Monday, 4 December 2006

Are the Bluebirds doing the fans a favour?

“WHERE HAVE the 7,000 [fans] gone?” Cardiff’s manager Dave Jones was reported to have asked after only 13,500 turned out to watch the Bluebirds’ wretched home draw with Colchester on Saturday. (He was making a comparison with the 20-odd thousand that watched Cardiff beat current Championship leaders Birmingham back in August.)

And he complained about the attitude of those that did attend, “If they’re going to come then support us, don’t boo us. We are third in the league and we’re being booed. I think the fans should take a long, hard look at themselves.”

A collapse of 32% in the gate might indeed look bad were it not for the fact that everyone knows a game against Colchester is hardly likely to provide compelling entertainment, especially on the first Saturday of December when the missus is banging on about getting the Christmas shopping done.

Then there’s the fact that Cardiff have now failed to score in four matches taking only two points from a possible 12 and falling from first in the Championship, with a commanding lead, to a shaky third. There are other things you can do on a Saturday afternoon when your team is playing badly, but not in Dave Jones' world, obviously.

Jones’ attitude towards the fans, though, is typical of people in football management. To be fair, in the same interview he did praise the diehards who travel to all the away games, but he expects the supporters to turn up irrespective of whether his team manages to do so. It’s not whether the team loses or draws that gets the crowd booing, it’s the lack of application.

Foreign investors are merrily milking the blind loyalty of supporters at clubs like Chelsea, Manchester United, Aston Villa, Portsmouth and Hearts. Liverpool, too, will soon be joining their ranks, becoming the personal plaything of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the owner of a theme park in the Arabian Gulf, if media reports are to be believed.

By falling short now rather than later, Cardiff could be doing its fans a favour. Jones went on to warn that “If we are going to dip into the transfer market, we need as many fans here as possible”, presumably suggesting that if the fans don’t turn up, the club will keep its chequebook in the draw.

That might be a good thing given that the club is £30 million in debt and has been losing between £8 and £9 million a year for the last three years. To make matters worse, it has at its helm the same man who nearly destroyed Leeds United, a club where gates used to average 30,000 a week, by borrowing money against future gate receipts that didn’t materialise simply because the team didn’t win. That's what happens when teams don't win.

The Bluebirds average gate this season is 16,583. That’s not enough to support a premiership team over the long haul, not even with the Sky money. Reading, by comparison, are currently averaging 24,000. Chelsea’s average gate of 42,000 is not enough to maintain the club’s current position without the mineral wealth of Russia being squandered on it. Colchester, Cardiff’s Championship opponents last Saturday, average only 5,247, by the way.

With enlightened management, there is no reason why Cardiff City Football Club could not become, over a period of time, a Welsh Barça, a symbol of freedom and identity for Wales in the way that FC Barcelona is for Catalans. Except that Barça is owned by more than 150,000 members who elect their club officials, not by sultans or oligarchs or lunatic businessmen who merely take the fans for granted.

To build the kind of fan base the club needs to compete in the Premiership, the Bluebirds need to involve the whole nation (other than those living in Swansea and Wrexham, of course) in the running of the club for the benefit of the fans and for Welsh football generally.

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