Rio Ferdinand's "scariest place I ever played" hosted infamous FA Cup upset

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Rio Ferdinand
Rio Ferdinand's "scariest place I ever played" hosted infamous FA Cup upset

Rio Ferdinand developed a reputation as one of the most accomplished defenders in world football during a glittering career with the likes of West Ham, Leeds and Manchester United.

One place saw the towering centre-back shrink, though, namely Cardiff's old home of Ninian Park. It was a ground that saw the former England international left with a huge impression and he even went as far as suggesting that it was the “scariest place I ever played” at.

The home of the Bluebirds for just under 100 years ahead of their move to Cardiff City Stadium, it became an infamous location due to its hostile atmosphere before it was demolished in 2009. That atmosphere cranked up in earnest ahead of a 2002 FA Cup third-round tie between Cardiff and Ferdinand's then-employers Leeds.

There was a long history of hooliganism between the two sides, stocking the rivalry in the build-up. Leeds, though, were still clear favourites to claim victory.

The Yorkshire club travelled to the Welsh capital with a side packed full of glittering quality. Then the most expensive centre-back in the world, Ferdinand was named at the heart of defence, whilst the likes of Alan Smith, Mark Viduka, Robbie Fowler and Lee Bowyer were also stationed in David O’Leary’s starting XI.

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It all looked to be going to plan for the Whites after Australian frontman Viduka gave them the advantage in just the 12th minute - but it all started going wrong from there. Ferdinand was taken off just seconds before the opening goal with an ankle injury, whilst Smith was sent off for an elbow on Cardiff’s Andy Legg before the break.

Rio Ferdinand's "scariest place I ever played" hosted infamous FA Cup upsetRio Ferdinand was taken off with injury during the opening stages against Cardiff (Getty Images)

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The hosts took advantage of that, with Graham Kavanagh netting the equaliser for the then Division Two side with an excellent free-kick. The atmosphere continued to crank up as missiles rained down from the stands, with Ian Harte, Danny Mills and referee Andy D’Urso struck.

Things were exacerbated by then-Cardiff chairman Sam Hammam walking around the pitch in front of the baying Leeds crowd to sit in a seat right behind the goal for the second half. That gave the hosts the perfect platform to secure what would go down as a memorable FA Cup shock after Scott Young guided home the winning goal with just three minutes of the 90 remaining.

The unsavoury scenes continued after the final whistle, when a pitch invasion took place and a dozen arrests were made. A punch was even thrown at Leeds star Bowyer.

Rio Ferdinand's "scariest place I ever played" hosted infamous FA Cup upsetScott Young celebrates his winning goal against Leeds at Ninian Park (Getty Images)

That evening at Ninian Park certainly made an impression on Ferdinand, who claimed that the infamous atmospheres in Turkey were nothing compared to the one he experienced in the Welsh capital over two decades ago.

He said: “Do you fear returning to Turkey with Leeds? No, you forget I played at Ninian Park last season, the most hostile ground in the world.”

Victory saw Cardiff tee up a fourth-round clash with Tranmere Rovers, a game that they would eventually end up losing. Intriguingly, Ferdinand’s experience in the FA Cup did not get much better from then on; he failed to add the famous old trophy to his glittering trophy cabinet during his career before his retirement in 2015.

Daniel Orme

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