Cardiff City v Swansea City: Neil Harris and Steve Cooper on derby without fans

Cardiff City and Swansea City are braced for a south Wales derby like no other on Saturday when they meet in the Welsh capital with no fans.

Although supporters have started returning to matches in England, Welsh Government coronavirus restrictions mean that is not yet possible in Wales.

As a result, Cardiff City Stadium will be empty when it hosts this weekend’s Championship derby – a far cry from the fervent atmosphere it generated at the same ground last season.

“Derbies are all about the fans and also it’s why we are involved in our profession,” says Cardiff manager Neil Harris.

“It’s why we love the game it’s why we are so competitive as professional people.

“It’s down to us, both sets of players, but down to us, focused on my team, to create that atmosphere which won’t be provided by the fans.

“At the moment there is not a lot of joy for people living in lockdown, with a lot of rules and regulations going into Christmas, and they cannot come and watch their team play football when a lot of other clubs can around the UK.

“There has been hardship and we want to put smiles on faces and we have the opportunity to do that on Saturday lunchtime.”

Harris’ counterpart at Swansea, Steve Cooper, agrees: “It is going to be different in terms of the actual game and the atmosphere.

“Both atmospheres were electric last year. Let’s not shy away from it – it is different.

“It’s a game that means an awful lot to our supporters and it’s a game that we really want to win.

“I think everything that we’re doing at the moment, because we’re in Wales and behind other parts of the UK, is for the supporters.

“I want the supporters to see a team giving their best. Football is important to so many people and at the moment they’re not being given that.”

Cardiff and Swansea have put their rivalry aside in their bid to bring supporters back to Welsh stadiums, joining Wales’ largest sporting organisations in urging the Welsh Government to allow fans’ return.

The Welsh Government has said it does not expect any fans back before at least February.

With the second south Wales derby of the season taking place at the Liberty Stadium in March, there is a chance Swansea might enjoy the home support which Cardiff will be missing on Saturday.

“Possibly. We will have to cross that when we get to it,” Harris says.

“Hopefully we can get to that in the coming months, when we go to Bristol and Swansea and there might be fans in stadiums.”

That is a subject of conjecture for now but what is certain is that, for the time being, Cardiff and Swansea will not have supporters at home games – unlike some of their Championship rivals.

“This is the first thing since the lockdown that is now different,” Cooper says.

“We’ve had return to train and play procedures which have been fair across the board, we’ve had nine subs and five subs and scheduling has been pretty level.

“This is the first thing that is different, and it can have an influence on games.”

Although this will be the first fully-fledged league encounter without fans between these sides, the idea of a south Wales derby behind closed doors will not be entirely alien to Cardiff and Swansea.

The old foes actually arranged a friendly training game in June as they both prepared for the resumption of the 2019-20 Championship season after it was halted because of the pandemic.

But that was different. There were no league points on offer – the game lacked an edge.

On Saturday, fourth-place Swansea will be looking to climb into the Championship’s automatic promotion spots, while Cardiff in ninth could close the gap between themselves and the top six to a single point.

This weekend’s south Wales derby will not quite be the real thing – but it will still matter.

“It’s never lost on me,” says Harris.

“It was never lost on me in my playing career. Derbies are the best games to play in, playing teams with a real rivalry.

“I know the importance to the fanbase and that will certainly be mentioned in the changing room in the build-up.”

The same will be true for Swansea.

“It’s a big deal down here, this game,” Cooper says.

“Without having supporters in the grounds, it has been a disappointment throughout the pandemic. It’s days and games like this where maybe you’ll feel it even more.

“In Wales we seem to be a little bit behind everyone else and unfortunately the infection rate is right up, so there is a bigger picture as well.

“It’s a tough time for everybody, especially the supporters.”

BBC News