The life and death of the Bluebird, 1910-2013

In 1899, some 35 years after Wrexham had became the first football club in Wales, the cricketers of Riverside FC in Cardiff decided to take up the association game as a winter pastime. Football had played a poor second to rugby in the south since the codes split in the 1860s but was now finding favour with the large migrant working population. The town was growing rich on the coal dug from the valleys, and Cardiff was granted City status in 1905. After pottering about in the Cardiff and District and south Wales Leagues for a decade, the ambitious Riverside FC merged with Riverside Albions and laid claim to the name “Cardiff City”. After several refusals, the club secretary and driving force, Bartley Wilson finally received permission to use the new title from the South Wales and Monmouthshire FA in 1908. That only proviso was that should any club become professional in Cardiff, then Riverside would have to give up the name.

This wasn’t an idle threat. Riverside had lost 3-12 to Cwmparc in the Welsh Cup, and Aberdare, Merthyr and Treharris all had bigger claims as south Wales’ biggest clubs. Many Welsh football fans travelled regularly to watch Bristol City’s professional Division One team. Ton Pentre were one of the main local sides, and when they played a match at Bristol in 1908/09, over 1700 supporters travelled from south Wales, including 800 from Aberystwyth. Riverside were insignificant by comparison.

Riverside’s secretary was a Bristolian. And when Bart Wilson eyed up a place in the successful English Southern League, his flirtatious advance was returned. Harry Bradshaw was the Southern League secretary who toured south Wales looking for clubs to boost his young competition in 1910. He wanted a Cardiff side to enrich the League, but insisted that Wilson found a stadium. Once Lord Ninian Crichton Stuart came on board as guarantor, the deal was settled. The Southern League would get its Cardiff side, playing at the newly built Ninian Park in 1910.

 The life and death of the Bluebird, 1910 2013

First known pic of Riverside FC early 1900s

The club had started wearing blue shirts even before that very first professional game at Ninian Park, probably after the merger with Albions. They had definitely discarded Riverside’s chocolate and amber quarters by the time of the very first photograph taken before 1910. Of course, there had been no protest about this change, because Cardiff City had no support base. They were a parks side who had attracted decent crowds for a few exhibition matches, but these were curious spectators, not supporters. This was a social club with little history and no identity.

The club soon became known as the Bluebirds. There is a legend that the name is related to a stage play that was popular in Cardiff in 1909, but it is likely that the Bristolian Wilson, simply started using a name that reflected that colour of the club’s shirts. Bristol City wearing red, were the Robins, so Cardiff in blue, would be the Bluebirds. To this day, Cardiff City are the only football league club ever to have used the nickname. (Barrow only started calling themselves Bluebirds in the 1980s by which time they were non-league).

With a newly professional team hired mainly from Scotland, Cardiff City immediately attracted crowds of 4-10,000. These were brand new supporters of course – plastics in modern parlance. The more established Ton Pentre, Aberdare and Merthyr drew bigger crowds. But by the time the club were accepted to the Football league in 1920, City could boast huge attendances of 30-40,000 for their games.

1927 e1361398284990 262x300 The life and death of the Bluebird, 1910 2013Cardiff’s blue shirts were plain until the 1925 Cup Final, when the City’s Royal coat of arms was sewn onto the badge as an indication of civic pride and royalist gratitude. There was no badge normally, but the coat of arms was used again in the 1927 final. The crest had also appeared on the club’s programmes during the 1922-23 season and alongside a drawing of the civic centre in 1934. This was a ‘Cardiff’ iconography, not ‘Cardiff City’ and is still worn by the City’s rugby club to this day.

The coat of arms used during the Cup Final was not the football club badge, it was a garnish for the big occasion – Sheffield United shirts also displayed their own civic crest in 1925.

1947 300x265 The life and death of the Bluebird, 1910 2013The earliest example I have of the Bluebird as a club symbol is a letterhead from 1947, when the supporters club used the bird as their logo.

And that was it until 1959 when we saw the appearance of a club badge on a Cardiff shirt for the first team photograph. The club had played in blue probably since it had first been called Cardiff City but clubs did not wear badges as a rule. Naturally, the Bluebird was Cardiff’s first badge, cementing its place as the club’s emblem – the heart of its identity.

image 10 for when football was football cardiff city through the ages gallery 363194152 The life and death of the Bluebird, 1910 2013

The badge then disappeared until 1967-68, when the word ‘Bluebirds’ was stitched into the clubs shirts. And by the time Cardiff City beat Real Madrid in 1970, the shirt featured a classic, simple Bluebird on its breast. The clubs greatest moment since 1927 would be identified with that badge.

toffs 150x150 The life and death of the Bluebird, 1910 2013The bluebird remained on a simple round white background without any writing until 1980, when the background turned yellow for a while. Still, the badge on the shirt needed no words. Everybody knew that logo – the Bluebird was Cardiff City Football Club. It was as simple as that.

Cardiff Badge crest 1980s 260x300 The life and death of the Bluebird, 1910 2013The club had been using a crest on promotional material and its programme covers since 1979, when a daffodil and a dragon were incorporated as symbols of Wales. (If my memory serves me right, cricketer Tony Lewis – the Head of the Wales Tourist Board was involved with that decision). The crest featured the Bluebird prominently, and also had the word ‘Bluebirds’ as part of the design.

1994 e1361397803332 150x150 The life and death of the Bluebird, 1910 2013By 1985, that crest started appearing on the shirts, and it stayed there unchanged for the next 18 years unchanged until a new owner arrived. Even when the crest had gone from the badge in 1994 , it was was incorporated into the thread of the shirt.

But Sam Hammam was keen to impose a new identity on the historic club, and the black and yellow colours of the St David’s cross  were incorporated into the design from 2003 until 2008 when we returned to the more traditional crest.

Cardiff City’s bluebird identity lasted another three years until the news broke this Summer, that without consultation, or regard to the club’s identity and history, one man from Malaysia would be changing everything. Vincent Tan changed the club’s colours and drastically redesigned the badge to feature a dragon and a cringeworthy ‘Fire and Passion’ strapline. The bluebird was relegated in significance until a final indignity at the home game versus Brighton, when 20,000 of the club’s own supporters waved red scarves bearing the legend ‘Cardiff’ (not Cardiff City) and displaying a red bird where there used to be blue.

scarf e1361399435761 The life and death of the Bluebird, 1910 2013I no longer recognise the famous club that has played in blue since it was honoured with the title Cardiff City, and which has always been known as the Bluebirds. I suspect too that the club’s name will change over the next few years. Who knows what further insults will be thrown at the memory of Bart Wilson, Fred Stewart and the millions of other who helped build a national institution over a century, only to see it demolished in a single shameful season.

red e1361399286834 The life and death of the Bluebird, 1910 2013

28 thoughts on “The life and death of the Bluebird, 1910-2013”

  1. Typical over sentimental drivel I’m afraid! Cardiff City ceased being an “institution” many years ago! For decades it has been run by money grabbing businessmen who made money out of fans paying into their skewed corporate accounts. Sam was a dishonest crook. Ridsdale was a lying cheat. For decades the club floundered around failing miserably in competition with similar clubs. To object to a businessman coming in and turning around the finances, the footballing success, and the gates, to the extent that the Club is way out ahead in the Championship, with a prospect of solvency for the first time in years, is surely something to welcome, not despise. Who with any sense really gives a s…t about the colour of the shirt? It is a childish demonstration of insecurity to have a tantrum about it. In fact the worst possible colour for any team playing a fast moving sport on a GREEN pitch has always been to wear blue I rarely comment on Internet blogs but this blog was thrust at me via Facebook and you have irritated me enough to comment! Interesting history lesson but irrelevant to modern sport. Sorry but you’re so out of touch as to be laughable. By the way… As a Welsh speaker I also resent the fake joke name for your blog… Ffwtbol? Ffffff… Look it up!

  2. As a Wrexham fan, I’m honour bound to correct the impression that we were the first club in Wales. Almost, but not quite, as Druids (now Cefn Druids) beat us to it.

    Good luck with the campaign!

  3. Excellent piece Phil, as usual. As for Gwyn George’s comment above : ” To object to a businessman coming in and turning around the finances, the footballing success, and the gates, to the extent that the Club is way out ahead in the Championship, with a prospect of solvency for the first time in years, is surely something to welcome, not despise” – this unfortunately does not reflect the reality. The footballing success is being achieved at the irresponsible expense of over £80m worth of debt, and (as you say) the trashing of over 100 years of tradition. Like you I have supported the Bluebirds all my life, but it is hard to support this insane red monstrosity at Leckwith.

  4. Knowing the author of Red Dragons and this scipt I realise and understand his and other staunch Bluebird supporters stance on this matter but where would we be without the huge capital injection of Malaysian businessmen Mr Tan andMr Tien Ghee?
    I have been a lifelong City fan of 58 years and have been longing for top grade football to be played in Cardiff for many years and hopefully we will see it next year. Time is running out for me so I can’t wait for the occasion to arrive after watching the likes of Torquay,Halifax etc.over the past years so come along boys join the ranks after all we are still called Cardiff City because without this injection of money the alternative for the future would be doom and gloom. Bluebirds never will be forgotten lets move on.

  5. Good attempt at re-writing history, despite the poor research. Why the reference to Barrow?? It is widely recognised that Caersws were known as the Bluebirds throughout Wales, 20 or 30 years before Cardiff City were formed. CCFC blatantly stole their identity!!

    If you’re going to bleet on about identity now, why didn’t you pipe up when Ninian Park was bulldozed?? That was the true and unique symbol of Cardiff City’s heritage and identity, not the stolen Bluebird. Never mind, in a couple of years time you can probably re-write history again and blame the move on Vincent Tan as well.

    1. Caersws were founded in 1887, but I don’t think it was ‘widely known’ that they were the Bluebirds. And Bart Wilson’s Cardiff certanly looked more towards the professional game in Bristol than the Mid Wales Amateur League. I wasn’t particularly fond of Ninian Park once the Grange lost its roof and the Bob Bank became seated. I accepted the move to a new stadium would help with the hooliganism problem which had held the club back for 40 years.
      The reference to Barrow is clear – Cardiff are the only football league club called the Bluebirds. There was a fair bit of publicity about Barrow being Bluebirds recently due to the FA Cup draw. Not sure what else you accuse me of ‘re-writing’ – all my sources are pretty sound.

  6. What’s wrong with Torquay and Halifax? They’re still real clubs unlike the Franchise that’s replaced Cardiff City. I’d swap the position of their supporters for that of the whores following the Red Dragons.

  7. My friend is a life long supporter of the Bluebirds. When I mentioned the name changed to him, he did not seem much concerned, or maybe, he felt it was out of his power. If an outsider had bought my club – Sporting Gijon – changed their strip to all white and called themselves Sporting, I would be appalled – no matter the cash infusion. Would I stop following them? Don’t know, but I know that I would be disgusted.

  8. I for one am sick and tired of all the people moning about the red shirts.
    I have been a season ticket holder for 15 years straight and supported Cardiff for over 25 years and I for one welcome the change in colour if it means getting to see CCFC in the premiership.All those who say they would rather be in league 2 and play in blue are not putting their club first after all Im in no doubt we would have gone out of business by now if it wasnt for the cash injection keeping us in business.
    We are still Cardiff City and always will be no matter what colour we play in.

  9. People do crazy things for money. Supporters are not immune. The Bluebirds and some of their supporters quite literally sold their soul to spend some time at the top level of British football. Long after the dirty money is gone, this shameful period in a storied club’s history will be remembered.

    1. Your as bad as some of the KCB living in the past
      The world moves on so why cant a football club.Just because some one comes in and is chucking millions into the club and changes its home strip and crest(may I add has been done a few times in the clubs history)does not mean its sold it soul.
      The history of the club will always be there because guess what its in the past and that makes it history that will never be taken away.
      We are still Cardiff City our nick name is still The Blubirds because of the bluebird on the crest not because we played in blue.
      Get over it and move on and before you say im plastic let me tell you I’m a season ticket holder of 15 years straight and have already bought next years and have been supporting my club for over 25 years.I also have bought every home and away kit in the last 10 years I support my club not the god dam colour

  10. I can’t believe most of these comments. Sentimental drivel? Talking about ‘Modern Sport’? Red is better visible on pitch than blue? WTF!?!
    All the FORMER Cardiff City fans embracing the new red colours are a bunch of whores, selling history for succes, simple as that.
    Fan commitment, determination and ethics in the UK are a joke nowadays, in Rotterdam we would have NEVER EVER let this happen, no fucking way.
    I feel incredibly sad for the writer of the above piece, even more because he is betrayed by the majority of his ‘former fellow fans’. All these so called fans waiving their red scarves are no better than any MK Dons or Red Bull Salzburg fan, and would probably sell their own mother if it would benefit them in any way…

  11. Amazed that so many Cardiff City supporters seem more than happy to sell off any aspect of their heritage to experience ‘top flight’ football – hugely expensive, massively over-hyped, no more excitement of wining anything as you grimly try to hang on to the gravy train and avoid relegation…

    I guarantee in 5 years there will be a lot of disillusioned red scarf wavers

  12. Football has been resigned to let’s all get into the premier league by any means, including selling our soul!! Stuff that if wolves started playing in blue and changed their nickname I’d go watch hednesford in the lower leagues instead, I can’t believe Cardiff fans bent over so easily about all this, the premier isn’t that great trust me

  13. This is the kind of thing which should make all football supporters angry. I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that one – just one – person can trample over years of tradition, heritage and identity, or the response of the 20 000 who happily went along with the change.

  14. Been a Cardiff fan since 1970 and this is our most successful season in that time. It is also the one that has given me least pleasure. I don’t bother going down there any more. The owners have been fortunate with the team’s success this season. But the first sign of weakness on the field and I’m sure the widespread grumpiness among supporters will find its expression.

  15. Excellent article and I wholeheartedly agree with the author.

    On the face of it, the colour change is cosmetic, but consider this – a bloke has breezed in with a few quid (and I suspect there is a sting in the tail to this…) and decided that Cardiff City’s history and heritage means nothing as he fancies the club playing in red with a dragon on the badge.

    He rides roughshod over that heritage and plenty of people seduced by the Premier League dream go along with it. Be very careful what you wish for – those happy to go along with it might get a few days out in the top flight but what happens when Tan gets bored with his trainset? Or the money runs out? (Carson Hueng, anyone?)

    The Premier League isn’t the be all and end all. Football is about heritage, tradition, being introduced by a family member who has been going for a generation, going with your mates, the singing, the camaraderie.

    Having witnessed arsehole businessmen breeze in and ignore the desires of supporters at Wimbledon, I can safely say that I would rather bob around in League 2 and/or The Conference than sell out and chase the Premier League ‘dream’.

    Tan might not go the whole hog and change the club name or shift it 40 miles away, but he’s lied to the supporters on the issue of club colours and a badge change. Those apologists for his regime would do well to remember that he doesn’t listen, so when you get shafted for £50 tickets and beyond don’t be surprised when your voice counts for the square root of fuck all.

  16. Hi Phil I’ve got an enamel badge with the Bluebirds crest similar to the letter head for the supporters club you’ve illustrated. The old fella that gave it to me said that it was his dad’s and he’d taken it to the 1925 cup final. Don’t know if its true but I’d like to think so.

  17. Just thought id add a bit of balance to the debate. I am firmly against the rebrand but unlike the author, I continue to attend, like many dressed in blue every game. That is in no way a criticism of Phil, I understand and admire his (and others like him) view.
    A few points though to those who call us ‘franchise fc’, ‘whores’, ‘MK Dons etc etc….you can bark all you like, but it doesnt make you more worthy or better as a supporter.
    Cardiff City still play in their spiritual home in Leckwith and the so called ‘red scarf’ waving 20,000 are not new, many of them have supported the club through some very lean times. Yes our crowds are growing, but thats down to success on the pitch not the red kit and happens at every football club that has success.
    The red scarf giveaway was hard for many to take(myself included) but while huge numbers wore them, lots didnt and stood in blue and held up blue scarves. The red was clearly more prominent as on a freezing UK night when most were dressed in black, grey and blue coats, Red inevitably stood out.
    Like I said, I am firmly against the rebrand, but am sick of those of us who continue to support our local team being demonised. We are just regular football fans, no better or worse than any others!

  18. RED? Hmmmmm. Well firstly, lets not be under any illusion that the “CARDIFF” scarf was a prelude to a name change, and this first season in the Premiership would have seen the Bluebird go as well. But the last couple of months has seen the supporters wake up a bit. Chants of “The Blues are going up” and “Bluebirds” have been deafening at times and incessant, and in Vincent Tans face, and would have been slightly embarrassing for him with all his potential investors/family present at games. Also, I
    think Tan wants to be ‘loved’ now. He has bankrolled the assault on the Premiership but has been like an outsider looking in. Keeping the Bluebird AND a blue away kit for
    next season will placate the vast majority. Personally, I feel that if he wants red? then fair enough, its his money. BUT… he threatened us all with his “if people are rude then I will leave”….Well Mr Tan, how rude have YOU been? All that was needed was a little bit of consultation. We welsh are a talented, creative, artistic bunch. There has been a raft of ideas floating around the internet where the Red kit had an infusion of blue, and the Club Badge? well most of us could have designed better than the beef mat after a full lobotomy!!…. Talk to the fans Mr Tan. Sadly there is a lot of truth in some of the original post. Many of the supporters HAVE just buttoned their lips and taken a “Premiership at all cost” stance. But many of these would say “oooh we get to see Man Utd and Chelsea next season”… well I buy MY season ticket to watch CARDIFF CITY… irrespective of who the opposition are, or what division we are in. So… RED? well I
    can just about swallow it, if thats his ”lucky colour” then his money demands he has a
    say. But all he had to do was give us Blue shorts and socks at home AND a prominent
    Bluebird and we’d have all been ‘happy’ I think. Dont knock the ‘Blue’ groups, because by doing that, you are having a pop at the very passion that has supported Cardiff City through bad times, bad times and MORE bad times. As i alluded to before. Tan can kill all protests off with the brush of a blue pen, he can keep his red, but for Gods sake take the fans opinions and wishes on board and you will be a Cardiff City legend Mr Tan!!!
    My fear now is that Sham Hamman will somehow claim to have ”twisted” Tans arm for his beloved ‘family’. His Publicity team will be working hard to point out how ‘Uncle Sam’ had a word in Tans ear. Watch this space!!!… But City will remain the Bluebirds, and I think we WILL retain a Blue kit. Why? because of the overwhelming support coming from the terraces towards the end of the season. Tan is a billionaire with a brain, he surely knows we will not ever become his “Malaysian Dragons”

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