Cardiff City’s rebranding exercise has been a much debated topic since details of their Malysian owners’ intentions to make the club’s home shirt red, change the crest and call them the dragons were leaked last month.
Their blue kit can be traced back to 1908, nine years after they were established and the bluebirds nickname is believed to have originated just three years later in 1911.
Quite understandably there has been outrage amongst sections of Cardiff fans that over a century of the club’s identity could soon be wiped out due to their owners’ attempts to woo the far east market, albeit with the small incentive of a £100m cash injection.
However, amid all the media furore there appears to be one team they’re forgetting. 140 miles up the A470 here in North Wales is our very own Wrexham FC aka the red dragons, who as it happens also play in red.
It seems odd that not one media organisation has picked up on this connection, despite its obviousness to the rest of the UK footballing community. On Twitter at this very second the majority of mentions of ‘Wrexham’ are by people who have noticed the similarities, one typical example being Owain Morris (@Owain_Morris) from Swansea: “Wrexham colours, Wrexham nickname.. Wrexham players will be stolen next ! #CardiffRebranding”.
A family favourite at the Racecourse is mascot Wrex the Dragon, however you wonder whether he too will have to fly down to Cardiff, smoke flaring from the nostrils to fight for his identity. Perhaps the media’s ears would haved pricked up had Cardiff’s owners considered renaming them the Red Devils.
At the same time, waist deep in accusations of identity theft it is easy to forget that Wrexham’s heritage is not as the red dragons either. Whilst the club has played in red since 1939, the dragons nickname was not coined until 2001/02 as a result of, you guessed it, a marketing exercise designed to “increase sponsorship and promote the clubs Welsh image”. As many will know the following decade was far from prosperous for Wrexham and although a nickname cannot be blamed for a carousel of questionable owners, some fans associate the name change with the club’s turn in fortunes.
Many still fawn for Rockin’ Robin whose very mention can send the older generation of Wrexham fans into a pique of nostalgia (remember when he cycled round the Racecourse pitch?). One reason why the robin was dropped was that we were told it wasn’t unique with Bristol City, Charlton Athletic, Cheltenham and Swindon all going by the same name. But as one eagle eyed fan pointed out though the dragons is hardly unique itself, in rugby there’s Newport Gwent Dragons and the Scarlets who both feature the mythical creature and in football Llanelli and Newtown not forgetting the country’s national team.
At the same time the tide seems to be turning in terms of the popularity of the red dragons nickname, in a recent poll on Wrexham fan site Red Passion 50.41% voted in favour of it with 44.72% calling for the return of the robin and 4.88% happy for the club to be known by both nicknames. So should the dragons be fighting to save their identity? If anything Wrexham FC is a case in point of how things such as a nickname can evolve over time and how fans come to accept it. As much as the colour blue is despised nowadays this side of the A483, up until 1939 the club had played in blue and white for the majority of their history and were known as “The Sugar Bags”.
As a Wrexham fan I find it hard to be offended on behalf of a nickname we have only known for 10 years and come to accept recently, but fans of Cardiff City should also be wary of the dangers of selling your identity down the river for a quick buck. One things for sure, we don’t know what it’s like to have £100m and the promise of Premier League football waved in your face with previous owners having struggled to pay the electric at Colliers Park. But as MK Dons proved, unlike America where the franchise rules, sacrificing a football club’s identity for commercial reasons can tear the heart out of it and is far from popular with current fans and those of other clubs.
The changes at Cardiff look set to go ahead for definite now with fan dissent being ignored, despite some early signs of the owners buckling under the pressure. The changes include not only the nickname, but also the club’s badge, home shirt and 26,000 seats being painted from blue to red at their ground. Having saved the club from the brink of extinction last year, Wrexham supporters know all too well that businessmen and marketing directors come and go, but the fans and their will should always remain.