New stadiums galore in South and West Wales. Up in the morning and I drive to nearby Swansea, and after the historic Vetch Field closed in 2005, Swansea City, The Swans, and the rugby union club The Ospreys now share a new home at Liberty Stadium.
I stopped by at reception and showed my credentials and ask politely if I could take a look inside. NO was the emphatic answer from the rude receptionst, unlike almost all stadiums I have visited on my travels. I went next door to the Club Shop but most things were overpriced. Next stop an hour away to the East and I came across the new 27,000 capacity Cardiff City Stadium which will be hosting the Bluebirds of Cardiff City from next season, and also the Cardiff Blues rugby club and nearby, the old Ninian Park, where an all ticket match this weekend sees high flying Cardiff and Swansea play each other. Ninian Park was where I witnessed Scotland manager Jock Stein collapse and die not 10 yards in front of me at the World Cup match Wales v Scotland in 1985, with his young assistant Alex Ferguson, then managing Aberdeen,taking the Scots to FIFA World Cup Mexico 1986.
Next stop was rejuvenated Cardiff Bay. It used to be nasty mud flats but there is now a barrier across the bay to control water flow, and spectacular public and private buildings, trendy restaurants and designer, clothes shops and water taxis and leisure cruises. Its a short drive to downtown and my favourite of all major stadiums in the world, MILLENNIUM STADIUM, and the largest stadium with a fully retractable roof. It's less than 200 yards from the bus and train station, with the River Taff on one side and outside the main, East Entrance, are the old streets, pubs and restaurants right in the city centre, and 2 minutes walk to Cardiff Castle and Sofia Gardens. A truly magnificent setting in the capital of Wales.
The stadium, Stadiwm Mileniwm, in Welsh, has hosted English Cup Finals, rugby league and rugby union matches, speedway, and concerts ranging from Tina Turner, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Madonna. It also 'employs' a hawk called 'Dad' to drive away seagulls and pigeons.
I walked from the nearby bar in the Holiday Inn with the FAW delegation, for a pre match meal in the St. David's Suite in the stadium. I had an ecclectic table of interesting guests. Ron Bridges and his wife were with me so there would be no shortage of the finest wines. To my right were 3 members of the German Embassy in London who had driven to Cardiff to play the Wales Government in a friendly match which the hosts won. I had a great conversation with Franz-Josef Nolte, a Hamburger SV fan who is a Brigadegeneral and the Defence and Air Attache for The Federal Republic in its Belgrave Square embassy, and alongside him Walter Eschweiler, a famous former FIFA referee whose name I recognized, and who works for the federal government in Bonn, in sports related matters. He refereed at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, plus the UEFA Super Cup Final of 1980, FC Barcelona v Nottingham Forest and much more.
Across from me, David introduced himself. He said he used to play football at University of Cardiff, but is now the local Bishop. After the meal we went upstairs to another lounge, where the German DFB delegation was already there. WHAT A GREAT THRILL, as I met a couple of world famous fussball legends, Bertie Vogts and Uwe Seeler, along the relatively new General Secretary of DFB, Wolfgang Niersbach, who was partially responsibly for the spectacular success of FIFA World Cup 2006, and who I had know about as the press officer since 1990 or even earlier, and one of the great administrators in world sport.
Both Seeler, now 73 and Vogts now 63 are one club only players, with Hamburger SV and Borussia Monchengladbach. Seeler, Der Bomber', played and scored in 4 World Cups, '58, '62, '66, and '70 and scored 509 goals, including 43 in 72 national team matches. Vogts, 'Der Terrier', subdued Johan Cruyff at the 1974 World Cup final and is currently manager of Azerbaijan, after similar roles with West Germany, Nigeria, Kuwait and Scotland. Seeler's autobiography is called 'Danke Fussball'. I also met an old friend, Jean-Francois Crucke from Eupen, Belgium, a former FIFA referee who was the FIFA match observer.
It was sad to see just 27,000 fans, 6,000 from Germany turn up, but once the contract is up Wales will probably play some matches at the new Cardiff Stadium, since Liberty Stadium is too expensive and Wrexham's Racecourse Ground no longer fulfills UEFA requirements. Captain Michael Ballock scored a superb 40 yard goal in the 10th minute, after the Norwegian referee gave a throw-in to the wrong team. Ballock was slapped on the face after giving instructions to team mate Lukas Podalski and following a defensive error Mario Gomez doubled the score for a comfortable 2-0 victory. Craig Bellamy, the dynamo up front for the Red Dragons was out injured, and John Tossack, who recently signed a two year extension knows his team will not go to South Africa next year. However, it was a much better performance than the 2-0 home defeat to Finland, 4 days earlier.