We are here. Again. Standing at the end of a season punctuated by the ubiquitous promise of tomorrow, and at times bedraggled by overwhelming challenge.
Here we stand. On the brink of saying hwyl fawr to a blue rugby experiment and about to enter the still fiscally uneven URC. But for all the excitement of the return to blue and black, if it’s accompanied by a lack of understanding of why the return is happening any long term outcome could be diminished.
Beyond the natural desire for 'success' what drives the enterprise forward? It is clear that in isolation Blue and Black jerseys will not bring success. Neither will a lease agreement or a competition which doesn't pit the four pro clubs against the WRU. All these things are necessary but there must be more.
Who remembers packed terraces when Cardiff played Ebbw Vale, Bridgend or Llanelli? Well, let us be honest, we may remember it happening but none of us can truly say we ever saw it on a regular basis. It's a trick of the mind. For as long as there have been apartments on Westgate St, vast swathes of terrace have lain unused as Cardiff played. Yes, several times a year, CAP had her gunnels and rafters packed, with little movement possible and usually only when we scored. But these were the outliers in a generally spacious rugby experience. For every Bath quarter final imprinted on the mind, there were a dozen sparsely attended runouts against South Wales Police.
Recognising ticket income is not the biggest revenue driver, we find a need to return to first principles. Why is Cardiff Rugby here? What is Cardiff Rugby’s role? It is easy to stray into entertainment and pathway swim lanes but nevertheless a quick dip of the toes is required.
According to Athena (the ancient god of student common room posters), great relationships are based on clarity not mind reading. Cardiff Rugby cannot exist in glorious isolation aloof from the reality she inhabits. As a club with a fine multifaceted history the single point of truth is hard to find. So we must furiously harvest, recognising the several thousand truths which exist. The truth of the supporter who uses rugby as escapism. The truth of the habitual attendee who finds comfort in the ebb and flow of a game. And the truth of the often forgotten economic reality - the club offers jobs and value to the locality.
Dylan Thomas wrote he once received a book for Christmas about wasps (insect not rugby club) which answered every question about them, except why. Do the club know why they are here and is there sufficient clarity to ensure that they survive and then thrive? Supporters can and must assist in this endeavour by making themselves heard. The mooted Supporter Director is a vital part of the answer. It can only be hoped that the Board frames the question correctly.
Robert Browning once opined that aspirations are possibilities. Idris Davies asked about those seeking kingdoms beyond the common sky. For a long time, this too was Cardiff’s philosophy. Infused with the more interesting elements of Welsh nonconformity the club sought fixtures far beyond the borders of Wales and in the process ensured a movement past the art of the possible toward the actual. Cardiff was a club with aspiration and ambition at its heart.
Here we find an interesting juxtaposition. Cardiff Rugby finds itself in a cross border competition which isn’t without it’s qualities but for many it is a league which doesn't scratch the itch. It is, to put it bluntly, the wrong cross border competition. So, we find the itch is aspiration. Despite too many years of being hemmed into a weary lop sided Celtic-Romano adventure, aspiration remains fuel for the journey. Making a Greek sidestep, the Pro14 is embodiment of that Socratic wall - is there enough care to break it down? If the answer is yes then realisation that on and off the field Cardiff are in it so need to win it must follow. Is there the aspiration to make the argument for those coherent, cogent and hitherto delinquent opportunities which could go a long way to ensure a more comfortable tomorrow?
There is much to contend with and not all within the control of the Board. Covid has been wretched, finding sponsorship as hard as last minute defeats or unfriendly kick off times. The WRU’s financial strait jacket must be loosened to allow strategies to be implemented. But it is high time Cardiff Rugby’s aspiration is renewed and reinvigorated. Rebel Yell anyone? Aspiration with a 2021 slant is a must.
Performance makes good on clarity and aspiration. It is of course multifaceted be it on field or off field and assessment thereof is equally broad. Taken with clarity and aspiration, performance can be the glue which binds the ship, allowing it to weather the storms encountered on its journey. Demanding quality performance is natural and supporters need to do this. Losing is part of life, and certainly part of sport. But acceptance of defeat should always be accompanied by a determination to avoid it next time. The shrug of the shoulders does no one any good, neither does the feeling of helplessness and deja vu all over again! Innovation is required. This is the Cardiff way and its return is long overdue.
Clarity, aspiration and performance or CAP if preferred can assist in the search for identity. All three complement each other and provide the necessary friction to allow the club to fully and unapologetically embed those characteristics required to succeed.
Writing on a warm Wednesday evening overlooking a rippling River Taf, an embrace of Aristotle seems appropriate - records show he was a fervent South Stand aficionado. The recognition that excellence is habit - from the clean glass in the bar to the well painted hand rail, from the on time communication to the visible Board, from the searing midfield break to the perfectly executed line out drive, excellence is addictive and it is in the hands of the Cardiff rugby community. In the years that follow when answering the exam question of what does good look like, it would be fitting and not without pride if part of the answer at least was Cardiff Rugby.