One of the worst seasons in the history of Cardiff City FC finishes after Saturday’s match at Nottingham Forest. For the club’s vast army of fans, so many of them disillusioned and disengaged, the end cannot come quickly enough.
Nine months ago, back on a sunny August day, the Bluebirds you spent a fortune in assembling were quite rightly ranked as overwhelming favourites to bounce straight back up into the Premier League.
David Marshall, Fabio, Bruno Manga, Sean Morrison, John Brayford, Anthony Pilington, Kagisho Dikgacoi, Mats Daehli, Ravel Morrison, Peter Whittingham, Kenwyne Jones, Adam Le Fondre, Federico Macheda, Javi Guerra. Lots more on top, too.
This group of players – dubbed ‘the best in Championship history’ – couldn’t fail, could they? The misery of relegation could be offset by an instant return to the top flight, a reward for the fresh financial outlay you had put in as Cardiff City’s owner and backer.
Instead, while Bournemouth and Watford have secured promotion on much smaller budgets, Cardiff today stand 13th in the Championship table.
That’s just one place ahead of the position the team occupied when you were bringing Russell Slade on board as manager. And that’s only because Sheffield Wednesday have a marginally worse goal difference.
I’m sure everyone can agree it’s not exactly significant progress.
The fans, your paying customers, are fed up and it’s time somebody spoke up on their behalf. Hence this open letter from WalesOnline and the South Wales Echo, historically a real champion of Cardiff City FC.
You only have to look at the messageboards or listen to the radio phone-ins to understand the supporters simply don’t trust in Slade, which of course has a knock-on effect.
Fans have voted with their feet, vast numbers choosing not to attend recent home matches at Cardiff City Stadium. Many of those who have turned up have left early, finding the fare on offer a switch-off.
Season ticket sales, as we’re sure you’re aware, are apparently at their lowest for many years.
Some older fans say the football they are watching is the worst seen since the dark days of Alan Durban back in the mid-1980s.
The malaise, misery, mid-table mediocrity can’t go on. The end of the season has to be seen as an opportunity, the chance for a new start.
The return to blue
You’ve already given the fans their blue back and for that they are grateful.
The 90 minutes against Fulham, the day the blue returned, saw an atmosphere, buzz and sense of excitement not witnessed at Cardiff City Stadium since the team were defeating Swansea 1-0 in the Premier League Welsh derby.
The fans have their club back. The next step is to reconnect them with their team.
There is too much apathy at present. The passion has gone. The fans have to be re-enthused and sadly we’re not alone in wondering if that can happen with Russell Slade in charge.
He is one of the nice guys in football, someone who deserves to succeed. But Slade would need to get off to an unfeasibly good start next season to have any hope of winning over the many doubters. Then he would have to keep it going, too.
If that can happen, brilliant. It’s win, win, win for everyone.
But the alternative is that he spends your money on yet more lower standard signings this summer, results continue to go wrong, the atmosphere becomes toxic amid a clamour for the manager’s head, a change is made in the autumn... and the cycle starts over again.
Another wasted season. With the new Premier League TV deal kicking-off in time for the 2016 top-flight campaign worth as much as £100m per club a year – and set to widen further the gulf between the elite and the others – Cardiff City cannot afford to wait.
Whilst Slade needs to be given a little slack because of understandable cost-cutting, he has been in charge for almost a season and yet today there are still more questions than answers.
Fans want entertainment or, failing that, winning football. They’ve been given neither.
They want belief, signs of progress and genuine hope for the future. They’re not getting that, either.
The football is often boring, dire to watch. Recent results away from home have been decent, but at Cardiff City Stadium - a traditional fortress – the Bluebirds have produced little better than relegation form.
The problems with Cardiff City stretch deeper than just the manager, but at least the arrival of a new man would be something of a quick-fix solution to galvanise the fans again and offer fresh hope.
So what other options are out there?
There are plenty of options out there. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who would probably walk over the Severn Bridge from Burton to take over at the club where he once played.
Craig Bellamy, a real fans’ idol who is here on the doorstep just itching for his chance to go into management.
Mark Warburton, who has punched way above his weight with Brentford, whilst the big-spending Bluebirds have punched way below theirs.
Gus Poyet, whose demonstrative passion the Cardiff fans would identify with. Brian McDermott, another former Cardiff favourite, Nigel Adkins or Neil Warnock, each of whom have proven records of taking teams up into the Premier League.
It’s unfortunate for Slade that he came in at a time of such uncertainty and instability for the club as a whole. He has become a public target for the fans, possibly unfairly at times, but the question to ask is whether that perception is likely to change.
Different people may have different views. However, everyone here shares a common goal, which is to see a vibrant, successful Cardiff City back in the Premier League.
You helped give us that dream last time around. By making the changes that we believe are necessary, you’re the person who can help deliver it again.
This time the team playing at a capacity Cardiff City Stadium in blue against Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea.
Everyone rallying to the cause, offering the togetherness that makes Cardiff City FC so special.
Sadly, we just can’t see the good times returning if the status quo were to continue.
Yours in sport,
WalesOnline and The South Wales Echo (Passionate about the Bluebirds)