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Page last updated at 09:27 GMT, Sunday, 26 April 2009 10:27 UK

Ninian farewell falls flat

Bluebirds fans say their goodbyes to Ninian Park during Cardiff's loss to Ipswich
Bluebirds fans say their goodbyes to Ninian Park during Cardiff's loss to Ipswich

By Peter Shuttleworth

It is almost time to pack up those memories in that old kit bag.

And the final league fixture at Ninian Park was an occasion that even Roy Keane wanted to be a part of.

The Irish hardman made a successful playing career of losing popularity contests but winning football matches.

So spoiling Cardiff City's farewell celebrations to their Ninian Park home of 99 years - in his first match as Ipswich Town boss - was right up his street.

But not even Keane's return to management should be allowed to overshadow the last regular-season showpiece at a sporting and cultural coliseum steeped in history and memories.

Ninian's faithful were licking the wounds of a second humiliating defeat in successive weekends

On Saturday, a shot at the promised land of the Premier League and its £60m worth of riches was at stake.

After all, a draw would have secured a potentially lucrative and equally thrilling play-off place for Cardiff.

That, it seemed, was too much to ask. So was a fitting farewell for Ninian Park.

As for all the delight and rollercoaster rides this famous old ground has given Cardiff City, the club's send-off was as wretched as the Bluebirds' defending on a supposedly red-letter day.

In fact, you would hardly realise that this was Ninian Park's final league outing until the game had ended.

The club took the view that a pre-match parade of Ninian Park legends would detract from the job in hand.

It probably did the opposite as the abject performance was as low-key as the much-anticipated party.

A ticket lies discarded on the Ninian Park turf after a frustrating last league game
A discarded ticket on the Ninian turf after a frustrating last league game

Such a stance is hard to fathom given this is a Cardiff team of focused professionals, who will probably soon play in arguably the biggest club games in world football - the Championship play-offs.

And, don't forget, a majority of this team played in last year's FA Cup final at Wembley, rising to the occasion in a valiant 1-0 defeat to Portsmouth despite all of the razzamatazz that went with the world's biggest and most-watched domestic game.

Unfortunately for ground and team, there was no occasion for Cardiff to rise to on Saturday until it was too late - and the celebrations of Ninian Park's passing after the final whistle must have seemed hollow.

Cardiff had just been on the end of a 3-0 thrashing by an average Ipswich side, a result that could fatally dent their play-off bid.

Great European nights against Real Madrid, Sporting Lisbon and Hamburg overlooked, famous FA Cup shocks forgotten about, and great icons of this club, many of whom watched from the stands, not acknowledged.

You would have imagined that a pre-match parade of Cardiff's heroes of yesteryear would only act as inspiration for the class of '09.

Men such as Brian Clark, scorer of that famous winner against Real Madrid, Danny Molloy, the last captain to take Cardiff in the top-flight, and Nathan Blake, goal hero against Manchester City in an FA Cup classic.

The Pope, Bob Marley and the Harlem Globetrotters basketball all-stars all graced Ninian Park, giving the ground such cultural significance in south Wales.


Yet none got so much of a mention until Ninian's faithful were licking the wounds of a second humiliating defeat in successive weekends.

Sentiment must still have a place in 21st century sport, as teams must recognise their history to enjoy a beautiful future.

And how could the club expect the non-Cardiff City contingent of Welsh sport to acknowledge Ninian Park's impact, when the club it had dutifully served for almost a century treated its farewell with such contempt?

If Cardiff's team cannot handle such off-the-field distractions, one wonders how they would cope among the glitz and glamour of the Premier League if their dream, somehow, became reality.

With Preston beating Birmingham on Saturday evening, a play-off place is not yet guaranteed for the Bluebirds - and Ninian Park could already be consigned to the mists of time.

A 3-0 defeat was not how the script-writers envisaged Ninian's farewell, and the disappointing send-off was not what this ground deserved.

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see also
Cardiff 0-3 Ipswich
25 Apr 09 |  Championship
Ten top Ninian Park memories
22 Apr 09 |  Cardiff
Farewell Ninian Park
20 Apr 09 |  Cardiff
Fans bid farewell to Ninian Park
24 Apr 09 |  History
Celtic to open new Cardiff ground
22 Apr 09 |  Cardiff
Sport Wales: The TV programme
28 Sep 09 |  Wales
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales

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