A GREAT ALTERNATIVE TO BONFIRE NIGHT

With the rain lashing down and washing out the bonfires, Trust members had a memorable time when they met with TG and Gethin Jenkins at the CCS last Friday evening. As an unexpected bonus, Dave Jones also took the time and trouble to come along.

The evening started unexpectedly when TG vacated his seat at the top table to come and shake the hand of every Trust member in the audience. What a great way to begin and a measure of the man who’s now our Chairman at Cardiff City.  Chairman of the Trust Tim Hartley, opened the question and answer session by expressing thanks to TG, Gethin and Dave not just for attending but for all their hard work to bring stability and success to the Club. This led to a sustained round of enthusiastic applause.

TG spoke amusingly of the challenges of being Cardiff City Chairman when you live and work 7,000 miles away in a scarily different time zone. Evening kick-offs are a particular challenge since that is around 3 am in Malaysia. He spoke a growing affection for Cardiff City and Wales which led to him   getting involved initially despite the advice of his great friend and business associate, Vincent Tan, who questioned TG’s sanity.  The fact that Vincent and his son, U-Jiun are now heavily involved in Cardiff City themselves speaks volumes for TG’s persuasiveness or perhaps an outbreak of collective madness but as City fans, I’m sure we’re very grateful to our Malaysian friends and for their willingness to help our club out of a desperate plight.

Keith Morgan the Trust’s Finance Officer, opened up with a barnstormer of a first question relating to the necessity to settle the Langston debt by 31/12/10, in order to avoid the balance of the debt rising substantially to £27m(?) if not settled by then. He added supplementary questions about whether the Club would exercise its option to reduce the indebtedness to PMG by converting part of the debt to shares, what was being done about the money owing to Sports Asset Management and whether the money put into the Club by our Malaysian investors would be exchanged for equity in the Club. Clearly, neither TG nor Gethin were inclined to give detailed answers to these enquiries (understandably, I guess) but they left the certain impression that these matters and their implications were well understood and being closely managed in the Club’s best interests. TG spoke from the heart of his determination to do the right things, at the right time, in the right manner, in the best interests of Cardiff City and I, for one, trust him and his associates to do just that.

In response to a question about his continuing involvement as Chairman, TG said that who is the Chairman is not really an issue and he would step aside tomorrow if it were in the best interests of the Club. He evidently sees himself as the guardian of a precious commodity which needs to be preserved for the fans, the community and for Wales. Asked whether there was growing interest in Cardiff City in his home country, TG mentioned the segment that had been on Malaysian national television about the large contingent of Malaysians who had attended City’s recent home game with Norwich.  Malaysian football fans follow some Premier League clubs avidly but now he’s having to get used to being accosted when he’s out and about by fans telling him that Cardiff City is their second club. He told a couple of cracking anecdotes about how recognisable he’s now become. When he started his journey to Cardiff and was coming out of a bookshop in the departure airport in Malaysia, he was immediately acclaimed by a group of Welsh soldiers who’d been on jungle exercises with the Malaysian Army. Then, when he arrived in the middle of the night at Stansted airport and was going through Immigration he was asked about the purpose of his visit to the UK. “I’m here to watch my football team” he replied. Then the light dawned on the Immigration official, “You’re TG, the chairman at Cardiff aren’t you?” he says.  “Are you a Cardiff City fan then?” replies TG. “No a Bristol City fan” came the reply, leaving TG wondering if he would immediately be deported.  Fair play to this particular Wurzel though, TG was then admitted without further ado. TG confirmed the intention to have a pre-season tour in Malaysia next year and promised that fans will know details in time to join the fun.

Having spoken several times about faith, prayer and God’s grace in his opening remarks, TG was asked if he had personal religious convictions. He teased us that we had all been seeking divine intervention at various times last season, especially during the play-off semi-final penalty shoot-out. DJ then spoke about the importance of the chaplain’s role at Cardiff City, especially in providing pastoral care to the youngsters in the Academy.  Some of the first team squad have religious convictions and “John” has now established himself as a popular member of the back- room team and enjoys wearing the black shirt with white collar, complete with squad number, bought for him by the players.

DJ was in sparkling form all night (hilarious at all times) and belied his reputation as a sometimes awkward interviewee, though he was gently teased about this.  He spoke of how well he works with Gethin, TG and all the Board at Cardiff City. Clearly, the admiration is mutual as TG sang DJ’s and Gethin’s praises too.  DJ sees himself as a builder of football clubs and is now being given even more freedom and responsibility than he had under previous Chairmen. He welcomes this extra responsibility and wants to continue building and taking the Club forward. Whilst you can never rule out anything in football, he and his family love South Wales and he loves his job at Cardiff City. He is currently preparing a presentation for the FAW on how the Club has progressed in his time here and he’s very proud of what’s been achieved on and off the field. He mentioned the new training ground and how when he arrived, training at Jubilee Park would have to be suspended and couldn’t resume until owners and their dogs had finished their business and the mess had been cleared up. Whilst understanding the die-hards affection for Ninian Park, from his and his players’ perspective, it had served its time. They all couldn’t wait to move over the road to the superb facilities we now enjoy.

Inevitably, the signing of Craig Bellamy was raised. Gethin described the prolonged, stunned silence at the other end of the phone when he told TG it was a done deal. TG claimed that it was a mere pause before he expressed his delight about it. TG said it was an example of doing the right thing at the right time, an oft repeated mantra throughout the evening. DJ was visibly delighted when the subject of strengthening the squad was brought up. No surprise that TG’s response was about doing the right things at the right time but we were left in no doubt that DJ, TG, Gethin and the whole Club is aiming for the Premier League this season. DJ emphasised that the signing of Craig, Oli, and Jase etc. had taken the Club to a whole new level and the impact is felt all the way down to the youngest age group in the Academy. Even the seasoned senior pros are somewhat in awe of Craig and some try to emulate him in everything he does, his lifestyle and even his choice of sports drink.

DJ praised the work that Neil Ardley does in the Academy and described it as the hardest job in the Club, becoming even harder now that the standard of player expected at the Club has risen so high. As the manager who first signed Gareth Bale at Southampton, DJ promised to sack any scout who ever let a promising youngster slip through Cardiff City’s net. Not that young local talent will necessarily always sign for us but for the Club to be ignorant of a local gem on their doorstep would be unforgiveable.

Someone asked about the likelihood of Jay Bothroyd signing a new contract. DJ hoped he would but respected the player’s right to take his time and maybe even wait to see if we’re promoted. Adam Matthews and Chris Burke are in a similar position. DJ described the bizarre conversations he has with agents asking about what types of player he’s after. When he says they have to be as good as or better than what we’ve got and then mentions Bellamy, Chopra, Bothroyd, Koumas etc., the line goes dead.

Questions to DJ and his responses were by now predominating so TG took the opportunity to come and sit with us Trust members in the audience for a brief time (too brief for me to sign him up as a Trust member). I’m not sure if this was a hint to DJ to curtail his answers or whether he wanted to ask DJ, Gethin or Tim a question himself.

Undeterred, DJ turned his attention to his apparently undeserved reputation for falling out with players. He scotched this by telling of the time at Wolves when he and Nathan Blake were toe to toe in the dressing room at half time.  Dave had decided he’d better get the first punch in, fearing he might never land if Nathan landed first. Fortunately, sanity prevailed before blood was shed but Nathan didn’t re-appear for the second half. When he found his name on the team sheet for the forthcoming midweek game, Nathan stormed into DJ’s office, demanding to know why he was in the team. He’d never before been selected after such an outburst by previous, less forgiving managers than our Mr Jones. DJ also asked pointed out that this Cardiff City squad has more than its share of challenging “characters” with whom he has to deal and keep happy. He mentioned a particular half-time spat at Barnsley between one short player who always has a lot to say to his team mates and one very tall player of wardrobe proportions who is the strong, silent type.  Player A ranted and raved, blaming B for not doing something he should have. Player B calmly pointing out that it was player’s A’s job to do it and he should have done it himself.  The rant continued at fever pitch until player A eventually realised he was getting nowhere, finishing up with a frustrated cry of, “I can’t even have a ******* argument with you.”

Asked about the Club’s Academy status, Gethin confirmed that FA inspectors are satisfied with the completed House of Sport and it will start being used next week.   In response to a question from a member who fell in love with Cardiff City when he was given a half season ticket as a Christmas gift, Gethin confirmed the Club is looking into this. To everyone’s  relief(including DJ’s, I reckon) he also mentioned that full season tickets would not be offered for sale until after Christmas and the Club were looking to push the season ticket window back to a more “normal” date, cash flow permitting. There was an interesting reaction to a question about buying a lighting rig to help the pitch and avoid the problems we had last January.  Gethin immediately turned to TG with a knowing grin. TG’s head seemed to sink a little, perhaps bowing to inevitable pressure to splash some more cash while DJ grinned like a Cheshire cat. Make of that what you will. Someone asked whether semi-artificial surfaces like the one at CCS led to more injuries for players.  DJ replied that he always orders our pitch to be well watered, providing a fast surface for slick passing and this negates the higher injury risk. It’s different at some other clubs and he wanted to dispel the myth that the rugby caused last year’s problems. It was much more to do with the exceptionally icy weather we’d had.

There was some talk about the forthcoming Derby but let’s not bother with that and shortly afterwards the meeting closed with again, a rapturous round of applause for TG, DJ and Gethin who had taken precious time to meet with us Trust members.

Finally, it’s time for a confession.  I’ve had to try to recall the evening and write this up without the benefit of any notes. The Trust Board made the fatal mistake of not nominating anyone to keep a written record of what was asked and said at the meeting. Hence, the delay in getting this out and a less than perfect write-up. Inevitably, I will have missed things and if you were there and I haven’t mentioned your question or your recollection is different to mine, I sincerely apologise. What I’m sure all attendees will agree on is this. It was a brilliant, informative, fun evening and we are very fortunate indeed that TG followed his heart, not his head.

Many and sincere thanks to all concerned, including the Trust members who rejected the temptations of a soggy Bonfire Night in favour of a splendid TG Friday.

Mike Roderick

Trust Vice Chair