It was about 1993 when Knocker and me went back for a late night, post-club drink at his house. Admittedly, we were well into a bottle of brandy when it happened, but it did happen nonetheless. We’d been talking about our love for the club, a shared passion which forged a lifelong friendship, has it has with so many of my friends over the past 35 years. And on this evening our bumbling conversation about the season just past and about our journeys across the country in the back of a transit van went further. Knocker produced a blue and white scarf which bore the club crest and pointed at it. “Look at that mate – that’s Cardiff. The Bluebirds – Cardiff City Football Club”. And ridiculously, but genuinely, we looked at that badge and it moved us both to tears.
I didn’t want to write this blogpost. The rebranding of what I had always consider ‘my’ club has divided opinion and driven a deep wedge between supporters which may be impossible to heal. But the situation has affected me deeper than I cared to admit. I went to bed last night under a dark cloud and woke too early at 5.30am. My last thoughts before sleep and my first on awakening were about the destruction of an institution which has played a far too important part in my life.
I’m not here to argue the business case for Vincent Tan’s decision, or to persuade you to come round to my way of thinking. But I’ve taken part in a lot of media debates about the subject recently and it’s clear that many people simply do not grasp what the club colours mean to me and millions of supporters of all the clubs over the world. There is a depressing swell of opinion which simply says, “modern football is a corrupt, immoral, dispassionate business and there’s nothing you can do about it. Buy your red shirt and stop whinging”. But I need you to know that for many of us, success and superiority have never been the guiding principle of our devotion. All we need from our football is community, companionship, and a focus for our shared obsession. That’s why small clubs playing rubbish football hold just as much, if not more appeal than a multi-million pound corporation with incredible players, but a synthetic identity.
One of the recurring arguments that has been used to defend this rebranding gives a good example of how polarised we’ve become. “Unless we take this money”, the argument goes, “we’ll end up like Newport or Wrexham.” If that is meant to be some sort of deterrent, then I don’t buy it. On the contrary, I would love to be a supporter of either of those clubs – both sitting at the heart of their community and representing the people of their town with honour and dignity. If this was any other entertainment business then I’d transfer my custom. But it isn’t, and those one-club emotional handcuffs worn by every supporter of every club are being increasingly used to shackle us for immoral exploitation and the commercial benefit of a cynical corporation.
I moved away from Cardiff about eight years ago. I now live four hours away in north Wales. But my three sons and I have still owned season tickets until recently. Cardiff City was my connection to the place I grew up. It was a part of me that I could share with my children. To see my sons wear their first ever Bluebirds kit was one of the proudest moments of my life. And when they were all mascots for a game against Watford a few years ago, I was in self-denial about the £300 that my club charged me for this honour with not so much as a complimentary ticket for their mother. Love is blind, and I just didn’t want to admit that my club saw my young sons as a profitable commodity.
When the news broke of rebranding last month, I wasn’t so despondent. I believed that the inevitable furore would create a bond between fans that haven’t always seen eye-to-eye over club affairs since Sam Hammam polarised opinions a decade ago. Surely the idea of rebranding would be abhorrent to everybody, and we would unite in uproar to repel the idea on a popular surge of opinion. And at first, amongst my circle of friends, that is what happened. But as soon as Mr Tan and the club representatives regained their composure after a heroic source exposed their intentions, a large body of our support showed its colours. The last vestiges of Cardiff City’s historic culture and identity were saleable if it meant that the promise of Premiership football remained.
There has been uproar across the football world, with heartfelt opposition from distant banner-waving sympathisers in Austria and Czechoslavakia. There has been understanding and comradeship from unlikely sources and empathy from historical rivals. But heartbreakingly for me, many of our own supporters counter-campaigned for the change, and backed the indefensible. I won’t criticise them for their ambition, but it became very obvious that we shared little common ground in our views on football, and what supporting Cardiff City means to us. For me, supporting a football club has always been about identity, about belonging, about sharing ecstasy and depression in equal measure with like-minded companions. Evidently I’m out of touch. I’m old fashioned and unrealistic. But all I can tell you is how I feel about this. I’ve lost faith and I’m disillusioned, not just with my club, but with modern football.