The second biggest win in our history?

Any City fan worth their salt has to know by now that it is forty years ago to the day since we beat Real Madrid 1-0 at Ninian Park in the first leg of a Quarter Final tie in the old European Cup Winners Cup so I thought I’d set out my recollections of a match which I have come to regard as being second only to our Cup Final win in terms of achievement in our history.

It needs to be said though that, as a fifteen year old who was too young to experience Real Madrid’s domination of the early years of the European Cup, that I didn’t fully grasp how big the game was beforehand. My immediate reaction on hearing the final whistle on the night was that the match had not been a patch on the 4-0 win over promotion rivals Carlisle United four days earlier that had taken us to the top of the table courtesy of Alan Warboys’ quartet of first half goals. Rather as it is now, promotion to the top flight was the overriding priority for me with cup competitions coming a distinct second, but, I would like to talk about a couple of things which I now believe encapsulate why 10 March 1971 is one of the greatest days that Cardiff City Football Club has experienced.

On the day of the match, I can remember visiting one of my friend’s older relatives – he must have been in his sixties at the time and, as a City fan, his footballing memories went back to the 1927 Final and beyond. He was of the opinion that the Real Madrid team of the late fifties and early sixties was the best side he had seen in his lifetime and, as someone who had seen so many of the biggest stars and teams of the past fifty years perform at Ninian Park, was really enthusiastic about the game to be played a few hours later.

Don Murray and Leighton Phillips look on as a first half attack by Real Madrid ends with a shot over the bar.

Around twenty years after the game had been played I was talking to one of my bosses in the Patent Office in Newport who I knew was a football fan and happened to mention that I had recently bought a video recording of the BBC’s coverage of Real Madrid’s famous 7-3 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt in the Final of the 1960 European Cup Final at Hampden Park. He was a Scot who was about ten to fifteen years older than me and I was a bit taken aback when he virtually started begging me to lend the tape to him until he explained that he had been in the crowd of 135,000 that day and had never had the chance to confirm whether Real Madrid had really been as amazing as he thought they had been. When he gave me the tape back a couple of days later he told me that he had been wrong, Real were even better than he remembered and were definitely the best team he had seen – the fact that this man became a big fan of Sam Hammam’s Wimbledon when he moved to London in the 80’s has to represent one of the biggest examples of the adage “from the sublime to the ridiculous” there has ever been!

I think those two incidents confirm that older supporters were able to appreciate what we had done even if some of us youngsters didn’t really do so at the time (I can also remember my father, who had virtually stopped going to games in those days, was insistent beforehand that this was one game that he had to go to and that he seemed a lot more upbeat after that match than he usually was after watching us play). Similarly, younger City fans who only know the Real Madrid teams of the past twenty years or so, must look at the fact that we managed to beat them in a competitive match with a sense of bewilderment, but I would say that, if there was a good time to play the Spanish giants, then this was probably it because, by the standards of that club, this was not a great Real Madrid team.

City come so close to increasing their lead in the second half as Brian Clark searches for a second goal.

It’s not a great comparison, but I would say that the game was the equivalent of the current City team taking on the present day Juventus team and beating them. In saying that, even though they are, arguably the biggest club in Italy, Juve do not have the reputation as a club that Real do and, for me, they are not as strong a team now as the 1971 Real side were. Real had slipped as low as sixth in the league during the 70/71 season, but had climbed back up to third by the time they came to South Wales and in the likes of Pirri, Zoco and Amancio had players who the term world class could be applied to – they were certainly no mugs, as can be gauged by the fact that they eventually made it through to the Final of the competition where they were beaten by Chelsea in a replay.

As for the game itself, much of it is blur now – certainly being in a 40,000 plus crowd was not something too out of the ordinary back then (a year after the match was played, I had seen City play in six games, five of them being at Ninian Park, that had 40,000+ gates). What I can remember is watching Don Murray come very close to putting us 2-0 up virtually right in front of me in the second half (I was stood against the barrier between the old boy’s enclosure and the rest of the Grange End), that Ian Gibson was excellent (nothing new there then!) and getting a real impression that the fussy Belgian referee (Loreaux?) didn’t help the flow of the game at all because of his habit of whistling for the most trivial of offences (television pictures I have seen of the game back me up there – his booking of Peter King, who had an exemplary disciplinary record, was ridiculous).

I can, however, remember the thirty second minute goal as if it was yesterday. In particular, I can recall the expectant hum that rose in volume from when Bobby Woodruff played his fine pass down Real Madrid’s right to when Nigel Rees burst past those two defenders and then exploded into into a crescendo of noise which effected the television coverage at the time as Brian Clark’s header hit the net. I would go as far to say that, although it may not have seemed so at the time, it was a life changing moment for the modest Clarky – from then on he was the man whose goal beat the mighty Real Madrid.

Even though this was, arguably, the best City team I have seen, I think there was a general expectation that Real would experience few difficulties in overturning the deficit in the Bernabeu a fortnight later, but City held on to their lead until well into the second half before conceding  twice in three minutes. Although the excitable Alan Williams in his radio commentary had me thinking we had been so unlucky because of his habit of screaming things like “Cardiff have a shot and it’s there” before adding “great save by the keeper” or something similar at regular intervals throughout the game, the truth is that, having now watched the whole ninety minutes, we never came that close to getting what would have been a  precious away goal.

This shouldn’t detract though from what that Cardiff City team achieved forty years ago when they took on and beat what is, arguably, the most famous club team in the world. It has to be the biggest “I was there” moment I have experienced as a City fan – so far!

10 March 1971

Cardiff City 1 Real Madrid 0

City Eadie; Carver, Murray, Phillips, Bell; King, Sutton, Gibson, Rees; Woodruff, Clark (1); Sub (not used) Morgan

Real Borja; Zunzunegui, Benito, Grande, Sanchis (De Filipe); Grosso (Fleitas), Zoco, Perez, Pirri; Amancio, Velazquez

HT 1-0

Att. 47,500


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