It's Cardiff… but not as we know it! After 104 years, the 'Bluebirds' are playing in red
21:30 GMT, 16 August 2012
21:30 GMT, 16 August 2012
Red alert! Bluebirds for more than a century, Cardiff City begin a red era on Friday evening, amid wincing from traditionalists, hard swallowing from supporters and anguished talk of Rangers, Portsmouth and the uncomfortable commercial compromises of these fragile financial times.
As Cardiff’s manager Malky Mackay put it: ‘I attended a meeting of a little group of those who wanted to return their season books. My message was, “Come and support your team; Cardiff City still have a team; and it’s because of this”.
‘The comparison with Portsmouth and Rangers is not scaremongering. A lot of clubs in the Premier League and Championship are being funded by “an individual”. If that person walked away there aren’t a host lining up to replace them. And banks aren’t lending. In the past banks bailed out clubs, to an extent.
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‘That’s why Rangers went, that’s why Portsmouth are in the situation they’re in. We would be no different had this gentleman not come in.’
This gentleman is Tan Sri Vincent Tan, the Malaysian businessman who first bought into Cardiff in 2009 to fend off HM Revenue and Customs and who this summer decided that a club who have worn blue since 1908 and have a bluebird as a club badge would from this season be sporting red. There would still be a bluebird on the crest, but beneath a large red dragon.
Reasons offered, such as red being a lucky colour in Malaysia, have been unconvincing but the economic reality is that the 39 per cent Tan owns of Cardiff City, allied to the extra investment he has delivered in the past 24 months, gives Tan power. He runs the club, has Premier League ambitions, has funded the return of Craig Bellamy and, locally, Tan’s presence at Friday’s Championship opener against promoted Huddersfield Town does not seem to inspire as much dread as his potential boardroom absence.
Not for the first time, fans feel cornered, conflicted. A planned demonstration before kick-off by ‘Keep Cardiff Blue’ has been cancelled on police advice; the club shop continues to sell its Bluebird range and blue away kit as well as the new red strip. But the thought of what Cardiff might be were Tan not around is equally prominent.
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WHEN AND WHERE
Championship: Cardiff City v Huddersfield Town.
Kick-off: 7.45pm, Cardiff City Stadium.
TV: LIVE on Sky Sports 1, 7.30pm.
Vince Alm, a fans’ spokesman, who has been watching the team since the 1960s, said: ‘I don’t know anyone who’s happy with the colour change and the badge change.
‘But the majority have reluctantly accepted the re-brand. This sort of investment doesn’t come along often for a club of our size. It’s huge — writing off this scale of historical debt. That doesn’t mean fans will be happy wearing red — they will continue to wear blue — but Cardiff supporters have also looked at the plight of other clubs, especially Portsmouth.
‘Two years ago the debt was 30million and the club are said to have been funded at about 1m or more a month since then. If the Malaysians were not around I think there would have been a fire sale and we’d be in administration.
‘I’ll keep wearing blue, but I’m glad of their investment. I’m glad Cardiff City still exist.’
It turns out that Portsmouth were not the only team in the 2008 FA Cup final on a precipice. The Football League have granted Pompey leave to begin life in League One on zero points, but the club’s position remains desperate.
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Cardiff’s woes are less publicised but the fact that former owner Sam Hammam was mentioned in the morning’s Western Mail was a backwards jolt. Tan is negotiating with Hammam over debts of around 14m that pre-date Peter Ridsdale as Cardiff chairman, and Robbie Fowler and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in blue kits.
That money fuelled Cardiff. Five years ago the average attendance at Ninian Park was 14,000. Then came the FA Cup final run, and in the last three seasons the play-offs have been reached. Each time Cardiff lost, in May to West Ham.
By last season the average gate was up to 22,000 at the new stadium. Mackay replaced Dave Jones and led the team to the League Cup final in February, when they lost on penalties to Liverpool.
On Tuesday at Northampton, Cardiff went out in the first round but Mackay was far from downbeat. He had eight players on international duty and rested five others. The impressive 40-year-old knew he had Tan coming on Friday and the focus is on avoiding the 57 games of last season and gaining promotion over 46. The squad looks strong and will be added to.
And, like the lips being bitten, red it is.
Mackay added that ‘the colour of the strip and the badge, for me personally, doesn’t equate with us having to be promoted,’ but in this country at least, red is also the colour of pressure.