Sundays in Wales were always supposed to about chapel and abstinence, although you would have been hard-pushed to find any of that in the bars of Cardiff last night.
Sam Hammam, Cardiff City's owner, had always argued it was the club's manifest destiny to win promotion to the First Division and this they did. The occasion, the celebrations and Andy Campbell's beautifully-taken goal will, however, live far longer in the memory than the game that took them into the second flight for the first time in 18 years.
Hammam stated that the Second Division play-off final would unite Welshmen from Australia to Argentina behind the club, although you feared that any member of the Welsh-speaking community in Patagonia, who somehow managed to receive yesterday's broadcast, might have been rather disappointed by the match, if not the result. One of the sights that will linger longest is that of a television technician, headphones around his ears, sleeping through the action with a cup of coffee by his elbow. As a game of football it was dreadful, for Cardiff it was unforgettable.
They were only the better side when the game drifted aimlessly into extra-time. They did not actually land a serious shot on goal until the 105th minute when Spencer Prior's header from Graham Kavanagh's free-kick was brilliantly beaten out by Chris Day.
Queen's Park Rangers, a club which would love a benefactor like Hammam, had out-passed and outplayed the 'home' side but although their central defenders, Clarke Carlisle and Danny Shittu, smothered any attacks, they could not find the net, too often betrayed by a final, slovenly ball. It was, nevertheless, an error by Carlisle which triggered the long party; a pass which went straight to Gareth Whalley, who in turn let loose Campbell's pace.
A sizeable section of Cardiff's supporters would not have welcomed his appearance, since the Teessider had replaced the local hero, Robert Earnshaw, who had been neutralised by QPR's defence, but his left-footed shot on the run brooked no argument. It was Campbell's most important goal since he was bought from Middlesbrough for £1million, the sort of fee completely beyond Rangers.
Although he has steered both Charlton and Middlesbrough into the top flight, Cardiff's manager Lennie Lawrence admitted that he had never been under so much pressure. "It was a bigger occasion because of the stadium and the fans," he said. "It's always be an ambition of mine to take three clubs into the Premiership and I hope that next time I come here, it's on a Monday." Hammam, thrown into the team bath just as he had been by Wimbledon's players after the FA Cup triumph in 1988, has already spent nearly £10m on the club during his three years in power and Lawrence anticipated there would be more to come. Asked how he thought Cardiff might fare in the First Division, he replied: "If you put this side straight in, they'd be half-decent." Hammam had spent the previous five minutes talking about Cardiff in the Champions' League - "if we get permission for a new stadium we can go very aggressive" - so the pressure has not exactly been removed from Lawrence's shoulders.
QPR's manager, Ian Holloway, has a different kind of pressure; that of managing on limited ambition and resources. His team had played in all-white as a memento of the strip they wore when winning the League Cup in 1967. However, since two of Cardiff's most celebrated victories have been against Leeds in the FA Cup last year and Real Madrid in 1971, it is a colour the Bluebirds respond to, although pedants will point out that Real wore all-red at Ninian Park.
"Our play deserved something but you have to ask yourself: 'Did we hit the bar and did we hit the post?' Campbell scored and we didn't," Holloway reflected. "When I came here, we had a staff of nine players and two of those were long-term injuries. We have come a long way but not far enough. I only wish my dad was here to see this. He died 16 years ago but he would have said to me: 'You've got a good side there, son'."
Goal: Campbell (114) 1-0.
Cardiff City (4-4-2): Alexander; Weston (Croft, 70), Prior, Gabbidon, Barker; Boland, Whalley, Kavanagh, Legg (Bonner, 116); Thorne, Earnshaw (Campbell, 79). Substitutes not used: Bowen, Margetson (gk).
Queens Park Rangers (4-4-2): Day; Kelly, Carlisle, Shittu, Padula (Williams, 79); Gallen, Bircham, Palmer, McLeod; Pacquette (Thomson, 60), Furlong. Substitutes not used: Forbes, Angell, Culkin (gk).
Referee: H Webb (Rotherham).
Bookings: Cardiff: Kavanagh, Campbell. QPR: Palmer, Bircham, Furlong.
Man of the match: Shittu.
Attendance: 66,069.Reuse content