Boycott / Loans

I am not going to tell you to not go to tonight’s game with Stoke City u23 but I would like to play with your intuitions around the situation League One clubs find themselves in.

The English Football League Trophy (EFLT) should be boycott because – it is said – allowing teams of under twenty three players from the top two divisions of English football represents a first step towards allowing Reserve Teams/B Teams/u23 Teams into the Football League itself.

(Those top two division are referenced to as “Premier League” for the rest of this article. That would be a taxonomy that included Aston Villa more than Rotherham United.)

This would be inherently devaluing – the argument goes – because it would create a set of teams who were not representing communities but were using the resources of those who do. The upshot of this could be that competitions like League One are devalued by being won by teams which – by definition – are not as interested in them as they are other competitions.

Scunthorpe

Last season Scunthorpe United missed out on a play off place to a Barnsley team which had three loan players – Ashley Fletcher, Ivan Toney and Harry Chapman of West Ham United (now, and Manchester United then), Newcastle United and Middlesbrough respectively – who are the very type of footballer who will be playing for the likes of Stoke City u23.

As a Scunthorpe United supporter you might wonder how much of an impact Barnsley’s bringing in those players had and – considering the gap between Barnsley and Scunthorpe was three goals – you might conclude that without those three players your side would have been sixth not The Tykes.

You could think similar things about Josh Cullen, Reece Burke and Bradford City. What did Bradford or Barnsley do to bring those players in? Are we happy with a League where a decisive factor is the ability to maintain relationships with Premier League Academies?

That players can be borrowed from one club to another is a standard of football but we kid ourselves if we say what we have now is the loan system as we have always known it.

In the 1980s loans were used to cover injury – Liverpool’s Steve Staunton in for City’s Karl Goddard is a good example – and in the 1990s it was used to freshen up squads with an new face for a month or so and for try before you buy deals.

Now loans are a part of squad gathering. Each season a club looks at loans as a way to support the squad they are building. Signing Reece Burke was not to cover injury or because the players in that role were failing it was a cornerstone to Phil Parkinson’s summer recruitment.

So we kid ourselves if we do not notice the changes to how loans are used and we kid ourselves if we do not notice why those changes have been made and what the results are.

In a year Reece Burke went from squad man to valued asset at West Ham. The benefits of loan deals for Premier League clubs are obvious.

It is less clear what League One clubs get out of them.

League One’s clubs are now defined – in some part – by who they bring in on loan. The right contacts at the right Premier League academies would allow four Reece Burkes to be brought in by a team.

These loan signings happen at every club – more or less – and one could argue that they have a cancelling out effect. City only need Reece Burke because Barnsley have Fletcher and Coventry City have Adam Armstrong. If all loan players were to return to all parent clubs all League One clubs would be effected equally.

These loan players represent a cheap option for clubs – some free, some with subsidised wages, all without long term contracts – and loan signings make up three or four players in every squad of twenty two.

To make that explicit the Premier League is funding League One clubs at a rate of (around) 15% of their wage budgets and in return for that they are taking the value of having their players play a full season in League One which provides the experience needed to improve. They get to turn a young Reece Burke into an £8m rated player.

This has had a warping effect on League One squads.

The loan players available to League One clubs from the Premier League are young and because a squad must be balanced League One clubs know that they must build group of senior players. This necessarily stops League One young players progressing.

An example. A League One club wants three central defenders and – because they do not have to pay for him – they take a kid on loan from Premier League allowing them to spend more on the other players.

The manager – knowing he already has one kid at centreback – is not going to be able to progress one of his own team’s youngsters for fear of ended up with a situation where he has two teenagers at the heart of his back four. So he brings in older players to balance his squad.

So the manager makes a team of senior players and any value for progressing young players goes to the Premier League team. If you take a Gladwellian view – as I do – that good footballers are forged by playing games rather than born.

Which means that a Reece Burke is worth £8m to West Ham United while City;s 19 year old professional contracted defender James King has yet to play. With King it is almost impossible to say if he is worth a place in the team but a concern would be would a Dean Richards or an Andrew O’Brien be in the same position as King is now?

The Premier League clubs take all – or a lot of at least – of the value that comes from developing players in League One.

We have a situation in League One where the Premier League make a funding contribution to most of the teams in the division in some way, that the quality of loan players attracted has an unnatural and disproportionate influence on those teams finishing positions, and that the value from this transaction goes to the Premier League at the detriment to the teams in League One.

We worry about the Football League Trophy bringing B Teams into the Football League but I think we worry for no reason and that the problems that that would represent are already with us.

I’d suggest that if you consider the above you’d conclude that all the benefits of B Teams have been given to Premier League clubs and are already in League One today.

Parkinson should give McBurnie a place in the eighteen (but I would say that)

An even hand is applied to all, but I flipping love Oli McBurnie.

If you have read BfB for any period of time you’ll know, dear reader, that I am keen to see the youth of the club given a chance in the first team squad and that I think that a good club makes good players by playing them rather than being gifted them by good fortune.

That is not why I flipping love Oli McBurnie.

I like to think too that McBurnie shows the talent to justify elevation to the first team squad on a regular basis. Without a reserve team to blood him in the physical game of man’s football it is hard to comment on that side of his game but his cameo appearances for City have shown him as able to handle that side of football well enough to suggest he can handle some more of it.

I do flipping love Oli McBurnie.

I love the romance of the young player. I love the idea that the kid that started for City on Boxing Day 2013 spent Boxing Day 2012 playing Championship Manager. We saw it when Danny Forrest scored in front of the stand he used to watch City from, or when the man who used to work at the Co-op left a World Cup player on his backside at Villa.

It is that Roy of the Rovers drama and its one of the things I love most when watching the seasons of football.

But from a more pragmatic point of view we need Oli McBurnie.

A fast striker who – by virtue of his promotion from the youth set up – is not going to break the bank with wage demands he offers a way to trim the £500,000 overspend Julian Rhodes has talked about. In giving him first team games and making him a real part of the squad rather than a bonus we give him the environment to develop in.

Danny Ings was one of the Championship players of the season after his promotion from bit part player to starter after Charlie Austin left for QPR. Those longer in the tooth will recall how Dean Richards progressed when Phil Babb departed and the youngster was trusted with his place.

To me it makes sense for Phil Parkinson to see McBurnie as one of his main three. The fast one with the target man, and the hard worker. If that does not work out then we deal with that in the same way we deal with a new signing who does not.

When you see potential you have to put the work and give the player responsibility to make a good player. It might not always work, but not doing it never works and that is what City did with Nahki Wells, with Dean Richards, with Stuart McCall.

But even that is not why I flipping love Oli McBurnie.

I’m getting old.

I’m old enough now that I know a player’s Mum and I do know Oli’s. I’m not going to lie it gives me a massive amount of bias in favour of the young striker and that is going to have an impact on how I assess him.

But even as I admit that I still think that as the club talk about squad restructures and going half a million over “what we can afford” then we have the need, the opportunity and the ability to try crack one of the best prospects to have come into the first team for years.

So I think that when it comes to next season Phil Parkinson should consider Oli McBurnie as a part of his match day eighteen.

Gavin Oliver, not half bad

At the back end of 93/94 season my dad won a raffle at work and he, I, and a couple of his mates got the Samaritan’s sponsors’ tickets for a home tie against Stockport. All this really meant was that we swapped our tickets in the kop for entry to a directors’ box, two minutes grinning like idiots on the pitch before kick-off, and some pretty naff seats at the back of the stand.

The game was awful, the pitch a sand pit and the result a defeat. But that’s not why I remember the game. Sitting on my chest of drawers at home is a framed picture of me receiving a signed ball from Gavin Oliver. In reality the task of meeting match sponsors must be a chore undertaken by those on the fringes of the squad, but the injured Gavin Oliver didn’t show any signs of tedium as he chatted, asked about my favourite players and whether I played football myself.

I was made up. I’d met Gavin Oliver. I remember Oliver having a bit of a reputation for scoring own goals and was not seen as the most cultured of centre backs, but he was there week-in-week-out as I was growing up and his was the name that my mum ironed on to the back of my claret and amber, Freemans sponsored, diamond patterned city shirt.

My Dad couldn’t understand why I had Oliver on the back of the shirt given that we had Dean Richards at the time and, quite frankly, Gav, while held in fond affection, was not necessarily revered for his footballing ability. But I was ten and at that age it was the little things that mattered. While I have been reliable informed that my first ever game was a cup tie against Everton in 1987, being three I can’t remember it. I know I had been to games and seen goals before, but the first one that sticks in my memory was scored by Gavin Oliver.

A trawl of football stats websites informs that this was one of only nine goals in just over three hundred appearances, so it sticking in my memory is perhaps all the more impressive. Again my Dad plays an important role, taking me out of school to visit the dentist, or so I thought. Unbeknownst to me and with the consent of my football-mad head teacher Mr Tony Cryer, I was going to my first ever away game – Tottenham Hotspurs in the Rumbellows’ Cup. We actually got there a couple of minutes late and had only really settled when Gav met a corner with a towering header and put us one up. He went on to have a good game at centre half and I came away knowing that if I wanted to be a footballer, he was who I had to emulate.

Getting into football at that time – after the almost glory days of the Dolan era and with the gift of hindsight, just before the glory days of Chris Kamara and then Paul Jewell – was not necessarily the most rewarding of endeavours for City fans. In the dark days of the John Docherty reign, the Spurs game was perhaps the only truly high point, a noble defeat. But Gavin Oliver was steadfast throughout, with City finishing in eighth, scoring more than they conceded.

Others, perhaps those a little older will have different memories of Gavin Oliver. It is clear he was seen as a bit of a comic figure at times. A copy of ‘Bernard of the Bantams’ from 1988, which I unearthed while trying to write this piece, suggests that the perfect Christmas gift for Gav would be a new pair of underpants given that he “soils his on every occasion an opponent runs at him”.

On perhaps the night of his finest moment (to my mind at least), the official Spurs match programme offers this pen picture of Gavin Oliver:

Gavin Oliver (Defender).
Born in Newcastle, Brian started his career as an apprentice with Newcastle United. He signed professional forms for the Magpies and made 32 league appearances for the club, before signing for Bradford City in March, 1989.

For me this unintentional error is telling. Like his unarguably more cultured centre-half partner Dean Richards, Oliver didn’t shout about himself and not being as gifted, often went unnoticed. However, he always tried to let let his football do the talking and while it wasn’t perhaps as fluent or eloquent as others, you always got the gist of what he was trying to say. For eight years he played pretty much week-in-week-out and never once did he shirk a challenge or pull his head away from danger. When he wore the armband, you could see him stand taller than his five foot eleven frame. Of course all young lads should aspire to be a Richards, McCall, or Hendrie, but being a Gavin Oliver isn’t half bad.

I think this is a nice way to finish, taken from an online Millwall fanzine:

All afternoon Tony Cascarino had trouble escaping the attentions of Gavin Oliver and Teddy Sheringham had one of those afternoons when nothing went right.

Cascarino went on to play at the 1990 World Cup and Sheringham didn’t turn out half bad either.

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 boy done good

There are few things in professional football that bring me as much joy as watching the progression of young players.

They arrive into the team, these proto-footballers, with energy and verve which lasts for exactly one clattering tackle. A tackle that welcomes them to the harsh realities of the game.

From then on the live a life of constant testing. Most young players were by some way the best at football in the majority of games they played up. The late Dean Richards is talked of in glowing terms by the lads who played alongside him with Rhodesway because in a season in which they lost but a single game, he was the best player.

Progress in youth football is about that. The best move on to the next level which they are the best at, the others are moved on. The chances are that the vast majority of players who every get a pro contract were the best in their school by some distance, the best at other Junior levels too as they make the cut every step of the way.

And then comes first team professional football.

No longer the best, no longer protected by the confidence of being the best, before that first crunch of a tackle has stopped throbbing the player has gone from peerless performer to bottom of the pile.

Which is when things get really interesting.

How does one get up from that clattering, or the next, or from screwing a ball wide, or from hitting one top corner and being expected to do it again. Character, not the notion of talent, becomes the definition of the footballer.

Darren Stephenson’s debut on Saturday was not the stuff of dreams. His main contribution – bothering the keeper – has to be excluded as not being significant enough to be a foul leaving the much vaunted striker with little to recall on his first game but watching another young player Tom Bradshaw of Shrewsbury Town claiming two goals. One run down the wing while City were a goal up saw Stephenson win a throw in rather than try beat his man – a good move from the point of view of playing the percentages – but with City on the break perhaps the idea that he might have gone at his man will have played on his mind.

Perhaps done more. Perhaps there have been nights when he has wondered what would have happened had he moved to the left of Ian Sharps when Sharps slipped, got closer to Shane Cansdell-Sherriff when he missed his headed clearance. Such thoughts could drive a man mad.

Which is where the character of Stephenson comes to test. What can he learn from his first experience of League football and how can it improve him as a player? How can he think about what he could have done better without obsessing on things he had done wrong.

Every player goes through the same process. The successful ones are able to master this process of learning from mistakes, but not dwelling on them, while the less successful lose confidence on the one hand or never learn on the other.

Over the last few days Darren Stephenson will have had these thoughts on his mind, his response will go a way to telling us what sort of a player he will be. As it is the boy done good to get this far, how he reacts to successes and failures like last Saturday will define how he does from now on.

Remembering Our Dean Richards

After his sad death this week it was curious to see the outpouring of football’s grief for Dean Richards with supporters and officials at Southampton, Wolves and Tottenham Hotspur all being rich and fulsome in their praise for the former Rhodesway school boy who started his career at Valley Parade.

Indeed it is rather touching that the reflections of the professionalism, attitude and ability of young man who started his City career in 1990, joined the first team in 1992 and left in 1995 carried on until his retirement in 2005 at Spurs. All three clubs who Dean went on to play for found him to be as he was as an aspiring professional at City. A talented footballer for sure, but a good guy too, at all stages of his career.

So there is talk of why the defender did not get rewarded with England honours – he was the most expensive uncapped player in English history – and reminiscent of his debut at White Hart Lane in a 5-3 defeat to Manchester United which is part of Premier League folk lore but for Bradford City fans Richards was forever the teenager starting off in the game.

Richards joined the squad under John Doherty’s watching defender Phil Babb taking a role in the forward line but it was under Frank Stapleton when he was given a debut. For a brief time he and Babb made a central defensive partnership for Stapleton before the latter’s departure for Coventry City. That the loss of Babb – who had excelled after Stapleton relocated him to the central defensive position – was not felt was largely down the emergence of Richards.

Stapleton’s team prized Richards and his ability. A strong player, capable of playing the ball listen not to those who call him “an old fashioned hard man” for Richards was the depiction of the modern defender that emerged in the 1990s. A Shepparder who would pressure strikers into mistakes rather than dive in to clean the ball there was an obvious difference between Richards and his predecessors’ in City’s defence. Never once can I recall Dean Richards recklessly tackling a striker but frequently I recall his ability to drive opponents into areas of the field he wanted them in, frustrating them.

When Geoffrey Richmond arrived and Lennie Lawrence became manager Richards was the heart of the Bantams defence and my clearest and favourite memory of Richards comes from Lawrence’s first game at Chester City when the Bantam’s defender gave one of the home strikers a six or seven yard head start but effortlessly went through the gears to catch, over take and guide the ball away.

I’ve often talked about that moment since as one of the best examples of a player who knew the reach of his abilities and matched his game to them. It has been my favourite example of a player in control of his own game, taking responsibility for his own performance, and will remain so.

Richards left City when Lawrence’s team’s promotion hunt faltered having spent much of the season injury – a problem exasperated by the manager attempting to bring him back too quickly and Richards breaking down – which robbed City and City fans of too many of the classy defender’s performances. His exit to Wolves was saddening not just because it worsened the side, but because it meant that we would not enjoy watching Dean Richards play again and – and it is a cherished thing in football – Dean Richards was a very enjoyable player to watch.

Heart and soul into his performances for sure, but control and poise too.

As it turned out Richards had a return to City’s history in May 1999 when as a Wolves player he was charged with trying to stop City reaching the Premier League on the final day of the season. His contribution was a battle for pace with Jamie Lawrence which ended in a penalty to make the game 4-1 and allow City to stroll out the remaining time once Beagrie had netted the spot kick.

Plans are seldom that simple and while City held breath following the penalty miss and finally celebrated at the end of the game which concluded 3-2 Richards took applause from his own supporters in what turned out to be his final game for the Midlands club.

On to Southampton and Spurs and then back to City to work with the young players Dean Richards had much to offer the game as a player and a coach and football is the worse for his passing. The tributes to him are as heartfelt and as honest each one of them picking out a part of a broader picture.

And my contribution to that is the sunny day in August 1994 which would end in a 4-1 win at the Deva Stadium and Richards motoring past the opposition striker and taking the ball under control and away with what looked like the ease of a man strolling in the park.

A moment to savour, and never to forget.

Dean Richards dies aged 36

Former Bradford City defender Dean Richards has died this week after a battle with a brain tumour.

Richards, who had to retire from the game at age 31 after suffering dizzy spells that were a precursor to a long, serious illness problem, played for City from 1992. A defender of huge talent and a joy to watch Richards death is utterly saddening and gives context to recent events at Valley Parade.

I cannot imagine what Richards family, friends, colleagues must be feeling today, but my heart goes out to them.

Where do you see the club in a decade?

The win over Nottingham Forest has done much to get City’s season under way and optimism is higher as a result but winnings game, and indeed promotions, while wonderful are only parts of a wider progress which fans hope the club will make – or fear it will not – in the coming years. The weight of the question is significant. Clubs up and down the country talk in short terms about the weekend matches and the end of a season but supporters are with the club for decades, for the long term.

“We all have high hopes for City this season but where do you see the club in a decade’s time and what are the club doing now which will bring us to that stage?”

Jason Mckeown City Gent & BfB Writer

The nature of the question “Where do you see yourself/the company/the football club in x years time?” always fabricates a positive frame of mind when asked to ponder it.

The future is always something to look forward to, and inevitably you think of how today’s problems will have been overcome and everything will be perfect. You throw in a tint of realism to make sure your vision achievable – it would be foolish to predict that in a decade’s time Bradford City will be Premier League champions and about to embark on a Champions League campaign. Yet ultimately your 10-year future will be a grandiose improvement on matters now.

But sadly life doesn’t seem to work out like that, and one only needs to think back 10 years ago and recall where Bradford City were then to see how things can easily change for the worse too. If asked this question at the start of the 2000-01 season, I dare say you and I would have agreed City would continue their upwards progress and become fully-established as a Premier League club. Enjoying the thrills of beating Leeds United and Manchester United home and away, of lifting the FA Cup, of playing in Europe on a semi-regular basis and of having incredibly- talented players preparing in state-of-the-art training facilities.

Our vision would not have featured three relegations in six years or going into administration twice or Geoffrey Richmond turning out to be something of a traitor or a guy who owns a theme park running off with the deeds to our stadium or losing home and away to an abysmal Stockport County or Gareth Edds or crowds dwindling or a legendary player failing as manager or Bradford City 0 Accrington Stanley 3.

We can ponder the next ten years and dream of how our current woes – stuck in League Two, not owning our own ground – will have been addressed and Valley Parade will be a utopia of happiness. But even if the next decade delivers success, it will bring new issues to worry over.

So I honestly have no idea where this club will be in 10 years time – but I bet we’ll have something to moan about.

Paul Firth City fan and Author of Four Minutes To Hell

Ten years ago Bradford City were justifiably proud of staying in the Premier League and, with the riches that came with survival, looked forward to seeing some star names perform further magic. It is not necessary to go back over what happened in those ten years, unless there is someone out there who has learned nothing from two administrations.

So, trying to look ahead another ten years, the prime target must be financial security, even if that dampens the expectations of the fans. Maximising the income and minimising the outgoings will require perpetual vigilance from those who control the purse strings.

Maximising the income still means solving the riddle of where to pitch ticket prices, not least for the younger fans who are the future of an club. Today’s schoolchildren will be buying their own tickets in ten years time, provided they can be kept with the club. Only if at least two promotions follow will television income be a major proportion of revenue.

Minimising outgoings means a player budget that is sensible and adhered to. At Valley Parade it also means not paying huge sums in rent – so it means finding a way of owning the ground that is less costly than present obligations.

And speaking of today’s youngsters, all clubs bar those who are content to rely on billionaire owners need to develop their youth system. City will need to keep finding the next Dean Richards or Andy O’Brien, even if the end product is not a first-team centre back, but money from a bigger club paid on the progress of a very young player.

All of this requires skilful management off the field, preferably by someone with an astute business brain and experience of the successful running of a big company. If that someone was also a Bradford City supporter, he or she would be the perfect person to secure the medium-term future of the business that all clubs must be.

With that sort of future to look forward to, success on the field is more realistic. As illustrated recently by BfB, two promotions in ten years is achievable. Established in the Championship, three home grown heroes, our own ground, 20,000 crowds and financial security. I’d take that now.

Alan Carling Chair of the Bradford City Supporters Trust

I know where I would like the club to be in a decade’s time. As Julian Rhodes has emphasized many times, one of the main factors holding the club back financially at our current level is the rental bill for Valley Parade that has to be paid annually to the Gibb Pension Fund. But there has always been an obvious way to deal with this issue, which ticks many other boxes for both the club and the District. If Valley Parade is brought back into community ownership, the rent can be renegotiated, and the stadium developed as the focus for a fan-friendly, community-oriented club. And if both the Council and the Bradford Bulls were involved, there would be further benefits on the commercial side, and a stronger, unified presence for full-time professional sport in Bradford.

Just as there’s a restrained optimism on the playing side this season, I have a similar feeling about the project for Valley Parade. As Mark Lawn has now revealed in public, the Gibb Pension Fund has already named its price for the stadium, and the club has swung behind the idea of ground-sharing with the Bulls. There is a new administration at City Hall, which seems to recognize that fresh thinking is needed for the Council’s sports strategy, after all the problems with the Odsal Sports Village. It is going to be very difficult, of course, for Bulls’ fans to accept a move away from their Odsal home. Good luck to them if they were able to develop a new super-stadium there – we might even have considered joining them. But as things stand, it seems very unlikely that the finance will be available from either the public or the private sectors for a big new building project. And they still have to find new playing accommodation from somewhere within the next two or three years. This surely leaves ground-sharing at Valley Parade as the Bulls’ best available option.

Putting all this together, there is a huge opportunity waiting to be seized, and I would love City fans to be an integral part of it. Will it happen? Who knows… it would require people to work together in ways that may be unfamiliar to them, and feel a bit uncomfortable. But I hope that the club can get over its fears, and work constructively with supporters to build something special around Valley Parade – not just the bricks and mortar, but the inclusive community spirit. One thing is for sure. No-one is going to come in over the next few years to hand us success on a plate. So why not try doing it for ourselves?

The route to success for Notts County or Bradford City

When last we kicked a ball in anger there was anger after the Bantams promotion push had fizzled out and beating Chesterfield was an inglorious end to a year of promise.

Three months later and while it seems that much has changed the Bantams start the season with six players who would have featured in the team which kicked off last year with Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding leading the attack a good example of how Stuart McCall has been able to cut costs while retaining the integrity of the squad.

The five forwards this year swap James Hanson and Gareth Evans for Barry Conlon and Willy Topp which is easily argued to be no worse and perhaps better with Barry’s rambunctions being matched by Hanson’s vigour, at least in theory.

If such claims of parity could be made for the strikers then they would not be applied to the two keepers who combined are not as old as Neville Southall was when he kept goal for City and the worries over that inexperience are rumbling.

Simon Eastwood seems favourite to start as he battles Jon McLaughin for the gloves and I am forced to say that I have never seen competition for the number one shirt bring about anything but uncertainty in the past.

One can only hope that one of the two claims the spot which Rhys Evans grew to suit. Evans exit remains a mystery with the obvious hole left behind by his exit but last season’s failure has been attributed to poor morale and one can assume that some of those who exit do so because of what might be known as “off the field reasons”.

Paul Arnison’s exit was down to such and Simon Ramsden is considered a more than adequate replacement playing right back more like a central defender than a winger. Again McCall has cut while not losing quality, although the people at Rochdale take issue with the statements that Ramsden has joined the Bantams on comparable terms to those he was on at Spotland.

Zesh Rehman has joined the club full time and replaces Graeme Lee – who may very well take the field for Notts County after his summer move – and it is hard to see that exchange as worse for City. Rehman has played at a higher level than Lee and on the evidence of last season is no worse a player and much more of a talker. Good player Graeme Lee but not the lynchpin we hoped for. Rehman could be.

Matthew Clarke is still Matthew Clarke although this year faces competition for his place from Steve Williams who impressed more than any in pre-season. Expect Williams to grow in ability over the opening months at City has he gets used to the ways of professional football. He promises a mix of Clarke’s physical play and the mobility of a Dean Richards or Andrew O’Brien.

At left back Luke O’Brien has a one deal and little immediate competition for the role however cover is provided by Louis Horne who is making similar progress to last season’s player of the season.

The midfield has been talked about at length over the summer. Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock are the two senior men with James O’Brien, Stephen O’Leary and Luke Sharry offering a much shallower depth of quality that last season’s midfield which of course assumes that one believes that last season’s midfield had quality.

Objectively the choice of Nicky Law, Dean Furman, Paul McLaren and Bullock is incredibility strong however wise man say that team with a strong midfield get promoted and obviously we did not. Stuart McCall has to make changes to move the team on from that and so he has.

On the flanks Omar Daley will be missed – he is “out until Christmas” but rumoured to be on course to join the squad before that – but Chris Brandon comes into the season fit and looking useful. Joe Colbeck is on week to week contracts but as long as he plays well this week, and then next week, few will have a problem with him. Cover on the flanks is thin on the ground although Rory Boulding and Leon Osborne are available.

City’s summer of cost cutting has been far from mirror at Notts County. Sven – of course – has arrived but it is said has spent much of the week talking to lawyers about a story that concerns a blonde which reminded me of another story about when Eriksson left England but I’m far too in fear of legal action to even mention that…

So we shall move past him onto a squad that has been bolstered by the signing of Lee midfielder Ben Davies from Shrewsbury and – more notably – forward pair Lee Hughes and Karl Hawley following a significant investment from a consortium of mystery which could not be held in more suspicion in the football world outside of Meadow Lane if they were gruff looking sortd who owned disused Theme Parks in episodes of Scooby Doo.

It is said that at some point they will be signing Dietmar Hamann and Sol Campbell. Let us hope that is after the weekend.

What will be at Notts County will be and there is very little that football fans can do to stand against the cavalier attitudes taken to ownership in the modern game.

City tried spending to get out of the division and failed. Notts County’s owners are unlikely to balance risk and prudence as Mark Lawn says City have which may see The Magpies to achieve what City could not last season.

The long term effects on County will be seen in time – the other Magpies though that they were going places when they got big investment – but City start out the season with a mix of players: some young lads, some old heads, some local lads made good; and if that is not the recipe for success then success is not worth having.

Now though football starts again. Great.

Fancy a Flutter with Stuart and Wayne?

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

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

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

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

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

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