Issue The price is right

As told by Jason Mckeown

Mark Lawn should be more careful about his publicity stunts. As City’s new joint-owner cooked up a tasty fare of barbecue food to people queuing up for season tickets on Sunday, he might be finding his special talents are needed again in a fortnight. Given the impressive uptake of City’s bargain bucket season tickets, far beyond expectations, you wonder if City will be able to cope with the higher than expected crowds this season. Hey Mark the half time queues for food are huge, your cookery skills are needed on the Kop concourse…

The season ticket offer ends on Tuesday and, six months after the idea was originally announced, Lawn’s new sidekick should be feeling especially pleased with himself. When Julian Rhodes launched the scheme last February, he was greeted with a degree of indifference and an apparent reality of how much the district of Bradford was bothered about having a football team.

City are leading the way with making football affordable to everyone and, if our biggest crowds for years are celebrating promotion come May, it will surely become an initiative copied elsewhere.

People were asked to ‘pledge’ to buy a ticket and the numbers who did so were not enough. Given City failed to win a single home match and their feeble attempt to avoid relegation during this period, it’s perhaps to be expected the T&A post bag wasn’t exactly bulging. Nevertheless, the lack of response to the cheapest season tickets in English professional football felt both demoralising and embarrassing.

So what’s changed? Why are we now about to kick off the new season with just under 12,000 season ticket holders? A third relegation in six years occurred, yet the optimism among supporters for the season ahead is probably the highest it has been since promotion to the Premiership. It appears that the summer arrivals account for the late surge of interest in watching City’s first bottom division campaign in two decades.

Yet Mark Lawn’s investment in the club, while crucial and welcomed by every City supporter, would surely not be of enough significance to suddenly make lapsed supporters return. It’s the arrival of one of City’s sporting icons who must surely take credit for that.

It’s worth noting just how powerful the Stuart McCall factor is. Cheap season tickets or not, it appears several thousands are returning to watch Bradford City on the strength of his appointment. This shows the depth of feeling people have for our ginger hero. Stuart has been at the forefront of some of City’s more recent prominent moments, both happy and tragic. He has proved himself to be the ultimate hero and one that, crucially, is easy for everyone to identify with. He is loved by so many, including those who gave up watching City years ago.

After the previously poor response to the season ticket offer, few would have blamed Rhodes if he had abandoned the initiative last spring. He kept going, partly helped by behind the scenes support from Lawn. His long term aim was to get Stuart in, although this also looked unlikely for a time. With the offer not going well, Stuart remaining tight-lipped about his future and City heading for relegation; many supporters decided to vocally criticise our owner and the ‘get rid of’ brigade began calling for him to step down. Rhodes even briefly contemplated giving those people what they wanted, but thankfully decided to stay on.

His plan might not have looked successful for a time and his determination to wait for Stuart clearly cost City their League One status last term, but luck changed and the snowball effect of good news stories continues at a fast pace. Now Rhodes can hopefully sit back as the season kicks off with his efforts paying off. It won’t happen but, after Stuart gets his great reception from fans as he walks to the dugout against Macclesfield, it would be wonderful if a chant of ‘there’s only one Julian Rhodes’ rang out from all three home stands.

The season ticket offer is wonderful. I’ve written a few bfb articles calling for reduced ticket prices in the past. As someone who hasn’t been financially well off for a couple of years, I was acutely aware how expensive it was to watch City and I’ve had to miss some matches before finally been able to afford a season ticket again last season. I think it’s wonderful that, as ticket prices continue to rise nationally and the Premiership becomes more and more removed from reality, my club has taken this fantastic lead in making the game more affordable for ordinary folk.

Bradford City have been criticised in the past for not doing enough in the community, but this move is a significant step towards integrating the club as an important part of local people’s lives. Now around 11,500 of us will be visiting Valley Parade every fortnight and the new season promises to be exciting, carrying with it the promise of a promotion push.

It won’t be easy, Stuart doesn’t have a huge transfer budget and undoubtedly not all of his summer signings will prove successful. The loan system is being heavily utilised and some fans are already needlessly panicking because City have lost a couple of friendlies. The new investment from Lawn gives City a chance to push forward, but it doesn’t mean City have bucket loads of cash to spend. The problems of recent years are probably best illustrated by the return of Paul Heckingbottom on loan. It’s three years since he departed; yet he still remains the last left back City signed on a permanent basis.

Promotion this season would make for a wonderfully happy story; not just to a club that has forgotten what success is like, but for football fans everywhere. City are leading the way with making football affordable to everyone and, if our biggest crowds for years are celebrating promotion come May, it will surely become an initiative copied elsewhere.

If the fairytale ending of promotion does occur, Rhodes can be even prouder than he must feel right now. As fans criticised him last spring, many seemingly dismissed the fact he and his family had twice saved the club as a minor irrelevance. While this is ludicrous and sadly typical of some of our fans, Rhodes’ vision could be about to create a legacy no one could shrug off. It’s unfortunate that history will so far record Rhodes tenure as a time linked with failure and financial strife. With his wonderful offer, new investment on board and a City legend as manager; Rhodes’ plan is coming together and it’s to be hoped all of this hardwork will pay off.

If anyone deserves to succeed with City, it is surely Rhodes. Hopefully this season he can sit back and enjoy some success. It’s sure to taste even better than a Mark Lawn burger.