My uncle Keith is a huge Cardiff City fan. He used to be a regular at the old Ninian Park ground and has been a season ticket holder at their new stadium for a few years now – getting up at 7am every Saturday when the Bluebirds are at home and making a two and a half hour train ride to south Wales.
Unfortunately though, he works Monday to Friday and can’t make the trips when Cardiff play in midweek. Normally he leaves his seat empty but on this occasion, with myself off work all week, he kindly gave me his season pass card.
I bought my girlfriend Saffron a ticket and we headed to the Welsh capital for a night of football and Halloween adventures.
Keith’s name on the seat
It would have been impressive enough to see my uncle’s name on the seat of a 33,000 capacity stadium like Cardiff’s but if you factor in that it’s the current home of Welsh football then it’s even cooler. Wales have played some huge matches at that ground in recent years including the 1-0 victory over Belgium which put us on the brink of qualifying for Euro 2016.
To think someone was probably sat in his specially assigned seat during that encounter is pretty special… I felt proud to represent Keith in front of his beloved Bluebirds.
Before the game, Keith told me to look out for a guy in a flat cap who sits by him every home game. Sure enough, right in front of me with a coffee, heavy sideburns and flat cap was Tony. I sat between him and Saffron once we knew no late season ticket holders were going to tell us to move. He assured us that his nephew was usually in Saff’s seat but was off watching the game elsewhere. Which put Saff at ease I think.
He turned out to be good company and gave a great insight into Cardiff City. He had all kinds of stories from meeting their ex-goalkeeper in a chip shop to getting a lift to matches in a director’s Bentley. He also explained why, strangely, the ground seemed to be in the middle of a retail park (apparently it was part of a greater development of the area by the council) and why the mascot was called Bartley (named after one of the club’s founding members).
You could tell he loved the club. I enjoyed hearing which stadiums he’d been to following Cardiff on the road. He also revealed his grandparents were at the 1927 FA Cup final that the team won.
Honestly, I don’t think I took much of the game in properly through all the chatting. Plus I hardly said a word to Saff. Which was fine, I enjoyed learning about Cardiff from someone who has the club in his family and heart. And I don’t think Saff minded either (she admits she’s seen enough games now to know what’s going on). But I think maybe it can get a bit too much for Keith, who asked me after the game if Tony had mentioned going to school with ex-Wales international David Giles. He had. Laughing, Keith said: ‘He tells me that every week.’
During his days managing Sheffield United and Crystal Palace in the Premier League, I never really liked the Cardiff manager all that much. He seemed to complain a lot. The referees were always in the firing line for the smallest of things, which seemed a bit petty.
One thing I can’t deny though, is how good he is as a manager. His record is amazing, earning seven promotions with six different teams. It just shows how good his player knowledge is and how consistently he gets the best out of them.
It definitely feels like he’s doing something great again at Cardiff. Despite the Bluebirds having a pretty big injury list, he managed to field a team which comfortably dispatched Ipswich Town.
The home side were on the front foot from the start with Junior Hoilett and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing causing problems on each wing. It was these two which combined for the first goal after 12 minutes, Hoilett volleying in from Mendez-Laing’s cross at the far post.
Cardiff had opportunities to extend their lead as their front three dominated but Ipswich also had chances to equalise. Tommy Smith couldn’t connect with a great ball in the six-yard box for the Tractor Boys before Cardiff midfielder Joe Ralls made a goal-saving tackle at the feet of Flynn Downes.
If Warnock used half-time to reduce the profligacy of his team then they complied instantly once play resumed. Omar Bogle, on his first start as a Cardiff player, finished well into the bottom corner when played through by Mendez-Laing. Lee Tomlin also showed some fantastic skill in the build-up.
From then on, things were comfortable. City could have added to their tally as substitute Danny Ward hit the post but Ipswich offered little fightback.
That was until the 90th minute when Bersant Celina curled in despite some last-ditch Cardiff defending to give the 1,000 travelling fans some hope. For the first time, the home crowd got edgy. However, Cardiff ensured the tension was only temporary and slight as Ward made up for his earlier miss by dispatching Mendez-Laing’s parried effort to give the Bluebirds a 3-1 win.
It was a victory that a manager like Warnock brings you. The goals were all scored and assisted by players that he’d signed and the win came despite a lengthy injury list. Bogle, perhaps, summed up his manager best in his post-match comments. He talked about his decision to join Cardiff in the summer despite Warnock saying he’d be the third choice striker. Bogle signed anyway because he’d heard so much praise from other players about Warnock and how he improves players. It’s no surprise that his work is proving successful once again.
With the match falling on a chilly Halloween evening, it was no surprise that it was Cardiff’s lowest league crowd of the season. The Family Stand looked the most sparse of the four sides, with kids surprisingly choosing the opportunity for free sweets rather than paying to sit in the cold.
I wasn’t expecting the kind of stirring atmosphere that Welsh fans create when the national team are playing there but I still hoped for a lively stadium. It didn’t really happen though.
When Tony asked me whether this was my first visit to Cardiff’s stadium I felt a little embarrassed to admit it was. I’ve tried getting tickets to Wales games but they’ve been understandably sold out with the team’s recent success. But I feel like I should have been with Keith by now. He used to take me to Wrexham games a lot when I was younger and helped fuel my love of football. I hope we can see a Cardiff game together sometime soon. Fingers crossed it’s for their promotion party.
Cardiff City 3 – 1 Ipswich Town
Ground rating: 7.5/10
So despite not really saying anything to Saff throughout the entire game, she said she enjoyed herself. But I felt like she probably wanted more from her Halloween. Especially since we missed out on a ghost tour of Cardiff Castle due to it being sold out.
Luckily for her, we had to stay in Cardiff until four in the morning to catch a train home. Which gave us plenty of time to find some creatures of the night.
Incidentally, there were plenty of those around, as the many students in Cardiff were heading out as zombies (or with intentions to become one once they’d reached their alcohol limit). Away from the nightlife/afterlife, we found Cardiff gave us a great Halloween experience. The lack of cloud cover gave us chills and a spooky-looking moon that presented the perfect ghost story setting when we walked through Bute Park. Also in there, we came across a bridge overlooking the River Taff. Honestly, the scene was so crazy there. The moon shone through dense mist on the other side of the bridge as the river flowed down a weir beneath us. While further along the river stood an old Victorian house with all its lights out. It was truly the stuff of horror film nightmares.
Later on we explored Llandaff Cathedral at 2am. Saff commented that the stain glass front looked like a skull. She wasn’t wrong. As we stood amongst the graves in the dark we noticed a faint light flickering in the trees. We turned back and the clock gonged, scaring me out of my skin. Rather than investigate the light, we quickly left for a more well-lit area. Before we got there, though, we came across a figure walking towards us. He was swaying back and forth in the middle of the path. He was one of the aforementioned zombified students returning from a night out. As he got closer, we noticed he had a pale complexion and blood on his face. It was quite funny seeing how much this guy acted like and resembled a zombie.
In a cruel twist of irony, we were soon to be zombified as we waited for our train in Cardiff City Centre. We walked past the Millennium Stadium a few times to kill time and it never diminished in quality. Our bodies and minds did, however, and we were very grateful to board the first train out of Cardiff at half four in the morning.
Reflecting on our evening/morning after rest, we both concluded it was a really fun, makeshift Halloween night. There were plenty of surprises and we saw all sorts of cool costumes on our travels. Like seeing It sat on a street corner with a takeaway. It was definitely worth staying up for.