Reading, writing and arithmetic

The FA Cup sixth round draw presented a home game against Reading which would not be televised on the BBC.

After being giant killing heroes against Chelsea the tone of the build up to the Sunderland game was questions as to if players would be able to repeat the achievement. Emphatically the answer was a Yes.

Yet BBC avoided the incongruousness of asking if the giant killers could kill another, smaller, giant when it dodged the Sunderland tie. They also opted against City’s sixth round tie which will be shown on BT Sport.

Bradford City vs Reading is not so much David vs Goliath as David vs Avinadav. Who wants to watch that? Elsewhere the Titans of Manchester United meet the Behemoths of Arsenal, making them both seem normal sized.

The complaints that have emanated from Valley Parade (and the surrounding area) about the lack of television coverage are financially motivated – City wanted the money that comes with hosting the Sunderland game – but much of the newspaper coverage about the decision that fed from City fans being upset was a part of a lengthy war between the Press and the BBC.

The Murdoch press has been attacking the BBC for years. The question the validity of the licence fee in what is a politically and business motivated campaign against the public funded body by an arm of News International, which in turn owns BBC rival Sky Sports. The Times is just The Sun writ respectable and serves the same ends. The business of Murdoch’s business is promoting Sky over the BBC.

The Daily Mail needs no excuse to attack the BBC in the same way and for the same reason as they attack asylum seekers. A mix of politics and the business of giving their customers what they want or what Paul Dacre thinks they want at least. The rest of the newspapers follow along with the line.

Flip the decisions around and the same newspapers who are mock-amazed at Bradford City being “snubbed” would be talking about how the BBC ignored the millions of United fans who wanted to see their heroic comeback at Preston in favour of showing a game at a ground that most weeks is half empty, so little is the Great British public’s interest.

None of these newspapers were demanding that a deal be worked out to show Bradford City vs Swansea City on the BBC in the 2013. If the public deserve to be shown giant killing why was The Sun, The Times, The Daily Mail et al not beating a drum to have a deal struck so that game could be seen live on the BBC than being shown “live and exclusive only” on Sky TV?

None of the acres of back page coverage of City not being on the BBC is about viewers getting to see remarkable football. None of it is about Bradford City fans. None of it is about trying to make the cup more “magic”. None of it cares about clubs like Bradford City at all.

It is all about newspapers using Bradford City as a stick to beat the BBC with.

And do I like my football club being used like that? Do I like my club being used by The Sun, or by The Daily Mail, or whomsoever wants to, to batter the BBC?

No, I do not.

96

I would rather that Bradford City had nothing to do with The Sun at all.

At Bradford City we praise other clubs for leaving a wreath at the memorial to the fire of 1985 or donating a cheque to the Burns Unit and we do this because it shows kinship with the people of Bradford and Lincoln who died that day.

To show kinship with the people of Liverpool I think Bradford City should have as little to do with The Sun as possible.

If possible I’d like Bradford City to have nothing to do with The Sun at all.

Outside of Bradford City fans

Which is not to say that a person cannot believe that Bradford City would have made great television just that outside of City fans (who were, mostly, at the game) but I do not trust the people are “upset” about this BBC snub and magic of the cup.

Their ire does not add up.

I think that most of the year all I read in the same newspapers which talk about the BBC snubbing City is seemingly endless coverage of the minutia of the top of the Premier League. Every day in every newspaper football from the Newcastle United/Spurs position down is treated like runt cousins of the beautiful game.

Teams at City’s level can win games, lose games, sack managers, set records and on and on and have their news fit on the inside back pages after puff pieces about Premier League players and speculation about transfers that might happen rather than the results from games in League One that have happened.

The media which are now demanding Bradford City are the same people who, at best, could not care less about the club the rest of the time and, at worst, actively work against the interests of clubs like City creating a football culture which minimises clubs outside the Premier League.

In 2004 the same newspapers who now are suggesting a BBC bias against Bradford City barely even reported about the fact that Bradford City came within minutes of being liquidated. I remember Look North (for all its failings) did give the Bradford City fans trying to save the club a voice.

How many newspapers who are demanding giant killers be rewarded suggested that the £5.1bn deal should be shared through the football community? How many back pages are devoted to the club’s who struggle against administration in the football climate they create? How many sports editors run stories which tell people to turn off the subscription to wall-to-wall Sky Sports TV an go see their local club?

The supporters of Bradford City are cynically and deliberately being used by newspapers who are faux friends of fans of clubs like ours. We are being used to bash the Beeb and sell some of the newspapers. And those newspapers next week will be using their power to stop going to games at clubs like Bradford City, to stay at home with a subscription to Sky to watch Premier League or La Liga while choosing when to “cash out” on a gambling app.

Our supporters will go to the game, and take their friends, and their families, and sell out Valley Parade.

But – I hope – not buy the papers the day after.

League Two 2009/10 review – Rochdale, Notts County and Bournemouth’s scrap for promotion and the moral high ground

Even during Keith Hill’s finest hour, the Rochdale manager couldn’t resist taking a swipe.

As Dale celebrated sealing their first promotion since 1969 by defeating Northampton in mid-April, Hill looked ahead to his side’s up-coming Tuesday night visit to title rivals Notts County – which represented their last realistic chance to overturn the Magpies leadership – and declared, “If we can’t catch them, I’m sure the tax man will.”

The Meadow Lane club’s own promotion celebrations had been somewhat tempered by their Board having to fight back against critics’ claiming County had cheated their way to promotion, and Hill received an angry reception from Magpies fans during his team’s subsequent 1-0 loss. But as County attempted to defer the blame for signing players on wages they couldn’t afford onto the previous Munto Finance regime, Hill had a point.

Rochdale’s promotion was more than just the triumph of a small club finally experiencing their day in the sun; Chairman Chris Dunphy and Hill believe it was an achievement for doing things properly. League Two has long being a home to basket case clubs on the brink of financial ruin, often playing up to the nation’s media to attract sympathy about the unbalanced nature of English football. But for clubs who are more prudent in managing budgets and paying the bills, such tales of woe are becoming increasingly wearisome.

For Rochdale there is some gleeful irony in swapping divisions with neighbours Stockport this summer. In Hill’s first full season in charge at Spotland the two clubs reached the League Two play off final, with Stockport triumphing at Wembley. Less than 12 months later, Stockport entered administration after over-stretching themselves financially in recent years. Given that over-stretching had led to promotion at Dale’s expense, the perceived injustice was easy to understand.

Not that Dunphy and Hill are alone in feeling angry. Earlier in the season Macclesfield chairman Mike Rance, who’s club get by on the smallest gates in the division, talked about the unlevel playing field which sees others overspend to the detriment of the Cheshire club’s chances. “Last year, in August, Darlington came here and beat us heavily with a team we couldn’t afford, turns out they couldn’t either.” he told the BBC’s Football League Show. “And this year Notts County came here first game of the season with Sven and beat us heavily with a team we couldn’t afford, clearly they couldn’t either.

“Until the game sorts that out then it’s not going to have any integrity. I think it’s very important we play on a level playing field and some sides just don’t, and we find that disappointing.”

Though no League Two club has gone into administration this season, the emergence of other clubs from difficult times to enjoy some success has left others feeling bitter. While the media has heaped praise on the rebirth of Bournemouth, Rotherham and Accrington, Dunphy and Hill kept up their indignation which had previously led to them calling for clubs who go into administration to booted out the Football League.

Rotherham may have lost their stadium and failed to pay all their creditors during three consecutive seasons of points deductions, but this campaign put financial problems behind them and spent relatively big. This included signing Dale’s star striker Adam le Fondre for an undisclosed fee. Hill’s thoughts on this matter were kept private, but ahead of a trip to Bournemouth last October he hit out at the South-coast club over how unfair he felt it would be if they were promoted. The attack failed to spur on Bournemouth, who lost the game 4-0, though ultimately they did finish above Rochdale.

Meanwhile Accrington faced a winding up order last autumn and had to rely on their local community to donate money into collection buckets. Two months after that crisis was averted, relegation-bound Grimsby reportedly had a six-figure transfer bid for Stanley’s top scorer Michael Symes turned down. It’s hoped the nine-year-old girl who emptied her savings into a bucket to help Accrington last autumn understands the reasoning of “faint play off hopes”.

But while Notts County have pulled back from the brink of administration earlier this year, the wolves may still be at the door. Rumours of having to soon go into administration keep cropping up, and at best County will surely need to ship out their high earners who will still command a wage bill too large for League One. Tough times may lie ahead; Sven’s ‘project’ was yesterday’s dream.

And though Rochdale – who themselves may not be whiter than white – ultimately triumphed alongside in-debt County and Bournemouth, in time others who did not gain promotion this season may eventually look back on Nott’s triumph and begin to feel aggrieved, should the Magpies go on to enter administration.

Dale have shown that more conservative principles of balancing the books and slowly building can eventually succeed; but for more to be encouraged to follow their lead, there must be greater deterrents from taking shortcuts and gambling on success.

Breaking even and City in the Champions League

English clubs owe more money than the rest of Europe combined. The huge debts at players like Old Trafford and Anfield are so great that UEFA’s Michel Platini is so concerned that he is trying to ride to the rescue with a rule that would exclude any team from the Champions League or the Europa League that is not in the black.

It seems that 53% of European football debt comes from the top of the English game and while the people in the top flight point to that fact that no only is the majority of debt – but also the majority of income – based on the Premiership. The TV Deals, the popularity, the money coming in they say justifies the red figures on the back account.

Platini – an egalitarian – sees things differently and while the rules he seeks to bring in are undoubtedly going to harm the English clubs from 2013-2014 when the Frenchman wants to begin enforcing the rule onwards one might doubt that it will harm the English football fan.

The benefits of The Glazer deal at Manchester United, the Americans at Liverpool, the Icelanders at West Ham United or the men of unfixed nationality at Portsmouth for the football supporter is debatable. The most shocking thing about Leeds United’s 1-0 win at Old Trafford in January for the East of Pudsey people I spoke to was not the gulf in the teams that had grown in the years since the clubs parted company but the increase in the price. It was £42 for a Loiner to get into the game, twice as much as it was less than a half decade ago.

What is bad for English football making the club’s less attractive for the investors who have flocked to the Premiership in the last decade or so might be good for the English supporters who for all the joy of seeing the “best players in the world” have suffered a counter balancing effect of a third of teams going into administration. Make club’s less desirable for investors looking to use the assets they purchase to mortgage the business and one makes the football club (rather than the football business) safer, in theory at least.

Of course this begs the question as to who owns football clubs if it is not the current ranks of investors and interested parties not all of which can be said to be moustachio twirling madmen. One answer is found at Valley Parade.

Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes are a pair of local businessmen and for all the increasingly – and for me troubling – autocratic nature of one of the joint chairmen in his approach to planning at the club the previous plan he has followed has worked.

Worked not on the field – at least not in the medium term it was judged – but certainly off it. Mark Lawn arrived with a plan – a plan that Julian Rhodes had hoped for for sometime – of the club working within its budget and living in its means and we are told that this plan has worked.

Bradford City are one of only two professional English football clubs who are in the black. Lawn and Rhodes’s plan worked, that is why it would be nice to know what the plan is now and why I’d hoped that Lawn would come out with his arm around Peter Taylor with a contract that lasted for years and announce that nothing at Valley Parade would change, aside from the manager. That he still believed in the long term planning and stability that had got us to the point where we lived within our means that that Peter Taylor would be given that stability and ability to avoid having to boom or bust to keep his job. Alas he did not.

Nevertheless if it is true to say that City are in the black – the news was written to a fan and is mentioned in the excellent and once again plugged City Gent #162 – then the joint chairmen deserve credit and we shall keep our fingers crossed that this last month where the plan that has been us in such rude financial health is questioned that it has not been dumped.

It is an achievement for the club and everyone at it that at the turn of the decade that saw City go into administration twice that Bradford City have learnt the lesson and put being in the black as an a significant aim.

Michel Platini will hope that we still do because if things were to continue as they do now then in 2013 when the Frenchman aims to enact his new rules Scunthorpe United and Bradford City will be England’s only two entries to the Champions League.

McCall echoes Law’s bluntest comments – will we pay attention this time?

Arresting oratory rarely comes from the most lucid speakers. Churchill’s finest hours came not from his desire to play with words but the bluntness of his statements. “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat” may flow off the tongue well but more importantly, it is guttural, basic.

As one decade ticks over to another there is a tendency to look back to the last and encapsulate and in doing some one piece of oratory sticks out above others. A couple of years from the start of the decade then manager Nicky Law delivered this damning pronouncement:

At some grounds the crowd are like a goal for the home team, here (at Valley Parade) they are like one for the opposition.

It is blunt to the point of offence and hastened Law’s exit from the position he had at the club but remains – despite two administrations and three relegations – the outstanding comment of the ten years perhaps because of the bluntness. It was the manager of the club at the end of his tether and is perhaps made more significant by the slide that followed Law’s exit. The gaffer – love him or loathe him – was issuing a warning to supporters. He was not the first.

Ten years before IPC Magazines – those people behind Roy of the Rovers and NME – had asked all 92 clubs what music they ran on to the pitch to. This was before the Sunderland’s use of Republica’s Ready To Go updated run-on music and years before Burnley perfected it with Arcade Fire’s Wake Up (Coyle, leaving that, you must be mad) amid the usual Z-Cars of Everton and Newcastle’s Local Hero came not the name of a song but an anonymous comment from Valley Parade.

We usually run out to total silence

Both phrases talk in terms of warnings and strike hard against the memories of Valley Parade after Gordon Watson’s goals against Barnsley, against Liverpool in 2000, against Blackpool in 2003 but anyone who has followed City – especially those who follow City on the road and have heard the contrast between VP and away grounds – knows that for the talk of “best fans” which is heard from all clubs the Bantams backing at Valley Parade is almost always underwhelming.

The City Gent‘s Dave Pendleton talking about the rising Ultras movement in English lower league football commented on how fifty Accrington Stanley fans were able to out-sing 11,000 Bantams in Valley Parade. There are many reasons for this – the movement from standing to all seats, the breaking up of singing groups in the stadium, offish stewarding and so on – but Pendleton’s reflections are not isolated incidents.

At the time Law’s comments seemed to be petty, small-minded and ungenerous – the last actions of an Emporer before the fall of his Rome – but in retrospect they read as as stark a warning every issued to a footballing community. “Care for you club” – they seem to say – “because no one else will and you will suffer the consequences.”

The comments point to a helplessness – a desperation – of manager Law at the time. Some took his comments as a direct criticism of all but from the distance of years they strike one more as a man saying that he can only do so much. “I’m doing what I can,” they float, “how about a bit of help from the supporters?”

Within a couple of years a dozen people were sitting about the Goldsborough in Bradford trying to tie two ends of the club together, trying to riase enough money that City were not be put into liquidation rather than continuing administration, and no one had time to consider Law’s words but they rang around the chasm between the pub and Valley Parade with a mocking resonance.

Reconciling the two positions is difficult. Twice in the last decade Bradford City supporters showed summers of endless depths of passion, of stoicism and of belief to keep the club in business and able to play football through winters in which often the converse was true. Impatience was common, spinelessness frequent and, sadly, distaste poured forth. I heard it said by one of the dozen people who spent a summer raising the money to keep City going that the club was not just saved to give some people a place to moan every two weeks.

This decade was not a week old when Stuart McCall delivered a comment which to many echoed Law’s words and while they were less blunt than the previous manager’s they – for some – contained the same meaning.

If anyone wants to pack up and clear off, then I don’t want them here. That goes for anybody connected with the club.

Rumours following the comments – which the T&A’s Simon Parker attributed to being about the supporters rather than McCall pointed at – were that the manager was upset at the attitude of some of the directors perhaps specifically Roger Owen although one was also reminded of the infamous Brian Clough story which has the great man sacking three tea ladies he discovered sniggering at a Derby County loss. Negativity – Clough believed – undermined everything.

Certainly McCall was quick to point out that he was not criticising the supporters talking about the great backing they have had from the fans 6,000 of whom have signed up for Season Tickets for next season but as with Law’s comments some see this as McCall’s attack on the fan and want a similar response with the manager being stripped of his responsibilities.

Regardless of his intended target McCall’s comments apply equally to supporters as they do to the boardroom, the dressing room or elsewhere at Valley Parade. Clough and Law shared the belief that negativity aided the opposition and it seems that McCall has come to the same conclusion.

One has to wonder what Bradford City 2010 have been like were the reaction to Law’s comments not a ire that he should dare speak against Bradford City supporters but as a motivation to resolve to make what difference a full throated support can for a club? Poor atmosphere is common in football home ends up and down the country but it need not be the case and if atmosphere has a purpose in victories in football then the Bantams support could resolve to be the team that uber-supports rather than just another ground where nothing is ever as good as it could be.

Would we have seen Bryan Robson’s side slide away? Would we have seen the lifeless surrender of League One status at Huddersfield and at home to Leyton Orient? Would we have seen the wilting away of last season’s promotion push? Would any of these things been avoided had Law’s comments rung true and the type of support which often is only witness in away ends could be heard in the home sections of VP.

Certainly at the club the idea that there is a negativity at Bradford City has been noted. Mark Lawn has talked about the message board and making posters responsible for what is said in the hope that it would alter the tone while the moving of away fans to create a noisy Bradford End has been a qualified success with the atmosphere created by some way the most positive in the stadium, and the noisiest.

This website stand accused – from time to time – of “having a go at the fans” which is sometimes true but in this case is not. (Incidentally for my part I have no qualms about saying that on occasion I feel the need to point out unjustified negativity of a section of City fans and for those fans to bleat about being “attacked” or being the subject of having BfB “having a go” is an hypocrisy. If – in one example – a person is man enough to stand up in front of the fans around him – including a good few twelve year old kids – and call Joe Colbeck “a c*nt” then he is man enough to take any criticism aimed at him.)

This is an article about a nameless source at Valley Parade in the 90s, a manager in the form of Nicky Law in the last decade, The City Gent’s Dave Pendleton and another manager Stuart McCall in this one and it is about putting aside a pompous pride and thinking about what is best considered for the wider Bradford City community.

I’m a guy with an opinion, Some bloke at VP is just some bloke, Law was a jobbing manager, Pendleton is just a guy who writes a fanzine, McCall is a club legend and they all speak to the same conclusion about the effects of support and the detriments of negativity. What voice are we not going to ignore before this issue is addressed?

Note on comments An interesting debate on Stuart McCall is taking place elsewhere on this website which need not be duplicated here. Instead – and this is a departure from the usual track of comments – suggestions on ways to improve the mood, the atmosphere, the tone of the club are would be appreciated below.

A decade of decline, misery and still existing

Played 495, won 150, drawn 124, lost 221, scored 604 goals and conceded 728. As a decade, the noughties have been long and largely miserable for Bradford City.

It began with the Bantams scrapping for their lives in the Premier League under Paul Jewell, it has ended four divisions below and with typical pessimism over the immediate prospects of beginning the ascent back. Dashed hopes, repeated agony, fruitless endeavour. Even though the club’s history is littered with underachievement, the last 10 years have set some new standards.

In fact, looking around at others, it would not be an exaggeration to label Bradford City English professional football’s most unsuccessful club of the 00’s.

It hasn’t all been doom and gloom – five months into the new millennium was that never-to-be-forgotten afternoon City defeated England’s most successful club to seal Premier League survival. It prompted scenes of delirium as the final whistle was greeted by fans swarming onto the pitch to mob their heroic players and join in singing You’ll Never Walk Alone with the gracious Liverpool supporters. The bars in Bradford were heaving that night and we supporters dreamt of a future of top flight football as the mid-90’s momentum that had seen City climb from England’s third tier saw few signs of slowing. A fantastic day, but what’s next?

With each passing year of disappointment, that victory over Liverpool has given rise to another debate about whether it would have been better City had lost and been relegated instead. If City’s first top flight campaign in 77 years ended in heroic failure rather than plain heroic, City might have rebuilt more sensibly in the Football League; perhaps bouncing up and down like Birmingham. More likely, City might now be muddling along like a Barnsley or Ipswich; still having undergone some financial difficulties – for then-Chairman Geoffrey Richmond would have still spent relatively significant money and the 7.5 million pound new stand would have been built anyway – but strong enough to be a firm fixture in the Championship, a place we now aspire to be.

Instead David Wetherall’s headed winner paved the way for those six weeks of madness and almost complete financial meltdown two years later, with debts of over 35 million. The financial strife was self-inflicted and the damage is still endured now. Every subsequent failure since Dermot Gallagher blew for full time against Liverpool can ultimately be traced back to those six weeks.

The question of whether we’d use a time machine to fly back to May 2000 and warn a Liverpool defender to mark Wetherall in the 12th minute is one we’d all answer differently. Me, I’d like to think that one day the financial ball and chain will be removed and when it is the memories of that warm May afternoon will still feel as joyful as it continues to do now. Liverpool at home is a life moment I’ll always be grateful to have experienced, and I hope one day to be truly able to say it was worth it.

As for other great moments of the decade, City’s continuing existence will go down as the biggest achievement. It’s often a point of criticism from other fans that supporters who still talk of their gratitude for still having a club to support are excusing subsequent underachievement and need to move on. I agree to a point, but the lessons learned in 2002 and 2004 are ones which cannot be forgotten.

It’s commonplace for lower league clubs to hit financial troubles and, as Watford, Southend, Accrington and Stockport take the national media’s sympathy spot this season, it’s always tempting to shrug the shoulders and mutter “so what?’. Like a typical Richard Curtis film we all know there will be a happy ending, don’t we?

In both of City’s spells in administration the prospect of the club’s termination was very real and very scary. That July morning in 2004 when it looked all over and fans stood outside Valley Parade, ready to mourn as the noon deadline for the end approached, was a day I was flying from the UK to the States, agonisingly stuck on an eight hour flight then a two-hour car drive before I could access any information about whether I still had a club to support.

The joy each time when at the last minute the club was saved and the relief as the players ran out onto the Valley Parade pitch for the first time since a few weeks later. It was easy to take it all for granted before, but the traumatic summers of 2002 and 2004 taught us to be thankful of this special relationship in our lives, which can cause us frustration and pain but that we cannot cope without.

Post-administration on both occasions, it was clear the immediate future was one of tredding water rather than a time to draw up blue sky five-year plans. Unfortunately relegation was not too far away both times – the common thread being the enforced lack of investment in the playing squad having disastrous results. City’s 2003/04 centenary celebrations were hollow as a squad of Premier League cast offs struggled dismally, setting a new Football League record for most single goal defeats in a season. In 2006/07 the squad depended on loan signings – those who did well quickly disappeared and those who remained failed to possess enough fight to rescue their temporary employers from the League Two abyss.

At other times, seasons often began with seemingly reasonable expectations of challenging for the play offs, but as the nights drew darker in winter early season promise drifted to usual mediocrity. The only season where promotion hopes remained in tact with less than a quarter of it remaining was last year, but then a talented squad’s form collapsed bringing with it that distressingly familiar feeling of despair.

There’s been little cup cheer as a distraction either, save for this season’s run in the JPT and the Intertoto adventure back in 2000.

Underpinning much of the decline has been musical chairs in the managerial seat. Jewell was controversially gone in the summer of 2000. His replacement Chris Hutchings exited 12 Premier League games later. The no-nonsense Jim Jefferies quickly waved the white flag on City’s Premiership survival hopes. He departed the following Christmas Eve with his rebuilding job struggling to get going.

The pace of change at least slowed then, with Nicky Law, Colin Todd and now Stuart McCall afforded more time to get things right. Bryan Robson did have a short spell after Law was sacked in 2003, but Captain Marvel talked a better game off the field than his charges did on it.

All since Jewell have been branded failures at City, but the hiring and firing policy has also played its part in the fall to League Two. If Richmond’s big mistake was to go mad for a month and a half, Julian Rhodes’ decision to sack Todd in February 2007 – with City three points clear of the relegation zone and displaying midtable form – is one to regret. Todd was ready to leave at the end of the season and, despite the handicap of losing his three best players, the chances of survival were far greater with the experienced hand rather than under the rookie tutelage of caretaker Wetherall, who’s concentration would have been better served on just leading the team as captain.

Todd was sacked for frustration at City being stuck in the mid-table of League One, now McCall is under pressure for so far failing to reverse the damage from becoming unstuck.

Not that Rhodes’ influence over the past decade should be dismissed by that one action. After Richmond’s borrow-heavily-self-reward-through-dividends-a-plenty policy failed disastrously in 2002, the Rhodes family – also recipients of those controversial dividend payments – did everything they could financially to maintain the club’s existence. A fortune built up through the success of their Filtronics company has declined through their obvious love of the Bantams, and though for a time they were helped by Gordon Gibb the Rhodeses were once again the only saviours around in 2004, alongside supporters who did everything they could to raise money to keep the club going over that summer.

One can only admire the Rhodes family’s resolve in attempting to put the club on an even keel again. There was hope in 2006 that then-commercial manager Peter Etherington was to ease that load and inject much needed capital, but in the end it proved a false dawn. At least Julian now has the added support of Mark Lawn since 2007. Rhodes has made it known he is less comfortable in the spotlight, and Lawn has over the last three years become the public front of house.

It’s to be hoped that, ultimately, Rhodes’ legacy will not just be saving the club twice, but to have made professional football affordable in a part of the country that is far from affluent. City’s demise to League Two should have seemed a catastrophe, but with Rhodes’ cheap season ticket initiative taking off and McCall appointed manager it was a club reborn.

The offer has so far being repeated three times and there is every indication it will continue for sometime. In League One, the lower crowds City attracted affected the atmosphere with the limited noise rattling around a two-thirds empty stadium. There are still plenty of unsold seats on matchdays, but the atmosphere is undoubtedly better for the season ticket offer bringing in 10,000+ supporters.

Though as Rhodes will have learned many years ago, success on the field is an outcome almost impossible for the board to determine. There has been a high turnover of players at Valley Parade ever since Jefferies told Richmond the flair players he inherited had to go. A cycle of underperforming players being replaced by poorer ones has continued through to League Two. When it’s a few players not up to the job it has hampered progress – much was expected of the likes of Dan Petrescu, Ashley Ward, Jason Gavin, Bobby Petta, Owen Morrison and Paul McLaren, but they and many others regularly failed to make the right impact – when it is almost a whole team relegation has followed.

Plenty of wretched team performances along the way – Stockport ’01, Wimbledon ’02, Sunderland ’03, Forest ’05, Oldham ’06, Huddersfield ’07, Accrington ’07, Notts County  ’09 and Rochdale ’09. Though on other occasions the 11 players (or nine) have got it right and prompted giddy celebrations; defeating Chelsea in ’00, a Benito Carbone-inspired Gillingham thrashing in ’01, the last minute Michael Proctor equaliser against Burnley in ’02, Bryan Robson’s managerial debut where City came from 2-0 down to win 3-2 in the last minute in ’03, the five wins in a row of ’04, completing the double over Huddersfield in ’05, Joe Brown’s late winner against Blackpool in ’06, Lincoln away ’07 and Accrington away last season.

10 years is a long time, and for each of us watching in the stands it will have been a decade of personal change too. My perceptions and outlook on City has altered; I’m now older than many of the players and the obvious decline in quality of the playing staff since the Premiership means I’m more likely to admire players – Donovan Ricketts, Nathan Doyle, Andy Gray, Simon Francis, Dean Windass, Dean Furman and Carbone – rather than treat them as heroes.

This Christmas a thoughtful relative got me an Edinho t-shirt which I love but it also hit home that, over the past decade, there’s been few players who can come close to matching the feelings I had for our Brazilian striker. Of course we also live in a time of message board users ripping apart everyone connected with the club which makes hero status harder to achieve, and though this type of criticism existed in 2000 I was unaware of it – and much happier for that.

There’s still no better feeling than the joy of the ball flying into the back of the net and celebrating wildly.

I’m always thrilled by the experience of a feisty game where City are on top and all four sides of the ground are backing the players positively, urging them forward to score. All negative moaners are drowned out, all problems the club has to meet are suspended. The noise carries over the thousands of empty seats so they don’t matter, everything else in our lives has been left at the turnstile door for later.

This was the decade we nearly lost all of this. It may go down as one of most unsuccessful periods in the club’s history, but the noughties have been unforgettable.

The loop continues at Darlington

There was a depressing predictability about the reaction to the defeat to Rochdale this week which saw the Bantams beaten 3-0 by a League Two team that played a slick, flowing, football beyond their status. For some Rochdale were not given credit for a performance which made them near unplayable while others rubbed eyes with an amazement and wistfully asked when City would play like that.

Perhaps the answer to that goes back a decade to the team that was promoted to the Premiership who played with the same bottomless confidence and belief in each other that Rochdale showed. At one point – and without looking – one Dale defender headed out from a corner to the release valve man who trotted the ball up field for another attack.

It was akin to Peter Beagrie turning a right back and putting the ball to the far post because he knew – he had the confidence that – Lee Mills would be under it to head in and from the stands it looks like telepathy. Perhaps 3-0 Bradford 2009 will be to Spotland what Chelsea 2-0 2000 is to City fan – a high watermark in performance.

City’s job following on – and specifically Stuart McCall’s job – is to minimise the result and move on from it learning what can be taken from the game and rebuilding the confidence of a side who were found to be second best. This season started in this manner with the 5-0 defeat at Notts County requiring a mental rebuild as well as a team reshaping.

Options for moving players around are available but more importantly players like Steve Williams, James O’Brien and James Hanson have had their first taste of that flavour of bitter defeat and McCall needs to work with those players. Part of building a squad based around young players gives these problems of inconsistency perhaps by virtue of the unexpected. Steve Williams will have never played against an attacking line which moved around as much as the Rochdale one did. He can learn from that.

As the dust settles from the Rochdale game the Bantams sit nine points off the automatic promotion places – the same distance as on Tuesday afternoon – but four off the play-offs. Bottom place Darlington represent a chance to close that gap.

Darlington are a club cursed by a stadium far too big for their needs an inability to get the local public interested in filling it. As a club they bought into the dreams of the last decade and a half’s promise of big football and like City they have struggled to make that a sustainable proposition. In the summer they employed Colin Todd and Dean Windass to hammer together a squad from spare parts – including former Bantams Mark Bower and Paul Arnison – and the did a manful job before departing to leave Steve Staunton – a fifth former Bantam in the sentence – who struggles against situations such as his inability to play the excellent Steve Foster again for fear of triggering the offer of a new contract the club can ill afford.

Darlington lived beyond there means – Rochdale’s Chris Dunphy would have them out of the league no doubt – and as usual the supporters are left to pick up the pieces left behind when businessmen/safe crackers have moved on.

The cost of administration and football failure is never better illustrated than the woman in Darlington who saw her B&B business in trouble after the club defaulted on the debt it had run up housing a loanee signed to sit on the bench when the clubs met at Valley Parade back in February chasing promotion in a way they could not afford.

That night Darlington played what could be called “a hard game” and one Kevin Austin challenge on Omar Daley snapped the midfielders leg in half (Hey – I’m no Doctor) and stopped the player form kicking a ball in anger until this week taking the Bantams promotion campaign with it.

Daley’s return for the reserves is a hint at things to come rather than a burst back into the side. Omar played 45 minutes but will be taking the long road back and it seems that Simon Whaley will be filling in for him until his return, perhaps exiting when he is fit.

Whaley and fellow support striker Gareth Evans were neutralised by a canny Rochdale side leaving Stuart McCall with a tactical head swim. The 433 took care of Grimsby – the team one place above Darlington – but was ineffective against Rochdale and the manager must decide which of these two games is reflective of his formation’s effects.

Simon Eastwood will keep the gloves after an athletic display on Tuesday blotted by having the ball placed through his legs for the first goal. The defensive four will probably remain as it was – or at least it would if I were manager – but some would switch Simon Ramdsen into the middle with Steve Williams and put Jonathan Bateson in at right back while others favour Ramsden and Rehman rather than Williams. O’Brien is unchallenged at left back save other young players but has put in a good level of performance this year and certainly is forgiven Tuesday night.

Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock emerged from the mid-week game without criticism – indeed perhaps it is tribute to their strengths that Rochdale played the game on the flanks rather than through the middle – and will keep the middle of field although that could be with one of James O’Brien/Chris Brandon in a three of with Scott Neilson and Whaley/Brandon on the flanks in a four.

Neilson looked lively coming on on Tuesday night – an admirable attitude that deserved more than an ironic cheer for his header at goal in the last minute – but will probably be restricted to the bench. James Hanson will almost certainly start and will match himself against Mark Bower and – as Foster cannot play and Ian Miller is injured – someone from the Quakers youth side. Knowing what we do about Mark Bower one might expect McCall to keep Gareth Evans alongside Hanson – Bower struggled with powerful players – and leave Michael Boulding on the bench. A three would have Whaley/Hanson/Evans along the front.

Darlington – despite the trails – represent a tough game approach the match with nothing to lose and written off before kick off. City start rebuilding confidence once more – stuck in a kind of loop between bad results leading to unbeaten periods interrupted by bad results. It is midtable form and needs a kick start to move it onto being play-off contenders.

Darlington – who attempted a kick start last season living beyond their means – offer a start warning about trying to break that loop.

Accrington nearly don’t come to Valley Parade but the happy ending becomes more predictable

The heavy rain of the past few days must place Bradford City’s home fixture with Accrington Stanley in a modicum of doubt, but then the prospect of Saturday 21 November being a blank Saturday for the Bantams seemed very real a few weeks back.

Accrington, the club that wouldn’t die, almost died. Given six weeks to pay a six-figure tax bill, the collection buckets were rattling around the Crown Ground earlier this season as part of rescue efforts which brought out the best in its North West neighbours. Yet not enough money was raised and its claimed officials arrived at the club’s High Court hearing with no plan B and left with the gratitude of a local businessman stepping in to make up the shortfall. Accrington live on, and the prospect of early season results been invalidated – to the joy of those Stanley beat and the despair of those they lost to – and of a 23-team division with only one relegation spot was ended.

As Southend prepare to take on the national media’s attention as club basket case, that Accrington survived may have caused some to indifferently shrug their shoulders and consider how, for every League club that it’s reported is on the brink of financial oblivion, something always turns up and their survival is assured. And while everyone enjoys a happy ending, the reputed predictability is breeding subsequent hostility from some, just ask Darlington. Poor old Accrington, struggling to get by. Hang on, didn’t they spend £85,000 on one player (admittedly later sold for a profit) 18 months ago?

Last Saturday Bournemouth were in town with the strong criticisms of Rochdale Manager Keith Hill still echoing. Ahead of Dale’s 4-0 success at Dean Court, Hill had stated, “They overspend and it is to the detriment to clubs like ours and it is happening too often now…i’m sick of it continually happening.” Having been stuck in the basement league since 1974 and with a largely untroubled recent financial history, Hill and Chairman Chris Dunphy are clearly aggrieved at how their efforts to live within means see them lose out to others who gamble more recklessly with their future. One wonders if Hill’s pre-Bournemouth mood was influenced by his team’s home defeat to Accrington the week before.

For as Accrington seek to climb back onto a more stable financial future after the local community helped to prop it up, what’s the most morally appropriate way to progress? There were stories of a nine-year-old Accrington girl emptying the contents of her piggy bank into a collection bucket last September, would it be right for the club to spend money during the January transfer window? And if not then, when? Hill’s views on Rotherham United, with two recent spells in administration, purchasing his star striker Adam Le Fondre earlier this season probably aren’t printable.

Rochdale and their supporters don’t seem to care much for Bradford City, but the Spotland club may have a small degree of respect for the way joint Chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn cut the cloth accordingly over the summer after pushing the boat out a year earlier in the quest for promotion. City were the first club to fall into administration following the ITV Digital collapse, but while many others who followed were quickly able to brush off mistakes and get busy in the transfer market again, the self-inflicted scars continue to cause pain for the Bantams. Plenty of people lost out due to the infamous six weeks of madness, but Bradford City and its supporters remain high on that list too. Those financial woes may largely be a thing of the past, but the lesson has not been forgotten.

The conservative but sensible actions of the City Board has seen Manager Stuart McCall’s playing budget reduce by a third  but, though its widely agreed he’s used it admirably, regrettably it appears a small minority of supporters don’t appreciate the ramifications. City’s 1-1 draw with Bournemouth, joint leaders no less, should have generated a greater mood of approval if not satisfaction, but the injury list which hindered efforts was brushed off by some to make way for criticism.

Theres nothing like managers playing people out of position to trigger red rage from a certain breed of football fan, and the circumstances which saw Zesh Rehman in midfield and Michael Flynn up front were slammed in a manner which deliberately ignored the bigger picture. A reduced budget means Stuart simply can’t retain the strength in depth and the same level of quality, so the length of the injury list is likely to prove a more telling factor this season. And when it does, players will be asked to take on unfamiliar roles and performances are going to suffer to a degree. A negative perhaps, but one which has to be tackled positively.

The injury situation clears up slightly this week with James Hanson returning to partner Gareth Evans and Scott Neilson up front, which will allow Flynn to return to the attacking midfield position he is performing so effectively alongside Lee Bullock and either Chris Brandon or James O’Brien. Just one player’s return it able to make that much of a difference, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that competition for places continues to be undermined by the unavailability of Peter Thorne, Michael Boulding, Steve O’Leary, Omar Daley and Leon Osborne. No longer down to the bare bones, but Stuart is hardly flush with options. A loan signing has been suggested, at the time of writing there are no few faces.

At the back the big question concerns whether skipper Zesh Rehman will reclaim his place in the back four or whether Matt Clarke – impressive in the last two games – will retain the role. Rehman has struggled for form of late and Clarke’s general solidness alongside Steve Williams may give him the nod in the way he took Mark Bower’s place in the team two seasons ago after the former defender also vacated the back four to help another area of the team.

At right back Simon Ramsden should also be fit enough for a return, ahead of Jonathan Bateson. The former Blackburn youth player has struggled with his distribution of late, though continues to display a great attitude and a confidence to get forward.  Luke O’Brien is left back – and there are a couple of interesting talking points concerning last season’s player of the year. The first is that O’Brien has been asked to take on more responsibility, as part of the new-look 4-3-3 formation, with strong encouragement to bring the ball forward more.

The other talking point is how, in recent games, the lack of cover afforded to the 21-year-old from midfielders in front  has been targeted by opposition managers. At Macclesfield, for example, Emile Sinclair was instructed to use the space in front of O’Brien to cause problems. It’s for this reason the selection of James O’Brien to play in front of him, rather than Brandon who likes to drift around the pitch, is widely preferred by fans.

Simon Eastwood keeps goal and has shown improvement of late. He will need to be wary of a reasonably strong Accrington line up that will include former City striker Michael Symes. An away win would see Stanley climb above City and give rise to promotion hopes, but such success may not be considered the fairy tale stuff it would have before the tax bill reminder came through the door.

As City try to achieve more from less this season, it could be argued a Bantams’ promotion would be more romantic than a club who’s name is often-proclaimed the most romantic in football.

The blank space

Last week we saw freedom of speech taken to an extreme and it is it is an odd week where people are asking each other “did you see Question Time last night?”

Nevertheless the rights and wrongs of politics aside we can – on the whole – agree that free speech is to be welcomed and that attempts to stop someone saying something because you do not like what they are saying is not.

So there is something worrying in the news that David Conn and the newspaper he writes for The Guardian are no longer welcome at Elland Road because of Conn’s revealing articles about the ownership of the club who went down 2-1 to Millwall.

Conn’s writing had untangled a web of financial strands around the Leeds United chairman Ken Bates and the administration they went through which he emerged as owner of a debt free club following. The complexities are near mind boggling and commenting on them directly would be a presumption that I understood the detail but one thing becomes very clear when looking at stories of Cayman Islands-registered Forward Sports Fund and Guernsey accountants that the world of Leeds United administration is very different to that of Bradford City’s.

Likewise Bradford City’s two administrations were different from each other and both were different to Leicester City’s infamous debt shuffle which is a million miles away from what happened to AFC Bournemouth which was nothing like the Rotherham United into and out while still spending money which could never be afforded at Darlington.

Every administration is different, has different causes, ends in different results. When Bradford City struggled to stay afloat it was said at a supporters fund raiser that it might take the Bantams twenty years to recover from the woes but recover we would. I am of the belief that that statement was in essence true and that last season’s finishing a place higher than the previous season was a significant – if slight – sign of that recovery.

Other administrations see clubs like Rotherham United pleading poverty one year and then the next making offers to players like Nicky Law Jnr and Adam le Fondre whose former chairman Chris Dunphy has a thing or two to say about good governance in the game but oddly allowed a club that did seek protection from creditors to take le Fondre for an “undisclosed fee“. The people who had debts written off in South Yorkshire would probably be keen to know how much cash The Millers were able to find this year that was not there last.

The ownership of Leeds United is unclear but Conn’s articles would seem to suggest that the ownership is structured in a way that preferred Bates in the process and thus is not only illegal but would also be against the promises made by Bates and Leeds to the Football League. The punishments for the legal side of things – should Conn be accurate – one can only guess at and the football sanctions are rumoured to be as stiff as given out to any club in my memory with the Elland Road side facing a two division relegation should it be found that Conn’s conclusions are accurate.

The reaction of Bates to these allegations is troubling for Leeds United supporters as he attempts – one assumes – to give a lesson to those journalists who would dig too deep into his dealings that they will no longer be allowed to carry coverage on his team. Leeds are big business and newspapers – especially regional newspapers who struggle to keep going – can hardly afford to upset the local football side and Bates is infamous for enforcing a hegemony in the local media.

Of course Bates has a right to allow whomever he wants into Elland Road – as Conn attests he owns the League One club – but one doubts that will assuage any worries Leeds United supporters might have at the thought of getting promoted this year only to step backwards and be forced to find a new owner during a financial crisis. They would do well to follow the example of the Liverpool supporters who demand answers from their owners rather than doing as the Notts County fans do as some happily ignore things off the field and the muddiness of that club’s ownership.

Every administration is different, this is a point that is maybe lost on some, but in footballs age of rapid change of ownership the constant which is bought and sold is the good will of supporters. In our administration that was manifested by the half a million pounds raised because there was no other money to keep the club going but in but other clubs cases less scrupulous people – yes less scrupulous even than Gordon Gibb – have become involved and as a result supporters have suffered.

So The Guardian resisted the proposed riposte of leaving a large blank square in the sports pages to highlight the “ban” they are facing but when chairmen start stopping a newspaper from investigative reporting – and when such a ban is allowed to pass without comment from the rest of the media on the whole – then alarm bells need to ring for supporters.

Supporters should want the questions that need to be asked to be asked by the likes of David Conn and that every newspaper does not boycott Elland Road in protest is shame on them. The right for supporters to have their serious questions answered when asked by the highest quality of journalists is something that needs to be protected and when it is attacked by one is should be defended by all.

The league could shake this week as administration Thursday nears

One could hardly have guessed it this morning reading a collection of newspaper headlines about Christiano Ronaldo will leave England because of a lack of protection from Referees and how one side of Manchester are being told they should pay £30m for a player who could not find the net on the other side that around a tenth of the professional clubs in the country are battling with the decision as to whether they should go into administration by Thursday.

Thursday – the third in March – is football’s deadline for having ten point penalties given to the current season’s total rather than next. The problems of exiting administration are such a fifteen point penalty on exiting without the CVA that City twice had in place is practically guaranteed should you be looking a wiping out debts for the start of next season and not be under administration by Thursday then a club would start the year on minus fifteen and not minus twenty-five and as AFC Bournemouth and Rotherham have proved – that is not a killer blow.

My thoughts on punishment for clubs entering and exiting administration differ from other but mostly these articles and the debate on the subject assume that the fifteen point penalty – which is discretionary – will be levied and not the punishment which Rochdale’s Chris Dunphy would unilaterally dish out which would be expulsion from the league.

The wording of the League’s rules is always hard to come by but to paraphrase would be to say that a club that exits administration without a CVA in place is expelled from the League unless there are exceptional circumstances which in the cases of Leeds United, Rotherham United, Luton Town and AFC Bournemouth there have been. If a circumstance happens every time it is not “exceptional”. The Football League were probably acting within the interests of protectionism in ensuring that they do not lose those four clubs and that is probably no bad thing.

That they continue to do so depends on how much sympathy the likes of Rochdale’s Chris Dunphy can drum up in his well meaning if scattershot campaign for good governance in football. If football becomes populated with enough Dunphys then the next vote on is a club can exit without CVA and retain a place in the League will be to the negative and someone will be cast down to the lowest of the low level of the football pyramid.

Bradford City’s governance is managed by virtue of a chunk of cash put in by Mark Lawn who hopes that attendances can be retained for future season. That we have not brought in player x or player y down to an unwillingness to go back down the route of unrealistic debt and something that we should all be happy about as City fans.

What must Chris Dunphy feel about Brentford – £10m in debt and hoping for promotion to pay the bills – running away with the League Two? Probably the same as I feel but Chris Dunphy gets a vote he could mobilise against them if they end up in the poor house. Would Chris Dunphy vote that Luton, that Rotherham, that Leeds should have been thrown out of the Football League and effectively ended as football clubs?

This is the judgement the reportedly ten clubs who are considering entering administration in the next two days are making. Will they be added to the list of exceptions or will the hand become the wrist and will one, two, five, ten clubs not be making it to next season?

And if they do will they be taking ten point penalties that mean the table on Friday will differ drastically from that on Wednesday?

Rochdale’s chairman gives motivation as the crunch draws in

Rochdale chairman Chris Dunphy

My opinion is that when a club goes into receivership or liquidation, they should lose the golden share and drop out of the league, I think it’s grossly unfair when we go to places like Bradford City, who have wiped off debts of £38m and been bust twice, and the likes of Rotherham, who’ve been bust three times and wiped off their debts. It’s absolutely scandalous.

Promotion is a great motivation for beating Rochdale and a win for the Bantams on Tuesday night will go a long way to establishing City’s position as automatic promotion chasers but to paraphrase Wilde on an occasion such as dealing with Dunphy it becomes more than a footballing imperative to win the game. It becomes a pleasure.

Dunphy’s assessment of City’s financial problems is a distortion of the truth – the Bantams did not write off £38m but rather paid off a significant (in that is was all that could be afforded) chunk of the debts – I know because I was in the room when we did it – and did so in a way that handicapped the club to such an extent that rather than recovering to be reinstalled in the Premiership we end up at Spotland, playing Rochdale, in Division Four.

Dunphy – who tries to take the moral high ground on football finance – is charging £20 per adult during the credit crunch. Dunphy – who prides himself on how he runs Rochdale up to the line but no further but sees fit to criticise Rotherham United who try do the same but for the South Yorkshire flooding which plunged the club into crisis – is prepared to suggest that all as who have had financial problems are guilty by association with administrators.

Good governance in football is more than admirable – it is necessary – but it does not need the kind of advocates who use it exclusively and lash out at the unfortunate who suffer along with the financially undisciplined.

Say what you want about the causes of City’s first administration but do not doubt that the second was caused by a club that spends years to that point and years after struggling to keep head above water and – at the cost of our ground – failing at one point. I was not in the room for that one but I have seen the books and Dunphy’s shoestring which he claims to run Dale on would have been riches to the Bantams.

For Dunphy to use his Guardian interview to talk about writing off debts which are calculated wrongly and to associate the Bantams name with the actions of a Leicester City is reason enough for City to want to repeat the 5-0 stuffing we gave Dale three years ago and the slur on City is enough reason for Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes to refuse the hospitality of Spotland and bunk in with the supporters.

The game begins three on the road for the Bantams and sees City back in good form with Rhys Evans three clean sheets off a new club record for a season and Peter Thorne looking as if he has found the way to the net again.

The back five of Rhys Evans, Paul Arnison, Graeme Lee, Matthew Clarke and Luke O’Brien are looking as solid as they have been save the rather massive wobbles of Barnet and Notts County. Dean Furman and Nicky Law Jnr were imperious in midfield on Saturday but the latter will look to match the former’s ball winning abilities against a side who are strong at home.

Joe Colbeck looks to be returning to the kind of form that saw him cutting through teams at the start of the season and like a pair of jeans bought three years ago that were too big – Steve Jones is increasingly a good fit on the Bantams left filling in for Omar Daley. Chris Brandon’s cameo did not see him kick the ball – at least not in my memory – but his impact as a non-toucher was similar to Jorge Cadete’s legendary attributed goal by Dean Windass seconds after he came on.

Michael Boulding works tirelessly and Peter Thorne has three in two games. Rochdale represent a tough game but not one beyond the Bantams.

Why I feel empathy for Darlington fans but anger at Darlington as they go into administration

The news that Darlington went into administration at 15:00 on Wednesday and the ten point penalty that comes with that helps City’s promotion bid no end but as a development in football it could not be less welcome.

The Quakers are doing well in League Two but struggle to be financially viable with a massive stadium – it is bigger than Valley Parade – and low attendances making the business of football in that corner of the North East especially hard to manage.

The club were in administration as recently as 2004 and – as with City – are having their second slump into enforced financial controls is a result of falling attendances blamed on the credit crunch and an inability to maximise rental revenues from land around the stadium both of which – while regrettable – were too predictable to reliable part of the last CVA which they (one suspects) did.

Oddly enough Bradford City have found a way to address the falling attendance revenue and maximise the size of the stadium although Mark Lawn has recently cast doubts as to the long term viability of the cheapest season tickets in football should they not be taken up by an enlarged mass of the Bradford population.

That Darlington could have learnt from City’s example in the way that Huddersfield Town have is more than an annoying hindsight and it would seem that the supporters of the Quakers are once again suffering from an unrealistic boardroom that assumed that the future of the club would be different by willing it to be so and shouting enough at the 97,000 or so in the area who do not follow the club.

Darlington are reported to need a crowd of 5,500 to break even and attract under 3,000. Without a change as City have done, a promotion or something else of significance it is simple mismanagement to expect that number to be added to by two thirds. Dave Penney’s sides are robust, sturdy, work hard but they played at Valley Parade two weeks ago and were not nice to watch. The lesson of precedence from other clubs coming out of administration suggests that to expect another two thousand bums on is naive to say the least. Yes, credit crunch and Yes, Premiership stealing supporters but when costs of running a club are planned to be offset against extraordinary activity then mismanagement is not far away.

All of which is a nightmare for Darlington’s supporters and a sobering for all football fans who would like to consign the era of administration to history. That no club in the Football League had suffered this fate this season was seen as progress and build confidence that ebbs away. Even the loss of ten points – while supposedly good news and arguably fair redress for a club living beyond its means – is scant recompense for continued damage to confidence that clubs being managed in this way does in the wider community in Darlington and beyond. For football’s economy to gain any internal parity or stability clubs in League Two level need to be run more correctly.

The Darlington side that played at Valley Parade had loan players like Liam Hatch – a £100,000 rated striker on the bench. Ambition and striving for promotion is a good thing but not when it is paid for by speculative ideas of increasing gate revenues. This is the kind of management that damages us all by association just as paying £55,000 a week for Benito Carbone in the expectation of him establishing Bradford City as a Premiership club or borrow against twenty years of Champions League money to let Leeds United “live the dream” became phrases used to describe the lack of realism in football planning.

What is bad for the tea and biscuit company is bad for me. I want a strong division and a strong Darlington who do everything within their powers to win promotion up to the point where they start risking the long term future of the club for the medium term aim of a promotion which – if not won – leaves the club in danger. Are Darlington risking their future to try get ahead or to keep up? At this stage it probably does not matter any more.

Today we talk about Darlington – and I feel empathy for the fans – while League Two leaders Brentford are reported to be in £10m which they hope to pay off with promotion. Hopefully Mark Lawn and many other chairmen have their clubs living within their means but to a lesser extent Darlington and certainly Brentford are creating a situation while clubs have to join in in risking their futures just to compete or accept playing on an unlevel playing field.

Unfamiliar familiarity – Rotherham United v Bradford City – League Two preview

This is the seventh season out of eight to feature Rotherham away on Bradford City’s fixture list, though there will be nothing familiar about Saturday’s trip.

The financial difficulties which the Millers have struggled to overcome during the last few years has resulted in a temporary move to Sheffield’s Don Valley stadium. With a running track around the pitch and the stands – of which for only one side is there a roof – positioned well back, it will certainly be a contrast from the intimacy of Millmoor.

For Rotherham the move was born out of necessity as Millmoor’s landlord, former Chairman Ken Booth, demanded too much rent and not enough access to its facilities for it to be financially viable. Attendances have slightly dipped through the six-mile relocation, though with only two home defeats so far it’s clear the players have adapted to new surroundings quickly.

For us Bradford City supporters, it should be a case of being thankful for our lot. Clearly the Bantams have suffered from financial troubles in recent years and the two relegations since leaving the Premier League can be blamed on it to varying degrees. Yet both City’s spells in administration came before the sort of point deductions which have been inflicted on Rotherham for three consecutive seasons. As for a former chairman owning the ground and the struggle to make rent payments, a move to Odsal looked a possibility back in February 2004.

Which goes to show that, if there can be positives to take from what this club went through, it’s the timing of it. Pity the marketing men at Rotherham, who this summer had to work out how to sell season tickets for a club which had moved to a nearby city, which wasn’t fully guaranteed to be allowed to continue by the Football League and who even then started with a 17 point deduction. The self-righteous whining from Leeds United supporters last season has ensured many of us hold little sympathy for clubs who break the rules by getting in such debt, but things could have been much worse for us during those dark days and at the time that didn’t seem possible.

For City at least, such difficult times are now part of the history books and they approach the only proper League Two Yorkshire Derby of the season with strong promotion aspirations. Last week’s defeat to Wycombe may have tempered confidence among supporters, but manager Stuart McCall will know the true quality of a good side is how it responds to set backs. So far this season the players have made a good fist of it.

The team is likely to be similar after Stuart’s attempts to bring in a right winger on loan drew a blank. Rhys Evans keeps goal behind a back four slowly recapturing its early season solidness. Paul Heckingbottom came through the reserves unscathed midweek and Stuart may consider giving Luke O’Brien a breather. TJ Moncur seems to be comfortably first choice ahead of Paul Arnison on the right and Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke continue in the centre.

The other Clarke will continue in midfield. City’s line ups this season have largely not featured an out and out holding midfielder and the hope has to be that Paul McClaren, alongside Tom, can get forward more than he has been afforded to. Lee Bullock is close to a return to fitness and McClaren may be aware he needs to show more in order to keep his starting place. Nicky Law will play on the right with Omar Daley likely to provide the team’s main source of attacking inspiration from the left.

Up front Michael Boulding will be hoping to get the nod over Barry Conlon, with the latter still sweating over a new contract offer in the new year. There are some concerns over Peter Thorne’s recent performances, but there’s no one you’d rather have on the end of any decent chances the rest of the team can create during the game.

Rotherham are not without their problems having lost experienced keeper Andy Warrington to injury and with only Steven Cann, who played his first senior game midweek and was on the end of a 3-0 defeat, to call upon between the sticks. Manager Mark Robins too has been left frustrated by the loan market and, unless any late attempts prove successful, it will be a big day for the 20-year-old South African. They also have their own Omar, who is perhaps more Willy Topp.

One familiar face will be Alex Rhodes, who joined the Millers from City during the summer. The winger was an excellent proposition on his day, as Rotherham themselves know only too well, but lacked consistency. Had Stuart kept him on it’s likely he’d have barely figured for City this season up until Joe Colbeck’s injury, so his regularity for Rotherham suggests City would be finishing above them even if they’d not suffered that heavy points deduction.

Like City, Rotherham will be aiming to put their financial troubles behind them but the impact which the credit crunch has had on so many parts of UK life has yet to be realised in football. With the UK heading for recession tough times may be ahead and typically its lower league clubs who will suffer.

If United had trouble with season tickets this season what about the next, when people’s spending will become even tighter? This week Rotherham announced half-year season ticket prices which are still more expensive than it cost for a full City season ticket. If levels of support are to be maintained in 2009/10 season clubs are going to have to consider the sort of innovate pricing approach which has succeeded at Valley Parade, though that might be difficult for clubs like Rotherham to implement with money in short supply.

If City can march onto promotion this season they should have few problems retaining their support should they keep similar prices, which would once again leave us pleased with our timing and thankful for our lot.

The have-nots travel to the now-haves – Bradford City vs Bournemouth – League Two Preview 2008/2009

29 points separate leaders Bradford City and second-bottom Bournemouth going into this one; though no one, least of all those who chose to boo the team off at half time last week, should be fooled by the deceptive nature of League Two.

The Cherries are one of three teams who began the season on minus points due to financial difficulties, with the early indications already suggesting this year’s relegation battle will have ultimately been decided before a ball was kicked. A good start was clearly vital and, while one of the three, Rotherham (deducted 17 points), would now be occupying a play off spot had they started on zero, for Bournemouth (17) and Luton (30) the prospects are already looking grim.

The away fans dedicated enough to make the 540-mile round trip will arrive at Valley Parade having yet to celebrate a league victory this season and could be forgiven for feeling a touch bitter. Were it not for a ten point deduction last season they’d have finished mid-table in League One, now they’re facing up to non-league. It’s difficult to argue with the logic clubs who spend beyond their means should be punished, but the loss in revenue Bournemouth can expect should they go down is hardly going to help matters. Are Boston and Halifax uncomfortably closer than they’d like to imagine?

Such financial problems are thankfully a thing of the past for the Bantams, though the resultant lessons should not be forgotten. This week Mark Lawn has talked about promoting the Bradford City brand in America but behind those headlines were some interesting, if unsurprising comments. The Rhodes family and Lawn pushed the boat out during the summer and this will result in the club losing “a fair amount of money” this season, which they will cover. More investment is welcomed and Lawn has made it clear that this summer’s considerable transfer activity is unlikely to be repeated.

All of which means the club has taken a gamble of sorts on gaining promotion this season and, while the risk of it causing financial headaches later is faint, the plight of clubs like Bournemouth should remind us supporters that relative high levels of spending should not be demanded if things don’t go to plan.

The early indications are that the summer transfer activity has left manager Stuart McCall with a squad capable of matching the club’s ambition. He’s likely to name an unchanged team for the sixth consecutive league game and the benefits of building familiarity are evident. Rhys Evans keeps goal behind a back four which failed to convince last week but has earned three clean sheets from six. Paul Arnison still has something to prove but the form of Graeme Lee, Matt Clarke and Paul Heckingbottom has been pleasing, so far.

In midfield Lee Bullock and Paul McLaren are developing a decent understanding, with the latter playing a deeper role to enable the former to get forward more. Omar Daley and Joe Colbeck took most of the plaudits last week and will consider the muted response to their efforts from those supporters who’ve spent the last couple of seasons yelling abuse at them a victory of sorts.

Up front Peter Thorne continues to suffer from minor injuries but continues to find the back of the net, while Michael Boulding’s brace last week will help him to settle. There have been minor questions raised by some over the former Mansfield man’s start with City, but he’s looking sharper with each game under his belt.

Boulding will do well to match Stuart’s opposite number’s enviable goal record. Former Bantams striker Jimmy Quinn has sat in the away dug out at Valley Parade before – a 3-0 defeat for Swindon during our promotion campaign 10 years ago – and will have similar limited ambition for his current team this season. No Cherries player has managed more than one goal so far this campaign but, in Lee Bradbury and Darren Anderton, they have players of some pedigree. Striker Brett Pitman is also one to watch.

A home win is expected of course but, as Exeter threatened to prove last week, assumptions can be dangerous. City have pushed the boat out this season and the early signs are promising, but many battles lie ahead. As Stuart has stated, it’s how you finish which counts and it should be remembered how challenging it will be to realise our ambitions next May.

Only four teams will be promoted from League Two this season, even if only 21 began it standing any chance.

Football League insults us and robs us blind

Football League Chairman Lord Mawhinney is warning football clubs to be careful with money and the patronising sod is saying…

People’s disposable income, what they’ve got to spend on other things once they deal with these fundamentals, is likely to decrease this year.

Once you have recovered from being told you have to pay your mortgage before you go to the football think about this. This weekend Rochdale are paying £20 to get ito Valley Parade and in a couple of weeks we will be paying £15 to get into Elland Road for what could well be a reserve game.

Lord Above-Us-All continues…

I have been a member of parliament for 26 years, and I understand the pressures on the budgets of ordinary people up and down the country.

Ordinary being the scum like us who follow teams up and down the country watching football. He understands the pressures on our budgets and knows that clubs might have to be careful cause fewer of us will be able to go pay the thick end of £20 plus travel, beers, programs and so on.

The Lord of Football tells us

My advice to our own clubs is that you should review your budgets, make sure they are as tight as possible and make sure you administer them as tightly as possible.

Yes. The man who runs the league that City are in is telling clubs to be careful with budgets cause they will not be able to rip people off as much which is what travelling to football is. A rip off. You pay more money to sit in worse seats to watch the same game as the people opposite you. That is an obvious rip off but we have no choice just like we had no choice about paying to get into our home ground before City changed things.

So why doesn’t Mawhinney do something impressive like recommend that if clubs are suffering they start trying to get more fans in rather than warning them that they can’t rip the other ones off as much? Why doesn’t he tell them all to follow City’s example?

And for that matter why don’t City do something about charging £20 to away fans which is stupidly high. We have the space for them. Why don’t we try charge them £10 and see if more come and hope they make more noise that could get City fans making more noise back?

But no. Mawhinny insults us and then tells clubs to be careful cause they can’t rob us as much as they used to. It is times like this that I’m pretty proud to be a City fan with our pricing and pretty ashamed of the people who run the game.

Administration is a genuine punishment

This article is in reply to Football’s Administration Punishments Need To Change To Avoid Uncertain Futures

BfB is nothing if not democratic. In the language of all football fans, it’s a game of opinions. There are some places where there’s only one opinion that counts. Many of us have worked in places like that. But BfB is not that place. So, when Michael Wood posts his piece about how to deal with the ever increasing risk of a club going into administration and one of the other contributors wants to disagree with him, this is the result!

Let me say at the outset how very fortunate I believe my beloved team have been to go into administration at the right times. Not for us the 10 point penalty on either occasion Bradford City went into administration. We got in just in time. It would, of course, have been far preferable not to have got in at all, but there’s no point in rehearsing the reasons behind either of those two periods of financial difficulty.

These days it’s hard to keep up with who is and who isn’t in administration in the lower leagues. Even more difficult to work out is how some of these clubs are coming out of administration. Both are increasingly essential considerations as long as the present system is in place.

Take Luton Town, for instance. They went into administration last season and suffered a 10 point deduction. Those points in themselves cost them nothing. They finished 17 points below the safety mark. The administration and the associated inability to sign new players may well have cost them their League One place – but the deduction didn’t. It was a penalty that imposed no punishment.

Others have achieved the same in recent years. Leeds and Boston both went into administration when the points deduction was irrelevant. They were both already relegated. This brought about a rule change, which would allow such a deduction to be carried forward to the next season, when it might have a true meaning.

Bournemouth’s 10 point loss certainly was a punishment. They finished only two points below the safety line. Rotherham’s 10 point deduction left them 14 points away from the promotion play-offs, but again it could be argued that the fact of going into administration and the surrounding uncertainty knocked all the stuffing out of a very promising season spent, to that point, in or very near the play-offs.

But it is what comes next that matters more. As Leeds found, if you won’t or can’t get out of administration via a CVA, the Football League’s preferred option, you run a risk of a second penalty. Their 15 point penalty, thanks eventually to their Wembley defeat, was a genuine punishment. They will still be playing in League One next season. Without the deduction they would have gained automatic promotion.

All three of the League Two teams who start the new season in administration face the serious prospect of ‘doing a Leeds’. All three may come out of administration by a non-CVA route and, if so, will face the 15 point deduction for 2008-9 after their 10 point deductions for 2007-8. Additionally Luton already face another 10 point penalty for completely different breaches committed by those no longer involved with the club. Luton could start on minus 25 points and, just to avoid relegation to the Conference, they may need to win the number of points that would normally achieve a play-off place.

While all this could give Bradford City a head start on three of our League Two rivals, the bad news is that we did actually come out of administration via a CVA twice. OK, so Leeds United missed out on promotion last season. But this season they start with a clean sheet on and off the field. We all know it has taken City several years to achieve a financial break-even point and the present company still faces annual payments from the CVA that bite into the limited budget.

So the question I want to pose is not, as Michael writes, whether the penalty points system is too harsh on teams in the lower reaches of football and finance, but whether taking the 15 point hit might be seen to be preferable by some directors, providing only that their club can get over the one hurdle of the next season.

We can’t dwell on the Leicester scenario. That couldn’t happen now. Nor would I support Michael’s relegation-and-promotion proof suggestion, mainly because it would have involved two League One teams, Cheltenham and Crewe, being relegated and Luton, 17 points behind Crewe, surviving, when at the start of the season all of them believed that the four teams with the fewest points would go down. Why should Cheltenham and Crewe and their supporters suffer for the financial mishandlings of the boards at Luton and Bournemouth? And how long might it be before some directors decided that it was worth the 15 points, if they were guaranteed not being relegated?

But someone should suffer. A financial penalty is out of the question for a club that is in such debt it cannot continue to trade normally. What other penalty is available? Community service hardly fits the bill! A points deduction is less harsh than relegation, which is about the only alternative.

I believe that the Football League must do two things. The first they are already doing, although perhaps not quite well enough. They must at the start of each season make clear what their financial rules are and what the penalties for breach will be. That puts every club on notice. Go into administration and you know what to expect. Come out without a CVA and, again, you know what’s coming your way.

The second step the League must take is to make the semi-voluntary wages cap part of its own binding financial regulatory scheme. There is already in place a provision aimed at preventing clubs in the bottom two divisions from spending more than 60% of their income on players’ salaries. It was supposed to apply equally to the Championship, but there were too many big clubs there who wouldn’t play. It should be made a requirement of League membership that a club agrees to and complies with a salary cap. There should also be clear penalties for breaches. I would suggest a look at the Rugby League’s sliding scale, where the greater the excess the more points are deducted, would be a suitable guide.

Three final thoughts. I wonder what Julian Rhodes, the one in the middle of two administrations, would do if he were now given the option of the CVA which to this day takes it toll on the club or a clean financial sheet and a 15 point loss, even if that meant certain relegation. And how do the supporters of Halifax Town and Gretna feel? Wouldn’t they have preferred to have been forced to live within their means, even if a points deduction followed? And, last of all, I go back to how lucky City were with their timing and with the man whose offer allowed the CVA to be completed. Neither Bradford City nor any other league club should rely on that sort of luck ever again.

The waiting or popping the question

We wait, us connected with Bradford City, and we wait.

We have been waiting for Luke Beckett and Michael Boulding to decide who they fancy joining next season and Stuart McCall begins to tire of waiting.  The move for Beckett is on hold but one of the player’s other options – Chester City – have been knocked out of the running for the player.  It says much about the power of footballers in the modern game that guys on the bench at third tier clubs can keep everyone waiting.  Nevertheless Beckett can.

McCall is growing tired of waiting for Michael Boulding but the former Tennis professional turned footballer who went out of the league with Mansfield last season seems awash with options for next season and the ball is very much in his court.  He has knocked back City before back in 2001 when he joined Aston Villa rather than opting for to sign with Nicky Law.  Within a week the Bantams were in administration and 19 players were redundant.  One wonders how much this plays on the players mind when he deals with Rotherham agianst the stability seemingly offered at Valley Parade these days.

We wait for Boulding who has his pick of Yorkshire sides near his home and we wait for Darren Moore who is to talk with Leicester City before deciding his future.  In essence The Foxes are offering the same deal as the Bantams – to end his career in promotion – but a division higher and nearer to his home.

This waiting is a good think for City and the people trying to bring Moore to the club.  Without McCall, Wayne Jacobs et al then there is little reason for Moore not to dismiss the club in a division below out of hand.  The waiting is tribute and shows that Moore is taking City’s approach seriously.

The waiting is hard.  The waiting is torture as scribbles on bits of paper with “PA” and “CB” joining “PT” and “JC” in positions in elevens crop up on the desks of City fans everywhere.  The waiting is hard.

We wait for Rob Burch the goalkeeper McCall has talked to and we long to do as he did and pop the question in public view to get a binding yes or no.  Do you, we would ask Darren Moore, take this hope and manifest it in promotion?

Football’s administration punishments need to change to avoid uncertain futures

Rotherham United are looking at coming out of administration and – as with Luton Town and Bournemouth – they face the same fifteen point penalty that Leeds United suffered last season because for whatever reason the numbers are not adding up and they are not going to be able to exit with agreement from the creditors as City did twice.

I’ve said all I want to say about Leeds United and the way they do business but I’m forced to note that the Football League’s punishments – well meaning as they are – seem to hit the clubs hardest that can ill afford them. Whatever went on at Elland Road the position in the league suggests that the club were able to take the fifteen point deduction in their stride. As Rotherham line up at The Don Valley Stadium with – we understand – a picked over squad then it can hardly be said that they are able to do the same.

Such is the problem with the punishment. Had City been hit with ten and fifteen point deductions as we would have been were those rules in place when we were in administration then the club could have ill afforded the relegations that would have come more quickly. Leicester City – on the other hand – used a CVA to walk away from massive debt and would have had no problem in taking that penalty and still being promoted back to the Premiership.

Some sanction has to be taken to avoid the Leicester City and Leeds United situation of walking away from debt but that sanction has become a harbinger of doom for those who can ill afford it such as Rotherham United.

A solution needs to be found. Administration is a result of a club trying to tilt the balance of a season towards them. We saw this in the Premiership when Geoffrey Richmond attempted to lash out cash and keep City in the top division risking all to do it. Over ambitious chairmen will always gamble the future of the club against short term success and football needs rules to stop this and protect those who have a long term view of the club – the fans.

Rather than docking points and having clubs begin seasons playing catch up the Football League should look at a system that says to clubs who want the protection from creditors that administration provides that they will offer them protection from relegation. Rather than losing ten points a club that goes into administration should not be able to be relegated for 16 months and not allowed to be promoted for a further year.

That is a year of insulation for clubs who hit financial difficulties for them to rebuild themselves without the fear that when they emerge from the blanket of debt they have cascaded down the leagues but the pay off – the way to stop a Leicester or a Leeds – is that they have to agree that they will not be promoted for two years. The period begins a month after administration is entered – that would stop clubs abusing the system to stop relegations – and would mean that should a team finish 24th in the league then the teams 19th to 23rd would be relegated.

Time then to regroup and rebuild a club like Rotherham getting the gates and the games without giving undue advantage but most importantly continuing football which is in danger of dying in Rotherham as – like City did – club’s stumble punch drunk from punishment into uncertain futures.

Why I have to hand it to Leeds

After seeing Leeds United win 2-0 to get to the Play Off final I have to hand it to the team from East of Pudsey – they have probably done football a great service and stopped administrations to come.

Before Leeds United 33 other administrations from City’s on the 9th of May 2002 to the start of the season were done in a certain way with clubs cutting themselves to the bone to find out how much money they needed and how much they could afford to pay off creditors.

A club would look at the cost of a thin squad and what they did not need they would make an attempt to put back into the pockets of the local businesses and the St John’s Ambulance who tend to get shafted in these situations. These club hamstring themselves for the future and some are penalised ten points and while no one is saying that wrongs are righted at least an attempt is made to do that.

Then comes Leeds United who look at the size of the debts and the tariff of punishment and decide that the one is worth the other and rather than trying to make amends to the community – and the community of finance, the small businesses who have holes in cash flow thanks to them – they are based in they play administration, the game and take the hit of points while ensuring they have a squad that can overcome the penalty.

So I’m a bank or an investor and a football club come to me know because they need some cash or their overdraft extending and do I agree because I know they run by a set of guidelines designed to protect us both or do I look at Leeds United and step away?

In abusing administration Leeds United will have changed things for all clubs looking for protection from creditors. The next time a club asks for financial help then they will be knocked back by the wiser investors who have seen that the only punishment that is given for taking the money and running is a football one so that football club will have to cut it’s cloth accordingly.

That or they will do as Halifax Town have done and feel the smash of creditors losing faith in their abilities to pay it back.

In that way I have to hand it to Leeds United. They have taken a system designed to protect clubs and investors and tilted it so far in the way of the clubs that the investors will never use it again and suddenly everything in the hand to mouth existence of the lower leagues of English football just got that bit harder.

Premiership Boring? Ask The Supporters of Halifax Town

Kevin Keegan was wrong to describe the Premiership as boring.

Today Manchester United square up against Chelsea and the winner could be decided by goal difference – the tiny margin between success and failure – and right up to the last kick of the game the season will stay interesting.

All a far cry from Chelsea’s days in the second flight of English football and I remember City would have played off with Chelsea for a place in The First Division back in 1988 had we beaten Middlesbrough.

I also remember Manchester United going to play Halifax Town in a League Cup game at The Shay. United Town took the lead I think but Halifax came back to win and won 2-1. Halifax Town beating Manchester United seems a long time ago today.

Halifax Town are virtually gone from football. A meeting on Friday in Leeds left them with virtually no hope of a CVA or of any sort of a reprieve from the debtors. They are about to go into liquidation very soon and then there will be no more Halifax Town.

Supporters of Town – and there are not many one supposes – will lose the football club they have followed. Football is a strange thing and hard to understand for most. It is a metronome for the supporter’s lives ticking off weeks and years in the same way that any anniversary or regular event does.

I heard once that humans use rituals to mark out time – why celebrate a birthday anyway? – in manageable units and my better half does not really understand how I can recall dates because they fall within certain seasons but I can.

For football supporters that is one of the functions of the game – to allow a common and shared set of events that we use to mark out the paths of our lives. It is not the only one of these things society holds – I remember other things by which albums I was listening to around that time – but they are important and special and for the people of Halifax they are gone.

Today of all days I say this. Today 11th of May 56 people lost their lives watching Bradford City play Lincoln and we mark that tragic anniversary as we mark the joyous, the sad, the silly, the mundane ones around supporting football in a way that weaves into the fabric of our lives.

I doubt that the armchair supporters watching the Premiership “showdown” have even the faintest idea what I mean. I think they think these point of view to be outmoded and old fashioned. I think they look at supporters of clubs like Bradford City and Halifax Town as being part quaint and part dull following the unsuccessful bloody-mindedly as if community and kinship means nothing.

Manchester United vs Chelsea is Coke vs Pepsi. Whichever wins it makes very little to the rest of football which looks to crumbs to live on while at the top table they gorge.

The Premiership – Thatcherism gone to horrific extremes – will be settled today and at some point someone will mention that Chelsea have not scored enough goals despite paying a man £130,000 a week to do that. £130,000 a week as Halifax Town go to the wall.

Kevin Keegan was wrong to describe the Premiership as boring. It is not boring, it is obscene.

The Odius Smell From Beeston

There has always been a bit of a nasty niff in the air when an east winds blows in from Beeston, but of late it seems to be blowing a cloud that matches something from the James Herbert novel “The Dark” in terms of it’s noxious smell and taste.

True, we’ve never viewed Leeds Urinals as the best of neighbours, but somehow that could always be written off as jealousy at their status or ability to compete, and yes we’ve viewed the recent footballing downfall with a bit of amusement.

However, over the last few weeks, things have turned decidely ugly at Elland Road. The smell that permeats from the board room leaves little room for any sympathy to be extended to the owners, but a good deal to the genuine fans who stand to lose their club. A club most have supported long before the current lunatics took over the asylum.

In short, what has happened at Beeston Utd is not far short of criminal. In facts it’s not disimilar to the 1960’s “Long Firm Fraud” made famous by the Krays – where goods were ordered from suppliers, sold off cheap and a runner was done before the invoices became payable.

The Beeston Boys have ordered the goods in, sold them off and now expect the suppliers to accept 8% of the cost.

Now coming from a club who have been in this situation twice, it might seem a bit of pot calling kettle a rather off shade of brown (to be policitally correct). However it has to be said that neither of our administrations were manufactered to a time that suited BCFC, this can not be said of the one at Elland Road, and neither of our rescue packages can be seen as a cynical way of duping creditors in order to dump debt.

I hope Leeds survive, if only for the sake of their fans, but they must realise that they can not be allowed to walk out of administration and straight back into a position where ther pay transfer fees and high wages to buy promotion – forget the 10 point deduction, administration should come with a 5 year embargo on paying transfer fees and and a 5 year salary cap.

If Leeds do survive, and at present that is very much an if, then for the good of football they must be barred from immiedate investment in players and come out with completely new owners.

It’s time for the football league to give the two fingered salute to Mr Bates.

Good Things Happen At Last

It’s five years since Stuart McCall was shown the door by Bradford City. Considered too old, too expensive and a little disruptive, his contract was not renewed and his number four shirt handed to someone else.

The impending financial meltdown that would come to light weeks later was the true reason behind showing a City legend the door. Yet as a near full house waved goodbye to Stuart during his testimonial game with former club Rangers, it appeared his best days were behind him.

Stuart hooked up with Neil Warnock’s Sheffield United and enjoyed a new leash of life by playing a significant part in the Blades reaching the League and FA Cup semi-finals and losing the Play Off final. Not bad for a player who Jim Jefferies, less than a year earlier, famously wrote off by saying his legs had gone. When those legs did eventually go, his coaching career took off. Rising to Warnock’s assistant, the sight of Stuart stood behind the Blades boss in the dugout has become a regular sight on Match Of The Day this season.

As for his first love Bradford City, it’s not been pretty. Administration, administration again, relegation, relegation again. Six years ago City were the butt of people’s jokes as they exited the Premiership, relegation to League Two was deemed barely worth a mention. The fall from grace may not have been as quick as the club formerly known as Wimbledon, but it’s still startling.

But just as we wondered if good things would ever happen to City again, Stuart comes over the hill as the proverbial knight in shining armour. City shocked the footballing world by signing Benito Carbone seven years ago and some will again be left scratching their heads in disbelief at Stuart’s decision to take the reigns at Valley Parade. Chiefly among them will be us City supporters and the staff, probably even Julian Rhodes himself.

When Colin Todd was dismissed last February, Stuart became number one target. There was nothing doing at the time, so Rhodes entrusted David Wetherall to look after the team and saw it relegated in feeble fashion. The wait continued and, after a turbulent week for the Blades, Rhodes incredibly got his man.

Through all of the waiting and debate of who should be manager, most supporters wanted Stuart in charge. We hoped he’d take the job, but who really believed he would? This is a club that has sunk to its lowest position in quarter of a century, become saddled with debts and played increasingly poor football. Decent players were replaced by average players – and then they were replaced by even poorer ones.

What have we achieved, other than continuing survival, since Stuart left? Staying up in 2002-03, but losing relegation battles in 2003-04 and 2006-07. Signing some decent players like Paul Henderson, Damion Stewart and Andy Gray, but only receiving a fraction of their value back. Attracting a world class big name manager, but discovering he was not a world class manager. Winning some memorable games, but losing more often and when it really mattered.

Good things haven’t happened to Bradford City for a long time. So who would have been surprised if Stuart had of landed the Sheffield United position and turned us down? Of course part of the reason we have got him was because the Blades decided he wasn’t right. But it hardly matters a jot.

A manager to finally unite the fans, attract more interest in the club and breed genuine optimism. A Bradford City man to inspire those who work under him, emphasise with the fans and demonstrate the long sought after ‘passion’ that some supporters believed was lacking in previous managers. A hungry individual with a point to prove to those who rejected him, ambitious for a good career and determined to succeed.

A man to help us remember happier times and look to the future with new belief. Good things haven’t happened to Bradford City for a long time, Stuart’s arrival will hopefully herald a change.

The Premiership Needs To Employ Richmondesque Thinking Over The Webster Ruling For The Good Of Us All

Back in the summer of 2001 Geoffrey Richmond – in his position on the board of the Football League – offered a deal to the clubs. For a three week period no one would make a transfer while the contracts for the entire playing squads of all teams were ripped up and new ones written that took into account the failure of ITV Digital and attempted to circumnavigated the collapse in transfer fees that would bring about wide spread administration.

As a name Andy Webster is less exotic than Jean-Marc Bosman but it will be written in football history in the same way. Webster’s move from Hearts to Wigan – buying up his own contract after the protected period FIFA has built into it’s contract model – will be no less revolutionary for football.

Webster tested the rule in the post-Bosman FIFA wide contract model that said that for players under 28 the protected period – which is to say the time where a player is tied to the club he signed a contract with – is three years and after serving a fifteen day notice period the player is free to leave for a club in another country which when joining Paul Jewell’s Wigan was exactly what Andy Webster did.

So for the balance of his contract as dictated by the wage he would have been paid had he stayed Webster left and while Hearts screamed that they would have charged seven figures for the player they got just £625,000.

Today Andy Webster tomorrow whom? Frank Lampard’s much talked about move to Barcelona would be a snip for the Catalans if all they had to do with multiple Lampard’s wage to the years left on his contract rather than waiting to see how much the club that needs no more money want for it’s talisman. The likes of Xabi Alonso, Cesc Febregas et al could see a short cut to a way home.

The Premiership, however, is a long way away from League Two and such matters would not affect City in the short term. With two of the ninety-two heading in administration this week football can ill afford another transfer value meltdown and such a black hole of money is the last thing that financially precarious City need right now.

Mark Bower’s move to Burnley will probably keep the coffers full for another year but if Burnley cannot sell to a lower Premiership club who ca not sell to a higher club then the whole chain falls apart.

So what is to be done?

The Premiership chairmen need to take up the same spirit that Geoffrey Richmond and his Coventry co-hort and similarly reviled chairman Bryan Richardson had and find a way for the club’s to address this hole in the contract law to ensure that the trickle down of transfer fees does not end. Perhaps the moves that Richmond et al proposed would be too drastic, to risky, for the clubs but similar thinking needs to be employed as part one of this solution. The Spanish league has had for many years built-in buyout clauses that allow a player to leave for a price agreed at the start of the contract.

For the second part when “doing a Webster” becomes the new Bosman football clubs need to ensure that they do not address the compensation and cheaper players issue by piling the funds into the contracts making them prohibitively expensive to buy out but further fueling wage inflation from the ludicrous to the impossible.

Richmond and co failed in their proposal and as a result Bradford City and 34 other clubs came close to going out of business. Think of football as an injured player limping until he reaches half time. How many more challenges is he going to take before we send on a physio? How many more before the injury ends his career?

A Day of Gloom, A Lifetime of Joy

With around 10 minutes to go at Saltergate on Saturday, I looked around the pitch at our players and began to feel a huge sense of relief.

Part of this relief was because the game was almost over and I could stop watching this wretched, gutless City display. Part of the relief was also because I knew I would soon be leaving the ground and my backside could recover from the numbness of sitting on an uncomfortable wooden bench for three hours. But the main reason for feeling relieved was because City’s outcome had finally been decided and I could stop fretting about their frankly feeble fight to avoid the drop to basement league football.

Of course we were hoping to leave Saltergate in celebratory mood. Two weeks ago that seemed a huge possibility after City’s welcome three points at Brighton. Last Saturday’s home defeat to Leyton Orient had killed off any realisitic hope and if anyone still felt we could do it, to many of our players clearly didn’t and failed to put up a fight. Each of the three goals conceded had an air of comedy about them as the players put in a performance as poor as anything they have managed all season.

With hope over long before the final whistle, it was easier to stop feeling gloomy and relax instead of worrying about whether Rotherham, Forest, Gillingham or Oldham could do us a favour by beating sides above us. We can now stop spending hours carefully studying the league table and trying to predict other teams results. All that’s left is a carefree, meaningless home game with Millwall next Saturday and then we can all take a break from City and come back refreshed for a League Two campaign in August.

And that is why I don’t feel too sad about the relegation at this moment. It just seems to have been inevitable and watching our players raise hopes and then fail miserably over the last few weeks has been deperessing enough. It’s often said that it’s the hope that kills you and it has been so frustrating to watch the team fail to make a better fist on avoiding relegation. It looked straightforward enough weeks ago, just a few more wins and the odd draw. At half time against Orient last week, survival seemed within touching distance. Frankly I have had enough of walking to work on a Monday morning feeling anxious/worried/depressed at City’s plight and I aim to go in with a smile on my face this Monday (especially as a couple of my colleagues support a certain Yorkshire club who have also had a bad weekend!).

After Saturday’s despair turned to relief at Saltergate, I joined in with other City supporters in singing away during the closing stages. The atmosphere became fantastic as everyone seemed to join in. Deep in stoppage time, “City till I die” boomed out of our end of the ground. It was a hugely uplifting moment that reminded me no matter how bad things get, there is always next season. This won’t be the last time I see City relegated, but I also haven’t witnessed my last City promotion.

During the last few years supporting City I have seen us get relegated from the Premiership to League One, suffer two periods of adminstration and watch countless decent players depart to be replaced by inferior ones. I’ve seen us lose woefully home and away on too many occasions to think about, watched other teams turn up at Valley Parade and win crucial games that left their fans going crazy in celebration. I’ve watched us concede a glut of horror goals through bad defending or goalkeeping, I’ve seen our strikers miss chances that even I could have scored, I’ve seen referee’s get decisions badly wrong and loads of injury time winning goals for the opposing team. Saturday’s defeat can be added to this list, but misery and City have gone hand in hand in recent years so it hardly comes as a shock.

As I looked down at the away terrace at the end of the game, I recognised a couple of City fans who I have known/seen around Valley Parade for many years. Almost 2,000 City fans had decended on Saltergate, a sizeable following that will dwarf many of our new rivals. We will all be back in August, whether it’s Accrington and Macclesfield gracing our turf. Most of the current bunch of players will have left, new players and a new manager will be in place. That old killer, hope, will return. Hopefully this time our particular hopes will finally be realised.

Despite the misery, going to watch City has given me hours of joy that I wouldn’t swap for anything. I love our club with a passion and know I will be supporting them until my dying day. Many of us feel the same and, with our continuing support, our club will turn it round and earn success. Eventually City will win a promotion, go on a good cup run and rise back up the leagues. In the not to distant future, our players will be pararding silverware around the pitch and the open top bus will come out of its garage.

It might take years but it will happen and, when it does, the memories and pain of occasions like Saturday will seem distant. We’re City till we die and we will all be there celebrate our club rising again.

League Two is a Series of Bad Decisions

Donovan Ricketts let the ball go through his legs after Jamie Ward hit the ball at goal. Slowly it squirmed over the line. So slowly, so slowly.

Eight years ago I felt sick with anticipation. It was barely something I could understand and certainly was something that while I hoped for it I never thought it would happen. City – my team – were in a two way shoot out with Ipswich Town for a place in the Premiership. For sure we had lost to Huddersfield Town but as our form started to stumble so did the East Anglians. Eight years ago I could hardly believe it. It was hard to form in my mind.

But it was formed in my mind. It was believable.

Six months earlier City had played Sheffield United – who themselves were chasing promotion – and then Paul Jewell’s Bantams were second bottom and people were saying that Geoffrey Richmond was frittering away the talents of the recently returned Stuart McCall by allowing him to be managed by the Scouser. The game ended 2-2 but the way the Bantams organised themselves that day convinced me we would be in the play-offs at least.

So eight years ago I could believe it was us or Ipswich to follow Sunderland into the Premiership because on the field and off it we were a superbly run club. Jewell had a team that played effective, percentage football and Richmond – turning a profit every year – led a tightly run ship.

I could believe it because we were a well run club at (the vast majority of) levels and perhaps it was naive but my sense of social justice tells me that when you do things right good things happen. Not that the cream rises to the top but rather that the top is layered with people that do things in the right way.

I could believe it.

I guess the second goal was unlucky. A shot cannoned off the post and Ward was the first to react it it. Ricketts did well and shot glances around the area as if to ask Am I playing on my own here. Rebounds always seem to fall to them when you are at the bottom don’t they? We never seem to get there first. Bad luck.

Move forward a few years and I’m standing on the pitch with a dozen other City fans watching Geoffrey Richmond argue with Matthew Ward a Daily Express journalist – about the merits of the Italian footballer he had unveiled as a new signing half an hour ago. We stood in the centre circle watching Richmond ebulliently wag his finger in Ward’s face as Ward impressively went toe-to-toe with the powerful figure of the Bradford City chairman.

The sun beat down on Richmond as he told Ward that Bradford City would no longer be considered a small club and as he said it from the corner of my eye I noticed recently installed manager Chris Hutchings wandering the full length of the field untroubled by press men or supporters and in retrospect Richmond’s ebullience was his bullish attempts to keep the club together following the departure of Paul Jewell.

For the first time Richmond was putting his not inconsiderable efforts into the wrong area so badly and it bore such consequences. Richmond was no longer running the club well and the club was running away and the debate on the scale of Richmonds (mis)management and the effects of external elements in football will go on forever but unequivocally in the Summer of 2000 with Richmond out of control and Hutchings a shadow Bradford City were a badly run club and a year later we deserved relegation.

It was irritating to see a team show so little fight. Bill Shankley said that he preferred to use the language of the people and that he would not call a player lackadaisical when he could call him lazy. Omar Daley is a lazy footballer and he while he is not alone today there are too many players on the field for City who are not invested in the future of the club. Too many loan players so do not need to perform and too many last year of contract players who can see the exit door. How have we got to a position where you can write the names of the starting eleven down and you cross off the ones you think you will see next season rather than the ones you thing will go: Ricketts, Edghill, Wetherall Will he stay not being manager?, Bower Better than Div 4, Clarke , Daley, Johnson, Schumacher Out of contract, would be good to get him to stay, Parker, Paynter, Weir-Daley Rumoured to have a two year deal on the table – who offered him it?

How can a team play well when so few of the players have anything invested in the future of the club?

I stood outside Valley Parade – this was three years ago – with Bradford City Supporters Trust chair (and the reason we still have a Bradford City, but that is another point) Mark Boocock and we waited for administrator Kroll to get an agreement on the CVA document that would end City’s second spell of administration which had come about after Gordon Gibb and Julian Rhodes had fallen out and the club had slipped into League One.

Gordon Gibb would not agree to the terms of the CVA which left the one hundred year old club waiting for one of our former players – Ashley Ward – to agree to drop his objection and take the club over the needed percentage of agreed creditors but Ward was out on the training field and could not be reached and so we sat in the Banqueting Suite which stands above a place were 56 people died and in a location where professional football had been played for a century waiting for a guy who did very little for his £18,000 a week to get out of the shower and decide if the club would continue or if it would be liquidated.

So we waited and we talked to one of the officials of Kroll the administrator and asked him about the future of the club and he saw reason for optimism because unlike the rest of League One we would not be riddled with debt so “all” we had to do was to get income over expenditure and we would be debt free. We pondered as Ward finished his shower and told us we could continue to be a City with a football club and I walked away thinking that this surely, surely is not how a football club should be run.

Jamie Ward ran fifty yards pretty such unchecked before putting in a shot which Mark Bower turned into his own net. 3-0 and all the booing to date – the chiding of good players and the atmosphere of poison – has cheapened the criticism given out to some players who are not even going through the motions.

Six months ago Colin Todd was not sacked not as a solution to get the playing side back on track or to flood the club with new ideas on how to play the game or even to change the focus of the system to a more or less direct game but as a punishment because results were bad and as a sop to the fans who wanted rid of him. Sacking a manager is a way to effect a change to bring improvement but it is not a change in itself. Julian Rhodes is a good man, a good fan and he is applauded for his innovations but decisions often outside his control have been poor. The debts we have no are caused by bad decisions, the way we ended up paying rent of our own ground was a bad decision and yes changing managers without ever effecting a change on the field was a string of bad decisions.

So slowly the ball crept over the line. So slow the decline of this club but along the way bad decisions have been made metronomically – from the boardroom to the pitch to the stands – and this is by no means the lowest Bradford City can sink.

League Two? Can I believe it? Of course. Seven years of bad decisions should result in this.

There Is No Third Time for Bradford City

News came this morning – if you can call it news – that Julian Rhodes could be forced to put City into administration for the third time should the Bantams be relegated from the league. It comes in the Daily Star – attach to that whatever status you will – and it reads ominously.

Everybody knows that there is no third time for Bradford City. Administration is about settling debts with creditors by allowing them to have faith that they will be paid back better in the long term than they are through a liquidation of assets. Kroll – no one – could make a case that City would pay back this time better than the previous two. Without faith there is no CVA ergo there is no administration. There is only liquidation.

However Julian Rhodes has no immediate reason to seek Administration. The squad at Valley Parade is threadbare to the point that in the summer the Bantams may have only six or so senior professionals in contract and the expenses are transparent. City lost £600,000 last year. £330,000 goes to Gordon Gibb leaving £270,000. Should Dean Windass exit – and he probably will – then City have every right to demand a significant fee for a player wanted for a season in League One so perhaps half if not more of that £270,000 can be wiped away.

A projected loss of £150,000 is not a debt that forces a club into Administration and the loss of £600,000 this season has been offset by the sales of Jermaine Johnson and the loaning of Windass. I may be wrong and I may not be privy to all the information but veteran of two CVAs unless I’m reading this wrong the end of the world is not nigh.

Rhodes for his part is furious saying

It’s utter rubbish and we will be discussing these comments with the club’s lawyers. The stories are so far wide of the mark it’s untrue.

The Daily Star – jumping on Rhodes’s comments in the week and looking for punchy stories – would be better off pointing City fans to Sheffield Wednesday and Hull games for the rest of the year. Should the Tigers stay up City get a slice more cash for Windass and promotion for The Owls – they are pushing for the play-offs – would land the Bantams £150,000.

City need to be on a constant watch against financial problems but part of that watch is being able to control panic that would be sparked by the Daily Star article. It is still worth buying a season ticket; it is still worth caring about the club.

Rhodes: I Did What I Had To To Keep The Club Going

Some years ago while Bradford City were parking next to extinction I managed to see a copy of the financial reports for the failing business that was Bradford City AFC. It did not make good reading, in fact I had to hold back a tear. If people knew some of the things that had gone on not to put the future of this club in jeopardy but afterwards and by some of the people who came to refinance us then…

Well then people would be marching on a local theme parks demanding answers.

To be honest Bradford City fans do deserve answers about what has gone on with the money at Valley Parade and they deserve the truth. Mouth shut agreements on some parties and a fear of litigation on mine prevent this truth from fully being told and perhaps that is a good thing because to paraphrase Aaron Sorkin’s play We can’t handle the truth

Or at least some people cannot and so Julian Rhodes is set on the defensive talking about being insulted by comments that money had been taken out of the coffers and defending sanctioning the departures of Dean Windass and Jermaine Johnson.

Rhodes never says that Windass’s departure could have been brought about by the vague campaign of criticism which lead to hate mail and death threats the player suffered nor does he say that the £500,000 for Jermaine Johnson was ridiculously good money for a player who would be publicly balled out on the field for his selfish play.

Rhodes makes it clear that selling Johnson allowed the club to continue trading. That is a no brainer. Rhodes says

The facts of the matter are I had to do what I had to do to keep the club going.

Rhodes has been in charge at Valley Parade for seven years and faces his second relegation in that time. He faced a shrinking income stream which has been turned around and a climate in football where the kids of Bradford no longer sport Manchester United shirts but increasingly don the colours of Barcelona and LA Galaxy and football is followed from an armchair.

He faces a football world in which money is poured into the top level and the trickle down is pitiful. He faces hyper-inflation at the top level dragging wages up for all and he faces that with his own failing laid bare.

For Rhodes has made mistakes in running the club but like Joe Colbeck, Valley Parade and the claret and amber striped shirts it is not a case that as Bradford City fans it is our job to find these faults and magnify them but rather accept them, hopefully guide and try minimise where they occur. Selling 25 year season tickets (Not something Julian Rhodes did, a Geoffrey Richmond innovation) was a mistake but it has been accepted, representation was made and a solution found that all were as happy as could be with.

The truth that the 5% of City fans who Rhodes accuses of shouting loudest against him cannot handle is that as good or bad as Rhodes may be he is the only option to manage and own a terminally holed business that continues to trade at a loss long after any normal business would have been liquidated.

The truth is that Julian Rhodes has not sucked the money out of City – City have sucked the money out of him.

This is not sycophancy or obsequiousness, it is honesty based on having seen on paper the facts that stare Julian Rhodes in the face on a daily basis. The man has failings and I would run the club differently perhaps but make no mistake that without him Valley Parade would look like The Odeon in Bradford City Centre and Bradford City would be out of business.

No one has the right to sell Francis so cheaply

Popular wisdom: Simon Francis had to be sold because City are in administration. Balderdash! Simon Francis should not have been allowed to leave Valley Parade.

No one at Bradford City at the moment has authority to sell Francis for what is a modest amount. If this club were not in administration then this is not an unturndownable offer for a player. £250,000 for one of our finest performers as we fight relegation? If we were not in administration then this would be called footballing suicide.

However we are in administration so we have to take whatever money is offered right? Wrong.

City are currently in a period of funded administration and have at least one confirmed offer on the table for the club. The Rhodes family have financially guaranteed this period of administration and, as is my understanding, have put in an offer to buy the club at the end of it.

Administration was called “a technicality”, something that could not be avoided but would not seriously effect the running of the club, and we were not to worry about the future which would be assured under the Rhodes family. For the record I still believe it will be but this is not about Julian and/or David Rhodes.

It is about the administrators who have received more than the single Rhodes bid to buy Bradford City as of Friday afternoon. When the club was made available for sale the playing squad was given a value of none although since then Andy Gray and Simon Francis have left for cash leading anyone who would be interesting in buying the club wondering how come the assets are marked down and why what is of value at their potential purchase is being sold.

Administrators are not asset strippers or liquidators. It is not their function raise money only to keep the club going until a deal that best suits the creditors is made and that administrative period had been guaranteed by the Rhodes family.

So if the administrators did sell Simon Francis then how could they be said to be acting in the best interests of the creditors? 19 year old footballers very rarely go down in value and Francis was, as I understand it, on very reasonable terms at Valley Parade.

Unlike seeing the back of Benito Carbone, Ashley Ward, Stan Collymore, Dan Petrescu, David Hopkin and just about every other face to leave VP in the past few years we did not need to get Simon Francis off the wage bill. His was the kind of wage club’s dreams are made of – good players on low money – and just as it is understood by all when a business goes into administration that it needs it’s staff to continue to run to allow the best deal for creditors a football club needs footballers.

We did not need to get Simon Francis’ modest wage off our wage bill to help us in administration – Hell it probably appears on the balance sheet as tiny next to the amounts being paid out to Ashley Ward to not play for us – and so administrators had no business selling him.

If it was not the administrators then perhaps it was on the order of the Rhodes family who, it is assumed, will be taking control of City after administration? I doubt that the Rhodes could have had much of a hand in this as a potential buyer of the club but if they had then they should not have been allowed to. They are one of a number of potential buyers and have no remit in changing what has been put up for sale after the event.

Like I say though it was probably not the Rhodes family and we all look forward to the day when they can complete the takeover of City and we can stop being subject to the financial melee we seem to find ourselves in and get some stability.

So if it was not the administrators, and one hopes it was not, and it was not the Rhodes family then who did sell Simon Francis? In my mind neither have enough of a remit to justify making this sale.

Perhaps it was someone at the club. One hopes it was not Shaun Harvey because he seems too canny a chap to allow the club to be raided like this and as chief executive he also does not have the remit to decide who stays and who goes. He enacts decisions made by the board or in this case administrators (and as said above they should not have been making them and by whoever is in control of the playing side which at the moment is Bryan Robson.

Robson has no remit to start selling players unless he puts pen to paper on a contract for next season.

It’s that simple. Until Bryan Robson commits to next season then he should not be getting rid of players who are contracted longer than he is. If Robson walks away in a few months time then the new manager will find a huge hole in the team where Simon Francis used to be and would justifiability ask how he is expected to bring in a player of similar quality for £250,000 should he get a transfer budget which one seriously doubts. A new manager might also look at Andy Gray and ask why no contract offer was made. He might wonder if this club had any concept of long term planning and he could be right if he concluded that we did not.

Robson can walk away and if he was the one who rubber-stamped Simon Francis leaving he can walk away leaving us much less of a squad than we had when he arrived. We accept that in the name of rebuilding but only if the one doing the releasing will be doing the signing in the summer. In my opinion Robson does not have the remit to start selling our players until he makes it clear that they are his players.

So who has sold Simon Francis? I’m sure that one of the parties I’ve talked about has a good reason why we have sold one of our brightest prospects for what most would say is a disappointing fee but frankly I am unable find a reason.

Despite the popular misconception we do not need the money short term for administration because that time is being funded by the Rhodes family. We do not need to get Simon off the wage bill to make the club work financially in the medium term because his wage is not an issue next to those going out to the likes of Ashley Ward on one hand and the host of not good enough players like Robert Wolleaston and Luke Cornwall on the other and in the longer term any profits we can get from selling him are only enhanced buy having him at the club as he develops which is saying nothing about the increased chance of avoiding relegation we have with him in the side.

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