First, the football bit. Cardiff City’s seven match unbeaten run on their travels came to an end last night when they were beaten 3-1 by Ipswich Town at Portman Road as the home side made themselves big favourites to clinch a Play Off place by opening up a three point gap over rivals Wolves and Brentford who were both beaten (Ipswich also have the slightly better goal difference).
Even in a division as unpredictable as the Championship, I’d say that an end of season fixture in which a team still chasing promotion to the Premier League entertains one with absolutely nothing to play for, you are going to see a home win about seven times out of ten and so I’m not going to get too worked up about either the result or a City performance which, by the sound of it, was an improvement on many seen this season – the better side may have won, but Daryl Murphy’s last minute goal made the final scoreline a rather flattering one for the hosts.
Points I thought worth noting from last night were
1. Eoin Doyle’s second goal for the club will help make a transition to Championship football which hasn’t really gone as smoothly as he and the club would have hoped for a little easier.
2. We’ve conceded a goal within the first ten minutes in two of our last three away matches – Leeds scored after only seventeen minutes in the other one.
3. Despite his overall good form since he signed for us, Bruno Manga’s game does have a fragility to it at times and he is in danger of becoming one of those defenders who always has a mistake in him over ninety minutes.
4. Anthony Pilkington’s return after a four and a half month’s injury absence was a pleasant surprise.
5. However, it was disappointing to, once again, see Matt Kennedy not involved – if Craig Noone was going to be left out (not before time I daresay many would think), then I would have preferred to see the young winger start rather than Fabio.
6. Speaking of Fabio, he may be popular with supporters because of the commitment he shows, but it carries with it the risk of him falling foul of referees too often – it sounded like he was substituted before he was red carded last night.
As for Ipswich, well, Sky’s coverage of the Championship means that the chance is there to watch every team in the league play four or five times a season if you are so inclined. I must have watched each of the eight sides still battling it out for promotion at least that many times and I must say that, when it comes to playing quality football, they are the ones who have least impressed me.
To me, they are a little like this season’s City side -short of the sort of star dust that marks out the likes of Bournemouth, Norwich, Watford, Derby and Brentford on their good days. However, based on what I’ve seen, what Ipswich have over us is a far better work rate and team spirit – qualities that can take you a long way in this league.
I’d say that, although it’s hard to imagine it now, Ipswich should be held up as proof that 15/16 can be a season that sees City up there again challenging at the top – they are a club that have had to make economies in the past few seasons, yet they weren’t far off the Play Offs last season and, at worst, they will come closer to making them this time around.
Ipswich have become promotion candidates with a squad which, famously, only had Tyrone Mings who had cost them a fee (and they only paid £10,000 for him!). The arrival of Freddie Sears in January for a large fee, by Ipswich’s recent standards at least, doesn’t alter the fact that the East Anglian club were genuine challengers at the top before he arrived – they are proof that, leaving politics aside, the sort of austerity currently being seen at Cardiff doesn’t have to mean hardship and decline.
Of course, there are plenty of possible reasons why we won’t make as good a fist of living within our means as Ipswich have done. They were in deep trouble at the bottom of the table when Mick McCarthy was appointed in November 2012, but as soon as I heard they had chosen him, I said to myself that there’s no way Ipswich will be going down. McCarthy may have had his problems in the Premier League, but, at this level, he is a proven and successful performer – he was always going to turn Ipswich around if he was given the time and, in my opinion, he would have been an ideal candidate for the City job when it was vacant last autumn if he had not already got a club.
I suspect Russell Slade is going to get the opportunity to go into next season with a squad that he can truly call his own and his chances of being able to put together something which could have us emulating Ipswich in a year’s time shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. However, while Mick McCarthy will have a lot to prove next season if Ipswich do go up, he already has two promotions to the Premier League (league winners on both occasions) and a season of survival at that level with Wolves on his CV.
By contrast, our manager cannot even boast a promotion in league football in a twenty year managerial career which, a couple of caretaker boss at Sheffield United apart, has seen him operate entirely in the bottom two divisions. On the face of it, there is a clear difference between the two managers and I believe it’s fair to say that a pretty substantial number of City fans believe that Slade is just not up to being a successful manager at this level.
Even if our manager does have it within him to do a good job in the Championship, I think the last two seasons have shown that there are challenges to managing Cardiff which would sorely test men with far better records than his. Put simply, this is a club where the bond between club and supporters has fractured and, although I believe there are those who are trying to repair things (it’s only fair at this point to appreciate Vincent Tan’s gesture in paying for the coach travel to last night’s match for City fans) by trying to involve the support more, the last few days have seen yet another example of why many will take plenty of convincing yet before they start to believe anything is really changing at Cardiff City Stadium.
On Monday, Cardiff City Supporters Trust issued a statement that was covered by the local press in this story. Within a few hours, City Director and former club Chairman Steve Borley had become involved in an embarrassing public spat with the Trust on Twitter – again, this was covered by Wales Online .
I read the Twitter exchange on a City messageboard and, speaking as a Trust member and someone who backs the sentiment behind their statement, I don’t think either side came out of it that well as they fought out a 0-0 draw that, for me, only offered a reminder of the limitations a platform which limits you to 140 characters places on such arguments.
Now, incidents like this invariably bring out comments from people saying that they are only interested in watching the football, who maintain that this is what all fans should do rather than making “demands” on the club of the sort that so annoyed Mr Borley. That’s fair enough, they’re entitled to their opinion, but it has to follow that those who feel a bit differently about what they expect from a football club which, in so many ways, is an ambassador for the area in which it is located, should be allowed to express their opinion as well.
We’re not all wired the same way and my guess (and it can only be a guess of course) is that for every one of our supporters who are just happy to watch the football and let the club get on with the other stuff, there is another one who feels one of two things.
Firstly, there are those who have had enough and are either giving up on the club completely, not renewing season tickets and/or cutting down on the number of matches they will attend in 15/16. The second category are those, like myself, who will be there next season, but are, increasingly, feeling a sense of despair, helplessness and hopelessness about the club they support.
The backdrop against which the Trust’s message to the club was sent is one of a significant reduction in season ticket sales at the time of the closure of the “early bird” offers at the end of last month. Hardly surprisingly, there has been no official confirmation as to how many have been sold, but the figure has been put as low as 2,000 by some of the usual “in the know” suspects on the messageboards (I’ve been told by someone who is pretty well connected at the club that it’s significantly more than that, but still a long way short of this season’s level).
This story from last season charts how Ipswich’s gates have steadily declined since their relegation thirteen years ago and could be said to be a foretaste of what City can expect in the years to come if they were to become established in this league to the extent that Ipswich have. However, I suspect any drop in gates in Cardiff would be more dramatic to that seen in Suffolk with a large factor behind this being the club’s disastrous PR that has contributed so much to the current disconnect between them and their fans.
Right at the top of any list of gaffes has to be the rebrand. Now, it must be admitted that the return to blue has not seen the upsurge in attendances that many (including myself to a degree) expected, but I would argue that this is only because those people underestimated the degree of the disconnection between the club and it’s supporter base. The rebrand may have been the start of the process, but there has been much in the intervening period (eg public rows between owner and manager, insulting comments about supporters from the owner, disillusionment for some over the Mackay sacking, disillusionment for some over Mackay’s alleged racism, poor managerial appointments, woeful signings and, of course, relegation plus poor results and performances from the team) to ensure that it was not as simple as that.
So, the club faced the huge problem of their very poor public perception when season tickets went on sale in February and since then we’ve had the loaning out of first team players (arguably a sensible financial decision, but one which sends out a terrible signal at a time when you want people to commit hundreds or, in some cases, thousands of pounds to the club), the closing of Tan’s Folly for next season, the reappearance of the Langston mess which we were told had been sorted out as Messrs Tan and Hammam kissed and made up eighteen months ago and now, not for the first time, the man who is portrayed by some as a club saviour arguing with supporters in the public domain.
In less than a month it will be three years since Alan Whitely told a group of supporters that a debt to equity switch was “imminent” and those same fans were informed of a soon to be built training facility – the fact that we are still waiting for both of these things will not be forgotten just because we aren’t wearing red shirts any more and it all adds to a checklist of reasons to or not to buy a season ticket which I defy anyone to argue would have more entries in the former column than the latter
What other reason besides blind loyalty is there for people like me to renew their season ticket after the return we’ve had on our investment this year? Even in the most miserable of seasons in the past, there have at least been a few games where you came out thinking you’d been entertained, seen some good football if you were lucky and in a frame of mind that had you looking forward to the next game – I can truly say that there has only been one match (Bournemouth a month ago) so far this season where I came out thinking what I had watched was worth the, very reasonable, sum I’d paid to attend.
Our owner has said we are “customers” and Mr Tan is heavily involved in retail in his own country. Those in charge of any retailer that had seen a quadrupling of it’s debts under the five years of it’s current ownership, some success and an increase in customers followed by a steep decline in sales and people using the store, a disastrous and hugely unpopular rebranding exercise, expensive store expansions that were being closed a year after opening because of lack of use and a senior managerial figure insulting customers on it’s Twitter account would see those in charge fearing for their jobs, not just their bonuses.
City don’t do AGMs or EGMs these days, but, if they did, would it be that much of a shock to see a symbolic vote of no confidence in the Board being proposed from the floor? The Trust were right to ask the questions they did and, far from insulting them, Mr Borley should be grateful that there aren’t many more wanting to know what on earth is going on at Cardiff City these days.
Pictures courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/