Issue Mark Lawn and stopping thinking about promotion

As told by Michael Wood

Mark Lawn’s successes at Bradford City are limited.

Whatever one thinks of the man and his actions – not talking to his manager for nine months, threatening to wind the club up when three or four idiots vandalised his car, authorising spending £600,000 of money the club did not yet have for selling on a youngster Fabian Delph on players rather than facilities – it is hard to suggest that the vast majority of them have had the aim he desired.

That is because Lawn’s aims are two fold and firstly – and most obviously – it is promotion and three and a half years since he arrived the closest the Bantams have come to troubling League One seems to coincide with the moment when Lawn’s relations with his gaffer went sour. We all recall the hours and the times.

But I come not to bury Lawn but to praise him for his second aim – and the one which he is most tempted to drift away from – is perhaps more important than promotion. It is the financial stability of the club and the fact that in a game fuelled by Bradford City – on the whole – are in the black.

Season on season since Mark Lawn arrived Bradford City’s balance sheet has – more or less – shown the the club is not losing money and considering the significant and huge drain on the resources that the rent of Valley Parade from the Flamingo Land Pension Fund represents this is not to be underestimated. The club owe Lawn (and Julian Rhodes) a chunk of cash but that loan is (it is understood) offered at a rate that allowed the Bantams to stop paying debt maintainable and use those funds.

So when talk emerges that Bradford City are being looked at by investors as a potential purchase it comes as no surprise. A rare beast in football, a club that when they are purchased ostensibly at the price of paying back Lawn’s (estimated, correct me if I am wrong) £1m and whatever the club owe Rhodes then the business side is solvent from the first day of trading.

Lawn – apparently – is not short of offers for the club but most of them are more Peter Etherington than Geoffrey Richmond and the joint chairman sums up the situation saying “At present nobody can come along with the sort of investment that would make a difference.”

It would seem that Lawn is as stuck with his critics as his critics are with him and the frustrations of owing and working under the restrictions of ensuring solvency of the club show in his statements. He talks about supporters with wide eyes looking at other club’s spending saying “So unless somebody can find a magic money tree and give it a shake for us, (City’s ability to sign players in January is) not going to change.”

Lawn talks about waiting for the right man to take over rather than someone who would look to make a quick buck and he is right to talk in such a way but perhaps he is the right man.

One could talk about the business sense of the Bradford City board – The Santa Dave leaflet, please no – but the main problem seems to be a kind of cart before horse approach to that aim of promotion where everyone at the club is part of a mad scramble trying to get into the top three of League Two.

Promotion is set as the aim – Julian Rhodes talked about back to back movements up to The Championship – but with that contradicts the talk of solvency when teams like Notts County or Peterborough United are stealing the League Two title. Those clubs spend buckets of cash on the idea that they must ascend the leagues as soon as possible.

Those teams tough represent the exception and the rule in football is that things are won by the club with biggest club, rather than the biggest spenders. Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea and (perhaps this year) Manchester City have all opened the wallet and tried to buy the Premier League title but if those big spenders fail then Manchester United win it as a default setting. No mad scrambles at Old Trafford, just maintaining the pace.

So rather than setting promotion as an aim create some objectives, set some areas in which City are to improve. I make no apologies for talking again about facilities because the higher up football one gets the bigger and better they are but the correlation between facilities and league position is unignorable.

There are plenty of things which are done by others which should be – and sometimes are – replicated at Valley Parade. Peter Taylor’s insistence on overnight stays is a good example of this as his desire to have a better playing surface (although his desire to suit and boot the players contrasts to Arsenal’s leisure suited lads).

Innovation has its place but is is naive to disguise failure to compete on various levels as new thinking and using the established pattens which have brought the promotion that Lawn and City crave to clubs like Rochdale and AFC Bournemouth – making the setting up of those established pattens as the aims – could prove more fruitful.

When asked about where the club will be in five years the tendency at City is to list a division – famously and with some effectiveness in building belief Geoffrey Richmond said “The Premier League” – but if the answer were about an increased turnover, better facilities, and so forth then perhaps the horse would go before the cart.

Perhaps making Bradford City a bigger club, a club with more of the trappings of a successful club, will bring that success and there is no reason that Mark Lawn – with a sound financial head – is not able to stop talking about promotion or bust and start talking about how he is going to make City bigger and better by whatever increments he can and let osmosis take the Bantams up the leagues.

At the moment Lawn is a Dave Simpson of a chairman – a hand on the tiller and not someone one always agrees with but someone who has as many good limits as bad – but there is no reason why the current chairman should not change the priorities of the club towards stable improvement in increments rather than boom or bust thinking.