What happened last season?
To use a middle distance running analogy - we sprinted out from the
start tape, ran out of gas a third of the way through the race, and just
about managed to keep going till the end of the contest limping over
the line without ever really threatening the leaders or being caught up
by the tail end of the field. Our season was effectively over with a
quarter of the games to go, where only mathematical improbabilities
could have seen us challenging for a Play Off spot or being sucked into
a relegation battle. For those of us who were enjoying first division
football for the first time in a quarter of a century, the relative
ennui of the after Christmas period was a real blessing considering that
for every one of the past 15 seasons we've been involved annually either
in promotion or relegation battles. Mid table mediocrity was a balm to
the nerves we've craved for a long time.
Most surveys conducted before the start of the season suggested that
anything above the relegation spots would have satisfied most of us. Had
we not had the tremendous start that we did, raising hopes by the time
winter was setting in of at least another day out at the MillStad in the
Play Offs, the majority would probably have been satisfied. As it was,
that early season surge towards the top of the division probably raised
too many expectations - and a feeling amongst many as the season petered
out of the last couple of months that the glass was half empty....
But to leave that as the epitaph to season 2003-2004 would be just a
teeny bit churlish - there were many positives to come out of the
season. Rob Earnshaw and Danny Gabbidon became established international
players - people rightfully rave about some of Earnie's magical goals,
but not quite so audible is the purring at some of Gabbidon's ice cool,
world class defending - but for some of us, a Gabbidon turn, trap, feint
and casual 30 yard pinpoint pass turning a potentially dangerous
defensive situation into an exciting attacking opportunity is worth the
entrance money in itself. When youngster James Collins joined Gabbidon
at the heart of the Welsh defence at the end of the season, the City
youth system had produced its second genuine Welsh international (along
with Earnshaw) for the first time since the days of Dwyer, Showers and
Pontin almost 30 years ago.
The "discovery" of Paul Parry from the relative obscurity of the
Conference and his emergence less than two months later as a genuine
international class winger was another highlight - "Boy's Own" stories
have been thin on the ground at Ninian Park over recent decades.......
these 4 plus keeper Martyn Margetson's appearance in the last Wales
friendly of the summer meant that Cardiff were represented by 5 Welsh
internationals in the same match for the first time since the glory days
of the 1920's. Add to that the regular appearances in an Irish shirt of
Graham Kavanagh and Alan Lee, Richard Langley for Jamaica and Tony
Vidmar for Australia - there was a veritable plethora of current
internationals on display at Ninian Park. Wednesday night international
friendly dates suddenly lost a little of their meaninglessness in South
We enjoyed the highest average crowds at crumbling old Ninian for over
30 years, the food improved tremendously, there were more bars open, the
ticketing system has been sorted, corporate boxes appeared for the first
time ever, the programme ran a regular page in Welsh, the relaid pitch
held up superbly to the rigours of a harsh winter and there were fewer
arrests (and hardly any trouble) at games than in many a long year.
At long last, we're no longer completely embarrassed at the travails
facing visiting supporters to Cardiff - nirvana it ain't yet by any
stretch of the imagination, but the chances of leaving Wales with body
and soul intact have improved exponentially over the past 12 months or
so, even though you still make completely erroneous accusations about
our nocturnal ovine interests, and we still love extracting the urine
out of Mr Posh Spice - mind you, after Euro 2004, I suspect quite a few
visiting fans may be joining in with us over the coming season....
So there you have it, judge for yourself - the cynic can moan about the
dashing of early season promise, the lack of meaningful football over
the last couple of months of the season, the general tightening of the
purse strings amidst rumours of serious, mounting debt problems, the
lack of progress on the new stadium, public squabbles over bonus
payments to players and a general disquiet about the futures at the
clubs of some of the young stars. Me, I'd prefer to dwell on the
positives - some of the football I witnessed last year was the best I've
seen a Cardiff side produce since at least the "mini" Golden era of the
Scoular days 35 years ago, possibly the best I've witnessed ever.
Onwards and upwards, surely .........?
What's going to happen next season?
See above...a lot of things are on a knife edge; the club could continue
the steady progress of the past 4 years since the arrival of the
"Messiah", Sam Hammam - or he could yet prove to be a false prophet,
disappearing into the next valley and beyond, closely followed by the
new Stadium, Earnshaw, Gabbidon, Parry, Collins and the hopes and dreams
of the Ninian faithful.
So far, we've signed Tony Warner, a definite strengthening of the
suspect goalkeeping roster, and local boy Robert Page, who should
galvanise the defensive options. I appreciate that some Watford fans may
well take issue with this last statement, but the jury's still out down
here at the moment ! The squad is still very thin though (as we
witnessed last season when a run of injuries saw us down to the bare
bones), and lacking in real quality in too many areas - we're probably
still 3 or 4 class players short of making a realistic challenge for
promotion, and competition for places in the squad is virtually non
existent in some key areas of the field. Whether Sam and the club are
ready and willing to make a push for the next step up yet is open to
question - even if we were able to make a push for the Premiership (see
previous concerns !), do we want to do that before the agenda on the new
Stadium is finalized, and future revenues are a little more secure than
notional figures on the backs of fag packets and supportive local
This old sweat could live quite happily with another season of
consolidation, enjoying the intrinsic joys of first division football
- sorry, old age goes hand in hand with slow adoption of new fangled
fancy titles like cola flavoured Championships. Others may not be so
patient - but forces beyond the fans' control may make any aspirations
beyond mere survival a pipe dream before the season's out. Football is
life is theatre is football, eh ? Let the next Act begin !
Soundbites (from assorted Census correspondents)
"i didn`t do it honestly"
"Another season of midtable mediocrity beckons as we wait for the builders to start on the stadium"
"How come we're playing Watford away on 28 December again..."
"October 9th 2004: Wales will kick english ass"
"Bring back the red shorts, eh?" (Quite right - ed)
"Haven't we got you away on exactly the same date as last year? Spooky (though not half as spooky as last year's bloody horror show of a match)"
"I need to get my arse in gear - I'm off to Thorpe Park"
"Welsh is the oldest living language in Europe.
The shop downstairs has started selling dodgy matches - anybody else noticed this ?
Greggs have started putting less filling in their Cheese Savoury sandwiches - anybody else noticed this ?
Broadband - anybody else noticed this ?
I can't wait to hear Leonard Cohen's response to Euro 2004."
"Believe what the voices tell you."
"my prediction for where we will finish is badly wrong if we sell earnie"
"Apparently, the only film that Michael Owen has seen from start to finish is Cool Runnings 2"
"Not all Cardiff fans are lunatics"
"It was a lie that you don't get hangovers on Czech beer"
"I remember going to see Watford on Boxing Day some years ago now (I think they were playing York in Division 2 - the old new division 2) and it was the coldest thing ever in the history of everything. Plus the game was a mindnumbingly tedious 0-0 draw, so there wasn't even any opportunity to get warmed up with a little clapping. Should have stayed at home with my gran. "
"You know that midnight train to Georgia? I'll be on it."
"Cardiff are responsible for initiating the start of the demise of Leeds United. Can't wait to play them this year..."
"I used to live around the corner from Vicarage Road but it's one hell of a long way now!"
"Was Gary Fisken as good as he is in Championship Manager?"
"We've got lumps of it round the back"
"In 1970, wealthy nations agreed to a goal of spending 0.7% of GNP on development assistance. Last year, these countries spent on average just 0.23%. Only five countries have reached the 0.7% target — Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. (The U.S., the world's richest country, gives the smallest percentage of its wealth, 0.12%, to poor countries.) "
"Potatoes are underated vegetables"