Yesterday, after several weeks of absurd yes-we-will, no-we-won’t drama, Cardiff City FC’s owners announced that they will in fact be changing the team’s shirt next season from blue (the colour the team has worn since 1908) to red (a colour the team has never worn before).
Moreover, the team’s crest will change too, relegating the Bluebird (Cardiff’s mascot) from its former place of prominence to the very bottom, in favour of the red Welsh dragon.
Now, I think this whole episode portends a lot for the future of human civilisation, but before explaining why, I realise that many of my readers are American, and don’t understand why this re-branding is such a big deal. I’ll humour you for a moment. For my British readers, skip ahead to the awful picture below.
Why it’s a big deal
The changes to Cardiff City are not analogous to, say, the San Diego Padres changing their colours from brown and yellow to brown and orange to navy blue and orange to just navy blue to camouflage. It’s really not even analogous to the Washington Bullets changing their mascot to become the Washington Wizards. Tradition has a role in baseball and basketball but it’s not nearly as dominant as in European football, and very few teams’ identities and traditions are bound up in their team logo or colours (Exceptions would be very old teams like the Yankees and Reds in baseball or the Celtics and Bulls in basketball).
A better, though still imperfect analogy would be if the Green Bay Packers were to change their uniform to a colour that wasn’t green and changed their logo to something other than the iconic “G.” Again though, this would still not be quite as dramatic, given that the Packers haven’t been around as long as the Bluebirds, and they didn’t always wear green.
[ADDENDUM: For my Canadian readers, it would be like the Maple Leafs changing their sweater to red]
What it means
The two conflicting sides in this debacle were the team’s (Malaysian) owners –who claimed that switching to red and dragons would help woo potential supporters in Asia — and the team’s fans who felt that such an abrupt switch ignored the club’s history and traditions.
(Incidentally, if the only thing Asian fans look for in a team is a red uniform and a dragon on the crest, wouldn’t they all already support Liverpool?)
Now, I count myself a Cardiff supporter, and I was opposed to the kit switch, but I couldn’t help but find the irony a bit amusing. Here was an episode involving Asians and Europeans, where culture and traditions were being disrespected, or at least disregarded, BUT!!! this time it was the Europeans whose traditions were being disregarded and it was the Asians who had the power, money and final say in the matter.
This, I believe, is the first portent from the shirt saga.
The most obvious lesson for the future of course is that, in our globalised world, commercial considerations will usually trump cultural traditions, but this truism is, by now, so banal, that it hardly warrants further analysis.
Rather, what I find more interesting is the battleground on which these struggles take place. Note that, with his immense wealth (around $1.25 billion), owner Vincent Tan thought the best investment he could make to raise the profile of Malaysian sports was in a football club in Wales.
Indeed, wealthy tycoons from all over the emerging world have also decided that English football clubs are the best use of their gargantuan finances.
Just in the top two divisons of English football you have: Blackburn Rovers, owned by an Indian; Chelsea, owned by a Russian; Leicester City, owned by Thais; Hull City, owned by an Egyptian; Manchester City, owned by an Emirati oil sheikh; and Queens Park Rangers, owned by an Indian and a Malysian.
As far as I know (and I am willing to be corrected), none of these owners have invested any money in domestic leagues in their own country. They certainly have the means to pump a lot of money into football in Thailand. Malaysia, etc. and thus greatly improve the quality of entire leagues in their home countries.
But instead, they see English football as the best arena for their personal ambitions and expressions of national pride.
Now, here is what I find interesting: Despite the incredible national diversity of club owners in the English Premier League and Championship, there are NO mainland Chinese* owners. Why? It’s certainly not due to a paucity of Chinese millionaires or a lack of interest in football. Rather, it seems that football-loving Chinese tycoons would rather bring world-class football players to China (the most high-profile example being Nicolas Anelka) than buy up a team in England and re-brand it to look more Chinese.
And so, here for me is the most telling sign of things to come: As China’s wealth and influence has grown, so has its confidence. But for other Asian countries, enjoying similar economic growth, there is still an insecurity which leads them to seek prestige in Europe and the West, rather than on their own terms.
What exactly does that mean for the future? I don’t know, but I’m sure there will be more colossal misunderstandings, and next time maybe outside the realm of football.
And for those of you taking any schadenfreude in Cardiff City’s plight, be careful. If the Bluebird is an endangered species in this brave new world, the Swan could become one too!