He's not Mr Nasty, he's 'Bellam' – and Cardiff loves him

Fans have bought so many Bellamy shirts that the shop sold out of necessary letters. The frenzy is just beginning
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The Independent Football

If Craig Bellamy requires any gauge of what might be expected on his debut today, the last Welsh superstar who rocked the game when signing for Cardiff City happened to score the winning goal in his first game. From 20 yards inside his own half.

But then, in 1963, the 31-year-old John Charles was regarded as one the world's best-known players; the 31-year-old Bellamy was merely regarded as one the Premier League's best-known players. Not that the Charles comparison is about to dissipate any of the hype swirling around the Welsh capital.

Last night, Bellamy's face was projected across the front of Cardiff Castle, and down below the newspaper vendors were selling the South Wales Echo with its front page mocked up as a Roy of the Rovers comic – "Bellamy of the City" it read.

Meanwhile, over at the club shop the cult "Bellam 3" shirts continued to rival the "Bellamy 39" version for sales. The folklore already says that within three hours of him signing on Tuesday they sold 3,000 of the official replicas before running out of Ys and 9s; the waiting fans told the staff to print them off anyway. And in the ticket office a few doors up, the "Sold Out" sign was destined to inform only the daftly optimistic of the inevitable. All of this for a League match against Doncaster. "Bellamania" it's been dubbed...

A little earlier, TV satellite trucks monopolised the car park of the training complex that Cardiff share with the international rugby side and the Cardiff Blues. "What? Are Wales playing England tomorrow?" joked the All Black No 8, Xavier Rush, as the journalists packed into the office. Inside, every question focused on the Manchester City loanee.

"Am I surprised by all the attention?" said Jay Bothroyd, Bellamy's new striking partner. "Course not. It's a hero coming home. He's at the peak of his career, he could have gone to many Premiership clubs. But he wanted to fulfil a dream and play for his hometown club. There's bound to be a massive buzz."

Except that not all the reverberations have been positive in the startled days since Bellamy took what, in the Premier League era, can surely be classed as an unprecedented move down to the Championship for a player of his class and form. The euphoria in Cardiff has been mirrored by the outrage outside the city walls, as other clubs wondered how an outfit who have recently been forced to take repeated trips to the High Court to fend off winding-up orders – and who still owe £175,000 to Motherwell in transfer fees – can afford to pay a reported £35,000 of his weekly £90,000 wages. "Some people must be jealous," is how Dave Jones, the Cardiff manager, sees it.

Yet even Greg Clarke, the Football League chairman, was alarmed enough to vocalise his concerns live on TV and demand information on the season-long loan before issuing Bellamy's registration. Yesterday, Jones hit back at Clarke. "I haven't heard him talking about anyone else doing it," barked the Liverpudlian. "What have we done wrong? We've loaned a player with the help of Manchester City subsidising part of his wages. Managers from clubs lower down the League have been on to me about loaning them some of our players and they have asked us to subsidise their wages. But it doesn't seem to be a problem when we agree to it. Basically, he should have waited and investigated, before saying anything. Maybe he was put under pressure from certain quarters."

The speed with which the Football League proceeded to make its enquiries and then register Bellamy certainly seems to back up Jones. The longest-serving manager in the division has utter faith in the Malaysian investors who many feared would do a runner after Cardiff lost the play-off final in May. There is a plan, says Jones, and Bellamy is just a significant part of it, having loaned in Jason Koumas and others as well.

"We could have taken the easy route, gone into administration and paid everyone a penny in the pound," he said. "But the board didn't, they decided to pay off the debts, which they're doing. And they should be applauded, not criticised, for coming up with something which will generate more revenue. There's not one chairman in the League who would have turned up their noses at the opportunity to pick up Bellamy if they could do it. Well, we've been able to do it, within our financial plan."

Nevertheless, Jones admitted to knowing the stir it would cause. "We were ready for it," he said. The manager was also prepared for the "in his contract" whispers which greeted the news that Bellamy would instantly be made team captain. "Despite all the speculation, this is purely a football decision," he said. "He's the Welsh international captain. Craig comes with an experience and an authority."

Craig also comes with a fair amount of baggage, but Jones points to his own track record of dealing with the likes of Paul Ince. "These supposed 'problem players' are only a problem if you drop off the standards they believe in," said Jones. "I'll be very surprised if I have one argument with Craig over anything other than football. He's here to do one thing – play football. He doesn't want any special treatment and has been told he won't be getting any anyway. If he doesn't toe the line he'll be fined and treated like everybody else. We've been fortunate enough to acquire a top player. But the last time I looked he still had one nose, two eyes and two ears."

Jones must have missed the cape. "Yeah, he probably is being depicted as Superman, or Roy of the Rovers, or Billy's Boots in some place," he said. "And because he's coming home it has added spice to this game and the rest of the season and it'll be fantastic for this club. But he's still got his job to do as one of 11 and he knows it. He'll chip in like everyone else."

This was the mood at training yesterday as the club played down the Superhero vs Arch-villain status of the new man, who in fact is rather old hat to them. When Bellamy was staying with his wife and three children at their Cardiff home, he would regularly train with the Bluebirds. "We all know him," confirmed Bothroyd. "I knew him at Coventry when I was a 17-year-old and we were room-mates. He didn't sleep. Not then anyway. But he's not like what people think or what he might seem like on the pitch. He's a humble character, a good professional."

The Bluebirds faithful who now worship him will claim it has ever been thus for the tearaway from the Trowbridge estate. Like them, his reputation precedes him and like theirs, it is largely unjustified. What a contrast to the image of John Charles, the Gentle Giant.

Yet Bellamy may find it interesting to learn that when Charles led out his new team on that debut 47 years ago, he actually had a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Before the whistle, Charlo took one last drag and crunched the butt beneath his boot. Even Craig wouldn't get away with it.

John Charles' Debut

When it was rumoured that John Charles – aka the Gentle Giant – was keen to leave Roma because of injuries and personal problems, no one put Cardiff City on the list of likely destinations, particularly at a knockdown price of £25,000. Since joining Juventus in the mid-Fifties, Charles had established himself as one of the world's best players. So vast were his talents that Bill Nicholson described Charles "as the greatest centre-half I ever played against" and at the same function Jimmy Greaves described Charles "as the greatest centre-half I ever played against". Cardiff, meanwhile, had just been relegated from the top division. The astonishing move came to light when a Cardiff journalist ran into Charles on an Italian beach and he blurted out the news. The hype was comparable to that of Bellamy and the big man didn't disappoint. In his debut against Norwich, he booted a free-kick more than 70 yards into the opposing area where the goalkeeper, Kevin Keelan, fumbled it into his net. Charles remained at the Bluebirds until he ended his League career, aged 35, although he played on in non-League into his forties.

Bellamy timeline

*February 2002

Cautioned by the police for common assault following an incident with a student in a Newcastle nightclub.

*November 2002

Sent off while playing for Newcastle in a Champions League match against Internazionale after kicking out at the defender Marco Materazzi.

*March 2004

Throws a chair at the then Newcastle coach John Carver after an argument at Newcastle airport.

*January 2005

Has a public falling out with the Newcastle manager Graeme Souness, leading to him being left out of the side for a match at Arsenal. Bellamy refutes Souness's claims that he refused to play out of position. Fined £80,000 and told that he would never play for the club again, before being sent out on loan to Celtic.

*April 2005

Allegedly sends Newcastle captain Alan Shearer abusive text messages after Newcastle's FA Cup semi-final defeat against Manchester United. Bellamy's agent claims the phone had been lost at the time. Racially abused by Hearts supporter during a league match.

*November 2006

Cleared of assaulting two women in a Cardiff nightclub.

*February 2007

Allegedly attacks Liverpool team-mate John Arne Riise with a golf club during a training session in Portugal, earning a fine of two weeks' wages. The incident saw him labelled in tabloid newspapers as "the nutter with the putter". Scores equaliser at Barcelona in next match, before setting up Riise for the winner.

*April 2007

Forced to dismiss reports that he was looking to leave Liverpool. Joins West Ham United in a £7.5m move just two months later.

*May 2008

Announces plans for the Craig Bellamy Foundation, an initiative for disadvantaged children in Sierra Leone providing coaching and a boarding school.

*January 2009

After just 18 months at Upton Park, Bellamy reportedly goes on strike and storms out of training in a bid to force a move to Manchester City. Moved to Eastlands for £14m.

*September 2009

Attacks Manchester United supporter who had run on to the Old Trafford pitch at the end of 4-3 derby defeat in which Bellamy had scored twice. Subsequently warned by the Football Association over his future conduct.