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An exclusive extract from Aled Blake’s new book Bluebirds Reunited

An exclusive extract from Aled Blake’s new book Bluebirds Reunited

“It may be that footballers don’t realise, understand or even care about the impact they have on people’s lives.

Their mistakes, their moments of brilliance, their highs and lows, goals, tackles, misses and saves really do have tangible emotional effects on the people who get so tied up in the results of their team.

Some much more than others.

Natasha Murphy has taken her son Dylan Pugh to be a part of the celebration parade on one of the hottest days of 2018 so far, the week after promotion was won.

Her words tell so much about what supporting Cardiff City means for people – football at its most egalitarian is football at its best.

“Dylan is autistic and the only thing he cares about is Cardiff City,” she tells WalesOnline.

“For him to come here and experience it and see his idols is the best thing that could happen. He was two last time.”

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What it must mean to be able to provide such joy to someone you might not even know exists. It’s one of the many beautiful things about football.

At the parade, Dylan and thousands of others are turning the city into a giddy, blue carnival.

It’s the club’s second ever promotion to the Premier League, but this one feels different.

Even if the Bluebirds only spend one season in the top division, fans know they’ll enjoy it more than last time.

“One Neil Warnock, there’s only one Neil Warnock,” continues as the buses drive slowly along Castle Street.

The podium is ready. The crowd is wound up. Players and staff begin to step on.

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Someone climbs the traffic lights on Castle Street, holding a Welsh flag in blue, yellow and white.

A teenage girl watching the big screen from someone’s sunburned shoulders is launching smoke flares into the sky.

And then. Neil Warnock takes centre stage, holding his promotion trophy briefly before swapping it for the microphone.

He’s about to tell everyone what he thinks about leading another team to another promotion.

In the shadow of the  castle – a legacy of the city’s Victorian industrial supremacy – this rugged northerner, whose life has been shaped growing up in the grinding poverty of steel city Sheffield, is revelling in proving everyone wrong.

Football’s perennial underdog has beaten the odds again.

How has he done it? What’s his inspiration? Where does he find the energy?

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Men half his age couldn’t do it. But a tireless 69-year-old has turned Cardiff City from Championship also-rans into a Premier League club.

Thousands throng the city centre on this humid Sunday afternoon in the middle of May – cancelling plans for barbecues and beer gardens.

A giant flag, as wide as four car lanes, has made it through the streets of nearby Canton and is sheltering a group who’ve travelled with this convoy of joy, from the heat.

The party’s guest of honour is up. Warnock’s going to speak.

“Not one of you lot thought we would get promotion this season,” he bristles.

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The cheering, if forgetful, City supporters claim otherwise.

“No, not one of you – don’t you lie!”

It’s said with some jest, but Warnock means it.

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He continues his speech, after delivering his message to the players he knows how to make fans feel great about themselves: “Days like today make us realise how big we are, especially in Wales.

“You have to be our 12th man next year. That Reading game last week I have never heard a crowd as noisy as that in my life.”

For Warnock, it wasn’t just enough to come in and save Cardiff City from what looked like almost certain relegation to League One the season before.

He wouldn’t be here for an easy ride.

He loves the Championship and he loves winning. It seems as though he loves life at Cardiff City too.

No, this wasn’t merely about stopping a side from going down.

Warnock wanted another promotion.”

Bluebirds Reunited – The Fall and Rise of Cardiff City is published by St. David’s Press and available now

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