dai-sport journalist Terry Phillips has been reporting on Cardiff City for a quarter of a century. Here is part one of his reflection on the Bluebirds’ promotion seasons.
Frank Burrows and I had a love-hate relationship. There were times when we would meet at the Hilton Hotel in Newport and chat about Cardiff City over a glass of wine.
He loved a glass of wine and during a pre-season tour to Keele University – where the Bluebirds had fixtures against clubs like Stoke and Port Vale – he would sip his Chardonnay as we talked. One glass only – that bottle lasted for the entire five days.
There were, though, many periods when our professional relationship was stretched to the limits.
The former Swindon Town defender, now aged 74, is the only manager to have led the Bluebirds to promotion twice – in 1988 and 1999.
I have always respected Frank and he remains the favourite manager I worked with at Cardiff City – there have been 14 or so. A straight-talking man who could have a gruff streak.
At one stage Frank refused to talk to me for a couple of months. The silence ended one night at Northampton Town’s Sixfields Stadium, Northampton.
I was waiting outside the changing rooms and I had just finished telling a local journalist that Frank would refuse to speak to me, but I had to go through the motions.
City, who included Jon Hallworth, Tony Vaughan, Richard Carpenter, Willie Boland, Jason Bowen and Matt Brazier in their team, had lost 1-0 against Northampton in a League Trophy tie.
Frank, surely, would be in a foul mood.
The big Scot emerged from Cardiff’s changing room smiling and said: “Hello young Terry. What do you want to know?”
I don’t think Frank had heard me talking to the local journo, but his timing was immaculate. My fellow media man must have thought I had made it all up!
Frank would read the South Wales Echo and react as he saw fit. He was strong-willed, while I tried to stand my ground when it was right.
I went to Ninian Park to interview Frank at 9am one morning. His secretary passed on the message that I was there, but he didn’t appear.
It became a Mexican stand-off. Frank stayed in his office. I refused to budge. There were two exits from the manager’s office – at the end of a long corridor at Ninian Park, one past the boot room and the other out to reception.
I kept an eye on both.
At around 4pm Frank emerged from the door opposite the referee’s changing room and into reception. I kept things polite and said: “Hi Frank. Are you ready to chat?”
He was shocked I had stayed, he stopped and we talked for 20 minutes or so.
I still talk to Frank occasionally. He has spent his time between the UK and America, going abroad to catch the sunshine.
Even now, my thoughts go back to the days the hard, uncompromising Frank was in charge.
Frank took charge at Ninian Park for the first time during the summer of 1986 with the club facing their first ever season in the basement division.
Money was tight, but he stabilised the club in 1986-87 and had a knack of finding quality players at the right prices. Terry Boyle, Paul Wimbleton, Nicky Platneaur and Kevin Bartlett were brought in – and the latter three brought in much needed cash when they moved on a few years later.
In his second season promotion always looked possible with bargain buy Jimmy Gilligan supplying the goals and Alan Curtis the midfield class that had previously been lacking.
Cardiff finished runners-up behind Wolves and well clear of third-in-the-table Bolton Wanderers.
There was the added bonus of a Welsh Cup win, winning 2-0 against Wrexham in the final at Vetch Field.
City comfortably survived at the higher, but the pressure to sell players was always present and Frank moved on during the summer of ’89 to take over at Second Division Portsmouth as their new boss.
Defender Mike Ford, who is currently manager of Southern League Banbury, was a mainstay in that Bluebirds’ promotion team and he returned when Burrows was tilting for more success with Cardiff.
He was brought back in February 1988 to take over from Russell Osman, inheriting one of the worst ever City teams and they finished in Division Three’s bottom four.
Once again, though, Frank stabilised the club and quickly put things right. Mark Delaney, Richard Carpenter and John Williams were signed, while Richard Carpenter arrived from Fulham, where Kevin Keegan was manager.
Matt Brazier also made the switch from Fulham to South Wales, signing a loan deal with Cardiff.
The shock departure of Delaney to Aston Villa in a £500,000 transfer was a blow. The news broke during March 1999 and I was driving along the M4 to London with best pal Lee Beames and another friend, heading towards the Brighton v Cardiff match at Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium.
Two of us had heard Delaney had gone, but ‘Beamesy’ didn’t know.
We decided each of us would name what we thought the starting line-up would be and, of course, two of us left Delaney out.
“Don’t be stupid,” said Beames. “Delaney has to play. Is he injured – or has he been sold?
“We revealed Delaney was going to Villa and my mate said Stop the car. I’m getting out on the M4 and walking back.”
Thankfully we persuaded him to stay in the car, while Frank had been able to sign Jason Bowen and Andy Legg from Reading on free transfers.
That move came as a shock to Delaney, who had been focused and determined as he sat on the Cardiff City coach on the way to the game against Brighton at Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium.
When they arrived, Frank called Delaney to one side and said: ‘You’re not playing tonight. We’ve sold you to Aston Villa.’
“I’d only been at Cardiff City for eight months,” said Delaney. “I was finding my feet at that level – and then Villa came in for me.
“Cardiff were doing really well. We were flying high and I was ready to stay at Cardiff for many more years. It’s one thing to go from Carmarthen to Cardiff, but then to go from Cardiff to Villa in the Premier League was huge.”
Cardiff were still promoted, along with champions Brentford and Cambridge United, clinching third place thanks to a goalless draw against Scunthorpe United at Ninian Park.
The loss of Delaney hit Frank hard. He had signed Delaney from Carmarthen Town after paying to watch him in a Welsh Premier League match.
Burrows had previously left Cardiff and Swansea because he believed they lacked ambition at the time.
“I have carried Cardiff City in the past by selling players,” said Burrows. “I have carried Swansea City in the past by selling players. I am not going to do it for a third time.”
Frank had some financial backing and added new recruits including Willie Boland from Coventry City, but Cardiff struggled at home and were unable to climb clear of relegation problems.
Lennie Lawrence, who would lead the Bluebirds to promotion three years later, played a part in Frank’s departure from Cardiff. Lennie’s Luton Town team won 3-1 at Ninian Park and City were truly awful that day.
My player ratings included five 2/10s and Frank resigned despite attempts by Chairman Steve Borley at persuading him to stay.
Boland was one of of the players awarded 2/10 and, while he would occasionally pass the time of day informally, he refused to do interviews with me over the next six years before he moved on to Hartlepool United.
Frank moved on just before a new era under owner Sam Hammam started at the club and he recalled: “I was 54-years-old when I was asked to return and you don’t get too many offers at that time of life.
“I had a house in South Wales, Cardiff were in a poor position and I thought I would give myself two years with a limited budget to turn it around.
“Billy Ayre was the best signing I made. He knew the lower divisions. At West Ham I was looking at the Premier League and I had lost touch with the Third Division.”
Former Blackpool manager Ayre, who passed away at the age of 49, had also been assistant to Jan Molby at Swansea and his view of Frank was: “The good thing about working with Frank is that you know where you stand.
“As a coach, he puts you on the spot, expects high standards and you must respond or he won’t tolerate you. He gets the best out of everybody he employs.”
Part two of Terry’s reflection on Cardiff City promotions tomorrow will focus on their title-winning seasons.