There is no avoiding it. This Saturday the Cardiff City Stadium is hosting The Craig Bellamy Show and our part in it is clear, we are simply the supporting cast. The stage has been set for the hometown hero’s return and Doncaster Rovers will be playing the role of Washington Generals to Cardiff City’s Harlem Globetrotters. For younger readers, we’re to be the team The Hurricanes used to play every week. Indeed a Cardiff City supporting friend of mine described this week as being “unreal, like a comic”, so we will have to hope that were the first part of the story where things don’t go as expected, before Dave Jones signs Spandau Ballet and it all comes to a satisfactory resolution as Bellamy scores a hat-trick against Peterborough in the League Cup.
After a week of hype and speculation then, Craig Bellamy is a Cardiff City player, and the nation’s journalists collectively pen an opening to a match preview along the lines of “He could have been lining up against Liverpool this weekend, but instead he faces Doncaster Rovers”. Indeed how the mighty have fallen. This could be a record-breaking few days for uses of our full Championship name The Likes Of Doncaster Rovers within the nation’s media. To say the Cardiff City fans are excited is a significant understatement, with rumours of an extra 3-4,000 tickets sold (though these could well be for the expected return of Mark Wilson) and their club shop running out of Ys and 9s earlier in the week. The ‘BELLAM 3’ wearers will be out in force.
Whichever way you look at it, Bellamy is too good for the Championship. Last season the forward was in the form of his life, and but for Manchester City’s free-spending and the striker’s own fondness for the Welsh capital he would be most certainly plying his trade in the top flight. Unlike many Premier League stars Bellamy though has nothing to lose by dropping down a division. With Manchester City still paying the majority of his vast wages he has not seen a pay-cut, and being in the Championship is not likely to hamper his chances of playing international football. If anything it just brings him closer to the level of his national team-mates, including of course Rovers own Brian Stock. Its win-win as far as Bellamy is concerned as his personality is never going to see him feted and welcomed at any club as vociferously as he has been in the Welsh capital this week.
The one key sticking point over the loan transfer of Bellamy to Cardiff City rests not with the player, but with the club’s own management. Cardiff are in debt. They owe a lot of people money. And until a fortnight ago they had a transfer embargo placed upon them. The feeling amongst many at City is that they well probably have another embargo placed upon them soon, and so their current window shopping in the transfer market has become something of a trolley dash. Cardiff’s most public debtor (though not their highest) is Motherwell who are still owed £175,000 for the transfer of Paul Quinn a year ago. As a result of the Bellamy deal (more specifically the speculated wage contribution to be paid by Cardiff City) the Scottish club have now issued a writ against the Bluebirds, though Motherwell Chairman John Boyle’s own financial history means that he has effectively chosen to trial a new automatic stone catapult device whilst sitting in his greenhouse.
Despite waves of moral outrage, what Cardiff City have done in signing Bellamy on loan this week does not break any current Football League rules. Though the transfer was delayed by the League in the middle of the week as they sought to look like they were doing something in one of the biggest stories (well, the one that has certainly gained the largest amount of column inches) to affect their product in recent years, it does not fall foul of their systems. Cardiff City have been poorly mismanaged for years, from Sam Hamman to Peter Ridsdale, but they continue to operate, and continue to do so without seeming (at a boardroom level) particularly troubled by their approach. If the Football League want to poke their nose into anything, it should probably be the murky system which enables that to happen, rather than a marquee loan signing.
Conversely the main news story at Doncaster Rovers this week was the announcement that Mark Wilson, James Chambers, Jamie Coppinger, Wayne Thomas and five members of the club staff will spend their time off next summer scaling the 62 mile Inca Trail in South America in aid of NSPCC. Obviously we are biassed, but Rovers really are a hard club to dislike.
Anyway, back to the game and despite the furore over City’s new number 39 its Doncaster who come into this match as the higher ranked team. Victory at Preston and last week’s frustrating home draw with Bristol City mean Rovers currently sit fifth in the Championship, though Cardiff, on equal points are just a goal behind. In theory it should follow the pattern of all bar one of the two club’s recent second tier matches and be a close game, but that depends wholly on which Rovers side turns up, be ithe the one that swept Preston away, or the one which looked startled in the second half against Bristol City and how they react to the charged atmosphere they are set to encounter.
The key comfort for Rovers fans is that in recent years they have been far from ones to submit to the status quo in significant fixtures. Doncaster have been dismissed as also-rans, as a sideshow to the main story on more than one occasion in the past few years and more often than not have caused a surprise. The build up to this fixture may be all about this man Craig, but for that to come to fruition he needs the ball. Rovers, as we know, are perhaps the most effective team for ball retention in this division. Should Doncaster get their game going from the start then the natives, or rather those along for the occasion, are likely to get restless. This is Bellamy’s day, no-one wants to see him upstaged by the likes of Doncaster Rovers. No-one, except us, and perhaps John Boyle
Rovers still have five players unavailable due to injury though one of that number has changed in the past week. Mark Wilson has returned to squad contention after recovering from the toe injury he suffered in pre-season, though on his way out of the treatment room he’ll have passed Shelton Martis hobbling in the other direction; the centre-half having pulled a hamstring in last Saturday’s match with Bristol City. Also kept out with a hamstring injury is James Hayter, whilst John Oster and James Chambers remain out with knee injuries as does Byron Webster with his foot problem.
As well as some new forward or other Cardiff City have made a further, less publicised addition to their squad, with Lee Naylor creeping in the back door. Left-back Naylor was released by Celtic in the Summer and having joined the Bluebirds this week is expected to feature in their squad against Rovers. Further City team news to follow…
Predicted Rovers Line-Up
(4-3-2-1) Neil Sullivan; James O’Connor, Wayne Thomas, Adam Lockwood, George Friend; Brian Stock, Simon Gillett, Martin Woods; Jamie Coppinger, Ryan Mason; Billy Sharp
subs: Gary Woods, Sam Hird, Mustapha Dumbaya, Mark Wilson, Waide Fairhurst, Dean Shiels, Steve Brooker
Travelling To The Game
Alas Ninian Park is no more, Cardiff’s home for – to quote Bobby Gould – “many many many years” has bitten the dust, but across the street now stands a bigger shinier place in which visiting fans can make dubious claims connecting the more regular residents and the nation’s livestock. The Bluebirds moved into the new 26,000 plus capacity Cardiff City Stadium last summer, meaning Rovers fans have visited just once before. For the uninitiated we can tell you its big, grey and blue, like Roy Chubby Brown in an elephant costume. Yes… we know. Its been a long week ok.
If you’re driving straight to the ground then your best bet is to avoid the City centre and leave the M4 at junction 33, and take the A4232 in the direction of Cardiff and Barry, before leaving the dual carriageway at the B4267 exit. From the top of the slip road follow signs for Cardiff International Athletics Stadium. Continue on past the ground and turn right in front of HSS Hire which will take you to an official club car park near the away end. If you’re heading down on the train Cardiff Central is around twenty-five minutes walk from the Stadium, simply come out of the station and turn left, then after about a mile turn left again onto Leckwith Road. If you fancy a shorter walk you can catch a train to Ninian Park Halt which is just a few minutes away from the ground, or alternatively Grangetown which is a fifteen minute walk but served by more regular trains.
Away fans are tucked away neatly in a corner of the ground between the Ninian and Grange Stands and can expect a matchday experience like many other undertaken in Championship away games, with bar code scanning turnstiles and everything you could ever possibly want overpriced and at your fingertips in the concourse. Football grounds are dull these days aren’t they really.
Viva Rovers’ one-time celebrated live match Twitter coverage is in action again for this trip to South Wales. Well, we say action. It cut out on us last time we were at the Cardiff City Stadium, but we’re nothing if not persistent. So for updates from the match in 140 characters or less simply follow @vivarovers, or if you are not on Twitter then you can also access these tweets by refreshing the Updates box to the right of this page during the game.
Radio-wise your best bet for live coverage is BBC Radio Wales, assuming you’re in Wales. BBC Radio Sheffield will be providing listeners in South Yorkshire with updates from the game, as too probably, given Bellamy’s appearance, will be 5Live. For live match commentary back in blighty you’ll need Rovers Player available (for a fee) via the official club website and complete with commentary from the hardest working press officer in football; Chris Mortley. Other than that you could try BBC’s Score Interactive accessed through the red button on your digital television – red of course being a warning colour to brace you for the impending tedium of Garth Crooks.