender Izzy Iriekpen gave the swim-away gesture to Cardiff fans at Scunthorpe on Saturday, as they were celebrating Joe Ledley's equaliser.
You may be wondering what that's all about. Well it's a simple breast stroke action performed to provoke Cardiff fans, relating to an incident between two sets of supporters back in the day. Back in which day? Well I'm not quite sure.
I had always believed that I was present when it happened. There was a game at the Vetch in the early 1990s which took place over the Christmas Holidays. I arrived at Cardiff Central only to find that there were no trains that day. I picked up a couple of fellow City fans at the station and I decided to drive to The Vetch.
I parked up opposite the prison and made my way to the ground via Glamorgan Terrace. I don't remember anything of the game at all, but I do remember that we didn't have our usual large following out that day. And I remember being surprised that we weren't kept behind while they cleared the area.
As we reached the car park near the Crown Courts on the sea front, I could see a mob of Jacks on the main road. They saw straight away that we were pretty vulnerable and came straight at us. I'm not ashamed to say that I legged it. Straight up a blocked alleyway. I turned round expecting to get a kicking, and was relieved to see that the mob of Swansea were busy persuing a group of City fans up towards the Holiday Inn.
As I made my way to the car, fights were breaking out all over the car park. Not a policeman in sight. It was chaos. I then sat in the jam of vehicles trying to get out of the car parks as running battles continued. Pretty unpleasant stuff.
I heard much later that the Swansea mob had chased that group of Cardiff fans right into the sea. And it was from this event that the "swim-away" insult was derived. the Western Mail however, mentions "an incident near Port Talbot". I had understood that it was Cardiff fans from Port Talbot who were run into the sea, so maybe the story has got confused somewhere.
Either way, it was a pretty crass act from Irikpen. I'm not sure that he did himself any favours with his actions. I have also seen the young Swansea player Joe Allen celebrate a goal for Wales Schools with a swim-away celebration. At least he has the naiivety of youth as an excuse. Iriekpen has only ignorance.
A match against Bangor Reserves gives our village footballers the opportunity to play in a proper stadium with seats and a tunnel and everything. And don't they enjoy it.
This was the Quarter Finals of one of the 632 Cup Competitions run by the Gwynedd FA every season. We have more Cup matches than League. A big crowd of 74 , including a travelling support of 23 watched the Caernarfon League side dump the young hopefuls of the big City out of the Cup.
This really was a young Bangor side, drawn from the Academy. And they were pretty impressive. They tried to play football in the face of some pretty uncompromising football from Felin, and it took Felin's best performance of the season to keep them out. I was very impressed with the attitude of their manager. As the tackles flew in, he kept his head and simply told his young players to keep the ball on the floor. Bangor's academy has an excellent reputation, and I could see why on this performance.
We have our own reasons to be proud in Felin. In 1992, we were just 90 minutes away from the Cymru Alliance and when I first moved to the village 3 years ago we were playing in the Welsh Alliance. But a new policy of not paying our players has seen us relegated twice to our current level in the Caernarfon League.
But this policy has its benefits. Our team last night featured nine lads from the village and we are giving lads the chance to play for their home team. That's got to be a good thing. We formed a Youth Section in 2005 and last night's team contained 5 players from our Youth setup.
It will have been a good experience for the Bangor City lads who are being developed to play in the tough and uncompromising environment of the Welsh Premier. Felin gave no quarter and in some challenges it was apparent who was the student and who was the hod-carrier. I winced more than once.
Playing for Bangor was Caio Iwan, the son of singer and politician Dafydd Iwan. Iwan looks like a natural footballer with a decent future and has recently been playing with the Wales Under 18s team.
So it's the semis for us on Saturday, and I'll be there instead of travelling to Burnley with Cardiff. I don't know where and against who. I don't even know what Cup it is, but its our last chance of silverware this season and I'm hoping for a Cup Double from my two teams.
We held a Junior football tournament in my village last weekend for teams of Under 9's and Under 7's. 22 teams from across Gwynedd and Anglesey played short games of 10 minutes on 2 small pitches. It was great to see so many boys and girls playing football, but other aspects of the tournement were less edifying.
My over-riding memory of the whole thing is the frenzied barking of some team coaches during the games. It was pretty unbelieveable on occasions. Tracksuited men marched onto the pitch shouting "Be alert!", "Awareness!!" and "Concentrate Hogia!" Small children as young a 6 years old stared wide eyed as the Neil Warnock wannabes screamed at them to pick up their man.
It wasn't unexpected of course - we had erected barriers away from the pitch to provide a protective channel from the parents. But the coaches were unstoppable. I saw one team put 4 coaches on the touchlines - one in each corner so that they could coach their team more easily.
This was great - it meant that their team were now receiving four sets of instructions from their role models. "Drop deep! Move up! Hit it Long! Boys! You went to sleep there!"
What are we doing here? Is this any help to the players? I don't believe that it is. The whole sorry performance drove me to behave in the exact opposite manner. I just let my team deal with things. I pulled back my goal hanging midfielder when he was deep in conversation with the opposition goalkeeper for 5 minutes, but apart from that I decided to let them have their heads.
And guess what? They did fine. They would certainly have been no better with me dictating things. And I'd like to think that they enjoyed their day. You only have to look at their faces when they are standing next to a red-faced opposition coach who is screaming at his players to know that it is pretty intimidating and obviously unpleasant for them.
The FAW's Football Leaders Award (Level 1 Coaching Award) deals with this kind of issue in great depth. 80% of that course concentrates on adult behaviour around the junior game. Every coach at that tournament would have passed the award, but its lessons have obviously not sunk in.
Once that final whistle goes, these men turn back into the decent, caring blokes who volunteer so much of their time to help young people. But for those 10 minutes it's like the most important match in the world to some of them, and they kick every ball. For once, I'm happy to trot out the old platitude that "it's only a game".
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Let me nail my colours to the mast. I've voted Plaid Cymru all my life. For a short time I was treasurer of the Adamsdown branch. But sometimes, the flag-waving nationalism gets a little embarrassing. That's why I've ignored Rhodri Glyn Thomas's call for Mae Hen Wlad fy Nhadau to be played at Wembley.
Firstly, I'm not sure what platform Rhodri is using when he decides to comment on the issue. As a Welsh Assembly member? For Carmarthen? Maybe I could remind Mr Thomas that Carmarthen Town FC play in the Welsh Premier, and to his credit he has lent his support to the club previously. But please, stay out of this one. It's got nothing to do with you.
There is a fundamental issue at stake here, regarding Welsh independence. Like it or not, God Save the Queen is the British Anthem, and Wales has declined to vote for independence. A shame in my opinion, but democracy must be respected. You could argue that the English anthem won't be played (they don't have one), so why should the Welsh?
If it is so important to hear the National Anthem before the cup final, then Cardiff City can play in Wales. It's as simple as that. Our own Cup Final is being played between Llanelli and Bangor City at Newtown on 4th May. The winners will receive the oldest trophy in football, dating from 1878.
But for very good business and sporting reasons, Cardiff City rely on the munificence of the FA (so self-important they don't even prefix it and call it the English FA.) Yes, historically we were there pretty much at the beginning, and its questionable whether it was ever a uniquely English competition, but as it stands it is recognised as the English Cup. In Welsh, the translation for FA Cup is Cwpan Lloegr, "The English Cup".
I think most people accept that playing of the Welsh anthem would be inappropriate. I'm not sure that there is even a serious amount of backing for the idea. It's the sort of thing that fills newspaper columns and radio phone-ins, but it's wrong on so many levels that there can be no credible argument for it.
If TNS (who play in Oswestry) reach the Welsh Cup Final, will they play God Save the Queen?
I wonder if the Catalan anthem gets played at the Copa del Rey when Barcelona reach the Final. Did Derry City play God Save the Queen for the 2006 Irish Cup Final? I doubt it very much. Derry is a fiercely Irish club, despite their geographical situation.
But that's the important bit. Cardiff City is just a football club. It isn't a flag bearer for the Welsh Nation. The club's national identity is magnified because we play in England, but really it's just a club. Look closely. What is Welsh about it other than its location? What does being Welsh mean in the modern day?
We're getting too philosophical here. It's just a football match being played in the English Cup in England. There are major questions about God Save the Queen's status as a British anthem, but that's another story. The FA Cup Final has nothing to do with nationhood or national identity. Cardiff City will do its bit for the Welsh nation just by being there. And we will take our flags and 5,000 of us (but not me) will boo the British Anthem. And then 30,000 neutrals, and the English referee will become Portsmouth fans for the day. But Mae Hen Wlad fy Nhadau? Not today thank you.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
It was always going to be tough for Cardiff City to allocate their Cup Final Allowance fairly. And to be fair, I think that they have got it mainly right, balancing the need to reward loyal supporters with maximising the opportunity to sell season tickets for 2008/09.
But I just have one axe to grind. 2007/08 Ambassadors (i.e. fans who bought season tickets at the end of the previous season when things looked bleak for the club) have been allocated two tickets. Away travel members are not guaranteed a ticket however. This system gives priority to the well connected over the occasional long-distance supporter, and that can't be right.
When I moved to North Wales after 30 years of regular attendance at Ninian, I knew that I would be giving up my season ticket. With a young family, and local club commitments it just wouldn't be possible to get down to Ninian regularly. But I could make games in the Midlands and North West so I paid out £40 in Away memberships for my son and myself.
I naiively assumed that would give me some sort of priority. In fact, it just gives me the right to buy a ticket. But other away members who might travel to away 10 games a season are behind the queue to friends of ambassadors. I have already spoken to two friends this morning, fans of Manchester United and Liverpool, living in South Wales. They will be going to Wembley as guests of their Cardiff-supporting mates.
I'm OK now. I'm sorted for Wembley, as I bought three season tickets for next year which will sit empty for 15 games of the season. Two were free childrens tickets for the Family Stand. So for £199, I have been allocated 3 semi final and 3 final tickets. That's a bargain in my book.
In America, I would be able to recoup my investment officially. Season ticket holders who do not use their tickets return them to the club for each game that they won't be attending. The club sells it on to a different fan, and gives the season ticket holder a percentage of the sale. Makes sense doesn't it?
I'm sure than any genuine fan will be able to find a ticket, and I think it's that assumption that has driven this policy. But I still think that Away members should be sorted out before ambassadors can claim a ticket for their guest.
The FAW has announced today that it will split into two divisions from season 2010/11. According to John Deacon, the league is stagnating and the feeling is that the introduction of a two tier structure will boost crowds and improve facilties. well he's right on his first point, the League is stagnating. But I'm not convinced that the new proposals amount to anything more than a reduction of teams playing at the top level in Wales.
I've already touched on a major problem for Welsh football. Some of the most talented players simply don't want to travel for hours every other Saturday when they could get a similar experience playing in the Cymru Alliance or the Welsh League. The introduction of a Welsh prem Div 2 will make these players think even harder.
The top ten clubs will play each opther 4 times a season. That's a pretty depressing prospect for the travelling fan, and I would think even the home fan will get pretty bored.
At the moment, all teams in the Welsh Premier can sell advertising space due to the television coverage offered. Will TV cameras visit Div 2 games when the change happens? I'm not so sure. Another crucial income stream will be closed down for smaller clubs.
Surely it is only a matter of time before that second tier is subdivided and regionalised. a Welsh Premier Division Two is simply unsustainable. In effect, all that will happen is that we reduce our main League to ten teams. That's an admission of failure in my book, though I suppose its an inevitablity that Scotland bowed to a long time ago.
Will the top ten clubs receive increased financial support from the FAW, or will they simply be expected to reach the higher standards required using their own money? The boom and bust mentality will return to Welsh football as Sugar Daddy Chairmen become the only way to secure your place in the top flight. Normal clubs will reign in their ambitions, and the European incentive will effectively disappear, thus reducing another recruitment aid for the second tier clubs.
I have long argued that the Welsh premier is only sustainable if it is populated by teams from the major towns in Wales. It needs Newport, Merthyr, Bridgend, Pontypridd and possibly now, Wrexham. I appreciate that the exiles will see no benefit and I can't blame them, but from the League's point of view, I don't think any amount of restructuring will work while our main cities and towns play in England.
Sad I know. Really sad. but it gets worse. I had already been to Llangefni once, to see Llangefni Reserves beat Felinheli 1-0 in the Gwynedd League. But in the obsessive world of the groundhopper, that doesn't count. It has to be a first team game.
But I can copnsole myself that i wasn't the saddest person there on that cold, wet Friday night. There was one geek decked out in Queen's Park colours. Not the Wrexham team called Queen's Park either, but the one from Glasgow. He was a proper groundhopper.
I knew where the ground was because I used to buy my chickens next door from the poultry dealer. And if you stand on the grassy West terrace you can hear the cocks crowing. Like most football grounds, it is poorly signposted. The only sign is opposite the front entrance which seems sort of pointless. Meanwhile, you drive past all manner of signs on the A55 across Ynys Mon. Garden Centres, Auction Houses, Museums. These all warrant a sign, as does the rugby club. But a signpost to a football ground which is visited by hundreds of people each week? (I am including the teams before you start).
Llangefni Town's progress as a Junior club has been impressive. It was only twenty years ago that they were first accepted into the Gwynedd League, 3 divisions below the top tier. At the same time, the town's rugby team has grown exponentially.
But that's where the growth stops for the rugby. You see, the WRU in its wisdom has banned the club from progressing beyond regional leagues. It's too far from the M4 corridor you see. The Southern teams refused to travel North even once a season. It is laughable for rugby to call itself the National game when it actively blocks the prgress of Northern clubs. Did you know that the North Wales Youth team plays its home games in Llanidloes to save the Southern Softies travelling too far to play them? It's all credit to the FAW and Welsh football that we have a genuinely National League.
If I'm honest, Llangefni have a lot of catching up to do with regards to the facilities at Talwrn Road. The progress in the 8 years since they moved there has been huge, and they will say that they are no worse than many other grounds in the Welsh Premier, which would be true enough. But that just demonstrates the poor condition of grounds in the top Welsh league.
There is a critical tipping point in Welsh football which needs to be addressed if we are to progress domestically. There are many players and even clubs in the Welsh League and Cymru Alliance who simply won't benefit from the step up to Welsh Premier football. Why would a Port Talbot player be excited at the prospect of travelling 510 hours on a Saturday to play on a muddy pitch in front of 100 people at Llangefni's muddy patch, when he could get exactly the same experience playing for Afan Lido in the Welsh League.
The onus is on the FAW to offer significant financial aid to Welsh premier clubs. We know their coffers are full according to recent reports, so why isn't the Welsh premier getting more aid. Until we have decent grounds with flat pitches, the level of football will remain at the poor standard of the game I saw at Llangefni last Friday. Yes, there were 800 people paying £6 each, but they had pretty much the same experience as I had watching the reserve team. Reasonably diverting, but not in the slightest bit compelling. In fact Llangefni fielded a player who played for Felin in that lower league game and he didn't struggle at all with the supposed increased standard.
The Welsh Premier simply has to be supported. With talk of reversion to regional Divisions, it is on its last legs. If regionalisation happens, the idea can be said to have failed. Welsh football will be back in 1991 and North and South will once again be divided as it is in the rest of Welsh sport and indeed Welsh life.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Karl lives in Holyhead, on the North Western tip of Anglesey, 10 miles from Dublin, 200 miles and five hours away from Ninian Park. Yet despite this obstacle, he has been one of Cardiff City's most committed fans since his first game, away at Wigan in 1982.
In the past 25 years his face has become familiar all over the country as he follows the Bluebirds. In the mid 1990's Chambers didn't miss a single game for 5 years. He watched every City game home and away, friendly and Cup for over 300 consecutive games.
He has seen lots of FA Cup matches, including defeats at Hayes and Enfield, and a 3-3 draw with Gloucester City. He was with me at Shrewsbury in 1990 when we only took 41 fans for Nathan Blake's debut match in the snow. He was one of just 18 fans at Blackppol when snowy weather stopped most people from travelling.
You will gather that Chambers is pretty fanatical. When the final whistle blew at Middlesbrough he was there of course. Like the rest of us, he couldn't believe his team would be playing at Wembley.
He admitted to me that he has given up this season. In his case this means that he has only seen 20 games, with a combined mileage of about 7,000 miles. I think thats still probably more than anyone who lives in Cardiff.
Chambers could hardly concentrate the day before we went to Wembley. There were over 50 fans travelling down from Holyhead and he was booked on a minibus leaving at 6am for the 5 hour drive to London. The Holyhead crew spent the Saturday in high spirits around the town, enjoying themselves and singing Cardiff songs through the night.
Chambers got home at about midnight and set his alarm on his phone. But he forgot to switch it on. He missed the bus.
When he woke up, the bus had gone, his mates had tried to wake him but failed. It's the first time he has ever overslept despite dozens of early morning starts to away games across England.
Poor old Karl was inconsolable. He didn't leave his house all day, and he couldn't bring himself to watch the game. He spent most of the day in tears he told me.
At least he has a second chance. But as he lives so far away, he doesn't hold a season ticket. He probably won't qualify for a Cup Final ticket. He's determined to get there, and we should all hope that it works out OK for him.
Friday, April 11, 2008
James Fox has released the official Cardiff City song for the FA Cup Final. And a shocker it is too.
Take this section of lyrics from the opening verse:
I kid you not. It's that bad.
We were in seventh Heaven, Back in 1927
Now we're ready for a new tale
At the helm is Peter Ridsdale.
However, fear not. Word has reached me of a much more exciting release that is currently in production. This one is proper. I've heard a demo version of it, and I can confirm that one of the lines mentions Harry Parsons, the legendary Cardiff City kit man who passed away a few years ago.
Seriously, this is a proper tune performed by very credible and well-respected Welsh musicians. Who is it? I'm afraid I can't tell you that yet. But you will be able to hear it here as soon as it becomes available. Watch this space.
The famous recording of the crowd at 1927 has a version of Abide with Me that has seldom, if ever, been bettered. This was the first time it was sung at the final after a ceremony earlier in the day to remember Welsh Guards lost in the WW1.
It has always been a tear jerker for me. the tune is now synonomous with Wembley and I never thought that I would be one of those people singing it. Never. Not ever.
But on May 17th I will be there, full throated belting it out. Except this time I suspect that my only company will be some West End crooner, or maybe Katherine Jenkins. You see football fans don't actually sing any more, and Cardiff City fans certainly don't. We grunt and rush our way through the few tunes that we do have. It wouldn't be done to be seen enjoying yourself and actually lingering on a few notes. No, even Men of Harlech has to be doubled up in Tempo and performed semi-aggressively. Forget the notes, this is a war chant.
I've heard fans chant through Abide with Me in recent years. Whether this is ignorance or another example of purposeful disrespect I don't know. But TV footage scanning the crowd usually shows shirt sleeved fans navel gazing or watching the glamorous tart on the screen. 1927 Communal singing it is not.
But Wembley have themselves to blame. I am sure it is they who started playing music on the PA after the final whistle. So last week, as we reached the FA Cup Final for the first time in 80 years , we weren't allowed to celebrate. We had the musical choice of Wembley's Entertainment Manager blasted at us while our players tried to take in the magnitude of their achievement.
The Wembley Organiser is a Jeremy Clarkson type. He must be. They played Queen, Status Quo and Jeff Beck. This wasn't the selection of a 22 year old black woman. This was the unimaginative, clicheed pap that is played after every sporting occasion of importance from the Rugby 6 Nations Finale to the Johnstons Paint Trophy. It sucks.
But seriously, who wants it? There must have been market research before the foisted this on us? Who did they ask?
I can only think that it is played to ensure that the celebrations go the way that the PR Company would like. Sponsors don't want their name bandied about the Wembley turf while the fans chant about opposition slums and the sexual preferences of their opponents wives.
One other issue is the anthem. there is a lot of discussion at the moment about whether Cardiff will boo God Save the Queen. In this instance , I personally hope that we don't. Yes, I can see the attraction. Viewers worldwide will see that it isn't our anthem and our status as a seperate nation will be reinforced. England deserves the abuse for using an anthem that celebrates its achievements in colonising the world, including Wales. They deserve more abuse for appropriating that song for use as a British anthem. For England read Britain.
But...this is different. It is their anthem, and the game is being played on English turf. We are guests in the country and I would hope that we can have enough self-respect to behave like citizens a reborn country. We don't need to value ourselves by comparison to England any more. There are much more positive ways of being Welsh.
Apart from the self-defeating tactic of booing the National anthem of the referee, there are other considerations. Remember England rugby team playing at Croke Park last year, the very ground where the British army had murdered spectators within living memory. Everybody expected a tumult when the Queen was played. The resulting silence and polite applause was stunning.
Ireland that day displayed their new maturity and confidence. It was a spectacular coup-de-grace for their Nation. If Cardiff City could manage the same respect at the FA Cup Final, I can't help thinking that a massive point will have been made about Wales' own self-respect and standing as a small, but dignified European State. Come on lads -it's too easy to boo. Think about it. Silence is golden in this instance.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
So the police have arrested David Sullivan and Karen Brady with allegations of false accounting and conspiracy to defraud. I can hardly claim that I spat out my tea in surprise. I'm currently reading Tom Bower's book on corruption in football called Broken Dreams. It seems undenyable that football has been living in a world of backhanders, bungs and false declarations for a long time now. Probably since the Football League was formed.
Sullivan and Brady of course are particularly slimy and odious. Brady is your archetypal Thatcherite. Sullivan employed her because in his words she was a "sacker". Of course we've always tolerate Brady because she is quite fit after all. And then there was that relationship with Pechsisolido. One thing you might not know is that Brady has a seat on the board of Sport England, the English Sports Council.
Born in Penarth, South Wales, Sullivan has often been touted around these parts as the potential saviour of Cardiff City. These rumours hotted up last year when Sullivan said this about Birmingham.
"One, the geographical distance. I've said for years the journey to
Birmingham is killing me. Two, I think deep down the public have had enough of
us. They think we should have mortgaged our houses to buy more players to
compete with Chelsea and Arsenal."
He sounds destitute doesn't he? It must be all that tax he had to pay. Such a shame that there's not a way round that. ......Oh there is?Knowing the history of investigations into football corruption I am far from convinced that the charges will stick. Too many people in football have too many secrets. Look at the way that Cheecky Chappies Venables and Redknapp (2008 FA Cup - The Redknapp Final!) are feted by the authorities and media despite a history of claims, allegations and in some cases hard evidence.
Why should it worry us if they pocket a few bob? Because they are selling us down the river that's why. As we are charged more and more to sit in seats we don't want and didn't ask for, our money is being pocketed by vastly wealthy entrepeneurs, conscience -free agents and mediocre footballers. Programmes are a fiver and watery hot dogs are three quid.
Robert Earnshaw still doesn't know where his transfer fee went when he was sold to West Brom in 2004. Does anyone? That money could be used pretty well at Cardiff now.
Look we've all got our stories about small-scale corruption, but it's us that suffers. What do you think happens to the extra money when a jam packed stadium is announced as a 12,000 crowd? Is there a discount on tickets for the next game? No, there's a £5 booking fee for "admin".
If Brady and Sullivan have fiddled with accounts , then I really hope that a can of worms is opened up. I hate the idea of rich greedy people robbing from the less wealthy. And let's hope that a certain slippery eel is finally nailed down. The English media and football family would love one of their own to walk away with the FA Cup. Wouldn't it be great if this particular Corruption investigation turns out to have some teeth?
Monday, April 07, 2008
Cardiff City won their FA Cup Semi Final. I am laughing even while I type this. It's absurd. Cardiff City are in the FA Cup Final. My keyboard doesn't even want to type it. It's ridiculous.
This man in tears is my friend called Knocker. He's been following Cardiff since about 1979. In the early 90's we travelled all over together, usually on cushions in the back of a fish van. We went to Carlisle once and to Aldershot, Lincoln, Halifax, everywhere. In the picture on the right you can see me having some sort of religious experience. (www.icwales.co.uk)
Knocker and me were at games in Shrewsbury and Exeter where the City away following was less than 40. Well there was almost 40,000 of us at Wembley and the occasion proved too much for Knocker. When you commit such a large chunk of your life to following a football club, it can have this effect.
But you know, I'm not sure that fans of big clubs can ever feel like this. What can be so overwhelming to a Liverpool supporter for example? An FA Cup final is humdrum for a Man United fan.
It's ridiculous. Cardiff City will make an FA Cup Final song. It has to be Shakin' Stevens doesn't it? I have pledged to get a tattoo if we win the Cup. That also sounds absurd even saying it. That's enough. Ridiculous.
Saturday, April 05, 2008
This scene will be familiar to anyone who watches junior football in Wales. It's not uncommon that we have to stand on the side of a windy, unprotected pitch watching 22 dripping blocks of ice aim frozen legs at a football.
This one was particularly horrible. Cae Glyn v Y Felinheli Under 17's played last week in Caernarfon. Poor old Gwil here is sodden. Match was abandoned with Felin 3-1 up after 50 minutes.
The thing is that it was fine when I left Felin for the game. And that's why I was wearing my shorts. Not because I think I have great legs. Though I have, obviously.
Like anyone else who speaks over 3 words of Welsh and has visited Ninian Park at least once, my views have been much in demand by various welsh language outlets this past couple of weeks.
I got the call from "Ar y Marc" yesterday. That's BBC Cymru's football programme which goes out at 8.30am every Saturday morning. Which means that you actually record your interview at about 7.15am.
After a few pre-weekend pints in Y Fic, and a late night session of watching The Cardiff City history DVD, I woke bleary-eyed and flat-tailed at about 7.14am. Get the kettle on and wait for the call. And wait. And wait.
By 7.19am, I was full of coffee and ready for my morning ablutions. I had erm..something that needed attention. But I couldn't go and sit on the bog just in case the radio called. I couldn't do an interview on the throne could I?
I sat there with a rumble in the jungle till 7.45am when they called. I managed to summon up a cheery "Bore Da!" and was ready with the laddish bonhomie that football shows require. "I'm sorry", said the nice lady, "but the programme is full today, and we won't be using you".
This is not unusual. Items are dropped from news shows all the time. In 1982 I was on my way to the Breakfast TV studios in London when I was told that Dolly Parton had turned up unexpectedly and pushed me out of the schedule. Rejected for Dolly Parton? What an honour.
Still, my "Ar y Marc" cancellation gave me time to sit on the chamber and mull over some important questions.
I've decided against blue hair as that's more suitable for a final. And face paint is out in case we lose. I don't want to be the twat in tears on Match of the Day with blue paint dripping down my cheeks.
No, I have settled on the "fits where it touches" replica 1970s shirt. And I will wear a longish blue tee shirt underneath in case we score. You see, when I raise my arms, my 70s shirt rises and shows my belly. And I'm in the front row so I don't want to scare the viewers.
I checked the stadium regulations and I'm allowed to take in 1 metre high flagpoles. Which is excellent. Except that my flag is 2 metres high. Still, at least air horns are banned. Mill Stad are you listening?
Thursday, April 03, 2008
Well I've bought some stupid pieces of memorabilia in my time but this beats the lot I think. This is a square of carpet that used to be on the floor in the old FAW offices in Westgate Street in Cardiff.
It was sold to me by Neil Dymock of the Welsh supporters charity, Gol. I am assured that it has been professionally cleaned since it was trod on by the likes of Terry Yorath and Gavin Maguire. And it has been signed by John Toshack.
So there we have it. Another proud addition to my collection of crap. A piece of carpet. In a frame.
I arranged a meeting in Cardiff so that i could get to the game against West Brom on Tuesday. And I was glad I did. It was a fantastic game, with high skill levels and a superb atmosphere generated by a crowd looking forward to Wembley. But 13,000? Don't insult me. I've been going to Ninian for 30 years now, and there were 16,000 in that ground.
Things have changed in cardiff. Before the game I was astounded to see a car full of shirt-wearing West Brom fans exit their car on Broad Street, a few hundred yards away from the Stadium. In case you don't know, this is not normal. A few years ago, these people would never have got to the ground unscathed. There is real hope that a cultural change is on its way at Cardiff.
Some people were laughably trying to claim this as the biggest game of the season. I spoke to club officials up at Middlesbrough who told me that the league was more important. Now I can see how that might be the case when you're relying on the league for your day to day income, but as a fan? Come off it. The Wembley trip is the biggest game of our lifetime, never mind this season. You can stick the league up your arse. I would swap relegation for a semi final appearance, and maybe extinction for a Cup win. If we win the Cup I am retiring. That's all I've ever wanted from my football. An FA Cup win is bigger than a League title for me.
The following day , I strolled down Queen Street and was astonished by the number of City shirts and leisure clothing on display. Firstly, up until Mark took over the club shop in the late nineties, you just couldn't buy any leisure wear apart from a CCFC On Tour Tee Shirt. But even then, people didn't really boast about following Cardiff any more than they would wear a tee shirt saying "I like digging my garden". I was intrigued though. The people I saw in Queen Street were about my age, and from 1990-1995 I think I knew the face of every City fan around. Where have these new fans come from?
Well I'm not going to go into a rant about glory hunters, because I don't think that way. I know a lot of lads my age who played football rather than watched it. But now they have kids and take them down the City. What should we do? Ban them from going because they weren't at Halifax in 1991?
If Cardiff have any hope of becoming a big club, rather than the mediocre Coventry-sized outfit that currently draws 12,000, then we all have to welcome the new fan. Don't chastise the 20,000 fans who will be at Wembley but weren't at Ninian on Tuesday. Some people don't see football as a priority, but they like to go to big events. That doesn't make them serial killers. It makes them normal and balanced people. Just because they don't martyr themselves to the Bluebird cause, it doesn't mean they can't go to Wembley. Twice.
On the other hand, if they have previously owned a Premiership shirt, or see Cardiff as their second club, then they deserve nothing but scorn. Shabby, soul-less, bandwagon-jumping bastards.