Issue More on the Valley Parade office block purchase: a deal seemingly based on logic, a blueprint for the future?

As told by Jason Mckeown

Left with such little public information about how the Valley Parade rental negotiations were progressing over recent weeks, rumour and debate has been allowed to fill the void. It therefore became easy, as a general silence emanated from the Boardroom save for the occasional thunderous comment from Mark Lawn, to look upon the situation as boiling down to personalities: Julian Rhodes v Gordon Gibb – who is right? Yet rather than it being a case of who wins the moral argument, the major breakthrough in this saga could ultimately not be have been more ordinary.

A simple, run-of-the-mill property deal, between the football club and the one of the two landlords who, for the most part, have been largely ignored over the previous weeks. How big a role the personal grudges that surround Gibb have ever played in, or will factor into, the ongoing talks between City and his family Pension Fund is highly questionable. But Prupim – owners of the offices which have now been acquired by City – have neither been painted as good nor bad throughout.

They were the dispassionate business people, receptive to cries for help but with their own, very different priorities. That, in contrast, the negotiations between City and Gibb have occasionally been painted as playground fights may be wholly unfair. Ultimately the same calculated approach from Prupim that has led to this important deal for City will no doubt be echoed by the decisions the Gibb family Pension Fund make.

This time, it may not actually be personal.

The outcome of those Gibb negotiations – clearly still vital for the club’s future – are for another day, but the fact the Prupim deal allows City to remain at Valley Parade will probably be looked back upon as the most significant step of the whole process. The threat of moving away beyond next season is still there for now, but the office block deal has strengthened the club’s ties with its century-old home. Not since the possibility of moving to a revamped Odsal was first aired in February 2009 has City’s long-term future at Valley Parade appeared so secure.

As the inks dries on the Prupim deal, it should not be quickly forgotten that – yet again – the Bantams have had to rely on their owners digging deep to preserve the club’s future. Ever since the first spell in administration back in 2002, City’s income levels have not been self-sufficient enough to run itself. From tredding water under the Rhodes family into and out of League One, to Lawn’s £3 million loaned to the club since taking joint control in 2007, Bradford City has not been able to stand upon its own two feet and, going forward, this has got to change.

We are yet again grateful to the Rhodeses, Lawn and – on this occasion – David Baldwin for putting their hands in their pockets to prop up the club. Criticism towards the Board has been fierce in recent weeks, and despite this deal is unlikely to fully subside; but the bottom line is that, without them, we would not have a club to support, and this latest move shows that continues to be the case. There is credible talk of interested investors taking over this summer, if some of the overheads can be reduced, but such speculation has been rife before. The Board can’t plan for what ifs and maybes.

What’s unclear about the latest deal is the terms of repayment to the Rhodes family, Lawn and Baldwin. But undoubtedly they have put their neck on the line and deserve to be compensated in time. It would have been easier for them to break the lease and push City towards administration – even walking away and lining up as creditors – because as a football club that might have been the only realistic option looking solely at its balance sheets.

Whatever mud people continue to sling at them, Rhodes and Lawn are clearly Bradford City supporters who share our best interests. Success on the field may be lacking under their control so far, but our ongoing existence – and ongoing existence at Valley Parade – are not achievements to be sniffed at.

That said, the news that ownership of the club has been transferred to the newly-formed BC Bantams Limited throws up some question marks that it would be good to see addressed by the Board. It’s not that we should be necessarily suspicious – after all, tying up the office blocks and club ownership into one company means we’re unlikely to see a repeat of the Gibb Valley Parade deal which has caused so many problems – but understanding the thinking behind the new company would be welcomed.

Where this all leaves the remaining negotiations with Gibb’s Pension Fund is unclear. On the surface you could argue this places Gibb in a stronger position, given the club had seemingly presented him with a ‘reduce rent or we’ll clear off’ ultimatum and now gone back on it. The fact that the club are now more able to pay the rent offers the Pension Fund trustees less incentive to reduce their investment return. But on City’s side, at least there is more time to strike a mutually favourable agreement in the long-term.

In the meantime next season promises to be interesting. City spent a lot of money bidding for promotion this season just gone, and they failed miserably. Much of the budget was supplied by Lawn loaning money to the club, and he has gone on record to say this investment won’t be repeated. So the question is whether City will spend the surplus savings from the Prupim deal on a sizeable playing budget in a push for promotion, and how this might be perceived by the Pension Fund.

Say, for example, City sign Clayton Donaldson – which would involve beating off plenty of interest from other clubs – it would hardly look a cheap signing. Parading him around Valley Parade and then complaining they’re struggling to pay the rent on the roof over our heads would appear a contradiction unlikely to be viewed sympathetically.

Unless the knight in shining armour that is an investor really has appeared over the horizon, City badly need to be operated within its means next season. A competitive playing budget is still essential, and the inevitable cuts compared to last season will be of concern given City only just avoided relegation. But we can no longer operate in a promotion or bust manner, and Lawn’s revelation today that, without this deal, players’ wages would have not been paid this month illustrates how troubling the overall picture remains.

Everything, it seems, needs to start again from the basics. The team’s underperformance last season has prompted as big a clear out as contracts will allow, and so next season’s principle aim must be to improve on the last rather than be judged solely on whether we fall short of the play offs. The manager – Peter Jackson or otherwise – needs time to build the squad without fear of the sack following successive defeats. Off the field the club must start making a profit each year, rather than having losses covered by the joint chairmen’s pockets or the occasional youth player sale and add on.

From the outside, the Prupim deal was one conducted without the usual heavy emotion that Bradford City matters usually trigger. It was done in a calm manner based on sound logic, with an eye not just on the moment but of the future. Let’s try and make it the kind of sensible thinking that everything connected with the club is built upon.