Behind Enemy Lines….a Bluebird’s nest in Neath.

Cardiff City fans can be found all over the world – but perhaps one of the most dangerous places to be a Bluebird is Neath. Beth Phillips writes about what it’s like to be a Bluebird behind enemy lines…

Port Talbot is one of my favourite towns in Wales. Not just because of its industrial culture, or its famous Ron Evans Pies, but because it was where my dad was born… and that’s where my allegiance to Cardiff City Football Club began.

There’s no denying that I was the odd one out in my school days. I had moved to Neath from Manchester, I was living in a town 9 miles away from the Vetch Field… and had proudly been doing the ayatollah from the age of 8.

I went to my first City game in 2002 and my dad let me have my face painted. I embraced the bluebirds badge with Andy Legg’s name. I felt like the coolest person in Ninian Park. He inevitably, and for very good reason, became my favourite player.

I’d later go on to find my second home… the Bob Bank of Ninian Park. I’d sit on the back of the chair and lean on my dad’s shoulder and ask who the players were. I’d later cheer when opposition players were shown a yellow card or the City put the ball in the back of the net… and there was only one rule, “what goes on at football stays at football”. This theme would continue well into the Ninian Park days, up until the final game vs Ipswich in 2009.

This set-up hasn’t altered, minus the fact that I can now see over the person in front of me, we’re now in the Cardiff City Stadium and I’m now old enough to get my dad and I a pint.

Back home however, I was often greeted with chants of “swim away” and had to do the South Wales Derby walk of shame into school many a time. I tried my best to hide from Swansea City’s promotion but it was just everywhere. Let’s not start with the FA Cup, Carling Cup and Play-off Final defeats. These were character building experiences.

In spite of all of this, I’ve always been proud and still am proud to be a Neath Bluebird, and I’m not alone in this. The support for the Bluebirds in my neck of the woods is perhaps underrated.

If someone told me that nobody in Neath supports the bluebirds, I’d tell them to go to Neath train station on match-day and jump on the 10.40 train with us… the buffet cart to be specific.

You can perhaps understand from my experiences, why I’m so proud to be a fan of what I believe to be the best team in Wales. Swansea City’s Premier League status has no doubt benefited my area financially, but we’re talking about football now… and I can’t say I’m disappointed that I live 9 miles away from a Championship team.

Small dig over, I’m looking forward to this season. I spoke to Rob Phillips on Radio Wales after the final game of the season, as our promotion was confirmed. I meant every word, that going up in blue, as bluebirds, was so much better than winning the Championship in red.

Last season, for me, was one of the most exciting seasons as a Cardiff City fan. I’ve experienced drama before… being 4-0 up at half time to Peterborough and coming home with just a point, failing to reach the play-offs by 1 goal and losing in Wembley. “Bottling it” is a known trait of the bluebirds. We don’t hide from that.

Yet, last season, it didn’t happen. We made it difficult for ourselves, don’t get me wrong and the last few games of the season were excruciating.

I was in a meeting in Port Talbot when Cardiff played Fulham away. I was frantically checking the score and my parents told me off for being visibly frustrated. I was also told off by my mum when Kenneth Zohore scored against Norwich towards the latter end of the season. She was concerned about me scaring the elderly neighbours. It was a stressful end to the season but we got there and I can’t wait for the start of the new season.

For me, it’s not about where you live, or how far away you are from a team that means a lot to you. It’s about embracing your own identity and getting behind your team. I now work in Cardiff and it feels amazing to call the City my City. I’m a Neath bluebird and proud.