The reception received by Dato Chan Tien Ghee (TG) and Vincent Tan when they came on to the pitch after the League Cup Semi Final win over Palace back in January typified the warmth, respect and gratitude felt towards the Malaysian investors in general and these two men in particular because there was a a knowledge on most people’s part that the club’s prospects didn’t bear thinking about without their financial input. However, while they were being lauded all of this time, there was always that lingering question in the background – why are they doing this (club employees admitted asking the same question at the meetings I attended back in May)?
For much of last season, revelations that we were losing £1.2 million a month (to go with the £1 million a month shortfall back in 2010/11) were if not ignored, then at least swept under the carpet, as a fanbase that was generally fed up to the back teeth with all of the financial problems caused by the ineptitude of those running the club from 2000 – 2010 chose to concentrate on the football amid an air of optimism brought on by an energetic and enthusiastic new manager and a team, which gave their all every week, that supporters found easier to relate to than some other recent Cardiff squads. However, with the amount invested in the form of loans by Vincent Tan standing at £40 million last spring, there was finally a recognition that Cardiff City’s spectacular loss making could not continue indefinitely.
So, along with the change in colours and badge which has caused so much controversy this summer, there have also been warnings that the club were not going to be able to keep on going as it has been. Now, City fans have been hearing this sort of thing for years and nothing’s ever changed, so what’s so different this time? Well, I would say that having been lucky enough to have found one billionaire willing to bail them out two years ago, the odds against them finding another one in the event of Vincent Tan pulling the plug must be miniscule (especially with a debt level greatly swollen by £40 million’s worth of new loans) – with that amount of investment and him being the biggest shareholder in the club (although, significantly, he doesn’t have 50%+ of those shares), Mr Tan enjoys a level of dominance at the club not seen since Sam Hammam in his “bigger than Barcelona” days.
Consequently, although there may have been resistance to the re-branding in the Boardroom and there certainly has been amongst some of the fanbase (even those willing to accept the change to red have nearly always qualified that view with the wish that we stay in blue), the simple truth is that Vincent Tan’s hold on Cardiff City is such that what Mr Tan wants, Mr Tan gets. Once again though, you find yourself asking “why?”, why is it so important to him that we ditch the colour we have worn as our first choice for 104 years? Those more pragmatic supporters willing to live with the change based on a feeling that there was a “master plan” which would eventually be revealed to us all, have been waiting more than three months now for evidence of this and, apart from a statement from our finance director that the revenue generated by the re-branding will not just come from shirt sales in the Far East and some vague talk of people in that part of the world being able to watch highlights of Cardiff games, they are none the wiser – meanwhile, those who have been saying from day one that the change is just down to a whim on Mr Tan’s part look on having seen nothing so far to indicate that they are wrong.Will it ever be the same again? Vincent Tan and Chairman TG are greeted rapturously by supporters before last season’s League Cup Final – maybe promotion might bring about similar scenes, but I’m not convinced it would.
However, if you look at the situation from the perspective of a businessman who certainly had no great affinity for Cardiff City until pretty recently (I wonder if he even knew of it’s existence three years ago?), then you see a business based in an area which has made great strides in the time since it’s football team last played in the top flight. Links by motorway make Cardiff much more accessible than it was, the Bay development has made the City more attractive and brought thousands of service sector jobs to replace the manufacturing jobs from the first half of the twentieth century lost in the 70′s and 80′s and, whatever you may think of it, the Welsh Assembly does give the City a sense of authority it didn’t have before. There are other examples I could use, but the point I’m trying to make is that Cardiff’s profile on the domestic and world stages has grown markedly in my opinion since 1962, but the City’s football team has, if anything, gone backwards in that time – yes, there have been a couple of Cup Final losses, but, in terms of league position, we have been very disappointing (biggest under achievers in the Football League?).
Therefore, if you are a businessman who does not get the special relationship that exists between a fan and his’her football club (all the evidence suggests that Mr Tan doesn’t) and you look at Cardiff’s record over the immediate and long term past, the idea of a rehash of what you see as a failing brand which is not making a return on your investment might be an attractive one. The thing is though, cold logic plays little part in that “special relationship” I just talked about and I think that it’s true to say that even amongst those willing to be more pragmatic about the issue, there is a need to see more evidence of progress in other directions apart from the transfer spending which, to be frank, has a Hammamesque feel to it at the moment.
There’s a piece on the BBC website this morning in which Alan Whiteley talks about the signing of Craig Bellamy not being something done purely to appease supporters angry over the re-branding. I believe Mr Whiteley when he says that, but, when it comes to his comment later on in the article that ”What’s important for the fans is that they are seeing that the promises that were made as part of the whole exercise are actually being delivered”, I respond “are they?”. Fair enough, the increase in ground capacity has, sensibly in my view, been delayed until after promotion is won. As for the new training complex, well, based on the info available at present, we seem less further down the road to completion than we were three months ago when we were told in those meetings I mentioned earlier that a site had been chosen. Now, it seems that’s changed and no final decision has been made -there’s even the chance that we will be staying at the present headquarters in the Vale.It’s been a fraught summer for Chief Executive Alan Whiteley who must be hoping that the new season will see attention switch away from re-branding and financial issues.
Worst of all though is that there has been no progress whatsoever on settling the Langston loan note debt which we were told would lead to the debt to equity conversion which, for me at least, makes the whole re-branding exercise worthwhile. Indeed, you even have to wonder as to the Club’s desire to get this albatross that’s been hanging around our neck sorted out sooner rather than later – after all, what was initially reported as £10 million put aside to settle the debt, has since developed into the three options outlined in this article with the “I believe Sam would look favourably if an offer of £10m paid in full up front was put forward” bit referred to by Sam Hammam’s “close friend” now transformed into £10 million plus a £5 million promotion bonus!
My feeling is that without a settlement of the Langston debt and a subsequent debt to equity conversion, all we are seeing at the moment is more of the same sort of promotion or bust stuff that has characterised so much of the last decade or more at Cardiff City, but this time it’s backed up by a divisive and, seemingly, needless change of kit. I can understand the transfer spending to the extent that I have believed it is the only option open to us (sadly, we are beyond the stage where “living within our means” will sort our finances out) for some time now. We have to get promoted to stand a chance of getting some sort of financial equilibrium at the club, but without changes to our current level of debt, we are at a stage where even promotion might not be enough.
I started by asking why the Malaysian investors got involved with Cardiff City. Well, we now know that Vincent Tan hasn’t been lobbing in £1.2 million a month out of the goodness of his heart (not that anyone really thought that did they?), but there’s still too many unanswered questions about this £100 million investment in my opinion. To be fair I suppose, although the lack of evidence to back up Alan Whiteley’s claim that City are delivering on their promises is frustrating, three months is not that long a period for the sort of issues covered by those promises. That’s why it’s probably best to reluctantly give the club a benefit of the doubt it doesn’t really deserve when you consider how the change of kit was imposed on us and the cack handed nature of some of the “official” statements we’ve seen from them over the past few weeks – there’s no way we can just concentrate on the football and ignore all the other stuff like we did last year this time around though.