The news that Cardiff City had been given a “final extension” by the High Court of fifty six days to come up with the money owed to the taxman prompted some melodramatic responses from supporters such as “TODAY WAS THE WORST DAY IN THE CLUB’S HISTORY”. I don’t agree with that, in fact, our Court appearance went better than I for one was fearing it would – I certainly wasn’t expecting us to be given as long as eight weeks to sort things out. What the day did do though was give us an idea as to what those who will decide our fate if we cannot find the money owed are thinking (the fact that we now owe more than the £1.7 million left to pay on our winding up order at the time of our last appearance in Court despite us having paid off half of that sum this week tells you all you need to know about how bad things are) and that made for sobering reading.
Any supporter who has been following our financial woes reasonably closely will have known that barring promotion (increasingly unlikely), outside investment (possible, but not to the degree that would see us emerge completely from the mess we are in) or a fire sale of players (out of our hands and unlikely to bring in as much as we require in the current financial climate) we would not be able to pay off the tax bills which are the cause of us being so close to liquidation. It has been clear for some while that Cardiff City is currently insolvent and has been for some months, but to hear experts in that field actually come out and say it brought home the magnitude of the situation we find ourselves in.
Council Matt Smith for HMRC commented that Cardiff City were “plainly insolvent” but it was Mrs Registrar Derrett’s remarks which really made me realise the seriousness of our position. The person who will pass judgement on us on 5 May if we don’t settle our tax bill said;
“On the face of it this company is not able to pay its debts as they fall due. The only basis, I’m being told, on which there is a prospect of this being resolved is through a third party investor, but there is no evidence before the court.
However, I take note that it is only the second hearing. I will grant an adjournment for 56 days and that is for settlement in full.”
A moment of unintentional humour was provided by Mr Smith who when telling of how the club had paid £850,000 off the debt before the Court by defaulting on ongoing PAYE and VAT payments remarked that Cardiff were “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.
There are increasing signs though that Mr Smith might have got it half right because it is beginning to look like the priority is to pay off other creditors before HMRC (the land deal which was being trumpeted as our salvation a month ago now seems to have been used as a way of reducing debts owed to the likes of major shareholders Paul Guy and Mike Hall) resulting in a state of affairs that would have a cynic thinking that the decks were being cleared before the club goes into Administration.
No, with the possible exception of the man currently over in Malaysia reportedly trying to secure the £6 million investment from Dato Chan Tien Ghee (TG) referred to in Court, it looks like all the major players at Cardiff City will have their own pockets rather than the well being of the football club as their priority over the coming eight weeks, so I think supporters have to prepare themselves for the possibility of a worst case scenario whereby the Official Receiver takes over on May 5.
Given the possible consequences for us, it was poignant to see Chester City FC wound up shortly before we appeared before the Court, but what also struck me was the way in which the Chester fans being interviewed about their club’s demise were almost treating it as a positive development and an opportunity to put things right in some way as their “phoenix club” looks to start all over again from the beginning of next season. Representatives talked of business plans and meetings with their local council with a view to the new club continuing to play at the Deva Stadium and it was clear that a lot of time and effort had been put into planning the way forward for a new football club in Chester.
Of course, even outsiders such as myself have seen what happened to Chester yesterday coming for a while and so their supporters have probably been planning for their new club for quite some time, but we have to accept that for Chester City on 10 March, it could, conceivably, read Cardiff City on 5 May – how would any City fans present outside the Court that day react if they had a microphone shoved in front of their face and were asked “so what happens now?”?
On the face of it, if the worst came to the worst, and we had to start from scratch again with a phoenix club, then my initial thought would be if other clubs have done it, why couldn’t Cardiff? To use Chester as an example, we have a much larger supporter base than them and I maintain that a cross section of that support would be better equipped to make a decent job of running the club than Ridsdale and co have done. You only have to see the level of expertise shown by some posters in messageboard debates about the club’s finances and various legal matters affecting it to see that it would be entirely possible to form a committee of supporters suitably qualified to run a modern day football club in a prudent manner. When you also consider that it would be a labour of love for most, if not all, of those involved, you also have to say that running costs would be a tiny fraction of what we currently pay to Peter Ridsdale and his cronies – I am convinced that given time a phoenix club run by the fans for the fans could eventually be as successful as others such as Aldershot and our neighbours at Newport for example.
However, when you see the depressing aftermath to the supporters march on Saturday which soon turned into a witch hunt against the Supporters Trust and, in particular one member of it’s committee then you fear that too many of our fans prefer to indulge in petty rivalries and point scoring than working together for the good of Cardiff City. I emphasise again that all my talk here of phoenix clubs is looking at things from a worst case scenario – hopefully, it won’t come to that, but even if it doesn’t, isn’t it of over riding importance now that the supporters try to present a united front over the coming weeks? Even if we come through the present storm, haven’t the last few months taught us that supporters have to at least have some sort of structure in place to fall back on if we face a similar situation in the future?
By all means keep on marching against the current Board and majority shareholders if you want to (I’ll be joining you!), but, essentially that is just a way of letting off steam against the incompetents in charge – I can’t help thinking we need to be working together and being more proactive than that.
I am going to borrow from our Chairman now (I don’t think there are many who can claim to have done that down the years!) to ask a question. Wouldn’t it be great if, rather than moping around saying “we’re doomed” (sorry Dr Pop!) , every Cardiff City fan looked in the mirror over the next eight weeks and asked themselves “what can I do to help my club today”? If enough of us just took a few minutes out of their day and did something that meant that we as supporters are better informed as to how we can play a more active part in the running of our club then I think we might be pleasantly surprised by the results.
Speaking for myself, a working life which has seen me acquire a decent knowledge of the Intellectual Property business and not much else rather restricts the impact I could make. However, having accepted early retirement last year and being in a position where my monthly pension means I don’t need to find another job immediately, I do have the spare time on my hands that others may not have. Therefore if, for example, somebody with the sort of expertise I mentioned above ever needed someone to research a City related matter which they felt might leave us better placed to become more credible as a body of supporters, then I’m your man – the next few weeks and months are going to be very testing and I just think we should be doing more than we are currently.