Issue #131 Buy / Bye

As told by Michael Wood

Bradford City have been sold to German company ER Sportsgroup for £6m with current joint-chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes being replaced by Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp.

Rahic and Rupp will arrive on Tuesday and will continue to work with some of the current Bradford City staff but – troublingly – are attached to unsavoury noises about preferring Uwe Rösler to Phil Parkinson as manager.

This choice on manager is an early the acid test of Rahic and Rupp. I have said before that there is nothing about the playing side of Bradford City other than the things Phil Parkinson brings and to remove Parkinson would be to buy the club and throw away one of its defining features. To do that is just not the mark of sensible men.

However on Tuesday when Rahic and Rupp outline their plans for the club – and the newly formed ER Sportsgroup is called “group” indicating that the pair might have bigger plans than owning one League One team – should those plans include any form of youth development then one can see where problems with Parkinson’s methodology would arise.

Rahic and Rupp would do well to focus on improving recruitment at Bradford City in the short and medium term and recognising that Parkinson best serves most medium term aims. The club works better in The Championship and with better recruitment – and one notes Rahic has worked in scouting at Stuttgart – it would get there in short order.

However should the long term vision differ from Parkinson’s then – ultimately – they would replace the manager but in doing so without something very impressive to replace Parkinson with in terms of a structure and a pattern of success they would be damaging what they have bought.

If Rösler is arriving to serve that aim of assisting Parkinson then he is very welcome. There will be more on this, one suspects, in the weeks and months to come.

On Lawn and Rhodes one gets into matters of hagiography. One can read no end of appraisals of how they have saved the club in one way or another and the most nauseating of these are those with claim to speak for all Bradford City fans.

My views differ and if that is something which will hurt your sensibilities then return to the streams of praise and glory elsewhere, otherwise progress duly warned.

While he is a crashingly superb chap Julian Rhodes has proved himself dubiously effective at Bradford City in the tasks that he most often credited with.

Rhodes and Lawn are talked about as, indeed talk about themselves as, custodians and stewards of the club but Rhodes was there when £8.5m was paid out in dividends from the club which would spend a decade or more riddled with debts. Rhodes was there when the club went into administration with huge debts having received some of those dividends.

Rhodes was there when the club’s main assets (Valley Parade) was sold to one of its own board members in a deal which benefits that board member but will financially hamper Rahic and Rupp and has been a millstone for the club ever since. Rhodes was there when the club went into administration again in 2004 and watched as £500,000 from supporters pockets was what kept Bradford City going.

Rhodes was there when the club took a 9% above base rate loan from a new director which – were it not for Parkinson’s team’s historic League Cup final appearance – would still be outstanding and costly now.

I know Rhodes has done good things for the club and I appreciate the efforts he has put in and will be sorry to see him leave for reasons that – when I read the above litany – I cannot fathom. The impression seems to be that Julian Rhodes has always wanted to do well and perhaps, had he not ended up with the characters in the boardroom he did, he would have.

But that is not the case, at least not when one considers the club were in the Premier League and ended up at the foot of League Two via two spells in administration.

Perhaps the most honest history on Rhodes’ time at the club is that he represented rationality amongst irrational men and without him the forces of irrationality that allowed a football club to sell its home, to give its money to its directors, to come so close to non-existence, would have been more damaging that they have been.

As it is history named Rhodes the man who took City to promotion twice, and not the man at the club that went into administration twice, and that is nice for him.

History is set to lavish praise on Mark Lawn too, although one wonders for how long.

Lawn is a strange character to meet. Myself and Jason McKeown (mentioned again, like some forgiven child of mine) had a stand up argument with Mark Lawn where the joint-chairman had a tantrum at us for not having painting him in a better light in an interview that painted him in a good light.

Because the tantrum fell in the middle of an interview we were conducting with someone else it was recorded on Dictaphone and made for a curious listen later. Lawn’s main gripe seemed to be that we had been accurate in our reporting of what he had said and that were we more professional – Jason is, I’m not – then we would have changed what was said to something that was not said, but that he wished he had said, because it would have been better to have said that and not what he did.

I mention this because a lot of what I read about Mark Lawn seems to be from people who have had not had the pleasure of meeting him but judge him and his contribution entirely on the progress of the club.

Lawn gets credit because the last few seasons at Bradford City have been very good to watch and there is a reflection from that. How much impact he had on that, how much he created that, is something that will come out in time no doubt.

Lawn was – before Phil Parkinson’s arrival – the joint-chairman who took it upon himself to organise a training match to give a trial a South African player who – according to a ludicrous scene described in former manager Peter Jackson’s book – was not good enough to be a footballer. Lawn then abandoned the game because the players in the other Bradford City squad would not pass to the inferior newbie. That the City squad were involved in the charade Jackson details goes a long way to describing Valley Parade at the time just before Jackson left to be replaced by Parkinson.

He may also be the joint-chairman who – according to former player Shane Duff – used to insult the players performances as he served them lunch in the (admittedly excellent) 1911 Suite at Valley Parade. Imagine being at your work and hearing something like “here is your fish, and by the way you are garbage at your job”. Imagine being the manager trying to build a successful team in that environment. Imagine believing that doing that was a way to bring success. The mind should boggle.

These are two examples, many more come through grapevine. Many who encountered Lawn had a story of curious behaviour but vested interests and the desire to stay on the right side of the club are powerful motivators. With the need to stay in his good graces no longer important you might start to hear a second side to the story of Mark Lawn’s seven years at Bradford City and his role in the progress under Phil Parkinson.

You can choose to believe – Dear Reader – that Lawn went from failed scout (and, perhaps, demotivational chef) to architect of football success in the space of a few months if you wish but I would suggest that if you do then you convict yourself of naivety.

Your choice.

What should not be accepted though is the suggestion that Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn saved Bradford City.

Lawn’s claim to this has always been a mystery to me. Lawn invested in the club and a good deal of the investment – a loan and some funds – was spent on a promotion campaign with an increased playing budget. There was no promotion but the club did not go out of business as a result.

Had Bradford City not spent that money then the club would have achieved at least the same outcome but – considering later it would get to the League Cup Final with a smaller budget – there was no reason to suggest it would be endangered without it. Just that City wanted to spend more money to get promoted. The only danger of a bust was, not for the first time in City’s history, the result of trying to get a boom.

If Mark Lawn never offered his money to City then City would have just had to make do with (in one season in L2) a £1m smaller wage budget and still not have been League Two’s lowest spenders.

Mark Lawn as the saviour of City is a myth.

Julian Rhodes’ credentials to the honourific are a little better.

Rhodes and his family have invested into the club as well as taking out of it but given an appreciation of the comprehensive view of his time one might be tempted to suggest that Julian Rhodes saved the club from himself, or at least from situations in which he was involved.

It would be wrong to minimise the efforts Rhodes (or Lawn’s for that matter) has put in to Bradford City but equally wrong to overstate them. If he is to be credited as saving the club then he must also be attributed as being there when the club was put in danger.

Which is the crux of the matter.

When Bradford City was put in danger in 2004 following a schism between Julian Rhodes and Gordon Gibb it was not Rhodes who saved the club. It was you.

You and other supporters.

The supporters of Bradford City, and the community of Bradford and football at large, found around £300,000 in the space of a few weeks which was used to fund the club over the summer where football clubs have no income.

This ensured that when Rhodes wanted to return, and for that matter later when Lawn wanted to invest, there was a Bradford City at all.

Without that £300,000 – £300,000 raised by you and people like you and added to by Rhodes (see below) – Bradford City would have not been saved. Neither joint-chairmen at the time (Gibb and Rhodes) would fund a summer without income. When August and paying customers came round again Julian Rhodes was able to launch a CVA that gave him ownership and control of the club without Gibb and – according to the Kroll administrators at the time – with no debt.

That there was a Bradford City to sell for £6m in 2016 is because of the money you gave in 2004. Money you did not give as a loan at nine per cent, or in exchange for shares, or with any expectation of being paid back.

Julian Rhodes as the saviour of City is a myth.

It was not Julian Rhodes who saved Bradford City, nor was it Mark Lawn.

It was you.

If you want to give that credit away then again, your choice, but be very wary of anyone who wants to give it away for you or to take it from you.

As the club changes hands to new owners then it is worth remembering that the reason there is a Bradford City is not because of Rhodes and Lawn, or Richmond, or Gibb, or Rahic and Rupp.

It is because over the years supporters decided it would not let the club die despite the decisions in the boardroom by people who come and go.

Lawn and Rhodes are not the custodians of the club, nor are they saviours of the club. You are.

We are.

People can name stands after Rhodes if they like or build statues of Lawn if they have that much metal but never let anyone say that those people saved the club.

You did that.

Not the boardroom, the fans.

They messed up, you fixed it. You always do. You have the power, not them. Owners, directors, chairmen and all will come and go at Bradford City but you will remain.

You saved the bloody club. You are the bloody club.

Mr Rupp and Mr Rahic need to know that as they arrive at Valley Parade tomorrow.