The story of why Cardiff City are called the Bluebirds is a fascinating one.
I am sure if you didn’t already know the answer, and I gave you 100 guesses to try figure out the reason behind it, you still wouldn’t guess.
It is pretty obscure.
And it is pretty interesting.
So let’s go way back to 1899 when Cardiff City were formed as Riverside AFC and find out how and when they ended up as the Bluebirds.
Why Are Cardiff City Called The Bluebirds?
The story of how Cardiff City became known as the Bluebirds is a unique one. Around 1910 the club had changed from playing in chocolate and amber shirts to blue shirts. At the same time, Maurice Maeterlinck’s popular play The Bluebird had a six-day run in Cardiff. After the play, many fans started referring to the club as The Bluebirds, rather than its original nickname of The Cardiffians or City.
Enter Bartley Wilson
Like many clubs at the time, Cardiff City FC was actually borne out of a cricket club.
In 1897, Bartley Wilson, a Bristol-born lithographic artist moved to Cardiff and quickly became involved with the Riverside Cricket Club in the area.
At the end of the cricket season, Wilson and the club’s officials became concerned that in the winter months the cricketers would disappear and possibly not come back.
Wilson noted that in his hometown of Bristol, football was beginning to take root, and suggested forming a football team as a way of keeping the members of the cricket club together and in shape over the colder months.
Towards the end of 1899, Riverside AFC was formed and began playing friendlies locally. The following year they became members of the Cardiff and District League.
At this time they most definitely weren’t known as the Bluebirds, mainly because they played in a chocolate and amber kit.
The club’s early nicknames were slightly uninspiring, The Cardiffians, City and the Citizens were all frequently used.
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In 1902 the club merged with Riverside Albion and took its name.
In 1905 King Edward VII granted Cardiff city status, and as a result, Riverside Albion applied to change its name to Cardiff City.
This request was turned down as the club was still playing in the Cardiff & District League, and it was deemed to be too low a level to warrant such a name change.
In 1907 Riverside Albion’s request to join the South Wales League was granted, and the following year it was permitted to change its name to Cardiff City.
So by 1908, the club had changed its name and the league it competed in. But they were still playing in chocolate and amber shirts, and there was no suggestion of them being referred to as the Bluebirds.
Over the next couple of years, this would all change…
By 1910 Cardiff City was becoming an increasingly professional club in all senses of the word.
In fact, it was granted admission into the Southern Football League Second Division for the 1910–11 season, and at the same time, the board of directors elected to officially make the club professional.
It quickly appointed its first manager, chairman and made its first professional signing.
It is at some point in this period that the club also changed its colours from chocolate and amber to blue.
But they still weren’t known as the Bluebirds.
But then a Belgian playwright indirectly had a massive influence on the history of Cardiff City FC…
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Enter Maurice Maeterlinck
In 1906 Maurice Maeterlinck wrote The Bluebird, a story about a poor brother and sister who are sent on a quest by a fairy to find the bluebird of happiness.
The play premiered at the Moscow Art Theatre in 1908 and debuted on Broadway in 1910. Then in October 1911, it started a six-day run at Cardiff’s New Theatre.
Archived editions of the South Wales Echo from the time show that the play was extremely well received in Cardiff, with numerous Cardiff City fans no doubt attending.
The arrival of the successful play in the city roughly a year after the club changed its colours to blue, proved to be a happy accident.
Upon seeing their team resplendent in a new blue kit, and influenced by seeing the play, many fans started calling their team ‘the bluebirds of happiness’ or just ‘The Bluebirds’.
The nickname stuck and is still going strong over a century later.
The Bluebirds Soar
For its supporters, the club certainly was the bluebirds of happiness over the next couple of decades.
In 1920 they joined the Football League and immediately secured promotion out of Division Two into the top flight for the 1921-22 season.
There they finished 4th and 9th, before the 1923/24 season saw them coming agonisingly close to clinching the First Division title.
In fact, Cardiff went into the final game of the season against Birmingham, a point ahead of second-place Huddersfield.
All they needed to do was win to be Champions. Even if they drew Huddersfield would need to win by three goals to top the table on goal average.
With twenty minutes to go, and with the game goalless, Cardiff were awarded a penalty.
Regular penalty taker Jack Evans had missed his last couple of penalties so didn’t want to take the kick.
Instead top scorer Len Davies stepped up to take his first-ever penalty. His attempt was easily saved.
Still, Cardiff were on course for the title with Huddersfield only winning 1-0 at Nottingham Forest.
But then Huddersfield scored twice in the last 20 minutes to win 3-0 and, with Cardiff unable to find a way through the Birmingham defence, Huddersfield took the title by goal average.
It is the closest margin of victory ever for a league title in England. What is even more remarkable is that Huddersfield’s 60 league goals were scored by just five players that season!
Four years later, in 1927, Cardiff fans did have something to celebrate when the team won its only FA Cup, beating Arsenal 1-0 in the Final.
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The Bluebirds Turn Red
Whilst the club has remained the Bluebirds ever since, in 2012 it did controversially change its colours from blue and white to red and black.
The club crest was also changed to one where the Welsh Dragon took prominence over the traditional bluebird.
These changes were made by new club chairman Vincent Tan to “appeal in international markets”.
As you can imagine fans were less than happy and protested by chanting “we’ll always be blue” after 19 minutes and 27 seconds of home games, a reference to Cardiff’s FA Cup win in 1927.
The protests had the desired effect and in 2015 Tan announced the club would be returning to its traditional blue and white kit.
At the same time, the bluebird also took pride of place on the club badge once again, with the Welsh Dragon relegated to a tiny supporting role beneath it.
The story behind Cardiff’s nickname might be my favourite so far!
How many clubs can say their nickname was inspired by a Nobel prize-winning author (Maurice Maeterlinck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1911)?
It is most definitely a unique and interesting tale.
And the association the fans feel with the nickname and the colours they play in was demonstrated when Vincent Tan tried to make changes in 2012.
Maeterlinck himself died in 1949 at the age of 86.
Whether he ever knew how he inspired the nickname of Cardiff City I don’t know…