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banner Monday, 7 January, 2002, 13:17 GMT
View from the Grange End
Cardiff fans congregated in front of the Leeds supporters in the Grange end at the end of the match
Police hold back Cardiff fans at the Grange end
It seemed no place for a neutral, but BBC News Online's Matthew Davis found himself amongst the thick of things during the Cardiff City versus Leeds United FA Cup tie.

This was never going to be a pretty encounter on - or off the pitch.

Both sets of fans would have to agree that their reputations as supporters precede them. The aggressive chanting set the tone for the afternoon as the legions headed towards Ninian Park.

I can confess to a growing sense of trepidation as I - a neutral, and an Englishman - took my place among the Bluebirds' barmy army in the Grange End, which is also known as "The Pit".

Ninian Park is an intimidating place on a first visit.

Almost 20,000 Welshmen singing themselves hoarse make a powerful impression - they knew it and so did the players.

But I was glad I was among them, rather than with the Leeds fans, penned in to a corner of the most notorious part of the ground.

Yorkshiremen I spoke to after the game complained of a stream of missiles raining down on them for most of the match - although I certainly saw some coming the other way - and it was clear the enmity was mutual.

Police 'stoic'

The only reason I was at the game was because my Welsh flatmate was too ill to make the trip from London.

A Cardiff fan of some 15 years, he had cried off and given me a free ticket because, I suspect, he expected City were in for a hammering from the Premiership's top team.

The pre-match atmosphere outside the ground was tense and excited, but the mounted police splitting the rival factions as they entered the ground were stoic and restrained in the face of some colourful abuse.

Inside, the Leeds players never looked comfortable with the incredible noise Cardiff's support was generating.

Bowyer, Woodgate and Duberry got a predictable verbal mauling, and at times passions spilled over as bottles - and a toilet roll - were thrown onto the pitch, joined later by a streaker.

The Cardiff fans I spoke to knew this was going too far, and much of the crowd voiced their disapproval. When the referee was struck by a missile, they knew the club would be heading for trouble.

Confrontation

The pitch invasion came as the inevitable result of the delirium at one of Cardiff's best-ever victories - and the club didn't seem too concerned, with stewards holding open the gates for fans to rush on.

Sam Hammam - the Cardiff chairman - had even been wandering the touchline, doing the "Ayatollah" (touching his hands to his head in one of the crowd's favourite gestures), raising the temperature before the final whistle.

But only when most of the Grange End had massed in front of the away fans, with supporters trading insults and missiles did police charge the crowd.

There's no doubt there are people who live for these sorts of moments, and many who would attribute them to the heat and excitement of the hour. But for anyone who went simply to enjoy a game of football it will have been a frightening experience.

Personally, the only fans I encountered were passionate, but good natured and home and away fans were chatting happily on the train home.

The only time I feared for my life was when I arrived back in London and made the ill-judged joke to my flatmate that his team's incredible victory had "been a good game to miss".

Links to more FA Cup stories are at the foot of the page.

 

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