On 24 January 2012 Cardiff City beat Crystal Palace in the Semi Finals of the League Cup to secure their second appearance in a national Cup Final in four years. After Tom Heaton’s heroics in the penalty shoot out, Malky Mackay and his team were given a rapturous ovation by the ecstatic crowd, but there were two others on the lap of honour who City supporters were eager to give credit to – Chairman Dato Chan Tien Ghee (TG) and Tan Sri Vincent Tan Chee Yioun (Vincent Tan), the club’s largest shareholder and, effectively, it’s owner, were applauded just as much as manager and players were that night.
Nearly fifteen months later on 16 April 2013, City secured promotion to the Premiership with a 0-0 draw against Charlton and once again, Malky Mackay and the playing squad basked in the applause of around 25,000 Cardiff fans. Vincent Tan was there on the pitch as well and the reception he got from many supporters (almost certainly a fair sized majority) was probably as euphoric as it had been a year and a quarter earlier, but it could not be denied that, amongst significant numbers present, his reception was, to put it diplomatically, mixed. Less than a fortnight later at the Club’s Awards night, Mr Tan gave a speech which was occasionally interrupted by disparaging comments and singing from some of those present.
What had happened in such a relatively short time to change peoples perceptions of the man whose financial input in 2010 had, arguably, saved the club? Well, although there are those who are now far more critical of Vincent Tan’s general handling of the club and there are a few who have problems coming to terms with his role in Malaysian politics, the simple truth in most cases is that Mr Tan’s standing has dropped because he changed the team’s kit and badge just under a year ago as part of his “re-branding” of the club.
I’ve seen and heard at least three interviews that Vincent Tan gave in the aftermath of the Charlton game and they all begin with him repeating “lucky red” over the interviewer as they tried to question him. Doing this once would probably be understandable in the excitement of the situation he found himself in, but three times sounds almost defensive to me – it’s as if he is having to justify the decision to himself. Anyway, leaving my amateur psychologist bit to one side for now, what it does do is offer evidence that the re-branding is an issue which is still featuring very prominently in the thoughts of so many involved with the club at every level.
That’s the thing, I’ve done one of these end of season pieces for two of the three previous seasons when the onus was on the club’s finances. Last season I didn’t do one because the re-branding furore overshadowed all else and the truth is it has continued to dominate off field proceedings for the past twelve months. In saying that, the accounts for the year ending 31/5/12 showed the club’s debt getting very close to £100 million (it may well have passed that figure during the season). but the fact that around a quarter of that figure is still owed to the Langston Corporation offers a reminder that Vincent Tan has not yet delivered on the majority of the “benefits” which were originally supposed to accompany the change of kit and badge.
You’ll certainly not get any complaints from me about the level of investment in the team over the past year – Vincent Tan has delivered on his promise there and the notion of increasing the capacity at Cardiff City Stadium going into a second consecutive season in the Premiership seems a more sensible one to me than adding almost 10,000 seats straight away. However, although Sam Hammam’s presence at the Bolton game suggested that a resolution of the Langston debt may be on it’s way, it’s worth remembering that those of us who attended those two meetings with club representatives when the re-branding story first broke over a year ago were being told that one was “imminent” back then!
Similarly, the promised training ground, which, presumably, would be a club asset which would help bring the debt down a bit seems some way off yet and, although I cannot speak for others, I would be surprised if I was the only “reluctant red” who currently feels that their decision to give the club the “benefit of the doubt” last summer hasn’t been justified. Now, I think it has to be admitted that for an awful lot of the 20,000 plus people who turn up to watch the team play at Cardiff City Stadium every fortnight, the re-branding has become something of a non issue – they are happy that Vincent Tan has delivered the goods in terms of investment in the team and promotion, but ask them what colour they’d prefer us to play in and I’d guarantee virtually all of them would say blue.
As others such as Gethin Jenkins, Doug Lee, Alan Whiteley and TG have left the club, so Vincent Tan has become more hands on and us supporters for whom he was previously something of a remote figure who would turn up at two or three matches a season have got to find out more about him. The last three months have seen him appearing in the media and in front of fans and, speaking for myself, each time he has it has confirmed an impression that they he doesn’t really”get” British football and the British football fan (actually I think the word “British” could be dropped in both instances there).
There are exceptions to every rule of course, but getting a team promoted doesn’t mean that it’s supporters are going to wholeheartedly embrace a change of kit and badge that has been foisted upon it on what looks like a whim. By the same token, “Scarfgate” on the night of the Brighton game was not the ringing endorsement of his re-brand that Vincent Tan claimed it to be.
In fact, my opinion is that it was a mistake on the club’s part because it led to a concentrating of people’s minds on the subject. Since that night, there have been more blue shirts and scarves being worn at games (particularly away from home), more blue related songs and even the occasional anti red one (I’ve still not heard a single pro red song yet). Furthermore, a supporters’ organisation has consulted it’s members and as a result it is now urging Vincent Tan “to seriously consider returning the first team home kit to blue at the earliest opportunity with red becoming the away kit” . Ideally, the voting sample in the Supporters’ Trust poll would have been a bigger one, but the “strong support” for a return to a blue home kit should not be ignored.
In the absence of any meaningful indications of financial rewards that the re-branding has brought the club so far, it increasingly looks as if the change to red was, indeed, just a whim on Mr Tan’s part – it certainly sounded like it was in his speech at the Player of the Year do a fortnight ago. If that’s really the case, then, for what it’s worth Mr Tan I believe it was the funding you provided for Malky Mackay which was responsible for our promotion, not our “lucky red” kit – you are the person who should be getting the praise of all City fans, not just a proportion of them and I’m sure you would be if it wasn’t for the change of kit and badge.
One year on and the re-branding controversy is not going to go away, it could do and everyone could share in the euphoria of promotion simply by Vincent Tan doing what the Trust have asked him to do – will it happen? No, I don’t think it will in the short term, but I’ve thought all along that we’ll be back playing in blue some time in the next four years – I’m prepared to donate £100 to charity if we are still in red then, but, after “Scarfgate”, I’m more confident than I was that I won’t have to do that.by The other Bob Wilson
Nearly three years after he first became officially involved with the club, I, and I would guess thousands of other Cardiff City fans, finally heard Vincent Tan speak yesterday when he gave an interview for BBC Wales’ Sport Wales programme. Like any good publicist, the Beeb chose to run with the most controversial aspect of what the club’s largest investor had to say and centred on Mr Tan’s apparent open mindedness towards a change of name for the club in their website piece publicising the interview. Hardly surprisingly, this provoked a furore amongst supporters and in the media and it was hardly a surprise when the club’s official site issued a “clarification” by Mr Tan that there would not be a name change.
Now it needs to be remembered that the club went back on it’s original intention to change to red last May, only to do an about turn a few weeks later and announce that the change of kit would be taking place after all, so, something similar should not be ruled out completely this time, but, I have to admit that Mr Tan’s comments on the club’s website do have an air of finality (for now!) about them and I fully expect the club to be competing in 2013/14 under the name Cardiff City.
I chose not to comment on what Vincent Tan was reported as having said until I had watched his interview – of course, this meant that I watched it knowing that some of what was said was now out of date (the BBC acknowledged this as well in their voiceover) and so, what did I think of what was said? Not a great deal really, because there wasn’t really much said that was new – the questions that I wanted answered like “what were the business motives for dropping the colour blue?” and “how is Cardiff City benefiting financially from the change of club colours” were never asked (not blaming the interviewer there, he was probably given a list of topics he could and could not ask Mr Tan about) and, instead, we got a lot of stuff we knew already.
For example, we already knew that the “re-branding” was designed primarily with the Malaysian/Chinese market in mind, but, significantly, apart from the man himself and a few Tan lackeys, none of the Malaysians interviewed seemed to think that Cardiff City, playing in red or blue or in the Championship or Premiership, would have a significant impact on the public psyche in that country anytime soon.
There were some indications as to how Vincent Tan thinks though. By way of example, using my definition of the term, he just “doesn’t get” football – to be fair, he more or less admitted this by saying that his approach was very much business based. Also, his business orientated approach showed itself when he said he was happy enough to lose the custom of 25% of the club’s support if the rest stayed with him and, hardly surprisingly he pointed to the “sea or red” he looked out on at the last home game with Brighton as proof that this was, indeed, happening. There was also a dismissive attitude towards the hundred years plus of the blue kit and the “Bluebird brand” as he asked what success had this combination achieved apart from an FA Cup win nearly ninety years?
I found this very interesting, because Vincent Tan had defined his parameters on a couple of very important matters. To deal with the hundred years of failure claim first, it appears that our major shareholder does not see Cardiff City’s appearances in the Final of both of the largest domestic cup competitions within the last five years as a success, nor does he think the blue/Bluebirds brand succeeded when they reached the Semi Finals once and the Quarter Finals twice of a major European club competition in the 60′s and 70′s. Vincent Tan’s re-branded reds are, probably, going to be promoted to the Premiership sometime in the next eight or nine weeks, so will that be a success under his terms? Well, hardly when you consider that blue/Bluebirds were promoted to the top flight three times and those feats appear to be viewed as part of the century and more of failure as he sees it. Therefore, I can only conclude that Vincent Tan defines success, on the field anyway, for his reds as winning trophies alone – nothing else is good enough.
As for the proportion of the fanbase he can keep onside, Vincent Tan the businessman would surely have to concede that if the change to red was the success story that he claims that thousands of red scarves worn at the Brighton match showed it to be, then shouldn’t there have been a similar sea of red at every home match this season? He surely has to acknowledge that the sea of red (which, incidentally, was nowhere near as large as the 90%+ claimed by some) at our last home match was, to a large extent, down to the fact that the vast majority of the scarves being worn had been given away free to supporters as they entered the ground.
So, what can supporters do from now on if they want to show that Mr Tan’s version of events does not represent the whole story and that a large majority of them do not want us playing in red? There’s always the option of boycotting games – I won’t be doing that though while the changes are limited to us playing in red and, as will probably happen next season, we lose the Bluebird. It would appear that, in terms of the colour of our kit at least, most people feel the same way as I do – the numbers boycotting are not great, but they might just have had some sort of impact on Vincent Tan’s thinking when our gates were barely passing 20,000 at times in the autumn. However, since Boxing Day when the people who bought half season tickets have been added in, gates have consistently been at a higher level than in 2011/12 – those who boycotted this season are not being missed now.
The likely loss of the Bluebird will, almost certainly, result in more current season ticket holders boycotting next season even if we are in the Premiership, but let’s not forget that there is already a waiting list of people ready to take over from them if that happens. Maybe the numbers who boycott might turn out to be more than I suspect there will be, but I doubt it and, if the changes are limited to the current ones plus a new badge which does not include a Bluebird, then it’s hard to see any subsequent boycott effecting Vincent Tan’s thinking.
On the other hand, those red scarves weren’t given away on a whim and I can’t help thinking that Mr Tan had been disappointed with the sea of mostly black, grey, blue and red he had been looking out at in our first fifteen home league matches this season. Did he see those not wearing red as not being supportive of his re-branding? I don’t know about that, but he could well have thought that there weren’t enough who were showing their allegiance to him. I’m going to keep on assuming that this was the case and I’ll continue to make my feelings clear by wearing blue to games. I would argue that enough people wearing blue to games is the best way to record that you do not support the re-branding because our largest shareholder gets to see this and there are indications that he doesn’t appreciate it.