To err is human…Or to be a modern referee. Mistake after costly mistake has lately been made, to the outrage and expense of the clubs which have been its victims. Arsenal, for instance, twice in the same week.
Vink, the Dutch referee, simply ignored the blatant restraint by his compatriot Dirk Kuyt on his Arsenal opponent during the first leg European Cup tie in London. Just three days later, the Gunners should have certainly have had a spot kick when, with Liverpool again the visitors and the culprits, the young Brazilian Lucas had a tug at Cesc Fabregas. Phil Dowd, the referee, saw nothing wrong. Nor at Wembley on the same day did referee Webb when Milan Baros Portsmouth’s Czech international striker handled in the prelude to a scramble from which Nwankwo Kanu knocked the ball in for the game’s only goal, taking Pompey to the Cup Final for the first time since 1939. West Bromwich were indeed hard done by.
I watched the subsequent, Sunday, semi final, dreary as it largely was, between Cardiff City and Barnsley. Much of the earlier virtue seemed to have gone out of Barnsley after their sensational wins in the Cup over Liverpool and Chelsea. Yet they should never have lost, the bitter irony of it being that the villain of the pieces was the hero of the win against Chelsea: the big Nigernian, Kayode Odejayui. Scorer with a spectacular header of the goal which beat Chelsea at Oakwell, he seemed certain to score with his foot when the busy, impressive Barnsley skipper, Brian Howard, put him though a confused Cardiff defence. On and on he went, advancing on the Cardiff goal but when he did shoot, it was a pitiful effort which cleared the near post. So one Nigerian put Pompey through, while another condemned Barnsley.
Cardiff’s Ledley took his goal impressively well when he hooked the ball home after a couple of weak Barnsley headers. But I felt it hard to understand manager Dave Jones’ choice of two elderly strikers. One, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, still has enough guile and experience to turn the trick at times, but Trevor Sinclair, versatile though he be, has never been an out and out striker, but rather a left-winger. These two gave the Cardiff centre backs a pretty untroubled afternoon. When Cardiff, as they should, get the young Welsh international Paul Parry back, they should make a better fist of it, while there is lively young talent coming through in the shape of Ramsey.
It is 81 years since Cardiff beat Arsenal at Wembley with that freak goal in the 1927 Final. Yet it should not be ignored that through the 1920s they were a formidable power. This though it was only in 1920 that they attained Football League status with promotion to Division Two. They were out of there and in the Championship almost at once and would have won the Second Division title had Birmingham not pipped them on goal average.
In 1923, Birmingham were their Nemesis again. In the very last game of the Championship they failed with a penalty at Birmingham and thus enabled Herbert Chapman’s Huddersfield Town to beat them to the title; on goal average once again. You might say their victory at Wembley over Arsenal in 1927 was something of a revenge for, of course, by then Chapman was managing the Gunners.
What a strange goal they scored! There seemed scant danger when Hugh Ferguson the Cardiff centre forward, doomed, alas, to gas himself, shot. Danny Lewis, the Gunners’ Welsh keeper, stopped to take the ball, but somehow it slipped out of his grasp and as he spun round, he could do no better than knock it into his own goal with his elbow.
Later in the game, the illustrious Charlie Buchan, inside right and captain of the club he had left in 1909 as an amateur, over a squabble about a mere 11 shillings expenses, might have equalised. A cross from Hoar eluded the Cardiff keeper, but when Buchan and Jimmy Brain, the Gunners’ centre forward, converged on the ball, they left it to one another and the chance was gone.
In the dressing room, a sad Lewis confessed that he had dropped his runners’ up medal on the pitch. A fellow Welshman, Bob John ran out to retrieve it for him. The beaten team went by motor coach to Marylebone Station. There, Buchan took them into a pub, bought them a drink, after which they made their various ways home.
The star turn of the Cardiff team was the remarkable Fred Keenor, centre half in the team which narrowly lost the Final, two years earlier, to Sheffield United, after a fatal hesitation by their right half, Wake – asleep, alas, rather than awake! – enabling Sheffield United to contrive the winner. Keenor was right half in 1927. He played 400 League games for Cardiff.