Cardiff City season ticket refund meeting – 27/06/12
A meeting took place at Cardiff City Stadium from 6pm – 8pm on the 27th June for all fans who requested a refund on their season tickets. Many fans were initially turned away from the meeting by security, despite producing e-mails from Alan Whiteley showing they were invited. After some discussion with security staff outside the stadium, myself and three others who had initially been denied access were allowed in. I believe some other fans were turned away and not allowed entry.
The meeting was held in a large room on the first floor of the stadium, with five members of staff initially present alongside security personnel. These five people were as follows:
Alan Whiteley – Chief Executive
Malky Mackay – Manager
Wayne Nash – Stadium Manager
Barrie McAuliffe – Media Manager
Julian Jenkins – Premier Club Representative.
The meeting began with Alan Whiteley making a pre-prepared statement. Recording was not permitted, but I have taken notes and due to my journalism and shorthand training all quotes are as close to 100% accurate as is possible without recording.
Whiteley: “By 2004 due to the spending of Sam Hammam, we had a total debt of £24,000,000. By 2007 with the Peter Ridsdale effect this had slightly been reduced, but by the time we played Blackpool in the 2010 playoff final the club was effectively bust and close to being wound up by HMRC. At this stage Vincent Tan put £6,000,000 into the club to help deal with short term problems, this did not address any of the long term debts owed to Langston (Sam Hammam) or PMG (Paul Guy).
By 2012, Vincent Tan had put in a total of £35,000,000 to pay off all trade debts. This includes player wages, transfer fees and other running costs, but does not include any of these aforementioned historic debts. Alan Whiteley then went on to say that by the time we got to the West Ham playoff games the club had three options to go forward. These were:
“1. Stay the same as we were and continue to lose money while attempting to gain promotion.
2. Retrench and restructure the club. (Player sales such as we saw when Robert Earnshaw/Graham Kavanagh etc left the club)
3. Move on and push forward”
At this time the board went to Vincent Tan to give him these options. Vincent Tan wants the club to be a “sustainable Premiership club, to ensure he gets his money back”. The club also want to finish in the top two this season and avoid the lottery of the playoffs. It was at this stage than Alan Whiteley made the first of several claims that I find to be astounding. He stated that if we wanted to break even next season, the ticket price for every fan in the ground would have to rise by £25. If we wanted to make money, the price of each ticket would have to rise by £75. He confirmed that this was on a game by game basis, and not on the season ticket price. This was working with an average attendance of 22,000 people. This means that in total, to make money next season the club would have to make an extra £1,650,000 for every home match. He confirmed that Vincent Tan would only back the club with the changes to the kit and badge.
At this stage many of the people in attendance began to ask questions. One fan asked Alan Whiteley if Vincent Tan had presented to the board his plan for making additional money in the Asian market. Alan Whiteley confirmed that they “had no idea” where the additional revenue was going to come from. When asked if Vincent Tan had presented them with a business plan, it was confirmed that he had not. Alan Whiteley told the fan “I could show you a 40 page dossier and you still wouldn’t be happy”. When the fan responded that “but you don’t have one, do you?” he had no response.
Alan Whiteley insisted that there was no way we could raise additional funds through local sources, and that looking further afield was the only option the club had. Vincent Tan presented the board with the rebranding proposal in early April. Alan Whiteley declared that the local members of the board “understood the passion for blue and were not particularly enamored with the decision.” He said that at this stage they had three options. Accept the rebrand, negotiate or refuse and look for additional funding sources. Due to the rebranding proposal “commercially making sense” they accepted the decision without negotiation.
Alan Whiteley then listed the advantages and disadvantages of the rebrand.
Advantages – Financial stability, strengthen the team and create a platform and go forward to reach the Premiership.
Disadvantages – Supporter anger.
When asked how the board felt that playing in red would help improve the team or improve merchandise sales, he had no answer.
He then looked to address a number of the criticisms that the club has faced over the last few weeks. He said that the main criticism he had had from fans was “a lack of consultation with the fans about the proposed changes”. He said that he felt that this criticism was wrong. This was met with widespread disbelief from the fans present, laughter and several disapproving comments. Alan Whiteley became visibly flustered by this reaction and said “It is impossible for us to ask 18,000 people a question” and “Nothing I can say about it will change your mind anyway”. He said if they had asked 18,000 fans and 12,000 had said they wanted to remain in blue and with a bluebird badge, the 6,000 people that would have gone for it would still have to be strongly considered. A fan then remarked that if a poll was done of every season ticket holder if they wanted to play in blue with a bluebird badge, all of them would say yes. Alan Whiteley remarked that it was “impossible to know that for sure” and that that was only our opinion.
Moving on, he denied the club had become a laughing stock and that scaremongering had not taken place with the initial statement put out by Dato Chan. This was again strongly derided by those in the room, and it looked as if Alan Whiteley hardly believed the words he was saying himself. He denied that the option was ever “red or dead” and stated that the Malaysians had never been in danger of walking away. When he was questioned about comments made by Steve Borley on Twitter which had suggested otherwise, he was unable to provide an answer. He said that the money was only on offer with the rebrand, and that Vincent Tan was not prepared to invest money without these changes. It was at this stage where a number of worrying comments began to emerge.
Alan Whiteley stated that the additional money would initially go into the club as debt. Far from the club being debt free, the debt is actually going to increase as a result of this rebrand. He was asked if he though the rebranding would work in Asia and bring in additional money, he responded “I don’t know, I am not an Asian”. This once again resulted in anger from the crowd, no questions were being answered properly and it was extremely frustrating to try and get a straight answer. Whiteley stated that “Vincent Tan has not put in black and white where he thinks the money will come from, he just believes he can do it”. He then stated that it was “irrelevant if the rebranding worked or not, because it was Vincent Tans money being risked and not that of the club”. When asked if they had questioned Vincent Tan at all on this issue by a fan, he replied “If you want to buy out Vincent Tan and keep the club blue we will be delighted” but confirmed they had not looked for any additional financing from anyone other than the Malaysians. After referring to 2012 being the year of the dragon in China, one fan asked if we would “have had a rat on the badge if it had been the year of the rat?”. There was no answer.
Alan Whiteley then announced that three possible deals had been offered to Langston (Sam Hammam). These were:
1 – £8,000,000 payable within 30 days.
2 – £10,000,000, with £3,000,000 payable now and the rest at the end of the season.
3 – £13,000,000, with £8,000,000 payable this year and an additional £5,000,000 if Cardiff City got promoted to the Premiership.
He confirmed that Langston had not yet responded to this offer, and the debt was not paid off or any closer to being paid off. It was at this stage that Alan Whiteley confirmed that Sam Hammam would be welcome to take up a life presidency of the club if he wanted such a title, and would be welcome to attend any games he liked. A number of people voiced objections to this, especially as the club had spent the first 20 minutes of the meeting stating how the majority of the debt was Sam Hammams fault. Many people felt that the idea of giving Hammam such a title was a further insult to the fans, and would be even worse than changing the shirt colour to many fans. Despite heavy opposition to the return of Hammam, it seems very likely that the settling of the debt would involve Hammam returning to the club in at least some form, even if the position held no real power. A fan said that the very idea of Hammam being allowed through the gates of Cardiff City Stadium was an insult, with many of those in attendance applauding this statement.
When asked why Langston should accept any of the three offers on the table when they would be entitled to far more money in three years, Whiteley shrugged and said it was “up to them”.
At this stage, perhaps sensing the mood turning, Alan Whiteley invited Malky Mackay to speak to the crowd on football related issues only. When asked if he was happy with the transfer budget for the following season he stated “Satisfied? You always want more. But I have a better amount to work with than last season, and I will spend every penny if I find a suitable player”. He then commented “I need every supporter I can get. We know that this team represents the local area and the local community and I understand the tradition of the club. I get both sides of the argument and can see where you are coming from, but I also see where these guys are coming from (points to other club officials). ”
He commented that we had tried to sign three players in January, with bids of £3,000,000 for Marvin Sordell, £2,000,000 for Matt Phillips and a bid for Craig Noone that he did not give a value too. He commented that only five teams had used January well, and these were Tottenham, Everton, Swansea, West Ham and Reading. He said he did not care if every fan in the stadium chanted Bluebirds or Dragons and that any peaceful demonstration of blue would not effect his team. He was then asked if he thought Celtic would change colours for money, he didn’t answer but commented that he thought Rangers would play in red if the same deal was offered to them.
Transfers were then discussed. He said there had been no contact with Craig Bellamy. I asked him if the Malaysian players we had had on trial were his choice or forced upon him, he answered “They contacted us asking if we could take them on trial. It is very difficult to get a work permit for a Malaysian player. We were never going to sign them”. He also indicated that Kenny Miller, Peter Whittingham and Joe Mason would have had to have left the club if we did not agree to turn red, however this was not confirmed and he did not indicate if there had been bids.
Malky Mackay then left the meeting, after thanking supporters and saying that if we were there next season or not, he understood the situation. He was thanked by fans for his work last season, receiving a round of applause as he left the room.
I felt sorry for Malky Mackay for being forced to attend such a meeting. It was clear the club felt that criticism would be kept to a minimum if he was present, as if he respected by a huge majority of supporters. Once he had left the room, the questioning of those still present increased.
The conversation turned to why Vincent Tan and Dato Chan had decided to reverse their decision despite promising they would not in a statement only weeks before. They downplayed the impact of the Supporters Trust poll, and stated that the Wales Online poll was a better reflection of fans views. When it was pointed out that fans of rival clubs could vote on this poll, while everyone who is a part of the Supporters Trust is clearly a Cardiff City fan he had no response. A fan then said “If Vincent Tan really believes in the rebranding, shouldn’t he be here to discuss it with us rather than forcing you to be here?” Alan Whiteley was stumped by this and Julian Jenkins jumped in. “Ignoring my job for a moment, I’m sat here as a fan. I’ve been here for the bad times such as Alan Durban and some of the poor players we have signed. I’m not passionate about the colour of Cardiff City. None of us know what will happen with the rebrand, but it was made with the best interest of the club in mind at the time.” When asked what would happen if Vincent Tan got bored and pulled out he said nobody knew what would happen, but he expected it would be similar to Darlington, Rangers or Portsmouth.
He confirmed that Vince Alm had been told about the rebrand and had been asked not to tell anybody about it. Vince was seen as being representative of the majority of fans views. Someone asked if they agreed that Vincent Tan was blackmailing the club with his demands, and Whiteley responded “It’s not blackmail, it’s offering money with certain conditions”. When it was pointed out that that is pretty much exactly what blackmail is he looked embarrassed and did not respond. Julian Jenkins stated that his best day supporting Cardiff was Scunthorpe in 1993 and asked what colour we had worn that day? It was then pointed out that this was an away game, and the club had got promoted while wearing blue at home.
The meeting began to wind down at this stage, with many people frustrated at the answers given and the amount of times the club had been unable to give an answer. One fan walked out after it was announced Sam Hammam would be welcome back, with others trickling out as time went by. On the issue of a refund for those who had requested their season ticket money back, Alan Whiteley stated that a decision would be made in the next ten days and that fans would be informed. He was worried that if a refund was given, many more fans would then request one. He gave the official number of refunds requested as “just over 90” and the club was getting several letters a day, as well as a deluge of emails.
When asked how many fans in total he felt would be lost he said “I have no idea, but I accept we will lose some. I don’t want anybody to walk away and I will work hard to keep as many as possible”. The issue of peaceful protest was raised, and Alan Whiteley stated “I don’t know” to the question of how he though Vincent Tan would react if he attended a match and was not clapped.
It was revealed that Vincent Tan had only taken a real interest in the club in the last six months, and that “he was involved in a number of big companies worldwide, Cardiff City are only a small business to him”.
Julian Jenkins then stated that more consultation would happen over next summer with fans, with a questionnaire sent out to fans and 20 of those who filled it in being invited to a meeting at the club with five potential badges and give potential kits. He said that this would be sent to 15,000 people. I commented that Alan Whiteley had said earlier they had “no way” of contacting season ticket holders but they were now talking about sending these questions to the majority of our fans, the only answer they had was “well thats different”.
The final issue discussed was the proposed new training facilities. Two or three sites were being discussed, and it would take two years to get a site and plans confirmed, and then six to nine months to build them. Wayne Nash has visited several Premiership training grounds and states that we will have facilities on the level of Stoke City.
The meeting concluded at this stage, with seemingly everyone in attendance unconvinced by the clubs argument and still demanding a refund. Further meetings are planned in the future with fans.
If you have any further questions that you feel I may know the answer to, feel free to leave a comment below and I will answer you if I know the answer. I personally have decided to boycott all future home games and all merchandise from the club until we return to blue.