Losing My Religion: Cardiff City prepare to cash in and sell out

The battle lines of football are often drawn between red and blue, cities divided between the two colours. Manchester City and Manchester United. Liverpool and Everton. The Steel City derby. But now one club in one city may be forced to cross that divide in pursuit of the Premier League. Cardiff City supporter Joe Harrison shares what the idea means to him.


There have been a number of incidents this season that have brought the nature of being a football fan into question. Earnest and worried discussions on the discourse of ‘tribalism’ followed the racism cases involving Luis Suarez and John Terry in the Premier League; Blackburn fans’ consistently vocal opposition towards their owners and managers has drawn sympathy and criticism in equal measure; while West Ham fans were accused of talking “bollocks” by their team’s manager and chanted deriding the side’s style of play. Now the priorities of Cardiff City fans are being brought into question, as new proposals look like becoming one of the most divisive and controversial issues in the recent history of a club known for its off-field turbulence.

On Monday, Cardiff were outclassed, losing 5-0 on aggregate to West Ham in the Championship play-offs. Shortly after the final whistle was blown in East London, a post on a fans’ messageboard claimed that the club’s Malaysian owners, headed up (and supposedly funded) by Vincent Tan, were planning a significant ‘rebranding’ of the club.

The changes this would mean were outlined as changing the home kit colour to red from the traditional blue, changing the colour of the stadium in the same fashion and replacing the Bluebird as the Club’s emblem with a dragon, as well as extensive investment in areas such as the Club’s training facilities. Now obviously, the first rule for any football fan following their team on the internet is “don’t believe everything you read on a messageboard”, so initially there was not too much panic at this anonymous post.

However, as the evening progressed, more and more fans seemed convinced that the story had substance to it, and worrying, these were not fans who pride themselves on being ‘in the know’ during transfer windows by offering detailed (and wrong) descriptions of medicals currently being had by prospective signings. There was no swift denial from the club and the following morning rumours continued to spread. They were then picked up and discussed on Radio Wales, before finding its way onto the BBC Sport website.

Finally, the story was reported on WalesOnline, saying that they had learnt that the proposals previously rumoured were indeed being considered, apart from changes to the Stadium and the Club’s name, complete with a club statement incredibly full of management jargon yet pathetically short on substance – ‘we’re having a think and will let you know’, seemed the general message. A swift meeting was called with a number of fans representing supporters’ groups and messageboards, an account of which can be found here.

In summary; the kit & emblem change will be part of a restructuring supposedly including a near £100m of investment, comprising the paying off of historical debts (£24m is still owned by a company represented by former owner Sam Hammam), increasing the stadium capacity by around 10,000 to 35,000 and investing in facilities and the first team squad.

Some key points here: the fans’ representatives were told that the kit change was not negotiable and would be going through whether or not the intended investment and debt agreements came to fruition. It is also open to question where the money from this investment comes from, there is a significant and logical fear that it will not be from Vincent Tan’s pocket (even financially disastrous football clubs tend not to be run that way that will cost owners money – ask Rangers), so the club could simply be paying off some debts by accruing others.

Unsurprisingly, this quickly saw a range of different opinions on the matter, both from Cardiff fans and those of other teams as the news became more widespread. It’s worth clarifying, of course, that there is no-one (or at least very few non-Swansea fans) who actually want this change to take place. The difference is between those fans who would tolerate those changes, and those who would not. The argument for those less averse is relatively simple – ultimately, that it’s a price worth paying for the mooted investment. Many also argue that the club’s badge has changed before and that the most crucial factor is the Club’s name, and as long as that remains unchanged the swapping to red shirts is acceptable, if not eagerly wanted. A significant percentage of neutral fans will probably think along similar lines; asking the hypothetical ‘how would you feel if it were £100m?’.

For many though, myself included, the reaction has been one of horror and outrage. As the revelations of the club’s plans have emerged, the attitude of the club’s owners has been increasingly distasteful. There is no debate, no negotiation: they are dictating their plans with the message that without their money, the club would be in huge financial trouble, so fans have to accept their changes. Make no bones about it – this is emotional blackmail, pure and simple and the owners are flexing their muscles (this reflects the perils of the British model of club ownership – an article in itself!).

There is also a significant question as to whether this ‘rebranding’ offers any huge potential benefits from a financial perspective. Even ignoring the loss of earnings due to localised protests (these plans were clearly not developed with those local fans in mind), will a colour change make that much of a difference to our profile in the Asian market? It is questionable to say the least – certainly, the impact of a simple emblem change would pale into insignificance compared to the vastly increased exposure brought with promotion would.

The most powerful argument against this though is a deeply emotional one. Some will have you believe that being a fan of a football league team makes you somehow a ‘better’ fan, following ‘real’ football. I do not subscribe to this view, being a fan is an entirely subjective and personal experience, and no one way is objectively better than any other. However, there is clearly something slightly different to following a team who are not one of those famous throughout the world. If it was quite simply down to a love of football and just wishing to see the best football possible, no-one would support the likes of Cardiff, we’d all be following one of about 8 teams destined to fight it out in the Champions’ League 9 years out of 10.

When I began following Cardiff City, it was not because they were good. In fact, they were the exact opposite (finishing 21st in what is now League 2). I did not continue to support them either because they were good or in the hope that they would be. Obviously, I always hope they will improve, but it is not the motivation behind my support. For better or for worse, as the incidents listed above show, identity is a massive part of being a football fan.

Being proud of your football team is in many ways a ridiculous and illogical sentiment – barring helping create a good or bad atmosphere at matches and the relatively minor individual financial contribution any match-going or merchandise-buying fan makes, we have no real input into the team’s results or financial status. And yet it is an emotion that burns fiercely all the same, both in the good times and the bad. Fans may not own the club, but they intrinsically feel it is theirs. The use of pronouns – ‘we’, ‘you’, ‘us’ etc. may be irritating, may even be a little bit silly, but it is very hard to avoid and reflects the deep-seated emotional attachments that develop.

Fans of all clubs relish the things that make them them. From the famous example of You’ll Never Walk Alone to Cardiff City’s own ayatollah, supporters from every club will know their own little rituals and traditions and cling to them. And this is what makes the proposed changes so hard to stomach. Out of context, a team playing in one colour rather than another and swapping a small image of one animal for a different one are not seismic changes. But that would not be us. We are the Bluebirds. We play in blue. That is a vital part of who we are.

Some fans will happily put up with almost anything in the hope of achieving Premier League football, particularly after recent years’ disappointments and they are entitled to their opinion. But I am not one of them. If Premier League football is the be all and end all, I would simply support a Premier League team. But I don’t. I support Cardiff City. And Cardiff City play in blue.

A century’s history may not matter to some, but it matters to me. It is all part of the club’s identity and therefore it is all part of the identity I find in following the club. Cardiff City are threatening to sell their history, sell their soul, sell their identity, all in the hope of a little extra money and perhaps promotion to a higher league. I for one would rather see us relegated in blue than victorious in red, because without our identity, who are we?

The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.

11 Comments

  1. William Davis
    May 9, 2012

    What a load of sentimental rubbish. Without the Malaysians we would not have a recent history – we would have been out of business during the Ridsdale era and, without the investment from the Malaysians we will not have a future. I have supported the City since 1962 (never having seen them in the top division) This is our best and only chance to achieve that. I will always be a CC fan and whether they play there home games in blue or red makes no difference. Don’t forget without the backing of the present board Langstone could put us out of business within weeks !

    To those who don’t want change I would say without this you may not have a club to support and if you do it will not be in the Premiership or even the Championship

    Reply
    • theseventytwo
      May 9, 2012

      Red or dead, eh?

      Reply
    • Joe Harrison
      May 9, 2012

      It is sentimental. Almost entirely and I won’t apologise for that. It’s my personal view and others are entitled to theirs.
      Agree that the Malaysians appeared to have stabilised and improved the club’s financial position but does that mean we forfeit any right to question them? Does that mean they can do no wrong? Not for me. If they deserved praise for the improvements they’ve made, then they deserve criticism for attempting to rip the soul out of the club, and for no real purpose other than vanity, ego and showing who’s boss.
      As for the investment – why do we have to put up with these changes or go bust? It’s blackmail. And do you really think they’ll just be pumping in £100m of their own money simply from the goodness of their hearts? I somehow doubt it.

      Reply
    • Mike Young
      May 9, 2012

      “The difference is between those fans who would tolerate those changes, and those who would not. The argument for those less averse is relatively simple – ultimately, that it’s a price worth paying for the mooted investment. Many also argue that the club’s badge has changed before and that the most crucial factor is the Club’s name, and as long as that remains unchanged the swapping to red shirts is acceptable, if not eagerly wanted. A significant percentage of neutral fans will probably think along similar lines; asking the hypothetical ‘how would you feel if it were £100m?’”

      This my position as a life long Cardiff fan and occasional sponsor of the club. If the fans were asked to pay ticket prices commensurate with the real cost of running the club (no matter what division/level they played at) the stadium would be mostly empty. This is a business and ‘he who pays the piper” is the main factor at play here. Yes, the club should have planned the announcement better and explained their thinking in a PR sense carrying the vast majority of the public with them. I will be extremely sorry to see the blue shirts completely disappear (and possibly they will not) but would much prefer some financial security and the opportunity of playing at the highest level excites me more. Ask Man City fans if the prefer the pre or post take over team and success.

      Reply
    • liam shannon
      May 9, 2012

      How is this cardiffs best and ONLY chance to win promotion?… football has been played long before youre time and will still be long after. Winning promotion does not take pumping hundreds of millions of pounds into a team as the likes of swansea, norwich, blackpool, southamton and reading have proven in the last three years. As a swansea fan I personally could not care less about what happens to cardiff, but this is embarassing.

      Reply
  2. Ian
    May 9, 2012

    Good article. I have mixed feelings on this. The red dragons suggestions are pants we will always be the bluebirds, but playing in red won’t we become the robins…. Ahhhh.

    Do we sell out? You will probably find out thats not our choice anymore. I will continue to sport cardiff city no matter what. I would prefer we stayed blue, but feel this probably is a done deal. Maybe in 3 years time we can bring back the proper badge like last time we were rebranded.

    As for the malaysia comment I think that sponsorship its no worse than all the betting sponsorship currently taking over every club.

    Reply
  3. Lanterne Rouge
    May 9, 2012

    Great post Joe. I guess this introduces an interesting debate over where one draws the line. I would have expected more Arsenal and Man City fans to be up in arms about the branding of their stadia – at least Newcastle fans made a stand. Ok – these were new stadia, but naming them after sponsors is grotesque. What are the chances of a breakaway club?

    Reply
  4. Simon B
    May 9, 2012

    Great read as usual Joe.

    Think your right in saying that fans are divided between those who will tolerate the change and those against it, nobody really wants this change. And with the ‘plastic’ tag and creation of FC Cardiff City has been thrown around already, think this could be very derisive between supporters which is never a good thing.

    Where do you stand on protests / refunding season tickets / break away club?

    Whatever happens, I’ll still be down the city for next season (dont have anywhere else to go!), can’t see people chanting ‘Dragons, Dragons’, or it being a sea of red so will be interesting to see what the future brings….

    Reply
  5. chris cook
    May 10, 2012

    As a Swansea fan and like most Swansea fans i would not like this to happen to any club , we all remember what pettie done to our club, i enjoy the banter with Cardiff, but to wish harm on anyone is not in most peoples human nature

    Reply
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