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Cardiff City fans revel in fantasy football

Cardiff City fans celebrate Peter Whittingham's goal
Peter Whittingham's goal against Leicester capitulated Cardiff's fans into a frenzy

Championship play-off semi-final second-leg
Cardiff City v Leicester City

Venue: Cardiff City Stadium Date: Wednesday, 12 May Time: 1745 BST
Coverage: Full commentary on BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru and BBC 5 Live Sports Extra & online, live text commentary online and score updates on BBC Radio 5 Live & BBC Sport website. Live on Sky Sports 1 & highlights on Wednesday's Football League Show at 0000 BST on BBC ONE Wales

By Peter Shuttleworth

Rarely is reality sweeter than fantasy but for Cardiff City, sweet dreams do not get much better than this.

Cardiff's recent past has been mostly spent worrying about finances while languishing amongst the no-hopers near the foot of the Football League.

Today the club is still worrying about money, but the Premier League that always seemed a distant desire is now very much in sight.

Years of broken Bluebirds dreams seem a world away in the aftermath of their Championship play-off semi-final first leg triumph at Leicester City on Sunday, a 1-0 win that puts them tantalisingly close to the Wembley final on 22 May.

It was just a dozen years ago that Wales' capital club was in League Two's bottom four - and an anxious flirtation with dropping into non-league obscurity.

Now the Football League offers escape to the promised land rather than down. And while there is still anxiety among supporters about Cardiff letting their advantageous position slip, the consequences are different.

The club their own manager once called "rag bag Rovers" is now primed for a season's finish which could erase their £15m debt inside 90 minutes of kicking a ball around.

My fear is Cardiff don't go up as everything at the club is not rosy

Former Cardiff City captain Jason Perry

The estimated £90m jackpot of Premier League promotion - would inject enough money into Cardiff to satisfy Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs' £1.9m tax bill and pay for a few little extra luxuries.

"It would be a life-changing event for everybody associated with this football club," acknowledged Cardiff's managerial mastermind Dave Jones.

Jones arrived at the tumbledown Ninian Park in 2005 and was faced with a fire-sale as Cardiff frantically flogged their so-called star names to reduce the wage bill as the boss begged and borrowed for players.

And over the next five years, the Cardiff boss moulded a squad of journeymen and cast-offs into a team with the potential to fulfil a dream that not even the most die-hard Bluebird would ever have thought possible when Jason Perry skippered City.

"The strides the club has made in a relatively short space of time is incredible," the Cardiff cult hero told BBC Sport.

"When I was at Cardiff in the late 1980s and 1990s we all dreamt of playing in a new stadium in the Premier League but, in reality, we never ever thought it would happen

"It wasn't long ago when I as club captain turned up for an away game and there was no bus to take us as the club owed so much money to bus companies across south Wales.

"I can also remember us only having 11 outfield kits and having to literally fight for your shirt before games.

"And because the club had no training facility, the players used to find out where we were training 20 minutes before, when the manager had rung around to see if there was any spare pitches in Cardiff - preferably ones we don't owe money to.

Cardiff City boss Dave Jones delighted at his team's success
Leicester's Nigel Pearson may yet wipe the smile from Cardiff's Dave Jones

"Then sometimes we'd get kicked off pitches in the middle of training because a parks game took precedent. So from then to now, the transformation of the club is beyond all expectations."

Cardiff were promoted into English football's second tier in 2003 after their League One play-off glory and the club has since starred in the 2008 FA Cup final, built a £50m stadium, moved into state-of-the-art training facilities and have become a consistent Championship force.

Jones and his team suffered final-day play-off heartache last season -missing out on the end-of-season lottery by just one goal - but has gone one better this year as Cardiff bid to end their 48-year top-flight exile.

Perry, a wholehearted player turned respected pundit, conceded feeling a little emotional on Sunday when he watched from the Walkers Stadium stands.

And he admits: "The dream we once had can now actually become a reality with a little composure and quality. And now the club has the foundations and is ready for the Premier League."

But boss Jones was quick to point out Cardiff's task was only half complete as Leicester prepare to overturn their play-off deficit in Wednesday's second leg at the Cardiff City Stadium to seal a final against Blackpool.

And Perry admits Wednesday's occasion may be do-or-die for Cardiff because of the match's pivotal importance in the club's future.

606: DEBATE
Mikeypoos

The £6m injection from a Malaysian consortium - led by property developer Dato Chan Tien Ghee - has temporarily stabilised the debt-ridden club but as the board is restricted and chairman Peter Ridsdale departs, the future for Cardiff looks uncertain should their play-off bid fail.

"There have always been financial difficulties at Cardiff, even in my day," said Perry.

"It is well-documented the club have overstretched themselves and gambled on achieving promotion but Cardiff might get away with it.

"But my fear is Cardiff don't go up as everything at the club is not rosy.

"The new investors may seek to trim the wage bill and cash in on some of Cardiff's better players to reduce the debt.

"And there's no doubt Jay Bothroyd, Peter Whittingham, Michael Chopra and Joe Ledley can play at a higher level or be of interest to the richer teams in the Championship."

So, Wednesday's play-off semi-final second leg with Leicester is amongst the biggest in the club's 111-year history. Well, possibly for 10 days.

* Catch highlights of Cardiff City's 1-0 first-leg over Leicester on BBC TWO Wales at 2200 BST on Monday oron iPlayer



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see also
Play-off wide open - Whittingham
10 May 10 |  Cardiff
League clubs accept payment plan
10 May 10 |  Football
Cardiff given more time over tax
05 May 10 |  South east
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales


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