Issue City pay the wages late while battling for a rent reduction – two issues that should not be linked

As told by Jason Mckeown

As the negotiations over a Valley Parade rent reduction go quiet for the time being, this morning the Telegraph & Argus has reported on another financial problem that will strike fear into the heart of every Bradford City supporter. Mark Lawn has revealed the players received their wages late this month, because according to the Joint-Chairman: “money’s tight and we’ve told them that”.

Simon Parker of the T&A presumably asked Lawn further questions on this matter, but no further information has appeared (either online or in today’s printed edition of the T&A); so, as supporters, we are left with a number of questions. How late were the wages paid? Why were the wages delayed? How bad is the financial situation at the club? And how on earth has this being allowed to happen?

First though a note of sympathy for the players. In recent weeks they’ve been heavily criticised and at times deservedly so; yet if they’ve been asked to put their bodies on the line to fight for a club unable to pay them – at least on time – one can understand how uncertainty and fear might have effected their performances. Let us not inflict upon our players the stereotypical ‘overpaid prima donna’ tag – many will be on wages comparable to you and I. Were we to receive our own wages late, we would struggle with the bills and feel let down by our employees. Bradford City League Two footballers have the right to feel the same way.

In the end though they have been paid, and so attention is firmly back onto the financial strength of the football club and its ability to meet its future obligations. BfB has already reported on how the club’s Abbreviated Accounts paint a gloomy picture, and so we should not be dubious over Lawn’s claims the club cannot survive another two years under the current status quo. But still, that does not explain how City can be struggling to pay their players now.

Surely the club budgeted sensibly and accurately last summer, when handed then-manager Peter Taylor a sizeable playing budget to build a team with? Therefore how can they be so short of money before the end of the season? True, attendances have been below expectations this season, and the club has so far not put season tickets back on sale for next year. In addition, Taylor will probably have received some form of contract settlement when he departed in February – Lawn has previously admitted the club was paying Taylor well – while interim manager Peter Jackson presumably isn’t doing the job for free. Colin Cooper has also been hired to assist Jackson, while previous coaches Wayne Jacobs and Junior Lewis were placed on paid gardening leave.

We can argue about the rights and wrongs of the management and coaching staff situation, but of the above financial issues only low attendances have been beyond the Board’s control. Is around 1,000 less fans turning up every fortnight the difference between players receiving their wages? Let’s imagine this season had gone to plan and City were in Wycombe’s position now – would the club have been able to pay wages on time?

And beyond questioning the logic of awarding Taylor a playing budget the club now appears unable to have afforded, let’s not forget Taylor was allowed to go over this budget too. Lewis Hunt’s arrival pre-season put City over budget, though Scott Neilson did depart to Crawley for a transfer fee shortly after. Taylor was then allowed to bring in Lee Hendrie on wages that, come January, the Board had to tell the manager they could no longer afford. And what about those young defenders signed on loan while first team players such as Zesh Rehman, Luke O’Brien and Robbie Threlfall sat on the bench?

The Board has no right to interfere with on the field issues; but if Taylor was asking for yet more money to bring in players on loan, they were surely entitled to challenge him back over why well-paid first teamers were being overlooked, especially if money was tight.

Lawn has probably disclosed this revelation about players being paid late to tie it with the pressure he is putting on the Valley Parade landlords to agree a rent reduction, but it’s highly questionable whether the two are linked. The club may not be able to afford to play on at Valley Parade under the current terms for much longer, but spending relatively huge sums of money last summer and now struggling to pay the bills is an entirely different situation – one which the Board must shoulder responsibility for.

City knew the terms of the rent before the season started; and, as much as we can all agree how unfair it is we are forced to pay such large sums of money to people whose ethical validity for owning Valley Parade is highly questionable, it doesn’t excuse apparently poor budget planning elsewhere. The implication of linking the two – whether Lawn meant to or not – is regrettable and one has to wonder what the two landlords make of the club’s requests for rent reductions while it has seemingly spent money it cannot afford on other things. It’s a bit like pleading with the gasman that you can’t afford to pay your quarterly bill, because you’ve spent it on a brand new state-of-the-art TV.

It is not Gordon Gibb’s fault the players got paid their wages late this month. Lawn will know that too and perhaps only intended to disclose this information to soften us supporters up to a move away from Valley Parade. Yet by taking this route he has left the Board open to criticism and doubts over its ability to be sensible and prudent.

Clearly these are very worrying times for this football club, and what it will look like and where it will be playing when next season kicks off on August 6 is a question no one can answer. But while we can’t change the past, it’s time for everyone to radically think about the type of football club we want and the type of football club we can afford.

The club hired Taylor on a one-year contract because that’s all they could budget for, yet allowed him to sign players on two-year deals and on sizeable wages. The expectation is that we have to be promoted each season, so too much resources are placed towards this while neglecting other important factors or adequately considering the consequences of failing to achieve it. The club’s strategy is entirely the prerogative of the manager, who is always under pressure and fear of the sack after a couple of games are lost.

And now it leaves us fearing for the club’s very survival, again. In his first ever interview when investing into the club, back in 2007, Lawn quickly pointed out he wasn’t another Geoffrey Richmond; yet recent statements and actions leave us Bradford City supporters fearing how true that proclamation will actually turn out to be.