Conspiracy theories abound in Cardiff following the play-off semi-final walloping by Reading: ref Howard Webb was under FA instructions to stop a Welsh side getting to the English Premier League; the players deliberately didn’t try because the Malaysian owners aren’t ready yet to pump in the millions needed to ensure Premier League survival; Craig Bellamy’s absence due to a hamstring strain was a concocted excuse designed to get manager Dave Jones sacked and him a player-coach job; invisible aliens from the planet Mxyzptlk moved the goalposts…and so on. The mundane truth that City fans are going to have to come to terms with is that Reading were superior in all departments.
This hysterical over-reaction, which has included an all-black Echo front page, is symptomatic of a wider Cardiff malaise: the vast chasm between expectation and actuality. Years of vacuous council boosterism, Echo bullshit, chest-beating hyper-localism and gnawing, unarticulated grievances have created inflated senses of importance and entitlement that have no foundation in reality. You wouldn’t know it from the wailing and gnashing but Cardiff City have just completed their best season in terms of league position and points accrued for 40 years. And, far from being denied their rightful place, the club has never been a regular member of England’s top tier. Through Cardiff’s 84 seasons in the English professional leagues, only 15 have been spent at level 1 (and 8 of those were in the distant 1920s), 40 at level 2, 19 at level 3 and 10 at level 4, and it is now 49 years and counting since Cardiff last played in the old Division One. In the all-time English league table Cardiff come a mediocre 60th (out of the 136 clubs that have played in the top 4 divisions), which would suggest a natural position around the middle of level 3. Therefore, unbeknown to today’s generation of historically illiterate fairweather fans, the recent seasons challenging near the top of level 2 have constituted a period of unusual high achievement for the Bluebirds. It is not the Liverpools who occupy Cardiff’s football bracket; it’s the Leyton Orients.
None of this will cut any ice with Cardiff’s deluded supporters or with Echo circulation managers or with the Malaysian property developers who currently possess the club’s debts; for his “failure” (an English Cup Final plus the best three consecutive seasons in terms of win/loss ratio in Cardiff’s history) Dave Jones is likely to walk the plank shortly. With him will depart most of the rag-bag of mercenary loan signings and out-of-contract high-rollers that he painstakingly assembled – in the absence of any budget for proper signings and any long-term youth development strategy (only two of Cardiff’s 17-man squad against Reading came through the club’s academy, and one of them is leaving in the close season). It’s hard to believe, given the quantity of bitter vitriol being flung in his direction, but Jones, on percentage of matches won, ranks as City’s most successful manager ever. Now a summer of upheaval awaits, with every trite detail lovingly catalogued by the Echo – to the utter disinterest of the 300,000 Cardiffians who don’t give a damn.
But 20,000 do give a damn; their massive emotional identification a classic case of displacement activity, a vainglorious compensation strategy for the marginalised and the impotent. The Premier League “dream” is the dangled carrot, and those whose horizons and values are fixed by Rupert Murdoch obediently crave it in the hope a few flecks of second-hand stardust might rub off to add lustre to thwarted lives. In truth, it is a dream not worth the having. The obscene greed, profligacy, immorality and bankruptcy of English football’s flagship, whose 20 current members owe a total of £2,500,000,000, poisons and distorts the ‘beautiful game’ world-wide and renders its clubs the mere financial levers for a disreputable array of tax-avoiders, oligarchs, despots, crooks and sharks, while serving as cash-cows for an ever-changing multi-national cast of overrated kiss-the-badge whores who rake in more in a year than the dispossessed working-classes that built these clubs can earn in a lifetime. This insatiable monster is inherently unsustainable and heading for the financial collapse it richly deserves – and unlike the financial sector it so closely resembles, there will be no state bail-outs: no soccer club is “too big to fail”. Why any Welsh football club worth its salt would want to be sullied by association with this grotesque, discredited English institution is a mystery. But then the only thing ‘Welsh’ about Cardiff City is their ground’s postcode.