Ridsdale's Cardiff realisation in tatters

FourFourTwo.com's Championship Correspondent Emyr Price on financial shenanigans at Peter Ridsdale's Cardiff City...

You couldn’t have made it up.

Cardiff City in 2006 was a club crippled with debt, on the verge of meltdown courtesy of a Lebanese businessman’s repeated financial follies. A Championship team still capable of delivering knockout blows on the football pitch, but punch drunk by failings off it.

Somehow, it was still functioning. But it wouldn't be for much longer. Unless, of course, there was a miraculous upturn in fortunes.

What to do, what to do, the club's directors must have wondered. Desperate times, desperate measures and all that.

But surely no one with a rational mindset would have suggested getting former Leeds United supremo Peter Ridsdale on board to steady the ship?

Well, however it came about, that’s what happened.

Transparent Pete (as he’s affectionately known in some circles) arrived alongside the club's then chairman Sam Hammam to get things back on the straight and narrow.

And oh, how everyone laughed.

The man in the spotlight during Leeds' catastrophic demise, as well as Barnsley's near liquidation, was now at Cardiff City, who were already teetering on the brink of disaster.

Ridsdale, as you might well imagine, isn’t exactly Mr Popular in Yorkshire. In fact, he’s not really Mr Popular anywhere.

In a recent poll in the Independent newspaper, he beat off the likes of convicted fraudsters Flavio Briatore and Sir Allen Stanford to the much coveted tag of ‘Sport's biggest villain of the decade."

Well done indeed on that accolade, Pete.

Yorkshiremen: Not known for tact and reticence

That he topped said poll wasn't that surprising given its timing. There were echoes of Ridsdale's past popping up en masse.

Revelations of unpaid tax bills, mooted star player sales, and spiralling, uncontrollable debts were surfacing in the tabloids by the end of the year just passed. 

Things were beginning to look bleak for the Bluebirds chief and fresh allegations of financial turmoil followed reports of further tax problems.

Something of a recurring theme was developing.

But Ridsdale, at his effervescent best when speaking publicly, had convinced all – at an open meeting for fans - that things were hunky dory.

Repayment plans to creditors and the tax man had been agreed. The club could make them. There were no problems.

It would be a huge understatement to say that Ridsdale has mastered the art of spin.

Indeed to hear him bat away probing financial inquires in front of an audience is akin to witnessing Tony Blair in his pomp negotiate a fiery session of PMQs. But without breaking sweat.

Crisis seemingly averted, it was time for Cardiff's PR machine to kick into overdrive.

Generous season ticket offers were advertised – five-year price freezes, and even the promise of a full refund on next year's season tickets if the club were promoted to the Premier League.

Christmas had come early for the long-suffering Cardiff faithful.

Ridsdale then released a statement promising that all funds generated from these early-bird season ticket sales would be used solely to invest in the squad, and that new additions were certain.

And a Happy New Year to you too, Peter.

Meanwhile, ever the globetrotter, The Riddler (as he's affectionately known in some other circles) then jetted out to Malaysia in an attempt to secure significant investment in the club from businessman Dato Chan Tien Ghee.

Ridsdale claimed that DTG (as he likes to call him) had swollen City's coffers already, but that heftier sums were in the offing.

On the surface then, things were rosy off the pitch, and many - reportedly up to 10,000 - took up the season ticket offer's promise of potentially free season tickets and cash to spend on new players.

But the rumours of unpaid tax debts simply wouldn't go away.

Then it was announced that the club faced another day in court and a HMRC winding-up order on February 10, if they couldn't stump up the £3 million needed.

Ridsdale remained defiant and promised that this would be paid in full by the end of January – he even initially claimed that the court appearance was merely a 'backstop' date, if this unofficial, but agreed, January deadline passed.

But his assertions were beginning to wear a little thin now.

Despite these off-field worries, Dave Jones' men continued to collect league points at a healthy rate on the pitch.

A good January saw them cement their play-off place, as well as just about managing to hang onto the coat tails of those in the automatic promotion positions.

Backs to the wall: Ridsdale at Barnsley

An emphatic 6-0 victory against Bristol City made it just one loss in 12 in all competitions, and a 4-2 win over Leicester in the FA Cup was enough to earn them a money-spinning Fifth Round trip to Stamford Bridge.

But during the same week as these two victories, Ridsdale dropped the bombshell that all was not well with the club's finances.

There were some "short-term cashflow problems," meaning that there would be no new arrivals at the club – as he had explicitly promised.

No new investment had arrived, and the costs of the new stadium had been greatly underestimated.

Instead, all monies generated from the too-good-to-be-true season ticket offers would be use to fend off the taxman.

Understandably, this didn't go down well with fans who had bought season tickets in December - prime time for family spending - on the promise that there would be new arrivals in January as a result of their investments.

That the majority of the 10,000 who had bought or renewed their season tickets would have done so with or without Ridsdale's pledge is by the by.

He made a promise based on money that wasn't there.

What grated a now extremely disgruntled bunch further still, was the statement issued from the club by way of apology.

Yes, it contained a line saying that they were sorry that there would be no new arrivals, as promised. But the tone of the whole thing almost defied the supporters to be angry that they had been misled.

Instead it insisted that the long-term future of the club was the main priority.

No right-minded Cardiff fan would disagree with this final notion.

But had the real reasons behind the plea for cash made through the season ticket offers been made clear – namely, “Hey, we're skint, can you help us out and buy a few thousand season tickets please?” – then it's likely that few would have complained.

The honesty would no doubt have been appreciated, and there might even have been an element of that thing Ridsdale seems to destroy everywhere he goes: trust.

But it's gone beyond the stage of repair now.

Even if the club do manage to avoid next week's winding-up order – as seems likely, after a last-minute land sale to the city council - Ridsdale's days at the club must now be numbered.

He has always laid claim to being the man who has successfully overseen the club's move to the brand new Cardiff City Stadium – something that would not have been possible with Hammam at the helm, granted.

But the financial stability expected from the switch has never materialised. Far from it, in fact, given Cardiff's current predicament.

Ridsdale (third left) at the stadium opening

For all this, though, Cardiff City sit fourth in the Championship and have a realistic chance of promotion to the Premier League.

It's been almost 50 years since they tasted top flight football in this part of South Wales.

That's something that shouldn't be forgotten.

But then again, any football is better than none. Right?

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