It’s been a while since I did a top ten, so, rather than write about some obscure basement battle with Doncaster Rovers from twenty years ago, I thought I’d do another one on the best Cardiff City debuts since 1963. My original intention was to restrict it to matches that |I was actually at, but, as this would not have included my number one (which, for me, has to be in any list of best City debuts), I decided to expand it to any game played over the past forty eight years – as it is, I make it that I was there for six of the ten matches featured.
One other thing before starting, it’s a very subjective list and, to be honest, I’m not sure some of them should really be as high as they are (e.g. the one I place at number two), but, in some cases, I’ve gone for the impact they had on me as an individual rather than what it did for the club, the player etc.
10. 7 October 1989 – Cohen Griffith (Huddersfield Town 2 Cardiff City 3)
At the time we signed him, I would guess that the only knowledge City fans had of Griffith was because of his outstanding solo goal for Kettering Town in an FA Cup tie when he beat about five players in a run from halfway. The goal he scored at Huddersfield twenty minutes into his debut was a fine effort, but not quite in that class and was a great way for someone who became a popular and effective servant of the club to introduce himself to his new team and their supporters. Griffith’s goal, along with two more from Chris Pike, was enough to give City the win as manager Len Ashurst rebuilt the side with the cash raised by the sale of Jimmy Gilligan to Portsmouth with £65,000 being spent on Griffith, £25,000 on midfielder Leigh Barnard, who made his debut in the same game, and £15,000 on Jeff Chandler who signed shortly afterwards – the less said about him the better!
9. 11 September 1982 – Billy Woof (Cardiff City 3 Wigan Athletic 2)
There’s two minutes left in your first match for your new club and the game is level at 2-2. All of a sudden, the ball is loose in front of goal and you hammer it in for the matchwinner – it’s the stuff of players who become club legends! In a way, Billy Woof, a former Middlesbrough striker on trial at Cardiff, is a City legend, but only because of his weird surname and the fact that he had a bust up with the manager a few days later and never played for us again! So, what sort of player did we miss out on because of Len Ashurt’s quick temper – well, a not very good one if this is to be believed (see number 11 in the list).
8. 13 November 1965 – John Toshack (Cardiff City 3 Leyton Orient 1)
If I was there to see it (and I don’t think I was), I’ve long since forgotten about this game and the goal that a sixteen year old John Toshack scored after coming off the bench for his first ever appearance for his home town club. However, I thought I should include someone who has had such a huge impact on the game over the past forty five years or so. I’m not sure that anyone who can actually remember any details from Toshack’s first match will have thought they were watching someone who would win so many trophies as a player and a manager in the next four decades either. However, the fact he scored two more in his first league start (a 4-3 win at Middlesbrough) a week later must have got people thinking that City had unearthed someone a bit special and the shadow cast by his controversial departure was a very long one indeed.
7. 14 January 2006 – Steve Thompson (Cardiff City 3 Burnley 0)
If Thommo’s first goal on his debut, as he profited from a fumble by keeper Brian Jensen, was nothing special, his second a couple of minutes later certainly was as he showed the sort of quick feet not normally associated with the type of player he is, to instantly control the ball and then smash it in from around fifteen yards out. I’ll never forget the brilliant piece of skill he produced against Birmingham in front of a full house at Ninian Park as he flicked the ball over Matthew Sadler’s head and was off away from him before the full back had a clue what was going on either – okay, he didn’t score enough goals, but I don’t think we’ve ever really replaced Thommo and Cardiff City is certainly a duller club without him!
6. 3 February 1968 – Brian Clark (Derby County 3 Cardiff City 4)
£8,000 wasn’t much to spend on a player even back in the late sixties and when Huddersfield Town accepted City’s bid to allow Brian Clark to move to a club much nearer his native Bristol, we ended up getting one of our best bargain signings ever. A couple of goals on his debut on the mudheap that was Derby’s old Baseball Ground pitch was an early sign of what he had to offer and a goal on his first home appearance a week later, against Preston, offered further proof that Jimmy Scoular had found the final piece in the jigsaw which transformed us from strugglers into one of the best sides in the old Second Division.
5. 9 January 1993 – Kevin Ratcliffe (Carlisle United 1 Cardiff City 2)
With just two goals to show from nearly three hundred and fifty league games for Everton, Eddie May was hardly bringing the veteran centreback to Cardiff for his goal scoring pedigree when he signed him in January 1993 on wages far above what you would expect from a basement club. However, with City level at 1-1 at Brunton Park, Carlisle in his first game, Ratcliffe ran on to a corner to power an unstoppable header into the net to give the team only their third away win of the season up until then. Although Ratcliffe was not to repeat his goalscoring heroics during his short time at Cardiff, he did give the team the defensive poise and organisation it needed to ensure that an expensively put together squad won the Championship that year (as well as the Welsh Cup) - I always say Danny Gabbidon is the best defender I have seen play for us, but Kevin Ratcliffe in his prime was twice the player Danny was at Cardiff.
4. 21 August 2010 – Craig Bellamy (Cardiff City 4 Doncaster Rovers 0)
If this list was for the most hyped Cardiff City debuts, then I’d say this would just edge out Robbie Fowler’s. Craig Bellamy’s stay at Cardiff hasn’t exactly seen them sweeping all challengers aside like many hoped they would, but it has to be said that, unlike Fowler, he measured up to all the pre-publicity on his first City start. After a quiet opening half an hour or so, Bellamy created our first and third goals, picked up a trademark booking for dissent and then brought the house down late on with a free kick hit from fully thirty five yards out – thinking about it, apart from John Buchanan’s against the jacks, I’m struggling to think of a goal we have scored with a shot from a free kick further out than that one.
3. October 31 1975 – Adrian Alston (Cardiff City 4 Chesterfield 3)
Before West Germany played Australia in the 1974 World Cup, their coach Helmut Schoen said “We have nothing to fear from Australia…apart from Adrian Alston” and there were times during Alston’s spell with us when you could see exactly what he meant! One such occasion was Alston’s first game for us after he signed from Luton for £25,000 when he lit up a Halloween night game with a couple of first half goals as City played some superb stuff to go into the break 3-1 up. Okay, there was an edgy second half to be endured before the points were secured as Alston faded out of the game (as he was wont to do), but he transformed a side that had been bumping along close to the bottom following it’s relegation from the Second Division the previous season into eventual runners up in 1975/76 with his tap in at Bury being the goal that took us up.
2. 9 August 2005 – Jason Koumas (Cardiff City 2 Leeds United 1)
City fans had been put through the wringer in 2005 as Black Friday was followed by the departure of most of our best players during the summer and new manager Dave Jones was mostly consigned to raiding the free transfer market as he tried to put together a competitive side for the new season. Darren Purse would provide leadership and quality at the back, but where was the attacking flair and where were the goals going to come from? The loan signing of the maverick that was Jason Koumas offered a possible answer to those questions, but he had been on “strike” against his West Brom manager Bryan Robson during 04/05 and, anyway, as the season kicked off, he needed more time yet to get fully fit. Nevertheless, Dave Jones thought City could do with Koumas’ services as they trailed 1-0 to Leeds well into the second half of the opening home game and, within three minutes of coming on, he had cut in from the right to deliver a tremendous left footed shot from twenty five yards which never rose more than a yard off the floor as it flew into the corner of Neil Sullivan’s net. Purse’s penalty completed the comeback and, all of a sudden, what had promised to be a slog against relegation turned into one of my favourite seasons of recent times.
1. 3 April 1968 – Richie Morgan (Cardiff City 1 Moscow Torpedo 0)
City had reached the Quarter Finals of the European Cup Winner’s Cup for the second time in 67/68 and had been paired with the Russian Cup holders Moscow Torpedo. In those pre-penalty shoot out days, 1-0 wins in their home matches for both sides meant that the tie would have to go to a third game, played at a neutral venue (Augsberg in West Germany), to be decided. It was thought that City had done well to prolong the tie against what was generally reckoned to be a far superior side, but their hopes had been dealt what looked to be a killer blow by the news that centre half Don Murray would miss the replay through injury. Into Murray’s place stepped Cardiff born Richie Morgan who, at 21, was making his City debut and what was a daunting situation for the youngster was made all the more so by the fact that he would be marking a convicted rapist! Although it appears that Eduard Stretsolv’s conviction was, possibly, politically motivated, that doesn’t alter the fact that Morgan did a superb job on the night (whatever else he was, Stretsolv was a very good footballer). Helped through the game by the shrewd Brian Harris alongside him, Morgan played a full part in keeping out the Moscow Torpedo attack as City clung on to the lead given to them by Norman Dean to clinch a place in the last four.
Morgan played one more game before the fit again Murray replaced him and he was only to make a total of eighty seven first team appearances during more than a decade of service to the club as a player (he later did a decent job as City manager as well before being, unfairly, sacked in 1982) – it’s almost certainly true to say that his career highlight at Cardiff came in his very first game for us.
Just to finish, I’ll list some of those who came close to being included in my top ten – Frank Parsons at Leicester (an amazingly good debut considering what a disastrous signing he was!), Jeff Eckhardt v Brighton (only goal of the game while playing in an unfamiliar striking position), Deon Burton and Richie Humphreys (a couple of goals each on their City debut) and Trevor Lee (a goal against the jacks in his first game).