The folly of it all.

CoymayBesides the obvious, the word “folly” has another meaning – it is the term used to describe architectural works of a certain type. I’ve not looked up any dictionary definitions, but I would describe an architectural folly as a building or structure which serves no practical purpose and was, most likely, built on a rich man or woman’s whim.

I daresay Cardiff’s most famous folly is situated no more than a five minute drive from my home. Castell.Coch (the red castle) overlooks Tongwynlais and Taffs Well – it can’t be missed by anyone driving out of Cardiff along the A470.

Castell Coch was designed by William Burges, who was employed on a money no object basis by the third Marquess of Bute to come up with a building in the Gothic revival style that was very popular in the mid nineteenth century.

Apparently, the original intention was for the castle to be a summer home for the Marquess and his family, but it was very rarely used in that fashion and so it, essentially became a, very attractive in my view, decoration on Cardiff’s North Western landscape.

A folly in North Cardiff, the red castle in all of it's glory - it looks like something from a Hans Christian Andersen book.

A folly in North Cardiff, the red castle in all of it’s glory – it looks like something from a Hans Christian Andersen book.

In these days of austerity, you aren’t going to get too many modern follies being built, but a few miles south of Castell Coch is another structure, which also has a connection to the colour red, that I maintain is a modern day folly.

Cardiff City’s Ninian Stand extension was built last year and was certainly not intended to serve no practical purpose, but, in the main, this is what has happened to it. Confirmation of this came this week when the club announced that the stand would not be used during the 2015/16 season and the few supporters who had bought season tickets for that part of the stadium would be offered seats elsewhere.

It was in 2012 I believe that the Ninian Stand extension became something more than the sort of vague notion of stadium extension often referred to by the likes of Sam Hammam and Peter Ridsdale when the new ground was still at the planning stage. However, the original idea had the rider that any rebuilding work would be conditional on the club surviving its first season in the Premier League if and when it got there.

This seemed a sensible qualification to me, but, somewhere along the line, all of that changed and during the summer of 2013, it was announced that building work would commence early in the new year as our first Premier League season was approaching it’s climax – actually, that should read anti climax as relegation was confirmed.

So, City started the current season back in the Championship and lumbered with a stadium that’s capacity was 6,000 more than when we were hosting the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool a few months earlier.

Even so, there have still been times when the red seated Ninian Stand extension defied its folly status and it will do again in the future, it’s just that Cardiff City has not and will not be involved when it does.

If Real Madrid are in town, then the new part of the ground stops being a pointless add on and the feelgood factor currently surrounding Welsh international football (well done to Tommy O’Sullivan and Josh Yorwerth by the way for sharing the goals between them as Wales Under 21s kicked off their latest Euro qualifying campaign with a 3-1 win over Bulgaria on Tuesday) was confirmed yesterday when it was announced that June’s game with Belgium was already a sell out.

With 30,000 in Cardiff City Stadium for the visit of Bosnia back in October and not far short of that present for the visit of Cyprus a few days later, a capacity crowd, especially after the win in Israel which made the dream of a first participation in the finals of a major tournament seem closer to being realised than ever, was always on the cards for the visit of the group favourites, but the speed at which the tickets went was very impressive.

All of this, as well as the capacity crowds seen at the Millennium Stadium when the national football team played there, proves that there is the potential to attract crowds of 33,000 to football matches in South East Wales.

Therefore, on one hand, Cardiff City’s decision to plough ahead with raising the capacity of their ground to that level is justified and I can understand Vincent Tan thinking that there’s no reason to believe that a club that can fill a 27,000 capacity stadium while winning the Championship shouldn’t be able to do the same when there’s room for another 6,000 for Premier League games.

However there is another side to the story – we have only had one league game in the last half a century when the attendance reached the current capacity of Cardiff City Stadium.

I strongly believe this should have been a consideration when the decision was taken to proceed with the ground extension at a time when there was, presumably, no formal evidence to justify it in terms of demand for tickets for City matches.

Vincent Tan couldn’t be expected to have much knowledge of crowd levels at the club over the last half a century, but you would like to think there were those at the club who did and you would have hoped they would have been arguing for a continuation of the original plan to see what things looked like if and when a second season in the Premier League had been secured – I can’t help thinking that those who say Vincent Tan has been badly advised at Cardiff may have a point.

Unfortunately, the relative boom period the national team is enjoying only serves to accentuate the problems the side representing the nation’s capital are facing. While Wales tickets sell out in less than a week, two months of “early bird” season ticket sales at reduced prices ended on Tuesday with a, reportedly, very poor take up.

All the indications are that attendances are going to be well down next season. In contrast to last year when the early bird sales took place while there was still the chance of another year in the top flight, this time around, promotion was never a realistic option, whereas a second consecutive relegation was a possibility, albeit a remote one, for at least a portion of the two months of reduced prices.

A folly in south Cardiff - the contrast between the numbers in the blue seats and those in the red says it all - the news that the stand will be closed next season leaves the credibility of those who authorised it's building  badly damaged.

A folly in south Cardiff – the contrast between the numbers in the blue seats and those in the red says it all – the news that the stand  extension (the red seats) will be closed next season leaves the credibility of those who authorised it’s building badly damaged.

It’s been pretty obvious that a lot of this year’s season ticket holders have just not been turning up to games – it’s as if they gambled on us staying up when they bought their tickets and have only been making the occasional visits to matches because we didn’t.

Therefore, the poor season ticket sales must solely be down to the “glory hunters” deserting the club? Well, I’m not so sure about that – Lindsay Davies*, a City supporter for fifty nine years, contacted the Trust a couple of days ago to say he would not be renewing his season ticket. Among Lindsay’s comments were;-

“And now they’re ‘closing’ that lovely (if red-seated) new Stand – God, it’s

all so shabby and low-grade”


“Incidentally, I’ve just turned 67 – fifty-nine years of barely reciprocated

love and support!

But, all part of Life – until now.

Now, I can hardly bear even to read about them.”

I know of some other long term fans who feel much like Lindsay does and I can’t help thinking that there are many others who also know other “veterans” who have had enough. It would appear that even what are known as diehards are deserting as well, people who love Cardiff City, who stayed with the club through the bad times and I daresay didn’t even contemplate not attending games until fairly recently, are joining the glory hunters in saying “no more”.

The Ninian stand extension will be a folly in all meanings of the word next season – a pointless structure that lacks the charm of some of the local competition and a reminder of the spend, spend, spend thinking which has blighted so much of the last fifteen years at Cardiff City.

There are those who argue that the current vogue for cost cutting at the club is a sign that it is on the road to recovery and, while it is difficult to see a way that debt levels could disappear entirely if the current policies went on indefinitely, I can certainly understand any decision our owner has taken on reducing his level of investment. However, if there really are a lot more out there with the same attitude as Lindsay Davies, it’s going to take an awful lot more than a round of cost cutting, no matter how severe it may be, to get us out of the downward spiral we are in.

*Lindsay has given his permission to use his comments.




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5 Responses to The folly of it all.

  1. Bobbie says:

    Unfortunately, I have to admit to feeling very distant from my club in recent months, and not just because I’m in exile. I remember getting very tearful at the Admiral Napier during an argument about the “red folly” and I seem to recall calling it precisely that when it was being built, and citing the same attendance reasons against its existence. I sit directly opposite it, and I shade my eyes to block out the spectre of its ridiculousness. Hateful, nonsensical structure.

  2. Pat Lyons says:

    Cardiff City in the Premier for me was akin to having a new IMAX cinema and then finding the only spectator who was allowed headphones was Vincent Tan. The whole period was met with arrogance and authority and image promoting adverts.
    Malky Macay was driven out and for the most of the period after all that could be heard was the song “Well always be blue”
    It was painful to endure and not entertaining. More so as my season tickets had been sold just a few days before I went to renew. The ticket office staff were brilliant as they had kept my seats held over the deadline. 3 Season tickets dating back to the 1993 era. I choose not to take up a different seat and have since made a great effort to enjoy my Saturdays elsewhere to the football team I folllowed and enjoyed for so long. Ive gone to only 1 game this season and fittingly it marked both the return to blue and also a minutes silence for the passing of one of the clubs most well known lady stewards. Someone I often had a few cheery comments from having parked my sons pram at the rear of the old Ninian Park Bob Bank.
    Vincent Tan I respect for his decisions to back the club at a time it was needed but now I see the period in history as like being backed by a credit card. Someone who in reality will get all of the debt back with crippling interest. I have had to walk away from this and if I was to describe myself to Mr Tan as a person then I guess the only bits of interest to him would be the fact I was born on January 28th 1960 a number with an 8 in it and also divisable by 8 even as 28011960, 28011960 , 280160 or 28160. My phone number in Port Talbot is 88 88 88 amd my mobile is 077** 88 88 88. My company logo is a dragon and its RED . I could go on but like so many we have told and told him until we are BLUE in the face.
    Its not finding excuses such as his mum told him what best to do that will redeeem our alienation as fans but rather a public apology where he recognises his faults and checks into some sort of Priory for help with his ego.

  3. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thanks for the replies Pat and Bobbie. Pat, you use a couple of great analogies about the IMAX cinema and the credit card (Tan is exactly the same as Hammam ten years earlier, but this time we’ve had an American Express Gold card rather than the kind of bog standard one I have) and you give examples of a side of supporting a football club that I don’t think Vincent Tan will ever be able to comprehend. As I’ve said before, I have a new respect for Mr Tan because he was finally able to admit he was wrong about his re-brand, but there can be no doubting that he has proved to be an enormously divisive figure – I was quite surprised by the warmth of the reception he received from sections of the crowd when he turned up for the Wolves match and yet I’m coming around to thinking that the number of supporters who say they won’t come back until he’s gone from the club is a lot bigger than I first thought it was.
    Bobbie, I sit underneath the new stand so don’t get to see it for first team games, but I’ve no choice but to sit opposite it for the Development side matches I attend and those red seats look completely incongruous now we are back in blue – unless a new owner rips them up and puts in blue ones, I think we are stuck with them now though. At the time, installing red seats was seen as a signal that there was no coming back from the change to red and yet less than six months after they were put in, we were back in blue – leaving arguments about the colour of the seats to one side for now, this is the sort of from one extreme to the other thinking that has typified the club’s attitude towards finance this season, surely it would have been better to have steered a middle cause rather than zig sagging from side to side like we have done?
    Finally, on the subject of the stand, I should say I’m not against expanding the ground per se, but why the change of mind from the original plan of waiting until we had survived a season in the Premier League before committing to it? Although the evidence of the last fifty years says it wasn’t needed, it may well have been that there were times last season where we could have filled a 33,000 capacity stadium. Under different circumstances, it may have been perfectly sensible to have added six thousand seats to the capacity last summer, but just going ahead and building it anyway was a waste and has led to what can only be an embarrassing decision for those in charge at the club being made this week.

  4. Anthony O'Brien says:

    In defence of Vincent Tan I’d like to quote the old adage: “Speculate to accumulate”. And also “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”. If and when CCFC manage to claw their way to the Premiership, we have a Premiership ground (almost) ready and waiting. All they then have to do, among other things having won promotion, is : stay up, win the FA Cup, become champions of Europe, AND play attractive football. I have a feeling that attendances might then be enough to fill all parts of the ground. Maybe, just maybe!

  5. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Hello Anthony, good to hear from you again. My not too serious reply to your “speculate to accumulate” comment is to say that we should go the whole hog and expand the other three sides of the ground so that we have a 60,000 capacity stadium ready for when we are going to be winning all of these trophies – we can keep them all closed until then of course.
    Seriously, I’ve been doing a bit of research into the crowds we got in the days before I started watching us play and our gates since the war don’t support the theory that we need a 33,000 capacity stadium. It wouldn’t have been enough in the post war boom years of the late 40s when so many clubs had attendances that are pretty mind boggling by today’s standards, but for most of our spell in the top division during the fifties we could have got by with a 27,000 capacity ground, while we only averaged 23,390 and 19,294 in our two years in Division One in the early sixties.
    What Cardiff has nearly always had is a floating support (some would say fickle!) that turn up in their thousands one week to watch us play the big teams and then desert us again when we play a more mundane side the following week, no matter what the result in our previous game. That suggests to me that we would have got demand which would have led to full houses last season with a 33,000 capacity when Chelsea, Liverpool, Man United etc. were here, but there would have been plenty of empty seats for the Stokes, Hulls, Palaces etc. If that proved to be the case then we could have stuck to the original plan and built if we had stayed up, not got ourselves lumbered with a white (red) elephant which, I suspect, was built when it was purely because of the European Super Cup match last August.

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