It’s been a difficult time for Cardiff City recently. The club I’ve supported since I was eight years old has been on a run of eight consecutive losing matches. All focus now is on signing a new manager; but the start of yesterday’s game against Stoke City didn’t bode well, as the Bluebirds slumped to 3-0 down until well into the second half.
As a boy I quickly became a fanatical supporter, taken to home matches at Ninian Park on alternate weeks by my Dad, usually standing on the Bob Bank, though now and then he would splash out and we’d be in one of the two rather posher Enclosures. After the match we’d sometimes visit my grandparents (Nana and Grampy), who lived in Walker Road, in the Splott area of Cardiff. Opposite their house was a little corner shop, next door to which lived the Rankmores, whose son, Frank Rankmore, played centre half for Cardiff City for a time: big bloke, towering presence, great defender! He also played for Wales.
I think Grampy must have had a word, because one day he asked me to bring my autograph book. A few weeks later, he gave it back to me but now it contained the autographs of all the Cardiff City squad plus all the signatures of the Swansea Town (as they then were) and Newport County players! All sorted out by the big man – what a great guy!
I remember these players as though I saw them play yesterday. The members of this squad are burned into my memory for various reasons: with few exceptions, they were very skillful, committed and worked as a cohesive team; there were numerous real “characters”, not least the great showman Derek Tapscott, who had a habit of scoring goals using his overhead “shillelagh kick”, before turning instantly to City supporters behind the goal and beaming a wide, triumphant smile, minus his two missing front teeth!; and then there were the footballing geniuses, like Barrie Hole, Steve Gammon, Colin Baker, Alan Harrington, Alec Milne and, my favourite footballer of all time, Graham Moore.
For me the clearest illustrations of Moore’s extraordinary talent were the collective gasps – not so much the applause and cheers – emitted by watching supporters when he went on one of his penetrating runs, swerving around numerous opposition players, and laying the ball off in ways that frequently changed the course of the game. He really was “the Gareth Bale of his time“.
These scruffy pages in an autograph book which had been lost for many years have often acted as a comfort blanket when the Bluebirds have been having a hard time. I moved away to London on my nineteenth birthday, so, with a busy working life my opportunities to attend matches have been fairly few and far between and I’ve had to content myself with occasional away games or watching their matches on TV and reading press or online reports. (Note to self: I really must sign up for the live online service).
For non-followers of football, the obsession which grips a club’s supporters over the course of their lifetimes must be something of a mystery. The depth of their passion is neatly summarised in this wonderful birthday card, bought for me some years back by my wife, Lynn.
Following a football team is typically a journey of constant ups and downs. Yesterday’s match was no exception. Who’d have expected the Bluebirds, after an eight-match losing run, to fire in three second half goals in the space of five minutes – and very nearly a fourth – to square the game at 3-3?
I’d certainly like to think that the result was a sign of much better times ahead …
Birthday card: Medici Cards, illustrated by James Alexander