Cardiff on verge of promotion to the Premier League: Excitement reaches fever pitch in the Welsh capital
Cardiff need a point tonight to return to top flight after 53 years, Phil Cadden talks to four people at heart of the club
Tuesday 16 April 2013
“We can have a row over a game of tiddlywinks,” Lee Johnson yesterday said of his relationship with his father, Gary, though the dynamics of tonight’s League One contest between the two goes beyond anything they have encountered across the kitchen table.
Incredibly, 53 years to the day, Cardiff City secured their last promotion to the top flight – ahead of Liverpool – courtesy of Graham Moore’s winner in the 1-0 victory over Aston Villa in front of a 52,364 crowd at Ninian Park.
After three successive near misses in the Championship play-offs, Malky Mackay’s league leaders finally have the opportunity to become legends in the Welsh capital if they collect at least one point against Charlton tonight and book a spot in the promised land of the Premier League.
View from the legend
As Cardiff’s current crop prepare for possibly the biggest night of their lives, Danny Malloy knows exactly how Craig Bellamy and company will be feeling. Malloy was captain of Cardiff’s 1960 promotion-winning campaign, leading out the Bluebirds against Villa.
“We had the same never-say-die attitude as the current team back then,” Malloy recalls. “That match [against Villa] was forgettable, but the final whistle sparked complete bedlam with the fans invading the pitch. I had a policeman on each side of me as everybody clamoured to shake my hand. Great memories.”
Times have changed somewhat. While Cardiff are ready to land a £100m jackpot, with the players receiving multimillion-pound contracts and new-found fame, spare a thought for Malloy and the class of 1960, when the maximum wage was just £20 a week.
But Malloy admitted he would just be happy to see the good times back in the Welsh capital – despite the controversial rebranding of kit colour from blue to red by the club’s Malaysian owner, Vincent Tan, last summer. The Scotsman, 82, added: “City are a Premier League club and I’m thrilled to bits at the prospect of seeing Cardiff taking on the big boys once again.
“The team has been in promising positions over the past few years and always seemed to let it slip towards the end of the season.
“But this time they are grinding out the results while not playing particularly well at times – the sign of a very good side. If they’ve a disappointing result then nine times out of 10 they bounced back.
“Malky has done an exceptional job while the owners seem to have the best interests of the club at heart which is really all you can ask for. The Bluebirds should play in blue but, as long as they’re successful, I suppose that’s all that matters. I wish him [Mackay] and the boys all the very best in their push for the title. It’s the least those fantastic supporters deserve after the near misses of recent seasons.”
View from the board
Director Steve Borley has witnessed all of Cardiff’s so-close-yet-so-far promotion dramas in recent times under previous manager Dave Jones and now Mackay (pictured below).
From the final-day failure to book a top-six spot at Hillsborough in 2009 and the Wembley final defeat against Blackpool a year later, to back-to-back play-off semi-final losses to Reading and then West Ham United, Borley was there.
But the life-long fan, who became involved with the club 16 years ago, insists that he never once thought the dream of Premier League football coming to the Cardiff City Stadium was over.
“I’ve always been an eternal optimist,” Borley says. “Our motto is ‘Dare to dream’ and I believe this is the year we will finally get over the line.
“The manager has signed strong characters, winners and people who want to develop and progress. We have a strong mentality and togetherness in the squad. Despite the near misses, I always believed we would reach the Premier League.
“As a football supporter, you have to believe. I’m an emotional person and one of the happiest days of my life was when we got promoted [from the old Second Division, now League One] against Queen’s Park Rangers at the Millennium Stadium 10 years ago.
“I was dancing around the pitch like a lunatic – I couldn’t help myself. It was a massive release. You never know if I’ll be on the pitch again.”
View from the manager
Mackay arrived at Cardiff 20 months ago with just 10 players available on the first day of pre-season.
The Scotsman moulded a team which, in truth, overachieved to reach last season’s play-offs.
With a stable defence, Mackay spent £13m on new attacking recruits in the summer and the 41-year-old, who won promotion as a player with Norwich, West Ham and Watford, has found the right formula once again by adding depth to his squad.
Mackay said: “I’ve been able to freshen up the team by bringing players of equal ability in and out all season. That’s been one of the key things for us to be consistent and push right to the end this season.
“Jordon [Mutch] and Kim Bo-kyung have come into midfield recently after doing well in training and kept our energy levels going. But our target is still on getting promoted.
“We are trying to bring the prize that our city so desires and it will be a great achievement for the players, the staff and me should we do that.
“The fans have also been fantastic. They were tested and asked to back the club through the colour change and I’ve got great admiration for them. I’ll always be for ever grateful for their backing.”
View from the player
Aron Gunnarsson left Iceland as a 19-year-old with the ultimate dream of playing in the Premier League.
A four-year spell at Coventry failed to achieve those lofty ambitions, but after becoming one of Mackay’s earliest signing in July 2011, his childhood hopes can now turn into a reality.
Iceland’s captain said: “We are excited, but it’s not about any of us becoming a legend. It’s about sticking together and winning promotion as a team. We have been top of the league since November and we don’t want to let that slip now.”
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