Robson Report in colour: Cardiff’s Bluebirds breathe fire, Leeds yearn for past

The new Sunderland strips are out and we’ve got off lightly again. As Jeremy Robson put it yesterday, at least we still look like us It wasn’t always thus, but the abomination of the early 80s toothpaste tops is still insignificant compared to what Cardiff City fans have been asked to endure. Jeremy’s look at club tradition also recalls the dramatic makeover that once befell Leeds United …



Apart from
the Euros and the news from the courts reaffirming John Terry’s credentials as a stand up human being, it’s been a quiet summer on the football front.

The attention of fans is drawn to fixture announcements and the design of the coming season’s new kits.

When I was a boy you didn’t have to concern yourself with the style of the new kit because the “strip” as we used to call it back then was the same as last season, as well as the season before that. Nothing much changed for decades.

Shirts were made of cotton, and not some breathable, man made crud that would wick away perspiration. The disappearance of the tried and tested cotton shirt began back in the 1970s.

In Sunderland’s case it made precious little difference as new fabrics meant less fading, and the colours remained the same.

Nice thick red and white stripes, same as before but brighter colours which stayed that way for longer. We did of course have to suffer the horrible pin stripes and red shorts kit in the early 80s for which my visual memory can only ever provide images of Mick Buckley, Barry Venison, and Ally McCoist. We looked as if we were advertising Signal toothpaste.

Nowadays there is something of a trend in wearing the shirts from yesteryear, and these can be found in any sports shop in the North East, including I am sorry to say this terrible pin stripe shirt, although I have yet so see one being worn.

Retro designs are all the rage. Why do people want retro shirts? I suppose they allow the wearer to demonstrate that they were part of the era in which the shirt was worn, and particularly is the design invokes memories of a successful period in the history of the club. The 1973 Cup Final replica is quite naturally popular amongst SAFC fans. It says “I was there … remember this?”

Colours, history and tradition are woven both literally and metaphorically into the identity of the club. The colours are what provides the club’s identity.

SAFC’s new home kit
(c) Getty Images

Our opponents in the ’73 Cup Final, Leeds Utd, were one of the few clubs to change their colours; it happened during the early years of Don Revie’s management.

The traditional blue and yellow strip was abandoned in favour of the all white outfit which they still wear. Revie wanted them to play and look like Real Madrid. Leeds fans still wear scarves which are blue and yellow half a century after that change was made. In one of the most unusual stories of the summer, Cardiff City’s new owners have announced that their traditional blue kit will be replaced by an all new red design, with the badge featuring a dragon.

There will be no sign of the bluebird which has always been part of the club crest. As you might expect, this has not been greeted with universal approval among the Cardiff faithful who no longer being “Bluebirds” are now looking forward to a future as “Red Dragons” or something similar.

Protest letters which have been translated into Malaysian, and sent to the new owner, whose “rebranding exercise” seems to have the support of at least some existing board members as well as the leader of Cardiff Council. Quoted from the BBC website.

Cardiff council said it fully supported the club’s decision.

Council leader Heather Joyce said: ‘I have spoken to Dato Chan Tien Ghee today to welcome the financial support that is being given to Cardiff City FC and he has outlined to me his commitment to the club and the city.

‘I made it clear that the council appreciates the challenges the club will face in relation to some of the changes that need to be made but we will fully support what is being proposed.

‘As a council we are business savvy and recognise the importance of this investment that the owners are putting in and the confidence that the club has in the city.’

I have no doubt that the council welcomes any sort of investment in the city’s football club, but in terms of cultural understanding, and of which Vincent Tan (the new owner) seems to have very little, we see an example of acceptance of this misunderstanding as “a price worth paying”.

“A price worth paying” is a phrase which has cropped up in various articles on this topic. Investment at any price is what they are saying, even if it means that the identity and tradition of a club is consigned to history on the whim of some Johnny-come-lately Far Eastern businessman with hitherto no connection to South Wales or Cardiff City.

Yet Cardiff City are “The Bluebirds” and not “The Dragons”. It is no coincidence that the proposed new kit looks remarkably similar (even down to the crest) to the Welsh national kit. I wonder if Vincent Tan is going to take over the national side as well. Given the tone of some of the official responses in Wales they would probably sell their grannies for a pocketful of Mr Tan’s change.

Nicknames associated with birds are common in English (and indeed Welsh) football. Notts County and another club whose name escapes me (Exeter City?) are “the Magpies”, Sheffield Wednesday are “the Owls”, Swindon Town “the Robins” and Norwich City “the Canaries”.

Nicknames, colours, shirts and tradition also give our clubs identity. I wouldn’t even want the Mags to change. Why would I? It’s ridiculous. Imagine having to learn to refer to them as the “green and blue b*******!” Unimaginable and unacceptable.

The funniest thing about this whole fiasco was hearing that Cardiff City are prepared to refund the money paid by season ticket holders who had bought new blue shirts. They have 16,000 season ticket holders, but have offered refunds to only 70 of them.

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21 thoughts on “Robson Report in colour: Cardiff’s Bluebirds breathe fire, Leeds yearn for past”

  1. Malcolm, the first time I heard the term “Mackem” was in the mid 80s when it was used in a derogatory way to me by a Mag. What surprised me about this (apart from the fact that I had never previously heard the term) was the fact that the person who used it was clearly of the view that this was common parlance amongst the dark underclasses in Magland. It was almost part of their “secret language.”

    • Ditto when used to me – in that it appeared to be an understood term of derision at that time except the bloke involved lived in the same village and so was using it in the friendly abusive way we North Easterners are prone to adopt (if that makes sense).

      Now I know of no-one who supports Sunderland who sees it in a demeaning way.

  2. See, for me, Black Cats was fed to me as a kid so that’s my favoured name; then again, that was in the late 80’s. Suppose these things will be a generation influenced thing. It was worse when we had a few unofficial nicknames kicking about. It was put to the fans to be fair, and the result was resounding in favour for the Black Cats.

    The Lads sounds ok but I prefer that to be a broader, local descriptive term that doesn’t have to be football related.

  3. As well as Stadium Of Light being a crap, inappropriate name, it’s nicked too! I wanted it to be called “Wearmouth Park”.

  4. “Stadium of Light” has only become bearable because you can get used to anything given enough time, Salut.

  5. I never have and probably never will refer to us as the Black Cats. If it crops up in conversation in England, I will say nothing at all or that it is a nickname I have never identified with. If it crops up in French conversation, I accept that it is simpler just to go along with it so will refer to Eric Roy or Djibril Cissé or Steed as an “ancien chat noir”. I don’t mind that it’s used by others; it’s just not for me.

    Rokerites just made me cringe and I could never imagine it being spoken by anyone at all, or written by anyone but a man from nowhere near the North East who happened to cover a Sunderland game for a popular newspaper.

    Like Jeremy, I use The Lads but in the full knowledge that so do supporters of heaven knows how many other teams, so it only really works with fellow SAFC fans.

    Probably the best way to regard it all is as another spot of corporate nonsense of the sort we will doubtless have to endure again once they sell off the stadium naming rights. But then, I’m not keen on Stadium of Light either – though I’m a lot less unkeen than when it was first built. I’ve got used to it in a way I never did with the nicknames.

    • Funny that I have always thought of Sunderland as The Black Cats and was what I used as their nickname when I was growing up in Hetton in the 60s and 70s. But (and is this only me?) when I moved to the Midlands in the late 70s I had never heard the term Mackems when I was growing up. I first heard it used circa 1990 when a Mag called me one in a Leicestershire pub.

  6. I’m not keen on Black Cats either Terry and where it was conjured from in the 80s or 90s I dont know. Legend has it that a black cat used to sleep under a floodlight pylon but I never heard this stuff as a boy and can distinctly recall hearing the reference to Black Cats from an Evertonian friend, and wondering what he was talking about. We used to be allegedly referred to as the “Rokerites” but again that is another label firmly attached by the popular media and not ourselves. We can’t be the Rokerites and more of course. Yes, Terry the bird names are a good thing and there’s nothing football related in dragons etc. It would be ok if it was associated with Dallas or Delaware etc but it is of no relevance to Cardiff or anything else.

    “The Lads” just works fine for me, but it’s clear that these invented names are for the wider population and not the people who support the club. That’s where it all begins and ends for me.

  7. I still think of West Brom as “The Throstles” and “Baggies” is
    lost on me. They’ve still got the bird on their crest. I suppose it would be difficult to use a trademark for plastic storage bags as a crest. Birdy names are popular.

    I suppose all nicknames are a bit contrived but I can see a tenuous link between thrushes and hawthorn bushes so it seems apt for WBA.

    I don’t particularly like the name Black Cats but its better than some of the suggestions proposed when it was ordained that we had to have a nickname. Obviously “the lads” wasn’t sexy enough.

  8. Thanks for posting that link Phil. It’s good to see that some of the Cardiff fans are still maintaining a sense of humour about this depressing set of events.

    You might consider some of the political comments unnecessary but I am firmly of the view that Thatcher lay the ground for so many of the appalling changes that we have seen in football. Football is a microcosm of broader society and the damage that she caused in British society has been long lasting,

    Your point about MK Dons is very relevant Goldy and I was partly alluding to their situation. If a new owner is prepared to throw out the club;s colours, crest and tradition overnight then given the opportunity to make more money through his “rebranding” then he would move the club lock stock and barrel to the foot of Ben Nevis if it was economically expedient to do so. MK Dons were the first “franchise” and although it grinds the gears of any self respecting fan it is probably not going to be the last case of its kind.

    • The foot of Ben Nevis is called Glenn Nevis and it’s a cracking campsite that I have stayed many times pre and post climb 😉

    • Interesting to hear on the Today programme that the chap who was dismissed from Lloyds TSB four years ago for criticising the greed culture that has ****** up the banks and is now applying for the Chief Exec’s role at Barclays, put the blame firmly at Thatcher’s door for all the recent scandals that have hit that sector.

      Personally I blame her for much more and have to agree 100%.

  9. Jeremy is guiltless re Exeter, Pete. I added that reference mischievously. Everyone knows their stripes are green.

  10. Come on Jeremy – you are not trying!! As any fule no, Notts County are the original Magpies, that lot up the road just nicked the name and the shirts.
    Exeter City are The Grecians. That should give you a few grey hairs!!!

  11. Let’s not forget about the despicable way in which the MK Dons were created. They were the original benchmark set the ball rolling.

  12. Good post Phil. You are absolutely right about the threat to tradition. Gone are the days when someone would talk about the tradition of that club, and in those rare cases where tradition is cited as a reason to invest, it is done so without any regard for the club’s heritage.

    You are also correct about the bluebird appearing on the crest of course but this is the most cynical attempt at appeasement that you would ever witness and a dime to a $ says that if they get away with this rebranding that the bluebird will disappear from the crest in a year or so. For me what is happening with Cardiff is approaching a franchise position and not a long way from what happened with Wimbledon. Vincent Tan, the new owner seems determined into turning Cardiff into some sort of national symbol for Wales. Anyone switching on the TV next season to see Cardiff play would be forgiven for thinking that this was the national side looking at that get up of all red. The worrying thing about this is whether this is the thin end of a nasty wedge not only for Cardiff City but for football in general. There is a fiendish plan with all of this Phil and I alluded to it in an Salut article last October. The link is below and the day ebbs ever closer to the apocalypse. It started with Big 4 or Big 6 or whatever pulling the ladder up behind them, and the next phase of this is to take over smaller clubs get them promoted and then pull up the next ladder behind them. I bet Messrs Tan and Fernandez are havinga drink together as we speak.

    https://safc.blog/2011/10/the-robson-report-killing-football-in-one-foul-swoop/

  13. I wonder just how common the dismissing of tradition will become?

    It’s my belief that it will become more and more prevalent as club owners continue to “chase the dragon” (I had to get that one in) of increased financial returns for which supporters are less, directly, responsible year on year as a percentage of income.

    One point, though, Jeremy if I may?

    The bluebird has not yet been consigned to the dustbin of history and still remains (beneath the dragon) on the shirt badge.

    I do, however, wonder for how much longer that will be the case?

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