Guest Blogger Steve Coombs gives his thoughts on being a Cardiff fan and what to do about the upcoming temporary stadium move.
I am 38 and going grey. I blame Cardiff for this. Most people in Welsh rugby blame Cardiff for something and I am no different. There it is every morning. Grey hairs. Bloody Cardiff.
I became a Cardiff fan in 1988. I can even name the game. It was against Harlequins. Gerald Cordle scored. I’d been to games before. I can even remember watching the Wales 1988 triple crown team without having much of a clue about what was happening. But for some reason, it was this game which put the hook in me. It has remained there ever since.
I don’t really know why this happened. I’m not even sure whether it was a particularly constructive decision. To be a Cardiff fan means veering wildly between giddy romanticism and the sort of despair you’d usually associate with people in their fourth year stuck on a desert island. That’s just the way it works. Honestly dear reader, it’s hard work.
The point is this: Whatever you think is sensible to call the Cardiff based team playing at Cardiff Arms Park in Cardiff, I HAVE AN EMOTIONAL INVESTMENT. And this will, for as long as I can stand it, mean that I will spend my money at the Arms Park, and stand on cold nights cheering on a team which may not necessarily be going through a golden period.
Sports teams need people like me. To any team which expects to not be winning titles most seasons (yep, pretty much all of them) borderline masochistic lunatics are always going to be needed. We’re needed to fill seats and places on the terraces when nobody else will. We’re needed to buy our beer from the club when it’s easier and much nicer to go straight to Brew Dog. We’re needed to wear the jerseys and talk the team up when everyone else in the city is either completely disinterested or just wondering what on earth happened to us.
Of course, this guest blog could easily descend into rambling, misty eyed reminiscence about Mark Ring. Gather round young uns and I will tell you all about the night of the back heeled conversion. It was a Wednesday night. Or perhaps a Tuesday. No, Wednesday. When unbeknown to all of us on the south terrace a wager had been made….
(Sorry, that’s enough of that)
I’m not going to let that happen. I’m not rambling, honestly. I’m merely trying to give you my qualifications. Some justification for why you should pay attention to anything I have to say.
The other qualification is this….
(Are you sitting down?)
I grew up in the valleys.
I mention this because so often the debate on the trials and tribulations of Cardiff Blues has been framed as having something to do with the valleys. Cardiff not understanding the valleys. The valleys not understanding Cardiff. The valleys hating Cardiff. Cardiff not noticing. And so on.
So, in the context of the article which I promise I will begin writing in a second, I think the fact that I grew up in the valleys is significant.
Because I understand valleys rugby. That area of 300,000 or so souls which apparently constitutes a great untapped market? I know it well. I understand the mindset of valleys rugby. I know the history of valleys rugby. I know how valleys rugby works.
I get it.
(I mean, many, many many Cardiff Blues players and supporters over the years have understood valleys rugby for exactly the same reason. But, that’s by the by….)
Now, I will shortly begin writing the actual article. What’s that? You’ve read nearly 500 words of this stuff and it hasn’t even started yet?
That’s correct dear reader. Now, let me begin. Let us call this article….
A HOME FROM HOME
The past few seasons, there has been an elephant in the room: Cardiff Arms Park is knackered.
She’s a much loved old ground but, the old girl is showing her age. The current board have done well to make the best of a less than ideal situation. But, ultimately, we are playing out of a stadium with stands built in the 1960s and hospitality boxes from the 1990s. In it’s day, CAP was one of the best club rugby grounds in the UK. That day is done. It was done a while ago.
So it’s obviously very good news that a redevelopment is finally on the cards. Not just a redevelopment but a “major” redevelopment. Anyone familiar with the Cardiff Arms Park site and the city of Cardiff knows there could be huge potential. If the cash is available (and it seems to be) a lot could be achieved. It could be a game changer.
But, that speculation is for another article. Maybe I’ll write it (if you can stand it, I can stand it).
No, I’m here to (eventually) talk about what we do in the meantime. A CAP rebuild is not something that can be cobbled together by a couple of brickies and sparkies over the summer. We’re probably looking at 2 seasons playing elsewhere.
And, lets not downplay the importance of that decision. Done right, it’s a decision which will ensure we keep all the long suffering long term fans and hopefully help inspire new ones. Done wrong, it could be a decision which sees us moving into a shiny stadium having alienated a lot of people.
Having already been through a situation where we moved into a shiny new stadium and alienated a lot of people, I suggest that we try not to do it again.
So lets look at the options;
I mean, strictly speaking, it is part of Cardiff Arms Park anyway. But history aside, the practicality is obvious. The team just moves next-door and we can all still go to the City Arms. On the other hand, its a whole lot of stadium and 7,000 people are going to feel a bit lost.
And, the rent is going to be crazy (turns out when it comes to choosing stadiums the cost of playing there is actually quite important). The WRU may well benefit from the CAP rebuild and so a deal may be possible. But, that’s speculation.
What may well be possible is a deal to use the stadium for a small number of matches. Key European ties and derby games. That seems feasible and will give us the chance to market a “big day out at the big stadium”. I will be disappointed and a little surprised if that doesn’t happen.
The cricket stadium is in a wonderful location. It certainly has the capacity and if it can host top level cricket I’m assuming the corporate facilities are up to scratch. It could be a chance to reinvent the typical Friday evening Pro12 damp squib as a continuation of the summer’s 20/20 cricket fun fests.
The problem would be the clash between the rugby season and the cricket season. Rugby/Cricket stadiums aren’t exactly unusual but I’m not aware of anywhere in the UK where this is currently happening.
My guess would be that a few games in the depth of winter could be feasible. And, Glamorgan Cricket may well welcome the chance to earn some rental coin. But I don’t know how cricket types are likely to respond to an outfield cut up by scrums in April and May.
I would be surprised if this could be a full-time option.
Disclaimer: It should already be clear from the above that I know very little about cricket and the ins and outs of how the ground could be adapted in practice.
Cardiff City Stadium
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that this probably isn’t likely.
Cardiff International Sports Stadium
This little ground is down at Leckwith, close to the CCS. It has a grand name, but holds just under 5,000 people. It’s used for College rugby so I’m assuming the pitch proportions are suitable for our game.
The capacity suggests that this is a stadium better suited to Anglo Welsh cup games than Pro12. Unless of course temporary seating could be added. I don’t know if this is possible. This seems more a potential temporary home for “Cardiff RFC” Welsh Premiership rugby than Cardiff Blues.
Oh yeah, here’s where the fun begins.
Sardis is a rugby ground a short distance from Cardiff with a capacity apparently around 7,000. A packed stadium, no matter how small, would have a certain appeal.
On the other hand, corporate facilities are non existent and the vast majority of that capacity is terracing. Terracing suits me and many others. However, a lot of people dislike it. At the Arms Park, the terraced sections are always last to sell out. My guess is that people who really do prefer to sit (families, older fans…) will instantly be put off by Sardis for this reason alone.
The other issue is the almighty fuss caused by Cardiff Blues playing at Sardis Road. People will say that playing fixtures 10 miles up the road will be bringing the games to a new audience.
The reality is that for most in the valleys, the ground is only slightly closer, and in many ways it’s less convenient. It is only more convenient for people based in Pontypridd. And, lets not sugar the pill, Ponty fans are not going to like this. They are not going to welcome it as an opportunity to finally see Pro12 rugby in their hometown. They are going to hate it. Hate it with real venom.
People will say that this is precisely why we should play here. They’ll suggest playing here will heal old wounds from 2003 and the loss of professional rugby from Pontypridd.
But you don’t avoid stings by giving a beehive a good kick. All this will do is create a lot of negative publicity.
It is not a good idea.
Another valleys ground which has been used for B&I cup games. I feel positive about using Merthyr as a venue. It would come free of the negativity a game in Ponty would stir up. Playing games in the valleys is not a bad idea. It can create a certain amount of goodwill. I am aware that goodwill is a difficult thing to quantify.
The Wern, since the redevelopment paid for by Sir Stan Thomas, apparently now holds 4,500. I’m not sure if this could be increased but it sounds like a potential Anglo Welsh cup venue, not a Pro12 stadium.
The Brewery Field
Yeah well, why not? It’s a short distance from Cardiff, straight down the M4 and one train stop away. It holds 8,000 people. It is to my mind a more logical venue than Sardis Road.
However, the map of South Wales is carved into rugby regions and it isn’t in ours. So there we go.
First up, there is no obvious full-time home from home. Perhaps it’s likely that we will use a variety of venues whilst the redevelopment takes place.
The key thing is this: When our home from home is announced, it must not be presented as a fait accompli. The views of supporters have to be sought out first. I’ve given my opinion here. Others will have their own take. Cardiff Blues need to listen.
In fact, lets start the process now. Twitter isn’t just for making fun of Donald Trump and posting photos of burgers.
But, before you go, I have another suggestion:
Cardiff Bay Stadium
This is currently a fictional venue. It doesn’t exist. In fact, if it ever does exist it may not even be in Cardiff Bay.
Just indulge me for a sec, ok? It works like this:
Working with the local council, we identify a site in the city big enough for a 10-15,000 capacity rugby stadium. Over the summer, a 3G pitch is installed and several modular stands put up to create a temporary venue.
After using our temporary home for a couple of seasons, the stands are sold. The 3G pitch remains and becomes a council owned facility for the local community. We will have created something entirely customised to our needs and left a legacy behind.
And, it’s been done before. This very thing happened in Vancouver several years ago. On a much bigger scale: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empire_Field
And, as we probably all know, a temporary arena was created in Cardiff Bay to host Cardiff Devils whilst Ice Arena Wales was being constructed: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardiff_Arena
So, there is precedence for my crazy scheme.
Lets start talking about this. Lets ask the club what their current plans are. Because they will have already thought of an answer to this question (at least I hope they have) and I for one would like to know what that answer is.
It is crucial that Cardiff Blues fans have a say in where our home from home is to be located. After all, wherever it is, we’re the ones who are going to be asked to fill it.
You can follow and interact with Steve on Twitter @SouthTerracer