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04/05: Preview: Cardiff City
Opposition opinion
by Cardiff fan Huw Owen

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 Wales.

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 newspapers ?

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"