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Supporting Cardiff City and Liverpool just got complicated

Cardiff City replica shirt from the 2012 Carling Cup final v Liverpool
Cardiff City replica shirt from the 2012 Carling Cup final v Liverpool

 

Craig Bellamy won’t be the only person with a foot in both camps when Cardiff City and Liverpool meet in the Carling Cup Final at Wembley. There’ll be plenty of Liverpool fans (me included) who’ll be wearing blue but feeling as if they’ll share some of the disappointment and the joy whatever the result. So what are you supposed to do when your two favourite teams meet with something at stake? My plan is just to enjoy the day and hope it doesn’t go to penalties.

In a very honest interview this week, Craig Bellamy admitted how strange it will be to play against his hometown club for the first time, knowing what a victory would mean to both clubs and knowing that his father in particular is a big Cardiff City fan. He said bluntly that he won’t celebrate if he scores, although if he did both ends of the ground would certainly be on their feet applauding him.

Of course, the one thing you can be certain of with Craig Bellamy is that his commitment on the pitch is absolute. Cardiff fans saw that last season when he almost single-handled dragged the team into the Championship playoffs. If you support one of the clubs Bellamy has played for during his career you already know he’ll do everything he possibly can to make his team win. This year, that means Liverpool.

Supporting two clubs – how does that work?

I can’t imagine how strange it feels being a player who could have a huge impact on the result, because I find it hard enough just being a fan of both clubs. I know the idea of supporting two teams is sacrilegious to some people and it’s not talked about openly that much in these days of intense tribal loyalty. Just writing this does feel like a bit of a confession.

I can appreciate that if you grew up in a family that supported a particular club in the town or city where you grew up, then the possibility of supporting another team never occurred to you. In his editorial for issue three of The Blizzard, Jonathan Wilson wrote: “I don’t want to suggest there’s a “right” way to be a fan, but supporting Sunderland was never a choice. It just was.”

In a way, I envy that unconditional commitment to one club. But for a lot of people, the situation is more complicated. The population is much more mobile now than it was thirty or forty years ago. Many more people find themselves living in places far away from where they grew up, making it impossible to watch their home town club with any regularity, particularly as they get older and have families of their own. Some will adopt their nearest club and take their own kids to see them.

In some parts of the country the kind of density of teams you get in the midlands, around London or in the north west just isn’t the same either. In south Wales and the south west of England you’re much less likely to have a local team unless you live in Cardiff, Bristol, Swansea or Plymouth. That leaves a lot of people miles away from their nearest league club.

It’s not as if any of those cities has a long track record of success either. It’s thirty years since either of the Bristol clubs was in the top division. Swansea had one great season in the first division in the early 80s then got relegated the next year and slipped down the divisions, where they stayed for years until their recent revival. The last time Cardiff came down from the top division, they were passed on the way up by Bill Shankly’s emerging Liverpool team in 1962. Plymouth are fighting for their league status after a brief spell in the Championship.

The result is that lots of kids gravitate towards supporting the bigger clubs with the famous players. Some still retain an affection for local teams they watched occasionally when they were young. I watched Newport County in the 1980s when they were in the old third division and when they made it into the Cup Winners Cup. I’d love to see them back in the football league after the long struggle they’ve been through after the bankruptcy that cost them everything in 1989. I still go to a few of their home games each season.

Seriously though, who do you love more?

So if you support two teams, the questions you get asked most often are: how do you decide which team you support the most and whose results do you look for first? If all games took place at 3pm on Saturday afternoon I might be able to answer that. The truth is, the two teams hardly ever play at the same time. Liverpool have only played at 3pm on Saturday seven times this season. On only two of those occasions were Cardiff playing at the same time. Was I constantly checking the Premier League scores on my phone? No. There was no need. If the scores weren’t read out over the PA as I was leaving the ground I would have heard them on the radio on the drive home anyway.

So how else do you decide? Do you support a club more when you put money into their coffers by buying tickets and merchandise? If that’s the case, there’s no competition. I have a Cardiff City season ticket and I’ve gone nuts since the semi-final buying scarves, hats and replica shirts. Cardiff City themselves have had fun with their merchandising too, acknowledging the existence of us Welsh Liverpool fans by announcing a tongue-in-cheek shirt amnesty where anyone can bring a Liverpool shirt along to the club store to get a £12 discount on a new Cardiff City shirt.

Through triumph and disaster

There were times in the past when I felt like a bit of a fraud sitting among long-term Cardiff City fans who can remember matches played before I was born. I’d been watching a few home games a season over the last ten years as Cardiff climbed back up through the divisions. Even though I could recall Andy Legg playing as a libero in the old fourth division, saw great free kicks from Graham Cavanagh, saw Rob Earnshaw at his peak and remembered Danny Gabbidon rifling in a thirty-yard shot out of nowhere, I still didn’t really feel part of it.

Then one night that changed. It was the playoff semi-final second leg against Leicester in 2010. The penalty shoot-out that decided who went to Wembley for the final was as tense as the one in the 2005 Champions League Final when Liverpool beat Milan, only this one was happening right in front of me. Strangers were hugging each other and punching the air when Cardiff scored or Leicester missed. We all shared that nervousness and the ultimate joy of winning and I felt as if I wanted Cardiff to win as much as everyone else there that night. Perhaps it’s that shared history of triumph and disaster that gradually makes you feel like a supporter of a particular club.

Picking a winner

So on Sunday, who do I want to win? I have no idea. Ideally both of them, which in a cup final is obviously impossible. It would be a wonderful achievement if Cardiff could win, but a Liverpool defeat would inevitably be used by the media as another stick to beat Kenny Dalglish with, just as Arsene Wenger was slaughtered after Arsenal lost to Birmingham in last year’s final. I don’t want to see that happen to my boyhood hero.

And who do I think will win? It should be Liverpool because they have the greater quality and depth, but I think in midfield Cardiff can get the upper hand. Peter Whittingham, Aron Gunnarsson and Don Cowie can compete with a Liverpool midfield that desperately misses Lucas Leiva. If Charlie Adam gives away any cheap free-kicks 25-yards from his own goal, as he’s been prone to do this season, Whittingham will show him who has the best left foot.

If any Liverpool fans think Cardiff City will just turn up for a nice day out before capitulating like Brighton did in the FA Cup last week then they’re in for a surprise. Malky Mackay wants his team to play the game of their lives every week. That doesn’t mean flying around the pitch kicking anything that moves. It means playing with patience, intelligence, energy and belief. They won’t go away easily unless Liverpool get a big lead, and that hasn’t happened too often this season.

So how about this – it’s a tight game where Cardiff play well and give Liverpool a scare, before Craig Bellamy scores the winner with a 30-yard free kick. Everyone gets home safely after the game and not one single copy of the Scum on Sunday is sold inside Wembley. I could live with that.

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