Over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to speak to several players about the remarkable 2012 Carling Cup final. So, to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of a truly remarkable game, here is the colated memories of Joe Mason, Don Cowie, Ben Turner and Craig Bellamy.
Don Cowie – “Our squad was quite small. If I remember rightly, the first few rounds, we changed the team a lot and we just sort of got by. We got through in extra-time against Huddersfield and then we got through on penalties against Leicester and we sort of just kept getting through. The fact that the squad was so thin, we were like woah, it’s another game that we probably didn’t need at that time because you don’t think you’re going to get to the final.
As it went on, the draw just opened up. We got Blackburn in the quarters, who were struggling in the Premier League at the time. Then we got very fortunate in the semi-finals, where we had Crystal Palace who were also in the Championship. So we managed to avoid all of the big teams and then you get Liverpool in the final.”
Craig Bellamy – “We played the semi knowing that Cardiff were already there and I just remember the build up towards the game. I always go through a team and spend time with analysis, looking at their strengths and weaknesses, who plays where and I thought they were OK. They’re not going to pass you off the park, but the one thing they did do was press and work for each other. Also, on set-pieces, this side were dangerous because they had good delivery with Whitts and long throws when the centre backs come forward. I came away from that thinking that it was going to be a tough game.”
Joe Mason – “To be fair, Malky was spot on for that game. In the build-up, we were massive underdogs so we could sort of enjoy it, but Malky wanted to go there and win. Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll were playing up front and the way we set out to play against them in terms of the shape, they didn’t do a lot at all. We were confident and I think that showed on the day. It was between me and Craig Conway to play on the right. We didn’t know until the actual day and when I found out, I was so excited to play.”
CB – “Now if I had played with Suarez, it would have been over. We would have had too much movement and been too quick because for Mark Hudson, Anthony Gerrard and Ben Turner. Pace was going to be a problem, especially on a big pitch like Wembley. If we went with Carroll, I thought Cardiff would be OK with that because they’ll be able to win headers. This team won’t quit. They will roll their sleeves up and fight for every ball. I love that type of team. As much as I love playing, I love pressing, winning the ball and wining your duels. Without that, you can’t have the ball. It’s no coincidence Cardiff got to the final.”
Ben Turner – “I think we were all nervous. The manager would have been nervous too and he would probably admit that now because you don’t want to take a pasting, but the mentality and the work rate of that squad meant that we were not going to get rolled over. We were tight knit and we were going there to give them the toughest challenge that we possibly could and we did that. After they missed those first couple of penalties, I was thinking ‘hold up, we might win the cup here!’ It was devastating at the end to not do that.”
CB – “I was on the bench and in the lead up to it. I wanted Liverpool to win because I want to win, but I want these boys to do well too! What a great moment it would be for them. Liverpool have won fifty odd trophies and Cardiff City has won one. Would it be that harsh to give them another one?! Liverpool would come again.”
BT – “Malky approached every game the same. We were always there to win. To fight them, outrun them and outbattle them. We got to the final being that team. When you get the fitness stats for a game, that team was by far the hardest running, hardest working team I’ve ever been involved with, by a long way. I think that went a long way. We ground teams down and that year we won the league, we weren’t flashy and didn’t have loads of fair, but we won it with multiple games to spare because what we had worked. He didn’t change that for Liverpool, he said to go out and do that. We gave them the best we had and it gave them a good fright.”
DC – “For me, it’s probably one of my best memories to date just because growing up and still now, I’m a big Liverpool supporter and always have been. So to come up against them in as prestigious a game as the League Cup Final is something I’ll never forget.”
BT – “It was tough because they were Premier League players and Suarez was world class. He could have played for any team. When me and Mark went out there, you knew if you gave Suarez an inch, he would score and there were a number of times when he would get down the side of us, but we would cover each other. You also had the aerial threat of Carroll, who was probably the best in the air out of the whole of British football. He’s a monster. Two completely different challenges and I can look back with pride because neither of them scored, but that was a tough, tough game.
When I look back at that partnership, we both lacked certain things, but when we were together, we were more than the sum of our parts. We really wanted to do well for each other, so we would cover each other or put our head in where it hurts. I remember after the game, I’ve never been a natural runner like Don Cowie or Craig Conway, brilliant players to have around for a 120 minute game, but on the day, I felt like I wasn’t getting tired at any point. It was only in the week after that it caught up with me and I felt really tired and drained. I had never had that before.”
JM – “I remember Kev getting the ball and trying to cross it, but it went straight back to him. He passed the ball inside to Kenny who had dropped off and made a nice run. To be fair, I wasn’t expecting to get so much space in the box, I made a run to the right of Kenny and he’s slipped it through perfectly. I didn’t have any time to think about it to be honest. People always ask if I meant to put it through Pepe Reina’s legs, but I was just thinking I might not get another chance like this so I was just trying to hit the target and happily it went through. That feeling when it went in was just unbelievable.”
DC – “Being a Liverpool fan and being a football fan, to be on the same pitch as these players, it was a dream come true. What was great was that we weren’t in awe of Liverpool. We felt we could get a result. They were sort of going through a transitional period at the time too, so they weren’t of the quality of the Liverpool team as they are now. They still had Gerrard, Suarez, Dirk Kuyt, Craig Bellamy, so it wasn’t a poor team by any stretch of imagination, but we still felt that we could cause them problems and we did that.”
CB – “Exactly what I thought about Cardiff happened. They never gave up. We got away with one near the end because the ball came swinging in and we just about cleared it. I remember thinking that was their chance gone, but we couldn’t get it out! We had opportunities to break, but couldn’t get up the pitch because they kept coming. It was just a matter of time. There was nothing more we could do because we didn’t have the ball. There was a set-piece, then a throw in. It was stop, start. If we could have got it up the other end of the pitch, it was game over.”
BT – “I get goosebumps thinking about it! It was a massive moment in my life and my family were there. I know everyone says it, but I honestly loved playing for Cardiff. The celebration, it just happened. It wasn’t planned, it was just raw emotion. I wasn’t expecting to score against Liverpool! It wasn’t until I got booked for taking my top off that I realised I had done it. When I watch it back, the emotion from myself and all my team-mates, all the Cardiff fans going mad, I was like a man possessed. Anyone could have scored, I just thank my lucky stars that it was me. That was my moment.
The whole game was just happening. The first 10-20 minutes, I was very aware of the occasion, after that, I was just playing football. I had put the training in, I had worked hard and was very comfortable with my team-mates. I sometimes think, imagine if we had won. It would have been off the charts.”
CB – “The picture of Turner’s goal where you can see me grinning is because of their guts. It was typical. That is what this team does. They did not stop and I admire that. It would have been easy for them to say ‘we’ve had a great day and came close,’ but they kept going until the end and its exactly what I expected.”
DC – “We had great opportunities. I remember Kenny had a great chance at the end to win it. Big Ben pops up at the end of extra time to take it to penalties and you just think ‘maybe it is our day’ and to actually take a penalty as well, it was great.”
JM – “I was 100% confident about taking a penalty. The manager brought me off because I was getting a bit tired and I think he wanted to shore it up a bit, so Filip Kiss came on and did well.”
DC – “The only way I can describe it I think is that I was numb. I was literally numb. I just felt confident. I felt that we had played well, I had enjoyed the game, I had participated well and I felt confident. So as soon as the final whistle went, in my head I said to myself, ‘you’re taking a penalty.’ So I had decided where I was going to put it.
I just thought, I’m going to take one. Malky walks over to the group and asks who is taking a penalty. I put my hand up straight away. I hadn’t taken many penalties in my career, but I just thought, no I’m taking one because I just felt that this may never happen again. You’re never going to be in a League Cup final against your heroes again, so from that sort of stage I was like I was taking one. However, running up to take the penalty, I could hardly feel my body!
90,000 people in the stadium, millions watching, you’re just like wow! I think if you were to see my celebration when the goal goes in, it’s just sheer relief, thinking ‘I’ve done my job!’ Let’s be honest, my job was made a wee bit easier because the first three people missed their penalties, so there wasn’t too much pressure!”
JM – “Everyone was devastated at the end. As underdogs, no one gave us a chance so there was disappointment, but the manager needed to get us back up because we had an important campaign to carry on with. I was gutted. The fans were incredible that day, I’ve never seen anything like it, just a sea of blue. We managed to pick ourselves up though and made the play-offs.”
BT – “I guess it was an underdog moment because we lost and we didn’t need to win the game to do ourselves proud. I was injured for eight months before I signed and six months after signing for Cardiff, I was playing in a cup final at Wembley. To do that was unbelievable and as an injured player, barely able to walk in to the stadium, I was at the final the year before, when Birmingham beat Arsenal because my family are Birmingham City fans. I remember sitting there, as a young professional, imagining playing here in a cup final. Twelve months later, I was having my moment and that’s still unbelievable to me.”
JM – “At first, you think ‘what could have been?’ There’s always that feeling at the back of my mind that we could have won the Carling Cup final that year. We did so well to get there, but we were so close. I’ve got my boots, shirt and runners up medal from the game all framed back in Plymouth.”
DC – “Unfortunately, we didn’t quite manage to get the job done, but I’ve got great memories from the game because they boys put such an unbelievable shift in and we were so unfortunate. It went to penalties and these things happen, but the day is just a memory of sheer pride. It’s one that I’ll look back on when my career finishes and think, yeah, I was proud to be part of that game.”
BT – “Years and years on, there’s not a month goes by where I don’t get a message on social media from a Cardiff fan saying thank you for one of the best moments in my life! At the time, you don’t think that you’re giving fans something that they’ll remember forever. Its just amazing to be a part of something that is means so much and the longer it goes on, the more I appreciate it.”
CB – “After the game, I picked up my trophy, but I went in to Cardiff’s changing room and spent most of my time in there. Even as we’re lifting the trophy, I was speaking to Vincent Tan. I came away from there thinking that this was a squad ready to go up.”