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.

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