Incommensurable / McCall

Officially announced new Bradford City manager Stuart McCall needs no introduction at Valley Parade and so let us not waste words with them.

And let us waste no time heaping praise on his playing career at City, at the FA Cup Final, at the World Cup, at Rangers. We know it was good, and he knows that we know it was good. We’ve been here before. Stuart McCall does not start his time at Bradford City ab ovo.

By appointing McCall Edin Rahic has joined a story en media res. The new City manager is the old City manager and in some ways he begins exactly at the point where he left the field having lost 1-0 to Bury in February 2010. The League Cup final, promotion at Wembley, Chelsea, Sunderland et al become a separate timeline that ended at Millwall and Phil Parkinson’s last game.

Rather than nothing being known about the new manager, everything is, and that brings with it a collection of nervousness about known quantities. Uwe Rösler would have brought with him questions, not so McCall.

With McCall we have answers on past behaviour, or at least we think we do, and the gnarling feeling in one’s stomach is the acceptance of that. It is the feeling of knowing what your birthday presents are.

McCall has been at Rangers, has been at Motherwell, and has been at Scotland and those qualifications need to disavow the most embarrassing of the criticism of him in the past – that he was “not a proper manager” – but from those experiences McCall needs to have learnt much to correct that course that he was on when he walked off the pitch after the Bury game five years ago.

Things that went wrong have to be put right in order that McCall be successful and some successful things need to be retained.

Ethic

McCall’s predecessor Phil Parkinson created teams which – through a peerless team ethic – dragged out results playing a direct game centred around not conceding goals. McCall’s Bradford City teams were in many ways the opposite of that. His teams worst characteristic was (and I exaggerate for effect) their ability to turn a poor decision about a throw in into a eight game winless run.

This is the greatest difference between the two managers. Parkinson build his team with an internal belief based on a spirit within the dressing room. There were times when this did not work and it was obvious that this did not work and times when it spectacularly did. It is impossible to imagine the McCall’s teams of 2007-2010 slowly grinding themselves back into a game at Chelsea when 2-0 down.

McCall’s teams, when they worked, were belief bubbles that players floated on. Remembering perhaps McCall’s best game – the 4-1 win over Exeter City – it was a projection of what Joe Colbeck could be to Colbeck and to the rest of the team that spurred the performance. This approach was not open to Parkinson who told the players that their achievements are the sum of their inputs rather than the fulfilment of their buoyancy.

Likewise ten minutes after Barry Conlon came on 2-0 down at Accrington Stanley the game was won 3-2 after the Irish striker caused mayhem in the penalty area. McCall cast the game plan at The Crown Ground aside in a way that Parkinson never did. When 2-0 at Chelsea (admittedly a different proposition) Parkinson’s team did not change how it played other than to play better. McCall’s ability to add a randomness to proceedings is a strength at times but was a weakness too.

Not only a weakness but a cause of weakness. When the belief is not in the dressing room and the player’s belief in each other’s abilities it is always subject to being assailed by external pressures. When Parkinson’s teams lost they looked at themselves and saw how they were good, and that how they would come good over time, but when McCall’s teams lost the looked at themselves to see all the ways they were bad.

Needless to say one hopes that the lessons McCall has learnt include an understanding of this and built it into his management philosophy.

Hope

Which leads onto a worry about losing the capacity that Bradford City under Parkinson had of being able to maintain a position within games. The term “game management” has become overused to the point of de-definition but recalling McCall’s celebrated 3-2 win at Accrington is to forget the times when games went beyond his side and they had little character to bring them back.

This is not uncommon but was uncommon under Parkinson who only rarely saw his City team more than a goal down. The ability to keep a game with grasp, even if it could not be grasped, is something that encouraged belief in the dressing room. City under Parkinson never lacked hope.

Yet so much of McCall’s managerial style was based around hopefulness (which is to say that his teams were never to be described as negative) that the nature of defeats like the 3-0 reversals to Rochdale and Accrington at Valley Parade came at a huge cost. To chase games at 1-0 down defensive responsibilities would be abandoned which would bring defeat, not victory, closer.

Those games were painful to watch in the stands and did damage to the squad. They were the counter to the sensational comeback but seemed to do more damage than those comebacks did good.

Another term used to the extent of de-defined is “stability”. It is not just manager retention, or squad retention, it is an environment in which lessons taught are understood and worked on, and improved, rather than one where behaviour patterns are random or seem to be random. McCall needs to have understood how to take the lessons from defeat but to not dwell on defeat and he needs to ensure that practise continues at City.

McCall the coach wins the praise of players for his ability to work with them but what is the point of having a coach to improve players if – as was the case – every twelve months the squad is changed drastically? Edin Rahic’s hopes of bringing in post-Academy players from top clubs seems to tie in with McCall’s skills but it will only work if there is a lengthy commitment to a stable development environment.

McCall can do this – arguably he can do it better than Parkinson – but the whole club has to be aware of the necessity of stability beyond the idea of just having the same manager standing in the middle of chaos.

Environment

Chaos perhaps being an apt description of 2007-2010 at times.

Stuart McCall created three teams at Bradford City and they can be summerised thus: The first one, the one that had a load of money thrown at it, the one that had a load of money ripped out of it; One might want to pretend against evidence that money is the governing factor in football but experience tells us otherwise.

It is rare that one finds a disharmony and successful football club. There are exceptions to this rule but more often it is accurate as it seemed to be in McCall’s first period as manager of the club.

Because there is a telling of history that is entirely manager-centric that is applied to Bradford City over the last decade. That Phil Parkinson arrived and – by virtue of his being a better manager than all who proceeded him – the club turned around.

This empowerment of the manager to the auteur of success is very common in football as it is “>in history. It speaks to something romantic in us all – that a single person can create wonders – and that romance is the hope that one such person might come and turn the fortunes around.

And the counter to that is that anyone who is a manager at a club that does not succeed has failed, rather than the failure being common or shared, as seems most often to be the case.

The reason Liverpool have not won the league since Kenny Dalglish left is because Kenny Dalglish Great Man theory says obviously untrue.

There is another view of history which would have it that Bradford City in Stuart McCall’s first time at the club was – to be frank – a mess.

This is an unpopular view and one that people are criticised for voicing. The perceived wisdom is that the club was making purposeful and direct steps back to the rude health as early as 2007 and that left it in good condition when Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp bought it. That wisdom does not correlate with what we know of the times.

You can pick your own example of this. What was going at Valley Parade when a deal was done with Royal Montegnée that brought Willy Topp to City as the first in a partnership? Did McCall want (W/B)illy and if not why did he get him? What was going on when Phil Parkinson – in the glow of the greatest FA Cup shock of all time – was seemingly forced to onto bended knee to apologise to two directors for pointing out the obvious problem with the pitch at Valley Parade?

What happened to the link up with RIASA? Was it a success or not? Why did the club employ Archie Christie to do one job and the manager Peter Jackson to do another when it would be generous to say that the two men did not work well together? Who wanted Christie at the club? Who didn’t? Why was Paddy Lacey signed on sixteen times the wage of Nahki Wells? Why did City end up paying £250,000 for a player that no one seemed to want at the club? Why was one of the chairmen serving up a spiteful fish course?

Only the most fanciful retrofit of history can call this a club pulling in the same direction.

Return, mentally, to the idea of the Bradford City squad being called in on a Sunday to play a game for a South African player that Mark Lawn had “discovered” and then having the game called off half way though and to be accused – according to then manager Peter Jackson – that they would not pass to the new “star player”.

That Jackson even let it happen, that Rhodes let it happen, that the architect of it Lawn let it happen, says so much about the state of the club at the time.

It all changed – for regrettable reasons – when Lawn took a step back and Phil Parkinson was able to take a team to Wembley. This consolidated Parkinson’s power at the club and all other directions were ignored, and retroactive considered ignored, because the idea of upsetting Parky by making him bring his team in to try out the South African lad risked too much.

And so the club had a single direction and benefited from it.

Which is what Stuart McCall needs to have learnt from his first stay at Valley Parade. When he was given a budget that required one squad to be ripped up and another build McCall should have said “no, that is not what I’m doing here. It will not bring us closer to what we want.”

If McCall is a different manager now this is how he needs to be different. He is a “legend” but that is an honourific afforded by the supporters and not the boardroom. He needs to use his legend status rightly rather than have it used to mask any number of curious goings on.

Fr example When one of the chairmen stopped talking to Stuart McCall in 2009 he should have asked supporters – publicly if he had to – just how the eight month sulk helped move Bradford City in the direction they wanted?

If a legend is not on the side of the fans he is not a legend.

A football club needs to have a single direction and everyone is adjunct to that. If the direction comes from the manager – as it did under Parkinson – then everyone at the club needs to stand behind him and anyone who does not needs to get out of the way.

If the direction comes from Edin Rahic then McCall needs to either understand that and be able to agree and support Rahic’s direction or he needed to have not taken the job.

But he has taken the job and while at the moment it is unclear as to what the shape of this new era Bradford City will be McCall, Rahic, Rupp et al need to be of one mind in this.

There is a view of the history of Stuart McCall as Bradford City manager that paints him as a capable manager in what was an increasingly dysfunctional situation. It is a view that writing BfB during the course of the years, and talking to the people involved, I subscribe to.

His capabilities are shown at Motherwell getting them into the Champions League qualifiers, the dysfunction at City was seen by Peter Taylor, and by Peter Jackson, and all the many messes which made the rise under Phil Parkinson so remarkable.

It is hard to say if that is the case and if McCall was a good manager in a bad situation, or if McCall is the failure in the Great Man theory that some say, or if it is some other history as yet untold about to shape the course of our club.

As Stuart McCall is welcomed back to Bradford City for a fourth coming we might be about to find out.

Bradford City vs Gillingham being settled by threefold repetition

In the game of Chess there are five ways to draw. Most of them involve no move being playable within the rules but there is a method called “threefold repetition” in which a draw is called should the same position occur for a third time in a game.

The purpose of this rule is to avoid a situation in which the two players go into a stalemate situation. It is rare in the world of perfect objectivity which is Chess. Not so much a rule to say that a draw has happened, but one which pre-empts the draw.

Even before Gillingham substitute Antonio German scrambled a stoppage-time equaliser to give his side a 1-1 draw at Bradford City a threefold repetition could have been called on the game such seemed like the inevitability of the result.

Inevitable in that watching Peter Taylor’s teams for his brief time in charge of Bradford City – especially the way he set up his teams to play away from home – was seeing a manager comfortable with a point.

Inevitable in that Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City teams hold close to the believe that games are on gradually rather than but great pushes and even when an own goal by Leon Legge following great work by Andy Halliday on the flank the Bantams did not commit to getting a second goal.

Inevitable that Gillingham keeper Stuart Nelson made two saves which turned goal-bound shots onto the post one in the first half from Billy Knott and a second from James Hanson in the second. With goal efforts at a premium Nelson’s reactions were as valuable for the visitors as Jordan Pickford’s were at Preston last weekend.

That City had the better of the chances seemed to suit their being the home side but as both teams were comfortable with a point a draw was the result.

Which returns to the the threefold repetition rule and its place at Bradford City. The rule is in place to stop games in which no progress is being made and on a cold November afternoon turned evening it seemed that no progress was manifested on the field.

All animals are equal, but some…

This week there had been talk from the Inner Party of the Bradford City Supporters Board that the club were aiming to be in the Championship by 2017. It was not clear why exiting administrator David Baldwin had made this claim to the selective group without adding any detail as to how they would be achieved – it would seem that the feedback from this curious organisation is a one way process – but make it (it seems) he did.

What is the plan for that? And why is there an assumption that everything tends to improvement. City seem to sit at a crossroads in the club recent history. There is the will to improve the clubs and many paths to take to do it. The management of the club is in a good position – Parkinson gets a lot out of his players – but there are questions about recruitment that were highlighted by Aaron McLean’s exit this week.

Likewise there are questions about the structure of the club the exit of David Baldwin – a man rated above his abilities in my opinion – and how to craft the business as it tries to grow. Further there are questions as to how those improvements would be translated into success. Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski’s contention in Why England Lose is that the only real guide to one’s place in the pecking order in football is turnover and that increasing turnover moves a team up the divisions.

Aside from wanting it to be so, and hoping that the statistically improbable falls in a way that benefits, what right have Bradford City got to expect that next season will be better than this? If Andrew Davies were to leave when out of contract in the summer why would we expect someone better to replace him? Why is there an expectation that Gary Liddle – excellent today – should be better than Gary Jones?

These are points which need to be addressed before the club start talking about 2017 in the Championship.

So now then

Phil Parkinson’s side could have been accused of not being committed to trying to win the game but Parkinson was no more going to send his team to be gung-ho than Peter Taylor’s were of doing anything other than defend.

Two teams cancelling each other out and neither looking in a position to make progress. Phil Parkinson is a good manager doing a good job at Valley Parade but one wonder what he is up against week-in week-out and how the teams who do progress support managers?

This is an open question. I am not suggesting a plan to be followed but what I am wondering is who at Valley Parade had the domain knowledge that would be helpful to Parkinson? In a week where City have agreed to pay 75% of the wages of a player in a side chasing promotion I think we all have to admit that there is scope for improvement.

On the field some games are won, some are lost, and like today some are drawn and that is how it will stay unless for outrageous fortune one way or another. That or the intervention of the boardroom at the club who – at the moment – seem to have aims without plans.

Peter Taylor, a miserable night and a miserable football match, that all reminded me of what happens when the board have aims without plans.

Be a friend of Bradford City

Friends of Bradford City has been relaunched because, quite frankly, the club needs help.

Friends of Bradford City has been relaunched with organiser Mark Neale underlining how the club need assistance in the Summer of 2011. Assistance was to be the theme of the summer. Collecting money in buckets, auctioning off items, raising the funds to keep going in administration. As it was that assistance was not needed.

Neale – a friend of BfB going back some time – is experienced at dealing with chairmen at Bradford City having seen them come and go in his various roles with supporters organisations which has has manned with dedication over the last two decades or more. He took a list of requirements to the club to get Friends of Bradford City up and running and independent of the club itself. The club agreed to them.

The Friend’s first aim is a practical one – they are raising money for a bus for the Youth Team – but there is a desire to go further that meets up with the way the club needs to go after four bruising years.

The years of affordable pricing – a fine and noble thing – have coincided with four season in the fourth tier of English football and this with other factors (many out of control of the club) have combined to make a detachment between club and supporter.

More and more we are consumers of the Bradford City product rather than the supporters of the Bradford City cause.

We pays our money, or so the thinking goes, and the club puts on the football. When that football does not pass what a person considers to be acceptable then the ire flows. It is vandalism – in my humble opinion – but I understand the motivation behind it. Because the supporter does not feel as if the club needs anything from him other than his money then club becomes a product.

Neale says of his Friends of Bradford City scheme “If these fans can help the club in some way – be it carpentry, marketing, whatever – then it will ultimately save the club money.”

Bradford City fans represent a multitude of skills and many of them will be deployed in fund raising for the projects which Friends of Bradford City are involved in but fans have other abilities which the club could call on.

Skills which run further than the snow clearing from the field or the painting of pipes at the club which fan involvement projects often are viewed as. David Baldwin believed he had the skills to run the Christmas campaign for Season Tickets last season (one would have one’s own view on if that was successful) but supporters have experience, talent and ability which could be deployed in projects like that.

Take – as another example – the data capture BfB ran to plot post codes onto a map. The club’s season ticket data and someone with expertise in data mining could identify areas of lapsed season ticket holders, someone else could look at shaping an offer for those people, someone else at a mail shot all of which would be designed to get more bums on seats.

One of the most pressing problems – it is said – with the club is that their simply are not enough bodies to do everything. The club could look at Friends of Bradford City for experts in various fields who would give experience and abilities. The pay off for this is a better club and supporters who are more engaged. Supporters who are not just consuming the product, but are creating the club. A Bradford City of the willing and the willing credited, rewarded and thanked. There must be space in the match day magazine to credit (and give business contact details) of those who have mucked in.

We constantly hear how City’s boardroom is full of Bradford City fans, and the virtues of that, the key question the club must ask itself is how much control it is prepared to hand over to other fans who get involved for the love of the club.

Who’s better

I want Bradford City to be better.

A glib statement of the obvious? To some, probably. But for me it’s a genuine, earnest desire. I mean I really want Bradford City to be better. A lot.

The statement isn’t a direct reaction to the club finishing in it’s lowest league position for 45 years this season, the winning of a mere 15 league games in a season that averaged less than a goal a game, or even the wrangling over rent and where we are to make home. I have, and will always, want Bradford City to be better.

As they walked out at Wembley. As Wetherall belly-slid across the Valley Parade turf. As we greeted a grinning Carbone and a beaming Geoffrey. I looked forward to getting better.

It’s a want that all connected to Bradford City share, from the boardroom to those in the cut-priced seats. The truth is, however, we seem to have forgotten how to get better. And as we have seen in the last ten years if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.

In our four seasons and counting in the basement of English football, permanent and interim managers alike have bemoaned a lack of consistency from one week to the next. I find consistency an odd concept to embrace or value. I’m a believer that you’re either on the gain or on the wane.

Whilst sporadic fluctuations in the quality of human performance can be expected, and excused, more important is the general movement towards ‘better’ from the collective or any individual contained within it.

Great sportsmen and women will see a steep and long upward curve in ability and performance. They will then, at some point (and probably unknown to them) hit a peak, followed by a decent, which they will try to make as gentle and elongated as possible.

Tiger Woods will never eclipse the near golfing perfection he achieved at the start of the century. His challenge now is to minimise the rate of his decline and hope his still immense ability sees him to future victories as his powers diminish.

Sir Alex Ferguson has been the master at putting together team after team that have improved as a unit, then dispensing with those individuals that have peaked whilst retaining those with the longer curves of improvement.

We used to have knack for improving players. Remember that young, skinny lad McCall and his ragbag teammates in 1985 that grew individually and became more than the sum of their parts? Dean Richards oozing pure class from his debut to his departure and beyond. Sean McCarthy smashing up Norwich City in the Coca-Cola Cup before going on to score at Old Trafford for Oldham?

What about the lazy lad Blake we signed from Darlington? Wayne Jacobs seeing off an almost annual replacement left-back? Lee Mills? Jamie Lawrence? You’ll no doubt have your own favourite, dear reader, but what we saw were players getting better and our club benefitting from it greatly.

Bradford City players don’t seem to get better anymore. Last August the squad were pre-season promotion favourites, now, despite Jacko’s “everything must go” approach to the retained list, City would be forgiven for thinking the new telephone lines aren’t working properly . We witnessed the incredibly hard-working Gareth Evans seemingly give up on his City career with two months of the season left, and last week even the ever-positive Michael Flynn conceding that Bradford City is “a negative place to be“.

It’s telling that the last four Player of the Year recipients were all enjoying their first full season within the professional game, and as such, we cannot apply any metric of improvement:

  • 2008: Joe Colbeck. Burst on the scene, all bundles of energy and direct play. 16 disappointing months after his award he moved to Oldham, and then Hereford.
  • 2009: Luke O’Brien. Burst on the scene, all bundles of energy and direct play. Last seen sat next to Leon Osbourne on the substitutes bench as City were dismantled by Crewe.
  • 2010: James Hanson. Burst on the scene, all strength and no shortage of finishing ability. A second term disjointed by injury and questionable priorities.
  • 2011: David Syers. Burst on the scene, all bundles of energy and an eye for goal.

Time will tell if Syers can buck the trend, but the preceding three represented our most exciting and talented young prospects and all have failed to improve after their first season.

Jackson has signed the exciting prospect Ross Hannah, and the enthusiasm leaping from his twitter feed should hopefully see his first season in professional football be filed alongside that of Hanson, Syers and Steve Williams rather than that of Scott Neilson. But, in many ways, getting a good season out of Hannah isn’t the most pressing issue or biggest challenge for the next permanent manager of Bradford City.

Whether the board reluctantly appoint Jackson, or, as rumoured, continue to wait for John Coleman and subsequently expect him to repeat a decade’s growth and endeavour at Accrington in a 12 to 15 month period, the major challenge will be to get individual and collective development out of more established and experienced players. Creating a culture of improvement which is both inspiring and contagious within a dressing room.

There’s seems little point in throwing more of the precious wage budget at talents like Paul McLaren, Tommy Doherty, Michael Boulding, Graeme Lee et al when we continually fail to get the best from them, and then discard them without examining why. League Two has never been about having the best players, it’s about getting more from your players.

Off the field there is a lot of work to do, but lots of opportunities to get better. For all the criticism and scepticism aimed at the board recently, it’s worth remembering that they too want things to be better.
David Baldwin’s announcement about the new training facilities deal with Woodhouse Grove is incredibly welcomed. Negotiations with our landlords continue with the hope that a deal can be worked out that’s better for Bradford City.

We, as fans, can help make things better. Rival managers and players talk often of how the impatience of our large crowds can play into their hands. It seems odd that the greatest strength of our opponents is something we control. Let’s make that better.

Where Bradford City will be in 12 months time, in terms of both league position and physical location, is pure speculation at the time of writing. My only hope is that we all feel that we’re moving closer to where we want to be, and, as much as possible, enjoying the process of getting there.

As the rebuilding begins, let’s not immediately concern ourselves with being the best. Let’s focus on getting better.

The vote of some confidence

If Bradford City are confident going into the Friday night game with Southend United then one might wonder why David Baldwin – when talking about the £1 entry into Tuesday night’s game with Burton Albion – described the match as a “six pointer”.

City need a win between now and the end of the season to ensure League Two safety – although even without that win the teams below would have to outperform many a previous year – but it seems that that win will be the six pointer of Burton and not the evening in Essex.

Nevertheless the club are sure of a win – seemingly – with Mark Lawn talking about how City cannot afford to keep paying for Valley Parade in League Two when discussing the possibility of leaving the club’s home which is owned (in part) by former chairman Gordon Gibb.

Lawn is seeking negotiations with Gibb and with Development Securities who own the offices in the hope of getting the £700,000 a year rent reduced. How much one might realistically expect to get knocked off that figure is questionable but if one assumed City could get a 10% reduction when in this division the £70,000 seen gets swallowed up by player costs. Is is worth leaving our home over a sum which equals one Tommy Doherty for a season? Certainly Mark Lawn believes so giving City two years at the current status quo.

Nevertheless Lawn seems to be prepared to talk about City being in League Two next season and so – one assumes – he believes that that win will come. Certainly the club is showing enough faith to be able to forgo using recognised right back Lewis Hunt and watching Lee Bullock trying to play the role and giving away a goal last week one might wonder how the club have the hubris to do such a thing.

If the club are worried about relegation – seriously worried – then weakening the side seems massively counter productive leading one to think that while the talk is of six pointers and so on the belief is that next season will be another season of football in the lowest division.

City go to Roots Hall to find a Southend United team expecting the same. The Essex club are staying at this level and wind the season down having not achieved all they would like on their return to the bottom division.

Peter Jackson – who we are told is one of two names in for the job along with Essex rival Dag & Red manager John Still – takes his City team into the game with changes afoot. Jon McLauglin is expected to retain his place in goal but Lee Bullock seems set to make way for 18 year old Adam Robinson to make his debut at right back.

Robinson was promoted from the reserves and has a chance to make a play for Hunt’s position as second strong right back for next season. The rights and wrongs of the Hunt situation aside if financial reasons push City towards being forced to use our young players rather than bringing in players for cover that could be no bad thing.

Luke Oliver and Steve Williams are expected to be the central defensive pairing with Luke O’Brien returning to left back and Robbie Threlfall being dropped.

The midfield is without Michael Flynn – once more in the forward line – so David Syers will get a chance to partner Jon Worthington again and will hope to make a better fist of his performance while Leon Osbourne seems set get the call on the left. The right hand side is more questionable with Gareth Evans choking in his chance to lead the line and seeming set for being out of his ear but for the injury to James Hanson. Evans may feature on the right should he not be used up front.

Without Hanson and Evans Jake Speight is likely to be paired with Michael Flynn.

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.

Could the City Gent be banned from Valley Parade?

It’s funny how by inadvertently spotting something by chance then leads on to something quite puzzling – and then quite worrying. A friend alerted me to a reader’s letter which appeared in the sporting letters section of The Yorkshire Post on Monday 9 August, attacking City Gent editor Mike Harrison. Knowing that I contribute to the fanzine, my friend said I should take a look.

The letter had been written by Kevin Mitchell, a long-standing City supporter who used to produce the content for City’s Clubcall phone news service, and was a reaction to opinions Mike had shared for the paper’s previewing of the new season.

But the tone and nature of Mitchell’s attack seemed unjustifiably harsh. So I contacted Mike to find out what was going on. Although reluctant at first, he pointed me to his Yorkshire Post piece and explained how he had made what he considered to be tongue-in-cheek remarks, but which had upset one of the club’s joint Chairmen in particular.

Mitchell was close to the Board during Geoffrey Richmond’s reign; and while his response to Mike’s comments might be a coincidence, it could also be speculated whether he sent it in knowing how the Board felt. But if anything that was the least of Mike’s concerns, as he’d been informed the club is considering banning the City Gent from Valley Parade.

The offending article was part of the Yorkshire Post’s pre-season preview, where a supporter of each regional club was asked to share their predictions on matters such as where their team will finish and who the key player will be. Mike, who has contributed to this annual feature for a number of years, offered lukewarm views on City’s prospects for the season ahead, and made one particular comment which the Board appears to have taken as a dig at them.

Mike explained to BfB, “The first I knew that they were upset came after I received an unexpected phone call from Peter Taylor! It’s the first time he’d phoned me and he wanted to check if I’d said something about him having a bigger players’ budget than Stuart McCall in the YP. I knew I hadn’t, and I said I’d find out who had and he seemed okay with that.” (It turned out to be Terry Dolan).

As it was a Thursday and the media pitch up at VP to do their weekend interviews, Mike went along to Valley Parade armed with the Terry Dolan interview to pass on to Taylor and with his own fans’ view, just in case the City manager was upset by his comments.

“It was while I was waiting to speak to Taylor that Head of Operations David Baldwin approached me with his objections to the Yorkshire Post piece,” Mike revealed. “David left me in no uncertain terms that my comments were seen in a bad light and he reminded me about the fact they let City Gent have free rein in and around VP, plus I had offended them last season when an email written for the Internet Bantam list ended up being seen by the Board via the Official Message Board.

“It seems that their main gripe was that they were not happy with my flippant comment when asked ‘What changes need to be made off the field?’ And I replied ‘There are too many to list’. I was certainly left in no uncertain terms that City Gent’s future at VP was in doubt and would be discussed by the Board and that he would be phoning me soon.

“Not long after, Mark Lawn appeared and as he wandered past me in the corridor outside the 1911 club he said sarcastically ‘that was really positive what you said in the Yorkshire Post, Mike’. As I had already spoken to Baldwin I didn’t respond and neither did I say anything to him as he walked past me again a few moments later.”

This exchange took place prior to the Shrewsbury defeat. And although Mike has still yet to be called in, Baldwin confirmed to City Gent contributor Mark Neale at the Stevenage game that the threat of a ban remains. Baldwin is now away on holiday. No decision has been made so far on whether to ban City Gent from being sold in and around the stadium on matchdays.

It should be noted that Mike did not exactly dismiss City’s chances for the season in the Yorkshire Post article; instead he adopted a note of caution and predicted an eighth-place finish. On the question ‘Where will you finish?’ Mike responded, “I have learned my lesson from the last three years, when I was far too optimistic about our chances. So, this time I really am going into a new season not expecting much from the team. That way, it should be easier to handle the disappointment that seems to come with being a supporter of Bradford City. Either that, or the reverse psychology will work on our players and we’ll win the title by 10 points!”

Sadly this meaning was missed when the sub editor of the Yorkshire Post cut Mike’s comments drastically from his original reply sent to journalist Richard Sutcliffe. Another comment that had annoyed the Board and Mitchell, where Mike was reflecting on the mood of some fans unhappy with the constant changing of managers at Valley Parade, was the light-hearted response to a question about offering advice to the manager, “Think of your time managing City as good experience for the next job.”

“To be honest I was totally shocked by the comments of Baldwin and Lawn”, added Mike. “I went to VP thinking ‘phew I’m glad didn’t upset Peter Taylor because it was Terry Dolan and then when he’d actually seen the quote he seemed okay with it’. And yet I walked into something else which was totally unexpected.

“To be honest, the off the field stuff I was referring to in the YP was the embarrassment I felt having a former player locked up – though Taylor admitted to me he would have signed him had he not been convicted for murder – and a newly signed player being jailed for allegedly beating up his girlfriend and not telling City about it.

“Lawn trumpeted the fact that a new training ground was found and he had a go at Bradford Council for the fact the club had to go to Leeds to train, but the deal fell through and the first City fans heard about it was when the players reported for pre season training back at Apperley Bridge. How embarrassing was that? If the Board are not as embarrassed as I am on just those three topics well I can’t legislate for the fact that some of them appear not to have a sense of humour.

“Whether or not there is a wider question here about the Board’s paranoia about what fans say about them and a desire from them to quell anything that is deemed negative about them I’ll leave that up to the City fans to make their own minds up about.”

It’s clear City’s Board is unhappy that negative opinions of City appeared in a prominent newspaper. And there is a clear link between it and their own PR efforts of recent months. Throughout the summer we’ve had endless updates about how great the new playing surface is, we’ve heard that Roger Owen played a proactive role in fixing a leak on a stand roof and, last Friday, there was a bizarre piece on the website about how he and his wife had sorted out the players’ suits.

Great effort from them both, worth commending internally and maybe in the Chairmen’s programme notes. But a news story? There’s an increasing nature of the Board telling us how well things are going off the field and how brilliant Taylor is. Owen, who publicly criticised McCall when he was manager, seemed to be using this story as a chance to praise Taylor for insisting on high appearance standards. But City fans will judge Taylor by how well he get his players performing on the pitch; looking nice before kick off isn’t going to have any bearing on the league table.

As regular readers of the City Gent will know, Mike and other contributors have been wholly positive about Taylor since arriving as manager last February, but the scars of disappointment in recent years and the less than sensitive way some Board members and a section of supporters chased McCall out of the club have left a weary and cynical outlook for some fans. Sure Taylor is great and all, but how long until some people turn on him like many did on McCall, Colin Todd, Paul Jewell and others? And as for getting wildly excited at the start of the season and believing this promotion favourites rubbish; have we learned nothing?

We at BfB have received heavy criticism from a number of fans in recent days for not backing Taylor strongly enough, despite the fact that for months numerous articles have been published offering praise for the manager. Our failing, in these people’s eyes, seems to be that we’ve not joined them in offering over-the-top complements for every little action he undertook over the summer, which inevitably included slating McCall as a poor comparison. Some of the praise Taylor received from others was well-intended but largely meaningless. And it didn’t count for much when many of these same people tore into Taylor after the Torquay loss.

There is no editorial policy whatsoever at BfB, so I can’t comment for how others who write for the site feel. Taylor has my 100% support and I back him strongly, but I don’t feel the need to gush pointless praise upon him and I don’t buy the hype that all that has been wrong for the last three years is that we had a clueless ginger-headed moron holding the club back. Taylor is a great manager, but he is not a miracle worker. We hope he can succeed where McCall failed, but there’s no magic wand tucked inside his immaculate, Owen-purchased suit.

City have had nine managers in the last 11 years – and at the same time have fallen from the Premier League to League Two. These two statistics do not paint the whole picture of the troubles of the last decade, but they are surely intrinsically linked. It’s only a matter of when, not if, we will be writing articles supporting Taylor while others loudly demand he leaves – just as we did with Todd and McCall. Yet still this notion that the next manager will cure all will thrive amongst message board contributors and in the stands on match days, to the point it feels like we’re wasting our time writing anything positive or negative about whoever is in charge.

As Mike wrote on the City Gent editorial of issue 165, “Words are all well and good, but promotion this season will be won on the pitch and whilst I am convinced that we have the most experienced manager available in Peter Taylor he is no more a miracle worker than Stuart McCall, Colin Todd, Bryan Robson, Nicky Law or Jim Jeffries was or actually wasn’t as it turned out. It would be lovely to live in a world where just because someone says something will happen it actually does. Sadly life and as we all know football isn’t always like that.

“What is needed from the present squad of players is to work hard as a unit and not just as individuals. The management know this and they too will be working hard to achieve this aim. It is what they are good at. As for the fans, after a decade of seeing City tumble down the leagues and after witnessing quite a few false dawns, is it not surprising that some, myself included are not putting away past miseries to jump on a promotion bandwagon without first seeing the evidence to justify putting blind faith once again into how we support the team? Perhaps many of us are just getting far too cynical in our old age?

“So, let us see where we are after 10 games when the table starts to settle down and let us hope that for everyone connected with Bradford City Football Club from the joint chairmen down to the youngest supporter coming to VP for the first time this season that this season will be better than the past 10. Nothing would please me more.”

No one should doubt how hard the Board works on behalf of us supporters and, again speaking personally, I’m hugely grateful for the time and investment they put into running the club I love; but while they have a duty to talk up the season and get people excited, they can’t exert that control over others. Or as Mike puts it, “Neither BfB or City Gent are unpaid PR vehicles for what only they want broadcasting.

“I’ve no desire to have any confrontation with the club. If part of the Board wish to deny freedom of speech to the fans on what seems very trivial matters then I would sooner sell CG just to subscribers and at points on the way to VP that aren’t on club property.

“But we’ve always had a good relationship with the club which I wouldn’t want to spoil. They’ve benefited from any profits we make in the form of youth team player sponsorship and cash to help pay for James Hanson’s transfer fee, which I assume they appreciate.”

Mike has submitted a letter to the Board explaining his Yorkshire Post remarks, in an attempt to smooth out the relationship and negate the perceived threat of the fanzine’s ban.

The City Gent famously coined the phrase Bantam Progressivism. Any ban the club decides to implement on it would be anything but.

Lawn & Rhodes look at the easiest spin

One has to wonder what the reaction of Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes was at the “failure” of the 9,000 season ticket sale plan that only reached 8,296 adults giving a grand total of 10,707 holders at Valley Parade next season.

If it was not punching the air then it was probably a wry smile because while this is a public failure for the club in private the upside must have been talked about.

Had City sold 705 more season tickets then Stuart McCall would have had around £85,000 more in the kitty but the £1.25m generated will be more than most if not all clubs in League Two have. 95% of last season’s first stab at cheaper tickets has been generated.

The 9,000 free seats could have been filled by potential new supporters – the idea of giving the taste to would be fans for free in the hope that some are converted is a good one for a club that has twice as many seats as season ticket holders – but what atmosphere this would have created has been a worry.

What response would a person who will only go see a team if it costs nothing have had to going a goal down? Are they they sort of person who would by programmes and shirts? How would the paying fan have reacted to the freebies around him? How would he have reacted to having to park further away because of the extra cars from people who did not pay? To wait longer in the queues for the bars or the loos?

Such questions are avoided and while Lawn and Rhodes have a scheme that has failed to reach stated targets one cannot help but think that for many reasons the 700 fewer result is best for all. The 9,000 seats not given away for free can be resold. Commercial Manager David Baldwin must already be planning the Bradford City half-season ticket as the perfect Christmas present.

Should City be riding high then why not sell an 18 month for £200 this December cashing in on any extra interest that a claret and amber side at the top of League Two would have? This would not be possible with 9,000 extra seats claimed if not used.

Lawn and Rhodes could put on a face of failure for sure and for sure many will say this is a defeat but with over 10,000 coming in to see League Two football which is a greater average attendance then we ever got in League One then would be justified in coming out ebullient.

The spin to apply to this is not that the Bantams have failed to reach a target – it is that City are once again the best supported club in League Two.

Cheap season tickets – taking football back to supporters priced out by the sort of rampant increases of the post-Premiership years that have ripped into support levels and put off a generation of fans – is a significant movement in football. It started at Valley Parade last year and is being taken up elsewhere this. If 95% retention is common at Huddersfield Town, at Brentford, and at the other place that have adopted the policy then the permanent revolution in pricing will start to take hold.

The three wise men

A year ago they could be described as little more than supporters. One of course was a club legend, but employed elsewhere he could do no more than watch, with concern, from afar. The other two viewed matters more closer but could only squirm with the rest of us as Bradford City completed the collapse of Premiership to the bottom league in six miserable years.

Less than 12 months on and, if the reverse in decline hasn’t quite begun just yet, Stuart McCall, Mark Lawn and David Baldwin are heavily influencing the rebuilding of a club which had gone past falling to its knees. On Tuesday evening they met with supporters inside the Valley Parade suite that bears the name of the club legend to share views on what progress has been made and what the future holds.

The questions from the semi-packed floor were mainly for Stuart McCall. Coming up to one year in the job, it’s undoubtedly been a tough baptism for the rookie manager. He’d probably endured one of his most difficult days yet having earlier broken the news to 13 players that they weren’t going to be kept on.

Stuart spent the opening half hour of the session going through each squad member to explain those tough decisions. Darren Williams, Eddie Johnson and Tom Penford were probably the biggest surprises of those being released. With Williams and Johnson, it’s a matter of looking for more from these areas of the team than either have been able to show. Williams has been a solid defender, but hasn’t the legs to get forward and overlap the winger in the way Stuart has often observed from opposition full backs.

Johnson was prepared to take a drastic pay cut to remain and while his release has probably sparked the biggest debate among fans, it’s a clear message that doing ‘okay’ is not good enough for next season, particularly if you’re a high earner. Stuart’s view was the former Manchester United trainee enjoyed a decent first half to the season, but didn’t kick on in the second after returning from injury.

That Tom Penford is looking for another club this summer should be considered a positive of sorts, after Stuart revealed the young midfielder came close to packing in the game last Christmas. Regular chats with club chaplain and trained sports psychologist Andy Bowerman helped Penford rediscover confidence and he enjoyed a few good games in early Spring, before dropping off again. Stuart could have kept him on, but felt he could end up a squad player yet again which is not a good situation for a 24 year old who has played less than 40 senior career games.

There were few surprises over Alex Rhodes (“a good substitute, but didn’t show enough when starting”), Paul Evans, Scott Phelan and David Brown. Barry Conlon has been offered a new deal, but with it the forewarning that four goals from open play all season isn’t enough and another striker will also be sought during the summer. Kyle Nix is also chewing over a new contract offer but there are rumours of interest from other clubs. As yet there are no definite new signings and hopes of a certain former City favourite returning this summer look slim.

For next season Stuart aims to bring in two goalkeepers, one possibly on a season long loan; a right back, centre back, central midfielder and striker. He was challenged by one supporter as to why he plays Omar Daley on the left instead of the right (because of his tendency to cut inside rather than charge to the by-line) and revealed he had big hopes for Wily Topp next season, who he compared to Robbie Blake.

Joint Chairman Mark Lawn took some time to explain the club finances, with the gloomy assertion the club is paying out over £1 million in costs from the current set up of Valley Parade. Discussions have taken place to buy back the stadium, with Lawn hinting he’d be able to borrow the money to do so, but former Chairman Gordon Gibb is not interested in giving up ownership and the £300k+ annual rent he receives from it.

The issue of season ticket sales was also raised with the latest uptake figure around 3,000, but the club are not worried and are ready to implement a full marketing campaign in the close season which they feel will bring in the numbers. The impressive David Baldwin, Head of Operations, went onto explain some of the initiatives they’re ready to launch, which includes local radio advertising and posters in local pubs.

Lawn was asked the biggest disappointment of the last 12 months, which he revealed to be the failure to mount a promotion push that he believes Stuart can deliver next season. He said he had never failed in any of his other businesses and is determined to take City, “back to where we belong.”

The summer arrival of the three may not have heralded instant success this season, but the obvious determination and commitment to get things right, and evidence the club is moving in the right direction off the field, suggest it may not be too long. Each bring new skills, new ideas and new acumen and if the dream of celebrating promotion this season in front of 14,000+ crowds may not have materialised, through their hard work it could prove reality in 12 months with 20,000+ people there to celebrate it.

There’s a feeling this club may be on the verge of something special and such optimism is arguably more realistic than it was 12 months earlier. Next season promises to be an exciting ride, it will hopefully prove less bumpy than in recent years.

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