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03/04: Preview: Cardiff City
Opposition opinion
by Bluebirds fan Huw Owen

What happened last season?
We got promoted via the "poor man's" route, the Play Offs - what a weird way to end a weird season, the biggest day out for us "more mature" fans certainly since we played Real Madrid in the Cup Winners Cup more than 30 years previously, and the biggest day for the club since April 1927 when Wales went to Wembley for the day.... what a party we had in May, after witnessing a goal 5 minutes from the end of extra time. The beer seemed to obliterate from our minds the pretty facile football we'd witnessed over the preceding 9 months. How we managed to make the play offs in the first place still bemuses many of us. We have a solid enough defence, which nevertheless always seemed to have the capacity to make stupid mistakes; a solid enough midfield that had little if any invention; and workmanlike, solid forwards who never seemed to score many goals. Apart from one man that is, pint sized Robert Earnshaw who in the middle of all this mediocrity managed to break every major individual club goal scoring record going. Many of the goals were sheer genius, out of nothing, others were tap ins because he managed to get in the right place at the right time to profit from the labours of those workmanlike players around him.

Whilst Earnshaw rightfully received all the plaudits, many of us purists drool over the skills of Centre Back Daniel Gabbidon, who earlier last season in a Wales shirt had Del Piero and co "in his pocket" for 90 minutes, and made those watching Nesta, Cannavaro and Panucci in the opposition team think hard about who the £30m + rated Centre back on the pitch was. Soon after the Wales v Italy game in October, Gabbi got injured at Barnsley in a Division 2 match and only re-appeared for the last handful of games - the fact that we only conceded 2 goals in those last 5 games playing against top 4 sides Crewe, Wigan, Bristol City twice, and QPR in the final says a lot about where our season might have gone wrong...

So on the pitch, Earnie, Gabbi and the final run in apart, there wasn't much to get excited about - one of the most boring, flairless and passionless City sides we've seen in many a year - they were just about good enough, in the (very) final reckoning, to scrape up to Division One for the first time in almost two decades.

Off the pitch though, with Sam Hammam around, nothing is ever quiet! At long last, the rugby obsessed media in Wales is finally having to at least doff its cap to the round ball game. This is predominantly due to the long overdue success that Sparky Hughes has bought, with the help of Messrs Giggs, Hartson, Bellamy, Davies - and Gabbidon, Earnshaw and Weston - to the national side, but Uncle Sam has also ensured that the long months in between international matches are also generating enough (positive) press stories about football that we can no longer be treated by the Welsh media as an afterthought to our egg chasing brethren.

We have hopes of a new stadium in Cardiff (sadly, those of you visiting us this season will still have to suffer the "Victorian charms" of Ninian Park!), we have quality players joining us on decent wages with decent pedigrees, and kids can once again wear club colours on the streets of the City with confidence - things are looking up! Over the last couple of decades, we've had a pretty bad reputation for the behaviour of elements of our support - I'll always maintain it's a very small minority, as the vast majority of us have had a great laugh and a few beers with the locals over the years from Scarborough to Southend, from Carlisle to Cambridge - and even from Bristol to Swansea (honestly!) - but I'd tentatively suggest that over the past season, things showed a remarkable upturn. The silent majority no longer seem to tolerate the oikish behaviour of a small number. The club are speaking out, but more importantly, actively undertaking a number of initiatives to improve the experience of football with Cardiff for fans of both sides, and the slow trend is definitely for the better - fingers crossed the trend remains in the same direction for the coming season.

So there - how did I manage to write so much about one of the most forgettable seasons in Cardiff's recent history ??!!

What's going to happen next season?
See above - without significant team strengthening, we will struggle in the First Division this season. Earnshaw and Gabbidon are the only two beacons of class in the side. People talk about the goalie, Alexander, about Weston, Boland, Kavanagh and Peter Thorne, who may just about be good enough for Division 1. So far, with a fortnight to go to the start of the season, we've added two players to the squad (Robinson and Vidmar), both of whom will bring experience - but how much hunger for success, and how much energy for the greater demands of Division One football? The general consensus is that we're still a minimum of three class players short of even competing in this division - a defender, a midfielder and a forward - and unless this is rectified sooner rather than later, we could be in for a very rude awakening this season.

The bookies have us down to finish solid mid table - the realists amongst say that any placing in the lower teens (17th to 19th) would be a good result for us. After 20 years in the wilderness of the lower leagues, we'd like at least one season back in the big time - I suspect that will come down entirely to how deep Uncle Sam is willing to dig into his pockets. Whatever happens, many of us diehards are just as concerned that we end up making new friends in Division 1 as opposed to more enemies, which is a sad legacy of the last couple of decades of our existence.

Can you recommend a pub for away fans?
Not too close to the ground! There are plenty of nice suburbs in Cardiff, just off the motorway there are loads of pubs where a pleasant drink can be enjoyed before and after the game. The City Centre is generally well policed on match days, so anyone wanting a quiet drink there only needs to follow police advice. Sadly, despite my optimism earlier, Cardiff still isn't a particularly welcoming place for away fans.

What's the nearest railway station?
Cardiff Central is about 15-20 minutes walk from the ground, less than a fiver in a taxi. Buses and local trains run from the Central station to outside the ground.

Where is the best place to park?
There is an official car park opposite the ground, which usually has allocated room for away fans. Otherwise, there is plenty of street parking in every direction - but be careful of the local idiots. Whilst more and more away colours were seen walking to the ground with the locals last season, a welcome move in the right direction, it's still not like most football grounds yet, I'm afraid.

Word Association
Cardiff City Black Sabbath (it's heaven and hell)
Beckham Love 'im
(as in Frank Spencer, love 'im)
Milton Keynes Hockey
The Premiership Dream on
Division Two A bientôt?
Dai Thomas Love 'im (see above)
Watford Great kit

Soundbites (from assorted Census correspondents)

"I can't believe i've just taken 5 mins to answer these questions but what else do you do pre-season?"

"It's Sunday evening and I'm pissed"

"i sincerely hope we sign a couple more players before aug 9th so our first xi is different to the one ive given you nice boring mid table season please"

"I haven't really got a garden - but if you get the tinnies, we'll still drink em ! Does Elton John still play for Watford ?"

"I wasn't really happy but I clapped anyway"

"My local butcher looks like Mo the Barman from the Simpsons"