Cardiff City's Caulker celebrates scoring his goal with Bellamy during their English Premier League soccer match against Swansea City in Cardiff

The day the South Wales derby arrived in the Premier League

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On Sunday November 3, a monumental moment arrived in the Barclays Premier League… the first-ever South Wales derby was here.

After spending the earlier part of last week in Wales to find out what all the fuss was about, I returned for the main event at the weekend. I wasn’t disappointed.

Here’s my tale of Steel vs. Cooper, Capital vs. Second City… Cardiff City vs. Swansea City.

STARTING EARLY, THE BUBBLE ARRIVES

As I stepped off the train and breathed in the fresh air of Wales, fans with blue shirts swarmed Cardiff Central station in every direction I looked. “Hang on a minute, it’s only noon,” I thought to myself, but several of the locals were already ‘well lubricated’ shall we say. That said, there was not a sniff of violence. That’s all to do with the revolutionary police tactic of the ‘Bubble’ which has made policing South Wales derby much easier since it was introduced in ’97. Before that a ban was put on away fans traveling to the opponents ground, as the ferocity and venom hurled in both directions is extreme.

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I managed to get in behind the police lines and mix it up with Swansea’s fans in and around the metal fences.

So while Swansea’s fans spent all morning on a crowded bus in a slow police-escorted journey along a road that would usually take them 40 minutes to drive, Cardiff’s fans were sinking the lagers, having a sing-song and catching up with their pals. One set of fans were already in a better mood.

(MORE: Cardiff City vs. Swansea City – Rivalry and passion define soccer’s heyday in South Wales)

The police presence in the capital city was massive, as officers traveled round in twos to survey the many local pubs who had opened up early for the game. But, apart from groups of lads pouring out into the street in full song as the bars became crowded, there wasn’t much going on.

To the ground!

As I got to the Cardiff City Stadium about a 10 minute drive from town, I sat up shop in the press box, said my hello’s to my press brethren and was interviewed by BBC Radio Wales about what fans in the USA thought of the South Wales derby. Then, I took my life into my own hands as I could hear Swansea’s fans finally arriving at the stadium… nearly two hours before kick off.

I managed to negotiate my way through a massive metal fence and chat with the police officers who let me through to get amongst the Swansea fans. And here they came, one after the other, buses pulled in with military precision. Fans got off, were searched and had 30 or so police officers watching their every move in a penned in area as a green wire fence surrounded them. There was no way Cardiff fans could get to them in here. I wouldn’t say I felt safe, but not bad.

Fans began to filter in from both teams.

GAME-TIME, LET THE HATRED BEGIN

The announcers before the game at the Cardiff City Stadium had this to welcome Swansea’s fans…. “Welcome to the capital of Wales, Cardiff.” Which sent ironic cheers and jeers from the home fans and boo from the away section neatly tucked away on the left.  When Cardiff won the FA Cup in 1927, Swansea’s fans cheered and were happy for the Bluebirds… nothing like that anymore.

Just pure hatred.

Chants of “We are all going on a European tour!” emanate from the Swansea section as they taunted the home fans about their recent success gallivanting around Europe in the Europa League and they also had a pop about Cardiff’s controversial kit change from blue to tread to appease their Malaysian owner. Chanting about their famous black and white kit. “We’re Swansea City, we will always be White!” and “you used to be blue but now your red.”

(MORE: Setting the scene at the South Wales derby)

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The hatred and animosity spreads across generations in South Wales, just look at the young kid being told off by a police officer…

As a crescendo of noise built up, literally four to five feet away two Cardiff fans were almost fighting before the kick off. One bald guy was hitting the press box table and threatening to smash the computers unless we wrote positive things about the Bluebirds…

And there were still 45 minutes left until the game started! Our friend on the right was to be a constant nuisance throughout the game, the old guys from BBC Cymru (Welsh language radio station) sat to my right were horrified as this particular Cardiff fan preferred to bellow out obscenities throughout most of their live broadcast.

Anyway, finally, the teams arrived onto the pitch as famous Welsh hymns such as “Men or Harlech” were belted out and the old mining song “I’ll be there.” The noise was deafening as the two sides got into the pre-match huddle.

During the game the banter kept coming, and as Swansea had possession for most of the first half, Cardiff struggled to get anything going and lumped the ball forward whenever they could. Shouts of ‘Boring, boring” Cardiff rang out. When Swansea had the ball for large swathes, the same chant rang out from the home fans.

It wasn’t riveting stuff in the first interval, I have to be honest. But as often the case with these games, there’s so much local pride and pressure on the game, players feel restrained. It certainly seemed like both teams were scared of committing men forward or making a mistake.

Then in the 19th minute came a moment that livened up the home crowd as central defender Ben Turner put in a crunching tackle on Jonjo Shelvey as he surged forward. An almost tribal roar reverberated around the stadium to signify Cardiff’s physical presence unnerving the Swans.

(MORE: The South Wales derby; a tale of two cities – Part II)

For the rest of the first half not so friendly banter rang out between the two sets of fans, as Swansea pushed for the opener and Cardiff soaked up the pressure expertly. A few brief forays forward excited the home crowd, but Swansea were the better side as it was 0-0 at the break.

Remember the lively and slightly confrontational fan to my right? Yeah, he was at it again. Screaming obscenities at the top his voice while the radio guys who sat next to me looked on in horror. They put their fingers to their lips to try and silence him… the angry man’s wife then got involved and started hurling abuse in our direction. I’m staying out of this one.

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Following Steven Caulker’s header, Cardiff’s fans went absolutely berserk as they began to sense a famous win was in sight.

“What don’t you try turning up more often before you tell me to be quiet?” He replied. Or something to that affect.

After the interval Cardiff started brightly, as both Jordon Mutch and Peter Odemwingie got a sniff at goal and that seemed to crank up the decibel levels quite a few notches.

Midway through the second half a late challenge on Angel Rangel from local boy and Welsh legend Craig Bellamy, signified what type of game this was. “Bellamy, Bellamy **** him up,” came the chant from the home fans as Rangel protested on the floor. Personal duels all over the pitch were breaking out, Gary Medel vs. Shelvey, Michu vs. Steven Caulker, Bellamy vs. Rangel, and now you could sense Cardiff were starting to turn the screw.

Meanwhile at that point Swansea’s star man Michu was hobbling around and needed lengthy treatment on the sidelines, he was replaced. Our ‘friend’ to the right then hurled abuse at Swansea’s pony-tailed Spanish defender Chico Flores who threw himself to the floor theatrically after a meaty Cardiff challenge.

“Get your hair cut, you Spanish wanker!” That was the edited version.

As the second half wore on the decibel level continued to rise as Cardiff striker Peter Odemwingie urged the crowd to raise the noise as he thrust his arms into the air repeatedly to gee the home fans going.

Minutes later the home side went ahead as captain Caulker (a former Swansea player no less) rose highest to head home  Bellamy’s corner… cue utter pandemonium insides the Cardiff City Stadium.

In the video I captured above, you can see whole groups of grown men hugging each other, some fans just stood with their arms aloft towards the devastated section of Swansea fans and many… well, they just simply lost the plot.

As the noise levels dropped a little following the excitement of the goal, the home fans rejoiced in their dominance and stuck the knife in and let out a few reminders about their economical and cultural importance.

“1-0 to the Capital” rung out from the home fans.

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A Cardiff fans throws some ‘banter’ towards the Swansea section across the police barricade… I hope he used deodorant.

As the rain teemed down in South Wales, Cardiff went for the kill as they poured forward. But so did Swansea, now we have a game. There were a few hairy moments for the home side, but the incredible display of Medel pulled the home side through it as the ‘Chilean Pitbull’ scrapped for his life in the engine-room to keep the Swans at bay. In the end he went off injured with three minutes to play, after committing one lunging tackle too many. A standing ovation proved how pleased his fans were with the all-action display.

Grit, passion, determination and guile, Medel summed up this game. He was superb and I’d say the difference between the two teams. His tackling and clever possession stop Swansea creating anything in the middle.

As stoppage time approached all hell broke loose as the nightmare afternoon for Swansea’s fans continued.

Substitute Frazier Campbell raced cleared as a long ball bounced on the edge of the box, Swansea ‘keeper Michel Vorm came racing out of his goal and took out Campbell with a flying karate kick.

Cue a red card for Swansea’s goalkeeper and after they’d already made all three subs, right back Rangel had to go in goal… much to the delight of the home fans.

The final whistle blew, the songs rang out and Cardiff’s fans jigged their way out of the stadium and into the night sky of South Wales. They were celebrating a famous 1-0 victory in the first-ever South Wales derby, which had got better as it went on. Me? I didn’t want it to end.

CARDIFF CELEBRATES

Following the game I walked out of the stadium with a massive smile on my face, a newspaper over my head that really didn’t shelter the driving rain and a heavy heart that this match wouldn’t be returning to the PL until next February.

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An incredible setting for such a massive game, as the 106th South Wales derby surpassed my expectations.

Before I caught my train back to England, myself and another journalist sauntered into a local pub before we sped away from South Wales. The establishment we stumbled into was the Prince of Wales pub, and it was chock-a-block with Cardiff fans. To start with it was quite cordial, but then when the replay of Caulker’s game-winner was shown in the news bulletin on the big screens across this massive pub, Cardiff’s supporters celebrated like they were in the stadium all over again.

They were in dreamland, Sunday night was an evening they wanted to savor. Their victory and recent dominance over the “Jacks” of Swansea gives them much joy, as Cardiff have won three of the last four games against there fierce rivals.

And now they’re in the PL for the first-time in their history, Cardiff fans want more. They want to overtake their rivals Swansea and become the best Welsh team in one of the world’s best leagues.

The drunken band of fans were now jigging and singing their hearts out in the Prince of Wales pub, they had a warning for their heady neighbors down the coast.

“You Jack bastard’s, we’re coming for you!”

So long South Wales, see you in February. I can’t wait. But between now and then, bragging rights had swung Cardiff’s way. And boy, are they going to enjoy that.

Big day in Stoke: Potters capture Joe Allen and Egyptian prodigy

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Stoke City got one for now and another for the future on Monday, announcing the purchase of Joe Allen from Liverpool and Ramadan Sobhi from Al Alhy.

Allen, 26, had been with the Reds since 2012 after more than a decade in the ranks of Swansea City. The midfielder helped Wales into the semifinals of EURO 2016.

[ MORE: Does Pogba match his fee? ]

Swansea was linked with matching Stoke’s bid, but Allen moves onto a new home at the Britannia Stadium.

From Stoke City’s site:

Chief Executive Tony Scholes said: “Joe is a player that Mark has admired for a considerable amount of time. Therefore when we became aware of the possibility of bringing him to the Club it was something that we were determined to do.

Sobhi, 19, is a lesser known entity full of promise. At 19, he already had six caps and a goal for Egypt, and has made 71 appearances with 17 goals for Al Alhy in the Egyptian Premier League.

The fee could reach $7 million with incentives.

From Stoke City’s site:

“We are absolutely delighted to have signed a player of Ramadan’s undoubted quality and potential. He’s a special young talent who is excited about the prospect of making an impact in the Premier League and we’re looking forward to giving him that platform.”

Stoke has quietly been amassing assets for some time, and made a strong push last season before finishing ninth. If Allen can combine well with Giannelli Imbula, perhaps Stoke can continue its rise up the PL pecking order.

Preseason schedule for Premier League teams: July 25-31

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 31: Kenedy of Chelsea and Christian Benteke of Liverpool compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on October 31, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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We are in the thick of preseason folks.

All 20 Premier League teams are in action this week as they ramp up their preparations for the new campaign.

[ MORE: Full PL preseason schedule ]

Chelsea, Leicester City, Liverpool (all in the USA), Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City are all in International Champions Cup action with games in the USA, China and Australia taking place. Chelsea face Liverpool at the Pasadena Rose Bowl then travel to “The Big House” in Michigan to take on Real Madrid, while Liverpool head to Santa Clara to face AC Milan and then on to St. Louis to play AS Roma. Leicester will come up against Paris Saint-Germain at StubHub Center as the English and French champs collide.

Stoke City and Arsenal are also in the USA with the Gunners taking on the MLS All-Stars in San Jose, Calif. then Chivas Guadalajara at the StubHub Center and the Potters facing Orlando City in Florida.

[ WATCH: Stream every PL game live ] 

West Ham United aren’t even in preseason action as Slaven Bilic‘s men have finished their prep work and have a Europa League third qualifying round to tackle.

The new season is just 20 days away!

Below is a look at the full schedule for every single PL team in the upcoming week.


AFC Bournemouth

29 July v Reading (Madejski Stadium)
30 July v Cardiff City (Vitality Stadium)

Arsenal

28 July v AT&T MLS All-Stars (Avaya Stadium, San Jose)
31 July
v Chivas de Guadalajara (StubHub Center, LA)

Burnley

26 July v Bolton (Macron Stadium)
30 July v Rangers (Ibrox)

Chelsea

International Champions Cup
27 July
v Liverpool (Rose Bowl, Pasadena)
30 July v Real Madrid (Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor)

Crystal Palace

25 July Colchester United (Weston Homes Community Stadium)
27 July v AFC Wimbledon (Kingsmeadow)

Everton

26 July v MK Dons (Stadium: mk)
29 July v Dynamo Dresden (DDV-Stadium, Dresden)
30 July v Real Betis (DDV-Stadium, Dresden)

Hull City

26 July v Barnsley (Oakwell)
30 July v Nottingham Forest (City Ground)

Leicester City

International Champions Cup
30 July
v Paris St-Germain (StubHub Center, Carson, California)

Liverpool

International Champions Cup
27 July
v Chelsea (Rose Bowl, Pasadena)
30 July v AC Milan (Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara)

Manchester City

International Champions Cup
28 July
v Borussia Dortmund (Shenzhen)

Manchester United

30 July v Galatasaray (Ullevi Stadium, Gothenburg)

Middlesbrough

30 July v Aston Villa (Villa Park)

Southampton

27 July v FC Twente (Q20 Stadium, Oldenzaal)
30 July v FC Groningen (Euroborg Stadium)

Stoke City

27 July v Orlando City (Titan Soccer Complex, Florida)

Sunderland

25 July v Stade Nyonnais (Stade Camille-Fournier, Evian-les-Bains)
27 July v Dijon FCO (Stade Camille-Fournier, Evian-les-Bains)
30 July v Montpellier (Stade Jacques Forestier, Aix-les-Bains)

Swansea City

27 July v Swindon Town (County Ground)
30 July v Wolverhampton Wanderers (Molineux)

Tottenham Hotspur

International Champions Cup
26 July
v Juventus (Melbourne Cricket Ground)
29 July v Atletico Madrid (Melbourne Cricket Ground)

Watford

30 July v Queens Park Rangers (Loftus Road)

West Bromwich Albion

30 July v Plymouth Argyle (Home Park)

West Ham United

28 July UEFA Europa League third qualifying round first leg at NK Domzale

VIDEO: David Beckham stars in new Sky Sports commercial

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 12:  UNICEF GWA Honoree David Beckham speaks onstage during the Sixth Biennial UNICEF Ball Honoring David Beckham and C. L. Max Nikias presented by Louis Vuitton at Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on January 12, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for U.S. Fund for UNICEF)
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David Beckham will forever be in the hearts and minds of soccer fans across the globe.

It’s just the way it works.

[ MORE: Mourinho wields the axe ]  

Ahead of the new 2016-17 Premier League season, Becks is front and center in Sky Sports’ commercial to promote the new season.

Take a look at the video below to see the former Manchester United, Real Madrid, LA Galaxy, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain star take a bizarre jog…

[ MORE: Zelalem in Arsenal squad for U.S. tour ]

You’ll see what I mean shortly.


Transfer Rumor Roundup: Stones to Man City, Chilwell to Liverpool

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 12: John Stones of Everton clears during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Chelsea at Goodison Park on September 12, 2015 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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Manchester City is continuing to push hard to seal a move for John Stones.

Stones, 22, is still said to be keen on a move away from Everton, despite new manager Ronald Koeman arriving at Goodison Park this summer.

[ MORE: Mourinho wields the axe

Stones wants to work with Pep Guardiola, according to a report from the Daily Mail, and he failed to play for Everton at Barnsley at the weekend after going down with a slight knock.

The same report states that the former Barnsley defender has made it known he wants to leave Everton and City will kick off the bidding at $65 million. Stones has been consistently linked with a move to Manchester United, Chelsea and Barcelona since bursting onto the scene during the 2013-14 season.

The England international defender had a down year last year as Roberto Martinez lost his job at Everton largely due to several inept defensive displays from his side. Stones made multiple individual errors and was said to have been upset that Martinez blocked a move to Chelsea last summer. He hasn’t been the same player since but with his silky skills on the ball and Guardiola’s penchant for having defenders carrying the ball out of defense, it is believed Stones could kick on under the Spanish coach.

Is it just me or does Stones remind you of a young Gerard Pique? He, of course, was nurtured by Guardiola at Barcelona.


Sunderland could make a move for winger Adnan Januzaj from Manchester United. Januzaj, 21, was a favorite of new Sunderland manager David Moyes while he was in charge of Manchester United and the Belgian youngster has struggled at Old Trafford since Moyes was fired in 2014.

[ MORE: Zelalem in Arsenal squad ]

With a report suggesting that Januzaj has been told he won’t be a regular under Jose Mourinho, the Daily Mail claims that Moyes and Sunderland want to take the talented winger on loan to the Stadium of Light. Januzaj spent the first half of last season on loan at Borussia Dortmund but was recalled in January after playing in just 12 games for the Bundesliga outfit. His skill and pace cause defenses problems but his lightweight frame has often led to him being overpowered in the Premier League.

The Black Cats haven’t made many moves this summer due to Sam Allardyce‘s departure for the English national team but they do have decent options out wide with Duncan Watmore, Jeremain Lens, Wahbi Khazri and Fabio Borini all able to play there.


Liverpool are making a final attempt to sign Leicester City’s talented youngster Ben Chilwell.

Chilwell, 19, made three appearances for Claudio Ranieri‘s side last season and the left back impressed with mature, attacking displays. Jurgen Klopp has earmarked Chilwell as his top target for the left back position as it is believed Liverpool’s manager in unsure about Alberto Moreno‘s defensive abilities.

The Sun claims that Liverpool has offered $11 million for Chilwell and to try and counter the offer, Leicester have offered the England U-21 international a new five-year deal. Liverpool is said to be willing to also offer the youngster a five-year contract with better wages and Klopp has heard good things about the left back who played for his old assistant at Borussia Dortmund, David Wagner, on loan at Huddersfield Town last season.

Chilwell played for Leicester in their International Champions Cup game at Celtic last weekend.