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Page last updated at 11:00 GMT, Wednesday, 2 April 2008 12:00 UK

Jason Perry column

Jason Perry
By Jason Perry
Former Cardiff City captain

I've graced the famous Wembley turf hundreds of times. I even scored Cardiff City a last-minute winner once.

Wembley Stadium
Perry says he always dreamt of playing at Wembley Stadium

Unfortunately, though, fantasy doesn't count in the real world.

Whether I was in my back garden, in the school yard, on the training ground or away at Grimsby, I always dreamt I was playing at Wembley.

I'm so envious of today's Cardiff team because they've the chance to make their dreams happen, I just hope they do themselves justice on the club's big day.

Cardiff's opponents Barnsley should be favourites as they've beaten Premier League giants Chelsea and Liverpool en-route to this semi-final.

But Barnsley boss Simon Davey didn't need to motivate his underdogs against two of European football's big boys, now we'll see how Barnsley enjoy handling the pressure and expectation.

If Cardiff's Premier League old-timers perform like they can, there's only one winner for me

Barnsley may think they've done the hard work and believe Cardiff should be relatively straight-forward but if City's Premier League old-timers perform like they can, there's only one winner for me.

It's a perfect international stage for former top-flight players Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Peter Whittingham and Stephen McPhail to show they're not over the hill.

And for the younger team members such as Joe Ledley, Aaron Ramsey, Roger Johnson and Kevin McNaughton, it's time to catch the eye and prove they've a big-game mentality.

I never had the priviledge of playing at Wembley, the nearest I came was double heart-break in two play-off semi-finals with City and Bristol Rovers.

The progress Cardiff have made in the last few years has been quite staggering, as when I left in 1997 the club were in serious danger of dropping into non-league oblivion.


So to now be in an FA Cup semi-final, is quite an achievement.

During my 10 years at Ninian Park, we yo-yoed between the bottom two divisions, had to get by on a tight budget, with no training ground, often no kit and from time to time have wage deferrals.

It was a tough time for Cardiff City, the fact the club survived at all is an achivement in itself.

For the fans, the team's FA Cup heroics have allowed them to live the dream but the club gracing Wembley isn't the most important milestone for Cardiff City in this incredible season.

While the FA Cup adventure has made people outside Wales sit up and take notice of Cardiff, without doubt the most significant developments for City's sustained success have been off the field.

The new stadium is finally no longer just a sketch on an architect's drawing board, it's a tangible addition to the Cardiff skyline.

Fans don't want this occasion to be a one-off

The club now also boasts a state-of-the-art training facility with a thriving and productive youth academy.

Cardiff's first FA Cup semi-final for 81 years will be a memorable day out but City fans don't want such an occassion to be a mere one-off.

The income a new, 21st-century stadium generates is essential for a football club if it has any serious ambition of breaking in to the lucrative promised land of the Premier League.

Cardiff's financial plight, the 30m debt and high court salvation from administration have been well-documented, but consistent success is driven by money.

Currently the club lose out on an estimated 5m annually due to a lack of corporate hospitality facilities at the outdated Ninian Park, so a new 25,000-capacity all-seater ground is the only way forward.

Yet clearly nothing can be achieved without top players and clubs can only attract the best, if they boast training facilities fit for kings.

Cardiff celebrate making the FA Cup semi-final
Cardiff's Cup run could have a long-term impact in Wales

However, City chairman Peter Ridsdale is only too acutely aware of the dangers of splashing the cash on big-names for an instant return.

Clubs that operate an open cheque policy build their foundations on sand and often spend the next 25 years paying for it.

Gradual progression is vital, sustainable success may be longer in coming but ensuring the club's basis is finanicially sound is a fundamental principle of good business practice.

City's youth academy is a potential goldmine as a continual conveyer belt will not only supplement the first-team at low cost but could be a great investment return should a top Premier League club come calling.

Graduate Chris Gunter's 2m sale to Tottenham Hotspur kept the club afloat in January.

Ledley and Ramsey have also rolled off the Bluebirds production line and they too are Premier League class that would earn Cardiff an extra 8m if the left Ninian Park.

This FA Cup semi-final is a marketing man's dream and should Dave Jones and his team do as I expect and qualify for the final, hopefully it will attract a new generation of Bluebirds support.

If the kids of south Wales - those that currently wear Manchester United or Liverpool shirts - see their local team playing an exciting and ultimately successful brand of football, they might be tempted to pop down to Ninian Park on a regular basis and play their part in Cardiff City's future.

*Jason will be a part of BBC Radio Wales' commentary team for the semi-final

see also
Barnsley v Cardiff
03 Apr 08 |  FA Cup
Steve Thompson's lowdown on Cardiff
03 Apr 08 |  Championship
Cardiff cross fingers over Parry
02 Apr 08 |  Cardiff City
Cardiff face FA Cup injury worry
02 Apr 08 |  Cardiff City
No escaping Cup fever - Scimeca
31 Mar 08 |  Cardiff City
David Davies' Olympic diary
31 Mar 08 |  Swimming
BBC Sport Wales coverage
24 Dec 06 |  Wales

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