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Sheep testicles and raging fans the day Cardiff vLeederupte
2023-01-12 | อ่าน

Remembering one of the most febrile third-round shocks in FA Cup history

It featured sheep testicles and an undignified eviction via the big steel gates. Yet, this was 2002 and was patently not Im a Celebrity There can be no doubt, however, that the then Premier League leaders were desperate to get out of Ninian Park that notorious Sunday evening.

When an FA Cup third round match is granted its own Wikipedia page you can be sure it was a classic. This weekend, 21 years on, Leeds United return to Cardiff City in the same round of the competition and for many the recollections will come flooding back. For Robert Earnshaw certainly.

Earlier this week, Radio Wales played a clip of Scott Youngs winning goal in the 2-1 home victory that the match report in this newspaper called one of the greatest upsets in FA Cup history.

It sounded great because it takes us back to that special day when so many people enjoyed what was happening, the former Wales striker said. One of the tournaments biggest shocks and I was lucky to be part of it. We were a young team with nothing to lose against a team full of superstars... Rio Ferdinand, Robbie Fowler, Mark Viduka. This was our one chance and we took it. It could happen again on Sunday, but its very different now.

Indeed it is. Never mind their respective standings at the time - Leeds, having reached the European Cup semi-finals the previous year, were two points clear of Manchester United at the top, with Cardiff 10th in Division Two - the clash took place across the road from what is now the comparatively gleaming Cardiff City Stadium.

Ferdinand, himself, summed up the hostility of the old ramshackle ground built on the site of an old tip. When he was asked a few years later if he was dreading facing Galatasaray away he replied: When youve played at Ninian Park, youve played everywhere. To be generous, the scene could be described as rugged, the atmosphere as intimidating and the presence of chairman and owner Sam Hammam as utterly bizarre.

On to his next project after Wimbledons Crazy Gang, Hammam was apparently determined to make that Wombles experience seem like a walk in the park. The building tycoon was forced to shelve a plan to burn the shirts of English rivals and vowed to rename the club The Cardiff Celts and play in green, red and white.

Hammam befriended some of Cardiffs best-known hooligans, appointing at least one as his bodyguard, and had the bolts loosened on the terrace fences so they would make more noise when rattled. When Leeds came visiting, the chatter was still about the clause inserted into Spencer Priors contract, before the defender signed for 700,000 from Manchester City. He must first eat sheeps testicles, Hammam said. Prior agreed. But only if they were cooked.

A Cardiff crowd who had for so long felt overlooked, and who had frankly been bored, lapped up the Lebanese lunacy. Every underdog has their day and the sense of belittlement was only elevated by David OLearys prediction that we will start and end our FA Cup run in Cardiff a reference to the final being held in the capitals Millennium Stadium as the Wembley rebuild got underway.

The authorities - or TV, that is - decided that 4pm was an appropriate time and there reports of skirmishes across the city in the booze-raddled build-up. By the time a bottle had whistled past Ian Hartes right ear as the left-back took a throw-in, the mood was set. Graham Kavanagh equalised after Vidukas opener and Alan Smith saw a red card on the brink of half-time for an elbow on Andy Legg.

Leeds went defensive, the Bluebirds rallied into swoop formation and, as was his want, Hammam left the directors box to walk around the side of the pitch to whip up the faithful. Just as he was passing the away end, Young stuck out his boot in a melee and the place erupted. Hammam euphorically waved his arms and was showered by drink from the Leeds fans. The dye from his eyebrows proceeded to run down his face like warpaint, adding another sinister vision. It did not need it.

On the whistle, Cardiff supporters invaded the pitch, heading directly towards their counterparts in full taunting mode. The police struggled to keep the groups apart and the fact there were only four arrests surely owed more to the chaos of the situation (watch video below). Leeds ran to their buses under what was claimed to be a hail of missiles. In the offices of the ground, the ambience was no less febrile.

Jonathan Overend, the award-winning BBC 5Live broadcaster was still in his 20s and on duty as the reporter that day. A Cup upset is usually the cue for wild jubilation but this was ghastly, comfortably my worst day in football, he told Telegraph Sport on Friday. Being invited into the chairmans office after a match is a privilege and pleasure, normally. But the presence of Sam Hammams bodyguard - shaven head, black suit - suggested the wine wasnt about to be uncorked.

And when I dared ask Mr Hammam if walking behind the goal with five minutes remaining incited some of the unsavoury scenes, things got physical. My recorder was ripped from my grasp and I was forcibly moved down the tunnel and thrown out the gates. Ill always remember the look on OLearys face as he heard the commotion while doing a TV interview.

He looked around to see a journalist being bundled down the tunnel by the heavy mob. I dread to think what would have happened had they lost.

Hammam is long gone from Cardiff now, but the folklores remain. Down Sloper Road, the ugliness of the spectacle has been glamourised and the aftermath of that match celebrated. Leeds embarked on a dramatic spiral that witnessed them only escaping relegation the next season by six points. Within two years the teams were both in the Championship and within another two, Leeds were in League One.

In the 22 encounters - all in the League - since The Battle of Ninian Park, Leeds have only won three. We are your bogey team, sing the Bluebirds. The memory of the Bogey Man rings loud once more.

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