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
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Senior Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians call for a progressive alliance

As Brexit gets underway, opposition grandees urge their parties – Labour, Lib Dems, the SNP and Greens – to form a pact.

A number of senior Labour and opposition politicians are calling for a cross-party alliance. In a bid to hold the Conservative government to account as Brexit negotiations kick off, party grandees are urging their leaders to put party politics to one side and work together.

The former Labour minister Chris Mullin believes that “the only way forward” is “an eventual pact between Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens not to oppose each other in marginal seats”. 

 “Given the loss of Scotland,it will be difficult for any party that is not the Conservative party to form a government on its own in the foreseeable future," Mullin argues, but he admits, “no doubt tribalists on both sides will find this upsetting” and laments that, “it may take three or four election defeats for the penny to drop”.

But there are other Labour and Liberal grandees who are envisaging such a future for Britain’s progressive parties.

The Lib Dem peer and former party leader Ming Campbell predicts that “there could be some pressure” after the 2020 election for Labour MPs to look at “SDP Mark II”, and reveals, “a real sense among the left and the centre-left that the only way Conservative hegemony is going to be undermined is for a far higher degree of cooperation”.

The Gang of Four’s David Owen, a former Labour foreign secretary who co-founded the SDP, warns Labour that it must “face up to reality” and “proudly and completely coherently” agree to work with the SNP.

“It is perfectly legitimate for the Labour party to work with them,” he tells me. “We have to live with that reality. You have to be ready to talk to them. You won’t agree with them on separation but you can agree on many other areas, or you certainly should be trying.”

The Labour peer and former home secretary Charles Clarke agrees that Labour must “open up an alliance with the SNP” on fighting for Britain to remain in the single market, calling it “an opportunity that’s just opened”. He criticises his party for having “completely failed to deal with how we relate to the SNP” during the 2015 election campaign, saying, “Ed Miliband completely messed that up”.

“The SNP will still be a big factor after the 2020 general election,” Clarke says. “Therefore we have to find a way to deal with them if we’re interested in being in power after the election.”

Clarke also advises his party to make pacts with the Lib Dems ahead of the election in individual constituencies in the southwest up to London.

“We should help the Lib Dems to win some of those seats, a dozen of those seats back from the Tories,” he argues. “I think a seat-by-seat examination in certain seats which would weaken the Tory position is worth thinking about. There are a few seats where us not running – or being broadly supportive of the Lib Dems – might reduce the number of Tory seats.”

The peer and former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown agrees that such cooperation could help reduce the Tory majority. When leader, he worked informally in the Nineties with then opposition leader Tony Blair to coordinate their challenge to the Conservative government.

“We’re quite like we were in 1992 when Tony Blair and I started working together but with bells on,” Ashdown tells me. “We have to do something quite similar to what Blair and I did, we have to create the mood of a sort of space, where people of an intelligent focus can gather – I think this is going to be done much more organically than organisationally.”

Ashdown describes methods of cooperation, including the cross-party Cook-Maclennan Agreement on constitutional reform, uniting on Scottish devolution, a coordinated approach to PMQs, and publishing 50 seats in the Daily Mirror before the 1997 election, outlining seats where Labour and Lib Dem voters should tactically vote for one another to defeat Tory candidates.

“We created the climate of an expectation of cooperation,” Ashdown recalls. Pursuing the spirit of this time, he has set up a movement called More United, which urges cross-party support of candidates and campaigns that subscribe to progressive values.

He reveals that that “Tory Central Office are pretty hostile to the idea, Mr Corbyn is pretty hostile to the idea”, but there are Conservative and Labour MPs who are “talking about participating in the process”.

Indeed, my colleague George reveals in his report for the magazine this week that a close ally of George Osborne has approached the Lib Dem leader Tim Farron about forming a new centrist party called “The Democrats”. It’s an idea that the former chancellor had reportedly already pitched to Labour MPs.

Labour peer and former cabinet minister Tessa Jowell says this is “the moment” to “build a different kind of progressive activism and progressive alliance”, as people are engaging in movements more than parties. But she says politicians should be “wary of reaching out for what is too easily defined as an elite metropolitan solution which can also be seen as simply another power grab”.

She warns against a “We’re going to have a new party, here’s the board, here’s the doorplate, and now you’re invited to join” approach. “Talk of a new party is for the birds without reach and without groundedness – and we have no evidence of that at the moment.”

A senior politician who wished not to be named echoes Jowell’s caution. “The problem is that if you’re surrounded by a group of people who think that greater cooperation is necessary and possible – people who all think the same as you – then there’s a terrible temptation to think that everyone thinks the same as you,” they say.

They warn against looking back at the “halcyon days” of Blair’s cooperation with the Lib Dems. “It’s worth remembering they fell out eventually! Most political marriages end in divorce, don’t they?”

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.