Interview / Empty

As Edin Rahic started interviewing new managers for the Bradford City job bemoaning his poor fortune at any attempts for a smooth transition of ownership were wrecked by Phil Parkinson’s departure it became clear to any seasoned Bradford City watcher that nobody has a clue who will be the next City manager.

The German owners have had applications for the job starting from Friday night when Parkinson exited – although one suspects that people have mentioned themselves before then – and are sitting down with a candidates to interview.

Applications for football management always seemed a strange idea to me. How does one write a CV to be a football manager? What does one play up in interviews and what does one seek to hide? When Jose was talking to United in May did the really ask him “what do you think you biggest weakness is?”

(Answer: John Stead)

Nevertheless in our brief sojourn around Bradford City just after Phil Parkinson got the job five years ago JayMc and I got the the chance to flick through a glossy brochure about Scottish manager John Hughes.

The brochure, which had superior production values, was all about Hughes and his attitude and approach to the game. It read like a Which? magazine article about football management where every chart, graph, or table ended up with Hughes’ attribute at or near the top. After flicking through it for five minutes I’d have given him any job he wanted.

On the counterside to that when Steve McClaren won the England job away from Martin O’Neill it was said that O’Neill sat and talked to the FA as one might expect but McClaren had a more impressive presentation including slides. The idea that England’s 2000s slump could have been avoided had the FA not found a Powerpoint transition impressive is a curious one.

Much of the time one can imagine what a club wants in the application process it is going though. When Peter Taylor left Peter Jackson filled a hole in a comforting manner for all supporters and the part of the boardroom who craved familiarity. Geoffrey Richmond dismissed Frank Stapleton because of his 20 hour a week work ethic. Every manager following that was a grafter.

But in the case of Edin Rahic who knows what he wants? Anyone who tells you they have a clear idea is either very good at making friends in Europe very quickly or lying their face off. I know which I’d suspect.

Rahic has talked about wanting a manager who can take players who come out of academies and using them for League One – a team of Steven Darbys if you will – and in keeping with the trends of German football wants a manager who employs gegenpressing. That aside Rahic has no modus operandi to educate a guess from.

The reason that the names which appear are appearing for the job is – one suspects – because they are the names which have been considered habitually for any League One job which arises. The kryptonite to those Bolton Wanderers “big club” claims is that it was one of the names off the: Nigel Atkins, Steve Cotterill, Phil Parkinson ; list they appointed that the likes of Derby County, Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa et al have been ignoring for a few years.

So Stuart McCall is keen to get the job and Uwe Rösler has been more than mentioned in dispatches. Some people seem to want Neil Warnock or Steve Evans and there are a great many other names flying around and most of them have no mooring to Earth.

Why would Edin Rahic not look at convicted football fraudster Steve Evans and decide that he would not want anything to do with the man? Evans’ history with Bradford City is not the issue, it is his base unimpressiveness, unless he does a good Powerpoint that is.

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.

Three wheels: Steve Parkin, Julian Rhodes, and Mark Lawn

Steve Parkin looks set to join the Bradford City board have tried – and seemingly failed – to buy the club from Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes.

Lawn and Rhodes had stated that they would walk away from the club without making a penny profit should someone come along who could take City to the next level (and probably levels above that) and seemingly Parkin did not fulfil that criteria and so rather than being welcomed with open arms as the white knight he has just been allowed to saddle his horse next to Lawn and Rhodes.

So in that context Parkin is welcomed to the club. His investment is welcome and any management knowledge and experience he can bring is useful too although one cannot help but worry about the practical application of having – ostensibly – three chairmen at a football club.

Geoffrey Richmond used to say that a business needed only one boss and he did not mean Shaun Harvey when he made that pronouncement. Richmond’s time at City failed for the lack of checks and balances on his omnipotence so perhaps having chairmen two and three to keep an eye on chairman one is no bad thing.

However the principal of having a single boss – honorifics aside – is a good one and while Mark Lawn has been the front of City and Julian Rhodes behind the scenes (although, I understand, very much active) the club has lacked direction for sometime now. Stuart McCall filled the gap at the club in his time, Peter Taylor in his, but one doubts Richmond would let a mere manager be the face of the club.

Richmond knew the benefit of broad shouldered leadership. Larger than life Richmond appointing his managers and took the criticism when they did not work out. His’s massive persona took the pressure off the rest of the club. “This is the direction,” it seemed to say “and if we are going the wrong way, blame me.”

Contrast that with the last few years.

So of the three – if Parkin’s moves come to fruition – it seems a good idea for City to pick a one. A one to set the direction of the club and to lead it off the field with the other two keeping an eye on that one – a better eye than Rhodes was able to do on Richmond at least.

One boss to set the direction and in doing so to protect his appointments, and the players, allowing the likes of Peter Jackson, Peter Horne and Archie Christie to get on with their jobs with a defined remit and knowing who they answer to.

Lawn and Rhodes earn the right to repeat in optimism

It was a busy time for Bradford City as the domino topple began.

First City were assured of staying at Valley Parade, then the talk was of having one of the bigger wage budgets. The wonderfully enthusiastic Ross Hannah – a man who could teach the club a thing or two about PR even if he does not get goals – started talking about the new training facilities before Peter Jackson was finally nailed down with a one year contract.

Breathless, and then some, for City fans who seem to have had a summer of worry lifted. In its place came flooding a sense of optimism.

How appropriate that optimism is is questionable.

Peter Jackson arrived at City taking over from Peter Taylor who saw his side picking up 1.16 points per game. Jackson took over and achieved 1.08. This is mitigated by the idea that Jackson was using Taylor’s team just as Taylor was using Stuart McCall’s. The horror of repetition comes when one notes that both Peters had one year deals.

Jackson does not have time to shape and build a squad. Like the man before him he has to – because of his one year deal – make a winning team from day one.

As another Peter (Cook) said we have learnt from our mistakes and can repeat them exactly.

Mark Lawn told us that Peter Taylor’s one year deal was all the club could afford but – unless Jackson has managed to increase his week to week wages pro rata by over 500% – this is not the case with the new boss.

It is no negative reaction to Jackson to say that he will be as subject to winds and ghosts and outrageous fortune as his predecessor. I would love to be celebrating promotion in May next year but I’d prefer that at that time I was following a club that was following a plan for progress than one which was changing everything once again to rush a promotion campaign and the chances of that are once again left in the lap of what happens on the field.

Jackson needs to get lucky. Lucky with injuries, lucky with his team blending together, lucky with the players he can sign, lucky with the run of the ball in August to start building belief. Personally when it comes to luck in sport I’m with golfer Gary Player – the harder you work, the more lucky you get – and in Jackson I see a man who will work harder than most.

Still Jackson and the season offer little reason to assume that this year will be better than last. The budget is big, so it was last year, the manager has had experience, so was it last year. I have hope that Jackson’s 442 is a much better week to week formation for a League Two campaign and the new facilities are a reason to be cheerful.

However with the fear of financial oblivion gone and the worries over Odsal removed Bradford City have been able to perform the slight of hand of putting together – more or less – the same proposition as last season and having everyone excited about it. It is selling your 10p each lighter as ten for a pound, and yes it is the sort of trick that man used to pull.

It remains to be seen though if this time the promotion push – rather than the club building – will bear fruit because every year in which the push to get out of League Two goes ahead of improving the club the gap between City and the League One and higher clubs we aspire to join increases.

Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes deserve the optimism though having backed up their ownership of the club financially once more and shown some innovative smarts while doing so. There are few reasons to believe that next season can be any worse than last and a couple of reasons to believe that it will be better, foremost amongst those being the brush with oblivion in the summer may have focused the mind of all at the club be their directors or supporters away from the ideas of inter-fighting and towards what we want for the future of the club.

Peter Jackson confirmed at City manager

When Peter Jackson called Geoffrey Richmond on Boxing Day 2001 to tell the then City chairman that having accepted the job the previous day that he would turn it down that foreseeing the state the Bantams were heading into with Administration he would be able to bide his time and – one day – get to manage his home town club when they were in a better shape.

Having been appointed Bradford City manager today by Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes on a full time basis one would wonder if he might have done.

When Jackson turned down City he forewent a chance to take charge of a club heading for administration for a second time and heavily burdened with the debts of the first. Today he takes charge of a City bolstered by news that the club’s home at Valley Parade has been secured and a position with the remaining landlord has emerged which suggests that Bantams have a security going forward which has been lacking for years. The club has begun to look forward to a world of increasing income rather than worrying about it decreasing and – with that it mind – it seems that Jackson’s City will have one of the largest playing budgets in the division.

Indeed with only twelve senior players and four first year professionals Jackson is charged with building a team from bones rather than dealing with shedding players. He does so with the much needed and long awaited training facilities – I’m told he uses them – which means that the squad he assembles will be allowed better training than the players who were at the club in 2001. Ross Hannah will have better facilities than Benito Carbone.

Jackson’s audition for the role of City manager – as with Peter Taylor before him – was far from impressive guiding the club to the lowest finish in decades and recording a win percentage which (as with Taylor) would need to be significantly improved to begin to challenge for promotion. Jackson’s team – as with Taylor’s – was hammered together from what remained from the previous manager’s side and ill fit his requirements. Jackson’s elevation of Jon Worthington from bit part to anchor said much about the different needs of his team, one wonders if with a wage budget decided Worthington may be called back.

Jackson’s history as a player at City twice, and as a manager at Huddersfield twice, is well known and the term opportunist seems to suit him well. Perhaps in 2001 Jackson saw no opportunities at Bradford City, and perhaps now he recognises he has one.

Jackson signs a one year contract along with Colin Cooper who will be his assistant manager.

Mark Lawn asks us to believe the gloomy picture he presents

Because if we get relegated, we will have to pay for it for the next ten years.

These words about Bradford City, spoken in September 1999 – a month into the Bantams’ first-ever Premier League season – read like a prophet of doom given how true they turned out to be. But when you consider whose mouth these words poured out of, the fact it was subsequently ignored is enough to make you cry in anguish.

For this quote came from then-City Chairman, Geoffrey Richmond, to FourFourTwo magazine almost 12 years ago. In fact, examine the full quote and see if your heart doesn’t sink.

I’m not prepared to have a situation whereby the club spends money that it doesn’t have and it all goes wrong. Because if we get relegated we’ll have to pay for it for the next ten years. I’ve seen it happen at other clubs and I’m not going to let it happen at Bradford.

This quote – from a magazine cutting which a friend recently passed to me – offer a new twist on the well-trodden tale of how Richmond steered the club into the mess it is still struggling to get out of. Such prophetic words of wisdom; but the fact Richmond was so understanding of the potential consequences of his six weeks of madness, but went ahead with it anyway, suggests a higher level of foolishness than even many of his fiercest critics would credit him for.

He really did appreciate the stakes involved in the reckless gambles he took.

Richmond – most noted for declaring he’d deliver Premier League football to the Bantams within five years, when he took over – perhaps has a new infamous quote to rival his “six weeks of madness” confession. Meanwhile we struggle on, wondering if we can ever put the past behind us.

The latest financial worries – is this really a crisis?

I wonder what quotes Mark Lawn will be remembered for? Having deliberately kept a low profile for a year, the current joint-Chairman has been regularly interviewed in recent weeks as he tries to bring landlords Gordon Gibb and Prupim to the negotiating table, over the possibility of reducing the rent.

On Saturday Lawn was in full flow again, this time declaring to us supporters that he is not playing games and this is a deadly serious situation. With a strange hint to those who bought season tickets last December (are we to be asked to contribute more, I wonder?) and a new revelation that City could move to a new home by the start of next season – potentially making the Crewe game a week Saturday the last-ever Valley Parade match for the Bantams – Lawn was determined to shoot down those who still doubt the Board’s true intentions.

One can understand the scepticism that prevails in many supporters. The financial information that has been put into the public arena, for example, does not suggest as bleak a picture that is now being portrayed – leaving many to question Lawn and City’s motives. City currently have to pay Gibb and Prupim around £370k per year, each, while the club’s wage budget for this season – £1.5 million – is twice what many League Two clubs operate on. As Lawn was keen to tell BfB in January, Dagenham & Redbridge was promoted last season on a £750k budget.

Perhaps instead of wasting money on a talented player like Tommy Doherty – who, BfB hears, refuses to play for City, despite being fit, and is happy to sit back and take a sizeable wage home each week – we could be using it on more important matters?

Whispers from within the club, meanwhile, suggest the £1.3 million annual running costs for Valley Parade are presently more or less covered by off the field sponsorship and income generated from renting out the offices. The season ticket money more or less covers the playing budget too. So a suspicion remains that a rental reduction is more aimed at providing a stronger wage budget, or making up for the fact previous playing budgets have been supplemented by loans from Lawn and Julian Rhodes, which won’t be the case this summer.

Behind the headline figures, City’s accounts paint a bleak picture

Bradford City’s 2009-10 financial accounts show City made a profit of around half a million – though this was only because of a near £1 million windfall from Leeds United selling Fabian Delph to Aston Villa. For the 2008-09 season City made a loss of £765,000. That came after City pushed out the wage bill to £1.9 million and – with this season’s playing budget at £1.5 million – we can intelligently assume the club will also make a loss this season.

BfB has, with the help of two people far more qualified on these matters, taken a look at City’s Abbreviated Accounts for the year ending 30 June 2010 (these accounts are publicly available for anyone to view). They paint a very troubling picture, in that the club has a net deficit on its assets. This means it has more liabilities (ie financial obligations, such as repaying loans) than assets (money owed to the club by other parties, etc). This is a terrible position for any company to be in, and some people – probably outside of the football industry – might even argue it should be wound up unless proof of future profit potential can be provided. A basic valuation technique would suggest Bradford City is worth approximately minus £500K. No wonder a rent reduction is being pursued so urgently.

The good news is that this net deficit position has improved compared to a year ago, by around £500k. The club’s cash balance assets has also grown considerably (from around £13k in 2009 to approximately £224k in 2010). However, this appears to be due to the windfall received from Delph – meaning the club’s net deficit could grow the wrong way again come the end of this season. The Delph money is a one-off bonus, rather than a sign the City are becoming financially stronger.

Clearly this financial situation cannot be sustained in the medium to longer-term; and so Lawn’s comments that the Bantams won’t exist in two years time under the current status quo actually do seem credible. Given the club has made no public comment over its accounts, it’s no surprise people are currently doubting Lawn’s bleak assessment over the future of the club. However, the financial picture that is emerging from City’s books would suggest that the Telegraph & Argus’ insistence of labelling the current situation a “crisis” isn’t the tabloid sensationalism it might appear.

But what about those liabilities? The loans to Lawn and Rhodes

One unresolved question is the situation regarding those loans that Lawn and Rhodes have put into the club over the last few years. BfB has seen documentation of a loan Lawn made to the club on 15th March 2009, which states interest will be charged annually (payments due monthly) at 9% above the Bank of England Base Rate (which means it is 9.5% at present, and would increase when, as financial analysts expect, interest rates begin to climb again over the next couple of years).

This interest rate certainly jumps off the page in terms of questioning how good a deal this really is for Bradford City. A business looking to undertake a loan would typically find much more favourable terms from a bank than 9% above Base Rate. However, it would be questionable whether a bank would loan the sum of money Lawn has in the current economic climate, especially to a football club viewed financially as a risky investment.

So 9% above Base Rate could therefore be justified on the basis that the risk factor for Lawn is significantly high. Were City to go into administration or even bust, Lawn would find himself towards the bottom of a pile of people to receive money back from any surplus cash. Football rules on this deem that football creditors must be paid first – so Doherty, for example, would come before Lawn in getting what they are owed. It’s more likely that Lawn would be asked to accept a percentage of the money he is owed in a Creditors Voluntary Agreement, along with other creditors.

Nevertheless, on paper this looks like a potentially lucrative deal for Lawn. Though away from the black and white facts of the documentation, this writer has every faith Lawn is – and will continue to – act in the best interests of the club.

Is this all a smokescreen so Lawn and Rhodes can sell the club?

As much as Lawn wants to stress the grimness of the situation, for supporters, because there are a number of knowledge gaps, speculation and doubt has been allowed to fill in. We’ve all asked ourselves whether it’s a matter of Lawn needing to convince us supporters of the severity of the situation, in order to convince Gibb and Prupim. Are our emotions being put through the mill in order to stir some emotion inside these two parties? And is there anything we can do to help? (Trip to Flamingoland, anyone?)

Some argue Lawn is looking to offload the club and be paid back his loans. And so he is trying to make City a more attractive investment proposition by reducing the overheads, such as by moving to a new stadium with more favourable terms. However it’s dubious whether the revenue streams of moving to Odsal or wherever would be as rewarding to an investor as they are at Valley Parade.

Sponsorship, merchandise, corporate hospitality – all still likely to be generated in a stadium elsewhere, but arguably not to the same level because other parties may get a cut of it. Unless, for example, someone was prepared to switch all the advertising boards back and forth between when City and the Bradford Bulls play at Odsal, joint advertising deals might need to be negotiated – which may not be as viable for local businesses in these difficult economic times. A stadium also cannot realistically have two different names, in terms of sponsors, so City could lose the annual revenue from Coral Windows.

Lawn and Rhodes have always stated they would be willing to step aside if someone credible wanted to take over the club, and perhaps the pair feel that they are unable to prop up this club financially anymore. Any outside investor would be looking to make a profit from owning Bradford City, plain and simple. So if reducing the overheads could attract a responsible investor, the joint Chairman may feel this is the best course of action for the long-term good of the club.

Lawn’s legacy could rest on the result of these negotiations

There is so much that we supporters don’t know about the situation for us to easily fall in line with all of Lawn’s words and place our full faith and confidence that the Board’s actions will provide the best solution for Bradford City Football Club. As such, Lawn and Rhodes have to accept their words will be disputed by some, put up with some criticism and face their reputation taking a hit if these talks don’t go the way it’s hoped. Notwithstanding, the threat of moving to Osdal would appear to be much more serious than many of us give credit – the club may really not have a choice on this unless the landlords are willing to help.

In a season where we supporters can argue the players have let us down badly and the manager messed up, we hope and pray that the Board – through these talks – can deliver an outstanding performance that safeguards the future of the club for generations to come.

And if Richmond’s quote in 1999 defines his time for all the wrong reasons, let us hope Lawn’s words to us in January this year characterises him for all the right ones:

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.

Taylor walks away carrying all the cans

Peter Taylor’s final game as Bradford City manager has just kicked off and after ninety minutes, half time and a couple of stoppage times the 58 year old former England manager walk away from Valley Parade for the final time.

Taylor’s year at Bradford City will be the subject of debate for years to come. Why did the man who gave David Beckham the England captain’s armband flutter the captaincy around no fewer then eight of the Bantams squad? Why was someone who was appointed for his experience found making what seemed to be very basic mistakes so often?

It is damning of Taylor that almost every Bradford City supporter has a list of the mistakes they believe he has made and that often these lists are entirely different. One will complain about his use of loan players producing a gutless team, another about his negative football, a third about his treatment of the players and so on. For a manager who even now as he exits a club in the lower reaches of League Two his CV is still massively impressive and suggestive of a superb manager.

That so many subsets can be made out of the list of mistakes he has made is stunning. Personally I find it easy to ignore the criticism of the manager for making the players wear suits – or indeed the praise for that which now seems very long ago – or for his colourful use of language in the infamous statement on his fortitude against criticism from the terraces. An irony that, in the end he leaves talking about the negativity around him from the supporters and its growing influence. Those bastards did grind him down in the end.

I’d charge him with giving huge responsibility on the field to players who were not ready for that – Tom Ademeyi and David Syers in central midfield against the five of Lincoln is the most obvious example – and as such costing games and taking an unknown chunk out of those player’s confidence. It was – to me – man management at its worse. The management of what you want the man to be, not what he is at the moment, and Taylor carries the can for that.

At 58 and with 26 years of management experience though one can expect Taylor to carry that can and take responsibility for this year. He will write it on his CV alongside his promotions at Hull City and Wycombe Wanderers and admit freely that his methods do not always work, but sometimes they do and that is more than most can say.

And he may mitigate the season with talk of the injury list and the fact he was promised training facilities which did not materialise. One might expect Taylor to feel some justification in that final point. He told the board in May that they needed to address the Apperley Bridge problem in order to create a team which would get promoted. They did not, but still promotion was expected.

So Taylor carries the can for the board of the club who made promises and for whatever reason could not fulfil them. The next manager will no doubt be required to work with what is at the club in terms of facilities and talk of Apperley Bridge not being fit for purpose will be dubbed “an excuse” but nine months ago Bradford City asked a man with five promotion what it would take to make the club upwardly mobile once more and, on hearing the answer, have yet to address the situation.

That is a failure by the club on the whole, and one that Taylor carries the can for as he does the club’s obsession with short term thinking which goes back a decade if not longer.

The belief at the club (in boardroom and in supporters) is that teams can be built in a summer and Taylor carries the can for that assumption which is proved wrong time and time again. Taylor worked with the squad left by Stuart McCall who had three summers and three building jobs to do having inherited a squad of about eight players from David Wetherall’s few months in charge which included the delights of Spencer Weir-Daley, Moses Ashikodi and Xavier Barrau. What price then for the 16 year old who Geoffrey Richmond did not want in five years time because he needed someone on the pitch on Saturday?

Taylor’s contract was set as one three month deal, another for twelve and this was done for very basic financial reasons – it was all the club could afford – but the lesson of the last decade is that without anything to build on the manager is put in a constant cycle of rebuilding.

It is easy to say in retrospect – although one can find many comments at the time worried about the length of Taylor’s contract – but the club should aim to appoint a manager who will be at the club in the long, long term. Someone who can be afforded for five season, not out of price after one, and someone who views the City job as the potential to build the big club they all talk about wanting to manage.

Bradford City are not a towering big club, they are a series of jenga blocks scattered about. The job is building the tower without knocking it over every time you touch it.

As people begin to suggest themselves for the City job: Phil Parkinson, John Hughes, John Coleman, Keith Hill, Alan Knill, Dean Windass and so on; I find myself not really caring what the name on the contract is as much as I care about the number of years.

It is a sad day when any club looks to Newcastle United for advice on how to appoint a manager but Alan Pardew has a five and a half year deal at St James’ Park which says he is staying put (and perhaps being joined by Peter Taylor) and trying to build year on year at that club. We should be doing the same and employing a manager with long term aims that are not tied to short term results.

I want the manager of Bradford City to be in charge of building a club. In charge of making sure there is a through put of young players, in charge of taking the players we have and improving them and getting the best out of them, in charge of making the club better next year than it was last and doing that over the long term rather than simply being about seeing his he can win on Saturday and get promotion at the end of the season. Changing the manager is not as important as changing the manager’s job description.

By the time you read this Taylor will have gone and he will go carrying the can for his own mistakes for sure, but also for any number of assumptions and errors systematically made over the years. Unless there is a reverse in the attitude of the club – including in support as well as the boardroom – then the man who replaces Taylor – unless he gets ludicrously lucky that when he throws the jenga blocks in the air they land as a tower – is just tomorrow’s sacked manager.

The managerial failure cycle – bad choices or bad strategy?

The recent demoralising defeats to Port Vale and Chesterfield have once again heaped the pressure on Bradford City manager Peter Taylor. This weekend the Bantams face a crucial home game with Stockport that could determine his immediate future, but already it seems implausible to believe Taylor will be employed at Valley Parade beyond the expiration of his contract in May.

It will soon be time to search again for the man to revive this ailing football club but the fact we keep going around this cycle of getting rid of a manager and replacing him with new one – with little success in reversing a slide down the leagues – can already leave us pessimistic that the next manager isn’t going to be any better.

To blame the club’s decline on poor managers would be over-simplistic and, no matter who takes residence in the dug out after Taylor, there will still be all manner of financial issues that hold us back. Yet so much is reliant upon the manager that it is such a key position to get right, and as thoughts soon turn to filling a vacancy it is a process that needs to be reviewed in order to increase the chances of it succeeding. We can’t just keep hiring and firing and hope the law of probabilities means we’ll stumble on the right manager eventually, can we?

Over the last few days Michael has written two excellent articles – here and here – on what the club and supporters might be looking for in the next manager. Too often, it seems, football clubs in general appear to have no thoughts on the right person to take their club forwards beyond sacking the present incumbent and waiting for CVs to file through in the post. It seems a backwards methodology in these days of recruitment specialists and head hunters and, as City apparently keep getting the choice of manager wrong, it’s worth posing the question of whether this is because as employees we keep making bad choices, or because the qualities we are looking for have either not been considered enough or were misguided.

Let’s try and find out…

Chris Hutchings
“Oh Wetherall’s free! Fantastic header!”

Sunday 14 May 2000, and Martin Tyler’s description of David Wetherall’s winner for Bradford City against Liverpool – which confirmed the club’s Premier League survival – is relayed around the world. A pitch invasion follows the final whistle and the celebrations in and around Bradford go on long into the night.

But something’s not right. Rather than looking joyous or even relieved, manager Paul Jewell is sporting a scowling face that radiates the pressure he has been under from media, supporters and his boss. A few weeks later he quits, fed up of the way he has been treated. And the last successful Bradford City manager we’ve had goes onto enjoy a fine career elsewhere.

It is at this point the look behind the strategy should begin; because although the steep decline that followed was more to do with finances than bad management, nothing on the pitch has proved a success since.

I never agreed with the decision to appoint Chris Hutchings as Jewell’s successor, but it’s difficult to dispute the logic that led to Chairman Geoffrey Richmond promoting Jagger’s assistant. Since Lennie Lawrence departed in 1995, Richmond had enjoyed great success promoting from within after both Chris Kamara and Jewell delivered a promotion and survival in the division above the following season. An Anfield-esqe bootroom culture that promoted continuity was a worthy blueprint.

I never agreed, because the circumstances were different. Kamara and Jewell took over a club with the resources and capacity to be better than they were, but City had now climbed to a level they had not previously reached for almost 80 years – and we needed some experience to help us negotiate uncharted territory. Instead Hutchings was entrusted with the biggest transfer budget this club is ever likely to have, and given a remit to improve the style of football and guide City to a mid-table spot.

History shows this was far too ambitious – not to mention damagingly expensive – and, as clubs like Stoke and Wigan continue to battle to preserve their top flight status year-on-year, the idea that City could prosper by turning to flair and playing 4-4-2 at Old Trafford now seems breathtakingly naive. A more experienced manager would surely have known that the strategy was all wrong.

Jim Jefferies
“It is my opinion that he was an undiluted disaster for Bradford City from beginning to end”

With such a talented squad at his disposal, it was no surprise that Hutchings quickly came under pressure as results were poor, and Richmond – to his later regret – failed to back his man and sacked him. What we needed was an experienced man who’ll who whip these under-achievers into shape. A no-nonsense manager.

Such requirements led to Jim Jefferies, a tough-talking Scot who’d enjoyed great success in Scotland, taking charge. Yet within weeks he was telling Richmond that the club was effectively relegated and needed to get rid of the fancy Dans. It was only December.

In the excellent ‘The Pain and the Glory’ book Richmond was scathing of the job Jefferies did, but in some respects ‘the Judge’ did a good job in at least helping the club prepare for tough financial times ahead by getting rid of high-earners and sellable assets before the end of the season. He was given little money to spend on replacements with City now in Division One, and it proved a thankless task trying to take the club forwards when so much quality was being taken out.

Jefferies left the club after 13 months, and with such fiscal times on the horizon, the search for a new manager centered on candidates with experience of finding lower league bargains and happy to manage on a small budget. Peter Jackson turned the position down, so in came the Lawman.

Nicky Law/Bryan Robson
“I’m just hoping we can bring back the 16,000 who were here for the first game.”

As City went through the turmoil of administration and emerged skint and picking up out-of-contract players from Brentford, it was difficult to imagine a better person to have in charge than Nicky Law. He managed the club well through a very difficult 2002/03 season – targeting battlers over flair – but was a victim of rising expectations soon after. The remaining high earners departed in the summer of 2003, and the wage constraints meant that Law struggled to find replacements good enough to keep City in the division.

So Law was sacked after 12 winless games, and with Gordon Gibb now in charge it is interesting to speculate how his approach to recruiting the next manager differed. Gibb had enjoyed success building a theme park with sufficient attractions to keep people visiting, and it was clear that much of the thought behind appointing former England captain Bryan Robson was to increase falling attendances.

It didn’t work, and a deflated Gibb would depart just 8 weeks later with Administration 2 just around the corner. Meanwhile Robson was benefiting from a larger budget than Law and was able to bring in experienced loan players, with a greater focus on skill over graft. Results were improving, and though it would probably have proved too little too late City might have managed to avoid relegation had the administrators not taken over and being forced to sell key players.

Robson was left trying to keep City up with players he’d declared only two months earlier to not be good enough for the club and who were welcome to leave. With the prospect of limited funds in League One, he felt it was a job he could not continue.

Colin Todd
“I honestly think Colin should be right up there for any manager of the season…I see him as the man to take us back up the football pyramid.”

With the club in such dire straits that summer, appointing a new manager was hardly the most important priority. Colin Todd, assistant to Robson having come close to landing the job the November before, was handed the reins. However sour it ended, it proved a good choice as Todd steadied the ship while the club limped on following the narrow survival of administration. An 11th place in the first season was beyond Julian Rhodes’ expectations:

I thought we would be facing a relegation battle. Bearing in mind this season was going to be about coming out of administration, I thought we might well be facing life in League 2 when the rebuilding could really begin.

Todd’s time in charge was categorised by low budgets and limited stability. He put together a decent team that threatened to finish in the play off picture, and though the following season saw little progress (another 11th place) the Bantams still only lost 13 games. Todd, however, was under pressure from a section of supporters.

Some argued the former England international lacked passion for the job, and that defeats didn’t hurt him enough. Some argued we could do better than treading water in mid-table. But when he was eventually sacked midway through his third season, City drowned.

Rhodes, who had previously backed his man strongly even during difficult times, admitted that the pressure of supporters and stalling attendances was a telling factor in booting out Todd, especially now he had just launched an innovative season ticket deal that required thousands of people’s commitment.

When it gets to the stage where they [supporters] stop coming then something has to be done. At the end of the day it’s their club.

He was right, only now it was our League Two club.

Stuart McCall
“I will see myself as a failure if I don’t get the club back up at the first attempt, and I’ve got the strongest desire anyone could possibly have to achieve that.”

So out with Todd’s lack of passion and after David Wetherall’s unsuccessful caretaker stint, the hunt for the next manager did not require an advert in the classifieds. We needed someone who cares, someone who will get the players going and someone who will not tolerate underachievers. We need arguably the greatest achiever of City’s modern history.

In came Stuart McCall, along with the investment of Mark Lawn that allowed the club to hand the manager a relatively strong playing budget for the first time since Chris Hutchings. McCall was the overwhelming choice as next manager from fans because of the passion he’d put in to the job, no one can argue they were disappointed on that front at least.

Unfortunately, no matter how much Stuart cared he was in his first manager role and working in a division he didn’t know, and the inexperience was to show as success continued to allude the club. McCall put his neck on the chopping board straightaway by declaring he’d be a failure if he didn’t guide City to promotion at the first attempt – but he did fail attempt one, and then attempt two, and he was on course to fail attempt three before he eventually quit.

Of course the experiences along the way helped him to become a better manager, and by the end he had enough knowledge of the lower leagues to be able to use a reduced budget to bring in non-league players that could make the step up. Nevertheless, just like with Todd, the lack of speed to the progress left McCall under heavy pressure.

The passion and how much he cared went against him in the end. We didn’t want someone who would be more upset than us if they lost, we needed a wise head who had a track record for success. Passion was good, but the very reasons McCall was brought in were no longer what the club was looking for. This time a job advertisement would be needed.

Peter Taylor
“4-3-3 can be 4-3-3 and not just 4-5-1”

Which brings us back to Taylor, who was appointed on the basis of his outstanding track record in delivering success and high level of experience. However, criticisms over the football Taylor favours have followed him throughout his long managerial career, and he is now heavily slated for style of play City have produced for much of the season. We know Taylor will be gone soon and, when the discussions over the qualities to look for in his replacement begin, it’s likely that style of football will feature strongly on the next list of interview questions.

So there we have it

“There’s only two types of manager. Those who’ve been sacked and those who will be sacked in the future.” (Howard Wilkinson)

Hutchings to Taylor via Jefferies, Law, Todd and McCall. All were branded failures and, with such a cycle of hiring and firing helping the Bantams fall from the Premier League to League Two, one is again left to wonder what could possibly lead us to believe the next guy will prove any more successful?

But is it a matter of changing managers proving futile, or is our ongoing failure to find the right man more to do with the goalposts continually shifting?

Was Nicky Law sacked because the lower league manager route was wrong, or was hiring someone with great experience of handling small budgets actually a sound strategy that should have been continued? Instead of getting some guy who used to play for Man United to pack the stadium out, after Law should we have recruited then-Doncaster manager Dave Penny, for example?

Did Stuart McCall fail because he cared too much, or was the passion we hired him for the right quality required and Dean Windass should have been given the job instead of Taylor? We ask for one quality in a manager, don’t like some of the other characteristics that manager brings and then dismiss that original quality during the next search.

We want a manager who is not the last one, and so we go and get one – and in doing so we always find that the next guy is lacking some things but not the same things. So while we might have thought we’d found the solution, we end up finding a new thing to be the problem.

Circumstances – not least City’s changing financial capabilities – have changed often during the last decade. But as we soon start to prepare to recruit another manager it’s to be hoped the criteria will be more thought out than finding someone “not like the last manager.” Because over much of the past decade, that has often appeared to be the case.

Mark Lawn and stopping thinking about promotion

Mark Lawn’s successes at Bradford City are limited.

Whatever one thinks of the man and his actions – not talking to his manager for nine months, threatening to wind the club up when three or four idiots vandalised his car, authorising spending £600,000 of money the club did not yet have for selling on a youngster Fabian Delph on players rather than facilities – it is hard to suggest that the vast majority of them have had the aim he desired.

That is because Lawn’s aims are two fold and firstly – and most obviously – it is promotion and three and a half years since he arrived the closest the Bantams have come to troubling League One seems to coincide with the moment when Lawn’s relations with his gaffer went sour. We all recall the hours and the times.

But I come not to bury Lawn but to praise him for his second aim – and the one which he is most tempted to drift away from – is perhaps more important than promotion. It is the financial stability of the club and the fact that in a game fuelled by Bradford City – on the whole – are in the black.

Season on season since Mark Lawn arrived Bradford City’s balance sheet has – more or less – shown the the club is not losing money and considering the significant and huge drain on the resources that the rent of Valley Parade from the Flamingo Land Pension Fund represents this is not to be underestimated. The club owe Lawn (and Julian Rhodes) a chunk of cash but that loan is (it is understood) offered at a rate that allowed the Bantams to stop paying debt maintainable and use those funds.

So when talk emerges that Bradford City are being looked at by investors as a potential purchase it comes as no surprise. A rare beast in football, a club that when they are purchased ostensibly at the price of paying back Lawn’s (estimated, correct me if I am wrong) £1m and whatever the club owe Rhodes then the business side is solvent from the first day of trading.

Lawn – apparently – is not short of offers for the club but most of them are more Peter Etherington than Geoffrey Richmond and the joint chairman sums up the situation saying “At present nobody can come along with the sort of investment that would make a difference.”

It would seem that Lawn is as stuck with his critics as his critics are with him and the frustrations of owing and working under the restrictions of ensuring solvency of the club show in his statements. He talks about supporters with wide eyes looking at other club’s spending saying “So unless somebody can find a magic money tree and give it a shake for us, (City’s ability to sign players in January is) not going to change.”

Lawn talks about waiting for the right man to take over rather than someone who would look to make a quick buck and he is right to talk in such a way but perhaps he is the right man.

One could talk about the business sense of the Bradford City board – The Santa Dave leaflet, please no – but the main problem seems to be a kind of cart before horse approach to that aim of promotion where everyone at the club is part of a mad scramble trying to get into the top three of League Two.

Promotion is set as the aim – Julian Rhodes talked about back to back movements up to The Championship – but with that contradicts the talk of solvency when teams like Notts County or Peterborough United are stealing the League Two title. Those clubs spend buckets of cash on the idea that they must ascend the leagues as soon as possible.

Those teams tough represent the exception and the rule in football is that things are won by the club with biggest club, rather than the biggest spenders. Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea and (perhaps this year) Manchester City have all opened the wallet and tried to buy the Premier League title but if those big spenders fail then Manchester United win it as a default setting. No mad scrambles at Old Trafford, just maintaining the pace.

So rather than setting promotion as an aim create some objectives, set some areas in which City are to improve. I make no apologies for talking again about facilities because the higher up football one gets the bigger and better they are but the correlation between facilities and league position is unignorable.

There are plenty of things which are done by others which should be – and sometimes are – replicated at Valley Parade. Peter Taylor’s insistence on overnight stays is a good example of this as his desire to have a better playing surface (although his desire to suit and boot the players contrasts to Arsenal’s leisure suited lads).

Innovation has its place but is is naive to disguise failure to compete on various levels as new thinking and using the established pattens which have brought the promotion that Lawn and City crave to clubs like Rochdale and AFC Bournemouth – making the setting up of those established pattens as the aims – could prove more fruitful.

When asked about where the club will be in five years the tendency at City is to list a division – famously and with some effectiveness in building belief Geoffrey Richmond said “The Premier League” – but if the answer were about an increased turnover, better facilities, and so forth then perhaps the horse would go before the cart.

Perhaps making Bradford City a bigger club, a club with more of the trappings of a successful club, will bring that success and there is no reason that Mark Lawn – with a sound financial head – is not able to stop talking about promotion or bust and start talking about how he is going to make City bigger and better by whatever increments he can and let osmosis take the Bantams up the leagues.

At the moment Lawn is a Dave Simpson of a chairman – a hand on the tiller and not someone one always agrees with but someone who has as many good limits as bad – but there is no reason why the current chairman should not change the priorities of the club towards stable improvement in increments rather than boom or bust thinking.

The season ticket struggle

the coming season will be my 30th as a season ticket holder and I can honestly say that never have I been so reluctant to renew. In recent seasons It has been in hope more than expectation but this time even the hope is fading into a sea of despondency.

I’ve finally been to renew. when I got home I asked myself “Why so low this time?”

I wrote a list when I got home of all the “Problems” at my club. it was quite a long list so I crossed out all the minor grumbles and grouses.

I wasn’t entirely in agreement with McCall’s departure but was open to being convinced by his replacement when I heard it was Peter Taylor who is a man with an unblemished record in the lower divisions. Surely such a man could succeed at City?

This man, with his vast experience and respect in the game. Surely, after half a season he should know by now what his best eleven is! Instead the team is chopped and changed every game: win, lose or draw;

The joint chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn. I have sadly concluded that they are unable to bring success to the club. Like surgeons at a hospital who, when faced with a seriously injured patient, don’t know how to heal the man so they have him put on life support where he stays for years while all they can do is hope that something will turn up.

We will always be grateful to Julian that we still have a club, but surely the time is long since past when we should have begun making progress. Unfortunately, in the Rhodes family it’s the father who is the captain of industry. nice guy though he is, it’s not the son! Similarly Mark Lawn, a man who had one good idea that made him a millionaire. After that, the cupboard is bare!

To use modern parlance, neither man seems able to think outside the box. there are no big ideas forthcoming. All we can expect is more of the same!

Now to the club itself. In the past it has been said to me on more than one occasion (admittedly by non City fans) that by comparison with clubs from similar sized cities (Leicester, Hull, Nottingham, Wolverhampton etc.) City’s worst is worse than their worst and lasts much longer. This is hard to refute. in the 80’s Hull, Wolves and Bristol City all plunged to the bottom division while in dire financial straits and with the all too realistic threat of extinction. All 3 stayed only 2 seasons in the basement before starting the long road back. City have done 4 with the 5th already looking a certainty.

So there you have it.

Like a drowning man clinging to a bit of wreckage, the only thing I cling to is the memory of the last time things seemed dire under the Dave Simpson board. Skint with debts piling up. Geoffrey Richmond, the good one before he succumbed to megalomania and his self confessed period of madness, was just around the corner, about to come in and galvanise the club, setting us on the upward path.

Blackpool near the right way of doing the Premier League

Blackpool chairman Karl Oyston is doing his job so well that he has offered to resign from the newly placed Premier League club.

You may recall the Oyston name from his Dad and the massive collapse the Seasiders had on an off the field when City beat them 3-0 in the play-offs in 1996. The son has been at the club since 1999 and seemed as surprised as anyone when Blackpool got to – and won – the play-off final finding themselves £90m richer and in the glare of the most watched football league in the world.

From that day to this Oyston has seen his stock drop to the point where he offered to resign charged from all sides with a failure to be able to bring in new faces to bolster Ian Holloway’s promoted squad. Indeed with the highly rated Seamas Coleman returning to Everton after a year at Bloomfield Road it is said that the Tangerines are the first club in the history of the Premier League to have an obviously weaker side than the one which saw them promoted.

Oyston’s issues are caused by a refusal to over pay for player, and to over pay players. The chairman vocalises a problem that Geoffrey Richmond also noted in his “King Canute” speech which denied Robbie Blake and Darren Moore five figure salaries but ended up offering such rewards to the ill-deserved collective of Bruno Rodriguez, Jorge Cadete, Ian Nolan, Peter Atherton and David Hopkin.

Oyston – it seems – will not be drawn into valuing what the club does not have more than what it does.

It’s been an eye-opener for us when we’re told by agents that their client wants to play in the Premier League, then they’ll go off and sign for a Championship club, but on more money.

One can almost see the idea forming from Richmond to Oyston through Derby County’s errors and Hull City’s problems that is almost fully formed. Oyston has the actions, but not the reasons. Put simply when a club in the position of Blackpool – or City – is promoted to the top division they should not make any Premier League signings.

Which is not to say that a promoted team should not try buy players – but they should be the same players who they would have signed were they not promoted. City – for example – were locked in bidding for players like David Wetherall with clubs from the league below. Indeed Paul Jewell missed out on signing Clyde Wijnhard because they were not able to match Huddersfield Town’s financial offer for the two players the defender opting for the top league, the striker for more money.

Make the same signings and say on the day that you are promoted that the players who took you to the top flight will keep you in the top flight. After all the Blackpool players have – in that play-off way – proved themselves better than the division below, why not assume they are good enough for this division.

The act of backing the players in such a public manner could – in itself – be decisive. There is much talk about money in football and money is not unimportant but ultimately the majority of money in football is wasted. Manchester City are the riches club in the world, but Manchester United are better and they are better because they have a manager who understands that the game is more mental than it is technical and games are won in the head before they can be won on the field.

Tell the players that you do not want to replace them with any Carlos Kickaball who’s agent has sent you a video, tell them they are your Premier League quality players and let that set of players grow into the roles. “Act as if ye have faith, and faith shall be given to you.

The price of failure – the relegation which could follow – comes with the sweetener that the money you got for going up has not drained away to players and can be used for genuine long term club growth. This summer – once again – one is forced to curse Richmond’s decision to spend money on Nolan, Atherton et al that could have paid for a training facility the club would be using today.

The benefits of success are multitude. Should the squad that some would have thrown away retain Premier League status then they will do so well rewarded no doubt but without the financial costs of recruitment and paying Premier League wages and they will have a connection to the club which comes from experience wearing the shirt. This is true in failure too. the illustration which showed how few games City’s players had played said much about the connection between fans and players.

Say to all that these are our players, the players we cheered to promotion, and build the belief in the squad that having earned their position in the top division they are good enough to build on that. Oyston is near, but not there yet. His instinct is right though. Why should Blackpool pay more for the players who have achieved less than their squad which achieved promotion last season?

Money seduces all in the Premier League – in football – but the biggest betrayal of that seduction is the idea that one can shortcut hard work and mental belief that brings initial success by throwing around the cash that results from it.

The gradient becomes steeper

On The 2010/2011 Season

Mark Lawn’s first-ever Football League meeting saw the Joint-Chairman loudly question why the Football League TV deal left his club so disadvantaged. He was told it was because of a rule which had been implemented by a then-Bradford City chairman.

The split of TV revenue is weighed heavily in favour of clubs in the Championship, and it’s a thinking which has been replicated in other important money matters. The Premier League’s solidarity payments subsequently introduced that summer – loose change from the billions England’s top flight generates and keeps for themselves, after voting to break away from the Football League in 1991 – saw each Championship club receive £830,000 per season. Meanwhile League One and Two clubs – arguably most in need of any hardship fund going – received £103,000 and £69,000 per season respectively.

A welcome gift, but one which will did little to bridge the gap between rich and poor.

And this heavily-biased split of the leagues was the work of Geoffrey Richmond, who two years after making a speech on the Valley Parade pitch that his Premiership-bound Bantams would “never forget their lower league friends” marked City’s return to the Football League in 2001 by ensuring clubs in England’s second tier received the greater benefits of any pots of money coming all three divisions’ way. Who cared about clubs in England’s bottom tier then?

Lawn, faced with this unexpected further revelation of Richmond’s legacy at the Football League meeting in 2007, didn’t have a leg to stand on.

Fast forward to the present day, and the landscape will begin to further shift from this season. A “take it or leave it” revised solidarity payments offer from the Premier League last April was initially rejected by clubs in League One and Two; but faced with no choice, they ultimately had to accept. The £20m a year donation by the elite has tripled to £60m from this season (cuts to community funding will pay for the Premier League’s generosity), but the disparities in who is entitled to how much have remained, further increasing the gaps.

So from this season, the majority of Championship clubs will each receive £2.2m per year from the Premier League. For League One clubs, the payment has increased to £335,000 and for League Two clubs £220,000. In addition, relegated Premier League clubs will now receive £48m worth of parachute payments over four seasons – £16m in each of the first two years.

A near quarter of a million guaranteed revenue for City is certainly not something to be sniffed at; but whereas the Bantams were previously receiving £761,000 less per year than their Championship counterparts, the gap will now be over £2m every season. And that’s before we consider the present three-year TV deal, collectively worth £264m.

Let’s remember where City want to ultimately aspire to return to – last July, the vision unfurled by Lawn was for City to reach the Championship in five years time. It could prove increasingly difficult to scale those heights – and much more challenging to stay there.

With so many Football League clubs struggling to stay in business, any help that the Premier League is willing to provide has to be grudgingly accepted. But there are genuine long-term concerns about what this new deal will do to the competitive nature of the Football League. In the Championship, clubs relegated from the Premier League will have such a huge advantage in terms of the money they have, compared to their rivals, that bouncing back within a couple of seasons should be much more of a regular occurrence than it currently is. And for clubs climbing into the Championship from Leagues One and Two, the inequality of solidarity payments will make it more difficult to catch up as time goes by.

The gulf between Premier League and Championship has been huge for years, and a similar type of chasm could be about to emerge between tiers two and three.

Which makes the need for City to start climbing the leagues all the more urgent. That £2.2m per year Championship clubs will start receiving is hardly going to be used to make ticket prices more affordable or to increase presence in the community; it will likely be extra money for the transfer budget and extra money for the wage bill. And with each passing season of getting £2.2m richer, the size of the wage bills will get larger and more difficult for newly-promoted clubs to compete with.

So while getting into the Championship can still be considered a realistic objective for all the 48 teams in England’s bottom two tiers, with the difference in solidarity payments between Leagues One and Two relatively low, competing against teams with increasingly larger resources will become increasingly difficult. It’s hard to imagine many more instances of a Wigan, Stoke or Fulham rising through the divisions like we’ve seen over the last decade. And the sport will be less magical for losing that.

But while we can curse Richmond yet again for instigating a situation that penalises our club, the reasoning of why he did it is one difficult to avoid talking hypocritically about. I bet not many of the 24 Championship clubs supported their lesser peers in initially rejecting the Premier League’s offer last April – despite the very real possibility that they one day could be relegated and suffer the consequences. And I bet that if they were on the Championship side of the fence, few League One and Two Chairman would have been principled enough to reject the offer either.

It’s all about looking after your own interests, and believing the changes you vote for will only aid your cause – rather than later tripping you up. Least we forget, then top-flight members Oldham and Sheffield United voted for the breakaway of the Premier League.

And if City can fulfill the vision of making it back to the Championship, would we care too much about the plight of present-day rivals? If there’s a big pot of money that we’re entitled to take a greater share of, would we vote to give more of it to others?

Which is perhaps the greatest irony. Over the last two decades, Premier League and Championship clubs have voted to make changes which boost their individual prospects and increase their own chances of enjoying success – at the expense of others. That natural competitive nature to maximise every advantage and be damned with morals and ethics may in fact be leading to our national game become less and less competitive.

The door is beginning to close. City need to get their foot in.

Another season of despair

On The 2010/2011 Season

I met a traveller from an antique land.

The modern history of Bradford City – which is to say the everything from the return to Valley Parade onwards – shifts on a fulcrum moment which happened ten years ago this month that City kick of a fourth consecutive season in the bottom tier of English professional football.

August ten years ago and – with bare faced cheek and a brassneck – I went to my boss and asked him if I could leave half way through the day because I wanted to go to the press conference that unveiled Benito Carbone as a Bradford City player. Carbone – at a cost of just under £55,000 a week – was the pinnacle of something that rose at The Bantams and – in the last ten years – fell.

Much has happened in that last ten years – two administrations, three promotions, BfB has had 112 more writers doing about 3,500 articles, the hole in the ground, a riots, the boss in question now is chairman of Bradford Bulls – but nothing has matched that moment. Geoffrey Richmond sitting at the head of a room of supporters and journalist proudly proclaiming the promise that his new recruit represented.

Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert.

Valley Parade played host to former tenants Bradford Park Avenue and – soberingly and as a result of that time ten years ago – its current tenant Bradford City and is a transformed arena. The main stand rises high and is most often half empty or half full (your point of view on that) ready to host Premier League football which is a distant memory now.

Rippling away from Valley Parade the effects of City’s rise and fall fade. Peter Taylor tried to prepare for this season in different training facilities but that proved impossible – for now at least – and Apperley Bridge continues to be the host for the club’s day to day activities. Carbone said of City on his arrival that “nothing resembled a football club” including Apperley Bridge in his swathe of comment.

Players have come and gone most notably Dean Windass who partnered Carbone up front in the Italians first game. Windass returned but left the club after death threats following a sending off.

Managers have come and gone most notably Stuart McCall who was the captain and assistant manager when Carbone was signed. He, along with other players of the day Wayne Jacobs and David Wetherall have reputations tarnished not by the continued involvement with the club but by the club’s decline from that day onwards.

In the wider football world though that day – and Bradford City in the Premiership – is a footnote. The other team in Paul Scholes’s wonder goal, the prototype for the likes of Hull City and Blackpool and a step on the evolutionary ladder from Barnsley’s single season in the top flight. Not forgotten but hardly remembered and remembered as one of many teams who tried and failed.

An ebullient Geoffrey Richmond stood on the field – a dozen City fans around him – in a blazing eyeball to eyeball argument with a Daily Express journalist who questioned his motives and motivations. It was a rare sight. The Empire builder questioned, raging against the coming tide which he would not be able to keep back.

He resurfaced briefly at Notts County and Leeds United, and then he was gone.

And on the pedestal these words appear: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

So ten years on Bradford City under Peter Taylor prepare for the new season and it is hard to imagine being further from that August press conference. The pitch – sun drenched on that day – has been improved at last but little else can be said to have.

Pre-season was low key to a point of hardly being considered during the tour of Essex which saw four games in seven days. The jailing of one former striker and one new one provided the news and perhaps there was a sense that nothing else from the club would match that so – other than the progress of the new grass – little emerged from the club. There is no good news, so there is no news.

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.

The best which can be said about Peter Taylor is that he has augmented what he found on arrival at the club rather than trying to rebuild salvaging some of the last two and a half years of work that Stuart McCall had put in. A look at Taylor’s assumed first eleven shows that the keeper Jon McLauglin, defender Steve Williams and striker James Hanson were all plucked from nowhere to be key members of this season’s side.

Indeed it is to Taylor’s great credit that one can skip through the team: Right back Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman at centreback, left back Robbie Threlfall was a target of McCall and co at left back, Lee Bullock was converted to a deep role by McCall, midfielder Michael Flynn and striker Gareth Evans brought in by the previous manager. Taylor has recruited Tommy Doherty for his three in midfield while Omar Daley – with 97 appearances for City – pre-dated the previous manager.

Rather than start again Taylor has taken what he found and added to it giving City a rare route to having some stability at the club. That he has only a one year contract is a matter of great worry – for every prediction which tells you City will be promoted you can find one which says we will end in mid-table which would result in the board not offering a new deal to the manager – with City highly unlikely to find as good a replacement for this manager as was found for the last.

His football is pragmatic to a point of unattractiveness at times but Taylor is perhaps the only reason for optimism at the club this season. A man who appreciates the value of building while standing in the bare, lone and level sands.

Pre-season in prison for Jake Speight

New signing Jake Speight will miss the start of City’s season after being sent to prison for three months for assault.

Speight missed the Friday game with Eccleshill United having told Peter Taylor he would be appearing in court and – as a result of that appearance – the player has been imprisoned. Taylor’s fury – a kind of unfocused rage that “someone” should have told him about the possibility of Speight going to jail – is obvious with the manager not only refusing to pay the player until he is released but taking a view that he may not be paid until he is fit enough to play.

Speight’s signing – under the threat of prison – is not unprecedented. When Peter Beagrie signed for the club in 1997 he had a court case to answer and as a result was sentenced but not jailed. Chris Kamara – who was manager at the time – knew of Beagrie’s case and risked his £50,000 signing going to prison. Beagrie’s first season was some way poorer than his later ones and perhaps one might suggest that a lack of pre-season might have been the cause of that.

Another player – Richard Liburd – was jailed while at the Bantams and it was decided that the club would sack him although Geoffrey Richmond had to wait until the player had not turned up to work for two weeks as a result of being inside before he could take action.

Speight is expected to be released around the 22nd of August should he behave well and – considering that we have owned the player for less than a week and in that time he has played no games but been sent to prison without telling anyone once – perhaps we have no guarantee of that.

It is not the pre-season Peter Taylor would want.

Jim Jefferies and a cyclic revisionism

For eight years former Bradford City Premiership boss Jim Jefferies has been in charge at Kilmarnock before his – and of course his number two Billy Brown’s – exit early today in a storm of reports about directors talking to captains about tactics following a summer of arguing with the board about offering a job to the one time City midfelder Gary Locke a job.

Jefferies – who was overlooked for the Scotland job despite strong favour in some sections of the country – had a decent record at Rugby Park taking them to numerous top six finishes but never getting close to the top two. Not dissimilar to his record with Hearts before he arrived at Valley Parade to replace Chris Hutchings in 2000.

Hutchings had struggled to win points with most talented team assembled in Bradford City’s history in the top flight that season and Jefferies – on arrival – was trumpeted as one of the top ten coaches in the UK. On his second day he had rubbed chairman Geoffrey Richmond up the wrong way with the head honcho deciding after 48 hour that he was not able to work with the new man and a look back at the Bantams shows that the club had been in a slide caused by Richmond’s six weeks of madness.

Isn’t it time we looked back at what we perceive as a failure for Jim Jefferies and re-evaluate his time at Bradford City? Like Hell it is.

Jefferies arrived at Valley Parade proudly waving a white flag above his head saying that relegation – with over half the season left – was a near certainty and Richmond’s instinct to sack the Scot on his second day in the job was spot on (What would have been the worst that happened had he done so? Jefferies and Brown could have been added to the list of creditors?)

Not content with waving that white flag Jefferies proceeded to cherry pick a few players from the first team – the likes of Benito Carbone and Stan Collymore – and give them a few months in the reserves no doubt to encourage them out of the door for the wage bill but effectively making his relegation prediction more likely.

Jefferies attitude to the Bradford City dressing room seemed to read good spirit and strength as disruption and a divide of his power and set about slicing it in half. Out went club legend Peter Beagrie – woefully minimised with his swansong being a later dance around defender at home to Coventry City showing what the Bantams were missing – and in came the likes of Eoin Jess and the aforementioned Locke. Kevin Kyle – the captain who had seen the fall out at Killie – was linked to City during this time and after a year in the job the manager brought in the ineffectual Juan José Carricondo. Jim Jefferies called the players by their nicknames – Juanjo, Lockey, erm, Jessie – but only those players he has brought into Valley Parade.

Thus Jefferies is summed up. A manager who made the critical error of judgement that a player who could turn a few tricks for Hearts in the SPL could replace one for one a player who could do the same in the Premiership. In the annals of Bradford City not enough is spoken of the waste of time, effort and money which was paying Juanjo after having Benito Carbone in the second eleven.

Chris Hutchings suffered injures to David Wetherall and Andrew O’Brien and lost Lee Mills to alcohol problems but while Hutchings struggled to keep his players in the squad Jefferies frittered them away on what in retrospect seemed to be one man’s experiment to discover what anyone could have told him before he started: that an average player in Scottish top flight football is a long way inferior to his counterpart in the English top flight.

The most irritating thing about Jefferies – who once again leaves a club complaining about interference from above as if his time at Valley Parade should not have warned chairmen about giving him a free hand – is that Wigan Athletic kindly provided a second take on the Paul Jewell leaves and is replaced by a short time by Hutchings story and their ended happily under Steve Bruce who came not with the Jefferies surrender but with spirit and fight that kept them in the top flight.

I would not have considered Bruce one of the top ten managers in the country before then, his achievements at Wigan probably changed my mind on that.

One is tempted to ask how different would Bradford – City and the City – be had that appointment been made differently. Kevin Keegan and Glenn Hoddle were reported to be talked to and Prof Rhodes confirmed that Berti Vogts has applied for the job but instead – and with a flourish from the media who sang his praises dubbing him one of the best managers in the country – we got Jim Jefferies, and shafted.

However if the appointment was a mistake then that mistake was compounded and doubled by Jefferies attitude at the club. What was good at the club – and administration came as a result of overspending but relegation did not – was broken. We went into the season watching Peter Beagrie watching Eoin Jess but having haemorrhaged the biggest gold rush in the club’s history in the process and while others can take some blame for that the wages and free transfers given to players ousted from the club simply cause the manager didn’t like their faces was a not insignificant factor.

The football Jefferies side’s played was not entertaining and often characterless – massively so in comparison to the teams Paul Jewell had played six months before – and the celebrated coach flitted from a 433 to a 442 bringing back players he had cast away only moths before as if to confirm that his experiments had failed. It was football management as a tepid passionless process in which our club was the subject of experimental and non-committal whims. He left and not long after there were pieces that we are still picking up now. It would be wrong and foolish to blame him for all of these but he certainly did nothing to help and plenty to hinder.

Put simply Jim Jefferies could not have cared less Bradford City or Bradford City supporters and his level of attention to the club following his departure – none – speaks volumes.

Revisionism comes often in football and is cyclic. What was the solution to yesterdays woes is often brought back as tomorrow’s solution to today’s problems and tonight Jim Jefferies and Burnley were mentioned in the same breath.

One hopes that Burnley can learn the lessons from our mistakes, one hopes that we can learn too.

A decade of decline, misery and still existing

Played 495, won 150, drawn 124, lost 221, scored 604 goals and conceded 728. As a decade, the noughties have been long and largely miserable for Bradford City.

It began with the Bantams scrapping for their lives in the Premier League under Paul Jewell, it has ended four divisions below and with typical pessimism over the immediate prospects of beginning the ascent back. Dashed hopes, repeated agony, fruitless endeavour. Even though the club’s history is littered with underachievement, the last 10 years have set some new standards.

In fact, looking around at others, it would not be an exaggeration to label Bradford City English professional football’s most unsuccessful club of the 00’s.

It hasn’t all been doom and gloom – five months into the new millennium was that never-to-be-forgotten afternoon City defeated England’s most successful club to seal Premier League survival. It prompted scenes of delirium as the final whistle was greeted by fans swarming onto the pitch to mob their heroic players and join in singing You’ll Never Walk Alone with the gracious Liverpool supporters. The bars in Bradford were heaving that night and we supporters dreamt of a future of top flight football as the mid-90’s momentum that had seen City climb from England’s third tier saw few signs of slowing. A fantastic day, but what’s next?

With each passing year of disappointment, that victory over Liverpool has given rise to another debate about whether it would have been better City had lost and been relegated instead. If City’s first top flight campaign in 77 years ended in heroic failure rather than plain heroic, City might have rebuilt more sensibly in the Football League; perhaps bouncing up and down like Birmingham. More likely, City might now be muddling along like a Barnsley or Ipswich; still having undergone some financial difficulties – for then-Chairman Geoffrey Richmond would have still spent relatively significant money and the 7.5 million pound new stand would have been built anyway – but strong enough to be a firm fixture in the Championship, a place we now aspire to be.

Instead David Wetherall’s headed winner paved the way for those six weeks of madness and almost complete financial meltdown two years later, with debts of over 35 million. The financial strife was self-inflicted and the damage is still endured now. Every subsequent failure since Dermot Gallagher blew for full time against Liverpool can ultimately be traced back to those six weeks.

The question of whether we’d use a time machine to fly back to May 2000 and warn a Liverpool defender to mark Wetherall in the 12th minute is one we’d all answer differently. Me, I’d like to think that one day the financial ball and chain will be removed and when it is the memories of that warm May afternoon will still feel as joyful as it continues to do now. Liverpool at home is a life moment I’ll always be grateful to have experienced, and I hope one day to be truly able to say it was worth it.

As for other great moments of the decade, City’s continuing existence will go down as the biggest achievement. It’s often a point of criticism from other fans that supporters who still talk of their gratitude for still having a club to support are excusing subsequent underachievement and need to move on. I agree to a point, but the lessons learned in 2002 and 2004 are ones which cannot be forgotten.

It’s commonplace for lower league clubs to hit financial troubles and, as Watford, Southend, Accrington and Stockport take the national media’s sympathy spot this season, it’s always tempting to shrug the shoulders and mutter “so what?’. Like a typical Richard Curtis film we all know there will be a happy ending, don’t we?

In both of City’s spells in administration the prospect of the club’s termination was very real and very scary. That July morning in 2004 when it looked all over and fans stood outside Valley Parade, ready to mourn as the noon deadline for the end approached, was a day I was flying from the UK to the States, agonisingly stuck on an eight hour flight then a two-hour car drive before I could access any information about whether I still had a club to support.

The joy each time when at the last minute the club was saved and the relief as the players ran out onto the Valley Parade pitch for the first time since a few weeks later. It was easy to take it all for granted before, but the traumatic summers of 2002 and 2004 taught us to be thankful of this special relationship in our lives, which can cause us frustration and pain but that we cannot cope without.

Post-administration on both occasions, it was clear the immediate future was one of tredding water rather than a time to draw up blue sky five-year plans. Unfortunately relegation was not too far away both times – the common thread being the enforced lack of investment in the playing squad having disastrous results. City’s 2003/04 centenary celebrations were hollow as a squad of Premier League cast offs struggled dismally, setting a new Football League record for most single goal defeats in a season. In 2006/07 the squad depended on loan signings – those who did well quickly disappeared and those who remained failed to possess enough fight to rescue their temporary employers from the League Two abyss.

At other times, seasons often began with seemingly reasonable expectations of challenging for the play offs, but as the nights drew darker in winter early season promise drifted to usual mediocrity. The only season where promotion hopes remained in tact with less than a quarter of it remaining was last year, but then a talented squad’s form collapsed bringing with it that distressingly familiar feeling of despair.

There’s been little cup cheer as a distraction either, save for this season’s run in the JPT and the Intertoto adventure back in 2000.

Underpinning much of the decline has been musical chairs in the managerial seat. Jewell was controversially gone in the summer of 2000. His replacement Chris Hutchings exited 12 Premier League games later. The no-nonsense Jim Jefferies quickly waved the white flag on City’s Premiership survival hopes. He departed the following Christmas Eve with his rebuilding job struggling to get going.

The pace of change at least slowed then, with Nicky Law, Colin Todd and now Stuart McCall afforded more time to get things right. Bryan Robson did have a short spell after Law was sacked in 2003, but Captain Marvel talked a better game off the field than his charges did on it.

All since Jewell have been branded failures at City, but the hiring and firing policy has also played its part in the fall to League Two. If Richmond’s big mistake was to go mad for a month and a half, Julian Rhodes’ decision to sack Todd in February 2007 – with City three points clear of the relegation zone and displaying midtable form – is one to regret. Todd was ready to leave at the end of the season and, despite the handicap of losing his three best players, the chances of survival were far greater with the experienced hand rather than under the rookie tutelage of caretaker Wetherall, who’s concentration would have been better served on just leading the team as captain.

Todd was sacked for frustration at City being stuck in the mid-table of League One, now McCall is under pressure for so far failing to reverse the damage from becoming unstuck.

Not that Rhodes’ influence over the past decade should be dismissed by that one action. After Richmond’s borrow-heavily-self-reward-through-dividends-a-plenty policy failed disastrously in 2002, the Rhodes family – also recipients of those controversial dividend payments – did everything they could financially to maintain the club’s existence. A fortune built up through the success of their Filtronics company has declined through their obvious love of the Bantams, and though for a time they were helped by Gordon Gibb the Rhodeses were once again the only saviours around in 2004, alongside supporters who did everything they could to raise money to keep the club going over that summer.

One can only admire the Rhodes family’s resolve in attempting to put the club on an even keel again. There was hope in 2006 that then-commercial manager Peter Etherington was to ease that load and inject much needed capital, but in the end it proved a false dawn. At least Julian now has the added support of Mark Lawn since 2007. Rhodes has made it known he is less comfortable in the spotlight, and Lawn has over the last three years become the public front of house.

It’s to be hoped that, ultimately, Rhodes’ legacy will not just be saving the club twice, but to have made professional football affordable in a part of the country that is far from affluent. City’s demise to League Two should have seemed a catastrophe, but with Rhodes’ cheap season ticket initiative taking off and McCall appointed manager it was a club reborn.

The offer has so far being repeated three times and there is every indication it will continue for sometime. In League One, the lower crowds City attracted affected the atmosphere with the limited noise rattling around a two-thirds empty stadium. There are still plenty of unsold seats on matchdays, but the atmosphere is undoubtedly better for the season ticket offer bringing in 10,000+ supporters.

Though as Rhodes will have learned many years ago, success on the field is an outcome almost impossible for the board to determine. There has been a high turnover of players at Valley Parade ever since Jefferies told Richmond the flair players he inherited had to go. A cycle of underperforming players being replaced by poorer ones has continued through to League Two. When it’s a few players not up to the job it has hampered progress – much was expected of the likes of Dan Petrescu, Ashley Ward, Jason Gavin, Bobby Petta, Owen Morrison and Paul McLaren, but they and many others regularly failed to make the right impact – when it is almost a whole team relegation has followed.

Plenty of wretched team performances along the way – Stockport ’01, Wimbledon ’02, Sunderland ’03, Forest ’05, Oldham ’06, Huddersfield ’07, Accrington ’07, Notts County  ’09 and Rochdale ’09. Though on other occasions the 11 players (or nine) have got it right and prompted giddy celebrations; defeating Chelsea in ’00, a Benito Carbone-inspired Gillingham thrashing in ’01, the last minute Michael Proctor equaliser against Burnley in ’02, Bryan Robson’s managerial debut where City came from 2-0 down to win 3-2 in the last minute in ’03, the five wins in a row of ’04, completing the double over Huddersfield in ’05, Joe Brown’s late winner against Blackpool in ’06, Lincoln away ’07 and Accrington away last season.

10 years is a long time, and for each of us watching in the stands it will have been a decade of personal change too. My perceptions and outlook on City has altered; I’m now older than many of the players and the obvious decline in quality of the playing staff since the Premiership means I’m more likely to admire players – Donovan Ricketts, Nathan Doyle, Andy Gray, Simon Francis, Dean Windass, Dean Furman and Carbone – rather than treat them as heroes.

This Christmas a thoughtful relative got me an Edinho t-shirt which I love but it also hit home that, over the past decade, there’s been few players who can come close to matching the feelings I had for our Brazilian striker. Of course we also live in a time of message board users ripping apart everyone connected with the club which makes hero status harder to achieve, and though this type of criticism existed in 2000 I was unaware of it – and much happier for that.

There’s still no better feeling than the joy of the ball flying into the back of the net and celebrating wildly.

I’m always thrilled by the experience of a feisty game where City are on top and all four sides of the ground are backing the players positively, urging them forward to score. All negative moaners are drowned out, all problems the club has to meet are suspended. The noise carries over the thousands of empty seats so they don’t matter, everything else in our lives has been left at the turnstile door for later.

This was the decade we nearly lost all of this. It may go down as one of most unsuccessful periods in the club’s history, but the noughties have been unforgettable.

Nil-nil, Everton, plus ten

28th of December, 1999 and Bradford City are nursing a 4-0 hangover from Old Trafford and take on Everton at Valley Parade. The game finishes 0-0 and is one of the many odd points that Paul Jewell’s side picked up on the road to a halcyon day in May that saw the Bantams retain top flight status and – it is said by many – bring about the ruination of the club.

A home game with Shrewsbury Town represents a ten years of football which few would have predicted and many who are in control of the game would do well to reflect upon. Football in 1999 was on the crest of a wave with a rich bounty to spend. Since then forty-seven of the clubs one hundred and three who have competed in the four football league in the last decade have had to seek the protection of administration while the top division spends over a billion pounds on wages.

The fall of Bradford City represents – in the opinion of this observer – a mix of poor timing and poor management. The Bantams crime in the Premiership is well know – Six Weeks of Madness – but the punishment of being cast down to the lower reaches is perhaps disproportionate. Leeds United – who also benefited from City’s best day in May 2000 were punished massively for trying to take a step up the footballing ladder.

One could argue all day about Richmond and Risdale and how they went about their respective jobs but when the dust settled many would agree that the fact that those two chairmen, a good number of the forty-five other head honchos and the odd other former Bantams chairman/landlord should have been more rigidly governed when they were in charge of the civic institutions. Yes, if businesses then not just businesses, we have learnt that from the last ten years.

In ten years time will we be reflecting on a revolution in football that has seen what could be considered the souls of clubs protected from those who would exploit them so that the events of the previous decade can not occur? Probably not. If we are still playing at Valley Parade on 28th December 2019 then a victory will have been won to reclaim our ground from the hands of Gordon Gibb who managed to slip it away from us.

In the snowy Bradford that still threatens this game Stuart McCall has recalled a time when City planned a training facility with the riches of the Premiership which never materialised. The story is common throughout the game when clubs spent money on players in an attempt to top the sun from setting rather than reaping the harvest when it shined.

City close off this decade at home to a Shrewsbury team who under the guidance of Paul Simpson – his Uncle John used to teach at St Bedes, you know – managed to spend “huge” resource and not be promoted in the same way that Stuart McCall and the Bantams are oft accused proving perhaps that it takes more than a big pile of money to make a winning team.

Both McCall and Simpson are rejecting calls for them to leave from some elements of the support which are argued with by other elements. The arguments are similar at both clubs despite the Bantams drastic decline. Shrewsbury Town have had six managers in the last ten years, City have had eight, and some fans at The New Gay Meadow think that that is more of a problem than the sale of Grant Holt which mirrored the departures of Graeme Lee and Paul McLaren at the end of last season.

The Bantams go into the game having not played in the league since 12 December 2009 against Rotherham United having gone out of the JPT at Carlisle United three days later. Simon Ramsden – sent off in that defeat – is still waiting to serve a suspension which he should do against the Shrews on the 28th.

Ramsden will be replaced by Jonathan Bateson in a back four that sees Steve Williams fit to return and gives Stuart McCall the chance to pick a pairing from Williams, Zesh Rehman and the resurgent Matthew Clarke. Luke O’Brien plays left back and Simon Eastwood continues in goal with a question over his future as he comes to the end of his loan spell at Valley Parade.

McCall attempts to reformat his side to a 442 as Omar Daley prepares for a return – he lacks match fitness despite playing in the last fifteen minutes of the last game but so do the rest of the squad sat idle – and the Jamaican winger might be featuring on the left hand side with Scott Neilson on the right and Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock in the middle. If Daley is not ready James O’Brien or Chris Brandon may get called into action or McCall may play Simon Whaley although it seems that the loan signing I was excited about seeing will make a brief stay at Valley Parade.

Gareth Evans and James Hanson are guaranteed places up front in either a 442 or a 433 as Michael Boulding continues to recover from hack in the back by Pablo Mills. Neither will hope to match one Gary Shaw’s striking efforts in this tie when the former Villa man scored a hat-trick in two and a half minutes.

That game was two decades ago, the Everton match was one. Today we start more unpredictability.

City pay the rent to Gibb who refuses to sell

Another year, another payment of the rent once dubbed “peppercorn” on Valley Parade to our former chairman Gordon Gibb.

Gibb’s connection with Bradford City goes back seven or eight years to when he rode in white knight style to save the club from Geoffrey Richmond. Gibb fell out with Julian Rhodes, made big noises about City being able to play at the ground he ended up owing but once described rather distastefully as worthless and retreated to his position of angry landlord.

Last year he put the prices up as is his right in the contract. They stay at this higher rate this year and the club look at its options.

Mark Lawn has revealed talks to buy Valley Parade back from Gibb which faulted because of Gibb’s demands to be paid more for the ground than he paid. Again some would say this is his right as owner of the asset.

BfB attracted some criticism for labelling Gibb “a cretin” recently and some was deserved – it is insensitive – but the comments heard back of “that is offensive to Cretins” is typical of the attitude towards City’s landlord amongst some groups of supporters.

Others though look at the situation and declare that Gibb is simply acting within his rights as landlord. Gibb breaks no laws when dealing with Valley Parade and let no one say he does.

However let no one say that Gibb has acted in a way that is in keeping with good football governance and maintaining the future of football clubs in communities like Bradford. How often though are the ethics of Gibb’s owning Valley Parade looked at?

The former chairman bought the ground when City needed money to pay the bills that were mounting at the club. Gibb paid £2.5m for Valley Parade giving the club, along with a sale of the offices to a second investor, £5m to stave off administration which happened anyway due in no small part down to the tax Bradford City had to pay on the lifeline £5m that it is said the chairman “didn’t realise would need to be paid”.

City needed £5m and got £4m – so it is said – and we all remember the results. We all remember fans earning £500,000 to keep the club going and the administrator being forced to wave the same amount. Half a million Gibb The Chairman failed to get when selling the ground to Gibb The Landlord.

Which raises questions as to the deal made between Gibb’s two roles at the club. One has to wonder how many other parties were invited to make an offer for Valley Parade, if any? One has to wonder how and to whom Gibb’s offer was made? The spin on the deal was that the sale of our single most valuable asset had secured the future of the clud but nothing could be further from the truth with administration a year away only then and disproportionate rent now a millstone for a business that struggles now.

Gibb is seen as someone who got involved and got pushed out ending with the rough end of the stick and out of pocket and now holds assets haplessly and with the malice of a wrong child but perhaps that is an unfair assessment of his business acumen.

He took over a football club which was in financial trouble and managed to end up owning the biggest asset which he bought for less than it is worth – or at least less than he thinks it is worth when talking to Mark Lawn – and did so under the claim that he was saving the club.

Perhaps one hopes that Gibb is a “cretin” because the alternative is – while legally above board – a damning state of affairs which could be put alongside the Luton Towns, the Wimbledon’s/Milton Keynes Dons and York Citys of recent football history.

Chairman buys clubs and sells the assets to himself before leaving. It is not uncommon in the world of football but how many people inside the community of Bradford City let alone in the wider footballing world see it as so?

To put it in context Gibb ended up with the Valley Parade, Geoffrey Richmond ended up being declared bankrupt yet when articles are written on the decline of the club Richmond’s name figures often and Gibb’s hardly at all.

The Most Important Man

Stuart McCall and Peter Jackson – two big figures in the recovery from the fire of 1985 in a game between these two teams – joined the silence honouring the departed.

McCall manages Bradford City taking the opportunity to when offered two years ago while Jackson is in charge of Lincoln City having knocked back the job at Valley Parade on Boxing Day 2001 having agreed to be our on Christmas Day. McCall would spend this anniversary or sorts with boos directed at him by some.

Some would have Jackson as Bradford City manager rather than McCall and others would not. Those in the latter camp could point to McCall’s match changing substitutions which brought about the aforementioned jeers at the time but were vindicated. Are these two thus the most important men?

The jeering for McCall came after substituting Michael Boulding and Joe Colbeck. Boulding had a game not atypical for him running into channels and working hard while never gelling with strike partner Peter Thorne. One could not fault Boulding’s work rate but would could take issue on how much of that hard work goes into the squad and how much goes into making sure that Michael Boulding has a good game? His impressive goal tally for Mansfield Town which made him League Two top scorer last season came when The Stags were relegated.

None of which is to say that Boulding is not a good player but rather than he is not foremost a good team player and – frankly – Bradford City are not foremost a good football team but rather a collection of good footballers. Does this make the job of managing the side into the job of getting Michael Boulding to play in a more knitted up way? Is Michael Boulding the most important man?

That City are good footballers would be debated only by dullards and that Joe Colbeck is a talented footballer would equally only be opposed by those who lacked wits. Colbeck has managed to return to being the target of Valley Parade’s defining characteristic – the vitriol heaped onto individuals – after being last season’s Player of the Season.

I have no respect for someone who will stay silent when a Colbeck is being cheered laying in wait for an opportunity to continue a campaign against him. Colbeck this season has cut defences apart yet he is booed today not for not making effort but for those efforts not having results. There is no doubt in my mind that Colbeck will go on to be a very good player at this level and at levels above but there is significant doubt that he will do that at Valley Parade.

After being player of the season Joe Colbeck is not the most important man.

One would think for all the attention given to Matthew Clarke that he was the most important man – one would think that Peace in the Middle East would emerge on the news he was dropped so dedicated are some against him – but it was telling that as some City fans sung “One Mark Bower” to criticise Clarke following Andrew Hutchinson opener for Lincoln.

Clarke was wrestled by Geoff Horsfield as a nothing ball that was hastily cleared by relieved Imps defenders who had worried that a clip of Boulding’s heels would result in a free kick and near 21 players on the field stopped – indeed when Hutchinson put the ball in it seemed to be more an act of time wasting than goalscoring – but the game continued and the visitors had their goal.

Five minutes into the second half “One Mark Bower” sang some City fans to chastise Clarke. “1-0 to The Referee” retorted the Lincoln fans to make some things clear.

City’s equaliser came when Peter Thorne was able to stand strong in the penalty area and work a ball on to Lee Bullock who finished from close range. Peter Thorne and Lee Bullock could be the most important men. Keeping Thorne fit all season has proved to be impossible and sure enough City have suffered when the switched on striker was not playing but Bullock – my man of the match today – has been a mystery in and out of the team all season and hardly ever allowed to continue the relationship he started with Paul McLaren at the start of the season.

As an engine room Bullock and McLaren are useful only if they have outlets for their possession and too often they do not. Steve Jones had a lively display – especially following McCall’s switch to a 433 which put him in the forward line alongside Paul Mullin who simply never loses an aerial ball – but this team has not been the same since an injury on a Tuesday night two months ago.

Omar Daley – in the stands and out until Christmas – is not the most important man but sometimes when City huff and puff and want for his creativity it is difficult to remember that.

Daley though – like McCall with his substitutions, Colbeck showing the nerve to difficult things even if they might make him look foolish rather than shovelling the ball off sideways and saving any blushes, Clarke in the side to stand up to a Horsfield who would have eaten Mark Bower for breakfast – split opinion with those against jeering.

Perhaps those who jeer are the most important men. They certainly seem to hold the power at Valley Parade grumbling away to get their way they are the exiled Cubans of Bradford City and Mark Lawn needs to convince Stuart McCall, and himself, that their is a future for a club when with twenty minutes left of a game at 1-1 three games off the play-offs which even after this draw there to be scrapped for the loudest sounds at City are the negatives and the jeers.

Which is not to say that they are the only sound, that they are the only fans, that they are people who need to be pleased but the voice that comes from Valley Parade is an overtly negative one and until this issue is tackled and resolved then the club is hobbled.

Certainly that negativity has taken chunks out of the club. Dean Windass – here today to watch the game after reports that he would bend transfer deadlines and return to the field – suffered untold abuse and his exit and the clubs relegation to this level were not unlinked. Windass is at Valley Parade and Paul Jewell has started to crop up in the media more and more.

Maybe they are the next most important men but they are not today.

For today this is League Two football and at the end of the game with three very clear incidents when crosses or shots hit hands of Lincoln City defenders in the penalty area and a goal caused by being the only man in the stadium who did not see the foul of course the most important man was Fred Graham the referee.

Depressingly, in League Two the most important man is always the Referee.

That Neville Southall feeling

John McLaughlin’s injury – he will miss the game that should have have been his debut away at Barnet at the weekend after he and Darren Byfield clashed in a closed doors friendly with Doncaster Rovers and the keeper was knocked out – leaves City looking for an emergency keeper and sends fans minds racing back to a Sunday Sky TV day in 2000 when Bradford City were left scrabbling for a keeper and ended up with Neville Southall in goal.

The history of City’s need then differs to now. Stuart McCall the manager decided to have three keepers at the club: Rhys Evans, McLaughlin and youngster Matthew Convey; for financial reasons more than footballing ones – an extra goalkeeper costs, unsettles and is not often used while when McCall the player reteamed with his former Goodison Park team mate Southall in 2000 for the home game with Leeds United it was because of a set of circumstance that while common place in the madness of that Premiership season were curious to say the least.

Gary Walsh had lost his place to Matt Clarke who had in turn been injured – both those custodians having been impressive to say the least – and Aidan Davison had taken on the gloves superbly but with Clarke heading back to fitness – or so we were told – in the week before the home game with Leeds which represented a first top flight Valley Parade clash with our rivals in many lifetimes and a chance for an in form City to snatch some bragging rights.

That week saw the transfer deadline pass on Thursday and at the time Clarke was expected to be fit although Paul Jewell had seen the need to go looking for another keeper alighting at Elland Road. Recollections become rumours here and this story lacks hard confirmation but it is said that Jewell asked Chairman Geoffrey Richmond for money to spend on a promising keeper he had seen and Richmond gave him £200,000. Jewell made a bid – £180,000 – for the second string keeper at Elland Road and had it accepted on the proviso that the player – Paul Robinson – did not play on Sunday.

If that is true then one can only assume it was brinksmanship that saw City walk away from the deal. Perhaps – three months before the club’s meltdown began – it is an indication that something was rotten in the state of Denmark. Nevertheless Clarke was – it was said – fit to play until Sunday morning when it was announced to supporters, Sky and all that he had fallen down the stairs at home and was not fit.

Rumour became fact – “Clarke lives in a bungalow”, “he was never fit” – but on that Sunday morning a young keeper named Danny Taylor prepared to glove up to make his Premiership debut in the West Yorkshire derby.

Apologies to Danny if this is incorrect but the description that followed is as simple as it is brutal. Taylor bricked it.

Jewell watched as his youthful keeper quivered in the dressing room in the hours leading up to the game and knew that he had no chance to putting the player – who now runs a barber’s shop in Bradford – into a Premiership game. His only other option was 41 year old goalkeeping coach Southall.

I heard a story about Southall once that broke a man’s heart. The Everton keeper played before obscene wealth in football but still must have made a few quid but whatever he made he had squandered forcing him to – as the story I heard goes – beg his agent for public relations work to pay the bills. Before playing that game for City Southall had been in goal for Torquay a month or so before because in the frankest terms he needed the money.

So Southall took to the field and the rest is a history cruelly told. My recollection is that Southall had three saves to make all game and only got to one of them – his mobility was limited to say the least and it seemed that he could not dive – leaving Leeds to score twice with the reply of a stunning, Match of the Day title making Peter Beagrie goal. The Guardian noted after the game that City had the spirit to suggest that they might be up for a relegation fight that they eventually won. Leeds went on to the Champions League and – as a result of ridiculous investment based on that – to where they are now.

Southall – perhaps the greatest goalkeeper Great Britain had produced – became a laughing stock. It was an unfair end to the career of a legend of the game.

Unfair too on City. Leeds fans would argue the point but I believe that on that day the Bantams were the better side and that with a keeper able to perform would have been left celebrating a win over them from Elland Road. Fate is fickle but adversity bred a spirit in that side that saw Liverpool and the last day of the season escape.

Fast forward nine years and the Bantams are looking for an new keeper in the days leading up to a game that could not be further from a Premiership derby – away at Barnet – but is perhaps no less important as Stuart McCall’s side mount a promotion push and look to maintain momentum. Evans’s strain and Convey returning from loan at Salford City injured along with McLaughlin’s enforced absence after being knocked out are things that few could cater for.

Perhaps though – if there is a moral to the Southall story – it is that success in football is often subject to the arrows or outrageous fortune.

10 Years of BfB

It was the odd goal that made it interesting and it came late – a penalty – when Issy Rankin was felled in the Crystal Palace penalty area as he “danced his way to glory” and Fonz cool Peter Beagrie put in the spot kick. Was it a penalty? The newspapers the day after said it was.

At least that was what was reported in the first BfB match report some ten years ago today.

An image of the front page of the first upload of BfBBack then BfB was called – foolishly – The Boy From Brazil and Other Stories and was by no means the first representation of The Bantams online. The Internet Bantams mailing list covered conjecture and rumour, Someone’s personal site (who shamefully I have forgotten the name of) had followed the club until the writer moved South and The City Gent had a site and message board.

BfB served different aims. In fact it had three aims which were achieved to greater of lesser extents. First it was my personal calling card to get a job in the industry and to that end it worked with months, secondly I wanted the site to represent many opinions and today over 100 fans have had articles on the site and third I wanted – rather idealistically – to raise the level of debate between City fans. Judge this aim by our comments on the current site and that has gone well, look at the official site message board and we have made not a jot of difference.

Looking back at the first updates of BfB it is very much a product of the early days of the consumer Internet – not sure about its place in the world. It refers to itself as a “Netpaper” and has a concept of pages being released on different days.

Back then BfB had issue numbers – it was updated once every couple of days through dial-up after my parents had gone to bed to avoid my Father complaining about phone bills and wires – and issue eight from Saturday 6th February, 1999 told us about a trip to Watford, a Leeds interest in Lee Mills and an article about the cost of buying season tickets. It featured images until the lawyers from the FA came with serious legal letters and action against us, my being suing off the face of the Earth only being avoided when Chairman Geoffrey Richmond stepped in on my behalf.

Richmond was a hero back then and rightly so. He had not put a foot wrong since arriving in 1994 and had the club in the black every year to date. Read BfB in 2001 (apologies, the images for this version of the site have been lost) and Richmond is still well regarded. The site had changed then moving to the current address from a Freeserve page and taking on a new look following a stop in January 2000 and restart without my personal input beyond code a few months later as theBRADFORDCITYsite which introduced our readers to the penmanship of one Roland Harris. By August 2000 BfB had returned and I was back writing it.

The decline of City as a Premiership club made for interesting day to day reading and the site showed this moving from the articles format of the original site and to a more diary – blog, if you will – format which took the news of the day and gave reaction to it. Richmond – previously mentioned in glowing terms – was never criticised and retroactively the site is criticised for this although at the time I tried desperately to find someone who could make a counter-point against the chairman but could find no takers. In the ten years of BfB that is a sea change in the way that football is followed. Back then it was impossible to find someone with a bad word to say about those that ran Bradford City FC, now it is increasingly hard to find people who are not anchoured in a negativity of some sort or other.

Nevertheless the site was well read having gone from a readership of 100-150 in first year to something around the 400 mark at this time. With everything at the site going well – certainly better than it was on the field where the Bantams who were now managed by Nicky Law following the departure of Jim Jefferies – and a version of new site was launched.

The 2001-2003 BfB moved away from aping the club’s claret and amber colour scheme and started to create its own identity. In 1999 when the Bantams had been promoted to the top flight the BBC prepared a map of Premier League club with links to the 18 official sites and the two clubs that had no online presence – ourselves and Liverpool – had links to “unofficial” being BfB and Kop Talk.

I loathe the term “unofficial” and never use it to describe BfB. Former Arsenal man David Dein described sites like Arseweb and BfB as being “Pirates” as if as football supporters need permission or an “official” sanction to discuss their clubs. BfB is now and has always been a place for debate and that debate does not need the sanction of a club or a league to be deemed official so I reject the idea that without that our opinions are “unofficial”. They are the official opinions of the people who hold them and they need be nothing else.

The 2001-2003 version of BfB sets most of the trends that would be recognisable as being of the site for the next half a decade. The attempts to create a branding to differentiate from the (still feeble) official site, the news yoked with reaction and links to deeper full articles, the overtly wordy style that (we hope) treats the reader with intelligence, the low yield advertisements that mean we never got rich.

This version of the site detailed the struggles of Nicky Law (Hey kids, he is the current Nicky Law’s dad) to arrest the decline of the side and the arrival of Gordon Gibb who blustered and achieved very little while at the club.

Of all the versions of BfB over the last ten years this has been the most delightful to work with. The right hand side’s navigation between deeper information and the left’s wide space for text created rich areas for content that handled information large and small. To this point every part of BfB had been hand coded and the closest thing the site had to a content management system was a scribble of paper on my desk that tried to detail the links that various pages had.

At this point the site had a healthy 800 readers a day – this was around 10% of the home attendance although the aim of BfB, and one we have never reached, is to get 25% – and was a senior players in a plethora of new football websites.

The web then was seen as a place where everyone could express whatever they desire and they were doing. BfB would often be contacted by a couple of sites from whomever we were playing to exchange links and discuss the game which lead to our first of a fistful of major fall-outs when Roland Harris decried the people of Wimbledon and favoured a trip to watch City in Milton Keynes.

Aside from the spat between Harris and the football supporting people of Merton this represented something of a watershed moment for the site when we read criticism of BfB from other City fans. While we were being dismissed as not being representative of what “proper City fans think” by some it was striking that the site had moved out of being the parochial province of being “the fans site”. BfB has never tried to be the voice of the fans or to represent all Bradford City supporters but rather to present the voices of those who wanted to avail themselves of it.

The worst of these fall outs came when City played Southend United and Donovan Ricketts was sent off for giving the finger to some supporters who had racially abused him. For three days some Southend “supporters” bombarded the mail box and a percentage of those mails were threats which were eventually added to with abusive phone calls and threats of further “action” were I not to print an apology to those racists who had goaded the City goalie.

No apology or retraction followed nor did any of the threatened “action”. These disagreements – including one recently with Luton Town supporters, Bolton fans upset at John McGinlay being called Fat, Oldham fans in anger that we questioned the sportsmanship of their side who scored while we had players prone – change little over the years with a minority taking offence and blowing hard for two or three days before the Monday morning when something else takes the attention.

The lesson of ten years working on BfB and in the Internet industry is that often what seems important between a person and the screen late on a Saturday night is paled in the reality of the morning sun. At BfB we are serious, but we try not to take everything too seriously.

BfB begot Cabin Pressure – my business – which allowed minute by minute coverage of Bradford City on a new site which ran from 2003 to 2007. It featured some rather graphically pleasing icons and was build using a CMS I had written. It was this site which covered the club on the decline to League One and Administration Two. On the day when the club faced going out of business forever 22,000 unique visitors came to BfB to follow the progression and to find out – thanks to the close links with the fund raising of the Supporters Trust – what they could do to help save their club.

Perhaps this day was manifest destiny at work. Whatever had caused me to start BfB and keep it going for the years to those days and all those from the links that the site had enabled it to become a hub of information and action for those looking to save the club. I credit the likes of Mark Boocock, Mike Mason, Cath Tomlinson and Richard Wardell (and others) with having committed massive amounts to keep the club going in the summer of 2004 I hope that they would not mind BfB and the writers we have had taking the credit for creating an environment which offered a stream of communication to mobilise fans in support of their efforts.

If there is a purpose to sites like BfB then it is that. BfB – and many other sites for City and other teams – give an outlet for fans to discuss the club in the gaps between Saturday afternoons and to give people and outlet for passing their opinions around with some credit. Over 3,500 full articles have appeared on BfB and only two have been rejected in that time. Every writer has given a name and stood, colours nailed to the mast, saying “this is what I believe in and these are my thoughts.”

I’m proud of that.

So enjoy the retrospective of the first five years of BfB and visit the three archives – also take a look at the 1998 prototype for a Bradford City site which would become BfB. The site moved on until 2007 when two things occurred to change it. Firstly I moved to working at an Ad Agency and could not maintain a day to day update schedule moving back full circle to the article based update that I, Jason, Omar, Paul and Roland (and others) man today and secondly the nature of City’s position in League Two does not demand the constant update of news. On Tuesday and Wednesday in the week at Valley Parade not many things happen and while were the club in the Premiership January would be a hourly transfer update life is more sedate at City.

More sedate and covered elsewhere. The BBC, the official site and the T&A have up to minute coverage of The Bantams and there is no need for an independent site like BfB to try compete. What we offer, what we can offer, what we want to offer is the expert opinion of people who have watched games, who do know our players, who care about the club.

At present we get around 1,500 visitors on a good day and we have the best collection of writers we have ever had. Things are going well and for that I say thank you, dear Reader, for reading.

  • 1999’s BfB An example of the first version of as saved on 6th February 1999.
  • 2001’s BfB Two ears later on 11th July 2001 this was the last edition of the second incarnation of the site.
  • 2003’s BfB The last version of the third version of the site as saved on 13th September, 2003.
  • 1998’s Prototype The first stab at creating a Bradford City website from mid-1998. It did not work on Netscape 4 – what did?

O’Grady in the holding pattern of City history

Hands up, dear reader, if you recall Bradford City striker Kevin Wilson.

Wilson signed on loan for the Bantams in 1994 for a month just as Chris O’Grady has joined for a month from Oldham today and with a couple of games under his belt for Frank Stapleton’s side the ground he stood on shifted significantly.

That day, enter Geoffrey Richmond and the promise of £500,000 and soon after enter Lee Power. A month after signing Wilson left a much different club to the one he joined.

The Sun are reporting this morning that Manchester United will bid £10m for Leeds United’s former City kid Fabian Delph. Tipped off by his arrest Sir Ferguson wants tighter control on the talent and won’t leave him in the hands of Simon Grayson much longer and – courtesy of a 20% sell on clause – City could be £2m richer within the week, or the month, or within O’Grady’s time at the club.

All of which would leave the striker in a similar position to Wilson – at a club with suddenly heavy pockets and eyes for name players – unless the former Rotherham United striker can regain his form for the Millers and start scoring goals. His 13 in 51 games at Millmoor represents something like one in four. Up that rate and he could be sitting pretty at a club with cash to spend.

Rhodes applies some pressure with a lofty promotions demand

Julian Rhodes arrived at Valley Parade to join a board and a man – Geoffrey Richmond – who fuelled progress with public high ambition and his demand that Stuart McCall try get back to back promotions to The Championship is straight out of the former chairman’s play book.

Rhodes has ratcheted up the pressure on McCall but with that comes an increase in resources at the manager’s disposal recalling Richmond would slip managers the money to make signings while banging the table for promotion. Indeed the current joint chairman joined the club and funded £4.5m spending for Paul Jewell as Richmond backed his manager.

While Richmond seemed to be tub-thumping his analysis of the First Division that year was good. Likewise Rhodes may have looked at League Two which has lost two or three big spending teams and gained through relegation a couple of financially troubled clubs. League Two is weaker this year than it was last and Rhodes has responded.

Looking at the season to follow then one might assume that Leeds will be promoted in May 2009 and Leicester will have followed them. Nottingham Forest and Bristol City have already exited the third tier of English football and – no disrespect – the likes of Scunthorpe have returned to it. League One 2009/2010 promises to be much less strong than the division does this year and like Richmond before him Rhodes has assessed the situation and aims to exploit.

How realistic Rhodes’s stated “realistic aim” is is anyone’s guess. Lennie Lawrence and Jim Jefferies both went into seasons with big resources only to perform averagely and football these days is only three defeats away from a crisis.

Nevertheless everyone at Valley Parade seems to be preparing for bigger things and – as his schooling at the shoulder of Geoffrey Richmond has taught him – Julian Rhodes is applying pressure up front and sliding resources in behind that.

The tiresome sound of a stick in a bucket

Nine years and change ago I started this here boyfrombrazil.co.uk website about a club that was aspiring to be in the Premiership. It was lead by a dogmatic, bluff chairman and had a team of exciting players under the eye of new, young manager Paul Jewell and while everything around the club is utterly different there is one constant in the fact that from that day to this there has been a rumbling underbelly of a concept that Bradford City would be improved by a new manager.

The history books of this club never include the talk against Paul Jewell – he is airbrushed to perfection – but at the time there were plenty of voices suggesting that if City wanted to be a serious contender for a Premiership club the season after the anticipated play-off failure of 1998/1999 then they would have to appoint a “proper” manager. During his time in the Premiership Jewell did not enjoy the universal support he is credited with now.

Chris Hutchings enjoyed no support and a change of manager from him to anyone would be an improvement except – of course – it was not and Jim Jefferies quickly had the same murmurings which became a cacophony and on and on through Nicky Law who must be sacked or we would be relegated but Bryan Robson got us relegated and on to Colin Todd who would take us down so had to go but of course we went down…

At the moment there are people talking about the qualities of Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs. People saying “I know he is a legend but…” and drifting off into some discussion of if the gaffer “knows what he is doing” as if football management were a map and a route could be planned through it.

There is a definition of insanity that has it that repeating the same action and expecting different results is the mark of that condition. Honestly – after trying a rookie, an experienced manager, a young guy who had done well in the lower leagues, an England captain, an jobbing football man – does anyone still believe that the solution to all City’s problems is in sacking the manager and appointing the best CV that comes along? That train of logic is so feeble as to question the capabilities of anyone who would suggest it.

Experience of following this club has told us that the next manager is never the answer.

Move back to the days of Paul Jewell and Chris Kamara and we see a club strong on infrastructure and leadership with continuity at the heart of it. This is not to suggest that Geoffrey Richmond had everything or anything right just that when he did things well the club did well and when he started to misstep badly the management changes helped not one jot.

City’s next manager after McCall will be no better. Jose Mourinho is not waiting to take over and if he was – as Avram Grant shows – management changes are the stuff of tweaks and not sea change.

All of which gives unnecessary oxygen to the idea that McCall is somehow an inferior manager to those around him in the division or other managers who currently have the job at 91 other clubs. He is young and learning and he makes mistakes but he also has triumphs. Criticism of the manager is plentiful but for every mistake there is a credit unsaid. Stuart McCall brought in Peter Thorne, Kyle Nix, Scott Loach just as much as he signed up Alex Rhodes.

For every curious set of displays by Paul Heckingbottom – he has struggled since signing full time – there is a success story like McCall’s handling of Joe Colbeck who is started to show real quality and consistency.

Likewise understanding the season was dead sometime ago McCall allows Rhodes the chance to show what he can do – not much in this writer’s opinion – as he looks to offer contracts out for next season. To sack a manager at this point is like sacking him for losing pre-season friendlies.

Sacking managers is just a bad idea – experience shows us that – sacking this manager goes past bordering on ludicrous and calling for him to be sacked is akin to vandalism of this football club.

As with Kevin Keegan at Newcastle it seems that being a legend is not what it used to be and Keegan and McCall get a couple more games before the firing squads are assembled. Legend is a fan applied title and the respect they given is the behest of supporters. What does it say about our supporters as some try chop away the legs of our “legend” as he takes his first steps in management?

What would it say about the supporters if we let the louder agitators in our community be heard louder than any other voice? This is especially the case when that voice makes all the sense of a stick being hammered around an empty bucket of swill and is just as sensible. A case could have been made for sacking some of the managers of the last nine years but the majority of dismissals are mistakes compounding mistakes.

All the voices who called for Nicky Law to be sacked never comment on Bryan Robson’s failure to turn the club around. The people who said Colin Todd should go do not accept the blame for the relegation to League Two.

Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs should be in charge at this club. End of story.

Scarborough Go To Dust

Scarborough have always maintained a position close to my heart. Seaside town, nice little ground and when in 1987 they became the first club to claim automatic promotion to the Football League from the Conference they did it with Bradford City Legend Ces Podd at right back. They were a nice little club.

And for a little club they made some progress. After promotion they were bought up by a guy who had recently sold lighter company Ronson and he moved them forward a little before reaching what he perceived to be a ceiling and closing the coffers. He ended up swapping the club for another who he believed would not be held back by the little club tag that Boro always had and moved into Bradford City. That man was Geoffrey Richmond. The rest of that story you know.

The rest of the Scarborough story ended this morning at the High Court in Leeds with debts of £2.5m pushing the ailing team out of business. A statement from the club said it all

While it is sad to see the demise of a club with a proud history of 128 years, the club’s finances have for a number of years been in a very poor state and the company has been in and out of various insolvency proceedings.

Scarborough tried to sell the stadium but could not. The Judge noted that the early winding up would allow the Supporters Trust to form a new club and carry on the tradition of football. 128 years of tradition to be exact.

Scarborough has been in the League until 1999 and were in the UniBond League for next season after two relegations. At the top of that the larger league Watford took away £20m for finishing bottom. Next season £60m will do to the final placed club. The creeping mismanagement of Boro’s finances are one thing – business of football is often characterised by how badly it is done – but what we have here is a club starving to death on the outskirts of the richest City in the country. A drive past Black Fryer’s Bridge says we can do this is life but I hope that football could be an escape from those harsh realities.

There is something fundamentally wrong with the way that football works. Scarborough crash while others boom and the laws put into place to protect the game and it’s institutions are woefully inadequate being used to punish the weak in the case of Rotherham last season and reward the cunning. Leeds United, I refer to thee.

Every attempt to put a rule in place that could have been put in place to help the clubs who suffer in administration has been thwarted by opportunists such as Ken Bates at Leeds or the Leicester City directors that walked away from Filbert Street. Geoffrey Richmond’s plan to readdress the situation in 2001 was good sense from the wrong mouthpiece.

Richmond’s plan was to let football get its house in order post-ITV Digital by offering new contracts and making redundant players who would not sign them. It was a harsh way of ripping up a deal and the worry for some that prized assets would use this contract freedom to leave for The Premiership on free transfer scupperred it. Clubs like Scarborough ended up on a slow route to extinction and for whatever reason could not find a way off it.

A historical anomaly – and a worthwhile footnote – that it was Geoffrey Richmond’s attempts to make football law that could have saved his old club.

New Investor Mark Lawn Arrives At Bradford City To Take Joint Chairmanship

46 year old Mark Lawn has invested a chunk of his wealth in a half share of Bradford City and joins Julian Rhodes as joint chairman of the resurgent Bradford City.

Lawn made his money with Driver Hire – a driver recruitment agency in Bingley – and spent it wiping out his club’s debts. Julian Rhodes – as with the gusto of Lieutenant Colonel Travis – took a deserved delight in this day saying

We’ve got rid of all the debts apart from a small overdraft facility.

Laws investment is financial stability rather than team building funds but will allow City to concentrate revenue on the football side of the business rather than servicing the debts. Lawn will also take over as the public face of the club. The new Geoffrey Richmond in the nicest possible way.

Richmond’s dawn at City was brilliant but in the scheme of things all to brief. The new man at Bradford City could dip into the Geoffrey manual for tub-thumping but will do well to bang a less hollow drum than Richmond’s pushing energy and resource into building of more permanent structures at the club. The youth program begins to brings fruit and always needs augmenting, the scheme that is selling City season tickets for less than twenty quid more than Bradford Park Avenue ones is peerless in football in terms of an investment in the future of our club and the financial boost can be to this generation what kid-for-a-quid was to others.

Lawn begins with a club as low as it has been for many a decade and tired of the much heard mantra that the only way was up – down seems to have been the more commonly taken route – but his arrival coincides (not by accident) with Stuart McCall’s third coming and an increased sense of the positive around the club.

All of which is very much a new day and one which needs to be ceased with both hands because to return to the metaphor – this new dawn breaks over the last chance saloon.

Finger Out Mr Rhodes

Let it be known, I’m not one of Julian Rhodes biggest fans.

Yes, respect is due for the way his wallet keeps getting prized open to fund the shortfalls, but the deep deep part of me will never forget that the Rhodes family were implicit in the debacle that caused the whole problem and the relegations that followed and more importantly were negligent in allowing the fat man – Geoffrey Richmond – the level of personal vanity that put the club on collision course with Division Four.

That said, this week could be a massive milestone in the future of both Bradford City and one Julian Rhodes.

On the positive side, we could be sat here next week looking at a future where we could take some “ginger” steps towards the return of a period of “Bantam Progresivism”. The Glasnost of West Yorkshire.

A week from now, we might have Stuart McCall in place and if sense prevails a very experienced number two such as Terry Dolan or Stan Ternant alongside him. These men who lived and breathed the rise of the club from 1985 onwards.

We could have a modest amount of investment that might just fund some half decent, wholly owned committed players and we could be looking forward to the most exciting summer at Valley Parade for many a year.

Or we could be in the depths of despair…

McCall installed as number one at Bramall Lane, scratching around for a second choice and being left with the likes of, God forbid, Peter Jackson or worse still David Wetherall as manager.

Not that I dislike Wetherall, great leader, great club man, great player, just not ready yet to be manager as McCall himself wasn’t in 2000.

The knock effect being we panic and give contracts to players we should be saying adios to like Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, Steven Schumacher and Ricgard Edghill. Players who contributed in a massive way to our relegation with their lack of commitment, lack of skill and lack of anything approaching pride in a claret and amber shirt.

The outcome of this week will either make Rhodes or break him.

Land McCall and he’ll be forgiven relegation, forgiven the fact that an experienced manager such as Andy Ritchie, appointed when Colin Todd left, would have prevented it and be hailed as the deliverer of an orange future.

Failure to land the one we call McGod and Rhodes will have dropped another almighty clanger, have wasted half a season and have so much egg on his face that he might as well have spent the last 6 months in a chicken battery.

I hope for his sake that Mrs McCall’s heart rules over Stuart’s head.

Hutchings Horror Wasted The Best Team In City’s History

I once read a book, well I’ve read more than one book but this is the one I’m talking about, and I can’t remember what it was called but it was about a guy who had an earwhigg that had crawled into one of his ears and was digging through to the other side and the guy who had this thing in his ear kept having these memories sparked off my the earwhigg as it went through and finally it popped out the otherside of the guy’s brain and the horror was over only it wasn’t cause the insect was a female and had laid eggs and so it would happen again and again…

That is pretty much how Wigan Athletic fan’s should be feeling right now.

Before I say this I’m going to say that I’m sure that Chris Hutchings is a great bloke and he is a good coach but there is no way the guy is a Premiership manager cause I saw every one of his 12 Premiership games and most of his Intertoto cup ties, he won some of them, and I can say better than anyone just how little he was able to get to grips with managing a team.

Charlton away spings to mind where City wandered around the field trying to make up for the big hole around Dan Petrescu where the Romanian “Legend” stood stock still not caring.

After Manchester United away I got disciplined for searing at my boss cause we lost 6-0 and the reason we lost 6-0 was because Hutchings could not see that he needed to play a 451 at Old Trafford.

We all like to point the finger for who was to blame for City’s team going tits up in the Premiership and everyone in the world points at Geoffrey Richmond but in that six weeks of madness Richmond got together the most talented squad ever given to a Bradford City manager and he gave it to Chris Hutchings.

Matt Clarke, Gunnar Halle, David Wetherall, Andy O’Brien, Wayne Jacobs, Robbie Blake, Stuart McCall, Gareth Whalley, Peter Beagrie, Benito Carbone and Dean Windass and if you want more beef add Peter Atherton to the midfield and Static Ash as a non-scoring forward if you must. Throw in David Hopkin if you think that he was a perfectly good player until the second he walked into Valley Parade and remember how Lee Mills was dumped for a player who cost twice as much and was half as good (He means Ashley Ward again, Ed.) Richmond got together the most talented squad ever given to a Bradford City manager and he gave it to Chris Hutchings and Hutching squandered it.

I’m not putting everything at the door of Chris Hutchings cause that would be unfair but the man had the best Bradford City team every and got one of the best performances ever out of it against Chelsea and then like some rabbit in headlights got flattened by the Premiership.

Has he improved since? Wigan had better hope so.

Whatever it is that Hutch does on the training field and Paul Jewell says it is a load he does not do it as manager. As a manager he lacks ideas and imagination. He is low profile to the point of head scratching and this is not about him not having played for England it is about the way that he does not offer leadership for the players.

Dave Whelan obviously sees the same things in him as Geoffrey Richmond did. What does it say about GR that his mistakes are being made again? I hope for Chris Hutchings sake he has a better time of it as boss of Wigan than he did at City or after Paul Jewell’s six months off I think he might find his old number two ready and waiting for a job.

Jewell Leaves Again After Proving A Point

The sight of Paul Jewell celebrating keeping Wigan in the Premiership was confirmation. He could have dnoe it, he would have done it. He would have kept City in the Premiership and would probably have stopped six days let alone six weeks of madness. He resigned from Wigan Athletic in shorter time than he did Valley Parade having proved the point to all.

Jewell is probably England’s finest manager and should he end up at Newcastle United or Manchester City or should Liverpool bin Rafa and give the job to the old boy then no one would find a finer motivator of players.

Wigan’s calmness in the 2-1 win over Sheffield United proved this. Jewell gets his players up for a game not in blood and thunder but in a cool ability to continue playing the game the right way even under pressure. Paul Scharner’s finish typified Jewell as much as Mills or Blake’s goals at Wolves did.

He leave Wigan, as he did City, in a ridiculously better position than when he found them and one hopes Dave Whelan’s reaction is no the same as Geoffrey Richmond’s but one would not be surprised if it was.

How much of the £50m war chest would Wigan have to spend to make up for what they have lost? I suspect that war chest is not deep enough. The millions we gave for Benito Carbone, Dan Petrescu, Ashley Ward et al could not come close to fixing the hole caused by the departure of the gaffer.

Jewell could have everything needed as a manager – he needs to show he can work with bigger budgets and bigger players which is probably why he has moved on – but he lacks loyalty. It has taken him seven years to prove his second year in the Premiership credentials and still Whelan’s bombastism questions Jewell’s ability to get on with the people who give him his jobs.

Nevertheless for now Jewell will hope to make a better step this time than he did last when he exited City for the mire of Sheffield Wednesday but even should he make that mistake again one suspects his reputation as a manager equipt for the last day heroic will survive.

Jewell, eyeing the big time, wants more.

The Premiership Needs To Employ Richmondesque Thinking Over The Webster Ruling For The Good Of Us All

Back in the summer of 2001 Geoffrey Richmond – in his position on the board of the Football League – offered a deal to the clubs. For a three week period no one would make a transfer while the contracts for the entire playing squads of all teams were ripped up and new ones written that took into account the failure of ITV Digital and attempted to circumnavigated the collapse in transfer fees that would bring about wide spread administration.

As a name Andy Webster is less exotic than Jean-Marc Bosman but it will be written in football history in the same way. Webster’s move from Hearts to Wigan – buying up his own contract after the protected period FIFA has built into it’s contract model – will be no less revolutionary for football.

Webster tested the rule in the post-Bosman FIFA wide contract model that said that for players under 28 the protected period – which is to say the time where a player is tied to the club he signed a contract with – is three years and after serving a fifteen day notice period the player is free to leave for a club in another country which when joining Paul Jewell’s Wigan was exactly what Andy Webster did.

So for the balance of his contract as dictated by the wage he would have been paid had he stayed Webster left and while Hearts screamed that they would have charged seven figures for the player they got just £625,000.

Today Andy Webster tomorrow whom? Frank Lampard’s much talked about move to Barcelona would be a snip for the Catalans if all they had to do with multiple Lampard’s wage to the years left on his contract rather than waiting to see how much the club that needs no more money want for it’s talisman. The likes of Xabi Alonso, Cesc Febregas et al could see a short cut to a way home.

The Premiership, however, is a long way away from League Two and such matters would not affect City in the short term. With two of the ninety-two heading in administration this week football can ill afford another transfer value meltdown and such a black hole of money is the last thing that financially precarious City need right now.

Mark Bower’s move to Burnley will probably keep the coffers full for another year but if Burnley cannot sell to a lower Premiership club who ca not sell to a higher club then the whole chain falls apart.

So what is to be done?

The Premiership chairmen need to take up the same spirit that Geoffrey Richmond and his Coventry co-hort and similarly reviled chairman Bryan Richardson had and find a way for the club’s to address this hole in the contract law to ensure that the trickle down of transfer fees does not end. Perhaps the moves that Richmond et al proposed would be too drastic, to risky, for the clubs but similar thinking needs to be employed as part one of this solution. The Spanish league has had for many years built-in buyout clauses that allow a player to leave for a price agreed at the start of the contract.

For the second part when “doing a Webster” becomes the new Bosman football clubs need to ensure that they do not address the compensation and cheaper players issue by piling the funds into the contracts making them prohibitively expensive to buy out but further fueling wage inflation from the ludicrous to the impossible.

Richmond and co failed in their proposal and as a result Bradford City and 34 other clubs came close to going out of business. Think of football as an injured player limping until he reaches half time. How many more challenges is he going to take before we send on a physio? How many more before the injury ends his career?

In Consideration of Stuart McCall

League Two is beginning to settle into my mind. I’ve done a look up and down the list of teams – nothing very impressive – and I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason we are going to be at the same level as Rochdale is that the characterlessness of the club means we deserves to be at the level of Rochdale.

Characterlessness I’ll qualify. This season City have been subject to some appalling and frankly biased refereeing decisions and have had a share of bad luck that hampers most teams. Our reaction to these knock downs has been to hug the canvas for as long as possible. There are many reasons for this – too many loan players, a change in manager, losing key members of the squad, injuries, a hostile crowd, an inequity in the structure of the game – but few would argue that it is the case.

To escape this League Two the club is going to need major work and prime in that work is the appointment of a manager. Julian Rhodes wants someone in the chair by the end of May and he wants to talk to Stuart McCall about the job.

It is probably clear that City need McCall more than McCall need City but need him we do. No other names suggest themselves as being able to have the sea-change in atmosphere – who would boo a McCall team? McCall would get the shield of bullet-proofness for longer than other managers and might actually get some work done – and culture at the club.

Adding McCall to City could put a few thousand bums on seats, it could get people behind the club again. It could be the answer to all the minor problems that have added up to a major crisis for this club.

Make no mistake Julian Rhodes cannot keep bank rolling a City side that loses him money. We need McCall to return to kick-start all the things we need to turn the club around. We need a manager whom people want to do well rather than the procession of gaffers who it seems failure was almost welcomed for. I heard I don’t mind if we lose cause then Todd will be sacked far too many times last year.

However it is said that McCall would not want to join a League Two club. That relegation has cut off our chances of getting the number four for his third stay at VP. Perhaps so.

To that all I can say is that Bradford City is in dire need – in dire need for the changes that McCall could bring – and should he decided as he has a right to that he can watch the club flounder from afar in what is in a very real and very serious way our hour of need then perhaps I hold him in too high regard.

A club’s legend – this club’s legend – needs to be prepared to get hands dirty otherwise what is the point of being the legend?

Bradford City’s problem since the McCall/Paul Jewell/Geoffrey Richmond days has been a critical lack of leadership. A McCall led City have a chance to establish a direction again – to rally under a banner so lacking under Colin Todd or Nicky Law – and stop the backbiting and arguments that go along with every game. Valley Parade could unify behind Peter Beagrie or John Hendrie but it would be behind McCall and the divisiveness of the last seven years could be put to rest.

Beagrie, Hendrie, Chris Wilder, Wayne Jacobs. Other managers could turn around the club but McCall – with the status he would bring – has the best chance to avoid a future in which attendances dwindle, in which Rhodes can no longer fund a club making less and less money every year, which is so far away from the top table of English football that the risible, lamentable trickle down hardly registers.

In the twenty five years since we were last in the bottom division football has changed beyond recognition. For most of those twenty-five years we put the club on a progressively higher footing but – and apologies to the sensibilities on this but it is a grim fact – we are at a storm front in football where the haves have and the have nots are swept away.

Twenty-five years ago we were in the have nots by some degree. We rose into the haves of the Premiership and the Championship and black balance sheets and entertaining football, we need to get back not just to have a better future but to have a future.

Twenty-five years ago when City started our last campaign in the bottom division in the first game we have a debut at right back to a 16 year old picked up after being released.

You can guess what his name was?

League Two is a Series of Bad Decisions

Donovan Ricketts let the ball go through his legs after Jamie Ward hit the ball at goal. Slowly it squirmed over the line. So slowly, so slowly.

Eight years ago I felt sick with anticipation. It was barely something I could understand and certainly was something that while I hoped for it I never thought it would happen. City – my team – were in a two way shoot out with Ipswich Town for a place in the Premiership. For sure we had lost to Huddersfield Town but as our form started to stumble so did the East Anglians. Eight years ago I could hardly believe it. It was hard to form in my mind.

But it was formed in my mind. It was believable.

Six months earlier City had played Sheffield United – who themselves were chasing promotion – and then Paul Jewell’s Bantams were second bottom and people were saying that Geoffrey Richmond was frittering away the talents of the recently returned Stuart McCall by allowing him to be managed by the Scouser. The game ended 2-2 but the way the Bantams organised themselves that day convinced me we would be in the play-offs at least.

So eight years ago I could believe it was us or Ipswich to follow Sunderland into the Premiership because on the field and off it we were a superbly run club. Jewell had a team that played effective, percentage football and Richmond – turning a profit every year – led a tightly run ship.

I could believe it because we were a well run club at (the vast majority of) levels and perhaps it was naive but my sense of social justice tells me that when you do things right good things happen. Not that the cream rises to the top but rather that the top is layered with people that do things in the right way.

I could believe it.

I guess the second goal was unlucky. A shot cannoned off the post and Ward was the first to react it it. Ricketts did well and shot glances around the area as if to ask Am I playing on my own here. Rebounds always seem to fall to them when you are at the bottom don’t they? We never seem to get there first. Bad luck.

Move forward a few years and I’m standing on the pitch with a dozen other City fans watching Geoffrey Richmond argue with Matthew Ward a Daily Express journalist – about the merits of the Italian footballer he had unveiled as a new signing half an hour ago. We stood in the centre circle watching Richmond ebulliently wag his finger in Ward’s face as Ward impressively went toe-to-toe with the powerful figure of the Bradford City chairman.

The sun beat down on Richmond as he told Ward that Bradford City would no longer be considered a small club and as he said it from the corner of my eye I noticed recently installed manager Chris Hutchings wandering the full length of the field untroubled by press men or supporters and in retrospect Richmond’s ebullience was his bullish attempts to keep the club together following the departure of Paul Jewell.

For the first time Richmond was putting his not inconsiderable efforts into the wrong area so badly and it bore such consequences. Richmond was no longer running the club well and the club was running away and the debate on the scale of Richmonds (mis)management and the effects of external elements in football will go on forever but unequivocally in the Summer of 2000 with Richmond out of control and Hutchings a shadow Bradford City were a badly run club and a year later we deserved relegation.

It was irritating to see a team show so little fight. Bill Shankley said that he preferred to use the language of the people and that he would not call a player lackadaisical when he could call him lazy. Omar Daley is a lazy footballer and he while he is not alone today there are too many players on the field for City who are not invested in the future of the club. Too many loan players so do not need to perform and too many last year of contract players who can see the exit door. How have we got to a position where you can write the names of the starting eleven down and you cross off the ones you think you will see next season rather than the ones you thing will go: Ricketts, Edghill, Wetherall Will he stay not being manager?, Bower Better than Div 4, Clarke , Daley, Johnson, Schumacher Out of contract, would be good to get him to stay, Parker, Paynter, Weir-Daley Rumoured to have a two year deal on the table – who offered him it?

How can a team play well when so few of the players have anything invested in the future of the club?

I stood outside Valley Parade – this was three years ago – with Bradford City Supporters Trust chair (and the reason we still have a Bradford City, but that is another point) Mark Boocock and we waited for administrator Kroll to get an agreement on the CVA document that would end City’s second spell of administration which had come about after Gordon Gibb and Julian Rhodes had fallen out and the club had slipped into League One.

Gordon Gibb would not agree to the terms of the CVA which left the one hundred year old club waiting for one of our former players – Ashley Ward – to agree to drop his objection and take the club over the needed percentage of agreed creditors but Ward was out on the training field and could not be reached and so we sat in the Banqueting Suite which stands above a place were 56 people died and in a location where professional football had been played for a century waiting for a guy who did very little for his £18,000 a week to get out of the shower and decide if the club would continue or if it would be liquidated.

So we waited and we talked to one of the officials of Kroll the administrator and asked him about the future of the club and he saw reason for optimism because unlike the rest of League One we would not be riddled with debt so “all” we had to do was to get income over expenditure and we would be debt free. We pondered as Ward finished his shower and told us we could continue to be a City with a football club and I walked away thinking that this surely, surely is not how a football club should be run.

Jamie Ward ran fifty yards pretty such unchecked before putting in a shot which Mark Bower turned into his own net. 3-0 and all the booing to date – the chiding of good players and the atmosphere of poison – has cheapened the criticism given out to some players who are not even going through the motions.

Six months ago Colin Todd was not sacked not as a solution to get the playing side back on track or to flood the club with new ideas on how to play the game or even to change the focus of the system to a more or less direct game but as a punishment because results were bad and as a sop to the fans who wanted rid of him. Sacking a manager is a way to effect a change to bring improvement but it is not a change in itself. Julian Rhodes is a good man, a good fan and he is applauded for his innovations but decisions often outside his control have been poor. The debts we have no are caused by bad decisions, the way we ended up paying rent of our own ground was a bad decision and yes changing managers without ever effecting a change on the field was a string of bad decisions.

So slowly the ball crept over the line. So slow the decline of this club but along the way bad decisions have been made metronomically – from the boardroom to the pitch to the stands – and this is by no means the lowest Bradford City can sink.

League Two? Can I believe it? Of course. Seven years of bad decisions should result in this.

Rhodes: I Did What I Had To To Keep The Club Going

Some years ago while Bradford City were parking next to extinction I managed to see a copy of the financial reports for the failing business that was Bradford City AFC. It did not make good reading, in fact I had to hold back a tear. If people knew some of the things that had gone on not to put the future of this club in jeopardy but afterwards and by some of the people who came to refinance us then…

Well then people would be marching on a local theme parks demanding answers.

To be honest Bradford City fans do deserve answers about what has gone on with the money at Valley Parade and they deserve the truth. Mouth shut agreements on some parties and a fear of litigation on mine prevent this truth from fully being told and perhaps that is a good thing because to paraphrase Aaron Sorkin’s play We can’t handle the truth

Or at least some people cannot and so Julian Rhodes is set on the defensive talking about being insulted by comments that money had been taken out of the coffers and defending sanctioning the departures of Dean Windass and Jermaine Johnson.

Rhodes never says that Windass’s departure could have been brought about by the vague campaign of criticism which lead to hate mail and death threats the player suffered nor does he say that the £500,000 for Jermaine Johnson was ridiculously good money for a player who would be publicly balled out on the field for his selfish play.

Rhodes makes it clear that selling Johnson allowed the club to continue trading. That is a no brainer. Rhodes says

The facts of the matter are I had to do what I had to do to keep the club going.

Rhodes has been in charge at Valley Parade for seven years and faces his second relegation in that time. He faced a shrinking income stream which has been turned around and a climate in football where the kids of Bradford no longer sport Manchester United shirts but increasingly don the colours of Barcelona and LA Galaxy and football is followed from an armchair.

He faces a football world in which money is poured into the top level and the trickle down is pitiful. He faces hyper-inflation at the top level dragging wages up for all and he faces that with his own failing laid bare.

For Rhodes has made mistakes in running the club but like Joe Colbeck, Valley Parade and the claret and amber striped shirts it is not a case that as Bradford City fans it is our job to find these faults and magnify them but rather accept them, hopefully guide and try minimise where they occur. Selling 25 year season tickets (Not something Julian Rhodes did, a Geoffrey Richmond innovation) was a mistake but it has been accepted, representation was made and a solution found that all were as happy as could be with.

The truth that the 5% of City fans who Rhodes accuses of shouting loudest against him cannot handle is that as good or bad as Rhodes may be he is the only option to manage and own a terminally holed business that continues to trade at a loss long after any normal business would have been liquidated.

The truth is that Julian Rhodes has not sucked the money out of City – City have sucked the money out of him.

This is not sycophancy or obsequiousness, it is honesty based on having seen on paper the facts that stare Julian Rhodes in the face on a daily basis. The man has failings and I would run the club differently perhaps but make no mistake that without him Valley Parade would look like The Odeon in Bradford City Centre and Bradford City would be out of business.

So It Has Come To This

I’m still not really sure how this happened this relegation thing.

I remember having an argument with a few people about how City were going to grind away to mid-table mediocrity under Colin Todd and I was saying that we should give the guy time cause he was doing a good job just having us in League One and then I was told that sacking him we could get promoted.

It was like a promise that getting rid of Todd would make things better. Someone must have believed it. I wish this was me being wise after the event but I said it at the time.

I remember that we had a guy up front called Dean Windass who could do some stupid stuff but was the best striker in the league and people were telling me we shouldn’t play him to teach him a lesson or punish him for getting sent off and then someone said he should not even play for us again and now it looks like he won’t.

I’m pretty sure that things were not perfect and that basically things have been wrong at City since Richmond’s summer of madness but it struck me on Saturday that this club has a load of problems caused by Richmond and a load of problems caused by the way that big football screws over little football and a lot of problems caused by rubbish refereeing but we also had a load of problems caused by us.

The booing, the insisting that the gaffer is sacked, the guys who pick on one player be it Deano or Ben Parker or Billy Paynter or anyone, the mood at VP that is so negative. All stopping people coming to Valley Parade. All real problems.

So I remembered that City had loads of problems outside the camp and then it struck me as I watched half a team playing out the end of League One football that we should sort out the problems inside the ground and inside us fans first.

The Law debate and polishing the brass on the Titanic

Back in the Geoffrey Richmond: Saint or sinner debate a phrase used to be used. It was sometimes RTG but could be RTS. The final character was not that important, the other two stood for rose-tinted.

The rose-tinted debate raged on the Internet Bantams mailing list and around Bradford for a few years and still bubbles under in all those places now. The idea was that one could look at City two ways. Firstly you could ignore the perceived pillage of Valley Parade and the club’s short route to the dump chute of administration by believing that everything would be all alright and the club was experiencing a dip in form. These people were ostensibly the rose-tinteds.

In opposition them in this sub cultural battle were the self-titled realists who saw everything going to Hell in a handcart and would countenance no call that anything at the club was anything other than incorrigible. These people had seen the future, and it was black.

Post-administration realists departed the field and claimed victory and it was hard to argue that on the whole they had been right about the future of the club come the slide from the Premiership. The club had gone bad and they had said it would. The fact that other developments which flourished were talked on with the same grim attitude mattered not, the prediction was for financial woe and so realists won, even if in the scattershot of the argument phrases like “This club will never produce a good player” were used at a time when Lewis Emanuel and Danny Forrest were pushing into the reserves.

Now the debate on the Clayton Omnibus as well as online is the future of Nicky Law, that he has none specifically, sides are drawn once more down similar lines but – and tellingly – they have swapped sides.

The rose-tinted have looked at Nicky Law and with a gulp of the realism they were encouraged to encompass they state that the problems at City are more than just to do with a manager who has the capacity to cock up tactically and see a shrinking gate, falling sponsorship and the trend of football to hogging the money at the top table of the Premiership and suggest, not unreasonably perhaps, that the last thing we want to do now is rid ourselves of a manager who while curious in some areas has strengths in others in favour of the lucky dip of the positions wanted adds and considering the bad experiences with bosses we have had in the past few years it’s no surprise they have that opinion. It’s realism of a sort.

The other voice coming up is from that camp that used the word realist as a badge. The “realists”, the same people who decried Geoffrey Richmond and called all bad have taken a leap away from reality. To “The Realists” the universal cure all is that once a P45 with the name Nicolas Ulysses Law on it is drawn up then City begin a new, that the weight of football and financial problems pushing down on Valley Parade are lifted by getting a guy who throws on more men fifteen minutes from time. The notion, when said out loud, is almost a definition of looking at a situation with a rose-tint.

So what is the point of all this? The point, dear reader, is this. The state that City are in now is bigger than Nicky Law, Gordon Gibb, the tactics on the field or the fans in the stadium and a change of manager would be largely cosmetic at this point. If changing manager after 18-30 months was the path to success then there would be European Cups at Valley Parade. It never worked in the past, why should it work now?

To use a popular metaphor City are a ship that hit and iceberg in administration and now we are sailing away from it bailing out water for all we are worth. Getting in a new manager would be polishing the brass as we sink.

Exciting signings 102

Three summers ago we weighed up who “The most exciting signing in the club’s history” could be before seeing the dominative Italian walking into a maelstrom.

Benito Carbone was the zenith of the summer of madness and now that the battle that began between Geoffrey Richmond and some at the club has been won and the history written by the winners Carbone was always a bad idea.

He was a giddy head rush of an idea. He was starting on a bottle of Jack Daniels while lounging on your freshly cut lawn knowing that you will pay for the hangover and that you had not finished the weeding. He was football transfer as binge.

Like all head rushes it felt great at the time.

Today things are different. Bradford City are making a major signing at a Press Conference at Valley Parade this afternoon but no one is whispering and rumouring. The club sign Alan Combe seems to be the most popular assessment of the events although names from Danny Forrest to Teddy Sheringham have been mentioned.

We have modest ambitions these days.

When Carbone signed many thought City had spring boarded into the top half of the Premiership. Even if today’s major signing was the little Italian there are few who would thing that this one player would face anything more than a play off push at the very best.

Perhaps we have learned something in the time between August 8th, 2000 and today. We have seen Benito Carbone and a cast of others including Stan Collymore, Ashley Ward, Dan Petrescu, David Hopkin et al be able to do nothing individually and in some cases collectively against the decline of the Bantams.

Add to that the catastrophic wages of Carbone that caused a strut on the day but cost so much in the longer term.

The lesson is that you cannot focus on one man and ignore other problems. That whomever we sign today the aim of the game is to get the best out of the squad.

Promotion in 1999 depended not on the great works of Stuart McCall and Peter Beagrie but on the fact that work a day squad men like Robbie Blake and Jamie Lawrence emerged as quality players. If we are to get on at this club then it is not important if we sign Alan Combe, Danny Forrest or Teddy Sheringham, it matters that we get the best out of Michael Standing and Danny Cadamarteri.

That said though if we break the bank to sign Freddy Adu I’ll be wandering away from VP a happy man.

Nicky Law with a wry smile

For as long as there has been a BfB Bradford City has been a club about balance between three elements: The Chairman, The Manager and the Players.

The Chairman is and always has been Geoffrey Richmond. For a time he held total power over the club. The Summer of 2000 saw Richmond virtually in total control at Valley Parade with a manager who seemed uninterested in signing players following one who simply did not want to add to his squad, honourable intentions for Mr Jewell back then who, unlike Jim Jefferies, did not want to bring a player in only to bog off a month later.

The manager’s at VP in recent years have varied in power. Chris Kamara’s grew too much and it is rumoured that that is why he got the chop. Paul Jewell had some but failed to use it. Chris Hutchings was powerless, Jim Jefferies seemed to think he should be given power over the entire club, something that no team allows its manager in this day and age.

Nicky Law will enjoy the sort of power that Paul Jewell started with at Valley Parade. His is Richmond’s anointed son and like Jewell he is one that not many in Bradford would have selected but like Jewell he has impressed when working in difficult conditions. Chesterfield won promotion twice last season following the nine point deductions and sanctions just as PJ showed his metal at City in the weeks after the league had been given up and he would now allow the players to coast out the fixtures.

In selecting Law Geoffrey Richmond has reverted to his post-Lennie Lawrence philosophy on football managers, that there importance is limited. Without wanted to play down the involvement of Jewell and Kamara in there successes too much it would seem that Richmond believes that a successful manager is only successful because of a wider achievement by the club at all levels. Jim Jeffries, it would seem, was no more needed in the First Division than Benito Carbone was. If the club is going in the right direction then all involved: players and manager, seem to perform well. If not then they become expensive luxuries.

It is an open secret that the feeling at VP toward Jim Jefferies is one of great disappointment. They believed that in appointing a “proper” manager who had experience at a higher level and “the nouse” in the game they would get something approaching a Carbone on the bench, someone who could add a little spice to turn draws into wins and would get a little extra from there charges. What they got was Carbone on the bench. It does not take a highly paid manager with respect in the game to tell you that the expensive Romanian on the wing who does nothing is not worth keeping and if that is going to be the sum positive of his involvement then why not go for another cheaper man who will be able to do lat least that.

Jim Jefferies looked on City as a curse, Nicky Law sees us as a God send. Perhaps after a 0-0 draw with Coventry we would not have to suffer Nicky Law downbeat on Five Live sounding like his car has a flat tyre Jefferies style. Perhaps Law will have the enthusiasm of a man with a chance to better himself, not one who is slumming it, which was the vibe that Jeffries exuded.

Perhaps in final reckoning of Jim Jefferies and as a way t point to why Nicky Law if not a better football manager, may be a better City manager, was that Jefferies attitude to the job transferred itself to the pitch. If Jim had an escape route planned, as he seemed to think he had and hinted at once or twice, then the players could follow. If Nicky Law messes this up the only way is down.

In other managers in the same situation as laws, those elevated from the lower leagues, there is hope. John Gregory was doing nothing at Wycombe when Doug Ellis swooped to take him to Villa where he seemed to perform minor miracles considering the apathy of the west midland’s crowd. Sam Ayladyce has learnt his lessons in football the hard way, one doubts that any Bolton programme would include directions to Wembley during a semi final now, but wins over Liverpool and at Old Trafford suggest that he has learnt those lessons well. George Burley at Colchester, Glenn Roeder at Gillingham. Dave Jones at Stockport and Stan Ternant all over the place. All are doing well and suggest that to a certain level the need for former Internationals who have never dirtied their hands in the lower leagues might be alive. How Law will motivate a Lee Sharpe or should he come back a Benito Carbone is anyone’s guess, but if Glenn Roeder can get a team with Paulo Di Canio and Freddy Kannute playing then anything is possible. John Gregory’s treatment of the once great Frenchman David Ginola may be a better indication of the future under Nicky Law. Shape up or ship out, not a message that will be disheartening to city fans, who are especially distasteful of players who do not give there all.

The third in the triumberate of the Bantams is the players. For a time the players power manifested itself in Benito Carbone, but for the main Stuart McCall lead those who wear the claret and amber. McCall flexed his muscles of later and Jim Jefferies seemed to pay the price. It would never be easy for the Scots manager to carry on after the McCall bust up and Nicky Law would be well advised to make sure that Stuart is kept sweet. Aside from the fact that any team picked from the City squad that does not include McCall is plain wrong, the skipper is more than worth his place in the side on his own performances, the extra he adds to those around him being a superb bonus and the model for all captains, the supporters would prefer to see McCall kicking a ball for the Bantams as long as he wants to and not have his career cut short by a manager.

For McCall the position seems clear. He must play out the last months of his City contract and then find a club to manage. In a year’s time after that Nicky Law will have either succeeded or failed with the Bantams, GR’s fuse running to 18 months at best, and McCall can send a justifiable application for the role. If Law is successful, and here is hoping he will be, then McCall will have to wait longer but no doubt the chance will come and Stuart had better be ready.

Nicky Law said the Bradford City job was a chance that he feared would never come. He has served an apprenticeship garnered enough respect to bring him to the notice of a bigger club. If Stuart McCall has hopes of managing the Bantams he must do the same.

Not that this should affect Law any. His role at City now is clear. He must spend the next four months getting to know the players, he is spoil for quality at this club and is right when he talks of underachievement, and he must get them playing attacking football, not leaking goals and towards the top ten of the division. Should he do that the Winter War Chest that Jim Jefferies could not find the keys to will be opened for him to make a small signing or two to make a play off push for the Bantams.

If not then Mr Richmond has proved that a manager is replaceable.

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