Sunday, December 10, 2006

Come back Temme, all is forgiven

It has been easy to criticise David Temme, the former Chief Executive of Cardiff City. Conveniently placed to take heat off Hammam, he became the public face and scapegoat for any of the unglamorous and unpopular difficult business decisions taken by the club.

But many of the Ninian Park improvements for which Sam happily took the plaudits were in place before his arrival. Apart from the bars, hospitality and web facilities, Temme's main contribution was the ticketing system.

Ninian Park used to see vastly fluctuating crowds. 4,000 could turn into 11,000 from week to week. In this environment it was always difficult to emply the correct number of staff, and even to forecast how many programmes to print. There were always queues at the turnstiles for big games, with some delayed due to crowd congestion.

Temme resolved this by creating the advance ticket sales incentives, and by putting in place a sophisticated electronic ticketing system which has helped create a commercial database of 30,000 supporters. With assistance from Sean Murphy, Cardiff's ticketing improved tenfold.
Both men have now left and it seems that efficiency has followed.

As a paid up member of the club, I had anticipated some priority when a big game turned up, but this was not the case. The club has since admitted to me and I quote; "It's not really a membership, more of an away travel club." Now you tell me.

But it gets worse. I ordered two tickets online on Tuesday for yesterday's game v Ipswich. Attendance at this game was to be the qualifying factor for ticket purchase for the FA Cup at home to Spurs next month. They didn't arrive.

After three phone calls, I eventually sent my receipt to prove the purchase and was told that I could collect on the day. I would need my ticket stubs for the Tottenham game.

It doesn't end there. Apparently, my Ipswich tickets do not guarantee me entry to the Spurs game. For this, I need to take my chance in the queues at the ticket office on 18th December.
But I live 200 miles away.

I sent a mate to collect my tickets yesterday. He now has to send me the stubs, and I have to send them on to the ticket office. Once they have been received, I will be allowed to join the phone queues and apply for my Spurs ticket on the 18th.

Apparently when I get through, they will have made a note that they have received my stub in the post and will issue my ticket for Spurs. Excuse me for being cynical, but experience tells me that the chances of this running smoothly are almost nil.

My point is this. There is a digitised ticketing system in place. I bought online. The club has a history of every ticket I've bought for the past five years. Why do I need to send in a paper stub to prove purchase? It's there in front of them.

I could have applied for the Spurs ticket with yesterdays purchase, and so could the season ticket holders. In fact everybody who paid for yesterday's game will be on the database. Why do we still need 4 hour queues and repeat dial phoning?

Why do they make work for themselves? And why do they insist on wasting my time? Just send me a bastard ticket will you?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Football in Welsh

There is a certain breed of football fan who watches the teleprinter on a Saturday evening and yearns to visit places like Stenhousemuir, to watch the Accies play, and to find out for themselves who exactly are Accrington Stanley.

It was in this spirit that I went to watch Lokomotiv Llanberis on a trip up North about five years ago. I remember nothing of the game, except that it was poor - the only 0-0 draw I have ever seen at this level . There was a gate and a programme, and a crowd of less than 100. But what shocked me more than anything was the fact that both teams, the ref, and the crowd were playing solely through the medium of the Welsh language.

As we were in the Cymraeg heartland, you may have expected this. But the truth is that when 25 men gather together anywhere in Wales, one monoglot will force at least some of the other 24 to speak English, simply out of politeness.

For me, this was a thrilling experience - the first evidence I'd had that Welsh could be a living language. But to a watching Englishman, one thing would have stood out amongst all the consonants; the language was peppered with English words. This wasn't the bookish and self-conscious academic-Welsh that I'd heard spoken on the field with CPD Inter Ifor in Cardiff.

And it all made perfect sense. Football was a game born in England, in the English language. Its terminology and jargon should not be translated for the sake of a lexicographer. If you go the the opera house, you still talk of libretti, of sopranos and leitmotifs. Jargon should stay faithful to its inventors. I am sure that English terms have always been used by Welsh footballers. It is only the recent media explosion that has imposed translation.

Of course the English find it all hysterical, this progression. The fact that our word for taxi is tacsi, that ambulance is ambiwlans, and that we say Coronation Street in the middle of an otherwise Welsh sentence. It is this ignorance of modern language development that has led to the urban myth of a pub full of English speaking customers all turning to Welsh the minute that a tourist walks through the door.

The most popular Welsh language programme of the past 20 years has been a comedy series about Junior Football in North Wales. It is called C'mon Midffild, not Ymlaen Canol Cae! as the BBC Cymru would have it. But that single phrase beautifully epitomises the North Walian football culture. There is a passion for the game here that transcends language. Nobody stops to think about correctness. This is just the language they speak, and that's it. No political statement, no chip on the shoulder, just a means of expression. And they have the self-confidence not to give a damn what it sounds like.

And do you know what? The term C'mon Midffild isn't English being spoken with a Welsh accent any more than using a defensive formation makes you a French speaker. It has been absorbed now into modern Welsh. They are our words.

The academic Welsh language just doesn't do football justice. The English word penalty conjures up instant drama, a shoot-out, a duel, a crime-committed. The Welsh term is cic o'r smotyn, a kick from the spot. It is descriptive but nothing else.

The offside law is a pretty complex, ever changing rule which requires detailed understanding of the game. The Cardiff-Welsh for this is camsefyll, literally wrong-standing. It's inadequate. Offside isn't much better, but it is the original term.

A Saturday afternoon visitor to Cae Seilo might hear the following phrase shouted from the home captain;

C'mon diffens, da ni'n ddistaw. Rhoi pel i'r middfild. Chwarae ffwtbol, a
iwsio'r wingars. Paid a phoeni am y gol, oedd o'n fwcin offseid eniwe. Mae reff
'ma yn ffwcin bleind, y cont.

Maybe not grammatically correct, but certainly evocative.

But there is nothing wrong in all of this. It is healthy. And before the English get too smug about their prime role in the football lexicon, let me remind you that players will sometimes make a challenge in the centre circle before distributing a beautiful diagonal pass. Not an English word amongst that lot.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Why Welsh?

That hilarious episode with the LWPCSF2L last night got me thinking. Why does it need a "W" ?
Why do we have to identify it as Welsh ? Why is it the Welsh Premier? Or for that matter, the Scottish Premier League when we only refer to the English competition as The Premiership? (Of course I can also argue that The Premiership, as a derivative of The Football League is no more exclusively English than the BBC).

It's all about confidence of course. I spoke in a previous article about our acceptance of England as the starting point to which we all doff our cap. This institutional dismissal is endemic in sport. The FAW or The FA? The England and Wales Cricket Board Representative XI, or just England?

Of course none of this matters very much. Just shrug and get on with your life. Except that it does. Every time that Eddie Butler talks about the Welsh scrum, but England's lineout, he is subconsciously disassociating himself from his country. He is talking about them, the Welsh, literally foreigners in the original Saxon term Welleas. And Eddie Butler does this a lot. Listen to him next time.

Our own use of the term Welsh to describe our own competitions is insulting, but it is also symptomatic of our weakness. If we used more of the Welsh language, then the Welsh word Cynghrair would suffice. We would know that it is the Welsh League because it is in our country's language. See Bundesliga, or La Liga for examples. No Need for Deutsch or Espanol in there.

But we let it go. We don't even think about it now. Life's too short. I went to Next in Bangor last week, where they will happily sell you a full range of England football bedroom furniture for your house. Nothing for a Welsh boy. Not a stitch. And this in Wales.

Four years ago, our campaign against Gilesports in Cardiff led to concessions against their promotion of England in the World Cup. And supermarkets across Wales have been shamed away from English flag waving across our country during international football tournaments.

That's the big stuff - the obvious stuff. It's the petty things that slip, which are creating cracks in our identity while we plug the dam. Like the England furniture in Next and our use of the word Welsh to describe our own organisations. We always refer to North Wales, never the North which immediately conjures up images of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Tyneside. Why should that be the case in Wales? We talk about the prosperity of The South, when we mean London, Surrey and Middlesex. It's a language issue of course. Welsh speakers all know where Gogledd is and Y Dde is some 150 miles away from London. But we use their language; ergo we use their points of reference.

But we shouldn't blame the English. It's not their fault. It's ours. We scrape and bow to their sporting culture like so many Commonwealth countries before us. We buy their newspapers and we subscribe to their television. Some of you even travel to watch their teams.

The death of Welsh culture has long been predicted, but if it happens, it won't be a case of murder, it will be suicide.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


During half-time of the Barcelona v Werder Bremen game this evening, where Barca are thankfully destroying brawn with their brains, I turned over to Sky Sports One where the results are preceded by the related competition.


PREM Charlton 0 Blackburn 0

A lower divisionwill be represented like this;
FL2 Torquay 1 Wrexham 1

A match from the BG Business League;
BGB Banbury 1 Yate 1

But then this one popped up;
LWPLCSF2L - Rhyl 1 Porthmadog 0

Any ideas?

I'll give it to you....

Loosemore's Welsh Premier League Cup Semi Final Second Leg

..Rolls off the tongue doesn't it?

City snub members

Cardiff City have just announced the ticket priority scheme for the 3rd Round FA Cup tie against Tottenham in January. Unbelievably, after Ambassadors(sic) and season-ticket holders have taken their allocation, those who attend Saturday's game with Ipswich have the next chance.

Then why have I paid £20 for membership ? Is there no advantage to becoming a member other than the "privilege" of spending lots of money to go to away games ? Is there really nothing else apart from an ID card?

I live 200 miles away. Still, I sometimes make it to home games, but as it happens, this Saturday is one occasion when I can't get there. So that's it. My membership counts for nothing, and some taxi driver who hasn't been to Ninian since they sold Toshack can take my place at the Spurs game.

I'd have been better off if we'd been drawn away. As a member, I would have had priority for an away game. . They should call it an away travel club instead of conning their own loyal supporters like this.

This stinks. The club has a history of making up absurd qualifying factors for ticket purchasing and this is one of them. Who has ever heard of a club where members can't buy tickets? Bastards.

As a postscript, I've now bought 2 tickets for a game on Saturday that I can't get to. In 1994 I had to do the same thing for an FA Cup tie against Luton. We played Wrexham the week before and I bought a ticket for that game to receive my FA Cup voucher, even though I was working that day. But City made things worse. It wasn't enough to just buy a ticket, or even present your ticket on the day of the Wrexham game. You physically had to go through the turnstile to receive your voucher.

All of which meant that I had to leave work, walk through a turnstile, and turn round again. But then, and you're not going to believe this...they wouldn't let me out! It took them 20 minutes to find a chief steward with the authority to open the gates.

Let's hope this isn't a pre-requisite for Saturday's game. There's no way I'm driving down from North Wales just to walk through a turnstile. What's that ? Give my tickets away and receive the vouchers? Nope, they're non transferrable. It says on the back.

But you see what I mean ? You wouldn't get a woman going through all this to get a ticket. But there'll be thousands of them at the FA Cup game, spoiling things for the rest of us. Though I'll put up with all of this, just in case we see anything like Peter Sayer's long distance strike from 1977. Was it really 29 years ago that he graced the MOTD titles for a season?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Stoke 3-0 Cardiff

I paid my first visit to the Britannia Ground last night, and generally enjoyed the experience. I had last been to Stoke when they played at the Victoria Ground, and I saw Jimmy Greenhoff and his mates play against Clyde Best and his mates from West Ham in about 1976.

The evening was dominated in the main by my decision to play amber gambler with the fuel gauge. Nobody wants to stop for petrol on the way to the game, so I decided to carry on when the light flashed. I got stuck in a traffic jam, and I was running on fumes by the time I pulled into the fantastically convenient away fans car park, a Buchanan free-kick from the turnstiles.

The ground is another identikit affair that everyone is so desperate to have in Cardiff. It was OK, but they are ten-a-penny these days. It is suddenly fashionable for football people to wax lyrical about Ninian Park as an old skool ground, and it's not just Cardiff fans who are licking their lips at the idea of Schevchenko strutting around in front of a pulsating Grange End.

At Ninian Park, those in the Grandstand sit down to watch the game and rise to stretch their legs at half-time. Bizarrely, at away games the exact opposite is true. When we used to stand on terraces, at least the older fans could buy seats in the stand and watch the game in comfort. Unfortunately, now that everyone is lumped in together, it's a case of standing up whether you like it or not. It would be a good gesture wouldn't it, if people didn't stand until about five rows from the front so at least the kids and OAPs could see the game?

I get the impression that not many people at Ninian Park really believe that we can get promoted, which is a shame because I have yet to see a team that can outplay us.

On paper, a 3-0 defeat looks pretty comprehensive, but it wasn't like that. We strolled through the first half, with Stoke struggling to contain our quick passing game. We weren't on top form, but we still looked like winning the game with something to spare. And when Chopra somehow missed a free header on the edge of the six yard box, nobody worried too much because we were so much in control.

About five minutes into the second half, the whole momentum changed with a substitution. The Stoke fans were given a big lift when Fuller was brought on to play up front for the Potters. But you knew that if City could stay solid for ten minutes then the game would be ours.

The pitch reminded me of the Millennium Stadium. There was little depth to the Turf, and our players slipped five or six times during the first half. A change of studs at half time surely? But no, the unconvincing Roger Johnson slipped when in possession and let in Fuller to put Stoke in front.

The Stoke fans woke up and went full throat into their club song. So impressive was it, that Cardiff fans burst into spontaneous applause. I can only hope that it wasn't aimed sarcastically, as there is currently no better noise in football than Stoke's Delilah ringing round a stadium at full volume.

Another two shots in five minutes and we were 3-0 down. Game over, and a quick exit for me to find the nearest petrol station, thus missing the McPhail incident.

City currently have a lot of players who are not functioning at 100%. Chopra is low on confidence, Thompson is recovering from injury, Ledley needs a break, McPhail is off-colour, the full backs offer little attacking options, and Roger Johnson is a big problem.

But we all knew this would happen. We just need to stick around until we can be boosted by a few signings in January. I fully trust Dave Jones to bring in the right players, and there's no reason why we shouldn't feature in the play offs.

I was surprised to hear later that a supporters coach had lost a window after being attacked by some locals. The atmosphere around the game had been very relaxed, and well- policed, but it only takes one sociopathic twat to chuck a brick, so what can you do ?

I was interested to note how the demographic of Cardiff's away support has changed over the years. It's not exactly Norwich City's scarf-happy families, but there is little Burberry on show, (though this might be in protest at the factory closure in the Valleys). The average age last night seemed to be mid-thirties. With ticket prices at around £20, is the young traveller being priced out of the game as we rise through the Divisions?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Stop giving tickets to women

Before I start this rant, I should point out that I am absolutely not a sexist. I was a full time house-husband before I was lured by the filthy lucre of Cardiff City, I have real respect for women, and I founded the Cardifff City Ladies FC Supporters Club.

But I have an issue with women going to games, or more specifically getting tickets for matches when they are scarce. I was reminded of this at the rugby international on Saturday. Women were everywhere, and in particular, they were up and down the aisles throughout the match, while the rest of us peered past their borrowed rugby shirts to try and see something of the game. Rugby has a far worse problem than football in this respect, but the issue is prevalent in both codes.

You see , what attracts the women to big matches is the atmosphere created by 60,000 drunken men. They heard the singing on the telly, believed the hype that was generated by the media, and fell for the line that it was an occasion not to be missed -at all costs. But unfortunately, and this is the crux of the matter, their very presence spoils the atmosphere that they seek.

I don't care what you say, women can't chant, and their attempt at the anthem is often embarrassing. It's not a cymanfa ganu, it's a bleeding football match.

Now I'm not saying they can't go to any game. Obviously there are some games when ticket sales are slow, and they do help do boost the numbers. But generally men should be given priority unless the woman can prove regular attendance.

But it's not the women who are to blame for this recent phenomena - it's the men that give them the tickets. If there is a clearer example of the male species being penis-led, then I have yet to see it. More and more often, a man will take a girl to the game as part of a day out. Stop it - let them go shopping or something.

People often ask me how I am able to get tickets for all the big matches. Well, the answer is simple. I want to go much much more than you do, so I think about it earlier and I make more of an effort. I read a letter yesterday from a woman who had "been trying to get tickets for Wales v NZ for years". Well she can't have been trying very hard. Has she joined a rugby club? Has she stood outisde ticketline for 6 hours before tickets go on sale ? Has she set the phone to redial for 7 and a half hours trying to get through? No, she hasn't. Sport is more important to me than you will ever be able to comprehend. It's not like getting trying to get tickets for Michael Ball in Phantom of the Opera.

I couldn't believe it when I was given a seat next to a woman at the Wales v Russia play off. Here I was at the second biggest game of my life, and the woman next to me had brought a flask and sandwiches. It restricted the level of abuse I was able to aim at the Russian full back, and generally spoiled my night.

Now there are the women that phone 606 every Saturday, and they get on because they are women, but their lack of real commitment is evident in every call. Yes, they might appreciate the offside law, and they can talk about players like the best of them. But I have never met a woman programme collector, and I don't know a woman who ticks off the grounds that they visit. Is there a woman alive who tries to cure her insomnia by picking her best ever team of bearded footballers?

You see, women have more important things to do. Very admirable, and I'm glad they have a good sense of priorities. The best thing we can do as men, is let them get on with the important stuff, and stop buying them bloody tickets. That will solve the problem at a stroke because there is no way they will ever get off their arse to get their own.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Second Life

Second Life is a virtual online world where you create your own persona, and interact with others. There are over 2 million users, and it is the web's fastest growing phenomenon.

SL also allows you to design your own clothes, and after much messing about with Photoshop, I came up with this little number.

If you're on SL, and you want a Wales shirt like this, IM Fred Kenorland (geddit?).

Black day for Felin

It's been a horrible weekend so far. Last night we watched Cardiff lose in the Fic, probably the only pub in North Wales to show the football as well as the rugby. Meanwhile in the Gardd Fon, they watched the Americas Cup, or some such sailing event. Probably the only pub in Wales to show the sailing.

I woke up to a bitter wind and watched the Under 7's lose by the only goal at Bethel. It was the sort of weather where a child would take a ball on the thigh, burst into tears and cry on the touchline for the rest of the game.

Then it was on to Bontnewydd where a similar scoreline did for our Under 9's. I missed the Under 17's 4-1 defeat at Llangefni, and made my way to Llanrug, where the seniors were looking to keep up the pressure on Llanystumdwy at the top of the Caernarfon & District League.

It might have been the charity pie competition in the Fic last night, but I had a feeling from the start that we were going to have a difficult afternoon. In the background, Snowdon was white with the first fall of the year, and a smattering of sheep looked idly at the silly, frozen humans kicking a ball around in the field next door.

We were 3-0 down within 15 minutes. An own goal and two slips on the muddy surface practically gave the game to Llanrug. But even with that daunting scoreline I never felt that we were out of the game.

And we created plenty of chances throughout. Llanrug went down to 10 men, and Felin pulled one back. But a great goalkeeping display kept us out, and it's a clean sweep of defeats for The Millers.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The state of youth football

Since I became involved with youth football a couple of years ago, I have found it an uplifting, but often depressing experience. There are two main reasons for this.

Firstly, there are managers of very young teams who live vicariously through their young charges. I've seen teams of five year olds sticking rigidly to tactical formations imposed on them by their managers. I've heard half-time team talks that wouldn't be out of place at Stamford Bridge, and I've seen managers take advantage of helpfully flexible league rules to put out bigger and older teams against their opponents so that they regularly win by more than five goals.

Generally, the games are played in a great spirit and the FAW Football Leaders Award has created a generation of coaches who understand that their responsibilities lie in the development of young people as much as the production of a winning side. But there are some who refuse to accept this lily-livered liberalism, and like to win at all costs.

Even more soul-destroying is the lack of playing facilities for youth footballers, and sports participants in general. When a Government understand the disastrous social and economic future for a country where sport is sidelined, you would think that it would be desperate to provide playing fields and facilities to offset the coming obesity epidemic.

But no. The lack of facilities in North Wales at least is shocking. Clubs often have a single field to serve all of their junior teams. Only last week, I was forced to play 15-a-side in one match, on a small pitch due to the tight schedule of games that morning. I readily agreed, because otherwise there would have been 7 young children sent home disappointed without having kicked a ball.

It isn't the fault of the clubs. Staffed by hard-working volunteers, they have to make the best of what they've got. But European friends of mine are dismayed by the level of political support that is offered compared to countries like Holland, where even a small village will run a dozen sides, using high quality facilities provided by public funds.

Cardiff has vast areas of land given over to public playing fields. Pontcanna, Llandaff Fields, Blackweir are all buzzing with activity on a weekend. In Gwynedd, we have a couple of fields at Treborth, but I think that's it. I realise that there is a massive disparity in population levels, but surely Caernarfon and Bangor needs an area of ten or twenty pitches for public hire?

The flip side of this is when a local community has the facilities but no team. I was at Rhosgadfan yesterday, and saddened to see a good pitch laid to waste at Mountain Rangers FC, which I understand is no longer in existence. I don't know the reasons for this, but it's a sad sight.

There are efforts being made, such as the recent FAW/EUFA initiative to provide 21 pitches around the country. But this is a drop in the ocean. I have seen with my own eyes the enormous social and health benefits to be gained from junior football, and it is shameful that matches are regularly postponed due to pressures on the playing surface, and that clubs have to travel away from their village to train in private facilities where they have to pay to play.

Football should be free for all. The Goverment would earn the money back via the relief to a creaking health service provided by healthier children. But until the public decides that it is worth playing a little extra tax to support sport in its communities, then I suppose we will have the facilities we deserve.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bleaso to Bangor

It's always nice when a minor celebrity gets involved with your club. That's why Bangor High Street was buzzing this week with the news that the Citizens' new manager would be Steve Bleasdale, the star of Sky's Big Ron Manager programme.

For those of you who haven't seen the programme, Bleaso was the star, the patsy, the scapegoat. At the time he had been given the job of manager at Peterborough United, after working as a coach there. He was having trouble gaining respect for his new role, but results were good. Chairman Barry Fry was offered a chance to feature in a show by Sky, and he's not the type of bloke who turns down money and publicity.

Sky first took Ron Atkinson to Swindon Town, but their manager, Iffy Onuora was having none of it. Ron left with his tail between his legs, and they looked for another club. Bleasdale was in no position to argue when Fry took him to Posh.

Bleaso is a typical football-mad scouser. He wears his heart on his sleeve and expects his players to do likewise. But finesse is not his middle name. He rejected Ron's requests to play a passing game, and stuck stubbornly to a 3-4-3 long ball system, even when Posh were sinking fast, and his players wanted to go short. He lost the dressing room, and resigned in extraordinary circumstances when Fry insisted on picking the team an hour before kick-off.

You had to have some sympathy for Bleasdale, but it was also difficult to see that he could work in football again, after the panning he took on the show. But here he is at Bangor. They'll need periscopes on the Farrar Road End, and Davenport's pretty football will seem like nirvana.

Bleasdale also had a problem with refs during his tenure at London Road. We can only hope that he will be more magnanimous in defeat than his predecessor Clayton Blackmore, who blamed everything but himself and his players for their predicament. Blackmore himself has been released by Bleasdale, obviously keen to remove Clayton's influence from the club.

Whilst I was disappointed with Blackmore as a manager, for me he has been the best, most consistent player in the Welsh Premier since its foundation. While other players felt demeaned by playing in Wales, Blackmore's commitment was exceptional. Even if he did once miss a European tie due because he was playing golf.

My only concern with Bleasdale's appointment is that managers in this League tend to bring in players they know from their own area. Davenport recruited from the Cheshire leagues, with great success admittedly. Bleasdale will bring in players from Merseyside, and history has shown us that problems can arise when you look outside your locale for the core of your team. Previously Conwy, Caernarfon, and Cemaes Bay have all hit serious trouble after filling their side with Scouse mercenaries.

There has been a history of WP teams training away from their home town, and this can't be right. While Haverfordwest trained in Swansea, Bangor trained Eastwards along the North Wales coast, miles from their home City, but closer to Davenport's Cheshire set. While this might have good reasons pragmatically, it isn't a proud boast for the League. With Bleasdale in charge at Bangor, will they soon be training at Accrington Stanley ?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Wales 4-0 Liechtenstein

The FAW have come in for a lot of criticism recently, but it should be remembered that their low-price ticketing policy has been the most successful marketing experiment in European football. And their decision to take last night's friendly to the Racecourse was also an unqualified success.

As our bus approached the ground, and the kids saw their first sight of the dark sky lit up by the phospherous glare of the floodlights, there was an audible gasp of awe from the youngsters on our coach. The level of excitement was maintained all night, and in this respect, it was one of the most rewarding games that I've attended.

The FAW should be aware of the missionary role that the National team has a duty to provide across the country. There was a real sense of community at the match last night, with buses full of fans from across the North who rarely, if ever get to experience the big match occasion as a community.

There was a buzz around the ground that I haven't experienced since the Belarus international at Ninian Park in the late nineties. A genuine uncynical enthusiasm pervaded, and the delight was obvious amongst the locals, helped a little by the patronising decision play half the Wrexham side.

The Family stand was full to overflowing, and even after the kick-off, large groups of children were being escorted around the pitch to find seats in other areas. The Kop was chanting and singing, a noise that is rarely heard at the Millennium Stadium. Each substitution was cheered like a goal.

On a personal note, things nearly went awry. The only negative aspect of the removal of fences from football grounds is the lack of space to hang your flags. But I was determined to display our new banner, and I began to scale the side walls of the Eric Roberts Stand. Unfortunately, as I reached to hook the string around an exposed girder, I lost my foothold on the greasy railings and was left hanging by my fingertips, like an 18 stone urang-utang. I somehow recovered the situation, but lost a few inches of skin a not a little dignity.

The Racecourse is a romantic venue, and sitting there last night took me back to 1985, and Mark Hughes' overhead kick against Spain . It was perfect. The rain drizzled down in front of the lights which cast the familiar four-way shadow around each player. A lush green turf, and red dragons fluttering on swarming terraces. It was old skool, and it's too late for me now, - but I can think of worse ways to spend your life than watching Wrexham at The Racecourse.

Don't forget that England have been playing internationals at Manchester recently - a stadium that is closer to North Wales than our Cardiff base. I'm not suggesting that we take qualifying matches away from the Millennium Stadium, but there is a hunger in the North for Welsh internationals that deserves to be fed. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Aizlewood's at it again

I've spoken before about John Aizlewood's bad attitude towards the Welsh. His long forgotten book is full of anti-Welsh comment, and now he's at it again. He seems to be getting more and more prominence in the Sunday times, and this is a detail from his television preview:

Football:Wales v Liechtenstein
Sky Sports 7:45pm
"Pointless friendly from Wrexham's dilapidated Racecourse Ground. Bryn Terfel lives up the road and it's either him or Charlotte Church in goal."

Good stuff John. Biting satire. Nearly every word contains an innacuracy.

  • It's not a pointless friendly to the thousands of Welsh children who will be able to watch their National side without a 10 hour journey.
  • The Racecourse has smartened up since you last went there in 1992.
  • Bryn Terfel lives about 2 hours away.
  • Charlotte Church doesn't play in goal. She's a holding midfielder.

Monday, November 13, 2006

League Apartheid?

Steve Evans of Wrexham has been selected to play for Wales tomorrow evening against Liechtenstein. For those of us familiar with his work, and with the paucity of options available to Toshack after "injuries" to Collins and Gabbidon, it is no great surprise.

But just 6 months ago, Evans' selection would have been unthinkable. He was after all playing for TNS, in the Welsh Premier. I'm not quite sure what remarkable transition has taken place since his move to The Racecourse, but Toshack is following a familiar pattern of Welsh managers snubbing the League of Wales players until they get signed by English League clubs. You'll notice that I didn't say "professional" clubs, because TNS have been professional for some time now. Nevertheless,a player is apparently not a real player until he plays in England.

Also in the squad is Owain Tudur Jones. If ever Wales needed a player to develop quickly and to stay free of injury, it is Owain Tudur. OT-J was born for international football, and his debut can't come soon enough. We desperately need a replacement for Robinson or Fletcher, and he could be the man to do it. Built like Steven Gerrard, he has an eye for goal, and strikes the ball venomously.

But Tudur-Jones was the subject of a similar apartheid a few years back when Bryan Flynn introduced him to the Under 21's side...But only after he had moved to Swansea. Literally weeks after he had arrived at The Liberty, when that club's influence on him was negligible. Peter Davenport raised this very issue at the time. How can a player not be good enough one week when he is playing for Bangor, but as soon as he signs for Swansea, then his face fits ?

I suppose that managers are wary since Bobby Gould's attention-seeking selection of Gary Lloyd when he was a Barry player. But looking back on it, was Gould so far away ? Was Gary Lloyd in his prime a worse player than Danny Collins, or Partridge? Both of whom have played left back for Wales in recent years?

I just think it's a shame that a player's club automatically rules them out when really it should have no influence on selection. It works the other way round too - Dana Collins thought that he was owed selection because his club, Sunderland, were playing in the English Premiership. And look where Collins has since taken the Black Cats. Should you still be a shoe-in Dana ?

I'm not being fundamentalist about this. The Welsh Premier has a pitiful reputation amongst the old pros, particularly those who played at a high level in the English pyramid. Ergo, anyone who plays in it, must also be pitiful.

But the football landscape is changing. Twenty years ago, before Sky, and before the influx of high quality Europeans, Scandinavians, and South Americans, a player like Marc Lloyd Williams, Gary Lloyd or (as much as I hate to say it), Lee Kendall, might well have had a long career as a professional in the English League. A cap or two would have followed. Off the top of my head, I can't think of many English League regulars of the seventies and eighties who weren't capped. It isn't so easy these days. Can you imagine Keith Pontin, Gordon Davies, Bryan Attley, Donato Nardiello, Paul Giles, or even my hero, Phil Dwyer being so successful in the current era ?

No, the sands of quality have shifted down. There are players in the Welsh Premiership who might have been regular internationals had by now, had they not been squeezed downwards by globalisation of the English system. Whilst understanding the manager's reluctance to select from within, the players and coaching teams at the top of the Welsh pyramid deserve a little more respect.

Felin travel in numbers

Y Felinheli is once again proving itself to be the centre of Welsh football. Three buses, holding 100 fans will be leaving the small village to watch Wales' friendly aganst Liechtenstein tomorrow night. Fair do's, that's 5% of the total population travelling to a meaningless friendly against a rubbish team, and a three hour round trip on a Tuesday night.

I have had a new flag made especially for the occasion, so look out for us in the Eric Roberts Stand.

There is also talk of a minibus travelling to Stoke to watch Cardiff City. And it's not even me who has organised it. The Fic is so busy these days, due to the legendary hospitality of Al Crown, that a new extension will double its size. The football club have cunningly lost four consecutive Cup matches in order to concentrate on the League. This is definitely the best place in Wales.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sky Sports on the ball

I saw a trailer today for Sky Sports midweek football coverage.

"And live from the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff - Wales versus Liechtenstein."

That's bad news for me. I've booked two buses and 72 tickets for a game in Wrexham on the same evening.

Can't see the same mistake being made for an England international, can you ?

The Paul Parry mask

Cardiff City have been including players masks in their match programmes this season. As you can see, the Paul Parry mask is eerily accurate.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Pre Match Tension

This is getting ridiculous. For as long as I can remember, I've had this affliction where I am sick before big matches. In fact, the match doesn't even have to be that big. I am certainly sick before any Cardiff City away game, and before every Welsh international that isn't a friendly.

Famously, I once lost my false teeth when I was sick in a hedge on my way to Hereford for an unimportant Division 4 fixture.

But today's "big game" ? Cae Glyn v Y Felinheli. Under 7's.

I thought I was ill when I woke up. A slightly, tickly throat, and a bitter taste. Then the coughing started, shallow, light, unproductive. But it developed. A rasp,a throat-clearing rake, and there I was, perched over the pan, sweating, palms pressed against the cold tiles of the bathroom wall.

It was only when I developed the slight, almost imperceivable shiver that I could identify the cause. Pre-match tension. Absurd. I need to sort myself out.

I am the manager of the side. I need to display a calm confident manner which puts my young charges at ease. Please don't let me be sick on the pitch. It wouldn't look good.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Coventry City

I got thinking today about Coventry City. Somebody said that it just didn't feel right when they were relegated. I know what he meant, but it's difficult now to remember what purpose they served during their 145 year reign in the highest division.

Do you know , I can't remember a single Coventry game ? There was even one match that I went to at Highfield Road against Spurs, but I can't remember the result. I can't remember anything about the game at all actually.

Even Coventry players only became memorable when they went somewhere else. Think McAllister - Liverpool, Keane - Spurs, Strachan - Southampton.

they never pulled off any shocks, or had any exciting cup runs. Even the Spurs Cup final was only memorable for the team they played against.

At least they had a few "iconic" players I suppose like Steve "ogmonster" Ogrizovic. But that's a very small return on a century of top level football. Oh, and there was that goal from the flicked up free kick involving Willie Carlin and the boy Hunt. And the mercurial Dave Bennett. But that's it. A pointless club.

Coventry City - Out of Sight, Out of Mind.

Alan Smith to Ninian?

Well this puts a different complexion on things. If Cardiff City really can pull of a loan deal with Man United for Alan Smith, I might need to reconsider my Betfair gamble.

It was Alan Smith's sending off at Ninian Park in 2002 that saw the start of Leeds United's pleasing decline. They were top of the Premiership at the time, and after defeat to Cardiff, it was all downhill. That defeat was caused primarily by Smith's harsh red card.

But I think the outcome of this deal will give a good indication of City's likely immediate future. If they meet Smith's terms, then it says to me that they really do have the funds to strengthen the squad, which is essential if they are to maintain their promotion challenge.

If Smith turns down the move, then maybe the club will already have had its moment in the sun.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Hammam in the Guardian

This article comes from David Conn in the Guardian
Sam Hammam hoped to make a killing as Cardiff chairman, but club debt foiled his plan.

David Conn
November 8, 2006 12:28 AM
Sam Hammam loves emotional guff, so his departure from six crazy years as Cardiff City's owner had to be soaked in melodrama. Tears were shed, he told us, but a noble sacrifice made for the good of his Cardiff "family" - then exit stage right, home to London. Yet his curtain call must not obscure what went before: this was a huge personal defeat for Hammam. He made one of football's most rakish financial killings from Wimbledon, but with City drowning in debt Peter Ridsdale, now the chairman, forced Hammam out when the club is closer than ever to the payday of promotion to the Premiership and a stadium deal to die for.

In place of Hammam, hedge funds now hope to coin around £45m profit from the stadium, possible promotion and a stock market flotation, while Hammam can only watch from what he has left, two seats in the directors' box. This is not what he planned when he arrived as the saviour at a down-in-the-dumps City in August 2000, invoking the "Welsh nation" to rally the just-relegated club to the Premiership and beyond into Europe.

Hammam poured forth some Welsh nationalist blather about dragons and daffodils in a document, "Follow the Dream", but, in among it, he had a shrewd plan. He made around £36m from Wimbledon, first by selling the Plough Lane ground to Safeway for £8m, then the club itself to two Norwegian investors, Kjell Inge Rokke and Bjorn Gjelsten, who believed they could move it to Dublin and cash in by becoming an Irish Premier League "franchise".

But the Football Association of Ireland refused permission, the Norwegians eventually stopped funding the losses, Wimbledon sank into administration and then became a somewhat lesser franchise for Milton Keynes instead. The majority of fans, who formed AFC Wimbledon and began again from scratch, never forgave Hammam for, in particular, selling Plough Lane with no alternative in place.

In the Football League, though, Hammam was much in demand, a man with cash in a game whose boom has somehow mired the clubs deeper than ever in debt. He had his pick of clubs to buy but decided on Cardiff - because there he saw another national franchise, a potential Premiership club for Wales.

For all the rhetoric, however, Hammam stringently limited his financial commitment. He promised to put in about £3m: £1.5m to pay the debts, £1m to cover further losses and £500,000 for new players.

Cardiff were promoted in 2001, then splurged, paying £1m, a club record, for Graham Kavanagh from Stoke, then £1.7m for the striker Peter Thorne. Hammam inherited a fine youth side, including the striker Robert Earnshaw and the centre-half Danny Gabbidon, but it took until 2003, with more money spent, for City to reach the First Division via the play-offs.
By then the wage bill, £8.3m, exceeded the club's entire earnings. The debts, £1.5m when Hammam arrived, had ballooned to almost £23m. His plan for the Bluebirds turned out not to be a blueprint at all; Cardiff had risen by borrowing excessively.

Hammam was also taking money out; that year, City paid £300,000 to his company, Rudgwick, as a "management service charge". By May 2004, the date of the last published accounts - they are currently eight months late - Cardiff's debts had risen to £31m, including £21.8m owed to Citibank. The club had nevertheless paid Rudgwick a further £583,333.

The fans finally woke up from Hammam's dream in August 2004, when Earnshaw, by then a Wales international, was sold. The following month Hammam borrowed £24m in "loan notes", from sources he has always refused to identify, to pay off Citibank. The crisis came seven months later when Kavanagh was abruptly sold to Wigan to pay the previous month's wage bill. Gabbidon soon departed, staff were laid off and the Welsh dragon had to simper to the Professional Footballers' Association for a loan.

Ridsdale, Leeds United's chairman when they borrowed an ultimately catastrophic £82m, was recruited by Hammam last year specifically to replace the £24m loan notes with other finance. Desperately keen to restore his own reputation, Ridsdale understood the key was the new stadium development, proposed to replace the rundown Leckwith athletics ground. The local council, which owns both Leckwith and Ninian Park, is making an enormously generous contribution, donating around £40m of public money from selling both sites for the new stadium and surrounding retail. The football club is providing £4m from selling its lease on Ninian Park, will attract a £2.8m grant from the Football Stadium Improvement Fund, and be asked to put in only a further £9m.

Hammam, however, failed to complete so sweet a deal because he could not satisfy the council that the club could meet its financial commitments. The council was satisfied nothing was improper about the source of the £24m, but insisted on knowing to whom the money was owed. Beyond a Swiss bank which was the point of contact, Hammam would never tell.
That impasse was broken last week with Hammam's resignation from the board. Cardiff, it is understood, were paying the Inland Revenue an overdue £1.6m bill in instalments, and latterly the stadium developer, PMG, had provided £3m in sponsorship. PMG is understood to have been unwilling to pay a final £1m without a change in the club's structure to secure the stadium deal. Without that money the club would struggle to pay the Revenue, and probably fall into administration. Hammam appears to have had little choice but agree the deal, or he could have lost everything and the loan note holders taken a very deep cut.

Keith Harris, the former Football League chairman turned serial club dealmaker, is lining up hedge funds to put £9m in for new shares, amounting to 90% of the club. The note holders will be paid a further £9m from the naming rights on the new stadium, reducing their debt to £6m, and the club will be able to borrow again to finance its share of the stadium deal. Hammam is not being paid for his shares - his 83% share in the club will be diluted to around 8%.

Ridsdale has promised the stadium deal will now be signed quickly, and once the club occupies its new home, it will make more money whether it stays in the Championship or lands the Premiership jackpot. The plan, openly stated - but still optimistic - is to float and attract a valuation of, say, £60m, which would make the hedge funds' stake worth £54m from a £9m investment. Cardiff city council, whose leader meets Harris today, may yet insist on some payback for the huge public investment which is enabling such "super profits" to be contemplated.

Since Ridsdale's initial positive, conciliatory statement and Hammam's tearful adieu, neither has spoken publicly, but one fact nevertheless shines through. For Sam Hammam, footballing Midas of the 1990s, the Welsh dream is over.

Numbers game

Price Hammam is reported to have paid Ron Noades to purchase the Wimbledon club in 1981

Years Wimbledon played in the top flight between 1986-2000

Amount made by Hammam when he sold Plough Lane to Safeway in 1994

Made by Hammam when he sold his shares in Wimbledon in two tranches in 1997 and 2000

Invested by Hammam in Cardiff City in 2000

Paid by Cardiff City for 'management services' to Hammam's company, Rudgwick

Debts Hammam left behind in Cardiff, as at the 2004 accounts

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Ten ways to improve football

These days, after every disputed yellow card, or sending off, an indignant manager sends in an appeal form in the hope of getting his players off the hook. Sometimes this works, and a suitably chastened referee might apologise and carries on his work with a telling off.

Why not return the favour and allow referees to award yellow cards for offences that they might have missed? I would especially like to see this happen for "simulation" offences. Introduce an automatic 3 match suspension for anyone who dives.

When did obstruction become legal? Currently known as "shepherding the ball out", it actually involves obstructing the opposition player from reaching the ball. I questioned a referee on this recently and he told me that the defensive player is deemed to be in control of, and therefore protecting the ball, rather than committing an offence of obstruction. Well let's change it then. Make it so that you have to touch the ball to be in control of it. That would stop the "shepherding" altogether, as it would result in a corner, not the goal kick which currently rewards negative play.

This would be great wouldn't it ? It works in rugby. Just about the only way to understand what is going on at the breakdown is to listen to the ref (and even he isn't sure sometimes). In football it would let us know what is really going on. Mystifying yellow cards become understandable, and the behaviour of the players opened up for all to see. What's not to like ? If you're worried about the kids, then just put it in as a red button option with parental control.

Force any professional commentator to undertake a referees badge. I'm fed up of hearing some fifty year old scouser moaning about an onside centre forward "interfering with play". They usually say "if he's not interfering with play he shouldn't be on the pitch". Bollocks. It's gone lads. Get over it. The law has changed. Learn it.

Allow customers to pre-order their half time refreshments, just as they do in the theatre. You pay upfront before kick-off and when the half-time whistle goes, you turn up to collect your freshly pulled pint and a steaming mug of Bovril.

It's about time we had some of those geezers who wander around the ground selling beer and hot dogs. Just about the only worthwhile contribution that America has made to spectator sport.

Let us take flagpoles in again. They were never very good weapons anyway. Let's see flag waving masses back at the games. And let us hang our flags over the balconies. You know it adds to the occasion.

Solve pre-match queues in the pubs by introducing the Argos ticketing system. You take a ticket. When it's your turn, you can saunter leisurely up to the bar and place your order. No more mauling towards the bar in amongst 7ft giants, desperately trying to catch the eye of a barman who is desperately trying not to see you. Divine.

Come on. Enough already. If it's a local tragedy, fair enough. But no more minute silences for the unfortunate demise of an Egyptian Prime Minister. Ostentatious grief has been in vogue since Diana, but it's time to give it a rest.

They make your eyes go funny and attract your attention away from the game. It's not fair. We pay to watch the football, you tossers.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I like rugby

In total contrariety to a lot of Welsh football fans, I also like rugby. As a general reaction to rugby's political aggression in Wales, and its perceived dominance of our sportpages and airways, some of the most committed football supporters actively despise the game.

I have been in pubs where otherwise patriotic men have been urging the Welsh national rugby team to defeat. It is a particularly unedifying and spiteful action in my eyes, but many have good reason for this antipathy.

The Welsh male is born into a macho, bravura culture, particular in the industrial areas of South Wales. In the early twentieth century, rugby was one of the few areas of life where Welsh men could take some minor form of revenge against their English paymasters, and the sport took a hold on the public conscience which it has never relinquished. Whereas the sport in the rest of the UK was the playground of the well-bred, Welsh rugby was a socialist free for all. It was the game of the people, and despite all its official failings, there are systems in place to make sure that rugby maintains its spurious claim as the country's national sport.

If you go to the wrong school in Wales, you will never see a football, let alone play an organised match. Many schools operate a rugby-only policy, and foster a resentment in football afficianados that will remain for life. Even in schools where football is offered, it is seen as the poor relation to rugby. I well remember in my own school, which counts Toshack and Ledley as alumni, that only the rugby results were read out in assembly, and the rugby stars were feted by the headmaster.

Moving on to adult life, the young football fan will be shocked to find the Western Mail devoting pages and pages to Nantyglo v Brynamman, while the Welsh Premier league is ignored and the Welsh football team is paid lip service.

It has long been a sore point that BBC Wales appoints its heads of sport from the legions of retired Welsh international rugby players. Tactically, the BBC knows that it needs to keep the WRU on side, as the rugby contracts are crucial to its strategy. Ironically, one of Welsh football's biggest supporters in recent years has been Arthur Emyr, who introduced the FAW Premier Cup and increased the football output of the BBC, some say to his personal cost. Arthur is still seen regularly at Ninian Park.

Notwithstanding all of this political and social turmoil, I like rugby. I like watching the players sacrifice themselves physically in the cause of victory. And before Neil Back, Matt Dawson and that arsehole Louis Deacon, I used to like their attitude. And perhaps, most importantly, opposition rugby fans positively welcome their visitors. I have heard all the arguments in this respect, about the number of arrests on international day, but when it comes down to it, I have never had a crowd of rugby fans waiting to attack me at the end of the game.

Unfortunately, I don't have a club team. I grew up in Gilfach Goch, one of the thousands of small Welsh mining villages where rugby dominates the sporting landscape. Football has failed in Gilfach Goch due to the smothering success of the rugby team. The rugby club is a focal point of the village, and as a result, it has achieved success and status way beyond its population. In North Wales, it is the other way round. Young rugby players need to travel to one of the major towns to find a club. So I look out for Gilfach's results, but I haven't watched them play in years.

The devastating regionalisation of Welsh rugby has taken away the Celtic Warriors, my only connection with top flight competition. I now watch and support all the Welsh regions on television, but it is an empty support since the WRU wiped out top class rugby in the valleys for commercial reasons. And since they blocked promotion for North Wales sides, they have effectively sectioned off the top tier of the amateur game, now reserved for South Wales only. How can this be a National sport ?

So I now concentrate fully on the Welsh national side. You can say what you like, but an international is a great day out. And I watch every Wales home game. When the Autumn internationals were announced I bought a couple of season tickets and made arrangements to travel down to Cardiff four weekends in a row.

Which is why I was disappointed to see that Cardiff City have arranged two fixtures in direct competition with the rugby. We are playing Burnley and QPR at the very time that Wales will play The Pacific Isles and Canada.

Some football fans will be delighted that the club is taking on the rugby establishment, but some of us have a difficult decision to make. It can only be to City's detriment that a few thousand floaters will be watching the rugby at home, or at the Millennium Stadium. If the kickoffs were staggered, then I for one, would choose to go to both matches. As it stands, I have my season ticket, and I will be at the rugby.

The loyalists argument will be that Cardiff comes above everything else. I sympathise wholeheartedly with that stance. But in these days of high attendances, the casual visitor is just as crucial to fill the ground as the committed diehard. If you want a new stadium these are the people who will fill it. But the club has decided against accommodating the rugby, and many potential attendees will be avoiding Ninian Park for those two fixtures at least.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Swim Away

For years now, Swansea fans have been goading Cardiff with the animated breast stroke action, and the "swim away" chant. As it happens, I was a participant in the scenes that inspired the taunt.

It was Christmas time in the early nineties I think. In another spontaneous decision, I had made my way to Cardiff station to catch the train to the Vetch. But, unbeknown to me and dozens of other Cardiff fans, the trains weren't running that day. Not to worry - I offered a lift to a couple of lads from Ely and off we drove.

I don't remember much about the game itself, but I do remember that for some reason, probably the lack of public transport, that the City following was very poor that day. It was a low key affair, and the police let us out immediately after the whistle, which was unusual in those days.

As we walked across to the Courts car park, I could see a large mob of Swansea had gathered and were deciding on their best course of action. I looked around, and the Cardiff fans consisted of kids and families with the odd group of spotty fanzine writers. Swansea charged.

I'm not ashamed to say that I ran. Shat myself in fact. There was a mob coming straight for me and I ran into the law courts. To my horror, I found myself up a blind alleyway with no way out. I turned around, fully expecting a nightmare scenario, only to find myself quite alone. I peered round the corner, and saw the Swansea lads chasing a group of 'Diff towards the sea.

The car park was mayhem now. The police were conspicuous by their absence, and pockets of fans were fighting all over the place. I made it to the car where my new friends from Ely were eagerly waiting my arrival.

I found out later that those City fans had been chased into the sea by the Jacks and stayed there until they were able to be rescued by the late arrival of the police. And that is the origin of the "swim away" chant.

The end of the spontaneous journey

Cardiff City are playing away at Sunderland this evening. The Stadium of Light is one of the grounds that I have yet to visit, and it I was tempted to go. But these days, being tempted isn't enough. The all-ticket statues of most matches at this level means that plans have to be made, tickets booked, and the decision made well in advance of the game. It was not always so.

Some years ago, I made a last minute decision to travel to Shrewsbury for Dai Thomas's debut. He scored a goal and ran about so effectively that we were convinced we had seen the new local hero. It was a 7.30pm kick off, and when I happened to finish work early, I just jumped in the car at 5 0'clock and made the game.

I woke up very early one Saturday morning to find a car full of the Gregarious Crew outside my front door. Apparently, a few hours earlier in Clwb Ifor Bach, I had decided that I wanted to travel with them to Brunton Park, Carlisle. Seven hours later I was regretting that decision when Carlisle scored a last minute equaliser.

A different sport, but I rose instinctively on one dark morning a couple of years ago, and knew I had to go somewhere. I got in the car and made the 5 hour drive to Murrayfield on impulse. The pull was too great. Logistically, financially and sensibly, it didn't make sense, but a sense of occasion drew me, and I packed my bags. That first feeling of exhilaration when you have made the snap decision to go is a thrill that compares to the event itself. Again, my instinct was correct, and I saw Welsh rugby's most brilliant performance for 30 years.

Off the top of the head, I can list a number of games that I shouldn't have gone to. But as the match drew nearer, my senses became blurred and I was drawn unthinkingly to the game like a loyal St Bernard searching out his Master in a deep, icy crevice. Chester about five years ago, for example. Terry and I left late after we could no longer combat the impulse to go, we arrived at half time and saw a nothing game. The worst one was Exeter away in the Leyland Daf. Nothing to play for - it was a dead rubber, but towards 5 o'clock, the gravity from St James' Park was too much, and off I went. There were thirty City fans in the away end.

This evening's game has the same potential. There is nothing stopping me jumping in the car and driving up to Sunderland. It isn't a sensible thing to do. It would be an expensive, long journey, and I don't have that sense of duty, loyalty and martyrdom that I used to have. But there is always the possibility that my newly discovered enthusiasm would throw me behind the wheel and send me to Carlisle before my faculties could argue otherwise.

This is no longer an option.. There is no pay-on-the-gate at The Stadium of Light. I would need a ticket. And to get a ticket I need a membership, a fan number. I can't legally even pick up a spare. No, to travel to this game, I would have had to have made my decision sometime last week. And sometimes that's not the way it works.

Monday, October 30, 2006

St Davids Cross

In the past, when a new terrace phenomenon came along, it would be submerged into the culture and its origins would be lost. Thankfully, we now have the internet to document the starting point of these things, and I was pleased to come across the birth of a recent initiative documented in some posts to the Cardiff City mailing list.

This is the history of the St Davids Cross being used as the background for Cardiff City's current badge. It was man called Mervyn Ham who made the first flag up. Emblazoned with the legend "Llancadle Blues", Muhz put together the original flag in about 1998. This is the first mention that I could find of the cross, dated January 25th 2000.

In a message dated 25/01/00 11:36:55 GMT Standard Time,
Did anyone ever see those those enamel badges that were knocked up for theEuro Summit in Cardiff? three flags,Welsh Dragon / St Davids Cross / Euro Union Flag. Really neat!Well along the same theme - hows this for a balaclava badge?St Davids Cross / Skull & Crossbones / Bluebird Or St Davids Cross / Skull & Crossbones / Football Rattle. With the words "theres a bluebird in my heart" underneath. Tee Hee.Muhz

Not many people know that there are two versions of the flag:

At 06:49 25/01/00 EST, Eric the Red wrote: I was researching Welsh heraldry today and came across mention of the St David's cross. Black, on a gold background !!

This is the first mention of the actual flag:

Tue Jan 25, 2000 7:10 pm
Hi Mark, yes I'll probably be going.I'm taking the Llancadle Flag, and possibly getting a couple of smaller St Davids flags to raise the profile a bit. Did Nigel Blues mention that his mum and dad were listening to the Cambridge Away game on Capital Gold when they heard Phil Suarez commenting on the Llancadle Flag. Whats a yellow and black cross doing among Cardiff City fans? he kept asking - what is this Flag? . Muhz

And if you need any more evidence, here's NigelBlues from Tue Oct 15, 2002
Nobody knew about the St Davids Cross until Muhz told us all about 2 or 3 years ago and introduced his Llancadle flag. I don't know whether this development makes Muhz a hero or means he should be driven out of Wales but how was he to know it would be hijacked and misused in this fashion?

So there we have it. Documented proof of the first use of the St Davids Cross as a football flag.
It is prominent now throughout Wales, and not just within football. And we all know who started it - Mervyn Ham.

Eric the Dinosaur

It appears that this blog has finally reached the masses of Hammamistes on the Cardiff City Mad messageboard. To be fair, their criticisms of me and my blog are difficult to defend.

Firstly, the complaint that I didn't properly accredit the piece on Ridsdale's meeting. I'm not sure what more I can do. The problem is that if you post a link directly to Mike Morris's messageboard, the thread disapears after a few days and the link becomes dead. The piece was written by somebody called "The Lone Gunman", an old skool fan who I know and respect from way back . He likes Hammam, I don't. He wants to see the club playing in front of 40,000 in the Premiership. So do I.

The Lone Gunman points out the hypocrisy in my blog. I talk about dignity when I used to run around the terraces like a buffoon, making an arse of myself. He has a point. Guilty as charged.

Generally, elsewhere, the feeling is that I'm a dinosaur who likes his football "grim". That's partially true, though I might phrase it differently. I get just as much pleasure from small time football as I do from the big occasion. For me football is about companionship, laughter, competition, the shared sense of community, and the opportunity it gives the underdog to succeed. you can get that at any level. I support City because historically they have been the underdog.

The connection began in 1976. Even though we were top of the Third Division, the other clubs were bigger. Crystal Palace away was my first game, and from then on I always felt that City needed me as much as I needed them. It was a partnership more than anything. The Lone Gunman understands that well enough. I still struggle to support the favourite, even when Cardiff are involved. If that means liking your football to be grim, then mea culpa. For a football fan, the bigger the martyrdom, the higher the rewards.

But you talk to anyone who was around in the 1990s. Ask them about Halifax away when Pikey scored the winner, ask them about the Ayatollah procession after Blakey's overhead kick at Hereford. Ask them about the Ayatollah races at Peterborough. Find one of the several hundred people who witnessed our first ever penalty shootout at home to Exeter in the Leyland Daf trophy. And when you ask them to remember, they will beam. They were great times, and they suited some of us more than a sanitised £40 experience in an all seater stadium. I won't apologise for wanting something different from my football.

Cardiff City 2-2 Derby County

It was dark when I left at 7.30am. But the early start gave me a record journey time of 3 hours 36 minutes on the A470. Nothing much on the road, and there is still no sign that anybody lives in Commins Coch. I now look forward to Christmas, and to finding out whether the good citizens of Clatter will once again totally disregard the traditional display of festive decorations. Is Clatter a Satanic enclave ? It certainly feels like it sometimes.

By mid-day I had spent a fortune in the club shop. This was the first time in 6 years that I have been able to buy anything with Hammam's badge on it. Until now, it has been the old skool Bluebird, Dragon and Daffodils for me.

I felt liberated. Hammam is gone, and I'm proud to be a City fan once again.Hammam's vulgarity turned my club into a circus sideshow for "crazy bastards". Dignity's in short supply in football, but Ninian Park's boardroom has been bereft recently, of humility, propriety, and class. Let's hope that Peter Ridsdale keeps his head down, stays off the pitch, and doesn't do the Ayatollah.

Some City fans think that it's a case of out of the frying pan..., but we've had bad Chairman before. It goes with the deal. Tony Clemo, Jim Cadman, and even the mad Ukranian, Stefan Terlezki were all targets for campaigns and protests. But generally, you could ignore them. That's how it should be with Chairmen.

As for Saturday, credit goes to Ali for ignoring the Directors Box, and the ovation was fair enough. Plenty of people liked the old goat, and they're welcome to applaud. But to say that it was emotional is over-egging it. In my part of the ground, the Canton Stand, people weren't even sure what it was all about. We thought that Lewin Nyatanga had been spotted.

It has been a criticism recently on the battle ground of the messageboards that some of us were happy with 2,000 crowds and a rubbish team. Well I think that's obvious, otherwise we wouldn't have gone. It doesn't mean we don't enjoy the big occasion, but believe me, there is just as much satisfaction to be gained out of beating Plymouth 5-4 in front of a few thousand as there is at The Emirates for a 1-1 draw with Everton.

There have been comments in the media recently that Cardiff is a "proper" club with a "proper" ground. I know what they mean. Liverpool's second goal against Villa on Saturday was celebrated with a "yayyy". Not a "Waarggh, or a Yaarrggh", but a "Yayyy". That is not a proper celebration. That is a lazy, overfed, gout suffering, souffle of a cheer. If that's what a new stadium will bring, you can keep it.

Derby fans celebrated properly on Saturday. They jumped around, made crazy unplanned dashes across the terracing and generally went mental. Fair play to them. If you watch the highlights, Cardiff fans are already streaming out of the ground. Top of the League, 2-1 up, and under pressure deep into injury time. And thousands were leaving the ground. Comment is unnecessary.

This is the best City team I have ever seen. The result is just a statistic caused by the ball being round and happening to cross a white line a couple of times. Derby should already have been withdrawn to their corner. I don't mind drawing games like that. We are magnificent.

I was in my local by 10pm, and did that thing that all fans do when they arrive back at their pub after an away game. I took the match programme in and laid it out casually on the bar, face up, so that everyone would know that I'd just travelled 8 hours to watch a football match. But I make no apologies for that. I am proud again to be a City fan.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Ridsdale's Meeting with the fans.

This message was posted on Cardiff a few minutes ago. I might as well publish it here in its entirety.
An informal meeting took place in the Ninian Park boardroom yesterday morning (25/10/06) between new Cardiff City Chairman Peter Ridsdale and a small group of the club’s supporters. Present at the meeting were Gwyn Davies, Paul Corkrey and Wayne Crichton of the Valley RAMS, Vince Alm of the Cardiff City Supporters Club, Mike Morris and Dave Sugarman from the website, Ninian Park stadium manager Wayne Nash, and Julian Jenkins from the football club’s media department.

A wide range of topics were discussed during a relaxed forum. What follows is a brief summary of the main issues covered:

THE CLUB’S FINANCES – Peter gave those present a detailed breakdown of the recent changes to the club’s financial situation. He said the new investors will be putting up an initial sum of £12 million in the takeover deal currently being brokered by Keith Harris of Seymour Pierce. £9 million of that money will go towards paying off some of the club’s £25 million loan notes debt, and the other £3 million will go towards meeting the running costs of the football club.

This investment is seemingly critical in order to improve the club’s financial health, and it’s apparent that Cardiff City FC will continue to be run on a very tight budget for the time being. I think it’s safe to say that those who think large sums will be spent on new players during the January transfer window as a result of this takeover will be disappointed. However, the Chairman did suggest that efforts will be made to find the necessary money for new players if and when the manager feels his team needs them. He also informed the fans that a hefty seven-figure tax bill has recently been cleared, and negotiations are continuing to clear the club’s remaining debts, including loans from former directors. He said the initial aim of the new investment programme was to make the club debt-free within 12 to 14 months, and to finally get work started on the new stadium project.

THE LOAN NOTES – While the identity of the owners of the club’s loan notes still remains a mystery, Peter told the supporters that the terms of their repayment have been satisfactorily renegotiated as a part of the new takeover deal. He also said the Council have at long last received the assurances they require from the loan note holders’ bankers, which removes the stadium project’s final major stumbling block.

THE STADIUM PROJECT – The Chairman sounded confident that problems with the stadium bid are now a thing of the past, and that work will begin shortly. He talked of how unrealistic the club’s business plan had been before he took control of the project, and said he wasn’t at all surprised that the Council’s financial advisors had dismissed it out of hand. As an example, he made mention of the fact that retail units within the structure of the stadium itself had been an important feature of the initial designs, and the income the club could’ve derived from these units had been factored into the prospective budgets. However, the truth is that planning permission has never actually been granted for any such units. The club does have planning permission to include its own club shop and offices within the stadium structure, but units from outside retailers are not permitted.

Peter said he now felt that all of the major difficulties with the project had been ironed out and that the latest financial information provided by the club should satisfy the Council and therefore enable work to start in the very near future.

THE GROUND-SHARE TALK – Several of the supporters present voiced strong opposition to the idea of a possible ground-share with the Cardiff Blues rugby club at the new stadium. Peter was at pains to point out that such a scheme is merely a consideration at the current point in time, and would only ever become a reality if it was in the best interests of the football club. He also stressed that the football club will always be in control of the stadium, and the rugby team will merely become tenants if a suitable agreement can ever be reached between the two clubs.
The current agreement between Reading FC and the London Irish rugby club was used a prime example of the sort of deal which may be possible here in the future, and it was stressed that the Swansea City and Ospreys ground-share model would definitely not be followed in Cardiff. Stadium manager Wayne Nash dismissed fears that the involvement of a rugby team would seriously damage the playing surface. He said that modern pitch technology is such that any damage can be kept to an absolute minimum, as is the case at places like Reading, Hull and Wigan.

CAPACITY OF THE NEW STADIUM – This issue was discussed only briefly, as nobody in the room had seen the Echo’s report before the meeting. Peter told the fans that the exact capacity for the first phase of the new stadium had yet to be decided, and was dependent upon finances at the time of build. He said a minimum of 25,000 seats will initially be installed, although the number is more likely to be somewhere between 27,000 and 30,000. No mention was made of any further phases of the stadium’s development.

THE NEW BOARD – All City fans will no doubt be pleased to hear that director Steve Borley is to remain on the club’s board for the foreseeable future. Peter spoke very highly of Steve, and it’s clear he is still seen as an important influence in the Ninian Park boardroom. The future of the two remaining directors, Ned Hammam and Jonathan Crystal, is currently unclear, although the Chairman said he felt they were unlikely to remain on the board, and that new directors could step in once the takeover deal has been completed.

SAM HAMMAM – Peter confirmed that current owner Sam Hammam has been offered the position of Life President, and as such he will always be made welcome in the Director’s Box and the boardroom on match days. However, Sam will no longer play any part in board meetings; he will not be involved in the day-to-day running of the club and will not sit on the bench during matches. Peter said he was anxious that Saturday’s game against Derby County should be all about Dave Jones and his team getting back to winning ways after the defeat at Norwich rather than being about Sam.

NINIAN PARK AND THE PREMIERSHIP – The Chairman confirmed that Cardiff City will make an application for the continued use of the Ninian Park terraces should the club get promoted to the Premiership before the new stadium is completed. Many fans, including myself, have been under the impression that the club would either have to put seats on the Ninian terraces or close them down altogether if promotion was secured, as Premiership rules would preclude their use. However, it seems that the rules regarding all-seated stadiums are the same in both of the top two divisions, and it is therefore possible for City to gain continued special dispensation to use the Ninian terraces provided that work on the new stadium gets underway.
Peter totally dismissed the idea of renting the Millennium Stadium for future Premiership fixtures, and said that both he and Dave Jones were convinced that the atmosphere generated at Ninian Park would be a distinct advantage to City’s players if they got to the top flight. He said the idea of playing against the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool at the Millennium Stadium was quite simply a non-starter. The subject of ticket prices at the new stadium was discussed, and particular attention was paid to the likelihood of increases should the club reach the Premiership. The Chairman outlined his intention to keep prices well within reach of the average supporter, just as he did during his time in charge of Leeds United. He said the club would be looking to significantly increase its revenue from areas such as corporate hospitality and sponsorship at the new stadium as opposed to from drastic ticket price increases.
MASCOTS – Peter talked of his keen desire to market Cardiff City as a family club and indicated that, with that in mind, match day mascots will be returning almost immediately. The Bluebirds will also be looking to have a new club mascot very soon. Exactly what it will be and what it will be named will probably be the subject of a forthcoming competition for the children.
THE CLUB BADGE – The possibility of altering the current club badge to include the words ‘CARDIFF CITY’ instead of ‘BLUEBIRDS’ was discussed briefly, and will be examined shortly by the relevant people at the club.

The Chairman closed the meeting by saying that he and his staff will always welcome suggestions from City’s supporters, and he urged fans to contact the club with their ideas, observations and concerns whenever they feel it necessary to do so.

The King is Dead - Long Live etc...

No sooner is Hammam out of the door than the new boss, Peter Ridsdale is calling a summit of "fan leaders" to meet with him. Where other clubs have a PR officer and a press list, Cardiff City have a list of punters. This club cuts out all the middlemen, and the Chairman spins the news through the most committed fans. This is a particularly unsavoury way of doing things. Whereas a cynical and independent (in theory) press might question some of the club's statements, the fans are less likely to do so. The angle that gets peddled to the club's supporters comes stright from the horse's mouth. It is a disingenuous, manipulative abuse of trust and loyalty. We thought the tactic might have disappeared with Hammam, but it appears that Ridsdale is taking the same route.

So what came out of yeterdays meeting ? Ridsdale obviously wanted his version of events to seep out of Ninian Park and into the Lansdowne, the Napier and the King's. The version above is an edited/censored summary of the meeting. Other things were apparently said, but that won't go public. These things get round by word of mouth.

It's safe to say that the club is in the middle of one big gamble. If we go up and onto to better things, a lot of people stand to make a lot of money. If we don't, then the club will sink. My money is on the latter. Quite literally - I've laid City against promotion on Betfair.

Cardiff City are not the only club making this gamble, and you could say that it is an achievement that we are even allowed to play at the table.

Out of respect for my sources I don't want to reveal too much about what was said at the meeting, but I am a little happier today that my scepticism about Sam Hammam appears to have been justified.

Will this unpublished message filter through to the messageboard today ? If it does, then we might be able to enjoy Saturday's match without the toe-curling banners and sycophantic chants about Sam Hammam. Crossed fingers are what this club needs at the moment.

It is worth repeating my opposition statement now that I have a platform via this blog. This City does not need another retail park. It does not need another stadium. We have plenty of both.

Another voice of reason

From the message board at Cardiff City Mad

Just my thoughts:-

£30m in debt - Thanks Sam!
Got rid of our brilliant badge even though the majority wanted it kept - Thanks Sam!
Paul Guy keeping us afloat - Thanks Sam!
Got rid of mascots - Thanks Sam!
Caused in-fighting beteween loyal fans - Thanks Sam!
Peter Risdale actually got Dave Jones in - Thanks Sam!
Threatening to change our name and colours - Thanks Sam!
Lost any family atmosphere - Thanks Sam!
For having the minority love him, who then shouted down the majority who didn't - Thanks Sam!
Saying we represent the whole of Wales when we quite obviously don't - Thanks Sam!
Banning fans, Jack Brown bookmakers and anyone else that displeased him - Thanks Sam!
Not being a 'family' but a one man ego show - Thanks Sam!
For the continuous lying (administration error etc. etc.)- Thanks Sam!
For finally going - Yes, Thanks Sam!
And yet people are still saying 'thanks Sam'.
Like I said, just my thoughts............

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Voices of Dissent

Not everybody is fawning with gratitude at the feet of Sam Hammam. Here are some emails that I have received from less enamoured Cardiff City fans.

It's shades of grey though, isn't it ? If you want to call it a bereavement, then I will be taking the same actions as I took when the Queen Mother's passing was "celebrated" at PN - except I won't be in a seat on Saturday that I can remain seated in, quietly. By the same token, if others want to applaud him, that's their choice, and that's up to them. I won't be joining in, but I do respect others' rights to do so if they so choose.

Eric, you're right on the legacy - take away the means, throw in a bit of luck, and the club is marginally in a better place now than it was 6 years ago. Where were we exactly ? Sloshing around the lower leagues, no money to sign decent players, no sustainable long term infrastructure. Prognosis ? On a blunt kitchen knife edge - we could have gone down to the Conference - or someone with a few pennies could have come in (probably a couple of million), stabilised the club, and realistically, we would have spent the foreseeable future at a slightly tarted up Ninian Park, oscillating between the Third and Fourth Divisions.

Instead, we got Sam. Due to family connections, and some previous, he was able to get his hands on a bit more than a couple of million, and therefore in six years,
he's delivered two promotions, and we've had a decent first quarter to this season. We have an Academy, which has started to produce good players. Some dreadful purchases - Barker, Prior, Gavin Gordon - and many forget David Hughes, who even before injury struck him down prematurely hardly looked like a half million pound player. Rumours of grossly inflated wages. So as well as the positives, we also have a £30m debt. We're on a very sharp machete edge - we saw the shape of things potentially to come on Black Friday - home grown heroes being sold in a fire sale. There is no permanence in the Academy. And I mentioned his previous earlier - Wimbledon, from non league football, to the FA Cup and half a dozen years in the Premier League - their fans had a great time for half a generation. But where are they now ? And how much heartache has that caused along the way ? How do you begin to weigh up the pleasure against the pain of lifelong Wimbledon fans - but moreover, what right has one man got to dictate that equation coming into being in the first place ?

Then you've got the bullshit - the bigger than Barcelona., shirt burning, Big brother little brother bullshit - the unnecessary braggadocio which never backfired on him, but on each and every one of us, making us look like blind followers of some mindless cult.

To use a metaphor, before Sam we were a point to point horse - turning up week in, week out, always fishing the race, occasionally coming in as an each way bet, often following most of the rest of the field - but it was always there next week with a chance of giving us a return on our money, and even occasionally making a small profit, sharing the transient glories of victory amongst us all. Then Sam turned us into a Grand National horse - at the end of the first circuit, we were up with the leaders, with a real chance of real fame and glory in a lap's time. But the stakes were a lot higher - as the horse gets more tired, a fatal fall can take place. Don't forget the last horse he'd taken through the Grand National - it competed for a long part of the race, but then fell, and had to be put down. It was never going to come back for the next race.

This time, he got lucky - for whatever reason, whether it was his choice or someone else's, they've changed the jockey half way round. But the horse is still tired - it
still carries a lot of extra weight - £30m of lead in its saddlebag. But a big bottle of lucozade is possibly on offer, to give the horse a bit of extra energy. It may go the course - and provide some transient glory. But it can still fall.

So what is Sam's legacy then ? He's put us in a race where the rewards are quantatively bigger - but the the penalties for failing are a lot harsher, and more permanent. Some people are happy for others to make this decision for them - and either don't care about the harsher penalty for failing - or can't see it till it hits them like a bullet between the eyes. Personally, I'm not happy for other people to hijack my fortunes in that way, which is why I'm glad Sam is going. Unfortunately, I'm not sure yet what the new jockey is like, and anyway, this isn't a race I really wanted to be in anyway. I think I would have preferred the Derby - when you finally fail
there, you get to spend the rest of your days shagging in a nice field, rather than being shafted, permanently, in the race that Hammam entered us into.

Which is why I'll be silent on Saturday.


And from another dissenter:

I had to try and explain to an Arsenal supporting colleague why I was so happy about Hammam fucking off yesterday. Although I offended him deeply by using a Hitler comparison, I still feel it was a fundamentally sound analogy. City from 2000 – 2006 was much better on the field than the previous 20 years. Its something like the improvements seen in the German economy after the National Socialists came to power, between 1933 and 1938. For you average German things seemed great, compared to the hyper-inflation experienced in the 20s. But there was a cost. Sections of society (the fanbase) were persecuted, and though popular support for the leader remained strong, there were those who could see that ultimately there was a terrible price to pay. The soul of the nation/club, was deeply disfigured by those who supported the success at any costs mentality and either didn’t care about, or actively supported, the evil agenda of the leader.


And finally

No one can make any kind of judgement based on the PR campaign we have had so far, only the reality of the next few years. I don't think our situation has changed very markedly, someone will still want a return on their "serious money" that has "replaced the debt" and the future well-being of the club is still staked on a property development.

Getting in to the Premiership does not in itself guarantee healthy finances even with the new TV deal starting, it depends on what you spend when you're there. Obviously I think having Hammam's unstable and possibly incompetent character out of the way is probably a positive and I am very glad he's gone due to my personal dislike of his actions, pronouncements and methods.

Most of all I won't have to suffer his horrendous cult of personality and the lie that he "wasn't doing it for money"So, in summary, I think we MIGHT be slightly better off, slightly more stable and with a very slightly less odious man at the helm. Also, I wonder if the excellent work the council have done in protecting us from Hammam's unworkable (no one disputes this now do they? His having to walk away pretty much confirms that) and dangerous plans will ever be remarked upon en masse by the fans?

Sound familiar ?

This is a report of the 2002-02 season at Leeds United:

It was not the first time that the question of money had been raised as a major issue. The Guardian carried the following report a month earlier: "The scale of the financial implications of Leeds United's underachievement this season became clear yesterday when the chairman Peter Ridsdale announced that they had lost almost £14m in this financial year and that they would have to sell £30m-worth of players this summer in order to reduce their debt by £15m to £20m.

"Leeds are believed to have received a bid of £30m for Rio Ferdinand alone but would not countenance selling their captain, so the mooted sale of Mark Viduka to Roma should account for half the £30m. Internazionale and Juventus have offered a similar sum for Olivier Dacourt but his season has been affected by injury and the likelihood of him not making France's World Cup squad will affect his value. Despite all the speculation surrounding Harry Kewell, Leeds have not received one bid for the Australian.

"The ease or difficulty of reaching the £30m figure then depends to a degree on how Leeds finish this season. Were they to secure a Champions League place, their players would end their season on a high note and values would rise correspondingly. However, if Elland Road experiences another downturn, the marketability of fringe players such as Stephen McPhail and Robbie Keane will decrease. The manager David O'Leary will also want to bring in at least two new faces, so Ridsdale's estimate that up to six players may leave the club could be correct.
"He said: 'One of the transfers will probably be more than £10m with three or four more smaller deals made up of squad players who are not regular first-teamers. The amount left for the manager to spend will depend on European qualification.'

"The situation has been forced on Leeds as they try to reduce long-term borrowings that have risen to more than £85m after a £90m spending spree that has brought no silverware. An indication of how results-driven the economics are is that when they topped the Premiership in September, Leeds's shares were worth 14p. Yesterday they fell to 7p.

"Ridsdale was speaking after Leeds unveiled a £13.8m full-year loss which served to compound fears in the City that the stock market-listed club has borrowed too much in its quest for success on the pitch. Leeds have had the squad independently valued at £198m but the City values the entire club at just £25m. But Ridsdale remains bullish. 'There are a lot of people waiting for Leeds to have a hiccup,' he said, 'but we're committed to a strategy of building one of Europe's biggest clubs and all our shareholders support us. We have no concerns about either our cash or debt levels.'

"A sign of Ridsdale's confidence, or concern, is that along with his fellow director Allan Leighton he is preparing to buy out one significant investor in the club, the bank UBS Warburgs, who own 11%. At yesterday's prices that would cost around £3m.

"Explaining the yearly loss, Ridsdale said the uncertainty surrounding the Lee Bowyer-Jonathan Woodgate trial and the injuries to Lucas Radebe and Michael Bridges had forced Leeds to carry more players on their wage bill than they had originally wanted. 'We didn't know who was going to be available to the manager,' he said. 'It was not an ideal situation.'

"Ridsdale also insisted that plans to move to a new stadium and fund it by selling naming rights were unaffected by the impending player sales. He said: 'We're in discussions with three multinationals over naming rights and already have one indicative offer.'"
It was an astonishing turn of events and few supporters could recall when financial pressures had put the club's on-field performances so much in the shade.