Sunday, May 12, 2013


Year Of The Dragon

The Chinese Year of the Dragon ended on 9 February but no one seems to have told the world of football. For as this season approaches its climax it is clubs and players from Wales, traditionally associated with their dragons of their own who are pushing the envelope.
Cardiff City have just been crowned Champions of the Championship and look forward to Premier League football for the first time in their history. For those with long memories Cardiff were the first ‘foreign’ club in the 20th century to lift a trophy after they defeated Arsenal in the 1927 FA Cup Final at Wembley.
The last 40 years or so have been less glorious for the team from South Wales and they have flirted with life in the lowest tier of all but for the fans who stood on their famous old Bob Bank at Ninian Park through the dark years they can now look forward to hosting teams like Manchester United, not Oldham Athletic.
The season began controversially for Cardiff when the Malaysian owners decided to change the club colours from blue to red igniting an outcry from traditionalists for whom Cardiff should always be blue. The Malaysians though were eying the Asian market and felt red and a stronger association with dragons would play better with their target audience so tradition went out of the window.
Cardiff will join Swansea City in the Premier League and for the first time in the history of the Premier League a derby match will take place outside of England. They have of course met many times before but in lower divisions; a new generation of fans will be exposed to South Wales rivalry at its most intense.
Swansea City of course have plenty to crow about themselves having just lifted the Capitol One Cup (League Cup) for the first time in their history and they look forward to a year in the Europa Cup next season looking to showcase the silky skills of Michu and co.
Once upon a time there were four welsh clubs in the English league (the other is Wrexham) but that came to an end in 1988 when Newport County were relegated from the old Division Four (now known as League Two) only to go bankrupt a year later.
They reformed in 1989 and have spent the last 20 plus years working their way back up the non leagues that make up the English football pyramid.
By 2012 they were back on the brink of the big time. They reached the FA Trophy Final, non league football’s FA Cup Final, only to be beaten 2-0 by York City. Ahead of the next season it was announced a multi million pound lottery winner, Les Scadding, was to take over as chairman adding a fairytale element to Newport’s resurgence.
They finished third in the Conference, English football’s unofficial fifth division, and after overcoming Grimsby Town in a play off they met Wrexham in the Final at Wembley Stadium, the first time two Welsh teams had met at the famous venue..
It was to be an emotional afternoon in North London for County. Two goals right at the death by Christian Jolley and Aaron O’Connor finally broke the spell and almost 25 years in the football wilderness came to an end leaving the County fans in fine voice all the way back to South Wales.
While Wrexham, who were wearing red and sported a dragon as a nickname long before Cardiff’s Malaysian owners went down that route, may have missed out on a return to League Two which they left in 2008, they have in their own way been able to add to Wales’ glory filled few months. They defeated Grimsby Town on penalties in the FA Trophy Final and will look forward to next season in good shape under Andy Morrell.
The success hasn’t ended there with Welsh international Gareth Bale winning the PFA Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and the FWA Footballer of the Year.
A phenomenal year for Welsh football then and one never likely to be repeated.

SOURCE - originally printed in Jakarta Globe but not on line!

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