Cardiff City: The Acceptance Of And Resistance To Modern Football By The Modern Football Fan
Editor of twohundredpercent.net, bon viveur and, if I'm honest, ne'er do well.
While Cardiff City sit atop the Football Championship table, a battle over the heart and soul of the football club threatens to darken what should be one of its proudest moments. Today on the blog Ian King considers Cardiff's future and what it may foretell for football fans everywhere.
At what point does a football club cease to be "your" football club? Supporters tend to be characterised as being bluff old traditionalists who fear change amongst anything else, but the truth of the matter is that we go along with most of the things that are thrust upon us. Newcastle United supporters made to travel to the south coast for a lunchtime kick-off in the FA Cup? Barely a whisper of complaint. Ticket price increase upon ticket price increase? No problem, and anybody who doesn't go along with it or is priced out of the market is easily replaceable.
Perhaps, though, there is a tipping point at which the patience of the normal, match-going supporter snaps, and perhaps, just perhaps, that point at which feelings can't necessarily be ameliorated by mere success on the pitch.
Keep Cardiff Blue
It has, at the time of writing, been fifty-one years since Cardiff City last set foot in the top division of the English league system. The good times have, it could be argued, been thin on the ground since the club became the last club to take the FA Cup out of England in 1927, and over the last couple of seasons the feeling that something may be being missed out upon has been exaggerated further by the ascent of their local rivals Swansea City to the top flight and their subsequent success there.
So, when the Thai businessman Vincent Tan came knocking with a promise to secure the club's future by way of paying off the club's substantial debts - albeit by repaying them using a loan from him to the club, with interest being charged at 7% a year, of course - there were plenty of people prepared to listen to what he had to say.
Initially, though, there was resistance from some supporters, and initially a statement from the club's then-chairman, Chen Tien Ghie, said that, "we will not proceed with the proposed change of colour and logo and the team will continue to play in blue at home for the next season with the current badge." A month later, however, the change was back on - along with a re-branding of the club's badge which relegated its iconic Bluebird logo to also-ran status underneath a great big dragon - with the rationale offered that red was considered a lucky colour in Tan's native Malaysia and that playing in red would boost the club's profile in that country and in the Far East in general. His apparent aim, it would see, is to make Cardiff City, somehow, a national club side for the twenty-eight and a half million people of Malaysia.
A protest group against this desecration of the club's heritage called "Keep Cardiff Blue" was formed, but after an early meeting was disrupted by "pro-red" supporters making thinly veiled threats against those that wished to express their displeasure at these changes, interest in it seemed to ebb away. Some supporters have wandered away from the club altogether, while others have continued to attend The Cardiff City Stadium under quiet protest and others, some fearful of claims made that if Tan is angered he will withdraw his support from the club and leave it on the brink of administration and others who care about nothing other than getting into the Premier League and, quite possibly, drawing level in the imagined bragging rights competition that they feel exists between them and Swansea City, have embraced the changes.
Leeds Did It, Liverpool Did It
But why should Cardiff City supporters care whether the club changes its colours and badge? After all, it has happened before. Upon becoming the manager of Leeds United in 1961, Don Revie changed the club's kit from yellow and blue to all white out of a desire to emulate the great Real Madrid side of the era, whilst Liverpool changed their colours from red shirts and white shorts to all red four years later, on the instruction of manager Bill Shankly and has become indelibly associated with the club ever since. And clubs change their badges all the time, updating them to reflect the graphic styles of the era and to fit in with ever-evolving changes in kit design.
Perhaps the answer to this question is that football has become politicised in a way that it simply wasn't fifty years ago. Few would question that the motives of Don Revie or Bill Shankly weren't the betterment of their clubs, but Vincent Tan is not a football man, and is still less a man of Cardiff. No-one can say for certain what his long-term motives are in getting involved in this club are, but there can be few who genuinely believe that Tan has the best interests of Cardiff City above all other considerations at heart.
The Thin Edge Of The Wedge
Over the last few weeks or so, however, a sense of greater discontent has been in the air. Two things have been behind this. First was a red and white scarf giveaway prior to a home league match against Brighton & Hove Albion of red and white scarves to anybody who wanted one, which was regarded by some as little more than an attempt to airbrush more red into the club, and secondly there was a lengthy interview conducted with Tan in which he pointedly didn't rule out taking the re-brand further, which provoked the belief of many who now suspect that the badge and the colours were just the thin end of the wedge, and that next the name of the club itself could be the next part of the club's identity to go, a belief that some have seen reinforced by the fact that those aforementioned scarves had the word "Cardiff" printed across them, while conspicuously missing out the word "City." The club issued a statement confirming that its name would not be changing but, as has been pointed out the club issued a statement confirming that its colours would not be changing, only for precisely this to happen a month later.
The Keep Cardiff Blue protest group has had a revival in interest, whilst a new, breakaway club has already formed in the hope of getting a place in the English league pyramid - which is far from guaranteed - for next season. It has already acquired over a thousand followers on Twitter, which may not mean that a new club will have that level of support, but it does indicate at least that there is interest in the club from somewhere.
This has come at the time when the team has suffered something of a wobble on the pitch, with just one win in its last four matches, and we may well get to see just how much a team's performance either can or cannot be affected by discontent over a matter which is little to do with anything to do with the team itself. In many respects, a schism has developed amongst Cardiff City's support which is souring what should be the greatest season that the club has had for more than half a century. But should those that are angry put aside their anger on this matter - and, by extension, their principles - "for the good of the team"?
Perhaps there will be no further re-branding of Cardiff City. Perhaps there will be no name change and no increase to the number of Malaysian flags already on display at The Cardiff City Stadium. Perhaps there will be no need for Cardiff City supporters to demonstrate the extent to which they are prepared to jettison the very substance of their club in order to ensure that Vincent Tan's loan to their club isn't jeopardised in any way.
Perhaps, though, there will and we might all learn a valuable lesson about the nature of loyalty and what football supporters will be prepared to tolerate in exchange for a glimpse at a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. If there are Newcastle United supporters who will turn up in East Sussex in the morning for an FA Cup match, and if there are Cardiff City supporters who will happily give up blue and white for red and black and a sack of cash, then perhaps it should be no surprise when owners pitch up at clubs with the belief that they can do whatever they like to them with no consequences.
Follow Ian on Twitter: @twoht
And read more of his work on his blog TwoHundredPercent.net
You must be logged in to post a comment! Sign up + or log in in the top right corner.