Parkin’s bid lacks the substance to earn supporters’ leverage

There was a plan to build a bridge from Midland Road over Canal Road, and across the Valley to link Valley Parade with the other side of the City.

The plan – which was talked of much but I confess I have no idea how seriously it was took being but eight at the time – was supposedly the brain child of then chairman Bob Martin and would fund the clubs rise from the foot of football. By bridging the valley Valley Parade would be fuller, so more people would mean more money and more money would lead to an improvement of the club.

Not long later and Bradford City had called in the official receiver – administration in old money – to be bought back and re-established by Stafford Heginbotham and Jack Tordoff. On the plan to build the viaduct across the Valley which Martin had said would bring in the missing people to Bradford City Heginbotham said only that the club had to be based in the real world and not in cloudcookooland.

Steve Parkin’s bid for Bradford City may – or may not – include a significant bridging project across the Valley that divides Bradford but probably does not. Despite talking to the Yorkshire Post about his bid for the club and for our egg chasing neighbours at Odsal the Bradford Bulls Parkin has done little to outline his plan for progressing both clubs.

His stated aim is to share facilities – a good idea for sure if one considers the costs of running two ticket offices and extrapolates – but such vision hardly requires a change of ownership to achieve. Parkin talks about being the man who can stop the Rugby club and Football club distrusting each other. Perhaps Martin’s bridge idea was realistic in comparison.

Moreover though Parkin has a plan for both clubs to share a single ground – the most cost effective one – which would be Valley Parade. A summer of trying to get out of the deal with Gordon Gibb to rent Valley Parade had proved that it is not cost effective to escape that deal contract leading one to conclude that Parkin has a plan to divest the Bulls of Odsal and move them to Manningham.

Parkin’s plans expand to creating a new stadium for both clubs to share but there is no indication as to when such a project would be undertaken. The ramifications of recession should make construction costs cheaper so a plan that includes waiting for an upturn to provide the funds for a new ground would seem flawed. Parkin is not oblivious to this suggesting that he could pick up another club for nothing which had an asset of a ground. He is not incorrect, after all Gordon Gibb did the same to City.

Parkin’s offer to Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes compensates them £750,000 each for the club and pays back Mark Lawn’s loan over 18 months with and extra £750,000 based on performances and such a deal would leave the current owners out of pocket. Lawn and the Rhodes’ family recently bought the business block next to Valley Parade and while different people will give different figures for how much the chairman have invested and how much the club is worth there is no onus on them to sell for a price they do find acceptable.

One might argue that the pair promised to leave the club if someone came along with an offer which did not leave them out of pocket but that has not occurred in this case with Parkin’s offer failing short of that mark. Lawn and Rhodes have another promise to balance – that they would only sell the club to someone who could improve Bradford City – and thus far there is nothing in Parkin’s bid that guarantees he would do that.

Were Parkin looking to invest Jack Walker money into the club then there would be a pressure for the current chairmen to exit but he does not. He talks of the same kind of effects which the current board are tying to achieve and there is very little reason to believe that he would enjoy the success that eludes Lawn and Rhodes.

Parkin wants the club and he wants it for a price that is not as attractive to the current owners but if he has a masterplan which makes him a better option – which suggests that Lawn and Rhodes are standing in the way of the club’s progress – then he has yet to reveal it. Recalling Bob Martin’s bridge plans one might worry that without sight of those plans, they could be anything.

Perhaps Parkin’s plan is summed up with his phrase “I want to invest as much money in the team as possible as that is the most important part of any football club.”

Mark Lawn says the exact same thing.

One can only hope that Parkin has to offer something other than simply being someone else to impress the supporters of Bradford City as he – ostensibly, and through the press – attempts to use them as a crowbar for leverage in his attempts to get the current owners to accept his offer.

Lawn and Rhodes deserve fair treatement from all as Parkin’s offer puts them under pressure

There are two huge considerations for joint Chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes when deciding on Steve Parkin’s offer to buy Bradford City – one of which people expect them to act in a certain way upon simply because they are City fans, the other of which demands greater attention in their capacity as supporters.

With Parkin having laid out his terms in a plain but somewhat biased way via the Yorkshire Post, Rhodes and Lawn have been backed into a corner with some directing their anger at the pair for rejecting an initial bid. The first of those considerations – whether to accept the offer on the table – is one easy for others to make, but few people in their shoes would be willing to write off so much money no matter how much claret and amber blood runs through their veins.

The offer to Lawn of repaying him his latest £1 million loan – overlooking the fact he has invested some £3 million in total since joining the Board in 2007 – plus pay the pair around £375,000 each would appear derisory. Quite how much Rhodes and his family have ploughed in over the years must be considerably more, and Julian disclosed to the club that the Board has collectively invested £5.5 million into the club.

Parkin has offered the Board the potential to receive further returns dependent on the club’s performance, the precise details of which have not been disclosed. But even taking this into consideration, Lawn, Rhodes and other Board members are being asked to sell the club for a fraction of the amount of money they have pumped into it. That doesn’t seem fair in anyone’s book, and one can understand Rhodes’ response in the Telegraph & Argus that they believe the club has been undervalued.

The popularity of Lawn and Rhodes waned badly in the wake of the Valley Parade rental negotiations, but whatever your view on the way they have operated the club it seems unfair to criticise them for rejecting an offer given how much money they would surely lose. Yes they are City fans, but they have family and their long-term future to consider. They have both put money into City when others have not – and in Rhodes’ case, saving the club from going out of existence. They have both already showed they are true City fans for these past actions, and so it seems unfair to criticise them for not simply stepping aside minus the wealth they have kindly shared with us.

If we were in their shoes, would we really be prepared to act any differently?

Beyond that though, the pair have a huge responsibility towards the second important consideration – the suitability of Parkin owning our football club. The club have stressed that they are yet to receive full details of Parkin’s plan, and if and when they do get to view it they can evaluate whether it really is in the club’s best interests to potentially join forces with Bradford Bulls.

On the face of it there are plenty of potential pitfalls. A few years, Huddersfield Town supporters complained loudly about the club being owned by the same people as Huddersfield Giants, with accusations the Rugby League outfit got favourable treatment and greater investment. Similar frustrations have been heard from Wycombe and their sharing with London Wasps.

The principle that both City and the Bulls would get equal treatment might sound fair, but is it viable in practice? Let’s say City are doing well but the Bulls are struggling, would money be directed towards the Rugby club to ensure they can improve – potentially slowing City’s progress? And what would the overall objective of the Bradford Sporting Club be? Right now, the two outfits are more competitors than colleagues.

A hole in Parkin’s proposals today came from Bulls chairman Peter Hood, who declared that they have had no contact from Parkin, despite the millionaire stating to the Yorkshire Post they are in favour of the Sporting Club proposal. Indeed the whole Yorkshire Post article was so focused on City and not the Bulls that one has to wonder just how serious Parkin’s Sporting Club intentions are. But also what happens if City accept Parkin’s offer but the Bulls reject, would the deal to buy City be put in jeopardy?

Then there’s the stadium situation. Parkin has talked of building a new stadium for both clubs – though whether this is at a new venue or rebuilding Valley Parade or Odsal is unclear. Parkin or Rhodes and Lawn in charge, the Gordon Gibb lease situation would be the same and City are tied to their home by a contract which to break could involve administration.

Do we want to move anyway? Parkin talks of the Bantams easily being able to become a Championship club again, and if that was to happen we would already have a perfectly suitable stadium to play in. What on earth is the point in building a completely new football stadium, aside from the lease problem? Surely it would cost a lot more money to buy land and build a new ground, than to purchase Valley Parade from Gibb?

Those are the main talking points so far, but the motives for Parkin purchasing City are also very unclear. With no previous connections to the club, Parkin will be looking to make money from his investment and that is understandable. But that isn’t necessarily the same motives and interests of us supporters. Would we see steep season ticket price rises, for example? No one looking to make money from football would see the current strategy as the best way forward to achieve this objective.

It is the responsibility of Lawn and Rhodes to fully evaluate the proposals Parkin puts forward, not simply for the terms of the sale – but the suitability of him as the owner of Bradford City. A comparison can be drawn with Liverpool and the farce over George Gillet and Tom Hicks owning the club, with how previous owner David Moores – a true Liverpool fan – sold up without undertaking the necessary due diligence over the suitability of the Americans. He was heavily criticised in hindsight, later responding via a letter to the Times about his actions.

If Parkin took over the club and it didn’t go well, for whatever reason, Rhodes and Lawn would share the responsibility too. They are the custodians of this 108-year-old club, and it’s their duty to pass it onto the right people in time. It would be foolish to sell it onto the first person flashing a wad of cash, just because they make big promises about spending money on new players. If Parkin is the best man to take the club forward, the pair have a duty to act accordingly – but first of all they need to take proper time to establish whether this is the case.

Two huge considerations – tough decisions that few of us would ultimately want to swap places with them for, no matter how easy it is for us to demand what Lawn and Rhodes should do next.

Steve Parkin looks to form Bradford Sporting Club

The Yorkshire Post has this morning revealed that millionaire Steve Parkin – Chief Executive of the company Clipper Group – is looking to buy both Bradford City and the Bradford Bulls to form a joint sporting club.

An initial offer has been rejected by the Bantams, but Julian Rhodes has disclosed that talks are ongoing. Parkin’s plan would eventually include building a new stadium for both clubs, though in the shorter-term both would share one venue – either Valley Parade or Odsal.

Parkin also told the Yorkshire Post:

Under the plans, the day-to-day running of both Bradford City and Bradford Bulls would be done by two hand-picked management teams. They would be run independently but both be divisions of Bradford Sporting Club.

“People have tried to do this in the past but because of the individuals concerned it has never got off the ground. It is almost as if neither side trusts the other sufficiently to believe their own club won’t lose out.

“I believe it would take someone like myself to make it happen.”

On buying City specifically Parkin added:

I was approached on behalf of Bradford City quite a while ago to see if I would be interested in investing. I was, basically, offered a third of the club. That is not how I work, I instead prefer to be in overall control.

“Despite that, I did have a couple of conversations and then looked at the books. I thought things were going swimmingly and a week last Friday I believed the deal would go ahead. But then Julian and Mark came back to say ‘no’.

“My offer to buy Bradford City involved me raising around £3m. As part of that, Mark would be paid back a £1m loan he has in the club over 18 months. I was also willing to pay £750,000 for the shares owned by Mark and Julian with a possible further £750,000 based on performance.

On the talks with Rhodes and Mark Lawn, Parkin disclosed:

I wanted to set up a capital structure, whereby existing shareholders would retain 25 per cent of the shares in the football division of Bradford Sporting Club but have no voting rights. Any dividends would then be paid if the club was making a profit. That way, they would be paid on a performance-related basis. The same would apply to the Bulls with existing shareholders having 25 per cent of the shares in the rugby league side.

“Unfortunately, Julian and Mark didn’t want that. They wanted it to be guaranteed. I can’t accept that. There is no point me raising £3m and handing over £2.5m for Bradford City, which is basically not worth a lot in the open market.

“I have looked at a few football clubs and there are a lot who can be picked up for nothing. And they have assets, such as owning their own ground. That is not the case with Valley Parade.

In response, Rhodes told the Yorkshire Post:

Discussions are ongoing and we appreciate Steve’s interest. His accountants were impressed with what they saw.“We will always do what is in the best interests of Bradford City and, in that respect, we are still waiting to see Steve’s business plan.”

All of which is fascinating stuff and the next steps will be very interesting. BfB has recently heard of interest from another investor too, so although Parkin’s proposals are worthy of consideration it may not be the best deal on the table.

Parkin, who tried to buy Leeds United in 2004, is currently on the Board of Guiseley AFC and earlier this year was in discussions with Wakefield Wildcats about purchasing the Rugby League club. Instant comparisons can be drawn with Geoffrey Richmond and Gordon Gibb in Parkin being a well-made businessman keen to make further money from investing in sporting clubs.

Whether City’s Board will welcome this public announcement is unlikely. It will surely increase the pressure on them to sell the club – and the terms that Parkin has revealed, which they have rejected, will led to fierce criticism from some. But while the lure of more transfer funds and even moving to a new stadium with lower costs is appealing to some, it’s important this offer is fully consdered and the longer-term interests of this football club stay in mind.

Is Parkin the best person to own our football club? Time will tell, but without the full facts ourselves we have to rely on Rhodes and Lawn to make the best judgement for all our best interests.

An ordinary Guy

On the surface at least, the arrival of Guy Branston to Valley Parade would go against Peter Jackson’s end-of-season aim to bring in players who truly care about Bradford City.

32-year-old Branston has played for 17 different clubs , and it’s difficult to avoid the term ‘journeyman’ when describing the distinctive-looking defender’s 400+ game career. It is exactly this profile of player – seemingly happy to play for any club and with no particular affection for the Bantams – that Jackson has talked of getting rid of. All of this is not a criticism of the manager or of this particular signing, but more a reflection of the realities that exist beyond nicely put sentiments.

As joint-Chairman Mark Lawn told the Telegraph & Argus in a somewhat duplicitous manner, City are not considered among the favourites for promotion next season – further pushing them down the pecking order when attempting to attract players. With finances also tighter than the previous season, the prospects of becoming wealthier would also appear lower at City compared to other clubs. Still a big club for sure, among the highest crowds in the division yes; but City are not necessarily so special when viewed externally through transfer targets’ eyes.

So as laudable as the principle of only bringing in players who are desperate to play for this club is, it’s not a strategy that will see the better available players appear on the Valley Parade pitch holding up a claret and amber scarf this summer. A big part of Jackson’s role is to sell the club to the players he wants, and to find common ground in the player and club’s ambition that can be realised by getting together. The signing of Ross Hannah is a good example of this. He had more attractive offers elsewhere, but the greater chance of first team football probably influenced his decision.

One wonders if the two-year contract Branston has received helped to sway him too. With his career almost over, the greater security a deal until 2013 offers is one few other clubs who might have been interested in his signature would have been prepared to offer. Despite talking up his Yorkshire background and desire to play for Jackson, uprooting from Torquay is a big deal and would undoubtedly been less appealing if there was a chance he’d be out of work a year from now.

Both the signings of Hannah and Branston represent an element of risk for different reasons. Hannah is unproven at this level, and the fact he will probably be looked upon as a key player next season could hinder the club’s efforts if he fails to make an impact. Just like a year ago with Peter Taylor, in Branston Jackson has signed a player on a longer contract than his own. As much as he complained about the squad he is stuck with from Taylor, it’s not hard to envisage a successor a year from now grumbling about Jackson’s players in a similar manner.

The reality of the situation – especially bearing in mind the tighter resources – is that Jackson will be like every other City manager in that some of his summer signings will be good and some will prove disappointing. The ratio of good to bad is likely to define how well the season goes, just as the summer recruitment efforts of Taylor last year proved.

So we welcome Branston to the club knowing that he is not some world-beater who will dramatically improve the club, but a lower league player with different strengths and weaknesses that we’ll get to know over the coming months. At some clubs, such as Torquay last season, he has done very well. At others, such as at his previous club Burton, he was less popular among supporters. His previous spell at Sheffield Wednesday will have provided him experience of dealing with the expectations of a big crowd, something which Lawn has identified as a key quality needed in players next season.

Such ordinariness though is a fact of City’s circumstances, and is not something to feel negative about. In recent years so many new signings have come with great expectations and failed to deliver that the idea of believing Branston is anything but a human being with some flaws seems foolish (yet in the past we’ve all been guilty of overlooking this fact in new arrivals). On paper he looks an ideal signing for a club looking to improve on its lowest league position for 40 years, and his imperfections have to be accepted and worked around because recruiting such a type of player is our place in English football.

An ordinary Guy, for an ordinary football club.

Recent Posts