Rob Hopkins (left) with Godfrey Ingram who played for the club in the 1980s. Credit: Rob Hopkins

Cardiff City fan collecting autographs of every Bluebirds player since WW2 has just 11 left to get

More than a thousand signatures in, Rob Hopkins is asking for help to find the final few

A BLUEBIRDS fan believes he has almost completed his collection of the signature of every post-World War II player to have appeared for the club in its three main competitions.

Rob Hopkins, from Porth, Rhondda, says he is just 11 autographs away from achieving the remarkable feat and estimates he already has more than 1,000, which also includes every manager since 1946.

In order to find out how many players have appeared for Cardiff over the previous 77 years in either the league, FA Cup or League Cup, Rob has put in a painstaking amount of research.

Using a combination of a Cardiff City Who’s Who by Dean Hayes, Barry Hugman’s Footballers website, Wikipedia, social media and good old-fashioned internet sleuthing, the 45-year-old reckons he has the name of every player to have donned the blue shirt.

Rob (right) with Robin Semark, who played seven times for the club in 1991, holding the ex-City forward’s signed page in Dean HayesCardiff City Who’s Who.
Credit: Rob Hopkins

Early beginnings

The software consultant, who some might know as Cardiff Matchworn Shirts on Twitter, has been collecting signatures and classic Bluebirds shirts since the early 90s and admits the obsession did not start anywhere near Sloper Road, but some 200 miles away.

“I’ve always had an interest since I was a kid. One of my mate’s Dad’s started running trips from Rhondda to Liverpool for games, and it just so happened that a load of the boys in school supported them so we all went up on our first trip,” he said.

“Then my Dad, who was a Liverpool fan in the 1980s during the Beardsley-Barnes-Aldridge era, ended up buying a season ticket and I went with him. 

“I started collecting when I was going to Anfield, and I’d stand outside the ground and get the Rushs and Dalgleishs and I just never grew out of it.”

Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush were just two of the signatures which Rob managed to get in his early years watching Liverpool.
Credit: Liverpool FC

Rob’s first taste of Ninian Park didn’t arrive until a Saturday afternoon in December 1990, when his best mate, who was a Cardiff fan, invited him along to a Fourth Division (now League Two) game against Walsall.

Despite a 2-0 loss, Rob says he never looked back and any allegiance to Liverpool vanished. 

It was during his second season following the Bluebirds, where he was also a ball boy, that he picked up his first City signatures from Roger Gibbins and Cohen Griffith, and the collection has grown ever since.

The journey so far 

When asked how many signatures he has, he struggles to put an exact figure on it, he has that many.

“For Cardiff, I haven’t counted but I’m confident it’s over a thousand players and managers since the Second World War. I’ve also got a few from pre-war as well but I’m not gonna start trying to complete all that, it’d be an endless task doing that one,” he said.

Rob has 10 boxes jam-packed with the 1000+ signatures he has collected.
Credit: Rob Hopkins

“It’s mad really, it’s been a great journey. I collected all through the 90s and into the 2000s so you’d have lots of ex-players coming down and if I could get a picture I’d get a picture, or I’d grab a signature on a programme or an autograph book – I’d get it on something.

“But then it was probably around the last season at Ninian Park when I thought about getting every player. People were like ‘You’re mad, you’ll never get every player’ and then they’d ask ‘What about the dead ones?’”

So what about the dead ones?

As morbid as it may seem, it is an obvious hurdle. How do you go about getting a signature from someone who is no longer around? Or from a player who only made a two-minute cameo off the bench in the dying embers of a 1953 cup tie?

Rob plays detective via social media and uses auction-sites.  

“Ebay’s around now and people are selling off autograph books and programmes. In reality, people aren’t gonna be selling fake Cardiff City autographs,” he said.

“I also went back and I traced people all around the world. I’ve been in contact with Adrian Alston in Australia over email, Willie Anderson who’s over in the States. 

“There’s a guy called Andy Kerr, who played a handful of games in the 80s, he’s a jetsetter now in Dubai. There was also Sandy Allan who’s now in Africa.

“I’ve been tracking them down all over the place and really it’s been quite a lot of fun, but it’s also been a bit frustrating at times. 

“I’m trying to complete this collection and I can’t find some people at the moment or I can’t get an autograph from them. So it’s a bit of a waiting game as well, constantly tracking Ebay and auctions and stuff like that,” he said.

Coming up trumps

Rob’s waiting game is regularly rewarded. Just in the last few days he has picked up a Bobby Taggart-signed Torquay United team sheet from 1950. 

You might be forgiven if that name fails to ring any bells as Taggart made just two Bluebirds appearances in 1949 after signing from Coltness United. 

Another recent find was a rare Mel Rees autograph.

A rare team sheet signed by ‘keeper Mel Rees, who played at Ninian Park in the mid 1980s. He sadly passed away in 1993.
Credit: Rob Hopkins

The goalkeeper played 31 times for the club in the mid 1980s but sadly passed away of bowel cancer at the age of 26. Rob says he has been trying to track this one down for a long time.

An equally obscure find, this time from 1963-64 and one that Rob confesses he never thought he would get, arrived three weeks ago.

“It was a guy called Richard (Dick) Mallory. He was Bermudan and literally came over, played three or four games and went back to Bermuda. 

“I found out he died eight or nine years ago and I knew then I’d have to rely on hopefully someone having a signed programme or sheet, and I located them which was pretty useful.

“There’s a number of other obscure ones from the 40s, 50s and 60s who kind of played a half or one game. I’ve been around the country and sat and had a cup of tea with some of them. 

“I met three the other week who only played a handful of games for Cardiff but for me they are as important as somebody who’s played 500 because they’ve worn the shirt and they’re part of the list,” he added.

He also tells of the time in 2019 when he took cult-figure Godfrey Ingram, who played 11 times for the Bluebirds between 1982-1983, to a game at the Cardiff City Stadium. 

The striker was signed for a club-record fee of £200,000 from San Jose Earthquakes and after only scoring twice was sold back to them for the same figure, something Rob describes as “sounding really dodgy.

“I got in touch with him when he was back and forth to the UK and I spoke with the club and said ‘You’ve got one of the ex-players, Godfrey Ingram, in the UK and he’s keen to see a game.’ 

“So I met him there and we had a photo on the side of the pitch and got him to a game.” 

Friday’s signature is as close to a favourite that Rob has. Credit: Rob Hopkins
The iconic moment of a short but turbulent spell at City. Credit: Media Wales

As for Rob’s favourite signature, it is a pretty cruel and impossible question to answer, and one which he dodges with the grace of the player who he decides to instead name as his most iconic signee. 

“I managed to get a couple of Robin Fridays from a guy who used to collect outside Ninian Park in the 70s. He’s one of the more iconic ones just because of that photograph where he’s flicking the Vs up at the Luton goalkeeper.”

The elusive signatures

These are the 11 elusive inkings which Rob has asked for help in finding. 

Out of these players, he believes only Alan Jones, Gary Harris and Andrew Spring are still alive. 

“Alan emigrated to Australia in 1965 and I believe he is in Sydney, Gary Harris I believe moved back to the Birmingham area and Andrew Spring won a large sum on the lottery and moved to Ireland,” he said.

“What I could do with is firstly, to find anyone who has any of the signatures in old programmes or autograph books, especially reserve programmes as none of these played many games for Cardiff so spent more time in the reserves than first team.

“And then for someone who can help me track down or put me in touch with any of the three I mentioned who I believe to still be alive.”

What does the future hold for the collection?

“I have a look through the box from time to time and come across somebody and remember the story of how I got it and some of these players I think I’ve seen hundreds of times,” he says.

“I got to know a lot of the players. Jason Perry and all those boys will know me because they’ll remember me from outside the ground! But overall, my long-term goal is to write a book, partly incorporating some of the stuff that I’ve been doing with the signatures. 

“Because what I tend to do is get individual cards or pictures signed by the players if I see them in person. Instead, I’d like to try to do it like the player-by-player book that was produced in 2008, in which I’ve got about 400 or 500 signatures. So I’d like to write an updated version of that,” he says.

Rob also hopes to build on his vast collection of roughly 280 match-worn shirts, which deserves a story of its own, and hopes his two daughters will reap the benefits.

One of Rob’s rarer pieces, a 1974-75 home shirt.
A range of shirts from the late 1990s to early 2010s.
All credit: Rob Hopkins
A signed 1987-88 home shirt is just one of many in Rob’s collection.

“I picked up a few from the 70s which were not readily available and are pretty rare, and not cheap either,” he said.

“I won’t say how much I’ve spent because the missus might read it! But to be honest, I see it as an investment and a lot of this stuff I’ve been given is through connections with the players so I’m not necessarily paying for everything. 

“The value will probably go up with time, especially with the rarer shirts as well so it’s a little bit of a nest-egg for my kids,” the father-of-two added.

  • If anyone can help Rob track down any of the players who he believes are still alive, or can help him get any other signatures, then contact him @ccfcmatchworn on Twitter or get in touch with us.