A Big Red Cloud

Last updated : 03 June 2012 By Dave Sugarman


..it has seemed as if a large, dark cloud has been hovering over the club. Unsurprisingly, the re-branding revelations provoked plenty of heated debate within the fanbase and the issue has proved the most divisive in the Bluebirds’ history. From a personal standpoint, the last month has been something of a watershed and I know there are other long-term City supporters who share similar feelings, but where the club itself goes from here is anyone’s guess.

While many fans are apparently happy to accept any changes the current owners wish to impose upon them providing the Malaysian money keeps rolling in, some of us are now seriously questioning the levels of our commitment to the club in light of recent events. But regardless of where you stand on the subject of the re-branding, there can be no doubting that the feelgood factor which had built up around the Bluebirds since the arrival of Malky Mackay has rapidly evaporated.

The level of bickering on the fans’ message boards is understandable given the circumstances, but one of the things that has bothered me most about this ignominious episode is the amount of rubbish that has been written about the meetings which took place at the Cardiff City Stadium on Tuesday 8 May and Thursday 10 May.

I had the misfortune to be present at both of those gatherings and therefore I’m in a position to clarify what was actually said during them. In retrospect, it is obvious that the reports I drew up for the Cardiff City Mad website were not detailed enough, so hopefully the following information may make matters a little clearer for anyone who is interested:

1) During the first meeting on Tuesday 8 May, Chief Executive Alan Whiteley stated unequivocally that the proposed investment package from Tan Sri Vincent Tan was dependant upon a final settlement of the Langston loan notes debt. Mr Whiteley sounded confident that an agreement with Sam Hammam would be reached in the near future, but he was very clear in his assertion that a successful conclusion to the long-running Langston saga was fundamental to any further investment from the club’s Malaysian benefactor.

2) The Chief Executive also stated on several occasions during the 8 May meeting that the proposed re-branding would be implemented ahead of the 2012/13 season regardless of whether the investment package came to fruition or not. The alterations to the club’s kit and its badge were said by Mr Whiteley to be “non-negotiable.”

3) During both meetings, it was stated by club officials that Tan Sri Vincent Tan sees the colour red and the dragon emblem as being symbolic of a fusion between Welsh and Malaysian cultures. It was also claimed that Mr Tan views red as being a more powerful and lucky colour than blue. There were vague suggestions that red is easier to market in the Far East, but the fans present were given no indications of any actual strategies or business plans that were attached to the proposed changes. Direct questions were asked by several of us in that particular regard, but they were not met with any definitive answers by the Chief Executive or his staff.

4) Towards the end of the meeting on 8 May, a straw poll of the thirteen fans in attendance was held on the subject of the re-branding. This poll was conducted by club officials on the clear understanding of all present that the opinions being expressed were personal and in no way representative of the membership of the Cardiff City Supporters’ Club, the Cardiff City Supporters’ Trust, the Cardiff City Away Travel Group or the club’s wider fanbase.

While he was Twittering away in the days following the alleged message board leak, Bluebirds director Steve Borley suggested the fans needed to see the whole story behind the re-branding proposals before they reached any firm conclusions. Mr Borley was, of course, entirely correct, and yet it’s now almost a month since the plans first emerged and the supporters are still none the wiser about the situation. The reasoning behind the ideas to switch from blue to red and substitute the Bluebird for a dragon have yet to be properly outlined by any of the club’s officials.

In his open letter to fans of Thursday 10 May, Chairman Dato’ Chan Tien Ghee said: “The new club crest and home colours which were being discussed were intended to demonstrate the symbolic fusion of Welsh and Asian cultures through the use of the colour red and the predominant featuring of a historical Welsh dragon under the Cardiff City FC name. This would have been a springboard for the successful commercialisation and promotion of the club and its brand, driving international revenues and allowing us to fund transfers and success locally, thereby giving the club the best chance of competing at the higher reaches of competition.” 

TG’s words sound impressive enough, but what do they actually mean in real terms? How would altering a mid-ranking Championship club’s colours from blue to red and changing its badge from a Bluebird to a dragon have resulted in any commercial successes and what kind of international revenues was the Chairman referring to? Your guesses are as good as mine. 

In an interview with the South Wales Echo on Friday 18 May, Finance Director Doug Lee hinted that the re-branding exercise was aimed more towards attracting sponsorship from the Far East than replica shirt sales in that region, but he didn’t give any indication as to why the team’s colour needed to be red or the club’s emblem needed to be a dragon in order to achieve such a goal. 

Like many supporters, the re-branding plans didn’t make the slightest bit of sense to me, but then my knowledge of Far Eastern cultures and worldwide marketing strategies is limited to say the least. Having said that, I would have assumed that if playing in a red kit as opposed to a blue one was a genuine route towards commercial success and a debt-free future, then other Championship clubs such as  Birmingham ,  Ipswich  and  Leicester  would be following a similar path. But, as far as I am aware, they are not. 

There now appears to be a reasonably large percentage of City fans who believe that because Tan Sri Vincent Tan is a highly-successful businessman and a dollar billionaire, his judgement cannot be questioned. Perhaps those who hold such a view should consider that Mr Tan has never previously owned a professional football club, he apparently saw his first live game of football in May 2010, he has seen a handful of matches since then and, according to the Chief Executive, he has only been taking an active interest in the running of Cardiff City during the last five or six months. 

To my knowledge, the club’s major shareholder has never publicly said anything of note in regard to his association with Cardiff   City . The spokesman for the Malaysian investors has always been the Chairman, Dato’ Chan Tien Ghee. I have been present during three events at which TG has spoken and was hugely impressed by him on each occasion. He came across as a thoroughly decent person and one who fully understands what this football club means to its supporters.

When he addressed the shareholders at the General Meeting in July of last year, TG admitted that he and his Malaysian colleagues had been on a steep learning curve since taking control of the club. He said he regarded  Cardiff   City  as an institution rather than a business and talked of cutting out unnecessary spending while building firm foundations for the future. During the last two years I have developed a great deal of respect for the Chairman, which has made the recent re-branding revelations all the more difficult to stomach. 

When TG and his associates initially got involved with  Cardiff   City , I hoped they would steady what appeared to be a sinking ship and set the club on a course whereby it would finally become a properly-run, self-sufficient business. The early signs were encouraging but the financial results for the 2010/11 season set the alarm bells ringing as far as I was concerned. When they were published in March of this year, the accounts revealed record losses of more than £12 million. Doug Lee has recently confirmed that the club is still losing around £1 million a month, so we can assume the accounts for 2011/12 will show a similar deficit. Many fans seem relatively comfortable with this situation simply because Malaysians are wealthy men, but I find it frightening that the club is losing even more money now than it was when Peter Ridsdale was in charge. Considering a large percentage of the historical debts remain unpaid and the playing squad is relatively small by Championship standards, I can’t work out where all the money is going. 

The investment package allegedly proposed by Tan Sri Vincent Tan undoubtedly sounded attractive on the face of it, but let’s put things into perspective for a moment. One month ago,  Cardiff   City  managed to sell just 23,000 tickets for a play-off semi-final against the biggest club in the Championship, and approximately 2,000 of those were sold to visiting fans. The Bluebirds were hammered 5-0 on aggregate and were clearly outclassed over the two legs. Nevertheless, there is now serious talk about increasing the capacity of the Cardiff City Stadium to 35,000, building state-of-the-art training facilities, engaging in worldwide marketing strategies, generating large amounts of revenue from merchandising and sponsorship in the  Far East  and even the club being floated on the stock exchange. Quite frankly, the whole thing is ridiculous. Before you know it, we’ll be talking about being bigger than  Barcelona  again. 

From my personal perspective, the timing of this shambolic affair couldn’t have been much worse. In recent years, I’ve been feeling increasingly detached from the club and from professional football in general. While the Dave Jones era was a relatively successful one for Cardiff City, the man’s dour demeanour and the effect he seemed to have on his players left me feeling more and more disconnected from the team I have followed since I was an eight year-old. Despite promotion challenges, cup runs and Wembley appearances, supporting the Bluebirds was slowly but surely beginning to feel like a chore. I didn’t like the attitude of the manager, I didn’t like the attitude of a number of his players, I didn’t like the culture that had developed within the club and I was losing faith in the game itself.

The arrival of Malky Mackay last summer was like a breath of fresh air. The way in which the new manager set about his job changed my outlook considerably and reignited my enthusiasm for the Bluebirds. Although I wasn’t always convinced by the Scotsman’s tactics or team selections, I nevertheless enjoyed the 2011/12 season more than I had enjoyed any other for many years. Mackay quickly instilled the kind of work ethic in his players that had been missing at the club for some time. He also brought in a number of promising youngsters, made regular efforts to engage with the fans and ensured that his team did likewise. Despite their limitations, I strongly believed that the manager and his players fully deserved my support and I ended up following the team to 23 away games, which is my biggest tally since the early-Nineties. Despite nagging doubts about the ongoing financial situation, I genuinely felt the club was heading in the right direction on all fronts. Therefore, the shock news about the re-branding plans came not only as a bolt out of the blue (if you’ll pardon the pun), but also as a huge kick in the teeth.

Being a Bluebirds supporter can often be a depressing experience, but the last month has been just about as soul-destroying as any that I can remember. The tame manner of the play-off capitulation was disappointing enough, but that was nothing by comparison to what followed. The way in which this latest off-field fiasco has been handled by the club and the subsequent reactions of some of its fans has left me feeling extremely bitter and disillusioned. As things stand, I honestly don’t know how much longer I can to continue pouring large amounts of my time, energy and money into an activity that brings so little pleasure and so much frustration.

The fact that the owners and officials were prepared to make radical alterations to Cardiff City’s identity without any consultation with the fanbase speaks volumes about the way in which Bluebirds supporters are regarded by the club’s hierarchy, and the fact that so many fans were prepared to accept and even welcome those changes speaks volumes about the club’s support.

The circus that is Cardiff City rolls on, but my dedication to the club has diminished significantly in recent weeks. Perhaps I’ll see things differently by the time the new season begins, but at the moment the summer break has never felt more appealing. 

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