Bluebirds rise from the ashes herald new rivalry in EPL

Reformed bad boy Bellamy sums up passion that Bluebirds should bring on their return to the top flight next season

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 April, 2013, 5:29am

In the mountainous land of celtic myths and legends including Ryan Giggs, Gareth Bale and John Toshack it is the Year of the Dragon - and this week Wales wove some football magic to make Merlin proud.

Championship side Cardiff City were promoted to the English Premier League after their 0-0 draw with Charlton on Tuesday - 53 years to the day since the club last gained promotion to English football's top flight.

Cardiff's long ascendancy has been plagued by as many pitfalls as a Welsh valley, the trudge to the summit dogged by more misery than romance.

Not so long ago the Bluebirds were third from bottom of the old Division Four and eyeballing the anonymity that greets a team at the bottom of the dark drop out of league football.

But Cardiff clung on - only to face in the following decade mounting debt, winding-up petitions, court orders, tax bills and barmy and fleecing owners.

The club and its supporters have endured the heartbreak of three defeats in the Championships play-offs in three consecutive year and lost two cup finals.

More woe had been heaped on Cardiff than coal dust on a mid-Wales slag heap. But with true grit, the club have finally scrubbed up to EPL scratch and deserve their phoenix-from-the-ashes flight of football fancy.

Instrumental in ending the long period of frustration and disappointment has been reformed bad boy Craig Bellamy. If you have been watching the EPL for the past two decades you will know all about Welshman Bellamy - he has played at so many clubs he has been impossible to miss.

In his bumpy 16-year-career, the 33-year-old striker has been in nine teams. Liverpool, Manchester City, Newcastle and Celtic are among the sizeable collection of team shirts neatly folded in this wardrobe.

His trophy cabinet has plenty of impressive silverware and cloth caps. Bellamy has won a League Cup, a Scottish Cup and a Community Shield, been capped 74 times for Wales and played for Team GB at the Olympics. But few associate the striker with his accolades. Tucked away in his luggage is the black book detailing his less savoury side, including numerous court appearances and violent scrapes.

Infamously, he allegedly drunkenly confronted then-Liverpool teammate John Arne Riise with a golf club and threw a chair at Newcastle coach John Carver.

But the Welsh international claims to have tamed the delinquent "inner chimp" that once swung wildly across his sensibilities and caused havoc. Sessions with psychiatrist, Dr Steve Peters, has given the striker a "new-found calm and maturity", he says.

When he returned permanently to his hometown club last summer after his second move from Liverpool, he said it was his personal mission to take Cardiff into the EPL, declaring it would be his greatest achievement if he succeeded.

And so it has proved. The prodigal son has returned again - and this time he remembered to bring the prized bacon.

Bellamy may be as divisive as Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister laid to rest this week. But he must also be championed for the strength of his convictions and his ability to divide opinion about him.

He may have scored only four goals this season, but by channelling and controlling his high passion and aggression on the pitch, he has helped end half a century of failure at the South Wales club.

Fittingly for Bellamy the club's motto is "Fire and Passion", and his bristling temperament has personified Cardiff FC and unified the terraces.

As the only Cardiff-born player in the squad he has become, in the eyes of fans, a talisman defending the identity of the 114 year-old club.

Speculation about a name-change to the Cardiff Dragons (the club's new badge has Welsh dragon emblazoned on it) has rumbled most of this season and remains a bone of contention.

Last year - in what appeared to be a reasoning inspired by the cousin of Bellamy's erstwhile crazy chimp - the club's Malaysian owner and principal investor, Vincent Tan, turned the Bluebirds into the Redbirds, dropping the traditional blue for a red kit.

One tabloid paper says red is Tan's favourite colour, but the move has a tad more thought if not logic put into it, thankfully. The board believed the pigment makeover "will make the club more attractive in the Far East market" where red is seen as auspicious. By identifying with a new potential fan base, so the reasoning goes, Cardiff - reportedly losing £1 million (HK$11.8 million) a month - will soon be back in the black.

As any sane chimp with an MBA will tell you, a club would be better building on and better marketing its successes rather than embarking on a psychological colour war in Asia with established "red" brands such as United and Liverpool. But perhaps a pinch of madness is required to succeed in the mad world of football, a topic Bellamy's shrink might have views on.

Undoubtedly, however, Tan's financial generosity, business know-how and ambition since he took a 40 per cent stake in the club in 2010 have brought much needed success - and he has been quick to promise his manager Malky MacKay £25 million "just to survive" in the EPL.

We neutrals should also swing our scarfs in respect of Tan. We now have another mouth-watering derby to witness whenever Cardiff take on Swansea City, who became the first Welsh club to play in the EPL after promotion in 2011.

The rivalry between them promises rip-roaring goalmouth to goalmouth action and all parts in-between. Swansea boss Michael Laudrup said next season's clashes would be as fearsome as the Rome derbies that he played in for Lazio.

Tidy, as they say in Wales.