Considering that they are making a pact with the devil, it is perhaps appropriate that Cardiff City will be playing in red from the start of next season. It was at the end of last month that the club first announced that it was to change its colours in accordance with the request of the clubs new Malaysian investors, who consider red a “luckier” colour in the Far East and that it will allow more people in that part of the world to identify with their – hold your noses – “brand”. The discord that it brought about meant that the plans were initially put on the back burner but rumours, fuelled by a tame local press, began to resurface recently that it wasn’t as dead and buried as many might have hoped and this morning came a press release that will have sunk the hearts of many – but not all – supporters of the club. Cardiff City will be wearing red and black from the start of next season, and in addition to this the clubs badge has relegated its traditional bluebird to a mere after-thought, tucked away underneath a picture of a dragon.
Of course, no modern club would seek to push through such an obviously controversial and divisive move without at least paying lip service to the tradition that they are ripping up in the pursuit of money, so this mornings press release was full of the weasel words of the marketing man.”There is no getting away from the fact that history and traditions are the lifeblood of any club”, it said, before feebly adding that, “we believe that this is the right direction for this club and where it currently stands”, all of which begs the rather obvious question of why such sacred traditions are being ripped up if they are so important in the first place.
Otherwise, this press release was exercise in corporate platitudes of the worst sort: “The changes to the home kit introduced as a consequence of the investment package are designed to help the club to develop its brand and to allow it to expand its appeal to as wide an audience as possible, with a view to delivering local success via an international and diverse market”, which seasoned observers of such language may well acknowledge as being just one “synergy” from a full house. Such language makes a lots of noise but says little of any value – it is often little more than lip service towards understanding the whys and wherefores behind a decision having been taken.
This wasn’t the only lip service being paid in the clubs press statement. The success of various kinds of democracy at clubs in recent years has led to a disturbing trend for clubs themselves to start using a veneer of democracy in an attempt to vindicate and lend an air of respectability to what could be considered to be unpopular decisions. The club claims in its press release that polls carried out by its Supporters Club and Media Wales have shown considerable support for the idea, but the use of such polls to try and prove such a point is so flawed an idea that the fact that it is being talked about seriously is somewhat extraordinary in itself.
It certainly seems odd – out of kilter from what we would expect from supporters, to say the least - to see a majority supporting such a controversial move, but it is also worth asking the question of how rigourously scientific these polls might have been, because there don’t seem to be – and this is really no more scientific than any poll not carried out by a professional polling company – many Cardiff City supporters on the clubs forums that are so much as grudgingly in favour of the decision. Considering how easy it can be to manipulate opinion polls to say anything whatsoever, such polls are best treated with caution and it is surprising – or this case perhaps not - to see them being wheeled out as some sort of conclusive proof that supporters are massively in favour of the decision.
Even if we are to assume that there is a proportion of the clubs support that is in favour of the decision – be that 10%, 30% or even 50% – then this seems a move that will only prove to be a divisive one amongst the clubs support, and to understand why so many are so angry about it is to get under the skin of what it means to be a football supporter for many. The game itself has changed a lot of the last twenty years or so, but the rates of change have varied from club to club. For Cardiff City supporters, the club that they support will shortly be both visibly and metaphorically unrecognisable from the one that they have followed until relatively recently. A little more than three years ago, the team that they supported played at the ramshackle but homely Ninian Park, was nicknamed the Bluebirds and wore blue and white, as it had done for longer than living memory. As of this morning, Cardiff City plays its home matches at The Cardiff City Stadium, is nicknamed the Red Dragons and wears red and black. This, some may well feel, is no longer Cardiff City in much but name.
On top of this, there may be some who feeled betrayed by a club which, just a few weeks ago, stated that it had listened to their concerns in put these very plans on the back burner. There will also be those who are unhappy being put in this position by new owners or at the direction that modern football is taking in a broader sense and for whom this is a tipping point in favour of walking away from the game altogether. This may also inform why the supporters of other clubs may well be watching how this club starts next season with considerable interest. There are plenty of other owners who may well believe that their team would be more successful or attract more money from investors if they were only to change their colours. Whether this sort of “blue sky thinker” will encouraged by Cardiff’s decision is something that we will only find out in the future. In the meanntime, perhaps it is time for the FA and the Football League to offer greater protection to colours and badges, which may seem on the surface to be trivial but ultimately form an intrinsic part of the identity of a football club.
It seems doubtful that there will be many wishing them well from outside, while on the inside track anything but a very successful start to the season may see the levels of rancour amongst the clubs support start to rise and greater numbers of supporters start to drift away. In addition to this, even those that do stay behind have now got a stick with which to metaphorically beat the owners of the club should Premier League football not be forthcoming at the end of next season, and as such the owners of the club are taking a considerably greater gamble than their press release lets on. It should also be remembered that if the owners of a football club are to be considered custodians of the shared history and heritage of a club, then the owners of Cardiff City and those that are throwing money at it in return for its soul have already failed in this respect. It is a decision that they may well come to repent at their leisure.
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