Friday 17th August 2012 was a momentous day for Cardiff City Football Club, it’s supporters and all of football. It was the day a Blue team became Red, in order to get out of the red and into the black.
A side-lining of one hundred and eleven years of club history in order to secure a future, please don’t anyone think that the majority of Cardiff City supporters have taken this lightly. It’s a complex issue which has caused very regrettable divisions within the fan base and shamefully brought out bullyboy tendencies from a very few mindless individuals who need to take a good long hard look at themselves.
The dawn of the new era came at 7.45 pm, many of us hadn’t felt the usual first game of the season excitement – instead we’d been apprehensive – was it going to feel like our team? Would we connect? As The Bluebirds kicked off their Championship campaign against Huddersfield Town, a day before the rest of the division, on a drizzly Friday night in the capital we were about to find out!
Despite the nerves and trepidation there was a sense of expectation which filled the Cardiff City Stadium for the return of prodigal son, local lad and Welsh national treasure Craig Bellamy (signed from Liverpool after his Olympic adventures for Stuart Pearces’ TeamGB squad). Bellamy started his first competitive match for City, alongside fellow summer signings Jordon Mutch who had been signed from Birmingham City and Icelandic international Heidar Helguson who joined the Bluebirds from Queens Park Rovers. Although both players were known to Bluebird manager Malky Mackay from a spell on loan at Watford while Mackay was manager there.
Personally I found it very tough going, I spent a lot of the first twenty minutes teary, because like many other people I no longer have at my side the person who blooded me into the beautiful game, the one who went with me to games then talked about little else for the whole of Sunday dinner time… it felt like I wasn’t watching our team. These feelings may have been helped if the team on the pitch weren’t playing so badly! Despite the formation purported on the team sheet, Peter Whittingham was again playing a position that is far too deep to make any advantage of his shooting skills; returning hero Craig Bellamy looked preoccupied and was nullified by a chronic lack of quality service, while Jordon Mutch looked lively, skillful and even at two million a good signing.
It speaks volumes that the Bluebirds best player and eventual Man Of The Match was their goalkeeper David Marshall. It was a boring first half with the best of the chances going to Huddersfield, although the first good chance fell to The Bluebirds set up by Mutch it came into the path of Don Cowie, who prodded the ball wide of Huddersfield goalie Alex Smithies’ right hand post.
The Terriers then had a flurry of chances – Lee Novak split the City defence with a penetrative pass down the right hand side, Scott Arfield ran on to it, but his low shot was parried safely away by David Marshall; former Coventry City midfielder Oliver Norwood was next to sting the hands of Marshall, his long range drive was a bit too central to beat the Cardiff ‘keeper. As the game became a midfield battle – at one time turning into a game of head tennis! It was little wonder that minds wandered in the Bluebirds ranks – jolted back by cheering, I and others around me found ourselves cheering a shot on goal by Huddersfield’s Norwood.
The feeling of disembodiment and confusion felt by a lot of Cardiff City supporters was added to by the fact Huddersfield had turned out in a blue kit, it seemed at times as pass after pass went astray that some of that confusion was affecting the Cardiff City players too! I am not sure if the lacklustre performance of the Bluebirds caused the supporters mood or the lack of terrace atmosphere had filtered down on to the pitch but whichever way it was, it was unhelpful and unhealthy for everyone. With halftime fast approaching, Craig Bellamy delivered an in-swinging corner, which caused the Huddersfield defence problems. Ben Turner headed the ball down at the far post to set up Heidar Helguson, but his header smacked the bar to be followed by a weak chorus of half-hearted penalty appeals for a challenge on Turner in the box, which were very quickly waved away.
Halftime 0-0 a mostly uninspiring affair – Despite so much having changed it felt like nothing had, regardless of the shirt colour, it was still as frustrating to watch Cardiff City as it had ever been!
Huddersfield started the second half the brighter and earned the first corner of the second half with a few minutes played – it came to nothing and soon after a soft free kick was given away by the Bluebirds, Oliver Norwood sent a decent free kick into the box and to the relief of the Cardiff City supporters Helguson headed the ball away from danger. The Bluebirds then had two more penalty appeals waved away, it seemed the red kit wasn’t having ‘The Man Utd effect’ on the referee, it wasn’t going to plan at all! Bellamy wasn’t seeing as much of the ball as he would have liked on the left flank and Whittingham was again spending a lot of the time playing from almost a defensive role.
The game quickly again became a middle field battle The Terriers were putting in strong committed tackles, with Gunnarsson, Mutch and Whittingham all feeling the full force of them. Eventually midfielder Southern was booked for an agricultural tackle then, after another spell of head tennis, Huddersfield’s Jack Hunt went on a mazy run from right back, and after cutting inside, he unleashed a fierce left footed shot which flew just over Marshall’s crossbar.
It all became a bit scrappy; end to end stuff sandwiched between periods of midfield tedium it was hard to watch, still a struggle as to who to follow, Bellamy was roundly booed every time he touched the ball, while the Bluebird supporters had to endure a near constant repeated chant of – “Are you Wrexham in disguise”
Even the best chance of the match falling to the Bluebirds didn’t raise much cheer. Smithies failed to clear a hopeful long drive from Jordon Mutch, Gunnarsson pounced on the rebound. But his goal-bound shot was cleared off the line, only to be gathered gratefully by the hands of the Huddersfield goalkeeper. Shortly after, Hunt caused yet more problems for the struggling Andrew Taylor, cutting easily inside him before squaring the ball to Scott Arfield who was brilliantly closed down by Whittingham of all people just as he was on the verge of pulling the trigger.
The Bluebirds faithful were becoming more and more frustrated leading into the final period of the game, as several decisions yet again went against the home side. It was becoming very clear the side wasn’t together and the much talked about Red shirt wasn’t bringing any luck at all! Then Cardiff carved out another opening, Whittingham, Taylor and Bellamy linked up down the left flank creating a golden chance, which unfortunately fell to The Sliver Fox Kevin McNaughton, who hasn’t scored for Cardiff in over three years. Although he was positioned beautifully on the edge of the box, his shot lacked venom and was comfortably saved. Then it was all Huddersfield, culminating with Mark Hudson saving the day for the Bluebirds by nicking the ball off the toes of Lee Novak in the 6 yard box just as he was about to tap the ball into the net.
Cardiff swapped Joe Mason on for Don Cowie (78 minutes) but by now all the creativity had ebbed from the game and it had descended into a scrappy affair.
The final ten minutes of the match petered out as neither side could mount a period of sustained pressure on the opposition’s goal. Both sides seemed to have settled for a draw. The board went up 5 minutes of injury time. Cardiff fans remembering last season and Kenny Miller’s last minute winner began to chant loudly with a passion which had been missing for most of the game – chants of “Bluebirds – Bluebirds” rang out throughout Cardiff City Stadium, the sound of singing seemed to galvanise the City players and the Bluebirds suddenly committed more players forward. Then Mark Hudson in a forward position for a set piece that went awry pounced on the loose ball in the box and powered it past the helpless Smithies, the fans screamed goal but it was muted, the whistle blew City were top of the league, but it didn’t feel sweet. The in-fighting has taken it toll – seemingly on both the supporters and players.
While most Cardiff City supporters around the world from South Wales to the United States via mainland China and beyond admitted afterwards (mostly on the quiet) that they had found it difficult and alien to watch a Cardiff City side play in red and black, but we are trying to support our team – To Love The City 2012