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by Darren Tandy and Gloria Gaynor
Additional Contribution - The Weathergirls

Like many people I found myself having to move away from Cardiff to get a job, supporting my hometown football club in ‘exile’, worse still in the anonymous suburbs of the South-East of In-ger-land. At first, in the words of the song, I was alone. I was bored. The train back to Cardiff from Paddington every Saturday morning, a service about as reliable as a randy Labrador, was a lonely venture: cradling four cans of Carlsberg and reading the newspaper was no substitute for opening time in Canton, banter with old friends and losing the roof of my mouth on one of the nuclear pasties from Gregg’s. The elements that make supporting a team special, the things that aren’t dependent on eleven individuals you don’t know and can’t talk to, were missing.

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Then something happened to change the lonely, isolated existence that was threatening to curb my natural optimism, honed from years of watching the City under Durban. I can’t remember whether I was unable to afford the train fare back to Cardiff that crisp winter’s day, or whether the City had moved their game for one of those infernal rugby matches that crop up at that time of year; I refuse to believe it was because I was losing the faith, that the loneliness was yanking at my loyalty to the only club for me. But one way or the other I found myself on the away end at Craven Cottage, with a scant array of Bury fans, shouting support for that ex-Cardiff hero, Phil Stant. And lo it was, as Phil warmed up, I noticed a similar band of cheerleading folk for the super-sub, and was that a Welsh flag? ‘1927 Club’? I’d seen that at away games before, assumed they were just half-wits living off past glories, but soon it became clear – they were the London and South East branch of the Cardiff City supporters’ club, and I was at least a couple of kilometres off the mark with my previous thoughts on this group of fine people. We got chatting, we abused the Fulham keeper, it was like finding an old photo of an old girlfriend and thinking back to that romantic night in the back bedroom with Ronnie James Dio’s new album on the Pye stereo. In the words of the song, at least if it’s been bought from Bessemer Road market on tape, I was pacified.

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Soon I was receiving newsletters of such wit and empathetic observations that I’d be crying, laughing and looking for a dictionary in equal measure. Moreover, trips to every game were advertised, and my four cans of Carlsberg were supplemented by new banter and anticipation of the sporting feats to come… it was like discovering Mr Muscle for the Bathroom. Together we have laughed through Railtrack’s attempts to upgrade the Severn Tunnel to a wall, marvelled at the new routes afforded by engineering works and travelled North in sufficient numbers to help ourselves through the experience.

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They even talked me out of my premature retirement from actually playing the beautiful game, persuading me to fill the chasm in the centre of midfield for the 1927 Club Strollers in the legendary London Supporters’ Club League. Yes, other clubs have their exiles too, and good-natured encounters against the likes of Hibernian, Norwich and Manchester United (surprisingly awful) have given me the opportunity to wear the strip worn by the promotion team of 1993. The first time you pull on that shirt, and know it’s been worn by the likes of Jason Perry, Nathan Blake and Carl Dale, it gives you immense pride and the belief that you can do anything, even back-heels on the edge of your own penalty area, which was unfortunate if the truth be known though I still say the keeper could’ve done better. Then, depending on your team spirit, you take the kit home and wash it with Bounce on a delicate cycle or nip off to Eastern Europe and flog it. One game in particular springs to mind, on our hallowed ‘home’ turf of Wormwood Scrubs against the real team’s nemesis, Stoke. A full-blooded Cup-tie resulted in a last gasp extra-time victory. The pile of bodies as we celebrated in the shadow of the prison brought unbelievable camaraderie and I swear you could hear prisoners weeping as they looked on through barred windows. At that moment young joyriders resolved never to go near another BMW.

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Supplementing this (yes, there’s more!) are St. David’s Day social extravaganzas that make the Rio Carnival look like, er, the Rio Carnival without balloons; monthly meetings the first Thursday of every month, in a specially selected West End pub with its own regional ales, giving everyone the opportunity to have a day off work the first Friday of every month, occasionally with special guest speakers like Frank Burrows. I remember that night well because I won a huge, framed picture of the City team in the raffle and, as City are wanton to do, it almost killed me twice - once by its extreme visibility on the tube home through East London, and again when it fell off my bedroom wall and almost decapitated me as I slept; but still I loved it, even as I picked the shards of glass out of my duvet and bled on Jason Fowler. Just like the real thing.

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Recently Sam Hammam’s been down to speak to us, and the numbers in the club make it feel like we’re still in Cardiff really, back home even if we can’t see Sgorio and the castle here’s crap and doesn’t have peacocks. We can’t get the Echo, which some might see as a blessing, but believe me some sheep’s testicles are better than none, and it feels a lot better to read front page news about an umbrella blowing inside-out in Penarth than a crack-den being infiltrated and someone killed in a shoot-out above the Happy Shopper round the corner. As I remain exiled, in deepest darkest Essex, the thought that other people, close to me, are also suffering at the hands of West Ham/Arsenal/Tottenham/Barnet fans in work, are also reminded several times a day of Plymouth’s late equaliser and accused of preferring sheep to local females, is a constant source of comfort. It’s then that I feel it’s raining men, and good ones at that. Though there are also lots of fine women in the club as well. We will survive.

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