Issue On what Bradford City need to do off the field

As told by Michael Wood

The Shipley Bantams were formed in the summer of 2004 to provide travel to away matches. They meet once a week in a pub and talk over all matter’s City as well as arranging trips and looking at which pubs to stop in on the way. They have rules and regulations about drinking on the coaches and stick to them with an ardent sense of responsibility as good members of a community should.

In a way the Shipley Bantams are nothing new. CTC73 was formed to answer the same problems in the 1970s and from that, owing to a lack of anything approaching reporting on City, The City Gent sprung. Former City Gent editor Dave Pendleton established a History of Bradford City exhibition to mark the centenary and accompanied it with a website. BfB came out of the lack of a Bradford City online presence back in 1998.

In short when the need arises Bradford City Supporters have a track record of being able to look after themselves. When the people of the Shipley Bantams first got together they did so to support the club by quiet literally turning up to support from the stands – we use the term supporter so casually – and back then it is almost impossible to think that within six months the Shipley Bantams would be in a loggerhead situation with Bradford City.

Nevertheless as an exit from administration came into view then the club started to ramp up activities like away travel and started to undercut the Shipley Bantams. The two met and an offer was made by the club to engulf the SBs and let them run the show within Bradford City.

The Shipley Bantams declined and rightly so.

One month later a summit was held in a Bradford pub – a pub from which the sharp eyed could see Valley Parade – but despite location no one from the club was called on to attend nor were they needed. The evening was organised by supporters and the outcome – an attempt to re-establish the local supporter’s clubs in the style of that which has the name Shipley – is based around the efforts of supporters around but not including or drawn from the club.

Across town the Bradford City Supporters’ Trust were meeting. A half year on from being the last bastion of hope when all had left the club the BCST faced something of an image problem with some City fans crying foul with fundamental disagreements over Trust policy on attempting to get board membership and angrily shouting that BCST does not represent them.

Chairman Mark Boocock opted for a meeting of members to approve policy giving him the ability to represent those members with a more clear mandate. In the end the Trust may or may not get a place in the Bradford City boardroom but should you subscribe to that aim and you have enough like minds around you then the Trust offers a path to fruition and does so at a good arm’s length from the club itself.

This website – www.boyfrombrazil.co.uk – exists with virtually no contact with Bradford City save the odd question about factual matters or seating arrangements for various games. We shun the phrase “unofficial” when talking about BfB because we do not believe that as a publication to be read by Bradford City fans that we need an “official” stamp of approval from anyone especially not Bradford City AFC (1983) Ltd or Bradford City Football Club Limited 2004.

Which is not to say that any of the organisations mentioned should be at loggerheads with the club or even be aloof from the work that goes on at Valley Parade but that the propensity to be at loggerheads should exist. Any community is stronger when it supports the ability to hold diverse opinion.

As we exit administration the club must learn the lessons of the last ten years when everything connected with it – be it away travel, supporters groups or publications – was taken in house. Bradford City football club tried to be at the centre of everything surrounding the supporter’s passion for football. The Richmond regime, as is common up and down the country, wanted to take your money to travel away from home, get your money from you for merchandise, get your lunch money off you with a café and to sign you up to various clubs all of which were operated from with VP. Once administration cut the will to do these things City fans like those who formed the Shipley Bantams took a look at what was left found that it was very little.

The new club, and one optimistically uses the phrase, needs to view supporter activities not as something to be privatised but rather as something which should be facilitated.

I hope that BfB that enriches the experience of being a Bradford City supporter in even a tenth of the way that our fellow publication The City Gent has done and continues to do so for over twenty years. I’m sure that the Shipley Bantams do for it’s members and I know that the Trust did in the summer and can do again. All these things make a stronger club but do so outside of the business that is Bradford City.

Previously Bradford City Limited has been at the top of a family tree – the grandfather – and everything which is established for City fans has been subservient to it. Grab a piece of scrap paper and draw a box with the words Bradford City in it and you could add the children of that box – the away travel and supporters clubs of the Richmond years – underneath it. Perhaps under those children there are grandchildren smaller subgroups but always Bradford City are at the top.

Next piece of paper.

Bradford City in the middle but The Shipley Bantams, BfB, City Gent, BCST, Bantams Past et al are not children of the club but surround it like planets circling the Sun reliant on the centre for focus and life – not much point in having a Shipley Bantams without a Bantams – but able to go about it’s day to day, month to month, year to year business with contact from the centre.

Now imagine not five or six or seven planets put twenty or thirty or sixty or seventy all giving every Bradford City supporter an outlet for whatever he or she has passions for. Naturally the mind turns to things connected to the game but it need not stop there. Bradford City is the heart of our community. Should it opt to be a facilitator of community rather than trying to be a provider then who is to say what resourceful City fans will dream up?

With the support of the club to give the oxygen of advertisement in programmes and on scoreboards then attempts to set up the kind of groups which make a richer Bradford City supporting experience will be enhanced. Today it’s website and magazines but tomorrow it could be five-a-side teams, it could be swimmers in our colour, it could even be the Bradford City knitting circle. As long as it is strengthening community bonds and enriching the supporting experience for fans then it is constructive. It might not add to the bottom line in the way that putting a pound on the cost of coaches did for the club’s away travel did but it will pay off in the longer term when the club becomes more than just a Saturday afternoon to more people.

The club has a chance to change – to forge a new path away from the failing business model of trying to get as much cash out of an ever decreasing band of supporters – into the Sun at the centre of a system of supporter communities which will keep interest in the Bantams buzzing long after the final whistle on a Saturday afternoon.