We decided to treat ourselves to a seat in the Grandstand for the Leeds FA Cup tie in 2002 and as I climbed the stairs to the exit at the end of the game, I looked at those City “fans” rushing across the pitch towards the Grange End (not the ones who were celebrating a famous victory around the centre circle – they weren’t doing anything wrong) and said “I see the idiots are going to ruin our day again then”.
I claim no credit or kudos for being proved right over the following week, but, in saying that, the media reaction to what had happened off the field as opposed to on it left me shocked and disappointed – yes, some of the supporters of the club had, predictably, misbehaved on the big day, but the media reaction was, in my view, out of all proportion with what had happened. I had expected the off field antics to be the subject of indignant media reporting for a day or, possibly, two with the newspaper stuff soon becoming that weeks chip shop wrapping but I was wrong – the moralising and criticism went on for a week and more.
Without wishing to sound too patronising about it, the way the red tops sense a story and then milk it for all it is worth meant that I suppose that there was always the possibility that the tabloids would have a field day, but the so called “quality” end of the market also got themselves heavily involved. In particular I remember this piece in the Guardian which, although making a fair point about the bad behavior not being limited to just supporters, contained some dreadful and false accusations about the meaning of the Ayatollah gesture. At least the hack concerned had the good grace to acknowledge his mistake but the nationals would not let the story go and so it was that when City played their first match after the Leeds game there were a gathering of journalists from the broadsheet media making, possibly, their first ever visit to Ninian Park – given what had happened the previous Sunday, their priority was hardly what happened out on the pitch!
That first game post Leeds was against Peterborough United and I’m afraid that the hacks saw little to get themselves worked up about in terms of crowd behavior and even less as far as City’s performance was concerned! Peterborough came to Ninian Park just above the relegation zone owners of a poor away record which had seen them lose eight of the thirteen matches played on opponent’s grounds. As for City, they were just in the top ten with a home record which had similarities with this season as too few matches were being won and it was a useful away record which was keeping them within just two points of a Play Off place.
Therefore, under ordinary circumstances, I would guess the game would be seen as not quite a home banker but one which City should win. The thing is though that what had happened six days earlier meant that these were hardly ordinary circumstances. For a start, sides which pull off FA Cup giant killing acts quite often suffer a reaction to their heroics when they next play and, to add to that, the club had been a major story for nearly a week with virtually none of that attention being focussed on the group of players who had played so fantastically well against Leeds.
Because of what happened off the pitch against Leeds, those who gained one of the club’s best ever results have tended not to receive the credit they deserved for beating the team which led the Premiership when the game was played. If the City team felt resentful about about this lack of recognition then I for one wouldn’t blame them and their cause wasn’t helped when the local sporting public showed their traditional indifference to the “bread and butter” league stuff as only 11,301 bothered to turn up to watch the conquerors of Leeds perform.
Whilst I suppose that some would have been put off by the crowd misbehavior six days earlier, that was still a very poor turn out – nearly half of those who had seen us beat Leeds now found something better to do with their Saturday afternoon and the gate was even three thousand down on the 14,000 plus gates for the previous two home league matches.
The feeling of anti climax was palpable on the terraces beforehand and so I can only guess that the players felt the same way – certainly their performance that afternoon strongly suggested this. For a while, Peterborough appeared intimidated by what they had been reading and hearing during the week and if City could have capitalised on the visitor’s early nerves, then the outcome would probably have been different. The passion and fire which did for Leeds was missing this time though and the match became a low key affair which had supporters deciding that reading “”tough times never last, tough people do” a pamphlet they had been given as they entered the ground which set out, at great length, Sam Hammam’s response to the events of the past week.
On the field, City were edging the game in terms of possession and chances but had to make a change when Spencer Prior limped off to be replaced by Rhys Weston and perhaps they were still reorganising themselves defensively when Leon McKenzie (who made a habit of scoring against City in those days) reached a cross before a slow reacting Neil Alexander to nod the visitors into the lead.
Things went from bad to worse early in the second half when hesitancy between Weston and Scott Young enabled the on loan Spurs striker Neale Fenn to run through and score easily. Against Leeds Leo Fortune-West had turned the game when he came off the bench and Alan Cork introduced him hoping for something similar – instead though we saw the other side of Leo as a clumsy aerial challenge left a Peterborough defender in a heap and he was lucky that referee Warren only deemed his offence worthy of a yellow card.
Given the amount of money spent in assembling the team, expectations were very high at this time amongst supporters and this often revealed itself in a lack of patience which saw them turn against the players pretty quickly. Therefore, you might have thought that the final whistle would have been greeted by a barrage of boos and abuse for what, it has to be said, was one of the worst City performances of that season – however, with this being the same set of players that had done everyone proud in their previous game, they left the pitch to virtual silence as the crowd shuffled miserably out of the ground.
Beating Leeds was probably Alan Cork’s best result in his managerial career and I am sure he would have thought he had greatly increased his job security that evening. However, with City bowing out of the Cup in the next round at Tranmere and the inconsistent league results continuing, a manager who was never popular with large sectors of the club’s support was soon under pressure again – so much so that when Wigan scored four unanswered goals from corners less than six weeks later to leave City in eleventh position, Sam Hammam reacted by sacking Cork and replacing him with the recently installed Director of Football Lennie Lawrence.
12 January 2002
Cardiff City 0 Peterborough United 2 (McKenzie, Fenn)
City Alexander; Gabbidon, Prior (Weston), Young, Legg; Boland (Low), Kavanagh, Bonner, Brayson; Gordon (Fortune-West), Earnshaw Subs (not used) Maxwell, Bowen
Peterborough Tyler; Joseph, Rea (Cullen), Edwards, Williams; Farrell (Hooper), Oldfield, Bullard, Toner; McKenzie (Clarke) 1, Fenn 1 Subs (not used) Forinton, Connor