Archie Christie Day: Part 3/3

Continuing from Archie Christie Day Part 2 and started in Archie Christie Day Part 1. See also Remember the name: George Green.


The stereo remains off on the journey from Woodhouse Grove to Valley Parade, enabling us further opportunities to ask Archie Christie more about why he is here at all, given he is unpaid. “Julian Rhodes said last night ‘if nothing else, just get things done for the club’,” revealed Christie. “I can make money off the back of the club but I don’t make a penny. And the club know that and they like that.”

We talk about a description of Christie that has been repeated by almost everyone we’ve spoken to that day – he gets things done. “That’s what I do well. I get things done,” he nods. “I get the preparations done, I get the opposition done, I get the budgets done and I get the deals done. I get things done. I don’t have any arrogance and I don’t have any ego, I don’t take the criticism so I don’t take the praise. The plaudits are for the players and the manager. I just get things done for the club.”

But why this club, and what possesses him to take on such a massive challenge? “I want to do it because I want to turn Bradford City into a giant. At Dagenham we went from the bottom of the conference into League One. We beat Charlton, Sheffield Wednesday and Colchester. Bradford City can go to the Championship, and we can compete with Leeds. And on an equal footing. Not as second term neighbours, but as equals. Our 20,000 against their 20,000. Our 11 versus their 11. That’s what I want and believe.”

The conversation turns to young players at the club that he rates, and how far they can go at City and beyond. For someone who has been at City for such a short time, his level of knowledge of all the players – from first team to junior – is impressive, and one wonders whether previous first team managers would have such a detailed overview of the club. As we tell him the stories of Geoffrey Richmond and the excesses of that era, he is interested but unsurprised having already been filled in by Julian Rhodes.

“If we got back to the Championship I would then come up with a new strategy,” he comments as we pull into the Valley Parade car park. “So that we never have to worry about the bad times ever again.”

A first Bradford pint

The 1911 Club inside the Main Stand is marketed as a venue for business lunches during the week, but today (1pm) the beautifully decorated restaurant is empty of customers. Julian Rhodes is talking to the Yorkshire Post’s Richard Sutcliffe, with the pair about to head off somewhere so the Chairman can be interviewed. Julian is warm and welcoming to us both, trendily dressed while sporting a pair of beach sandals. “I’ve never seen him without sandals,” quips Christie.

In the corner sat reading the paper is another director, Graham Jones; a kind and softly-spoken man who is very friendly as we chat to him for two minutes. There’s a Board meeting at Valley Parade due to start in half an hour, which Christie has to attend. We don’t have much time left with him, so we follow him as he takes us outside into the padded seats that provide a terrific view of Valley Parade.

“I’ve not had a beer in Bradford up to now” Christie reveals, as he hands us each a pint that he’s just bought for us from the bar and begins to sip his own. The sun is beating down and the view feels familiar yet always engaging. We talk about recent games and about the potential crowds we could enjoy if the club was to climb back into the Championship. The here and now – getting some results quickly – is clearly vital, but Christie’s ideas and plans are more focused on further down the line.

“We’re starting to put together an infrastructure and mechanism into place that will stand this club in good stead for years to come,” Christie explains. Do you feel like when you joined you had a blank canvas? “Totally. Before I joined I wrote the Chairmen a 16-page report, on ‘if we want to change this is how we have to change’. Doing the same things and expecting different results, that’s a sign of madness, someone once said. We have to change, and this is how we change.”

Selling young players is clearly going to be a vital part of that strategy, but Christie doesn’t believe it should detract from the bigger picture. “Dagenham sold three players this year for one million and fifty thousand pounds,” he points out. “Who did we sell?

“We need to bring in boys that we can sell on and sell on at the right price. Along the way we have to sell some of our kids to generate revenue, in order to get to the Championship. By putting mechanisms in place, we can build sustainable income for when we are in the Championship.”

Of all the things we’ve seen and heard, the fact Christie joined a club with no scouting structure remains the most shocking. “Every Saturday we’re now watching games, and then two or three nights a week. We’ve got scouts covering the whole UK now. We’ve even had a fan from Romania who wants to set up a scouting network for me in Romania. A fan! We’ve got a proper scouting network now.”

And suddenly he jumps to his feet and leads us back into the 1911 Club, where he’s arranged lunch. It’s a good job we can eat fast, because in no time at all he’s back to work.

“I look like a fat Fabio Capello!”

Past the club shop and beyond the ticket office booths, a small door take us into the Bantams Business Centre where the offices of the joint Chairmen, youth development, finance and other admin staff are based. On the opposite side of the long and narrow corridor are small businesses that are providing vital rental revenue to help the club, and you get the impression City’s own staff will be moved to alternative rooms inside the stadium itself as and when demand for their small-but-homely offices increases.

Archie’s office is at the end of the corridor, and around five other staff members share it including the club’s press officer, Mark Harrison. Christie’s desk seems small and humble – amongst the other staff, rather than hidden away on his own in plusher surroundings. He clearly gets on well with everyone as they swap catch up stories, while he logs into his computer to check emails. These emails include a written transfer bid for George Green from a major Premier League club which he needs to print out and take to the Board meeting. He’d quickly spoken to Julian Rhodes about this offer – which had been made on the phone earlier – back in the 1911 club. We were witness to the surprise in Julian’s eyes regarding the bid’s size.

The sheer number of letters, emails and DVDs Christie receives from footballers looking for a trial at Bradford City is mind-boggling. CVs run for three or four pages each, coming from players stuck in reserve teams at other League Two clubs to kids knowing they are on their way out of a big Premier League club and in need of a break. And those are just the applications from players in this country. There are others from as far away as Australia.

Kath Brown, the club secretary, pops in to finalise the Dominic Rowe paperwork and discuss a range of different queries for Christie to sort out. “When are you back in?” she asks. “Not until next week” is the answer, as he lists the range of tasks he’ll be undertaking around the country on behalf of the club (mostly related to Green and securing the best possible deal for the club in view of the number of clubs chasing him). It seems he does not do days off.

Julian calls him twice. The Board meeting has started, where are you? He’s heading to the door with various bits of paperwork to show them, but all the while having banter with staff, who seem to enjoy his company and are giving some back. A fresh-faced work experience kid is helping Mark Harrison with content for the official website. “Please do me a new stock image to appear on the website, will you?” orders Christie. “The one you use at the moment, I look like a fat Fabio Capello.”

“This is my Manchester City”

We walk out with him as he heads to the Board meeting back inside the stadium, and we head home feeling utterly exhausted. Christie thanks for us for coming, and hopes we’ve got plenty to write about. Hopes that fans will have the chance to appreciate what he actually does. Hopes the criticism will recede. “People keep saying I’m just waiting to move to Man City. I’m not, this is my Man City.”

He starts to walk off, before turning back to us and pointing upwards at the giant Main Stand that towers high into the blue Bradford sky. “This place is a cathedral. I want to turn it into a fortress.”

And then his phone rings yet again.

In conclusion

It was 11:30pm on a Wednesday evening two weeks ago when I – Michael Wood – first talked to Archie Christie about myself and Jason spending a day with him. I was watching some a really bad movie on ITV4, he was still working. That is the first recurrent theme you pick up when dealing with Archie.

He works hard – to a level I’ve never seen before in any of the businesses I’ve worked with or for – and he is entirely focused on Bradford City. Only once during the entire day did Christie involve himself in something other than Bradford City – a thirty second call about a problem at his home – and unless directly asked he would not talk about anything other than Bradford City, his plans for the club, and how he intends to achieve those plans.

It was startlingly single-minded and it was exactly what I want at Valley Parade.

Hard work is a virtue of course but it would be wrong to let you, dear reader, go away with the idea that Christie brings only effort to the club – although do not doubt that he brings that and in abundance. There is an efficacy to Christie’s efforts and an aim to everything he does. During the day we were able to see deals (and other structures) put in place which will help City for years to come and I can put hand on heart and say that without Christie some of those deals – and one especially – would not have happened. Or had it done, would not have happened in the massive way it has.

All these deals will come out in time. Scott Brown will play for the club, as will Terry Dixon and Andrew Burns, and other people at Bradford City will have taken a share in those achievements, but from what I have seen, and who I have talked to, Christie is the start of those things. General George Marshall once said “There is no limit to the good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Christie would appreciate that point. BfB has talked in the past about the need for Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes to bring a football expert to the club and so – as our day wound down – I asked Christie if he would consider himself that football expert. He flatly rejected the term. “I bring business planning to football, that’s all.”

Football businessmen – which is to say people in the boardroom of clubs – have a reputation for not being the sharpest you will meet, but talking to Christie he shows an intelligence at odds with the profession he is in. When speaking about the criticism and abuse he has had from a section of the City “supporters” (quotes mine) he offers us the explanation “I am Jean Valjean.”

Christie speaks five languages, and has fluency in four of them. “English is the one I’m not fluent in” he jokes in a gnarled Scots brogue. He has built up and sold his own business – retiring at forty – and been a part of £800m deals to sell one company. His last board meeting, before joining City, was with NCP before that multi-million pound sale.

At some point one’s cynicism has to admit defeat.

Archie Christie does not need Bradford City as much as – and I mean this most sincerely based on ten years of decline and having seen plans coming to fruition in the course the day – Bradford City needs Archie Christie.

Which begs the question as to why is he involving himself at all? He could have been a Premier League scout – “I’d be bored” – so he is not looking at moving on. He seems financially well enough off to not need money from the club and does not get any anyway working for expenses as he does. He confirmed that he does not get a commission for selling players, be they Development Squad, youth or first team. When his achievements bubble to the surface – and they have so far – they often do with someone else’s name attached.

How to get to the core of a man’s motivations? Why does Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan own Manchester City? What does Abramovich get out of Chelsea? Neither make a profit. Why does Sir Alex Ferguson carry on at Manchester United having already done everything he could ever hope to?

Why etch your name in stone? The restoration of Bradford City offer someone a great work to carry out which is beyond the scope of what could be offered as a cog in the machine of a Premier League club. No other club in football can match City’s potential while being so obviously in need of new ideas. After watching fifty years of football perhaps Christie just thinks he can do football better. I know I would do it.

Swimming lengths and treading water in the shallow end at half seven in the morning we talked to Christie about Carlos Tevez who had refused to play for Manchester City in the week – he was none too complimentary – and later at breakfast in front of the gathering of young players he looked with disdain at the headlines about Titus Bramble.

Looking out over Valley Parade later in the day he talked about moral absolutes. His most offended moment is when he talks about having read that following Craig Thompson’s suspension for Hearts for sex offences against children that City would soon see Christie draping a City shirt over him and announcing him as a new signing. “I have daughters,” he says, “why would someone say that?”

There is a morality to the man but it is not worn falsely. After talking about Marlon King we ask him about Jake Speight who was jailed after signing for the club for assaulting his former girlfriend and who was not in Jackson’s plans. Christie sold Speight on his first day at Valley Parade after the club had had no interest in him previously and got back what Peter Taylor had paid for him. We asked him how he did it and his answer is matter of fact. “I knew Dean Saunders needed a striker.”

Another player – signed to the Development Squad and talked about by Christie when he arrived – was sacked on his first day having been arrested for an assault, and lying about that assault on a woman. Christie checked out the situation and tore up the contract just signed. “A seven stone lassie,” Christie says, “but the fans don’t see that. They say ‘He promised us this player.'”

Perhaps that is why he is involved at City. Essentially a blank slate on his arrival, Bradford City offers a chance for someone to build a club almost from new, and to do so in a way which does things the right way.

“Spend a day with me…”

Archie Christie made us a promise before we started this endeavour. “Spend a day with me and if at the end you don’t think that I’m the hardest working man, working so hard, for the good of Bradford City then I’ll walk away.”

He is that hardest working man. But it is not just an appreciation of the effort which one takes from a day next to Archie Christie – it is the purposefulness of that work, and how utterly convinced we were that what he is doing is absolutely what needs to be done at Bradford City if the club is ever to turn around.

The things which I (Michael) have been talking about for the twelve years I’ve been writing this website Christie is doing. Everyone involved with Bradford City since Geoffrey Richmond has talked about wanting to get promotions, wanting to turn the club around, but until Christie none have ever had the objectives to go with those aims. No one has ever convinced me that they know how to do what they are setting out. Until now.

It is a great credit to Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes that they saw Christie and recognised that he could bring to the club what had been lacking in the past decade (and no slight on them) and we applaud them for taking his advice.

If, reading this, you are thinking that the acclamation is coming a little too thick, we would appreciate that – without experiencing the day we have – it is not easy to see just how hard working, and smart working, Christie is. You will just have to take our word for it. If you have been waiting for Bradford City to return to direction of the mid-to-late-1990s then the wait is over, or at least I am convinced it is.

If you seek to criticise Archie Christie then we’d wonder what you want from a person involved in Bradford City? The man works very hard and – on the basis of what we saw – gets a very good return on that work which without him we would simply not have. And he does it for expenses only, while generating the club in his first three months (by rough maths) enough to pay for the Development Squad five or six times over. Any idea that Christie and his Development Squad cost the club money is a lie. Any idea that Christie had Peter Jackson sacked is a lie. Any idea that Christie is taking money out of the club is a lie.

Christie’s origins before Bradford City have an element of mystery in them. There is talk about how much he actually did for Dagenham following some clarifications the Essex club issued, but their manager John Still talked on the phone to us about the long standing relationship the two have had and he was not alone in his admiration for Christie. From City’s young players to our manager to the manager of a top Premier League club to that manager’s chairman. The meshing together of the day told its own story.

We could understand people saying that Christie could be difficult to work with by virtue of the fact that in the late afternoon we were shattered and knew that he was carrying on working for another half a dozen hours or more. He demands commitment from the people around him but we have no problem with that, and in fact we’re glad that someone who will not put in that effort finds it hard to work at Valley Parade.

Conspicuous by its absence during the whole day was the sense that there was any disharmony around Christie’s role at the club. Director Graham Jones – who we bumped into at Valley Parade – could not speak highly enough calling the job that Christie was doing fantastic. The three young players – when talking about Christie – did so with a genuine affection and did not flinch from saying how much Christie had done for them. Scout Nigel Brown and Youth Supremo Peter Horne both talked about how Christie had given them remits to work and – in the case of Horne – that Christie made his job easier by taking some of the tasks he did not feel he was as well suited to on.

We’ve seen with our own eyes what Archie Christie is doing for Bradford City, and in turn for us supporters, and we could not fail to be impressed.

Third bottom of the Football League, no win in six games and we have reason to be optimistic.


With special thanks…

In addition to thanking Archie Christie for being so welcoming and open to Michael and Jason, BfB would also like to thank everyone else who kindly took the time to speak to us over the course of the day. In particular this includes Andrew Burns, Scott Brown, Terry Dixon, Peter Horne, Alex Llevak, Steve Parkin, Phil Parkinson, Nigel Brown, Julian Rhodes, Graham Jones and also the staff who share an office with Archie.

Everyone we talked to we were given the chance to talk to without Archie Christie being present and everyone we talked to was as open as you could hope for. There is a level of privacy which had to be respected but that was not especially stringent or out of keeping with any professional environment.

Archie Christie Day: Part 2/3

Continuing from Archie Christie Day Part 1. See also Remember The Name: George Green.


We have not left the Cedar Court Hotel car park and Archie Christie has taken five calls in fewer minutes.

“I’ve got great taste in music Lads, Sixties soul, all originals, I’ll have ye converted by the end of the day.” Christie had said on his way to the car, but once he settles into the driver’s seat of his Audi the phone starts to ring again and parked up in the hotel car park he takes each call, each call about a deal to be done.

There are deals in the offing but one gets the sense that Christie would not have it any other way. Dominic Rowe is going on loan to Barrow and Christie has all but ironed out the details but wants to make sure the paperwork is being done and so sends instructions to Kath back in the office, covering the details.

In-between he talks to three or four clubs who would both be comfortable in calling themselves in the group of the bigger clubs in Europe. As Christie gets off the phone after his five calls he has eight missed, and a stack of voice mails. They include chairmen of top clubs and internationally known managers leaving chatty voice mails. That manager who you have heard on Match of the Day a hundred times is calling him “Arch” and shooting the breeze.

The effect is surreal, and Christie cuts the calls before anything sensitive can be said. Over the course of the day he is as open as he can be with us, but canny enough to respect the privacy of other people in the game and asks that we do the same.

There is an intoxication to it all – Christie seldom takes a breath between dealing with City staff, other managers, his players – and questions fall out thick and fast. Already we are impressed with the shear amount of work which Christie has got through since we were talking about Carlos Tevez and doing lengths of the pool. Why did he come to Bradford from Dagenham?

“I never worked for Dagenham, I worked for John Still,” Christie explained. “Me and John go back years. We were at Barnet. I’ll let him tell it.” The phone is out, John Still is on speakerphone in seconds telling the story of the time he went to Portugal leaving Christie instructions to get rid of a young lad they had at Underhill. By the time he came back Christie had sold that player – Marlon King – for £550,000 and Still was happy to see both the back of the player and get more money than he hoped for.

“Archie gets things done.”

It is not the first time the phrase has been said about the man in the day, nor will it be the last. Talking to football agent Alex Llevak in the morning, he was unequivocal about Christie’s “knack of getting things done”.

Llevak was a part of the deal which took Paul Benson from Dagenham to Phil Parkinson’s Charlton Athletic and the negotiations which would have brought Benson to City. The deal broke down because of how the London club wanted the deal structuring and City walked away from it. Christie’s watchwords – “I’ll only do what is best for the club” – come back to mind.

Softly spoken Llevak is far apart from the burly Scot but believes that Christie’s great strength is his forthright communication. He says what he is going to do, Llevak adds, and then he does it.

Llevak cannot speak highly enough of Christie and his ability to take players who have lost their way and turn them around. “He has an eye,” Llevak says, “for talent and a knowledge of how to make a minor adjustment to get to that talent. A tweak here, a nudge there. Archie knows what to do.”

Doing A Deal

Back in the car and Christie explains “John would ask me to go look at a player, so I would, and I’d tell him what I think.” Dagenham’s success in moving from a self styled “pub team from Essex” at the bottom of the Conference to overtake City and reach League One speaks for itself. Names like Craig Mackail-Smith, Benson and Roman Vincelot were a part of that rise. Christie beams with pride when he talks about Mackail-Smith – a pride he showed in the trio of Dixon, Brown and Burns and in other players throughout the day – who Dagenham signed from Arlesey Town having been released by St Albans City. The Daggers sold him on to Peterborough who sold him on to Brighton in the summer, the London club having a 15% cut which will see them pocket £375,000 and could still see them get more.

Christie is keen to get those sort of deals done for City. “See Tom Cleverley, I looked at his contract and I went over to Manchester United and told them they owed me money.” The story is in the national record – City’s successful attempt to get what was owed from Manchester United for Cleverley – and that was Christie’s doing taking the contract out of the filing cabinet where it was gathering dust and finding the fine print to exploit. He tells us the figure that he prised out of Old Trafford. It is more than the annual cost of the running the development squad by some way.

“Manchester United said to me, and they said to Julian (Rhodes), we like doing business with you.” Christie’s straight forward approach validated.

There are more calls than there is time to answer them. For every Premier League person calling there is a local team’s manager touching base. Key to Christie’s development plan is his ability to loan lads out to the local sides, his aim being to build closer relations with the teams in the area. “The chairman of (club) one minute, the manager of Harrogate Town the next. That is my day.”

Sixties soul turned up and there is a break from discussions. Christie navigates his way from the hotel towards Woodhouse Grove. “This is my five minutes,” he says with a smile.

Already it would be hard to write a job description for Christie. Having got back from deal doing at one the previous evening he was up five thirty to take another meeting with a Premier League manager before we met him. City boss Phil Parkinson says that every club has a guy doing Archie Christie’s job – getting deals done, managing the details – and in a conversation about Liverpool loanee goalkeeper Martin Hansen, Christie talks about dealing with Anfield’s Director of Football Damien Comolli rather than manager Kenny Dalglish. He agrees with the idea that Comolli is his opposite number at the Merseyside club.

On the Hansen deal Christie confirms that he was guaranteed to play as a part of his signing pointing out that when City send a player out to a team below them then he insists on the same stipulation. When Comolli decided – after the deal was done – that Liverpool did not want their man cup tying in the League Cup or the Associate Members Cup (just in case Liverpool fancy a pop at the JPT one supposes) then Christie got on the phone to Harry Redknapp who quickly dispatched Oscar Jansson on a train to Bradford.

“Did Harry do that to earn a favour?” Michael asked, “No, he did it because he is a Gentleman, a real Gent” came the reply.

If it is hard to create a job description for Archie Christie it is even harder to nail down a title for him. He is nominally Chief Scout and Head of Football Development and could probably be titled Director of Football. When Frank Arnesen joined Spurs with such a title there was confusion about his role at the club which was summed up in the idea that when Frank Arnesen rings the head of AC Milan, he gets an answer.

Perhaps Christie is the same. When City’s staff approached Spurs about Jansson they were not successful, when Archie called Harry something was done. Talking about the deals being done during the day it becomes obvious that Christie is a man football people take notice of. “I’ve got one for you, and when I’ve got one, they know I’ve got one, ’cause I don’t do it often.”

Driving through Bradford the mellowed out sound of Sixies Soul plays on and Christie nods towards the CD player, “Trust me, I’ll convert ye.”

Archie’s Boys

We are at Apperley Bridge and Archie Christie cannot spot Chris Mitchell.

Driving into the training ground, parking up and looking out over the squad, the development squad and the youth team is the kind of feeling that you could happily get used to – but to wander up to a pitch and see players you normally only see in the thick of action running defensive drills is strangely unnerving. Today Phil Parkinson has the first team – including new recruit Adam Reed – lined up against the Youth Team who are trying to play like Burton Albion.

Talking to the head of Christie’s scouting network Nigel Brown reveals a story hard to fathom. On arriving at Valley Parade Christie – who had been doing opposition scouting for John Still at Dagenham – found what could best be described as four empty draws in a filing cabinet marked “Opposition.”

Not much is made of this but thinking back to the first day of the season and talking on the walk away from the ground about how the opposition had done their homework better than we had the idea strikes that we had not been doing our homework at all, or if we had that homework had been somehow removed from Valley Parade, or as good as. Perhaps it is this kind of blank slate that the club represents which attracted Christie and he seems to have relished constructing a network of scouts.

“Nigel is my right hand man,” he says introducing the one time retired scout who encountered Christie at a Halifax Town game and was pressed back into service. Nigel explains the meticulous preparation which goes into every game, how every opposition side is scouted three times including once home and once away, and how the reserves are watched to pick up on any players who might be drafted in. We cast our eyes over copies of the latest opposition reports, “detailed” would be a good summation, “very detailed” a better one. “I look at weather reports, get us prepared for that. It is business planning, only in football.”

And so briefed in are the youth team by Phil Parkinson and Steve Parkin – new assistant manager who is impressed with the City facilities – on the basis of the details on Burton, they are playing as Paul Pechisolido’s men might against City’s starting eleven for the game.

“Good work James!” Christie bellows in the direction of five foot seven midfielder James Nanje Ngoe who piles into a tackle with Kyel Reid and come away with the ball. Christie has already told us the story of taking the Development Squad along with eight of the Youth team to Rotherham with people telling him that the Millers were fielding a strong team that would trash his young charges. Nanje Ngoe was one of a pair of midfielders who hunted in a pack in a game won 2-1. “He was one of my Xavi and Iniesta,” Christie explains, his face a picture of pride.

Here though Christie is but an interested spectator watching Nanje Ngoe – and the rest of the squad – but not involving himself. Here he is most like a supporter. When Scott Brown picks up the ball in the would be Burton midfield Christie’s eyes flick around looking for options and a small smile creeps across his lips as the youngster picks the right one. “Six foot one, sixteen, what a player.”

As the training game progresses we talk to Christie about some of the players he has helped to bring in. Chris Mitchell he likens to Phil Neville. “As Alex Ferguson told me, Phil Neville wins you trophies. You play him right back, left back, centre mid, right mid, left mind. They’re worth their weight in gold. They are not spectacular but they win you trophies and if Ferguson says you need a Chris Mitchell, you need a Chris Mitchell.”

Mitchell is an example of the value which Christie has brought to the club. Signed for substantially less than players that then manager Peter Jackson was targeting Mitchell offers quality without expense. Tommy Miller is discussed and later Rochdale’s Gary Jones is mentioned – and the figures that are talked about are substantial for a League Two club.

“How much does the Development squad cost?” we ask, “£145 a day” comes the quick answer. “Including all the salaries, all the expenses, accommodation, everything.”

There is an explanation about how Christie gets his budget provided by the club, how he has a role in generating revenue on things like the Cleverley deal and other deals which are buzzing around and will come to fruition, but in cold figures the Development Squad of a half dozen players including the likes of Brown, Burns and Nakhi Wells costs about the same as a middle weight League Two professional might make and – if you believed the rumours which were heard at the time – about a third of what Tommy Doherty was paid.

“I said to (the chairmen) ‘Take my wage and put it in the development squad’. I don’t get a commission but come to work with me and you’ll see I’m the hardest working person putting it all in for City. This is what I do every day, and I said I’d get it done, because I can.”

Wandering around the pitch towards the Development Squad game we see Mitchell wandering towards us kicking a ball. Archie offers a consoling word for the down looking player – obviously not going to be in the starting XI on Saturday – on a roasting hot day, something about keeping on trying, and that is all. His concern is almost paternal, and there is no suggestion that Christie could do anything to push Mitchell into the side.

The First Team

One thing lacking from our day with Christie is conversation about the first team, and its current struggles. When asked about Luke O’Brien and how he had played all pre-season but not started the year Christie replies that it was all and only ever Peter Jackson’s decision. Phil Parkinson, who has left the squad to watch the Development Game as we do, is the manager and Christie’s thoughts are middle to long term. They are about providing players for the squad at Christmas maybe, next season probably, a fact underlined by Terry Dixon rounding the the goalkeeper in the Development Squad game to put the ball in. “A Championship player in a non-league body, at the moment” says Parkinson.

Phil Parkinson chats to us for 15 minutes and comes over as a thoughtful man. He does not swear – a contrast to the sounds coming from a few of the players on the training pitch – and speaks softly. Christie was involved in his appointment and the two seem in tune with each other. “Phil wants a player, I get the deal over the line,” explained Christie “1,000,000% he decides (on players to sign). That is the way it should be, and I’m happy with that.”

When asked if he had vetoed any of Peter Jackson’s attempts at signing players Christie clearly states that he never has, and never would have, saying that his role is to provide players for the manager to consider that are good and cost effective be that through the Development Squad or the scouting network.

Richie Jones, toiling away on the pitch in the baking sun, is an example of this. Jackson’s attempts to sign midfield players having failed, Christie found Jones who wanted to join City to the extent that Christie tested his conviction by offering him less than he was previously on to drop down a league. Christie is pure fan talking about Jones. “He has had no pre-season, cause he got injured, but when he gets up to speed…”

Parkinson is casting his eye over players on trial in the Development Squad game and likes the idea of it. He explains about how players released from clubs get forgotten about and for the cost of running the squad it is worth offering that chance. “If out of ten, we get two, then it is money well spent.”

The new City boss is still settling into Valley Parade. As Christie’s phone buzzes again in the background and he continues dealing, Parkinson talks about how long it takes to put together a deal in football and how he would not have the time to do that in addition to his first team duties, outlining the need to have people at the club with connections into agents and players. The manager and Christie pass a story between them about a senior pro from Parkinson’s days as a junior, who Archie has encountered and passes on his regards. Parkinson puts a lot of success in football down to having good senior professionals who can set a tone and a culture at a club. On the pitch in front of us Andrew Burns puts in tackle after tackle after tackle claiming everything around him. Later Christie will smile as he recalls this.

Scout Nigel Brown has been brought in after decades of experience with the likes of Blackburn Rovers, Wigan Athletic and Coventry City. He is a part of the network which Christie has assembled to scout “everything” to have it at the fingers of the manager, whoever that manager may be.

Brown is steeped in football talking about things to look for, about his times at Blackburn under Jack Walker. It is not hard to see why Christie has appointed Brown who is rigorous in his approach and with the scouts he employs. He talks about the need for thoroughness and how he demands it.

When talking about player recruitment Brown wants pace. “You can’t teach it,” he says, and Christie has a similar approach, stating, “I watch a player five or six times, I’m looking for one thing: Desire. Just the desire to want to go do it. No one can coach that into you. You just need it.” Christie sees his role as finding players with that desire and teaching them. “You can see how well we (Christie and the Development Squad players) get on, we have a great time but I’m tough. I treat this like a University, they are here to learn. I am tough, but they respond to that very well.”

Brown is unequivocal about Christie saying he an asset to the club, a great wheeler and dealer, and it strikes us that in the hours at Woodhouse Grove alongside Archie Christie meeting Phil Parkinson, Steve Parkin, Peter Horne and Nigel Brown that we’ve found complementary skills rather than competition. Christie speaks highly of his people, who speak highly of him, and each relies on the other to augment the club.

Walking off the training pitches Christie walks past all four of the club’s goalkeepers: Big Man, Jon, Callum, Stuart; and chats to each in turn offering encouragement, enquiry, advice and motivation respectively.

When discussing John Still, Christie mentions how when talking to Julian Rhodes Still had sung his praises but doubted he would come to City having knocked back two Premier League scouting offers. Christie talks in terms of plans that last four years, nothing beyond that, and certainly nothing less than that steadfastly refuting any idea of using the club as a stepping stone. Perhaps it was something about the blank slate that he saw when looking at City that attracted him? Perhaps something about the potential of a club which was in the Premier League a decade ago and has a stadium to show for it? Perhaps it is just his own bloody minded determination to get things done?

As we drive back to Valley Parade it seems like a good time to ask him.


Concluded tomorrow in Archie Christie Day: Part 3.

Remember the name: George Green – Archie Christie Day: Part 1.5/3

This story works well when read with Archie Christie Day: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.


If you have never heard of George Green before today you are not alone. The fifteen year old who joined Everton for a fee which would rise to in excess of £1.75m is a virtual unknown yet in a list of the most expensive sales in the club’s history Green would rank in the top three. Dean Richards cost a fee up to £2.135m to Wolves, Andrew O’Brien cost up to £2m, then comes Green.

How is it that this kid from Batley Carr that no one has heard of is a part of this deal which could pay for City’s future?

Pull up a chair, dear reader, because the deal was being done on the day BfB spent with Archie Christie and now it is public we can fill in a few details.

Before we arrived for our early morning swim Archie Christie had been meeting David Moyes (the time to allow the manager get to training) to talk about Green but by the time we ended the day we had held in our hand a bid for the player from another Premier League Club.

The deal had been in the offing for sometime although it was coincidence that we got exposed to it (the day of the interview was enforced by mine & Jason’s work commitments, Christie took the first day we offered some eight days in advance of the interview) although in setting up there was a time when I was on Christie’s house phone and David Moyes was the mobile being told that he would be called back.

It is probably not fair to say who the other Premier League team was it was but you might notice that Everton are replacing Tottenham Hotspur in the four team tournament next summer. Spurs are pivotal in the story of Green’s rise. It was on the training pitches of Tottenham Hotspur that Christie showed off his young player’s talent. “He is Rooney,” Christie told us he had told Premier League managers, “the best in the country.”

They agreed. Green played for one of Spurs’ youth teams against Aston Villa and turned in a match winning performance in front of the the massed ranks of scouts. By the end of the game those scouts were literally chasing Christie to find out about the kid.

27 clubs – including top clubs from Germany and Scotland as well as the Premier League – registered an interest in George Green. Christie proudly showed us the DVD of the game in which Green scored a hat-trick. Fifteen in a game of lads older than he Green stood out, and two of the three goals he scored were superb. A mazy dribble with sublime finish and a first time curled goal that did recall Rooney were impressive enough to enchant youth scouts, Premier League managers, Chairmen, Directors of Football recruitment.

Christie had built up Green’s confidence – a confidence he showed on the field against Aston Villa’s kids who had a pair of central defenders rated as the best young pairing in England – by giving him a place in the Development Squad. Green is proof of concept for the idea of having a way to graduate players from the kids but not to the first team. Green could not have played in the first two months of City’s season and even if he had the realities of League Two football probably would not have helped the player’s development.

But playing in the middle area that Christie’s Development Squad provided a place for City to build Green, and be sure of him. While in the Development Squad Christie and the coaches moved Green’s play forward on the field, putting him into a more attacking role. One of the skills Christie is credited as bringing to his role (See Archie Christie Day: Part 2) is the ability to tweak a players game to develop it. In this case he nudged Green forward up the field and the results are there for all to see.

When I asked him how he could attract the attention of top clubs when parading Green Archie Christie said it was because he so rarely did promote a player, and when he did that player was worth promoting. Said Christie “This is one of the highest deals ever for a 15-year-old from a League Two club. But George is the best I’ve seen in his position at his age. He could become another Wayne Rooney or Paul Gascoigne.”

However Christie would not take all the credit for George Green and Peter Horne – and his team of coaches – have once again found a player and brought him to City who has provoked interest from the top division. The difference between Green and Tom Cleverly is not in the finding but the export. As I understand the deal for Green City have got more up front than the stand to make from the full Cleverly deal, sell on clauses aside.

One can hardly blame the club or the board for that. If you or I – well versed in watching football as we are, dear reader – watched a young player impressing in a youth team game would we know at what level he could go on to play at? Would we know if the player was England material or just someone who might play 150 lower league games? If some club offered lower six figures we might take that because we knew not what the player was worth and how the market worked.

It was obvious watching him work that Christie knew that market. He told the board that he would get over a £1m George Green, they were sceptical – I’m sure that many reading this article are sceptical about someone being able to pull a kid from the youth set up and sell him for more than Andrew O’Brien – but Christie has made good on his promise. Not only that but he had looked at a player and recognised what is rare talent (how many other 15 year olds get sold for £2m?) which might indicate that the man knows a thing or two about spotting players.

In the morning we spent with Christie the deal on the table had a limit to a buy out clause, and a few other points that at the end of the day had been changed. That was on Thursday and a different club so I would not be able to say what the final details were but I’m pretty sure that that deal will be superb for City.

It would have been great to watch George Green break into the first team, to cut a dash in claret and amber, and it is sad in a way that that will not happen but that income can pay for City’s progress. The Development Squad is paid for and so are a good few first team players. Christie’s hope is that with deal like Green City will be paying for the wages of three or four League One players in years to come.

(As a side note, and the complexities are detailed and I may have misunderstood them, but when a player reaches sixteen the FIFA rules on transfers change to mean that rather than being able to get a transfer fee clubs can sign players paying compensation on the basis of a mechanic rather than as the selling club dictating the terms. Had we kept hold of Green with the aim of putting him in the first team there is a risk that he would have left after any professional contract he signed expired – typically the deals offered to sixteen year olds are two years, the deal with Brown differs because it has been subject to a transfer already – and that City would have been paid only “training compensation”. That compensation which would have been much less than the fee Everton have eventually paid.)

The Green deal is a massive success for Bradford City and hopefully a massive one for Everton too – they have developed a few decent young lads in their time – and one which starts to move the club out of the era of relying on cash input from the chairmen and into a time when the club begins to not only pay for the year on year football but also for its own improvement.

I recall watching Dean Richards’ last game for Bradford City and when he left for a deal which could have snuck over £2m with clauses that City could have got more. When Andrew O’Brien joined Newcastle for only £1.5m plus a bit I remember thinking that we should probably view his sale as being aggregate of the fee for Des Hamilton. Dean Windass for the £1m we paid for him, Robbie Blake for half of what we had valued him at. I’ve always thought that City’s players leave cheap. I’ve seen that changing now.

George Green: Remember the name not because he is going to be the greatest player in the future of Bradford City but because his move could pay for the future of Bradford City and rather than being a product of blind luck this boon is brought about by a hard working youth development squad delivering players to a development environment and having a business environment which was able to maximise the opportunity.


This story works well when read with Archie Christie Day: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Archie Christie Day: Part 1/3

Early risers

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.

Mark Lawn asks us to believe the gloomy picture he presents

Because if we get relegated, we will have to pay for it for the next ten years.

These words about Bradford City, spoken in September 1999 – a month into the Bantams’ first-ever Premier League season – read like a prophet of doom given how true they turned out to be. But when you consider whose mouth these words poured out of, the fact it was subsequently ignored is enough to make you cry in anguish.

For this quote came from then-City Chairman, Geoffrey Richmond, to FourFourTwo magazine almost 12 years ago. In fact, examine the full quote and see if your heart doesn’t sink.

I’m not prepared to have a situation whereby the club spends money that it doesn’t have and it all goes wrong. Because if we get relegated we’ll have to pay for it for the next ten years. I’ve seen it happen at other clubs and I’m not going to let it happen at Bradford.

This quote – from a magazine cutting which a friend recently passed to me – offer a new twist on the well-trodden tale of how Richmond steered the club into the mess it is still struggling to get out of. Such prophetic words of wisdom; but the fact Richmond was so understanding of the potential consequences of his six weeks of madness, but went ahead with it anyway, suggests a higher level of foolishness than even many of his fiercest critics would credit him for.

He really did appreciate the stakes involved in the reckless gambles he took.

Richmond – most noted for declaring he’d deliver Premier League football to the Bantams within five years, when he took over – perhaps has a new infamous quote to rival his “six weeks of madness” confession. Meanwhile we struggle on, wondering if we can ever put the past behind us.

The latest financial worries – is this really a crisis?

I wonder what quotes Mark Lawn will be remembered for? Having deliberately kept a low profile for a year, the current joint-Chairman has been regularly interviewed in recent weeks as he tries to bring landlords Gordon Gibb and Prupim to the negotiating table, over the possibility of reducing the rent.

On Saturday Lawn was in full flow again, this time declaring to us supporters that he is not playing games and this is a deadly serious situation. With a strange hint to those who bought season tickets last December (are we to be asked to contribute more, I wonder?) and a new revelation that City could move to a new home by the start of next season – potentially making the Crewe game a week Saturday the last-ever Valley Parade match for the Bantams – Lawn was determined to shoot down those who still doubt the Board’s true intentions.

One can understand the scepticism that prevails in many supporters. The financial information that has been put into the public arena, for example, does not suggest as bleak a picture that is now being portrayed – leaving many to question Lawn and City’s motives. City currently have to pay Gibb and Prupim around £370k per year, each, while the club’s wage budget for this season – £1.5 million – is twice what many League Two clubs operate on. As Lawn was keen to tell BfB in January, Dagenham & Redbridge was promoted last season on a £750k budget.

Perhaps instead of wasting money on a talented player like Tommy Doherty – who, BfB hears, refuses to play for City, despite being fit, and is happy to sit back and take a sizeable wage home each week – we could be using it on more important matters?

Whispers from within the club, meanwhile, suggest the £1.3 million annual running costs for Valley Parade are presently more or less covered by off the field sponsorship and income generated from renting out the offices. The season ticket money more or less covers the playing budget too. So a suspicion remains that a rental reduction is more aimed at providing a stronger wage budget, or making up for the fact previous playing budgets have been supplemented by loans from Lawn and Julian Rhodes, which won’t be the case this summer.

Behind the headline figures, City’s accounts paint a bleak picture

Bradford City’s 2009-10 financial accounts show City made a profit of around half a million – though this was only because of a near £1 million windfall from Leeds United selling Fabian Delph to Aston Villa. For the 2008-09 season City made a loss of £765,000. That came after City pushed out the wage bill to £1.9 million and – with this season’s playing budget at £1.5 million – we can intelligently assume the club will also make a loss this season.

BfB has, with the help of two people far more qualified on these matters, taken a look at City’s Abbreviated Accounts for the year ending 30 June 2010 (these accounts are publicly available for anyone to view). They paint a very troubling picture, in that the club has a net deficit on its assets. This means it has more liabilities (ie financial obligations, such as repaying loans) than assets (money owed to the club by other parties, etc). This is a terrible position for any company to be in, and some people – probably outside of the football industry – might even argue it should be wound up unless proof of future profit potential can be provided. A basic valuation technique would suggest Bradford City is worth approximately minus £500K. No wonder a rent reduction is being pursued so urgently.

The good news is that this net deficit position has improved compared to a year ago, by around £500k. The club’s cash balance assets has also grown considerably (from around £13k in 2009 to approximately £224k in 2010). However, this appears to be due to the windfall received from Delph – meaning the club’s net deficit could grow the wrong way again come the end of this season. The Delph money is a one-off bonus, rather than a sign the City are becoming financially stronger.

Clearly this financial situation cannot be sustained in the medium to longer-term; and so Lawn’s comments that the Bantams won’t exist in two years time under the current status quo actually do seem credible. Given the club has made no public comment over its accounts, it’s no surprise people are currently doubting Lawn’s bleak assessment over the future of the club. However, the financial picture that is emerging from City’s books would suggest that the Telegraph & Argus’ insistence of labelling the current situation a “crisis” isn’t the tabloid sensationalism it might appear.

But what about those liabilities? The loans to Lawn and Rhodes

One unresolved question is the situation regarding those loans that Lawn and Rhodes have put into the club over the last few years. BfB has seen documentation of a loan Lawn made to the club on 15th March 2009, which states interest will be charged annually (payments due monthly) at 9% above the Bank of England Base Rate (which means it is 9.5% at present, and would increase when, as financial analysts expect, interest rates begin to climb again over the next couple of years).

This interest rate certainly jumps off the page in terms of questioning how good a deal this really is for Bradford City. A business looking to undertake a loan would typically find much more favourable terms from a bank than 9% above Base Rate. However, it would be questionable whether a bank would loan the sum of money Lawn has in the current economic climate, especially to a football club viewed financially as a risky investment.

So 9% above Base Rate could therefore be justified on the basis that the risk factor for Lawn is significantly high. Were City to go into administration or even bust, Lawn would find himself towards the bottom of a pile of people to receive money back from any surplus cash. Football rules on this deem that football creditors must be paid first – so Doherty, for example, would come before Lawn in getting what they are owed. It’s more likely that Lawn would be asked to accept a percentage of the money he is owed in a Creditors Voluntary Agreement, along with other creditors.

Nevertheless, on paper this looks like a potentially lucrative deal for Lawn. Though away from the black and white facts of the documentation, this writer has every faith Lawn is – and will continue to – act in the best interests of the club.

Is this all a smokescreen so Lawn and Rhodes can sell the club?

As much as Lawn wants to stress the grimness of the situation, for supporters, because there are a number of knowledge gaps, speculation and doubt has been allowed to fill in. We’ve all asked ourselves whether it’s a matter of Lawn needing to convince us supporters of the severity of the situation, in order to convince Gibb and Prupim. Are our emotions being put through the mill in order to stir some emotion inside these two parties? And is there anything we can do to help? (Trip to Flamingoland, anyone?)

Some argue Lawn is looking to offload the club and be paid back his loans. And so he is trying to make City a more attractive investment proposition by reducing the overheads, such as by moving to a new stadium with more favourable terms. However it’s dubious whether the revenue streams of moving to Odsal or wherever would be as rewarding to an investor as they are at Valley Parade.

Sponsorship, merchandise, corporate hospitality – all still likely to be generated in a stadium elsewhere, but arguably not to the same level because other parties may get a cut of it. Unless, for example, someone was prepared to switch all the advertising boards back and forth between when City and the Bradford Bulls play at Odsal, joint advertising deals might need to be negotiated – which may not be as viable for local businesses in these difficult economic times. A stadium also cannot realistically have two different names, in terms of sponsors, so City could lose the annual revenue from Coral Windows.

Lawn and Rhodes have always stated they would be willing to step aside if someone credible wanted to take over the club, and perhaps the pair feel that they are unable to prop up this club financially anymore. Any outside investor would be looking to make a profit from owning Bradford City, plain and simple. So if reducing the overheads could attract a responsible investor, the joint Chairman may feel this is the best course of action for the long-term good of the club.

Lawn’s legacy could rest on the result of these negotiations

There is so much that we supporters don’t know about the situation for us to easily fall in line with all of Lawn’s words and place our full faith and confidence that the Board’s actions will provide the best solution for Bradford City Football Club. As such, Lawn and Rhodes have to accept their words will be disputed by some, put up with some criticism and face their reputation taking a hit if these talks don’t go the way it’s hoped. Notwithstanding, the threat of moving to Osdal would appear to be much more serious than many of us give credit – the club may really not have a choice on this unless the landlords are willing to help.

In a season where we supporters can argue the players have let us down badly and the manager messed up, we hope and pray that the Board – through these talks – can deliver an outstanding performance that safeguards the future of the club for generations to come.

And if Richmond’s quote in 1999 defines his time for all the wrong reasons, let us hope Lawn’s words to us in January this year characterises him for all the right ones:

But what I can say to Bradford City fans is that I will make sure this club always stays alive, and that is one thing that I will always do. But to do that it means I can’t be throwing money around and we’ve got to live within our means.

Talking to Mark Lawn: Part Two

Following on from Part One, our interview with Mark Lawn continues as we move onto the relationship with Bradford Council and the training facilities…

And we continue

BfB: How about the council, is there any interest on their part to help out?

I’ve worked very hard to build relationships with this council, and we now have an okay relationship with the council. They don’t do a lot for Bradford City Football Club, we don’t ask a lot out of Bradford City Council.

BfB: Following on from Valley Parade other people see the training ground as a significant problem – back in 2000 we had Benito Carbone, Dan Petrescu and a flooded Apperley Bridge – and Peter Taylor was keen to address this problem.  Again how important do the board of feel the state of the training facilities is? What is being done to address this situation (if considered important)? Can the club’s aims be achieved using Apperley Bridge?

We’re looking at ventures, perhaps with a private company that may want to address Apperley Bridge to improve the facilities down there. But it’s in the very early stages so I can’t discuss who it is and what it is. It’s council-owned land, so we’ve got to talk to the council about it as well, but we are looking to get those facilities down there.

BfB: Are the players still having to get changed at Valley Parade and go down there?

Yeah they are, but under Peter as well they’re using the pitch here (Valley Parade) a lot. The pitch is in better condition now, so it will take it and then we can fix it and get it right (for matchdays). So they tend to use this pitch when it’s bad down there.

BfB: How important do the Board think the training facilities are?

It’s a little bit like a chicken and egg really. I mean you can turn around and say that’s been our training facilities since the 1960s and they got us into the Premier League. I mean the facilities have got to be improved, but they can be used as an excuse I think as well.

If I’d have been here in the Premier League I’d have made sure that we have something like Blackburn Rovers now have without a doubt. I’d have put money back into the club and into facilities like that. But Blackburn Rovers are struggling aren’t they? And then look at Middlesbrough, they are renowned for having the best academy for kids – and they’re dropping down the leagues. And I think that’s the state of the game today, because we have so many foreigners coming in. And Geoffrey had this thing, and maybe he was proven to be right. He turned round to me and said “It’s no use giving me a kid who is going to be good in six years – I need someone to score on Saturday.” And I think that goes right throughout the leagues.

You look at these academies, and the problem is they’re (young players) not coming through are they? I think that is to do with the pressure put on managers to get a result as well. They’re not under pressure to bring a kid through.

I think that Leon Osborne, personally, would be better if he could get a run of six or seven games – but who is going to give him six or seven games if he doesn’t perform after two? Because the manager has got the fans on his back.

BfB: Talking of young players, what did you think of the reception Joe Colbeck received from some fans when he came back recently?

I think they forgot that Joe gave his all when he was here, he might not be the best player in the world but what Joe did give you was 100%. And I’ve always thought that Bradford fans always respected players who gave 100%. I always tell new players who come here that “You can be rubbish, but if you always give 100% these fans won’t slag you off.” So it is a bit disappointing that Joe has come back and got that. We seem to have problems with wingers getting stick don’t we? You go back to Summerbee and things like that.

BfB: If Peter comes up to you and says he wants to bring in a loan player for Saturday, in the back of your mind do you think “Why don’t you just play Leon?” (for example)?

Yeah I’d like that because it saves us all money (laughs), it means the budgets are easier! But if he turns round and wants one that’s his decision. We’re in talks with a loan player now.

(Note: Lawn then discusses negotiations with a loan player but doesn’t reveal who. We later discover, at the game that evening, that it is Jon Worthington).

In terms of negotiations for players, we usually take it in turns and Julian is working on this one. I normally get the awkward ones (laughs). I was the one who had to tell Martin Allen he’d didn’t get the job (laughs).

BfB: And on Martin Allen, how close did he come to getting it?

He was very impressive. His commitment (pauses) and if we’d have wanted a cheaper option – he didn’t want paying!  He’d got a pay off from Cheltenham until October, so he just said I’m already getting paid. So if we’d have wanted a cheaper option we could have taken Martin on.

BfB: Going back to the training facilities, do the club think they’re good enough for our aims of getting back to the Championship?

Well they will have to be, because we ain’t got the money to improve them unless we go into a joint venture with a private company. That’s what we’re trying to do. We might not be able to put up capital, but what we can do is rent the facilities off the company at a guaranteed rent for 10 years – so they’re getting a return on their investment. So that’s what we’re talking about doing and hopefully we can get that cracking.

We’re trying to make the facilities better for everybody, but let’s just turn round and state a few facts. Did you know Blackpool still take their training kit home and wash it? Did you know Rotherham take their training kit home and wash it and they don’t get fed? We’ve got a chef who cooks for them here (Valley Parade). And not only that, some of them have got dietary needs and some want a bit of fish and the chef looks after them. He spoils them!

So, I do expect a bit more out there than what we’re getting – considering what we’re putting in.

BfB: Much has been said about the affordable season tickets which are being offered once again for a fourth year.  Do the board feel that this has been a success? Is that success qualified in any way? Would anything result in the club moving back to the previous pricing policy?

It’s a difficult situation of where you balance it. We could do with more money, and surely the fans have got to realise that we’re doing it for them. What gets me is that (pauses) I mean I don’t read the websites, but people tell me what they’ve read – people saying “we should be charging more money.” So I think “well why doesn’t that person donate another £100?” No one is stopping anyone who is paying £150 from turning round and saying, “It’s too cheap; here you are, here is an extra £100.”  We don’t get any of that. So all those people who are saying we should be charging more, well pay more. We’re not stopping you from paying more.

We looked at this year in particular because of the recession and we thought, it’s going to be a tough year and a troubling year for people – everything’s going up, and people are going to be down. And you know what if you can still get to see a football match, you’ve got your ticket paid? I think that (the season ticket initiative) it’s a great idea.

I don’t think that Bradford City get enough credit from the Football League and the FA. We’re doing it, and no one is praising us. Four years we’ve done this, and not a single bit of praise from anybody. People turned around at first and said “you’ll never be able to keep it going.” Well we have kept it going.

The demographics in Bradford – it’s not the best paid here. So we’ve got to keep it reasonably priced.

BfB: So is the pricing a permanent thing?

As much as anything can be permanent. We’ve got to get prices up, but the Board still want to make football accessible. I think we’re still the only club who do under 11s free – everywhere else it’s under 7. And we don’t get any credit for that. We don’t win Family Club of the Year, Huddersfield do. And when they quote why they won that they say “under 7s go free” – and our under 11s are free. Maybe we don’t shout about it enough.

BfB: From an ethical point of view I believe the pricing policy to be utterly commendable – times are tough and City are helping people out for one, for two why should it cost two and a half times more to go watch football than it does to see a film? – but considering that ethical basis would the club consider extending the offer to include people who pay on the door and to include away supporters? If not, why not?

The away fans is something we’ve not thought of to be fair. They are getting in same price as our fans because of Football League rules. So if we did that we’d have to do walk ups (City fans who pay on the day) at that price as well.

Now to be fair we’ve said if you want to put your money there ahead it’s cheap, if you want to pay game-by-game and choose when you come or not, it’s a little bit more expensive. Because those people are subsidising the people who do buy cheap season tickets.

BfB: Do you get many fans who turn up on a game-by-game basis?

We get about 1,000. 1,000 when we’re not so good (laughs) and you can get 2,000 when we’re doing alright. I think we’ve got a fan-base, realistically in this league, of about 13,000-14,500. I think that would go up by 3 or 4,000 if we went up a league. And for some games, certainly, we’d be filling it if we were in the Championship. We play Leeds United – well they’d want 5,000 for a start.

BfB: Before you joined City, Julian agreed deals with Surridge and EMC to run the club shop and catering facilities respectively, are these deals proving financially-rewarding?

Absolutely brilliant – he stitched them up like a kipper! We’ve never taken as much money as we get from EMC, even when we were in the Premier League. We are having to renegotiate the deal with EMC this season, so they will continue but perhaps not as a good a rate going forward. What people need to realise is that the staffing levels, just to build and maintain facilities like that, is frightening. You can’t just get temporary staff in, you need a fair bit behind you.

BfB: Do you find there is a massive difference between what people perceive the problem is and what the problem actually is?

Well I was the same! Before I came on board, I didn’t realise what was involved with running a football club. It is very difficult, and there’s lots and lots of problems that you’ve got to sort. I used to think “why don’t they do this?” and then you come in and you understand why.

BfB: Any examples of that?

(Thinks for a few seconds). One of them was food for the footballers. I thought “bugger it; I’m a chef I will do that.” But you can’t because you’re too busy doing everything else! So you think there are roles that aren’t necessary, but they are when you get involved. It’s not as simple as you like to think.

BfB: Words like “failure” are banded about for most clubs in football – for Chelsea second in the Premier League is failure, for Aston Villa that would be success – and the term loses its meaning if it is not rigidly defined on a club-by-club basis. So what do the board consider to be a failure for Bradford City at present and what constitutes a success? Is there any middle ground between the two?

Well you have to have bite-sized chunks don’t you? And my first bite-sized chunk is that we’ve got to start finishing in the play offs. That’s got to be the minimum bite-sized chunk. Every season we don’t get into the play offs is, in my view, failure.

BfB: And then, does it get to the point where we finish in the play offs and that becomes acceptable or do we then say that’s not?

Not more than twice! I wouldn’t be happy losing in the play offs more than twice. If I was the Bury chairman, I wouldn’t be happy about losing in the play offs two or three times. I’d be starting to ask questions.

BfB: Which brings us onto the long-term. 18 months ago I was present at the VP Fans Forum where Mark you stated the club’s objective is to be in the Championship in five years. With only three-and-a-half years to go that vision may not occur in this time frame, but do you believe the club can still rise up the divisions in the next few years?

Well 18 months ago I put £1 million in and that was part of the thing that got blown (laughs). So, like with any aspect of business sometimes you’ve got to change your thinking. Look, our business plan is still to get there but our business plan has been curtailed by (pauses); I don’t want to speak ill of people, but we put a lot of money into this club and it didn’t work.

BfB: It’s almost like a snowball effect in that if we got one promotion we’d build momentum…

Yes I think so. If we got one promotion we’d get more fans. I think the base is there to bring more fans in. I think we’ve got a hardcore of around 7,500 fans – real hardcore. I think 7,500 would watch us if we were playing on Peel Park. And then I think we’ve got another 2-2,500 who are dependent on things like where we are in leagues. And I think we’ve probably got another 5,000-10,000 more fans where it depends where are in leagues, how we’re doing and whether they can pick and choose games they want to come to. I might be wrong but that’s where we are abouts.

BfB: Do things like the size of the fan-base come into it when we’re talking to people like Nike and EMC?

Without a doubt. When they see things like our season ticket sales for this year and next, it’s that sort of thing they want to get on board with. They realise that, if we can get up these leagues, they got a base there. You know Bradford City Football Club – and I’m not being derogatory to other football clubs here – Bradford City are a proper football club, that’s been starved of success. You’ve only got to turn around any look at what happened when we went to Wembley. If we could give the Bradford public success, I think they will come out and watch us. And that’s what we’re trying to do.

BfB: Is more outside investment needed to climb the leagues?

It’s a difficult situation that, because you look at other football clubs. Look at MK Dons, they got out of this league by having the biggest budget. I think there budget that year was £2.5 million.

BfB: That’s a lot for this level…

Well we had £1.9 million once, and we didn’t get out of this league. So is it the budget? Then you turn round and see Dagenham get promoted with a £750,000 budget. So is it the budget? I think it’s down to managers, I think you look at managers and it’s getting that right manager.

As for us, I don’t know if we’ve been kicked by Gypsies or something (laughs), whether we are cursed, but you look at what we’ve done. We’ve put in lots of money, we’ve brought in an established manager in Peter Taylor who has been a success at every single level that he’s been at – and certainly this level – and up to now it’s not worked.

I’m still not giving up on this season, there’s still a lot of games to be played. But what we do need to do realistically is go on a run of winning five games. We need 69-72 points by the end of the season, that’s what you need to get in that last play off position.

BfB: So you don’t see that more money is the only thing that will get us success?

Well more money often buys more success whereas more money for us didn’t buy success. It did buy MK Dons, it did buy Peterborough…

BfB: What about the lad Tom Cleverley? If he moves on from Man United do we get a similar kind of pay out to Fabian Delph?

Not quite as good. The one that’s good is if we get the lad from Liverpool (Andre Wisdom) – that’s better than the Delph. Knowing our luck he will probably play for Liverpool for the rest of his bloody life (laughs). Have a great career, and never move on!

BfB: Would we put that money straight into the playing budget?

Yes of course. This club needs to be in the Championship. In the Championship we survive and we survive well. That’s where we need to be. The overheads suddenly don’t become as bad because we need this type of stadium to survive. Everything works in the Championship, once we get into the Championship. So everything needs to be directed on getting players to get us into the Championship. Then when we get there, we can turn around and start looking at buying new facilities, etc.  First of all it’s how can we get out of these leagues?

BfB: What is your view on the way the non-league players have developed at the club? For example some people are calling David Syers player of the season…

Well let’s not call him player of the season because they always go then don’t they? (laughs). I think Syers has a long way to go but he’s got a lot of potential. He’s shown he’s got it if he can keep improving. I think that (James) Hanson needs to keep improving as well, but I think he can go on. I do think Hanson should be playing in the Championship. If he can keep learning from old pros and stuff. That is how to be a centre forward, I’m not talking about his lifestyle, but how to make the right runs, etc. If he can learn that I think he can play in the Championship. I think Steve Williams has also got the potential. There’s not been as much fuss about him like Hanson, but if he can learn as he makes the full transition he can go far.

One thing I would say is that the transition can be a problem, and this is where the PFA should be getting involved and helping. They have to quickly learn to become athletes, because they haven’t been brought up as pros. And perhaps this is a transition that maybe we could help better with – because it’s a big leap for them. It’s not just the training, but a matter of I’ve got to watch what I eat now, I’ve got to watch what I drink now, I’ve got to go to bed early. It’s that sort of thing that, at non-league level, they don’t really need to do. So perhaps we could do a little bit more for them.

BfB: No one doubts how hard you and Julian work and how much you have put into the club; it must be so frustrating for you to see the club continue to fail on the pitch despite your best efforts…

I have a lot of sleepless nights. When I bought into the club Julian shook my hand and said “Welcome to Bradford City, now you become an alcoholic insomniac!” I said to him “I think you’re joking” and then talked about my Driver Hire company which had a turnover of £75 million and 120 franchises – “You don’t think I can run a football club?!”

When we lost to Morecambe in the first season I rang Julian up the next day and said “I’m in the alcoholic-insomniacs club!” And I think it’s been like that ever since (laughs)!

BfB: But you do seem to enjoy it?

I have a passion for the club because I love the club. I’m probably the only Chairman in the Football League that has a tattoo of their football club on their arm. I had an argument with Peter Risdale at one of the Chairmen meetings, because I said “I can’t understand why, if you’re a Leeds fan, you’re at any other football club.” I would never be at any football club but Bradford City. It’s hard work, and I certainly ain’t here for the glory or money. I’m here because I’m a fan, so I didn’t understand him. He took exception to that!

BfB: It’s been really great to talk to you like this and I’m sure our readers will be delighted to have this opportunity to hear your views. As a final question, what are your favourite memories of supporting Bradford City over the years?

(Long pause) Oh the ones I can tell you (laughs). Darlington away (1969), I was nine-years-old. My sister took me on the coach. It was my first success. Then we had the bleak years didn’t we? I think everyone forgets that.

I’ve supported them since 1964, I think. My first game, Southend United I think it was. We won 3-0 and I thought that’s what always happens!

Also, Cambridge away (1984/85). Leaving my coat on the barbed wire so everyone could use it to get over onto the pitch! I ended up kissing John Hendrie, I don’t think he appreciated that! (laughs) I’ve known John and the players from then a while before and those lads aren’t as aloof as they are now. If you could get that spirit now – they used to be singing songs on the bus going home. And they mixed with the fans as they weren’t aloof. Maybe they’re under more pressure these days, I don’t know. Certainly there is more expectation on Bradford City players now than there was then.

But the best day of my life was Wolves (1999). I’ve got four girls and a boy and we took everyone down except for the wife. After the game they all just dived on me and I ended up in tears. The whole family was crying with joy. That’s something my wife is really upset about because she missed that, and it’s something that you can never take away from me. Pure joy between myself and children at that stage.

Wembley was good too, but I spent most of it throwing up in the toilet with nerves. Even though we battered them didn’t we? (Laughs) I didn’t really enjoy that one!

Post-amble

What is the perception of Mark Lawn? That he is a blunt man but a passionate one, perhaps? Perhaps that he is a Bradford City supporter first and a chairman second. Going into – and coming out of – an hour and a half conversation with the man these perceptions seemed confirmed.

He speaks as he sees it for sure and that may or may not be a good thing but few could doubt that his dedication for the club, and for bringing success to it. Talking to the man he seems as desperate and one might not agree with or appreciate way he is taking the club to try achieve that but not his commitment to, and his honesty about, wanting those achievements.

Moreover though talking to Lawn – the first contact that BfB has had with the club – there was a feeling of a man (or a group of men) isolated from a support with both sides entrenched into positions of opposition. There are plenty of brickbats thrown over the walls of Bradford City at Lawn and his fellow directors – we have thrown a few ourselves, and no doubt will again – but for all the things lobbed over the wall it seems that, if you try it, the door is open.

Anyone trying to enter with an idea, an inspiration, even a constructive criticism might be surprised at the welcome they get.

Talking to Mark Lawn: Part One

Mark Lawn sits opposite us and jokes “I’ll tell you what bits you can put in, I’ve worked with media before.

How did we get here?

There are reams of conversation around the people who write for BfB about Mark Lawn, and about Bradford City, but never any contact with the club. It is a kind of house rule going back to the days when Geoffrey Richmond ran the club with something akin to an iron fist and famously dismissed a long set of questions from the Internet Bantams with a series of one word replies.

So many questions too, none of which will be answered but all speculated on ad nauseum. The season stumbles from promotion hunt to relegation battle and the questions continue begging for answers which speculation and rumour will not provide.

Jason McKeown takes the plunge, contacts the club, asks for an hour of the joint chairmen’s time and we sit and wait. The wait goes on and we expect nothing but are wrong and, as the club suffer defeats on the field, an invitation is extended to us to go to Valley Parade Tuesday lunchtime.

Julian Rhodes would be attending but another meeting rules him out – that turns out to be the negotiations for the signing of Jon Worthington, or so we guess – but Mark Lawn is going to answer what we ask.

Overlooking the pitch

So there we are, in a suite overlooking the pitch, with the club chairman that we have criticised any number of times offering a welcome smile as we set about trying to set a few things straight.

Lawn is a funnier man that you expect him to be. He is welcoming although seems a little guarded at first before relaxes and answers all our questions in an honest and occasionally light hearted, occasionally sombre manner. One feels the weight of expectation hanging over the man as he talks, the knowledge that the expectations he has for the club are mirrored and magnified by supporters.

And so to the main event

BfB: What are your views on the season to date?

Not good enough, I would have expected us to be in the play-offs at least although we are not a million miles away but I have to say we have to do a lot better in the second half of the season.

BfB: It’s good to hear what your opinions are, because it seems to us that – over the last 12 months – you and Julian have kept a very low profile and haven’t communicated to supporters or the press as often as you have in the past. Is this a deliberate ploy?

No, no. That is basically because when I have done it, and when I came in I did get involved, and people treated me like garbage, you wonder why you should do it? I was talking to people and they were taking it out of context it. I spoke to Julian and he said “That’s what you get, you try be helpful, you put out and tell people what is happening and you get slagged off.” Eventually it just wears you down. It’s just worn me down.

BfB: Do you see a way that that position would change?

Don’t get me wrong I don’t want people to love me at all, but for people to mis-quote me and to do things like – I’ll give you an example – for people like (City Gent’s) Mike Harrison to slag me off by email saying I’m putting money into a restaurant in Baildon that I own, which I don’t own, I just bought as an investment property to pay rent. (Mike’s email) has been taken as gospel and then the rumour gets taken into all sort of stupid craziness. It frustrates you when people do that.

BfB: Geoffrey Richmond was “mouth on” all the time. Would you be more vocal if success came?

No, I would be if people stopped quoting me out of context when you tell them things that they don’t want to hear such as transfers in January (and the fact that there is no money for them). There are only two people who put the money in and we have done that for the last three years.

I’ve funded Stuart to the tune of £1m. That year (2008/2009) Stuart had the highest budget in the league and I took a gamble – with my money admittedly – I took a gamble and it did not work. So I think that the fact is now that I don’t have any more money to put in and we have to look at other ways to do that.

BfB: It has been rumoured relations with supporters groups – specifically the Bradford City Supporters Trust – are strained right now.

There is no strain with the supporters groups. I think they should be treated equally. The problem with the Bradford City Supporters’ Trust is that they think they should have a priority arrangement. I think you should treat all supporters clubs on a even keel, and they don’t like that.

BfB: What’s your view on the role this organisation – and supporters in general – have to play in the direction of Bradford City FC?

I only look at myself as a custodian of the football club. I’ve been a fan, Julian is a fan, we both look at it like that, just like supporters ourselves. I think supporters groups have as important a role as we do.

I’ve been trying to get Friends of Bradford City for ages, Gladys – everyone knows Gladys if you’ve been around the club for the last thirty years – earned £5,000 a year for the club selling raffle tickets. If you could get ten of them, that is the average wage for a player and we could put that on the pitch.

If I’ve got supporters who want to do that then they can assign it to something like “We want it for this player” – obviously they can’t say who, the manager has the choice on that and even I don’t get the choice on that, I just get a choice on the wages and that is not much of a choice, it is “That’s what you have to pay him if you want him.” I’m willing to do that and I’m quite willing to do that.

We have coming through the gates 9,000/10,000 – that is what “clicks” through – someone could be selling things out there. That would be raising funds for the club and it does make a difference. And you look at Lincoln City and Lincoln City Supporters’ Trust, they raised money to get a stand built.

Our supporters trust seems to be more interested in “Why haven’t we got a black on our kit?” which I don’t understand. To clarify everything there never was and never has been anything on the football kit for the fire. The fact that there was black on was that there was black on it and it was a fishwife’s tale and blah, blah why we did it.

When I came we put the ribbon on and the ribbon is always going to be on the kit, because I believe we should never forget, I was here for the fire and it affected my life. I don’t think we should ever forget it so that is why I wanted to make sure we and the ribbon which is on but the commemorative ribbon has always been claret, never black, because of the club’s colours but sometimes if you have a claret kit you have to (change it).

It depends on the manufacturer. The manufacturer is going to be Nike, I can tell you that because it is launching on Thursday, but with it being Nike we can only do “stock kits”. The fact that we can go on to Nike is because Arsenal have gone onto Nike and now they have the claret, so they can do us claret and amber.

BfB: What happens with the shop?

Nike take over. Well not Nike, Sports For All who are a subsidiary of Nike.

BfB: How do you keep in touch with the mood of supporters. Do you go on the official club message board?

No, I used to but stopped when I read about my family being slagging off. I’m a great believer that if some lawyers want to make some money they really want to chase message boards, and not just football, message boards in general because the libel on there is unbelievable. They would make a fortune.

BfB: There was a time when you stopped, was there an incident that made you do that?

Yes, when they started slagging off my kids, I won’t take that. The incident that upset me more than anything else was the Accrington Stanley one when they attacked my car and then someone started going on “What’s he moaning about, we played crap.” What does it mean? So you can attack a car and you have the right to damage someone’s property? To me they are just vermin, absolute vermin and I don’t care who they are if they want to come get their season ticket money back they can. If anyone thinks that is right, to attack property, well they are not Bradford City fans as far as I can see.

BfB: We have a problem being put in a position where if we disagree with something, and the next person agrees but adds “so I smashed up his car…” then we are put in a difficult position.

The problem you have, running a website, and I’ve had this out with Mike Harrison – and I don’t know if you know but City Gent castigated David Baldwin – who worked for nothing for six months and does not work for a lot now because I don’t pay that well, I concentrate on getting as much money onto the pitch as I can, and they turn around and slag him off. Now editorially he should not have printed that because it’s not right and I told him that David could sue him because it is you, as editor, who would be sued. If it is Punch then it’s not the person who wrote the letter who is sued, its Punch for printing the letter.

(Editor’s Note: this was certainly true in the case of BfB vs Rochdale where the crux of Rochdale FC’s complains were drawn from the comments including our publishing of comments written by Rochdale supporters which we had published)

You need to be careful with your editorial rights as to what you are doing because one of these days someone is going to come and sue. If The City Gent had done that about me I would have taken exception to it. I think it’s a disgrace, people should think about what they are saying.

I’ve not got a problem with anybody taking a contrary point of view. Football is a matter of debate. I think David Syers is great, you might think he is a lump of cheese, that is what happens. You might say “I don’t think they should have set on Peter Taylor”, I might say “I think he is the best thing that has ever happened.” It is contra-point of view is football and that is great but getting down to personally slagging people off and saying they don’t do the work then that is when they have to be held responsible.

BfB: How does the club run on a day to day basis?

The day to day running of the football club is done by myself, Julian (Rhodes) and David (Baldwin) really. Roger (Owen) comes in a couple of days a week to help out and the rest of the board is there to be used as a springboard for ideas and things. None of them live a million miles away and they all come to the games and we talk. We have a board meeting once a month where we go through things as well which is on Thursday.

BfB: It was stated at the beginning of the season that Peter Taylor was operating with an increased playing budget compared to the season before, yet to date City have not been able to improve on last year’s efforts and mount a stronger promotion challenge. What do you put this down to?

Well that’s a good one. Well, it’s the players isn’t it? Does anyone think that the players we did bring in, we should not have brought in? Jake Speight for example. We paid £25,000 for Jake, you look at what he did at Mansfield, you look at his background and you think “What a great player to bring in” and he has not done it for us.

Doherty has done it at every single club he has been at, he’s come in, and he has not done it for us at Bradford City has he? He’s not performed to his best. I’m sure the players would all turnaround and say that. Some of the players we have brought in have not performed to their best and don’t think that they are not capable of it.

You don’t make a bad player overnight, you don’t go to being that. So I think we just have to try to get the best out of them. We look on paper a very good squad but sometimes when we play we don’t look as if we have congealed at all.

BfB: Recent poor results have of course placed Peter Taylor under a lot of pressure from disgruntled supporters. A couple of weeks ago, you were quoted in the Telegraph & Argus stating you believed he was doing a good job and hinted a new contract could be in the pipeline. We appreciate you will be reluctant to talk about Taylor’s future publically, but where does the Board see the managerial situation for the rest of this season and the next?

It depends on where we are at the end of the season.

Peter Taylor knows exactly where we have to be. I’m not going to put that out in public because it would not be fair to Peter Taylor and would not be a professional thing to say but Peter knows exactly what he has to do to get another contract here.

BfB: Is that an automatic thing written into the contract or (is it discretionary)

It’s a year’s contract and before we offer any extension to that things have to be achieved, certain goals have to be achieved. There is nothing written into his contract.

BfB: Before he arrived did you have any thoughts about the style of football he plays?

Yes I did, and out of the whole board I was the last one to make my mind up. I watched the games and – after the Aldershot game which was 1-0, 2-0, and we had beaten them with Stuart (McCall) 5-0, and it was a different type of football but I believed it was a type of football which would get us out of this league.

So far it isn’t working but everyone knew when Peter Taylor was coming that we were not going to get smooth flowing attacking football, that’s not his style. He tends to like his two lines of four and then hit them on the break and it has worked very well for him everywhere he has been. He needs to sort it out here.

BfB: Back in October, before we went to Barnet there was significant national media speculation Taylor had to win or he would be sacked. Was there any truth in these reports, or was it more to do with the press needing a story during a blank weekend for the top flight?

I think you have to look at the whole season on its merits. I can tell you exactly what happened before the Barnet game the Thursday before the game Peter came up to me and said that there were rumours in the press that Barnet was his last game and I turned round to Peter and said “Peter, you will be in charge for Cheltenham. That is definite, you will be in charge.”

So he knew, never mind Barnet you go concentrate on Barnet and Cheltenham so he knew what he was doing.

BfB: Would you ever use an ultimatum as a way to manage in the short term?

We are all looking at a certain standard of where we have to be. Where we are at present is not good enough, Peter knows that, I don’t need to tell him he is an intelligent man.

BfB: How much conversation do you have with Peter on a daily basis? Because he is 58-years-old and perhaps doesn’t need the same hands on the last manager might have?

I think a lot of people have misread how I’ve ran my businesses and it’s come across that I interfere a lot. I expect people to manage and then if it’s going I wrong I’ll sit down with them and discuss it. I don’t interfere with my management structure and I never did with (Lawn’s previous company) Driver Hire.

I put people into manage and, if they weren’t doing their job, then I sit down with them and say “Look, it’s not working. How can we help you and how can we go about getting this right?” I think it’s always better to work with people and try and get them on board, and that’s what we did with Stuart.

We sat down and said “How can we help you Stuart?” We did that with Peter when he was struggling through a period and that’s where the loan signings came in. We let our managers manage. Maybe we shouldn’t after the last four years (laughs).

BfB: That’s certainly very different from Geoffrey (Richmond)…

I don’t think that’s the way to run a football club.

BfB: On Thursday January 8th, 2009 you said in an interview with Radio Leeds: “Bradford City have had enough turmoil and non-stability at this club” yet thirteen months later the club has offered a three month, and a year-long contract which would seem to offer anything but stability.

The club has not changed its position on stability. When Stuart left he was an ill man. But still in my mind he is a legend. It wasn’t nice seeing what Stuart had to go through. And I think if anything Stuart was too near to the job and it hurt him too much, if that’s possible.

The reason that we’ve asked Peter Taylor to do a year is because we can only afford him for a year unless we have success.

BfB: So the club still follows a policy of stability for the long-term?

I’d love to get a Keith Hill. Everyone out there is looking for a (Rochdale manager) Keith Hill. And also, in not so much the same vein, (Bury manager) Alan Knill. People who consistently get into play offs on similar budgets or even smaller budgets. Look at (Dagenham & Redbridge Manager) John Still, when you look at when Dagenham & Redbridge got promoted his budget was only £750,000.

BfB: And how did our budget compare?

Ours was a lot more, certainly over double that.

BfB: How do you feel when you read someone like Paul McLaren saying “I’m a better player than I showed at Bradford”, but not offering to pay any of his wages back? Does that frustrate you?

You’ve got to appreciate that he’s probably said that for the fans. A lot of players, certainly ones who have been around a bit, know how to work the fans. And his comments were perhaps aimed at saying “It’s wonderful at Oxford” and that “it wasn’t wonderful at Bradford” and perhaps that’s a little bit of PR.

BfB: Simon Parker recently hinted that if the club fail to earn promotion this season the wage budget will be trimmed during the summer. Is this likely to be the case and, if so, are we set to see a repeat of two years ago where high earners are shipped out and the manager struggles to afford new players?

The plan for the summer is to stay within budget and do whatever we need to do to stay in budget. I don’t want this football club to go through administration again and that would be the last possible thing. I’m not going to say that will happen again but you never know, and I’ve got to say that, looking at this stadium, how would we afford it if we dropped into non-league?

But what I can say to Bradford City fans is that I will make sure this club always stays alive, and that is one thing that I will always do. But to do that it means I can’t be throwing money around and we’ve got to live within our means.

BfB: Estimated at costing over a million pounds a season before a ball is kicked Valley Parade is seen by some as crippling the club financially and being the most significant block in the way of the club going forward. How important do the board of feel the effect of the cost of Valley Parade is? What is being done to address this situation? (If considered important) To the board believe that City can achieve any of its aims with the current financial drag of renting the ground?

The running costs are about £1.3 million now. But in terms of the future it’s really gone fairly quiet now, because we don’t know what’s happening with Odsal. No one knows what’s happening with Odsal. And even if we did go to Odsal, it’s got to be better fiscally for Bradford City.

And although it’s a big stadium, fiscally sharing the revenue of things like the sponsors names might not be better, so we’ve got to make sure that if we go to Odsal at any stage it would be only because it would be fiscally better.

BfB: What about (Valley Parade Landlord) Gordon Gibb?

He’s overvalued the ground. And right now he’s getting about a 15% return on his investment every year. You tell me where you can get that, with a 25-year guarantee?

BfB: Do you think Gordon Gibb gets away with it in terms of the public attention? I mean Julian Rhodes gets flak for it. You take flak for not being able to do anything about it and Gibb sits there as if he hasn’t bought into a club and taken its biggest asset…

I would say that we have offered Gordon Gibb a fair return to buy it back. If he was a Bradford City fan, he would have let it go at what we’re offering, because he was going to make a good profit on the figures that we offered him. I can’t quote the figures but he wanted nearly double what we offered.

BfB: BfB reader Luke Bottomley recently told the site that he wrote to Gordon Gibb about the VP situation a year ago and was told an independent valuation of the stadium had been carried out (post-recession) and the ground is available at that price and that the City Board had been offered the asset on that basis when they had recently enquired…

Course we would, but practically speaking he wants (figure withheld) for it, not a penny less. How are we going to raise that?

BfB: If we were to move to Odsal, there’s the 25-year VP lease to think about.

We could not afford to break the lease without going into administration, unless we could purchase our way out of the lease. We don’t know what he wants for it (the lease). We’ve not spoken about it. Until we go to Odsal or are going to go to Odsal there’s no point in talking to him about it.

Certainly we would have to dispense with the lease and dispending with the lease means administration, which I wouldn’t like to do. But (pauses) I’m not counting it out, but turning around and buying him out of the lease is an option.

If we went into administration and moved out of here, the rates here are £130,000 a year. So he loses his rent and he’d have to pay the rates. And technically he doesn’t own anything inside the stadium because we own the fixtures.

BfB: Speaking of this and remembering Geoffrey Richmond leasing all the facilities inside Valley Parade. When he was unveiling Carbone at a press conference at the same time, did you trust him?

No! (laughs) Whenever I shook his hand, I always checked how many fingers I had left (laughs). I didn’t buy his 25-year season ticket, but I’ve been a fan for 40 years. I didn’t trust him with that amount of money. No I didn’t trust him. If I ever would have had to come across him in business back then, even a small amount of business, I wouldn’t have trusted him.

BfB: So what’s your opinion on him doing things like leasing back the fixtures and fittings like he did?

I suppose it depends what you do with the money. I wouldn’t say I’d never do it, but if I’d be doing it I’d have invested the money back into the team. But I wasn’t involved at that stage, so I don’t know where the money from the carpets etc went.

BfB: They were strange times to have supported the club through.

I would have thought so too! Because literally, when the club first went into administration they owned nothing. If he (Richmond) could have leased the paint on the wall I think he would have done! There was nothing they owned.

BfB: Strikes us as a very different set up now compared to then, that the club operates at a different level.

Well I’m a Bradford City fan. Geoffrey Richmond was a businessman who had come in to run it as business. I try to run the club as a business so I can make profit which I can put onto the pitch.

BfB: We are now, as we understand it, currently in the black – apart from loans to you?

We have an overdraft, a small overdraft facility.

BfB: Is it still the case that we are in the black?

Yes, but it depends on budgets this year and how it pans out. We struggling to put bums on seats which, you know, the results we’re getting ain’t good. So we need to be putting bums on seats. Now I’m sure you’ll now get comments on your website now saying “Sack Taylor” as though that’s the answer.

But I tell you, I would love for some of the people who say this to come in and run the club for a week to see what it’s like. Because they’d lose more hair than I do! And pay for the privilege of coming in. All that me and Julian get for running this football club is our mobile phones, and we pay the bills on them. We even pay our own petrol money to away games. I don’t get any wages, none of the directors get wages. There’s only David (Baldwin) who gets an income out of it, and it’s not a lot compared to what people in other companies in his place get. And that’s just because he’s got to put bread on table. So you’re quite lucky that you’ve got fans running this club.

BfB: Is there a lack of appreciation of the fact that the board are supporters?

My health has deteriorated since I bought this club. If I wanted to live longer, then I wouldn’t be involved. It is not easy running a football club but I’m not looking for sympathy from anybody, I chose it and I’m here but I look at what I’ve done at this club as failure, so far, and I’ve never failed at any club I’ve been in so I’m going to work harder to make sure this club gets some success, because the only way I know about business is that you work harder. I’ve never known any business when, if it is going wrong, you work less.

End of part one…

Next time, dear reader, Lawn talks about training facilities, season ticket prices, about how Julian Rhodes did running the club and about how much enjoyment he gets out of Bradford City.

When offensiveness becomes an offence

Saturday and Joe Colbeck’s return to Valley Parade in a Hereford United shirt saw abuse to a level of vitriol which was shocking in its ferocity even to seasoned Bradford City supporters.

The debate panned out over that abuse: that it had stopped Colbeck playing well, that is was deserved, that it could never be justified; and each has their own judgement on reasons for and effect of that abuse. Ultimately in most circumstances each will keep his own council and decide for themselves if grown men screaming and swearing at footballers is something they wish to endorse or not but in other circumstances – and in this situation – a personal opinion is secondary to the law of the land.

Offensiveness becomes an offence

On Saturday there was a crime committed at Valley Parade in full knowledge of the entire attendance and that crime went unpunished.

The Public Order Act 1986 sets out the law of the land on this subject (and you will excuse the paraphrasing for length) in that (Section 4a) a person is guilty of intentional harassment, alarm or distress if he uses towards another person threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to cause that person to believe that immediate unlawful violence will be used against him or another by any person, or to provoke the immediate use of unlawful violence by that person or another, or whereby that person is likely to believe that such violence will be used or it is likely that such violence will be provoked.

Colbeck – a veteran of many an abusive Valley Parade crowd – could probably not be said to have felt that he would be the subject of immediate unlawful violence. Section 4a (and Section 4, which governs the fear or provocation of violence) carry prison sentences and seem governed by context. Colbeck only has no reason to fear that being sworn at on the field will lead to violence because he has been the subject to it in the past but, then again, he has also seen the Bradford City crowd lob bottles and other items onto the field and so perhaps we would be wrong to not link the two together.

Nevertheless we can fairly clearly say that Section 5 of The Public Order Act 1986 is relevant: A person is guilty of an offence of harassment, alarm or distress if they use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby. The act details that a person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine….

The act details the laws governing rioting, array when offences are done in collectives of people and creative readings of the Act could very well see them become relevant. It would – however – be impossible to suggest that Section 5 was not broken at Valley Parade on Saturday. There is a distinction for sure between those who boo and jeer and those would would have committed an offence as detailed in this Act and the one group is a subset of the other.

One could seek to dress these offences in any number of ways: using the term football culture would be one, that players are “paid enough”, suggesting that there was a crowd rather than an individual; but as we have seen previously convictions for taking an individual part in a crowd activity have happened at football matches and that with criminal convictions come football banning orders.

Which is not to suggest that I would like to see half the Bradford City crowd on Saturday banned from football and convicted but that they should be, should the law be pursued and applied with vigour. The club have banned supports in the past for racist abuse and brought all the power it could muster down on the pitch invaders after the Northampton Town game at the end of last season. That those people are generally held in low regard and are smaller in number than those who abused Colbeck in a way which broke the law.

Offences were committed but neither the Police or – judging by the speed of their reaction to the Northampton game – the club felt that those offence were worth pursuing legally.

Can football take its own action?

In 2005 a Dutch game between Ajax and ADO Den Haag was halted by the referee. There were no safety problems in the stadium, there was no pitch invasion, there was no dangerous playing conditions but the game shuddered to a halt and the teams were taken from the field as if there were.

The cause was a song, and not a very nice song, about MTV Europe VJ Sylvie Meis. Meis, now better known as Mrs Rafael van der Vaart, was to Dutch football what Victoria Beckham was to British. Well known and well commented on.

But not to be commented on in this way – nor should anyone be – decided the Dutch FA who gave an instruction to officials sometime before that targeted abuse would result in a halt in the game, and then if it continued an abandonment. The instruction was designed to protect officials themselves but deployed to protect the virtues of Ms Meis.

There is a logic to the Dutch FA’s position. Why should a Referee (or the girlfriend of a player) be the subject to a crime on a continued basis. If bottles were flying onto the field or if the players or officials feared a physical assault then the game would be suspended so (and remembering the difference in the laws of the countries) why should they tolerate a sustained verbal abuse? If it is said that players are paid enough money to take in good nature any abuse thrown at them (and I would disagree with that idea) then are Referees? What about other spectators like Sylvie Meis?

The Dutch action is notable for its scarcity. Italian games feature booing of black players – Mario Balotelli was told by banner recently that “an ‘African’ can never be an Italian” – and all will hope that the situation in Russian football improves in the next eight years. England’s players Shaun Wright-Phillips and Ashley Cole were abused in Spain. Sol Campbell -infamously – is the subject to a disgusting song sung from Spurs fans.

One can only imagine the effects of a repeat of the Dutch action would be in those cases and hope that it happens.

The foolishness of crowds

It is preached (although seldom practised) that one should never say behind the back of a person what would would not say to their face and while Joe Colbeck – or Sylvie Meis – could hardly have said that things were not said to their faces but there is a certain cowardliness to the football supporter’s mass abuse.

In fact even in our use of words around the subject we describe a holistic idea of a mass of people making a single statement rather than considering that collective as a group of individuals. Ask some of who swore violently at Joe Colbeck on Saturday and they may tell you that they would be prepared to say word for word what they sang as a part of a crowd directly to the man’s face but should they do that, should anyone shout abuse at you in any situation, then one are afford some protection in law.

The behaviour of crowds is the behaviour of those within them and while a person might be be happy to behave in a given way within that crowd there are rights – rights asserted in Dutch football – which protect the individual from abuse. These were not afforded to Joe Colbeck on Saturday.

Should they have been? Free speech, and the concept of free speech, is a valuable thing but is now and always has been balanced agianst the rights of the individual.

The Referee’s parents were not married, and he enjoys himself on his own a bit too much

The football supporter has long since mastered the art – such as it is – of personal abuse to such an extent that it has become cliché. The Referee’s parents were not married, and he enjoys himself on his own a bit too much or so the songs go and rarely does anyone consider this to be offensive. Indeed to football’s officials this kind of abuse comes over as static. When Wendy Toms, the first female linesman, completed her first Football League game she was asked how the crowd were and replied “The same as always, abusive.” Too much of the criticism of officials is conducted – and thus ignored – in this way.

Some players have played entire careers as the subject of abuse in one way or another. Some thrive on it – Robbie Savage talks about how he is fired up by being fired at – while others shrink under it as some say Colbeck did on Saturday but to allow the individual to ignore an offence – and, dear reader, you are reminded that this article discusses the section five abuse – as it that denies that the offence has taken place is beside the point. That Savage might be man enough to take the stick does not help the other players (and referees) who are not and who have career’s blighted by section five offences (and, in addition, those players in situations such as Balotelli’s). It is a part and parcel of football, it is said, but need it be?

Separating the part from the parcel

Take someone to a football match who has never been before and different things strike them. For me, back in 1981 at my first game, it was the lack of a live commentary track over the public address and I know people who have said that they were shocked by the amount of mucus left on the grass, on the viciousness of every single tackle (“even the soft ones would leave you crying”) and on the suddenness of the action. For my Mum, on taking her to a game in the Premiership years, it was the swearing and the negativity.

We take it as a given that football supporters will be offensive and abusive in the way that twenty years ago it was a given that supporters would be violent and aggressive – indeed it is difficult not to see the verbal abuse heard on Saturday as the last vestiges of the physical violence that marred the game – but it need not be so. Screaming at Joe Colbeck that he is a “wanker” is no more hard coded into the DNA of football supporters than booing black players or throwing seats onto the field was. It is a behaviour and one which – with the right will from the right people – could be removed from that game.

It is far from a desirable element of the football. Footballer supporters are painted by a mass perception that they are vulgar, yobbish and offensive and this makes us easy to ignore. The fact that it is common does not mean that it is set in stone nor does that fact that it might be cathartic or enjoyable.

Indeed the idea that the football supporter cannot help but be abusive – that it is part of our nature – is in itself an insult to everyone of us.

Would anyone’s enjoyment of Saturday afternoon have been ruined without the abuse screamed at Joe Colbeck? If you answer yes, that you revelled in hearing grown men screaming abuse at Colbeck, then I can only hope that you do not sit anywhere near me and certainly would like you not to.

But would we change it?

There were offences caused at Valley Parade but – as Paul Firth the writer and former judge who provided much of the legal research for this article attests to – most of the time the police at the most would slap a £50 ticket on the offender and call it that. The law is not especially interested in actively enforcing this issue for now and nor are football law makers.

Football is sanitised – or so the thought goes – and grounds lack atmosphere with the sad reflection being that often the most notable chants are the negative ones. Sunderland fans who wrote the genuinely charming “Cheer Up Peter Reid” song but were noted on Saturday for singing “One Mike Ashley” to taunt their rivals. If all there is to celebrate is the perceived failure of others then what is there left to support? You do not need to go stand in Valley Parade to giggle every time Leeds United lose.

A person might want to vent their spleen while at the football but surely would have to do so within the law of the land – some people on Saturday did not but there is no will from police, football or Joe Colbeck to go any further with that – but accepting that and extrapolating it forward one has to wonder what sort of football we are creating, and passing on.

We have a football of negativity. Booing is the lingua franca of the game, cheering being punctuation to goals and little more. Away followings are known to offer more volume but not an especially different type of support. Even the modern examples held up of great support like The Accrington Stanley Ultras are as versed in poking at the failures of others than the unfettered support of their own (“Premier League, you flipped it up…”)

Does it matter? Perhaps not. Time will tell and it will tell in twenty five years time when one looks around the grounds and sees if the generation of kids who have more things to do with their time and money than any other chooses to spend that on the game we pass on. I have had wonderful days supporting Bradford City, utterly unforgettable days, but would I tell my son or daughter that they should involve themselves in something as negative as manifest on Saturday?

It is hardly the stuff of an enriched and full life.

So now then

Football’s authorities at almost all levels are prepared to leave atmosphere at football in the lap of the Gods while clubs do what they can to stop racism but feel without a remit to do anything else. The law of the land is happy to ignore the vast majority of offences committed in stadiums up and down the country while FIFA’s attitude towards supporters is curious at best.

Ultimately football is ours and it is ours to change in the way we want it. We – as football supporters – need to decide what sort of football we want today, and to pass on to the future.

Better ways to earn a crust? Talking to Graeme Tomlinson

Gareth Grant, David Brown, Danny Forrest, Craig Midgely, Wayne Benn, Craig Bentham, Kevin Sanasy, Tom Claisse, Liam Flynn, Jon Worsnop, Tom Penford, Jon Swift, Tom Kearney, and maybe even Lewis Emanuel are all players with something in common; they had all called themselves Bradford City players by the age of 20 and were all playing non-league (or lower) by the age of 25. Add to this list the names of Des Hamilton and Graeme Tomlinson, two lads who left for greater things only for it to not work out for whatever reason. Let me ask, if you had to write a list of opposites, a list to balance the one above, who would be on it? Andy O’Brien? Dean Richards? Steven Schumacher (not a product of our academy though)?

Why do I mention this then? Well I have this notion that football is quite a hard life at this level. We as fans pay a lot of money and generally believe that entitles us to make our feelings known. This is somewhat fuelled by the stream of money-grabbing players who grew fat as our club grew thin – plus, let’s not forget that most of us would give our right arm to pull on the claret and amber just once.

A career cut short

One man who got to do that is Graeme Tomlinson and I was lucky enough to get to speak to him recently. Tomlinson insists that despite his poor fortune with injuries, he still believes football is a fantastic industry to be employed in and that even at our level there is decent money to be made. He does concede however, that it was his big break at Utd and the help of close friends that ensured he would be financially sound even if his career were to be cut cruelly short.

But these are not the old days; this is not the Bradford of Tomlinson’s time. As Tomlinson himself accepts, league 2 youngsters and trialists will not be on particularly good money, the end of their career – regardless of age, is just around the corner. Take Steve Williams for example, at 22 and playing for Bamber Bridge, with a failed trial at Oldham behind him, he must have almost given up; if this season doesn’t work out the chances are we’ll never see him again. Same goes for David Syers or went for James Hanson last season.

Now I initially planned to write an article from the standpoint that for all those lads I named earlier, lads like Gareth Grant and David Brown, we might just have reached a point where football, for all its potential glamour isn’t really worth the hassle. To give your all from the age of 14 or 15 just to find yourself, every summer, getting geared up for pre-season friendlies to prove that you have what it takes at league 2 level against lesser opposition, prove to the fans that you are committed – yet not run round like headless chickens, and most importantly, not get injured. All of this with no guarantees and even less in your pockets if you are on trial, faced with the statistics laid bare; chances are your career will be over in the next five years.

However, with the assumption that many of you will not be particularly pre-disposed to feel sympathy for the young lads who are living the dream that still flits through your sleep – regardless of your age, I changed my mind. This was also in part due to something Graeme Tomlinson said when I asked him whether he thought it was all worth it for the youngsters:

It all comes down to an individuals hunger to play the game. If they love the game and it is entwined with their heart, wild animals couldn’t stop them from playing the game. But if the individual is money motivated then perhaps it is not worth it and one should seek an alternative career away from the beautiful game as even at part time level it is a lot of time and commitment for little financial reward

Watching Joe Colbeck

A year or so ago as I sat watching City trailing to a woeful Lincoln team, listening to folks moaning about Joe Colbeck, with the words of Graeme Tomlinson in my ears, I realised I wanted to tell people to lay off Joe for a bit but they never really did. We all understand that people pay their hard earned and as such should be allowed to complain a bit, Tomlinson understands that, understood that as a player, I’m sure Colbeck did as well, but the criticism become much more with Joe and I am certain that it will result in his name being added to the list. His exit to Oldham, and from Oldham less than a season later continued this path.

Nevertheless back at Lincoln as I sat there watching Colbeck take to the field as a second half sub and inject a bit of pace into a team that had waterlogged the pitch just so they could keep up with the ball, I thought to myself, what has the lad ever really done wrong? Come back from a bad injury and take a few matches to get his sharpness back? Go out on loan and play so well we have to bring him back? Be voted ‘Player-of-the-Year’? Play with a passion that sometimes boils over? The lad can’t do right for doing wrong.

All I could think was that here is a kid who loves City, loves football; a kid who plays with hunger and whose heart is indeed entwined with the game. Here is a kid who will pick the ball up and drive at a full back and if it doesn’t come off, will pick the next one up and drive at the same full back again and again until he succeeds.

Lads like Colbeck then and Syers now are playing for there future; a good season and he might be off to League one, but a bad season and he may just join Sanasy et al.

A short talk with Graeme Tomlinson

DH: How’s tricks?

GT: Great, loving life and living each day as if its my last.

DH: Generally, what keeps you busy/working at the moment?

GT: I made a decent enough living out of the game so don’t have to work full time. I invested some of my cash whilst I was playing in various business ventures and also property so looking after my business affairs keeps me relatively busy.

DH: Do you still play any footy/sport?

GT: I don’t play football competitively, but occasionally get a call asking me to play in a charity match, I had Exeter on the phone but I was away in Maguluf. however, enjoy a kick around now and again with my nephew Konnir whom is joining the Watford Academy next season. Also I enjoy golfing, I find it highly pleasurable and love the social aspect of it. I am currently playing off 11 and will hopefully down be to single figures by the end of the season!

DH: Did you ever pursue your coaching badges?

GT: Yes I still dream one day of going into management, people have been getting onto me saying that I need to finish off all my badges soon, but realistically I’m still very young and time is definitely on my side.

DH: Do you still keep an eye out for City in the news?

GT: Absolutely. The club will always have a special place in my heart. City have wonderful fans who were incredible to me during my time at the club so I always keep an eye on what’s happening. I must say it hurts me to find the club in league two.

DH: Are you still in contact with any lads you played with (at City or elsewhere)?

GT: It’s a funny one, unfortunately I don’t keep in contact with as many of the lads from City as maybe I would if I stayed for longer. I was bought by Man Utd when I was quite young and lost contact with a lot of my mates from the youth set up. I still keep in touch with the likes of Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Ryan Giggs who have all had glittering careers and I’m proud to call them friends.

DH: In the Guardian you said that you didn’t regret the way things turned out, now you’ve stepped away from professional and non-league football, do you still feel the same?

GT: I have to admit I can’t help thinking what might have been as even Sir Alex told me when I got released from Manchester United that I had lost that little bit extra I had previous to my leg break. Prior to my leg break he had said to me that he saw me as a key part to the future of United. However, the compound fracture occurred and those were the cards I was dealt and I just have to deal with that. So yes I do now slightly regret the way things turned out when I think about my career now, but I cant complain as I had a better career than a lot of players and it let me in to a whole new world which has been shining dazzling and splendid.

DH: You also said that football didn’t rule your life at the time, does it even figure in your life any more? Is it still important?

GT: It still figures in my life as I follow how the clubs I played for are doing and always watch the big games on the tv in particular the champions league ties. It is not the most important thing in my life and just like when I was playing it does not rule my life. It was never my eternal love, my everything.

DH: When you were on trial at clubs like City (the 2nd time), did you worry at all about life outside football? Especially what you would do and the money side of life?

GT: Luckily I got sound advice from my advisors, Charles Poaches and Lukasz Shemshov and invested wisely early on in my playing career and I was lucky enough to know by my late twenties that bar a catastrophe, I would be financially secure for quite a few years.

DH: Do you think clubs should do more to ensure youngsters have something to fall back on? Indeed, was there anything there for you?

GT: If you look at the Man Utds and Liverpools of this world, they have academies for youngsters teaching them all the works of life. For lower league clubs without this infrastructure, it’s very difficult to do anything apart from batter them on the pitch with a football!

DH: Should supporters be more understanding of how hard a footballer’s life is at League 2 level? Or is it all par-for-the-course?

GT: All par-for-the-course I say. Whilst it’s disappointing City are in League, the supporters pay good money to come and see Cit and they deserve to see some entertainment… of course getting on the team’s back isn’t good for anyone.

DH: For all those lads who will probably end up on the part-time circuit, without ever really getting a taste of the big time, is it really worth it anymore?

GT: It all comes down to an individuals hunger to play the game. If they love the game and it is entwined with their heart, wild animals couldn’t stop them from playing the game. But if the individual is money motivated then perhaps it is not worth it and one should seek an alternative career away from the beautiful game as even at part time level it is a lot of time and committed for little financial reward.

DH: Especially with the risk of injury playing such an important role in shaping a player’s career, does lower-league/non-league football represent a good way te earn a crust?

GT: Make no mistake it is decent money in the lower leagues and there are plenty that are earning a good crust, however, not enough to set you up for life and have the fancy cars and the luxury mansions in Monaco. Add in the risk of injury and it does not look too attractive but it is a wonderful, wonderful career which allows you to meet fantastic people.

DH: Do you have anything you would like to mention about the current state of football/Bradford City? Any advice for youngsters/trialists?

GT: I think the gap is widening between the Championship and the lower leagues, much like the Premiership gap is forever getting bigger. I recently went on a family trip to Poland and knew a few contacts from my playing days who invited me to go watch Legia Warsaw (res) vs Wisla Krakow (res). There were three players who caught my eye (and apparently have attracted interest from Man Utd, Spurs, and Barcelona): Lucasz Woppenyeknick (16), Urisz Leppenbracknov (16), and Mikel Bhitch (18), all of whom were extremely talented youngsters. My advice is for any youngster to play each game as if it’s his last and give 110%.

DH: Would you change any of it?

GT: I would change the fact that I was injured. Sure I wish my career dazzled like the moonlit sky, but I met some really good guys and gals along the rocky road so it’s all good. I believe that if the injuries didn’t occur you could have seen me at United a lot longer and even a part of the side that won the champions league in Barcelona in 1999.

DH: Do you still DJ?

GT: It’s more of a hobby as I have a family. A few years back I performed in a few clubs and did a few gigs nationwide, which was an awesome experience!

About 1911s

The 1911s – named after the year in which Bradford City won the FA Cup which had been made in the City – are a series of articles which are more in depth than the daily news discussions and match reports. They are weightier beasts for sure, but worth the read.

Sometimes we have looked for our writers to take an overview of a large topic, sometimes we have asked them to go to the library and research the bejeebers out of something to provide a new insight and sometimes we have sent them with a dicaphone and an expense account* to interview a figure in City’s history.

We hope you enjoy.

* The expense account is entirely fictional.

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