1927 - More than just Cardiff City's finest hour! | @GJ_Thomas

My gift from the school I am leaving this year to move elsewhere was a replica Cardiff City from the 1927 FA Cup Final. As leaving gifts go, this was a pretty special one! Colleagues knew about TFHB and our book and so a historic football kit is a fine way to leave. 1927 of course the only time a non-English club won the FA Cup, however it is not just the finest year in Cardiff's history, but it is also an important year in the story of the beautiful game.

Cardiff City's 1927 FA Cup Final Shirt (Via Toffs)

The FA Cup was first competed for in 1871/72. In 1883, Blackburn Olympic lifted the trophy, becoming the first side to feature professional footballers to win the cup. This watershed moment saw working class steal the game away from the upper classes. Another key moment in the competition's history was the 1923 FA Cup Final, the first at the iconic Wembley Stadium. The game became known as the 'White Horse Final', due to a famous picture of a majestic, white police horse, 'supposedly' single-handedly keeping control of the vast number of spectators. Officially 126,000 fans were in attendance at the national stadium, although many tens of thousands more are certain to have been crammed in to see Bolton Wanderers win 2-0.

In 1925, Cardiff City became the first non-English side to make it to the FA Cup Final. Sheffield United were the opponents on 25 April 1925, with Cardiff having beaten Darlington (after two replays), Fulham, Notts County, Leicester City and Blackburn Rovers en route to the final. With four Welshmen in their squad, the Bluebirds were focused on taking the trophy back to South Wales, and this gripped the British media.

The Birmingham Daily Gazette reported the day before the fixture that, "An amazing spirit of confidence prevails in Cardiff and, indeed, throughout Wales", whilst the Leeds Mercury remarked that: "It is just possible that this excess of confidence may the cause of the undoing of the Welsh club" [1]. However, despite the hope of the thousands of fans travelling from across Wales to London, a strike from Outside-Left Fred Tunstall in the 30th minute of the final, would be enough to hand Sheffield United the victory.

The Western Mail - Monday 27 April 1925

The Dundee Courier, who had perhaps been supporting their celtic brothers, reported on the Monday following the final that "Sheffield United resisted the Welsh challenge", meaning "the Cup has not left England". The Welsh newspaper the Western Mail praised the "enthusiasm" of the spectators in the "Welsh invasion of London" [2], but noted how Sheffield United were deserving of their 1-0 victory. The wait for a Welsh FA Cup win would have to go on.

Despite the loss, the first half of the 1920s could still be argued as Cardiff City’s greatest decade in their history thus far. The side had earned promotion to the First Division in 1921, and they settled well into life in the top flight. In the 1923/24 campaign, Cardiff would come second in the league, narrowly missing out winning the title to Herbert Chapman’s Huddersfield Town who lifted the crown on a minuscule ‘goal average’ of 0.024 alone. An FA Cup in 1925 would've topped this off, but the Bluebirds did not have long to wait for their next crack at the competition, in 1927 Fred Stewart's team had marched through the cup once more.

Cardiff had finished 14th out of 22 in the Football League in 1926/27, but their average league performance had been surpassed by their fine cup form. Aston Villa were beaten 2-1 at Ninian Park, with Darlington and Bolton Wanderers both seen off away from home. The Quarter-Finals required a replay to beat Chelsea 3-2 at home, following a 0-0 Stamford Bridge draw before Reading were crushed 3-0 in the Semi-Finals at neutral venue, Molineux Stadium in Wolverhampton. Cardiff had another shot at bringing the trophy to Wales and Arsenal were their opponents.

Cardiff celebrate scoring in their 3-0 FA Cup Semi-Final win against Reading in 1927 [3]

Herbert Chapman, who had so narrowly prevented Cardiff winning the league in 1923/24 (and had followed that up by defending the title a year later), was now the manager of Arsenal. Chapman is a football management legend, the revolutionary figure developing the famed WM formation, being credited with introducing tactical meetings before matches for opposition analysis, giving Arsenal their traditional white kit sleeves (for better peripheral vision), and also championing the use of shirt numbers (which were evenutally debuted in the 1933 FA Cup Final) [4].

Chapman was also a big believer in the power of the media for football clubs and so perhaps it was meant to be that in 1927, it was him at the helm of Arsenal for the first ever FA Cup Final that would be broadcast on live radio. The radio, a major development in America in the 'Roaring Twenties', had become a hit in the UK too and by 1926 over two million radio licenses were sold across the country. This number would rise exponentially over the next 13 years, reaching eight million by 1939 at the outbreak of the Second World War [5].

However, back in 1927, BBC's Director-General, Lord Reith, had to convince listeners that the use of the radio for live football would still promote the ‘Christian’ values of the BBC. Therefore, the hymn Abide with Me be sung before kick-off, a long-standing FA Cup ritual to this day. Another impact of the radio and football is supposedly the phrase "back to square one". In January 1927, the Radio Times published a guide (below) for fans to follow the commentary of Henry Blythe Thornhill Wakelam, football's first commentator. The numbered grid saw the pitch split into zones that listeners could use to track the ball, this apparently leading to the phrase developing for broadcasts [6]. This successful development of live football on the radio grew rapidly, and by the late 1930s, trials were beginning for televised games too.

The guide published in the Radio Times for fans to follow commentary of a game

Arsenal had finished 11th themselves in the 1926/27 season, but with Chapman hunting his second FA Cup (his first in 1922), the Londoners were surely favourites. Amongst the build-up though, manager Fred Stewart was relaxed in Cardiff's approach. He took his team for a retreat to the Royal Birkdale golf course in Merseyside. Here his squad befriended a black cat that began following the squad as they played. Forward Hughie Ferguson took a liking to the moggie and took it home to South Wales, naming it 'Trixie'. The cat became something of an unofficial squad mascot, so much so, that it travelled with the team up to Wembley Stadium for the final and appeared in footage from the day (below) [7].

Trixie the cat lovingly craddled by Cardiff Chairman Walter Parker [8]

And so to the match... On 23 April 1927, Cardiff would try again to seize the most English of trophies for Wales. Cardiff featured three Welshmen, whilst Arsenal's squad contained two themselves, including their goalkeeper, Dan Lewis. In front of over 90,000 spectators, it was Lewis who would make the headlines. After a goalless first half, where Arsenal dominated but Cardiff stood firm, it would be the second 45 where things would change.

In the 74th minute, Scotsman Ferguson hit a tame shot towards the Arsenal goal in an attempt to break the deadlock. His shot should've been comfortably saved but as keeper Lewis went to pick the ball up, it inexplicably slipped through his arms and rolled towards the line. Lewis dived to scramble it away from the goal but as he did so his elbow knocked the ball over the line and Cardiff had a comedic lead. The single goal was enough, Arsenal put Cardiff under more pressure in the closing minutes but the Bluebirds hung on and after losing 1-0 two years previously, they had now won by the same scoreline and had a first ever FA Cup!

The man who would lift the FA Cup for Cardiff was captain Fred Keenor. The "chain-smoking" and "hard-tackling" defender [9] who is now remembered with a statue outside the Bluebirds' new home, Cardiff City Stadium. Keenor had fought in the First World War and was a vetran of the horrors of the Battle of the Somme. He was adored by fans, being ‘an old-fashioned working man’ who ardently ‘committed to the community’ in South Wales [10]. For him to raise the trophy in victory was a fitting honour.

Fred Keenor is now immortalised outside Cardiff City Stadium

Immediately after the game, the inquest started. Cardiff's joy was Arsenal despair, with fans wondering whether their Welsh keeper, Lewis, had actually thrown the game on purpose. However Lewis himself was devestated, and after recieving his runners-up medal from the King, George V, he flung it into the crowd in disgust. Lewis maintained that it was 'sheen' on his new jersey for the final that caused the ball to slide out of his grasp. This explanation, whether it was true or not, led to another Arsenal tradition - that goalkeepers would never play in a cup final with a new kit on.

Reaction in South Wales was jubilant, fans had been able to listen in the city centre with loud speakers erected for large gatherings to listen to the live radio broadcast, perhaps starting the 'fan parks' many supporters enjoy in modern football. The Western Mail described the win as "the greatest event in the soccer world", remarking that "a unique page in football history has been written" (this very blog proving it quite correct). Although whilst they described Fred Keenor as the "proudest Welshman in the world", they did spare a thought for poor Dan Lewis too, the Welshman who was at the same time "the saddest man on earth" [11].

The Daily Herald on Monday 25th April showed the goal that won Cardiff the hallowed FA Cup [12]

The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, were impressed by the "community singing" of the Welsh, noting how the King himself had credited them for it, whilst Bristol's Western Daily Press wrote that Cardiff's win "outside London, was a popular one". Meanwhile, The London-based Daily Herald, bemoaned a 'lucky goal' that had seen the 'coveted football trophy leave England for the first time' [13]. This was a significant day in 'English' football history.

The Wall Street Crash of 1929 had worldwide implications, football was not exempt as the UK plunged into economic depression in the 1930s. The financial burden of this. as well as the club's relegation in 1929, saw the break up of Cardiff's top flight squad. This coincided with the retirement of a number of their aging stars too, meaning the 1920s are truly some of the club's best years past. More recent promotions and cup final appearances for the Bluebirds have rekindled some of the victorious spirit, but nothing is remembered like that day in April 1927.

Since this year, Cardiff, nor any other Welsh club, have been able to bring the FA Cup back to Wales. The Bluebirds made the FA Cup Final again in 2008, where the scoreline was once more 1-0. Dave Jones' men faced Harry Redknapp's Portsmouth, and perhaps ironically, it was a slight goalkeeping blunder that led to Pompey's triumph. Peter Enckelman spilling the ball into the feet of Nigerian Nwankwo Kanu to score the first-half winner. So then, a lucky cat named Trixie, an overly slippery shirt and a game-changing, historic radio broadcast - 1927 is far more than just Cardiff’s finest hour!

Fred Keenor and teammates celebrate the FA Cup victory

This piece was written by Gareth Thomas, you can follow him on Twitter: @GJ_Thomas  & @TFHBs.

[1] Accessed via the British Newspaper Archive: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/
[2] Ibid.
[3] Taken from British Pathe video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gyf_xR_RZ-s
[4] Jonathan Wilson, Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics (London: Orion, 2010) pp.50-51
[5] Richard Holt, Sport and the British: A Modern History (Oxford: Oxford University, 1989) pp.310-312
[6] BBC Sport, 14 January 2002: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/1760579.stm
[7] Scott Murray and Rowan Walker, Day of the Match: A History of Football in 365 Days (London: Boxtree, 2008) p.118
[8] Taken from British Pathe video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mCnEL8hlCI
[9] Byron Butler, The Illustrated History of the FA Cup (London: Headline Book Publishing, 1996) pp.122-125
[10] Martin Johnes, ‘Fred Keenor: A Welsh Soccer Hero’, The Sports Historian, Vol. 17, Issue 1 (May 1998), pp.105-119
[11] Accessed via the British Newspaper Archive: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.

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©The Football History Boys, 2020
(All pictured borrowed kindly & not owned by TFHB)


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