Sunday’s game has captured the imagination of the South Wales public and, with Newcastle having sold all of their allocation of tickets, the only seats to be had in the Cardiff City Stadium are the ones that have been made available, at a price of £65, for the white elephant that is the Premium seating scheme. However, there was a time when a visit from the Geordies meant an awful lot less to your average punter in South Wales (and on Tyneside for that matter) – not many were prepared to pay 65p to watch a City v Newcastle match back in February 1981, let alone £65!
Just like now, there was a recession on in the early 80’s, but, unlike today, this was having a marked effect on the number of people going to football matches with average attendances falling to the lowest levels seen in the period since the end of the Second World War.
Cardiff City were feeling the pinch as much as anyone in the 80/81 campaign, but, as has always been the case with this club, people turn out to watch what they consider to be attractive opposition or “big” matches. Therefore, the recession did not stop a bumper crowd of 21,239 (more than twice the size of the next biggest gate seen at Ninian Park that season) turning up to watch the “Buchanan’s goal” game against Swansea on 27 December 1980.
Looking at our fixture list from that season now, it seems to me that, local rivalries apart, the three most attractive teams in the league at that time would have been Chelsea, West Ham and Newcastle, but when the Toon turned up less than two months after that game against the jacks, it seems that their army certainly didn’t and neither did 80% of those who saw that epic 3-3 draw with Swansea either!
Even by the standards of that season, a gate of just 4,235 was a very poor turn out (apart from when Cambridge United visited, it was the lowest crowd of the season). The fact that the game was played on a Wednesday night probably reduced the number of visiting supporters I suppose, but, younger supporters used to reading about Newcastle playing in front of 55,000 sell out crowds at St James’ Park may be surprised to learn that their average gate in 80/81 was just 16,001 (City, thanks to the boost of that excellent crowd against the jacks, managed an average of 6,767), with the visit of the ever popular Cambridge United seeing a seasons low of 10,987 present.
As for the game, I was in the midst of a run which saw me go from August 1969 until February 1982 and only miss one match at Ninian Park (against Preston on the opening day of the 78/79 season), so I know I was there to watch it, but, apart from a vague memory of it being a very cold night, I have no recollection whatsoever of it! I can tell you that City, who were fighting their usual battle against relegation from the old Second Division, won by 1-0 with a first half goal by Peter Kitchen against a Newcastle team which had a real problem finding the net that year (despite having two future England Internationals in their front two that night, their feeble total of thirty goals from their forty two league matches consigned them to an eleventh place finish in a twenty two team division).
As I say, I cannot remember any incidents from this game, but, considering who got the goal, I would be willing to bet that it came from a range of no more than ten yards and was definitely not a candidate for goal of the season! Peter Kitchen was one of those strikers who you barely noticed during games because he didn’t get too much involved in build up play, but, if there was a scramble and the ball broke loose about six yards out, then, invariably, Kitchen would be there to put it into the net. A goalscoring record that has seen Kitchen score 123 times in 317 appearances was what had persuaded City to pay Fulham £100,000 for his services six months earlier and, although he wasn’t quite able to match that rate in his two seasons with us, 21 goals from 67 appearances didn’t represent a bad return for what was big money by the club’s standards at that time.
Kitchen’s thirteen league goals that season made him comfortably our top scorer and when you consider that we only stayed up on goal difference after Swansea sealed promotion to the First Division with a win at Preston which sent them down instead of us, then it has to be said that it was his goals as much as anything which enabled us to cling on to our Second Division status for one more year.
25 February 1981
City 1 Newcastle 0
City Grotier; Jones, Pontin, Thomas, Gilbert; Grapes, Ronson, Buchanan, Lewis; Stevens, Kitchen (1); Sub (not used) Micallef
Newcastle Carr; Brownlie, Boam, Halliday, Davies; Cartwright, Wharton (sub Walker), Trewick, Johnson; Waddle, Harford
Att. a pathetic 4,235