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Book Review - Cardiff City Rebranded - Bluebirds and Red Dragons

Wednesday 23rd November 2016
In 2012, Cardiff City, a proud club with a cherished history and a passionate fan-base faced a rebrand like that never seen before in British football. It lasted 947 days and would rock the club to its very core.  

Title: Cardiff City Rebranded – Bluebirds and Red Dragons

Author: Scott Johnson

Publisher: Pitch Publishing

Date Published: 2016

Price: £12.99

Imagine Liverpool playing in blue, Manchester City in yellow, Newcastle swapping black and white for red and white? The very thought drives fear into most supporters, as a clubs colours and their badge represent the very heart of a club's identity, history and traditions. In short the club's soul.

Unthinkable? Well no, this is what happened to the supporters of Cardiff City as blue became red and bluebird became a dragon. It lasted 947 days, coincided with success and failure on the pitch and caused a civil war on the terraces, where supporters were driven by fear, distrust and a total disconnection with the club and its eccentric owner Vincent Tan. The whole emotional journey of the rebrand and its impact on Cardiff City is covered in the excellent ‘Cardiff City Rebranded – Bluebirds and Red Dragons.'

Author, Johnson opens the book with an overview of Cardiff's history with moments of glory followed by many years in the doldrums. Interestingly the club was already rebranded in 1910, while more recently under the ownership of Sam Hassam (a chairman not opposed to new ideas) and Peter Ridsdale had left the club in need for investment and a desire for change.

With the club saddled with high debt and facing extinction, Cardiff's ‘saviour' was Malaysian businessman, Vincent Tan. The deal; Cardiff's future in exchange for a new red kit and a new badge i.e. the rebrand.

Talking to key people involved on both sides, Johnson examines the bombshell that was the change in kit colour, when its news was first leaked without any supporter consultation. Under a culture of fear, desperation, rumour and mistrust, supporters clashed as they tried to come to terms with a loss of identity or a loss of their club. Supporters were split and the clashes at times violent.

As with all footballing decisions, big or small, everything is underpinned by what happens on the pitch. Big name signings helped Cardiff end their first season in red as champions, promoted to the Premier League (Cardiff back in the top flight after a 53-year absence) and with Tan celebrating on the pitch and a sea of red in the stands.

However, as Johnson explores, even against this backdrop of success there were always tensions just below the surface not helped by a number of subtle initiatives such as issuing free red scarfs, censoring the stadium announcer and restricting the number of times Cardiff performed in the now blue away kit.

The bubbling resentment would come dramatically to a head during what should have been a season of excitement as the Premier League dream swiftly became a nightmare.

As the rebrand unravels, Johnson takes us through the contributing factors from the highly public divorce and bitter fall out with popular manager Malky Mackay and the subsequent relegation under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Both events were played out against a backdrop of increasing irrational behaviour at the top, including accusations of board level influence in team tactics and the bizarre promotion of a young work experience lad to head of recruitment.

As Cardiff stumbled from one public relations disaster to another, each one exaggerated in the glare of the global media machine that accompanies a Premier League club, the supporter protest groups were becoming increasingly united and vocal in their quest to return to blue.

A campaign of marches, songs and merchandise boycotts gathered momentum as Cardiff began life back in the Championship, but it was on a cold Saturday afternoon in January when the penny finally dropped. The sight of just 4,194 fans watching the 3rd round FA Cup tie versus Colchester was the turning point, the club could not continue like this and finally a week later the rebrand was dead.

After covering every turn of this soap opera, Johnson concludes his superb book with an analysis of the rebrand. He talks of the lost supporters and legacy of broken friendships. There was no ‘bounce' after the return to blue as many no longer have a connection with the club and it is undoubtedly in a weaker position than before the rebrand. This makes for sad reading as throughout the book supporters will think about their own clubs, what these mean to them and the emotional ties that we have with our clubs. It raises questions about who owns a club whether the fans or the owner putting in their cash.

You will sympathise with the Bluebirds predicaments and wonder how you would react if it was your club under threat.

Scott Johnson's book is emotive and thought provoking read. It gives a balanced view of Cardiff's history over those 947 days and takes the reader on this journey. It is a must read for all fans who care about their club and its future.
Allan Kemp

Born in Suffolk but a Norwich City supporter who is currently exiled in Dallas, US. I am an FA level 2 coach and also a published author, my book of Hall of fame - Norwich City's - All-Time Greats is available from all good bookshops. I am now working on my second book, with Pitch Publishing - Newcastle United Hall of Fame. I'm also a keen reader of football-related books.


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