Before yesterday I had never been to a football match. Neither had my 36 year old husband. Clearly The Boy hadn't either, unless he tootles off when he's supposed to be having his afternoon nap.
Therefore when I was invited to watch Cardiff City Football Club (the Bluebirds) against Barnsley by Netmums as part of the Family Football Festival, I jumped at the chance. While remaining sceptical that it wasn't my (ball) game, I was eager to shake off the opinion based on the reputation that football has had for many a year. That of a male-orientated, shouty, sweary sport. My friends and I had a rule in our 'going-out' days; we would always go into Cardiff on a rugby match night, but never on a football match night. Twelve or so years on, I was interested to know if football's reputation has changed or not.
We arrived at Cardiff City Stadium just over an hour before kick-off and already it was a hive of activity. Giving the magic password (the name of the Director of International Marketing), we were directed into the dedicated car-park. Parking at Cardiff City Stadium is extremely limited on match-days. The majority of spots are taken by staff and Season Ticket Holders with valid match-day parking permits. The remaining spots are allocated on a first-come first served basis on the day of the game. However, despite the fact that the stadium is opposite a retail park (parking is not advised there, the shops get cross for some strange reason), there are a variety of carparks within a five-ten minute walking distance. I am only too aware that we were given a reserved space and that normally we would walk in with the other families.
Cardiff City Football Club has been lucky to have a new stadium (opened in July 2009), moving from their original football ground literally across the road to a brand-spanking new stadium, shared with the Cardiff Blues. At the time, the stalwart fans of CCFC mourned the loss of Ninian Park Road stadium, but times change and it needed moderinising. And oh how it has been! The new stadium is clean, modern, fresh with great facilities for all.
When we first walked in to the stadium, we were greeted in reception by the previously mentioned Director of International Marketing with a goody-bag for The Boy. The chocolate was most welcome half way through the match!
We were taken through into the 'back-stage' area and were taken to be shown around the ground. It was only when we walked through some double-doors onto the pitch, and I glanced up at some eager teenagers wondering who I was, that I realised we'd been taken out through the tunnel!
Walking alongside the pitch, we were told how the entirety of the Grange end of the stadium was given over to the family section. Normally this would allow for six and a half thousand seats, on that day (as it was a Family Football Festival day) they had opened up more and were expecting eight thousand family seats filled. We were shown the various food outlets, the plentiful toilets (male, female, disabled, baby-changing) and then taken to the area aimed at families.
There we found a dedicated area for playing games on computer consoles, a magician who made fabulous balloon animals (he also made The Boy a football player), a football-skills game and…
…this is where we met Cardiff City's special guest. Having already tweeted with him we knew that he was going to be there, watching the match. I'd hoped that we'd have a chance to meet him, but was delighted to be actually introduced by the club.
Chatting with Alex (CBeebies) he explained to me that he supported the Bluebirds and often came to home matches, either with his niece (in her teens) or with his own children (who are under six). The main point that Alex was keen to stress is that what was in the stadium that day, was always there. Cardiff completely understand how important it is to make this a family-friendly sport, and cater for that. There are signs all over the stadium saying 'watch your language' or 'no swearing', and if any is heard, then one of the many polite and helpful attendants are on hand to have a word with the offender. CCFC also has a family-focus group that meets every three months to discuss ways forward with the club, and how they can make it more family-orientated and improve facilities.
We were left to enjoy the family entertainment prior to the match, and of course we checked out the clean and tidy facilities before finding our seats. I was expecting to be up in the Gods, and therefore was pleasantly surprised to find that we had seats in 'h' row, which was actually only four rows back from the pitch. Luckily, it was a beautiful sunny day, I suspect we'd be a bit damp mid-Winter. However, we had a perfect view of Cardiff's goalposts, which was just as well bearing in mind the outcome.
As to the match itself. I found that I had butterflies in my stomach waiting for kick-off, and with good reason. The first half was amazing, playing out right in front of our eyes. Three goals and an unfortunate head injury, left us ooh-ing and aah-ing, jumping to our feet and cheering along with everyone else. When one of our players (because they're mine now too) was fouled, The Boy looked on in interest while everyone urged for a subsequently-granted yellow card. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and my fears of The Boy being frightened by the noise were quashed when he clapped, cheered and laughed along with everyone else.
The second half was just as nail-biting as the first, although (as I soon found out) mostly conducted at the other end of the pitch. This obviously meant that The Boy had difficulty maintaining concentration, and luckily I had been told to take something to entertain him; cue a colouring pad, crayons or the iPod Touch.
We left just before the end of the match so didn't see what happened then. Although we were right by the stairwell and didn't have to worry about any heights, I knew that trying to get out of a football stadium car-park which is on the edge of a retail park at tea-time on a Saturday would be a nightmare. However, we really didn't want to leave, but The Boy was beginning to find it difficult to concentrate.
I am a convert! I never thought I'd say that about football, but I am. It was exciting, friendly, and the facilities in Cardiff are excellent. We will be going again, although I suspect we'll wait until The Boy is a little older.
There's a reason why Cardiff have this proudly displayed outside:
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