Cardiff City And The Price Of Success

Cardiff are on course for promotion to the Premier League, but success has come at a price. Is it worth seeing your club's traditions tarnished in pursuit of the dream?

Last Updated: 06/02/13 at 09:42 Post Comment

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All football supporters clamour after success. This notion of 'success' is not necessarily winning the league but may well be surviving relegation, winning a trophy or merely outperforming last year's achievements. It doesn't matter if your club is Barclays Premier or Ryman Premier, every fan has that same pre-season dream; this will be our year. It is this desperate desire for glory that multiplies football's addictiveness; the longer success eludes our club, the stronger the need.

In commercialised football, it is an evident statement to say that money accelerates success. Moreover, as a rule the more money invested the quicker success is gained. So, if supporters desire success, should they also not long for money to be invested in their club, a huge stride towards the dream?

The Championship is the ideal breeding ground for this yearning to be at its strongest. After all, this is the league in which success provides the greatest reward. Next season the team that finishes bottom of the Premier League will still receive approximately £70million in television revenue alone. Eighteen teams in the Championship have been there before and six just want their first taste. For Premier League, read Promised Land.

Even within the division, there is a club whose fans could be forgiven for having more a more fervent longing for success than any other. Cardiff City have never experienced the elation of promotion to the top table, but they have come mightily close. After qualifying for the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, the Bluebirds have lost two playoff semi-finals and suffered Wembley heartbreak against Blackpool in 2010. As the goal gets closer (but remains just out of reach), the strength of desire grows exponentially. Promotion has been Cardiff's One Ring.

This season, finally, the elusive dream should be realised. Cardiff sit ten points clear at the top of the Championship with 17 games remaining. They have dropped five points at home all season and although they exited both cup competitions at the first possible stage, this has enabled a clich├ęd concentration on league form.

It is no coincidence that the introduction of money has hastened such an improvement. Last summer Cardiff spent £8million on players from the Premier League, Slovakia, Slovenia and Japan, allowing new manager Malky Mackay the opportunity to overhaul the squad. In addition, Craig Bellamy, Joe Lewis and Heidar Helguson were signed on free transfers. The wage bill at the club is sizeable, to say the least.

But whilst this should be a time for great unity at Cardiff, there is a lingering air of resentment within many supporters. Whilst the investment introduced to the club has effect positive change on the field, it has come at quite a price.

Before the season began, owner (and investor) Vincent Tan, a Malaysian entrepreneur, had announced that after 103 years of playing in blue, Cardiff would be playing in red. This was to be considered Tan's lucky colour and was a direct stipulation for his involvement in the club. In addition, the club's badge would be completely altered, pushing the bluebird to the bottom and instead introducing a red dragon.

The board members could do little but pull down their pants and accept. "The change of colour is a radical move which will be met with unease and apprehension by a number of supporters. There is no getting away from the fact that history and traditions are the lifeblood of any club and as such should be jealously guarded and preserved," started the official line.

And then the magic words: "The changes to the home kit and badge introduced as a consequence of the investment package secured the investment [£100million promised by Tan], with which we can safeguard the immediate and long-term future of this club."

A club's identity had been sold to the highest bidder.

Despite being overwhelming favourites for promotion on the field, Cardiff fans still harbour worries about their owner. Tan has indicated that he will convert the shares he has in the club to equity, alleviating the financial burden on the club, but accounts produced last month showed debt increasing to £83million. £8million of this was listed as 'administrative costs', an increase of £2million despite Tan promising to make the club more efficient. There is also talk that Tan's loan to the club is at an interest rate of seven per cent, which means Cardiff would owe him more than he has invested should he walk away.

Debts owed to former owner Sam Hammam (and his company Langston) are also a worry. These total around £19million (dating back to 2004) and Cardiff's current owners have put forward a repayment plan, which has been rejected. Hammam will be due an additional payment of £5million should the debt remain outstanding when the club are promoted. Clearly if Tan fails to renegotiate with Hammam, this debt continues to linger over Cardiff.

Such a situation leaves fans in a moral dilemma. Should they celebrate the sweetness of promotion if and when it arrives, accepting that the changes to their club's traditions are simply an eventuality instigated by modern football, or should they stick to their principles and refuse to glorify the removal of the club's customs at the whims of a foreign businessman?

If fans choose the second option, can they not be accused of cutting off their nose to spite their face? They would be living in the past, holding onto a sepia-tinted ideology that has failed to service the club previously. And in any case, supporters cannot simply turn off feelings for a club, and would certainly be unable to choose a different team to support. That's not how football works, the loyalty of the 'customer' is simply too strong, leaving us ripe for exploitation.

Which leaves us with the only option of 'getting on board', trying to put to one side the pillaging of a club's history and merely celebrating the achievement. It may be that the enjoyment of the moment is slightly diluted by the means and the method, but this is still Cardiff City in the Premier League.

If this is our choice, then do we have a tipping point, or do we choose this second option come what may? If your club's owner has dealt in selling arms to the third world, admitted to being racist or had instigated appalling human rights elsewhere in the world, would you still be part of the 'getting on board' brigade, or is there a level where your conscience tells you that a club no longer deserves your money? There are no right or wrong answers, but modern football is placing supporters in a moral quandary as never before.

Whatever your stance, there is a sad consequence. There should be universal happiness at Cardiff City, and in four months supporters should (barring a collapse in form) be as one, celebrating the realisation of a dream. Instead, there is a split between fans sat on both side of a moral fence. Season ticket holders who have been friends for years now fail to see eye-to-eye because of their opinions on a matter to which there is no right answer. It's just not football.

Worst of all, it threatens to dilute and undermine the very entity of success, the very ideal that supporters craved for so long. And whilst today it is Cardiff, it may well be your club tomorrow.

Follow Daniel Storey on Twitter here.

Thanks to @ViewFromTheNin for some of the Cardiff City background.

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