With the recent publication of Cardiff City’s financial accounts for the last year showing something like 80 million pounds as the likely current debt level, supporters can hardly be criticised for wondering how this burden is going to disappear any time soon. Even the richly anticipated promotion to the Premier League will have little impact on dispelling the debt, despite the rise in income and prize money the EPL produces.
Just maintaining the debt at its current level would be a task. Sam Hammam and Langston hold anything from 9-24 million of this debt, depending on who you listen to and which is the latest offer or counter-offer. Yet settling the debt may not be as paramount as you might think, for either party. Hammam still holds a love for Cardiff City, his baby, so we are to believe. Sam definitely deserves credit for helping take the club from the depth of despair to the doorstep of the Premier League. He introduced passion and pride into a club that was stale and despairing. He worked the press, the sidelines and the supporters. He made friends and enemies. He spent speculatively to get promotion and he took the Bluebirds to the brink of administration. You can have your say, make your own decision on Hammam. Would Cardiff City be anywhere near where they are today had he not taken over in 2000, I doubt it.
The Lebanese businessman has given Cardiff City fans a relative 13 years of on field success. A period longer than probably any other in the clubs history, including the great days of the 20’s. Yes, overall we have been higher placed in the Football League system for a time but as a sustained period this has to be the best. There has not been a single relegation fight in all that time, something no other generation of City fans has lived without. If you started regularly attending Ninian Park games at 10 years of age when Hammam took over you are 23 now and have little to complain about compared to other older and less fortunate, more often despondent supporters. The goals have flowed, the wins have come, the FA Cup, the League Cup, a Play-off final at Wembley and another at the Millenium. Yes, promotion heartache too but in general it has been a wonderful ride.
I well remember miserable nights on the Grange End terrace, roof gone, rain lashing down and goals flooding in. Time was when staying in the Football League was a task, that was success. In 2013 getting out in the opposite direction is on the horizon. So, to blame the club, Hammam, Peter Ridsdale or anyone else for our current plight is really to compliment them, one and all. Hammam did get out and saved the club when he eventually had to. Ridsdale forced the issue by finding the Malaysian investors. How grateful we were when they turned up in the High Court, at the 11th hour, cheque in hand. If asked to, I’m sure we would have all accepted playing in red on that day. How times change and memories fade. In the November of 2009, in the red and dead it was.
When T.G. took hold of the reins and saved the day he was quick to find support from his homeland in the shape of Vincent Tan. Eventually T.G. faded into the background as Tan involved himself more heavily in the overall planning and direction of the club. Whatever happened he saw the debt rising, the Langston problem unresolved and a broken Cardiff City team fail once again to gain promotion. David Jones was fired, Malky Mackay hired. Tan appears to have given Mackay his head regarding the playing and coaching staff and after a first year of surprising success and a League Cup Final appearance, backed his manager with real money aimed at securing that elusive promotion dream. Knowing the state of the finances it is perhaps difficult to understand why he has done this. It appears he is not a football fan in the traditional sense and he is not a local man hoping to do good for his local team. He is not an avid collector of celebrity or a front man relishing and revelling in the limelight as a Sam Hammam or a Simon Jordan.
Tan is a businessman. Yet everything tells us, experts in marketing and business, that he cannot turn Cardiff City into Manchester United, we really aren’t bigger than Barcelona. Yet I prefer to trust the businessman in Tan rather than the academics in universities. I admit to being biased on this score as I do work in a university! Academics don’t run businesses. Business is rarely successfully run by academics or governments and Tan is neither. It seems plausible and already publicised that Tan will convert debt into share equity. In other words he will in effect be buying shares in Cardiff City Football Club with the money he has already loaned them.
As for Sam Hammam, I’m sure he also knows this. Sam is another astute businessman. He finds himself (or Langston) in the enviable situation of holding enough in loan notes to accept a substantial offering of shares should he wish to remain an integral part of the club, a major shareholder in fact. Should Tan deny this the Malaysian will have to stump up the full loan amount to Langston. Sam has no reason to settle early or for less. Now here’s the twist in the tail. Once Cardiff City’s debt is significantly reduced or eliminated by converting debt into share ownership, the club could then be floated on the stock exchange becoming a public company. In this way the current stock holders can either sell and turn a nice little profit – maybe. Or, they can hold and float additional shares to raise further capital.
The fight for Cardiff City’s future may not be about debt but about share ownership and profits from same. Tan the businessman would not want to give Sam Hammam the businessman, stock that would see him as a significant shareholder and a potential adversary but neither does he want to pay Sam the full amount he is looking for. Sam for his own advantage and perhaps his own pride, may prefer to take shares rather than pounds now. Sam Hammam as a businessman is far more controlled than Sam Hammam the football club owner. A return to his cavalier style and speculation is not what is needed. Sam left the Ninian Park boardroom following something of a coup d’etat. He may feel he has unfinished business and wants a return to the new Cardiff City Stadium boardroom, a stadium he dreamed of, planned and was cut out of.
For answers, whichever way this goes, it pays to follow the money, not the team.