The sound of ball hitting willow in the warm summers of Victorian Cardiff around the fields of Sophia Gardens is far removed from the helter-skelter of association football. Yet it was from those days of horse-drawn carriages scuttling around the dimly-lit streets of the rapidly growing town that the first notion of starting a local football club was born. Prime mover in trying to keep the Riverside Cricket Club together during the long winter months was Bristol-born lithographic artist, Bartley Wilson.
After several attempts to get a football club started he gathered enough support to form Riverside FC in 1899 and they started playing in the local leagues, on pitches in Sophia Gardens where Glamorgan CCC now play. They changed their name to Riverside Albion in 1902.
With the town elevated in status in October 1905 the club applied to the South Wales FA to adopt
the name Cardiff City but permission was refused because the team did not play in a high enough league. In 1908 when the club were elected to the South Wales League the club were given permission to change their name to “Cardiff City AFC”.
A move was made to the Council owned Ninian Park for the start of the 1910/11 season when the club’s rapid progress gained them entry into the Southern League.
The origin of Cardiff City’s nickname, ‘The Bluebirds’ is truly fascinating. It had started being used, along with ‘The Cardiffians’, ‘The City’ and ‘The Citizens’, after the club changed from their first colours of chocolate and amber to royal blue and white, sometime around 1910.
There is a connection with a classic children’s play, called The Blue Bird, written by the Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck in 1909. The bird, a symbol of happiness, is pursued by children who want to imprison it in a cage and the play’s theme urges us not to try to hoard happiness for ourselves.
This play had come to the New Theatre in Cardiff in late October 1911. It received good reviews during its six-night run and a week after the production had left town, Maeterlinck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his symbolist plays including The Blue Bird and Pelleas and Mesilande. The publicity surrounding the play’s arrival in the Welsh capital and then Maeterlinck’s honour led to an unknown Cardiff City supporter deciding to call the team, resplendent in their blue strip, ‘The Blue Birds’. Gradually, it emerged as the favoured nickname before being adopted officially by the club.
At the time Cardiff City appeared in their first FA Cup final in 1925 and took the FA Cup out of England for the first and only time in 1927 the club sported the coat of arms of the city as their emblem. These arms were granted on 26 August 1906. The shield of the arms bears a red dragon, the national symbol of Wales. The dragon symbol has been in practically continuous use since the Romans brought it to Britain. When Rome withdrew her troops the dragon remained as the symbol of authority and unity among the Romanized Britons and became their standard in the wars against the invading Angles and Saxons. It was from this emblem the war-leader would take the name Pendragon, and would particularly be associated with the semi-mythical King Arthur. To this day the red dragon remains the national emblem of the remnant of the ancient British people, the Welsh, and as such appears in the heraldry of many Welsh authorities.
The dragon upholds a standard upon which is emblazoned the bearing of three silver chevrons upon a red background They are attributed to Iestin ap Gwrgan, the last prince of Glamorgan, who lived in Cardiff Castle about 1030-1080.
Our dragon plants the staff of the standard upon a green mount whereon he stands, and from which springs a leek. The origin of the leek, the floral emblem of Wales, is the battle of Poictiers where, if we may quote Fluellen (Shakespeare’s poor attempt at writing Llewellyn) from Shakespeare’s Henry V, “the Welshmen did good service in a garden where leeks grow, wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps.”
The supporting Welsh goat represents the ancient mountains of Glamorgan. The hippocamp or sea-horse , represents the Severn Sea and the carrying trade of the port. The motto beneath the shield reads ‘Y ddraig goch ddyry gychwyn’, meaning of course “The red dragon will lead the way”
The crest consists of a Tudor rose and three ostrich feathers, issuing out of a mural crown. The ostrich feathers, famous as the badge of the Heir Apparent, are from the Princes of Wales, and their use was specially authorized by Royal Warrant. The Tudor rose and the mural crown are reminiscent of the past history of the City. The crest is supported by a tilting helmet of ancient form. The motto for the crest reads ‘ Deffro mae’n ddydd’, meaning “Awake, it is day”.
Cardiff City has had a variety of other badges through the years with the bluebird always prominently illustrating the club’s past and present image. At times as a single-minded theme, but always in full flight. Set in a circle and accompanied by their nickname, used during the 1958/59 season, depicted on a quartered shield and again shown in a circle, both from the late 1960’s, and from the 1980s onwards, accompanied by the Welsh red dragon and ‘St Peter’s leek’, the daffodil, the other national flower. Until 2003, when the club felt it needed a modernized design. England fans have red and white for St George, the Scots blue and white for St Andrew and the Irish have green and white for St Patrick. Cardiff City’s new crest contains the black and gold flag of St David and the Bluebird. Sacrosanct.