Cardiff City’s appearances at Wembley, the Mecca of English football, have been a bit like Cardiff’s buses: you wait ages for one, then three come along at once. After the 1925 and 1927 FA Cup Finals at the old Wembley there was an 81-year interval before the 2008 FA Cup Final, rapidly followed by the 2010 championship Play-Off Final and now last weekend’s League Cup Final against Liverpool.
I would no sooner endure the claustrophobic back streets of Cardiff during such occasions than I would attend a Britain’s Got Talent concert at the Motorpoint Arena. In 2008 I sought the wild and the wonderful as an antidote to the dumb devotion all around. I set off from the car park at the top of Caerffili Mountain and wandered eastwards down into The Warren, a dense, labyrinthine forest pitted with old coal workings and quarries. It was a beautiful day in May, the afternoon sun burning hot in a deep blue sky. In T-shirt and shorts, with a small haversack containing nothing but sandwiches (egg), water, binoculars, switched off mobile phone, notebook and pen, I explored the woods through a maze of pathways, aiming roughly for The Ridgeway via the north-facing flanks of Wern Ddu. To cut a long story short, let me tell you that there is a very good reason why The Warren is so named. Dusk descends rapidly in thick woods, it’s easy to become disorientated among the unmarked pathways, temperatures drop, blood-sugar levels plummet, exhaustion can set in. Suddenly, just as I was beginning to contemplate switching on my mobile and calling out the search-and-rescue helicopters, I came upon a man, a woman and a dog in front of me in a clearing. I recognised him immediately. It was Ron Davies! Yes, the Ron Davies! The architect of Welsh devolution, the ex-Welsh Secretary forced to resign after a “moment of madness” on Clapham Common, the ex-AM for Caerffili forced to stand down after being caught cruising at Junction 18, that Ron Davies! I like him, always have and still do. We now know the News International papers that orchestrated his downfall were part of a vast criminal conspiracy controlling the entire British establishment, character assassinating opponents and intimidating successive UK governments into doing the bidding of an Austalian/American rightwing megalomaniac. Ron’s got nothing to be ashamed of (he’s a Plaid man these days and not so old he can’t yet be a prominent figure in Wales’ future). A stumbling, blinking, mud-splattered, half-crazed apparition, I was rendered mute, only capable of a throaty gargle that was meant to be an easy-going “Hi!” But you don’t get much past Ron Davies; he seemed to instinctively know what I really meant and needed, pointed to a path and said “that’s the way back to the car park.” “Righto,” I replied with phoney indifference as I scampered back into the forest, leaving them in peace to, er, watch badgers. Like me he was oblivious to Portsmouth’s victory and, given that I’d rather die than admit to being lost anywhere in Cymru, he probably saved my life.
In 2010 I thought I’d play it differently by making a bold, counter-intuitive move and actually watching the match live in my local pub. That is one mistake I do not intend to repeat. It was all going so well too – until I emitted an involuntary soft whoop of delight when Brett Ormerod got Blackpool’s third goal. No, never again…never again…
This time, having outwitted Atropos and Clotho, I decided to go for the Lachesis hat trick (these are Classical references, do keep up) by heading for my favourite spot in all of Cardiff. If you saw it I guarantee you would be amazed. I will go so far as to say it is one of the most incredible sights on Earth, a peerless example of the collision between man and nature that is all at once both awful and awesome. It is gigantic beyond grasp, yet invisible. It is staggeringly high, yet bottomlessly deep. It is a Wonder of Wales, yet no tourist brochure or visitor guide has ever mentioned it. It is just 3 miles as the crow flies from the centre of Cardiff, yet nobody goes there. It is a breathtakingly audacious, supersized, 3D camouflage in real time and space concealing a shocking secret. I love it. Shall I tell you where it is?
I set off early, wearing three layers of clothing and laden like a mule with a rucksack containing sandwiches (cheese & tomato plus hummus & cucumber), a big bottle of water, three bananas, a slab of cake (pecan sourdough if you must know), binoculars, Ordnance Survey large-scale map, historic maps, an extra jumper, change of socks, bobble hat, torch, switched off mobile phone, notebook and pen. By the time the match was kicking off at Wembley (4pm) I had been at my destination for an hour already. Perched on a swaying, rusting, metal viewing platform at the very apex of this extraordinary place, the hubbub and hullabaloo in the faraway city was inaudible and irrelevant. Time passed. I made some notes and ate sandwiches. Time passed. I watched the warm late February sun plunge toward the western horizon in a dazzling apricot sky. Time passed. I ate cake. 90 minutes must surely be up. I switched on the phone, a text torrent immediately told me that the Bluebirds had produced one of their all-time great performances and taken the match into extra time; it was gone 6 and the sun had set. I switched the phone off again, and began jotting down a few ideas for my next blog, taking it as read that City would win. I had a title straight away: it was to be called Cardiff, England.
In pitch darkness I made the slow, twisting descent to where I had left the car. Extreme caution was necessary, uncharted multiple hazards lurking every step of the way. Why a timid weakling like me persists in putting himself in physical jeopardy is a puzzle, but why nobody comes here is not: most of this place is strictly out of bounds. Come to think of it, I recall passing a few ‘No Trespassing’ signs along the way – but me no comprendo da lingo. And that’s why I’m not going to say where I was: I could never condone or encourage illegal or dangerous behaviour. Hrrrumph! Mind you, inevitably I will reveal all eventually – keep reading this blog!
Anyway, I expect a few readers will easily work out where I was. I’ll be there again quite soon for Cardiff City’s next Wembley date: the championship Play-Off Final in May. These complicated double-bluff inverted hexes don’t half take it out of a hyper-realist atheist!