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Play-off final is Cardiff City's 'biggest' game

Coca Cola Championship play-off final - Blackpool v Cardiff City
Venue: Wembley Stadium Date: Saturday, 22 May Kick-off: 1500 BST
Coverage: Full commentary on BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru, live text commentary online and score updates on BBC Sport website, BBC Radio 5 live and highlights on The Football League Show

By Peter Shuttleworth

Joe Ledley celebrates
Joe Ledley has played for home-town club Cardiff since the age of nine

Cardiff City's Championship play-off final with Blackpool at Wembley on Saturday has been billed as the biggest game in the club's history.

The winner of the match will earn an estimated £90m as a result of clinching promotion to the Premier League.

"It will definitely be the biggest game in the club's history," said Bluebirds midfielder Joe Ledley.

Cardiff beat Leicester on penalties in their semi-final to book their third trip to Wembley in three years.

The Bluebirds edged the shoot-out 4-3 after the two-legged tie was locked 3-3 on aggregate following the Foxes' 3-2 win in the second leg on Wednesday.

The dramatic victory was watched by the biggest crowd at Cardiff for 39 years.

In Cardiff's two previous trips to Wembley, Ledley scored the winner as Cardiff beat Barnsley 1-0 in the 2008 FA Cup semi-final before the Championship club lost the final 1-0 to Premier League Portsmouth.

Cardiff, also FA Cup runners-up in 1925, were Football League Division One runners-up in the 1923-24 season when they lost the title by the narrowest margin to Huddersfield Town.

The Bluebirds, formed in 1899, are the only team to take the FA Cup out of England when the Welsh club beat Arsenal to win the world's most famous domestic cup competition in 1927 - before defeating Corinthian in the Charity Shield.

The Bluebirds starred in the 1968 European Cup Winners' Cup semi-final, losing to Hamburg, and also beat Spanish giants Real Madrid 1-0 in the Cup Winners Cup quarter-final first-leg in 1971.

But Ledley thinks the lucrative global reach of the Premier League and approximate £90m boost to his debt-ridden club means the 22 May showdown at Wembley will be their finest hour.

The cash will help the Welsh club pay the estimated £15m financial burden of a club that is set to face its fifth winding-up order at the High Court next month.

"Everyone wants to be in the Premier League as its the biggest and best league in the world," Welsh international midfielder Ledley told BBC Sport.

"The manager, the players and the fans want it so badly and we're now daring to dream about promotion.

"It has been a thought at the back of my mind but now we're possibly 90 minutes away from the Premier League and being a Premier League club.

"But we are not getting carried away as Blackpool are a very good team and an excellent footballing side.

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"The final is all or nothing as it could be the best season this club has ever had or the cruellest for getting so near yet so far.

"But promotion will mean everything to us and me as a Cardiff boy, it would be a childhood dream come true.

"And the thought of seeing Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and Cesc Fabergas at Cardiff next season playing on our level is one for the fans to get excited about."

Financial firm Deloitte revealed the Championship play-off final represents the biggest financial prize in world football worth around £90m to the winners - up 50% on the value of last year's promotion prize.

Laurence Hedditch, partner at Deloitte in Wales, said: "The vast majority of this comes from television income and the rest from higher gate receipts and increased commercial income.

"In financial terms, this match offers the winning club the most substantial prize in world football and the value is now even greater as a result of the Premier League's increased revenues from international broadcast rights and the proposals to extend parachute payments over four seasons."

Ledley watched Blackpool defeat Nottingham Forest 4-3 at the City Ground on Tuesday - winning the two-legged tie 6-4 on aggregate before inspiring his home-town club to a penalty shootout win - scoring the third of Cardiff's four spot-kicks.

"We're getting used to being at Wembley these days, it's like our second home," joked fans favourite Ledley.

"Getting there again is a great achievement.

"We've had our ups and downs at Wembley and I hope our disappointment at losing the cup final to Portsmouth two years ago will inspire us as we don't want to feel that down again. We must use that experience to our advantage."

Cardiff hope to follow three of the last four play-off winners - Watford in 2006, Derby County in 2007 and Hull City in 2008 - and secure Premier League status after winning the away leg first.

"This is probably richer than the European Cup I would think for what it means to a club," Cardiff boss Dave Jones admitted.

"It is life-changing. Teams like Milan, Manchester United and Barcelona etc that win the European Cup are used to big occasions but teams like us aren't.

"But Cardiff are going to Wembley for the third time in three years. That doesn't happen that often and many Premier League managers would be pleased with that record."

Cardiff and Dave Jones' only play-off success was in 2003 when the Bluebirds beat QPR 1-0 to secure promotion from League One before Jones inspired Wolverhampton Wanderers into the Premier League by beating Sheffield United 3-0.

Leicester boss Nigel Pearson believes the final will be "tough."

"If it lives up to this sort of billing then it will be some game," he said. "They are two sides who are worthy of playing there and good luck to them.

"Penalty shoot-outs are exciting for everybody else but when you miss out it's very, very tough. I'm very proud of the players, I'm proud of their application, I'm proud of the way they played.

"They've been totally committed this season and it's come down to a penalty shootout to determine whether the season progresses. But I'll reflect on the bigger picture."

Watch highlights of Cardiff City's penalty shootout win over Leicester on the BBC's Football League show on iPlayer

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see also
Cardiff 2-3 Leicester (agg 3-3)
12 May 10 |  Championship
Cardiff v Leicester in photos
12 May 10 |  Cardiff
Forest 3-4 Blackpool (agg 4-6)
11 May 10 |  Championship
Wednesday football as it happened
12 May 10 |  Football
Fantasy football for Cardiff
10 May 10 |  Cardiff
League clubs accept payment plan
10 May 10 |  Football
Leicester 0-1 Cardiff
09 May 10 |  Championship
Cardiff's unexpected play-off tale
05 May 10 |  Cardiff
Saturday night fever
31 Mar 10 |  Championship
Ten top Ninian Park memories
22 Apr 09 |  Cardiff
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales


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