When Sepp Blatter goes, Gianni Paladini does not arrive and Manchester United go somewhere

When Sepp Blatter resigned as chairman of FIFA the cheers could be heard around the World of football but nowhere were they more pronounced than at Wembley.

The FA, housed at Wembley, could hardly contain their excitement at the Footballing Regicide. “This is great news for football. It should have happened years ago” said FA Chairman Greg Dyke with the jubilance of a man who has had to wait longer than he wants for a revenge he thinks he should have.

For years and years Blatter and FIFA have frustrated the FA, and other larger European FAs, in their attempts to restructure the business of football. The World Cup in Qatar is, in the opinion of this writer, a very bad idea but it is not opposed by the bigger European FAs because of the appalling human rights involved, or because of the corruption involved in the bidding process really.

The main problem for the European FAs was moving the World Cup away from the centre of the year which would upset the leagues they ran and the clubs in their leagues which increasingly are the prime concern.

Meanwhile, back in communist Russia

Gianni Paladini is not buying Bradford City – at least not today – and you can pick which set of rumours you prefer for the reason the Italian will not be taking over at City.

Those rumours range on the one side from the idea that the Italian has not got the money he said he has to meet the very reasonable demands of The Rhodes family and Mark Lawn. Another that those demands are less than reasonable. A third that he can do business with the club but cannot secure a deal to buy back Valley Parade and on and on and on. “I am extremely serious about the purchase of the club.” said Paladini, but no one really seems to believe him.

There was an audible sigh of relief around West Yorkshire as the prospect of Paladini’s arrival diminished at seemed to be routed in a weary conservatism. Since Bob Martin’s early 1980s plan to build a bridge across the valley to, to Geoffrey Richmond and the five year plan, to the thunder of Lawn and Rhodes about returning to The Championship after relegation to League Two City fans have heard lot of talk but felt very few benefits. Most fans at most clubs are in the same boat.

Paladini promises big things as City chairman but big things mean change and the mass of Bradford City supporters seem to like things how they are. One wonders if this will be true should Phil Parkinson’s side be in mid-table in November with home wins scarce as was the case last season.

So everything returns to what it was. The Rhodes Family and Mark Lawn will carry on running Bradford City with the caveat on the usual line of “walking away without a penny” that whomever was to buy the club from them would have to have the club’s best interests at heart. Phil Parkinson is starting contract negotiations. The player not signed is the one player who would have made a difference. There is a tour or Ireland or Scotland or somewhere in the offing. I don’t like the kit.

Everything trundles along as it was, and should be.

I want to wet my feet in Albert Square

I can remember the feeling of annoyance that swelled in me the first time I heard of FC United of Manchester.

(It was not my first reaction which was the CookMooreian “Oh what a bloody silly name” but I digress.)

In the 1980s there was a reason that Manchester United did not win the league. They had some great players, and they were very rich, but they did not put a great team on the field. Liverpool – who seemed to spend less – crafted a better unit and so were dominant.

And no matter what happened at Old Trafford United could not stop this Liverpool dominance on the field. Managers came and went and Alex Ferguson toiled but it did not matter how much money they had the game was about the eleven guys on the pitch and what sort of team they were.

In the early 1990s that changed, and it changed with the Premier League which Manchester United were leading lights in creating. The Premier League which was launched with the promise that it would bring more matches to television (Number of Premier League matches shown on free to air TV since launch: 0), be better for the England team (which has statistically improved slightly, slightly being operative) and be for the benefit of supporters.

The influx of money into the game and the impact that had on the nature of the way that football is played has not been documented well enough. English football went from being a team game to a squad one and fitness became more of a factor. After 1992 the football club with the biggest resources were favoured more in the squad game than they had previously.

And so the narrative was that at Manchester United – in their pursuit of glory – changed the way football worked in this country making it more beneficial to be “bigger” in terms of resources and supporter base screwing smaller clubs as they did it and – having soaked up that glory – the people at FC United of Manchester decided that they were actually on the side of the smaller teams all along.

And that was annoying. It was annoying to me and should have been to anyone who watched clubs struggle for existence in the post-Premier League era where mistakes in team building are less important because of the resources that can be deployed.

Signed Radamel Falcao for £265,000 a week and he turned out to not have recovered from an injury? No problem. You have the money to retain Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Angel Di Maria et al as well. Contrast that with the way City are hamstrung with the wages of Aaron McLean.

A supporter of FC United of Manchester who followed Manchester United seemingly until he or she was gorged on success now wants to tell the rest of football how to do football? Well, yes, and we might do well to listen.

FC United of Manchester have just opened Broadhurst Park which is a community stadium. The community ethos is soaked into their club. They are democratic and run against codes of conduct which the average football fan would never expect his club would recognise, most clubs being run at the whim and ethics of the owners.

And while the idea of reminiscences of Best and Cantona – and many other things about FC United of Manchester – have no appeal to me the idea of having a club shaped around what different communities want appeals to me a great deal.

At Broadhurst Park the supporters who benefited the most from the Premier League have said that they think they benefit more from standing opposed to many of the values that that league represents. Such a finding against interest has to make a person pause for a moment.

Everything trundles along as it was

Considering Paladini’s takeover of Bradford City is considering the idea that Bradford City might move up football’s order from one of the poor clubs to one of the less poor ones.

Paladini’s approach for the club is not that he treat the supporters any better than the current board do, nor that he would expand a level of ownership to supporters, or that he would increase supporter representation at all.

He did not suggest that on his arrival Bradford City could expect the policy of affordable season tickets to continue, most would welcome that, nor did he say that the policy of changing shirt every year would end, most would welcome that too.

Paladini’s approach was that he would give the club some money for players and with that would come promotion, and all that follows. Better football, more expensive and if the recent history of Bradford City was to repeat he would expect at least appreciation for his efforts.

At no point would he ask if we – the supporters – wanted what was on offer or not. At no point is anyone going to ask that.

There are differences between Paladini and current co-chairmen Lawn and Rhodes other than the depth of their pockets but they are not in how they approach the role of football club owner, and nor do the vast majority of their peers.

From Chelsea down clubs are bought and sold, and money is invested or not, and only lip service is paid to supporters. A consultation group here, a fan on the board there but no one could say that there is anything like a serious commitment to making English football take the shape which the supporters would have it take.

All chairmen treat clubs like their personal play-things in a game, just some are better at the game than others.

When the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers

Individually and collectively football clubs shape a game which is less concerned about supporters than about the money generated by television deals and by sponsorship.

One only need to recall the six days in which Bradford City were commanded to play three away games and the reasons for that which were tied into a deal in European football to ensure that an FA Cup game could not be played on Champions League night.

Who at the FA agreed that deal? Was it a great news for football when that deal was signed? How many deals are signed that end up putting television rights above the games that supporters are paying to see? When the deals are signed to promote the Premier League on Sky and the BBC is there any consideration for the impact that will have on Football League clubs? Or when the Football League tries to win supporters from on non-league clubs? Or for that matter when non-league clubs host a day to try win them in the other direction.

When international TV deals are signed to show The Premier League, or La Liga, or Serie A in the Far East is there consideration as to what that might do to developing football leagues in those countries?

The group of clubs at the top of the game, who increasingly drive the game, have a select group in the ECA designed to steer Governing Bodies in the direction which best suits them. They drive the TV deals and the competitions that TV shows.

It is the G-14, forerunner of the ECA, which shaped the Champions League from the Champions Cup and the mandatory television requirements it brings. Those are the people you have to thank for an ITV dead rubber between Arsenal and Standard Liege that clogs up the airwaves in early December.

It is hard to imagine how the next FIFA Chairman will be worse than Sepp Blatter but it is not hard to imagine who will select that person. The same forces who are driving football increasingly to be about the bigger clubs, and TV deals, and Coca-Cola/Visa sponsorship will invoke their influence.

We celebrate the end of Sepp Blatter but will his replacement care more for the people who watch football or just be more liked by the people who have created the parts of the English game that most disenfranchise supporters?

If we trust the people who made the Champions League to run the World Cup are we moving towards a more egalitarian football that respects all its supporters?

Buying Bradford City and worrying

The deadline for Gianni Paladini’s exclusivity on a bid to buy Bradford City will expire at midnight tonight and by tomorrow morning the club could have a new owner.

Should that happen Mark Lawn, Julian Rhodes and David Rhodes will leave the club – taking the rest of the current board with them – and be replaced by Paladini and his friends who seem to include a number of the London mega-rich. The numbers water the eyes: £10m for players, more for wages, and Valley Parade bought back.

But there is worry.

…be happy

Any change of ownership brings a worry for the supporters of a football club with good reason. David Moores – the owner of Liverpool during good times at Anfield – was only prepared to sell the club to people he could trust but ended up saying of “I hugely regret selling the club to George Gillett and Tom Hicks.” The recent history of Manchester United is the story of an aggressive takeover making the supporters pay for someone else to own the club.

At the other end of the spectrum at York City John Batchelor was happy to attempt to strip any asset he could from that club. He died aged 51 and his epitaph was his frank statement “I fuck businesses, its what I do.”

The annuals of football club ownership since the 1980s are the story of opportunists taking what they can from clubs like ours. Like the generally held view that all politicians lie, all football club chairmen are out to rip off the fans. While it is cynical to admit it people who want to buy football clubs are considered guilty until they can prove themselves innocent.

The third way

There is an alternative of course and it is one that was briefly considered during Administration in 2004. Supporter owned clubs are some of the success stories of the modern game. FC United of Manchester, AFC Wimbledon, Exeter City. Stupid names but stories of the sort of community commitment that we would all can only dream of at Valley Parade.

Restarting Bradford City as a community club at the bottom of the pyramid did not happen but Julian Rhodes pulled the club out of administration promising that the fans would be at the heart of the relaunched Bantams as a kind of middle ground. This manifested itself in a season ticket pricing policy. More on that later.

That third way of fan ownership exists for the clubs most abused. If City could not have been saved as a business in 2004 then an AFC Bradford City would no doubt have sprung up. It is always the final censure for anyone looking to buy a club.

End of aside.

What to worry about

There are worries about what Paladini would do at the club – worries caused in no small part by the film Four Year Plan – and how he will fund what he does and the reason that he does it. We – the Bradford City community – need to listen hard to what is said and not be distracted by the promise like £10m on players.

The sleight of hand that focuses the eyes on the field while distracting the mind as money is taken from the club is the realism of modern football. The Glazers did this at the biggest club in the UK. It happened in 1999 when Bradford City went into the Premier League and (approx.) £9m were taken out in dividends by the Directors.

One of those Directors was – of course – Julian Rhodes who has since ploughed money back into Bradford City. He was also on the board when one of the board members sold the club’s biggest asset (Valley Parade) to his own Pension Fund.

The price Valley Parade was sold for – considering the rent paid by the club to play there – was an amazing deal for the then chairman Gordon Gibb. Ostensibly this was a deal done to “save the club” but the club was not saved and less than eight months later the business failed.

Anyone can understand the worries that a new chairman and a new board could work against the interests of the club as an institution and of supporter but many of those worries have been manifested at the club in the last few years.

Mark Lawn loaned the club money at a nine per cent interest rate above the Bank of England base rate. The board then sanctioned that money to be spent on what could best be described as player gambles. Large wage budgets for Stuart McCall and Peter Taylor (remember the phrase “push the boat out”) which the board acknowledged it could not sustain and resulted in teams being built and ripped up in the space of weeks were the board’s way of showing ambition but they could never be described as being necessary spending as evidenced by how the club finally found promotion when the budget had been reduced.

That is a point worth recalling. Bradford City did not need the money which it borrowed from Mark Lawn to stay in business, it borrowed it to try improve the business with promotion. Mark Lawn did not “save the club” as he seems to be credited with. Without him the club would have had less money to spend on players but still would have had a larger wage bill than many others in the League Two we took part in.

The boardroom borrowed money – from one of its members, and at a great rate – to take gambles on winning promotion that failed only to pay that money back later from the club’s winnings on the field from Wembley 2013.

And I’m not complaining about that but what I am saying is that if Paladini were to arrive at Valley Parade tomorrow saying the he would lend Bradford City £10m to pay for players and he would take it and more back when the money rolled in he would probably be viewed as an opportunist looking to make what he can and gambling with the club’s future.

You either believe that situation is risking the club’s future, or it is ambitious football business, but it would be the same for both and not different because as far as we know Paladini does not have a Bantams tattoo.

Not worried about

This is what I am not worried about.

I’m not worried that he will rename the club and change the colours because Vincent Tan did. I’m not worried he will try change the name of the club because Assem Allam did. I’m not worried that Paladini will do what Massimo Cellino has done at Leeds. I’m not worried that he will do what Francesco Becchetti has done at Leyton Orient.

Do we assume that Paladini will turn up to board meetings drunk, or high, or boasting about which of the club staff he is having an affair with which are all things which English chairmen at the 92 clubs have done.

We don’t assume he will threatening legal action against you own clubs fans. Or be banned from driving for being drunk. Or cheer the opposition during games. Or call the team rubbish to their faces. Or call them a waste of money. Or racially abuse one of his own team’s players. We don’t assume he will do any of these transgressions which were all done by English chairmen of Football League clubs and we do not read concerned articles worrying that a new owner at Valley Parade is liable to do them.

Too much of the debate about Gianni Paladini is framed in a context of his nationality with unpleasant undertones. When you start suggesting that Paladini will want to change the the club name or colours you probably need to ask yourself good questions about why you made that comparison.

We continue

The Rhodes commitment to supporters as seen in the low season ticket prices has been held over fans frequently as being on the verge of ending rather than being enshrined as part of the club putting the fans first. The weekend when Mark Lawn decided, then changed his mind on the club being put into administration following his car being damaged. Allowing the Valley Parade pitch to get into such a poor condition that it is laughed at by other teams managers. The much talked about ban on The City Gent from Valley Parade. This week’s unveiling of a new shirt which was not Claret and Amber stripes.

I’ve heard arguments about all these points: the finances dictate prices, why not wind up the club if your car is vandalised, its not our fault the pitch it bad, the City Gent should be supportive or what is the point of it, Nike control the shirt design; and you can decide for yourself how valid those defences are but as you do imagine if they were not coming from the “proper Yorkshireman” and others on the current board, but from Paladini, and how reactions would differ.

My point is that we should worry about that Mr Paladini might act in ways which are against the best interests of the Bradford City community, just as I believe we should worry more about what the current board do, and I should have worried more about what Geoffrey Richmond’s board was doing back when I started BfB back in 1998.

I am worried about what will happen to the club in the future if it is taken over, but I am worried about what will happen to it if it is not. The Football Association and the Football League have singularly failed to do anything to control the owners of football clubs. Most of the time most of the chairmen in football act in their interests and not in the club’s interest.

I’m worried about that.

Patience is here and there as Bradford City face AFC Wimbledon

When the history of early 21st century football is written, the emergence of clubs with AFC prefixes will surely loom large. Whether they will be portrayed as grassroots revolutions or romantic daydreams only time will tell. At present their impact on the greater game is limited. They are a curiosity more than a threat to the established structure of the game. However, if AFC Wimbledon progress further up the divisions their ethos and ownership structure has the potential to reverberate throughout the professional game. The watershed moment would surely arrive if AFC Wimbledon overhauled the MK Dons.

However, we would do well not to over romanticise AFC Wimbldeon. Multiple promotions, and even a debt controversy, suggest that they are not FC United-esque mid-life crisis, revolutionaries. AFC Wimbledon are a limited company, albeit one dominated by the shareholding of their Supporters’ Trust.

Interestingly they also have an Independent Supporters’ Association, which suggests, in parallel with revolutions everywhere, Lincoln City for example, that factionalism is a fact of football life. So, is Saturday’s match at Valley Parade an encounter between two former Premier League clubs, or a vivid example of how a well organised grassroots football club can rise through the leagues to meet a former Premier League club which has spent a decade fighting crisis after crisis?

All that will fade into insignificance once the whistle is blown at three o’clock. The Dons arrive at Valley Parade off the back of an impressive 4-1 victory over Cheltenham. However, their form, like many in the division, is erratic. It has included a four goal thumping at Macclesfield. Are we in for another high scoring encounter? Few City fans would put money on their defence keeping a clean sheet, so it is probably a question of outscoring the visitors.

City have injury doubts over Kyel Reid, Michael Flynn, Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall. Phil Parkinson has shown a reluctance to change the starting eleven during his short stint at the helm. However, perhaps the injuries and the poor second half performance at Crawley will force his hand?

Fortunately, he has options, although it appears that the most popular change among some supporters, Luke O’Brien for Robbie Threlfall, is the most unlikely to happen with the former Liverpool player seemingly the most likely to recover. Undoubtedly the defence requires work. The return of Steve Williams in a couple of weeks appears to be a formality. For Saturday Parkinson’s options are limited. Whilst he has wingers to spare, the back four is highly likely to remain in situ. We can only hope that the defence, and the captain’s Twitter account, have a quiet weekend.

The Dons game is beginning to take on some significance. Despite the team receiving praise for their free flowing football, and pledges that the fans would be content to have attacking football this season, some are beginning to nervously glance at the table. However, a similar glance at the calendar will reveal that it is still September. We have a new manager and a restructured team. Patience is a dirty word at Valley Parade, but show me the options?

A sad day for football, a good day for football fans?

Chester City were wound up in the high court bringing to an end a four year shame of an existence the 126 year club have gone through while Farsley Celtic were incapable of being accepted into administration and were liquidated.

For the better part of the last decade Chester City were struggling with financial problems partly caused by an underweaning lack of ambition but mostly by the actions of the owners of the club – The Vaughan family – who would make Richmond, Richardson and Risdale look like paragons of virtue and models of sturdy custodianship. I am no expert on the Vaughan family and so shall make no further comment on them other than to echo the comments discussed by Chester fans elsewhere. It was an horrifically drawn out demise, but it is not the end.

The 126 years of Chester City may have been pillaged by the Vaughan ownership but it is far from the end for the football club.

Chester City Fans United are already planning a new club – the popular AFC route as it is dubbed – and more power to their elbow. The rise of the AFC movement which started with the unloved and notoriously weakest fans in football who followed Wimbledon becoming the robust supporters of AFC Wimbledon dragging their clubs up from literally nothing.

The end of our neighbour Farsley Celtic is massively upsetting and to paraphrase “There, but for the Grace of God goes (John) Bradford (City)“. Trumpeted as the success story of local football three years ago the club that Stuart McCall signed for City from are no more.

Farsley are the first football club to have been refused administration because the possibility of a workable CVA paying more than liquidation would was too remote. Notts County – some speculate – would face the same situation.

Farsley Celtic‘s problems seem to have come from over-reaching to try grow a club to be bigger than would be sustained by the size of the current number of supporters but are not helped by the fact that the people who should have been looking out for a club founded in 1908 were – it is suggested – looking with envious eyes at the patch of prime Leeds land that Throstle’s Nest sits on.

Telford United and Halifax Town followed the AFC route and revivals for Bradford (Park Avenue) and Accrington Stanley while different in nature have drawn a new pattern of football. A map which separates the football club from the football business that operates it. The Farsley Celtic supporters who today look for something new to do with Saturday afternoon would do well to look at the AFC route which promises much reward.

The disgruntled Manchester United supporters who formed the ludicrously named FC United of Manchester – Newton Heath would have been so much better – have done similar and illustrate the practical successes of the supporter-centric approach. That FC United songs are now sung by clubs up and down the leagues says much about the impact that club is having and the growing protests of gold and green at Old Trafford shows a rising upset with the owners of the parent club.

The business of a football club can be owned by anyone who passes the much discussed fit and proper test – or in the case of Chester City and the Vaughan family people who do not – but the football club is not included in that business entity. The football club – being the historic traditions, the support, the icons, the status – is made up of the things around a club which cannot be bought and sold.

As Chester City Fans United look to follow a path trodden by AFC Wimbledon of taking over the history of the club despite being a different business it is worth reflecting that our football club has been run by the businesses of Bradford City AFC 1983 and Bradford City Football Club 2004 in the last decade. The switch of what is considered to be “Bradford City” from one business to another is done with the permission of the football club and in the case of Wimbledon/Milton Keynes that permission was not given.

So in almost welcomed demise and the instant rise of Chester City the owners of the businesses that run football clubs are given another example of this new pattern for ownership which gives them the power to run the clubs at the behest the supporters and with a remit to serve those supporters.

One can only imagine how horrific it has been to be a Chester City supporter over the last few years but the anticipated rise – and the lessons that illustrates to those people who own football businesses would seek to run clubs for their own benefit, and behave in ways that best suit them and not the supporters – are an example for all.

Football businesses can be owned by anyone, football clubs are always owned by the supporters and business owners would do well to remember this.

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