Landmark Steve Parkin launches a bid to buy Bradford City from Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes

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

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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.

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Lawn and Rhodes earn the right to repeat in optimism

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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.

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Peter Jackson confirmed at City manager

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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.

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Mark Lawn asks us to believe the gloomy picture he presents

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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.

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Taylor walks away carrying all the cans

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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.

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