To the casual observer, Cardiff City probably look like the epitome of an upwardly mobile football club and in many respects that is an accurate description.
A return to English football's top tier after a gap of more than half a century, some useful player acquisitions, a driven young manager whose star is very much in the ascendancy and a long waiting list for season tickets, all point to a club that finally looks likely to deliver. In addition to that, work is due to start on expanding the stadium, some significant, albatross like debt, has been settled, plans are afoot for a state of the art new training ground and the club has deservedly won several awards for its family friendly approach - a world away from the days when it was viewed, locally, as a magnet for every wannabe hooligan in South Wales.
As with many things in life, scratch beneath the glossy surface and things don't have quite the same lustre. Closer inspection reveals a saga that would do justice to a Dickens novel. A complex web of autocratic 'benefactors,' financial chicanery, pantomime baddies and a feuding fanbase. Most clubs have their share of internal politics, Cardiff City FC could commission David Dimbleby to run a weekly Sunday lunchtime slot on tv to discuss the nuances of theirs.
So, why all of the complications - when outwardly things look so rosy?
Well, as most football followers will be aware, Cardiff City's controlling shareholder, Vincent Tan, took the decision to rebrand the club last year. What initially appeared to be a 'simple,' (albeit totally unpalatable to some) change of home shirt colour - in exchange for a significant financial investment - swiftly evolved into something far more all encompassing.
First, a little bit of background and context...
Until 12 months ago, Cardiff City had played in blue for more than a century. Likewise, the predominant bluebird on the clubs emblem was inextricably linked with them too. As football supporters, up and down the country will tell you, colours and badges are integral parts of any clubs identity. Indeed, it's entirely implausible to imagine Manchester United switching to a blue home strip or Celtics owners deciding that a change to red and white hoops would give them an additional marketing edge across the globe. Whether you're a fan of Blackpool or Bradford, Liverpool or Lincoln, colours really matter in football.
Similarly, there would be an almighty furore if Norwich were to ditch the canary from their badge or Leicester decided to replace their fox with a different beast from the animal kingdom. Over time, colours and insignia have become cherished and untouchable parts of British footballs rich cultural tapestry. They are a big part of what makes your club, 'your club.'
Back to Cardiff City's 'simple' change of home shirt colour...
Over the past twelve months, the club's whole corporate image has changed from a long standing blue one to something of an altogether more crimson hue.
Whilst the change to a red home shirt is the most visible manifestation of the rebrand, there have also been more subtle changes. The club's website is now red, as is the match day programme and all official Cardiff City communication. City's recent promotion was celebrated on a red open top bus, with the players heralded on a red stage with a red backdrop. The obligatory ticker tape was, inevitably, red. Aside from these changes, a more blatant attempt to eradicate the blue is evident in the club shop, where any kind of blue merchandise is a rare sight, indeed.
Away from colour changes, Cardiff's traditional bluebird has also seen its prominence significantly diminish. It is now no more than a blue speck on the club's new red dragon badge. Similarly, the matchday stadium announcers seeming reluctance to use the word 'bluebirds,' when Vincent Tan is in attendance, has also not got unnoticed by City diehards.
Almost inevitably, the rebrand has caused serious divisions within the fanbase. Long standing friendships have creaked and in some cases fractured altogether. Those who have actively embraced the changes appear to view those against the rebranding as dinosaurs and anti progress. Fans strongly opposed to the rebrand have made it clear that they view those who endorse the changes as complicit in the destruction of the club's traditional identity. The legendary 1927 Club (Cardiff City's London & South East England supporters club) even disbanded acrimoniously and withdrew its support for the football club over the rebrand. It currently operates solely as a Wales supporters club.
With City about to take their premier league bow, messageboards and social networking sites are still dominated by the thorny rebrand topic.
The saga recently took another twist when Vincent Tan finally settled the historic Langston debt. Now, unless one has followed the Cardiff City story closely it would be easy to think that paying off a large and long term creditor is entirely welcome news. Whilst it's undoubtedly a positive, as with most things concerning Cardiff City, things are rarely straightforward...
As part of the Langston settlement, the hugely divisive and controversial Sam Hammam returns to the club as life president. In addition, a close associate of Hammams joins the clubs board of directors.
Whilst for some, Hammam is lauded as the man who, over a decade ago, recognised the football club's undoubted potential and kick started the Cardiff City revolution. For many others, he is viewed as the man that created a culture of cronyism during his tenure and as someone who took the club to the very brink of oblivion due to his rash financial management of the club.
Whatever the truth, his return will do little to unite a fanbase already riven with disharmony.