A movement in the second string section

Peter Jackson makes some good points when he talks about bringing Bradford City reserves back to Valley Parade from their half season long sojourn at Eccleshill’s Plumpton Park but the change in venue asks questions about the way City are run and affords uncomfortable answers.

The Interim Manager’s logic is sound. To beat “the Valley Parade fear factor” players need to play more often at Valley Parade but coming just seven months after the much heralded measures to keep the pitch smooth it seems that the Bantams have once again abandoned a policy in the mid-term of its development.

This is a common theme for City and one which has long since started to question the appropriateness of what emerges from the club.

It is important to have a better pitch, but now it is not. It is important to have new training facilities, but then that “could be used as an excuse”, it is important that the player wear suits.

The list continues further back than most of us care to remember. It was important at one point to have a Defensive, Offensive and Midfieldive Coaches under Nicky Law. One struggles to recall why.

So let us not say that all these changes are wrong, some put right things which were previously done badly, some put things in the way the new manager wants it, but all have a consumption of resources and suggest a club without a plan of how to get to success.

The first point is a problem in a practical sense. There is only so much money comes into the club year on year and we can all think of a better use for that that making changes to things considered essential by the previous manager.

If Peter Jackson decides the players can turn up to games in pajamas – fitting for the long coach trips he considers essential – then director Roger Owen is left with a squad of suits he paid for at the behest of Peter Taylor and a feeling that he need not have bothered. Even in that sense it is wasted resource.

Moreover though these changes paint a picture of City as being the sort of club who rather than having a plan and a way of doing things which will bring success so craved are able to be influenced into pretty much any decision on the basis of the last football expert (manager, if you will) who walks into the room.

Without a consistent approach – with policy changed on an ad hoc basis – the club end up tail chasing trying to fulfil the requests of one manager, then flipping those requests for another.

While debate still goes on about Peter Taylor as a manager there is no doubt in my mind that he is a man who knows what success at a football club looks like. He has seen it and been part of it often enough to know – even if he could not put it in place at City – and in terms of laying out a roadmap to improvement there is no one at the club even near his level of qualification.

City need domain knowledge of footballing success. They need someone in the boardroom with enough nouse to be able to tell a manager if moving the reserves here or there is a good idea and to balance the cost of that with the effectiveness. They need someone who can help the board manage the manager.

Stuart McCall had no problem with Apperley Bridge, Peter Taylor took one look at the place and demanded a change. Peter Jackson is used to far better but wraps it up in bring “a proper club”. With these opinions voiced in the last sixteen months by three managers is it worth the club looking into moving? Who can make that decision for the board considering the differences in opinions of different managers?

Is it worth moving the reserves? Taylor says yes, Jackson says no and the City board – as they should – back the man who is in charge of the club but to do that with confidence they need to acquire more knowledge of what makes a successful club to inform that judgement.

Without that they are left taking the judgement of this year’s manager and paying for making changes for the judgements if the last.

Taylor walks away carrying all the cans

Peter Taylor’s final game as Bradford City manager has just kicked off and after ninety minutes, half time and a couple of stoppage times the 58 year old former England manager walk away from Valley Parade for the final time.

Taylor’s year at Bradford City will be the subject of debate for years to come. Why did the man who gave David Beckham the England captain’s armband flutter the captaincy around no fewer then eight of the Bantams squad? Why was someone who was appointed for his experience found making what seemed to be very basic mistakes so often?

It is damning of Taylor that almost every Bradford City supporter has a list of the mistakes they believe he has made and that often these lists are entirely different. One will complain about his use of loan players producing a gutless team, another about his negative football, a third about his treatment of the players and so on. For a manager who even now as he exits a club in the lower reaches of League Two his CV is still massively impressive and suggestive of a superb manager.

That so many subsets can be made out of the list of mistakes he has made is stunning. Personally I find it easy to ignore the criticism of the manager for making the players wear suits – or indeed the praise for that which now seems very long ago – or for his colourful use of language in the infamous statement on his fortitude against criticism from the terraces. An irony that, in the end he leaves talking about the negativity around him from the supporters and its growing influence. Those bastards did grind him down in the end.

I’d charge him with giving huge responsibility on the field to players who were not ready for that – Tom Ademeyi and David Syers in central midfield against the five of Lincoln is the most obvious example – and as such costing games and taking an unknown chunk out of those player’s confidence. It was – to me – man management at its worse. The management of what you want the man to be, not what he is at the moment, and Taylor carries the can for that.

At 58 and with 26 years of management experience though one can expect Taylor to carry that can and take responsibility for this year. He will write it on his CV alongside his promotions at Hull City and Wycombe Wanderers and admit freely that his methods do not always work, but sometimes they do and that is more than most can say.

And he may mitigate the season with talk of the injury list and the fact he was promised training facilities which did not materialise. One might expect Taylor to feel some justification in that final point. He told the board in May that they needed to address the Apperley Bridge problem in order to create a team which would get promoted. They did not, but still promotion was expected.

So Taylor carries the can for the board of the club who made promises and for whatever reason could not fulfil them. The next manager will no doubt be required to work with what is at the club in terms of facilities and talk of Apperley Bridge not being fit for purpose will be dubbed “an excuse” but nine months ago Bradford City asked a man with five promotion what it would take to make the club upwardly mobile once more and, on hearing the answer, have yet to address the situation.

That is a failure by the club on the whole, and one that Taylor carries the can for as he does the club’s obsession with short term thinking which goes back a decade if not longer.

The belief at the club (in boardroom and in supporters) is that teams can be built in a summer and Taylor carries the can for that assumption which is proved wrong time and time again. Taylor worked with the squad left by Stuart McCall who had three summers and three building jobs to do having inherited a squad of about eight players from David Wetherall’s few months in charge which included the delights of Spencer Weir-Daley, Moses Ashikodi and Xavier Barrau. What price then for the 16 year old who Geoffrey Richmond did not want in five years time because he needed someone on the pitch on Saturday?

Taylor’s contract was set as one three month deal, another for twelve and this was done for very basic financial reasons – it was all the club could afford – but the lesson of the last decade is that without anything to build on the manager is put in a constant cycle of rebuilding.

It is easy to say in retrospect – although one can find many comments at the time worried about the length of Taylor’s contract – but the club should aim to appoint a manager who will be at the club in the long, long term. Someone who can be afforded for five season, not out of price after one, and someone who views the City job as the potential to build the big club they all talk about wanting to manage.

Bradford City are not a towering big club, they are a series of jenga blocks scattered about. The job is building the tower without knocking it over every time you touch it.

As people begin to suggest themselves for the City job: Phil Parkinson, John Hughes, John Coleman, Keith Hill, Alan Knill, Dean Windass and so on; I find myself not really caring what the name on the contract is as much as I care about the number of years.

It is a sad day when any club looks to Newcastle United for advice on how to appoint a manager but Alan Pardew has a five and a half year deal at St James’ Park which says he is staying put (and perhaps being joined by Peter Taylor) and trying to build year on year at that club. We should be doing the same and employing a manager with long term aims that are not tied to short term results.

I want the manager of Bradford City to be in charge of building a club. In charge of making sure there is a through put of young players, in charge of taking the players we have and improving them and getting the best out of them, in charge of making the club better next year than it was last and doing that over the long term rather than simply being about seeing his he can win on Saturday and get promotion at the end of the season. Changing the manager is not as important as changing the manager’s job description.

By the time you read this Taylor will have gone and he will go carrying the can for his own mistakes for sure, but also for any number of assumptions and errors systematically made over the years. Unless there is a reverse in the attitude of the club – including in support as well as the boardroom – then the man who replaces Taylor – unless he gets ludicrously lucky that when he throws the jenga blocks in the air they land as a tower – is just tomorrow’s sacked manager.

Talking to Mark Lawn: Part Two

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

And we continue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BfB: So is the pricing a permanent thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BfB: Any examples of that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BfB: That’s a lot for this level…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BfB: But you do seem to enjoy it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-amble

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

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

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

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

Mark Lawn and stopping thinking about promotion

Mark Lawn’s successes at Bradford City are limited.

Whatever one thinks of the man and his actions – not talking to his manager for nine months, threatening to wind the club up when three or four idiots vandalised his car, authorising spending £600,000 of money the club did not yet have for selling on a youngster Fabian Delph on players rather than facilities – it is hard to suggest that the vast majority of them have had the aim he desired.

That is because Lawn’s aims are two fold and firstly – and most obviously – it is promotion and three and a half years since he arrived the closest the Bantams have come to troubling League One seems to coincide with the moment when Lawn’s relations with his gaffer went sour. We all recall the hours and the times.

But I come not to bury Lawn but to praise him for his second aim – and the one which he is most tempted to drift away from – is perhaps more important than promotion. It is the financial stability of the club and the fact that in a game fuelled by Bradford City – on the whole – are in the black.

Season on season since Mark Lawn arrived Bradford City’s balance sheet has – more or less – shown the the club is not losing money and considering the significant and huge drain on the resources that the rent of Valley Parade from the Flamingo Land Pension Fund represents this is not to be underestimated. The club owe Lawn (and Julian Rhodes) a chunk of cash but that loan is (it is understood) offered at a rate that allowed the Bantams to stop paying debt maintainable and use those funds.

So when talk emerges that Bradford City are being looked at by investors as a potential purchase it comes as no surprise. A rare beast in football, a club that when they are purchased ostensibly at the price of paying back Lawn’s (estimated, correct me if I am wrong) £1m and whatever the club owe Rhodes then the business side is solvent from the first day of trading.

Lawn – apparently – is not short of offers for the club but most of them are more Peter Etherington than Geoffrey Richmond and the joint chairman sums up the situation saying “At present nobody can come along with the sort of investment that would make a difference.”

It would seem that Lawn is as stuck with his critics as his critics are with him and the frustrations of owing and working under the restrictions of ensuring solvency of the club show in his statements. He talks about supporters with wide eyes looking at other club’s spending saying “So unless somebody can find a magic money tree and give it a shake for us, (City’s ability to sign players in January is) not going to change.”

Lawn talks about waiting for the right man to take over rather than someone who would look to make a quick buck and he is right to talk in such a way but perhaps he is the right man.

One could talk about the business sense of the Bradford City board – The Santa Dave leaflet, please no – but the main problem seems to be a kind of cart before horse approach to that aim of promotion where everyone at the club is part of a mad scramble trying to get into the top three of League Two.

Promotion is set as the aim – Julian Rhodes talked about back to back movements up to The Championship – but with that contradicts the talk of solvency when teams like Notts County or Peterborough United are stealing the League Two title. Those clubs spend buckets of cash on the idea that they must ascend the leagues as soon as possible.

Those teams tough represent the exception and the rule in football is that things are won by the club with biggest club, rather than the biggest spenders. Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea and (perhaps this year) Manchester City have all opened the wallet and tried to buy the Premier League title but if those big spenders fail then Manchester United win it as a default setting. No mad scrambles at Old Trafford, just maintaining the pace.

So rather than setting promotion as an aim create some objectives, set some areas in which City are to improve. I make no apologies for talking again about facilities because the higher up football one gets the bigger and better they are but the correlation between facilities and league position is unignorable.

There are plenty of things which are done by others which should be – and sometimes are – replicated at Valley Parade. Peter Taylor’s insistence on overnight stays is a good example of this as his desire to have a better playing surface (although his desire to suit and boot the players contrasts to Arsenal’s leisure suited lads).

Innovation has its place but is is naive to disguise failure to compete on various levels as new thinking and using the established pattens which have brought the promotion that Lawn and City crave to clubs like Rochdale and AFC Bournemouth – making the setting up of those established pattens as the aims – could prove more fruitful.

When asked about where the club will be in five years the tendency at City is to list a division – famously and with some effectiveness in building belief Geoffrey Richmond said “The Premier League” – but if the answer were about an increased turnover, better facilities, and so forth then perhaps the horse would go before the cart.

Perhaps making Bradford City a bigger club, a club with more of the trappings of a successful club, will bring that success and there is no reason that Mark Lawn – with a sound financial head – is not able to stop talking about promotion or bust and start talking about how he is going to make City bigger and better by whatever increments he can and let osmosis take the Bantams up the leagues.

At the moment Lawn is a Dave Simpson of a chairman – a hand on the tiller and not someone one always agrees with but someone who has as many good limits as bad – but there is no reason why the current chairman should not change the priorities of the club towards stable improvement in increments rather than boom or bust thinking.

Plans for Weetwood scrapped as pre-season starts with a slump

Jake Speight has played around the non-leagues in the last few years and has probably while at Northwich Victoria or Droylsden had to train on some run down school playing field with shoddy facilities and had to get into his kit somewhere else for the want of a changing block and then get to the pitches by car.

He will be looking forward to leaving those days behind now he at a proper football club. He will be disappointed.

Speight and his new team mates start training at Apperley Bridge today after the club made a decision to abandon the plan to move to Weetwood. Manager Peter Taylor – the driving force behind the desire to move to better facilities – fronted the club’s explanation saying “All the boxes had to be ticked before going to the other place and they weren’t. A couple of things we wanted couldn’t be guaranteed, such as being able to train on certain areas on certain days, and I wasn’t prepared to take that chance if it wasn’t right.”

So the club take another chance, the chance of history not repeating itself. Speight arrives costing money, Tommy Doherty signs, James Hanson has a new four year deal and like Dan Petrescu, Benito Carbone and many, many others they are given training pitches and a way of training which have repeatedly be found wanting.

Found wanting by players. Lee Sharpe revealed that the players affectionately called City “The Dog & Duck” because of the training situation while Benito Carbone described The Bantams has having “nothing that resembled a football club” after his arrival.

Found wanting in the weather. When Bradford City’s second year in the Premier League went to hell it is often forgotten that Jim Jefferies side could not use Apperley Bridge because the rain has caused flooding. This is not uncommon and last season Michael Flynn recalls not being able to do a passing drill on the field because the ball could not be trusted to move or run true on the surface.

Found wanting in practice as for years and years as City have underachieved and while there is a school of thought that places that blame at the feet of Jim Jefferies, Nicky Law, Bryan Robson, Colin Todd, David Wetherall and Stuart McCall as if each manager inherited a discreet event when they arrived but – like Taylor – I would suggest there is a common factor and while one cannot say it is definitely Apperley Bridge it seemed to be identified by the current gaffer as a significant problem.

So the plan to move is off and Taylor tried to look on the bright side saying “To be fair to Apperley Bridge and the groundsman there, they have been terrific for us. I’m really pleased for the groundsman especially because he is a Bradford supporter and he used to work his socks off.”

However one has to wonder how this plan – seen as vital by Taylor not three months ago – has been allowed to fall apart. When a deal with announced why were ends left untied? After the announcement that we were moving to Weetwood – in knowledge that the deal had not been signed – did Mark Lawn, Julian Rhodes et al carry on looking for a facility understanding that the promise they had made to Taylor had not been fulfilled and they had not found him the training facilities he wanted?

The words “Plan B” used to be thrown around at this club on the field in an entire inappropriate way but it is appropriate to ask if Weetwood was Plan A what was City’s Plan B? Is this is?

Players like Robbie Threlfall were brought to the club with the idea that they were swapping Melwood for Weetwood and not on the idea of getting back in the minivan outside Valley Parade and being driven through Bradford traffic before training can begin.

The players arrive back at pre-season today and – after this – the season starts with a slump.

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