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Safe Standing and Cardiff City

John Darch of the Safe Standing Campaign Group looks at the possibility of safe standing at the Cardiff City Stadium.

 Cardiff City are pioneers of safe standing. The club was the first in the UK to draw up a crowd management plan to enable fans to stand safely in an all-seater ground. That was in 2012 and for the last eight years, as you know, the Canton Stand has been operated as a de-facto standing area. Now a new chapter is about to begin.

Back in 2012, changing how such areas are managed was all that clubs could do to make standing fans safer. Since November 2018, they have also been able to enhance safety in areas of persistent standing by fitting rail seats or independent barriers behind existing seats.

The first clubs subject to the all-seater policy to do this were Spurs and Wolves. Recently Manchester United announced their intention to follow suit. Despite being able to make these structural changes, clubs are still not allowed to officially operate the areas concerned as standing.

Thatis set to change. The Westminster government is now committed to working “with fans and clubs to introduce safe standing” and this month will receive an important report from the Sports Ground Safety Authority.

 In January the authority stated that rail seats have a “positive impact on spectator safety” and assuming that their final report confirms this, many observers believe that this will give ministers in London the evidence they need to change the legislation. As No. 10 may well feel that announcing safe standing would go down well with voters, it could then happen very quickly.

Once areas such as the Canton Stand can be operated as official standing, new rules are likely to apply, i.e. the rules for standing areas, not for seated areas where fans happen to stand. This could mean a requirement for rail seats (or independent barriers), a requirement that seats in any standing area are “non-climbable” (as all structures on a terrace must be) and potentially that the seats must be locked upright to prevent fans standing on them and getting hurt if they fall off.

So the end of the standing ban is in sight. For all fans of clubs with all-seater grounds that has to be good news.

For pioneering Cardiff City it may also mean a bit of a rethink in the Canton Stand, as it changes from an area of seating where fans stand to an area of standing governed by the safety regulations that will then apply.

Kicking On – What Next For Football

Our Trust Chair, Keith Morgan, outlined the difficulties facing all EFL clubs as they try to rebuild after lockdown. The cases of Bury and Wigan particularly should ring alarm bells throughout the game of football.

Cardiff Trust Board member and former Vice Chair of Supporters Direct, Tim Hartley, suggests some positive ways forward to ensuring clubs do not go out of business.

They say you must speculate to accumulate but as anyone with a credit card knows extending yourself too far is a one way ticket to financial disaster. And with hyper inflated transfer fees and eye watering players’ wages that is exactly what football seems to have been doing. We all want success but would you risk betting the actual existence of Cardiff City on the slim chance of promotion?

Football finance has become a law unto itself and the authorities who allegedly control the game have lost their grip on who buys, manages and safeguards the game. For years Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters Association (FSA) have warned that there was a crisis looming and what we have seen at Bury, Bolton and Wigan has proved them right.

The problem is the lack of desire on behalf of the FA, PL and EFL to properly regulate the game. As we in Cardiff know anyone it seems can buy a football club and then do what they want with it. Supporters groups (including the Cardiff City Supporters Trust) have given evidence to a number of parliamentary inquiries to try to improve the way the game is run.They joined the government task force on football and helped ensure structured relationships between clubs and supporter trusts are now mandatory. All this was agreed with the FA and the leagues.

It’s now time to go deeper into the underlying problems and ensure that the business side of the game is properly regulated. Following yet another inquiry the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) Committee last year recommended a raft of proposals to improve the regulation of football clubs and prevent them from falling into crisis.

Chair of the Committee Damian Collins MP said: “We believe decisive action is now needed from the football authorities to ensure that clubs are complying fully with the EFL’s football finance rules and regulations.A failure to enforce these rules effectively will see more clubs entering administration and at risk of expulsion from the Football League.”

The FSA submitted written proposals which focused on the creation of a robust, independent regulator under the auspices of the FA. Football’s self-regulatory regime contributed to the demise of Bury FC and a lack of action could put more clubs at risk in future.

The Committee agreed and backed a number of FSA ideas on protecting club and strengthening the owners’ and directors’ test – and more. The recommendations include:

  • The FA, EFL and Premier League should establish a supporters’ ombudsman to hear concerns about how clubs are being run
  • A reformed Owners and Directors Test should be brought in to disqualify a buyer with a record of corporate insolvency
  • Clubs should be banned from borrowing against fixed assets such as stadiums, other than for related capital projects
  • There should be a formal and enforceable licensing system for professional football clubs in the English league system, as recommended in the 2011 report on Football Governance
  • Government legislation for independent system of football licensing and regulationshouod be brought in if the reforms are not implemented.

The message to the footballing authorities from supporters and MPs is very simple, change or be changed. Let’s hope the government at last listens to us.

Football’s Future And Covid-19 – Trust Chair Writes

Trust chair Keith Morgan

Trust chair Keith Morgan writes in a personal capacity in two discussion papers about collapse of Wigan into Administration and football finance post Covid-19. Keith is a Chartered Accountant and Licenced Insolvency Practitioner with a specialism in football finance. 

Wigan Athletic FC Administration – How did it happen and what happens next?

How did it happen?

After several years without any financial failures of EFL clubs, we recently have had the failures of Bury, Bolton and now Wigan.

Wigan, like the vast majority of EFL clubs, will undoubtedly have been badly affected by the sudden loss of income arising from the three month shutdown of the game due to the Coronavirus pandemic but in their case there remain some unanswered questions as to why they find themselves in such a predicament.

When long-time owner of the club David Whelan sold it in 2018 to a Chinese-backed consortium , he almost certainly did so in the firm belief that their promised access to very substantial new funds was in the best interests of the club and would enable its long term future to be more secure.

The sale would have had to have received the approval of the EFL under their new Owner and Director tests. They are supposed to receive verified evidence that any new owner and any directors those owners appoint to the club have both the necessary funding and experience of running a football club needed to keep the club going for at least a future full season of activity. How they made that decision, and what expertise they brought to the decision making process, is not in the public domain.

Then, very recently the owners who bought from David Whelan, themselves sold on the club to another consortium (in which the consortium owner also had a material financial stake). That deal should also have been reviewed and approved by the EFL yet, within a month or so, Wigan Athletic FC is placed in Administration.

For several years the Football Supporters’ Association and its predecessors Supporters Direct and Football Supporters’ Federation (in which Cardiff City Supporters’ Trust have long played a part), have been pressing the football authorities and the UK government to tighten up and improve the tests on new owners and directors. There have been promises to do so, but the Wigan example suggests they have yet to implement any such improved procedures. The need for change has, therefore, become even more pressing and I am sure that FSA will continue to champion the issue before any club suffers from the same problem of lack of EFL control procedures.

What happens next?

Wigan Athletic FC is now in Administration and under the control of insolvency practitioner firm BegbiesTraynor.  Administration is, in itself, not a financial solution. It merely protects the company from being wound up through the courts and put into liquidation, from having its assets seized by creditors such as finance companies, landlords etc. Without court approval, The Administrator’s job is to find a buyer for the club’s business, who can inject enough new money into the club to pay off the creditors it needs to under the EFL insolvency rules, and ensures its future financial viability.

Those creditors will include paying off in full or adopting liability for, creditors who have secured charges over assets and also paying off in full football creditors (unpaid salaries, transfer fees etc). In addition, other unsecured creditors need to be paid off at least 25p in £ of the debts due to them and financial projections prepared proving that any new owner can fund the business going forward ( hopefully tested far better than in Wigan’s previous sale).

The fact that the 12 point deduction Wigan will suffer because of Administration is highly likely to get them relegated to League 1 risks making them a less attractive buy for new owners under the above cost adoption restraints. If Wigan end up relegated even before the 12 point deduction, then the 12 point deduction will be imposed at the start of next season rather than 2019-20.

Covid-19 – Impact on Football Club Finances

Who has suffered the most?

For Premier League clubs, match day income from walk up crowds, catering etc. represents a relatively small percentage of their total income. Much of their money derives from TV and other media deals, which are still in place and their sponsors, are still getting exposure for their products through this media so there is little income lost from this source. Even for matchday income, a high proportion of this income comes from season ticket sales most of which will probably not need to be refunded (access to club TV etc).There will be some loss of income from catering contracts where their contractors are not able to make sales, so will look for refunds on their agreements but overall adverse financial impact will be relatively low.

League1 and League 2 clubs rely far more heavily on match day income from walk-up crowds as their media income is only a very small percentage of that of Premier League clubs and even many Championship clubs and they tend to have a far lower ratio of season ticket holders to total match attendees. They will have been likely to put more staff on furlough to reduce costs and, of course, this government support will be reduced very soon and end by the end of October under currently announced plans.

Redundancies and other cost savings appear inevitable and even that may not be enough to save some clubs from financial failure unless they can raise money from new investors, crowdfunding schemes etc. I would not be surprised to see a number of clubs at this level seeking the remedy of Administration or other creditor payment arrangements to save themselves.

Championship club impact is likely to be a bit of a mixed bag. A number of clubs, like Cardiff City, are in receipt of “parachute payments” to help their finances but some of those clubs (not us) might just have spent that additional money on new players in an attempt to boost their promotion prospects.

 Those clubs that don’t have that “bonus” source of income are likely to be in a more precarious financial position as again match day income represents a high level of their total income and many clubs don`t have high levels of season ticket holder money in hand. Most, if not all clubs at this level, will have put non-playing staff on furlough but this is due to end soon and in any case their wage cost tends to be only a small proportion of their total wage bill. Reports suggest that most players at clubs have only agreed a deferment of their wages rather than a permanent reduction, so those costs are just a “kicking the can down the road” exercise rather than a cost saving going forward.

In summary, clubs across the board face a financial difficulty arising from the Covid -19 shutdown but some are far better able to cope with it than others.

An encouraging statement as far as our club is concerned came from the Chair Mehmet Dalman recently. He was quoted as saying that whilst Cardiff City  fans should not be looking to the club to spend much on improving the club playing squad going forward, the club is in a more stable financial position than some of our Championship rivals.

Cardiff City Ticket Refunds: Trust Chair Comments

Trust chair Keith Morgan

With the remaining matches of the campaign set to be played behind closed doors, Cardiff City yesterday published their plans for existing 19/20 season tickets holders.

Commenting on the club announcement, Trust chair Keith Morgan said: “We’re pleased that Cardiff City has published the details of its proposals for season ticket holders and match ticket purchasers for the 2019-20 season.

“It appears from information received from the Football Supporters Association that there is no collective approach to this issue by Championship clubs with options varying club by club.

“However, if any of our members are unhappy at the options outlined by the club, we will put grievances directly to the club’s chief executive officer on their behalf. Members should email if they have an issue they would like us to raise.

“In addition, we will be seeking clarification from the club about what the loss of season ticket status and its benefits means for those fans who seek a cash refund. Would a “loss of status” apply for the rest of this season or next season when, for instance, there are usually early bird discounts on season tickets. Some fans may need a cash refund because of the impact of the coronavirus crisis on their family income.”

Trust Quiz : £50 Winner

Congratulations to Trust Member Anthony Holloway. Many 100% correct answers were received to the quiz in the recent Trust magazine “Moving to a Different Beat”. He was the lucky member  whose name was drawn out of the hat and he wins the prize of £50.  Here are the answers to the questions set in the magazine

1 This Republic of Ireland international signed for the City for a club record £1m in July 2001 – who is he?

The run unto the 2001/02 season saw a bit of a spending spree with a number of players arriving to reinforce our effort to get out of the 3rd Division. Two notable signings were Neil Alexander and Spencer Prior but the most significant was the arrival of Graham Kavanagh from Stoke City for a club record fee of £1m. A highlight of that season was his superb free kick for the first goal in the memorable FA Cup victory over Leeds United. He undoubtedly became our most influential player and a firm favourite. However, whilst the big spending could be seen to have paid off when we were promoted the following season it was not financially sustainable. By 2004/05 club financial problems had mounted with wages not being paid and, as a result,  Kavanagh reluctantly departed, by helicopter, to Wigan for a  fee of £600,000 which enabled wages to be paid in the short term but was not an end to our problems. 

2. During the 2012/13 Championship promotion season David Marshall was ever present in league games but which keeper played in the 2 cup games that season?

We signed Joe Lewis on a Bosman in May 2012 to replace Tom Heaton who departed for the Wurzels. It was always going to be the case that Joe would be back up for first choice David Marshall and in his 1st season only played the 2 games including the forgettable FA Cup defeat at Macclesfield. Loans to Blackpool and Fulham followed and in 2016 he signed for Aberdeen where, in 2019, he was appointed club captain.

3. A remarkable example of club loyalty, this player was at Cardiff City between 1966 and 1977 only playing 68 league games before being promoted to a more senior role – who was he?

In terms of loyalty they don’t make players like Ritchie Morgan any more. Signed from Cardiff Corries in 1966 he made his league debut at home to Blackpool in April 1968 and for most of his career was understudy to Don Murray. His busiest season in terms of games was 1974/75 when he played 35 league and cup games after the departure of Don Murray. Unfortunately that season saw us relegated to Division 3. The following season saw him returning to the role of second string behind the likes of Mike England and Albert Larmour in a team that gained immediate promotion back to Division 2. He retired from playing in 1977 and the following year, after the departure of Jimmy Andrews he, very surprisingly, became the youngest manager in the club’s history at the age of 34. He was, controversially, relieved of his managerial duties in November 1981 with City 9th in Division 2. He assumed the role of General Manager with Graham Williams appointed as first team coach but, effectively, as manager. A run of 11 games resulting in 2 draws and 9 defeats saw Williams sacked and, unjustly, Morgan too. Len Ashurst’s appointment in March did not prevent our relegation. Ritchie  went on to manage Barry Town with some success.

4. In the 2002/03 – play offs who did Cardiff City beat in the semi-final before memorably beating QPR at the Millennium Stadium to gain promotion?

Andy Campbell’s extra time goal at the Millennium Stadium will always live in the memories of those who were there but it should not be forgotten that we were there following a more than satisfying semi final win over 2 legs against the Wurzels. I remember not feeling very optimistic as they had done the double over us in the league with Christian Roberts and Brian Tinnion getting a goal each in 2-0 defeats. However, a good 1-0 win at home in the 1st leg with a goal from the man wearing the magic hat set up a tense 2nd leg at Ashton Gate. Predictably they threw the kitchen sink at us but Prior and Gabbidon stood firm and a memorable save from Neil Alexander resulted in a 0-0 draw and a place in the final.

5. This England International striker, on loan to Cardiff City from Leeds in the 2005/06 season has a surname that suggests a Vitamin D deficiency – who is he?

Michael Ricketts features in the list of England “One Cap Wonders”. He won his cap whilst at Bolton Wanderers where his his goal scoring got him noticed, in particular a high profile winning goal at Old Trafford in the Premier League. However, the wheels seemed to come off his career. A £3.5m transfer to Middlesbrough resulted in a meagre 4 goals in 38 games and a free transfer to Leeds 17 months later where he failed to score in 25 league games. Loan spells with other clubs then commenced and, after zero goals for Stoke he came to us on loan. With a record like that you could understand why there was not much enthusiasm amongst the Cardiff following at his arrival. His goal in a 1-0 win against Leicester in his 2nd game was his first league goal for the best part of 2 years. His return of 5 goals from 17 games for us was quite good in the context of his career and I recall being a bit optimistic after a good start. However, that feeling quickly disappeared which is what happened to his career after he left us.

6. His father holds the record for the most appearances in a career for Manchester City, we signed him from Wolves and he was in the matchday squad for the 2008 FA Cup Final – who is he?

In 2007/08 we seemed to be all over the shop with goalkeepers with Peter Enckleman, Ross Turnbull, Kaspar Schmeichel, David Forde and Michael Oakes featuring in the first team. Come the FA Cup Final, painful memories bring back the fact that Enckleman started and Michael Oakes was on the bench. I remember Michael Oakes’s father, Alan, as a seemingly permanent feature in the midfield of Manchester City through thick and thin for many years- 680 first team appearances speaks for itself. I remember the excitement of us beating Barnsley in the semi final and the fact that we had actually reached an FA Cup Final brought a tear to my eye. The build up from the 6 April to 17 May 2008 was wonderful but come the game…………… ? I still haven’t forgiven Enckleman. Would Michael Oakes have made a difference ?

7. Which former Cardiff City player scored for Reading in the disastrous 2nd leg of the 2010/11 play off semi final?

More nightmare memories to be dredged up.  It started with a creditable draw at Reading but at the very heavy cost of a Bellamy hamstring which kept him out of the second leg. The absence of such a totemic player certainly dampened my expectations somewhat but I was not prepared for what happened on the night. Defensive calamities, Keinan trying to remove Matt Mills’s shirt in the penalty area with the inevitable result, Bothroyd, in his last game for us,  bottling a challenge on Reading keeper Adam  Federici and, say no more, Stephen Bywater – all features of the evening that come back to haunt me. A 3-0 home defeat is not good under any circumstances but this was too much to bear and the 3rd goal was put away by Jobi McAnuff, a  player I much admired during his short spell with us 6 years earlier.

8. In the summer of 2000 German side VfL Osnabrück signed which Cardiff City player at a knock down price compared to the £110,000 we paid SV Waldhof Mannheim?

Jörn Schwinkendorf. At the time I don’t think I could recall another 6’ 5” player in a City shirt before, particularly one who, so tall,  seemed to unable to get his head to the ball. He cost us £110,000 we could ill afford, only made 8 first team appearances and we eventually gave him away.

9. In 2018 which former Cardiff City player assisted Usain Bolt’s first official goal for Australian team Central Coast Mariners?

I don’t think Aston Villa look upon the £12m they paid Fulham for Ross McCormack as money well spent as it was here that his career seemed really to have nosedived. Cardiff City fans wondered what in earth the club had done when they let a player go for comparatively modest fee when he subsequently was transferred for fees of £11m and £12m with admirable scoring records at both Leeds and Fulham. However, perhaps his drink driving ban in Cardiff in November 2009 was indicative of how his private life may not have been  compatible with that of  someone playing at the highest level. Much to the annoyance of Villa fans he earned a £1m contractual promotion bonus despite not playing for them in that season. Whilst on loan to Central Coast Mariners he found himself laying on a goal for Usain Bolt. Ross, not one for keeping himself out of the news, was criticised in the Press recently for allegedly hosting  a party on 31 March during the lockdown after which Jack Grealish crashed his car.

10. He scored 34 goals for the City between 1993 and 1995 and also served in the Armed Forces in the Falklands Campaign – who is he?

Ooh aah ! After Fred Keenor, who was wounded at the Battle of the Somme, Phil Stant is possibly our most famous soldier. One thing that sticks in my mind about him is 2 hat tricks in the Welsh Cup in 1993, the first against the mighty Maesteg Park Athletic and the second against the no less mighty Rhyl. However,  the latter was  in the Final at the National Stadium (rugby!) and in a long career in somewhat modest levels of football, he regarded this as one of his great achievements.