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.

Vincelot rejects Bradford City, but the club’s spending intentions are made clearer

Defender-come-midfielder Romain Vincelot completed a move from Dagenham & Redbridge to Brighton for an undisclosed fee last Friday, after Bradford City had emerged as an improbable and highly unlikely rival to the Seagulls for the Frenchman’s signature. Having failed to persuade him a future up North in League Two was more attractive than competing in the Championship on the South coast, all eyes will now be on what the Bantams do next.

Like just about every other supporter who read the Sky Sports story that City had made a six-figure bid for Vincelot earlier last week, I initially dismissed it as utter rubbish and an unusual case of that website getting its facts wrong. It’s just short of a decade since the Bantams last spent so much money on one player – Andy Tod – and the recent financial issues that had threatened to see us depart Valley Parade this summer suggested such resources were not available.

But then joint-Chairman Mark Lawn told BBC Radio Leeds that a bid to Dagenham had been submitted – and while that offer may have been short of six figures, it will still have been significantly high. From pleading poverty to landlord Gordon Gibb a few months ago, City apparently have money in the wallet as they shop around for new signings. That money won’t be going on Vincelot, but a statement of intent has been made.

The source of this surplus money is no secret – the windfall of a cup tie at neighbours Leeds United and the fact Sky Sports are screening it live. Ticket sales for both sets of fans are reported to be good, and City’s reward for the evening is reputed to be around £100k before a ball is kicked. This pile of money wasn’t planned for when the budgets were drawn up last May – we could just have easily faced a uninspiring first round trip to Scunthorpe United for no tangible financial benefit – so like finding an extra tenner in your jeans pocket the morning after a night out, why not treat it as a bonus and spend it freely?

Indeed Lawn and Julian Rhodes can argue that, without this surplus, they have already successfully done the boring bits of budgeting – and the club is in a much healthier position for it. The stadium rent situation is as resolved as it can be for now, new training ground facilities are already in use, additional coaching staff have been acquired and the Development Squad is up and running. With season ticket sales holding up surprisingly well given the crushing disappointment of last season, everything seems to be falling into place.

So why not use this unexpected bonus on bringing in one, better-calibre player? Manager Peter Jackson is said to have a playing budget comparable to last season, but given how badly that went one can argue an increase in this area is required in order to improve the squad’s capability to achieve promotion. A marquee signing can trigger many things – a warning to rivals, an increase in season ticket sales and a confidence booster for the squad. Certainly a big signing this summer would alter the outlook of what people expect City to achieve.

Yet still, spending this windfall on just one player? At this level more than most, football is a team game and the lessons that can be taken from the clubs which have been promoted from League Two over the past few seasons is that collective endeavour usually triumphs. Chesterfield last season and Brentford two years ago are notable examples of teams that had several good players but without standout stars. Would one luminary player make such a major difference to City’s prospects, or would signing two or three good-if-not-stella players be a better use of this money?

But beyond how to spend it is the usual fear of what happens if the season goes badly, just as it has so often in recent history. If a year from now the club has finished mid-table and Jackson’s replacement is told he needs to get rid of high-earners and work on a reduced budget – will spending a large sum on one player be looked back upon as a clever tactic?

While there is so much to laud the joint-Chairmen for regarding the off-the-field planning this summer, the lack of consistency to the playing budget over the years remains a concern. Perhaps this windfall should be largely left for a rainy day – if Jackson needs it mid-season for instance. Or perhaps most of it should be used to help with next season’s preparations, so if things don’t go well the consequences aren’t as severe as they have been in recent seasons.

Even more worrying is how this potential spending would look if financial problems arose again. What if City need to go and speak to Gibb again over the next 18 months about the rent? Would he be more sympathetic, or would he note that – when City hit the jackpot with a cup draw – they fritted away surplus money on an under-performing big name and conclude it is not his responsibility to help?

That is not to suggest that Lawn and Rhodes are being reckless giving Jackson all of this money. But if this windfall is used to buy someone else, after failing to sign Vincelot, and the club later regrets the outlay and the wages; it’s worth considering how it might look to other people.

Lawn and Rhodes deserve fair treatement from all as Parkin’s offer puts them under pressure

There are two huge considerations for joint Chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes when deciding on Steve Parkin’s offer to buy Bradford City – one of which people expect them to act in a certain way upon simply because they are City fans, the other of which demands greater attention in their capacity as supporters.

With Parkin having laid out his terms in a plain but somewhat biased way via the Yorkshire Post, Rhodes and Lawn have been backed into a corner with some directing their anger at the pair for rejecting an initial bid. The first of those considerations – whether to accept the offer on the table – is one easy for others to make, but few people in their shoes would be willing to write off so much money no matter how much claret and amber blood runs through their veins.

The offer to Lawn of repaying him his latest £1 million loan – overlooking the fact he has invested some £3 million in total since joining the Board in 2007 – plus pay the pair around £375,000 each would appear derisory. Quite how much Rhodes and his family have ploughed in over the years must be considerably more, and Julian disclosed to the club that the Board has collectively invested £5.5 million into the club.

Parkin has offered the Board the potential to receive further returns dependent on the club’s performance, the precise details of which have not been disclosed. But even taking this into consideration, Lawn, Rhodes and other Board members are being asked to sell the club for a fraction of the amount of money they have pumped into it. That doesn’t seem fair in anyone’s book, and one can understand Rhodes’ response in the Telegraph & Argus that they believe the club has been undervalued.

The popularity of Lawn and Rhodes waned badly in the wake of the Valley Parade rental negotiations, but whatever your view on the way they have operated the club it seems unfair to criticise them for rejecting an offer given how much money they would surely lose. Yes they are City fans, but they have family and their long-term future to consider. They have both put money into City when others have not – and in Rhodes’ case, saving the club from going out of existence. They have both already showed they are true City fans for these past actions, and so it seems unfair to criticise them for not simply stepping aside minus the wealth they have kindly shared with us.

If we were in their shoes, would we really be prepared to act any differently?

Beyond that though, the pair have a huge responsibility towards the second important consideration – the suitability of Parkin owning our football club. The club have stressed that they are yet to receive full details of Parkin’s plan, and if and when they do get to view it they can evaluate whether it really is in the club’s best interests to potentially join forces with Bradford Bulls.

On the face of it there are plenty of potential pitfalls. A few years, Huddersfield Town supporters complained loudly about the club being owned by the same people as Huddersfield Giants, with accusations the Rugby League outfit got favourable treatment and greater investment. Similar frustrations have been heard from Wycombe and their sharing with London Wasps.

The principle that both City and the Bulls would get equal treatment might sound fair, but is it viable in practice? Let’s say City are doing well but the Bulls are struggling, would money be directed towards the Rugby club to ensure they can improve – potentially slowing City’s progress? And what would the overall objective of the Bradford Sporting Club be? Right now, the two outfits are more competitors than colleagues.

A hole in Parkin’s proposals today came from Bulls chairman Peter Hood, who declared that they have had no contact from Parkin, despite the millionaire stating to the Yorkshire Post they are in favour of the Sporting Club proposal. Indeed the whole Yorkshire Post article was so focused on City and not the Bulls that one has to wonder just how serious Parkin’s Sporting Club intentions are. But also what happens if City accept Parkin’s offer but the Bulls reject, would the deal to buy City be put in jeopardy?

Then there’s the stadium situation. Parkin has talked of building a new stadium for both clubs – though whether this is at a new venue or rebuilding Valley Parade or Odsal is unclear. Parkin or Rhodes and Lawn in charge, the Gordon Gibb lease situation would be the same and City are tied to their home by a contract which to break could involve administration.

Do we want to move anyway? Parkin talks of the Bantams easily being able to become a Championship club again, and if that was to happen we would already have a perfectly suitable stadium to play in. What on earth is the point in building a completely new football stadium, aside from the lease problem? Surely it would cost a lot more money to buy land and build a new ground, than to purchase Valley Parade from Gibb?

Those are the main talking points so far, but the motives for Parkin purchasing City are also very unclear. With no previous connections to the club, Parkin will be looking to make money from his investment and that is understandable. But that isn’t necessarily the same motives and interests of us supporters. Would we see steep season ticket price rises, for example? No one looking to make money from football would see the current strategy as the best way forward to achieve this objective.

It is the responsibility of Lawn and Rhodes to fully evaluate the proposals Parkin puts forward, not simply for the terms of the sale – but the suitability of him as the owner of Bradford City. A comparison can be drawn with Liverpool and the farce over George Gillet and Tom Hicks owning the club, with how previous owner David Moores – a true Liverpool fan – sold up without undertaking the necessary due diligence over the suitability of the Americans. He was heavily criticised in hindsight, later responding via a letter to the Times about his actions.

If Parkin took over the club and it didn’t go well, for whatever reason, Rhodes and Lawn would share the responsibility too. They are the custodians of this 108-year-old club, and it’s their duty to pass it onto the right people in time. It would be foolish to sell it onto the first person flashing a wad of cash, just because they make big promises about spending money on new players. If Parkin is the best man to take the club forward, the pair have a duty to act accordingly – but first of all they need to take proper time to establish whether this is the case.

Two huge considerations – tough decisions that few of us would ultimately want to swap places with them for, no matter how easy it is for us to demand what Lawn and Rhodes should do next.

More on the Valley Parade office block purchase: a deal seemingly based on logic, a blueprint for the future?

Left with such little public information about how the Valley Parade rental negotiations were progressing over recent weeks, rumour and debate has been allowed to fill the void. It therefore became easy, as a general silence emanated from the Boardroom save for the occasional thunderous comment from Mark Lawn, to look upon the situation as boiling down to personalities: Julian Rhodes v Gordon Gibb – who is right? Yet rather than it being a case of who wins the moral argument, the major breakthrough in this saga could ultimately not be have been more ordinary.

A simple, run-of-the-mill property deal, between the football club and the one of the two landlords who, for the most part, have been largely ignored over the previous weeks. How big a role the personal grudges that surround Gibb have ever played in, or will factor into, the ongoing talks between City and his family Pension Fund is highly questionable. But Prupim – owners of the offices which have now been acquired by City – have neither been painted as good nor bad throughout.

They were the dispassionate business people, receptive to cries for help but with their own, very different priorities. That, in contrast, the negotiations between City and Gibb have occasionally been painted as playground fights may be wholly unfair. Ultimately the same calculated approach from Prupim that has led to this important deal for City will no doubt be echoed by the decisions the Gibb family Pension Fund make.

This time, it may not actually be personal.

The outcome of those Gibb negotiations – clearly still vital for the club’s future – are for another day, but the fact the Prupim deal allows City to remain at Valley Parade will probably be looked back upon as the most significant step of the whole process. The threat of moving away beyond next season is still there for now, but the office block deal has strengthened the club’s ties with its century-old home. Not since the possibility of moving to a revamped Odsal was first aired in February 2009 has City’s long-term future at Valley Parade appeared so secure.

As the inks dries on the Prupim deal, it should not be quickly forgotten that – yet again – the Bantams have had to rely on their owners digging deep to preserve the club’s future. Ever since the first spell in administration back in 2002, City’s income levels have not been self-sufficient enough to run itself. From tredding water under the Rhodes family into and out of League One, to Lawn’s £3 million loaned to the club since taking joint control in 2007, Bradford City has not been able to stand upon its own two feet and, going forward, this has got to change.

We are yet again grateful to the Rhodeses, Lawn and – on this occasion – David Baldwin for putting their hands in their pockets to prop up the club. Criticism towards the Board has been fierce in recent weeks, and despite this deal is unlikely to fully subside; but the bottom line is that, without them, we would not have a club to support, and this latest move shows that continues to be the case. There is credible talk of interested investors taking over this summer, if some of the overheads can be reduced, but such speculation has been rife before. The Board can’t plan for what ifs and maybes.

What’s unclear about the latest deal is the terms of repayment to the Rhodes family, Lawn and Baldwin. But undoubtedly they have put their neck on the line and deserve to be compensated in time. It would have been easier for them to break the lease and push City towards administration – even walking away and lining up as creditors – because as a football club that might have been the only realistic option looking solely at its balance sheets.

Whatever mud people continue to sling at them, Rhodes and Lawn are clearly Bradford City supporters who share our best interests. Success on the field may be lacking under their control so far, but our ongoing existence – and ongoing existence at Valley Parade – are not achievements to be sniffed at.

That said, the news that ownership of the club has been transferred to the newly-formed BC Bantams Limited throws up some question marks that it would be good to see addressed by the Board. It’s not that we should be necessarily suspicious – after all, tying up the office blocks and club ownership into one company means we’re unlikely to see a repeat of the Gibb Valley Parade deal which has caused so many problems – but understanding the thinking behind the new company would be welcomed.

Where this all leaves the remaining negotiations with Gibb’s Pension Fund is unclear. On the surface you could argue this places Gibb in a stronger position, given the club had seemingly presented him with a ‘reduce rent or we’ll clear off’ ultimatum and now gone back on it. The fact that the club are now more able to pay the rent offers the Pension Fund trustees less incentive to reduce their investment return. But on City’s side, at least there is more time to strike a mutually favourable agreement in the long-term.

In the meantime next season promises to be interesting. City spent a lot of money bidding for promotion this season just gone, and they failed miserably. Much of the budget was supplied by Lawn loaning money to the club, and he has gone on record to say this investment won’t be repeated. So the question is whether City will spend the surplus savings from the Prupim deal on a sizeable playing budget in a push for promotion, and how this might be perceived by the Pension Fund.

Say, for example, City sign Clayton Donaldson – which would involve beating off plenty of interest from other clubs – it would hardly look a cheap signing. Parading him around Valley Parade and then complaining they’re struggling to pay the rent on the roof over our heads would appear a contradiction unlikely to be viewed sympathetically.

Unless the knight in shining armour that is an investor really has appeared over the horizon, City badly need to be operated within its means next season. A competitive playing budget is still essential, and the inevitable cuts compared to last season will be of concern given City only just avoided relegation. But we can no longer operate in a promotion or bust manner, and Lawn’s revelation today that, without this deal, players’ wages would have not been paid this month illustrates how troubling the overall picture remains.

Everything, it seems, needs to start again from the basics. The team’s underperformance last season has prompted as big a clear out as contracts will allow, and so next season’s principle aim must be to improve on the last rather than be judged solely on whether we fall short of the play offs. The manager – Peter Jackson or otherwise – needs time to build the squad without fear of the sack following successive defeats. Off the field the club must start making a profit each year, rather than having losses covered by the joint chairmen’s pockets or the occasional youth player sale and add on.

From the outside, the Prupim deal was one conducted without the usual heavy emotion that Bradford City matters usually trigger. It was done in a calm manner based on sound logic, with an eye not just on the moment but of the future. Let’s try and make it the kind of sensible thinking that everything connected with the club is built upon.

The worst kept secret, and why it is being kept

Dario Gardi let the cat out of the bag. City are keen on his striker Clayton Donaldson.

Depending on which set of rumours you believe Donaldson is already a Bradford City player just waiting to be unveiled, or the Bantams are stalking him like an obsessive runs after an unattainable pop star.

Either way it seems that Bradford City are interested in the 27 year old Manningham born League Two top scorer.

Donaldson is leaving Crewe Alexandra on a free transfer and Gradi mentioned City amongst the interested parties despite the pressing fact that City lack some of the basics to make a bid for the player.

Basics like money. Every player at the club – perhaps not including Ross Hannah and a half dozen younger players – has either been freed or is up for sale. Some suggestions have it that City will have a wage budget of half a million pounds next season, perhaps less. Not a lot of money to be signing anyone’s top scorer.

Yet still the club have these high ambitions.

The most obvious suggestion would be that City are planning for two eventualities one in which the club hits a cash crisis and heads to Odsal, or stays at VP with a vastly reduced budget, and another when negotiations over ground rent goes well and (however ill advised) there is a plan to go full tilt for promotion again.

The question then begs itself a plan made by whom? Mark Lawn suggested that the signing that Peter Jackson had made already in close season – Hannah from Matlock Town – is the sort of player that any manager would by thus dealing with the challenging question as to why it seemed Peter Jackson was spending money for next term when he was on week to week contracts. Surely that is for the manager for next season to do.

Donaldson represents more of a significant investment than the younger striker from Matlock Town and signing him sets in stone a chunk of the club’s spending for the next two years, perhaps longer. Not any manager would choose to spend a hunk of money on a centreforward and so one must either conclude that Jackson has approved the decision to make a move for Donaldson on the understanding that he is “his sort of player” or that the manager is not playing a significant role in negotiations over new players.

The former is a better prospect than the latter. A third way, that these things are planning on the fly, is too dark to think about.

It is not hard to see why City might want to keep the duality of planning under wraps but it is almost impossible to see how they hoped to achieve that aim.

No one at Bradford City has ever proved they are especially good at keeping secrets long before Tim Berners-Lee started his good work and they have not improved since. That City have to keep potential moves for players a secret is unfortunate.

Unfortunate but perhaps it is necessary. If a deal is struck with the landlords of Valley Parade then the Bantams will have to move quickly to assemble one sort of squad, if such a deal is not reached be the Bantams at Odsal or at VP paying more than they would like another sort of squad needs to be created and – possibly – a different manager is needed to do that which would explain why Jackson remains on a week to week deal.

When Mark Lawn sits opposite Gordon Gibb and Gibb asks him why the club are trying to sign players when they are pleading poverty Lawn replies that they are doing what they can to plan for two seasons next year: One with, one without;

In that context City are not putting forward the appearance that they know nothing because – in practical terms – they do know nothing.

The Valley Parade talking shop begins

With the Premier League and FA Cup – perhaps – both being awarded today Mark Lawn hopes to end his season with a result as he is joined by Bradford City’s life president Jack Tordoff joins him in negotiations with the Flamingo Land Pension Fund – aka Gordon Gibb – and office block owners Prupim.

The City delegation hope to restructure the rent payments in order to link them to the position of the club in the football pyramid suggesting that the health and progress of Bradford City the tenant is in the interests of all. Prupim have indicated that they are prepared to negotiate. The property management company own the offices and carparks and have over £16 billion of assets in their portfolio.

One can imagine that – for them – this is a routine negotiation with a sole tenant who wants a rent reduction. One can imagine that in the last three or four years they have done this very many times.

The Pension Fund – on the other hand – are often personified by Gordon Gibb and there is bad blood between Gibb and City’s Julian Rhodes. The whys and wherefores of that bad blood are oft debated but getting to some facts Bradford City signed a deal on Valley Parade in early 2004. This deal was in place for five years at what Gibb had described as (but few other might call) a “pepper corn rent” at which point the rents were increased to a level which the club believe as unsustainable.

Tordoff’s return to the front line of action at Valley Parade has brought with it rumours that the club’s former chairman will be returning to the club as head of a consortium.

Looking at three of the men around the table Tordoff would perhaps have some sympathy. Rhodes, Gibb and Lawn have all got involved in the club and could all feel as if the situation they have ended up with it far from the one they wanted.

When Tordoff arrived at Bradford City in Stafford Heginbotham’s board he believed that football clubs drew their players from the City they were in in the way England draw their players from a country, or so it is reported.

During his time as chairman Tordoff infamously declined to sign much needed centre forward Jimmy Gillian for £70,000 because “he could break his leg next week” as well as option to sign the cheaper Mick Kennedy rather than the available Andy Townsend to partner Stuart McCall in the midfield in 1988.

Tordoff left the club to be replaced as chairman Dave Simpson and most seemed pleased by that. Some call him “Uncle Jack” Tordoff and not only is the name appropriated from the former Blackburn owner Walker but so are the happy memories. Tordoff returns to the public eye far more popular than he left it.

Which perhaps is the lesson learnt by all four people who have been Bradford City chairman sat around the table as the Valley Parade talking shop beings.

Gordon Gibb’s Pension Fund finally responds to Bradford City

BBC Radio Leeds has this evening reported that Gordon Gibb’s Pension Fund – one of the two Valley Parade landlords – has finally responded to Bradford City’s requests for talks over the current rental arrangements.

Responding to press criticisms from joint-Chairman Mark Lawn, legal representatives for Gibb have stated they are willing to speak with City and have asked the club to outline their full proposal for the tiered rental approach they are seeking.

In more negative news, however, the club’s late payment of wages to the players in April could be repeated this month, due to ongoing cashflow problems. It’s hoped these are short-term issues which can be prevented in time and, with Gibb’s representatives finally showing some willing, the longer-term problems may also slowly be on track towards a resolution of sorts.

City pay the wages late while battling for a rent reduction – two issues that should not be linked

As the negotiations over a Valley Parade rent reduction go quiet for the time being, this morning the Telegraph & Argus has reported on another financial problem that will strike fear into the heart of every Bradford City supporter. Mark Lawn has revealed the players received their wages late this month, because according to the Joint-Chairman: “money’s tight and we’ve told them that”.

Simon Parker of the T&A presumably asked Lawn further questions on this matter, but no further information has appeared (either online or in today’s printed edition of the T&A); so, as supporters, we are left with a number of questions. How late were the wages paid? Why were the wages delayed? How bad is the financial situation at the club? And how on earth has this being allowed to happen?

First though a note of sympathy for the players. In recent weeks they’ve been heavily criticised and at times deservedly so; yet if they’ve been asked to put their bodies on the line to fight for a club unable to pay them – at least on time – one can understand how uncertainty and fear might have effected their performances. Let us not inflict upon our players the stereotypical ‘overpaid prima donna’ tag – many will be on wages comparable to you and I. Were we to receive our own wages late, we would struggle with the bills and feel let down by our employees. Bradford City League Two footballers have the right to feel the same way.

In the end though they have been paid, and so attention is firmly back onto the financial strength of the football club and its ability to meet its future obligations. BfB has already reported on how the club’s Abbreviated Accounts paint a gloomy picture, and so we should not be dubious over Lawn’s claims the club cannot survive another two years under the current status quo. But still, that does not explain how City can be struggling to pay their players now.

Surely the club budgeted sensibly and accurately last summer, when handed then-manager Peter Taylor a sizeable playing budget to build a team with? Therefore how can they be so short of money before the end of the season? True, attendances have been below expectations this season, and the club has so far not put season tickets back on sale for next year. In addition, Taylor will probably have received some form of contract settlement when he departed in February – Lawn has previously admitted the club was paying Taylor well – while interim manager Peter Jackson presumably isn’t doing the job for free. Colin Cooper has also been hired to assist Jackson, while previous coaches Wayne Jacobs and Junior Lewis were placed on paid gardening leave.

We can argue about the rights and wrongs of the management and coaching staff situation, but of the above financial issues only low attendances have been beyond the Board’s control. Is around 1,000 less fans turning up every fortnight the difference between players receiving their wages? Let’s imagine this season had gone to plan and City were in Wycombe’s position now – would the club have been able to pay wages on time?

And beyond questioning the logic of awarding Taylor a playing budget the club now appears unable to have afforded, let’s not forget Taylor was allowed to go over this budget too. Lewis Hunt’s arrival pre-season put City over budget, though Scott Neilson did depart to Crawley for a transfer fee shortly after. Taylor was then allowed to bring in Lee Hendrie on wages that, come January, the Board had to tell the manager they could no longer afford. And what about those young defenders signed on loan while first team players such as Zesh Rehman, Luke O’Brien and Robbie Threlfall sat on the bench?

The Board has no right to interfere with on the field issues; but if Taylor was asking for yet more money to bring in players on loan, they were surely entitled to challenge him back over why well-paid first teamers were being overlooked, especially if money was tight.

Lawn has probably disclosed this revelation about players being paid late to tie it with the pressure he is putting on the Valley Parade landlords to agree a rent reduction, but it’s highly questionable whether the two are linked. The club may not be able to afford to play on at Valley Parade under the current terms for much longer, but spending relatively huge sums of money last summer and now struggling to pay the bills is an entirely different situation – one which the Board must shoulder responsibility for.

City knew the terms of the rent before the season started; and, as much as we can all agree how unfair it is we are forced to pay such large sums of money to people whose ethical validity for owning Valley Parade is highly questionable, it doesn’t excuse apparently poor budget planning elsewhere. The implication of linking the two – whether Lawn meant to or not – is regrettable and one has to wonder what the two landlords make of the club’s requests for rent reductions while it has seemingly spent money it cannot afford on other things. It’s a bit like pleading with the gasman that you can’t afford to pay your quarterly bill, because you’ve spent it on a brand new state-of-the-art TV.

It is not Gordon Gibb’s fault the players got paid their wages late this month. Lawn will know that too and perhaps only intended to disclose this information to soften us supporters up to a move away from Valley Parade. Yet by taking this route he has left the Board open to criticism and doubts over its ability to be sensible and prudent.

Clearly these are very worrying times for this football club, and what it will look like and where it will be playing when next season kicks off on August 6 is a question no one can answer. But while we can’t change the past, it’s time for everyone to radically think about the type of football club we want and the type of football club we can afford.

The club hired Taylor on a one-year contract because that’s all they could budget for, yet allowed him to sign players on two-year deals and on sizeable wages. The expectation is that we have to be promoted each season, so too much resources are placed towards this while neglecting other important factors or adequately considering the consequences of failing to achieve it. The club’s strategy is entirely the prerogative of the manager, who is always under pressure and fear of the sack after a couple of games are lost.

And now it leaves us fearing for the club’s very survival, again. In his first ever interview when investing into the club, back in 2007, Lawn quickly pointed out he wasn’t another Geoffrey Richmond; yet recent statements and actions leave us Bradford City supporters fearing how true that proclamation will actually turn out to be.

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.

Lawn returns to Accrington and revisits the idea of putting Bradford City into administration

The last time Mark Lawn went to Accrington Stanley he left with his car vandalised and spent the weekend threatening to wind Bradford City up by withdrawing the loan he has made to the club. This time as Lawn heads for the Crown Ground he talks about moving City away from Valley Parade.

Speaking to the T&A Lawn confirmed what BfB reported yesterday that the club had opened talks with the Football League about what they were calling a last-ditch scenario of leaving VP to move to Odsal. One would assume that this would mean refusing to pay the Landlords of Valley Parade and the clubs offices and being open to and expecting either to both to pursue the club for being in breach leading to the club seeking a third spell in administration for protection from the creditors.

The phrase “administration as a formality” has been used before at Valley Parade by Julian Rhodes in 2004 as he looked to et the club from Gordon Gibb who voted in the CVA for Bradford City to die rather than end up in the hands of his former boardroom rival. That time City came as close as can be to going out of business as could be imagined – Ashley Ward made the casting vote – so I treat the idea of a strategic administration with scepticism.

As should Julian Rhodes. My understanding of the Football League rules about who can and cannot be involved in running a football club have it that having been involved in “multiple insolvency” evenings he would not be involved in the business of Bradford City 2011 in an official capacity.

He could buy a season ticket though – many of us have – but where that season ticket will see us sit is something which should what Mark Lawn is talking about come about will change. One wonders what consideration has been taken over this from Bradford City. Fans who are happy enough to go to Odsal might not be happy to move from seats they have occupied for over a decade and will but upset but there are supporters who do not want to go to Odsal and will be knocking on the door of Valley Parade demanding their money back.

How many of the Bradford City supporters who have season tickets now will still follow the club to Odsal? We might guess at a percentage and we might curse those who do not want to but unless someone has a figure as to how the impact of moving on supporters then should this move be considered? Has anyone at Valley Parade taken the temperature of supporters about moving from Valley Parade? Does anyone know what the supporters want?

What about the club’s business partners? Our understanding of the deal which sees Nike replace Surridge as the club’s shirt supplier will see Nike take over the club shop which is a part of the offices which City are talking about defaulting on the rent of. How secure is this deal? How transferable? Has the most iconic brand on the planet been told it will be backing a club with a level of support which no one – at the moment – could even have an educated guess at?

What about other businesses which have backed City? Are they going to be left out of pocket again by administration? Have they been warned?

Ross Hannah and Michael Rankine are non-league strikers rumoured to be in talks with City. Back in 2002 Nicky Law had agreed a deal to sign Thomas Hitzlsperger and – from Grimsby – Michael Boulding but those deals died in administration. If Hannah or Rankine were to pick up the T&A today what confidence could they have in those deals coming to fruition (let alone that the man they are talking to at the club will be there next season).

What about Mark Lawn’s loans? If City go into administration and then Lawn becomes a creditor. £2m worth of loans represents a significant vote for whatever is on the table in terms of a CVA but after a CVA has been accepted those loans are gone. Is Lawn prepared to write off the loan he considered withdrawing fifteen months ago as he drove away from Accrington?

One would love to suggest that Lawn is bluffing or that he is firing shots across Gordon Gibb’s bow to try get him to the negotiation table and see City emerge with the best deal but one cannot guarantee that. The club are talking to the Football League about how to make leaving Valley Parade work. It might not be the idea that you or I, dear reader, would have chosen but it seems to the the prevalent idea.

The stark warning as Bradford City’s future is presented in the bleakest terms

While doing the media rounds today, Bradford City Joint Chairman Mark Lawn has issued the starkest of warnings: maintain the status quo, and there will be no Bradford City Football Club in two years time.

As we exclusively revealed last week, the Bradford City Board is attempting to renegotiate the terms of the Valley Parade rental agreement. The club currently has to find £1.3 million annual running costs to use their home of 108 years, and as fortunes on the pitch continue to stall the ongoing existence in League Two is proving to be a huge hinderance.

So Lawn has, as is his way, laid it out in plain terms. No success in renegotiating the rental terms, and the club will have to move out. This could take place within a year. Lawn tonight told BBC Look North that the club cannot survive two more years in League Two at Valley Parade under the current arrangements.

The Yorkshire Post claims Odsal is the most likely destination if City move out. Much has been discussed about the home of the Bradford Bulls over the last two years, with a proposal to redevelop the ageing ground quietly falling by the wayside as the effects of the UK’s deepest recession since the 1930s have squeezed public spending and corporate appetite for construction.

At present the Bulls could lose their Super League licence, such are the inadequate facilities at Odsal. With it’s unsuitability for football seen when City moved their in the 1980s – while Valley Parade was rebuilt following the fire disaster – it seems a hugely unattractive option that wouldn’t be chosen lightly.

As would the potential path to get there. The club has previously admitted breaking the 25 year lease they are bound to at Valley Parade would likely lead to a period of administration. In recent days, reliable rumours have surfaced that the club views going into administration as a route they may be forced to take.

Such a scenario would be one to fill every City fan with dread – we need only remember that the club’s second spell of administration, back in February 2004, was initially presented to us a technicality that we shouldn’t be concerned about. Five months later, we stood on the brink of losing our football club forever.

Moving to Odsal, potentially going to administration – these are all unappealing options to anyone with Claret and Amber in their heart. Therefore the focus returns to the club achieving a positive outcome to these rental talks. The Yorkshire Post – which has confirmed the club is looking at the rental proposal BfB had suggested (not that they are acting on our idea) – has revealed Prupim, the company City rent the Valley Parade offices from, are willing to talk about a rent reduction. However stadium Landlord Gordon Gibb is apparently unprepared to talk to City. Though a spokesman for the Gibb Pension Fund told the Yorkshire Post they have had no direct contact from City.

Why are these talks being played out in the public arena? If the club is in such dire straits, why are we persisting with cheap season ticket deals and £1 offers for home games? Why are we wasting precious money on unproven non-league strikers like Jake Speight? All of these questions circulate around the head and are not a criticism as such of City; but one has to wonder whether the seriousness of the situation we’re being presented with is quite backed up by the club’s actions.

If Gibb is the key to Bradford City’s future, shouldn’t we be banging down his door and begging him to be reasonable; rather than threatening to abstain from a 25-year agreement via the local paper?

There are worrying times for the club. Lawn has revealed that we cannot carry on as we are, and the answers apparently lie with people who semingly don’t have the club’s best interests at their heart and have very different priorities.

We can only trust in Lawn and Julian Rhodes – owners and custodians – to act in our best interests and find the solutions that ensure the future of the club is preserved and we can continue for another 108 years at least. But in the meantime, as we read the situation presented so gloomily by Lawn in the local paper, we feel worried and pessimistic and helpless and scared.

So many times over the past decade we’ve endured miserable failure and tried to stay positive by declaring it can’t possibly get any worse. As this disastrous season comes to a close, let’s hope that for once we are proven to be right.

Is there any solution to Bradford City’s Valley Parade problem?

BfB understands that Bradford City are attempting to negotiate with Valley Parade landlord Gordon Gibb over the terms of the current rental agreement. It would be wholly inappropriate for us to publicly disclose any details of these talks – due their high sensitivity – other than to say that City’s Board is trying to find a compromise to this ever-present problem.

As the 2008-09 and 2009-10 financial accounts show, the current rental and running costs City must pay annually to use Valley Parade are hindering their ability to achieve success on the field. City’s overheads are covered by income not generated by the football, and the playing side is paid for by season ticket sales and gate receipts in general. With season ticket sales on track to be lower next season, it means the playing budget will be reduced for City’s next manager. However, the club’s existence is currently assured by other income streams.

That said, the Valley Parade situation remains a millstone around the club’s neck. The idea of moving to Odsal was floated two years ago, but now seems as unlikely as the council’s  redevelopment of the Bradford Bulls’ home which was proposed at the time. City have attempted to talk to Gibb about buying back the stadium, but the former Chairman’s asking price is too high. A 25-year lease means City are left paying huge annual rental payments which are undermining efforts to revive our ailing fortunes.

So the Board – as Gibb’s people seem happy to disclose to other people – are looking to negotiate new rental terms that would be more favourable for City. At present City are paying £1.3 million per year in rent and running costs, and in January Mark Lawn told us that Gibb was earning a 15% annual return on his original investment.

Gibb has no reason to agree to reduced terms, but if the rent issue remained so difficult that it threatened the existence of Bradford City Football Club, he could suddenly be left with no annual return and a piece of land that would be difficult to sell in the current climate. So one must hope the club can convince him that it is in his interests to help them along the way, while still providing him with a healthy return.

One solution could be to broker a structured rental deal that can help both parties achieve their aims – City to climb up the leagues and Gibb to build his family’s pension fund. Lawn told BfB that: “This club needs to be in the Championship. In the Championship we survive and we survive well. That’s where we need to be. The overheads suddenly don’t become as bad because we need this type of stadium to survive.”

So one idea could be – and this is a BfB suggestion rather than necessarily a proposal on the negotiating table – that the rent is restructured for which division City are in. In League Two revenue is clearly more tight, and the size of rent becomes such an issue that it holds back the club. If the rent could be more favourable now, it would only enhance the Bantams’ ability to earn promotion to League One. Here the rent could be increased again, and then increased even further if and when City return to the Championship and benefit from far greater revenue. All the way along, rent would be manageable to the club.

For that to work, Gibb would have to accept the rent would be lower for now, plus an inherent risk that he would never receive the same level of return if City continue to bumble about on the field. For that reason, City would have to make the terms more favourable in the Championship (and, hey 20 years is a long time, so include Premier League terms too) than they are now, so that Gibb could potentially receive an even greater return on his investment.

All of which may seem unattractive to Gibb, but the alignment of two goals – City to climb to leagues and Gibb to make more money on his investment – would in many ways be more agreeable to all. Right now the two parties don’t get on well, and while that may not be such a problem for Gibb one would like to believe there remains some feeling for the club he once cared so passionately about.

Whatever the solution, we need to avoid looking at Gibb as the villain and beating him with a stick. The club badly needs his help and, as much as we might argue it is unfair he is getting richer because of us, if that objective was at least parallel with our objectives it would surely be the best compromise from a far from ideal situation.

We watch on with interest, as these talks are clearly vital to the club’s future.

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.

Talking to Mark Lawn: Part One

Mark Lawn sits opposite us and jokes “I’ll tell you what bits you can put in, I’ve worked with media before.

How did we get here?

There are reams of conversation around the people who write for BfB about Mark Lawn, and about Bradford City, but never any contact with the club. It is a kind of house rule going back to the days when Geoffrey Richmond ran the club with something akin to an iron fist and famously dismissed a long set of questions from the Internet Bantams with a series of one word replies.

So many questions too, none of which will be answered but all speculated on ad nauseum. The season stumbles from promotion hunt to relegation battle and the questions continue begging for answers which speculation and rumour will not provide.

Jason McKeown takes the plunge, contacts the club, asks for an hour of the joint chairmen’s time and we sit and wait. The wait goes on and we expect nothing but are wrong and, as the club suffer defeats on the field, an invitation is extended to us to go to Valley Parade Tuesday lunchtime.

Julian Rhodes would be attending but another meeting rules him out – that turns out to be the negotiations for the signing of Jon Worthington, or so we guess – but Mark Lawn is going to answer what we ask.

Overlooking the pitch

So there we are, in a suite overlooking the pitch, with the club chairman that we have criticised any number of times offering a welcome smile as we set about trying to set a few things straight.

Lawn is a funnier man that you expect him to be. He is welcoming although seems a little guarded at first before relaxes and answers all our questions in an honest and occasionally light hearted, occasionally sombre manner. One feels the weight of expectation hanging over the man as he talks, the knowledge that the expectations he has for the club are mirrored and magnified by supporters.

And so to the main event

BfB: What are your views on the season to date?

Not good enough, I would have expected us to be in the play-offs at least although we are not a million miles away but I have to say we have to do a lot better in the second half of the season.

BfB: It’s good to hear what your opinions are, because it seems to us that – over the last 12 months – you and Julian have kept a very low profile and haven’t communicated to supporters or the press as often as you have in the past. Is this a deliberate ploy?

No, no. That is basically because when I have done it, and when I came in I did get involved, and people treated me like garbage, you wonder why you should do it? I was talking to people and they were taking it out of context it. I spoke to Julian and he said “That’s what you get, you try be helpful, you put out and tell people what is happening and you get slagged off.” Eventually it just wears you down. It’s just worn me down.

BfB: Do you see a way that that position would change?

Don’t get me wrong I don’t want people to love me at all, but for people to mis-quote me and to do things like – I’ll give you an example – for people like (City Gent’s) Mike Harrison to slag me off by email saying I’m putting money into a restaurant in Baildon that I own, which I don’t own, I just bought as an investment property to pay rent. (Mike’s email) has been taken as gospel and then the rumour gets taken into all sort of stupid craziness. It frustrates you when people do that.

BfB: Geoffrey Richmond was “mouth on” all the time. Would you be more vocal if success came?

No, I would be if people stopped quoting me out of context when you tell them things that they don’t want to hear such as transfers in January (and the fact that there is no money for them). There are only two people who put the money in and we have done that for the last three years.

I’ve funded Stuart to the tune of £1m. That year (2008/2009) Stuart had the highest budget in the league and I took a gamble – with my money admittedly – I took a gamble and it did not work. So I think that the fact is now that I don’t have any more money to put in and we have to look at other ways to do that.

BfB: It has been rumoured relations with supporters groups – specifically the Bradford City Supporters Trust – are strained right now.

There is no strain with the supporters groups. I think they should be treated equally. The problem with the Bradford City Supporters’ Trust is that they think they should have a priority arrangement. I think you should treat all supporters clubs on a even keel, and they don’t like that.

BfB: What’s your view on the role this organisation – and supporters in general – have to play in the direction of Bradford City FC?

I only look at myself as a custodian of the football club. I’ve been a fan, Julian is a fan, we both look at it like that, just like supporters ourselves. I think supporters groups have as important a role as we do.

I’ve been trying to get Friends of Bradford City for ages, Gladys – everyone knows Gladys if you’ve been around the club for the last thirty years – earned £5,000 a year for the club selling raffle tickets. If you could get ten of them, that is the average wage for a player and we could put that on the pitch.

If I’ve got supporters who want to do that then they can assign it to something like “We want it for this player” – obviously they can’t say who, the manager has the choice on that and even I don’t get the choice on that, I just get a choice on the wages and that is not much of a choice, it is “That’s what you have to pay him if you want him.” I’m willing to do that and I’m quite willing to do that.

We have coming through the gates 9,000/10,000 – that is what “clicks” through – someone could be selling things out there. That would be raising funds for the club and it does make a difference. And you look at Lincoln City and Lincoln City Supporters’ Trust, they raised money to get a stand built.

Our supporters trust seems to be more interested in “Why haven’t we got a black on our kit?” which I don’t understand. To clarify everything there never was and never has been anything on the football kit for the fire. The fact that there was black on was that there was black on it and it was a fishwife’s tale and blah, blah why we did it.

When I came we put the ribbon on and the ribbon is always going to be on the kit, because I believe we should never forget, I was here for the fire and it affected my life. I don’t think we should ever forget it so that is why I wanted to make sure we and the ribbon which is on but the commemorative ribbon has always been claret, never black, because of the club’s colours but sometimes if you have a claret kit you have to (change it).

It depends on the manufacturer. The manufacturer is going to be Nike, I can tell you that because it is launching on Thursday, but with it being Nike we can only do “stock kits”. The fact that we can go on to Nike is because Arsenal have gone onto Nike and now they have the claret, so they can do us claret and amber.

BfB: What happens with the shop?

Nike take over. Well not Nike, Sports For All who are a subsidiary of Nike.

BfB: How do you keep in touch with the mood of supporters. Do you go on the official club message board?

No, I used to but stopped when I read about my family being slagging off. I’m a great believer that if some lawyers want to make some money they really want to chase message boards, and not just football, message boards in general because the libel on there is unbelievable. They would make a fortune.

BfB: There was a time when you stopped, was there an incident that made you do that?

Yes, when they started slagging off my kids, I won’t take that. The incident that upset me more than anything else was the Accrington Stanley one when they attacked my car and then someone started going on “What’s he moaning about, we played crap.” What does it mean? So you can attack a car and you have the right to damage someone’s property? To me they are just vermin, absolute vermin and I don’t care who they are if they want to come get their season ticket money back they can. If anyone thinks that is right, to attack property, well they are not Bradford City fans as far as I can see.

BfB: We have a problem being put in a position where if we disagree with something, and the next person agrees but adds “so I smashed up his car…” then we are put in a difficult position.

The problem you have, running a website, and I’ve had this out with Mike Harrison – and I don’t know if you know but City Gent castigated David Baldwin – who worked for nothing for six months and does not work for a lot now because I don’t pay that well, I concentrate on getting as much money onto the pitch as I can, and they turn around and slag him off. Now editorially he should not have printed that because it’s not right and I told him that David could sue him because it is you, as editor, who would be sued. If it is Punch then it’s not the person who wrote the letter who is sued, its Punch for printing the letter.

(Editor’s Note: this was certainly true in the case of BfB vs Rochdale where the crux of Rochdale FC’s complains were drawn from the comments including our publishing of comments written by Rochdale supporters which we had published)

You need to be careful with your editorial rights as to what you are doing because one of these days someone is going to come and sue. If The City Gent had done that about me I would have taken exception to it. I think it’s a disgrace, people should think about what they are saying.

I’ve not got a problem with anybody taking a contrary point of view. Football is a matter of debate. I think David Syers is great, you might think he is a lump of cheese, that is what happens. You might say “I don’t think they should have set on Peter Taylor”, I might say “I think he is the best thing that has ever happened.” It is contra-point of view is football and that is great but getting down to personally slagging people off and saying they don’t do the work then that is when they have to be held responsible.

BfB: How does the club run on a day to day basis?

The day to day running of the football club is done by myself, Julian (Rhodes) and David (Baldwin) really. Roger (Owen) comes in a couple of days a week to help out and the rest of the board is there to be used as a springboard for ideas and things. None of them live a million miles away and they all come to the games and we talk. We have a board meeting once a month where we go through things as well which is on Thursday.

BfB: It was stated at the beginning of the season that Peter Taylor was operating with an increased playing budget compared to the season before, yet to date City have not been able to improve on last year’s efforts and mount a stronger promotion challenge. What do you put this down to?

Well that’s a good one. Well, it’s the players isn’t it? Does anyone think that the players we did bring in, we should not have brought in? Jake Speight for example. We paid £25,000 for Jake, you look at what he did at Mansfield, you look at his background and you think “What a great player to bring in” and he has not done it for us.

Doherty has done it at every single club he has been at, he’s come in, and he has not done it for us at Bradford City has he? He’s not performed to his best. I’m sure the players would all turnaround and say that. Some of the players we have brought in have not performed to their best and don’t think that they are not capable of it.

You don’t make a bad player overnight, you don’t go to being that. So I think we just have to try to get the best out of them. We look on paper a very good squad but sometimes when we play we don’t look as if we have congealed at all.

BfB: Recent poor results have of course placed Peter Taylor under a lot of pressure from disgruntled supporters. A couple of weeks ago, you were quoted in the Telegraph & Argus stating you believed he was doing a good job and hinted a new contract could be in the pipeline. We appreciate you will be reluctant to talk about Taylor’s future publically, but where does the Board see the managerial situation for the rest of this season and the next?

It depends on where we are at the end of the season.

Peter Taylor knows exactly where we have to be. I’m not going to put that out in public because it would not be fair to Peter Taylor and would not be a professional thing to say but Peter knows exactly what he has to do to get another contract here.

BfB: Is that an automatic thing written into the contract or (is it discretionary)

It’s a year’s contract and before we offer any extension to that things have to be achieved, certain goals have to be achieved. There is nothing written into his contract.

BfB: Before he arrived did you have any thoughts about the style of football he plays?

Yes I did, and out of the whole board I was the last one to make my mind up. I watched the games and – after the Aldershot game which was 1-0, 2-0, and we had beaten them with Stuart (McCall) 5-0, and it was a different type of football but I believed it was a type of football which would get us out of this league.

So far it isn’t working but everyone knew when Peter Taylor was coming that we were not going to get smooth flowing attacking football, that’s not his style. He tends to like his two lines of four and then hit them on the break and it has worked very well for him everywhere he has been. He needs to sort it out here.

BfB: Back in October, before we went to Barnet there was significant national media speculation Taylor had to win or he would be sacked. Was there any truth in these reports, or was it more to do with the press needing a story during a blank weekend for the top flight?

I think you have to look at the whole season on its merits. I can tell you exactly what happened before the Barnet game the Thursday before the game Peter came up to me and said that there were rumours in the press that Barnet was his last game and I turned round to Peter and said “Peter, you will be in charge for Cheltenham. That is definite, you will be in charge.”

So he knew, never mind Barnet you go concentrate on Barnet and Cheltenham so he knew what he was doing.

BfB: Would you ever use an ultimatum as a way to manage in the short term?

We are all looking at a certain standard of where we have to be. Where we are at present is not good enough, Peter knows that, I don’t need to tell him he is an intelligent man.

BfB: How much conversation do you have with Peter on a daily basis? Because he is 58-years-old and perhaps doesn’t need the same hands on the last manager might have?

I think a lot of people have misread how I’ve ran my businesses and it’s come across that I interfere a lot. I expect people to manage and then if it’s going I wrong I’ll sit down with them and discuss it. I don’t interfere with my management structure and I never did with (Lawn’s previous company) Driver Hire.

I put people into manage and, if they weren’t doing their job, then I sit down with them and say “Look, it’s not working. How can we help you and how can we go about getting this right?” I think it’s always better to work with people and try and get them on board, and that’s what we did with Stuart.

We sat down and said “How can we help you Stuart?” We did that with Peter when he was struggling through a period and that’s where the loan signings came in. We let our managers manage. Maybe we shouldn’t after the last four years (laughs).

BfB: That’s certainly very different from Geoffrey (Richmond)…

I don’t think that’s the way to run a football club.

BfB: On Thursday January 8th, 2009 you said in an interview with Radio Leeds: “Bradford City have had enough turmoil and non-stability at this club” yet thirteen months later the club has offered a three month, and a year-long contract which would seem to offer anything but stability.

The club has not changed its position on stability. When Stuart left he was an ill man. But still in my mind he is a legend. It wasn’t nice seeing what Stuart had to go through. And I think if anything Stuart was too near to the job and it hurt him too much, if that’s possible.

The reason that we’ve asked Peter Taylor to do a year is because we can only afford him for a year unless we have success.

BfB: So the club still follows a policy of stability for the long-term?

I’d love to get a Keith Hill. Everyone out there is looking for a (Rochdale manager) Keith Hill. And also, in not so much the same vein, (Bury manager) Alan Knill. People who consistently get into play offs on similar budgets or even smaller budgets. Look at (Dagenham & Redbridge Manager) John Still, when you look at when Dagenham & Redbridge got promoted his budget was only £750,000.

BfB: And how did our budget compare?

Ours was a lot more, certainly over double that.

BfB: How do you feel when you read someone like Paul McLaren saying “I’m a better player than I showed at Bradford”, but not offering to pay any of his wages back? Does that frustrate you?

You’ve got to appreciate that he’s probably said that for the fans. A lot of players, certainly ones who have been around a bit, know how to work the fans. And his comments were perhaps aimed at saying “It’s wonderful at Oxford” and that “it wasn’t wonderful at Bradford” and perhaps that’s a little bit of PR.

BfB: Simon Parker recently hinted that if the club fail to earn promotion this season the wage budget will be trimmed during the summer. Is this likely to be the case and, if so, are we set to see a repeat of two years ago where high earners are shipped out and the manager struggles to afford new players?

The plan for the summer is to stay within budget and do whatever we need to do to stay in budget. I don’t want this football club to go through administration again and that would be the last possible thing. I’m not going to say that will happen again but you never know, and I’ve got to say that, looking at this stadium, how would we afford it if we dropped into non-league?

But what I can say to Bradford City fans is that I will make sure this club always stays alive, and that is one thing that I will always do. But to do that it means I can’t be throwing money around and we’ve got to live within our means.

BfB: Estimated at costing over a million pounds a season before a ball is kicked Valley Parade is seen by some as crippling the club financially and being the most significant block in the way of the club going forward. How important do the board of feel the effect of the cost of Valley Parade is? What is being done to address this situation? (If considered important) To the board believe that City can achieve any of its aims with the current financial drag of renting the ground?

The running costs are about £1.3 million now. But in terms of the future it’s really gone fairly quiet now, because we don’t know what’s happening with Odsal. No one knows what’s happening with Odsal. And even if we did go to Odsal, it’s got to be better fiscally for Bradford City.

And although it’s a big stadium, fiscally sharing the revenue of things like the sponsors names might not be better, so we’ve got to make sure that if we go to Odsal at any stage it would be only because it would be fiscally better.

BfB: What about (Valley Parade Landlord) Gordon Gibb?

He’s overvalued the ground. And right now he’s getting about a 15% return on his investment every year. You tell me where you can get that, with a 25-year guarantee?

BfB: Do you think Gordon Gibb gets away with it in terms of the public attention? I mean Julian Rhodes gets flak for it. You take flak for not being able to do anything about it and Gibb sits there as if he hasn’t bought into a club and taken its biggest asset…

I would say that we have offered Gordon Gibb a fair return to buy it back. If he was a Bradford City fan, he would have let it go at what we’re offering, because he was going to make a good profit on the figures that we offered him. I can’t quote the figures but he wanted nearly double what we offered.

BfB: BfB reader Luke Bottomley recently told the site that he wrote to Gordon Gibb about the VP situation a year ago and was told an independent valuation of the stadium had been carried out (post-recession) and the ground is available at that price and that the City Board had been offered the asset on that basis when they had recently enquired…

Course we would, but practically speaking he wants (figure withheld) for it, not a penny less. How are we going to raise that?

BfB: If we were to move to Odsal, there’s the 25-year VP lease to think about.

We could not afford to break the lease without going into administration, unless we could purchase our way out of the lease. We don’t know what he wants for it (the lease). We’ve not spoken about it. Until we go to Odsal or are going to go to Odsal there’s no point in talking to him about it.

Certainly we would have to dispense with the lease and dispending with the lease means administration, which I wouldn’t like to do. But (pauses) I’m not counting it out, but turning around and buying him out of the lease is an option.

If we went into administration and moved out of here, the rates here are £130,000 a year. So he loses his rent and he’d have to pay the rates. And technically he doesn’t own anything inside the stadium because we own the fixtures.

BfB: Speaking of this and remembering Geoffrey Richmond leasing all the facilities inside Valley Parade. When he was unveiling Carbone at a press conference at the same time, did you trust him?

No! (laughs) Whenever I shook his hand, I always checked how many fingers I had left (laughs). I didn’t buy his 25-year season ticket, but I’ve been a fan for 40 years. I didn’t trust him with that amount of money. No I didn’t trust him. If I ever would have had to come across him in business back then, even a small amount of business, I wouldn’t have trusted him.

BfB: So what’s your opinion on him doing things like leasing back the fixtures and fittings like he did?

I suppose it depends what you do with the money. I wouldn’t say I’d never do it, but if I’d be doing it I’d have invested the money back into the team. But I wasn’t involved at that stage, so I don’t know where the money from the carpets etc went.

BfB: They were strange times to have supported the club through.

I would have thought so too! Because literally, when the club first went into administration they owned nothing. If he (Richmond) could have leased the paint on the wall I think he would have done! There was nothing they owned.

BfB: Strikes us as a very different set up now compared to then, that the club operates at a different level.

Well I’m a Bradford City fan. Geoffrey Richmond was a businessman who had come in to run it as business. I try to run the club as a business so I can make profit which I can put onto the pitch.

BfB: We are now, as we understand it, currently in the black – apart from loans to you?

We have an overdraft, a small overdraft facility.

BfB: Is it still the case that we are in the black?

Yes, but it depends on budgets this year and how it pans out. We struggling to put bums on seats which, you know, the results we’re getting ain’t good. So we need to be putting bums on seats. Now I’m sure you’ll now get comments on your website now saying “Sack Taylor” as though that’s the answer.

But I tell you, I would love for some of the people who say this to come in and run the club for a week to see what it’s like. Because they’d lose more hair than I do! And pay for the privilege of coming in. All that me and Julian get for running this football club is our mobile phones, and we pay the bills on them. We even pay our own petrol money to away games. I don’t get any wages, none of the directors get wages. There’s only David (Baldwin) who gets an income out of it, and it’s not a lot compared to what people in other companies in his place get. And that’s just because he’s got to put bread on table. So you’re quite lucky that you’ve got fans running this club.

BfB: Is there a lack of appreciation of the fact that the board are supporters?

My health has deteriorated since I bought this club. If I wanted to live longer, then I wouldn’t be involved. It is not easy running a football club but I’m not looking for sympathy from anybody, I chose it and I’m here but I look at what I’ve done at this club as failure, so far, and I’ve never failed at any club I’ve been in so I’m going to work harder to make sure this club gets some success, because the only way I know about business is that you work harder. I’ve never known any business when, if it is going wrong, you work less.

End of part one…

Next time, dear reader, Lawn talks about training facilities, season ticket prices, about how Julian Rhodes did running the club and about how much enjoyment he gets out of Bradford City.

The diary of not watching football

Roger Owen took a break from writing what will no doubt be lengthy programme notes on the Referee who last took charge of a City home game – more on that later – to tell City fans and those who would come up from Hereford for the game at the weekend that the club are doing everything they can to get the game on.

Indeed Owen’s notes to the website are full of the sort of information which pre-empts the demands of football fans after a game is called off. When looking at the clear piece of driveway in BD14 which my car is parked on I could suggest that it should be easy to host a football match and it would, but the approaching roads.

So Owen strikes a note of justified caution, but hopes to get a game on. Back in December 2003 when City’s game with Crystal Palace at Valley Parade was called off the club nearly went out of business not for the want of a long term strategy or plan but for the need of short term cash flow. Julian Rhodes and Gordon Gibb had to find around half a million pounds to pay the wages and it is said by those who say such a thing that the demands one placed on the other was the fracture of that relationship.

Fractured relationships seem to be the order of the day at Valley Parade. Zesh Rehman and Peter Taylor have seen their relationship fractured and it would be remiss of me at this point to not recall a comment made at the start of the season about the pair.

The judgement of Taylor’s job at Bradford City would be in what he could get out Zesh Rehman – so I said – because in the player City have a footballer with enough talent to convince many to sign him (an a talent which has been demonstrated at City any number of times) but and approach and attitude which wavers.

“An inconstant performer” would seem to sum it up and should Taylor get a player like Zesh Rehman playing more good games than bad then – using Rehman as a sample of the squad – City would no doubt be doing very well.

We are not and Taylor seems set to wash his hands of the player seemingly ready to say that he is not able to get the performances out of him which other managers have. That is a disappointment for all, and a worrying thing from a manager.

Taylor’s relationship with Jake Speight – currently on loan at Port Vale – showed signs of cracks when the player went to prison and when he criticised Taylor’s methods for not including enough fitness training.

Speight was not – unlike Rehman – transfer listed for his outburst which seemed more critical than Rehman’s which was questioning. However letting it be known that player who is on loan is not wanted is no way to run a business and perhaps if the veneer of a business front was wiped away the striker would be just as on his way out as the defender.

These thoughts play in the mind in the weeks after abandoned games. City’s trip to Aldershot was shelved and the club had a blank week owing to an early FA Cup exit leaving Accrington Stanley at home as the last time the Bantams took to the field.

BfB has it from “a good source” (which is not Wikileaks, or Wookieeleaks, and is worth trusting) that following that game Referee Tony Bates rang John Coleman that Accrington Stanley manager and apologised for costing his club the game. On an evening of elbows, pitch invasions and an official who could not bring himself to give the decisions laid out in the laws of the game Mr Bates feels that he should talk for sure but not to apologise to us paying supporters who watched him make a mockery or a match but to the manager who (one assumes) was behind that pantomime football.

Which sums the arrogance of Referees up to a tee. Supporters are but cattle, and are treated with a lack of respect which means that we are not even afforded the decency of an apology after the official feels he has put in a poor performance although apologies are offered even if those apologies would provoke incredulity.

Nevertheless Roger Owen is not known to keep his attitudes about officials and Bradford City to himself – we all recall his reaction to the 3-0 defeat at Carlisle United – and so one can assume that he has spent the last three weeks preparing his thoughts. Certainly it would be interesting to know what City think of the fact that had Mr Bates had not felt he erred that night that the Bantams would have lost the game.

Losing games slipped back into City’s habits, especially at home. Peter Taylor’s side have lost four at home which is twice the number Stuart McCall’s side which finished 9th two season ago ended the season on and a look at last year’s table suggests that over a half dozen home defeats is probative to promotion, to say nothing of season ticket sales.

Taylor’s cause is not helped by a significant injury list which the manager hopes will ease when Shane Duff and Lewis Hunt return to fitness for the Christmas period.

Hunty should be joining in at the end of the week. To me, he’s going to be a couple of weeks after that, which is good news.

“Hunty.” One recalls Roger Owen paying for suits and making a big play of increased professionalism at Valley Parade and I’m not sure how that fits in with one playing being transfer listed for saying he thinks he should be in the side over a player that the manager refers to by nickname. “Hunty”, still, could have been worse.

Should the game go ahead then City are expected to field Lenny Pidgeley in goal. Richard Eckersley at right back, Rob Kiernan and Luke Oliver at centreback, Luke O’Brien at left back. Tommy Doherty and David Syers in the midfield with Lee Hendrie on the left and perhaps Leon Osbourne on the right although Omar Daley is at times deployed there. Daley or Jason Price in the forward line with James Hanson.

Taylor’s revival avoids a pressing problem

Only a fool would consider sacking Peter Taylor as Bradford City manager now but five games and twelve points ago it seemed that the City boss was a game away from his P45.

The game changes quickly and probably having lived his life in it this comes as no surprise to the 57 year old manager. One has to wonder what he made of the pressure he was coming under and the asked for and not received backing. No matter. For now, Taylor is safe.

Safe because only a fool would sack him now and Mark Lawn is no fool – indeed he did not act when other itched five games ago – but he is also no expert. Indeed looking at Bradford City at the moment and making a list of which person at the club knows enough about football to be qualified to make a call on the job that Taylor is doing and one is forced to conclude that at the head of the list is the manager himself and the gap to the others is startling.

Wayne Jacobs and Junior Lewis – and a few of the players – have some knowledge on the field and Mark Lawn, Julian Rhodes et al have some off it but like the vast majority of football club chairmen they were set the task of assessing the all round performance of the manager without the required domain knowledge to make a decision.

Take as an example Liverpool – a great reference for many things – who when replacing Rafa Benitez with Roy Hodgson did so with the idea that they were replacing a lame duck with a soaring eagle. At the moment Liverpool struggle and it seems not that Hodgson is doing an especially poor job but that Benitez had been doing a rather impressive one taking the team to second place.

In essence there was no one able to tell the difference between a good manager doing well with a bad team and a bad manager hampering a good side or – as is the case with the vast majority of situations a hard working manager doing his best only to be replaced by another hard working manager doing his best.

Indeed the idea of a good manager is questionable. Nigel Clough built Burton a season at a time over ten years and created a strong club which managed his departure without much of a blip. That is to me the measure of a good manager, not a win percentage figure.

Yet chairmen are constantly forced to look at the win percentage, the most recent trophies in the cabinet, the flavour of the month. Hodgson got the Liverpool job for taking Fulham to a cup final, Steve McLaren got the England job for similar. The list of managers sacked from doing the long term job because of poor short term results contains some impressive names.

Sir Bobby Robson – after all – was replaced at Newcastle United by Graeme Souness because he failed to secure Champions League football and Peter Reid was given the boot by Manchester City for not finishing high enough up the Premier League. United spent a year in the second tier, City ended up in the third.

Looking back at the last three decades of City managers and noting the only common factor in success – the two promotion winning managers were appointed from within – and one sees many examples of this practice of a chairman who knows less about football than the man sitting opposite him, trying to make a judgement on the man opposite him.

Gordon Gibb was wowed by Bryan Robson, but how could judge between Robson and Todd the two men in for the job? Gibb had some experience as a junior footballer but how did that qualify him to know which of the two potential gaffers would be the best for the club?

Plenty of people would tell you that Mark Lawn make a mistake when appointing Stuart McCall, or when sacking him, but most would agree that when appointing a replacement and trumpeting that man’s years in the game and experience the joint chairman was basically saying that he did not really know what he was looking for the first time, now he thinks he does.

He is not alone. Most chairmen hire managers on promises and sack them in disappointment that those promises have yet to deliver a promotion or a trophy and at no point are they qualified to judge anything other than what can be seen from the league table. The decision to move on Taylor from Hull City and replace him with Phil Brown ended up in promotion (and relegation) but the club rode on what the current City manager had built and Brown’s magic wore off in the top flight.

Chairmen lack the domain knowledge to make decisions on their managers. They can be unhappy at results but most lack the calibration to know if those are bad results with a good team or good results with a bad one. Lincoln City have replaced Chris Sutton who was gaffer for a year replacing Peter Jackson with almost no net result at all. Sutton’s side did no better than Jackson and – one was forced to conclude – that the factors in play at Sincil bank are deeper than the dug out.

To borrow a phrase Mark Lawn needs an experienced assistant. Someone with football experience at boardroom level. Most chairmen do. They need someone next to them who knows the difference between a manager building something and one who is doing badly. Someone who can tell them that things are going well at the training pitch, that the young players coming through have real potential, that the manager is doing his job well.

They do not have this, and so they sack on form and results.

Only a fool would sack Peter Taylor now, and in retrospect the decision to not make a decision on him five games ago looks a great on indeed but Mark Lawn – in common with a great number of football chairmen – needs to bring in expertise to give him the ability to make that call should it ever arise again.

Odsal vs Valley Parade – The debate rages on

Mark Lawn, ever the shrinking violet, came out with a robust statement regarding the Odsal debacle at the weekend. His points, however valid, are unlikely to improve relations between BCFC, the Bulls, and Bradford Council. His programme notes for the Morecambe game are also interesting. He states that the council’s feasibility study around the Bulls taking residence at VP was done without consultation with BCFC and goes on figures that are nearly 10 years out of date. Yet they are prepared to throw £1million of taxpayers money at yet another Odsal plan.

I took two work colleagues to VP for the Morecambe game last Tuesday night. One was a Middlesborough fan who said he liked the stadium, particularly the ‘house’ in the south-west corner! The other was a one time City trainee/first-teamer and full time Bulls fan. His view of the situation was akin to most Bulls fans. VP is not suited to Rugby League. He’s right.

Our jaunt to VP on Tuesday was part of a sports fan away day thing we do at work. Recently we travelled to the Keepmoat stadium for the Boro vs Donny game. I sadly missed this but the agreement was we would visit both Odsal for a RL game and VP for a bit of hoof ball. The Odsal vs Castleford game was an enjoyable experience for all concerned. It had been a while since I had been to the ground. In the late 80s and early 90s I went to a lot of Stock Car and Speedway events which I feel Odsal is great for. This time I got to see what the grass in the middle was used for! I enjoyed the standing, the beer on the terraces, even the obligatory overpriced Ecoli burger was good. All in all, it was an enjoyable ground, if a little chilly with no shelter to speak of.

Can it support football? Yes, with some serious development work. Due to the track surrounding the pitch, the corner areas are elevated up. It looked like an upside down parachute with the corners being pulled up by imaginary lines. This would need to be flattened out before suitable for football.

The pitch was in much better condition than the VP one. Despite a good game of egg chasing every other week and the same kind of harsh winter that VP has seen, it was green. I can’t foresee any complaints from the 22 footballers who have to earn their brass there.

So Odsal has some good stuff going for it. Transport links and parking is very good, with bus users having the benefit of the improved Manchester road to get them to and from their beer and nightclubs!

So then: Valley Parade. Well, its better isn’t it. A well constructed (I should know, I put a fire retardant wall up in the new Kop approx 10 years ago) and seated stadium. First class facilities (except the loos!) and a great location, only 15 mins stagger from the city centre or Forster Square retail park and train station.

The ground has so much history. Manningham Rugby Club which became BCFC. 11th May 1985, RIP the 56. The finest City goals the Leeds Utd fans have ever seen (thanks to Beags and Collymore!). Its part of Bradfordian life no matter which bit of the city you grew up in. The sentiment is there which maybe Odsal doesn’t possess. Didn’t it used to be a rubbish tip?

But it can’t support Rugby League can it? Yes it can. VP seats 25,000 fans. Whip out a few rows at the northern and southern ends and you have a longer pitch. This will satisfy the men with odd shaped balls. Better for hoof-ball as well! Its has covered seating areas and the possibility of reintroducing terraced areas in the lower Kop and main stands. There is much that can be done to VP to accommodate the RL lot and also please a fair few stalwart footy fans who like to stand as well.

What’s more, it’s a little cheaper. Mark Lawn estimates it would cost £5.5million to buy the ground back from the cash strapped Gordon Gibb. Mr Gibb is likely to want that cash injection as soon as possible before he sells it to someone else who may not want to be as ‘kind’ on the rent side of things. Another £1-2 million in pitch strengthening and other adaptations mean that its a maximum £7.5 million outlay for a true multi-purpose stadium. The remainder of the £15 million airport windfall can then go on redeveloping Richard Dunn and creating excellent training facilities for both codes, and all other sporting endeavours in the city. Sell Odsal for a few magic beans and you have more houses being built on a brownfield site.

Now I’m not a business man. I am a council worker, but for them east of Pudsey. The figures look attractive, sustainable and value for money. Say those 3 words/phrases to anyone in local authority and a green light usually beckons!

So why not? Its all about politics. All concerned are private businesses. The council wont want to hand £5.5 million to someone who runs his business in the North Riding of Yorkshire and until recently, Lincolnshire. They would rather build a pond or a grass verge in their fair city.

BCFC and the Bulls are private companies that serve the Bradford populace. However a major development that doesn’t meet all demographics is difficult to implement. How many Polish descent Bradfordians go to City or the Bulls? How many Asian, Irish, Chinese or other ethnic groups are likely to use these facilities? These are all questions likely to be asked at a high council level. This is not meant to sound inflammatory, racist or bigoted. Please don’t think it is. It’s the fact that all councils in the UK are required to show how investment in the community brings a benefit to all social and ethnic groups. Its called being inclusive and the dreaded ‘sustainable’ word.

I can only hypothesise. I don’t know what is said at the high level of Bradford Met Council. This is my guess, coupled with an almost fanatic rivalry between Bulls and City (two different sports, please get over yourselves!) and a local council without a party majority. Politics are stifling the sporting progress of two fine clubs who deserve better and also a Bradford population who continue to suffer whilst our elected members continue to bicker.

So what is likely to happen? The status quo. Bulls will stay at Odsal and get some covers for the terracing at an unattractive price. City will continue to pay huge amounts of rent and struggle to maintain the VP site.

I echo Mark Lawn’s words. We don’t need a pond, we need leadership.

What one single thing would you change about Bradford City?

As we worry that Bradford City will be heading for the worst finish the club has had in forty-four years drastic measures are being debated for the future of the club with almost nothing having been changed, tweaked or altered in the hypotheticals that Bantams fans are talking in. Flights of fancy or wild notions to serious notion and simple building blocks have been heard and discussed.

And so the fifth of the Barry Article asks…

“What one single thing would you change about Bradford City?”

Jason Mckeown City Gent & BfB Writer

What a question! After another hugely disappointing season, the temptation is to simply say “to have success”. But I believe football clubs go in cycles and the good and bad times can never last forever, so I’d prefer to retain my blind faith that it must be our time again soon and use my wish on something more ever-lasting.

Which means I also wouldn’t want to change chairmen, manager or players; as these things happen over time anyway. Nor strategy, as what seems the obvious one now may not be in two or ten years time. I prefer to trust that those responsible for getting it right will do so eventually. Please.

So having nobly avoided the temptation to wish for a ten-point lead at the top of the Premier League or signing Lionel Messi, I’m going to push my luck and ask for two wishes. The first is for the Kop to go back to terracing. Standing up at football is how it should be and there was nothing wrong with our beloved former terrace.

I miss the days where I stood next to the same group of 20 or so people and the banter we had; when we went all-seater, we suddenly never saw each other. Now I sit behind the same moaning idiots every week, debating moving my season ticket for the next campaign but fearing I’ll just be stuck with different moaners. It was never a problem standing in the Kop, I yearn for that.

And the other thing I’d change is for City to have their own anthem we can all sing before the match. Nothing horrible like what that lot down the road sing; more like other clubs who adopt their own anthem and sing it before every game with such passion and excitement. Sheffield United, Notts Forest and of course Liverpool fans, I’m so jealous of the way you sing your anthems.

If only we could have our own anthem to sing similarly passionately prior to every match, maybe we’d finally get rid of that dodgy home record. Which reminds me, that’s another thing to change. Hmmm, any chance of a third wish?

Dave Pendleton Bantamspast Curator & Former City Gent Editor

A simple question to answer. The ownership of the ground. Without the dead weight of the lease payments City would have, according to David Baldwin, the ability to pay Championship level wages. Of course, whether we would want to pay high wages is another matter, but to have the ability to do so would obviously only benefit the club’s progress.

I would love to see the ground placed in the ownership of a non-profit making co-operative and have the ground set aside for sports use only in perpetuity. Even better a City of Bradford Stadium, with City, and possibly the Bulls, playing at a Valley Parade central to the sports community of the entire City of Bradford. It would once and for all remove the burden of repayments and ground development costs from both clubs and would send a tremendous signal regarding community cohesion. It would take a leap of faith, particularly from a section of the Bulls fans who view visiting Manningham to be akin to signing your own death warrant, and those City fans who resent Zesh Rehman’s presence in the City side, but with open minded optimism we could be on the verge of something special at Valley Parade.

Whether Gordon Gibb fancies being paternalistic towards Bradford, or Bradford Council is brave enough to push through such a scheme, is questionable. However, we have to be optimistic, otherwise we will fall into the same self-fulfilling cynicism that often dominates thinking about Bradford and Bradford City.

Steve Baker Stalwart City fan and Bantams Bar regular

I’d like to see some proper sales and marketing plan. What are we doing to raise funds off the field? I know Roger Owen has been brought in, but I’m yet to see what he has put in place to generate more revenue to the club. I have loads of ideas that would help boost the clubs coffers, but there is no point in suggesting these to the club as it just falls on deaf ears.

If there is more money coming in, it makes everything easier. There are loads of things the club could do – but whether its void of ideas, or just restricted due to lack of staff members. I’m happy to chuck ideas into the pot, but there is no fixed process for this.

When the Peter Etherington saga ended, the club advertised for a new commercial manager. I applied for this post and heard nothing back from the club. Im not saying I was a perfect candidate but I had some good ideas, and definitely have the passion for such a role.

So that’s what I would want to see – a club that offers great value on season tickets, but looks for all available opportunities to expand its money earning potentials. At the moment we are stuck in a rut, one we need to get out of ASAP. The money isn’t the be all and end all, but would Rhodes and Lawn turn down more income?

Paul Firth City fan and Author of Four Minutes To Hell

This would have to be a ‘If I won the rollover lottery’ moment.

I’d buy back the ground from the Gibb pension fund and charge City a nominal rent. I have no complaint with the rent the present landlord charges. I think it probably is a commercial rent. But it is a rent City cannot afford, given their overall finances.

As long as the cheap season tickets continue (and that, hopefully, means for a very long time indeed), the club cannot afford high outgoings on rent and at the same time the wages for the sort of players that our impatient supporters demand. So, if expectation is to be met, the outgoings have to be cut or the ticket sales have to go even further than the extra 5,000 being sought. (OK, or the prices have to go up, but that’s far from a simple equation.)

If I don’t win the lottery, then I would be looking for a kindly benefactor who can afford the price of the freehold and, in the short term, won’t mind getting less than a market return on his money until the club can buy the ground back – which should be feasible in the medium term. Anyone one have Sir Ken’s number?

From stability to here to where?

Mark Lawn, January 2009:

Bradford City have had enough turmoil and non-stability at this club.

Thirteen months ago Mark Lawn had decided that Bradford City have “had enough of turmoil and non-stability” and gave Stuart McCall a new contract to manage Bradford City until June 2012. Now Bradford City go into the latter half a season with a manager who no one is sure will be around in June 2010. How did City go from the one position to the other?

In February 2010 Lawn confirmed that City’s replacement for McCall is not viewed as a long term appointment saying

The three-month spell gives us the chance to look at each other so it’s good for both parties. If Peter proves himself, I’m sure we will be talking about a longer-term contract. But it does mean we can look at others.

The former comment endorses the idea of a manager as the keystone of a stable football club, the second suggests that this view is no longer holding sway at Valley Parade in either that the manager does not offer stability or that stability in itself is worthless. How have the club gone from believing stability is the way forward to abandoning it as a policy altogether?

There is a theme of commentary – or perhaps just dissent, the two merged sometime ago – which has it that City have had stability over the previous few years with Stuart McCall and Colin Todd both enjoying around 135 games in charge of the Bantams – but I would suggest that around two and a half years as a manager is nothing of the sort.

It is the start of stability, the point in which stability begins. Where you make it known to all that you do not believe a manager’s position is mutable with the form of the club. Where players begin to get confidence that the man they sign a contract to play for will be at the club when it comes to an end. When supporters get to feel that the player name their child gets on the back of their shirt for their birthday will not have left the club by Christmas.

Stability is one way of running a club but not the only way, and one could argue – with limited success in my opinion – that it is not the best way. But most importantly it is the way that Bradford City were following a little over a year ago and have now abandoned.

Retaining institutional knowledge – that is the point of stability at a club – is something Peter Taylor seems to value more than his employers. Wayne Jacobs is retained as assistant manager and on his first day in Bradford the new City boss started talking about [para] “building something not over fifteen weeks but three years and fifteen weeks.”

Peter Taylor is a man much more worth listening to when it comes to questions of how to make a successful football club than City’s joint chairmen. He is talking about years, Lawn is talking about weeks.

The short term deal, Taylor’s talk of loan players, the interviewing candidates to replace Taylor in the summer, the idea of judging the new manager over the next fifteen weeks. City have moved a long way in a short space of time away from the one position and, if the Bantams are no longer following a plan of stability bringing success, what plan are we following?

What is the club’s plan to bring success and advancement to Bradford City? How will Peter Taylor be given the scope to achieve more than Stuart McCall and Colin Todd did?

There are many things which could augment the club that Taylor now manages. The club’s training facilities are notoriously poor and in bad weather the players have no full sized pitch to use; the club’s scouting needs attention (if not expansion, if a James Hanson can be plucked from the non-league of West Yorkshire why not see what pickings can be had on the other side of the Pennines?); the academy could be raised in standard to match those at Huddersfield and Leeds.

Then in a wider sense there is the problem with ground ownership – which costs £600k of the clubs budget – and the rental of equipment within Valley Parade which costs the same figure again. The issue of City’s 107-year-old home is oft talked about and Bradford Bulls chairman Peter Hood – a man with whom Lawn should take care in his dealings with for Hood is a canny and will eat he City chairman for breakfast – is holding a suspiciously open door to the idea of City moving to Odsal.

What are our plans for the future location of Bradford City? Stability says stay where you are, the three month appointment says why not say we will move into Odsal but tell Gordon Gibb we might return to Valley Parade should he make a better offer on the rent.

The price of tickets at Valley Parade and the free tickets given out to youngsters are about building a stable and constant tradition of support. Is that plan to follow the way of stability past? A policy of maximising transient support is more in keeping with the idea of short-term thinking. The club is shortly due to announce 2010/11 season ticket prices for those unable to afford to purchase one last December, potentially as soon as next week, so we may know more then.

More than these things – and already I can hear someone tapping the words “BfB blames the fans again” – the atmosphere at Valley Parade on a match day and around the club in general is bad to the point of being poisonous and, as Taylor picks for him number two a man who some have spent the best part of two years saying could not coach, is the new gaffer’s first choice at the club going to come under the same abuse as the last few have?

So many things could be done which would help the attitude around the club and thus help the manager from not being made to look stupid on Sky TV after we lambaste a kid who gets a ball full in the face for being “in the wrong area” to addressing the situation that Lawn believes has emerged around the club’s official message board.

Is there a plan to achieve any of these things which would mean that Peter Taylor had more resources at his disposal than Stuart McCall? That means that, aside from his innate abilities, Taylor has more to do to suggest he can achieve with City what many, many managers have failed to do.

In the space of a year, Lawn and Julian Rhodes have left behind the idea of stability and gone to one of fixed term appointments. Is this the new view of the club? Are we as fans to get no more connected to our managers than we do the people who run our phone companies or banks? Are we Peter Taylor’s Bradford Army, or is Taylor just an acting sergeant in someone else’s platoon?

All of which is not to say that the Bantams chairmen do not have a plan for taking the club forwards, nor is it inherently a criticism of the club for changing its mind on how it operates. Just that, having binned one plan, the appearance to supporters even on the broadest most meta level is that one set of ideas have been ditched in favour of a total opposite set.

The supporters of Bradford City are the people who pick up the pieces when the chairmen fail in the plans they have for our club – the last twenty five years have told us that much – so, as those supporters, is it not reasonable that we ask, after such an obviously and publicly move away from one position, we are told what the club stands for now?

Farewell to Stuart

A decade that began with Stuart McCall captaining Bradford City in the Premier League ended with Stuart McCall managing Bradford City in the bottom division of English football. As I watched Stuart McCall walking around the pitch applauding the supporters at the end of the Bury game, and what turned out to be his last game as manager of his beloved Bantams, I reflected on a traumatic decade which could have barely been more disastrous for the club. I say barely, because the one positive to be taken is that there is still a club to support and that has been a huge achievement by any standards.

The departure of Stuart McCall could be viewed as the moment when we begin to look forward and not back to the wreckage, albeit fleetingly glorious wreckage, of our Premier League adventure and its sad aftermath. As Stuart McCall walked slowly around Valley Parade there was the odd shout of anger, but in the main the fans either returned the applause or watched in sad, but affectionate, silence. This was the man who personified an era at Valley Parade, from the fire to the Premier League and beyond. How could we turn on him? It would have been akin to screaming at ourselves in the mirror.

As we begin to emerge from the long shadow of the Premier League, quite how the club evolves lies largely with two factors. One is the continued support of the fans in large numbers. Given the encouraging take up of the season ticket offer that seems assured, at least in the short term. The second, and arguably the crucial factor, is resolving the issue surrounding the ownership of Valley Parade itself. Heaping abuse on our former chairman Gordon Gibb will achieve nothing – other than further cementing the already strained relationship between the Gibb family and the club. In buying Valley Parade Gibb secured the short term future of the club, his pension fund has already profited from the sale and our best, and probably only hope, is that he realises that the existing agreement is damaging the entire viability of the club. The futures of the Gibb family and Bradford City are joined at the hip. The prosperity of both, albeit one is much more vulnerable than the other, will require both compromise and a dash of humility. If an agreement really is being held back by personalities, and I have my doubts, then the individuals concerned should reconsider their stances, or even positions, for the greater good. The sacrifices that have been made over the last decade have been enormous, but if the club stagnates, or worse, then those sacrifices were made in vain. That’s the brutal truth.

Gordon Gibb has to understand that the current agreement will either result in the long slow strangulation of Bradford City, or an unwanted move to Odsal Stadium via a spell of voluntary administration. The status quo is clearly unsustainable. Until the ownership of the ground is resolved, or the lease payments reduced, there seems to be no way this club can escape its current malaise and the future appears to one of constant struggle resulting in the eventual death of the club.

As we wave a fond farewell to Stuart McCall, we move into a new era and one in which the fight for the very existence of Bradford City AFC is about to begin.

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.

Notes on a Move

There’s been a little consternation over the last week or so about Bradford Council’s much vaunted ‘Sporting Village’ project at Odsal. As we all know this project has been doing the rounds for longer than most can remember, and every so often concerns are raised about Bradford City’s potential involvement. Let us for a moment forget the fact that ‘Odsal Sporting Village’ is as likely to happen as us winning the FA Cup this season and take this situation on both its merits and its drawbacks, because I don’t believe such a move would be the earth shattering event some would predict.

Firstly, as we all know, our beloved Valley Parade is leased back to us for a reportedly silly amount by our Rollercoaster loving ex-chairman. This would be a main facet of any argument which supported our moving home. A satisfying two finger salute and a fresh start; this brings me to the other point which I think would hold weight. The talk this season around the Bantams has been of a start from scratch, a club reborn from the failures of the bloated wage packet and ego brigade from last season. So, why not augment this new breed with a step away? I am by no means saying that we engineer a move away from Valley Parade as soon as possible, but I see no reason other than nostalgia to hold on with a death grip to a home which has not seen success for a long time.

The proposal itself would offer a wonderful arena for both ourselves and our egg-chasing cousins, potentially athletics and much more too, ok, so we would have to share it with others, but we wouldn’t be the only ones in that boat, Wigan Athletic manage it. If we are, as many feel, starting from right at the bottom, then this would give us an opportunity to do so in a new home, perhaps without the trappings of memory and expectation which haunt our current one. Moving stadium does not kill the club, it is us, the fans, who are that lifeblood, and I’m sure you feel the same as me, in that as long as Bradford City AFC exists, I will watch them regardless of what pitch they inhabit, I love the club, not the stadium.

That said, it would always be a wrench to leave, and there would be many thousands who would balk at the thought of leaving, and yes, it is a spiritual home, but there would doubtless be successes at any new ground, and potentially more revenue, without a crippling amount of rent. Tradition is important, but so is making the best of your situation and I, for one, believe a potential move would be a benefit to our club.

Yes, we have had some wonderful moments at Valley Parade, times which none of us will ever forget, David Wetherall with ‘that’ goal, beating Arsenal, Gordon Watson’s brace from the bench! But do you not think Arsenal fans witnessed some fantastic times at Highbury? Middlesbrough at Ayresome Park? Shrewsbury at The Gay Meadow? These memories do not die if the stadium does not remain, but our debt to Gordon Gibb might. However, this is the same council which seems to have created Britain’s biggest building site as a tourist attraction in the city centre, so I won’t hold my breath. For the time being, I will continue to enjoy inhabiting Valley Parade, hopefully it can provide some more happy memories.

Seeking the bald facts of an Odsal move

Recent talk had me thinking about the current situation off and on all day. would it be possible to get to the bald facts on the possible Odsal move without the ever present emotion getting involved as it has had a way of doing so far?

I can but try. Let’s start with each party’s point of view. Why do they want to come to a deal?

Firstly, Bradford Council. Committed to the costly Odsal sports village, part of which involves filling in the existing stadium bowl and building a new ground of only 18,000 capacity (by any yardstick, the smallest new ground envisaged for any major English city) overlooking the site of the original stadium. The scheme is as I’ve said very costly. A look at how the finances might stack up has convinced them that the figures look infinitely better if City can be persuaded on board with the extra income that would generate.

Next Bradford Bulls. Having wanted a new ground for years (some might say decades) they really wished for a rival to the Galpharm at Huddersfield, not only to preserve their super league status but to provide a venue for RL representative matches. This would have involved a new ground capacity of 25,000+.

They will grudgingly accept a 18,000 ground to secure their SL status on the present site and, equally grudgingly, they will accept a ground share with City if it means a lower rent for them at what they will still consider their (new) Odsal home.

Finally, Bradford City. On an ongoing financial knife-edge due to the costs of their Valley Parade home. 1/3 million a year just to play at VP (compare this with Notts County who pay £25,000 a year to play at Meadow lane.) then on top of this City also pay annual rent for the shop/office block. it probably doesn’t all add up to £1million a year but it will still be a crippling total figure.

The benefits? They’re clear enough for the council and Bradford Bulls!

The financial benefit is really the only Pro for City (unless you accept that a ground that is easier for away fans to get to once a year, while at the same time being far more inconvenient for most City fans 23 times at least every year, is a Pro)

There are more Cons for City. the revenue from advertising and the bars and catering franchise would be lost. There would be the major hurdle of negotiating their way out of the existing lease with Mr. Gibb…that won’t come cheap. Over time they would lose support from Baildon, Bingley and up the Aire valley as supporters found it more troublesome and inconvenient to travel to the far side of the city on matchdays. they couldn’t rely on replacing all the lost support from around Odsal for 100 years a rugby stronghold. Even keeping emotion aside, there is also the almost certain outright opposition to the move from fans. Finally there is the capacity. would any club voluntarily move from a 25,000 capacity ground in their major catchment area to a ground of only 18,000 capacity right across the city?

To do this is a tacit admission from the joint chairmen of permanent mediocrity. No more talk of a return to the Premiership ever.

Finally, there are the terms at the new ground. here we have no choice, we are compelled to speculate. Even though City are the bigger professional club, the bulls regard Odsal (even the new ground) as their home. they would not agree a deal which made them 2nd class citizens at Odsal. This being the case, as the bigger club, would City agree a move on terms inferior to the Bulls?

Would City agree to be the junior partners?

The council seems determined not to consider a move the other way…Valley parade could be bought and completed to a capacity of 30,000+….a home for both clubs more in keeping with our big-city status, for far less than the new Odsal stadium outlay and there would indeed be Rugby League representative matches and even the possibility of England under 21 soccer matches at the ground.

Whatever happens It is time their was a City fans forum on this one proposal – the possibility of moving to Odsal. time all the facts were made known by the joint chairmen. Mark Lawn has said that an offer was made to Gordon Gibb to buy back the ground but that he wanted a higher price than City could pay at that time. Let’s have the figures…what did City offer and what did Mr. Gibb want?

There has been too much cloak and dagger already in this whole affair. let the fans have all the facts and the true situation.

Groundsharing at Odsal moves from debate to battle

The Bradford City Supporters Trust holds its AGM this evening, with one especially pensive agenda item up for discussion.

Last February Bradford City revealed it was considering an option to ground share with Rugby League neighbours Bradford Bulls, in a council-backed redevelopment of its Odsal stadium. With the rental payments and running costs of City’s 105-year-old home, Valley Parade, somewhere in the region of just under £1 million per year, the opportunity to be released from expenditure which is potentially holding back the club’s  progress is one difficult for joint chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes to ignore. The time is approaching where the debate moves forward and firm actions need to be taken.

When plans were first mooted for turning the basic Odsal ground into a sporting village, it was easy to dismiss it as fruitless council activity that would ultimately be ruled unworkable. The cost of the project is widely expected to be over £80m, a quarter of which would be provided by the council. In the mist of a UK recession where the affects are more visible within Bradford than many parts of the country – witness the giant hole in the city centre that was supposed to be a shopping complex by now – it’s questionable where the rest of the funding would come from, but the council is said to remain confident of acquiring it. It means that, rather than sit back and wait for the sums to not add up, City fans against their club moving home need to make their voice heard.

Writing in the latest edition of City Gent, BCST Chairman Alan Carling outlines a timetable for council activity which suggests a decision over City’s future could be made by early 2010. A green light would see the Bulls temporarily move to Valley Parade in 2011 while building work on Odsal took place, with both clubs beginning life in the redeveloped Odsal by August 2013. Alan also suggests the Odsal go-ahead is dependent on City’s involvement, as the income streams from only the Bulls make it difficult for investors in the development to receive a desired return.

Not that matters are so simple for City, with the giant question mark of the 20-year Valley Parade lease the club is financially obligated to complete as part of the 2003 deal which saw then-Chairman Gordon Gibb buy up the stadium. Alan speculates two ways the council and City might work around that problem, neither which appear financially desirable. The first is the council buys the stadium from Gibb, thus freeing City from the terms of the lease. The cost of purchase and then demolition of the ground is a poor use of tax payers’ money given the returns from then selling on the land will be far less – and that’s ignoring the sheer ludicrousness of the council buying and demolishing a stadium City want to remain in so they can persuade the club to move elsewhere.

The other suggested option is a strategic City administration, with the idea being the new City owners would be removed from previous financial obligations and be free to leave Gibb with an empty stadium. Whatever is thought of Gibb, this is morally wrong and risky, as the club cannot put itself into administration until it’s about to move over to Odsal, in four years time. Is the business-wise Gibb going to sit back and wait for that to happen? Is the Football League going to allow one of its members to so blatantly get out of financial commitments? Is the council going to devise a sensible business plan on the basis of encouraging a local company to bend the rules?

In his article Alan wrote, “My personal concern is that if the club goes along with the Council’s Odsal plans, we may be venturing into an ethical and practical minefield for the sake of financial gains that are both uncertain and distant. And these anticipated gains are unlikely to be large enough to outweigh the attendant risks, which may include risks to the survival of the club.”

All of which continues to make it difficult to see just how Bradford City and the people of the Bradford district would benefit from the club moving to a redeveloped Osdal, when there is already a suitable venue for the City’s two professional clubs in Valley Parade, achievable to buy for a fraction of the cost. The proposed Odsal Sporting Village is aimed at providing a wider range of sporting facilities, but there is no obvious reason why it couldn’t still be developed to the benefit of local athletes. Training facilities for both City and Bulls could be situated here too.

It would still a disputable use of public money to buy Valley Parade for two commercial organisations, but it could be argued that, by doing so, the space vacated by the Bulls could be developed into an important sporting community focal point that aspiring local athletes can develop from. It would be reasonable for City and Bulls to pay rent to the council and, within Valley Parade, there may also be opportunity to push ahead supporter desires for a return to standing areas.

Of course the prospect of the Bulls moving to Valley Parade is something its supporters are understandably opposed to in the same way City fans don’t want to be moved to Odsal, but is their discomfort more important than ours and is it justification enough to unnecessarily spend millions of pounds? Even allowing for the hindrance of claret and amber-tinted spectacles, I find it difficult to see the logic in the whole proposal.

But those with the power to make it happen clearly do see something, and tonight BCST will discuss how City supporters can make their voices heard. There are suggestions the club is taking an increasingly-dismissive view of the Trust’s power and influence, largely due to its membership size, but whether members or non-members all City fans opposed to the Odsal plans should be considering how they can support the Trust in leading the fight. It has been suggested the club will hold a referendum with all supporters before any final decision is made, but is it enough to sit back and wait for a voting slip to appear?

The biggest concern over the decision to stay or leave Valley Parade is that assumptions and apathy might come to be later regretted.

*The BCST AGM is being held at Bradford Irish Club from 7.30pm tonight.

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.

Rochdale’s chairman gives motivation as the crunch draws in

Rochdale chairman Chris Dunphy

My opinion is that when a club goes into receivership or liquidation, they should lose the golden share and drop out of the league, I think it’s grossly unfair when we go to places like Bradford City, who have wiped off debts of £38m and been bust twice, and the likes of Rotherham, who’ve been bust three times and wiped off their debts. It’s absolutely scandalous.

Promotion is a great motivation for beating Rochdale and a win for the Bantams on Tuesday night will go a long way to establishing City’s position as automatic promotion chasers but to paraphrase Wilde on an occasion such as dealing with Dunphy it becomes more than a footballing imperative to win the game. It becomes a pleasure.

Dunphy’s assessment of City’s financial problems is a distortion of the truth – the Bantams did not write off £38m but rather paid off a significant (in that is was all that could be afforded) chunk of the debts – I know because I was in the room when we did it – and did so in a way that handicapped the club to such an extent that rather than recovering to be reinstalled in the Premiership we end up at Spotland, playing Rochdale, in Division Four.

Dunphy – who tries to take the moral high ground on football finance – is charging £20 per adult during the credit crunch. Dunphy – who prides himself on how he runs Rochdale up to the line but no further but sees fit to criticise Rotherham United who try do the same but for the South Yorkshire flooding which plunged the club into crisis – is prepared to suggest that all as who have had financial problems are guilty by association with administrators.

Good governance in football is more than admirable – it is necessary – but it does not need the kind of advocates who use it exclusively and lash out at the unfortunate who suffer along with the financially undisciplined.

Say what you want about the causes of City’s first administration but do not doubt that the second was caused by a club that spends years to that point and years after struggling to keep head above water and – at the cost of our ground – failing at one point. I was not in the room for that one but I have seen the books and Dunphy’s shoestring which he claims to run Dale on would have been riches to the Bantams.

For Dunphy to use his Guardian interview to talk about writing off debts which are calculated wrongly and to associate the Bantams name with the actions of a Leicester City is reason enough for City to want to repeat the 5-0 stuffing we gave Dale three years ago and the slur on City is enough reason for Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes to refuse the hospitality of Spotland and bunk in with the supporters.

The game begins three on the road for the Bantams and sees City back in good form with Rhys Evans three clean sheets off a new club record for a season and Peter Thorne looking as if he has found the way to the net again.

The back five of Rhys Evans, Paul Arnison, Graeme Lee, Matthew Clarke and Luke O’Brien are looking as solid as they have been save the rather massive wobbles of Barnet and Notts County. Dean Furman and Nicky Law Jnr were imperious in midfield on Saturday but the latter will look to match the former’s ball winning abilities against a side who are strong at home.

Joe Colbeck looks to be returning to the kind of form that saw him cutting through teams at the start of the season and like a pair of jeans bought three years ago that were too big – Steve Jones is increasingly a good fit on the Bantams left filling in for Omar Daley. Chris Brandon’s cameo did not see him kick the ball – at least not in my memory – but his impact as a non-toucher was similar to Jorge Cadete’s legendary attributed goal by Dean Windass seconds after he came on.

Michael Boulding works tirelessly and Peter Thorne has three in two games. Rochdale represent a tough game but not one beyond the Bantams.

It’s our home

Whenever you start to believe that the financial problems which have blighted Bradford City during the last eight years are behind us, you remember about Valley Parade.

It was presented as good news when City’s stadium was bought by then-Chairman Gordon Gibb in the summer of 2003, because it got the pressure of a mortgage lender owed millions of pounds off our back. Sure, the owner’s pension fund held the ground’s deeds rather than the club, but no one was going to repossess and kick us out of it. We had a Chairman committed to a bright new future who was creating headlines by offering City’s then-squad a seven figure bonus if promotion to the Premiership could be achieved in the season ahead.

Not even six months later the new dawn had given away to dark clouds. Gibb left and a mud-slinging battle with the Rhodes’ ensued which threatened to spell the end of a club which was supposed to be celebrating its centenary. In July 2004 it looked like it really was over, but an 11th hour peace-deal was eventually brokered between the man who held the keys to the stadium and the family who held the keys to the club’s future. City carried on, but with hefty rent payments to meet from their no-longer friendly landlord.

When Mark Lawn was quizzed about the stadium ownership at the fans forum last year he spoke of attempts to buy back the stadium been met with an uninterested response from Gibb, who was apparently enjoying the money. Reports today suggest Gibb never received a formal approach. For sure there seems to be no threat of Gibb evicting City to build luxury flats in the near future, the credit crunch if nothing else has seen to that. But like for many people renting is not ideal, sees much-needed money sucked down a black hole and there persists a feeling that your home is never truly your own. I doubt City are allowed to redecorate, or keep pets.

Reports are circulating today that City are considering moving to play at Odsal when it is redeveloped. When should really be if because for years we’ve heard fanciful talk of a super stadium springing up on Odsal top and it seems no closer than ever. Maybe this time it’s different, maybe one day pigs really will learn to fly.

Who knows how true the reports of City’s interest really are, but they are certain to worry Gibb. Valley Parade is in far from the most beautiful of locations and there is no sporting team who’d be willing to move in and pay equivalent rent payments. The credit crunch makes it a foolish time to plan building flats on the site instead and, even when the economy returns to normal, who’s going to buy a high-rise pad overlooking the sex shops of Manningham Lane?

Perhaps that’s the point of these stories, a whiff that the Bradford City gravy train might be departing up the road surely weakens Gibb’s position at the bargaining table. Maybe City just want to force him into negotiation over rent payments or ownership.

As for the prospect of moving away from Valley Parade, it’s clearly an emotive subject for all fans. Personally I’d scream no, but if the rent payments from staying are so significant they can seriously hamper future progress then sacrificing tradition must at least be considered. I hate seeing these pop-up grounds like at Doncaster which have no character, and if that’s what a ‘community stadium’ in Bradford might look like then the pleasure of going to watch my team will be less.

But for me the efforts which have been undertaken during the last couple of years must continue. The Bradford City Supporters Trust has done much to lobby the Council to be more even-handed in its support of the district’s two largest professional clubs and it must continue. Sure I’m biased when I believe the Council should help more, but I don’t think tax-payers’ should subsidise what is ultimately a business – just for some equality with Bradford Bulls.

The credit crunch means less bank managers are going to be prepared to loan Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes the money to make Gibb an offer, but is a solution to suit both parties possible? Can’t the deal be restructured, for example, so that City’s rent payments become repayments and eventually Gibb receives back what he originally paid, plus interest, and we take back what belongs to us.

Maybe that’s naive, but at the very least good relations with Gibb must be built. There is probably still anger there between the Gibb and Rhodes families – but this isn’t just about boardrooms, it’s about 12,000+ people who watch Bradford City play every other fortnight from whom Valley Parade is home. We’ve been coming to our gaff for years and we even redecorated it before Gibb came along. It’s a place we expect to keep coming to for a long time, and then for our children to bring their children to.

Moving to Odsal might seem a tempting option, but let’s not give up on our home just yet.

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?

The worst news of pre-season is that we have to deal with Gibb

Everything was going right. Everything seemed to be going Citys way until the money men at Valley Parade started talking.

Almost everything that they said we great. City are making money just about but they will lose some next season as we go for promotion.

The money for selling Dean Windass and him getting promoted at Hull has helped but no one ever gets into football to get rich so Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes don’t expect to make a fortune. Football is a fan’s game for them and you don’t get rich doing that.

Or do you?

Because the worst news of pre-season came when the “landlord of Valley Parade” which is Julian Rhodes code for “that twerp at Flamingo Land Gordon Gibb” got paid. Not only did he get paid but we also found out that he had a freeze on the rent for five years and now the **** can ramp up the rent.

This is the pepper corn rent he talked about when he had the club sell Valley Parade to him. Pepper corn rent? If he told you it was raining you’d go out to get wet just to check.

He is getting rich off of us and thanks to a deal which is very shady. How much money did City get from the £2.5m sale of Valley Parade and why sell it if we were going into Administration not that long after?

We can’t trust him. We need to be rid of him.

Mark Lawn, Bradford Council, Someone wanting to be a third partner in City, need to get some money together and get our ground back from that man.

Because the worst news of pre-season is that we still have to deal with the chairman from our past.

The Future Is A Kind Of Vague Reddish Yellow Colour

There is a school of thought on message boards and forums that has it that Gordon Gibb is preparing to ride to the rescue of Bradford City with a huge financial investment which would see him take control of the club to protect his asset – Valley Parade – and catapult the team back to glory.

Frankly I wish I had some of what those people are drinking. Gordon Gibb is not the white knight riding to our rescue. In fact Gordon Gibb would not know one side of a white horse from the other and the investment he has in Valley Parade is as much his sister’s as his and belongs to a pension fund.

Nevertheless BfB understands that some kind of investment is coming and coming soon. Julian Rhodes has been in talks with a guy with a bob or two and the upshot would seem to be that his time as the man holding the weight of Bradford City on his own may be coming to an end. I doubt the phrase White Knight should be used – should it ever be applied to someone preparing for the thankless task of football ownership – but maybe Knighthood is a good metaphor to use.

For a long time Bradford City – as a whole rather than a group of directors or owners – have operated a kind of Quixotic belief that the club would flourish on the basis of a couple of decisions taken in popularist ways. For the La Mancha windmills read the managers of Valley Parade. Each one slain would prove something, would right some wrong, but never did.

In League Two we face up to reality and that reality is that any investment in the club from another owner needs to be matched by a reality check around the ground. I’ve spoken too long about atmosphere and development of players in that environment, about expectations and setting them to reasonable levels and about good old fashioned get behind the lads support. I honestly believe that without these things being addressed then money into City is wasted. I honestly believe that a very good start addressing these would be to appoint Stuart McCall.

It is a commonly held belief that McCall would have become City manager had we not been relegated this season and from what BfB understand this is the case but McCall has issued no comments rather than denials and – as he faces up to trying to keep Sheffield United in the Premiership as assistant tomorrow afternoon – is torn between his head which tells him to coach at The Blades until a top two divisions job comes up or follow his heart back to Valley Parade.

For inspiration perhaps McCall will look ten years to his left tomorrow to Paul Jewell who took City and Wigan and made his own Premiership clubs. Had Jewell not taken brave decisions with his career then he would not be considered the manager he is today. League Two to anywhere is a huge ask but City need McCall and he knows it but without him City’s future looks bleak.

McCall’s thinking time has the same clock as the investment and Julian Rhodes’s desire to announce a new manager – read into that what you will – and those who are in the know say that it is not as cut and dried as he won’t come cause we went down and in situations such as these the murkiness of uncertainty is better than assured defeat.

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.

Why you could stick Law’s contract up your nose

Sacking a manager is the football club equivalent of snorting coke. It’s the instant rush. It’s the adrenaline kick. When you sack a manager you feel like a million bucks.

You get the old gaffer get out of the office he has been stinking up with recent performances and you get to command the back pages. You get to be the man doing things. This is not an attack on Gordon Gibb or any other chairman we have had. When I talk about us sacking a manager I mean everyone at the club from supporter to squad member, from chairman to char lady.

Everyone feels great because you get the heady rush of limitlessness. Show Nicky Law the door and who comes to replace him? The answer is limitless.

Recall sacking Chris Hutchings. Who could replace the manager? We heard Kevin Keegan and we know that Berti Voghts came in for the job and in the end we were all pleased with the top notch Scot Jim Jefferies who would lead us into the thick of the Premiership action with spirit and steel. Reality showed differently but such is the giddy rush of the sack. You got from our own limited manager, and all managers are limited in some way, to having not one but a million potential bosses all of which will deliver the goods if you give them the chance.

Sack Jim Jefferies and Stan Collymore could do great things for you and when Nicky Law was appointed no one really got excited but then again, every one got optimistic.

A new manager will bring in new players of course and they have the same effect as a new manager. Everything will be ok when the new players settle in. Remember how Juanjo was going to turn this club around? This is the come down.

The come down where you can convince yourself that the snort of the sack was ok because everything will be fine once the new manager beds in. In truth we are just blind to our new man’s failings for this come down – or honeymoon if you want – period. After all who had a go at Nicky Law for picking Andrew Not really a striker Tod over Beni Carbone then?

Sacking the manager gives us all a holiday from realism. It makes us all potential champions, the Premiership is always just a sacking away and of course such assumptions have no basis in reality.

With a huge debt still looming over the club we can not afford to deal in fancifulness and fantasy. We need reality.

A good case can be made that Nicky Law is not doing a good job at City but as with the excitement that greeted the flurry of signings in the Summer the replacement for Law will not be able to make a march for the Premiership.

The new players off the Summer we being made as World Beaters before anyone had seen them play – in a way BfB loves to do the same to kids like Danny Forrest, Kevin Sanasy and Peter Folkes – but in the end they were Luke Cornwall and Robert Wolleaston.

Likewise the new manager will not be a tactical genius of the man who makes silk purses out of so many sow’s ears that the club picked up. He will not crank up the production line of kids through the club and he will not be able to spin a multi-million pound transfer to clear the debuts from the club that struggled to get more than two million for Andy O’Brien from famously wasteful Newcastle United but for a time it will seem like he will do all these things and more and if that is what you want from your football, the quick rush without a thought for reality, then that’s what you can have.

You just get the manager’s contract, tear it up and stick it up your nose.

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