Thursday, February 23, 2012
ESPNsoccernet: February 24, 10:35 AM UK
Cardiff claim cup glory
As Cardiff prepare for the Carling Cup final against Liverpool this weekend, the Welsh side know that they have the chance to make history. The club have brought home few major trophies in their 113-year history, but winning the FA Cup final in 1927 against Herbert Chapman's Arsenal was the culmination of a decade in which the Bluebirds were seen as one of the top clubs in the English league.
Having just been taken over by the legendary manager Herbert Chapman, Arsenal were hot favourites for the 1927 FA Cup final. Facing them were Cardiff, who had been defeated finalists two years earlier and were bidding to become the first Welsh side to take the trophy outside of England. As the first Cup Final to be broadcast by BBC Radio, they would have a larger than usual audience to play to.
The year's competition had seen a brand new format as an unprecedented 552 teams entered to eventually be whittled down to 64 in the Third Round. While Arsenal began by beating the Bluebirds' conquerors in the 1925 Final, Sheffield United, Cardiff saw off Aston Villa and Darlington before a shock 2-0 win over the 1926 champions Bolton. The Welsh side then dispatched Chelsea after a thrilling 3-2 replay and Reading in the semi-finals to make it to Wembley.
According to the BBC: ''Cardiff City had adopted a black cat, Trixie, as star striker Hughie Ferguson believed she was a good omen. Ferguson found her wandering astray on the Royal Birkdale golf course as City's players prepared for their fifth-round tie at Bolton Wanderers. Ferguson called on nearby home-owners and found the cat's owner who agreed to the proposal - as long as he was given two tickets if the club progressed to the Cup final. A deal was struck and the lucky mascot delivered."
Trixie would find herself in honoured company as April 23 arrived as, alongside 93,000 at Wembley, were King George V and Britain's two 20th Century war-time prime ministers, David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill. The Welsh side's bus had been pelted with leeks in an act of casual racism by the English fans before kick-off, but Ferguson's faith in his lucky feline would be well placed as Cardiff emerged victorious.
The first-half of the game, though, was decidedly dull, with The Daily Express' correspondent turning his eye to other things in the absence of action: "It was pretty of course. On the one side there were the Reds in their new jerseys, and very nice too. On the other side, the Blues: underneath; the beautiful green; overhead the blue sky. If the teams had been selected for their colours then the spectacle could not have been more picturesque, but the football took a long time to become worth watching."
The Daily Mirror's P.J. Moss, under a headline of 'How England's Football Cup Went To Wales', wrote: "It was a poor game and a fluke goal decided the issue. The great feature of the contest was the superb and heroic defences of the Cardiff backs and half-backs. And of these, Hanley stood out head and shoulder above his fellows... Even the Arsenal partisans had to give England's best half-back a share of the applause."
With their defence described as ''like a brick wall'', Cardiff held firm to repel countless Arsenal attacks. "The Arsenal had the balance of play in the first-half in which they attacked almost incessantly," wrote Moss. "At one time in the first-half, they took five corners in five minutes but the ball never went kindly for them."
After the break, though, it seemed that the Welsh side had emerged with renewed confidence. "When the game did begin to look like a football match after the interval, I thought Cardiff were going to win," read the report from the by-lined 'Broadcaster' of the Daily Express. "They seemed suddenly to feel full of hope. Despite the distance, I could almost detect the sparkle in their eyes. Fifteen minutes after the interval, I made a note: 'Cardiff look like scoring'."
Moss wrote of the match being ''singularly devoid of incident'' before the moment it turned for Cardiff. But when it did, it was eventful, as he described: "Twenty nine minutes of the second half had slipped by, and we were talking of extra-time being played, when Cardiff, in one of their attacks got away down the left. Len Davies provided the ball into the centre to Ferguson, and he drove it from about the penalty line. In making a good save, [Dan] Lewis fell full length and onto the ball. He was quite a couple of yards outside his goal and unhampered by opposing players. He came to his knees - apparently intending to throw the ball away, slipped; it fell out of his hands and towards the goal. Lewis scrambled after the ball, but could not reach it before it crossed the fatal white line, and by that fluky goal Cardiff took the Cup to Wales."
The Express' reporter felt little sympathy for the Rhondda-bred Welshman, writing: "If Lewis had been given a second chance then he would surely have dealt with it like a master. But the rules do not provide for second chances."
Ernie Curtis, Cardiff's 19-year-old centre-wing, revealed: "I was in line with the edge of the penalty area on the right when Hughie Ferguson hit the shot which Arsenal's goalie had crouched down for a little early. The ball spun as it travelled towards him, having taken a slight deflection so he was now slightly out of line with it. Len Davies was following the shot in and I think Dan must have had one eye on him. The result was that he didn't take it cleanly and it squirmed under him and over the line. Len jumped over him and into the net, but never actually touched it."
The goal was enough to see the trophy head to Cardiff, while Lewis blamed the error on his new jersey, claiming that the wool was greasy and had made it difficult to grip the ball. His son Dave reflected to the Daily Telegraph in 2008: "I remember sitting in a pub with him towards the end of his life and he told me the sheen on his jersey made the ball slip out. Arsenal must have believed him because for years afterwards their goalies were instructed to wash their new shirts to get the dressing out of the wool. They say no Arsenal keeper has ever since been allowed to play in a cup final with a new jersey."
On receiving his losers' medal from King George V, a disgusted Lewis reportedly cried: "This is not for me," before flinging it as far as he could into the Wembley crowd. Legend has it that the entire Arsenal team went back out on to the pitch afterwards and got down on their hands and knees to look for it; ultimately the slightly dented artefact found its way home to his son. Lewis, though, never lived the game down and years later his Arsenal team-mate, Bob John, reflected: "Poor Dan. I don't think he was ever the same again."
A crowd of 150,000 lined the streets of Cardiff to welcome the Wembley heroes back home but, while captain Fred Keenor frankly admitted that the side had "got a bit lucky", it remains the greatest moment in the Welsh club's history. For now.
What happened next? The FA Cup win was followed up by defeating Rhyl FC 2-0 in the Welsh Cup. Cardiff then beat the Corinthians 2-1 at Stamford Bridge to claim the Charity Shield. The following season saw them begin well in the league and top the table briefly, before dropping to sixth place. In 1928-29 though, the club were relegated and by 1933, when Fred Stewart resigned after 22 years in charge, they were in the lowest division in league football. For his part, Lewis continued as first-choice for Arsenal for the next three years, but was dropped for the FA Cup Final win over Huddersfield in 1930 as Chapman feared that he would not be able to cope with the pressure. He left the club a year later.
While Cardiff reached the FA Cup final in 2008 - a 1-0 defeat to Portsmouth - 1927 remains the only time that a club from outside of England have lifted a major domestic trophy.