Professional Football vs Non League
Cardiff 1-2 Wigan
FA Cup 5th Round – 15/02/14
Having been a Bath City fan since I was 12 I never really got the opportunity to go to a ‘top flight’ game as Bath have remained a non league club. So it was only on Sat 15th Feb 2014 that I saw my first big game, FA Cup fifth round game between Cardiff and current holders Wigan. This got me thinking what are the main differences between the professional match day experience against the non league match day experience?
I will first detail the game itself and then compare it to my usual match day experience. Then the different aspects will be broken down and looked at in more detail taking other people’s views in to consideration. Then a conclusion addressing the issues raised, drawing on a personal view of which I prefer. I will break it down into 3 parts with non league experiences next followed by a conclusion.
After the usual train delays, with all this flooding at the moment, I arrived into Cardiff Central at 1.40. I met up with a mate, who lives in Cardiff, and we set out for a pub near the ground. The first thing that struck me was the number of people heading in the same direction as us. We headed down a high street which was packed out and vibrant with cafes and pubs doing a great trade that day. We settled on the Admiral Napier which was very much a Cardiff supporters pub with some of the barmen wearing Cardiff tops and blokes selling pin badges walking through the two spacious rooms and beer garden. There wasn’t any wall space that wasn’t covered in Cardiff City pictures or player profiles from the programmes through the years. This is where we talked all things Welsh football and where the inspiration for this article came from as my mate travels all over Wales supporting Aberystwyth Town FC rather than watching the Premiership football on his doorstep.
After a swift pasty we made our way to the ground which emerges from between the houses. There is a muddy football pitch used on Sunday mornings in the Cardiff District Leagues, which my mates team haven’t had the best of luck on apparently, just in front of the ground. The only other thing around the ground is a big retail outlet for the Saturday shoppers so it was busy all around the ground. We queued up for our pre booked tickets and we soon served in a timely fashion with all the gates to the ground clearly labelled. Upon entering we bought a programme which was good value for £3 and entered using a ticket machine, which kept the queues down.
Once inside it hits you with how big the ground is, you are basically under the stand with the loud hum of people. Toilets, beer and food outlets are plenty for a large crowd and the stewards were approachable and friendly once up into the stand. The other great thing about the ground was that every seat had a really decent view of the pitch, no supports or barriers in the way. Even though we were 11 rows up you could still see the action clearly and there was even two large TV screens for replays (of the home side’s chances and goals). One odd thing was the ground staff watering and forking the pitch after all the rain recently, it must have been part of Cardiff’s game plan as in the second half only the half Wigan were attacking got watered.
The match itself was a decent game with Wigan taking the lead on 18 minutes after ex Swan Gomez got to the byline and crossed to give the unmarked McCann a simple finish. Cardiff kept plugging away and equalised through their best attacking outlet Frazier Campbell. Wigan managed to close down two Cardiff shots from midfield, on 27 minutes, only for the ball to fall kindly to Campbell who struck to give the 17,000 home crowd something to cheer about. However you don’t win the FA Cup by giving up and Wigan restored a one goal lead just before half time on 40 minutes. Cup hero Ben Watson lobbed a superb shot over the wall, from a Gomez rolled free-kick, which beat the impressive Marshall. In the second half Cardiff kept the ball well but as the time went on the volatile home crowd started to get on their backs as they couldn’t convert many crosses into the box for chances on goal. In a desperate last throw of the dice Solskjær sent Caulker and Cala up front for the last 5 minutes to try and give them a aerial threat but the balls in the box weren’t good enough or frequent enough, with the rest of the team still content on neat passing in defence and midfield.
The stand out players for the game were the two Cardiff centre backs, in particular Cala. This was his first home start since being signed in late January and didn’t look out of place alongside Caulker at the back. Medal also had a good game breaking up the play in front of his back four for Cardiff before injury cut his game short. Gomez for Wigan was a constant threat, wanting to get involved with every attacking move and pressing well when needed. The Man of the Match had to be the experienced Emmerson Boyce at the back for Wigan, he did his job very well on the day and didn’t let much get past him all game.
The main reason I went to go and see this game, apart from going on a stag do in the evening, was the price of the ticket. I couldn’t believe that you could see a Premier League side for just £15, that’s only £3 more than watching Bath City! It was certainly worth the entry money and the ticketing system they had online was extremely helpful and easy to use with the same efficiency at the ground. So overall my experience of ‘top flight’ football was a good one, it was just lacking a little bit of atmosphere from the home crowd. The away end was packed out by good vocal support for the cup holders, but the crowd was 10,000 less than they get for a more expensive Premiership game and put their own players under pressure in the second half.
Next I will look at my usual match day experience at Bath City and will start to compare different aspects more.