Derby matches rarely fail to deliver on their hype – these are the fixtures that fans and players alike look out for intently when the football calendar is revealed during the summer. With the demise of Wrexham in seasons gone by, the clash of Cardiff and Swansea represents the coming together of the two surviving Welsh members of the English football league. Make no mistake, this game is massive, and South Wales’ finest will do battle once again this weekend.
People will talk about the fierce derby fixtures in the British game and the context of the clash between the Swans and the Bluebirds should not be discredited. Of course, a derby is often only seen to be special to those who really care about the local area or either of the teams directly involved, but this clash is right up there with the fiercest clashes you will see anywhere in the British Isles.
So what makes it such a special occasion? Firstly, as alluded to earlier, Cardiff and Swansea are the only Welsh sides currently playing in the English Football League. Although of course support for the two clubs will be more prominently focused upon the respective cities, the fixture can now be classed as the Welsh derby, a much larger geographic entity than just part of a country. The teams will, of course, be doing battle for three points, but the bragging rights for fans are always a factor. Not many sides could claim to be the pride of a nation by merely taking victory in one single fixture. But such an honour will be bestowed on this weekend’s victor.
Of course geography is often a key factor in the coming to life of a derby fixture and this cannot be understated here. Although the two sides are separated by a reasonable distance, there are no other clubs in the region. City and Rovers of Bristol would be the next best thing so to speak but such a rivalry has never really evolved. The mere fact that this derby has stood the test of time, despite the clubs spending many years apart as one flourished and the other struggled, shows just what it means to the supporters. The intensity has not been lost.
Now a derby fixture in itself is usually enough of an event but this meeting has been given that little bit of extra spice. Premier League referee Lee Probert has been appointed to officiate this hotly anticipated affair. Now on first reading this may not seem especially significant. Probert made a name for himself so to speak as the fourth official at Old Trafford recently when Arsene Wenger was sent to the stands for kicking a water bottle in frustration. Ask a Cardiff fan however, and you will get a slightly different story.
Probert sent off two of Cardiff’s players in their defeat at QPR last season with manager Dave Jones later claiming that the official was not good enough to referee at this level. Strong words indeed, and it’s hard to imagine that Jones will be happy to see Probert at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday. With tempers having a tendency to flare during such fixtures, it will be fascinating to see how the Premier League referee will handle the occasion. Neil Warnock once claimed that the bigger fixtures in the Championship should be overseen by Premier League appointed referees all the time. Perhaps the decision to appoint Probert is a sign that things are starting to move this way.
So what of the match itself? Unquestionably this is the fixture of the weekend. Cardiff have been seemingly scoring goals for fun this season but will have to make do without top marksman Michael Chopra who is suspended. The Bluebirds will also be without midfielder Stephen McPhail, a torn thigh muscle will keep him out of action. Swansea have kept a very tight backline so far this season and will enter this match on the back of a nine game unbeaten run. With both sides harbouring realistic ambitions of a place in the promised land of the Premier League next season, this will definitely be one to watch.
It seems a shame to end on such a negative note but it is an aspect of this fixture which cannot be simply glossed over. These sides met on three occasions last season, with all three matches being marred by crowd trouble. Now of course, hatred between fans is part of football culture. It may be petty and often trivial but as things stand it is a part of the game and it is not likely to change. There are social factors outside of football which add to the hatred between these two sets of fans and so this rivalry should not be discredited as hatred for hatred’s sake. However, there is no place for violence in football, and clubs and governing bodies have worked hard to see that this is stamped out of our game as best as possible. It would be a shame if the headlines on Sunday refer to events of the field rather than the attractive and aggressive football that will undoubtedly be played out on it.
News and views from the Football League
Keane for more time to prove himself – October 5
It’s a funny old game – October 8
A new owner does not guarantee success – October 12
Tied up in Notts – October 16
Climbing the Football League ladder – October 19
League structure in need of resuscitation – October 21
There is still magic in the cup – October 26
Blink and you’ll miss it – October 29
Middlesbrough’s Strachan disproves ‘New Manager Syndrome’ – November 2
All eyes on Wales as Derby-day approaches – November 5