Cardiff Secures Top-Flight Soccer Return After 51-Year Absence

Cardiff City will play in English soccer’s top division for the first time in 51 years next season after securing promotion to the Premier League with a 0-0 home draw against Charlton.

Last night’s result lifted the Welsh club to 84 points atop the Championship, a tally that guarantees one of the two automatic promotion places. Second-place Hull City has 77 points after a 1-0 loss at Wolverhampton Wanderers, and Watford in third remains on 71 points following a 1-0 defeat to Millwall.

By securing automatic promotion, the Bluebirds ended a run of three straight failures in the playoffs and will become the 46th different team to play in the Premier League since its inception in 1992. With Swansea City currently 10 points clear of the relegation positions, Wales is set to have two teams in the top flight next season.

“It’s an occasion which the fans of this football club have waited a long time for, and they’ve had a lot of disappointment in their time,” Cardiff manager Malky Mackay said in comments on his team’s website. “It’s a huge challenge; we are going into one of the best leagues in the world.”

Cardiff was in the fourth tier as recently as 2001 and its promotion to the elite division follows three straight years of defeats in the Championship playoffs, contested by the third-through-sixth clubs to determine the third team to go up.

Last year, accountant Deloitte LLP estimated that promotion to the Premier League, soccer’s richest, was worth at least 90 million pounds ($138 million). Although Deloitte hasn’t yet produced a figure for this year, it’s set to be higher, with the start of a three-year domestic television contract worth a record 3.02 billion pounds.

Sellout Crowds

Two days ago, Cardiff’s archrival Swansea said it submitted plans to increase the size of its Liberty Stadium by 11,000 to cater for the demands of Premier League soccer. The arena currently seats about 20,500 and sells out each match.

Cardiff, which has topped the Championship since November, had a controversial start to this season when Malaysian owner Vincent Tan changed the team’s jersey colors from blue to red as part of a re-branding exercise. Fan opposition to the move eased when the team won its first 10 home games and the club benefited from the experience of players such as former Premier League strikers Craig Bellamy and Heidar Helguson to keep ahead of its rivals in the division.

“The Championship is such a tough, tough league,” Bellamy said on the team’s website. “For us, over the last three or so years we’ve been gaining momentum as a football club, but we’ve just not quite been able to clear that final Premier League hurdle. This year we’ve been the best team.”

Low Point

Cardiff was demoted from the old First Division in 1962 along with Chelsea, while Liverpool and Leyton Orient moved in the opposite direction.

Since then, the Bluebirds have had spells in the fourth division, finishing 22nd of 24 clubs there in 1996 for their lowest-ever league position.

Cardiff has never won the English league, though it was F.A. Cup champion in 1927 and reached the final again in 2008. It lost last season’s League Cup final to Liverpool.

“Every team we have played in the last 20 months we have been competitive against,” Mackay added. “We’ve won some and lost some but we have competed against all of them and this will not change in the Premier League.”

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