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Leighton James' column

Leighton James
Leighton James
Former Wales international and BBC pundit

Don't sound so surprised, but it is sad that Ninian Park has been consigned to the mists of time as I loved playing at the old place.

I know Swansea boys are not supposed to be appreciate the good in their arch-rivals but Ninian Park was certainly a jewel in Cardiff City's crown.

1973 - Leighton James scores v Poland

Ninian Park generated a great atmosphere and the make-up of the ground and its proximity to the playing field ensured the game was played in front of a wall of noise when full.

The ground's hostile welcome was infamous and was a great advantage to the Bluebirds - in big cup ties especially.

But I enjoyed some memorable moments at Ninian, notably my first international goal for Wales - both at junior and senior level.

I broke my Wales duck in a 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Poland in March 1973 when John Toshack flicked on Rod Thomas's long throw-in and I lashed the ball in as the goal opened up for me.

Later that year I scored twice for Burnley at Cardiff in a 2-2 League Cup draw before scoring twice in the replay at Turf Moor, which we won 3-2.

To say Ninian Park was a happy hunting ground for me was putting it mildly as in my only south Wales derby game at Ninian Park, I scored a collector's item.

It was not a particularly memorable goal for anyone else except myself - as it was the day I scored a rare goal with my head!

Ninian Park
There comes a time when history can become more of a burden than a bonus and everything that has been spent on Ninian Park could have been spent towards their new stadium and strengthening the squad

Former Wales striker Leighton James

The 3-3 draw a few days after Christmas in 1980 will be remembered mainly for John Buchanan's stunning last-minute leveller, a 30-yard free kick, but I was proud of my looping header over Cardiff keeper Ron Healey.

I think a crowd of more than 20,000 watched Cardiff play Swansea that day, which was impressive because the Bluebirds were struggling at the bottom of the division.

I played in Welsh football's biggest game since the 1958 World Cup at Ninian Park when Wales played the second-leg of our European Championship quarter-final with Yugoslavia, drawing 1-1 but losing on aggregate.

But Cardiff City fans, as Swansea supporters did when the Vetch Field consigned to history in 2005, now realise that Ninian Park has had its day.

There comes a time when history can become more of a burden than a bonus and everything that has been spent on Ninian Park could have been spent towards their new stadium and strengthening the squad.

Next season Cardiff can stop throwing good money after bad to keep their dilapidated old home in some sort of working order - and the club as a whole will benefit.

James scores against Republic of Ireland

Like the old Vetch, Ninian Park is a tired old ground. Sure it has great memories but posterity belongs in scrapbooks, old stadiums are nothing more than a financial drain and a beloved burden.

I accept that new stadiums lack a little character but fans didn't develop an emotional attachment to Ninian Park or the Vetch overnight.

It takes time for fans to build a rapport and create an atmosphere with their new home.

New grounds attract the lucrative and increasingly crucial corporate market and, just as importantly, new players because no modern-day professional wants to showcase his talents in a beaten-up old ground.

And, let's face it, no footballer's wife wants to be seen watching her beloved in such old-fashioned surroundings.

Football can't live in the past, especially when the future on and off the field looks so exciting.

* Leighton James was speaking to BBC Sport Interactive's Peter Shuttleworth



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see also
Ten top Ninian Park memories
22 Apr 09 |  Cardiff
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales


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