Four years on from the loss to Newcastle United that sealed relegation for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s
RedBluebirds, Charlie Cottrell reflects on the changes at both clubs in that time.
As Cardiff City’s first home game of the season beckons, some reflection may well be in order. Newcastle United at home is arguably one of the best fixtures the Bluebirds could’ve hoped for to open our home campaign. Whilst our northern opponents are not the weakest team in the league, there remains a perpetual divide between club and owner. Protesters peppered the streets of Tyneside in opposition of the club’s notorious tycoon, against Mike Ashley, before they kicked off their season with a 2-1 loss to Spurs last weekend. Additionally, whilst racking up a number of new faces rolling through the door this summer, the lack of funds made available to Rafa Benitez over the course of the window suggests that quality has been sacrificed in favour of quantity this time around.
The in-house disrepute coursing through Newcastle’s nucleus is a stark reminder of our last fixture against the Magpies. It’s with a certain hollowness that I recall ambling up those seemingly eternal steps to the away-end at St. James’ Park, and watching Cardiff stumble to a tepid 3-0 defeat in what was ultimately the game that relegated us. Our presence in the league was so arbitrary at that point that it wasn’t even our relegation that caused the game to make the headlines. Instead, it was the Geordies’ stand against Ashley – this time in the form of a mass walk-out mid-game – that got everyone talking. For most, our fate was sealed long before that game.
Four years on, it appears that not much has changed at Newcastle. Still an admirably well-supported side saddled with a difficult relationship between the fans and the board room. The Toon’s aspirations may be cast no higher than another mid-table finish this season as the football takes a back seat to the outrage. In contrast, the mindset of Cardiff City fans between that damp relegation game in 2014 and now is positively worlds apart.
To many, that 2013/14 season didn’t feel like a proper crack at the Premier League. The red kit, the Malky Mackay scandal, the flaccid attempt at a revival by Solksjaer all encompass a forgetful time at the top. There were a few outstanding memories; Man City at home, Mutch’s last minute winner at Fulham, the 3-3 epic against West Brom. Yet throughout that season, it often felt as if we had been robbed of the legitimacy and meaning of a season that Cardiff fans had been waiting for with great expectations.
Whether or not the talent of the current Cardiff outfit can succeed where the 2013/14 squad failed remains to be seen. There were some great players kitted in red. Jordon Mutch was always undervalued, and to see Craig Bellamy play for Cardiff in the big league is a memory to be cherished. Yet there is a different feel to the atmosphere surrounding the club this time around.
I am not being dramatic when I say that I would follow Sean Morrison and Sol Bamba through the gates of hell. They are already heroes in their own right after last season’s successes. The rest of them, too. Tricky Junior Hoilett. Joe Ralls, quietly a beacon of hope when all could be lost. Callum Paterson, the Buckfast extraordinaire. They are Gods amongst mere mortals to Cardiff fans, and that’s before we get to Neil Warnock, to whom words don’t do justice. The sheer likeability of the Bluebirds’ dressing room is enough to win over the doubters.
Looking to the Newcastle game and beyond, Cardiff City fans have every right to be indulging in the thrill of the moment. Despite a defeat on the opening day of the season to Bournemouth, there were some solid performances from key players, and with the likes of Harry Arter and Victor Camarasa to add high-level experience to the squad, and hopefully feature heavily throughout the season, there’s a lot to be hopeful about. A lot of faith should be placed in Kenneth Zohore, too, who could well turn defences inside out this season given the right supply. And indeed, there are suppliers. Murphy, Reid, Mendez-Laing – they’re all capable of beating their opposing number.
Our promotion cohorts, Wolves and Fulham, have spent a fortune this summer, (interestingly, neither won their opening fixture this weekend). Indeed, a lot of Premier League teams have broken the bank to the point of obscenity, and this isn’t something we can compete with yet. Warnock has a task on his hands, no doubt, but he’s got an infectious faith in his players that we, as fans, would be daft not to buy into. His message has been clear from the outset of this season; we’ve got to enjoy it. And he’s right. Watching the big boys come to the Cardiff City Stadium is, this time, not tarnished with colours and scandal. Our anticipation is unadulterated, and our fans are united. Let’s enjoy the ride.
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