Ninian Park, Championship, 7/4/07
This was a groundbreaker for me as it was my first deliberate ground out of Scotland. To date I had watched two games “abroad” but they were about my location at the time rather than planning. By that I mean I was at the Sportpark Berg en Boss in Appeldoorn to watch Hvidorve U14s v Colombia U14s due to the fact my boys club had been in the tournament and thought it was best courtesy to watch the final after we played the 3rd place match. A final that I might add, my team Ellon Colts should have been in but we were deducted two points due to recieving two bookings in the group stages. Yes one was me. This was a fair play tournament and rules dictated deductions and it still gripes me twenty-three years later. Anyway I digress. The second ground was more random, when me and three pals found ourselves sitting on the perimeter wall of the Campo Municipal in Ibiza watching Huddersfield Town defeat Swindon Town 1-0 in a pre-season tournament. Never in a month of Sundays any of us thought when we went to the travel agent and said “cheapest lads holiday for four in July please” we were going to watch Swindon Town. Neither were meant and were opportune unlike this trip to Ninian Park.
Over a few post Ellon Thistle match pints in the Bridge Bar , a few of the team decided on a wee trip away to go on the piss somewhere different was needed, in other words not the Bridge Bar which was our usual haunt over a weekend. “Manchester”, “Dublin”, “Newcastle” were all immediately suggested but with Joe Calzaghe fighting Peter Manfredo Jr at the Millenium Stadium in upcoming April I put this forward as my suggestion. It was decided the idea was the best on the table, this was made even better when the football fixtures were checked and the Bluebirds were at home in the afternoon. A decent day of sports laid ahead for the six of us…….or three (The Gibbo, Birnie and myself) when it came to sorting out hotels, tickets etc.
Then three became two a couple of days prior to leaving due to Birnie being a bit too whipped by his missus to attend. To be fair it was all paid by him leaving the remainers to head to Glasgow to fly down to the Welsh capital as a twosome. Then an added bonus of managing to rope The Gibbo’s pal Turk from work into heading down on his own after his work to take the boxing and fitba tickets. After the rigmarole of flying, finding the hotel and all the boring crap, the Gibbo and I were ready to see what Cardiff had to offer. On walking out of the hotel there was an incredible burger van aroma that drew us in. A big greasy feed was a damage limitation tactic for the inevitable swill we were to pack away, so a super breakfast burger each it was. A big greasy feed was an understatement. Now, if you have seen the Still Game when Isa doesn’t want anything in the cafe and ends up buying a roll with a bit of everything then is asked by the waitress “are ye wanting a wheelbarrow”? Think that and you are getting there. Then it was on to a day on the ales in the city centre. In a short summation, running amok in the pubs we did, shunning the planned Indian for a McDonalds as it would give us more bar time we also did. Drinking our body weight and possibly more, smashed it. Turk just appearing from nowhere and me failing to notice possibly because I lost a couple of hours somewhere down the line (htis was part of the early evening too. Then ending the night in a gay bar and taking a couple of pints to realise that we had done so. Then as it was the only place open for some distance we had a few more beers in the company of a guy was wearing leather chaps, did in fact happen. A proper hell for leather (not trouser related) twelve plus hour session that a twenty four year old me was good for being involved in. Not too sure about thirty seven year old me though, sounds like a chore nowadays.
Saturday morning, fitba day, arising from my pit with a dryness that would rival Death Valley, it was burger van time for the same as the previous day. It set us up alright and it was back on the grog but a bit more reserved than the day before. This due to the fact we realised that there was the boxing to attend later on. A few in the city centre in a Wetherspoons type place to start. In here we met a few Cardiff fans who were tucking into the breakfast and pints deal which being the fatties we are we indulged also despite the gut buster bun earlier. The fitba chat was good and the inevitable “whats your take on the new stadium?” question was raised. The answer being unanimous , losing Ninian Park would be like losing a limb to these guys. But they were honest in saying that the old girl was well past her sell buy date. But they also told old stories of classic games to scrapping to one of the the longer in the tooth dudes being there when Jock Stein died, although he never knew at the time. Decent company and a good start to the day. A few more Brains were had in the glorious sunshine with Chelsea v Tottenham on the big screen. The atmosphere was buzzing as more Bluebirds fans entered the vicinity, the weather was definitely playing its part in the jovial mood. But we wanted to get closer to Ninian Park and a boozer to take in the pre-game buzz. We said our goodbyes and headed in a taxi towards Ninian Park. As we were dropped off the driver pointed in the distance to a building site and informed us it was the new grounds beginnings. I never realised how close it was to Ninian Park, pretty much across the road.
We were then given directions to the pub from the drop off. The boozer was the Landsdowne Bar and as we walked in we were quickly stared at from every angle by Burberry and Aquascutum clad Cardiffians. Quite uncomfortable but once ordering pints and a couple of guys got speaking, “what you doing here?” type questions soon changed to pleasant exchanges when I told them we were Aberdeen fans down to see Kevin McNaughton. That struck a chord with them and all was well for a couple of beers.
We made our way to the famous old ground and took up residence in the “Bob” Bank .Popular Bank to give it its real name, “Bob” being due to it originally cost of one shilling to get in. We stood taking in what was a decent atmosphere despite still filling up with punters. I remember watching Cardiff defeat Leeds in the FA cup in the early 2000s, the one when Sam Hammam was doing the rounds and there were fans on the pitch and missiles galore. I thought at the time, “looks a great place to go”. Turns out it is. A proper old fashioned stadium, the kind of relic you hope(well I do) your team draws in the cup to give you a break from the soulless new builds that keep cropping up. A ground that oozed nostalgia. Terracing is brilliant, I never want to sit at fitba and only do it through being forced too. There is something brilliant about a sunny day on a stepped concrete bank, I dont even mind it in the rain in all honesty. This visit ticked the sun and terracing boxes perfectly.
As kick off approached the atmosphere went up a notch or two. Both sets of fans were unleashing an admirable racket and when the teams appeared, it was deafening. Was this the norm at Ninian Park. If so, then fair play. This Championship game was entertaining to say the least. Goals, woodwork was struck, goal line clearances, hearty challenges across the pitch and even a last minute red card thrown in too (Cardiff but who for escapes me). It was a blood and thunder affair with a few bookings spread out through the game. There were missed chances for Cardiff who were exceptionally wasteful in front of goal especially future Alloa man Michael Chopra. The home side definitley showed a far better attacking threat throughout the half with Whittingham, Ledley and McNaughton getting forward as much as possible. Typically though, the Owls took the lead with their first effort. Leon Clarke struck from close range as the half drew to a close. However Cardiff kept going and equalised with a Roger Johnson header in injury time. Half time saw us get beers under the stand, being Scottish this was a complete novelty to us. Beer at the fitba just did not compute with our own game back home being dry due to some Glasweigans not being able to handle it. It was an added bonus and also gave us fifteen minutes much needed respite from the sun which had scorched us for the previous five hours or so. The second half continued to entertain as we once again sweated it out in the spring sun. It was now a more even game with Wednesday seeming to want to get forward more but creating little in the process. But the one chance they made, they scored. Deon Burton smashed home his own rebound sending the Owls fans into a frenzy away in the Grange end to our left. That strike won the game and as good as ended Cardiff’s promotion playoff chances in the process, thus while keeping the Yorkshire clubs alive. As the Wednesday fans belted out an ode to their match winner, it echoed around Ninian Park as the stunned Cardiff crowd shuffled towards the gates. They had just witnessed their team miss many a good chance yet let Wednesday score with their only two confing the the Welsh club to the Championship for another year.
Kevin McNaughton was the Dons link I knew about at the time but unknown to me future Don and a player I had alot of time for was getting splinters in his arse on the Cardiff bench, Willo Flood. But the future links with Pittodrie didn’t stop there as Wednesday were in on it too with Steven MacLean and Yohan Folly both in their squad. But McNaughton was the only starter and to be fair to him he put in a decent shift. This was the full backs first season in Wales and the start of him becoming very well thought of over his almost ten years as a Bluebird.
But back to Ninian Park, what a place. A crumbling piece of history that was right up my street and will go down in my own personal history as the first “foreign” ground I deliberatley visited. The painted stand roofs, the atmosphere, the feeling of it being able to tell a thousand stories, the 30s Grandstand and the general condition of the old girl seeming to probably be the bare minimum to make it up to standard. I am sure Cardiff fans still pine for it. I for one definitely miss these types of grounds.
In the aftermath we headed back to the town centre and hit the ales again as was always going to happen. We made the boxing, lost The Gibbo for the duration of our time in the Millennium Stadium only to find him two rows behind us late on. Joe Calzaghe won convincingly as everyone knew he would. Then we drank more. Incredibly I managed to hang on to my programme the whole night. Turk went home Sunday morning, the Gibbo decided to see family in Neath leaving me on my lonesome in the pub watching Goals on Sunday. We flew home, went to the pub after and on Monday morning at work I was a wreck of a young man. But I would not have had it any other way at that age. A bloody brilliant weekend.