Thursday, 14 January 2016

The Influence of an Icon

I happened to be lying in the bath early last Monday when I learned of David Bowie's death. The CD I'd put on before I got into the water was his 2014 compilation 'Nothing Has Changed' and the track that was playing while I was reading the news on my mobile phone was his 1973 hit single 'Drive-In Saturday'. Weird, huh?

Well, if the truth be told, it's not an uncanny coincidence at all. The fact is that Bowie's music is playing as often as not while I'm pottering around my home, whether it's first thing in the morning, last thing at night or any time in-between. Like millions of other music lovers, I've been a David Bowie fan since my school days. Indeed, if memory serves, his 1976 album 'Changesonebowie' was either the second or third LP I ever bought.

Following the confirmation of his passing, the first artist I saw paying tribute to Bowie on social media was Nick Oliveri. The second was Madonna. To me, that spoke volumes about the scope of the man's influence. After all, the lunatic bassist who currently plays with alternative rock band Mondo Generator and the multifaceted global megastar are about as far apart on the musical spectrum as it's possible to be and yet both were clearly moved by the death of the iconic performer.

David Bowie’s wide appeal is easy to understand. During a phenomenal career spanning more than five decades, he not only embraced numerous musical and visual styles but he also collaborated with artists as diverse as Lulu and Iggy Pop, Luther Vandross and Lou Reed, Bing Crosby and Puff Daddy, and the Pet Shop Boys and Nine Inch Nails. Meanwhile, his songs were covered by a vast array of acts ranging from Bauhaus to Barbara Streisand, Culture Club to Nirvana, Mott the Hoople to Marilyn Manson and Duran Duran to Dinosaur Jr.
The scale of Bowie's influence on music, fashion and popular culture since he rose to prominence in the early-Seventies is unparalleled and, in my opinion, he remains as relevant today as he was during his seminal Ziggy Stardust and Berlin periods.

For me, the most exciting new band to have emerged in recent years is Wolf Alice. When asked to name their musical influences, the young Londoners have mentioned David Bowie on more than one occasion. Wolf Alice's debut album was released in June and went straight into the chart at number two. It was kept off the top by Florence and the Machine, whose 29 year-old vocalist Florence Welch told the press this week that Bowie has been a huge influence throughout her life.

My favourite release of 2015 was Beth Jeans Houghton's brilliant album 'Welcome Back To Milk'. The talented 25 year-old, who'd previously enjoyed critical success while producing a brand of quirky, psychedelic folk music, apparently experienced a creative epiphany while visiting the 'David Bowie Is' exhibition at London’s V&A Museum. She promptly ditched the band she had been working with, renamed herself Du Blonde, altered her musical style dramatically and recorded what I believe to be one of the most impressive records of the last decade.

The above are examples of precisely why David Bowie remains such an important figure as far as I'm concerned. It's not just because I love a large percentage of the music he created, but also because he was and still is a significant influence on so many other artists that I rate highly - acts such as the Birthday Party, Blondie, Blur, Kate Bush, Nick Cave, Hugh Cornwell, the Cure, the Dandy Warhols, Electric Six, the Horrors, Joy Division, Morrissey, Placebo, Queens of the Stone Age, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Smiths, Suede, the Talking Heads and the Tubes.

It seems that almost every musical performer I've ever admired has owed some kind of a debt to David Bowie. In most cases, the artists concerned were inspired by his music, although some were merely attracted by his appearance. A few have attempted to replicate his impressive stage craft, while others have been influenced by his ability to frequently reinvent himself. In a couple of instances, bands that I've liked were publicly championed by the man himself. Other artists have simply revealed themselves to be fans like me. But whatever the connection, pretty much everything in my record collection eventually leads back to Bowie in one way or another.
During the last ten months, I've been fortunate enough to see the superb 'David Bowie Is' exhibition at the Philharmonie de Paris and enjoy an intimate, three-hour tour of the Hansa Studios in Berlin, where Bowie mixed 'Low', wrote and recorded 'Heroes' and co-wrote and produced the Iggy Pop albums 'The Idiot' and 'Lust For Life'. Suffice to say that both experiences will remain with me for the rest of my days.

Words like 'genius' and 'legend' are bandied around way too easily in this day and age and most of the people who get described as such are absolutely nothing of the sort, but David Bowie is an exception. He genuinely was a pop idol in every sense. The Starman from Brixton was a bona fide one-off. He was an innovator, a trendsetter and a true cultural icon. Bowie's death will be mourned by millions, but his extraordinary talent was such that his influence will be felt by many generations to come.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

A Tribute to Simon Insole

On Saturday afternoon, Cardiff City Football Club will pay tribute to former South Wales Police Football Intelligence Officer Simon Insole before the match against Leeds United. Simon, who collapsed and died last Thursday evening at the age of 49, had worked as a Football Intelligence Officer for more than a decade and this season was being employed by the club as a safety officer. He was a fantastic and much-loved character who will be greatly missed by everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him.  

I first met Simon back in the Eighties, probably around 1987. I was 20 years old at the time and a regular at the Butchers Arms in Rhiwbina. Simon was close friends with another police officer who lived locally, namely Andy ‘Orpy’ Davies, and they would often call into the pub at the end of a shift or when they were off duty.
The Butchers bar in those days contained a wide variety of weird and wonderful characters, such as Dean Oliver, Steve James, Paul ‘Dubber’ Dupuy, Chrissy Higgins, Simon Norris, Steve ‘Chelsea’ Williams, Mikey Donovan, Martin ‘Scouser’ Ballard, Dennis Clarke, Steve Sherlock, Tommy McCoy, John ‘Jock’ Hendry, Nigel Crocker, the Judd brothers (Alan, Gareth and Tony), Chris and Adrian Leeds, Dai King, Andy Coomber and the lunatic who eventually became my best mate, Richard Bull. Anyone who frequented the pub during the late-Eighties is sure to recognise some of those names. We were a diverse bunch, but fairly close-knit all the same.
Simon cut an unmistakable figure with his giant frame and bald head – a result of a lengthy battle with leukaemia which I believe dated back to his teens. I was also easy enough to spot with my dyed hair, ripped jeans and brothel creepers. The policeman and the punk rocker was an unlikely combination, but I got on famously with the big man from the word go and we soon became good friends. Having taken me under his wing, Simon used to drag me to all sorts of places after last orders, including the police staff club in Cathays, where he would pretend I was either his younger brother or his cousin while signing me in. Needless to say I always came off a hopeless second best in our frequent late-night Guinness-drinking contests.
During the summer of 1989, Orpy was going through a divorce and struggling to make ends meet after his wife had moved out of their house in Birchgrove. Simon and I were both looking for somewhere to live, so we moved in. I was working as an apprentice bricklayer at the time. The two coppers took the double bedrooms, while I made myself at home in a small single room with Orpy’s animals – a dog called Biscuit and a cat named Crumb. The arrangement suited me down to the ground, particularly as the other lads insisted on paying most of the bills because I wasn’t earning much money. I can remember Simon showing his girlfriend around the house shortly after we had settled in. He opened my door to find me lying on the bed watching television alongside the dog and the cat. “This is where me and Orpy keep our three pets,” he told her.
My girlfriend’s name was Samantha. She was a student at Exeter University and would often come home at weekends. We wrote to each other regularly while she was away and Simon would take great delight in delivering her letters to me at the crack of dawn. I’d always be fast asleep when the postman arrived, but he would usually be awake either preparing for an early shift or returning from a late one. He would quietly tiptoe into my room with the letter and either empty a glass of water over my head, whip away my quilt covers or whack me with a pillow while bellowing “Sam-o-gram for Sugarman!” Doing so seemed to keep him amused, but it didn’t do my sleep patterns much good. 
Our living arrangements lasted for several months until we were evicted due to the ongoing divorce proceedings. Orpy moved into a flat at the top of the street and Simon found a new place on Whitchurch Road, but I stayed in the house on my own for a few more weeks and was effectively squatting while I tried to get somewhere else fixed up. When I finally did move, it was Simon who borrowed a van and helped me to shift my stuff. He often looked out for me during that particular period and his friendship was invaluable as I was going through something of a rough patch and was in danger of slipping off the rails.
In those days, Simon normally drove around in a battered old orange Mini. It was a tiny car and he looked absolutely ridiculous in it, but it got him to work and back and he gave me lifts to the pub and the football often enough, so it served its purpose.
Simon and I went our separate ways during much of the Nineties, although he made a point of calling into the Butchers or the Deri from time to time and I would occasionally see him out and about when he was policing Cardiff City matches. 
We re-established regular contact in 2000 when he became one of the South Wales Police’s Football Intelligence Officers. His new role meant he was present at almost all of Cardiff’s home and away games, as well as Welsh internationals, and he quickly proved to be brilliantly suited to the job. Simon employed many of the methods he had learned while engaging in community policing work and his friendly disposition coupled with his natural ability to effectively deal with people on all levels soon made him a popular figure with the supporters. He always treated Bluebirds fans with patience and respect, and his attitude earned him plenty of respect in return.
During the decade in which Simon worked as a Football Intelligence Officer, the behaviour of Cardiff City supporters improved dramatically and he deserves a huge amount of credit for the part he played in that turnaround. The bridges he helped to build between the fans, the club’s officials and the local police went a long way towards creating today’s situation whereby trouble of any sort at Bluebirds matches is very rare.
Over the years, I attended many meetings with Simon and prepared a number of website reports at his suggestion. He was always very keen to do his bit towards helping to improve the club’s image, particularly back in the days when the new stadium was still at the planning stage.
A good example of that came in September 2006 when the South Wales Echo published a lengthy letter from a rugby fan complaining about alleged hooliganism at Ninian Park. Simon was on the phone shortly after the paper had hit the news stands and requested that I pen a response in order to redress the balance. He gave me some facts, figures and quotes to use in my reply, which the Echo printed in full a few days later.
Another example came in October 2010. While I was travelling home from a midweek fixture at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena, Simon rang to ask for my opinion regarding the policing at the game. I told him I thought it had been pretty low-key and said if the truth be told I couldn’t even remember seeing any police officers at the ground. He laughed and explained there was a good reason for that – it was the first Cardiff City away game in decades which had been a police-free, stewards-only fixture. Simon and his colleagues had been working towards such a goal for years and he was proud they had finally managed to convince another force that the behaviour of Cardiff fans had improved to such an extent that no policing was necessary inside the stadium. It was a major step forward for the football club and Simon was very keen that the public should know about it, so I drew up a report for the Cardiff Mad website on his behalf and an article based on that report appeared in the Echo the following day.
While he was always professional in the way he went about things and firm when he needed to be, Simon’s common-sense attitude towards his job and the respect with which he treated people meant that he was readily accepted by the majority of Bluebirds supporters as being one of us. He made genuine efforts to get know a large number of the fans who travel away regularly and often helped to get people out of trouble of one sort or another. The fact that he used to turn up in his own time and with his family at events such as stadium open days and Academy fundraisers demonstrated his dedication to the club. He was an integral part of the Cardiff City set-up for more than a decade and will be greatly missed by all of the staff he worked alongside and the many hundreds of supporters he assisted.  
When Simon Insole began working at Cardiff City as a Football Intelligence Officer in 2000, the club had a dreadful reputation for hooliganism and problems at matches were commonplace. When he left his position with the South Wales Police in 2011, the Bluebirds had just won the Football League’s Family Club of the Year award. I reckon that fact speaks volumes about the quality of the work he did during the time in which he was involved with the club.
Simon was a fine police officer, a great character and a good man, and I feel genuinely privileged that I could count on him as a friend for so many years. May he rest in peace.           

Friday, 17 August 2012

It's More than Just a Colour

This evening, Cardiff City will kick off their 2012/13 Championship campaign against newly-promoted Huddersfield Town. It will be the first Bluebirds home game that I have missed in all competitions since December 1994 and only the third since March 1975.
In recent months, I have lost count of the number of people who have expressed their surprise that I am prepared to give up on a lifetime of supporting Cardiff over the colour of their new shirts. I have expected those kinds of comments from people who aren’t football fans themselves, but I’ve been genuinely surprised to hear the same sort of things being said by other City supporters, both in person and the on the internet message boards.
For me, this is about much more than just a colour. For those who are interested and unable to work them out for themselves, the reasons that I am turning my back on the Bluebirds after 37 years as a season ticket holder are as follows: 
The Principle
Until the recent changes were implemented, blue had been Cardiff City’s primary colour ever since the football club became professional in 1910. In my opinion, the board’s decision to completely bypass the fanbase and simply flush away more than a century of tradition without any kind of consultation was not only nonsensical but also hugely disrespectful to the generations of Bluebirds supporters who have followed the club throughout its long and troubled history.
Nobody would expect the fans to be consulted on any of the day-to-day decisions the club’s officials have to make during the normal course of its business, but what we are talking about here is a different situation altogether. This re-branding exercise was not a standard business decision by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, it was a radical transformation of the club’s identity and one which appears to have no commercial justification whatsoever. The change to red shirts and a dragon emblem was guaranteed to prove hugely divisive and for many supporters it has altered the very fabric of the club. The Bluebirds hierarchy were fully aware that would be the case but nevertheless they didn’t deem it appropriate to canvass the opinions of their core customers before embarking upon such a drastic course of action. Sadly, the fact of the matter is that the personal preferences of a wealthy Malaysian businessman who apparently watched his first game of professional football in May 2010 are now considered significantly more important than those of many thousands of lifelong Cardiff City fans.
All of the evidence suggests that these changes are being implemented simply because the club’s major shareholder has demanded them. Indeed, Chief Executive Alan Whiteley has freely admitted that there is no actual business plan attached to the re-branding, while Chairman Dato Chan Tien Ghee failed to volunteer any kind of justification for it during yesterday’s general meeting of shareholders. Despite vague hints about worldwide marketing strategies and commercial activities in the Far East, club officials have thus far offered no suggestions as to what tangible benefits the exercise is supposed to bring apart from the continued support of Tan Sri Vincent Tan. Meanwhile, a number of experts in the field of marketing have publicly dismissed the notion that the Bluebirds will reap any financial rewards by playing in a red kit as opposed to a blue one. This act of corporate vandalism appears to be little more than a rich man’s whim and is one which has fractured the club’s fanbase for no discernible reason.
A short while after the changes were confirmed, the club announced it was initiating a supporter consultation process which will involve “looking at key areas of future brand development within existing parameters,” such as the kit and the crest. If ever there was a textbook example of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, then this must be it. In my opinion, the club’s owners have treated its fans with contempt in recent months and this damage limitation exercise by local officials is little more than lip service. Alan Whiteley and his staff undoubtedly have honourable intentions and are trying make the best of a bad situation, but the fans have already been told the team will play in red and have a dragon as its emblem in 2013/14, so any consultation is likely to be severely limited.
Of course, the Bluebirds hierarchy are under no obligation to consult with the fanbase on any issue. By the same token, the supporters are under no obligation to endorse the way in which the current regime is conducting its business. No doubt the vast majority of fans will carry on supporting the club regardless of recent events, but for some of us there is a principle at stake here. Cardiff City’s Malaysian owners have clearly demonstrated they are content to ignore the supporters and trample on the club’s traditions. Consequently, they will not be getting another penny from me.
The Cardiff City ‘Brand’
In his one and only public statement regarding the football club he has effectively owned for two years, Tan Sri Vincent Tan said: “I have the greatest respect for the Welsh national symbol of the red dragon. I believe it to be a symbol of great strength and I was surprised it had such little coverage on the club’s badge. It was for this reason that I suggested the improved focus of the Welsh dragon, and this despite suggestions by a Welsh designer to use a more modern version of the dragon instead.”
As far as I’m concerned, Tan’s comments serve only to demonstrate how out of touch he is with the supporters of the club he controls. Maybe his advisors should have informed him that those of us who live in the Welsh capital already have a football team who play in red and wear a dragon on their chests. They are called Wales and they represent us in international competitions. Although Cardiff City Football Club has often acknowledged its Welsh heritage, the simple fact of the matter is that the Bluebirds do not represent the people of Wales. They represent the people of Cardiff and its surrounding areas, while the red dragon is the emblem of our country and not our club.
Using Tan’s twisted logic, teams such as Arsenal, Chelsea and West Ham should be playing in white and wearing three lions on their shirts simply because they are based in the capital city of England, but of course they don’t. Those clubs evidently have considerably more pride in their individual identities than Cardiff City does at present.
Tan continued: “I have been told that the Welsh dragon was in fact on the club’s badge when it last won the FA Cup in 1927.” He is indeed correct, although he conveniently failed to mention the crest worn by Keenor and Co at Wembley in both 1925 and 1927 also contained a seahorse and a goat. Perhaps the club should resurrect the latter instead of the dragon and replace the motto ‘Fire and Passion’ with ‘Climb Every Mountain’. It would seem more appropriate under the circumstances.
As soon as it was decided that Cardiff City would play in red this season, one would have assumed that City’s officials would have attempted to ensure the new strip was as stylish as possible, especially as the owner apparently wanted an image that would “give the club a new focus and dynamism.” A radical change of colours was always going to be contentious, but the blow could have been softened for many supporters if the new kit had looked attractive.
When the re-branding plans were initially leaked, fans on the message boards quickly produced several shirt designs that involved a striking fusion of red and blue. So, what did the club itself manage to come up with? Well, the home strip for 2012/13 can best be described as a counterfeit Manchester United kit which appears to have originated from the budget section of the Puma catalogue. A cheap and nasty red and black affair, it looks about as dynamic as a doornail. There will be sides playing in the lower divisions of the Cardiff parks leagues this season who will have better-looking kits than the Bluebirds.
To further compound matters, the away strip is blue, white and yellow, while a black and gold third kit is apparently in the pipeline. God knows who dreamed up this car-crash colour scheme, but it goes to prove that the decision-makers at the Cardiff City Stadium can occasionally be clueless where such matters are concerned.
I have already outlined my feelings about the new ‘beer mat’ badge in a previous entry, but the appearance of it in recent weeks in prominent positions on the side of the stadium has further underlined what an ill-conceived mess this exercise has been. I witnessed the new stadium branding for myself yesterday and it’s a real pig’s breakfast, although I’ll concede the pictures of the players on display outside the main entrance do seem rather apt. After all, what could be more symbolic of what is fast becoming a Mickey Mouse club than a couple of huge cartoon footballers?
In keeping with everything else in recent months, last weekend’s free event at the Cardiff City Stadium bordered on the bizarre. As far as I can ascertain, a ceremony was held to mark the re-opening of a stadium that had never closed, while celebrations were staged to commemorate the club’s sole ownership of a ground that it has always owned solely. Those who attended this event were apparently treated to dancing oriental dragons, a hog roast and a fireworks display. It seems that in this bold new era of fire and passion, the club literally has money to burn.    
During the last few months, Bluebirds officials have made numerous references to what they describe as the Cardiff City ‘brand’. For example, Alan Whiteley recently stated: “The changes to the home kit and badge are designed to help the club develop its brand and allow it to appeal to as wide an audience as possible,” while Chairman Dato’ Chan Tien Ghee described the exercise as “a springboard for the successful commercialisation and promotion of the club and its brand.”
The truth of the matter is that these gentlemen are talking about developing and promoting an entirely new ‘brand’ which Tan Sri Vincent Tan and his associates have recently created. Rewind to April and the idea of Cardiff City playing in a red and black home kit with a dragon for an emblem would have seemed utterly ridiculous to every Bluebirds fan. Plenty of us still feel that way, but it appears the majority of supporters have been either coerced or manipulated into believing this so-called ‘brand’ is not only acceptable but in some cases even appealing.
Many City fans may be willing to embrace the notion that the traditional identity of the football club they support is nothing more than a marketing tool for a Malaysian businessman to mess around with, but I find it abhorrent. The plastic monstrosity which the current regime has created bears little resemblance to the club I have supported for the last 37 years and I feel no affinity towards it.
Emperor Tan and his Minions
When Tan Sri Vincent Tan’s name was first connected with Cardiff City, I was both intrigued and excited. He was obviously a very wealthy man and his representative, Dato’ Chan Tien Ghee, seemed honourable, knowledgeable and genuinely respectful of the club, its supporters and its traditions.
TG was hugely impressive when he spoke to the shareholders during a General Meeting at the Cardiff City Stadium in May 2010 on the day that he officially became the new Bluebirds chairman. He said he felt “deeply privileged” to serve a club he described as “a Welsh institution that is now representing two nations.” He claimed the club was committed to another promotion challenge but added that the fans must not forget Cardiff City needs to be operating within sensible financial guidelines.
He was similarly impressive when he spent an evening with members of the Supporters’ Trust at the stadium in November 2010, and was once again in good form when he addressed the shareholders in July 2011 during his second General Meeting. On that occasion, the Chairman stated his belief that Cardiff City is an institution rather than a business and one which must be maintained for future generations to enjoy. He described the club as “a sturdy ship that has been in existence for more than 100 years,” and said he was determined it would be here for another 100 years.
TG suggested that football is like no other business and admitted that he and his Malaysian colleagues had been on a steep learning curve since they first got involved in the club. He assured the shareholders that the board was doing everything possible to cut out unnecessary spending and talked of building firm foundations for the future while remaining competitive at the top of the Championship.
Although the record financial losses revealed by the publication of the 2010/11 accounts in March 2012 started the alarm bells ringing, I nevertheless retained a great deal of respect for the Chairman up until the point where the news of the re-branding plans broke. Since then, the quotes attributed to him on the club’s official website have been extremely disappointing, while his performance at yesterday’s General Meeting, although charming and disarming, was far less impressive than his previous appearances in front of the shareholders. To say he has gone down in my estimations would be something of an understatement.
Having said that, I would love to know what TG really thinks about this re-branding episode. Although it’s just a hunch, I have a feeling that, much like the local club officials, he has merely been spinning the company line and his personal viewpoint is somewhat different to the one outlined in his public statements. I believe this ridiculous exercise is essentially the work of just one man, namely Tan Sri Vincent Tan.
According to the current Chief Executive, Tan only stepped up his involvement in the running of the club around seven months ago. Before then, he had been something of a silent partner, although the writing was clearly on the wall in June of last year when it was announced the Bluebirds would have Malaysia plastered across the front of their shirts for the 2011/12 campaign. 
At the time, former Chief Executive Gethin Jenkins stated: “The club had some very attractive shirt sponsorship options to link up with a number of commercial partners and brands in the UK and abroad, but after speaking with our investors and knowing the commitment from Vincent Tan and TG, we knew that the best way to highlight our affinity with Malaysia was to wear the message with pride on our kits.”
Tan allegedly paid the club £350,000 for the privilege of having his country’s name emblazoned across the team’s shirts. Coincidentally, £350,000 is the figure the club accrued in annual interest on the £5 million debt that Tan failed to convert into equity following the July 2011 General Meeting (see my blog entry from 20 June for details).
The Malaysia sponsorship deal, which will continue in 2012/13, is a weird one to put it mildly. I suppose it could be argued that it is an attempt by the club to promote itself in the Far East, but I have little doubt that Tan’s primary intention is simply to curry personal favour with Malaysia’s political and business leaders and thereby increase his standing within his homeland.
On the handful of occasions that he has attended Bluebirds matches, Tan has invariably had a group of Malaysian dignitaries in tow. He clearly views Cardiff City as a status symbol and I suspect he will continue to use it to promote himself within the Far East during the coming months. As for his long-term intentions with regard to the Bluebirds, I wouldn’t care to speculate about those, although the evidence of what has happened so far in 2012 would suggest that pretty much anything is possible given the fact that the re-branding exercise apparently came out of the blue, if you’ll pardon the pun.
Of course, although Tan Sri Vincent Tan is the major shareholder and clearly has a huge influence behind the scenes, he is by no means the only decision-maker at Cardiff City. Indeed, the club currently has the largest board of directors in its entire history. Although the backgrounds of the five local directors have been fairly well-documented, very little is known about Malaysia-based directors Derek Chee Seng Sing, Len Win Kong, Meng Kwong Lim and Danni Rais other than the fact that they are all employees of Tan’s Berjaya Group and were appointed to the Bluebirds board by him. Meanwhile, Cypriot-born investment banker Mehmet Dalman is another director who was introduced to the board by Tan, although he is based in the UK. The role of these five gentlemen in terms of their involvement with the club remains a mystery.
As I have already outlined, when they took control of Cardiff City Football Club during 2010, the spokesman for the new Malaysian regime talked of cutting out unnecessary spending, operating within sensible financial guidelines and building firm foundations for the future. It all sounded very encouraging, but the reality has been record financial losses and additional debts totalling more than £35 million which have been accumulated within the space of just two years. Nevertheless, everyone at the club seems very relaxed about the situation simply because the largest shareholder is an extremely rich man.
Tan Sri Vincent Tan’s solutions to these ongoing problems are apparently what he describes in his statement as “making real-world business decisions” and “exploring international markets” in order to prepare for the club’s “next evolutionary phase”. In layman’s terms, that seems to equate to playing in red as opposed to blue and replacing the traditional Bluebird with a Welsh dragon while trying to attract the attention of millions of television viewers on the other side of the globe.
Many Cardiff City fans are apparently happy to accept Tan’s so-called vision and put their trust in him simply because he is a successful business mogul who has made a fortune in the Far East. I, on the other hand, firmly believe that the re-branding exercise is a complete waste of the club’s time and money and, while I don’t believe he has any evil intentions, I wouldn’t trust Tan as far as I could throw him.  
The Supporters
The aspect of this summer’s fiasco which has disappointed me the most has been the reactions of the club’s supporters, or at least a considerable percentage of them. I can fully understand the feelings of fans who are reluctantly putting up with these changes as they fear for the club’s future without Tan Sri Vincent Tan’s backing. I can also empathise with those who are opposed to the re-branding but will continue to support the team as they feel unable to give up doing so. Nevertheless, I have found the levels of shoulder-shrugging apathy, bootlicking servility and mind-numbing stupidity displayed by large numbers of Bluebirds fans in recent months to be not only staggering but also nauseating. Meanwhile, the threats of violence that were issued against those who simply wished to peacefully protest about the systematic destruction of their club’s traditional identity were truly sickening.
I used to be very proud to count myself as a Cardiff City supporter, but such feelings have rapidly diminished since the re-branding reared its ugly head. I’m finding I can no longer relate to people I previously had a good deal of respect for, while there are others I now hold in genuine contempt, and I’ve no doubt there are those who feel exactly the same way about me. Regardless of their reasoning, I simply cannot identify with any Bluebirds fan who has welcomed what has happened to their club in recent months and I have no desire whatsoever to either sit or travel alongside such people.
If a sizeable percentage of the fanbase had voiced opposition to these changes, then I have little doubt I would have been there this evening supporting the team regardless of what colours they are playing in. However, as far as I’m concerned, the way in which the club’s true identity has been tamely surrendered with barely a whimper from its fans has been very difficult to stomach.
Ultimately, I believe the supporters who have either meekly accepted these changes or actively embraced them will get the club they deserve, although I very much doubt it will be the one they currently envisage.
Blue really is the Colour
Whenever I think of Cardiff City’s greatest goals or most significant victories, and even their most desperate defeats, I picture the players and supporters wearing blue, which is hardly surprising considering the fact that blue has been the club’s primary colour for more than a century.
Whether it be Fred Keenor lifting the FA Cup at Wembley, Brian Clark scoring the winner against Real Madrid, Nathan Blake knocking Manchester City out the Cup at Ninian Park, Scott Young doing likewise to Leeds United, Andy Campbell’s play-off final winner at the Millennium Stadium, Ben Turner’s equaliser against Liverpool in the Carling Cup final or Mark Hudson scoring from his own half against Derby last season, I see blue.
Although the side has worn just about every colour of the rainbow away from home, whenever I envisage the greatest triumphs and despairs during my 37 years as a Cardiff supporter, I see the Bluebirds in blue. I certainly don’t see them in red. For me, the teams I immediately identify with red are Wales and Bristol City, not Cardiff City.
I guess I’m the same as almost all of the football fans in the United Kingdom. Regardless of whether they actually support the club or not, if a British football supporter thinks of Cardiff City, he or she will invariably think of blue. But none of that matters anymore, because a wealthy man from Malaysia prefers red, and he seems to believe that millions of other people from his continent prefer red too. The fact that those people have never watched or supported Cardiff City in their lives and don’t even know of the club’s existence is neither here nor there. Red is apparently considered a lucky colour in the Far East, so red it is.
Tan Sri Vincent Tan has managed to do something that no other Bluebirds owner or chairman has done during the last 37 years. He has cured me of my Cardiff City addiction. In terms of consultation, communication, implementation and justification, his pointless re-branding exercise has been a nightmare and it has proved a personal watershed for me. Although I may return to support the club at some point in the future, I know that I will never feel the same loyalty or affection towards it again and I very much doubt that I will ever buy another season ticket. Sadly, it feels as if the spell has finally been broken. Supporting the Bluebirds has always been an emotional rollercoaster, but the ride is rapidly moving in a direction that I don’t wish to travel, so I’m getting off.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A Debt-Free Future for the Bluebirds?

In his recent statement on Cardiff City’s official website, major shareholder Tan Sri Vincent Tan outlined his financial commitment to the club. He said: “To date, I have invested a total of £40.8 million, which comprises of £34.8 million in loans and £6 million in equity.” 
Tan continued: “Going forward, Cardiff City is expecting a cash injection in the amount of £35 million to meet its financial obligations from now until May 2013, including a substantial amount for squad strengthening within budgets. Of this amount, £10 million has been earmarked to settle the long-standing Langston debt, which if accepted by Langston will go a long way to cleaning up the balance sheet of the club. This further £35 million cash injection, coupled with my earlier investment of £40.8 million, will add up to a very sizeable £75.8 million invested in the club. 
“In addition to this, we have budgeted £10 million for new Premier League standard training facilities and £12 million to increase the stadium capacity to 35,000 seats. Add this further capital expenditure and our investment in Cardiff City will have ballooned to £97.8 million. With a contingency provision of another £2.2 million, our total investment will reach £100 million.” 
The club’s recent radical re-branding exercise has been reluctantly accepted by many fans in the belief that the club could soon be debt-free as a result of Tan’s investment. The £34.8 million in loans he has already given the Bluebirds are attracting interest at a rate of 7% per annum according to the latest set of accounts, but Chief Executive Alan Whiteley has strongly suggested that the Malaysian business magnate will convert his debts into equity once the Langston issue has finally been resolved. 
Whiteley recently told the South Wales Echo: “Vincent Tan’s money is in as debt at the moment. He has, though, made a statement that if Langston come to the party and sign up in terms of the offer we have made to them, he will start to look at restructuring the balance sheet to put the club in an even better position. That would be a debt to equity conversion.” 
Something didn’t seem quite right when I read Tan Sri Vincent Tan’s statement last week, but it wasn’t until this afternoon that I was able to put my finger on exactly what was bothering me. Tan said he has invested £6 million in the club in the form of equity, whereas I had been convinced that the figure was £11 million. That’s because I was one of the attendees at the General Meeting of shareholders which took place at the Cardiff City Stadium on 28 July 2011, a report of which can be found on this blog. 
Fortunately, I still have all of the relevant paperwork from that particular meeting in my possession. In his notice to the shareholders, Chairman Dato’ Chan Tien Ghee clearly stated that the following debt to equity conversions were set to take place: 
£2,850,000 owed to PMG Estates Ltd would immediately be converted into 18,164,436 new ordinary shares at a subscription price of 15.69p per share. 
£500,000 owed to director Michael Isaac would immediately be converted into 3,186,743 new ordinary shares at a subscription price of 15.69p per share. 
£400,000 owed to director Steve Borley’s company CMB Engineering would be converted into 2,549,395 new ordinary shares at 15.69p per share. 
£5,089,441 owed to Vincent Tan and his fellow Malaysian investors would be converted into 32,437,482 new ordinary shares at 15.69p per share. 
Documents filed at Companies House in October 2011 indicate that the debt to equity conversions involving Michael Isaac and Steve Borley went ahead as planned. However, the latest set of accounts, which were published in March 2012, reveal the PMG debt to equity conversion did not take place because the club defaulted on repayments to Paul Guy’s company, thereby rendering the amended loan agreement void. 
No mention is made in the accounts of the Malaysian investors’ proposed £5 million debt to equity conversion, but share returns filed at Companies House in October 2011 suggest it didn’t happen and Tan Sri Vincent Tan’s recent website statement appears to confirm as much. 
According to the latest paperwork which is publicly available, 101,079,418 of the new ordinary shares created by the May 2010 and July 2011 share issues have now been allotted, which leaves a balance of 263,577,301 shares. At the current share subscription price of 15.69p, the unallocated equities are worth approximately £41.3 million. 
Tan Sri Vincent Tan last week stated that he is currently owed £34.8 million by the club. The £10 million allegedly earmarked to clear the Langston debt would take that figure to £44.8 million, which is £3.5 million higher than the total value of the shares presently available for allotment. If my calculations are correct, it seems certain that another share issue and another General Meeting will be required in the near future in order for these debts to be converted into equity, let alone the additional debts that will arise from next season’s running costs, the new training centre and the planned stadium expansion. 
Bear in mind that the loans from the overseas investors are currently racking up interest at a rate of 7% per annum, although the accounts state that the lenders have the right to convert any amounts outstanding, including accrued interest, into equity at any time. To put that interest figure into perspective, the failure by the Malaysians to convert the £5 million debt outlined in the July 2011 shareholders’ circular into equity has cost City an additional £350,000 during the last twelve months, while the annual interest on the £14.8 million they loaned the club during the 2010/11 season amounts to more than £1 million. 
Given the fact that the Langston issue is still dragging on and considering the alarming operating losses the club is continuing to make, I cannot see any way in which Cardiff City will be even remotely close to debt-free in the near future. Many Bluebirds fans have accepted and even embraced the re-branding exercise because they believe the club’s financial situation will improve dramatically as a result of it, but I have a feeling they are going to be disappointed, at least in the short term. I sincerely hope I’m wrong about that, but the evidence in the public domain is less than encouraging.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Never mind, it's only a badge...

Pictured left is Cardiff City Football Club’s official crest for the 2012/13 campaign. Absolutely dreadful, isn’t it? The new badge is akin to a 1970’s beer mat. It was described to me by an old school teacher of mine as looking like it belongs on a tin of Welsh fudge. Even the majority of the fans who are in favour of Vincent Tan’s ridiculous re-branding exercise seem to think it looks terrible. In my opinion, it is far and away the worst emblem in the club’s entire history. 
This cheap, nasty and embarrassing effort was produced by Bluebirds officials after several months of planning. At no stage during that process did they see fit to consult with the supporters about their ideas, which is a great pity as there is a considerable amount of talent within the fanbase. Much more talent than there is within the confines of the Cardiff City Stadium, it seems. 

On Friday, the South Wales Echo asked its readers to come up with alternative badge designs. The most popular of the seven options in the newspaper's online poll was submitted by graphic designer Tim Haughton from Cardiff-based public relations and marketing agency Working Word. 
On the same day, another excellent effort appeared on Annis Abraham’s message board. It was designed by City fan Karl Payne and was published in the South Wales Echo on Saturday. That badge has proved very popular with supporters on the internet forums and is easily the best of the new designs that I have seen. 

Those emblems took a pair of talented supporters a matter of hours to produce. The woeful badge which will adorn the team’s shirts next season was designed by Bluebirds officials after deliberations dating back to March. 
Vincent Tan apparently wanted an emblem that was symbolic of a fusion between Welsh and Asian cultures. He’s ended up with an emblem which is symbolic of nothing more than the incompetence with which his football club is run. 
Hopefully, lessons will be learned by club officials following this latest fiasco, but I won’t hold my breath. After all, football is a business, Cardiff City supporters are viewed as consumers, the club’s identity is considered a brand and its crest is unimportant. 

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The Malaysian Overlord Strikes on D-Day for the Bluebirds

When I was asked to appear live on the BBC TV news channel earlier this evening, I chose to wear this shirt. It’s a replica of the one that Cardiff City’s players were wearing when my father took me to Ninian Park for the first time in March 1975 on the day before my eighth birthday. Sheffield Wednesday were the Bluebirds’ opponents on that occasion. The Owls were rock bottom of the Second Division table, while City were just one place above them. Predictably, the match ended in a goalless draw. The crowd of 6,621 jeered, slow hand clapped and chanted ‘what a load of rubbish’ at regular intervals throughout the ninety minutes. Midfielder George Smith ripped off his shirt and threw it at manager Jimmy Andrews after being substituted. His replacement, Johnny Vincent, missed a late penalty and City were booed off the field following the final whistle. Both teams were relegated to the Third Division a month later.

It was a pretty grim start to life as a Cardiff fan all things considered, but the side did contain three players who are high in the rankings of my all-time favourite Bluebirds. The men concerned are Phil Dwyer, John Buchanan and Willie Anderson. Not exactly the greatest trio of footballers this planet has ever produced, but every one a legend as far as I’m concerned. 
Tan Sri Vincent Tan won’t recognise those names. He never saw any of them play in the blue of Cardiff City. Indeed, there aren’t too many players he has seen play in the blue of Cardiff City. By all accounts, Mr Tan didn’t see his first game of professional football until May 2010 and he’s only seen a handful of games since then. Nevertheless, the Malaysian overlord has today dictated that the club I have been devoted to since I was schoolboy should radically alter its identity. The claim from the club’s subservient board of directors is that the bizarre changes they are implementing are necessary in order for the Bluebirds to reap future financial rewards from a worldwide commercial market. And if you believe that load of nonsense, you’ll believe anything. 
Cardiff City is a mid-ranking Championship club that recently managed to sell just 23,000 tickets for a play-off semi-final against West Ham United. Under the circumstances, perhaps a commercial marketing strategy in South Wales might be more appropriate. 
As far as I’m concerned, a significant part of Cardiff City Football Club has died today. During the last thirty seven years, I’ve firmly nailed my colours to the mast and those colours have always been blue. According to the club’s owners, the future is red. I wish them well with that, and with their attempts to generate fire and passion. I just hope the supporters don’t end up getting burnt by this particular dragon. 

Sunday, 3 June 2012

A Big Red Cloud

Ever since Tan Sri Vincent Tan’s radical plans to alter Cardiff City’s identity became public knowledge, it has seemed as if a large, dark cloud has been hovering over the club. Unsurprisingly, the re-branding revelations provoked plenty of heated debate within the fanbase and the issue has proved the most divisive in the Bluebirds’ history. From a personal standpoint, the last month has been something of a watershed and I know there are other long-term City supporters who share similar feelings, but where the club itself goes from here is anyone’s guess.

While many fans are apparently happy to accept any changes the current owners wish to impose upon them providing the Malaysian money keeps rolling in, some of us are now seriously questioning the levels of our commitment to the club in light of recent events. But regardless of where you stand on the subject of the re-branding, there can be no doubting that the feelgood factor which had built up around the Bluebirds since the arrival of Malky Mackay has rapidly evaporated.

The level of bickering on the fans’ message boards is understandable given the circumstances, but one of the things that has bothered me most about this ignominious episode is the amount of rubbish that has been written about the meetings which took place at the Cardiff City Stadium on Tuesday 8 May and Thursday 10 May.
I had the misfortune to be present at both of those gatherings and therefore I’m in a position to clarify what was actually said during them. In retrospect, it is obvious that the reports I drew up for the Cardiff City Mad website were not detailed enough, so hopefully the following information may make matters a little clearer for anyone who is interested:
1) During the first meeting on Tuesday 8 May, Chief Executive Alan Whiteley stated unequivocally that the proposed investment package from Tan Sri Vincent Tan was dependant upon a final settlement of the Langston loan notes debt. Mr Whiteley sounded confident that an agreement with Sam Hammam would be reached in the near future, but he was very clear in his assertion that a successful conclusion to the long-running Langston saga was fundamental to any further investment from the club’s Malaysian benefactor.
2) The Chief Executive also stated on several occasions during the 8 May meeting that the proposed re-branding would be implemented ahead of the 2012/13 season regardless of whether the investment package came to fruition or not. The alterations to the club’s kit and its badge were said by Mr Whiteley to be “non-negotiable.”

3) During both meetings, it was stated by club officials that Tan Sri Vincent Tan sees the colour red and the dragon emblem as being symbolic of a fusion between Welsh and Malaysian cultures. It was also claimed that Mr Tan views red as being a more powerful and lucky colour than blue. There were vague suggestions that red is easier to market in the Far East, but the fans present were given no indications of any actual strategies or business plans that were attached to the proposed changes. Direct questions were asked by several of us in that particular regard, but they were not met with any definitive answers by the Chief Executive or his staff.

4) Towards the end of the meeting on 8 May, a straw poll of the thirteen fans in attendance was held on the subject of the re-branding. This poll was conducted by club officials on the clear understanding of all present that the opinions being expressed were personal and in no way representative of the membership of the Cardiff City Supporters’ Club, the Cardiff City Supporters’ Trust, the Cardiff City Away Travel Group or the club’s wider fanbase.

While he was Twittering away in the days following the alleged message board leak, Bluebirds director Steve Borley suggested the fans needed to see the whole story behind the re-branding proposals before they reached any firm conclusions. Mr Borley was, of course, entirely correct, and yet it’s now almost a month since the plans first emerged and the supporters are still none the wiser about the situation. The reasoning behind the ideas to switch from blue to red and substitute the Bluebird for a dragon have yet to be properly outlined by any of the club’s officials.
In his open letter to fans of Thursday 10 May, Chairman Dato’ Chan Tien Ghee said: “The new club crest and home colours which were being discussed were intended to demonstrate the symbolic fusion of Welsh and Asian cultures through the use of the colour red and the predominant featuring of a historical Welsh dragon under the Cardiff City FC name. This would have been a springboard for the successful commercialisation and promotion of the club and its brand, driving international revenues and allowing us to fund transfers and success locally, thereby giving the club the best chance of competing at the higher reaches of competition.”
TG’s words sound impressive enough, but what do they actually mean in real terms? How would altering a mid-ranking Championship club’s colours from blue to red and changing its badge from a Bluebird to a dragon have resulted in any commercial successes and what kind of international revenues was the Chairman referring to? Your guesses are as good as mine.
In an interview with the South Wales Echo on Friday 18 May, Finance Director Doug Lee hinted that the re-branding exercise was aimed more towards attracting sponsorship from the Far East than replica shirt sales in that region, but he didn’t give any indication as to why the team’s colour needed to be red or the club’s emblem needed to be a dragon in order to achieve such a goal.
Like many supporters, the re-branding plans didn’t make the slightest bit of sense to me, but then my knowledge of Far Eastern cultures and worldwide marketing strategies is limited to say the least. Having said that, I would have assumed that if playing in a red kit as opposed to a blue one was a genuine route towards commercial success and a debt-free future, then other Championship clubs such as Birmingham, Ipswich and Leicester would be following a similar path. But, as far as I am aware, they are not.
There now appears to be a reasonably large percentage of City fans who believe that because Tan Sri Vincent Tan is a highly-successful businessman and a dollar billionaire, his judgement cannot be questioned. Perhaps those who hold such a view should consider that Mr Tan has never previously owned a professional football club, he apparently saw his first live game of football in May 2010, he has seen a handful of matches since then and, according to the Chief Executive, he has only been taking an active interest in the running of Cardiff City during the last five or six months.
To my knowledge, the club’s major shareholder has never publicly said anything of note in regard to his association with Cardiff City. The spokesman for the Malaysian investors has always been the Chairman, Dato’ Chan Tien Ghee. I have been present during three events at which TG has spoken and was hugely impressed by him on each occasion. He came across as a thoroughly decent person and one who fully understands what this football club means to its supporters.
When he addressed the shareholders at the General Meeting in July of last year, TG admitted that he and his Malaysian colleagues had been on a steep learning curve since taking control of the club. He said he regarded Cardiff City as an institution rather than a business and talked of cutting out unnecessary spending while building firm foundations for the future. During the last two years I have developed a great deal of respect for the Chairman, which has made the recent re-branding revelations all the more difficult to stomach.
When TG and his associates initially got involved with Cardiff City, I hoped they would steady what appeared to be a sinking ship and set the club on a course whereby it would finally become a properly-run, self-sufficient business. The early signs were encouraging but the financial results for the 2010/11 season set the alarm bells ringing as far as I was concerned. When they were published in March of this year, the accounts revealed record losses of more than £12 million. Doug Lee has recently confirmed that the club is still losing around £1 million a month, so we can assume the accounts for 2011/12 will show a similar deficit. Many fans seem relatively comfortable with this situation simply because Malaysians are wealthy men, but I find it frightening that the club is losing even more money now than it was when Peter Ridsdale was in charge. Considering a large percentage of the historical debts remain unpaid and the playing squad is relatively small by Championship standards, I can’t work out where all the money is going.
The investment package allegedly proposed by Tan Sri Vincent Tan undoubtedly sounded attractive on the face of it, but let’s put things into perspective for a moment. One month ago, Cardiff City managed to sell just 23,000 tickets for a play-off semi-final against the biggest club in the Championship, and approximately 2,000 of those were sold to visiting fans. The Bluebirds were hammered 5-0 on aggregate and were clearly outclassed over the two legs. Nevertheless, there is now serious talk about increasing the capacity of the Cardiff City Stadium to 35,000, building state-of-the-art training facilities, engaging in worldwide marketing strategies, generating large amounts of revenue from merchandising and sponsorship in the Far East and even the club being floated on the stock exchange. Quite frankly, the whole thing is ridiculous. Before you know it, we’ll be talking about being bigger than Barcelona again.
From my personal perspective, the timing of this shambolic affair couldn’t have been much worse. In recent years, I’ve been feeling increasingly detached from the club and from professional football in general. While the Dave Jones era was a relatively successful one for Cardiff City, the man’s dour demeanour and the effect he seemed to have on his players left me feeling more and more disconnected from the team I have followed since I was an eight year-old. Despite promotion challenges, cup runs and Wembley appearances, supporting the Bluebirds was slowly but surely beginning to feel like a chore. I didn’t like the attitude of the manager, I didn’t like the attitude of a number of his players, I didn’t like the culture that had developed within the club and I was losing faith in the game itself.
The arrival of Malky Mackay last summer was like a breath of fresh air. The way in which the new manager set about his job changed my outlook considerably and reignited my enthusiasm for the Bluebirds. Although I wasn’t always convinced by the Scotsman’s tactics or team selections, I nevertheless enjoyed the 2011/12 season more than I had enjoyed any other for many years. Mackay quickly instilled the kind of work ethic in his players that had been missing at the club for some time. He also brought in a number of promising youngsters, made regular efforts to engage with the fans and ensured that his team did likewise. Despite their limitations, I strongly believed that the manager and his players fully deserved my support and I ended up following the team to 23 away games, which is my biggest tally since the early-Nineties. Despite nagging doubts about the ongoing financial situation, I genuinely felt the club was heading in the right direction on all fronts. Therefore, the shock news about the re-branding plans came not only as a bolt out of the blue (if you’ll pardon the pun), but also as a huge kick in the teeth.
Being a Bluebirds supporter can often be a depressing experience, but the last month has been just about as soul-destroying as any that I can remember. The tame manner of the play-off capitulation was disappointing enough, but that was nothing by comparison to what followed. The way in which this latest off-field fiasco has been handled by the club and the subsequent reactions of some of its fans has left me feeling extremely bitter and disillusioned. As things stand, I honestly don’t know how much longer I can to continue pouring large amounts of my time, energy and money into an activity that brings so little pleasure and so much frustration.
The fact that the owners and officials were prepared to make radical alterations to Cardiff City’s identity without any consultation with the fanbase speaks volumes about the way in which Bluebirds supporters are regarded by the club’s hierarchy, and the fact that so many fans were prepared to accept and even welcome those changes speaks volumes about the club’s support. The circus that is Cardiff City rolls on, but my dedication to the club has diminished significantly in recent weeks. Perhaps I’ll see things differently by the time the new season begins, but at the moment the summer break has never felt more appealing.