Talking to Mark Lawn: Part One

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

How did we get here?

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

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

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

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

Overlooking the pitch

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

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

And so to the main event

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BfB: What happens with the shop?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BfB: And how did our budget compare?

Ours was a lot more, certainly over double that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have an overdraft, a small overdraft facility.

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

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

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

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

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

End of part one…

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

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.

Groundsharing at Odsal moves from debate to battle

The Bradford City Supporters Trust holds its AGM this evening, with one especially pensive agenda item up for discussion.

Last February Bradford City revealed it was considering an option to ground share with Rugby League neighbours Bradford Bulls, in a council-backed redevelopment of its Odsal stadium. With the rental payments and running costs of City’s 105-year-old home, Valley Parade, somewhere in the region of just under £1 million per year, the opportunity to be released from expenditure which is potentially holding back the club’s  progress is one difficult for joint chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes to ignore. The time is approaching where the debate moves forward and firm actions need to be taken.

When plans were first mooted for turning the basic Odsal ground into a sporting village, it was easy to dismiss it as fruitless council activity that would ultimately be ruled unworkable. The cost of the project is widely expected to be over £80m, a quarter of which would be provided by the council. In the mist of a UK recession where the affects are more visible within Bradford than many parts of the country – witness the giant hole in the city centre that was supposed to be a shopping complex by now – it’s questionable where the rest of the funding would come from, but the council is said to remain confident of acquiring it. It means that, rather than sit back and wait for the sums to not add up, City fans against their club moving home need to make their voice heard.

Writing in the latest edition of City Gent, BCST Chairman Alan Carling outlines a timetable for council activity which suggests a decision over City’s future could be made by early 2010. A green light would see the Bulls temporarily move to Valley Parade in 2011 while building work on Odsal took place, with both clubs beginning life in the redeveloped Odsal by August 2013. Alan also suggests the Odsal go-ahead is dependent on City’s involvement, as the income streams from only the Bulls make it difficult for investors in the development to receive a desired return.

Not that matters are so simple for City, with the giant question mark of the 20-year Valley Parade lease the club is financially obligated to complete as part of the 2003 deal which saw then-Chairman Gordon Gibb buy up the stadium. Alan speculates two ways the council and City might work around that problem, neither which appear financially desirable. The first is the council buys the stadium from Gibb, thus freeing City from the terms of the lease. The cost of purchase and then demolition of the ground is a poor use of tax payers’ money given the returns from then selling on the land will be far less – and that’s ignoring the sheer ludicrousness of the council buying and demolishing a stadium City want to remain in so they can persuade the club to move elsewhere.

The other suggested option is a strategic City administration, with the idea being the new City owners would be removed from previous financial obligations and be free to leave Gibb with an empty stadium. Whatever is thought of Gibb, this is morally wrong and risky, as the club cannot put itself into administration until it’s about to move over to Odsal, in four years time. Is the business-wise Gibb going to sit back and wait for that to happen? Is the Football League going to allow one of its members to so blatantly get out of financial commitments? Is the council going to devise a sensible business plan on the basis of encouraging a local company to bend the rules?

In his article Alan wrote, “My personal concern is that if the club goes along with the Council’s Odsal plans, we may be venturing into an ethical and practical minefield for the sake of financial gains that are both uncertain and distant. And these anticipated gains are unlikely to be large enough to outweigh the attendant risks, which may include risks to the survival of the club.”

All of which continues to make it difficult to see just how Bradford City and the people of the Bradford district would benefit from the club moving to a redeveloped Osdal, when there is already a suitable venue for the City’s two professional clubs in Valley Parade, achievable to buy for a fraction of the cost. The proposed Odsal Sporting Village is aimed at providing a wider range of sporting facilities, but there is no obvious reason why it couldn’t still be developed to the benefit of local athletes. Training facilities for both City and Bulls could be situated here too.

It would still a disputable use of public money to buy Valley Parade for two commercial organisations, but it could be argued that, by doing so, the space vacated by the Bulls could be developed into an important sporting community focal point that aspiring local athletes can develop from. It would be reasonable for City and Bulls to pay rent to the council and, within Valley Parade, there may also be opportunity to push ahead supporter desires for a return to standing areas.

Of course the prospect of the Bulls moving to Valley Parade is something its supporters are understandably opposed to in the same way City fans don’t want to be moved to Odsal, but is their discomfort more important than ours and is it justification enough to unnecessarily spend millions of pounds? Even allowing for the hindrance of claret and amber-tinted spectacles, I find it difficult to see the logic in the whole proposal.

But those with the power to make it happen clearly do see something, and tonight BCST will discuss how City supporters can make their voices heard. There are suggestions the club is taking an increasingly-dismissive view of the Trust’s power and influence, largely due to its membership size, but whether members or non-members all City fans opposed to the Odsal plans should be considering how they can support the Trust in leading the fight. It has been suggested the club will hold a referendum with all supporters before any final decision is made, but is it enough to sit back and wait for a voting slip to appear?

The biggest concern over the decision to stay or leave Valley Parade is that assumptions and apathy might come to be later regretted.

*The BCST AGM is being held at Bradford Irish Club from 7.30pm tonight.

It’s our home

Whenever you start to believe that the financial problems which have blighted Bradford City during the last eight years are behind us, you remember about Valley Parade.

It was presented as good news when City’s stadium was bought by then-Chairman Gordon Gibb in the summer of 2003, because it got the pressure of a mortgage lender owed millions of pounds off our back. Sure, the owner’s pension fund held the ground’s deeds rather than the club, but no one was going to repossess and kick us out of it. We had a Chairman committed to a bright new future who was creating headlines by offering City’s then-squad a seven figure bonus if promotion to the Premiership could be achieved in the season ahead.

Not even six months later the new dawn had given away to dark clouds. Gibb left and a mud-slinging battle with the Rhodes’ ensued which threatened to spell the end of a club which was supposed to be celebrating its centenary. In July 2004 it looked like it really was over, but an 11th hour peace-deal was eventually brokered between the man who held the keys to the stadium and the family who held the keys to the club’s future. City carried on, but with hefty rent payments to meet from their no-longer friendly landlord.

When Mark Lawn was quizzed about the stadium ownership at the fans forum last year he spoke of attempts to buy back the stadium been met with an uninterested response from Gibb, who was apparently enjoying the money. Reports today suggest Gibb never received a formal approach. For sure there seems to be no threat of Gibb evicting City to build luxury flats in the near future, the credit crunch if nothing else has seen to that. But like for many people renting is not ideal, sees much-needed money sucked down a black hole and there persists a feeling that your home is never truly your own. I doubt City are allowed to redecorate, or keep pets.

Reports are circulating today that City are considering moving to play at Odsal when it is redeveloped. When should really be if because for years we’ve heard fanciful talk of a super stadium springing up on Odsal top and it seems no closer than ever. Maybe this time it’s different, maybe one day pigs really will learn to fly.

Who knows how true the reports of City’s interest really are, but they are certain to worry Gibb. Valley Parade is in far from the most beautiful of locations and there is no sporting team who’d be willing to move in and pay equivalent rent payments. The credit crunch makes it a foolish time to plan building flats on the site instead and, even when the economy returns to normal, who’s going to buy a high-rise pad overlooking the sex shops of Manningham Lane?

Perhaps that’s the point of these stories, a whiff that the Bradford City gravy train might be departing up the road surely weakens Gibb’s position at the bargaining table. Maybe City just want to force him into negotiation over rent payments or ownership.

As for the prospect of moving away from Valley Parade, it’s clearly an emotive subject for all fans. Personally I’d scream no, but if the rent payments from staying are so significant they can seriously hamper future progress then sacrificing tradition must at least be considered. I hate seeing these pop-up grounds like at Doncaster which have no character, and if that’s what a ‘community stadium’ in Bradford might look like then the pleasure of going to watch my team will be less.

But for me the efforts which have been undertaken during the last couple of years must continue. The Bradford City Supporters Trust has done much to lobby the Council to be more even-handed in its support of the district’s two largest professional clubs and it must continue. Sure I’m biased when I believe the Council should help more, but I don’t think tax-payers’ should subsidise what is ultimately a business – just for some equality with Bradford Bulls.

The credit crunch means less bank managers are going to be prepared to loan Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes the money to make Gibb an offer, but is a solution to suit both parties possible? Can’t the deal be restructured, for example, so that City’s rent payments become repayments and eventually Gibb receives back what he originally paid, plus interest, and we take back what belongs to us.

Maybe that’s naive, but at the very least good relations with Gibb must be built. There is probably still anger there between the Gibb and Rhodes families – but this isn’t just about boardrooms, it’s about 12,000+ people who watch Bradford City play every other fortnight from whom Valley Parade is home. We’ve been coming to our gaff for years and we even redecorated it before Gibb came along. It’s a place we expect to keep coming to for a long time, and then for our children to bring their children to.

Moving to Odsal might seem a tempting option, but let’s not give up on our home just yet.

Fancy a Flutter with Stuart and Wayne?

It is now nearly four years since Bradford City went into administration for the second time in two years. Who could forget the turbulent times facing our football club during the summer of 2004? Supporters rallied round to help raise £250,000 to save the club by eating maggots, participating in sponsored walks, hopping between football grounds and children wearing their City shirts with pride at school. This excellent work was, in part, co-ordinated by Bradford City Supporters’ Trust (BCST).

BCST is still going strong after being formed in 2002 following our first period in administration. Indeed, they have recently been awarded a grant of £5,000 from the Co-operative Group following a successful application with Ian Ormondroyd’s Football in the Community.

This money is to be split equally in support of two projects: the annual Community Week held at Bradford City in May and the work of the Positive Lifestyle Centre at Valley Parade. This tremendous effort by BCST indicates that they still have a strong desire to help support both Bradford City and raise the club’s profile within the district of Bradford, despite the fact that City is supposedly now in a stable condition financially following Mark Lawn’s injection of money into the football club.

If you would like to do your bit to support the club, why not come to the John Hendrie suite at Valley Parade on Friday 15th February at 19:00 where BCST has organised a racing night with City Gent editor Mike Harrison will be presenting eight video races with eight horses in each race on which you can place your bets. This is going to be a great, fun evening, hosted by BBC Radio Leeds match commentator Derm Tanner, with guest appearances from Stuart McCall, Wayne Jacobs, John Hendrie, Ces Podd, Dean Richards and Des Hamilton. Admission is £5.

Remember it wasn’t too long ago that a collective effort by supporters helped to save our beloved football club. Although the club is now in a lot healthier position, there is still plenty of progress to make so why not have a flutter at the racing night? You never know, you might enjoy yourself and you might win a bob or two!

On what Bradford City need to do off the field

The Shipley Bantams were formed in the summer of 2004 to provide travel to away matches. They meet once a week in a pub and talk over all matter’s City as well as arranging trips and looking at which pubs to stop in on the way. They have rules and regulations about drinking on the coaches and stick to them with an ardent sense of responsibility as good members of a community should.

In a way the Shipley Bantams are nothing new. CTC73 was formed to answer the same problems in the 1970s and from that, owing to a lack of anything approaching reporting on City, The City Gent sprung. Former City Gent editor Dave Pendleton established a History of Bradford City exhibition to mark the centenary and accompanied it with a website. BfB came out of the lack of a Bradford City online presence back in 1998.

In short when the need arises Bradford City Supporters have a track record of being able to look after themselves. When the people of the Shipley Bantams first got together they did so to support the club by quiet literally turning up to support from the stands – we use the term supporter so casually – and back then it is almost impossible to think that within six months the Shipley Bantams would be in a loggerhead situation with Bradford City.

Nevertheless as an exit from administration came into view then the club started to ramp up activities like away travel and started to undercut the Shipley Bantams. The two met and an offer was made by the club to engulf the SBs and let them run the show within Bradford City.

The Shipley Bantams declined and rightly so.

One month later a summit was held in a Bradford pub – a pub from which the sharp eyed could see Valley Parade – but despite location no one from the club was called on to attend nor were they needed. The evening was organised by supporters and the outcome – an attempt to re-establish the local supporter’s clubs in the style of that which has the name Shipley – is based around the efforts of supporters around but not including or drawn from the club.

Across town the Bradford City Supporters’ Trust were meeting. A half year on from being the last bastion of hope when all had left the club the BCST faced something of an image problem with some City fans crying foul with fundamental disagreements over Trust policy on attempting to get board membership and angrily shouting that BCST does not represent them.

Chairman Mark Boocock opted for a meeting of members to approve policy giving him the ability to represent those members with a more clear mandate. In the end the Trust may or may not get a place in the Bradford City boardroom but should you subscribe to that aim and you have enough like minds around you then the Trust offers a path to fruition and does so at a good arm’s length from the club itself.

This website – www.boyfrombrazil.co.uk – exists with virtually no contact with Bradford City save the odd question about factual matters or seating arrangements for various games. We shun the phrase “unofficial” when talking about BfB because we do not believe that as a publication to be read by Bradford City fans that we need an “official” stamp of approval from anyone especially not Bradford City AFC (1983) Ltd or Bradford City Football Club Limited 2004.

Which is not to say that any of the organisations mentioned should be at loggerheads with the club or even be aloof from the work that goes on at Valley Parade but that the propensity to be at loggerheads should exist. Any community is stronger when it supports the ability to hold diverse opinion.

As we exit administration the club must learn the lessons of the last ten years when everything connected with it – be it away travel, supporters groups or publications – was taken in house. Bradford City football club tried to be at the centre of everything surrounding the supporter’s passion for football. The Richmond regime, as is common up and down the country, wanted to take your money to travel away from home, get your money from you for merchandise, get your lunch money off you with a café and to sign you up to various clubs all of which were operated from with VP. Once administration cut the will to do these things City fans like those who formed the Shipley Bantams took a look at what was left found that it was very little.

The new club, and one optimistically uses the phrase, needs to view supporter activities not as something to be privatised but rather as something which should be facilitated.

I hope that BfB that enriches the experience of being a Bradford City supporter in even a tenth of the way that our fellow publication The City Gent has done and continues to do so for over twenty years. I’m sure that the Shipley Bantams do for it’s members and I know that the Trust did in the summer and can do again. All these things make a stronger club but do so outside of the business that is Bradford City.

Previously Bradford City Limited has been at the top of a family tree – the grandfather – and everything which is established for City fans has been subservient to it. Grab a piece of scrap paper and draw a box with the words Bradford City in it and you could add the children of that box – the away travel and supporters clubs of the Richmond years – underneath it. Perhaps under those children there are grandchildren smaller subgroups but always Bradford City are at the top.

Next piece of paper.

Bradford City in the middle but The Shipley Bantams, BfB, City Gent, BCST, Bantams Past et al are not children of the club but surround it like planets circling the Sun reliant on the centre for focus and life – not much point in having a Shipley Bantams without a Bantams – but able to go about it’s day to day, month to month, year to year business with contact from the centre.

Now imagine not five or six or seven planets put twenty or thirty or sixty or seventy all giving every Bradford City supporter an outlet for whatever he or she has passions for. Naturally the mind turns to things connected to the game but it need not stop there. Bradford City is the heart of our community. Should it opt to be a facilitator of community rather than trying to be a provider then who is to say what resourceful City fans will dream up?

With the support of the club to give the oxygen of advertisement in programmes and on scoreboards then attempts to set up the kind of groups which make a richer Bradford City supporting experience will be enhanced. Today it’s website and magazines but tomorrow it could be five-a-side teams, it could be swimmers in our colour, it could even be the Bradford City knitting circle. As long as it is strengthening community bonds and enriching the supporting experience for fans then it is constructive. It might not add to the bottom line in the way that putting a pound on the cost of coaches did for the club’s away travel did but it will pay off in the longer term when the club becomes more than just a Saturday afternoon to more people.

The club has a chance to change – to forge a new path away from the failing business model of trying to get as much cash out of an ever decreasing band of supporters – into the Sun at the centre of a system of supporter communities which will keep interest in the Bantams buzzing long after the final whistle on a Saturday afternoon.

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