“You Can Vote… On The Shorts”: Democracy In Action At Cardiff City FC
It often seems these days as if there is nothing that professional football won’t seek to either monetise or somehow turn into some sort of event, and if the thinnest veneer of an abstract notion of democracy can be applied to it, then the perpetual desire of clubs to keep throttling a golden goose can be set aside in favour of a momentary feeling of benevolence. One powerful manifestation of this is recent phenomenon of the ‘kit vote,’ in which supporters are directed to a website to decide which of three often suspiciously similar designs their team should turn out in. This is the thinnest application of democracy possible, and it is also prone to abuse and/or absurdity. Whether Cardiff City managed only the latter or both of these misfortunes with theirs this week is, perhaps, a matter of opinion.
Most readers will already be aware of the ructions caused last summer by the decision of the Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan to rebrand his club. Out went Cardiff’s traditional blue shirts to be replaced by red and black, whilst the club’s badge saw its bluebird emblem relegated to an afterthought in comparison with a new dragon logo. This, supporters were told, would increase the club’s coverage in the Far East, most notably in Tan’s native Malaysia, and a protest group against the changes was stifled early on after some choice intimidation of supporters who wanted to voice their objections, with some officials of the club openly mocking those against the rebrand on social media. Wounds were reopened in January when the club handed out free red scarves to supporters before a match, and the feeling of schism amongst the club’s support has never completely diminished since the club made its decision. For some, even promotion back to the top division of the English league system for the first time in half a century was spoiled by the behaviour of the club and a section of its support.
Bearing all of this in mind, we might have expected the club to at least make the matter of the release of its kit for the start of the 2013/14 season low key in nature, but the current ownership of Cardiff City Football Club has not, in recent months, been noted for its tact in dealing with an issue which they have must have realised immediately might be a contentious one. The release of the club’s second red kit couldn’t have gone much worse for them. It paired red shirts with a shorts that were a slightly darker shade of red, which gave the impression of a kit the shirts of which had been through the wash a few times and had lost some of their colour. Criticism of the new kit from supporters was almost unanimous, but on Wednesday the club took the decision to stir feeling a little more by offering supporters a vote on what the players should be wearing next season.
There was one small problem with this. Supporters that had hoped that this might give the opportunity to get the players back into blue shirts for the start of next season were to end up disappointed, as the club’s poll wasn’t offering any concession on the matter that has caused such a schism amongst its support over the last twelve months or so. This poll was offering season ticket holders the opportunity to decide which colour shorts the team should wear alongside the red shirts, which, it would seem, are quite resolutely going nowhere. The choices offered to supporters were to stick with the red and slightly darker red combination which had already angered so many, or to change to a brilliantly imaginative selection of a shade of red that is the same colour as the shirts, white, or black, as the team wore last season. Blue, of course, was emphatically not an option. It was hardly democracy in action, and there don’t have seem to have been many that have been pacified by this particular exercise in public relations, and the club’s response to this criticism fell very much into the camp of corporate blandishment that we have come to expect from football clubs in recent years:
The club decided to maximise on the King design and adopt a two-tone red home kit this season, helping us stand out in the Premier League crowd. The two Puma King stripes reflect the fans’ loyalty to the club, which is appreciated by all.
Of course, in designing something so dreadful in the first place and then back-tracking with this essentially meaningless vote, the club has yet again reignited the argument over whether it should have changed from blue and white on the whim of its supreme overlord in the first place. It’s almost as if its senior management can’t help themselves. As one commenter under the line on an article on the subject on the Wales Online website correctly asked, “Why weren’t us loyal fans given the option of a poll when the blue was murdered and replaced with blood red?” But this is the nature of “democracy”, as the owners of football clubs see it. The vast majority of football clubs don’t respect the views of supporters, and Cardiff City certainly didn’t consult any of theirs when they rebranded their club from blue and white to red and black last summer. Meanwhile, last Bank Holiday Monday, the Keep Cardiff Blue campaign – which has never been dispatched as effectively as the club might have wished – saw three hundred people march in protest against the rebrand, with its organiser Sian Branson hitting the nail quite firmly on the head in saying:
Some of us feel like we’ve lost our friends and our identity as a result of the rebranding. I like to think of us as the Cardiff City Conservation Society. But I don’t think Vincent Tan cares about what we’re doing. We’re grateful for getting into the Premiership, but not at the expense of who were are and what we represent.
All of this follows a theme which has been pretty constant over the last year or so. The 2012/13 season might have been, for most of the club’s supporters, the greatest in their time supporting the club, but some have walked away from the club whilst for many others the experience was tarnished by the events of last summer and the schism formed amongst the support over it all. And if Cardiff City Football Club suffers further bad publicity as a result of issues relating to its rebranding, then it only has itself to blame. Last year, Vincent Tan’s side-kicks could easily have said, “We’ve listened to the fans, and out of deference to the history of this football club we recognise that our decision to take away such an important aspect of this club was misguided.” At the end of the season that has just ended, they might, if they really, truly did believe that there was a place for democracy in the running of a football club, given the supporters of Cardiff City the choice to vote for a return to blue and white upon its debut in the Premier League. Instead, they gave their supporters the opportunity to vote on which shorts the team should wear next season. It’s not democracy. It’s not supporter engagement. If it’s anything at all, it’s an insult to the intelligence of the supporters of Cardiff City Football Club.
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