The Giant Killers

Subtitle

 

 All time greatest F A cup giant killings

Number 21

 

Cardiff City 2-1 Leeds United

Third Round: Sunday January 6th 2002

Ninian Park, Cardiff

Attendance: 22,009

Scorers: Mark Viduka 12, Graham Kavanagh 20, Scott Young 87

 

The Euro came into circulation as Francs, Marks, Lira, Pesetas and Punts were gradually being removed from circulation, The worst of the Foot and Mouth crisis had passed, Elijah Wood was Frodo with Ian McKellan as his mentor Gandalf in the first of the trilogy of 'Lord of the Rings' films, for the first time ever, ITV's annual viewing figures were beaten by BBC One and  Daniel Beddingfield was topping the charts with 'Gotta Get Through This'

For fans of Cardiff City the 1990s was a decade of frustration. They started and ended the it in exactly the same position, facing relegation from the third tier; and for good measure they’d been promoted, relegated and promoted again in between. That third relegation into the Football League basement in 2000 coincided with the arrival of one of the most divisive chairmen the game in the 21st Century has experienced, Sam Hammam.

The Lebanese businessman was best known for being the chairman of Wimbledon’s famed crazy gang. The crew of supposed misfits who gelled as a team to torment the old First Division and win the FA cup back in the eighties. As the century drew to a close Hammam sensed the party was over and sold his stake in the club to find a new challenge in Wales.

Never shy of an opportunity to create publicity, Hammam was soon putting his team in the papers with bold declarations that he would make all of Wales support Cardiff and even suggested changing the club colours from their famous blue to the national flag of white, green and red on a fasttrack to the Premier League. He achieved none of those objectives and instead managed only to deter potential support by openly embracing the club’s notorious Soul Crew, a hooligan throwback to the dark days of the 1980s.

On the field Hammam brought his former Wimbledon club captain, Alan Cork to the club as manager and opened the cheque book to allow him to build a team that could end their forty year top flight exile.

Cork’s side already contained the highly experienced former Premier League players, Willie Boland and Irish International, Graham Kavanagh. Andy Legg, Mark Bonner and Paul Brayson were all well-known faces among the lower divisions while Scott Young was a popular one club man. Perhaps the most exciting prospect in Cork’s dressing room was the sought-after talent of Rob Earnshaw, already attracting interest from the Premier League giants.

Cork, or possibly more accurately Hammam, went to the transfer market and brought in a quintet of players with top flight experience. Spencer Prior won the League Cup with Leicester but was finding top flight Football hard to come by at Manchester City. Des Hamilton had been loaned out to several clubs by Newcastle while Jason Bowen and Rhys Weston had just four Southampton and Arsenal appearances between them. A record £1.7million was spent on Peter Thorne whose only appearance in the great 90s Blackburn team was in the Charity Shield. Leyton Maxwell once scored in a League cup tie for Liverpool but was allowed to join City on a free transfer. Danny Gabbidon came from second tier West Brom and keeper, Neil Alexander was lured south from Scottish Football with chairman, Hammam widely predicting an International future for him. Cork completed his team with the modest recruitment of Leo Fortune-West and Josh Low from the lower divisions.

Sam Hammam’s brief was a simple one. Get Cardiff from the fourth tier to the Premier League in the shortest possible time. Alan Cork’s side successfully negotiated the first hurdle comfortably as runners up in the basement but their return to the third tier started poorly and after ten games they were deep in the lower half of the table and Cork looked to be on borrowed time.

City improved but too many draws left them outside the play-offs when they started their cup run with an away day at their own Ninian Park. Non-League Tiverton were drawn at home but rather harshly lost their home advantage due to fears over the travelling Cardiff hooligan element. Paul Brayson opened City’s cup run with Des Hamilton and Rob Earnshaw ensuring their passage to round two before a late Tiverton consolation.

By the time Port Vale visited in round two Cardiff were back in the promotion race in a play-off place and they made short work of their third tier opponents through Earnshaw, Gavin Gordon and Leo Fortune-West in a 3-0 victory earned without their regular first choice striker, Peter Thorne, whose season was blighted by injury.

The third round draw set them up with a dream tie for Hammam’s accountant and a nightmare for the Cardiff Constabulary. Premier League title favourites, Leeds were coming to Ninian Park.

Like Cardiff, Leeds were spending ambitiously, albeit at a completely different financial level and manager, David O’Leary’s brief was to bring back the League title they last won a decade earlier and missed out on last season due to a poor start. This time the men from Elland Road started well and were right in the thick of the title race.

The Yorkshiremen formed the backbone of the England national team from goalkeeper Nigel Martyn through Rio Ferdinand, Danny Mills, Jonathan Woodgate, Alan Smith and striker, Robbie Fowler. His goal partner was the Australian, Mark Viduka while O’Leary’s Irish homeland provided Ian Harte and Gary Kelly. The veteran David Batty was a former League Champion and ex England International while Lee Bowyer’s first England cap would surely already have come but for an altercation in an Asian restaurant where he and Woodgate had been accused of serious assault on an Asian man. It was this attack that threatened the only chink in O’Leary’s title bid as Woodgate was convicted in part on the evidence of his own team mate, Michael Duberry.

Despite an injury disrupted first half of the season, it was this team whose colours were lowered just twice in their twenty-one League games before travelling to Cardiff. They sat proudly on top of the Premier League after a convincing despatching of an in form West Ham on New Year’s Day and were due to face Dutch giants, PSV in the last sixteen of the UEFA cup.  Cardiff meanwhile failed to win any of their four league fixtures through Christmas and were back out of the play-off spots.

In his pre-match press conference, David O’Leary predicted Leeds’s cup run would start and end in Cardiff, these being the days when the Welsh national stadium deputised for Wembley as it was being rebuilt. The bold prediction was only challenged by those pundits arguing that a lot of Football had to be played to get to the final. None thought to suggest that O’Leary’s statement might mean a third round exit.

Former Leeds legend, John Charles, who ended his playing career at Cardiff in the 1960s, led out the two teams into a gladiatorial atmosphere that became increasingly intimidating as the game progressed. A section of the travelling Leeds support hurled abuse at local Asian residents on the way to the ground and the game was barely a minute old when the first bottle of the afternoon was hurled pitchward. Sadly the game would be literally littered with bottles and coins before the day was out.

On the pitch, Cardiff started brightly, although Gavin Gordon was too enthusiastic in his tenth minute challenge on Rio Ferdinand that left the England man with ankle ligament damage. It also left David O’Leary with a potentially awkward defensive situation as Michael Duberry and Jonathan Woodgate had to form a defensive partnership for the first time since Duberry’s testimony against his team mate. The pair barely made eye contact but still had the combined skill and professionalism to work effectively as a partnership.

Within two minutes of the change, Leeds were in front, and it came as something of a gift. Spencer Prior’s wayward pass was snapped up on the halfway line by Gary Kelly who picked out Mark Viduka with a perfect through ball. The Australian forward had the space to wait for the ball before lashing it, first time, past a helpless Alexander from twenty yards.

On the side-lines, Alan Cork privately braced himself for the prospect of a drubbing but his team carried on unfazed and were rewarded less than ten minutes later when Graham Kavanagh was presented with a free kick within striking distance of Martyn’s goal. The England keeper marshalled his back line for a cross only for Kavanagh to sweetly strike a perfectly placed effort through the awfully lined up wall, high inside Martyn’s right hand post.

Leeds remained on top in a cagey encounter until two minutes before the interval when Andy Durso controversially ordered Alan Smith from the field for an elbow on Andy Legg. Television replays supported Smith’s version of events that he was merely trying to shake off the Cardiff man. Half time came with the Leeds boss apoplectic with the referee.

The handicap shaped Leeds’ game plan in the second half as they retreated into a more defensive pattern and appeared happy to take the tie back to Elland Road. It set up a largely uneventful second half until fifteen minutes from time when Viduka burst through and seemed certain to restore Leeds’ advantage before Scott Young produced a fantastic last ditch challenge.

That was Sam Hammam’s cue to start a slow walk from his seat along the touchline. A hail of coins and bottles accompanied his path as he passed the Leeds fans before receiving a rapturous reception from the Cardiff hard core behind the goal. The Cardiff chairman’s actions only served to ramp up the tension even more as Andy Durso was struck by the latest shower of coins thrown on the pitch.

Hammam and his minders remained on the touchline behind the goal as the introduction of Leo Fortune-West with six minutes remaining suddenly had the Premier League defence rattled. The third tier side forced a trio of corners, the third of which was met by Fortune-West whose goal bound header was blocked on the line by David Batty before falling favourably for Scott Young to blast home from close range.

The ten men of Leeds were unable to muster a match saving effort as the Cardiff chairman marched up and down the touchline giving the Ayatollah, a salute invented by the Bluebirds’ fans a few years earlier but claimed by Hammam as his invention. All the while tensions continued to be stoked on the touchlines in the few remaining minutes until a probably relieved Andy Durso brought the game to a conclusion.

Hammam, complete with a Welsh flag led an initially good natured pitch invasion but within seconds of the players leaving the scene, events began to turn ugly and Police had their work cut out to prevent opposing fans clashing violently inside the ground. Outside the ground was a different matter as Police were overwhelmed by a near riot.

There were ugly scenes between the representatives of the two clubs as well as Hammam saw David O’Leary in the car park and taunted him, shouting “I told you we were the bigger club! At least you were right about one thing. Your cup run ended in Cardiff!” A furious O’Leary had to be restrained by Leeds Chairman, Peter Ridsdale before later telling a press conference that Hammam’s actions in walking around the touchline threw fuel on the fires of the violence. Hammam responded by saying that he had permission from the FA, though the FA ultimately saw it the same way as O’Leary and banned the Cardiff Chairman from any further excursions.

A fourth round draw away to third tier Tranmere wasn’t the reward Hammam or Cardiff were looking for but they could at least expect their big money team to book a fifth round spot and another Premier League side. Despite their poor League form, Tranmere had a formidable cup reputation and Cardiff could have little complaints in a 1-3 defeat where Hammam yet again made the news. This time he left the ground at half time after being refused a seat on the Cardiff bench. It later transpired that Tranmere had no issue with it and that Alan Cork had said no amid rumours he had been dismissed.

Sure enough, Cork, never particularly popular with the City fans, was sacked when it became apparent that his instructions to win back to back promotions was not going to be met. Lennie Lawrence had been waiting in the wings since the start of the season and now stepped in to steer the Bluebirds to a losing play-off appearance.

Both Cardiff and Leeds’ immediate futures would be remarkably similar. Leeds’ League form collapsed after the cup exit and a season that promised the title, faded away to them failing to even qualify for the Champions League. It proved a financial disaster for the Elland Road club as their Chairman, Peter Ridsdale had gambled the club on the riches of Europe’s biggest competition. Without those millions, Leeds were ruined and David O’Leary was fired in the summer. Leeds were forced into a fire sales as their Premier League rivals picked over the bones of a side that had the World at their feet the day they went to Cardiff. The Peacocks just about survived the following season before relegation was confirmed in 2004.

Not that anyone in Cardiff was laughing. Lennie Lawrence guided them to promotion in 2003 with only Paul Brayson missing from the side that defeated Leeds a year earlier, having moved on to continue a journeyman career in the lower divisions. The rest of the players were to be in for a shock when their reward for winning the Championship was to be either sold, released or offered a pay cut as Cardiff’s huge expenditure now came back to haunt them.

The big money sale of star man, Rob Earnshaw to Premier League West Brom wasn’t enough to solve their problems. Earnshaw would later claim the prize of being the only player to score hat-tricks in all four divisions, both cups and at International level. Danny Gabbidon too was sold into the Premier League where he played in the 2006 cup final for West Ham while Neil Alexander returned to Scotland to play in a UEFA cup final for Rangers. Goal hero Graham Kavanagh also enjoyed life in the top flight after helping Wigan to promotion. Dean Gordon and Leo Fortune-West moved on to continue lower division careers with various clubs while Spencer Prior was let go, eventually going into coaching in Australia. Andy Legg gradually dropped into Welsh Non-League Football while the careers of Scott Young and Mark Bonner were brought to a premature end through injury. By the end of 2004 only Willie Boland remained before returning to his native Ireland in 2006.

 

The ever-controversial Sam Hammam remained in control until 2006 when he agreed to a takeover masterminded by the very man who stepped down from Leeds after overseeing their meltdown, Peter Ridsdale. Hammam’s involvement wasn’t over there however and, after a long-standing dispute about unpaid debts, he was made life president of Cardiff in 2013, Though he didn’t have anything to do with the club’s controversial change to a red kit he hinted at years before.

Cardiff: 1: Neil Alexander, 6: Danny Gabbidon, 5: Spencer Prior, 18: Scott Young, 3: Andy Legg, 12:Willie Boland, 15: Mark Bonner, 8: Graham Kavanagh, 14: Paul Brayson, 10: Robert Earnshaw, 20: Gavin Gordon (Replaced by 9: Leo Fortune-West 79) Manager: Alan Cork

Leeds: 1: Nigel Martyn, 18: Danny Mills, 6:Jonathan Woodgate, 29: Rio Ferdinand (Replaced by 22: Michael Duberry 10), 3: Ian Harte, 2: Gary Kelly, 11: Lee Bowyer, 23: David Batty, 17: Alan Smith {Sent off 42}, 9: Mark Viduka, 27: Robbie Fowler. Manager: David O'Leary 

 






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