Wednesday, 28 July 2010

A turbulent pre-season


It's been a great effort from Darcy this season, probably his best season ever. The fact he can keep such a high level of performance whilst persisting with a diet of a dozen packets of Pickled Onion Monster Munch a day whilst suffering from severe wheat intolerance is quite incredible.

The glandular problems Darcy has faced were not all in vain though, he'd been diligently collecting tokens from Monster Munch packs and had collected the 12500 tokens necessary to win him a trip with two friends to travel to South Africa and watch a World Cup second round match.

He had to invite Tony G (Tony wouldn't let Darcy out of a headlock until he did) and he wanted to invite Tony C but unfortunately Cappers couldn't get off work - major server upgrade at head office at the IT firm he works at apparently. Thankfully the third and final ticket was offered to me, I think Darcy wanted a left-footer along to provide some sort of balance should we get into any impromptu three-a-sides whilst we were out there. I was delighted. For me, the biggest international football tournament is almost certainly the World Cup. For my money your European Championships, Copa Americas and CONCACAF Gold Cups of this world simply don't compare.

When we arrived in South Africa we were delighted to learn that Darcy's tickets were for England vs Germany. Tony G was talking down the Germans saying they weren't as good as they used to be. For me, that's fatal, you simply never underestimate the Germans (unless we're talking about fashion of course). I remember when I played for Manchester City, the lads there used to talk in hushed tones about German striker Uwe Rosler. One of the catering lasses had once underestimated the amount of bratwursts Rosler could eat at lunch. She never worked in Manchester again at least not with German cuisine. And that's a fact.

Darcy and Tony G are up for getting the pints in but I fancy doing something a little more reflective so have taken a trip to Robben Island. Now, from reading my guide book I had ascertained that Robben Island was supposed to be one of the main tourist attractions in South Africa, yet I wasn't so impressed. Let me tell you, it's got nothing on Barry Island, you've got your log flumes, your candy floss, your pirate ships even a Hyper Hyper Value. Yes, I admit that the accommodation at Robben is of slightly higher quality than Barry but for me, Barry Island wins this battle when you compare them like for like.

I met Darce and Tony G outside the stadium and was amazed to see they were dressed as RAF pilots. Helmets, moustaches the works. Tony had apparently swapped his playoff final losers medal for the outfits at the Irish Bar in town. Darcy seemed to think the outfits were a great idea and was pestering me to buy him a vuvuzela whilst Tony kept going on about the "Hun" and babbling on about something to do with his granddad's chip shop being bombed. For me, sporting rivalry is one thing, but dressing up as WWII pilots to watch a football match against a former war-time foe is another. As an Irishman, like in World War II, I remained staunchly neutral and explained as much to the very nice couple from Gelsinkirchen who we happened to be sat next to in the stadium - We had perfect seats sat only a couple of rows from the front.

The game started with a frenetic pace and it was obvious that Germany had the upper hand and within 20 minutes the Germans were ahead by 2 goals to 1. It was also at this point that both Darcy and Tony started losing concentration. It's been a common problem this season, a focused first twenty minutes or so only for Tony or Darcy to get distracted and make a fatal mistake.

Tony was barely watching the game and was busy goading a group of schoolchildren from Dusseldorf with a horrendously off-key rendition of "Ten German bombers". This obviously enraged somenearby Germans and a vuvezula fight soon broke out. Tony G threw his and it hit the linesman on the back of the head, I think Darcy's hit a child. The lino has turned around to look at the crowd and at this very point Frankie Lampard has unleashed a terrific volley that's hit the bar and bounced over the line. The linesman has lost concentration at the vital moment and missed it. For me, this shows just why vuvuzelas are such a menace in the modern game, it only takes a slight misunderstanding for these events to occur.

The crowd were going mad and I used this opportunity to shout "RUN" at Darcy and Tony G and we made our getaway from the stadium. Tony G and Darcy are quickly taking off parts of their RAF costumes and throwing them into the streets of Rustenburg with the Germans in hot pursuit. It must have been quite a sight for the locals; two half naked men running away from a group of mulleted German football fans wearing liederhosen.

We eventually managed to shake them off by running down a crowded market street and knocking a fruit stall over and running past a couple of workers carrying a large pane of glass. It was a method of escape that had served us well on multiple occasions during the past couple of seasons.

The return trip home wasn't nearly as eventful and mainly consisted of Tony G ribbing Darcy about his RAF pilots hat that he had been unable to remove since the Germany game. The gaffer wasn't best pleased when he turned up at our pre-season base in Portugal still wearing it. He had tried wearing an afro wig on top of it and claiming he'd grown it during the summer, but it didn't fool anyone least of all Terry Burton, who is disco to the core.

Portugal was tough this year around although it was good to see the lads once more. Jay Bothroyd (as always) came up with a nickname for Danny Drinkwater our new loanee from Manchester United. Get this, it's DRINKY!! I have no idea where he gets them from, I really don't. Jay cracks me up every time.

The club's well documented financial problems meant we could only afford all inclusive for eight players only. Each of these eight players had to sneak food up from the buffet into the hotel rooms where we had doubled (and in some cases tripled) up. This was fun for a couple of days holed up in a hotel room with a lot of the lads bantering about Anne Frank and all that, but when Naughts is only bringing up boiled or scrambled egg and omelets you do start to get a little frustrated.

Unfortunately our fun was put to an end when Adam Matthews was caught attempted to swipe a whole large roast turkey from the buffet. It was an audacious attempt from the youngster but ultimately his inexperience cost him. He's young, he will learn from this and take this experience forward for the future. Terry Burton, Wilko and a couple of the senior players were hauled unceremoniously in front of hotel management who told us in no uncertain terms that our behaviour had been unacceptable. They said the only way we could stay is if we played a "Winner Takes All" match against their hotel football side. We had no choice to accept these terms and I must admit, we were feeling confident about it. Playing against a team of waiters and cleaners should be no match for a group of professional footballers like ourselves.

When Huds was turned inside out by a cook who chipped Marshy to score their third we knew we were up against it. The Portuguese were obviously more used to the hot and humid conditions as well as the new ball. They also looked as if they were a week or two ahead of us in their pre-season preparations.

It was at this moment a Portuguese police car pulled up alongside the ground. I was obviously concerned that a local had reported us for our criminal defending, but unfortunately it turned out to be far more serious than that. The copper had an INTERPOL arrest warrant for Darcy Blake - "striking a child with his vuvuzela" (thankfully not a euphemism). It was quite a scene, Darcy was in tears and Tony G was looking sheepish. There looked to be no way out for young Darce as it was obvious from the RAF headgear he was still wearing that he had committed the crime. Put it this way, he would be picked out in a police line without any problems..

I stepped in to try and resolve the situation and managed to negotiate a fee with the copper to pay off the South African government. Unfortunately for us the club,had no money to pay this. so I quickly rang around a few mates. I rembered Keano owed me a favour after I managed to get my close friend Quientin Blake to provide artwork for his last biography. Thankfully he negotiated a bank transfer of £75,000 from Ipswich Town to the South African government as a fee for Darcy Blake's exoneration, on the condition that I play for Ipswich Town in the forthcoming season.

I'm obviously not totally ecstatic about the situation, as any woman will tell you, no one wants to swap a Darcy for a Wickham. But at the end of the day, when all is said and done, it's all part and parcel of football.

Sparky, Ipswich Town and Republic of Ireland, signing off.

Friday, 21 May 2010

An interesting night

It was the night before playoff final and no one from the manager to the tea lady was in the wide awake club, not even a mouse.

The gaffer's gaffer had put us up in one of the swankiest Berni Inns this side of Essex and nearly all of the lads had taken advantage of the buffet system (apart from Aaron Wildig who is on Ramadan at the moment). They'd set their "all you can eat" stall out in a particularly ill thought out way and needless to say we've taken full advantage of it. To be fair, the team have done it all season. Naughts has eaten eleven pickled eggs, breaking his record by two and Darcy's gone to town on the Vienetta.

So, Friday evening we were all very contented; and to be fair, exhausted. It's been a long hard season, not helped by the gaffer re-iterating that each of the last few games of the season were all "cup finals". For me, recording one cup final single is fun, but when you're recording your 12th in as many weeks it starts to get a bit wearing. Terry Burton is struggling to develop new melodies and Marshy is having difficulty in writing any new lyrics or finding anything that rhymes with Gyepes. I mean, despite his penalty heroics Marshy has been taking a lot of stick for attempting to rhyme "Ninian" with "Stadium". It can't be doing anything for the lad's confidence.

So I'm fast asleep, not interfering with play, when I'm awoken by a quite terrible wailing noise. And who is standing at the end of my bed other than my ex-Republic of Ireland team mate Phil Babb. I hadn't seen him since we were arrested for re-creating our favourite episode of Starsky and Hutch on the streets of Dublin. Phil had inadvertently rolled over the bonnet of an off-duty policewoman's car and I've followed him. Yes, looking back it was naïve, we've made a mistake at a vital moment and we were punished. For me, you can't afford to make such elementary errors. Afterwards you look back on what you've done, slightly ashamed, and you make a promise to yourself not to get caught next time. It's as simple as that.


Phil is yelling now. Don't like it.


I'm thinking Bailies, Tequila and Cointreau, but...


At this point I'm starting to get concerned about Phil. I don't remember any Starsky and Hutch episodes with this plotline. And with that (just like with his footballing career) he is nowhere to be seen and I've climbed back into bed.

I'm soon fast asleep, though I am unsettled by visions of Wayne Routledge running at me in full flow. But, just as Wayne attempts to beat me for the fourth time (crowd shouting Olé each time I am left floundering) I am awoken by another noise. I open my eyes and am faced with one of the most horrid visages imaginable.

"What on earth happened to your face!!!?" I cry.

"WHAT DO YOU MEAN??" he bellows

"Erm.." I reply


*Embarrassing silence.*


And with that I am sat in the Millennium Stadium alongside Andy Campbell at the 2003 Divison Two playoff final between QPR and Cardiff City. I'm not impressed. To be taken out of your comfortable bed on the night of a big game is one thing, but to be transported back through time and space to watch some lower league rubbish is another thing entirely.

"WATCH THIS?" Andy says, noting my dis-interest.

The ball is hoofed over the defence and an on-rushing Andy Campbell volleys the ball over the head of Chris Day in the QPR goal. The crowd go wild.

"Shinned it." I say. "At Championship level you'd never get away with that."


I've heard a lot of people say that this playoff final is the biggest in the club's history. For me, I've been in the game long enough to know that you're only ever as good as your last game so it's the next game that's the the biggest. We all know that it's difficult to keep both feet on the ground when you're knocking on the door of the top flight with one hand in the Premier League and one foot on the trophy. When all's said and done, it's as simple as that.

And with that, I'm back in my bed. Back to nightmares of the time when Gabor Gyepes rugby tackled me in OddBins.

Again I am awoken by quiet sobbing, and I look to the bottom of my bed - it's Yann Kermogant. Through his tears he asks:


I'm thinking, of course, any player wants to play at the highest level possible. But these sorts of offers should really go through my agent.


I sling him unceremoniously out of the door; doing my best not to make a cheap gag about French Fries. Being taken back in time by some sort of Elephant Man is one thing, being tapped up by the Ghost of Playoffs present is another. I'm back in bed, perchance to dream...

This is where the nightmares come, a recurring one, I'm being chased by zombies wearing Preston North End shirts. I'm desperately trying to get away but I can't move, it's like I'm running through sand, like being Mark Aizlewood against Bulgaria in 1994, and they're getting closer and closer...


I am awoken again. This is getting ridiculous.


I'm thinking, no, you're not, you're Richard Keys. But I'm too polite to say anything.


I'm transported to Cardiff City Stadium, the lads are getting on the bus. But I don't recognize any of them, apart from Tony C and Encks.

"What's this? What's going on?"




It says: "SCUNTHORPE".

"S****horpe! Again!? Noooooooo." I cry. I can't take this. The players hadn't even considered losing on Saturday. We've spent most of this week in training rehearsing elaborate goal celebrations where one player mimics sewing on a Premier League badge onto the sleeve of another. The thought of another trip to the likes of Leeds, Ipswich Town or Nottingham Forest is too much to bear. We want to be playing your Fulhams, your Wigans and your Boltons of this world.


"But how!? Tell me how to change my ways!"

"AND IN HD........................."

His voice trails, he disappears, as I frantically scream: "But how?"

Once more, I am alone in my room. I walk to the window and open the curtains, it's morning now, I look outside, I see young Darcy walking past.

"Darcy!" I yell

"Yes sir?" He yells back.

I throw down a 50 quid note.

"Go to the Offy and get me the largest slab of Strongbow you can find!" I shout.

"Really, sir?!" Darcy exclaims.

"Yes. Really. And as many Monster Munch as you can carry!?"

"Can I keep the tokens!?" he replies.

"Of course!"

Darcy punches the air and runs to the Offy.

We will do our best on Saturday. We will win for the club, for the city and most of all for Riccy, who tragically retired earlier this season. As an aside, does anyone want a ticket for Saturday? Tony G has a few hundred he needs to shift, at good prices too. But that's Tony all over, typical Scouser.

Friday, 26 March 2010

A great send off for Riccy Scimeca

This football season has been like a rollercoaster for all of us connected with the club, and a few players seemed to take that as an encouragement last week and were sick everywhere whilst letting their hair down on their Friday night out.

All the lads were really pleased to hear the news of players coming back to fitness. Joe Ledley is back running now after his long injury, and it shouldn’t be too long before Stevie Mac is also back running.

We’re obviously approaching the business end of the season in good spirits, and no one is more aware of the business end of things than Tony Capaldi, who has a decade’s worth of experience working in IT. Thankfully for Tony he has very understanding employers who allow him to take time off for away matches (he takes annual leave for pre-season tours) and give him the flexibility to do the media work that is required of a full time professional footballer. I can only assume he is very good at his job. The former Plymouth Argyle fullback has had a very busy week, not only is he holding down a full-time job, he’s also had big shoes to fill at left full back following my enforced absence due to injury. Not only that, he’s also had to help organize Riccy Scimeca’s big send off.

As I’m sure you’re all aware Riccy tragically had to retire from professional football early this season. He’s a big miss from the field but more so the changing rooms where he used to regale us with stories of his days on tour with the England B side. He only played once for them, but had lots of stories. I wouldn’t call him a liar, but I think he may have been slightly economical with the truth on more than one occasion.

We all wanted to give Riccy a good send off so along with Mrs Scimeca we arranged a party at his house. That’s where Tony C comes in, we thought it would be nice to have a slideshow of some of Riccy’s best footballing moments. So, with this in mind, Tony C has borrowed Tony G’s laptop and has created a Powerpoint presentation from pictures of Riccy he’s downloaded from the net. You’ve got to give credit to Tony, for me he’s one of the most diligent lads at the club, not only has he spent time on google searching for Riccy piccys, he’s also sourced some old Shoot annuals and has scanned in some pictures of Scims in his pomp.

When I finally arrived at the party (it had taken me ages to get there, Riccy lives in the middle of the country outside of SatNav range - it’s never an easy place to go) it was already well underway. Whitts was DJing, playing Lady Gaga, Little Boots, his discs spinning faster than Stevie Mac trying to retain possession against a five-man midfield. Quinny quickly collared me and told me to check out the amazing buffet Mrs Scimeca had put on. He might have been impressed, but I wasn’t so sure. I’ve been in the game long enough (42 caps for Republic of Ireland, 4 for the U21 lads) to recognize that all Mrs S had done was buy big bags of party food from Iceland and some mutli-pack Monster Munch. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Iceland’s party food but there’s a time and a place for everything, I feel that a celebration of a long and distinguished career in football playing for clubs such as Aston Villa and West Brom deserves more than that. Mrs K would certainly get the cold shoulder from me should she try a thing if (God forbid) I ever had to retire. Saying that, a lot of effort had gone into a baking cake shaped in the image of Villa Park (circa 1995) that had been specially ordered for the occasion.

Not only are Riccy’s ex-teammates at the party but he’s also invited many of his ex-teammates along. The room is a veritable who’s who of mid 90s Aston Villa footballers although Andy Townsend did cause absolute chaos by parking his Tactics Truck on the front lawn, however there’s no denying that these players are literally household names in football circles.

We’re all having a good time, if there’s anything that the lads are good at it’s organising a party. Whitts has got some cracking tunes on, Darcy’s pestering Mrs Scimeca about getting tokens off the Monster Munch and some of the Academy lads are trying to form a human pyramid in the kitchen under the tutelage of Tony G (Ards would be furious if he knew what they were up to, but he was too busy sucking up to Andy Townsend and the Villa boys).

I’m taking each sausage roll as it comes (I’ve been in the game long enough to know looking any further than that is fatal – though I do have my eye on some mini hot dogs) whilst listening to another cock and bull story from Riccy (he’s claiming to have invented the ‘square pass’), when I notice Gavin Rae out of the corner of my eye. There’s literally steam coming out of his ears, he’s seething. You see, Riccy has spent most of the evening chatting with Stevie Mac about the old times, mainly the early part of the 06/07 season when the two were in imperious form. Gavin is trying to bring the subject of conversation onto his partnership with Stevie Mac during the FA Cup run of 20078. But Scims is barely listening and Stevie Mac doesn’t want to know, if anything he’s getting annoyed by Gav’s constant wittering. In a fit of annoyance Macca’s asked Gav to get him another cup of Um Bongo, and Rae’s stormed off, Scims and Macca happily continue their conversation.

It’s at this point that Tony C taps Whitts on the shoulder and gets him to turn down the music. Mark Draper and some of the Villa lads are livid as they had a dance routine planned for Cotton Eye Joe and have been cut off in mid flow. A few minutes of commotion ensue whilst Julian Joachim attempts to force Whitts to put the music back on, but once Tony’s Powerpoint presentation begins everyone is spellbound. It’s certainly a touching piece from the Northern Ireland international fullback, pictures from Riccy Scimeca’s playing career to the backing track of “These are the Days of our lives” by Queen caught the tone of the occasion perfectly. There’s barely a dry eye in the room.

However, during some pictures of his time with West Bromwich Albion a picture that none of us expected to see is shown. It goes to show, however many years you have in the game you can still be surprised. On the projector screen, as clear as the large eyebrows on my face, is a badly Photoshopped image of Riccy Scimeca in a compromising position with a goat. I instantly knew what had happened. During the hullabaloo when the music was turned off Gavin Rae had snuck up to the machine and added a picture to the slideshow from Tony G’s “lol” folder. Tony loves making funny pictures on Microsoft Paint and pinning them up on our lockers. The images are crude and poorly done but these things are all part and parcel of the banter that goes on at any football club up and down the country.

The image is obviously about as real as one of Riccy Scimeca’s anecdotes, but the impact is still felt keenly. Stevie Mac instinctively covers young Aaron Wildig’s eyes (though he’s peeking through) whilst Mrs Scimeca bursts into tears and storms out of the room and into the kitchen.

It’s unfortunate timing for Mrs Scimeca. Just before she entered the kitchen Darcy was climbing to the top of the human pyramid to the delight of Tony G. It’s in these sorts of situations that you think you’re immortal, you think you can do anything, you think you’re too good to go down. However, he’s wrong. As soon as you start thinking these sorts of things you’re likely to be taken down to earth. And this is exactly what happened to Darcy. The door has hit one of the Academy lads and the pyramid has collapsed quicker than the end of our 2009/2010 season. Darcy’s gone into freefall and has landed onto the Villa Park cake, annihilating the Holte End as he lands.

The noise from the kitchen is terrible and a few people rush into the kitchen. Andy Townsend in particular is furious when he sees the Holte End is destroyed, he sees it as a personal affront on “The Villa”, Darcy had to hide, covered in cake, under Townsend’s tactics truck for over an hour whilst Neal Ardley and Ian Taylor attempt to calm Andy down. I think a good night was had by all – especially as the incident meant that there wasn’t time for a speech from Brian Little and even Townsend and Mrs Scimeca saw the funny side of it in the morning.

Another very good indication as to how good team spirit is in the camp came on Monday. Ards and Wilko were searching for some kit at the training ground and they heard some scratching from one of the cupboards. When they unlocked it they saw a withered man, who obviously wasn’t well. The poor guy could barely speak.

When given something to drink they realised the man was Kelvin Etuhu who has been on loan to us from Manchester City. They soon got the full story from the poor lad and apparently he was locked in the cupboard by Tony G “for a laugh” a couple of months back. Not only had Tony G forgotten he had done it, the coaching staff and players had also clean forgotten about Kelvin. I think we assumed he’d gone back to Manchester.

Kelvin had apparently survived by eating a whole set of 1998/1999 away kits that were in the cupboard. He was disappointed to learn that the value of those kits would be deducted from his wages by Peter Ridsdale but he soon saw the funny side and he cheered up a treat once he was named in the 18 for the Sheffield United game. That’s the thing with Tony G, you never know what he’s going to do next, typical Scouser.

Cardiff City face Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Saturday 12:45 KO. Live on Sky Sports 3[/b]

Friday, 19 March 2010

A St. Patrick's Day to Remember

It's been a mixed week for us at Cardiff City. Last Saturday we were bitterly disappointed with our defeat at Filbert Street, but we feel we've made amends with a terrific victory at Highfield Road. Now we just have to make the games at Ninian Park count.

There was a bit of a fracas at the end between Tony G and Clinton Morrisson. Sometimes the press and fans overreact to situations like this, because in all honesty these sorts of incidents are just part and parcel of the modern game. What happened was that as the full time whistle blew, Clinton had threatened to flush Darcy's head down the loo back in the changing rooms. Needless to say Tony G was furious and reacted accordingly. Morrison is an ex-Palace player, so take it from me, it's no surprise.

It just goes to show what a good set of lads we have down here at Cardiff. When push comes to shove, and the chips are down, we're always willing to back each other up. A great example of the camaraderie and team spirit within the camp came on Wednesday.

We're at training partaking in a spot of head tennis, Full Squad vs Academy Lads, when Warren literally comes out of nowhere in his bright orange Nissan Micra. Tony Capaldi is in the passenger seat. It was good to see them, we don't often see either during the day as Feens very rarely turns up for training and Tony Capaldi works as an IT consultant in Cardiff City Centre during the week. Feens gets out of his car and he's holding his newborn child, only three weeks old, "OY!" shouts Feeney, "Could you do me a favour? Look after me wee lard will ya!?". Quinny's keen, but I'm not so sure, I've been in this game for years, I'm one of the few players at the club who saw "Three Men and a Baby" at the cinema, nothing good can come of this. Still, Quinny takes the baby to look after and Feens and Tony C speed off.

We've been putting a lot of work in training, and that paid off on Tuesday. We often play five-a-sides where one team starts a goal down and attempts to win the match. You obviously can't re-create the atmosphere and intensity of a full match on the training ground, but these sessions undoubtedly help. Unfortunately we're having to use the baby as a goalpost due to lack of equipment, I'm not sure where the equipment has gone but you can be sure Whitts is at the bottom of it. The baby works perfectly as a post, as at that age they aren't particularly mobile.

So, we're playing our five-a-sides, when Tony G arrives with one of his cousins from Liverpool. Tony G, like Feens, isn't the best of trainers, but it's not what you do in training during the week that matters, it's how you perform on the big day. Both Tony and his cousin are wearing huge green hats covered in Guinness slogans. It is of course St. Patrick's day. Tony G's come up with an idea of taking a trip to Barry for the afternoon, a few drinks, arcade machines, maybe even the log flume. Both Stevie Mac and Darcy think it's a stunning idea, I'm not so sure, but being a proud Irishman I have no alternative than to go along with it. Quinny wants to come along, but he's got Feens' baby, Macca makes the point that we're more likely to pull if we take a baby with us. It's hard to disagree with such logic, though it does seem unlikely, on the pull in Barry on a Wednesday afternoon? So, while Terry Burton's back is turned when he's searching for some cones (Whitts must have swiped them) we've all sneaked off.

Tony G, his cousin, Darcy, Quinny, Steve McPhail and I have taken the train to Barry. (Gavin Rae being too busy doing star jumps, squats and bleep tests to drive us there) Most football fans think it's quite inappropriate for professional footballers to take an afternoon off training to "go on a bender." But in my view it's important that footballers are given the opportunity to let their hair down once in a while and relax.

Once in Barry we've gone to the nearest Off Licence and bought some tins of Guinness and we've made a bee-line straight to the Island, and into the arcades. As we're in Barry on the walk down to the island Tony G is doing impressions of characters from Gavin and Stacey. We all thought they were brilliant (though Darcy's never seen it before as he has to be in bed by 8). His impression of Uncle Bryn is especially good ("I won't lie to you" cracks me up every time) and I am convinced that had Tony not become a professional footballer he would certainly have the talent to rival your McGowans, Bremners and Davros of this world.

When we get to the arcades we're surprised to see the gaffer's gaffer Peter Ridsdale in there, muttering something about "this being the last resort" and ploughing 2p after 2p into a machine. He's sobbing quietly. We do our best to avoid him. We're having a great time with Darcy pestering Stevie Mac to win him a Mickey Mouse, whilst Tony G and his cousin are trying to climb up the logflume. The Guinness is flowing a little too freely and both myself, Stevie Mac and Quinny have had far too much.

Quinny has impetuously gone outside and clambered into one of those Postman Pat vans that are for kids, I've put 20p in, the music's started and the van starts lurching forward and back and the well known Postman Pat melody has begun. At this point I'm pumping my fists in the air and cheering, it was an awesome sight. This is the best St. Paddy's Day I can remember in a long time.

When the machine stops and we've somehow managed to pull Quinny out (not an easy task, these machines are built for children, not for ex-Motherwell full backs) we go back into the arcade and Quinny is panic-stricken. He left the baby on top of the three armed bandit, and now it's gone! Quinny knows he's made a mistake, he's lost concentration at the vital moment. You simply can't afford to make these sorts of elementary mistakes and not expect to be punished for it.

At this point we notice Tony G and his cousin laughing, they've seen what's happened. Apparently, whilst Quinny was reliving his youth with a spot of Postman Pat tomfoolery Stevie Mac has swiped the baby and is on his way to the nearest Catholic church to get the child baptised into the Catholic religion. Steve is a great lad when sober, but gets some strange ideas into his head once he's had one or two. Feens, as a protestant will be livid when he finds out.

Quinny, relieved that the baby is in good hands (and let's face it, one person who's unlikely to lose possession of the baby cheaply is Stevie Mac) suggests a short stroll on the beach to sober up and clear our heads.

We finally meet up with Stevie Mac and the baby and make our way back to Cardiff to meet up with Feens at the stadium. When we get there we are amazed. Feens and Capaldi have spent the whole afternoon painting a Northern Irish style mural on the side of the Cardiff City Stadium depicting Steve McPhail in a compromising position. To give them credit the mural was expertly done, but according to the "powers that be" it had to be taken down before a delegation of Malaysians arrive at the club on Thursday. Apparently Wilko and the Academy lads spent a lot of Wednesday evening cleaning it off.

I've been in the game long enough to know that painting the mural was an insensitive thing to do, especially on St. Patrick's Day, but truth be told, cleaning the mural off is probably easier than un-baptising a Catholic child. At the end of the day these sorts of antics are all part and parcel of the banter that goes on at any football club up and down the country. Painting an offensive mural? Baptising a baby? Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

To finish, I think it's probably worth recounting a story from our short walk on the beach. We're having a marvellous time taking a relaxing walk when Tony G makes a comment about thinking he's discovered a form of time travel whilst watching Countdown. Turns out he's just turned it onto Channel 4 + 1! Darcy finds this hilarious and is ribbing Tony G about it for a good few minutes. It's at this point that Tony G has flipped. Tony's cousin has crouched behind Darcy and Tony G has pushed him over his cousin. Poor Darcy has tumbled into the sea and got his trousers wet. No amount of protesting from Darcy ("My mum's going to kill me.") could stop Tony and his cousin laughing, but that's Scousers for you.

Cardiff City face Watford at the Cardiff City Stadium on Sunday. Kick Off 3pm.

Friday, 12 March 2010

An absolute Leigh Delamare at Ipswich

Last Tuesday was the first of three long trips we have to make to the four corners of the country. We’re obviously disappointed with the result, but we have to brush ourselves down, pick ourselves up and go out again. We’re still totally focussed on the goal, and that is to bring Premier League football to the city, to the club, and to the supporters who have been nothing short of magnificent in recent weeks.

When I take time out of my busy life to speak to fans, they often ask me (after pleasantries such as autographed photos and the like) what it’s like to travel the length and breadth of the country representing this magnificent club of ours.

Well, these long cross-country trips bring into focus how important team spirit is, and we have that in abundance at Cardiff. We’ve got a great set of lads here and long may that continue. Our trips away, whilst exhausting, are always enjoyable and Tuesday night was no exception.

All of the players have different routines and customs, different pastimes to help them relax on the highways and byeways of the United Kingdom. Young Aaron Wildig reads on the long journeys, he’s a big Tolstoy fan though he says he’s recently getting into Dostoevsky whilst Burkey always drives to games, as he’s afraid of bussing. We all have different ways of dealing with these sorts of games, and you have to respect that. Naughts and Tony G like to get stuck in to a slab of Kronenburg for example.

We set off early doors for Ipswich on Tuesday and in a break with tradition Naughts and Tony G crack open a couple of tinnies before we’ve even crossed the Bridge. I’ve been in the game for almost twenty years so knew immediately that they’d made a mistake. They’d polished off a whole slab of Kronenburg by Bristol and they’re on tequila slammers before Leigh Delamare. By this point they are both screaming at Gavin Rae to stop the bus. Naughts is squirming in his seat, desperate for a piss, whilst Tony G has got the munchies.

Needless to say, Gav is fuming, not only does he have to put up with Naughts and Tony G whilst attempting to drive the bus, but Darcy is also giving him grief. You see, Josh Magennis is injured and hasn’t travelled with the squad, so Darcy’s having to play Monster Truck Top Trumps on his own. We haven’t even got to the M25 and the former Plymouth Argyle, Wales U21 international is already bored! I’ve texted Burkey telling him to come and join us at the services. “rofl” he’s texted back, but that’s Burkey all over.

Gavin Rae pulls the bus over into Leigh Delamare and parks it over four or five disabled spaces. He’s a great driver, but even he’ll admit his parking isn’t the greatest. He’s muttering something about “not making good time” when the majority of the players stream off the bus. Naughts is restless in his seat. You see, he is a great bloke, no one can deny that, but he’s banned from Leigh Delamare services by virtue of a court order, there’s a line of thinking that says he probably shouldn’t even have been in the car park.

Naughts is left on the coach on the back seat with Gabor. Gabor daren’t not go out in public in his pre-shaved state. Naughts is (obviously) wearing just his Dangermouse underpants - as is his custom travelling to away games. Tony G yells back “Don’t worry, I’ll get you something to piss in”. We send Whitts ahead to check there’s no Palace there to ambush us, I don’t want another incident with Sean Derry in Costa Coffee I can tell you. Whitts sees the coast is clear and waves us all in.

It’s the usual chaos in the services, as it always is when Cardiff are in town. Darcy is pestering Steve McPhail for a couple of quid to buy some Monster Munch and 7UP. Chopra’s on the one armed bandits and Ross McCormack’s playing Sega Rally. Steve McPhail is trying to find the toilets but just ends up going around in circles.

After much banter we all get back onto the coach. Tony G is carrying two 1L bottles of Um Bongo and two bags of twelve white bread rolls. “Two for one!!” Tony explains and sits down. As we pull out of the services, Whitts is showing off a bag full of assorted cassettes he swiped from the shop. You never know what you’re going to get with Whitts, sometimes it’s Country, sometimes it’s Trance. But that’s what we all love about him, you never know what you’re going to get. Naughts still needed somewhere to pee and it soon became clear what needed to be done. Ross McCormack, always up for a challenge, begins drinking the Um Bongo, and it’s finished within a matter of seconds. I still maintain that Ross is one of the best finishers in the squad, if not the division.

Soon after Naughts is urinating (just like the number of games coming up in March) ‘thick and fast’ into an empty Um Bongo bottle. Needless to say, Ross, affected immediately by the litre of Um Bongo and is quite literally bouncing off the walls. They say that there’s no artificial additives in the likes of Um Bongo, but I’m not so sure. He’s soon convinced Gav to play one of Whitts’ stolen cassettes and to the dulcet tones of “Stars” by “Simply Red” the bus is rocking.

On the back seat Naughts is looking far happier with an empty bladder and Tony G is polishing off the rolls whilst sipping the other bottle of Um Bongo. For me, drinking lager on the way to a match is one thing, but eating two dozen bread rolls is a severe error of judgment. Being weighed down by that much wheat is the sort of decision that can cost you when you’re chasing games late in the second half. But Tony is still young, and will learn with experience.

The party is continuing on the bus. At the front Terry Burton is using a shin-pad as a makeshift microphone and is crooning along. (It’s no surprise, he used to tour the clubs and pubs of the South West back in the day). Steve McPhail is “big fish-little fish-cardboard box”-ing it, whilst Peter Enckelman is pulling shapes that can only have been learned in a Finnish nightclub. Needless to say, we’re having a great time, until Tony Capaldi spots Gavin Rae attempting to get a conga going near the back of the coach. “WHO’S DRIVING THE BUS!?”, the former Plymouth Argyle and Northern Ireland international yells.

Gavin Rae looks startled. He knows he’s made a mistake. It can happen to the best of us though. In the heat of the moment, emotion can take over and you can do something rash. The bus is veering off into the central reservation until a quick thinking McPhail stops his early 90s dance moves to chip an errant bread roll into the path of Michael Chopra. The ex-Newcastle United forward takes the roll on his chest and starts running towards the front of the bus. After a quick one-two with Jay Bothroyd, Chops fires the bread roll at the steering wheel sending the bus back on course, and away from danger. Great vision from Stevie Mac and a wonderful shot from Chops. It’s what we’re all about. By this time Gav had re-taken control of the bus and we were cruising down the M4 at a steady 95mph.

In the meleé Darcy had cheekily swapped Tony G’s Um Bongo for the bottle Naughts had pissed into. Needless to say, when Tony took a first swig from the bottle her knew something was wrong. The viscous brown-yellow liquid was warm, and Tony explained after “slightly chunky”. Tony instantly clocked it was Darcy who had done it and locked the poor chap in an overhead luggage compartment. He was only let out once Terry Burton and Tony Capaldi took pity on him near Chelmsford Services the A12. But that’s Tony for you, typical Scouser.

Cardiff City face Leicester City in a play-off battle at The Walkers Stadium on Saturday. Kick-off is at 3pm.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Hairy times

We're obviously delighted with Saturday's win, but we're trying to keep our feet on the ground. We've still got one hand on a playoff place, but before the season is done we want to have two hands on a Premier League place. I think all of us can agree that we need to improve our fullback play, which was woeful at times during the Boro game, but all in all I think it was a superb battling performance from the lads. A lot of our guys were happy to meet up again with Willo, he says he's much better now but most of the lads agree that he still looks very ill indeed.

People often ask me, "Mark, who the hairiest player the club?". For me, it has to be Gabor. He may not look the hairiest from the otuside, but underneath the shirt and shorts is the body of a hill ape. You might think I'm exaggerating but believe me, the guy is hairier than a lift home from the pub with Ross McCormack.

It's a little known fact that before every first team match he shaves his arms, legs and face. He normally gets one of the academy lads to do his back.

One funny incident I remember from late last season was an away trip to Selhurst Park. Gabor was taking part in his pre-match shave in the showers. Chopra made a comment to me that Gabor's hair looked a lot more matted and tangled than usual. I had to agree and we all knew what this meant, it meant that Gabor and his wife were having troubles again. His wife normally does all the grooming you see, and without grooming, his hair gets very messy indeed. Poor Gabor did ask the unfortunate Eddie J to "comb him over" but he point blank refused. "I aint doin' that. Period." said Eddie in his Yankee drawl. Eddie was always doing that. Talking in an American accent. Mad bastard!

Anyway, a couple of goals from Ross and a visit to hospital for Roger later (elbow in the throat from Claude Davis, but you've got to accept that, Claude is that type of player) we've won the game 2-0. A succesful match some might say...

However, when we got back in the changing rooms we immediately knew something was wrong, we could all smell raw sewage. The gaffer, thinking nothing of it, began his post-match team talk, when in stormed Neil Warnock with a towel around his waist, flanked by his two goons Claude Davis and Shefqi Kuqi. Warnock was furious. He looked quite laughable wearing a bright yellow shower cap and holding a shower brush.

"What the f**k have you f**king f**ks been doing in here!?" he screamed. "The whole c**ting plumbing system is f**king f**ked. There's raw f**king sewage f**king backing up through the f**king showers and there's f**king hair everywhere..."

At that moment Warnock glanced over to Gabor who had already begun undressing. Neil's tirade stopped dead, his eyes full of rage, he pointed at Gabor and screamed "GET HIM!". Kuqi and Davis rushed towards the giant Hungarian. Gabor yelped, startled, you could see in his eyes that he knew he was in trouble. Only his team mates could help him now.

Quick as a flash Steve McPhail kicked a wheeled cleaning bucket square across the changing room floor. The bucket was picked up by an on-rushing Michael Chopra who threw the recepticle onto Davis' head. The towering Jamaican international disorientated for a second, slipped and landed with a thud on the floor. He was out cold. It was incredible vision from Stevie Mac. Chops explained later that something similar had happened in a League Cup tie whilst the two were both at Barnsley.

By this point Tom Heaton had Shefki Kuqi in a headlock and the two were grappling on the floor. "Lads!", I shouted, "We need to get out of here!

"Over here, I've found a way out!" shouted Gavin Rae pointing at a sky-light. Needless to say, we ignored the former Rangers and Scotland interntional and used the back door to exit Selhurst Park instead, swarming onto the team coach, many of us still in our full team kit. Kevin McNaughton however was just wearing a pair of Dangermouse y-fronts, but that was nothing new, he always travelled to and from games like that.

Using my years of experience picked up at clubs such as Liverpool and Republic of Ireland I was the last man out of the dressing room. I looked back to see a gaggle of Palace players windmilling into Tom Heaton. Shaun Derry and Clint Hill being the main culprits. Heaton screamed at me "SAVE YOURSELVES! LEAVE ME!". I needed no second invitation. I slammed the door behind me and jumped onto the team coach. "GO! GO! GO!" I yelled at Gavin Rae as he wheelspinned the bus out of the Palace car park.

We never saw poor Tom again.

Anyway, onto more pressing and important matters! Steve Borley is flying over to Malaysia on Monday to attempt to secure funding from a consortium who are apparently interest in buying the club. When overhearing a conversation regarding the Malaysians, Tony G made a comment about preferring salad cream that Darcy hooked onto immediately. He was ribbing Tony about it all the way through Tuesday training. Needless to say, Tony didn't see the funny side, so Tony G picked young Darcy up and let him hanging from a coat-hook in the changing rooms. He was there for hours and was only let down when Sean and a couple of the fitness team took pity on him.

That's Tony all over though, whether it's shaving his initials into Gabor's left buttock or hiding Kevin McNaughton's y-fronts (that led to quite a disconcerting away trip to Barnsley) you can be sure Tony is at the centre of it. Scousers eh!

Cardiff City play Ipswich Town at Portman Road on Tuesday evening. Kick off 7:45pm

In London with the lads

I was in London the other night to watch the Republic of Ireland's defeat to Brazil. I thought the lads played well, though Kevin Kilbane should really have tried a long diagonals from his own half up to Doyley once in a while. It's that sort of delivery that strikes fear into the hearts of even the most experienced defenders, and I certainly include Lucio in that bracket. I'm sure with application, and the correct delivery from deep, they can qualify for Euro 2012.

Tuesday was also a great opportunity to catch up with a lot of the lads from my international playing days. I hadn't seen Terry Phelan in years, he spent the whole evening ribbing Andy Townsend about his Tactics Truck. At one point I thought Townie would flip.

He says that ITV still owed him expenses for repairs to the truck after he stumbled across eight Madagasgan asylum seekers in there one evening. Townsend said they had 'turned over' his tactics board and their views on the sweeper system were absurd, bordering on the offensive. Thing is he reckons he can't get the money back as no other broadcaster will touch him with a barge pole after what happened in Baden-Baden. Andy seems to think that night was worth it though.

Thankfully, quick thinking from Alan Kernaghan averted any escalation in troubles between Terry and Townie by suggesting another round of what he calls: "Thunderbirds", some sort of whisky and port concoction. I don't know how he comes up with these cocktails! But he does.

Jason McAteer spent the evening texting Tony Cascarino: "ur an engilsh bastard lol" and playing Bejewelled on his iPhone. He's mad, but that's Jason all over. He wouldn't dare to that to Quinny, that's for sure.

The night re-iterated to me that a good team spirit is essential. We've got a good set of lads here at Cardiff. Just this week Darcy was giving Ross stick about him not being able to do the "Big Shop" any more due to Ross' driving ban. Needless to say Ross didn't see the funny side, so Mac and Tony G picked young Darcy up and let him hanging from a coat-hook in the changing rooms. He was there for hours and was only let down when Wilko and a few of the academy lads took pity on him.

That's Tony all over though, whether it's ordering a delivery of Hawaiin Feasts from every Dominoes outlet in South Wales to Miguel Commignues' house or shitting in Enck's glove bag you can be sure Tony is at the centre of it. Scousers eh!

Cardiff City play Middlesbrough on Saturday at the Cardiff City Stadium, kick off is at 3pm.