In part two of our exclusive interview with Greg, it’s all Cardiff City everything, including ‘snow-gate,’ promotion and his affinity with Cardiff supporters.
So with Warnock having you at Rotherham, I’m guessing that had a lot of influence in you coming to Cardiff, but what was your honest first impressions of the club, the city and the fans? Did you think of us as a big career move?
I honestly couldn’t wait to sign. You know, it’s funny when I was a scholar at Colchester, Cardiff came to town. It was back in the day when Cardiff sort of had a name for themselves. I remember as a schoolboy doing ticket collections, I was walking to the reception at Colchester’s ground and I’ve just seen this massive brawl break out. I’m thinking, “What the hell is this?! I’ve never seen anything like this in my life!” Then of course, I played at Ninian Park with the fans so close to the pitch, loud and rowdy. It was not a nice place to go to, but every time I visited with my other clubs, it was always somewhere I wanted to play. In that amazing stadium, week in, week out.
So who at Cardiff did you bond with the most? Who were your group of mates in this team?
Do you know what, it was literally everyone because that’s the way we were last season. Everyone was always hanging out with each other, going out for meals together as a group. It was always as a group, that was the best thing about it. The group dynamic was everything last year and I think that’s what got us promoted. You hear people and teams say this all the time about camaraderie, but it genuinely was like that last season. It was nothing that I’ve seen before.
I’d like to pick up on something that tickled me at the time; our away game against Derby County being dubbed ‘Snow-gate.’ You famously tweeted a photo of the lack of snow with the tongue in cheek comment; ‘Need a plough to get through the snow today for the game. Not surprised it’s called off.’ What was the attitude of our players like in the dressing room?
(Sighs) We had to make the best of a bad situation. We were all laughing and joking about it, but when it came down to it, the manager was raging because they had suspensions and injuries. It was the perfect time to play them. We all felt there was some sort of conspiracy happening. At the end of the day, they said the surrounding areas were covered in snow and that it was dangerous, but there was literally nothing around.
Didn’t Curtis Davies reply to your tweet with the guilty eyes emoji, which he deleted after?
(laughs), yeah. We go way back. He knew that the game shouldn’t have been called off.
You’ve finished top scorer, been included in a PFA team of the year, young player of the year award, played for your country, scored a winning goal in a play-off semi-final and won promotion to the Premier League. What would you describe as the pinnacle of your career?
I couldn’t just pick one. Obviously, getting called up for England U20’s was a massive thing for me, being in League One at the time, in a position [striker] I’d only been playing for four months. I was keeping various Premier League players out of the team, as a League One player, but getting promoted with Cardiff was the icing on the cake for me. I’d never had that promotion feeling.
It was a little bit frustrating as the gaffer said I’d be in the 18 for that game. I was supposed to be on the bench with the gaffer saying he had a funny feeling I’d be playing a big part this week. We got in to the ground and he said he’d be putting Marko [Grujic] on the bench instead of me.
My heart sank a little bit, but at the end of that whistle, well five minutes before the whistle because it felt like the keeper had it for the entire last five minutes! The anticipation and that feeling was… I don’t really know how to describe it.
To feel all that hard work paying off after a hectic season. Literally blood, sweat and tears went in to it and at the end of the day, we deserved it. Fulham were the better team that season and it goes back to what I said earlier in this conversation about sometimes it takes 10-15 games for players to adjust to a league, and that’s what happened with Fulham.
I’m just so happy with how Cardiff have conducted themselves this year. It’s unbelievable how everyone wants to write Cardiff off at every opportunity. They seem to just get the job done and I think they will get the job done this season.
Are you surprised that Cardiff have managed to compete this season spending so little compared to someone like Fulham?
No, I wasn’t surprised and I’ll tell you why. Throughout the time I was at Cardiff, we prided ourselves on keeping as many clean sheets as we could. You need to keep clean sheets in the Premier League. At the other end, you also have players like Oumar Niasse, Ken, Josh and even Kads [Kadeem Harris]. I feel sorry for Kads. When he has played, he’s been very, very good and Cardiff have players who can change games.
You touched on clean-sheets, Neil Etheridge has kept eight so far this season, which is the 9th best in the league. Could you see him getting picked up by another top-flight club if we were to go down?
I do now. I sort of have this way where I pre-judge players in the Championship and whether they’ll make it in the Premier League. It’s the best feeling to see Neil prove me wrong. I didn’t think Neil was ready for it. Bringing in Smithies has helped him massively. Sort of kicked him up the arse and improved him. You could see that his weak spot last season was his kicking and every single game it got better because he worked on it. He’s just blossomed into this unbelievable Premier League goalkeeper.
Ok, final question Greg. Something I’ve noticed on social media, especially during your time as a free agent; you were always connecting with the Cardiff fans and talking to us, with Cardiff fans really supporting you to get a new club. Is there anything you’d like to say to the Cardiff faithful?
There’s this massive respect that I have for the Cardiff fans and one of the reasons for this was that you all stayed patient with me when I joined, carrying a ruptured ankle ligament, which I was playing with. I was so far off the pace and it took me until the last five games of the season to get up to where I needed to be.
I needed that pre-season down in Cornwall to prove I was good enough to play for the club. The fans were unbelievable with me. There were better players there with a bigger profile and they obviously take to them, but the fans always had time for me. When I was out of contract, it really gave me motivation to go out and find a club and that was an amazing feeling.