Bellamy and Cardiff: the case for the defence
Historically, it is fair to say that Cardiff City supporters are accustomed to antagonism. Being careful not to apportion more blame to one side or the other, this has manifested itself in the most extreme sense through physical violence between the Welsh club’s Soul Crew and rival hooligan elements.
Every club, to some extent, has some association with this particular and unsavoury side of the game. But even during periods of low hooligan activity, the fact that supporters of 22 of the 23 clubs to visit Cardiff will have to cross a national border in order to do so creates in itself an “us and them” mentality.
It goes without saying that games against the 23rd club, whose fans do not have to pay the toll charge to take their place in the away end in the Welsh capital, carry the biggest rivalry of all.
So Cardiff fans perhaps have thicker skins than most. They have heard all the jokes about sheep and they have heard the chants about how they are missing out on travelling to the World Cup. In terms of coming across to the neutral as a likeable club, however, they have willingly shot themselves in the foot in recent years.
Defending the reprehensible
The chief culprit is probably despised in equal measure by Cardiff supporters themselves. Without counting those who merely applaud his dubious achievement in overseeing turbulent periods at both his current employers and previous club Leeds United, there cannot be too many football fans who have ever truly warmed to Peter Ridsdale.
Moving hastily away from the boardroom, manager Dave Jones has traditionally been popular among football supporters. This goodwill has shown signs of dipping over the past year or two, though, in the face of increasingly bullish statements.
Perhaps mainly as a result of Cardiff’s financial troubles, which at times have made the manager’s role seem an impossible task, Jones has appeared to become more hostile towards other clubs in relation to events both on and off the pitch.
And maybe Michael Chopra will one day set up a foundation to offer hope to children in a war-torn country. But, for now at least, he remains the same prickly upstart that Craig Bellamy once was. His new Cardiff City team-mate Craig Bellamy.
Football League fury
Bellamy’s loan move back to his birthplace from Manchester City has caused widespread consternation outside of Cardiff. Up in Scotland, Motherwell want paying for Paul Quinn, who moved last summer, before the Bluebirds even start to think about paying a portion of Premier League wages for the services of an established international.
Down in London, Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp thinks that Bellamy is wasting his talent by dropping down to the Championship. It is a view that is likely to be held in offices at training grounds in the East Ends of both London and Glasgow too after Bellamy rejected the chance to join either West Ham United or Celtic ahead of his move to Cardiff.
The views of jilted Premier League managers are largely immaterial, but Motherwell’s indignation has been shared by many supporters of Football League clubs across all three divisions. It is these opinions which are more difficult to argue against, but the direction of much of the ill feeling seems misplaced.
The agony and the ecstasy
Cardiff fans have endured a tough time in the last couple of years. Although, on the pitch, their players have won more games than they have lost, financial turmoil and two final-day failures – firstly on the final day of the 46-game season and secondly on the final day of the domestic season as a whole at Wembley – have taken their toll. It is often supporters, who have enjoyed no influence on proceedings in the boardroom, who are hardest hit when criticism flies in.
If football is all about emotions and the fulfilment of dreams, then Cardiff supporters can surely be forgiven for their elation at Bellamy’s signing given the atmosphere around the club in recent times and, perhaps more importantly, the heartache they have suffered in successive May bottle-jobs by their team.
Lord of the flies
The men in charge, too, while treading a tightrope in terms of public relations outside of the Welsh capital, can only deserve a certain amount of vitriol. They have attracted money from Malaysia in order to regroup, something of which supporters of other clubs are understandably envious. But Vincent Tan and Dato Chan Tien Ghee are there for a reason. Cardiff City has potential.
In the Mirror, John Cross has argued that Cardiff’s actions in bringing Bellamy to the club are reprehensible and are unfair on clubs who operate fairly – the likes of Doncaster Rovers, Scunthorpe United and Millwall.
The problem is that Far Eastern funds have not found their way to the Keepmoat, or other similarly modest stadia, because those three clubs are all punching above their weight. Cardiff’s catchment area – and, as a result, their potential ability to survive in the Premier League without huge investment – is far greater.
It is an uncomfortable truth. The Football League is not meant to be about money. Real football for real fans, the slogan says. But the authorities are standing by and letting more and more supporters be swallowed up by the promise of top flight football within a short time span. Not everyone can achieve the same limited goal.
Points of authority
In Cardiff’s case, the opportunity to sign a Premiership-class talent has been thrust in their faces and no immediate obstruction appeared evident, and that is the main problem here. The authorities have stood by and allowed Cardiff’s route away from financial trouble to veer into the realm of signing Bellamy.
Although the move happened quickly in this case, the Football League must learn from this debacle and ensure that they pay closer attention to a club’s intentions on their recovery from financial meltdown.
Yesterday, the Football League chairman Greg Clarke issued the following statement:
“Our job is to make sure that there is an integrity of competition and that people only take on liabilities that they can meet.
We have to register the player and we have asked Cardiff for certain information, which will be confidential between them and us, which will allow us to appraise whether we will register the player or not.
Without pointing the finger directly at Cardiff, I have an abiding principle that people in business and in personal lives should always pay their debts.
It depends what money they have available and whether they intend to take on an obligation and extinguish their other obligations at the same time. I don’t know the answers to that but we will find out the answers.
But certainly, I wouldn’t approve of any club taking on more obligations if they couldn’t pay existing ones.”
All very nice, but all very late.
Most pertinently of all, if Cardiff City’s money men feel it makes “good business sense”, as was quoted on the Wales Online website this morning, then who is Greg Clarke to argue?
A potted history
Clarke was chairman of Leicester City when the club went into administration in 2002, a landmark case which eventually brought about the dreaded 10-point penalty for Football League clubs who suffer the fate. Cardiff are aping Leicester’s actions eight years ago to a certain extent, in that a calculated gamble has been taken in order to reap maximum reward.
The East Midlands club were able to hold on to their assets in the winter of 2002 in the face of repeated calls for a fire sale and subsequent promotion, achieved largely due to key players that stayed at the Walkers Stadium, justified that move.
The replica shirt sales resulting from Bellamy’s arrival at Cardiff should be enough to pay Motherwell their dues. The financial reward that would be gained from reaching the Premier League next season would be enough to pay all their debts.
Where the Football League should be acting more quickly is ensuring that clubs are aware of their boundaries and being proactive rather than reactive to transfers as high-profile as that of Bellamy.
Whatever happens now to Craig Bellamy and his apparent dream move to Cardiff City, this shambolic situation, whereby thousands of supporters have welcomed a player whose new club must now prove they should be allowed to sign him, should never be allowed to happen again.
But the blame for this mess should not lie with Cardiff or their supporters. How many clubs in their position would turn down the chance to sign an established Premiership international?
Another uncomfortable truth.