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Rugby Union: Davies: We must win over Athletic Club.

Byline: Simon Thomas

FORMER Arms Park boss Gareth Davies says winning over Cardiff Athletic Club members will be the major stumbling block to a merger between the Blues and the Celtic Warriors.

But he believes it will happen - once the members realise what the stark alternatives are.

To go ahead, the merger would have to have the support of Cardiff's shareholders. And the Athletic Club - the owners of the Arms Park - have a substantial stake.

Davies was chief executive at the Arms Park at the time of the share issue in 1997.

'The club raised pounds 3.75m in total,' he said. 'Out of that, pounds 2.25m worth of shares were controlled by the Athletic Club.

'There was pounds 1m from the members, the Athletic Club put in pounds 500,000 themselves and they were gifted pounds 750,000 in heritage shares.

'So the power lies with the Athletic Club. If they oppose the merger, that becomes a major stumbling block. And I'm sure their first reaction will be no.

'What they have always stood for is a proud and independent Cardiff. That is why 1,000 of them invested in the club.

'But when the alternatives become clear, their position may change. If the merger were blocked, you could see Peter Thomas (Blues chairman) walking way.

'And then, the question is, who is going to invest in the club? It's fine to stand up against what is going on, but how is the club going to be funded? The stance of the Athletic Club members may well change if they become fully appraised of the financial position of the club.

'The finances can't be that happy, because that is obviously what has triggered this move.

'It's fine for supporters to say they will stick in a couple of hundred quid. But running a rugby club is an expensive business.

'So the stance of the Athletic Club is a stumbling block, but one that can be overcome. Personally, I think the merger will go through.

'I think the Athletic Club will give it the go-ahead because of financial pressures.

'It's a big call for them. But I can't see anybody saying let's carry on as we are and we will back it ourselves.'

Former Wales fly-half Davies says one other issue that may have to be addressed is the conditions attached to the usage of the Arms Park.

'As far as I understand it, some of the conditions are that the team must be known as Cardiff and play in blue and black,' he said.

'These were put in place in order to protect the heritage of the club.'

Davies feels the views of the television broadcasters and European Cup rugby bosses could also have a bearing, as a merger would see the number of Welsh regions reduced from five and four.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 8, 2004
Words:473
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