LONDON – It has been declared a “Bubble Match,” which sounds fun.
In reality, the first South Wales derby in two years and the first meeting of Cardiff City and Swansea City in the Premier League on Sunday will see a police operation organized with military precision. The clashes — an appropriate word — between the clubs over the past four decades have generally been spiteful, violent and anything but fun.
Bubble matches and restrictions on fans are used in extreme cases where clubs and police fear a high risk of disorder off the pitch. Matches between Swansea and Cardiff tick every ignominious box in this respect.
The “bubble” designation means Swansea fans attending the game in the Welsh capital will be taken by coaches, provided free of charge by the visiting club, directly to and from Cardiff’s ground rather than being allowed to make their own travel arrangements.
As an extra precaution, British Transport Police, who are responsible for public safety on the railway network, will be deploying officers at all stations between Carmarthen and Cardiff, as well as having uniformed and plain-clothes officers on trains through South Wales — many wearing body cameras to record what is happening in the absence of CCTV.
The rivalry dates back to 1955 with Cardiff’s selection as the capital city of Wales. In Swansea eyes the Welsh government has favored Cardiff and bolstered the city financially while ignoring them. Swansea also accuses the media of bias towards Cardiff, to the extent of calling BBC Wales the Bluebird Broadcasting Corporation.
Football, inevitably, has become the platform for perceived scores to be settled. In September 1988, after Cardiff defeated Swansea, a group of Cardiff fans were chased into the sea by rival supporters. Since then, Swansea fans have regularly performed breast stroke actions to their Cardiff rivals, suggesting that they should swim away in reference to the event.
Five years later came the game dubbed The Battle Of Ninian Park. When Cardiff took the lead, Swansea fans began ripping out seats and throwing them at rival supporters, which resulted in the home fans invading the pitch.
The Football Association Of Wales subsequently banned away fans from the fixture for several years, the first in Britain to have such a restriction.
Swansea’s Alan Tate and Lee Trundle received police cautions and a one-match ban in 2006 when, doing little for the public stereotype of footballers, they paraded a flag with the message “f—- off Cardiff” after beating Carlisle to win the Football League Trophy at Millennium Stadium.
One can only wonder about the thought process that made the pair think this was a good idea.
In 2009, hundreds of Swansea fans waited behind after their 1-0 League Cup victory to abuse Cardiff fans and several arrests were made. However, Cardiff supporters were far from innocent victims as they vandalized Liberty Stadium by destroying toilets, ripping up pipes and breaking doors, causing thousands of pounds of damage.
Later that year the match at Ninian Park was marred when referee Mike Dean, who is in charge of Sunday’s game, was struck by a coin thrown by a Cardiff supporter.
Swansea manager Michael Laudrup knows a thing or two about rivalries from his playing days, having experienced el clasico for both Barcelona and Real Madrid, plus the Rome derby against Roma when he was with Lazio, which the Dane regards as the most hostile atmosphere he has played in.
Laudrup said: “I know the Swansea and Cardiff derby is something everyone is looking forward to. I have been in some heavy ones when I was a player. If you talk about games in the same area, I played for Lazio against Roma in Rome. That was a really heavy one. Juventus against Torino in Turin was a little less.
“I also played in the Real Madrid and Barcelona games, but that is a different type. There are 400 miles between the two clubs — here, it’s like Liverpool and Manchester United where those games are more about the history and tradition and all that.”
Let’s hope Laudrup’s Italian comparison does not replicate the Roma vs. Lazio Derby Della Capitale of last season, when there were 13 arrests and almost 200 people injured.
MANUEL PELLEGRINI knows what he will do, but the Manchester City manager is not telling anyone just yet. Dropping Joe Hart, who has been the first-choice goalkeeper for City and England in recent years, is a major decision. Outfield players can be rested, goalkeepers are dropped.
Costel Pantilimon did his chances of staying in the side for Saturday’s Premier League game against Norwich no harm with a solid display in the 2-0 League Cup win over Newcastle on Wednesday. The Romanian has generally played in cup ties, but has not been selected for a league game since joining City two years ago.
“He always has my trust and the trust of all the team — that is why he is here,” said Pellegrini.
Hart’s errors have become more frequent over the past 15 months and last Sunday’s mistake at Chelsea, which cost City a valuable point, may have been the final straw.
“Whichever ‘keeper plays will have my support,” said Pellegrini, who knows, but will not care, that leaving out England’s No. 1 will be headline news even if Man City wins 6-0.
CHEICK TIOTE, the Newcastle United midfielder, will soon start 180 hours of unpaid work. He avoided going to jail, but was given a seven-month suspended sentence.
When passing through Belgium, Tiote was found to have met a man at Brussels Airport, from whom the Cote d’Ivoire international purchased a fake Belgian driving licence for £12,800, which he then sent to the DVLA when attempting to obtain a British one.
The response of Newcastle manager Alan Pardew is one of the highlights of the year, maybe even the millennium. “There are times when international players come abroad and don’t actually understand the rules,” said Pardew, heroically keeping a straight face. “I think it was a misunderstanding.”
Yes, paying almost 13 grand to a guy at Brussels Airport for a dodgy Belgian licence and then using it to obtain a British license is a very easy mistake for any foreigner to make. I’m sure Tiote had no idea what he was really doing.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.