The latest chapter in the downward spiral that is the relationship between Cardiff Blues and Cardiff Athletic Club was greeted by despairing fan reactions this week. It is an ongoing psychodrama possibly rivalled only by the national act of self-harm being played out on a larger stage.
CAC’s announcement of its intention to commence legal proceedings to recover the estimated £200,000 of unpaid rent by Cardiff Blues is indeed a renewed source of anguish. In doing so, it potentially triggers the foreclosure of a company in which it has a substantial share interest, on whose board it has three directors, which owns the rugby side that it has administrative responsibility for running, and whose other sections are to some extent reliant on its rent contributions. Cardiff Blues Ltd is however directly culpable for the position that we now find ourselves in. If you’re trying to negotiate a new lease and looking to benefit from the new home that your landlord is planning to develop, routinely not paying your rent and then trying to attach demands before you do so probably isn’t the best strategy.
The Cardiff Rugby Football Club Ltd, founded in 1996 in response to the advent of professional rugby union, could not have anticipated the switch to regional rugby in 2003. That company was set up to run the rugby section of CAC, not manage two separate teams whose briefs were to become increasingly at odds. Though it changed its name to ‘Cardiff Blues Ltd’ in 2014, its articles of association remain unaltered. Many of our current difficulties are therefore a direct consequence of this unforeseen change in direction. Arguably the resulting regional structure has pleased no one while creating major secondary problems; as one shrewd observer commented recently, we sleep-walked into it. It created internal fissures were there were previously none and led to the position whereby an entity seemingly ends up taking legal action against itself.
Some have advocated a solution whereby the two warring beasts are surgically separated once and for all, something that has been given recent impetus by WRU strictures on the financial arrangements between its professional and semi-professional sides. Others call for a return to a much closer strategic and practical rugby association. The latter makes more sense given the other inseparable elements in the equation but is often argued down by the requirement for the pro-team to meet other agendas and embrace other organisations, despite nearly two decades of evidence that that embrace is unlikely to ever be reciprocated. This is Wales for goodness sake. So, we are where we are.
CF10 talks to all sides and is privy to much more information than it ever shares in the public domain. While this sets us up for potential criticism amongst our members, we don’t believe that we can have any influence if people don’t talk to us and breeching confidentiality would guarantee just that. The fact that people do want to talk to us (and very frequently, despite what naysayers might wish to think) creates the belief that we might have some influence at least some of the time, while in moments of existential crisis it feels like we, and all supporters, are just being played.
We hear both sides routinely complain about the other and therefore but see no point in pouring oil on the existing flames by joining in. It would achieve nothing. The question is how we get out of this hole that we now find ourselves in.
There have been calls for a CAC EGM and much angst surrounding the fact that Cardiff Blues Ltd has inexcusably failed to call a shareholder meeting for two years. These cries are uttered in a context where the communication of both organisations with its primary customers over matters of any real importance is generally dismal and, in recent times, has somewhat incredibly managed to get worse. Both calls speak to the same point however- the wish for the most important stakeholders in Cardiff rugby, the fans, to be not just fully informed about what is happening, but to influence what happens. At the moment, it rather feels like we have as much say over what goes on as we do over who will be our next Prime Minister.
The fact that we don’t have this influence is to some extent our own fault because we have failed to utilise our two primary sources of power, just as CAC has historically failed to utilise its influence on the Cardiff Blues Board. First, there are now around a million ordinary shares in Cardiff Blues Ltd that are not represented at board level, shares which are held by the likes of us. That is a massive potential source of influence but one that, despite best efforts on our part, remains essentially untapped. While the current criteria for board membership is in effect a holding of 500,000 shares (which buys you the right to nominate a director, usually yourself), the ordinary Joe who spent his hard-earned cash originally subsiding Cardiff Rugby Football Club Ltd has no actual say in what goes on. As CF10 members will know, this is a cause that we continue to fight and we remain optimistic that the goal will be achieved in the long-term, but probably not in time to influence the current mess. Second, there are approximately 600 rugby members of Cardiff Athletic Club most of whom, as we had conclusively demonstrated in a meeting 18 months ago, are also followers of Cardiff Blues. There is a significant overlap between these groups, with many supporters belonging to both. We therefore have the power to influence both the Limited Company and the Athletic Club and to say, “Enough is enough”.
Meeting the two organisations separately as a fan body is probably rather pointless. All we would get would be the usual statements about the partner in the room working hard to achieve a solution, that the real problem resides with the partner not in the room, and vice versa. What we perhaps need to orchestrate is CAC and Cardiff Blues Ltd being in the same room with supporters at the same time so that they can both feel the massive exasperation that their combined inability to organise a heavy drinking session in a brewery is actually generating amongst their primary customers. After all, why shouldn’t we share our pain with those who have caused it? More importantly, it would also allow us to be clear about the agenda that we want both sides to deliver and to remind both organisations about their responsibilities to their members and shareholders.
If, after all this time, the present incumbents can’t find a solution that strengthens the future of both the pro and semi-pro sides, redevelops the ground and starts to give all supporters hope, perhaps it’s time for someone else to try. Patience is wearing terminally thin. Around two years ago it was suggested that a mediator should be involved given the fundamental lack of trust between the two protagonists; unfortunately, one protagonist rejected the idea, something which speaks volumes in itself.
Having an honest broker involved may however be the only way forward. In a parallel universe, that might be our governing body, but in this one that would introduce another set of agendas into an already elephant-filled room. It would merely add to the problem rather than facilitate a solution. A Kissinger is therefore required (by the way, Henry once said ‘If you don’t know where you are going, every road will get you nowhere’- this may resonate).
If something like this doesn’t happen to break the impasse, the risk is that both sides feel more under pressure and more stressed, the result of which will be increasingly poor decision making and an end scenario in which everyone loses. There are plenty of vultures gathering that would delight in such an outcome and seeing the Blue Dragons playing at the (your name here) arena, and we need to be on our guard to ensure that it never happens.
We all know what will actually transpire in the short-term, the rent will be paid and then everyone will stumble along to the next crisis having learnt little or nothing in between. We’re increasingly feeling that the situation won’t change unless supporters flex their collective muscle.
If it didn’t have such negative connotations, we’d probably say that it was time to take back control.
Enough is enough this had been going on too long get round a table in a locked room and don'y unlock it until agrrement is achieved After all I would have thoght we all want the same thing a SUCCESSFUL Cardiff rugby sided
My salutations to the author. This is well-argued, even-handed and thoroughly damning. I am both a lifelong Labour Psrty member and a Cardiff Rugby supporter. My only remaining question is which of the two organisations will be the first to collapse into oblivion.
Your leadership is much appreciated and we have full confidence in your judgement. Just let us know what action, if any, we can take to support your efforts.