In which the FA Cup leaves England for the first time with the assistance of a small black cat!
“What was that?” exclaimed Hughie Ferguson as he paused in his back swing to peer down at his feet.
Some kind of creature had brushed against his legs just as he was about to drive his golf ball down the course at Royal Birkdale.
“Och, it’s naught but a wee black cat,” he continued, answering his own question.
He lowered his club, and sank to his haunches to stroke the little animal, which turned its curious yellow eyes in his direction.
“You’re a bonnie wee lassie,” said Hughie, caressing the cat’s soft dark fur. The animal began purring softly.
“Duw, come on, Hughie! We’re here to play golf, not to waste time with stray cats,” declared Fred Keenor impatiently. “Besides, black cats are bad luck, aren’t they?”
Hughie Ferguson looked up at his team-mate, a short, pugnacious-looking man with a prominent nose and black, slicked-down hair.
“I think this moggie’s our good luck charm,” he said with a grin. “She’ll help us get back tae the Cup Final! After all, Freddie, that’s what ye promised the supporters after Sheffield United beat us two years ago.”
“Aye, I did promise,” agreed Keenor, “but this cat belongs to someone. Look, it’s got a collar on, probably has an address on it.”
“It does at that,” replied Hughie, examining the animal’s collar. He rose to his feet, scooping up the cat in his arms. “But I’ve decided! This cat’s to be our lucky mascot. We need all the luck we can get for that match on Saturday against Bolton, the Cup holders! So, Fred, laddie, I’m off tae make a deal wi’ this pussy’s owners tae see if we can beg, buy, or borrow its services for our cup run!”
“You’re crazy, boyo,” said Keenor. “And what about our game of golf?”
“Later!” called Hughie as he strode off towards the clubhouse. “Later!”
That evening, Hughie knocked on the door of Fred Keenor’s hotel room. He was carrying a large basket in his arms.
“Here we are, Freddy,” he declared proudly as his captain opened the door. “The new Cardiff City Football Club mascot! Only cost me two Cup Final tickets! Answers to the name of Trixie!”
There was a furious scratching sound from inside the basket.
“She’s no happy wi’ her new home,” said Hughie regretfully. “Can I bring her inside?”
Fred Keenor held up his hand, palm pointed at his teammate.
“Oh, no, Hughie,” he said hurriedly. “She’s your idea. Yours to look after!”
Then Fred Keenor closed the door firmly.
“Och, well, Trixie,” said Hughie with a deep sigh, “let’s gan and see if we can find a saucer o’ milk for ye.”
The wall of noise that greeted the Cardiff City football team as they trotted out onto the pitch at Burnden Park, Bolton, was deafening.
“Boy, that’s quite a crowd,” remarked Billy Hardy. “Good as a twelfth man for the Wanderers!”
“Come on, lads!” shouted Fred Keenor, clapping his hands. “Hang tough! We can turn ‘em over!”
“There’s some of our lot over in that corner,” said Hughie. “Let’s gan over, and give ‘em a wave.”
The Cardiff players trotted over to the corner of the stadium that housed the thousand or so City fans who had made the journey north to back their team.
Dai Davies, a miner from the Rhonda Valley waved his scarf and chanted.
“Keenor! Keenor!” at the top of his voice. The chant was taken up by dozens of his fellow supporters, standing around him.
Fred Keenor puffed out his chest and seemed to grow several inches as he acknowledged the fans with a wave.
Dai’s friend, Taffy Evans, called out, “Give ‘em ‘ell, Hughie!”
The popular striker grinned up into the crowd who began to chant:
“Give us a goal, give us a goal, Fer-gu-son, Fer-gu-son!”
The teams kicked off, and the home side, went on the attack, roared on by the crowd of more than forty thousand Bolton fans. For the opening minutes the Cardiff goal area was under siege, bombarded by centers and shots, but the visitors’ defense, marshalled skillfully by Keenor, held firm.
Slowly but surely the tide began to turn. Len Davies and Hughie Ferguson probed for gaps in the Bolton defense, and shortly afterwards the Scotsman found the net to put the Welsh side ahead. Following a series of vigorous slaps on the back from his delighted team mates, Hughie trotted over to the Cardiff bench. He paused by a wicker basket that had been set down nearby, leaned over and muttered, “Thanks, Trixie, lassie.”
The initial threat of the home side was gradually evaporating, blunted by the implacable Cardiff defense. Then Len Davies added a decisive second goal for the Welsh team. At the final whistle Hughie, after some rapid handshakes with teammates and opponents, ran to the touchline to collect his precious basket, which he carried down the tunnel with him to the dressing room.
He sank down wearily on a bench, and opened the basket. Trixie was skulking in a corner, looking none too happy.
“Och, you puir wee lassie,” said Hughie. “All that noise must’ve scared ye half to death. But we won! We won! You brung us good luck, mah pet.”
While he was speaking softly, he reached out cautiously to touch the little cat, who bristled at first, but gradually relaxed under his gentle touch.
“Look, lads!” declared Hughie, holding up Trixie in his arms. “She’s the good luck charm that got us through! The luckiest cat in the world!”
“You’re nuts, boyo!” shouted Keenor. “Are you bringin’ her in the bath with you?”
Hughie hurled his mud covered boot in the direction of his captain, who dodged nimbly.
“Come on, Trixie,” muttered Hughie Ferguson. “Bring us that good fortune o’ yours. We need it bad!”
It was the second half of the quarter final replay against second division Chelsea. Having weathered a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge, Cardiff had been coasting on a two goal lead in the replay when all of a sudden their much vaunted defense had let them down, and Chelsea had drawn level with a goal either side of half time. Chelsea’s passing was becoming crisp and incisive, and their players were growing in confidence. The Cardiff supporters stood hushed on the terraces, worried expressions on every face.
“Come on, boys,” urged Fred Keenor. “We had this match won, now we gotta win it again!”
We cannae give it up now, thought Hughie. We’ve gottae win it for the fans.
Seeing a long ball coming out of defense, Hughie put on a burst of speed, and chased it down, reaching it just before a Chelsea defender and flicking it on into space for Len Davies. Davies in turn pushed the ball on before firing in a fierce shot which the Chelsea keeper tipped around the post. There was a roar of approval from the home fans, and Davies gave Hughie the thumbs-up sign.
Action ebbed and flowed from end to end with neither side able to take advantage of their opportunities until at last there was a chorus of loud appeals as Chelsea center half Harry Wilding appeared to handle the ball in the box. The referee blew his whistle, and pointed decisively to the spot.
“You take it, Hughie,” said Fred Keenor.”Stick it away, boyo!”
Hughie wiped the greasy leather ball on his shirt, and placed it carefully on the spot. He thought for a moment. Chelsea had won a spot-kick in the first half that Cardiff goalie Farquharson had charged down and saved. Hughie wanted to be sure to give the Chelsea keeper no chance. He stepped back half a dozen paces, took a deep breath, ran forward and crashed an unstoppable shot into the bottom corner.
The stadium erupted, Hughie pumped the air in triumph, and his teammates crowded around thumping him on the back.
Cardiff City were through to the semi-finals!
Trixie the mascot cat was now a consistent presence on the touch-line and in the changing rooms. All the players and staff seemed to have adopted her, and she was petted and coddled from all sides. Players, being the superstitious types they were, had accepted that her presence was essential for a successful cup campaign, and so she travelled to all the ties in her wicker basket to bring them luck.
The semi-final tie against Reading was played at a neutral ground, Molyneux Stadium, the home of Wolverhampton Wanderers, and once again Trixie worked her magic as Cardiff won comfortably by three goals to nil. It was a particularly good day for Hughie Ferguson as the young Scotsman scored twice to bring his FA Cup tally to five goals. The result of the other semi-final revealed that Cardiff’s opponents would be fellow First Division side Arsenal.
“What do you think of your chances, Fred?” a reporter asked the Cardiff captain.
“Well, it’s their first time at Wembley,” replied Keenor. “We’ve been here before. Arsenal have some great forwards, but we’ve a strong defense. Billy Hardy’ll take good care of Charlie Buchan, never fear!”
Asked later for a response, Buchan smiled and said simply, “It’s true. They have one of the best defenses in the First Division. It’s an impenetrable barrier, but don’t worry! We’ll find a way through!”
Dai, Taffy and Tom, Cardiff City supporters all, boarded the first train out of General Station at four o’clock on the morning of Cup Final day. Even at that early hour the train was already packed with hopeful fans, wearing their blue and white rosettes and scarves, chattering excitedly and occasionally breaking into song.
The three friends found some seats together, and sat watching out the window as the train pulled out of the station. After a while they pulled out some jam sandwiches, hurriedly thrown together for their breakfast, and Dai produced a flask of scalding hot sweet tea.
Taffy felt in his inside pocket for the umpteenth time for the three tickets he had stowed there for safety. Each time his fingers felt the reassuring touch of the hard cardboard edges, he would smile with relief.
As the train wended its way towards London, the Welsh passengers grew more and more boisterous and raucous, singing and chanting together. A ticket collector made a half-hearted attempt to quieten them down, and then with a shrug of the shoulders retreated to the guard’s van. After all there were no regular passengers on the train only football supporters, he thought, so what harm could be done by a little high spirits?
As soon as the train ground to a halt in Paddington Station, the supporters spilled noisily onto the platform, and headed for the exit, cutting a wide swathe and forcing other passengers to stand aside until they passed. Once out in the street the fans dispersed in all directions, some heading for the nearest pub, and others looking to catch some of the capital’s famous sights.
Dai, Taffy and Tom joined a group that was heading for the Cenotaph. They carried Welsh flags of all sizes that they planned to lay on the monument in honor of Welsh soldiers who had given their lives in the Great War. Dai’s older brother, James, had been killed at the Somme, and the young Welshman was anxious to pay his respects and commemorate his brother’s sacrifice. It was a solemn moment when he stood amongst his fellow countrymen at the monument, and laid a small Welsh flag at its base.
“Rest in Peace, Jamie,” Dai whispered. “We’ll not forget you.”
“Fred Keenor also served, look you.” remarked Tom. “I was reading of it in the paper. He fought at the Somme too, got wounded, he did, in the shoulder and the leg. They didn’t think he’d ever play footie again, you know, but look at him now, boyo. He’s a giant, the rock of the team!”
“Duw, you’re right, Tommy,” said Dai. “Best player that ever pulled on a Cardiff shirt!”
“Come on then, lads! Let’s get ourselves to the match!” exclaimed Taffy excitedly.
In his hotel room in The King’s Head at Harrow-on-the-Hill Hughie Ferguson was sitting with a purring Trixie perched on his lap.
Hughie was trying his hardest to control his attack of pre-match jitters. The young Scotsman reached up to smooth down his hair, and glanced in the mirror as he did so. He eyed his receding hairline with distaste.
“Ah, weel, I’m no a bawhied like yon Billy Hardy, no yet anyway!”
His stomach was growling. He hadn’t yet eaten breakfast, and it was getting late.
“Okay, Trixie, my dear,” he said gently. “It’s back in the basket for now, my pet.”
Down in the hotel restaurant Hughie came upon Fred Keenor addressing a group of teammates at the breakfast table. A pile of greasy dishes containing scraps of the eggs and bacon had been pushed to one side.
“Charlie Buchan’s the key, boys,” Fred was saying. “All their best play goes through Charlie. We’ve got to stifle him, and cut off his supply. But we must keep an eye on Jimmy Brain and Joe Hulme as well. They can be just as dangerous.”
He looked up as Hughie approached.
“Duw, here’s our hot-shot forward from bonnie Scotland!” he exclaimed. “Where’s your little mascot, Hughie?”
“Och, she’s no allowed in the restaurant, Fred, as you well know,” replied Hughie.
“It’s up to you or Len Davies to score today, Hughie,” said Fred more soberly. “We defenders’ll work hard at keeping those Arsenal forwards at bay, but you’ve got to do the job at the other end of the park.”
“We know it, and we’ll do our best,” said Hughie. “You can depend on that.”
Dai, Taffy and Tom hurried down the steps of Baker Street station on the Metropolitan line, and onto the packed platform. Trains were running to Wembley Park station every two minutes in an effort to transport the hordes of fans to the Final. Although each train that pulled into the crowded station departed packed with people, the crush of fans waiting on the platform never seemed to thin out. Waves of humanity decked out in the blue and white of Cardiff City continued to flow down the stairs.
“Everybody from Cardiff and the Rhonda must be here!” exclaimed Dai in a voice tinged with awe.
The three fans glanced around at the varied array of people that composed the waiting crowd. There were businessmen and clerks in bowler hats, shopkeepers in straw boaters, miners in flat cloth caps and a goodly scattering of Welsh women in bonnets, and even small children clinging tightly to their parents’ hands. In spite of the crush, everybody seemed in a festive mood as they chanted and sang about their adored ‘Bluebirds’.
“With a crowd like this behind ‘em, the City are sure to win,” declared Dai.
Herbert Chapman, Arsenal’s newly appointed manager, clicked his tongue in exasperation. He and his players had left their hotel in plenty of time aboard their team bus, but progress through the crowded streets had been slow, and now their vehicle was at a complete standstill hemmed in by hordes of supporters heading for the stadium.
“Can’t you move at all,” he asked the driver in frustration.
The man spread his arms resignedly.
“They’re all packed in around us like sardines, guv,” he said apologetically I might injure someone if I try to get through. We need coppers to clear the way.”
Chapman, who had led his Huddersfield Town team to three successive League titles, was a determined individual, and he wasn’t about to let a few fans hold up his team’s progress to Wembley where he fully expected to bring home their first trophy under his aegis.
“Wait here,” he said firmly. Climbing down from the bus, he shoved his way through the crowd till he reached the doorway of a nearby public house.
“I need the use of your telephone,” he snapped. “I’m Herbert Chapman, manager of Arsenal Football Club.”
“Well, Mr. Chapman,” said the landlord, pointing to a telephone at the end of the bar. “Help yourself, but make it quick. They’re all Spurs fans in here!”
Within twenty minutes a pair of police motor-cyclists had arrived to guide the Arsenal team coach towards its date with destiny.
Dai, Taffy and Tom entered the Empire Stadium at Wembley just before two o’clock. A lively session of community singing was in progress led by bands of the Grenadier and Irish Guards. The three supporters wended their way through the gathering crowd to their places at one end of the stadium.
“That was a nasty mess we just dodged,” said Dai. “Thank the good Lord you got our tickets direct from the club, Taff! Those poor fellows out there with the fake tickets! Some touts must have made quite a killing!”
“The stewards were turnin’ the poor blighters away,” said Tom, “and they didn’t look happy at all! I reckon they’ll have to call in the coppers to stop a riot.”
“Well, thank God we’re inside, and in our proper place,” said Taff. “Not a bad view from here, eh? No pillars in the way. Now what’s this song they’re all singing?”
Dai put his ear on one side to listen, and then said, “Why, it’s that hymn we all know, ‘Abide with me’.”
In a matter of seconds, the three friends had added their powerful voices to the lusty chorus ringing out around them. Some fans had linked arms, and were swaying from side to side in time with the music.
The song came to an end, and before the conductor on his pedestal could call out the title of the next song, a chorus of Welsh voices spontaneously took up their national song, ‘Hlen Wlad Fy Nhadau’, ‘Old Land of my Fathers’. Thousands of voices joined in, soaring into the afternoon sky in a sweet resonant harmony.
In a box high in the stands reserved for special visitors an elderly man with an unruly mop of white hair and a drooping moustache turned to his neighbor, a middle-aged man with features resembling those of a bulldog, and said in a voice tinged with admiration, “No-one can sing like the Welsh can, Winston! It’s proud I am of my countrymen!”
Winston Churchill blew cigar smoke into the air, and replied tersely,
“I can’t deny it, David. I’m not so popular over in the Rhonda, but I’ve got to admit the beggars can sing a bit.”
David Lloyd George, former Prime Minister of England nodded and pulled out a handkerchief to dab the corners of his eyes which had all of a sudden developed an unusual moistness.
The Cardiff City players had arrived in their dressing room in good time, and were each engaged in their various idiosyncratic pre-match rituals. One player was tying and retying his bootlaces, another was fingering a gold chain that hung around his neck whilst yet another sat half-naked on the bench, determined to put on his shorts only at the last minute!
Hughie Ferguson was sitting in a corner, nursing Trixie on his knee, as he waited for the summons to line up in the tunnel.
Fred Keenor, pent up with nervous energy, was pacing up and down restlessly.
“Just a few minutes now, lads,” he said. “Then it’s over the top and up and at ‘em!”
“Old Fred thinks he’s still on the Western Front!” Jimmy Nelson piped up. “Want us to fix our bayonets now, Fred?”
There were general guffaws of laughter as Fred shook his fist in mock anger at the full-back.
Goalie Tom Farquharson, was taping and re-taping his gloves with studied concentration.
“I just don’t want them to slip,” he said to his curious neighbor in explanation.
“Nervous?” said center-half Tom Sloan.
“Aye,” said the goalie. “I had this nightmare last night that I fumbled a shot, and it trickled into the net.”
“Don’t worry, Tom! You’ll be just fine,” said half-back, Billy Hardy reassuringly.
He turned to the rest of the group.
“I think it’s our day today, boys,” he declared. “They’ll come at us from the kick-off. We’ve just got to hold them, and then we’ll see if we can spring Len or Hughie on the break.”
Thirty-five year old Hardy, another World War I veteran, was one of the most respected members of the team, and several players nodded or grunted their agreement with his words.
There was a knock on the dressing room door, and the referee, Mr. William Bunnell, stuck his head in.
“Time to line up outside, gentleman,” he said.
Perched on a precarious gantry high above the stadium, two men had begun to broadcast commentary from the FA Cup Final for the first time in the history of the BBC. Derek MCCulloch was describing to listeners the scene below as captains Fred Keenor and Charlie Buchan presented their teams to King George V. The two captains, thin lofty Buchan and short pugnacious Keenor, then joined the referee in the center circle for the toss which was won by Cardiff.
Moments later Hughie Ferguson stood poised at the center circle, preparing to nudge the ball forward to Len Davies. He took one final glance to the touch-line to reassure himself that the wicker basket was in place next to the Cardiff City bench.
“Come on now, Trixie,” he murmured. “Guide us home!”
Somewhere up in the crowd sat the two proud owners of the black cat, whom Hughie had bribed with the promise of two FA Cup tickets in return for the loan of their pet.
The whistle blew, Hughie tapped the ball to Len, and the final was underway! Roars of anticipation rang out from more than ninety thousand throats as a deafening crescendo of noise surged around the stadium. Two hundred miles away fifteen thousand proud Welsh folks had gathered outside City Hall in Cathay Park to hear the radio broadcast over loudspeaker.
Back in the stadium Arsenal gained possession and advanced into the Cardiff area, but Northern Irish full back Tom Watson cleared confidently. Then Cardiff forward Sam Irving broke clear, but was stopped by Arsenal’s Andy Kennedy.
As Keenor had foreseen, Arsenal dominated the early play, Farquharson making a confident stop from a Tom Parker direct free-kick. The Gunners’ Hulme and Buchan were pressing Sloan and Keenor hard, forcing four corners in rapid succession, but the vaunted Cardiff defense held firm.
At the half-time whistle the Cardiff players entered the dressing room in confident mood.
“They’re getting frustrated,” said Fred Keenor. “We’re holding them. They’ve had a lot of the ball, but created nothing. Tom’s dealt safely with their few shots. They’ll come at us again after the break, but the longer the game goes on, the better chance I think we’ve got.”
He turned to the forwards, and continued, “I know you blokes are not seeing too much of the ball, but be patient! Just be ready for whatever opening crops up!”
Up in the gantry George Allison of the BBC was summarizing the first half for radio listeners.
“Not exactly a classic so far. Arsenal have had more of the ball, but the well-organized Cardiff defense is coping with anything that the Gunners come up with, and Ferguson and Davies have occasionally looked dangerous on the break. What do you think, Mac?” he asked his partner.
“You’ve got it in a nutshell, George,” agreed McCulloch. “A dour struggle with little to excite the fans of either side. Let’s hope things pick up in the second half!”
The second half began with both teams making attempts on goal. A Buchan header was turned for a corner by the Cardiff keeper, and at the other end Ernie Curtis forced Arsenal’s Welsh keeper, Dan Lewis, into a rare save. Cardiff winger, George McLachlan sent a searching pass to Len Davies whose shot flew just wide of the post. Then a pile-driver from Cardiff’s Billy Hardy was saved by Lewis with some difficulty.
Hughie Ferguson had been watching the ebb and flow of the game with some frustration, unable to get much involved in the play. However he didn’t allow himself to become too desperate, aware that games can change in a moment, and confident that given even a ghost of a chance he would score.
The goal when it came was unexpected and untidy. Ernie Curtis went on a run from midfield before passing the ball forward to Hughie Ferguson on the edge of the box. Hughie got a shot away promptly, but without much force. Some said later the ball had taken a deflection on its way to goal which had distracted Arsenal keeper, Lewis. He seemed to have gathered the shot safely, but then the ball suddenly squirmed out of his hands, and slipped through the crook between his body and left elbow. With Len Davies closing in on the lookout for a rebound, Lewis sent a flailing arm out in search of the ball and seemed to strike it with his elbow so that it trickled with tantalizing slowness over the line and into the net. Not Hughie Ferguson’s greatest goal perhaps, but surely the most important of his prolific career!
Up in the stands Dai, Taffy and Tom craned their necks to watch as the ball slid in slow motion across the line. Then hordes of Welsh fans whooping with delight leaped into the air, and sent a roar of triumph echoing around the stadium.
Miles away in Cathay Park fifteen thousand more Cardiff fans hugged each other in glee. Soon in both locations vigorous choruses of ‘Land of My Fathers’ were ringing out from thousands of Welsh throats!
Shortly afterwards, Cardiff almost scored again, but Ernie Curtis chose to shoot himself when an unmarked Len Davies might have made the game safe. A groan rang out around the stadium. There were some tense moments in the closing minutes, but at last the referee’s whistle sounded to end the battle. Hughie Ferguson sank to his knees while teammates surrounded him to slap him on the back.
A distraught Dan Lewis, a forlorn figure between the Arsenal goalposts, held his head in his hands, a picture of dejection, only too aware that his mishandling had delivered the cup to Cardiff. At the opposite end Tom Farquharson marveled to himself. So it wasn’t me that fumbled the shot in my dream after all, he thought. Poor Dan!
The victorious Cardiff players, led by Fred Keenor mounted the stairs to the royal box. King George V handed the trophy to the captain who took several steps before raising the Cup in the air and waving it in the direction of the club’s delirious fans. The sight of the trophy was greeted with a thunderous roar. Dai, Taffy and Tom thumped each other on the back, and hugged each other with joy.
Hughie Ferguson, receiving his medal a few paces behind his captain, paused to savor the scene. It doesn’t get much better than this, he thought. This is the greatest day of my life!
The Cardiff players descended the steps and commenced their lap of honor passing the trophy gleefully from one to another as they acknowledged the cheers of their fans. Len Davies performed a weird little dance and Billy Hardy placed the lid of the Cup on his bald pate!
Behind them the dejected Arsenal players were descending the steps having received their medals. A reporter stepped forward, putting his hand on goalkeeper Dan Lewis’s arm.
“Tell me, Dan,” he said ingratiatingly, “just how did that shot slip out of your grasp? It looked to me as if you had it well covered!”
Lewis couldn’t meet the reporter’s gaze. His eyes flickered desperately in every direction as if he were looking for an escape.
At last he said, “It was my jersey…My jersey was greasy. When I pulled the ball in to my chest, it just skidded out like a piece of slippery soap!”
The reporter eyed him skeptically.
“You’re telling me that the condition of your jersey caused you to lose the ball,” he said in an incredulous tone,
“Er…yes,” said Lewis.
“So it wasn’t a goalkeeping error then?” probed the reporter.
“I think that’s enough questions for now,” said a third voice firmly. It was Charlie Buchan. “Come on, Dan,” he continued gently, guiding the distraught goalkeeper towards the dressing room.
“I don’t want this thing,” said Lewis in a pained voice, breaking free to hurl his loser’s medal away onto the muddy pitch. “I don’t deserve it!”
In the Cardiff dressing room two champagne bottles were being sprayed over the victorious players who were singing and jumping up and down with linked arms in the center of the room. In the corner Hughie Ferguson had lifted the lid of the wicker basket and was stroking a purring Trixie.
“We won, Trixie, my wee darlin’,” murmured Hughie. “I knew you were our good luck charm. Knew it from the first moment that I saw ye!”
“Blimey!” exclaimed Billy Hardy. “Take a butchers at this lot. There must be thousands of ‘em!”
Some of his teammates crowded over to the train windows. There were gasps of surprise as they caught sight of the large crowds of people in the railway station.
“They’re bringin’ us in on a different platform,” said George McLachan. “It’s no the usual one.”
“Likely they want to give us a chance to make it to the buses before we get swamped!” remarked Fred Keenor.
When the train shuddered to a standstill, the players tumbled out onto a deserted platform, and looked around hurriedly for the exit.
“Over there, lads!” exclaimed Hughie pointing.
Just at that moment they caught sight of a horde of cheering fans running towards them across the tracks.
“Duw!” exclaimed Keenor. “This way quick, boyos, before someone gets hurt!”
The players raced for the exit just ahead of the pursuing fans and scrambled aboard two charabancs parked outside the station. Fred Keenor, clutching the FA Cup, joined the Cardiff City chairman in an open motor car at the head of the small convoy.
“Off we go, boys!” he shouted. “Off to City Hall!”
As the vehicles pulled away, and set off down the street, the players could only stare open-mouthed at the serried ranks of cheering supporters who were lining the route. Men shouting and cheering, young women blowing kisses, and waving wildly, and small children darting and scampering backwards and forwards at the edge of the crowd. It was a chaotic scene, barely contained by the harassed policemen who lined the route.
People leaned precariously out of the upper windows of office buildings. One woman had purloined a step ladder which she was tottering alarmingly under the weight of her and her two friends. Some youths had enterprisingly scaled trees.
Some supporters had stationed themselves on a bridge, but in the midst of the pushing and shoving several hats had been dislodged into the canal. An enterprising young boy was doing a brisk trade, offering to recover the missing headwear for tuppence a hat!
The Cardiff players stood wonderingly, gripping the sides of their charabancs, scarcely able to believe the overwhelming welcome they were receiving.
“It’s like I’m dreamin’, Hughie,” said Len Davies. “After we lost last time at Wembley, I never thought we’d get another chance, and now we’ve gone and won…thanks to you, lad!”
He put his hand on his teammate’s shoulder.
“Ain’t this the greatest day of your life?” he asked.
“Smashin’,” replied Hughie. Then his face clouded over momentarily. “How can we ever top this?” he asked.
The decade of the 1920s was the most successful period in the history of Cardiff City Football Club. Only a year after joining the Football League in 1920, Cardiff were promoted from the Second to the First Division. In 1924 they missed becoming Champions of the First Division by a whisker. With Cardiff and Huddersfield Town finishing with an identical points total, the championship was decided by goal average (calculated by dividing ‘goals scored’ by ‘goals conceded’). By this measure the title was awarded to Huddersfield. Had the modern method of goal difference been applied, then Cardiff would have been champions! A year later they were thwarted again when Sheffield United defeated them in the FA Cup Final which made their final triumph in 1927 all the sweeter. That year of 1927 was the pinnacle of their achievements. Having become the first and so far only team outside England to win the FA Cup, they then proceeded to add the Welsh Cup and the Charity Shield to their trophy cabinet. Unfortunately from then on it was a precipitant decline. They were relegated twice, and by 1931 they were playing in the Third Division (South).
Fred Keenor, a loyal club man for nineteen years, his service interrupted by his traumatic time in the trenches on the Western Front in World War I, left Cardiff in 1931 to complete his career at Crewe. Considered by many to be Cardiff’s greatest player of all time, he is now honored with a bronze statue outside the Cardiff Stadium.
Hughie Ferguson, alas, came to a tragic end. A prolific scorer in Scotland with Motherwell before his transfer to Cardiff, he had his best season for ‘the Bluebirds’ in 1927, scoring more than 30 goals in all competitions. Over the next two seasons recurring back problems began to limit his playing time, and he was eventually sold to Dundee FC in Scotland as a sinking Cardiff faced severe financial problems. At Dundee Ferguson’s goal supply dried up drastically. In eighteen appearances he managed only two goals, and experienced some painful heckling from the supporters. He was discovered dead one morning at the stadium. He had committed suicide by gassing himself, apparently despondent over his loss of form. However, family members later stated that he had been experiencing severe insomnia and balance problems due to pressure on his inner ear, which they suspected had been caused by an undiagnosed brain tumor. A sad end for a gifted player, scorer of more than 350 career goals, the most important of which had brought the FA Cup to Wales. He was only 34 years old. He left behind two children. His wife, Jessie, was pregnant at the time with their third child, Jack, who never knew his father but who later grew up to be an Olympic water-polo international. Hughie’s son and grandson joined thousands of optimistic Cardiff fans at the 2008 Cup Final, hoping for a repeat of 1927’s triumph. Many of them carried stuffed toy black cats! Unfortunately Portsmouth had other ideas, beating Cardiff 1-0.
Arsenal’s Welsh goalkeeper, Dan Lewis, never really got over the disastrous goal-keeping error that cost his team the cup. It haunted him for a long time although he continued as his team’s first choice keeper for two more years. It is alas the fate of goalkeepers that their errors are recalled long after their match-winning saves are forgotten. For example, Leeds United’s Welsh international keeper, Gary Sprake, is remembered for a similar mistake in the 1970 Cup Final when he allowed a tame shot by Chelsea’s Peter Houseman to squeeze under his body, forcing a replay. Sprake was dropped for the replay which Leeds lost. Sprake, a fine goalkeeper and a match winner for Leeds on more than one occasion, never fully regained his spot on the starting roster from his replacement, David Harvey. Dan Lewis’s Arsenal team-mates thoughtfully retrieved the loser’s medal he had cast away onto the Wembley pitch, and returned it to him. Whether he showed any gratitude for their kindness is not recorded!
And Trixie the cat? Cardiff City’s lucky talisman had grown so comfortable in her role with the team that she never returned to her original owners, but spent the rest of her days hanging out at Ninian Park, fed and fussed over by the club’s players and staff!
Of course, my story is a fictionalized account of a historic event, and my depiction of the players and their dialogue are completely my own invention. Dai, Taffy and Tom, the three Cardiff City supporters are fictional, but I trust fairly typical of the actual fans who made the trip to Wembley. Pictures of the winning team and of Trixie the lucky talisman cat can be found on the internet!
Michael Neat, April 27, 2020.