Football: Burrows stands on brink

Graeme Lloyd charts the second successful coming of the Cardiff manager
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WHEN FRANK BURROWS returned to Ninian Park just over a year ago, Cardiff City were on the road to nowhere. With Doncaster already Conference- bound, there was little to play for but pride - and nobody seemed too interested in doing even that.

The only club to take the FA Cup out of England, by beating Arsenal 1- 0 in 1927, were busy setting another record - by drawing half their Third Division games as they finished fourth from bottom. It appeared that nothing could wake the sleeping giant until Burrows decided to attempt to disprove the old adage "never go back". Having won promotion to the Second Division in 1988, he now stands on the verge of emulating the feat as Cardiff prepare for today's South Wales derby against one of his former clubs, Swansea City.

"I left Ninian Park in 1989," Burrows recalled, "because I thought the club lacked ambition and I wasn't going to be able to give the supporters what they wanted. I had a good relationship with the chairman, Tony Clemo, who never pretended that we had buckets of money but, despite all the hard work, I didn't think I could sustain it."

Four and a half years at the Vetch Field brought an Autoglass Trophy win in 1994 before frustration set in for the second time. "Again, I had a good chairman in Doug Sharpe but I felt that, through a lot of negative publicity, he had lost a little interest. Over the last couple of years, we made a lot of money, but I spent very little. It was time for me to leave and let someone else have a go."

While at Swansea, Burrows honed the art of gold prospecting to perfection. Supposedly run-of-the-mill players were moulded into money-making assets as pounds 2m flowed in. Des Lyttle (pounds 375,000 to Notting-ham Forest), Jason Bowen (pounds 350,000 to Birmingham City) and John Williams (pounds 250,000 to Coventry City) were among those sold.

Williams and Bowen, as well as the ex-Swans Dai Thomas and Andy Legg, have since linked up with their former manager after his three years coaching at West Ham. The challenge of bringing Cardiff back to life proved too great to resist. "I was 54 when I was asked to return and you don't get too many offers at that time of life. I had a house in South Wales, Cardiff were in a poor position and I thought I would give myself two years with a limited budget to turn it around." With four games to go, Cardiff are a handful of points away from automatic promotion. Crowds are up and shrewd wheeler-dealing has seen the recent sale of the full- back Mark Delaney to Aston Villa for pounds 500,000.

The recruitment of Billy Ayre, the former Swansea assistant manager, as Burrows' right-hand man has proved crucial. "Billy has possibly been the best signing I made," Burrows said, "because he knew the lower divisions. At West Ham I was looking at the Premier League and I had lost touch with the Third Division."

As assistant to Jan Molby, Ayre used his experience to help the Swans reach the play-off final two years ago, when they lost 1-0 to Northampton.

"The good thing about working with Frank," the former Blackpool manager said, "is that you know where you stand. As a coach, he puts you on the spot and expects high standards and you must respond or he won't tolerate you. He gets the best out of everybody he employs."

A strong former Vetch Field contingent at Ninian Park adds special spice to an already vitally important match. The Swansea manager, John Hollins, said: "My first Welsh derby, which we won 2-1 in November, was a little quiet in comparison with some London ones."

Burrows recalled: "It was a good game at the Vetch. And I would settle for another one like that with both sets of fans coming here, having a crack and then everybody getting home safely - with obviously Cardiff City winning.

"It's 10 years since Hillsborough and we shouldn't forget that 96 people didn't get home that day."