Adventures in Football #24: Cardiff City Stadium (Wales)
September 8, 2021
WALES vs. ESTONIA (World Cup Qualifier)
After I’d managed to persuade a Welshman to furnish me with the super secret link to buy tickets, I was on my way to the Welsh national stadium. Which is also the stadium of Cardiff City, thus knocking off two birds with one stone and lessening my 92 Club number by one. Normally I do a history of the associated club to kick things off but this isn’t a Cardiff game so I’m torn. Let’s start with Cardiff, who until 2009 played at Ninian Park. The land was sold to housing developers and it was knocked down sadly. It’s right next door to where the new Cardiff stadium is though so you can visit the housing estate and see where the centre circle used to be*.
*I completely forgot to do this due to beer.
Wales on the other hand are somewhat nomadic compared to a lot of other national sides. The Welsh national stadium has been wherever Wales happened to be playing. They’ve played at Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham before. In the late 80s Cardiff starting using Cardiff Arms Park, home to Welsh national rugby. When the RFU moved to the Millennium/Principality Stadium (see below) in 2000 the football team followed. If Wales do have a major game it still takes place at the Millennium Stadium but due to poor attendances during past qualifying campaigns Wales now play at Cardiff’s smaller stadium.
In 12 years Cardiff’s new stadium has hosted 39 Welsh Internationals, which puts it behind only Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground and the demolished Ninian Park for total Internationals held there. I’ve been to one International game before this; Italy vs. Czech Republic at Euro ‘96. I’ve always found England fans to be off-putting and I have no real interest in going to Wembley if it’s full of England supporters.
Seeing as I’m not driving I didn’t get to experience the parking situation but the ground is still in use as a COVID-19 testing centre so parking is limited and costs £10 on a first come, first served basis. I hit up the train to Hereford after finishing my last write up (it’s just a never ending rollercoaster lads) and it takes about an hour. It’s hot so I’m wearing shorts but the train is empty and cold from them blasting out the AC. After Worcester, and especially after Malvern, there’s basically no one on the train. I take a peep outside at Hereford but the station is near nothing so I head back inside. There’s a ticket barrier at Hereford, in case you were wondering. There was also one at Cardiff despite it being game day.
The next train is coming down from Manchester and is full of people from North Wales. It was like stepping into a club. There’s only two coaches and it’s roasting on this train. It’s packed full of Wales fans. There’s a lot of beer being drunk and the lads are in good voice. I overheard one say it was a six hour journey for them. Travelling on a train full of fans is a great way to learn some chants, I’ll say that much. My favourite is “Viva Gareth Bale! Viva Gareth Bale! He said he had a bad back, fuck the Union Jack, viva Gareth Bale!” When it’s sung at him later he gives the crowd a thumbs up.
The train had a terrific feeling of community to it. When a little old lady went to get off in Abergavenny one of the lads helped her off with her bag. Shame he gave her the wrong one! One of the other passengers had to leg it after her. Everyone had a jolly good laugh about it and went back to drinking Captain Morgan out of red cups and doing karaoke to Stereophonics. The hour flew by, which is a good job because I finished my book somewhere around Ledbury (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, at no point does anyone yell “IT’S ALIVE”).
After getting off the train I’m met by Wabz and Alex, my friends from Cardiff. Well, one is Scottish and the other is Canadian. It’s a shame my wife couldn’t come along then we’d have been four different nationalities going to an International game where none of us had a country represented. As I did point out I’m partially Welsh and claiming that I’m Welsh enough to play for the country under FIFA rules so I’m Welsh enough to support them. We head to the nearest Spoons to get a mixed grill. Seeing as it’s the only thing I eat all day it’s needed. It’s busy in the Prince of Wales and for a Wetherspoons the service is quite slow. I don’t blame them. There’s 20,000 people in town.
We have a few drinks and get an Uber back to Wabz’s flat to drop off bags and shit. It’s a top floor flat and luckily my knees make it up the three flights of stairs. I’m met by an adorable cat who takes an instant liking to me. Apart from scratching my hand while I was asleep, we had a nice time chilling out together.
After hitting another Uber back to the stadium we headed in. This was Alex’s first football game, ever. In the back of my head, I was thinking…it’s going to be 0-0. Wabz hasn’t been to a game in years. Not since he was in school so, again, it’s going to 0-0.
We get to our seats and I’ve nailed the location on them. Row seven, just about under the roof, and a sensational view. Alex is jazzed claiming she’s never had seats this good for anything. Her infectious smile in the build-up is worth the extra fiver for each ticket to get this close. Another key occurrence, which should sell even the coldest of hearts on International football, is the Welsh national anthem. There’s no music playing, the crowd just bang it out themselves and holy shit, it’s spine-tingling.
As I’m looking around I notice Vincent Tan has caved in and all the seats are now painted blue. The top deck on the main (Ninian) stand was originally red…because he doesn’t understand the objections to changing a team’s colours. Imagine Goodison or the Etihad having red seats up the top? Or Fratton Park? The stadium is sizeable and it’s almost full, barring a huge empty space where the away fans would have been. The attendance is 21,624, which I think is the biggest crowd I’ve been in this season.
It’s a nice stadium with a good concourse that was easy to navigate and sensational line of sight inside the ground. The floodlights are excellent, incorporated into the roof of the stand. The legroom is good. I like the design of the stadium, with the corners being used effectively. Not all modern stadiums are boring and a lot of them are excellent structures, replacing dilapidated old grounds. I do love an old ground, I’m not going to lie here, but this is a good new build.
The patriotism of Welsh fans is very clear to see and it’s not just banging out the anthem like they do. You see red everywhere. On all four sides it was just a sea of red. I felt bad for forgetting to bring my London Jets shirt, which is the only article of red clothing I own. You can see from the photo what an enormous percentage of the fans were wearing red. You love to see it.
Onto the game and Wales start brightly but Estonia set their stall out to defend and following an unfortunate injury to Harry Wilson the Welsh lads limp into half time at 0-0. The fans doing their best to both cheer them on and show their sense of humour with a self-depreciating series of chants. “We know what are, we know what we are, sheep shagging bastards, we know what we are”.
The second half is only minutes old when a photo of Gary Speed appears and the entire crowd rises to applaud him on what would have been his 52nd birthday. Speed is the man who put Wales on the right path. Without his switch of gears in 2010, would Wales have the success they’ve had over the past decade? It’s beautifully observed and I have a soft spot for Speed and happily chant his name along with the masses.
I was hoping to get a mark pic of Gareth Bale. Sorry, but he’s so far ahead of the rest of the team at the moment. I know they’ve been weakened by injuries and Covid but he drove the team forward. Anytime he found room to turn in the middle he was charging at the back line and causing problems. None of the other Wales players had that same energy. The likes of Joe Allen and Johnny Williams just weren’t positive enough against a very poor Estonia team that will certainly finish bottom of this group. As the bloke behind me so eloquently put it “these are shit, come on!”
Wales couldn’t even blame the elements as the promised storm never arrived, well until the next day, and Wales carved Estonia open repeatedly when they did attack them. At one point Williams was down in the box and managed to block a shot on the Estonia goal. Tyler Roberts 100% should have scored when clean through on goal and Bale was unlucky to be denied by the post late on. So, it ended up 0-0. Bad luck all round in terms of not getting the result we wanted, nor the thrill of celebrating a goal in that throng of Welsh madness.
The joy of not having to rush off somewhere after the game was palpable. I love the idea of watching a game and staying out for a few bevvies afterwards so we stayed in the Queens Vaults until it closed and then smashed our way through a ten deck of Fosters in Wabz’s flat. I woke up feeling suitably rough and thank god Alex offered me a coffee. I think I might still be half asleep on the sofa otherwise. I still had a journey home ahead of me and that was less fantastic than the late night of boozing before.
I headed out in a break in the rain and it ended up being a very short break. It fucking pissed it down. You’ve not been properly rained on until you’ve been rained on in Wales. I got fucking drenched. This is despite having an umbrella. It was horrible. It’s a shame because it was a nice walk. Shout out to the lunatics in Pontcanna Fields doing yoga in torrential rain. I guess if you delayed doing stuff until it stopped raining in Wales you’d never get anything done!
In conclusion, I had a great day in Wales although that was probably more due to meeting friends I’d not seen in a while and sinking a bunch of pints than the actual football game. Which goes to show, you don’t need a reason to see your friends. We’re back open now, go and visit someone! As long as they’re not some anti-vax weirdo. Have a bash at singing the Welsh anthem together, 20,000 people singing it together is pretty sick. Imagine how good it’ll be with your mates in a pub beer garden?