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Are you a journo in disguise?

As Ninian Park prepares to close its gates for the last time - with a party on Saturday - BBC Wales football reporter Rob Phillips remembers when his welcome wasn't quite as warm.

Rob Phillips
Fine in the winter - hardly ideal when it was swelteringly hot in the early days of the season

Hands up all those who've attended matches in fancy dress?

Flap those wings Cyril the Swan. Do I hear the growl of Spytty the Dog at Newport County? And I'm sure Southend United's Sammy the Shrimp still keeps his head above water.

Just to say I've been there, at Ninian Park - long before Barclay the Bluebird flew into our lives.

I went to games as a journalist. Not much dressing up required for that, so you would think.

But in my case it was.

As 99 years of history comes to an end at Ninian, my mind inevitably goes back to my time chronicling Welsh football for the South Wales Echo newspaper.

I got into a public row with the club and more particular the then chairman Tony Clemo. The result was a ban from Ninian Park - or at least, that was the intention.

In my case a ban meant paying at the turnstiles and watching the games on the Bob Bank with the fans - in disguise.

So every other Saturday I would don duffle coat, dark glasses, flat or baseball cap and sometimes a scarf pulled up over my mouth. Fine in the winter - hardly ideal when it was swelteringly hot in the early days of the season.

And always, I was looking over one shoulder to check I was in no danger of being spotted by stewards, who were under orders to apprehend the imposter.

Rob Phillips
Rob will be taking his place at the new Cardiff City Stadium next season

I suppose it was a case of internal exile, really.

It worked. For, even though in those days I could hardly melt into the crowd, because there wasn't one, I went a whole season undiscovered.

Sometimes helpful club insiders would warn me to keep a low profile. Sometimes (I'm certain) I was helped by stewards who turned a blind eye.

After all they only had to ask the fans. Many a time I would sit on the terraces - hood over head, scarf over mouth, eyes shaded by dark glasses - reading my match programme, and a Cardiff fan whom I had never previously set eyes on would pass by and say: ''Hi Rob, how are you!'' So much for fancy dress.

606: DEBATE

Tony Clemo and I laugh about it all now. He claims he knew where I was all the time.

It was just another tiny sub-plot to the history of the ground which has affected so many lives in an array of events.

For me its mainly been about football. I've been there as a Newport County fan . . . usually going home disappointed.

I've been there as a Wales fan . . . usually going home disappointed.

And in reporting on Cardiff City? Well, sometimes chronicling disappointment (such as Stoke in the play-offs) but also party times, too - like the Nathan Blake goal which became part of the Match of the Day credits; Scott Young's FA Cup goal against Leeds; and even former captain and now BBC pundit Jason Perry scoring against Shrewsbury.

No fancy dress was as difficult to get to grips with as coming to terms with Perry scoring a goal, which in the passing of time, has been scored from an increasing distance.

I've been bellowed at by various managers (Frank Burrows remains the most frightening, but I think he's mellowed since).

I've been harangued by players who vehemently objected to the marks in the after-match ratings (though I'm still on speaking terms with the man who became known as 'Cohen Griffith 4'); and I've eaten more Clarkes Pies than most dieticians would recommend.

And the noisiest I've ever heard Ninian . . .well that had to be when I covered the visit of the Pope John Paul II.

Astonishing - and he was dressed up for the occasion.



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


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