When Hereford United FC were watched by 35,000

Today’s sad news that Hereford United FC has been wound up in the High Court brought back childhood memories. In April 1976, I was one of 35,000 people who watched the team play Cardiff City at Ninian Park in Cardiff. Hereford were leading the old third division and City were placed second. Cardiff won 2-0 that unforgettable evening.

It was one of my favourite Ninian Park memories. I still have the match programme, signed by members of Cardiff City’s promotion team.

I hope Hereford one day rise from the ashes, like former Welsh Cup rival Newport County.

Cardiff Bay before regeneration

Cardiff Bay before regeneration

Atlantic Wharf, Cardiff, January 1986

(This post was inspired by www.wearecardiff.co.uk)

Cardiff has changed dramatically over the past 30 years. It’s hard to imagine how different the old Tiger Bay docklands looked before the Cardiff Bay redevelopment and Cardiff Bay barrage was announced by Margaret Thatcher’s Welsh Secretary Nicholas Edwards in 1986.

Dad and I visited the docks regularly and took these photos on a bitterly cold day at the start of 1986. We liked the look of the imposing warehouse on the right (east) bank of the Bute East Dock.

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Cardiff City’s surrender to relegation

In the end, it was a relief. Cardiff City surrendered their Premier League status today with another heavy defeat, away to Newcastle United. Owner Vincent Tan’s sacking of manager Malky Mackay in December destroyed the Bluebirds’ hope of securing a second season in the top flight.

Tan thought that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United pedigree would save the day. The opposite has been true: Solskjaer’s team has conceded an alarming number of goals without unduly threatening the opposition. By contrast, Mackay achieved some famous results, including defeating title contenders Manchester City, drawing with Manchester United and beating arch rivals Swansea.

At least we don’t have to worry about second season syndrome…

David Moyes, Frank O’Farrell and Cardiff City

David Moyes was fired as Manchester United manager today. The only surprise was that he lasted as long as he did. What are the chances that he follows in Frank O’Farrell’s footsteps and becomes Cardiff City manager?

Frank O’Farrell, like Moyes, took on mission impossible by following a legend as Man United boss – Matt Busby. He lasted longer than Moyes at Old Trafford, but also inherited a team that was in rapid decline from days of glory. He has described how Busby’s presence at United utterly overshadowed his unhappy time as manager. Moyes found Sir Alex Ferguson far more supportive, but Fergie’s extraordinary legacy of success would have been a formidable burden for anyone who took his place.

O’Farrell went on to become Cardiff City manager the season after losing his job at United. It was a big step down, as the Bluebirds were struggling at the foot of the old second division. He got the job at City days after Jimmy Scoular was fired after Cardiff lost the very first game I ever went to see: at home to West Bromwich Albion on 3 November 1973. (That grim game was the perfect introduction to life as a Cardiff City fan in the 1970s and 80s. My Latin teacher said there was an easy way to remember what nihil meant: it was the number of goals City was likely to score.)

Man United legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has seemed totally out of his depth as a premier league manager since succeeding the popular Malky Mackay last December. Cardiff could do worse than to offer Moyes the chance to rebuild his reputation in Wales. For all their troubles this season, City are in better health than in November 1973 when O’Farrell was appointed. And Moyes remains a decent manager, as he showed at Everton.

Long distance cycling: Cardiff to Bucks

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Above: departing Penarth, Wales for England

As 2013 draws to a close, I’m reflecting on one of my most memorable experiences of the year: fulfilling an old ambition of cycling from Wales to Buckinghamshire. I set off on Monday 2 September from my parents’ flat on the seafront at Penarth, just outside Cardiff.

It was a real challenge. This was my first cycle tour carrying my own luggage since 1998. I’ve put on a few pounds since that tour of Normandy, so I wasn’t surprised to find myself struggling up the hills. This was also my first tour relying on digital rather than paper maps, which proved very frustrating. I couldn’t help looking back to my 325 mile cycle tour of the West Country in 1995, when I got lost just once while navigating the most obscure country lanes, thanks to a stack of Ordnance Survey maps. This time, I wasted a huge amount of time as my Garmin Edge 800 failed to alert me to my programmed turns. (I had a back up with the Bike Hub app, but it wasn’t the same as having a map on the handlebars.)

It was a wonderful ride, but I’ll be honest and say I enjoyed it more in retrospect than at the time, with some exceptions. It was wonderful bowling along at 18mph on the levels between Cardiff and Newport. I loved the 25mph race towards Tetbury, as the first day’s 73 mile ride came to an end and I looked forward to dinner with my sister and her family in Cirencester. The Vale of the White Horse in Oxfordshire was a delight. I relished my al fresco lunch at the Cherry Tree pub in at Kingston Blount, Oxon on day 3, in glorious sunshine, followed by tea and cake at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre at Great Missenden on the final leg home.

My least favourite bit? The interminable attempt to escape from Swindon. My route past Purton was closed, so I had to navigate Swindon’s characterless sprawl. (I’d have been better off going straight through the town centre.) I was very relieved to reach open countryside – no wonder I enjoyed the Vale of the White Horse.

My biggest lesson: cycle touring rewards those who keep fit. But it’s still a peerless way to enjoy the countryside.

PS: my 16 year old Raleigh Randonneur proved a superb choice for the challenge, as did my Ortlieb front roller classic panniers and my old Camelbak classic hydration pack.

IMG_7583Above: into England, old Severn Bridge

IMG_7589Above: near Hawkesbury Upton, Glos

ImageAbove: Oxfordshire’s lovely Vale of the White Horse: Stanford in the Vale

ImageAbove: ploughman’s lunch at the Cherry Tree, Kingston Blount

Cardiff City, Premier League

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

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.

Proud of the NHS

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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.

We love M&S Culverhouse Cross

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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!

Cardiff’s Queen Street BHS to close

The original Cardiff BHS, 1970s

I felt nostalgic tonight when I read that Cardiff’s main BHS store in Queen Street is to close.

The store was once the site of the largest Woolworths store in Wales, before Woolies closed in around 1985. British Home Stores (BHS) relocated a few hundred yards from the store you can see in this wonderful photo.

The original Woolworths was a special place. It had a cafeteria on the upper mezzanine floor. Even in the 1970s it was selling loose biscuits behind a glass counter window. BHS was never quite as iconic, although it did briefly have an in-store Nationwide Building Society branch in the late 1980s.

The photo shows Queen Street before it became traffic-free in 1975. Judging by the gleaming K-reg Rover on the left I’d say it was taken in 1972 or 1973.

The details are fascinating. Every car is British. The Dutch clothing store C&A was still a household name (it left Britain in 2000). Top Rank Suite enjoyed the glam rock era.

The crane in the background was building Brunel House, which was meant to house British Railways’ Western Region headquarters. (Another botched reorganisation at the taxpayers’ expense…) The Venetian-looking building on the right once overlooked the Glamorgan canal, which entered a tunnel here. (It was filled in over 50 years ago.)

The sign for the hair removal clinic (above Stead & Simpson on the right) suggests we were already obsessed about appearances!

Remembering Cardiff’s Empire Pool

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.