The Cardiff City Story

A statue of Cardiff City 1927 captain Fred Keenor holding the FA Cup outside Cardiff City Stadium. The Bluebirds are the only side from Wales to lift the trophy Picture: Ewegottalove

CARDIFF CITY FC began life as Riverside AFC in the late 19th Century before developing a home at Ninian Park and becoming one of only a few Welsh sides to play in the English football league system. They would go on to become the only team from Wales ever to win the FA Cup, enjoy memorable floodlit European nights against the likes of the mighty Real Madrid and eventually reach the heady heights of the FA Premier League.

Founded in 1899 as Riverside AFC, the team wore a kit consisting of chocolate and amber quarters. The club would later adopt a traditional blue kit, becoming known as the Bluebirds, and, much later, highly controversial and short-lived red shirts.

Riverside were renamed Cardiff City in 1908, although still lacking proper facilities at their Sophia Gardens ground.

The club’s committee opened talks with the Bute Estate, one of the major landowners in the city, in the hope of finding a suitable site for the construction of a new ground. They were offered a former rubbish tip, located between a railway station and Sloper Road on an initial seven-year lease for an annual rent of £90.

With the assistance of local volunteers and workers of the Cardiff Corporation, the site was cleared and levelled and a single wooden stand was erected. When one of the club’s guarantors pulled out of the deal, Lord Ninian Crichton-Stuart, son of John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute, stepped in to cover the shortfall. In appreciation, the new ground was named Ninian Park.

With the new ground in place, Cardiff were granted admission into the Southern Football League Second Division for the 1910–11 season.

Ninian Park was officially opened on September 1, 1910, with a 2–1 friendly defeat to reigning Football League First Division champions Aston Villa, Cardiff having adopted their now traditional blue shirts, white shorts and blue socks.

The side was elected into the Second Division of the Football League in 1920. After winning the Welsh Cup for the first time, Cardiff won promotion from the Southern Football League Second Division in the 1912–13 season, losing only one match during the campaign. They remained in the First Division for two further seasons, finishing third during the 1914–15 season, before competitive football was suspended following the outbreak of World War I.

On 30 August 1920, Cardiff played their first Football League match at Ninian Park, where 25,000 supporters watched a scoreless draw with Clapton Orient. The first ever Football League victory for Cardiff at their home ground occurred five days later, when Stockport County were beaten 3–0.

Now in the top tier of the Football League, their first match of the 1921–22 season against Tottenham Hotspur attracted over 50,000 spectators. When club officials attempted to close turnstiles with the ground at full capacity, spectators who were still queuing proceeded to break through the barriers with club estimates believing between 6–10,000 extra fans forced their way into the ground.

The team finished as runners-up in the 1923–24 season, missing out on the title to Huddersfield by the closest margin in First Division history. During the season, Cardiff also became the first club to provide the captains of both teams in an international friendly when Wales and Scotland met in February 1924, with Fred Keenor captaining Wales and Jimmy Blair leading Scotland.

The following season was the first time Cardiff City appeared at Wembley Stadium. In the semi-finals of the FA Cup, Cardiff defeated Blackburn Rovers 3–1 to set up a final against Sheffield United. After a dour final produced a 1-0 defeat in front of 91,763 fans, Cardiff captain Keenor declared that the team would return to Wembley and “bring the Cup to Wales.”

In the 1926–27 season, Cardiff reached their second FA Cup final. The side entered the competition in the third round, where they defeated Aston Villa 2–1 at Ninian Park. Trips to Darlington and holders Bolton Wanderers in the fourth and fifth rounds respectively followed, both finished with the same scorelines; 2–0 wins for Cardiff. In the quarter-finals, Cardiff met Chelsea in another away fixture. A goalless draw at Stamford Bridge led to a replay at Ninian Park. Soon after half-time the scores were level at 2–2 before Hughie Ferguson netted the winning goal from the penalty spot. At the semi-final stage, Cardiff met Reading at Molineux, recording a comfortable 3–0 victory.

On April 23, 1927, Cardiff met Arsenal in the 1927 FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium. In the 74th minute of the match, after collecting a throw from the right, Ferguson hurried a tame shot toward the Arsenal goal. Dan Lewis, the Arsenal goalkeeper, appeared to collect the ball but, under pressure from the advancing Len Davies, clumsily allowed the ball to roll through his grasp. In a desperate attempt to retrieve the ball Lewis only succeeded in knocking the ball with his elbow into his own net.

It is believed that this cup final attracted one of the highest audiences ever, as it was the first to be broadcast by BBC Radio. Keenor received the FA Cup trophy from King George V only seven years after Cardiff had entered the Football League and six seasons since they had been promoted to the top division.

Ferguson’s tally of 32 goals in all competitions during the season set a club record that stood for almost 80 years until Robert Earnshaw overtook it in March 2003. Cardiff went on to add two further trophies soon after; the side also won the Welsh Cup defeating Rhyl 2–0, and would go on to win the Charity Shield after beating the Corinthians 2–1 at Stamford Bridge.

Following their FA Cup win, the Cardiff board had decided to invest the winnings in a new roof for the Grange End stand at Ninian Park, leaving little money for manager Fred Stewart to invest in the side.

Soon after its cup triumph, the club entered a decline that saw the side relegated to the Third Division South by 1932. Financial problems coincided with their descent and the team finished bottom of the Football League at the end of the 1933–34 season and were forced to apply for re-election.

In January 1937, the Grandstand at Ninian Park was destroyed by fire after thieves broke in in an attempt to steal gate receipts from a recent FA Cup match.

After the Second World War, the club enjoyed a resurgence and won the Third Division South title in the first season after the conflict. The team returned to the First Division soon after and spent most of the 1950s in the top tier of English football.

In the 1956–57 season, they were relegated to the Second Division. After a disappointing season in the second tier, finishing 15th, manager Trevor Morris left the club. Bill Jones was chosen as his replacement and one of his first moves was to sign Welsh international forward Derek Tapscott from Arsenal for £10,000.

Tapscott finished as the club’s top scorer in the following three seasons as Jones led the side to promotion back to the First Division in the 1959–60 season. However, they remained in the top tier for only two seasons before returning to the Second Division in 1962 after finishing in 21st position. Cardiff would not return to the top tier of English football for a further 52 years.

During the 1960s Cardiff began qualifying for European competition for the first time through the Welsh Cup. Their first ever match in European competition was in the European Cup Winners’ Cup during the 1964–65 season against Danish side Esbjerg fB, winning 1–0 on aggregate over the two legs, the only goal being scored by Peter King. They went on to reach the quarter-finals before being knocked out by Real Zaragoza.

Despite their exploits in Europe, the club were still struggling in league competition under the stewardship of Jimmy Scoular, finishing in 20th position in Division Two. One high point at this time was the emergence of a 16-year-old striker named John Toshack who would go on to become an important part of the team for several years, along with his strike partner Brian Clark, before a high-profile switch to Liverpool.

Two years later the club would go on to reach the semi-final of the Cup Winners’ Cup. Wins over Shamrock Rovers, NAC Breda, and Torpedo Moscow set up a tie with German side Hamburg, whose squad contained a number of German internationals such as Uwe Seeler. After a 1–1 draw in the first leg, just over 43,000 fans turned out at Ninian Park to watch Hamburg triumph with a 3–2 victory.

At the start of the 1970–71 season the club paid £35,000 to sign midfielder Ian Gibson from Coventry City to provide support for Clark and Toshack up front, but the strikeforce was broken up three months later when Toshack was sold to Liverpool for £110,000.

The club paid £40,000 to bring Alan Warboys in from Sheffield Wednesday as a replacement but missed out on promotion by finishing third. Although the sale of Toshack did hamper the progress of the team, the club managed to reach the quarter-finals of the Cup Winners’ Cup where they faced Spanish giants Real Madrid.

The first leg of the tie was held at Ninian Park where 47,000 fans watched one of Cardiff’s most celebrated victories when Clark headed in to give Cardiff a 1–0 win. Despite going out after losing the second leg 2–0, the result would still go down as a high point in the club’s history.

Between 1985 and 1993, Cardiff were continuously bouncing between the lower two divisions of the league. In 1996, they finished in their lowest-ever league position – 22nd of 24 in Division Three. In 1996, Cardiff were exiled from playing in the Welsh Cup, which they had previously won 22 times, along with all other Welsh clubs playing in the English League System.

They finished third in Division Three in 1999 and won automatic promotion to Division Two, but struggled throughout the 1999–2000 season and were relegated in 21st place. They finished Division Three runners-up the following season and have made impressive progress since then, helped by the investment of Lebanese businessman Sam Hammam.

Having sold his interests in Wimbledon, Hammam purchased control of Cardiff City in August 2000, for a sum believed to be in the region of £11.5m. Shortly after taking over, Hammam controversially pledged to get the entire Welsh nation to support Cardiff by renaming the club “The Cardiff Celts” and changing the club colours to green, red and white.

After lengthy talks with senior players and fans, he decided that the best policy was not to change the name of the club, although the club crest was redesigned. This new design incorporated the Cardiff City mascot Bartley the Bluebird, in front of the Flag of Saint David and featured the Club’s nickname superimposed at the top of the crest.

During the 2001–02 season, Cardiff memorably took on Premier League contenders Leeds United in the FA Cup at Ninian Park, coming out 2–1 winners. Leeds scored the first through Australian international Mark Viduka, captain Graham Kavanagh equalised and Scott Young hit the back of the net sending Cardiff through to the fourth round.

Lennie Lawrence guided Cardiff to promotion via a Division Two play-off triumph in 2003 against Queens Park Rangers. Cardiff City finished in sixth position and defeated Bristol City 1-0 on aggragate in the play-off semi-finals.

On May 25, the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, hosted one of the most unforgettable play-off finals in history. Both Cardiff and opponents Queens Park Rangers had been set up with defence-minded formations. In extra-time, substitute Andy Campbell came off the bench to guide Cardiff back into Division One after an 18-year absence with a spectacular lob after 114 minutes of play.

Some memorable Cardiff City goal-scoring moments Credit: The Canton Corner

The Bluebirds established themselves in Division One during 2003–04 season as they finished it off in an impressive 13th position. In the summer of 2004 they had to sell Robert Earnshaw for a fee of £3m to Norwich City, due to finical difficulties, Earnshaw was the club’s second highest goalscorer with a total of 105 goals in 205 games. The follow season, they struggled to a 16th position finish, at the end of the 2004–05 campaign, Lawrence was relieved of his duties to make way for David Jones at the end of the campaign.

Jones improved the side by signing Darren Purse for £1m from West Bromwich Albion and naming him captain and bringing Welsh international Jason Koumas and Glenn Loovens on loan. However, due to continuing financial problems, Cardiff had to sell some big names such as Danny Gabbidon and James Collins to West Ham United for a combined fee of £3.5m and former captain Graham Kavanagh to Wigan Athletic. They still pulled off a relatively successful season in the 2005–06 campaign, finishing 11th.

After failing to get plans for a new stadium agreed by Cardiff Council due to concerns over financial security in 2006, Hammam agreed to a £27m takeover by a consortium led by new chairman Peter Ridsdale.

During the summer of 2007 Cardiff signed some big names including Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Robbie Fowler on free transfers whilst selling 2006–07 top goalscorer, Michael Chopra for £5m, this was their record transfer fee received.

Despite off-field wranglings, Cardiff did reach the 2008 FA Cup Final, being beat by Premier League side Portsmouth.

New £120,00 signing Ross McCormack finished with 23 goals in 44 games as Cardiff played their last season at Ninian Park before they move to the new Cardiff City Stadium. The last game at Ninian Park was a disappointing 3–0 loss to Ipswich Town.

Before the 2009–10 season, Ridsdale travelled to the Far East to try to get a business deal which he promised would see Cardiff’s debt problem dealt with, and creation of an academy in the Far East. No investment was forthcoming, but Malaysian businessman Dato’ Chan Tien Ghee was an addition to the club’s board.

Cardiff then broke their current record transfer fee, signing Chopra from Sunderland for £3m. The transfer fee dwarfed their previous record of £1.75m for Peter Thorne from Stoke City in 2001. Cardiff moved across the road to their new £50m stadium which was officially opened on July 22, 2009, when Cardiff played out a goalless draw with Scottish giants Celtic in front of 15,000 spectators.

After surviving a winding-up order from HMRC, Cardiff’s on-field performances saw them qualify for the 2009–10 Championship play-offs. Cardiff advanced to the play-off final after beating Leicester 4–3 on penalties following a 3–3 aggregate score over two legs. However, in the play-off final against Blackpool, Dave Jones’s team lost 3–2 after leading twice in the game.

Malaysian businessmen Tien Ghee and Tan Sri Vincent Tan Chee Yioun took over the club on May 27, 2010. During the summer, Cardiff signed Wales captain Craig Bellamy on a season-long loan from Manchester City, with the financial side being backed by the new owners.

Cardiff striker Jay Bothroyd was called up for England to play France at Wembley Stadium on November 17, 2010, coming on in the 74th minute to become Cardiff’s first English international in their 111-year history.

Cardiff were within reach of an automatic place throughout the season, but ended up in the play-offs for a second season. They then lost to Reading in the semi-finals and this resulted in Jones being sacked as manager in May 2011.

As legal and financial wranglings continued to keep Cardiff City in the news for all the wrong reasons, former Watford manager Malky Mackay joined the club on a three-year deal.

In his first season, Mackay lead the team to a successful League Cup run in which the club reached its first ever final in the competition, where they lost to Liverpool on penalties. Cardiff ended their season in the play-off positions, for the third season running, however they failed for the third time, losing to West Ham United in the semi-finals.

Following the play-off defeat, the Malaysian owners announced they were planning to change the club’s home colours from blue to red, a move met with consternation among supporters.

Cardiff had their best ever start to a league campaign during the 2012–13 season, Mackay’s men setting a new club record by winning 10 consecutive home matches. Cardiff gained promotion to the Premier League on April 16, 2013, following a goalless draw against Charlton Athletic, ending a 51-year absence from the top division and followed this by winning the title five days later after a draw with Burnley.

Cardiff’s debut season in the Premier League started with some big spending, where they broke the transfer record of £4m when they signed Danish international Andreas Cornelius for £7.5m. The transfer record was broken two more times over the summer, with the signings of English international Steven Caulker and Chilean international Gary Medel.

Cardiff went on to win the first ever Premier League south Wales derby against Swansea City, but following a 3–0 loss to Southampton, Mackay was sacked with the club just a point away from the relegation places.

Former Manchester United striker Ole Gunnar Solskjær was confirmed as first team manager at the start of 2014, becoming the first foreign manager to take charge at the club. However, he failed to save the club from relegation meaning an instant return to the Championship.

Cardiff’s performances during the following season were disappointing and Solskjaer was sacked on September 18, 2014, following eight torrid months in charge.

Cardiff next appointed Leyton Orient manager Russell Slade, but his team selection’s and style of football upset fans due to the high expectations of an immediate return to the Premier League.

Vincent Tan’s rebrand remained the focal point on match days, with many organised protests and chants directly aimed at the owner.

On January 2, 2015, Cardiff beat League One strugglers Colchester United 3–1 in the FA Cup in front of a lowest recorded crowd of 4,194 at the Cardiff City Stadium which prompted an emergency meeting of the Cardiff Board.

A week later, the club announced that after deliberation with members of the board and chosen fans, the club’s home colours would be changed back to blue with immediate effect.

The change back to blue was seen as a success for fans and protesters alike, however, attendances had been dropping steadily with many fans unhappy at the day-to-day operations of the club, poor performances and future plans.
When Slade was replaced by Paul Trollope, a member of his coaching staff, Cardiff continued to struggle. Trollope, in turn, was sacked and replaced by Neil Warnock, who brought the team out of the relegation zone to finish in 12th.

The following season, Cardiff began brightly by winning their first five games of the season, before eventually being promoted in second place following a 0–0 draw with Reading, where they broke their attendance record at Cardiff City Stadium.

Following the promotion, Cardiff struggled to score goals. The club broke their transfer record previously set in 2013, with the signing of Emiliano Sala for a reported fee of £15m from FC Nantes. However, two days later, the Piper PA-46 Malibu light aircraft transporting Sala crashed off Alderney, in the channel islands whilst traveling from Nantes to Cardiff. The aircraft was found 13 days later and Sala was later confirmed dead.

Cardiff were relegated back to the EFL Championship following a 3–2 loss to Crystal Palace. The revolving door of managerial changes saw Warnock replaced by Neil Harris, who was himself replaced by Mick McCarthy early in 2021 after a run of six straight defeats.

A great little documentary, presented by Cardiff City fan Johnny Owen, giving the fans’ perspective ahead of the 2008 FA Cup final against Portsmouth