Turning Cardiff Red, The Vincent Tan Way
On the pitch, Cardiff City are having a season that has been about successful as any of their supporters could hope for. The club is eight points clear at the top of the Football League Championship with only a third of the season left to play, and barring a spectacular collapse a place in the top division of the English football system for the first time in a little over fifty years is now a near certainty. Off the pitch, however, the rebranding of the club continues a face, and the schism between those supporters who don’t care that much about it and those that are opposed to the culture of their club being sacrificed at the altar of the promise of a place in the Premier League remains as great as ever.
Next Tuesday, Cardiff City play Brighton & Hove Albion at The Cardiff City Stadium in match which may well prove to be another opportunity for those divisions to show themselves. The club has announced that it will be giving away twenty thousand scarves prior to this match, but it doesn’t require a great deal of cynicism to consider that this giveaway might not necessarily be motivated by generosity alone. A considerable proportion of the club’s support has stuck with its previous blue and white livery, and giving away a whole load of red and white scarves next week might well counter that degree of apathy towards the changing of the club’s colours.
“Each scarf will be handed out on arrival at the stadium – for this game only – and will become your special entry pass into our 2013/14 season ticket competition for the rest of the campaign,” said a predictably breathless email sent to supporters earlier this week. One lucky winner, who, presumably, will be photographed wearing their scarf with a gleeful look on their face as part of the PR campaign, will win a season ticket for next season as a result of their complicity in this scheme, whilst it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that the club might well also benefit from having a photographer on hand to take pictures of twenty thousand-odd people, all wearing the club’s new colours, for future use. There is, however, a possibility that such a ploy could backfire. As things stand, organised protests against the change in colours have been neutered by the team’s success on the pitch. Such a stunt, however, may give those that might have fallen silent over the last few weeks or months to make a very public statement regarding what they feel owner Vincent Tan is doing to their club, pause for thought again.
Tan, meanwhile, has allowed his actions to speak for him over the last few months. Last weekend, however, he finally broke his self-imposed silence with an interview, and what he said will not necessarily have ameliorated those of the opinion that his plans for the club have more to do with his ambitions at home in Malaysia than specifically for the people or the city of Cardiff. ‘The ball is round,’ he said, indicating that he has either just completed the first class in a series called Association Football For Dummies 101 or that he has become a disciple of the great German coach Sepp Herrberger, who came up with enigmatic quotation, ‘The ball is round so that the game can change direction’, before perhaps giving away the fact that he hasn’t been sitting at home watching the 1954 World Cup final on a loop by adding that, ‘but you never know. Every game is hard fought and unpredictable. We cannot be too confident but the players try their best.’ There have, of course, been plenty of football club owners in in the past that have had a shaky relationship with the footballing aspect of the business that they own, but what was perhaps more interesting than this was what Tan had to say about the future direction of the club that he now runs with an iron fist.
Although Tan doesn’t go into any detail about the thinking behind his rebranding of Cardiff City, he does offer some insight into the thinking behind how he regards the club and its foreseeable future. Malaysia, unsurprisingly, features heavily. He clearly feels some kinship with his fellow Malaysian club owner, Tony Fernandes of Queens Park Rangers, saying that, ‘Both of us would like to contribute to Malaysian football and we are thinking of a way to do so.’ Of course, the obvious answer to such a statement would be to say that a similar amount of money to that which he has put into Cardiff City over the last few months or so might have radically changed the face of domestic and international football in that country, but this might not be a concern to the supporters of the club that he does now own. Their club now has the word ‘Malaysia’ splayed across the front of the team’s shirts – although it should be pointed out that this is not some sort of state sponsorship but one of Tan’s companies that is paying for it – whilst the club’s colours and badge have already been changed and the recent free scarf announcement seems to indicate that supporters can expect further changes in the future.
Tan also left himself – and, by proxy, his club – open to question by saying, ‘If we are promoted it will be good for Malaysia as we will have two Malaysian-owned teams up there – Queens Park Rangers and us. After this fans may get to see a Malaysian derby in the Premier League!’ Now, this may have been no more than a weak joke. If it was, then it can only really be interpreted as a firm two fingers being thrusted in an upwardly direction towards those with misgivings regarding the direction in which their club appears to be headed at present. Joking about such a matter when he must surely know fully well about the effect that his ownership of the club doesn’t portray a very positive image of the man. On the other hand, however, Tan may even genuinely believe that this is how people define a ‘derby’ match, in which case he may be in for a surprise if any match against QPR – presuming they stay up this season – passes by with scarcely any comment whilst the matches against Swansea City, which is surely the measure of any rivalry that Cardiff have, would resume after their brief hiatus with their traditional ferocity.
We do not know where the rebranding of Cardiff City will end up. Ninian Park – completed before Tan’s arrival but likely a major factor in his decision to get involved at this club at this time – has gone. The blue shirts have gone. The traditional bluebird has been relegated to an afterthought on the club badge, and the club clearly wishes its supporters to jettison their blue and white scarves for red ones. It would be unsurprising to see the blue seats at The Cardiff City Stadium ripped out and replaced by red ones in the summer. How long might it be before Vincent Tan decides that ‘Cardiff City’ is an outdated name and that the club could be dragged into the twenty-first century by changing it to something that better reflects the club’s relationship with Malaysia? And how long could it conceivably be before he sought to cement this relationship by seeking to play competitive matches in Kuala Lumpur? It’s impossible to say how far down this apocalyptic road he might go, but should he have any thoughts in this direction he has encountered little resistance from the club’s support. We’re not suggesting that these possible outcomes are going to come to pass, merely that the lack of opposition to them can only make them more, and not less, likely. And if it ever does come to the point at which Cardiff supporters want to protest over a step too far only to find that it’s too late by that time, they’ll only have one place to look in any subsequent quest for recriminations.
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