Ten years ago today, we made the long trip to South Wales to follow the Tigers. We’ve traversed that route before, and doubtless will again, but it may be a while before so much rides upon it.
It was the penultimate day of a traumatic 2006/07 season, and City were tussling with Leeds to avoid relegation, the two teams either side of the dotted line of death that indicates demotion from the Championship into League One’s backwaters. City possessed a superior goal difference and had their heads barely above water, but were away; Leeds were at home to mid-table nothing-to-play Ipswich.
2006/07. What a horror. It was a season of promise, or supposed to be. Peter Taylor’s time at the club had come to a natural conclusion, and Phil Parkinson was the Bright Young Thing, poached acrimoniously from Colchester and intended to establish the Tigers in the second tier with the meticulous implementation of the latest coaching methods. Instead, it went wrong from the beginning and never recovered, and amid rumoured agitation by senior players he was sacked in December after serving up a horrific 5-1 reverse at his former club and a 2-4 defeat against Southampton four days later.
Phil Brown, known only for a brief failure at Derby and a lengthy stint as Sam Allardyce’s assistant, had joined City as a coach under Parkinson and auditioned with enthusiasm for the job. Three wins got him the gig in the New Year.
However, while things had improved a little from the dog days of Parkinson’s ill-starred tenure, City never really escaped the relegation zone and disastrous results remained a feature of the season – an infamous and stormy 3-0 defeat at Barnsley and a farcical 2-5 at home to Ipswich being particular low points.
After gubbing a doomed Southend 4-0 in late March, City then picked up only two points from four games to enter the final pair of fixtures in desperate trouble. And that took us to Cardiff.
You can relive the full report of that fixture here – it stands as a contemporary snapshot of our thoughts at the time. Suffice it to say, Dean Windass was the hero, Leeds arsed it up late on, their fans acted like nobs and the Tigers made survival virtually certain.
Except, it’s necessary to recall the afternoon in greater detail. Ninian Park was a fearsome, brooding ground to visit. It was intimidating in a way you don’t really get any more, perhaps not unlike Vetch Field and Boothferry Park – big, old grounds occupied by decent-sized clubs fallen on hard times. It wasn’t a place for club colours or conspicuous Englishness.
But it’s where we had to win, or get a result, and so on an unseasonably hot day a large City contingent made the journey, squeezing itself into the left-hand side of a stand behind the goal that was split three ways – Cardiff, City and a neutral zone, equipped with anti-missile netting. It was also weirdly split between seats and standing, the former at the front and the latter at the back. At least it was by now roofed, as wasn’t the case until the early 2000s.
Cardiff’s season had petered out badly and they’d long since dropped out of play-off contention, though they’d only lost four games at home prior to this fixture. The Tigers, by contrast, had won only four outside of East Yorkshire.
A first half précis: Steve Thompson missed an early sitter for them, Leeds took an early lead to swap the clubs’ respective positions, City looked nervous and played poorly, and via a Deano shot that Forde saved, we limped goallessly into the break.
At that point, City were in the relegation zone, with 135 minutes of the season remaining.
On came Dean Marney for Ray Parlour, and thus the game was saved. Marney was a booming influence in midfield, seizing both ball and initiative with commendable vigour.
On 52 Windass scored, to spark a goal celebration as manic and visceral as any you could hope for (aided, of course, by a terrace on which to cavort).
The hypothetical mid-match league table now showed City back out of the bottom three, though with Leeds continuing to lead the margin was narrow, and a final day reckoning loomed. Fortunately for City, a warm day and an irrelevant fixture was creating a soporific afternoon for our hosts, whose fans weren’t their customary snarling selves and whose team was evidently disinterested. City held on more easily than we’d feared, aided by the lung-busting determination of Nick Barmby when he replaced Stephen McPhee.
Then, as injury-timed neared and fingernails disappeared, a sudden commotion began to the left of the City end. Its cause was instantly obvious: news from Elland Road of an Ipswich equaliser, and pandemonium again shook one third of the Grange End.
It seems impossible to imagine that the City players hadn’t divined the cause, and they stood imperiously tall to repel Cardiff, only to hurry over to us at full-time to celebrate with us.
Surreally, we no-one could be quite sure what was happening. Leeds fans being Leeds fans, they were busy engaging in one of their periodic displays of invariably unpunished hooliganism; Ninian Park was empty long before news filtered through to our Nokias that they’d finally drawn and we were as good as safe.
Both City and Leeds were to lose their final games of the season, which were dead rubbers (and Leeds had chosen to enter administration before it, incurring a ten point penalty). However, for his unlikely escape act, Phil Brown had earned a shot at managing City in the Championship, and few will need any reminders as to how well that turned out.
Phil Brown’s career trajectory was to provide the most vivid, soaring to barely believable heights before crashing back down, though he’s busy with a capable restoration of his reputation at Southend.
But what of the City XI that day? Myhill experienced Wembley and then the top flight, though now aged 34 and barely any appearances for West Brom this season, it sadly appears that an authentic City hero who never wanted to leave is seeing his career fizzle out.
Sam Ricketts went to Wembley and the Premier League before joining Bolton; he later played for Wolves and, latterly, Coventry before his distinguished career came to a sad end in November last year when injury forced his retirement.
Michael Turner never did get that England cap, and was sold in disgraceful circumstances by Paul Duffen 2½ years after the Cardiff match. Damien Delaney still plays in the Premier League, and although nearly 36 may still face us for Crystal Palace in a couple of weeks.
Andy Dawson left as a legend six years later to rejoin Scunthorpe, having achieved stunning success from such humble beginnings.
Ray Parlour received the half-time hook that changed the game at Cardiff, and after featuring in our listless defeat to Plymouth eight days later, he never played another professional game – though this contributor met him at an awards ceremony in 2010, where he was surprisingly enthusiastic about his time at City. Marney, his replacement that day, rather unexpectedly still plays in the Premier League for Burnley.
Ian Ashbee is Ian Ashbee; he still lives locally hawking pricey watches and continuing to earn affection with social media criticism of the club’s present owners.
Lee Peltier, a loanee from Liverpool, is now with Cardiff at their shiny new ground, via Yeovil, Huddersfield, Leicester, Leeds, Nottingham Forest and Huddersfield. Once a player of promise, things just haven’t ever seemed to work out for him anywhere.
Though perhaps it seemed it at the time, this obviously wasn’t Dean Windass’ finest hour in a City shirt, as he immeasurably added to his already considerable legend 13 months later. He’d play for another two clubs after finally getting that top-flight goal for City, taking his career total to over a dozen. And hey, he’s Deano, he can do no wrong in this city.
Nicky Forster left City that summer for Brighton, and has dabbled in management with Brentford, Dover and Staines. Fellow striker Stephen McPhee, once thought to be a record signing, suffered perennial misfortune with injury throughout his career and after another bad one at Blackpool, he retired prematurely.
Cardiff would finish that season 13th, and eventually make it into the Premier League themselves with a sparkly but quieter ground, though it’d be a one-off. By contrast, we’ve had three goes and are there again; at the time of writing Cardiff are…13th in the Championship.
Though we could never have known it at the time, this act of escapology set in train events we could never have imagined and that are still unfolding ten years later. Wembley, the Premier League, China, the Cup Final, Europe – it may be stretching things to say that it can all be traced back to a sunny afternoon in Cardiff, but had things gone badly ten years ago today, our recent history may look very different.