The 16th of April will go down in Cardiff City folk law, a chilly Tuesday spring evening, as the night that Cardiff City ended 50 odd years of hurt
When Cardiff were relegated from the old First Division in 1962, the world hadn’t (outside of Liverpool and the seedy red light area of Berlin) even heard of the Beatles and Ipswich Town had just been crowned champions.
Along with The Bluebirds, Chelsea went down into division two, while Liverpool and Leyton Orient took their place. Ironically, for a team that now boasts five former Coventry City players and two Coventrians in their first team, that it was Coventry born Frank Ifield who was number one with I Remember You.
Unfortunately, after 51 years, few people remembered Cardiff City had ever been a top flight team, even the Bluebird supporters themselves, two generations bloodied into the fold against the tide of supporting glamorous big named English clubs, only knew because they had been told. They’d seen the grainy footage on club produced video’s and Dvd’s, instead they had become accustomed to disappointed, of being the perpetual bridesmaids, used to relegation and playing in the lower leagues, of being on the verge of administration, of being saved at the 11th hour by shady deals by shady little men.
So it came to pass that a scoreless draw against Charlton provided the sweet magical moment, one which came 53 years to the day since a home victory at Ninian Park against Aston Villa secured Cardiff’s previous promotion from the second tier to the promise land.
Promotion this season is something Cardiff City fans had demanded, having been made to sacrifice too much, put up with so much abuse, of being accused of selling their souls ( no matter what and where their personal feelings and allegiances lay) of a season of constant taunts from opponents’ fans. Fans have had to endure the one season in Cardiff City’s history it’s been the hardest to be a supporter, to settle for anything less was unthinkable failure wasn’t an option, but it was a deep-rooted fear, a dread that Cardiff City were going to do a Cardiff City and blow it, but as the season began to draw to a close that became all but impossible.
Cardiff City in the end achieved promotion with three games to spare, finally burying the painful ghosts of three successive play-off failures. The Bluebirds can now prepare for the financial rewards, the umbrella payments, the added bonus that this season will bring – The television rights are up for negotiation, a fact that will add even more coffers into the Cardiff City bank account. Then there will be the publicity that comes with a place in the top flight, sponsors will now be fighting to endorse the club from Welsh capital.
Malky Mackay undoubtedly must take the majority of the plaudits for the promotion, for building a team capable of winning the Championship.
And there is no doubt this is a team moulded by Mackay. Of the Eleven that started against Charlton, only two players – goalkeeper David Marshall and right-back Kevin McNaughton – remained from the team that played in the 3-2 play-off final defeat against Blackpool at Wembley in 2010, the only other survivors of the Dave Jones era who remain at Cardiff City are Mark Hudson (side lined by injury), Peter Whittingham (relegated to a place on the bench) and Craig Bellamy who had spent part of the 2010/11 season on loan from Liverpool under Jones.
The game was a nervy affair with passes going astray – it was clear it meant so much to both sides.
Highlights of the match itself were a David Marshall save, and a disallowed goal from the head of Craig Noone.
After having shown few signs of nerves in the majority of the game, understandably anxiety crept into Cardiff’s play in the closing 10 minutes, anyone with a connection to Cardiff City football club were willing the sound of the final whistle, knowing that if the score remained as it was it would signal their entrance to the Premier League.
The supporters were becoming increasingly edgy, but tentatively as the seconds ticked by we started to celebrate, the chants becoming frenetic and deafening “The Blues Are Going Up” (although rather bizarrely) the commentator on Astro sports channel in Malaysia who were streaming the game live, repeatedly stated the Cardiff City fans were chanting “The Reds are going up”?
As the news filtered through to us supporters that Watford were losing away at Millwall, meaning even a loss would suffice for we Bluebirds’ to realise our promotional dreams at long last!
The game seemed to slow – but then, when the referee finally blew his whistle it brought about total jubilation. Cardiff City were promoted to the Premier League.
Screams of YES! GET IN! Chants of “The Blues Are Up!” rang out among the mass hugging and dancing, the pitch invasion began, the Charlton players fled the field. A few of the Cardiff City players were in less of a hurry – two in particular – the Silver Fox and Bluebird favourite Kevin McNaughton who is The Blues longest-serving player and the only player in the current squad that had played in the 2008 FA Cup final.
Super Kev had been with us through all those nearly years, it meant as much to him as it did to us – that was plain to see! The other player was a lifelong supporter who had his Dad and Son cheering from the stands – Craig Bellamy who had twice taken a cut in wages to play for ‘his’ team.
I wriggled free from a hug and set off down the terrace sending this prepared tweet as I went – “@RealSarahJPrice: YAYAY!!! BLUEBIRDS ARE PROMOTED!! Excuse me off to invade the pitch BLUEBIRDS!!!”
I went onto the pitch to celebrate for (in my mind) all the supporters who were not there to see this historical moment, from my friend who had missed the game due to a recent foot operation, to all the friends, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, Grampy’s and Nan’s who hadn’t lived to see the day, I even found myself at one point looking at the night sky staring at the moon, which was now clouded by the blue and yellow smoke from canisters let off by supporters and tearfully said “Stuart we made it” directed to the late former Stereophonics drummer Stuart Cable who had been a much-loved figure on the terraces even at the height of his fame Stuart made every game humanly possible.
Crying tears of joy tinged with a deep sadness for two supporters in particular, Dads that should have been there – I saw Kevin McNaughton lifted high upon the shoulder of one Bluebird supporter after another – arms in the air, face scrunched up in exaltation, screaming and swearing his head off, the gist of which was ‘Yes at last’.
With these scenes on the pitch and chants of The Blues are going up clearly audible, and ringing in his ears Vincent Tan in the tunnel being interviewed live on Sky Sports News grabbed the red Cardiff City shirt he was wearing and said “lucky red, lucky red”
The promotion to the Premier League and what it meant to the blue part of south Wales was better described by Craig Bellamy who had his father and teenage son, Ellis, who is on Cardiff’s books, watching from the stands, Bellamy tearfully said “Football wise, this is certainly the best moment.”
“To have people I truly love around me, to share this with me, to see my dad afterwards and all the heartache he has been through watching Cardiff over the years. I have lost count how many games I used to go to with him on a Tuesday night against some team, and him pulling me to the side, leaving 10 minutes before the end, and saying we would never go back.”
So Saturday away at Burnley Cardiff City could confirm the title. That’s all we wait for, for the party to really begin that and the promised promotion song written and performed by lifelong Bluebird James Fox.
The Bluebirds are flying high and are really happy about it too!