For all the bullying and coming from their club of late, supporters of Hull City can at least take a crumb of comfort from the fact that, on the pitch, their team is holding its own in the Premier League at the moment this season. This isn’t a luxury that is currently being extended to the long-suffering supporters of Cardiff City. These two clubs met in the Premier League yesterday afternoon, and travelling Hull supporters might well have found it instructive to learn a little about what a policy of divide and conquer looks like after a couple of years or so.
On the pitch – Hull City in blue, Cardiff City in red and black, of course – things remained as disjointed for Cardiff as they have at any point over the last couple of months or so. Goals from Tomm Huddlestone and Nikica Jelavic had already put anything like a result well beyond the home team by half-time, and a second goal from Jelavic twelve minutes into the second half proved to be the tipping point for some Cardiff supporters. The Cardiff City Stadium started to empty a little after this, and by the closing stages of the match, by which time the visitors were four goals up and cruising to their most comfortable win of the league season so far, there were large gaps in the crowd where supporters had decided no more and walked away.
Cardiff City remain one place off the bottom of the Premier League table, and with just twenty-two points having been accumulated from their twenty-seven league matches so far, time is starting to run out. More troublingly still, the teams remains at best in stasis in so far as performances on the pitch, whilst the others around them still seem capable of showing signs of life. Fulham, now led by Felix Magath, picked up a handy point at West Bromwich Albion yesterday afternoon, whilst West Ham United laid to rest any remaining doubts over their potential to be relegated at the end of the season with a win over Southampton which saw their recent rise from the relegation places to the comfort of the middle of the Premier League table continue unabated.
At The Cardiff City Stadium right now, however, all is discontentment and all is gloom. Cardiff City have won twice in the league since beating Swansea City at the start of November and were knocked out of the FA Cup at home by Wigan Anthletic, from the Football League Championship. And at the time of the season when clubs sitting near the foot of the table need to start kicking into gear, Cardiff City, if anything, seem to be deteriorating further. At the end of any poor performance, the straws that supporters for who the glass of life remains resolutely half-full will usually those small signs that there is potential for things to improve in the near future. There were few such signs that could be taken from yesterday afternoon’s anaemic performance.
In the stands, meanwhile, there remains few signs of unity between Cardiff City supporters and few signs that either those who would keep protesting in order to restore the club’s heritage or those who will follow its owner Vincent Tan no matter what he says have scored any sort of decisive victory in any sort of battle for heats and minds with the club’s support. Looking around the stands at The Cardiff City Stadium yesterday it was difficult to discern too many people going too far out of their way to dress in red, but at the same time there remains no indication of there being any significant co-ordinated protest that involves anything like a majority of the club’s support, although, this being a match between Cardiff City and Hull City, there were songs from both ends of the ground in support of each other’s battles.
The obvious question to ask on a morning such as this, when looking back through the fog of a hangover that such a performance necessitates, is whether it was all worth it. Because this is the key, defining feature of what has happened at Cardiff City since this rebranding was confirmed at the end of the season before last – it’s absolute unnecessariness. We cannot pretend to have the first idea of what the thought processes of Vincent Tan are – indeed, there have been times over the last couple of years when we have had cause to wonder whether even he does – but the good luck certainly hasn’t been flowing this season, and it is starting to feel as if the divisions between supporters brought about by his rebranding of the club may never fully heal. While things are going well on the pitch there will always be those who will put up with just about anything.
Bad results, however, have a tendency to focus the minds of the freshly discontented, and at the top of the list of questions to for those who are unhappy at what is happening to this football club may well be that of what exactly this rebrand has brought to Cardiff City Football Club apart from the massaging of Vincent Tan’s ego and some intangible marketing guff about cracking the Asian market, or some such. Tangible benefits – other than the ever-present threats of him withdrawing his financial support, plunging the club into adminstration and resulting in The Cardiff City Stadium eventually being fired into the sun – have always been difficult to come by, but the one bailed on benefit for those that would swallow it was always the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that is the Premier League.
Getting into the Premier League and then having your buttocks presented to you on a silver platter every Saturday, however, is seldom part of this plan. Being in the Premier League is only largely of value if, once there, your club manages to consolidate its position. Yes, yes, yes, there will be a one-off cash windfall from your season amongst the elite, but Cardiff spent lavishly last summer and, whilst parachute payments in the event of relegation would also be have to be offset against any financial liabilities incurred this season. How must have have felt to be amongst the senior management of Cardiff City Football Club to see the ground start to empty with thirty minutes of the match left to play? This wasn’t, presumably part of Tan’s grand plan.
And this being Vincent Tan, of course, a heavy defeat wouldn’t be a heavy defeat without rumours of the owner of the club being unhappy with the manager and the manager in return being unhappy at Tan for meddling in things in which he shouldn’t be meddling. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been conspicuously less than successful since taking charge of the first team, and yesterday evening Talksport’s Stan Collymore suggested that Tan’s patience with the man that he installed as the club’s new manager just a few weeks ago may already be starting to wear thin. Collymore also suggested that Solskjaer is unhappy at Tan for sanctioning the signing of a new player behind his back during the Jnuary transfer window after having been promised no interference from above. This can, of course, only be considered speculation until something more solid comes along, but with Tan’s track record in this respect already being common knowledge, would it really surprise anybody to find out that this rapidly engendered animosity was based in truth?
What has been at Cardiff City over the last couple of years and at Hull City since last summer isn’t, of course, a matter of “foreign owners.” There are plenty of foreign owners of football clubs in this country who treat their heritage and history of the clubs that they acquire with appropriate respect and there have been plenty of home-grown owners of clubs in this country that have behaved dreadfully badly over the years. This is more about football club owners that are treating the clubs that they have purchased with contempt, and who seem to be actively fermenting discontent between supporters of the club. Divide and conquer in excelsis. At Cardiff City, the blues have returned this weekend. It’s just not the shade of blue that many Cardiff City supporters would wish for.
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