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Last Updated: Monday, 1 August 2005, 10:55 GMT 11:55 UK
'New hope' at troubled Bluebirds

Gareth Jones
BBC Wales business correspondent

Ninian Park
Cardiff face Ipswich away on Saturday 6 August
As the football season prepares for the big kick-off, BBC Wales looks at how Wales' three clubs are shaping up financially for the challenge.

First under the microscope is Cardiff City, set for their second season in the Championship, although much has changed in the last 12 months.


The clanking of turnstiles could be heard once again at Ninian Park last week, heralding the arrival of another football season.

Cardiff City's takings for the pre-season friendly against Italians Udinese were not high - the mid-week weather saw to that - but the fans I spoke to were confident that the Bluebirds will do well this season and that the crowds will come.

"We've got a new season, new manager and new hope," said one.

James Collins (left) and Danny Gabbidon (right) have been sold
James Collins (left) and Danny Gabbidon (right) have been sold

"What about your financial problems?" I asked.

"I'm just talking about on the pitch. Off the pitch is for the men up there," he replied.

'The men up there' will have their work cut out on the finance front.

They must get more people through the gate and cut their costs radically. Cardiff City have accumulated debts of 30m. Last season, they could not even afford to pay the players for a while, although at first they told journalists that was just a clerical error.

Mark Bloom of the South Wales Echo, said there had been as much news off the field as on it.

"City have been on the crest of a wave, but it's all come crashing down and now we have to pick up the pieces," he said.

"We were told there was a clerical error and found out a couple of days later it was because they didn't have the money to pay staff. All we want is the truth from the club on financial issues - we have to have transparency."

However, even his sternest critics agree that chairman Sam Hammam is now getting a grip - although at a huge cost.

Artist's impression of Cardiff City's new stadium
The new stadium plans are central to Sam Hammam's plans

Six of the club's best players have been sold including the captain Graham Kavanagh, Welsh internationals Robert Earnshaw and Danny Gabbidon and the potential young star James Collins.

Five players have even accepted a wage cut - amazing, according to Ken Gorman, sports writer for the Sunday Mirror.

"Who'd have thought it? Football players are the most materialistic people - but this is a nice gesture. It shows the fans they share the concerns about the finances."

Peter Ridsdale, who knows a thing or two about financial crises from his time at Leeds United, is now at Ninian Park trying to halve the annual wage bill which has risen to 9m plus.

Players have been getting up to 10,000 a week but it is understood that is coming down to 2,000 in some cases.

Professor Peter Sloane, an economist at Swansea University, said Cardiff were not alone - spiralling wage costs are threatening to destroy football.

"There has been a new air of realism in the league in the last two years and in the lower divisions there have been experimental wage-caps," he said.

"I think we need to see that sort of thing brought in more generally."

Former Wimbledon boss Sam Hammam says the key to overcoming city's financial crisis lies elsewhere-in the building of a new 30,000-seat stadium on land opposite Ninian Park.

Sam Hammam and crowd
Sam Hammam has faced angry crowds over the sale of players

The problem is he needs a big shopping development there to make it work, but getting big retailers on board is taking time.

Cardiff Council, which owns Ninian Park, is so worried about the delay it has given the club an ultimatum.

Council leader Rodney Berman says it has until Christmas to make things happen, or the council will look at alternative methods of getting the stadium built, perhaps adopting the model used to build the Morfa stadium in Swansea.

"It's still early days, though," he told me. "There's a lot of competition for retailers amongst developers in Cardiff so we have to give it a bit more time."

There have been fears that Sam Hammam would do to Cardiff what he did to Wimbledon - sell the ground for personal profit and walk away leaving the club homeless.

But this cannot happen in Cardiff as his company does not own Ninian Park.

However, the jury is out on whether he can still realise his big ambitions for the Bluebirds.


SEE ALSO:
Cardiff five take cuts for Purse
21 Jul 05 |  Cardiff City
Hammers swoop for defensive trio
05 Jul 05 |  West Ham Utd
Thorne shocked by Bluebirds exit
03 Jul 05 |  Norwich
Store pulls out of stadium plan
24 Mar 05 |  South East Wales
Work on stadium 'to start in May'
20 Jan 05 |  South East Wales
Lib Dems back city stadium plan
24 Jun 04 |  South West Wales
Angry fans mob City chairman
06 Mar 05 |  Wales


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