It’s all over now baby blue

Cardiff City’s switch from blue to red is a depressing reminder of what’s wrong with modern football.

"In order to show proper respect for your future, you must sometimes show some insensitivity to your past”. Such were the words and rationale of Roberto Goizueta, the former CEO of The Coca Cola Company, who 27 years ago changed the formula of the world’s most popular soft drink and launched a new product, imaginatively named "New Coke". At the time Goizueta and his team were faced with a dilemma: the Pepsi challenge was in full flow and consumers seemed receptive to the idea of switching from Coke to its sweeter, blue packaged alternative. Fearing a loss of ascendency in the fizzy drinks duopoly the company took decisive action and in April 1985, amid great fanfare, Coca Cola was replaced by New Coke. 79 days and some 400,000 complaints later though, the original drink returned.

Fans of Cardiff City FC will be hoping the backlash to the announcement of their own rebranding yields similar results. From next season, the team nicknamed the Bluebirds will play their home games in a red kit bearing a new club crest.  The switch from red to blue has been enforced as a condition of investment from Cardiff’s Malaysian owners, who feel the changes will “help [Cardiff] develop its brand and to allow it to expand its appeal to as wide an audience as possible”. Due to its association with prosperity and good fortune, red is seen as more attractive colour in the Far Eastern markets identified by the club as potentially lucrative. Although it may sound like marketing spiel borrowed from HSBC’s “the world’s local bank” campaign, Cardiff are adamant that they need to go along with this rebranding exercise to  “safeguard the immediate and long-term future of the club.”

It’s fair to say the reaction from fans has been less than enthusiastic. In an effort to prevent their clubs nickname – the Bluebirds - becoming a painful and ironic reminder of what once was, supporters fought an unsuccessful campaign to keep Cardiff blue. Even for those who have taken the pragmatic approach - arguing a financially secure Cardiff City that plays in red is better than a potentially insolvent Cardiff City that plays in blue – last week’s announcement can hardly be considered a victory. Instead, it’s a rather depressing example of football’s financial realities running roughshod over supporter sentiment and years of tradition.

Unlike Cardiff, in the two years prior to the disastrous launch of New Coke, Coca Cola extensively canvassed its customers’ opinions about the proposed change. Over 200,000 Americans participated in taste tests, the results of which compelled Goziueta to boldly describe the launch of New Coke as “the surest move ever made”. There problem was that while Coca Cola had been making sure people liked the way their new drink tasted, they had neglected to consider customers’ sentimental attachment to the (old) brand. Unusually, the spectacular U-Turn that followed proved mutually beneficial to all parties. So pleased were customers to get their much loved product back, that they bought it in huge numbers, revitalising Coke’s stagnating sales and consolidating the company at the top of the pop pyramid. Indeed such was the speed with which Coca Cola snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the New Coke debacle, that many have speculated that the entire episode was a marketing ploy from day one.

Sadly for Cardiff the world’s conspiracy theorists have yet to devise a plausible scenario in which this colorful saga turns out to be anything other than what it is: the epitome of all that’s wrong with modern football. The Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano described the game as “a primordial symbol of collective identity”. Alan Sugar said it’s “the only business in the world where it's embarrassing to make money”. In a roundabout way both men made the same point: football is exceptional. It’s a game where fans’ emotional ties and tribal allegiances to clubs, their traditions, heritage and yes, the colour in which they play, takes precedence over commercial activities and the will to turn a greater profit. Except it isn’t. Football’s sacred cows have been on auction to the highest bidder for some time now. Clubs have moved cities, changed names, ceased to exist. The beautiful game has been contaminated by ugly language:  leveraged buy-outs; administration; liquidation. For their owners, clubs are no longer symbols of local pride; they are global brands, whose merchandising potential must be maximized at all costs.

In 1985 fearing dissent among its customer base Coca Cola relented to their will. In 2012, the course of action taken by Cardiff’s owners shows, in black and white, that shirt sales in Asia are more important than the views of fans from the city whose name the club bears. And when the leopard’s spots are up for sale, it’s a sign that the tail must be well and truly wagging the dog.

Aron Gunnarsson of Cardiff City will be wearing red next season Photograph: Getty Images
Felipe Araujo
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Hull revisited: What happens when a Brexit stronghold becomes City of Culture?

We report from Hull, to find out if you can replace the kind of nostalgia that led to a Leave vote with cultural investment.

At 75 metres long, the offshore wind turbine blade erected across Queen Victoria Square, in the heart of Hull, is a sculpture intended to mark a new chapter in the city’s history. For the next 12 months, Hull, a city of more than a quarter of a million people in the northeast of England, will be the UK’s City of Culture.

The 28-tonne blade hails from the local Siemens plant. The German technology company employs around 1,000 people in the area, making it Hull’s biggest single employer.

Seen up close in this context – laid dormant in the middle of a town square instead of spinning up in the air generating energy – the structure is meant to remind passersby of a giant sea creature. It is also, I’m told, an allusion to Hull’s rich maritime history.


All photos: Felipe Araujo

Nostalgia is a big thing in this part of the country. At one point, Hull was the UK’s third largest port but technology and privatisation drastically changed that. The battle over cod fishing with Iceland in the waters of the North Sea 40 years ago has also dealt a major blow to a region with a long and proud trawling tradition.

People here still talk about a bygone era when the fishing industry provided jobs for everyone and there was enough money to go around.

Fast forward to 2017, and the country’s new capital of culture is the same city that voted 67 per cent in favour of leaving the EU last June. Its new-found prestige, it seems, is not enough to erase years of neglect by a political class “too busy for commoners like us”, as one resident puts it.

“More than a message to Brussels, it [the Brexit vote] was a message to Westminster,” Paul Leeson-Taylor, a filmmaker born and bred in Hull, tells me. “For the first time in a long time people in Hull felt like they had the chance to change something, and they took it.”

But while speaking to people on the high street and hanging out with locals at the Community Boxing Club in Orchard Park, one of the city’s most deprived areas, there is one word that consistently popped up in conversation – more than any specific policy from Westminster or the much-hated rules “dictated” by Brussels. Foreigners.

According to official figures, Hull’s population is 89.1 per cent white British. Still, immigration is big on people’s minds here.

During my two-day stay in the city, I find myself being the only black person in most places I visit – I’m certainly the only black guy at the boxing club. So when someone begins a sentence with “I’m not racist but…”, I know a tirade on immigrants is about to ensue.

“There are just too many of them,” Nick Beach, an estate agent whose Polish clientele is a big part of his business, tells me as he is about to teach a boxing class to local children. Beach was born in Shepherd’s Bush, in West London, but has been living in Hull for the last 20 years.

“When I go down there these days and go into Westfield shopping centre, it is very rare you get an English person serving you now,” he says. “I just find it disappointing that you go into your capital city and you are a minority there.”

These are the much-discussed “left behind”, a white working-class community that has gained particular prominence in a time of Brexit and Donald Trump. Under economic pressure and facing social change, they want to have their say in running a country they claim to no longer recognise.

For Professor Simon Lee, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Hull, immigration is only a superficial layer when it comes to explaining the resentment I witness here. For him, the loss of the empire 70 years ago is still something that as a country Britain hasn’t come to terms with.

“The reason for us to be together as a United Kingdom has gone, so what is the project?”

As destiny would have it, a foreign company will now play a major role on Hull’s economic future, at least in the short term. In the wake of the Brexit vote, there were widespread fears Siemens would pull out of the region and take its factory elsewhere. With the massive blade looming large in the background, Jason Speedy, director of the blade factory in Hull, assures me that isn’t the case.

“The Brexit decision has made no difference. We have made our investment decision, so Siemens, together with the Association of British Ports, has put in £310m. It’s all full steam ahead.”

As Hull becomes the country’s cultural hub for the next few months, the hope is that its residents stop looking back and start looking forward.

For Professor Lee, though, until there is a complete change in the power structures that run the country, the north-south divide will remain – with or without the EU. “The way you kill nostalgia is to have something new,” he said. “The reason why people here are nostalgic is because there is nothing to replace it with.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.