Tag Archives: Cardiff

A memorable day of Welsh passion among the red dragons

Walking through Cardiff city centre on a Six Nations match day is like being part of a street carnival in which the main feature is a sea of red dragons.

Whether they are on shirts, hung up in shop windows or painted on faces, it’s clear to see how proud the Welsh people are to be supporting their national.

Wales were taking on France in the final game for the tournament. Neither team were going to be taking the top spot, but still, seeing Welsh and French supporters flocking through the streets, I knew it was going to be a good day out.

Before making my way to the Principality Stadium, I took to the streets to join in on the pre-match build up. Luckily, my friend is Welsh and knew the places to go to get the best atmosphere.

What I found most interesting was whether you were Welsh or French, everyone was there for the same reason, to watch their team try and win and there was no bad energy or negativity between the two sets of supporters.

Sea of red

There were loud choruses of “Bread of Heaven” being sung among the crowds with the occasional “Allez La France!” being heard, but it was very clear that we were in Welsh territory.

After experiencing the build-up and excitement, I was ready to make my way to the stadium, I had no chance of getting lost, as the massive sea of red and waving flags and shouts made it obvious which direction to take.

The Principality Stadium was something else. I have been to Twickenham a few times, but the atmosphere in the packed 74,500-capacity venue was incredibly different.

After an ongoing roar of Welsh chants it was very clear how patriotic and proud they were of their team and this was before the players even appeared on the pitch.

After an amazing rendition of the Welsh national anthem, something that was filled with a lot emotion, it was time to see what the match would bring.

Being an Englishman among a Welsh crowd and not knowing what they were singing, or being able to join in, was something I thought was going to be quite difficult, but I was wrong.

The match itself was anyone’s throughout. But towards the end it was clear that  France that should have won.

Luckily for the home fans, it was the opposite, with Liam Williams’ try securing a 14-13 victory for the home side as Trinh-Duc’s penalty miss let Wales off the hook.

The first half was a yo-yo of points between each side, with a couple of penalties and only one try, but this would prove to be the most eventful action, with not a single point being scored in last half hour.

This didn’t stop the home fans from cheering and chanting for their team from start to finish.

Friendly fans

What struck me as most surprising throughout the whole day was that even with their team putting on a poor show, the Welsh fans were consistently upbeat and happy.

Even when we got back outside the stadium after the match, a win was a win, no matter how small the margin of victory.

The end of the match didn’t signal the end of the celebrations. A lot of the fans were more excited about the fact England had finished fifth than their team managing to make second, or even winning the match for that matter.

Being a football fan, going to my first rugby match among Welsh fans in their home territory, I wasn’t sure if it was something that was going to be that enjoyable.

I have never experienced that kind of atmosphere, where everyone is there for one reason, to support their country and their team.

There was no animosity between each side and this was clear when I left the stadium and on the streets later, where Welshmen and Frenchmen were singing together walking down the road.

After a low-ranking result for England in this Six Nations, I’m glad I got to experience a win for Wales in their own stadium and was lucky enough to be a part of something so rare for me, but obviously very normal for Wales.

Fulham style overcomes Bluebird brawn in festive thriller

Strong winds and heavy rain dampened the Boxing Day atmosphere at Cardiff despite the Bluebirds and Fulham delivering a late Christmas in South Wales.

The Cottagers eventually ran out 4-2 winners, inflicting a first Championship home loss of the season on the hosts, with man of the match Ryan Sessegnon demonstrating why he might attract interest during the January transfer window.

The versatile 17-year-old netted 12 minutes from time to make it 3-1 to the visitors. Cardiff gave themselves hope with a 92nd minute header by substitute Callum Paterson, but Stefan Johansen struck deep into added time to send the away fans into raptures.

The conditions were horrible for both sets of spectators but made for an exciting game, with the ball zipping off the surface and presenting a tough test for the goalkeepers.

Despite their team sitting second in the table behind Wolves going into the match, the home supporters were subdued throughout, while the energy of their Fulham rivals in the stands seemed to translate to the team in white.

Celebrating

Slaviša Jokanović’s team, seeking a third win in four games, were quicker to every 50/50, moving the ball around quicker and seeming like they wanted it more.

In the fifth minute, Johansen found himself in an advance position through on goal. Bruno Manga brought him down, but the referee waved ‘play on’ as the Fulham players appealed.

Just seven minutes later, however, their fans were celebrating as Tim Reem’s back-post header put them ahead. That blow sparked the Welsh side into life, and they began to pressure Fulham on the ball, leading to a scrappy period littered with fouls.

As the half drew to a close, Fulham again found themselves bombing forward on the break with numbers supporting the attack.

The ball was pinged to Ryan Fredericks on the right wing, but his attempted cross was cut out by Sol Bamba, and Fulham had to settle for being 1-0 up at the break.

Cynical

The second half began very much like the first, with Fulham dictating the play and creating the better chances, while Neil Warnock’s men resorted to cynical fouls.

It was only a matter of time before the visitors struck again, and their pressure told in the 56th minute. Sessegnon was the provider as he coolly took the ball past his covering defender, giving him the time and space to pick out Floyd Ayité as he steamed through for the simplest of tap-ins.

This time, the celebrations were short lived, as Cardiff hit hit back a minute later with the goal of the game. A Fulham clearance landed at the feet of striker Kenneth Zohore who hit a half volley from 25 yards out which flew past Fulham keeper Marcus Bettinelli.

Suddenly, the home fans found their voices, and Fulham knew they had a game on their hands.

Warnock went for broke with a double attacking substitution in the 73rd minute, bringing on Paterson and Rhys Healey. Fulham responded by sending right winger Rui Fonte into action, with both teams chasing the win.

Consolation

Fonte quickly made his mark, playing a lovely ball out to Sessegnon who chested it down and slotted calmly past keeper Neil Etheridge, seemingly sealing victory and sending some of the home fans towards the exits.

Paterson’s late goal for 3-2 felt more like a consolation effort, and with Cardiff throwing everything at Fulham to try and get the equaliser, they left themselves exposed at the back. Johansen’s audacious chip to make it 4-2 was the last kick of the game.

Fulham simply outclassed Cardiff, bossing the midfield where the contest was ultimately decided. The win kept them in 11th place, while Cardiff slipped to third behind Bristol City after they beat Reading.

Why the FA Cup needs to be protected

The idea that the FA Cup is losing its status is more than just a theory; it has become an indisputable reality. Even the most extreme of romantics would admit that football’s oldest knockout competition is not what it once was.

Muscled out by the twin behemoths of Premier and Champions Leagues, and with even Championship clubs downgrading its importance, it is in the lower leagues where the Cup now finds its strongest allies.

Smaller clubs do their upmost to compensate for the neglect shown by the bigger ones, and that is why they need to be protected.

Wycombe Wanderers players reacting to getting Tottenham away in the fourth-round draw on Monday did the rounds on social media.

Ball number 18 was drawn out and they were off their chairs and into party mode. As a trip to the Lane beckons later this month, try telling the Chairboys that the magic of the Cup has faded.

Back seat

“The Cup is only devalued for Premier League clubs. The excitement is still there from the Championship down,” said Sutton boss Paul Doswell, manager of the lowest ranked club left in the draw, and it is hard to disagree with him.

Especially when Southend v Sheffield United in League One attracted more supporters (7,202) than the all-Premier League third-round tie between Hull and Swansea (6,808).

Admittedly, this was in part due to the ongoing battle between Hull fans and the club’s owners, but Premier League clubs just don’t care for it and it evidently rubs off on the supporters.

The absurd amount of cash at stake thanks to the current £5.1bn Sky-BT Sport TV deal dictates that Premier League clubs’ priorities lies with their league form.

Throw in European commitments for some of those clubs as well, and it’s not hard to see why the FA Cup has taken a back seat.

Squandered

And yet… Take Bournemouth for example, perched nicely in mid-table, seemingly safe from relegation fears but well adrift of a European place. Surely, the Cherries were in a perfect position to have a crack at the Cup.

“Premier League clubs just aren’t bothered unless they reach the latter stages”

Instead, manager Eddie Howe rang the changes – the whole starting XI – and they lost 3-0 away to League Two side Millwall.

Howe was berated by fans and the media for squandering what could have been a promising Cup run, but it was apparent that his and the owners priorities lies elsewhere.

Merit payments are due to every Premier League club based on league position at the end of the season, on top of their £85m equal share payout. Bournemouth currently sit in ninth place, which would secure another £24m.

To put that in perspective, the payout would yield over 12 times the amount the winner would receive for winning the FA Cup outright (£1.8m). Even nudging up to eighth would itself be worth more than that. This is huge for any club, not least for one of Bournemouth’s size.

No coincidence

Premier League clubs just aren’t bothered unless they reach the latter stages, so more needs to be done to protect the clubs that keep this competition alive.

Not scheduling Fulham away to Cardiff in an 11.30am kick-off when the earliest train arriving there from London was at 11.10am, with a 25-minute walk to the stadium.

“Man Utd got the payment instead, and it will probably just be enough to cover Paul Pogba’s wages for a week”

A club’s fans are its most valuable asset, but they given scant regard by the FA and their broadcast partners who, let’s face it, call the tune over such scheduling madness.

It is no coincidence that all of Manchester United’s past 55 FA Cup games have been aired live on TV – a big audience is guaranteed.

But 15 minutes into their third-round tie with Reading, they were 2-0 up and the game was pretty much over. Surely other ties had the potential for more excitement and upsets?

No-win situation

Take Sutton United v Wimbledon – a ‘proper’ Cup clash that saw two smaller clubs dreaming of a lucrative fourth-round tie. But then again it wouldn’t have pulled in millions of viewers from Asia, Africa and the Far East like Jose Mourinho’s team do.

The money that  Sutton could have made had their game been televised would have been like winning the lottery for the National League outfit.

New changing rooms for the kids, suggested Doswell, along with a general revamp of the facilities and a healthier-looking budget. Man Utd got the payment instead, and it will probably just be enough to cover Paul Pogba’s wages for a week.

Of course, broadcasting – like football itself – is a business, not a charity. The BBC would argue it has a right to chase for high viewing figures in return for their investment in the FA Cup.

In their defence, imagine if they had not aired the United match and Reading had won at Old Trafford. But hindsight is a wonderful thing and it’s impossible to please everyone all the time.

Replays

But the BBC is a publicly-funded organisation that should not be all about numbers; there needs to be a compromise. Live coverage of Sutton’s replay with Wimbledon is worth £75,000 – a quarter of their annual budget.

It should not be perceived as them doing Sutton a favour, it may not pull in a mass audience, but they would be airing a good old-fashioned cup tie with history behind both sides.

“The Goliaths are somewhat to blame for the magic being lost, so the Davids need to be protected for the competition’s sake”

Replays have been on the forefront of debates and continue to divide opinions. The small teams love the revenue they generate, but the big clubs would banish them in an instant.

They bemoan the fixture congestion replays cause, hence why there has been talk of them being scrapped – further evidence of finding ways to protect the interests of bigger clubs.

Surely, a better idea would simply be to put out a strong team, which would more than likely save a tie from going to a replay in the first place.

That replay away at Old Trafford or Anfield could be the biggest day in a lot of clubs’ season – or even history – the biggest game their players have ever played in and the biggest their fans have attended.

That should not be in jeopardy for the sake of shaving a game off an elite club’s schedule. The Goliaths are somewhat to blame for the magic being lost, so the Davids need to be protected for the competition’s sake.