By Terry Phillips
Cardiff City are 100 not out and preparing to mark their Football League centenary season by launching a promotion push in 2020-21.
The Bluebirds open the new Championship season against Sheffield Wednesday at Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday afternoon – 100 years since their first ever Football League home match.
Clapton Orient were the first visitors to Ninian Park in 1920,following Cardiff’s successful application to play in the Second Division. The result was a goalless draw.
Bluebirds manager Neil Harris will hope for better than that against Wednesday, even though his plans have been disrupted this week by the sacking of winger Nathaniel Mendez-Laing for what has so far only been described in the broadest of terms as a breach of his contract.
Harris has gone as far as he feels able to in discussing the dismissal, given the legal position, and now that game day has arrived is anxious to concentrate on the football – even if that means his players carrying the burden of expectations after last season’s surge into the play-offs.
“We don’t get too far in front of ourselves, but we have to embrace the expectation,” says Harris.
“If the media, our fans and ourselves feel like a top-six finish is attainable with this squad, we should embrace that.
“There will be ups and downs during the season, but ultimately, come the last game we want to be a top-six side. We would like consistency throughout the season, but that’s difficult in the Championship.
“But we expect to be in and around that top six for the majority of the season.
“I’ve had a chance to add players to the squad. But it’s not been a major overhaul.
“You adjust as you go. I have changed a lot in the last nine months and there are things I want to change moving forward. But the players I have at the moment have fantastic attributes.”
City celebrated that century-old fixture and promotion from Southern League football by erecting the Canton Stand with unique bench seating which offered cover and comfort for several thousand spectators.
More than 25,000 spectators watched City play Orient, four days after a 3-0 win at Stockport County away in their opening Football League fixture. There will be no fans this time, despite the pleadings of all Championship clubs.
Back in those early days 100 years ago, Englishman Fred Stewart was appointed Cardiff secretary/manager in 1911, having responded to an advert placed in Manchester-based Athletic News and he was in charge until 1933.
During those 22 years City won the FA Cup (1926-27), FA Charity Shield (1927-28) and Welsh Cup five times. At one stage City held all three trophies at the same time.
They also finished runners-up behind Second Division champions Birmingham City on goal average (1920-21), missing out on goal average.
Both clubs were promoted and Cardiff finished second again in the top flight, missing out on being crowned champions with goal average again the deciding factor.
Stewart had steered City to the FA Cup final in 1925, losing against Sheffield United, before returning to Wembley two years later to lift the trophy thanks to a 1-0 success against Arsenal.
He was paid £4 a week in wages, equal to the maximum wage for a player at the time, with bonuses for success.
Stewart moved quickly, releasing all but four of the players from previous manager Davy McDougall.
His first new signing was Billy Hardy, who became a Cardiff City lynchpin of the side during the club’s success under Stewart.
The club were financially stretched and could not afford the £25 transfer fee demanded by Stockport County and Stewart paid that with his own money.
He was later reimbursed when City’s cash flow problems had eased.
After Cardiff were elected to the Football League, Stewart completed the club’s most expensive signing to that point when they paid £750 to the Wednesday for inside-forward Jimmy Gill, who scored City’s first goal in the Football League.
Stewart summed up his approach to management and the bond he possessed with his players, telling Athletic News: “We sign players of decent ability and each man does his best with unity of feeling and purpose.
“We never make a change in the team without consulting with the players. Their opinion is worth having.
“When I arrived at Ninian Park in 1911 we only had 11 competitive matches on our ground as the main source of support.
“The area was a rugby stronghold and our years income was less than £1,000.”
When Cardiff stood proudly top of Division One in 1923-24 they attracted a total of 120,000 spectators to Ninian Park for matches against Sheffield United (50,000), Aston Villa (40,000) and Middlesbrough (30,000).
After his retirement Stewart stayed in Cardiff to focus on his businesses. He died in 1954, aged 81.
— Cardiff City FC (@CardiffCityFC) September 12, 2020
Cardiff City’s team for their first ever Football League home match 100 years ago – the 0-0 draw against Clapton Orient in 1920
Herbert Justin ‘Jack’ Kneeshaw
Born Beckhill, near Leeds. First choice at the start of 1920-21, but lost his place to Ben Davies, who was signed from Middlesbrough. Stayed at Ninian Park as back-up goalie and trainer.
Charlie Brittan (capt)
Born on the Isle of Wight. Signed for Cardiff from Spurs and was appointed captain for that first Football League season.
Altrincham-born defender who was wounded during the First World War, but returned to Cardiff after the hostilities ended. Originally signed as an inside forward, but later played full-back. Joined Aberdare Athletic from Cardiff.
Born in Bedlington, Northumbria. Was Cardiff’s only ever-present player during that first Football League season.
Bert EE [Ernest Edwin] Smith
Born in Donegal, Ireland. Centre-half who earned four senior international caps and captained Ireland against England in 1922. Scored Cardiff’s first ever First Division goal, during a 2-1 defeat v Aston Villa.
Southport-born wing-half. Former Chelsea player who made only appearance for Cardiff, in the goalless draw against Clapton Orient.
Started his playing career with hometown club Burnley before moving on to Colne, Bradford City and then Cardiff City. Scored one of their goals in their first ever Football League match, a 3-0 victory against Stockport.
Fred Stewart’s signing signing after Cardiff were elected to the Football League. Yorkshireman who was Cardiff’s top scorer in 1920-21. Inside-right signed from Sheffield Wednesday in 1920.
Birmingham-born former Manchester United forward who played alongside Jimmy Gill in City’s attack.
Wallsend-born inside-forward who made his Cardiff debut in that opening Football League home match against Clapton Orient. Made only two appearances for Stewart’s team before joining Stockport County.
The Welshman, born in Bala, joined Cardiff City from Cwmparc FC in 1910. His signing on fee was six shillings and club secretary Bartley Wilson said: “That was all we had and included his fare from Treorchy.”
Welsh-speaking left-winger who possessed a fierce shot which became known as the ‘Bala bang’. Jack’s shirt and runners-up medal from the 1925 FA Cup final plus his first Welsh cap were displayed in the Cardiff City boardroom at Ninian Park.
After retiring from playing, Jack worked for a Cardiff printing firm and was a frequent visitor to Ninian Park’s press box in his role as a reporter.