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 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.

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.

Remembering Cardiff City’s Jimmy Andrews

Jimmy Andrews, who has died aged 85, was Cardiff City’s manager when the Bluebirds slipped into the third division in 1975 for the first time since the 1940s. Yet he led the club straight back up, and also presided over an enthralling FA Cup run with stunning victories over Spurs and Wrexham. (I blogged about City’s 1977 FA Cup run during our even more remarkable 2008 campaign.)

I started going to Ninian Park regularly during that promotion season of 1975/76. Cardiff struggled in early games against the likes of Halifax and Bury, but I was hooked with a series of thrillers – especially a 4-3 Friday night win against Chesterfield on my 12th birthday and a 2-0 victory against league leaders Hereford. (I was one of 35,000 who watched that one!)

Jimmy Andrews – a regular in the South Wales Echo 1977

Jimmy Andrews deserves credit for the success he enjoyed during his time as manager. (The 25 years that followed proved bleaker, with long years in the old third and fourth divisions.) He showed he was ready to take a gamble, signing Robin Friday, one of the most exotic players to wear City’s (old) colours. I saw Friday on his debut on 1 January 1977 against Fulham. I went mainly to see George Best, who was then playing for Fulham. (I should have known that Best would never have turned up on New Year’s day…) But I saw Friday score two against Bobby Moore’s team. Friday soon proved too wild for Andrews to tame – as he may have suspected when his new player was arrested on his way to sign for Cardiff for travelling using a platform ticket.

I didn’t realise back then that Jimmy Andrews was a former West Ham player. Until his death this month he was the oldest surviving former Hammer.

PS: the cutting below refers to a league game with Chelsea, then in the old second division. Not easy times for the future European champions!

Managing challenging times

Cardiff City: why the Bluebirds mustn’t become the red dragons

Blue is the colour: Cardiff City at Millennium play-off, 2003

In the week the traditional 3pm FA Cup final kick off disappeared, another football tradition is under threat. The Malaysian owners of Cardiff City want to turn the club red – and replace the bluebird symbol with a red dragon.

It would not be City’s biggest change. The club said goodbye to Ninian Park three years ago. But there’s something symbolic about a team’s home colours. Can you imagine Liverpool in green or Chelsea in red?

And there’s something lazy and unimaginative about opting for a red dragon symbol. As future Welsh first minister Rhodri Morgan argued in the 1990s, in a book about Cardiff called Half-and half a capital, the red dragon symbol was all too often chosen by businesses because “it was safe, bland and reassuring and therefore dead right in modern marketing terms.”

Let’s hope that common sense and tradition prevails.