May 27, 2022

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The Smart Business

When Cardiff City toppled Real Madrid in the European Cup Winners’ Cup

Brian Clark heads in Cardiff’s winning goal

Real Madrid had won eight of the last 10 La Liga titles and had been European Cup winners as recently as 1966.

Cardiff City had just finished seventh in the English Second Division.

Yet on 10 March, 1971, the unthinkable happened.

Cardiff faced the mighty Madrid in front of a bumper Ninian Park crowd, with an official attendance given as 47,500 though some who were there suggest it was more like 60,000.

The Bluebirds, managed by Scotsman Jimmy Scoular, were in the European Cup Winners’ Cup having won the Welsh Cup in 1969-70.

They had sold prize asset John Toshack to Liverpool in the November of the 1970-71 season, yet they would end the campaign in third in the English second tier.

In the Cup Winners’ Cup, having beaten Pezoporikos Larnaca and Nantes, they were drawn to face Real in the quarter-finals, with the second leg at Bernabeu.

They lost the tie on aggregate, but only after a 31st-minute header from Brian Clark had seen Cardiff claim a 1-0 win in the first leg.

Half a century on, it is a result which is not about to be forgotten.

BBC Sport Wales recalls an extraordinary night by speaking to some of those who were involved.

Cardiff fans celebrate Brian Clark's goal
Cardiff fans celebrate Brian Clark’s goal

Cardiff full-back Gary Bell

“We had some great games in Europe over the years. But that one was undoubtedly the highlight.

“I can picture the game as if it was yesterday. I tell my young grandkids ‘oh, we beat Real Madrid’. They just don’t believe me.

“Until I show them the facts, the photographs, they can’t take it in.

“Over the 90 minutes, if we’d won 3-0 or 4-0, that would have been a fair result.

“Don Murray had a great chance and knocked it over the bar, Mel Sutton had a great effort tipped away, Peter King had a great effort.

“I started the move that led to the goal. I won the ball in a tackle, knocked it inside to Bobby Woodruff, he knocked a great first-time ball down the left-wing.

“Nigel Rees burst between two defenders, won the ball, knocked it towards the byline, perfect cross and Brian Clark came in – it was probably his best header of all time.

“The ground absolutely erupted. I have never heard a noise like it.

“Brian Clark as a person, complete gentleman. Quiet, unassuming, great guy. But on the pitch, a great player who will be forever remembered for that goal.”

Cardiff fan Ronnie Barker

“The traffic was trying to get through but everyone was virtually walking on the road trying to get to Ninian Park. It was unbelievable.

“I think the most unbelievable thing when we got to the ground was the atmosphere outside.

“It was nervous. It was not just because you were playing Real Madrid. It was that this is the match, this puts Cardiff City on the map.

“The pitch was terrible, an absolute shocker. It used to waterlog all the time so somebody told them to do this sand-slicking thing.

“They put it all over the ground. They reckoned the sand would soak all the water in. But when the rain came down, all the sand came up to the top.

“It was like being at Barry Island.

“When the goal went in, I just can’t explain it. It was just something out of this world.”

Peter Jackson, then football correspondent at the South Wales Echo

“The one (Real Madrid) game I will forever remember as a kid was when they beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 in front of 127,000 people at Hampden (in the 1960 European Cup final).

“This untouchable team who played in all white – there was something very symbolic about that – and they turned up at Ninian Park in all red.

“There was a story that I wasn’t able to substantiate at the time but has since grown legs, that they made sure the hot water was switched off in the Real dressing room.

“Brian Clark, the late Brian Clark, one of the nicest people you could wish to meet. A gentleman, as honest as the day is long.

“If you had to pick a player to score the goal, you would say ‘go on, give it to Clarky.’

“What a night it was. I think the players ended up at the Electricity Club in Pontcanna. Real Madrid had gone home.”

Cardiff faced a Real Madrid side who had finished fourth in La Liga and won the Copa del Rey in the previous season
Cardiff faced a Real Madrid side who had finished fourth in La Liga and won the Copa del Rey in the previous season

Cardiff winger Nigel Rees, who was set to miss the game after being called into the Welsh youth squad

“Harry Parsons, the kit man, came in and said ‘Nige, the boss has told me you are not to travel (to Wrexham with Wales) tomorrow and to report in for training as normal on Monday’. That was that. I reported in on Monday.

“Then there was something in the paper that I hadn’t turned up for my country, but I thought the club was dealing with that rather than me informing Wales.

“We trained that morning and then Harry came in again and said ‘after you’ve had a shower, the boss wants to see you’.

“So I went into see him. He always used to call me son. He said ‘son, sit down there’.

“He said ‘do you know about the other game up at Wrexham?’ I said ‘yes boss’. He said ‘it’s your decision, but don’t forget who pays your wages’.

“I just left the room then and actually the club had contacted the Welsh FA.”

How to celebrate? With a Chinese in Port Talbot

“I looked up and I had a bit of time because I knew the full-back wasn’t going to catch me.

“But I got in and I could see Clarky just at the edge of the area.

“There was a lovely big hole in the penalty box because I had gone past the whole backline.

“I thought I’ll just try to knock it to the penalty spot and I got a good contact on the ball and Clarky came in and you know, the rest is history.

“The whole club was in the home changing room afterwards. There were bottles of champagne or whatever it was.

“Believe it or not I wasn’t interested in that because if I missed the last train home, I would be sleeping in the changing room.

“I said to Harry I have a train to catch. He said you can’t go out the players’ entrance because it’s bedlam out there.

“So he took me down to the exit at the Canton Stand. He said put your hood over your head and walk. There was a taxi. I caught the last train home.

“I got off the train in Port Talbot and met a couple of friends in the Chinese across the road.”