Sam Hammam's desperate bid to create another crazy gang may not be changing Cardiff City for the better, says Grahame Lloyd
Is Sam Hammam the saviour of Cardiff City or just a showman with a flair for self-publicity? Post-Wimbledon, Hammam was desperate to become involved in football again. He picked up his new club for the bargain basement price of just over £3 million in August and was welcomed with open arms by supporters. Eyebrows were raised, however, when Hammam suggested City should change their colours from blue to green and their name to Cardiff Celts. The bluebird symbol would be replaced by a Celtic cross and the club would come to represent Wales.
Many Cardiff supporters – not to mention followers of Wrexham and Swansea – scoffed at his suggestions, but Sam was on a roll. Next came a tacky appearance before an early home game when Hammam marked his takeover by walking towards the centre circle holding a Welsh flag and a “Welsh Army” placard. He then claimed in a booklet Follow the Dream that arch-rivals Swansea would never be a big club. “If they really are Welsh and want to see top-class football in Wales, they should recognise that this Welsh club (Cardiff) is the only one with a cat’s chance in hell of making it.”
This only fanned the flames of a fierce rivalry which, until recently, meant visiting supporters being banned from derby games. Hammam’s obsession with quickly creating another Wimbledon in the Welsh capital appears to lie behind his bizarre behaviour. Only the first team are now allowed in the tunnel on matchdays. Young mascots, surely part of the family club Hammam claims he wants his new plaything to be, have been stood down and sponsors now have to make their way from the grandstand and trudge along the touchline for their 15 minutes of fame.
Why? Officially it’s for “security reasons” but the suspicion is that Hammam wants his new charges to be able to psych themselves up in a manner that might require parental guidance to keep strong language and scenes of violence away from more sensitive ears.
The choice of former Wimbledon manager Bobby Gould as Billy Ayre’s replacement was Hammam’s most predictable move. But after urging Welsh fans to support Cardiff, why then appoint a man who had a wretched four years as the national team manager? Out of his depth at international level, Gould is perhaps worried about appearing out-of-touch in the Third Division – hence the hasty appointment as his assistant of Alan Cork, another ex-Crazy Ganger, but with experience of the lower leagues at Fulham, Swansea and Brighton.
A spate of early-season draws has frustrated Hammam as he throws money liberally at his new toy. Cardiff’s transfer record (amazingly held by Godfrey Ingram since 1982) was broken when target man Leo Fortune-West arrived at Ninian Park for £300,000 from Rotherham.
Hammam’s latest wheeze is his most audacious to date – to install Prince William as an honorary president at Ninian Park. “I’m deadly serious,” he says. “We are the future and, as such, need Prince William – who’ll be the next Prince of Wales – at the helm of our ship.” Buckingham Palace may have declined to comment on the plan but Philip Jardine, a former board member who has returned to his seat in the grandstand as a season-ticket holder, thinks Bob Bankers couldn’t care less about such titles. “They could make Camilla Parker-Bowles a president and it wouldn’t make any difference to Cardiff City supporters – as long as the team were top of the league. We’re so desperate for success after 30 years in the wilderness that anything goes, frankly. We lost our principles a long time ago.”
Sam Hammam is not normally touchy about what he’s called. But when a club programme described him as “governor”, Cardiff City immediately issued a press release pointing out that he was not the “governor” – or even the chairman – but the owner of the club. This seemed curious. After all, the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of “governor” as a “ruler” seems much more in keeping with his so far omnipotent reign at Ninian Park.
From WSC 165 November 2000. What was happening this month