On 1 May 1962, Cardiff City drew 2-2 at Aston Villa. It was the last fixture of the season for City and marked the end of a two year stay in the top flight for a club who had spent fifteen out of their thirty six seasons as a Football League club in what was then called Division 1. With a record like that, hopes must have been high at the time that City could make a pretty quick return to the domestic game’s highest tier, but the embarrassing truth is that whichever one of our players got the final touch on the ball that day, he is the last one to have done so for us at that level, because it is now half a century since we last played there.
This is my first post in this section for some time and it won’t be in the format I have used for all of the other entries in this category because, just like the large majority of the 20,000 plus who will be there supporting our latest attempt to reach the Premiership on Thursday night, I wasn’t supporting the club at the time. Therefore, there won’t be any memories of incidents during the game or of any of the players involved – I also won’t be getting on my soapbox in an attempt to justify my oft repeated claim that we are the biggest under achievers in the Football League!
No, what I want to try and do is possibly come up with a reason why a club that had spent more seasons in the First Division than it had done in Division Two or Division Three up until 1962 have not been back there since then. Thinking about it, I believe that a big factor in our decline over the past fifty years is that those in charge of the club have never been able to solve the conundrum that has seen us, traditionally, pay big wages to attract players and yet also eager, sometimes desperate, to sell on our best players to the first club that puts in a half decent bid for them.
Cardiff City have always had a reputation for paying above average salaries and, speaking as someone who is just about old enough to remember how long car trips to places like Bristol and London took before the M4 link between London and Wales was completed in 1966, I can understand why this should have been in pre motorway days – rightly or wrongly, Cardiff was considered to be “out in the sticks” and I can imagine players from that era agreeing to a move to Cardiff only if they had no other option.
However, things have changed a lot since those days and yet it would appear that Cardiff City are still big payers. To give a couple of fairly recent examples, I am currently researching the 1995/96 season as part of a project I’m working on with a couple of friends and I’ve been reading about our Chairman at that time, Samesh Kumar, talking about the need to reduce the wage bill – Kumar said that the club were losing £7,000 a week and that the immediate target had to be to more than halve that figure by cutting back on wages. Of course, a loss of £7 k a week would be a godsend to the club nowadays, but it was a significant figure in those days when the Ninian Park crowd dipped as low as under the 2,000 mark occasionally, what it really emphasises though is what a different club Cardiff City became when Sam Hammam arrived in 2000.
Now, I don’t want to debate the pro and cons of our former owner at this time, but one thing he did do was take us into territory where we became out of the financial reach of the sort of well meaning local businessmen that you used to see making up the Board’s of clubs when I was younger. Although I’ve lost the piece now, I’ll never forget reading an article in a national newspaper which stated that there were only two clubs in the seventy two which make up the Football League with a higher wage bill than ours in our 2002/03 promotion season and they were both sides who had just been relegated from the Premiership!
It’s simple economics, but when you are paying big wages and the club does not attract the gates or get to the status where such losses through a large wage bill can be covered by television money etc, then something has to give and at Cardiff this has meant that good sides have had to be broken up because we have to sell (quite often for less than the player concerned is really worth).
I must say though that there have been times when you couldn’t help but think that we have been too eager to sell. Nathan Blake, for one, is a good example of this, but the one that supporters of a certain age will never forget is John Toshack – it shouldn’t be forgotten either that the Dewey’s (the Dewey Brothers were City’s biggest shareholders at the time) accepted a bid of £70,000 from Fulham for the player more than a year before he left only, for Tosh to opt to stay with us.
I would argue that City have been following a flawed policy for decades. Although the situation has improved in the last fifteen years or so, there has not been enough spent on youth development and my mind goes back to the late sixties and most of the seventies when Bristol Rovers had a flourishing South Wales scouting system which saw many players who could have done just as good a job as some of our expensive imports did for a fraction of the cost, heading off to play on the other side of the Bristol Channel – players such as David Williams, Wayne Jones, Frankie Prince and Tony Pulis accumulated over a thousands matches for the Gas between them and yet all of them were born in or close to Cardiff.
Mention of Messrs Kumar and Hammam brings me on to my final point – people like Steve Borley are, sadly, the exception because, him and three or four others apart, there have been no locally born people in business, entertainment or sport with serious financial clout who have been prepared to invest seriously in the club. Bob Grogan, Sam Hammam and now the Malaysian investors have all been prepared to take a chance on the club (I’m pretty sure Rick Wright was not from this area originally as well), but locals with the resources to have made a serious difference to how the club has operated over the past fifty years have, in the main, chosen to steer clear of it.
To finish on an optimistic note, although it’s taking an awful long time, I truly believe that we are going to return to the top flight in the next few years. Being honest, I can’t see it being this season, but we’ve now got people running the club who seem to be looking at the long term as opposed to what needs to be done to make it through the next six months, while I also think our manager has laid a solid foundation from which we can take things on next season and the one after that – with a bit of luck our run of years without experiencing top level football will end before it reaches fifty five.
1 May 1962
Aston Villa 2 Cardiff City 2
City Vearnecombe, Harrington, Milne, Hole, Rankmore, Baker, Tapscott, Durban, M Charles (1), Ward (1), Pickrell