MAGGIE OUT, ADRIAN PARK IN – A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE 1927 CLUB
Despite coming just two days after Margaret Thatcher’s resignation as Prime Minister, 24th November 1990 wasn’t, on the face of it, a great day to be a Cardiff City fan. Four days earlier the team had produced one of the most inept displays in the club’s history to be knocked out of the FA Cup by Hayes, while on the 24th itself, they went down 4-0 to Gillingham (in the days before they were good) in the old Division Four. Lee Baddeley made his debut that day and was one of our better players - yes, we really were that bad.
However, for many of the City fans in Gillingham that day, 24th November 1990 was a momentous day, one that will forever be celebrated by followers of the Bluebirds who, since that date, have found themselves exiled in the remote and inhospitable corner of the British Isles commonly known as “London and the South East”. Prior to then, this region was a cultural desert where young Welshmen stumbled around blindly, vainly seeking the civilizing influence of their like-minded compatriots. All that changed when, a couple of hours before the match kicked off, in the Britannia public house (the nearest hostelry to Gillingham station, natch) the decision was taken to form a London Branch of the Cardiff City Supporters’ Club.
Shortly afterwards, a small group met in The Owl and The Pussycat, an obscure and shady drinking den hidden away down a cobbled East End back street, to hold the club’s first formal meeting. A committee was elected, including our inaugural chairman, Adrian Park, who won the vote despite doing his best to alienate those present by being resplendent in a replica Merthyr shirt. Little else is remembered about this meeting, which quickly degenerated into a drunken shambles, thus establishing a tradition which is fastidiously observed to this day at every 1927 Club gathering.
For a couple of years we bumbled along with a handful of members, meeting monthly at London’s up-market Savoy Hotel (ok, the tacky Coal Hole pub next door to the Savoy) and organizing the occasional minibus to the likes of Peterborough or Halifax. At this time too the 1927 Club football team was established, playing friendly matches against London based supporters of other teams and even Saturday morning matches against fans of City’s opponents.
The spirit of this formative period is probably best summed up by the infamous “Doncaster Incident” of April 1991. It all started well enough, our small group all turning up bright and early to board the minibus which was to transport us up to South Yorkshire. There was just one absentee – the bus. The company we were hiring from had mislaid our booking, leaving us without transport. We legged it to Kings Cross, bought extortionately expensive return tickets and just made it to Doncaster in time for our morning appointment with the Rovers Supporters Club XI. After being thrashed on the pitch, and enjoying some welcome sustenance in the members’ bar at Belle Vue, we witnessed a pretty dire 1-1 draw, notable only for the merciless abuse by certain club members of a rather rotund home fan unwise enough to turn up for the match in a bright pink jumper, and the jocular City fans provoking Donny’s Billy Whitehurst into using some quite obscene and, to give him his due, highly original hand gestures.
After the game, more drinks were consumed in the members’ bar, where we overheard the aforesaid Mr. Whitehurst loudly voicing his opinions on the subject of Cardiff’s followers, few of whom apparently could expect to receive Christmas cards from him. Then it was into town to sample the delights that Doncaster’s hostelries had to offer. It was around 9 o’clock when someone remembered that we had to get a train back to London and no-one had bothered to check anything as mundane as a timetable. On arriving at the station, we were told we’d missed the last train to London by a good half hour. Once this information had sunk in, our group responded with an impromptu “Ayatollah”, then headed back into town to resume festivities. Amazingly we found a B& B happy to accept (a) a dozen drunken Welshmen at short notice and (b) my Visa card (some of you swine still owe me for that night, by the way) and, our accommodation for the night sorted, off we headed again to paint the town red.
The next morning we were not a pretty sight and the combination of hangovers and, for those members with partners, the thought of the recriminations to come on finally getting home, meant that the train journey south was somewhat subdued, but it had been a memorable weekend which to this day is spoken of with reverential awe whenever two or more members from that era are gathered together.
The 1992/93 season was a momentous one for Cardiff City AFC and the 1927 Club alike. The Bluebirds of course lifted the Third Division Championship in some style and their progress on the pitch was matched by that of our Club off it. A membership drive, culminating in a mass leafleting of City’s away following at Barnet in November of that season, saw our numbers rise dramatically. Our football team was now sufficiently organized to be playing in the APFSCIL League every Sunday morning. Perhaps most significant, however, was the appointment of Ray Lewis as the club’s travel officer. Ray had an almost evangelical approach to the role and soon a sizeable hardcore of members was travelling to watch the City week after week by train, car, minibus, coach or whatever other form of transport Ray had laid on for that particular match. Anyone showing indecision as to whether to attend a particular game would find themselves brutally cajoled into making up their minds by Ray, who would regard failure to join his merry band of travellers as a personal insult.
Despite these advances, when it came down to it, what we were really good at was, as ever, downright foolishness. The long trip to Carlisle in January 1993 is remembered by most City fans as the match which started the run of good form that eventually led to the title. In the 1927 Club, however, it is celebrated as the only occasion when one of our number managed to get arrested. Now I hasten to add that the individual concerned (who shall remain nameless) is no hooligan or vandal, but, just occasionally, he has been known to have one or two drinks too many. Which frankly was the case for virtually all of us who took the train up from Euston that day. Four hours in an enclosed space with a bar was only ever going to lead to one outcome. So when Kevin Ratcliffe, making his Cardiff debut, headed the winner with only his third ever league goal, it was perhaps inevitable that one of us would express his gratitude and exhilaration by running on the pitch to give Kev a big bear hug. Sadly, the local constabulary were in super-officious mode that afternoon and reacted by carting the gentleman concerned off to the back of their van.
There he stayed, in the less than convivial company of a few lads who’d been arrested for frankly more reprehensible, not to say violent, behaviour, until one of said lads decided to try the van door. It turned out to be unlocked and the occupants of the van made their bid for freedom. Now our representative would have been well advised to get the hell out of Carlisle pronto and indeed made his way to the station where the train for London was waiting. However, on discovering that none of the rest of our party were on it (we were at the police station, demanding the release of the 1927 Club One, which is ironic given that he wasn’t in custody at the time), he, rather touchingly I feel, retired to the pub opposite the station to await our arrival. Not a clever move, as shortly thereafter, the van from which he’d earlier made his escape pulled up outside and a rather irate-looking arresting officer ushered him into the back for a trip to the police station from where he was only released long after the last train home had departed.
Since those heady days, the focus of the Club has changed its focus slightly. We still run organized travel to many matches each season, thanks to the efforts of our Jesus Christ lookalike travel officer, Rob Hughes. However in recent years we have arranged a number of social events and hosted talks by the likes of Radio 5 Live’s Ron Jones, Frank Burrows, Steve Borley, the late lamented Phil Suarez and, of course, Sam Hammam himself. For Jason Perry’s testimonial year in 1997 we arranged a highly successful evening at Terry Neill’s Sports Bar in Central London, which not only raised a substantial sum for Jason’s testimonial fund, but perhaps more importantly, was thoroughly enjoyed by all those who attended, including Jason, Carl Dale and Jeff Eckhardt. Long time chairman Mark Ainsbury continues to produce a highly entertaining (if sometimes incomprehensible) newsletter for Club members several times a season and, on the first Thursday of every month, the club’s longstanding traditions are respected at our monthly meetings in Soho where we invariably prove that though we may have got older, we certainly haven’t got any wiser.
Finally, I’d like to dedicate this article to those whose hard work and good humour over the years has made the 1927 Club such a success. In addition to those mentioned above, the following in particular have generously given of their time and energy to ensure that the Club has provided an invaluable service to Bluebirds fans in London for nearly thirteen years:
Chris Howells, Mike Bruford, Sue Ball, Richard Davies, Rob Thomas, Alun Morris, Marc Thomas, Andy Evans, Huw Thomas, Mike Slocombe, Matt Gabb, Mark Watkins, Steve Borley and, last but by no means least our founder (despite never having lived any nearer to London than Bournemouth) Richard Lewis.
Steve Lyell, March 2003.
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