Craig Bellamy knows what the talk of his city should be and it isn't necessarily the match tomorrow which pitches the Championship leaders of Cardiff against the third-placed team of Swansea.
No, the two words on everyone's lips should not be "local derby", or even "hostile atmosphere" – they should be "Gareth Bale".
"There should be statues of this guy in this city right now," said Bellamy at the Vale of Glamorgan training ground yesterday. "We don't take Gareth seriously enough in this country. He is doing something only two Welsh footballers have ever been able to do in the history of the game. He's up there with the best in the world. We need to build everything around him."
It was an outburst containing the trademark passion from Bellamy, but perhaps not the trademark self-confidence from a character who was presumably referring to John Charles and Ryan Giggs when comparing Bale to the Welsh greats. But as a boy from the uncompromising Trowbridge Estate in the east of the city, he was aware it would fall on distracted ears. Score a hat-trick against the club they call "The Jacks" tomorrow and then Cardiff monuments would spring up like daffodils.
Bellamy has played in derbies before; indeed, his list reads like a "who hates who". For Norwich against Ipswich, for Coventry against Leicester, for Newcastle against Sunderland, for Celtic against Rangers, for Liverpool against Everton and, just six months ago, for Manchester City against Manchester United. In terms of understanding gang rivalries, Ross Kemp and Danny Dyer would have to defer. "All of those derbies are different and all of them meant everything to the fans," he said. "But as a boy from Cardiff this is a big deal to me."
This admission led one excited Welsh journalist to ask him whether this could be described as the highlight his career. "No," he laughed, "it couldn't," before reflecting on the absurdity of it all. "I'm absolutely nuts!" said Bellamy. "I mean, who would drop down from top-flight football and do what I've done? I do feel there's only one or two personalities in the game who would. I've wanted to do this for a long time and be involved in games like this. It's an extra incentive, a treat, especially to play in a derby with both teams doing so well."
It certainly offers a stark and welcome contrast to the derbies of Bellamy's youth. "As a very small child, I used to stand on the Bob Bank at Ninian Park and watch Cardiff-Swansea," he said. "But there were about three to four thousand in the stadium, so different to what I've grown to be a part of in the last few years. It's such a great moment for these two clubs, because we're probably at the peak of our attendances. We're not two massive clubs, we're never going to get 50,000 or 60,0000 or even 40,000 – we'll get 26,000 tops. That's what we are."
What Cardiff and Swansea happen to be are the two in-form teams in the League. The home side have won six and drawn one in their last seven, the visitors won four and drawn two in their last six. Never before, in 98 years of acrimony, have the Bluebirds and Swans faced each other both flying so high. Bellamy's presence only increases the allure of a match being shown nationally on BBC1. The attention-grabber, himself, is simply hopeful that what should be a fine footballing encounter can at last cast off the Neanderthal image of the confrontation.
"It still has hostility, although not for the wrong reasons like it has the last 20 years," he said. "I do believe that the new stadiums and the progression of the clubs has brought it into the modern era. No, our fans don't want them to do well and theirs don't want us to do well, but I do think there is a burgeoning feeling that if it's not going to be us then we hope it's going to be them. I definitely feel that. Because Welsh football's always been more important to me. Always has been."
The Cardiff diehards won't agree, but then the diehards may just be minded to nod to each and every claim uttered by their new hero, no matter how outlandish, how optimistic. Since startling the football world in the summer by taking "the absolutely nuts" route from the Premier League into the Championship, Bellamy has proven his worth. While the reports still vary what this worth amounts to – the favoured choice sees Cardiff paying £20,000 a week of his £90,000 a week wages – there can be no doubting his influence. He has started six and Cardiff have won all six. He expected no less.
"When I joined I definitely thought we had the potential to be leading the table," he said "And I still believe we can get better. At times in games we've only done just enough – 30-minute spells to blow teams away. Leeds the other week [when they won 4-0 at Elland Road] was the first 90-minute performance where we were full at it. That was on TV. We sent a message."
What the Cardiff boy would give to fire off another tomorrow. And in other directions than merely 40 miles west.Reuse content