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 Post subject: Ninian Park Nightmare
PostPosted: Fri Jul 20, 2012 10:27 am 
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I have played at some hostile grounds in front of some hostile fans but there is one place that goes straight to number one for me.

On the 6th January 2002 my Leeds United team mates and I were to play Cardiff City at Ninian Park in a FA Cup tie.
Cardiff was in the old League Two and we were one of the top sides in the Premiership.

It was a game we were expected to win and a game we expected to win. We weren’t over confident or arrogant, we just believed in our ability and knew our capabilities.

At this time we had a talented squad, all of which were hungry for success. The squad consisted of top players like Rio Ferdinand, Mark Viduka, David Batty, Alan Smith to name a few.

I had heard rumours about the reputation of the hardcore Cardiff fans well before this game was drawn. And of course I was fully aware of the reputation of the Leeds United hardcore section of fans.

I suppose with all football fans, there’s always some urban myth story that might have been glorified or fabricated along the way.

It’s natural to start thinking that things could kick off big time between the fans at this game. Maybe all those books and recent movies on football firms draw you towards that way of thinking.

I wasn’t alone in my way of thinking as it was shared by most of the squad if not all.

I’m sure it was an early kick off to try and avoid things like this like crowd trouble. However on the bus going to the game we were already getting word that it kicking of between fans.

It is not unusual for the team bus to have police escort to games but it’s usually just to maneuver us through any traffic. We needed police escorts for a more than just traffic that day.

I don’t think anyone had played at Ninian Park before except maybe England International Nigel Martyn.

Ninian Park was an old ground with not really any new features about it. The dressing room was very small, tiny in fact. It made for a tight squeeze with the kit bags, medical bags, massage table not to mention the players.

During the pre match pitch walk you got a feel of the ground and just how close the fans are to the pitch. Apart from the main stand where the dug outs are the fans are a stones throw away (excuse the pun!)

Everyone was in good spirits before the game and fully focused on the game. Even thou I have mentioned a few outside elements leading up to kick off, we were fully focused on the matter at hand.

The elements are just to give you a visual of how things were but they were never a distraction. Our squad was young and hungry to win things, this was the best thing about the squad we had at the time.

It was no secret that if we lost this game it would be a huge giant killing moment. We embraced our role as favorites and were determined not to be the scalp of the round.

The team was chosen and I wasn’t playing, gutted but not surprised. It was a role I was familiar with and played all to often during my great time at Elland Road.

Rio and Woody was the pair that manager David O’leary picked. I don’t even have any complaints as they both deserved to be ahead of me at the time.

In the warm up you could hear the noise and feel the hatred from the Cardiff fans.

I’m not sure whether there was a history between the two clubs, whether it was the England versus Wales element or just because they were simply trying to intimidate us.

Any player will tell you it is great to play at a ground with an atmosphere because it’s easier then to motivate yourself. Yes there should be self -motivation and motivation to win but it is far better to do it in a ground with an atmosphere.

Game time had arrived and we ready and as pumped up as if we were playing Man United or Chelsea.

Not long into the game Rio was tackled badly on his ankle and I was told to warm up. As a sub when the player in your position goes down you have to go out.

Usually you just run down the touchline and do a few of the standard stretches until you see him up and running around again then you run back into the dug out.

I went out and run down the touchline and the reception I got from the Cardiff fans wasn’t a warm one to say the least.

Now this game was after the infamous court case that involved me, Bow (Lee Bowyer) and Woody (Jonathan Woodgate)

I was used to the odd comment and abusive language but wow this was a different level. Literally as soon as I came out of the dug out and run up the touchline the abuse started.

I heard shouts like “You f*cking grass”, “You sh*t bag”, “snitching b*stard”, “c*nt”

And no, despite what you’re thinking, no it wasn’t Woody saying this!! Haha Seriously though, it was non-stop, not just from one fan but from the whole main stand.

Then all of sudden, all together they started singing a song that I get at most ground to be fair. Chorus after chorus of “you grass your mates to save yourself! You grass your mates to save yourself”

It was loud and clear, and to be fair to them it was in tune too.

I was like f*cking hell Rio! hurry up and get up so I can go hide in the safety of the dug out.

Rio seemed to be struggling so my warm became a little more intense and worst of all a little longer! The singing and abuse aimed at me continued maybe even got louder the longer I was there.

I thought I would go over to my own fans and get some back up from them. I would show these Cardiff fans I didn’t come on my own.

As I went over to my own Leeds United fans for back up and large section of them started to sing.

As I ran to the safety of my own fan I got applause from them. The applause was then drowned out by singing from a large section of the Leeds fans in the away section.

They weren’t singing songs abusing the Cardiff fans and backing me up mind you; no they were singing “you grass your mates to save yourself! You grass your mates to save yourself”

I’m not going to lie I didn’t know what to do but I couldn’t go in as Rio might be coming off and I had to be ready.

Rio came off after 10mins so as much as I was gutted for my mate to come off injured I was just as pleased to get on the pitch and away from the abuse.

Not long after I got on Mark Viduka scored for us, most often a goal quiets the opposition. It didn’t happen at Ninian Park that day, they got louder and louder.

To be honest, part of me, well all of me was glad that the abuse from the crowd was aimed at the team and just not me!

It was the first time me and Woody had played together since the court case. There was a lot of speculation and rumours that myself and Woody didn’t speak around the club.

Woody and I spoke after the court case, granted we wasn’t as close as we were before the case but we spoke, joked and were cool with each other. We played well together that day, nothing like two players that didn’t speak to each other.

Cardiff got themselves back into the game on 21minutes with a great free kick Irish international Graham Kavanagh left our keeper Nigel Martyn clutching air with a beautifully placed free kick.

The crowd was as noisy as I’ve ever heard a crowd, add that to some venom in their tone and it made for quite an atmosphere.

To make things worse for us and even better for them, Alan Smith got himself sent off minutes for half time. This was becoming that FA Cup nightmare game that you can’t wake from.

I was glad for the half time whistle to sound I can tell you.

David O’leary’s half time talk that day isn’t one I remember, even some of his pre and post match team talks have been memorable but for reasons of humor only.

A man down in the second half wasn’t good but we were coping and weren’t being over run.

I remember at some stage in the second half, seeing the then Cardiff chairman Sam Hamman walking around the pitch. He was acting as a cheerleader, stirring the fans into a frenzy and encouraging them to go wild.

It wasn’t as if they needed encouragement but they took this a green light do go mad. During the second half my team mates Danny Mills and Ian Harte had bottles thrown at them from fans.

Cardiff stunned us with an 88th minute goal. The place went crazy; I can’t even use anything as a reference to compare it to.

In the dying minutes of the game things did become even more hostile.

Trying to retrieve the ball from the crowd if it went out of play was a frightening affair. You could see the hate in the eyes of the crowd, usually it’s a joke to them the fact they have the ball and you don’t.

There was no joking or playing around from the crowd. Once in my attempt to get the ball back, all I got back was some coins thrown my way. I wasn’t the only player to receive this treatment so I didn’t take it personally!! Haha

The scariest moment of the game came at full time.

The referee blew the whistle and it was like that also opened the floodgates. The crowd just immediately rushed the pitch; now I have been on pitch before where fans invade the pitch.

It’s usually to congratulate their own players, they have nothing to do with you apart from a few obscene gestures but you are left to just walk off the pitch.

Ninian Park was different that day, I think those Cardiff fans had other ideas. I don’t what ideas but it certainly wasn’t to shake my hands or an autograph.

There was no part of me that was thinking about walking; especially after the exchange of words I had with those fans that I thought threw coins my way.

Every Leeds United player ran as fast as they could towards the dressing room, brushing and pushing our way through the growing crowd.

Lee Bowyer was actually punched by a fan while on his way back to dressing room. Thankfully everyone else got back without being punched and without any other incident.

The massive FA Cup giant killing by Cardiff was overshadowed by the stupidity of their Chairman and the behavior of their fans.

People often use it as a throw away comment but I can honestly say that day at Ninian Park I was scared for my life!

 Post subject: Re: Ninian Park Nightmare
PostPosted: Sat Jul 28, 2012 7:10 pm 
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Great read!

 Post subject: Re: Ninian Park Nightmare
PostPosted: Sun Aug 05, 2012 4:59 pm 

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Excellent articles Dubes as a Leeds fan I remember this day with much regret , a awful day for a Leeds fan which seems was the day that the entire collapse happened . Glad your still going though and writing this blog As its a excellent read keep up the good work

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