Cardiff gamble everything to reach the promised land

Play-off victory at Wembley will wipe out Bluebirds' debts but defeat could cause break-up of Dave Jones' side
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Five years ago Ninian Park was a crumbling embarrassment. Cardiff City's players had to train on park pitches and were often evicted mid-session so amateur matches could commence. The Welsh club had the bare minimum 11 first-team kits and owed that much money to various coach companies that transport failed to turn up for an away match. Yet Dave Jones still accepted the job as manager.

Wednesday evening's penalty shoot-out victory over Leicester City, in the Championship play-off semi-final, has provided the club even Jones once referred to as "Rag Bag Rovers," with the opportunity to wipe out the financial uncertainty that has hung over their season.

With promotion to the Premier League now estimated to be worth £90m, when Jones claims success would be "life-changing" not just for his club, but for the whole of Cardiff, he is not exaggerating. The Bluebirds could wipe out total debts of around £15m and clear the £1.9m owed in outstanding taxes to HM Revenue & Customs, which has twice almost led to winding up orders this season.

Those red figures in the books have been the consequence of out-going chairman Peter Ridsdale's determination to press ahead with Cardiff's new £50m stadium, build state-of-the-art training facilities and maintain a squad capable of ending a 48-year exile from the top flight.

After coming so close to "living the dream" for a second time, it is ironic the man dubbed "publicity Pete" during his ill-fated chairmanship of Leeds United should be leaving at a time the spotlight could be about to hit south Wales. His decision to depart in favour of a Malaysian consortium led by property developer Dato Chan Tien Ghee seems on the face of it a selfless act. "Peter's come in for a lot of stick but sometimes he flies on the wind but sometimes you've got to do that and sometimes you've got to be brave," Jones said.

"The Wembley final is probably richer than the European Cup because of what it means," the Cardiff manager added. "It's life-changing. The teams that win the European Cup, the likes of Man United, Chelsea and Milan, their players are used to it. This club's come a long way but we've still got a long, long way to go. I'm proud to be manager here and I appreciate everything that's gone on. The Welsh are very proud people and I hope I've given them something to be even more proud of."

A £6m investment from the man referred to affectionately as "TG" has temporarily stabilised the debt-ridden club but the future for Cardiff looks uncertain should their play-off bid fail. Even though the new owners are committed to Jones, defeat against Blackpool at Wembley a week tomorrow could mean assets such as Peter Whittingham, Jay Bothroyd, Joe Ledley and Michael Chopra are sold to substantially reduce the wage bill.

Cardiff may have visited Wembley twice in 2008 for the semi-finals and final of the FA Cup, but 22 May will surely represent the biggest game in the club's recent history.