Cardiff City’s dangerous rift
If a football club is a group of united people who share a common settlement of residence, background and ideology, does that mean Cardiff City FC is dead?
In case you haven’t heard (and if you haven’t, you should have), the first meeting of Keep Cardiff Blue, the group opposed to the club’s decision to change kit colour from blue to red and the logo from a bluebird to a dragon for seemingly no legitimate reason at all, was held tonight in the city. However, it was badly disrupted by a group of Cardiff fans loyal to the club who threatened violence against anyone who protested during a match inside a stadium.
Until now, we knew that there was a rift between fans who wanted to remained allied to the club and those who wish to see the traditional colours restored out of principle – as you probably know, I support the latter. But with these threats, it is seemingly escalating. No longer is this just a debate – this is, in fan terms, a declaration of war, between two factions of supporters of the same club.
It harks back to the bitterness surrounding Wimbledon’s move to Milton Keynes, which led to the formation of AFC Wimbledon 10 years ago. In that case, some fans again remained allied to the club, even if shortly after it effectively ceased to exist and morphed into a totally new one, while others broke away to maintain the traditions and principles of the club in its home borough. It is worth remembering at this point that even with the move to MK, which took place in 2003, it was originally promised that the club would remain Wimbledon FC, until it was bought outright by Pete Winkelman, head of the Milton Keynes Stadium Consortium who orchestrated the club’s move to the new town to begin with – the name change wasn’t brought into effect until 2004-05, some two years after AFC Wimbledon was founded.
The name issue is crucial here, as far as I’m concerned, because Cardiff loyalists are making it a big issue. In their reasoning, they feel the club is the same because the name is the same, even if everything else is different. However, the Wimbledon/MK example is a perfect counter-point to this. The club was moved to a completely different town, and yet remained Wimbledon, the “same club” – or at least until what was promised wouldn’t happen did happen. The Cardiff City hierarchy have denied that a name change is in the works now, but who’s to say the same thing won’t happen as happened with Wimbledon? What’s the argument going to be then:
– “it’s not Cardiff City any more but it’s still the football club of Cardiff”? – well, there’s more than one football club in Cardiff: Cardiff Corinthians, Inter Cardiff, Cardiff Grange Harlequins…
– “it’s not Cardiff City any more but they still play in the same stadium”? – the same stadium that was only opened in 2009
– “it’s not Cardiff City any more but it’s the same players, manager and staff”? – it wasn’t 50 years ago and won’t be now
– “it’s not Cardiff City any more but it’s still the same colou…oh wait”
– “it’s not Cardiff City any more but it’s still the same fans” – this would be a valid point, but the rebranding has already alienated a decent chunk of the support and is meant to attract new fans in Malaysia and the Far East. So no. Not really.
The truth is the damage has already been done – a rebranding of the club with which a significant proportion of the club’s support doesn’t agree with and believes to be against the principles of the club turns it from a club into a franchise. The rift it has caused seals the deal.
People aren’t going to forget this in a hurry – this is going to be a near-permanent rift for those involved. People will remember that Person X supported the rebrand or Person Y protested against it, even if the club backs down or is taken over with the original colours restored. It’s going to be a lasting legacy.
How can a football club, of which the whole point is that it is united, recover from this? I honestly don’t know if it can. It has been shown up that one section of fans wants to remain true to the traditions of the club, that another just wants to remain loyal to whoever’s in charge at the time, and another just wants to buy loads of expensive players and win trophies. What you have is a group of people divided in principle. Obviously not everyone in a football club is going to think the same way, so don’t think for one minute that I’m suggesting everyone should agree. However, this is a major ideological divide and it isn’t going to heal overnight even if everything was corrected to how it was at the end of the season.
I hate to be a negative, pessimistic prophet of doom (as usual), but I can’t see how this is going to be resolved any time soon. Tan is clearly set on the rebranding, so unless some fans give up on their principles overnight and return to acquiescence in the CCS (which I highly doubt those involved would), the support will remain divided – that is if those boycotting remain supporters and don’t just walk away from the team altogether.
Is this destined to end up following the same trajectory as the Wimbledon fiasco – are we going to see a breakaway club? That could get pretty complex and uncomfortable – the Merthyr Town phoenix club was allowed to remain in the English system but would a brand new Welsh club be allowed to join, and if not, how would it go down among the breaking-away fans if they end up shunted into the Welsh system?
It’s a horrible situation which has the potential to get messier than any other previous split – AFC Wimbledon, FC United, AFC Liverpool and Enfield Town have had easier rides than what this could become. Let’s just hope it stays clean and works out in the best way possible for everyone involved, preferably with one Cardiff City at the end of it, playing in the Football League and in blue as they should be.