BBC Sport football


Related BBC sites

Page last updated at 13:13 GMT, Monday, 20 April 2009 14:13 UK

Farewell Ninian Park

Ninian Park
Ninian Park has been Cardiff City's home for 99 years

By Peter Shuttleworth

Each football ground claims its home turf has hallowed status but few European football stadia have been graced by his Holiness.

Cardiff City fans would claim Ninian Park, which is preparing for its final scheduled act against Ipswich on Saturday, boasts sacred status after the late Pope John Paul II's visit to the ground in 1982 for a youth rally.

Bob Marley, himself a musical messiah, made Ninian Park a stop on his Rastaman Vibration Tour of Europe in June 1976 to further emphasise the importance, culturally as much as in a sporting context, of the arena to Wales.

Ninian Park is not simply a rickety old footballing outpost, it is an amphitheatre that gave Wales the opportunity to stage showpieces of international significance.

The Pope visits Ninian Park
The late Pope John Paul II attends a youth rally at Ninian Park in 1982

Few will argue that Ninian Park is a relic of a bygone era and the move over Sloper Road to its new £30m 26,500 all-seater stadium is not before time.

But that will not make parting on Saturday, any less of a sweet sorrow.

And expect some tears when Ipswich help Cardiff play out Ninian Park's final chapter on Saturday when the curtain is set to drop on the club's home of 99 years.

The Bluebirds have some unforgettable memories of the old place; glorious European nights against Real Madrid and Sporting Lisbon, promotions and memorable FA Cup shocks and, of course, the day they brought the famous trophy out of England for the only time.

Brian Clark scores against Real Madrid in 1971
Opened: 1910
Capacity: 21,508
Record attendance: 62,634 for Wales v England, 14 October 1961
Record club attendance: 57,893 for Cardiff v Arsenal, Division One, 22 April 1953
Record victory: Cardiff City 8-0 v Enfield, November 1931
Did you know?:The Captain Morgan Rum advert painted on the roof of Ninian Park's Popular Bank stand was the longest-serving advert in any British football ground as it remained for more than 40 years

The Welsh national team celebrated their greatest occasions in the Welsh capital as they qualified for their only World Cup in 1958 at Ninian Park when John Charles and Ivor Allchurch inspired a play-off victory over Israel.

Wales' European Championship quarter-final against Yugoslavia in 1976 was one of Ninian Park's proudest moments, albeit they fell to an aggregate defeat.

The emotional attachment to the ground is should not just reserved for football fans.

Ninian Park hosted two of Wales' biggest nights of boxing when Howard Winstone lost his world featherweight title shot to Vicente Saldivar in 1967 and 40,000 watched local heavyweight Jack Petersen knock-out German Hein Müller in the first round in May 1933.

It was a centrepiece when Cardiff staged the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games when Ninian Park was home to the show-jumping event.

Rugby has also called Ninian Park home but football is the reason the ground exists.

The Ninian Park story began when the Southern League told the then amateur Cardiff City that if a suitable enclosed ground could be found in the Welsh capital, they would be accepted into the league's second division.

The club, originally named Riverside FC, were told to look at the five-acre site of the Corporation refuse tip next to the Taff Vale Railway Line.


Lord Ninian Edward Crichton-Stuart, the younger son of the Third Marquess of Bute, put up the guarantee and in recognition for his help, he was immortalised in the name of the ground.

Spectators stood on ash banks for the inaugural friendly game at Ninian Park, a 2-1 defeat to league champions and four-time FA Cup winners Aston Villa on 1 September, 1910.

The ground has changed a bit since but now looks tired in this age of sparkling stadia with uninterrupted views.

Ninian Park's dilapidated demeanour and proximity to the action has certainly added to its intimidating quality that has seen off so many cup giants, a unique trait that Cardiff will no longer be able to rely on.

But time waits for no ground as Cardiff City go back to Plan A and move to the site originally earmarked for Ninian Park a century ago.

Print Sponsor

see also
Cardiff stadium on track for 2009
22 Jan 08 |  Cardiff
Turf cut at new Cardiff stadium
02 Nov 07 |  Wales
Pope's visit to Wales remembered
02 Apr 05 |  Wales
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales
Cardiff v Ipswich
24 Apr 09 |  Championship

related bbc links:

related internet links:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites