Nine times out of 10 — make that 92 times out of a 100 — when soccer fans cross the barrier that separates the stands from the playing field it ends with the sport cast in a poor light. Monday night’s pitch invasion at the Cardiff City Stadium bucked that trend, as thousands of fans rushed onto the field after the club clinched its promotion into the top flight of English soccer for the first time in 51 years.
Fans celebrated and then carried the Cardiff players off the field in triumph, making for a nice scene only a few days after the ugliness at Wembley Stadium over the weekend where those coked-up Millwalll fans mindlessly brawled with each other. (Cardiff drew with Charlton Athletic 0-0, to clinch the League Championship, err, championship with three games to play, if you’re into details and or scoring at home.)
Cardiff fans seemed so overcome by the emotion of the event all they could muster were a bunch of hearty cries of, ”YES!” as they swarmed around hometown hero Craig Bellamy. It’s a pretty cool video and a reminder not every single game in English soccer is a hooligan-stained affair, as some might believe. Sure somebody cracked some sort of yellow road flare, but the overwhelming emotion from the scene is one of joy — not anger and violence — which is refreshing.
You can understand why there’s such sense of accomplishment and relief from the jubilant Cardiff fans.
For one, they’ve watched their bitter Welsh rival Swansea City play in the Premier League the last two seasons — winning the League Cup this year, while playing critically adored, pass-first soccer. (Before you try to zing me in the comments: yes, Swansea and Cardiff are both located in Wales. They play in the English league system. Go figure.)
On top of having to sit back and watch your bitterest rival succeed, Cardiff has experienced the agony of losing in the Championship promotion playoffs each of the last three seasons. In 2010 Cardiff seemed destined for the Premier League, only to drop the playoff final to unheralded Blackpool.
Adding to Cardiff City ‘s tale is that the club went over a massive, unpopular rebranding this year under the ownership of Malaysian billionaire and (mustache enthusiast) Vincent Tan. Cardiff ditched their nearly 100-year tradition blue uniforms — which spawned their Blue Birds nickname — for a red kit, presumably more marketable in Southeast Asia. The Blue Bird on the club’s badge still exists, in earnest, dwarfed by a red dragon. So if you’re confused why the fans of a team wearing red would be saluted with cheers about blue birds, that’s why. (The more you know about Welsh soccer clubs, the better, right?)
There’ll be plenty of time to speculate how Cardiff will fare upon its promotion to the Premier League when next season begins in August. Aside from the 33-year-old Bellamy, there’s not a ton of familiar names on the club’s roster. Former Manchester United super-prospect Frazier Campbell is in the mix. Cardiff’s top two scorers are the Icelandic duo of Aron Gunnarsson and the well-traveled veteran Heiðar Helguson.
Bear in mind winning the Championship hasn’t translated into automatic success once the club reaches the Prem:
- 2012: Reading (currently in last place in the Premier League, all but relegated.)
- 2011: QPR (barely survived last year, likely going down this year after Neil Warnock, Mark Hughes and Harry Redknapp combined to spend the GDP of Denmark on transfers.)
- 2010: Newcastle United (flirted with the Champions League last year, sunk down the table this year, but have stuck around for three years after their surprise relegation.)
- 2009: Wolverhampton Wanderers (hung around until their relegation in 2012 and might fall into League One in 2013-14.)
- 2008: West Bromwich Albion (went right back down, but bounced back in 2010 and remains in the Premier League.)
So as it stands today it looks like the (English) Premier League will have two Welsh teams among its 20 clubs for the 2013-14 season.
Three if you want to count Tottenham considering everyone thinks Spurs are a one-man team via Welsh Jesus.