Cardiff City compete in their first FA Cup semi-final since 1927, when they take on Championship rivals Barnsley at Wembley next month. With only one Premiership side left in the famous old competition, never has the Welsh side had such a great chance of bringing the Cup back to Ninian Park for the first time in 81 years.
While City fans are concentrating on getting tickets for the big game, the club’s board is focusing on a far greater issue – a make-or-break ruling over the club’s financial future. City’s creditors Langston are taking the Bluebirds to the High Court this week over £24m worth of unpaid loan notes, which chairman Cardiff Peter Ridsdale insists are not due to be repaid until 2016. Should the Swiss-based financier win the court case, Cardiff City would have to make immediate repayments, inevitably forcing the club, already £30m plus in debt, into administration.
Cardiff City are fully aware of the precarious nature of their current position, especially given that building work is already underway on the construction of their new £29m stadium. Ridsdale admits that should City lose their legal battle, the ramifications would “materially damage the club”. The knock-on punishment for entering administration would see Cardiff stripped of 10 Championship league points, which would plunge them into the relegation zone. The financial implications of losing their fight would also bring about a mass sale of the club’s best assets. Young stars such as Joe Ledley and Aaron Ramsey would be amongst those likely to leave Ninian Park in a desperate effort to balance the books.
The threat of administration has hung over Cardiff City for a number of years, a situation exacerbated by the uncertainty over repayments to Langston. Welsh international Chris Gunter was sold to Tottenham Hotspur for £3m back in January, with Cardiff claiming to be in no position to turn down the offer for one of their best players. “The bid was of the magnitude that we had to say yes”, lamented Peter Ridsdale. “It’s regrettably one of the facts of life of Championship football is everybody is for sale”.
Cardiff’s trips to court may not end with this week’s High Court appearance. Should City win the FA Cup, or be runners up to a Portsmouth side that finishes fifth or above in the Premiership, they would not be eligible to take a place in the UEFA Cup, open to the other remaining FA Cup sides. The English Football Association have stated on numerous occasions that they can’t nominate Cardiff for a place in Europe, on the grounds that they don’t have the option to. As Cardiff City are registered with the Welsh Football Association, but play in England, they are deemed ineligable to play in European competition by UEFA, as are Swansea City and Wrexham.
Peter Ridsdale has deemed the current ban on Cardiff City competing in Europe as “wholly unacceptable”. It would seem he has point, given that teams in Cardiff’s situation have recently appeared in the UEFA Cup and Champions League. For example, FC Vaduz have played in European competition, despite being a member of the Swiss league. AS Monaco have also been regular members of the UEFA Cup and Champions League, despite the fact that Monaco is an independent principality and the club plays in France.
Ridsdale has vowed to take legal action to ensure City would be able to take part in the UEFA Cup next season, should they be in a position to qualify. “If we win the final and are then not put forward to the UEFACup I am sure there will be a lot of people with something to say”, he remarked in Wales’ Western Mail newspaper. “It is completely wrong that a side like Cardiff City can enter a number of mainstream competitions, yet find every avenue to Europe blocked”. Ridsdale is open to the possibility of Cardiff City having a reserve side compete in the Welsh Premier League next season, with the first team continuing to play in the English Football League in order to resolve the issue. Whether this proposal becomes reality is as uncertain as Cardiff’s future.
Cardiff City’s new stadium in Leckwith is set to open at the start of the 2009/2010 season, a date by which the Bluebirds had orginally targeted a place in the Premiership. The current nucleus of talented young players and size of the club’s fanbase are reasons to suggest this target is realistic. Given the possibility of Cardiff entering administration, it is equally fesable to suggest the team could be playing in League One in 2009. By which point, they could have added another FA Cup to their honours list or finally broken back into Europe. While perilous, the next few years promise to be anything than dull for Wales’ biggest club.