INTRODUCING THE TOP FLIGHT!
Wednesday, 19th June at 9.00am sees the release of the 2013/14 Barclays Premier League fixtures - that's now less than one week away!
So, in the build up to the day and as we begin our countdown to the season's kick-off, Club Historian Richard Shepherd has taken a look at each of our top-flight opponents and more specifically, the last time we faced them in league action.
Part one begins today - 'from Arsenal to Manchester City'
Mel Charles was a fine Wales International who was often in the shadow of his older brother John – in fact Mel’s autobiography is called 'In The Shadow Of A Giant'. But Mel was a talented player in his own right, either in defence or attack, during his career with Swansea, Arsenal and Cardiff City before stepping down into lower division and non-league football.
When we last played Arsenal in League football (the original First Division in ‘61/62), Mel played in both matches – first with Arsenal and then with Cardiff City. When we played Arsenal at Ninian Park on October 28th 1961 in a 1-1 draw seen by 25,096, Mel played in attack for Arsenal, having joined them from Swansea in 1959. He scored against us in that match, our goal being obtained by former Barry Town and Bristol Rovers forward Dai Ward. By the time of the return match at Highbury on March 17th 1962 when 25,059 were there, Mel had become a Cardiff City player, being signed from Arsenal a month earlier for a £22,500 fee. It was again a 1-1 draw and Dai Ward was on target for us, Arsenal’s goal coming from Geoff Strong.
Although we have played Arsenal several times in F.A. Cup and League Cup since then, 2013/14 will be the first time in 51 years that we have played them in a League match.
Almost four decades have passed since we last played Aston Villa in a League match. Although we did face them at Villa Park in the Carling Cup not so long ago in September 2009, it was way back in 1974/75 that the two clubs previously met at League level in what was then the original Second Division – we went down, finishing one from bottom, while Villa went up in second place behind Manchester United. Welsh International Leighton Phillips played for Villa in both games against us – he had in fact started the season with Cardiff City, having been with us since the mid-1960s when he been signed as an apprentice professional from local Neath football.
But after a number of seasons in the first-team, Phillips was keen to leave as he wanted to play at top level, and he looked to have a better chance of doing so with Villa rather than with us. In mid-September 1974, he joined Villa for £70,000 and was made their captain. On December 28th 1974 he returned to Ninian Park with Villa and we beat them 3-1 in front of 11,040 with goals from Derek Showers, John Buchanan and Jack Whitham, Villa’s goal coming from Chico Hamilton. But they turned the tables on us at Villa Park in early-April with a 2-0 victory seen by a 32,768 attendance, their goals both scored by Brian Little (who would go on to manage a fairly successful team during the nineties).
We have been playing Chelsea, not too regularly, since our first meeting in March 1921 when they came to Ninian Park in the quarter-final of the F.A. Cup. But our paths have not crossed in League competition since the 1976/77 season when both clubs were in the old Division Two (second tier) although we did face them in the F.A. Cup at Stamford Bridge as recently as February 2010. Back in ‘76/77 when we went to Stamford Bridge on October 2nd, they were challenging for promotion while we were in the lower half of the table. It was a far different ground to the present one, with a greyhound track around the pitch in a large stadium that had once held over 80,000!
This time, however, there were 28,409 for a match which they won 2-1. Former West Ham player Clive Charles scored our goal from a penalty, Chelsea’s goals came from Ken Swain and Ray Lewington. In the return at Ninian Park on March 12th 1977 when 20,194 were present, we lost 3-1. Phil Dwyer, who was to become our record appearance maker, scored our goal while Ian Britton, Ken Swain and Gary Stanley scored for Chelsea. We finished 18th in Division Two, Chelsea were promoted as runners-up to Wolves.
The Eagles have been one of our regular opponents over the past ten years – in fact since our return to the Championship in 2003 we have met them each season apart from 2004/05 when they were in the Premier League. So our last League meeting was last season (2012/13) and we were at Selhurst Park on September 22nd. We were 2-0 up through Aron Gunnarsson and Don Cowie, but we lost 3-2; Palace’s goals were all scored by Glenn Murray (two of them penalties). A 12,757 crowd saw that game, and the return was at Cardiff City Stadium on December 26th when 26,098 were there. Mile Jedinak had put Palace ahead, but we then scored through Craig Noone and Aron Gunnarsson. And, of course, both clubs went up at the end of the season – Cardiff City as Champions, Palace through the Play-Offs. This coming season will be the first-ever top level meeting of the two clubs.
It was Everton who sealed our relegation from top level (the old Division One) fifty-one years ago in 1961/62. With four games left, we had beaten Birmingham City and West Ham United, both at home, and if we could win our away games at Everton and Aston Villa, there was a chance that we could escape the drop. But on that fateful Saturday, April 28th 1962, at Goodison Park before a 31,386 attendance, we lost 8-3! We were down with Chelsea while Everton finished fourth, five points behind League Champions Ipswich Town. Mel Charles and Neath boy Tony Pickrell were our scorers, Everton’s goals came from Alex Young, Derek Temple, Dennis Stevens, Roy Vernon (3 including 1 penalty), Billy Bingham and Jimmy Gabriel. The previous meeting had been at Ninian Park on December 9th ’61 when 15,072 had seen a 0-0 draw. Playing in both these games for Everton was Brian Harris who would become an outstanding signing when he joined us in October 1966.
Our paths will cross with Fulham at top level this season for the first time since 1961/62, but we have met on several occasions since then, the last time being in 1996/97 when we were both in what was then Division Three (fourth tier). Fulham came to Ninian Park as leaders of the division on November 9th ’96 and beat us 2-1. Former Bristol Rovers and Hereford United forward Steve White was our goalscorer in the second half after Mike Conroy and Mark Blake had given Fulham a 2-0 interval lead in front of 6,144. But we certainly turned the tables on them at Craven Cottage in the return game on January 31 ’96. They still led the table, but we beat them 4-1 with goals from Jason Fowler, Steve White (2) and Simon Hawarth. Fulham’s goal came from Jeff Eckhardt (an own-goal) – he having been a Fulham player a few years earlier. They went up in second place, we lost in the Play-Off semi-finals to Northampton Town.
Our fellow promotion-travellers Hull City have been in the Premier League in recent years, but we will be playing them at top level for the first time. Our regular recent meetings with them have been in the Championship from 2005/06 apart from their two seasons in the Premier League (2008-10) and last season we beat them 2-1 at home on November 10th with goals from Heidar Helguson and Mark Hudson, Hull’s goal coming from Robert Koren. The return game at The KC Stadium on May 4th was both clubs’ final match of the season and it was an exciting finish. We had already won promotion and the Championship, Hull needed a good result to seal automatic promotion, but would still be dependent on rivals Watford slipping up at home to Leeds United. We drew 2-2 with goals from our substitutes Fraizer Campbell and Nicky Maynard (penalty) making his return to first-team action since sustaining a knee injury at Millwall in mid-September. Hull’s scorers were Nick Proschwitz and Paul McShane. Our ‘keeper David Marshall saved a penalty in stoppage-time when we were 2-1 down, and almost immediately at the other end we were awarded a penalty from which Maynard scored. At the end Hull had to wait fifteen minutes to see if they were up as Watford’s injury-delayed match played out its final minutes, and Watford’s home defeat by Leeds confirmed Hull’s automatic promotion in second place!
Although we have played Liverpool in the Carling Cup in recent years (2007/08 Fourth Round and 2011/12 Final), it is fifty-three years since we met in League competition. In 1959/60 both clubs were in the original Second Division, and we opened the season against them at Ninian Park on August 22nd when 23,744 saw the game. We won 3-2, and scored all five goals! South African Steve Mokone, making his debut for us after being signed from Dutch club Heracles, gave us the lead, but we trailed 2-1 at half-time, both Liverpool goals being deflected in by our skipper and defender Danny Malloy. But Graham Moore equalised after half-time, and late in the game winger Johnny Watkins, making his debut after being signed from Bristol City, scored our winner. When we went to Anfield for the return match on December 19th, Bill Shankly was in charge of Liverpool for the first time, having just come as manager from Huddersfield Town. We stunned him and the 27,291 crowd with an emphatic 4-0 victory (Derek Tapscott 2, Johnny Watkins and Joe Bonson). We went up in second place (two clubs promoted) that season, finishing eight points clear of third club Liverpool. When we went down in ‘61/62, Liverpool went up and our League paths have not since crossed since this coming season.
when we last played them in League competition. It was in the old Second Division (second tier) and they came to Ninian Park on September 22nd 1984 to beat us 3-0. There were only 6,088 present and they scored through Gordon Smith, Kenny Cunningham and Clive Wilson. Included in our line-up was the former England captain Gerry Francis who was with us on a month’s temporary contract after leaving Exeter City where he had been player/manager. But we avoided a double that season because we drew 2-2 at their former Maine Road ground before a 20,047 attendance. Graham Withey and Roger Gibbins were our scorers, Paul Simpson and Steve Kinsey were their scorers. We went down that season, Manchester City went up in third place behind Birmingham City and Oxford United who finished in top spot.1984/85Many of our supporters will recall our F.A. Cup Fourth Round 1-0 home win against Manchester City in late-January 1994 when Nathan Blake scored, but it was nearly ten years earlier in
Part 2 to follow later this week!