Thursday, June 07, 2012

Cardiff revisited - the 1996 Welsh Cup final

Breeze and Mulliner
Graham Breeze hugs Andy Mulliner after the penalty shoot-out.
STEP back in time to May 1996 - that''s the previous time the villagers of Llansantffraid were in Cardiff for a big occasion. The Welsh Cup Final between Llansantffraid and Barry Town was the last competitive game to be played at the old National Stadium before the bulldozers moved in, and what a day that proved to be.
None of us involved on that historic day will ever forget that memorable match which ended in the most dramatic of penalty shoot-outs Welsh football has ever seen.
No-one gave us a chance. All the pundits had us written off before a ball was kicked but we had been a thorn in Barry Town''s side for the last couple of seasons and I had noticed an air of nervousness about the Giles brothers as they prepared their team for the big game.
Out of the blue they were talking about cup finals being one offs and it all being about who performed on the day. But surely this was Barry Town, the full timers with the professional pedigree preparing to face a village side made up of a nucleus of students, plumbers, meter readers and factory workers. Could they really be contemplating defeat or was it all a front.
Looking back so many things and events came together at just the right time for us and I have to admit to sleeping well the night before the game, confident that everything possible had been done to ensure we gave it our best shot.
I had called in favours from friends, supporters and club associates to ensure the players were pampered with two nights in a top hotel and how it paid off.
But if ever a sign was needed to point to it being our day it came an hour before kick off when a Welsh FA official took us into the wrong dressing room. This was Barry''s territory and we were trespassing. FA Secretary David Collins asked us to move but by now physio Gordon Evans had the kit laid out and the first moral victory was already won. Barry were furious.
On Saturday we held a final training session in the grounds of Cardiff Castle and worked on a new free kick routine. When it worked perfectly in extra time and Chris Whelan suddenly appeared unmarked - just as planned - to slam home a flying header I could barely control my emotions. After all we had twice been in front and twice the full timers had pegged us back.
When the unstoppable Tommy Morgan opened the scoring we were already looking the better side. A mistake by keeper Andy Mulliner allowed Gary Lloyd to equalise but we were not to be denied and Garry Evans scored the best goal of his career with a 20 yard volley. There were heart breaking moments to follow though when Mike Brown blasted a clearance needlessly against the legs of Mulliner and we were level again. Extra time and surely we were done for. After all Barry were the full timers.
Llansantffraid players
Llansantffraid players celebrate their cup success.

But from somewhere we dug out a 30 minute performance that still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end when I go down memory lane to watch the fading match day video. Where we found the energy from I will never know, but we were brilliant and even the Five Live broadcast team heaped praise on our performance.
Whelan''s incredible goal should have won the cup but fate had one more hand to play. Tony Bird conjured up a goal from 25 yards that would have graced the World stage and it was on to sudden death penalties.
The drama that followed is history now. We led 2-0, then missed two ourselves and it was 2-2 when Gary Curtiss restored our lead with fifth spot kick. Then from God knows where Andy Mulliner produced the save of his life. Mulliner had performed with the confidence of a juggler whose arms had been detached for 120 minutes and now in a split second he was the hero of the day.
Now a magnificent new stadium stands where the village of Llansantffraid saw its finest hour and under the new name of Total Network Solution FC we returned to Cardiff as the first Welsh Premier League club to play a competitive match on the hallowed turf.

Match facts

Andy Mulliner
John Whelan
Gary Curtis
Mike Brown
Arwel Jones
Chris Whelan
Garry Evans
Neil O'Brien
Ian Evans
Tommy Morgan
Simon Abercrombie
Tim Nunnerley
Mike Watt
Darren Barrett
Tommy Morgan
Garry Evans
Chris Whelan
Nunnerley -> I Evans
Watt -> O'Brien

P Giles
R Jones
Gary Lloyd
Mike Brown (og)
Tony Bird
Pike -> Hunter (57)
Withers -> P Giles (97)
Griffith -> Barnett (105)