When I think back to that play-off final against QPR, I always remember two things very distinctly. The misfortune of not getting tickets to the game, but then seeing my dad take my brother and sister still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth (I wasn’t able to go initially, my dad’s not a tyrant!). I settled for watching it in the bangin’ Tynewydd Inn, Barry (the Tinny to us locals) and at first there wasn’t too many people interested in the game. Roll on 100 minutes of action and the place was jumping for joy when Sir Andy Campbell broke Ian Holloway’s heart. Good times indeed.
The second thing I remember is being very much in the dog house with my girlfriend at the time. I believe we were supposed to be going out and she didn’t fancy watching the game at the pub for some reason. The fact that I chose football first went down like the Titanic and to be honest, we never recovered. We broke up three months later. Oh well, Andy’s goal though eh?
The Play-off Final felt different. As a Cardiff fan of 11 years, I was used to them being ignored. Even when we drew 0-0 with Scunthorpe years earlier, sealing our promotion from the basement division, it barely seemed to register. But that day in 2003 felt different. My dad and I, who’d spent the years previously going in to town just to feel part of the big cup finals held in Cardiff, got in to town early. We went for lunch at Chicken Cottage, but neither of us touched our food. We saw the team bus drive down Westgate Street and we waved and clapped. We got in to the stadium, as was our custom, an hour early.
And then nothing until Campbell scores. If you watch the game back now, it’s engaging, pulsating, and tense. But for 114 minutes, I don’t remember a moment. And then Campbell’s goal. About a minute before, the lad behind me said ‘If we score here, I’m gonna cry, boys’ and he was laughed at roundly. Campbell scores. It’s slow motion. The ball bounces. Campbell rises. The ball hits the net. There’s something special about the moment of silence as everyone realises a goal has been scored. And then the tears. I hugged my dad and completely broke down. I’d never cried at a football match before, but here I was. And the lad behind me? We embraced and he was gone too.
There are loads of little things I remember about the play-off final. How chuffed I was that Richard Langley was suspended for the game and little did I know that he would be turning out for Cardiff in the second tier the following season. How amazing it was seeing Cardiff play in front of so many people and being sat so high up in the ground. Fortunately, it wouldn’t be the last time I would see them play in a showpiece game, but it was the first.
How good Graham Kavanagh was on the day. He had already proven that he was a big game player in the FA Cup giant killing of Leeds, but this was his best game in a Cardiff shirt. He was imperious. My abiding memory though is of Ian Holloway staying on the pitch to applaud Cardiff receiving their trophy. It was a classy gesture and a mark of the man. He would get his revenge a few years later too.