Issue From stability to here to where?

As told by Michael Wood

Mark Lawn, January 2009:

Bradford City have had enough turmoil and non-stability at this club.

Thirteen months ago Mark Lawn had decided that Bradford City have “had enough of turmoil and non-stability” and gave Stuart McCall a new contract to manage Bradford City until June 2012. Now Bradford City go into the latter half a season with a manager who no one is sure will be around in June 2010. How did City go from the one position to the other?

In February 2010 Lawn confirmed that City’s replacement for McCall is not viewed as a long term appointment saying

The three-month spell gives us the chance to look at each other so it’s good for both parties. If Peter proves himself, I’m sure we will be talking about a longer-term contract. But it does mean we can look at others.

The former comment endorses the idea of a manager as the keystone of a stable football club, the second suggests that this view is no longer holding sway at Valley Parade in either that the manager does not offer stability or that stability in itself is worthless. How have the club gone from believing stability is the way forward to abandoning it as a policy altogether?

There is a theme of commentary – or perhaps just dissent, the two merged sometime ago – which has it that City have had stability over the previous few years with Stuart McCall and Colin Todd both enjoying around 135 games in charge of the Bantams – but I would suggest that around two and a half years as a manager is nothing of the sort.

It is the start of stability, the point in which stability begins. Where you make it known to all that you do not believe a manager’s position is mutable with the form of the club. Where players begin to get confidence that the man they sign a contract to play for will be at the club when it comes to an end. When supporters get to feel that the player name their child gets on the back of their shirt for their birthday will not have left the club by Christmas.

Stability is one way of running a club but not the only way, and one could argue – with limited success in my opinion – that it is not the best way. But most importantly it is the way that Bradford City were following a little over a year ago and have now abandoned.

Retaining institutional knowledge – that is the point of stability at a club – is something Peter Taylor seems to value more than his employers. Wayne Jacobs is retained as assistant manager and on his first day in Bradford the new City boss started talking about [para] “building something not over fifteen weeks but three years and fifteen weeks.”

Peter Taylor is a man much more worth listening to when it comes to questions of how to make a successful football club than City’s joint chairmen. He is talking about years, Lawn is talking about weeks.

The short term deal, Taylor’s talk of loan players, the interviewing candidates to replace Taylor in the summer, the idea of judging the new manager over the next fifteen weeks. City have moved a long way in a short space of time away from the one position and, if the Bantams are no longer following a plan of stability bringing success, what plan are we following?

What is the club’s plan to bring success and advancement to Bradford City? How will Peter Taylor be given the scope to achieve more than Stuart McCall and Colin Todd did?

There are many things which could augment the club that Taylor now manages. The club’s training facilities are notoriously poor and in bad weather the players have no full sized pitch to use; the club’s scouting needs attention (if not expansion, if a James Hanson can be plucked from the non-league of West Yorkshire why not see what pickings can be had on the other side of the Pennines?); the academy could be raised in standard to match those at Huddersfield and Leeds.

Then in a wider sense there is the problem with ground ownership – which costs £600k of the clubs budget – and the rental of equipment within Valley Parade which costs the same figure again. The issue of City’s 107-year-old home is oft talked about and Bradford Bulls chairman Peter Hood – a man with whom Lawn should take care in his dealings with for Hood is a canny and will eat he City chairman for breakfast – is holding a suspiciously open door to the idea of City moving to Odsal.

What are our plans for the future location of Bradford City? Stability says stay where you are, the three month appointment says why not say we will move into Odsal but tell Gordon Gibb we might return to Valley Parade should he make a better offer on the rent.

The price of tickets at Valley Parade and the free tickets given out to youngsters are about building a stable and constant tradition of support. Is that plan to follow the way of stability past? A policy of maximising transient support is more in keeping with the idea of short-term thinking. The club is shortly due to announce 2010/11 season ticket prices for those unable to afford to purchase one last December, potentially as soon as next week, so we may know more then.

More than these things – and already I can hear someone tapping the words “BfB blames the fans again” – the atmosphere at Valley Parade on a match day and around the club in general is bad to the point of being poisonous and, as Taylor picks for him number two a man who some have spent the best part of two years saying could not coach, is the new gaffer’s first choice at the club going to come under the same abuse as the last few have?

So many things could be done which would help the attitude around the club and thus help the manager from not being made to look stupid on Sky TV after we lambaste a kid who gets a ball full in the face for being “in the wrong area” to addressing the situation that Lawn believes has emerged around the club’s official message board.

Is there a plan to achieve any of these things which would mean that Peter Taylor had more resources at his disposal than Stuart McCall? That means that, aside from his innate abilities, Taylor has more to do to suggest he can achieve with City what many, many managers have failed to do.

In the space of a year, Lawn and Julian Rhodes have left behind the idea of stability and gone to one of fixed term appointments. Is this the new view of the club? Are we as fans to get no more connected to our managers than we do the people who run our phone companies or banks? Are we Peter Taylor’s Bradford Army, or is Taylor just an acting sergeant in someone else’s platoon?

All of which is not to say that the Bantams chairmen do not have a plan for taking the club forwards, nor is it inherently a criticism of the club for changing its mind on how it operates. Just that, having binned one plan, the appearance to supporters even on the broadest most meta level is that one set of ideas have been ditched in favour of a total opposite set.

The supporters of Bradford City are the people who pick up the pieces when the chairmen fail in the plans they have for our club – the last twenty five years have told us that much – so, as those supporters, is it not reasonable that we ask, after such an obviously and publicly move away from one position, we are told what the club stands for now?