I’m delighted that Newport County are returning to the Football League after 25 years. It completes an unforgettable season for Welsh football, with Swansea winning the League Cup and Cardiff promoted to the Premier League. It’s just a shame that Newport pipped another Welsh club, Wrexham. (Wrexham have some consolation in winning the FA Trophy at Wembley.)
Growing up in South Wales, I was familiar with County’s precarious existence. In 1976, Manchester United played against a South Wales XI at Ninian Park to raise money to save the club from bankruptcy. BBC Wales Today filmed the then County chairman Cyril Rogers playing the piano to sooth the tension of fighting for the club’s existence. The campaign succeeded, and just five years later County narrowly lost a European Cup Winners Cup quarter final against Carl Zeiss Jena. But it was a mere stay of execution: Newport lost their league status in 1988 and went bust the following year. It’s little short of a miracle that the club has now regained league status.
The big question: has any other playoff to enter the Football League been contested by two former quarter finalists from a European competition? (Wrexham also narrowly lost a European Cup Winners Cup quarter final, to Anderlecht in 1975/76.)
Cardiff City are in the Premier League. Over 50 years since relegation from the old first division, we are once again in our neighbour’s football top flight. It’s also 86 years almost to the week since City became the only club from outside England to win the FA Cup.
Almost a year ago, I blogged my criticism for Cardiff City’s Malaysian owners’ decision to change the club red. That reaction now seems churlish. Red looks like City’s lucky colour. And we should thank the Bluebirds’ Malaysian owners for helping the team make history.
Dad, watching Cardiff City reach third FA Cup final, April 2008
Our family has spent many hours cheering on Cardiff City. My father, Bob Skinner, took me to my first City game almost 40 years ago. (Against West Brom, on 3 November 1973 – we lost 1-0.) He was born within a goal kick of West Ham’s ground, which meant I grew up with affection for both clubs. (By coincidence, West Ham adopted a City song, ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’.) Family loyalties were stretched when we went to West Ham to see City in November 1979, but Cardiff lost 3-0. West Ham did well against the three Welsh teams in the old second division that autumn.
Five years ago, we watched City win an FA Cup semi final against Barnsley to reach a Wembley cup final for the first time since 1927. Another breakthrough in City’s renaissance. We should pay tribute to then manager Dave Jones for that revival.
Cardiff join Swansea in the Premier League. It’s the first time Wales has had two clubs in the top flight. A special moment.
Six Nations Champions
England entered Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on the brink of winning a grand slam. They left with their dreams in tatters after Wales destroyed the old enemy * in one of the finest displays ever from a Welsh team.
A Welsh victory seemed likely after England’s deeply unconvincing victory over Italy last Sunday. But few could have imagined that we’d win by a 27 point margin.
Wales may not have won a grand slam today. (The opening half against Ireland ensured that wasn’t to be.) But it felt as good as a slam: our most convincing win ever against England; the first time we have retained the championship since 1979; and the most enthralling game in years.
The only disappointment? I didn’t have any Brains SA in the house to toast an amazing victory.
Cymru am byth!
* Note to English wife and friends: ‘old enemy’ is a term of endearment. We’re the best of friends and neighbours. We forgive you for Edward I, the imposed act of union, the Welsh Not and much more…
PS: credit to BBC Wales for its witty rebranding of BBC One (below) to mark our famous victory….
BBC Won Wales
Llandough hospital in the snow
Today has been a stressful yet wonderful day.
My amazing 84 year old mother has had a major operation at University Hospital Llandough at Penarth, just outside Cardiff. It followed months of health worries – with my 86 year old father bearing the brunt of the worry.
We were concerned that today’s snowfall would lead to the operation being cancelled – but Cardiff & the Vale University Hospital Board and its staff did a magnificent job keeping things going.
Mum will spend a long time recovering from today’s operation. But we’re so glad to see her tonight sleeping peacefully on the ward.
Dad and I thoroughly enjoyed a pint of HB tonight at Penarth Yacht Club, followed by dinner washed down by a fine bottle of Rioja. Dad even reminisced about his 1930s childhood, in particular how deadly dull Easter Sunday was. He also remembered how his father listened to the football pools news on Saturdays on Radio Luxembourg – once winning £70! A lot of money before the war.
Mum told me a funny (true) story when I went home to Wales yesterday. During the war, her mother was at the hairdressers in Penarth when German bombers raided. I imagine this would have been in 1940 or 1941, when Mum was 12. Her father heard a loud noise, and went into the garden to investigate. He crawled back to the house under the shelter of the garden wall after experiencing a loud explosion. (A bomb going about 500 yards away.)
When the all clear sounded, the hairdressers emerged from the shelter – and remembered that they’d left my grandma under big hairdryer. She knew nothing of the air-raid because of the noise of the dryer!
M&S: a very special restaurant
We’ve loved Marks & Spencer’s Culverhouse Cross store in Cardiff for a long time. It has a huge range of goods, an excellent food hall and nice cafe almost all on one floor.
It now has the best restaurant of any high street store I’ve come across. We called in on our way to Mum and Dad’s in Penarth last weekend, and decided to have a late lunch there. It was great value – and the food was wonderful. (With at-table service.) Best of all was Owen’s dessert – with the kind of presentation you’d normally find only in a far more expensive restaurant.
We’ll definitely be back!
Today’s Guardian carried a lighthearted editorial ‘In praise of … a simple coffee’. It praises Debenhams’ plain English coffee menu. Goodbye to latte, hello milky coffee.
The story made me think back to coffee time with Mum in 1970s Cardiff. South Wales has long been associated with Italian cafes: a legacy of the arrival of scores of people from Italy during the 19th century boom years. Mum and I used to go to Ferrari’s on Wellfield Road near Roath Park. I’d enjoy a frothy coffee after visiting the toy and book shops on Albany Road, or the library.
Years later, I discovered cappuccino. It took a while before I realised that it was exactly the same drink. But usually a lot more expensive – with the honourable exception of the 50p takeaway latte I bought in Giraffe in Richmond this morning!
Remembering Wales Empire Pool
We took Owen swimming at Cardiff’s International Pool today. He loved it, and so did we. Going in, we spotted this plaque commemorating one of my favourite childhood haunts: the Wales Empire Pool, which was demolished to make way for the Millennium Stadium.
The Empire Pool was built for the 1958 Empire Games, hosted by Cardiff. As a child, I was in awe of the enormous pool, the impossibly high diving boards and the stark functionality of the building. Swimming a length was a major voyage.
The best memory was the day the drinks machine went haywire, spewing out free coffees. My Cardiff High School class rushed to take advantage!
I actually learned to swim in another long-gone Cardiff pool. Guildford Crescent was a Victorian pool – actually two pools – opened in the 1860s. By the 1970s it was in a bad way. But in the autumn term 1974 I spent part of every morning for four weeks there, and by the first Friday I could swim and went up to the next class. Less happily, the next step was learning to dive, but I never got beyond belly flops. Despite that. I’ll always remember Guildford Crescent fondly as the place I learned one of life’s most precious skills.
Welsh coast ahead
I love watching the world from the air. I took this picture of the Welsh coast from a flight to Dublin yesterday afternoon. I assumed we were somewhere north of Fishguard, but didn’t see enough landmarks – such as Fishguard harbour – to be sure.
My former colleague Noel Privett asked on Facebook whether it was Dinas island. A few minutes’ study of Google Maps confirmed that it was actually the stretch of coast from Aberporth to Llangrannog. (The finger of land pointing into the Irish Sea next to Llangrannog nailed it.)
Where are we? Google it…
Ticket to tragedy: the night Jock Stein died
Wales are playing Scotland in a FIFA world cup qualifier tonight. It’s a fixture freighted with ill luck for Wales and tragedy for everyone. On a September night 27 years ago, Scotland’s revered manager Jock Stein collapsed and died at Ninian Park after his team qualified for Mexico 1986 at our expense. As Max Boyce would say, I was there.
I had a pitch-side view of the events of that extraordinary night, although I didn’t see Jock himself. I described the experience in my blog five tears ago:
“My friend Anthony Beer and I sold programmes at the dramatic Wales v Scotland World Cup qualifier game at Ninian Park, Cardiff. My diary notes that we were the only sellers inside the ground; we went down the players’ tunnel as the Welsh national anthem was played. We had to exchange programmes for cash through the netting that kept fans from the pitch – not so easy when many fans wanted five or more! We soon ran out of our initial 500 – the Welsh FA had printed just 20,000 programmes for a crowd of 40,000.
“We saw Mark Hughes give Wales an early lead before Scotland snatched a draw through a very dubious penalty, ending Wales’ hopes of playing in the 1986 Mexico finals. Afterwards, we passed Scotland’s Willie Miller being interviewed live on ITV as we took our takings in to the offices under the grandstand next to the dressing room. It was there that we heard that the Scotland manager, Jock Stein, had collapsed. Later, we heard the tragic news that he had died. We collected our £10 seller’s fees and walked out of the ground as an ambulance driver manoeuvred to avoid a Securicor van. Scottish and British football had lost a legend – the first manager to lead a club from these islands to victory in the European Cup.”
PS: Wales won! Cymru am byth. That will help overcome the painful memories of 1977 and 1985.