Issue It’s our home

As told by Jason Mckeown

Whenever you start to believe that the financial problems which have blighted Bradford City during the last eight years are behind us, you remember about Valley Parade.

It was presented as good news when City’s stadium was bought by then-Chairman Gordon Gibb in the summer of 2003, because it got the pressure of a mortgage lender owed millions of pounds off our back. Sure, the owner’s pension fund held the ground’s deeds rather than the club, but no one was going to repossess and kick us out of it. We had a Chairman committed to a bright new future who was creating headlines by offering City’s then-squad a seven figure bonus if promotion to the Premiership could be achieved in the season ahead.

Not even six months later the new dawn had given away to dark clouds. Gibb left and a mud-slinging battle with the Rhodes’ ensued which threatened to spell the end of a club which was supposed to be celebrating its centenary. In July 2004 it looked like it really was over, but an 11th hour peace-deal was eventually brokered between the man who held the keys to the stadium and the family who held the keys to the club’s future. City carried on, but with hefty rent payments to meet from their no-longer friendly landlord.

When Mark Lawn was quizzed about the stadium ownership at the fans forum last year he spoke of attempts to buy back the stadium been met with an uninterested response from Gibb, who was apparently enjoying the money. Reports today suggest Gibb never received a formal approach. For sure there seems to be no threat of Gibb evicting City to build luxury flats in the near future, the credit crunch if nothing else has seen to that. But like for many people renting is not ideal, sees much-needed money sucked down a black hole and there persists a feeling that your home is never truly your own. I doubt City are allowed to redecorate, or keep pets.

Reports are circulating today that City are considering moving to play at Odsal when it is redeveloped. When should really be if because for years we’ve heard fanciful talk of a super stadium springing up on Odsal top and it seems no closer than ever. Maybe this time it’s different, maybe one day pigs really will learn to fly.

Who knows how true the reports of City’s interest really are, but they are certain to worry Gibb. Valley Parade is in far from the most beautiful of locations and there is no sporting team who’d be willing to move in and pay equivalent rent payments. The credit crunch makes it a foolish time to plan building flats on the site instead and, even when the economy returns to normal, who’s going to buy a high-rise pad overlooking the sex shops of Manningham Lane?

Perhaps that’s the point of these stories, a whiff that the Bradford City gravy train might be departing up the road surely weakens Gibb’s position at the bargaining table. Maybe City just want to force him into negotiation over rent payments or ownership.

As for the prospect of moving away from Valley Parade, it’s clearly an emotive subject for all fans. Personally I’d scream no, but if the rent payments from staying are so significant they can seriously hamper future progress then sacrificing tradition must at least be considered. I hate seeing these pop-up grounds like at Doncaster which have no character, and if that’s what a ‘community stadium’ in Bradford might look like then the pleasure of going to watch my team will be less.

But for me the efforts which have been undertaken during the last couple of years must continue. The Bradford City Supporters Trust has done much to lobby the Council to be more even-handed in its support of the district’s two largest professional clubs and it must continue. Sure I’m biased when I believe the Council should help more, but I don’t think tax-payers’ should subsidise what is ultimately a business – just for some equality with Bradford Bulls.

The credit crunch means less bank managers are going to be prepared to loan Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes the money to make Gibb an offer, but is a solution to suit both parties possible? Can’t the deal be restructured, for example, so that City’s rent payments become repayments and eventually Gibb receives back what he originally paid, plus interest, and we take back what belongs to us.

Maybe that’s naive, but at the very least good relations with Gibb must be built. There is probably still anger there between the Gibb and Rhodes families – but this isn’t just about boardrooms, it’s about 12,000+ people who watch Bradford City play every other fortnight from whom Valley Parade is home. We’ve been coming to our gaff for years and we even redecorated it before Gibb came along. It’s a place we expect to keep coming to for a long time, and then for our children to bring their children to.

Moving to Odsal might seem a tempting option, but let’s not give up on our home just yet.