Marcus Stead is a lifelong Cardiff City fan. Like many Bluebird traditionalists, he's outraged at the decision to change the kit from blue to red next season. Here on Soccermongery, he discusses the background to the club's recent history.
Traditions are like trees. They take years, even decades to grow and develop, but can be destroyed forever by one quick act of vandalism. For this reason, Cardiff City fans, and indeed the football community in general, should be extremely concerned by the announcement that the Bluebirds are no more and in future, they’ll be kitted out in red.
The concept of Cardiff City playing in red is as crass and as out-of-place as blue London buses or a bride walking down the aisle in black.
It’s worth taking a moment to look at what has led to this announcement, and what has actually been promised in return for the change. The club has massive debt problems, which date back to Sam Hammam’s time as chairman, which began at the end of 2000. At the time, as a 16-year-old, I felt like the only person in Cardiff who had reservations about this man taking over the club. For me, he conjured up memories of Wimbledon ending up homeless for years, which eventually led to the club relocating to Milton Keynes. There was also a nasty edge to the ‘Crazy Gang’ culture at Wimbledon, which Hammam embraced and encouraged. I was concerned about what he had in store for Cardiff City.
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In the previous few years, Ridsdale had taken Leeds Utd and Barnsley to the brink of disaster. It quickly became clear that Ridsdale and Hammam had very different visions, and, after a bitter boardroom meeting, Ridsdale’s company, PMG, effectively took control of the club.
When and how Langston would receive their money has been a contentious issue that has held the club back ever since, with near-constant threats of court cases, winding up orders and possible takeovers. The debt owed to Langston is estimated to be worth around £31 million. Ridsdale was a nightmare chairman in a different way. He flirted with disaster while trying to build up a promotion-winning side. In other words, he was behaving in a similar way to his time at Leeds.
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The ‘front man’ for the Malaysian consortium is billionaire businessman Vincent Tan, who has built up a vast empire in his home country, with interests ranging from golf courses, a gambling company, and a pay TV outlet, as well as having close links to the extremist former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamed, who has a long track record in vile racism and human rights abuses. The new owners wasted little time in making it clear they had little interest in the club’s heritage. First to go was the small Welsh flag on the back of the shirt, which had been a permanent presence for some years. Can anyone REALLY imagine a potential supporter in the Far East being put off by the presence of a tiny Welsh Dragon on the back of the shirt? Is it that much of a marketing disaster? Try telling that to the owners of the Mumbai Indians, an IPL franchise that was created a few short years ago with the aim of having a global appeal. Next, the word ‘Malaysia’ became the club’s main shirt sponsor.
The plans were quietly resurrected during the Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend, but this time, it was done in such a way that meant there would be no consultation, and they were going ahead whether the fans liked it or not. 113 years of playing in blue were over, just like that. The apparent advantage of switching to red is that it will attract a huge new fanbase in the Far East, where superstitiously, red is a lucky colour. The timing was also significant. There was not the backlash of a month ago, with many fans now on holiday, or enjoying the Jubilee break, while the football media’s attentions were very much on Euro 2012. Yet what exactly is being proposed in return for destroying the club’s heritage?
Furthermore, what happens if Langston and Sam Hammam reject the offer that has been made to them? I also can’t help but think back to that excellent Channel 4 ‘Dispatches’ documentary that was broadcast last year, titled ‘How to Buy a Football Club’. The formula was relatively simple to understand: Buy a club with potential at Championship level, sometimes lower (Leicester City and Cardiff City’s names featured prominently), get them promoted to the Premier League, and sell them on at a huge profit, with scant regard for the club’s finances or long-term future.
Cardiff City was firstly a victim of Sam Hammam taking absurd risks with the club’s finances, followed by Peter Ridsdale, who had his priorities all wrong and spent money on the team instead of keeping the tax man and creditors at bay, and the failure to achieve promotion as a result of this only made the situation worse. It’s hard to know what exactly is motivating the Malaysian owners, but the proposals are far too vague for my liking. The change to red means the club’s soul has been lost, quite possibly forever.