Cardiff 0 Ipswich Town 3
Championship, April 25th 2009
"Why did you try to hurt me, did you really want to kill me? Tell me why, tell me why, tell me why...?
Today of all days! 16 hours later, as the top-quality blue and white confetti is rubbed out of the eyes, the brain is still cranking through the gears trying to compute the events of yesterday afternoon, whilst the head recovers from several hours' intense banging against a brick wall and the heart tries to deal with the splintered 12 inch wooden stake thrust into it at 5PM yesterday.
Two weeks ago we were gambolling friskily through the spring meadows like Nigel Fotherington- Thomas - hullo birds, hullo sky, hullo play-offs. With 4 games left, the play-offs were all but in the bag, with a cheeky shot at automatic promotion looking like a good bet. Then came Preston, and Charlton, and worst of all, yesterday.
With the weight of history hanging heavy on their lily-livered shoulders and Roy Keane's death-stare upon their backs, the players suffered a collective craven capitulation, surrendering to a no more than workmanlike side like a bunch of schoolchildren who had pissed and pooped their pants on the first day of term and were ready to run home to Mummy. I've seen quite a bit in my 49 years, but never have I seen a Cardiff City team choke and bottle it in such spectacular fashion - with the bright lights and celestial harps beaming through the slowly opening door marked Premiership, the Bluebirds collapsed like frightened ninnies.
It was a shocking, disgraceful, embarrassing debacle, and in the unlikely event of the team somehow discovering the location of their cojones in the next week, and undeservingly collecting that elusive last point to put us in the play-offs, they are likely to get squashed and splattered by any of their likely combatants, all of whom look a thousand times more likely to be up for the fight.
Things started agreeably enough, with a few liveners in one of the many packed hostelries around Canton - all talk of play-offs, overnight stays and next season barred. An early stroll up Sloper Road through the unpredicted sunshine, breathing in the good vibes and optimism generated by the loved-up thousands of Bluebirds, seemingly less concerned with the hyped-up farewell circus and more focused on the here and now and the critical 90 minutes about to unfold. Pre-match, the atmosphere inside the ground was terrific - lots of colour, scarves, fancy dress and two big flags traversing the Grandstand, even getting the prawn-munchers in the director's box involved.
All set for a rousing final proper game and a nice 3 points to ease us in to the play-offs and take away the grief from the last game of the season. Ipswich's squad of also-ran dead men walking would be playing for their futures for sure, but we were bound to be fired up and more than ready for this challenge? First 10/15 minutes brought some positive signs with Chris Burke in particular enjoying good possession and doing some damage on the right flank.
It was starting to look like the referee had also read the script, as he awarded the Bluebirds a penalty after Johnson was upended by lardarse Ivan Campo. A stonewall penalty and a perfect opportunity for fearless McCormack to exorcise the ghosts of Deepdale past. The course of the game changed in a heartbeat as Wright guessed correctly, dived to his right and palmed away the pen. From that moment onwards the game was effectively up.
Ipswich visibly grew in stature and sniffed the fear oozing out of the pores of every Cardiff player. They pounced, seized control of the game from a wayward, flapping weak-kneed midfield and killed it off with three discrete decisive knees to the yarbles and three soft goals.
Journeyman Jon Stead, who has been a notable nomark at nearly every one of the many clubs he has played for, revelled in the space he was allowed and the powder-puff anaemic challenges of a bricking-it back four to effectively win the game on his own.
Culpability for this shocking defeat should be spread equally amongst the eleven "men" in blue, all of whom performed with such a stupefying and sickening lack of passion as to enrage the impotent masses on the terraces - who, incredibly, despite everything, turned in a performance of the season as they vainly attempted to lift their team from their leaden torpor with an emotional fusillade of lung-bursting songs.
Difficult to get any sense of perspective after such a performance, but whichever division we are in next year, there is surely no place in this squad for mediocrities like Tom Heaton, Enckelman (still not convinced about Taylor), Comminges, Kennedy, Capaldi, Parry, Burke (promising but not good enough), Johnson (E). In the supremely unlikely event of a promotion, we may have room for Whittingham and McPhail, whose cultured feet may yet prosper on the manicured lawns of the Premiership. If not, they're out too.
Scimeca seems unlikely to return to the kind of fitness which made him such an integral part of the team two seasons ago, and Purse, whilst having an abundance of the kind of spirit and spunk which was woefully lacking yesterday, is simply not good enough. The mystery of Quincy's absence continues to baffle the terrace pundits and is monumentally frustrating given the appalling way that Parry's game has disintegrated this season.
Questions of the manager's fitness to motivate and mentally prepare the team should be parked until the end of the season, but personally I would suggest that whatever happens, DJ has done enough in securing the highest league position for nearly 40 years to consolidate his place at the club, and has made good on Ridsdale's widely derided promise to "push on" after last season's phenomenal and historic Cup run. Jones now faces one of the most difficult tasks in his career - turning that quaking demoralised shower of shite from yesterday into a lean mean promotion-winning machine. As big asks go, it's BIGGER than BIG!
At this moment in time I'm finding it hard to care - yesterday robbed me of faith, hope, heart and hunger, it will be as difficult to get the fans "up" for next week as the players. And yet... All we need is one measly point - what happens after that may take care of itself - who knows?
Further analysis of the events on the pitch should be left to the poor souls who will be tasked with sweeping up the team from the morale-sapped floor where they collapsed yesterday, but a word or two is required regarding the end of an era celebrations and the farewell to Ninian Park itself.
Now, I'm not the one for grandiloquent wallet-pounding pyrotechnic displays and empty gestures, and I know enough about this football club to temper my expectations with a hard-edged cynicism, but, like most of the rest of the crowd, I was appalled at the cheapskate, tatty and tawdry nature of the way club chose to say goodbye officially to Ninian Park. A few bags of confetti, some seriously laughable Roman candles, a couple of half-arsed flamethrowers and several bags of 10p footballs had the emotional masses on the terraces cackling into their souvenir programmes. Any tears shed were tempered by guffaws and chortles.
As for the hype and sentiment swilling about over the past few weeks, some months ago "a friend" watched his workplace of 26 years artfully reduced to a pile of dust and rubble, as he moved into a spanking new purpose-built state-of-art office accommodation. Did he feel a crushing blow of sadness and nostalgia, as the last scoopful of half bricks, twisted metal was deposited in a lorry bound for goodness knows where. Did he buggery? He leapt up and down and waved his Archer files in the air, before sinking into a space-age aerodynamically ergonomically designed super-chair and getting on with his life.
It's a little how I feel about yesterday and saying (sort of) goodbye to Ninian Park. Yes we've had our good times and a blinding and brain-scrabbling, retina-torching cornucopia of memories, too many to distil into a facile paragraph or two - but let's try anyway! From a nervous 0-0 against Charlton Athletic in the Spring of 1968, to the Arsenal FA Cup tie of 1969 and a crowd of 55,136, Hereford at home in front of 35,000, crazy European nights against FC Hamburg, Porto (imagine!), Goztepe Izmir, FC Nantes, Sporting Lisbon, Admira Wacker, Aarhus, Standard Liege, Welsh Cup glories against our nearest and dearest rivals from down the road, following Super Jimmy Scoular's fantastic team in the late 60s and early 70s and learning to love football and Cardiff City - the sometimes dark days of late 70s 80s and some of the 90s, the FA Cup highs of Man City, Leeds and, hey, last year, the Eddie Eddie Eddie May days, and then the last 6 years in the Championship. Flat statistics show a record of consolidation and stability since 2003's promotion- the background to this of course is anything but - cataclysmic changes which just may secure the future of this football club for decades. It's been a long and crazy trip, but it's not over yet.
Yes I remember it all well. But can I wait until the start of next season? No I bleedin' well can't! Ninian Park is a stinking, rotting dump, a throwback to Dickensian times, where half-time interludes consist of queuing up for ten minutes to use a wobbly blue box sited on a sloping pathway running yellow with the piss of hundreds of punters who choose to urinate against the wall, while yards away the queues for watered down cooking lager and e-coli burgers look on.
To those from outside our small community I will always say yes it may be a filthy stinking dump, but it is our dump, so watch your mouth. To anyone else with the misguided notion of this is what football-watching should be in the 21st century, I say wake up and smell the chemical toilets. We are marching steadfastly into the unknown, but the early signs are good. The exterior of the new stadium has elements of an origami / airfix kit aesthetic, but the views of the inside look fantastic. This is no off-the-shelf flatpack job, but a medium style bowl with the potential to grow with the club.
Will the atmosphere translate? Well that's up to you ain't it? People provide the atmosphere, not denuded weed-strewn terraces and rusting girders and TV gantries. We make this our stadium and it will as much of a fortress (haha!), a home as the last place was. What was it called again? And no, I won't be eating prawn sandwiches - but I wouldn't say no to an ice-cold Peroni and a duck with hoi-sin sauce wrap...
Paul Davies © 2009.
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