More on the Valley Parade office block purchase: a deal seemingly based on logic, a blueprint for the future?

Left with such little public information about how the Valley Parade rental negotiations were progressing over recent weeks, rumour and debate has been allowed to fill the void. It therefore became easy, as a general silence emanated from the Boardroom save for the occasional thunderous comment from Mark Lawn, to look upon the situation as boiling down to personalities: Julian Rhodes v Gordon Gibb – who is right? Yet rather than it being a case of who wins the moral argument, the major breakthrough in this saga could ultimately not be have been more ordinary.

A simple, run-of-the-mill property deal, between the football club and the one of the two landlords who, for the most part, have been largely ignored over the previous weeks. How big a role the personal grudges that surround Gibb have ever played in, or will factor into, the ongoing talks between City and his family Pension Fund is highly questionable. But Prupim – owners of the offices which have now been acquired by City – have neither been painted as good nor bad throughout.

They were the dispassionate business people, receptive to cries for help but with their own, very different priorities. That, in contrast, the negotiations between City and Gibb have occasionally been painted as playground fights may be wholly unfair. Ultimately the same calculated approach from Prupim that has led to this important deal for City will no doubt be echoed by the decisions the Gibb family Pension Fund make.

This time, it may not actually be personal.

The outcome of those Gibb negotiations – clearly still vital for the club’s future – are for another day, but the fact the Prupim deal allows City to remain at Valley Parade will probably be looked back upon as the most significant step of the whole process. The threat of moving away beyond next season is still there for now, but the office block deal has strengthened the club’s ties with its century-old home. Not since the possibility of moving to a revamped Odsal was first aired in February 2009 has City’s long-term future at Valley Parade appeared so secure.

As the inks dries on the Prupim deal, it should not be quickly forgotten that – yet again – the Bantams have had to rely on their owners digging deep to preserve the club’s future. Ever since the first spell in administration back in 2002, City’s income levels have not been self-sufficient enough to run itself. From tredding water under the Rhodes family into and out of League One, to Lawn’s £3 million loaned to the club since taking joint control in 2007, Bradford City has not been able to stand upon its own two feet and, going forward, this has got to change.

We are yet again grateful to the Rhodeses, Lawn and – on this occasion – David Baldwin for putting their hands in their pockets to prop up the club. Criticism towards the Board has been fierce in recent weeks, and despite this deal is unlikely to fully subside; but the bottom line is that, without them, we would not have a club to support, and this latest move shows that continues to be the case. There is credible talk of interested investors taking over this summer, if some of the overheads can be reduced, but such speculation has been rife before. The Board can’t plan for what ifs and maybes.

What’s unclear about the latest deal is the terms of repayment to the Rhodes family, Lawn and Baldwin. But undoubtedly they have put their neck on the line and deserve to be compensated in time. It would have been easier for them to break the lease and push City towards administration – even walking away and lining up as creditors – because as a football club that might have been the only realistic option looking solely at its balance sheets.

Whatever mud people continue to sling at them, Rhodes and Lawn are clearly Bradford City supporters who share our best interests. Success on the field may be lacking under their control so far, but our ongoing existence – and ongoing existence at Valley Parade – are not achievements to be sniffed at.

That said, the news that ownership of the club has been transferred to the newly-formed BC Bantams Limited throws up some question marks that it would be good to see addressed by the Board. It’s not that we should be necessarily suspicious – after all, tying up the office blocks and club ownership into one company means we’re unlikely to see a repeat of the Gibb Valley Parade deal which has caused so many problems – but understanding the thinking behind the new company would be welcomed.

Where this all leaves the remaining negotiations with Gibb’s Pension Fund is unclear. On the surface you could argue this places Gibb in a stronger position, given the club had seemingly presented him with a ‘reduce rent or we’ll clear off’ ultimatum and now gone back on it. The fact that the club are now more able to pay the rent offers the Pension Fund trustees less incentive to reduce their investment return. But on City’s side, at least there is more time to strike a mutually favourable agreement in the long-term.

In the meantime next season promises to be interesting. City spent a lot of money bidding for promotion this season just gone, and they failed miserably. Much of the budget was supplied by Lawn loaning money to the club, and he has gone on record to say this investment won’t be repeated. So the question is whether City will spend the surplus savings from the Prupim deal on a sizeable playing budget in a push for promotion, and how this might be perceived by the Pension Fund.

Say, for example, City sign Clayton Donaldson – which would involve beating off plenty of interest from other clubs – it would hardly look a cheap signing. Parading him around Valley Parade and then complaining they’re struggling to pay the rent on the roof over our heads would appear a contradiction unlikely to be viewed sympathetically.

Unless the knight in shining armour that is an investor really has appeared over the horizon, City badly need to be operated within its means next season. A competitive playing budget is still essential, and the inevitable cuts compared to last season will be of concern given City only just avoided relegation. But we can no longer operate in a promotion or bust manner, and Lawn’s revelation today that, without this deal, players’ wages would have not been paid this month illustrates how troubling the overall picture remains.

Everything, it seems, needs to start again from the basics. The team’s underperformance last season has prompted as big a clear out as contracts will allow, and so next season’s principle aim must be to improve on the last rather than be judged solely on whether we fall short of the play offs. The manager – Peter Jackson or otherwise – needs time to build the squad without fear of the sack following successive defeats. Off the field the club must start making a profit each year, rather than having losses covered by the joint chairmen’s pockets or the occasional youth player sale and add on.

From the outside, the Prupim deal was one conducted without the usual heavy emotion that Bradford City matters usually trigger. It was done in a calm manner based on sound logic, with an eye not just on the moment but of the future. Let’s try and make it the kind of sensible thinking that everything connected with the club is built upon.

Dave Baldwin outlines the challenges, and now we wait

Sitting in the BBC Radio Leeds studio next to Dave Baldwin – the Bradford City Head of Operations telling listeners about the club’s latest position financially and on the rental talks over Valley Parade – offered a somewhat unique and surreal view of current matters. But above all else I personally took away stronger feelings of relief, encouragement and reassurance.

Baldwin took the time to honestly outline where Bradford City Football Club is at, ahead of a summer of huge uncertainty and unrest. Those explanations and reasoning may not be something we can all fully agree with, but compared to the majority of the messages we supporters have heard to date they were at least enlightening and detailed.

A huge part of the frustration in recent weeks – as City’s position dramatically shifted from trivial worries that the playing budget might be reduced a little next season, to full-blown fears over whether we’d even have a club to support – has been the drip-feeding and stop-start nature of the communications we’ve received. At times the club’s future has been painted in the bleakest of terms, leaving us to question how sincere these warnings were and – if they were entirely accurate – how the Board had allowed the financial position to become so bad.

Dave veered away from the hysterical, and instead calmly discussed the issues facing the Bantams and the solutions they are actively pursuing. These are difficult times for the club, that much was clear, but it’s not the end of the world we might envisage. There will at least be a Bradford City to support next season, and the Board is endeavouring to ensure it is a Bradford City playing at Valley Parade.

Once we’d finished the programme, Dave turned to myself and BBC Radio Leeds’ Derm Tanner and joked how he’d “wait and see how some supporters twist my words”. In the recent past words uttered by Mark Lawn and Baldwin have been presented in entirely different light by some fans, which Lawn admitted to BfB in January had caused him to rein back speaking publically. There is a growing sense of unrest from fans towards the Board at the moment, and those who want to garner further ammunition to throw at them can find – or already have found – bits that Baldwin said on Radio Leeds to use against them if they wish. But whatever your view of their strategy, it is better they communicate to us honestly than not at all.

The audio of the hour-long Radio Leeds programme can be found here (note: link content only available until Monday 16 May).

So now we wait. Rumours are flying around rapidly – some ludicrous, some seemingly credible, some shocking, some encouraging – and BfB won’t irresponsibly report on these. But what is obvious is that the outstanding issues that we take into the summer won’t be cleared up for some time. Baldwin is hopeful of a decision over the rent negotiations soon, but it may take weeks. In the meantime season tickets are on hold and the managerial vacancy is likely to remain unresolved.

One criticism to come out of the programme is the assertion by Baldwin that any agreed rent reduction would help the playing budget for next season. Certainly it would be irresponsible for the club to use all of any savings they are able to agree on the short-term objective of promotion. BfB understands, however, that interim manager Peter Jackson has been informed the playing budget for the manager next season could be extremely low, should the talks not go well and City remain at Valley Parade. To put it one way, the much-talked of £750k budget Dagenham were promoted with last season would seem luxurious in comparison.

Endlessly throwing resources only on the playing budget would be reckless; but without extra revenue or savings from somewhere City could once again struggle stay in the league next season.

Patience is the name of the game. As supporters we want a positive resolution to these talks, we want to be looking forward to kicking off the season at Valley Parade, and we want to be debating football matters like summer signings and pre-season friendlies.

But these talks with the landlords are not just about next season, but the future of Bradford City for years and decades to come. So we have to tolerate the delay, and hope it proves to be worth it for entirely the right reasons. As much as many supporters don’t trust the Board right now, we have to hope that they continue to share the best interests of every supporter and that they will take the correct decisions.

Having heard what Baldwin had to say, I’m more confident this will be the case. So long as they remember that it’s good to talk, and to keep us fans in the loop as much as possible.

How full is the glass?

A year on from joint-Chairman Julian Rhodes’ target of City achieving back-to-back promotions, the more realistic vision of Championship within five years was revealed by fellow Chairman Mark Lawn at the Bradford City Supporters Trust Fans Forum last night. Call it lack of ambition if you will – though a certain mega rich East Midlands club with a Swedish Director of Football has the same stated goal – but Lawn’s ambition and tone was in keeping with the low-key but determined attitude that is emanating from the club right down to the players who are impressing in pre-season friendlies.

Like any sensible business in these credit crunch times, a cautious but reasoned picture of the health of the club was presented from Lawn, Operations Director Dave Baldwin and manager Stuart McCall. Fans present had the opportunity to ask questions to all three and, though the financial restrictions the club must operate under can seemingly be depressing to ponder too much about – that same rich East Midlands club pay just £20k a year to rent their stadium compared to the huge overheads of playing at Valley Parade – the fact those charged with finding the answers can still remain cautiously upbeat is something more City fans would do well to emulate. A quick scan of message boards shows some present have typically twisted the words of Stuart and Lawn and come to conclusions that are based on fantasy to tell others it’s all doom and gloom, oddly enough not voicing their concerns or grumbles at the time. As Lawn said at one point, “too often Bradfordians see the glass as half empty, maybe this season it’s time to look at it as half full.”

Much of the interest was on the football side of matters and what Stuart had to stay. He spoke of his transfer targets and that bringing in a keeper and at least one midfield on a season-long loan was looking increasingly like the route he would go, quickly pointing to the success of Scott Loach, Dean Furman, Nicky Law and Steve Jones to illustrate that this is not something to be fearful about. What’s the difference between signing a player on a season long loan and someone on a one year contract, he pondered. With visible frustration at the number of targets he’s lost out on this close season, particularly to Oldham, he remained hopeful more players would become available for permanent transfer over the next few weeks. James Hanson has been offered a contract.

Of those who had gone, he played down rumours of dressing room fallings out being behind the departure of Rhys Evans and Barry Conlon, explaining that the reason Matt Clarke and Conlon had been dropped against Exeter was simply because they stayed up late watching the Champions League Final on a Wednesday and missed training on the Thursday. Conlon just needed a fresh challenge and Paul Mullin looked a good signing with a host of other League Two clubs, including Rochdale and Shrewsbury, interested in him at the time. Evans left simply due to wages, Kyle Nix was someone he admired but who he couldn’t find a place in the team for ahead of others. He lacked a bit of pace and height, and wasn’t best suited to the 4-4-2 formation Stuart prefers. Paul Arnison was decent going forward but not the best defensively, and had been caught out by the division’s better wingers. The biggest shock of the evening was that no one asked about Bower.

Stuart stuck up for Joe Colbeck over the contract dispute, but did concede when he first heard the winger had rejected the deal he angrily told him not to come back to the club before calming down and offering an olive branch. He also stuck up for Chris Brandon when one fan asked why Brandon, as a City fan, won’t take a pay cut. He hopes Brandon can be a big player this season, though it’s still uncertain if he will stay. Omar Daley is recovering well in Jamaica, and has shown great mental determination. He did warn fans not to expect too much from him too soon, words that will probably be ignored by some if he struggles at first.

In terms of the failings of last season, Stuart didn’t want to dwell too much on them but suggested playing too attacking away from home cost the team with the high number of defeats on the road. In fitting with the more guarded outlook for the season ahead, Stuart talked about being more prepared to settle for a point in away games. Nothing to do with playing negative formations, but being more prepared to see out the game if need by rather than go too cavalier and be defeated. The defenders job will be too defend, rather than play the ball out the back as was seen last season. He acknowledged Clarke’s distribution wasn’t the best, but praised his defensive qualities.

Stuart was asked about his threat to walk away and what kept him at the club and referred to the number of positive emails he received and feeling he didn’t want to walk away with the budget being slashed. What about the zombie state he got into last season, and will he do when the going gets tough this season? Stuart didn’t try to pretend he knew the answer now and won’t get down again, speaking about how much he cares and how everything on the pitch is his responsibility. He was advised by other managers not to get too high with the highs and too low with the lows, but conceded that’s easy with the highs but more difficult with the lows.

Mark Lawn talked about the finances and stadium situation. He’d made an offer to Gordon Gibb for the stadium but it had been rejected, Gibb wants a high amount for it – more than he originally paid. Lawn appeared to be biting his tongue on this issue, but on top of the rent payments Gibb’s been receiving the last few years, the former Chairman is clearly hoping for a huge profit and is certainly not going to go out of his way to the club. Odsal was downplayed a little, but he spoke of another possibility that no one else has considered. No doubt we’ll discover more soon.

On the money for Fabian Delph, Lawn revealed last season the club had budgeted for either promotion or Leeds selling Delph – neither of which happened. It’s here that the biggest confusion of the night reigned and already some fans are saying we’ve spent the money for Delph. This is a totally distorted view – the club had a shortfall in budget which its now had to revise for this season, as we’ve seen with player departures. If City had not been promoted and Delph sold, the wage budget could have been the same this season. The money from Delph, if and when he goes, can still benefit the club and, if it’s over a certain amount, Stuart will be allowed to make an extra loan signing. Those supporters muttering “we’ve already spent the Delph money, the club is a shambles” are very much supping from those half empty glasses.

The always impressive Dave Baldwin talked about sponsorship and commercial activities. Apart from a drop in the banqueting facilities, blamed on the credit crunch, and needing to tie up a sponsor for the Midland Road stand, the club is bringing in a lot of revenue from its off the field activities – more so than season ticket money. The club is working hard to increase the fanbase, and Baldwin confirmed they will continue to try season ticket offers as long as around 10,000 supporters take it up every season. The new appointment of the man from Morrisons is something Baldwin expects to have a positive impact on the club.

So as we left into the grey summer night with some fans seemingly determined to feel negative, the tough but honest assessment of where the club is going left me at least feeling more positive about the season ahead. Bradford City knows its limitations, is being run by people who genuinely care and who, crucially, take a positive approach to the issues ahead. As Mark Lawn said, “I’m a businessman, business is about problem solving.”

Of all the lessons of the last two seasons, it’s clear the club isn’t putting its eggs in one basket and working to promotion or bust this season. This time next year the club may still be in League Two, but if the hardwork continues the vision of Championship football by 2014 will still be on track.

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