Cardiff 1 QPR 0 (AET) Promotion Match Report.

Last updated : 03 June 2003 By NigelBlues
You've probably read plenty of accounts of the game, looked at pictures galore but if you're like me, you still can't get enough of it so here's another account on a day we will never, ever forget.

On a weekend when the three play-off finals saw 11 goals, only one mattered for us ... the 114th minute special from Andy Campbell (how many times have you re-lived it in your minds already?) that catapulted CARDIFF CITY FC, THE GREATEST TEAM IN FOOTBALL THE WORLD HAS EVER SEEN (undeniably) back into Division One for the first time since 1995.

When Sam Hammam predicted a rollercoaster ride this season, even in his own mind, he could never have imagined it like this. Nobody wanted to be in those play-offs and we all wanted the title or automatic second place but now we’ve won the play-offs, wasn't it the best ever day and promotion we’ve had?

The game, let's be honest, was a poor spectacle but only winning mattered, if we’d done it 6-0 and played QPR off the park, we would not have enjoyed or celebrated it anymore than we did. Neutrals and non-committed football fans watching on Sky could be forgiven for changing channels to watch something a little more interesting like QVC or UK Gold but, for us, this more than a game, it was an event, an occasion, one of the greatest proudest day's in the great and proud history of Cardiff City.

And nobody deserved it more than those Cardiff City fans that followed and stuck by the club through the darkest of days in the past 20 years, this was divine intervention. I have sympathy for QPR and their fans, both fully played their part in the occasion, and with luck, it could just as easily have gone their way. But they are a big enough and decent enough club to come again and most of their fans have been privileged enough to have seen Premiership and Division One football for most of their lives, we haven’t and fate finally decided that it was our turn … and not before time too!

Cardiff City, its supporters, Sam, Lennie and the players were as one - all magnificent and all getting what they so fully deserved.

The Bluebirds have played bigger games in their history - FA Cup Finals, Championship deciders, European and League Cup semi-finals - but none have been so vital and important as this defining match in what is now a defining season for the club.

Win and the club march onto Division One, the new stadium (surely?) assured, big matches every weekend, bigger crowds, more television revenue, big name players would stay and bigger players would join. Lose and just about everything goes on hold, we have to endure visits to (and from) Chesterfield, Hartlepool and the bleeding Wurzels – it didn’t really bear thinking about.

The build up and hype to the match was unprecedented. Acres of coverage every day and it seemed like ages ago when we beat the Wurzels to make the play-off final. Still, rugby no longer seems to exist as a sport in Wales (pity eh?) and the scramble for tickets, rows over anthems, debates over whether to open or close the roof, should our pre and post-match loyalty go to pubs who have always welcomed City fans, frets over public transport and many more aspects took our minds off the game itself and stopped most of us over-fretting until the weekend arrived.

I felt pretty relaxed going to bed Saturday night (it helped that I went to see Peter “’ave it” Kay at a packed CIA and several ales) so slept well, I was far more worried going to Bristol). However as I awoke on Sunday morning to a dozen or more texts off mates who clearly hadn't slept a wink through the night, my stomach started to full on churn. The Saturday shopping and a new pack of toilet rolls were certainly timely.

The next problem after getting up was deciding what time to crack open the first brew of the day and what to wear. How many will join me in confessing to their first sips with breakfast (purely to stabilise the system for later of course)?. As for the clothes show, there seemed to be a mix - buy something new and blue, the trusty gear you'd worn all season, the same clothes worn in the Bristol semi-final, some smart casual gear (for the pubs/clubs later) or Cardiff’s apparent 4th strip of Burberry, Burberry and more Burberry.

I went for the yellow away shirt as it's been luckier than the blue home one when worn by me but, my trump card, was donning a Championship 92/93 t-shirt underneath. In my mind, that was the last time City were real winners. One of the first things I did leaving the ground was buy a commemorative t-shirt which I'm saving to wear underneath my City shirt when we're playing a game to get into the Premiership!

Although pubs don't open until Sunday, many seemed to unofficially open much earlier to those in the know - some offered breakfast for £5 with a free pint thrown in. The pubs around Canton were a joy to see - all decked out in City posters, all having City badges on bunting adorning their outsides. The streets were the same, City posters and flags in cars, in house windows and even on some roofs. The lampposts all around Canton and Riverside were decorated with C'Mon City flags. These are sights even my active Bluebird mind never truly dreamt about but it was only a prelude of what was to come.

Next stop was Ninian Park. The club opened it for a Family event, a superb decision. Even with no game at the ground, the street merchandise sellers were out in force on Sloper Road, it was that sort of day. Just before 11am and the place was buzzing, loads of fans walking about and chatting to each other and, inside, a couple of hundred playing on the pitch with stilt walkers, jugglers, face painters and more contributing. Hundreds more just walking about and sitting in the stands and, underneath, a brass band playing football and City anthems with the bars open and flowing and fully decorated too. The pitch is being dug up this week and although it has been great all season, you could see why the work is necessary.

Half-hour later, the band started an impromptu version of "Kum-by-ah", the fans chanted "Sam Hammam My Lord" as, underneath the stands, in walked The Man himself who has made all these things possible - dressed in the dark suit worn by all players and staff with gold tie and a small clump of yellow carnations (wow-a fashion report too) to shake the first hands of thousands that day.

As he walked inside the stadium, up went the chant of "We want Sam Hammam walking round the pitch". He couldn’t as he was mobbed but was out there shaking just about everyone by the hand, and posing for pictures with all, before leaving with his wife, son and daughter-in-law following behind.

At the point, I headed over to a pre-arranged pub to meet my pals but the bars and ground stayed open until 1am by which time, the bands, jugglers and 4,000 fans marched in unison from Ninian Park to Millennium Stadium cutting a massively impressive sight. Jeez, it was only 4 years ago that we were struggling to get 4,000 to watch City and now we're getting that many just walking down the road with a brass band!!!

The beers flowed, the chat was nervous but excited as most of us had waited all our lives for a day like this. To lighten the mood for us, a load of Stoke fans were in the pub who had come down for someone’s 40th for the weekend. Rivalry apart, they had fallen in love with Cardiff, as a city, after last year’s play-offs. They even enjoyed us singing, “Where’s your Kavanagh?” and “Peter Thorne is Magic, he wears a magic hat and when he left Stoke City, he said “thank f*** for that”.

But I’d been envious of them in the same way that we’d seen just about every other team in the country, or so it seemed, have their day at Wembley or Millennium Stadium. Taking 6,000 to S#####horpe and beating Leeds in the Cup was one thing but we had always prayed for a day and time like this and now it was happening and how fantastic it was.

Around 2-ish, we made our way towards Millennium Stadium (yes, I was not only sober, I was also early going to a game - it's a first!) to soak up the atmosphere. The streets and city centre of Cardiff were alive and kicking as someone once sang. The place was buzzing and magical. A busload of QPR fans passed us looking so solemn, you'd have thought they were on their way to a funeral. Maybe it felt like that by the end too.

St Mary Street and Wood Street was jammed packed with City fans, all singing and shouting in full anticipation, a sea of blue and white (with a little bit of yellow … oh and some Burberry too of course). It was all-real but, somehow, very surreal too, I kept pinching myself to remind myself that, yes, this really was Cardiff City everyone was coming to see.

Strange things happened such as BBC Wales, long perceived as egg-chasers in keeping with much of the Welsh media (rightly or wrongly, that was the perception) in the streets handing out thousands of “C'Mon Bluebirds” cards – a ploy that rebounded slightly as, when the game went into lulls (there were one or two ... or twenty). their cards became perfect material for paper planes and they flew well. HTV, meanwhile, with its Soccer Sunday coverage which barely satisfies our cravings were nowhere. (Mind you, what do you expect when their programme editor told me three years ago that he could not promise weekly coverage of Cardiff City or show it at a regular time because, amongst other things, our club and crowd were not as big as Bristol City - now he wants to know us though!).

Cardiff fans had the South side of the stadium entering by Millennium Plaza (the ex-Empire Pool used for Kairdiff exiles out there). Until Stoke won the play-offs at that end last season, it had been the so-called unlucky end as every one of 13 or so teams to play Cup or Play-Off finals there had lost. It has since become the luckier one - Arsenal had it in the previous week's cup final. What is now apparently lucky is the Vale of Glamorgan Hotel as no team staying there has yet to lose and that's where Lennie and the boys were.

Then we entered the stadium and what an amazing breath-taking “wowwwwwwwwwww” sight. I've been there for gigs, rugby (I had free tickets - ok?) and football and it always fills you with some awe but never more than now as it filled with upto 40,000 City fans and just over 27,000 QPR fans in the 66,096 crowd. The noise was always tremendous, the atmosphere to be savoured - yes, this really was it, our time was finally here.

The Nationwide League being the Nationwide League had to try their best to dampen the occasion. At the start of the week, they wanted to inflict anthems on us, or rather – one, God Save The Queen, (Why? Who cares?) but did their best to flatten the atmosphere even more by bringing on two "celebrities" (definite small "c") to rouse each team’s sets of fans. They struggled as QPR had some kid's daytime tv presenter called Joe (or something) and, although, we won the Top Totty stakes, we had Dirty Lisa "flippin" Rogers. Welsh and Monmouth-born - but someone who never shuts up talking about Arsenal - a place I'm sure where many hot-bloody hetro City fans would love to take her.

Maybe in homage to the kiddie tv presenter, it was time for a kiddie game. On came two 20 foot high inflatable footballs - one with the QPR crest and one with ours (the new badge) and - yep, kiddies, after the count of three, we had to shout as loud as we could - the more noise we made, the quicker “our” ball was pushed. First to cross the pitch was the winner. Whose idea was this and what state of mind was he/she in when they devised it? All it need were Arthur Ellis and Eddie Waring on the pitch with Stuart Hall commentating and I would have thought it was all a big dream again.

Anyway,most looked totally bemused but enough roared (some from previously intelligent looking folk getting just a bit too carried away ). The guys pushing the Cardiff ball were crap and QPR were well ahead but, then maybe, the guys pushing the QPR ball were City fans as they slowed and stopped and we went by. For those interested, QPR seemed to cross it first but we were announced as the winners. Yeah, great – yeah, right!

After a blue sky early morning, followed by misty rain, the weather was coming reasonably good again. It was dry, some sun breaking through, the roof was open and airplanes must have diverted their routes to avoid the sheer noise coming out of it.

None more so pre-match than when City's p.a. announcer came on the pitch and got us to sing or chant along to Men of Harlech. It was truly spine-tingling and set my emotions going for the rest of the day. The sight of all those Bluebirds "ayatollahing" as one will stay with me forever too - a grand sight. Eric The Red who started it all off at a Cardiff fixture away at Lincoln City in a drab game 15 years or so ago, was 2 seats away, probably never imagined it would become Bluebird folklore to this extent.

Now it was QPR's turn which their non-celebrity announced was "Hoops-dah-dah-dah". That was obviously it’s name in Children’s World, music lovers know it better as Pigbag's “Papa's Got a Brand New Pigbag”. R’s supporters made an impressive sight in their blue and white hoops, they were loud and on-form too. Of course they never competed with us on overall noise, they never could, but they were periods when their team looked impressive, they were certainly seen and heard.

So much for the build up ... now I can get to match report!

In 2003 in the Merry Month of May
The famous Cardiff City travelled down Millennium Way
To play QPR who had come to win the cup
But along came City, say, we are GOING UP!

Out came both teams to some blaring music, fireworks and bangs going off all around them and a din to top them all. I knew we were immediately going to win. Why? Because QPR played in all-white strip as a one-off to pay homage to their 1969 League Cup winning team but, to me, they were Swansea City in those colours. They couldn't possibly win.

City wore their all blue kit having won the toss to wear those colours. It was exactly the same kit worn in league games and worn when Bristol City were slayed in the play-offs semis. Lucky shirt sponsors this year will have a fantastic item of sporting memorabilia including Matt Davies and Huw Griffiths who won the Prediction League organised by this website for all those who contributed towards the sponsorship of Neil Alexander's and Spencer Prior's home kit.

Both teams stood on halfway to meet the dignitaries. For City and QPR, this was a massive occasion, the fact it’s a little lower down the list of massive football occasion was cruelly brought home to us when we saw who they were - someone like the I.T. Manager of Nationwide Building Society and ex-Tory minister, Brian Mawhinney. There would have been better served by drawing lots and letting a fan of each team meet and greet the players.

Formalities over, City players ran towards us, some waving, some ayatollahing. The return roar was the like they had never heard before in their lives. The team was unchanged from that which had overcome the Wurzels to get to this stage. 4-4-2 with Alexander in goal, Weston-Prior-Gabbidon-Barker across the back, Boland-Captain Kavanagh-Whalley and Legg comprising midfield with Peter Thorne (many fans wearing a magic hat for the day) and Earnie, the main man whose goals gave us the chance of promotion, leading the attack.

QPR are an excellent team and although we had quiet confidence, they gave us plenty of reasons to rightly have fear too. In goals was the excellent Chris Day, his defence of Kelly (on loan from Spurs), the Man Mountain with the unfortunate name of Shittu, Clark Carlisle (Britain's Brainiest Footballer according to a tv show which means he apparently knows more than his 7 times table) and the Argentinian left back Padula. Midfield were Kevin Gallen playing a probing role behind the strikers, possible City target Mark Bircham (dubbed "Skunk" by City fans for his hair-do(n't) and whose coachload of friends and family had an unfortunate start to the day as their coach caught fire on the M4 - pity!), Captain Baldy Palmer and on-loan, McLeod. Forwards were Richard Pacquette and the veteran Paul Furlong who had wound up Danny Gabbidon with pre-match comments which almost guaranteed he was hardly seen during the game. As Gabbi later said, “he knows who I am now”.

Most significantly they were without Richard Langley, on his day, the best attacking outfield player in this division after his 2nd sending off of the season in their play-off semi vs Oldham. He scored the winner in the recent league encounter at Ninian Park. QPR were in form, having lost just one of their previous 14 games (and that to Champions Wigan) which saw them burst into the play-off frame. They are big, direct and physical and the pre-match feeling was that if City handled that side of things well, then it would be our day. In the event, it turned out to be the tightest game imaginable with nothing to choose between the teams. Tense wasn’t a strong enough term for how it all unfolded, nor was unbearably tense. It was worse than that.

As the teams prepared to kick-off, team mates shaking each other's hands and gestured to each other for good luck and half the crowd were doing it with each other too. Kids excited as anything, older ones still in a slight state of shock and awe taking at these sort of sights after decades of neglect at our great club. Our time had come at last.

Those roar at kick-off was ear splitting, the sights around the stadium simply inspiring, my emotions were all over the place and this was just the start but, most pleasing of all, City started well.

It was tight – tighter than a trumpeter’s bum cheeks as he hit “top C” note - it never flowed but Cardiff were playing the football and probing. QPR were hoofing and chancing their arms by being direct and hoping for something to happen. Chances however, like most recent City matches, were at an absolute minimum.

The first goalmouth action came in the second minute as Leggy tested the R’s with one of his long throws, they didn’t look comfortable and the ball fell towards Earnie but his snatched effort flew well over. Cardiff settled well, QPR looked more nervous, another Leggy throw was scrambled but when they got downfield for the first time, they won a free-kick which Neil Alexander smartly tipped over on the stretch.

That moment seemed to settle the “visitors”, the neat football, territory, possession and controlled football came from City but they were finding it very hard already to create in the final third and provide a decent service for Earnie and Thorne who were being well marshalled and shackled by Shittu and Carlisle. There was little, or no, quality in the final third and you had to feel a little sorry for Earnie seeing high balls coming his way against Shittu and Thorne getting a battering too.

QPR’s next break, on the quarter hour, saw Pacquette fire towards goal but it endangered City fans behind it rather than Alexander whose defence did him proud again as he had little to do throughout but what he did, including his kicks upfield, was excellent. Like several of his colleagues, he seems to have come of age in the past few weeks.

Rangers occasional half-chances only came from Cardiff mistakes rather than anything they carved out for themselves, emphasising how both teams were cancelling each other out. It was like watching a tactical chess game but the hearts were fully in mouths as Danny Gabbidon slipped with QPR pumping another long ball downfield. The otherwise cool, majestic Gabbi, who lead the way again at the back all afternoon, messed up his header and Furlong was clear but not composed enough to do anything more than lob well over the bar when he had the time and opportunity to have done so much better.

His lack of finesse – he is simply QPR’s version of Leo Fortune-West, isn’t he? – was shown again just a couple of minutes later when he took out Danny Gabbidon with a horribly crude late challenge as Gabbi played the ball away. Gabbi was prostrate and in obvious pain. Fury erupted from the City fans but the excellent referee, Howard Webb, who conducted City’s home play-off leg against Bristol City, booked him. Some may have opted for a straight red. Webb lets the game run, is unobtrusive and hardly made a decision anyone could disagree with.

Cardiff looked the better, more cultured team but as worrying as it was with the lack of opportunities and telling moments created, some had to arrive sooner or later and the team finished the half looking much the stronger and with some half chances giving more optimism.
Andy Legg, committed and, as usual, fighting for every ball and looking as good as anyone out there, a true credit to his fitness and professionalism at 36 years, brought everyone to their feet as he side-stepped Kelly and sent over a far post cross that Kavanagh couldn’t quite bring down. His header flew over the bar but it certainly lifted the City crowd who were fully playing their part with chants and encouragement throughout.

Another smart move and patient build up play gave Gareth Whalley a sight of goal but Shittu was alert enough to cover and deflect Whalley’s angled drive for a corner. And on half-time, Kav, the first Bluebird to be booked – a little harsh compared to similar unpunished challenges – hit a dipping volley that dipped wide too.

It was a hard 45 minutes, both defences soundly on top and midfields that having an even battle. Two very good teams doing the club and fans proud, differing styles with the better football from us but there was nothing whatsoever in it and plenty for the fans to talk about over their half-time pee. The queues were far too big to bother with food or drink, not that the stomach wanted to know it anyway.

Half-time: CITY 0 QPR 0

If the first half was City’s on points, the second half was undoubtedly shaded by QPR who made a strong impression from first whistle and they pushed to impose themselves more. It set doubts and questions running through all of our minds.

City came out, QPR stayed behind and kept them waiting and they were more urgent once it restarted. Their forwards seemed to suddenly be finding, or making, a few gaps and City looked a little more uncomfortable with Rangers long ball tactics as they appeared to push up a little quicker and with one or two more to support their basic, but worryingly effective, tactic.

Rangers kicked-off immediately going on the attack with Ian Holloway urging them on, an effort was blocked and then link up play of their own presented an opportunity to Gallen but his shot was straight at Alexander who took it like the highly competent handling keeper that he is.

Moments later, Donkey Furlong had a decent opportunity but while he produces moments to savour, he matches them with inadequacies too and did so again showing no composure at all in firing wildly into his own fans.

The most terrifying moment for City fans came on the hour as the game starting open with players finding more space in this rarified atmosphere, Kevin Gallen created room and was suddenly free on the edge of the area to unleash a dipping volley that narrowly cleared Alexander’s bar and produced the longest collective proclamation of “she-itttttttttttttt” I’ve ever heard from City fans and that was followed by “phew”, “jesus h christ”,****” and more as we were going through complete agonies and major trauma. Alexander probably had it covered – maybe - but it looked as if it was flying in for a while to me.

QPR fans were now up for it sensing their chance, City fans, to their immense credit, responded by lifting the team with chants for individual players and the team.

The going was tough for both teams. Pacquette, hardly in the game, was subbed for Andy Thompson, a striker many R’s fans would have preferred to start anyway. Palmer booked for clattering Spencer “Beckenbauer” Prior, Weston winning a challenge but suffering severe cramp that he couldn’t run off. Croft replaced him and, on the day, it strengthened City as Weston was not at his best and Croft’s experience seemed to be a little more telling, just as it was at Bristol City when Weston also limped away. Weston however is a player who will grow even more in Division One.

The match is starting to swing from end to end, the tenseness increasing by the moment as the whole stadium realised a single goal was going to decide this outcome or, even worse, penalties. Where City were starting to show stronger was in midfield, Kav and Willie Boland in particular standing out, both working like they never had before getting vital touches here, there and everywhere. Kav was shining, albeit in a withdrawn role tidying up and setting up moves from the back rather than an attacking midfielder which is where he can inflict most harm.

Earnie found a little room for once but his effort lacked the necessary force to seriously worry Day, The Skunk got booked and, then, with 15 minutes remaining, came what proved to be the most decisive moment of the game.

There was a double substitution. For QPR, Tommy Williams replaced Padula but for City, Andy Campbell replaced Little Earnie. The stadium big screens closed in on Earnie’s face, the totally unhappy look on his face said it all. QPR’s Captain Palmer and Shittu, the man who kept Earnie quiet, immediately did High 5’s and congratulated each other on the job done – very premature and extremely silly boys – even if, inside, City fans felt down too at that point. Earnie is our talisman and always capable of getting a chance from nothing, even when he’s not in games, it increased our worries.

The change was understandable in many ways but you have to give credit to Lennie for a choice that was brave. If City had lost and not gone up, there is no doubt that swap would have been seen as pivotal by all of us. We know past times when it hasn’t worked. There’s little doubt Lennie would have been slaughtered, it took a brave and experienced man to take that risk and it was exactly that, particularly with Campbell short on goals and lacking confidence with chances in his recent rare appearances.

From this point on, despite a couple more hairy moments, City gradually got on top again and finished the stronger side in normal time. More heart stopping moments came before the final whistle (after 3 minutes of added time) as City launched one last desperate attack and the mother of all goalmouth scrambles as Peter Thorne, who lead by example all afternoon, shot at goal to be denied by the flying Shittu and then again by Furlong, 40,000 penalty appeals were denied too.

Then it was QPR’s turn as Spencer Prior, a rock again, totally misheaded a back attempt to Alexander and as it came down, Thomson’s looped header attempt also looped over the bar cueing another frantic exit for those toilets. “Prior’s made his one mistake of the game and got away with it, we’ll be ok now”, says a desperate but reassuring voice which was a desperate claim and reassured nobody. Thorney had the last say meeting a Legg cross but nodding weakly down towards Day at his near post.

As if the 90 minutes hadn’t been fraught enough, we now had to brace ourselves for another 30, the agony and torture of it all, and what it meant, clearly etched on faces all around.

Full-Time (normal time) CITY 0 QPR 0

I don’t know about you but much of extra-time is a total blur to me. Cardiff were on top of it and the better team, almost throughout, and there were chances either way but the overwhelming feeling in me and most people around me was that the match wouldn’t produce a goal if they played all week. It seemed to be grinding slowly but surely towards penalties.

QPR decided on a team huddle as extra-time started, or maybe they were becoming more tired and needed to prop each other up. City’s players shook hands again and so did we. More handshakes than the Masons.

Spencer Prior “who won’t make another mistake” quickly made a couple more but not as bad and got away with those too. He has been superb for City when it mattered though and finally found his best football, no coincidence it happened with Gabbidon back.

It was City making an impression and most of it was through Andy Campbell. Earnie was only getting high balls with defenders behind him but Campbell’s fresh legs and running, better passing and QPR tiring suddenly saw some success with low balls to chase onto or over the top.

Two minutes into extra-time, Campbell had his first opening latching onto a Whalley pass and bearing down on goal with more than half the ground behind him screaming frantically, Carlisle frantic last second challenge and escape echoing the pants team that bears his name in Division Three.

A couple of minutes later, Campbell’s pace and headless chicken-type unpredictability clearing causing problems, charged forward again but Whalley couldn’t make the most of his inside pass and another chance went by.

QPR next got forward but Carlisle, on a rare run over halfway, nodded wide running to meet a far post cross before City’s best chance came as Leggy won a free-kick, Kav swung it in perfectly as Spencer Prior at the near post produced a textbook downward close range header only to be denied by a stunning Day reflex save that had us all with our heads in our hands, City’s in disbelief, QPR’s in total relief.

Extra-time 1st period: CITY 0 QPR 0

City kicked-off the second period of extra-time kicking towards us in the South Stands and willing them on although many of us were now inwardly preparing ourselves for penalties. The minus was that Neil Alexander has never saved any penalty against City and only once gone the right way, the plus was the only team we’ve ever beaten in a penalty shoot out was QPR. The prayers were starting, the atheists praying as much as anyone else!

There were three moments of drama, each had blood pressures boiling over for different reasons. The first was when QPR’s left back went on a somewhat fortunate but dazzling 80 yard run that took him from the touchline near his area right into City’s. He past a couple of City players with lucky deflections but suddenly, it all opened up with Furlong waiting across goal but he lost his composure, went for glory and showed the shot off a defender as he put into the side netting not making Alexander break sweat but the rest off the City crowd had it rolling down our faces.

Next it was City’s turn as Campbell on another mazy run mistimed his angled shot and only troubled the side netting too then a great chance as Thorne, trying to burst through, was brought down on the right edge of the area. Kav and Leggy lined it up, Leggy went for it but his wicked curler flew just over although Day seemed to have it covered.

And then came the moment that changed the course of City’s history and future. The stadium clocked read 5:30pm – two and a half hours after the official start of this nerve wracking, head spinning, bone shaking, gut wrenching match of the highest tension possible – as Gareth Whalley on halfway next to the left touchline having a quiet match tried to ball a ball down the line. Carlisle intercepted and tried a ball over the top but while his brain may be the most intelligent, his legs deserted him and he miskicked straight back at Whalley.

Whalley can pick a pass and never found one more important than the one he now hit over Rangers defence, Campbell turned, Rangers and Shittu hesitated and Campbell was on the chase and in front with 40,000 on their feet in anticipation.

It all seemed in slow motion because, effectively it was, Shittu’s legs weren’t quick enough and tired to catch Campbell – not would Roadrunner though – and he was bearing down on goal with the ball bouncing in front of him. CAMPBELL is not known for his coolness in front of goal but must have been the coolest in the stadium and he chased on, allowing the ball to bounce not once but twice in front of him, before hitting a 20 yard lob as Day raced out to close him down.

The ball seemed to stay in the air forever, then an eternity to drop but when it did, it cleared over the helpless Day as it passed over and across him then dropped into his furthest corner into the back of the net to start the biggest mass orgy Cardiff has ever seen.

City fans were uncontrollable and inconsolable. Not through the desolation we’ve known for the last 20 years but through sheer joy and ecstasy, this was like nothing we’d ever known or experienced before and just cannot be described in words. The bouncing up and down was the type of pogoing I’d not managed since punk hit its heyday was I was kid, 40,000 doing it must have lowered the height of the ground by about 3 inches and sent a mini tidal wave down the Taff and washing over Bristol (if only!). Time to hug complete strangers, and friends, and family and the crowd in the next block. I was so ecstatic that I didn’t even see Campbell’s celebration running to the touchline banging his hand under his chin (why?) to be mobbed by the other players and the subs too.

There were still 7 minutes remaining and everyone, not least the players, needed to remain clam but how could you? It was complete bedlam and mayhem on the pitch and in the stands. Lennie made a change with Bonner on for Leggy, it was so mad that some hadn’t even noticed at first.

City fans were singing the team home, every touch cheered, every time the ball hit downfield cheered even more and every time it was smacked into the stands, it was greeted with the rapture normally associated with a goal. QPR pressed but looked a team who didn’t believe and weren’t going to get back, City players hadn’t stopped working and were now going in twice as quick, twice as hard. When Campbell was booked for kicking the ball away, the cheer was almost as loud as it was for his goal.

More agony as extra-time elapsed and more injury time was found. The noise was louder than Concorde, the whistles from the crowd for the ref to blow pierced and then finally, it went. It was disbelief and joy, it was tears and laughs, some looked exhausted, some feel to their knees, others just hugged each other, others didn’t know what to do – and that was in the stands. On the pitch, it was just as mental. Subs and management charged on, non-players like Ainsworth and Leo in suits were rolling about, some went to QPR players to try to console them but it’s not possible to do that.

And then we were seeing scenes that I’ve seen all my life on telly, things that just don’t happen to Cardiff City.

A podium erected, a cup on it and Cardiff City going to collect it. Each player shook hands with the dignitaries, Kav was last, lifted the cup in the air and a huge display of firework flashes and bangs. Then on comes one of the cheesiest rock songs of all time, Status Quo’s Rocking All Over The World but did we love it or what?

All singing along, all bouncing, clapping and most of us still in tears, some on floods of them. Others still clearly in shock, “this is not the Cardiff City I know anymore” said one, “we always mess it up on occasions like this”.

The names Alexander, Weston, Gabbidon, Prior, Barker, Boland, Kavanagh, Whalley, Legg, Earnshaw, Thorne, Bonner and, most of all, CAMPBELL will enter Cardiff City folklore and we’ll forget all about the indifferent personal and team performances we saw in the previous 9 months in the years to come. Andy Campbell will never need to pay for another drink in South Wales for the rest of his life.

And that’s exactly as it should be …. Cardiff City fans have waited for far too long for something like this and now it’s arrived, we certainly appreciate it and we’re certainly going to enjoy it.

We were still in the stadium 45 minutes after final whistle, QPR’s sections had emptied, bar the odd few here and there, exactly 45 minutes before that … they were probably near Bristol when we finally departed! Players danced, celebrated, posed for pictures, the cheesy singalong music continued, none more hair raising than another rousing rendition of Men of Harlech, twice as loud as before the game.

I walked the streets of the City Centre for half hour afterwards, most pubs stayed shut for a while and those open were mainly for regulars. People openly laughed and greeted each other, small pockets of QPR fans were sympathised with … before being wished good luck on their visit to Rushden next season!

Now it was time to party, savour and enjoy and we were up for it. The City Arms played anthem after anthem on its jukebox and Andy Campbell was serenaded and toasted many times with;
Andy Campbell’s Magic
He borrowed Thorney’s Hat
When Whalley knocked it over the top
He said, “I fancy that”

Talk was about how much we’ll miss the LDV Trophy (not) and who would we like to play next January when we automatically enter the F.A. Cup … in the Third Round. ‘Ello, Ello, Cardiff Are Back was sung louder and louder as was West Ham, Here We Come. Someone always spoils the party though and remind us we now had to play Millwall, Rotherham and Gillingham too. Sheffield United fans arriving early for their next day play-off final congratulated us for not having to play Sheffield Wednesday, now in Div 2.

And biggest star of all was a ginger haired kid who looked nothing like Andy Campbell but he had ginger … serenaded and back slapped and christened Andy Campbell. He seemed to spend hours walking around loving being saluted, never have gingers been so popular around town.

It was the most brilliant day of your life … and I bet it was the same for you too. Cardiff are finally back where a city of its size and surrounding population should be as a minimum and certainly where its adoring passionate fanbase deserve to be heard. It was the day we won back our respect in the footballing world and being perceived as a joke club for 2 decades … and, really, we were just that.

If someone told me 3 years ago after relegation and a playing squad in disarray on the pitch and so many woes off it too (remember Kumar blocking 101 things happening or the high farce of the Clive Sullivan takeover?) that 36 months later, I’d see City get 2 promotions, narrowly miss the play-offs one year but make it the next in front of 40,000 Bluebirds and the rest of South Wales taking an interest, sticking it up the Wurzels in a 2 legged semi-final and beating the (then) Premiership leaders in a FA Cup game, I’d have sought serious help for them. What a ride, what a time to be a City fan but I am sure no fan will appreciate it more than those who were always there. Thank you Sam, thank you City.

Enjoy your summer, The Blues Are Going Up –see you in DIVISION ONE!

External reports
South Wales Echo
The Western Mail
The Times
The Guardian