When Cardiff City won promotion to the Premier League on 16th April 2013, I genuinely felt that I was witnessing a sight that I would never see again. Thousands of fans were invading the playing surface, eager to celebrate the clubs first promotion to the top flight in 51 years, and the players were right there amongst them. History was being made. Who could ever forget some of the iconic photographs of Kevin McNaughton that were taken in those moments? Not me, and not many others, I’d expect.
On that night, I never joined the rest of our supporters on the pitch. At the time, it felt unnecessary. But in the five years since, I’ve always regretted staying in my seat, and often wondered if I’d have the chance to put that right in the future. Given our league performances since that memorable season, it didn’t seem very likely that I would be able to vanquish my regret any time soon.
In the lead-up to our final game this season, I wondered a lot whether I would take the opportunity to step onto the grass if we could get ourselves promoted. Being on the pitch wasn’t important to me (I’ve had the opportunity to step foot on the turf for other reasons in the past) but it was important for me to be a proper part of the party this time. However, a significant part of me doubted I would, for no reason other than that’s not my normal type of behaviour.
When match day came, and the Sun was out (one of the hottest days of the year, no question), I suddenly felt an uncontrollable surge of excitement through my body. I’d been curbing my expectations ever since our great start to the season in August 2017, but this was the last game, and I wanted to enjoy the highs of it, even if it ended in lows. So I started talking about promotion as though it was a sure thing (it wasn’t), and I began the banter with various friends and family members who are Swansea City supporters. For the first time all season, I was finally enjoying our league position.
The atmosphere at the game itself was incredible, and everyone in the Canton stand should be proud. They delivered their best performance in years, even as it started to look more and more likely that the players on the pitch were headed to a goalless draw (we also sealed promotion to the Premiership with the same scoreline in ’13, oddly enough). It came across on the television footage, but not at all to the extent of how it sounded in person.
When the final whistle came, I was as overjoyed as anyone else in the stadium, but I stayed firmly stood in front of my seat as thousands of fans ran onto the pitch, some releasing blue flares. I’d done what I fully expected I would, which was to just stand back and watch.
But then the fireworks went off.
As it was daylight, the fireworks didn’t look as impressive as I’m sure they would’ve done at night, but something about them finally got to me. As I watched countless colourful explosions in the sky above our stadium, I would feel my eyes begin to sting, and get a little heavier. No tears actually came (I wouldn’t let them!), but it was certainly a close call. At that moment, I knew I couldn’t have any regrets this time.
I made my way down to the pitch, taking care to climb over the advertisement hoardings after witnessing the person in front of me almost kill themselves on them. Once I was on the grass, the heat from the sun suddenly felt even stronger, and all I could do was take a deep breath. My surroundings very quickly became real to me, and I couldn’t help but look up at the stands in awe. Sure, they were now 70% empty because everyone else was seemingly on the pitch, but it was still one hell of a sight.
After some time, I decided to go back to my seat. I expected the players to do a lap of honour, and after being unable to stay from them at the end of the past few seasons, I wanted to make sure I was still here for it on this occasion. Many rows around my seat were empty now, and I could sit in the sun with my feet up, as our players celebrated with the trophy they had just won to confirm their promotion. All in all, I was probably in that stadium for nearly 1.5 hours after the game had reached its conclusion.
There’s been a lot of talk about second chances, these past few days. The biggest one being discussed is Cardiff City Football Club’s chance to have a proper crack at the Premier League, after their first was marred with all the issues that came with the rebrand and Malky Mackay’s feud with Vincent Tan. But it also feels like something of a second chance for me, too.
Due to work commitments at the time, I wasn’t able to renew my season ticket for our Premier League year. Sod’s law, the issue that had stopped me being able to renew was actually no longer a problem by the time the season started, but sadly season tickets weren’t available anymore at that point. I went to a few games (Spurs, Newcastle, West Brom, Stoke away), but I couldn’t justify spending the extra money that came with buying match tickets separately rather than as a full season ticket.
Of course, relegation meant I was able to quickly get a season ticket again, but I’d still missed our first season amongst the worlds elite, irregardless of how it turned out for us. Sat in Cardiff City Stadium this past Friday, seeing the players and fans celebrate, I realised that this was my second chance to see my club play against the best players and teams in the world. Win or lose, I get to be there every week, and that’s more than enough for me.
Watching this club reunite, and charge towards promotion, has been incredible. Those on the outside wouldn’t know the changes we have gone through these past four years, most of them bad at the start, but all of them wonderfully brilliant the past 18 months. We’ve earned this, both players and fans, and it’s ours to celebrate.
Sunday afternoon will mean a lot of different things to other people, but for me it represented an incredible achievement, and a personal opportunity to celebrate it in a way I foolishly didn’t before.
One of the best days of my life, and we did it in blue.