Archive for November, 2013

Jacks versus Taffs

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

Sunday is a momentous day in the history of clashes between Cardiff City and Swansea City. This will be the first time ever that the two clubs will do battle in the top flight of English football. The very fact that the two Welsh Clubs are in the Premiership is nothing short of a miracle. Ten short years ago, the Swans were on the brink of extinction and nearly dropped down to the Conference League save for a win against Rochdale on the last day of the season.

Cardiff was in the doldrums for years under the dubious ownership of Sam Hamman and later Peter Risdale who nearly destroyed Leeds United. They are currently owned by a Malaysian gentleman who immediately discarded the historical blue and white strip along with the “Bluebirds” logo and substituted red shirts and a dragon. He claimed it was more Asian and would appeal to their new fans in the Orient.

Rivalry between the two cities transcends the world of sport. It extends to history, culture, politics and industry. Swansea and Cardiff are the two principal cities of Wales and for a time were vying for the rights to be recognized as the Country’s capital. The Conservative Secretary of State for Wales, Peter Walker, put paid to the bragging rights by introducing Government Policy to make Cardiff a show piece for Europe. Swansea was left to live on scraps and needless to say developed a chip on their shoulder.

People from Swansea are universally known (well maybe not in Atlanta, but I’m working on it) as Jacks in fond memory of a heroic dog called Swansea Jack who saved 37 people from drowning.  Cardiff inhabitants are referred to as Taffs which is named after the river that flows through the City.

Cardiff is now officially recognized as the Capital of the Nation, but Swansea has Dylan Thomas, Harry Secombe, and Katherine Zeta Jones and reached the summit that is the Premiership first. I guess by now you have noticed a bias towards Swansea which is not surprising since I was literally born within (practically underneath) the sound of High Street Station.

Cardiff was founded in 1899, but Swansea was not founded until 1912 when hostilities commenced. There have been 54 league games head to head. Cardiff have 18 wins, Swansea have 20 with 27 draws. Competitive head to head games since 1912 total 105 games. Cardiff has 43 wins compared to 35 Swansea wins with 27 draws.

Neither team has ever done the league double over the other despite having been in the same division for 27 seasons. The biggest win was Cardiff 5 Swansea 0. Two Swansea legends, Ivor Allchurch (3) and John Charles (2) scored the goals and The Swans were relegated to the old 3rd Division at the end of the season. John Charles never played for Swansea, but that doesn’t excuse his disservice to Swansea on that day.

I digress a little here, but I have two stories to share with you concerning Ivor and the Gentle Giant. In 1962 Newcastle had been relegated to the old 2nd Division and were playing a league game against the Swans at the Vetch under floodlights. I was a pimply adolescent and stationed behind the goal at the open end to achieve a better view. Newcastle was awarded a free kick on the edge of the penalty area. The Swans nervously built a wall (not literally crate head) to defend their goal. Harry Griffiths a contemporary of Ivor was screaming at his team mates: “A f****** wall won’t stop Ivor. He’ll bend the f****** ball around it.  Pause… I f****** told you” 1-0 to Newcastle.

Another game in 1962 stands out. John Charles had just been transferred back to Leeds United and his first game would be against the Swans at the Vetch. Making their debuts for Leeds that day were Bremner, Hunter, Sprake, Reaney and Lorimer all of whom were destined to become Leeds legends. The Vetch was packed to the rafters to witness the return of the Gentle Giant to English football. Just before the kick-off the public address system announced team changes to the programme. Yep, you’ve got it; John Charles would not be playing and his replacement is………………

My father took me to my first game at the Vetch in 1961. Ivor had long gone to Newcastle United, and my dad and Uncle Alec had not set foot in the Vetch since Ivor was transferred in 1958. I don’t think my dad enjoyed taking me to matches. I appeared to cramp his style a little. He wasn’t a demonstrative man, but when he was standing on the North Bank he could be heard shouting and cajoling with the best of them. That was the time I was introduced to my first sporting hero: Brayley Reynolds was a bustling, aggressive, no holds barred center forward who still retains the record for most goals scored in the South Wales derbies (8 between 1959-1965.)

There may be other rivalries in football that raise the shackles of fans. Liverpool v Man Utd, Spurs v Arsenal, City v United, Everton v Liverpool and Barcelona v Real Madrid spring to mind. But none compare to the intensity and passion of a Swansea v Cardiff derby which splits a nation. It is indeed the mother of all derbies.