Cardiff City, or the Bluebirds as they are otherwise known, are one of only a select few Welsh teams who play their football in the English Football League. Since the club’s formation in 1899, they have proved they are not only in England to make up the numbers. Cardiff previously enjoyed almost total dominance in the Welsh Cup, and also holds the prestigious record of being the only non-English club to have won the FA Cup.
Foundations of Cardiff City
Cardiff City were originally founded under the name Riverside AFC. This is due to the fact that they, like so many other clubs, were formed out of the local cricket club bearing the same name. After Cardiff became a city in 1905, Riverside were given permission to officially call themselves Cardiff City in 1908. The club later went on to turn professional under that name in 1910, and they still play their home games at Ninian Park.
Davy McDougal initially took charge of the team as they began competitive life in Wales. His stay as Cardiff City boss was short however, as he left his post in 1911. The longest serving manager at the club, Fred Stewart, then took over team affairs, and oversaw Cardiff’s transition from the Welsh system to the English Football League system.
The Bluebirds’ first season in English football proved to be a successful one, as they were promoted from the English Division Two after finishing the 1920/21 season as runners-up. The team started life strongly in English football’s top-flight and even finished as runners-up in the 1923/24 season. This then led to a prolonged stay in the English First Division under Stewart, although the club struggled for a few seasons following their second place finish.
Despite their indifferent league form, Cardiff City did reach the FA Cup final in 1925, only to be narrowly beaten 1-0 by Sheffield United. However, the Bluebirds were back at Wembley two seasons later, this time facing the might of Arsenal. Cardiff legend Hughie Ferguson went on to score the goal that cemented the Bluebirds’ place in English football history. The team also went on to secure a famous ‘treble’ in the same season, as they added the Welsh Cup and the Charity Shield to their famous FA Cup success.
Fall from grace
Despite a respectable sixth place finish the following season, a poor sequence of form saw Cardiff relegated to Division Two, after finishing 22nd in the 1928/29 campaign. The Bluebirds performed admirably in their first season back in English football’s second tier, but things were soon about to go from bad to worse for the Welsh side. Another 22nd place finish in the 1930/31 season saw the Bluebirds suffer yet another relegation. Fred Stewart bravely battled on as Cardiff boss, despite increased pressure heaped upon him for the team’s untimely demise.
Cardiff were now languishing in the English Third Division (South), and showing no signs that they would be moving anywhere fast. After a 22-year reign as manager of Cardiff City, Fred Stewart left the club in 1933. Bartley Wilson briefly took charge, but was unable to produce anything like the results Cardiff required to get out of their current predicament. In 1934 he was replaced by Ben Watts-Jones, who oversaw a distinctly rocky period in Cardiff’s history.
At the end of the 1933/34 season, the Bluebirds had to apply for re-election after finishing bottom of the Football League. Cardiff were successfully re-elected, but were left little more than treading water in the basement of English football for the next few seasons that followed.
To make things worse, the centre stand at Ninian Park was destroyed by fire in 1937. Fans rallied around the club, and came out in numbers to support the club through one of its most difficult times. Watts-Jones left Cardiff in 1937, and was immediately replaced by Bill Jennings. This period was all about consolidation for the Welsh side, as the country soon went to war and football stood still.
After the war, there was a distinct change in fortunes at Cardiff City. When the Football League resumed in 1946, Cardiff went on to become Division Three (South) champions. Billy McCandless was now in charge at Ninian Park, and the club performed admirably, with three top five finishes in their first four seasons back in Division Two.
Cyril Spiers became the latest manager at Cardiff City in 1948, and went on to guide the Bluebirds back into Division One as runners-up in the 1951/52 campaign. Five consecutive seasons in Division Two, was quickly followed by five consecutive seasons in Division One, as Cardiff finally succumbed to relegation in 1957. For a while, it seemed as if the club would be going straight back down to the Division Three (South). A late series of wins, however, ensured that the Bluebirds held on to their Division Two status.
The club were able to gain promotion in 1960, but were promptly relegated back to Division Two two seasons later. A period of continuity in Division Two soon followed, after a number of years in which the Bluebirds were seemingly either flirting with relegation, or fighting for promotion. Jimmy Scoular oversaw the majority of Cardiff’s stay in Division Two, before finally leaving the club in 1973. During his time at Cardiff, he became the first manager to lead Cardiff into European competition. This was achieved through the team’s success in the Welsh Cup, although current regulations mean that qualification into Europe through this route is no longer possible. Cardiff even made it through to the Semi-final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup, before finally losing to Hamburg after two legs in 1968.
Cardiff’s 20-year stretch in Division Two was only broken by a single season in Division Three in the 1975/76, in which they finished second.
Return to the lower leagues
The 1984/85 and 1985/86 seasons both saw Cardiff suffer successive relegations, which once again left the Bluebirds stranded in English football’s lower leagues. It was then that Frank Burrows was brought in as the new boss of Cardiff City. Although he did manage to achieve promotion back to Division Three in the 1987/88 season, the Bluebirds finished 16th in their first season back, before being relegated in the 1989/90 season.
Despite the Cardiff fans’ unwavering attitude, the club seemed unable to attract the quality of player that was needed to bring success to the club. New revenue streams were becoming hard to find, and Cardiff were seemingly unable to hold onto a manager for longer than three seasons.
After a brief period under Len Ashurst, the Bluebirds appointed Eddie May as their new full-time manager. With the formation of the Premiership in 1992, every division adopted a slightly new title, and Cardiff were therefore playing in the new Barclays League Division Three. It was in the 1992/93 season that May achieved the seemingly impossible promotion into the Endsleigh League Division Two. The success was short lived, however, as Cardiff were unable to adapt to the higher standard of football. Although they narrowly avoided relegation in the 1993/94 season, they were once again relegated in 1995. After previously resigning, Eddie May made an emotional return to the managerial hotseat at Cardiff, but his stay lasted just a matter of months.
Phil Neal was the manager of Cardiff City when they recorded their lowest ever finish in league football. The Bluebirds lost exactly half of their games in the 1995/96 season, and were only able to score 41 goals in the entire campaign. This led to a very disappointing season, finishing in 22nd place.
A change of league sponsorship took place, as Cardiff were now competing in the newly renamed Nationwide League Division Three. The successful 1996/97 season saw the Bluebirds finish in a lofty 7th place, which saw them qualify for the play-offs. However, this ended in disappointment for the Welsh side, and they were left to contemplate another season in Division Three.
Continuing with the trend of former managers returning to Ninian Park, Frank Burrows made an inspired comeback, as he guided Cardiff City to 3rd place in the 1998/99 season. Many felt that this promotion would see Cardiff heading further up the leagues, but this proved to be a false dawn. Burrows only lasted the one season back in Wales, and Billy Ayre took charge as Cardiff were relegated the very next season after finishing in 21st place.
The Sam Hammam Years
Lebanese businessman Sam Hammam then chose to buy Cardiff City in August 2000 for a reported figure of £11,500,000. This sudden injection of cash into the club had an instant impact, as Cardiff achieved promotion in their first season under new ownership. Few expected Cardiff to compete as well as they did upon their return to the Nationwide League Division Two. The Bluebirds battled hard, and were even able to reach the play-offs after finishing in 4th place.
Lenny Lawrence was named the new manager of Cardiff City in 2002, and he proved to be an inspired appointment, guiding the Bluebirds into the play-offs for the second successive season. After brushing aside Bristol City in the semi-final, the scene was set for what was to be an historic final against Queens Park Rangers.
After an enthralling game which could have gone either way, Cardiff City emerged victorious, and returned to the second tier of English football after a gruelling 18-years spent in the lower leagues. A mid-table finish followed, as Cardiff consolidated their position in Division One. Lenny Lawrence left the club in 2005 after it was decided that he could take the club no further. Dave Jones was the man chosen to replace Lawrence, and has stayed as the Bluebirds’ manager ever since.
Cardiff never really hit the heights that some would have hoped during the first few seasons under Jones. However, the Bluebirds started the 2006/2007 season like a house on fire and quickly raced to the summit of the Coca-Cola Championship. Young hot-shot Michael Chopra was in inspired form, and even as early as September, many were predicting that the Welsh side were certain favourites for promotion to the Premiership. However, by Christmas, Cardiff had fallen away from the two automatic promotion spots and the team began to struggle. The team eventually finished in a disappointing 13th place, a position which wasn’t even good enough to qualify Cardiff for the play-offs.
In the close season, Sunderland quickly stepped in to snap up Michael Chopra for a club record £5,000,000. Dave Jones oversaw a summer of rebuilding at Ninian Park, as he attempted to assemble a squad capable of once again challenging for promotion. The much travelled Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, and Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler were both brought to the club on free transfers in an attempt to bolster Cardiff’s forward line. However, the pair have so far failed to score the goals that many had expected.
The team are currently hovering just about the relegation places in 20th position with just three league wins all season. Unless Dave Jones can quickly turn around the team’s poor form, he could soon find himself as the latest, in an ever increasing line of managerial casualties this season.
- Football League Division One Runners-Up: 1923/24
- Football League Division Two Runners-Up: 1920/21, 1951/52, 1959/60
- Football League Division Three (S) Champions: 1946/47
- Football League Division Three Champions: 1992/93
- Football League Division Three Runners-Up: 1975/76, 1982/83, 2000/01
- Football League Division Four Runners-Up: 1987/88
- FA Cup Winners: 1927
- FA Cup Runners-Up: 1925
- Football League Cup Semi-Final: 1966
- Welsh Cup Winners: 22 times
- Charity Shield Winners: 1927
- Record League Victory: 9-2 v Thames, Division Three (S), 6 February 1932
- Record Cup Victory: 8-0 v Enfield, FA Cup 1st rd, 28 November 1931
- Record Defeat: 2-11 v Sheffield United, Division One, 1 January 1926
- Highest League Scorer in a Season: Robert Earnshaw, 31, Division Two, 2002/03
- Most League Goals in Total Aggregate: Len Davies, 128, 1920-1931
- Most League Appearances: Phil Dwyer, 471, 1972-1985
- Youngest League Player: John Toshack, 16 years 236 days v Leyton Orient, 13 November 1965
- Record Transfer Fee Received: £5,000,000 from Sunderland for Michael Chopra, July 2007
- Record Transfer Fee Paid: £1,700,000 to Stoke City for Peter Thorne, September 2001
- Longest Sequence of League Wins: 9, 26/10/1946 – 28/12/1946
- Longest Sequence of League Defeats: 7, 4/11/1933 – 25/12/1933
- Longest Sequence of League Draws: 6, 29/11/1980 – 17/1/1981
- Longest Sequence of Unbeaten League Matches: 21, 21/9/1946 – 1/3/1947
- Longest Sequence Without a League Win: 15, 21/11/1936 – 6/3/1937
- Successive Scoring Runs: 23 from 24/10/1992
- Successive Non-scoring Runs: 8 from 20/12/1952