7.15am on Thursday 29 September. The reception of the Cedar Court Hotel – just at the end of the M606 at the top of Bradford – is quiet and largely deserted, with a small smattering of smartly dressed guests peacefully reading newspapers or checking emails on their lap tops.
The tranquillity is interrupted by the booming voice of Archie Christie, Bradford City Football Club’s Chief Scout and Head of Football Development, as he enters the reception and welcomes BfB’s Michael Wood and Jason McKeown.
Christie shakes our hands warmly and hands us each a towel, before walking to a side door and bellowing “follow me.” We have no idea where we are going or what we’re doing; only that Archie told us we had to wear shorts today.
“It’s a deal-breaker.”
How did we get here?
With the season starting slowly for the Bantams and the fallout over Peter Jackson’s sudden walkout still fresh, summer arrival Christie has become the subject of much criticism from a small but vocal section of City supporters.
It was rumoured he wouldn’t let Jackson manage the club; it has been argued the summer signings who have not yet set the world alight are down to his poor judgement; even Christie’s role at Dagenham has been questioned in terms of how much value he actually brought to the Essex club. Throw in complaints that money is being wasted on the Development Squad when it should be channelled to the first team, and Christie it seems is an unwelcome outsider.
Christie appears to have very broad shoulders, but the criticism has clearly hurt a little. Early attempts to engage with fans by writing a blog were abandoned due to some fans emailing to say they didn’t care about his opinions. Some message board grumblings have seemingly been relayed back to him. Worst of all, two supporters managed to get hold of his mobile number and left some rather disturbing voicemails, demanding the Scotsman leaves the club.
So having become a reader of BfB, Archie contacted us out of the blue with an invitation to spend a day shadowing him as he goes about his job, so we can see and report on what he does for Bradford City. It is his way, we feel, of setting the record straight about how he operates – and the potential value it brings.
Many aspects of what we were to see on the day have to be confidential, though over the coming weeks BfB may be in a position to report on some of them. That said, Christie was true to his initial promise in that we were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime ‘access all areas’ type of day.
There was so much we took from the seven hours we spent with him; so we’re going to run a three-part special of what we experienced (parts two and three will follow Monday and Tuesday).
Along the way we interviewed Development Squad players, Peter Horne, Phil Parkinson, an agent and his head scout – their views will appear over this series. We were able to witness up close the first team players in action, meet the staff who work under Archie back at Valley Parade, and receive a friendly hello from Julian Rhodes. We got a fantastic appreciation of the hard work that is taking place behind the scenes – unseen normally by us regular supporters.
Although none of this would have been possible if we’d forgotten to turn up with our shorts.
Making an early splash
As it was the shorts were needed for joining him for a morning swim at the Hotel’s facilities, which he stays at regularly during the week. So we got changed and jumped into the indoor pool – with water colder than it looked – in order to embark on a few laps with him.
Appearances can be deceptive. This is no life of leisure for Christie – while we showed up bleary-eyed at being out and about so early, he’s been awake since 5.30am having telephone meetings with important people at two different Premier League clubs (one of which was a manager). This is therefore a well-earned mid-morning break, before Christie gets back to his phone that seems to ring twenty times per hour.
As we relax in the pool, football is naturally the main topic of conversation. Carlos Tevez is still in the news after refusing to play for Man City in midweek, and Christie is scathing in his views of the £200k per week striker.
Closer to home, he’s understandably feeling excited at having just secured a pre-season friendly tournament at Valley Parade next summer that will include Glasgow Rangers and Tottenham. The fourth club for this line up is not 100% confirmed yet, so Archie asked us not to disclose it to you – but if it comes off, it is a name that will overshadow the other two in interest it would prompt. Don’t bother booking a holiday for next July just yet.
Christie is full of enthusiasm for the Development Squad players he has signed. With great feeling he describes taking his Development Squad and eight youth team players to fulfil the reserves’ opening fixture at Rotherham – where others told him he was mad and that the team would be heavily thrashed by a strong Millers’ team – and they won 2-1.
After the previously injury-plagued Terry Dixon came off the bench for his first game in two years and scored the winner, Christie declared it was “the proudest moment of my career”. This from someone highly regarded within The Game for his achievements (he turned down scouting positions at Premier League clubs this summer to come here, has an impressive array of contacts and even once sat in the dugout with a country’s coaching staff at a World Cup Finals match).
In addition we talked about some of the criticism he’s been getting and about those shocking voicemails (we won’t repeat the language the ‘fans’ used here). He seems surprised to have received such a hostile welcome to Bradford, but is undeterred by it. It seems a natural time to bring up Peter Jackson and any role that he may have had in the former manager’s sudden departure. Archie talks of how much he respects Jackson as a person, and re-affirms it was a matter of resignation. Maybe one day Peter Jackson’s reasons for quitting will be made public, but that is down to Peter Jackson.
Archie is excited about the four year plan he is implementing, that is aimed at City returning to the Championship. He talked of how much passion he has for the club, how much sorrow he felt about the Valley Parade fire – looking in from the outside – and his despair about the last seven years of under-performance in the bottom two divisions. We’ll come back to this and more later on; when we we’re in a position to record his views.
A successful businessman in a position to retire at 40 – thus moving into football – Christie is not here for the money. He only receives expenses for the work he undertakes, and his only objective is to reignite a football club which has become directionless and desperate.
Fresh fruit and beans on toast
By the time we’re changed again, Development Squad players Andrew Burns and Scott Brown have arrived at the hotel for breakfast. Terry Dixon joins us soon after, while first team players such as Liam Moore, Kyel Reid and new signing Adam Reed mill about.
The Development Squad has been one of the major talking points among City supporters since it was introduced during the summer. So we had asked Christie if we could meet some of these players, to learn more about how they are finding the experience of joining the club. All three players are polite and softly-spoken. Perhaps curious as to what we are doing here, but certainly unfazed. Brown (still only 16) and Burns (18) are living in one of the Chairman’s houses (the Chairman not there), while Dixon (21) has been ordered by Christie to live with him at all times, so he can monitor the youngster’s battle to regain fitness.
“I’ve had a few injuries – dislocating my knee twice and having cartilage problems from the age of 14,” explained former Tottenham and West Ham striker Dixon when we asked him how he joined the club. “I’ve fully recovered from that now, it doesn’t swell up anymore. My agent got in touch with Archie and he said come down and see how you go. It’s going alright at the moment.”
For Brown, who signed from Scottish club Clyde, moving to City was a fulfilment of a dream. He said, “I’ve always wanted to play in England. I think it suits my game more. So when Archie came in for me I was never going to say no. I didn’t know what it was going to be, whether I would be joining the first team or the Development Squad. Turns out it was for the Development Squad, although I’m training with the first team now.”
Burns’ route to Valley Parade seems the most ordinary of the three, having been released by Bolton during the summer he was given a second chance by Christie. “I hadn’t been any where else previously after leaving Bolton, though I had a couple of trials set up,” he revealed. “But after speaking to Archie, then once I had been here a few days, I knew it was a good place to be.
“A lot of people have said to me, dropping down from Premiership to League Two, there must be poor facilities and everything. But for a League Two club it’s brilliant here. It’s a club in the wrong league, definitely. Hopefully it will start turning soon and we will get up there where we should be.”
With numerous players having been signed by Phil Parkinson since he joined a month ago, it would appear that the first team chances for the trio are limited. Yet in actual fact Christie is expecting them to make their debuts this season – an aim that Parkinson reaffirms later. With Dixon it’s a question of getting fully fit and he is currently on loan at Halifax, but soon he should be pushing for a starting place; while Brown almost made his debut against Wimbledon recently.
“Scott was four minutes away from starting on Saturday,” revealed Archie. “Flynn was struggling so Scott was starting.” In Christie’s view, Burns is about six months away from the first team and two years away from being the club captain. “Don’t be fooled by Andrew’s baby-face,” he chuckles. “In the Development Squad he’s my captain and he’s a proper captain. He’s big in the middle, he’ll be saying to others to keep going.”
On his potential debut at just 16, Brown seemed unfazed. “It would have been brilliant, but these things (Flynn’s recovery from injury) happen so you just need to get on with it, keep working hard, training hard and pushing for a place in the first team.”
“At Bolton I didn’t really feel like I was going to get that first team chance,” admitted Burns. “Here training with the first team and impressing the manager, you feel like you have a chance. Obviously Archie says I may not be ready just yet, for another couple of months.”
Dixon added, “Archie told me to be a part of the Development Squad for a couple of months to get my fitness and then push on for the first team. (Being at Halifax on loan) has been alright to be fair. Good set of lads there. Nice pitch as well. I’m getting game time and I haven’t had games in a while.”
We were curious at to the role Christie played with the management of the Development Squad. Did he take the training? “Never. never ever, ever. I only do contracts, development, strategy. Never take training. I have nothing to do with technical aspects whatsoever. That’s what I hire coaches for. Wayne Allison is the current Development Squad coach.
“I help the Development Squad by offering advice on all sorts. If they want to get a mortgage, if they want to get a car, if they want to get a driving licence – that’s what I’m here for.”
Yet talking to the three players alone as Christie ducks out to take yet another phone call, it’s clear they hold him in much higher regard than his own modest claims. Christie regularly drops round to the house Brown and Burns share to check “they’re not getting into mischief”, while he asks all three about their families as we scoffed down breakfast – all three taking the healthy options.
“If we’ve got a problem on the training pitch we go to our coaches, if it’s anything else we go to Archie,” explained Brown. Have you had an Archie figure in your careers before? Neither Scott nor Andrew had, and all three agreed that they viewed him as a surrogate dad. “Any problems you go to him and he’ll sort it for you,” added Andrew.
Terry laughed, “He’s completely mad!”
Aside from Archie, it was clear that the players also receive strong support from Parkinson, Steve Parkin and senior players; with Michael Flynn praised by Brown in particular. On his first game for City at Silsden in July, “It was a great experience, especially playing alongside Flynn. He has a lot of experience and he helped me out a lot during that game.”
As the players say their goodbyes and head off for training, we can’t help but feel impressed by their quiet but strong determination to build successful careers at this club. It seems all three are closer to the first team than we supporters might expect, and are excited rather than apprehensive at that prospect.
The young(er) ones
As the players depart Peter Horne arrives to kindly have a chat with us; more tea and coffee is poured.
Promoted by Christie to Head of Youth Development during the summer, Horne has almost become a permanent fixture behind the scenes – how many other Bradford City employees, if any, have been here since 1998, when he joined? “I’m a Bradford lad. Born in Bradford, lived in Bradford all my life,” he explains when we ask him about his ongoing loyalty. He’s turned down opportunities elsewhere in the past, but has probably never been considered more vital by the club than he is now.
Christie, who made a point of praising Horne when he joined, explained: “It was the first thing I did when I started, sign Peter on a four year deal. When I met the Chairmen I said ‘we need to sign Peter on a long-term deal’ I’d not even met Peter at that point, but I knew from his track record that we needed to sign him on a longer deal. I said ‘find him, get him in front of me and let’s get it done’.
“Players aren’t the most important thing at this club. It’s about the bricks and mortar and foundations we can build the club upon. That’s why Peter was my first signing.”
This promotion was great reward for the job Horne has done, largely behind the scenes, nurturing young players and generating sizable revenue through player sales over the years. He oversaw the negotiations for transferring for large fees the likes of Fabian Delph, Tom Cleverly and Andre Wisdom; often in difficult circumstances, such as the club been in administration and a weak position when clubs came knocking. Without disclosing names and potential figures, Horne and Christie are confident of securing more sales of the best young players to big clubs in future.
Christie said: “Looking forwards we’ve got to change the previous policy. We don’t want our best youth players to go to Liverpool, we want them to go somewhere where Liverpool will buy them (and City would benefit from a sell on clause). We’d rather they go to Glasgow Rangers or Southampton, play there for two or three years and get to 20 and then a big Premiership club comes in.
“You saw Jordan Henderson go for £20 million – that’s ultimately what we want. That sell on would enable us to sustain in the Championship for three years, just that one sell on. Or it would guarantee us promotion from League One, because we could buy three or four players for that.”
“A lot of supporters don’t see that,” adds Horne. “I get a lot of comments along the lines of ‘why aren’t we seeing any young players coming through?’ But it isn’t just about that. Our youth department is working in a different way. Yes we produce some players for the first team, but we’re helping to sustain things for the club.”
So what has changed this summer since Christie’s arrival and Horne’s promotion? Horne stated, “I’ve signed a four-year deal at the start of this year. And with David Wetherall leaving I had to restructure it all, I don’t do as much coaching now but I’ve brought in Steve Thornber from Rotherham who I’ve known for nine years. And we’ve restructured everything.
“I leave some jobs to Archie and the Chairman, and I just oversee the youth development. I promoted Alan Nevison into Centre of Excellence; he’s been working here for a long time. And so far it’s all working alright. Touch wood, it’s working alright.
“I don’t think I’d have the confidence with this whole restructure thing if it wasn’t for having in Archie – a father figure who has a different style. If me and Archie were the same it wouldn’t work.” Christie added: “We’re the opposite. He tells me how it is even if I don’t agree. We speak every day and have meetings three or four times a week. We plan the strategy from the ground up.”
Clearly Archie thinks a great deal of Horne, and the respect is mutual. “There are too many people that waffle and go around corners and round the houses, Archie just gets it done,” Horne said. “If it needs doing he just gets it done. We’ve never had that at Bradford City. It’s a great asset I think, what he does for the club – for example the Development Squad is something I think that we need. Not everyone in the Development Squad will get into the first team, but if we get a decent percentage of them in and considering how low it’s costing – it’s happy days all round isn’t it?
“The best thing that’s happened for our youth department is the Development Squad. Because now when the older youth players get to a certain age, we can offer one a pro and put others in the Development Squad and give them another six months to see if they develop anymore. So it’s fantastic really.
“If Archie wasn’t here, I’ve got to be honest with you I think that I would feel isolated. That’s what his role is, to link the set ups. But you know, if people don’t fit they’re not here are they?”
At which point Christie added, “Yeah if people don’t fit they’re not here. Unfortunately. That’s not arrogance, that’s just a fact of life. We’re club first, Peter and I. I phone him up asking ‘who are you going to watch tonight?’ and we’re both always going to games. Other people were at home with their families. Well their families aren’t more important to them than our families are to us. But we put the club first. Those people who don’t put the club first can fuck off. And you can quote me on that. That’s how I feel.”
With Phil Parkinson’s post-Wimbledon comments about a “losing mentality” at the club still fresh in our thoughts, we ask Horne how important a winning ethos is for the various youth teams. “It needs to be instilled at all levels,” he declared. “I’ve told the youth team that this year I’m not accepting anything but a winning mentality. Winning is really important and you’ve got to have it in at youth team level.”
In no time at all it’s time to end the conversation and prepare to drive with Christie to the training ground.
Talking to Horne is a hugely refreshing experience. As supporters we can often be guilty of only thinking about the youth team when the first team has lost and we’re sulkily wondering “where’s the young talent coming through?” But while Bradford City has had to sell its best youngsters before they were old enough for the first team, there’s little doubt the money this generated has been vital for the club and the likely continuation of this route will see those revenues continue. In future Christie will manage the negotiations of any such transfers with Horne’s support, and both agree this likely to result in securing even larger transfer fees.
Continued in Archie Christie Day: Part 2.