The catalyst for the somewhat incongruous hostilities was Lebanese businessman Sam Hammam’s takeover of Cardiff a decade ago. Having enjoyed some success as Wimbledon Chairman, Hammam intended to spend his way out of the third tier with the Bluebirds, and early in the 2001/02 Cardiff enticed, at some expense, two key Stoke players, Graham Kavanagh and Peter Thorne, to Ninian Park. Stoke, who were also among the promotion favourites in what was then known as Division Two, seemed to have blown their chance with play off heartache the previous season, and Kavanagh’s parting shot, loudly proclaimed in the media, was that Cardiff had far more ambition than the Potters. Fate would decree that the two sides would meet in that season’s play offs, and Cardiff’s 2-1 win in the first leg at the Britannia Stadium had seemed to make the second leg a formality.
Yet the Bluebirds had reckoned without what Stoke fans fondly remember as the ‘miracle of Ninian Park’ – an injury time equaliser from James O’Connor trickled in through Kavanagh’s legs, sending the game into extra time, where the Midlanders won it with a goal deflected in literally off the backside of Guinean Striker Souleymane Oulare. Oulare had not been seen since almost dying of deep vein thrombosis picked up on the flight to England to sign for the club, and he was never heard from again after this game. Stoke went on to be promoted, and in many ways that night set the Staffordshire side on the long and winding road to the Premier League.
It is not clear how seriously Cardiff will take Saturday’s game, given their faltering promotion push, but they have two more Stoke players in their ranks who will have a point to prove at the Britannia Stadium. Midfielder Seyi Olofinjana was one of Tony Pulis’ first Premier League signings at the then-considerable cost of £3m, but – aside from a memorable volley against Everton – he proved to be a disastrous signing, and was swiftly sold to Hull City the following season. Yet the big Nigerian, who has a degree in chemical engineering, seems to have made his mark at Cardiff with four goals from the middle of the park already this season.
New Bluebirds striker Jon Parkin, meanwhile, was on his way to cult status at Stoke after a successful loan spell. Yet his time in the Potteries turned sour soon after making the move permanent, with some questioning his work rate, and Pulis famously declaring that Parkin “needed to remember that football was his job, not his hobby”. ‘The Beast’ was jettisoned in 2008, resurrected his career at Preston North End, and now has the Potters in his sights.
With considerable enmity between the sides fresh in the memory, there should be quite an atmosphere when the tie gets underway on Saturday. That the next meeting between the teams after this could be a Premier League fixture underlines just how far both sides have come in the last 10 years.