As Cardiff City Football Club prepares for a new era in its history amongst the elite sides in England and Wales, the Bluebirds’ current longest-serving stalwart Kevin McNaughton is as excited as ever to be in South Wales having committed to a new contract at Cardiff City Stadium last week.
When Naughts first headed south from Scotland as he left Aberdeen and the SPL to link up with the Bluebirds in May 2006, given the relatively short time that most players spend at any given club in modern-day football, it would have been impossible to predict that, just shy of seven years later, he would still be a key fixture in the Cardiff line-up as the club finally achieved the long-term goal of promotion to the Premier League. For McNaughton, the winners’ medal that he received following last month’s nPower Championship meeting with Bolton Wanderers at Cardiff City Stadium will be symbolic of just how far the club has come since he swapped Jimmy Calderwood’s Dons for the Welsh capital.
Having been linked with the likes of Celtic and Fulham before he opted for the Capital of Wales, ‘Silver Fox’, as he was christened due to his argentate hair colouring, will have been blissfully unaware of the emotional roller-coaster that his new club were about to embark upon. In the summer of 2006, the Bluebirds were a solid, if unspectacular, mid-table side firmly established in the second division of the British league pyramid after their promotion from Division Three in 2003.
Playing forty-four matches in each of his first two seasons at Cardiff, McNaughton took no time at all to establish himself as a first-team regular at Ninian Park. In his first campaign he was part of the Cardiff defence that held the might of Premier League Tottenham Hotspur to a 0-0 draw in an F.A. Cup Third Round meeting. That day, Tottenham’s strike force consisted of the Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov, whose goalscoring exploits would soon earn him a £30 million move to Manchester United, and Jermain Defoe, who has scored over one hundred and twenty goals in the Premier League. They even had the strength-in-depth to bring Republic of Ireland striker Robbie Keane off the bench, but still could not breach McNaughton and the rest of the City defence. Cardiff may have succumbed to a heavy defeat in the replay at White Hart Lane, but the 0-0 draw was still a famous one in the history of Cardiff City. The two sides will meet twice more next season in league competition.
City were meeting Premier League opposition in cup competition again early in McNaughton’s second season at the club, this time in a Carling Cup trip to Anfield. On this occasion, the final scoreline was not as memorable, but nonetheless, the Bluebirds defence, featuring McNaughton at right-back, were only penetrated twice, Steven Gerrard scoring the winning goal for a Liverpool side that featured Jamie Carragher, Peter Crouch and Barcelona-bound Javier Mascherano. More famously, we all remember the other cup run City enjoyed that season, as City knocked out Premier League Middlesbrough and then Championship Barnsley at Wembley, before ultimately finding that Portsmouth were an upset too far in the FA Cup Final. McNaughton started every single game of that cup run, and even got his first goal for the Bluebirds in the Fourth Round victory at Hereford. A first league goal was to follow on the season’s closing day against Barnsley, and his season was completed by turning out for Scotland in a 3-1 international friendly defeat to the Czech Republic.
The 2-2 draw at Watford during the 2008/09 season saw McNaughton turn out for the one hundredth time for Cardiff in all competitions, while the 1-1 stalemate at Reading later in the campaign signalled the completion of a centenary of league appearances. That season also saw him sample the South Wales derby for the first time, as a couple of 2-2 draws in the league were preceded by the Swans getting the better of us in the Carling Cup tie at the Liberty Stadium. That particular season was significant for Cardiff City fans as it was the final year that the club played its home games at Ninian Park, and McNaughton was a part of the final Bluebirds squad at City’s former home (though the final score of that battle with Ipswich is probably less fondly remembered).
McNaughton was also a part of proceedings at the official opening of Cardiff City Stadium, but hobbled off from the Bluebirds’ 0-0 draw with Tony Mowbray’s Celtic midway into the first half. The ankle injury he sustained caused him to miss the first two months of the season, and repeated niggling injuries blighted him until the season’s halfway point, but he was able to play a part getting the club to its first of three consecutive Play-Off berths in the Championship, the first of which ending in the defeat to Blackpool at Wembley. This disappointment was something that he set out to rectify with panache the following year, in which he scooped the top prize for the club’s Player of the Year. Making his two hundredth appearance for the club in a 1-0 win at Deepdale over Preston, at times it felt like McNaughton was walking away with the Man of the Match accolade every single week at CCS. Despite the defeat to Reading in the Play-Off semi-final, the second leg was significant for McNaughton as it was the first time that he donned the captain’s armband for the club.
His relationship with the armband was rekindled following the injury to Mark Hudson the year after, with McNaughton being asked to skipper the side by new manager Malky Mackay on four occasions in 2011/12, the second of which a 1-0 home win over Nottingham Forest which completed a second century of Championship appearances. Big victories that McNaughton was a part of that season included the opening day upset at Upton Park against West Ham United, the eight-goal thriller with Barnsley at Cardiff City Stadium and, of course, another famous cup run, bringing McNaughton and City their fourth trip to the new Wembley Stadium. Since the Stadium opened in 2007, only six teams in the world have played there on more occasions than the Bluebirds, those being Manchester City, Portsmouth, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Manchester United, and of course, the England national side.
Season seven with the club, which concluded in May, could well be a new entry into Kev’s list of personal favourite campaigns. Despite experiencing the fiercest competition for places yet at the back with the arrivals of Matthew Connolly, Leon Barnett, and Simon Lappin added to the already stellar reserve of defenders in Mark Hudson, Ben Turner, Andrew Taylor and the first-team breakthrough of Ben Nugent, the full-back still turned out in over half of the league fixtures as City lifted the league title after topping the division for nearly a whole six months. There was poignancy in the fact that the match that we hope will be McNaughton’s and City’s final ever second-tier fixture, the season-closing 2-2 draw at Hull City, was also his two-hundred-and-fiftieth appearance in the division, a round tally that the player will not be looking to add to anytime soon.
In his time at the club, McNaughton has seen the highs of promotions and cup runs, he’s seen the lows of defeats at the final hurdle and Play-Off heartbreak, and he’s seen the arrivals-to and departures-from Cardiff of such big Premier League names as Robbie Fowler, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Craig Bellamy. He has seen the transition from Ninian Park to the state-of-the-art Cardiff City Stadium, witnessed the club’s Premier League foundations being laid down and then put into effect in style by Malky Mackay, and soon he will have been a part of football from each of the top two divisions happening in CF11. Through all of that, Super Kev has been a constant, the backbone of the Cardiff City playing staff. Of the current City squad, only Peter Whittingham has made more appearances in Cardiff colours than McNaughton, and the pair are the only two players remaining at the club from McNaughton’s first campaign here since he left Pittodrie.
Kevin McNaughton’s Complete Cardiff City Appearance Record: