Life Beyond the Premier League: How locking hyperactive Craig Bellamy in toilet became key to Cardiff's success


Malky Mackay was once so irritated by Craig Bellamy's hyperactivity that he locked him in a toilet for four hours. But the inconvenience was strictly temporary, for today Cardiff City's talismanic star has matured into a model senior pro who, together with manager Mackay, is leading the Welsh club into the Premier League.

Bluebirds, Redbirds, call them what you will (this season's colour change is still a bone of contention), Cardiff have topped the Championship since 24 November, and could conceivably secure promotion in the home game against Charlton on Tuesday. Then the long-suffering supporters, who have endured near misses for four successive seasons, can finally celebrate.

Dave Jones, Mackay's predecessor, was the architect of those near misses, having started the revival of a club which, when he arrived, had no money, no players, no training ground and the decrepit home that was Ninian Park. His make-do-and-mend team reached the play-offs twice and the 2008 FA Cup final.

Ultimately, however, Jones could not deliver the big prize and was sacked in June 2011. Cardiff's first choice to replace him was Alan Shearer, and it was only when he showed no interest that they turned to Mackay, who had become disillusioned as manager of Watford under an owner, Laurence Bassini, who was later banned from involvement with a football club for three years after a Football League commission found him guilty of misconduct and dishonesty over financial dealings on behalf of Watford.

The day Mackay took charge at Cardiff, he faced the coming season with 12 players about to leave "and in six weeks I had to find a team to play West Ham at Upton Park on the opening day [Cardiff won 1-0]. For those six weeks there was a revolving door here. On the plus side, I had a blank canvas and could breed the culture I believed in and run things exactly how I wanted, rather than having people fighting change all the time. There was no hangover from past disappointments or old attitudes. It was a new season and a new template with a brand-new group of players, working under a new manager and management staff.

"I told the players from the start that if they had an ego, to park it at the door because this was about everyone buying into a team. That's what has made us so competitive. I have to thank the players for that because they were the ones who were prepared to open themselves up to change, and to trust the way I work.

"Locally, we were expected to finish mid-table in my first season. We exceeded all expectations by getting to the Carling Cup final and into the play-offs, and we've kicked on from there."

The transformation in the team is partly down to the change in Bellamy. "I've known Craig since he was a teenager at Norwich," says Mackay. "He got a bit loud and lairy in those days, and I remember locking him in the toilet on the team coach on one Norwich trip. We were playing away to Birmingham, so he was in there for about four hours. It was a long time ago, but he's never going to forget that. I won't let him.

"What I'm now seeing is a much more mature man who, probably for the first time in his career, realises that he has got to be a figure people look up to. Now he's the senior pro at a club where he has a lot of respect and players want to learn from him. It's a very different situation and he has embraced that."

After his experience with the dodgy Bassini, it was no problem for Mackay to work for Vincent Tan, Cardiff's Malaysian owner. If Tan sometimes sounds eccentric, his money (he appears on the Forbes 2013 wealth list with an estimated worth of $1.3bn) deserves to be taken seriously. So far, Tan is into Cardiff for £70m, and he has pledged to make it £100m in the event of promotion.

Mackay says: "The owner has promised a legacy. He intends to give the fans Premier League football, to deal with the inherited debt [still a staggering £83m] and leave the club with a new training ground and improved stadium. "

Tan financed the assembly of the Championship's strongest squad, including the signing of Fraizer Campbell, the 25-year-old striker who played for England less than a year ago, and who has scored six goals in 11 games since joining in January from Sunderland for just £600,000.

But sceptics would underestimate Mackay's role if they conclude that Cardiff have just bought success. When asked recently if he thought Cardiff would go up, Dave Jones said: "They should, given the amount of money they have spent."

Mackay smiles at that and says: "Blackburn spent £8m on one player [Jordan Rhodes], and look at them. Is £10m really so much for what we've done? I don't think so."

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own