Next / Questions / Knowledge

With far too few games left in the season David Hopkin wandered off into mid-distance and Bradford City started looking for a new manager.

Since the transfer window emerged in football around ten years ago new managers have become a panacea. Where as once in the days of low success supporters would have called for a “Big Signing” would now they ask for a “New Manager”. Changing managers has become the de facto response because it is one of the only responses.

That Hopkin also subscribed to that view is odd but largely because we assume that the manager is the grown up in the room and when he behaves like one of his charges and exits our view on football becomes confused.

And so the vacancy at Valley Parade is obvious. Less obvious is the remit of the job.

Bus

Aggressively obnoxious football manager Steve Evans is a big man but despite that few would compare him to an actual bus. I am going to.

Steve Evans is to the Bradford City job what this large Red Bus is to politics. He is a promise made by a group of people about another group of people where the one cannot assure the other’s compliance.

For the past few years Evans has hovered over the City job with the understanding that were he given the role he would smash backsides until the players were, well, better and would win more.

This is a persistent meme in football supporters which originates at some point in the 1970s when the Gentleman managers of Bill Nic and Shankley gave way to the new breed of Brian Clough and Alex Ferguson who saw physical and verbal aggression as tools at their disposal. Those days are gone, a point underlined to all but the more borish by the more congenial style of Gareth Southgate’s approach in the run to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup. Nevertheless it is the more borish who perpetuate the meme and so it is pervasive.

I am wary about Faustian arrangements that suggest that one can realise a desire if only one will sell a tiny part of the soul precisely because they are Faustian.

Remit

The next Bradford City manager’s remit should not be to avoid relegation to League Two it should be to have an excellent team on the field in August 2020.

The squad which David Hopkin has left at Valley Parade, which was passed him him by a transfer committee that took over from a manager who had very little interest in building a squad in the long term is not only badly unbalanced but it is poorly prioritised.

Unbalanced in that it is festooned with attacking players which comes from poor prioritisation away from defending and, especially, defending by being able to win the ball back. There is nothing attacking about not having the ball.

It would be easy to blame this on the members of the transfer committee but the problem goes deeper. Football has forgotten this basic of the game with low rent tiki-takas and would be Sarriballers selling lower league chairmen on the idea that they will be the next Marcelo Bielsa. Occasionally they go to a club and are successful, most they are not.

Even managers think managers should leave clubs if success is not quick. The first generation of players who saw a fast turnaround of gaffers has now begun to manage. We shake our heads today but Hopkin’s time at the club as a player started when he was sounded out by Paul Jewell, played under Chris Hutchings, was injured for Stuart McCall and left under Jim Jefferies. He only played 11 games.

Hopkin, like many of his peers, has had a football career where management is entirely in the short term.

Long

To say “Bradford City need a manager who…”, and prescribe a set of features, needlessly complicates matters. All clubs need to employ people who have a stable approach to managing the resources generated.

Such a phrase goes well beyond the borders on the tedious but almost all the successful clubs in the Football League have this as a core value. In an environment where even the people who are doing the long term thinking expect to not be able to carry that thinking out there seems to be a benefit in creating an environment where all thinking is long term.

Want

At Barnsley away – because I am what is known as a “funny bugger” – when the first crack appeared in Hopkin’s revival I turned to a friend and quietly sung “We want our Edin back.”

No one feels the loss of Rahic but the loss of the things he talked about – about long term development of the team and about creating an identity around Valley Parade – are significant. Rahic’s failed to instill the values he and Stefan Rupp talked about bringing to the club but no values have replaced them.

It is not that Bradford City need a manager to have and be given time, it is that Bradford City need a manager to bring knowledge.

Question

The failure of Rahic was his inability to infuse his belief in others. Despite a turnover of staff on and off the field allow him to craft an environment he wanted no one but Rahic seemed to buy into Rahicism.

Bradford City – being Julian Rhodes and Stefan Rupp – should not pretend that they know how to make a successful football club and if they do you should not believe them.

The question the manager needs to be asked if they are being interviewed for the role is not how will they keep City in the division – those Yorkshire Puddings are already in the over, only time will tell if they will rise – but rather what City will look like in August 2020 or 2024 or 2029, and how we will get to that point.

Rhodes and Rupp need someone with domain knowledge on how to construct a successful club and they need that knowledge more than they need six wins between now and May.

Nahki / Armstrong

And so the rumours continued.

Greg Abbott announced that Bradford City were interested in signing Adam Armstrong from Newcastle United while The Times are reporting that Armstrong’s parent club are now interested in Nahki Wells who, should he move to St James’ Park, would trigger a percentage clause in the transfer deal that took Wells from Bradford City to Huddersfield Town and give Bradford City the cash to spend on a striker.

The breathlessness of the above is indicative of a change in football over my eighteen years writing this website.

It used to be that football supporters lived for the football matches. Now the matches are a frequently ignored data point in the continuing narrative of squad gathering. Hull City’s victory in the first two games of the Premier League season is a quirk in the story of a team with too few players.

Bradford City beat Coventry City, Milton Keynes Dons and Peterborough United in eight days but this has not stopped the conversation around the club being entirely about who should be brought into – or moved out of – the squad.

Improving the squad may or may not be something that is needed this season – that would be a retroactive judgement made in May 2017 and speculation before that – but it is hard to imagine what football supporters would do in August if they were not talking about squad gathering.

Football supporting is now Pokemon Go with young men filling in for Pikachu.

Two

Nevertheless there are two things to note about the current cycle of rumour around Adam Armstrong arriving on loan from Newcastle United.

Notice how it is Chief Scout Greg Abbott and not Manager Stuart McCall who is talking about Armstrong. In fact it is Abbott who leads much of the conversation about recruitment to the club.

This in itself is in keeping with Abbott’s remit at Valley Parade and no bad thing but it is as stark a contrast with Bradford City up to the Summer of 2016 as one could see.

When Archie Christie had Abbott’s role he was geographically abused for having taken too high profile a role in transfer dealings and taking control away from the flailing Peter Jackson.

It is almost impossible to imagine Phil Parkinson’s Chief Scout Tim Breaker fronting a discussion on a target as Abbott does. In fact the first time most City fans heard Breaker’s name was in the revelation that he had left the club with Parkinson to join Bolton.

Abbott’s increased profile is a good thing. For football clubs to get better at transfers there needs to be a group-think approach to recruitment. Too often deals are done by managers to best serve the aims of that manager rather than the club.

The £250,000 that Phil Parkinson was able to reuse from the deal that took Oliver McBurnie to Swansea City was reused in the manager’s budget that season but as McBurnie starts to impress in Wales it is worth wondering if the long term aims of the club have been best served in that deal. I’m not the only one to have worried that after Parkinson, Lawn and Rhodes there is little left behind at Valley Parade.

Transfer group think is not popular in the English game – Liverpool’s transfer committee is seen as a problem – where any control taken from the manager is seen as a bad thing inherently.

my years of football have convinced me of it.

So Abbott speaking for the club is a change but and so it what Abbott is saying.

Should Armstrong join City on loan – perhaps as a result of Wells joining Newcastle United and freeing up the younger forward to move on – then City will be able to play Armstrong and Jordy Hiwula up front. Obviously this are two loan players.

City’s bid for Matt Green and the reported – or perhaps that is hopeful – interest in Adam le Fondre suggest that the alternative to a young loan signing not is an older permanent deal.

Which is a contrast to Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp’s stated aims when the new owners arrived.

Much was made of the fact that City could find value in signing released players from Premier League Academy football, turning their careers around, and developing them. That was how Bradford City would scale from being a League One club to being a club able to get into – and stay in – The Championship.

Hiwula or Armstrong or Josh Cullen might play well for City but the value for that will go elsewhere. City might get promoted because of their contributions but – we are told – when they are gone City will not have a Championship quality team.

Which suggests that either the plan has changed – let us hope not – or the plan was never there – let us very hope not – or that City are caught up in the Pokemon Go of squad gathering as much as the supporters are and that a deep breath would be best for all.

What are we trying to achieve and is signing Armstrong the way to achieve it?

On the day that Wells was to join to Newcastle United then City will be richer than they were. How is that money to be spent? Is it a scatter-signing for a player in August 2016? If it is how is it going to work better than when Stuart McCall scrambled for signings in his first spell as manager when the budget fluctuated wildly?

Which returns us to the central question of 2016 which is how are City without Parkinson, Mark Lawn, and Julian Rhodes going to be better? Indeed are they going to get better? There is no reason to assume an era of success will be followed by another and every reason to assume it will not be.

Is The Rahic Development Plan still being followed? Is it being followed by everyone at the club? If it does then it would make more sense rather than bringing in Armstrong to find a promising teenage striker we own or can own – such as Reece Webb-Foster – and give him the development time.

And while doing that take any money that comes from a resale of Nakhi Wells and use it to fund infrastructural additions which will make the club able to stand up in the Championship.

Club / Preview

It will become obvious, dear reader, how little new Bradford City owners Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp are like former Bradford City owners Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes and how that difference is going to change the club over the coming years.

It was noticeable when talking on Radio Leeds that City’s James Mason told a story about how Stuart McCall – when he was approached for the City job in 2007 – was told by Julian Rhodes that had he not accepted the role then the club may fold. Indeed we might recall that the weekend after McCall’s final game Rhodes was faced with the same existential question over the club.

As Lawn and Rhodes recede into City’s history – where they will enjoy a luxurious place no doubt – one can expect lips like Mason’s to continue to loosen and the stories to tell themselves. When they do Bradford City will have moved on.

And moved on with Rahic and Rupp who are starting to generate warmth amongst City fans. Rahic took to a flat cap in Wednesday night and impressed people. His plan is to prepare a club for The Championship and allow football osmosis have its effect.

Having kept the season ticket prices “low” – of in German terms “high” – there was a move towards lower match day prices to £20. One wonders how far into a German model the pair will go and one assumes not to giving 50%+1 of the club away to supporters.

Rahic and Rupp’s changes to the club are glacial. There is much talk about improving the infrastructure around the club which had been previously underfunded with what seemed to be an effort from previous manager Phil Parkinson ensuring that as much of the budget was spent on the first team as it could be. It was noticeable that the new Bolton Wanderers manager has noted that he was not wandering around his new place of work in awe of the facilities he now had at his disposal.

A stark contrast to Benito Carbone’s statement that when he arrived at Bradford City he could find “Nothing that resembled a football club.”

City’s trusty facilities in Apperley Bridge have been subject to improvements but one wonders how much of Rahic and Rupp’s planning might include a move away to somewhere bigger, better, and more well suited. Peter Taylor had agreed a move to Weetwood in Leeds and Geoffrey Richmond was keen to build new facilities at the top of the M606.

City’s scouting structures have never been especially well stocked but in Greg Abbott Rahic and Rupp – and Stuart McCall – have appointed the highest profile person in that position the club have ever had signalling an increase in importance of the role. Forget Abbott as a former player City have never had a former manager in the role.

The importance of Abbott will become more obvious in time but from Rahic’s statements it seems that something of a transfer committee – or at least a transfer group think – has been build up where manager, chairman and Chief Scout get heads around a table to discuss not only the current transfer hunt but the plans for the future.

Assuming that Abbott’s future is not tied directly to McCall’s this gives City a possibility of institutional retained knowledge. Also it summons up the image of Parkinson and his Chief Scout Tim Breaker sitting down with Mark Lawn to talk over – rather than tell – which players they should be signing.

When do these changes manifest themselves? Slowly, one suspects, but in a determined way the fabric of the club around Bradford City is going to be different from this point on and different in a way which builds into place structures which have long been needed.

Unfamiliar / Preview

Matthew Kilgallon joined Bradford City on a one year deal from Blackburn Rovers bringing a level of excitement to some supporters at the end of a summer where things at Bradford City fell apart and were put back together again.

The usefulness of Kilgallon’s recruitment will be seen in time. He and Nathaniel Knight-Percival joi in the central defensive position and Nathan Clarke and Rory McArdle remain. This gives Stuart McCall’s Bradford City three or four – depending on your view on Clarke – strong choices to start in the middle of the defence.

At the other end of the pitch things are different and attacking options are thin on the ground. McCall arrived in June to find James Hanson still at the club he had left five years ago but one could argue that Hanson and his colleagues players in attacking positions: Mark Marshall, Paul Anderson, Billy Clarke; need improvements on last season’s performances to be significant.

Teams score goals, not players and while four of those mentioned above could be more creative than converting – the flick down from McArdle’s diagonal ball is an act of creation – none could be said to have created enough.

Tony McMahon’s withdrawal to right back form the right wing – where he spent a season under Phil Parkinson – is a curious move from McCall exactly because it removes the one player in the Bradford City team who excelled in creation last season.

Drop

His name dropped into the preview it is worth acknowledging that Phil Parkinson is going to have more of of an impact on Bradford City 2016/2017 than Stuart McCall will. Parkinson – who of course exited for Bolton Wanderers in June – built as much of a monolith as football allows a manager to create in the modern game at Valley Parade.

Parkinson took his backroom team with him to Bolton and his backroom team – it is reported – took everything they had worked on with them. Once again – just as with the situation a few months prior to Parkinson’s arrival at Valley Parade – the file cabinets that contained scout reports were empty and the structures around a football club were scant.

And it is this way because Parkinson wanted it this way. The former Bradford City manager had had experiences sharing out the power at a football club previously – most notability at Hull City – and found it wanting. Parkinson fought a hard fight against unspecified directors with unspecified roles to make sure that he had some control in every aspect of the footballing side of Valley Parade and he won those fights.

There was no pressure on Parkinson to develop young players and so Stuart McCall arrived to find no young players with first team experience. There was no pressure on Parkinson to create a squad which was sustainable from one season to the next. There was no pressure on Parkinson to develop a squad with resale value until new owners Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp arrived at the club and – within a few weeks – Parkinson was gone.

Rahic and Rupp arrived to replace Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes as Bradford City owners and began to talk about a future in which the squad was shaped around recycling the waste product of Premier League academies.

That last statement sounds needlessly dismissive and should not. If one looks at the example of The Chelsea Academy of the last fifteen years one can only think of a single player – John Terry – who was not waste. Millions are spent on players who are discarded for not reaching and elite standard but are able to be turned around and made into useful footballers.

A production line of turnaround players is as close to a business model as the game at lower levels has ever had and one which Rahic and Rupp believe they can benefit from. Clearly the club they bought was an ill fit to achieve that.

Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes freely admitted that they could see no other way of the club going forward than someone arriving and injecting more money and, as the ultimate result of that paucity of thinking, they were prepared to give Parkinson total control of all football matters.

Which is not to say that Parkinson should not have enjoyed carte blanche to do any or all these things as he sees fit. Parkinson’s methods showed constant year-on-year improvement and perhaps would have continued to do so but without the manager ceding some control they would not have aligned with the owners.

Parkinson used many short term contracts, and Parkinson used many loan signings, and Parkinson was not entirely interested in developing young players, and if the club are now interested in long term permanent signings of young players then it starts from a negative position.

Which is a long way of saying that the 2016/17 season – the first post-Parkinson season – is defined by the decision taken by Rhodes and Lawn to allow Parkinson to be the entire centre of the footballing side of Bradford City. There was no institutional retention of knowledge – the scouting cupboard was bare – and that is the result of choices made before June 2016, not after.

Five

Phil Parkinson’s final finish for Bradford City was fifth in League One and it is that which – rightly or wrongly – Stuart McCall will be measured against in the next twelve months as will Parkinson at Bolton Wanderers.

Both measurements could be unfair. For Parkinson his record of first season success is thin and the Trotters would be better to be prepared to wait.

For McCall he is a manager who started late and without structures which are necessary. McCall has not walked into a Southampton where the manager is an appendage to a well run system. He is at a club which – both rightly and wrongly – allowed itself to be defined by its manager and who has now gone.

There is much work to do to replace Parkinson and while Rahic has an idea of the shape that he would like the club to take in the long term there is no reason at all to believe that any of the work ahead of McCall, Chief Scout Greg Abbott, James Mason or Edin Rahic can be achieved without any negative effect on performance.

That Bradford City that finished fifth last season is gone and progress must now be judged anew.

These are unfamiliar times.

Timeline / Reboot

There is a difference between you and me. We both looked into the abyss, but when it looked back at us, you blinked – Bruce Wayne, Crisis

There was a point in the history of Bradford City where the club took one turn, and could have taken another.

To be more accurate these points happen all the time but watching Stuart McCall take a Bradford City through pre-season at Guiseley I ended up thinking back to the days of January and February 2007 when Dean Windass was allowed to leave City and join Hull, and Colin Todd was sacked.

Todd’s contract was up at the end of the season and it was an open secret that Julian Rhodes wanted McCall to replace him. The need for totemic best player Windass seemed to be over with Rhodes convinced that the Bantams had enough points that David Wetherall could not possibly get them relegated in his time as manager (which he did) and had he not Rhodes might have used – not certainly not needed – an investment from then supporter Mark Lawn.

And had Rhodes excersized restraint and kept Todd, or Windass, or both, or taken another option then McCall may well have arrived in June 2007 to the very type of situation he found himself in some nine years later.

But these things happen all the time. Had Notts County’s one yarder in the first round of the League Cup 2011/2012 gone a foot lower then there would not be a Phil Parkinson legacy – such as it is – for McCall to adopt.

That legacy is not to be understated either. Parkinson has left City in rude health. The leanness of the squad in summer which caused so much consternation is purposeful and a feature of the majority of clubs outside the higher reaches of the game where lengthy deals on players are more often liabilities than assets. Only the foundations are secured in League One football these days.

And the foundations off the field are secured.

Parkinson – as far as the story is told – never walked into the boardroom and demanded money the club could not afford for players and given how easily led the boardroom seemed to be that is a good thing. That the squad last season was patched with loan players rather than panic purchases says a lot.

List the players from last season who City owned to still be at the club this season and names like Rory McArdle and Stephen Darby – both absent today and for the start of the season following operations – would be iterated through. Ben Williams and Jamie Proctor would not.

“The owl of Athena spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk” – as Hegel should have said – and it seems that dusk has not come yet for Parkinson.

Rather than a reboot of 2007/2008 and McCall’s first time as Bradford City manager in League Two it seemed that the manager was on the road not travelled, and playing in what could have been.

What was was an entertaining encounter. It would be wrong to talk about Guiseley as more than an extended and expensive training session and so to pick out specifics rather than trends seems to miss the point of the exercise.

Those trends though seemed positive.

The young players who stepped up from the lower ranks which Parkinson ignored and played with the élan of The Lisbon Girls allowed out to party for the first time. Daniel Devine’s name suggests itself.

The trialists looked lively in a way that seemed different to those Parkinson brought in. All looked capable and some looked impressive. The wheat from the chaff comes in spending time with the characters and seeing how they fit into a unit which is what games like this are all about.

It was good to see George Green make a long awaited debut. George Green and the subject of paths not taken is interesting assuming you remember the name.

And of the new signings Nathaniel Knight-Percival did not have much to do while Nicky Law Jnr set up an equalising goal for Tom Hateley (trialist) to score from. That moment when Hateley equalised revealed the game for what it was. The Bantams were happy to kick the ball around but would not go home in a defeat. The gears shifted up after falling behind showed a team working fitness rather than working to win.

And all seemed new. Parkinson has left something good at Bradford City but his exit seems to have taken with it some of the stolid tenancies which mired City’s thinking. All that was good seems good and all that was not seems new.

Which is not something that one would have expected.

Incommensurable / McCall

Officially announced new Bradford City manager Stuart McCall needs no introduction at Valley Parade and so let us not waste words with them.

And let us waste no time heaping praise on his playing career at City, at the FA Cup Final, at the World Cup, at Rangers. We know it was good, and he knows that we know it was good. We’ve been here before. Stuart McCall does not start his time at Bradford City ab ovo.

By appointing McCall Edin Rahic has joined a story en media res. The new City manager is the old City manager and in some ways he begins exactly at the point where he left the field having lost 1-0 to Bury in February 2010. The League Cup final, promotion at Wembley, Chelsea, Sunderland et al become a separate timeline that ended at Millwall and Phil Parkinson’s last game.

Rather than nothing being known about the new manager, everything is, and that brings with it a collection of nervousness about known quantities. Uwe Rösler would have brought with him questions, not so McCall.

With McCall we have answers on past behaviour, or at least we think we do, and the gnarling feeling in one’s stomach is the acceptance of that. It is the feeling of knowing what your birthday presents are.

McCall has been at Rangers, has been at Motherwell, and has been at Scotland and those qualifications need to disavow the most embarrassing of the criticism of him in the past – that he was “not a proper manager” – but from those experiences McCall needs to have learnt much to correct that course that he was on when he walked off the pitch after the Bury game five years ago.

Things that went wrong have to be put right in order that McCall be successful and some successful things need to be retained.

Ethic

McCall’s predecessor Phil Parkinson created teams which – through a peerless team ethic – dragged out results playing a direct game centred around not conceding goals. McCall’s Bradford City teams were in many ways the opposite of that. His teams worst characteristic was (and I exaggerate for effect) their ability to turn a poor decision about a throw in into a eight game winless run.

This is the greatest difference between the two managers. Parkinson build his team with an internal belief based on a spirit within the dressing room. There were times when this did not work and it was obvious that this did not work and times when it spectacularly did. It is impossible to imagine the McCall’s teams of 2007-2010 slowly grinding themselves back into a game at Chelsea when 2-0 down.

McCall’s teams, when they worked, were belief bubbles that players floated on. Remembering perhaps McCall’s best game – the 4-1 win over Exeter City – it was a projection of what Joe Colbeck could be to Colbeck and to the rest of the team that spurred the performance. This approach was not open to Parkinson who told the players that their achievements are the sum of their inputs rather than the fulfilment of their buoyancy.

Likewise ten minutes after Barry Conlon came on 2-0 down at Accrington Stanley the game was won 3-2 after the Irish striker caused mayhem in the penalty area. McCall cast the game plan at The Crown Ground aside in a way that Parkinson never did. When 2-0 at Chelsea (admittedly a different proposition) Parkinson’s team did not change how it played other than to play better. McCall’s ability to add a randomness to proceedings is a strength at times but was a weakness too.

Not only a weakness but a cause of weakness. When the belief is not in the dressing room and the player’s belief in each other’s abilities it is always subject to being assailed by external pressures. When Parkinson’s teams lost they looked at themselves and saw how they were good, and that how they would come good over time, but when McCall’s teams lost the looked at themselves to see all the ways they were bad.

Needless to say one hopes that the lessons McCall has learnt include an understanding of this and built it into his management philosophy.

Hope

Which leads onto a worry about losing the capacity that Bradford City under Parkinson had of being able to maintain a position within games. The term “game management” has become overused to the point of de-definition but recalling McCall’s celebrated 3-2 win at Accrington is to forget the times when games went beyond his side and they had little character to bring them back.

This is not uncommon but was uncommon under Parkinson who only rarely saw his City team more than a goal down. The ability to keep a game with grasp, even if it could not be grasped, is something that encouraged belief in the dressing room. City under Parkinson never lacked hope.

Yet so much of McCall’s managerial style was based around hopefulness (which is to say that his teams were never to be described as negative) that the nature of defeats like the 3-0 reversals to Rochdale and Accrington at Valley Parade came at a huge cost. To chase games at 1-0 down defensive responsibilities would be abandoned which would bring defeat, not victory, closer.

Those games were painful to watch in the stands and did damage to the squad. They were the counter to the sensational comeback but seemed to do more damage than those comebacks did good.

Another term used to the extent of de-defined is “stability”. It is not just manager retention, or squad retention, it is an environment in which lessons taught are understood and worked on, and improved, rather than one where behaviour patterns are random or seem to be random. McCall needs to have understood how to take the lessons from defeat but to not dwell on defeat and he needs to ensure that practise continues at City.

McCall the coach wins the praise of players for his ability to work with them but what is the point of having a coach to improve players if – as was the case – every twelve months the squad is changed drastically? Edin Rahic’s hopes of bringing in post-Academy players from top clubs seems to tie in with McCall’s skills but it will only work if there is a lengthy commitment to a stable development environment.

McCall can do this – arguably he can do it better than Parkinson – but the whole club has to be aware of the necessity of stability beyond the idea of just having the same manager standing in the middle of chaos.

Environment

Chaos perhaps being an apt description of 2007-2010 at times.

Stuart McCall created three teams at Bradford City and they can be summerised thus: The first one, the one that had a load of money thrown at it, the one that had a load of money ripped out of it; One might want to pretend against evidence that money is the governing factor in football but experience tells us otherwise.

It is rare that one finds a disharmony and successful football club. There are exceptions to this rule but more often it is accurate as it seemed to be in McCall’s first period as manager of the club.

Because there is a telling of history that is entirely manager-centric that is applied to Bradford City over the last decade. That Phil Parkinson arrived and – by virtue of his being a better manager than all who proceeded him – the club turned around.

This empowerment of the manager to the auteur of success is very common in football as it is “>in history. It speaks to something romantic in us all – that a single person can create wonders – and that romance is the hope that one such person might come and turn the fortunes around.

And the counter to that is that anyone who is a manager at a club that does not succeed has failed, rather than the failure being common or shared, as seems most often to be the case.

The reason Liverpool have not won the league since Kenny Dalglish left is because Kenny Dalglish Great Man theory says obviously untrue.

There is another view of history which would have it that Bradford City in Stuart McCall’s first time at the club was – to be frank – a mess.

This is an unpopular view and one that people are criticised for voicing. The perceived wisdom is that the club was making purposeful and direct steps back to the rude health as early as 2007 and that left it in good condition when Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp bought it. That wisdom does not correlate with what we know of the times.

You can pick your own example of this. What was going at Valley Parade when a deal was done with Royal Montegnée that brought Willy Topp to City as the first in a partnership? Did McCall want (W/B)illy and if not why did he get him? What was going on when Phil Parkinson – in the glow of the greatest FA Cup shock of all time – was seemingly forced to onto bended knee to apologise to two directors for pointing out the obvious problem with the pitch at Valley Parade?

What happened to the link up with RIASA? Was it a success or not? Why did the club employ Archie Christie to do one job and the manager Peter Jackson to do another when it would be generous to say that the two men did not work well together? Who wanted Christie at the club? Who didn’t? Why was Paddy Lacey signed on sixteen times the wage of Nahki Wells? Why did City end up paying £250,000 for a player that no one seemed to want at the club? Why was one of the chairmen serving up a spiteful fish course?

Only the most fanciful retrofit of history can call this a club pulling in the same direction.

Return, mentally, to the idea of the Bradford City squad being called in on a Sunday to play a game for a South African player that Mark Lawn had “discovered” and then having the game called off half way though and to be accused – according to then manager Peter Jackson – that they would not pass to the new “star player”.

That Jackson even let it happen, that Rhodes let it happen, that the architect of it Lawn let it happen, says so much about the state of the club at the time.

It all changed – for regrettable reasons – when Lawn took a step back and Phil Parkinson was able to take a team to Wembley. This consolidated Parkinson’s power at the club and all other directions were ignored, and retroactive considered ignored, because the idea of upsetting Parky by making him bring his team in to try out the South African lad risked too much.

And so the club had a single direction and benefited from it.

Which is what Stuart McCall needs to have learnt from his first stay at Valley Parade. When he was given a budget that required one squad to be ripped up and another build McCall should have said “no, that is not what I’m doing here. It will not bring us closer to what we want.”

If McCall is a different manager now this is how he needs to be different. He is a “legend” but that is an honourific afforded by the supporters and not the boardroom. He needs to use his legend status rightly rather than have it used to mask any number of curious goings on.

Fr example When one of the chairmen stopped talking to Stuart McCall in 2009 he should have asked supporters – publicly if he had to – just how the eight month sulk helped move Bradford City in the direction they wanted?

If a legend is not on the side of the fans he is not a legend.

A football club needs to have a single direction and everyone is adjunct to that. If the direction comes from the manager – as it did under Parkinson – then everyone at the club needs to stand behind him and anyone who does not needs to get out of the way.

If the direction comes from Edin Rahic then McCall needs to either understand that and be able to agree and support Rahic’s direction or he needed to have not taken the job.

But he has taken the job and while at the moment it is unclear as to what the shape of this new era Bradford City will be McCall, Rahic, Rupp et al need to be of one mind in this.

There is a view of the history of Stuart McCall as Bradford City manager that paints him as a capable manager in what was an increasingly dysfunctional situation. It is a view that writing BfB during the course of the years, and talking to the people involved, I subscribe to.

His capabilities are shown at Motherwell getting them into the Champions League qualifiers, the dysfunction at City was seen by Peter Taylor, and by Peter Jackson, and all the many messes which made the rise under Phil Parkinson so remarkable.

It is hard to say if that is the case and if McCall was a good manager in a bad situation, or if McCall is the failure in the Great Man theory that some say, or if it is some other history as yet untold about to shape the course of our club.

As Stuart McCall is welcomed back to Bradford City for a fourth coming we might be about to find out.

Selection / Manager

First this then what? While the history of BfB remains unwritten if I were to follow our friends at A Post in doing so there would be a large chunk of that about the process of recruiting managers.

Because while Bradford City have not had to appoint a replacement manager for some five years in the five years before the practice was becoming so common as to have started to be tedious.

The transition from Peter Jackson to Parkinson was something of a disorganised fumble with the candidates being interviewed not understanding the remit of the role they were applying for. Colin Cooper is believed to have told Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes that were he to get the job he would sack Chief Scout Archie Christie and Rhodes reply – as reported by Christie – was that Christie’s input on the manager would weigh heavily on the process.

At the time Rhodes and Lawn had wanted John Still the then Dagenham and Redbridge manager (who is now manager of Dagenham and Redbridge again) to take the position but were turned towards Parkinson as a better option.

Jackson’s appointment was a Sunday afternoon nonsense where it seemed that the club had decided that as a former player Jackson could skip an interview process for who would replace Peter Taylor and go straight to the manager’s chair,

Jackson had been working in a care home when he got the call to become a football manager once more. In my view he was barely adequate in his performance and the problems of his appointment were those of his departure. No matter how Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp go about recruiting the new manager for Bradford City one doubts it can be worse than that period of the club’s history.

Peter Taylor had been an outstanding appointment to replace Stuart McCall bringing to the table a seniority which McCall lacked and a proven track record of success. Taylor’s time at the club is rightly not fondly remembered but it is his professionalism rather than the lack of material which stopped him from sticking a few boots in on the way out.

The Shane Duff fish story speaks volumes.

Taylor’s appointment is perhaps the model that Rahic and Rupp – and any other chairman looking – would best follow when looking for a new manager. Selecting a candidate who had achieved success is important but much more important are multiple successes across different situations.

This adaptability is probably what attracted Bolton to Parkinson. Parkinson has worked on a budget at City at first, and at Colchester United, and he has shown an ability to take on big occasions at Chelsea, Arsenal et al.

There is an element of confirmation bias in Parkinson’s appointment.

The news that Chief Scout Tim Breacker is leaving with Parkinson comes as music to the ears as the club badly need to readdress that area. Parkinson’s recruitment was becoming an problem at Bradford City. Of the players he was happy with Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, James Meredith and Kyel Reid were all picked up a long time ago and if there was a faultline between Rahic and Parkinson along the idea of recruitment then one would struggle to suggest that the manager should have been allowed to carry on doing things the same way.

Likewise following the defeat to Millwall I expressed a concern that Parkinson had created a kind of Oakland Athletics in League One (The Oakland A’s being the subject of the book Moneyball) which was able win in the grind of week to week football but were found wanting at the sharp end of the season.

That concern was just that – a minor concern, rather than a fully stated question – and of course is denied by memories of Aston Villa away and Stamford Bridge but while the strength of Parkinson was his team’s ability to grind out results and sneak 1-0 wins that was a weakness when overplayed.

One should never be critical the the days of milk and honey ended but Millwall game illustrates this concern. In one of the forty five minute periods – the first – the Londoners dominated City and in the others the Bantams were arguably the better team but did not repair the damage done.

Perhaps more significantly to the concern is that in those three forty-five minute periods that followed Parkinson’s side did not seem as if it could repair the damage of being 3-1 down. Keeping game’s tight and nicking goals works over a longer period, less so in a two legged tie.

But would overplays this at one’s peril. Parkinson was an exceptional Bradford City manager and as Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp look for his replacement they must hope to keep the best of Parkinson.

Parkinson’s teams were seldom out of games. Rarely were the side over a goal down and always did it look capable of getting something out of an encounter. One of the more compelling reasons to follow Parkinson’s City on the road was the fullness of the ninety minutes of football. Never being out of a game was a watchword of the previous manager, and hopefully will be one of the next.

This was in no small part down to the spirit Parkinson’s side had which was second to none seen at Valley Parade. One could write books about how the players aided each other through bad moments that stopped bad games and probably still not understand exactly how that team spirit worked. Suffice to say whatever it is needs to remain, as to Stephen Darby and Rory McArdle the chief proponents of it.

Finally Parkinson’s pragmatism needs to be a factor in the new manager especially when confronted with the stated iconoclasm of Rahic and Rupp who have a clear idea of how they want the Bantams to play (“High pressing, exciting”) but may have to accept as Parkinson had that tactics are created to suit players and situations. Parkinson’s final season at City was defensive by necessity. The new manager, whomsoever he may be, should hope to make sure that he understands this.

Wandering / Parkinson

If Phil Parkinson is going to Bolton Wanderers – and at the moment it seems that he is not – then Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp would be confronted by the perennial problems of Bradford City which dominated their predecessors tenure.

How does a football club give the manager total control while retaining institutional knowledge of how to bring success?

If Parkinson and his team were to leave, and it seems that he will not, then what at Bradford City is there to carry on the good work he has done? There is no Director of Football, no powerful Chief Scout, no Youth set-up turning out talent, no facilities that guarantee quality. It seems that the whole of the footballing side of Bradford City is Phil Parkinson.

Which is no bad thing.

Parkinson is the start and end of the football side of Bradford City because – one suspects – he wants it that way. His experience sharing power in a structure at Hull City that worked out very poorly. The club is shaped the way Parkinson wants it and that is probably why Parkinson is not looking to leave Valley Parade any time soon.

The manager as “club builder” is a massively out of fashion thing in football at the moment. Even the word “manager” is often not used to describe the man who picks the team who is often described as a “Head Coach” or “Chief Person Selection Architect” or similar. The structures to support the man who picks the team have long since bled over the lines that a person like Bill Shankly or Sir Alex Ferguson would have considered the remit of the manager.

And this may be no bad thing – too often clubs give a former player with no business, scouting, or planning experience the final say on everything at the club and a remit of a few months to start to show progress. Sharing the responsibility around a football club is a very good idea from the club’s point of view. The manager does not always agree.

Take, for example, the story of Rafa Benitez at Newcastle United. People all over Europe are scratching their heads as to why the Spaniard would go from The Champions League and Real Madrid to Tyneside and the Championship in the space of twelve months. The answer seems to lay in the responsibility Benitez has been promised by Newcastle United. He has been told he will have the final say on everything. That he can have the club builder at a club which (considering Leicester City are reigning champions) has genuine potential in European football.

No club of the size of Newcastle United in the rest of Europe wants a club builder manager. The offer is too tempting to refuse. Benitez could turn it down and find a club who want him to pick the team and sit on a transfer committee – and that might be a club that wins a league – but to control everything is to be the sole author of any success.

One assume that the same offers come into Parkinson – albeit under the radar – and are met with a response that unless control is near total then the City boss will stay where he is. Leicester City’s Claudio Ranieri is praised for how little of the set up he found at Not Filbert Street he changed. Winning the Premier League is massively impressive but it is a shared success.

Any success Parkinson has – and a promotion and a cup final is pretty impressive – he is the sole author of. The difficulties Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes had – and Stefan Rupp and Edin Rahic now face – is how best to support Parkinson’s efforts without bleeding over the lines of his responsibilities.

Buy / Bye

Bradford City have been sold to German company ER Sportsgroup for £6m with current joint-chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes being replaced by Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp.

Rahic and Rupp will arrive on Tuesday and will continue to work with some of the current Bradford City staff but – troublingly – are attached to unsavoury noises about preferring Uwe Rösler to Phil Parkinson as manager.

This choice on manager is an early the acid test of Rahic and Rupp. I have said before that there is nothing about the playing side of Bradford City other than the things Phil Parkinson brings and to remove Parkinson would be to buy the club and throw away one of its defining features. To do that is just not the mark of sensible men.

However on Tuesday when Rahic and Rupp outline their plans for the club – and the newly formed ER Sportsgroup is called “group” indicating that the pair might have bigger plans than owning one League One team – should those plans include any form of youth development then one can see where problems with Parkinson’s methodology would arise.

Rahic and Rupp would do well to focus on improving recruitment at Bradford City in the short and medium term and recognising that Parkinson best serves most medium term aims. The club works better in The Championship and with better recruitment – and one notes Rahic has worked in scouting at Stuttgart – it would get there in short order.

However should the long term vision differ from Parkinson’s then – ultimately – they would replace the manager but in doing so without something very impressive to replace Parkinson with in terms of a structure and a pattern of success they would be damaging what they have bought.

If Rösler is arriving to serve that aim of assisting Parkinson then he is very welcome. There will be more on this, one suspects, in the weeks and months to come.

On Lawn and Rhodes one gets into matters of hagiography. One can read no end of appraisals of how they have saved the club in one way or another and the most nauseating of these are those with claim to speak for all Bradford City fans.

My views differ and if that is something which will hurt your sensibilities then return to the streams of praise and glory elsewhere, otherwise progress duly warned.

While he is a crashingly superb chap Julian Rhodes has proved himself dubiously effective at Bradford City in the tasks that he most often credited with.

Rhodes and Lawn are talked about as, indeed talk about themselves as, custodians and stewards of the club but Rhodes was there when £8.5m was paid out in dividends from the club which would spend a decade or more riddled with debts. Rhodes was there when the club went into administration with huge debts having received some of those dividends.

Rhodes was there when the club’s main assets (Valley Parade) was sold to one of its own board members in a deal which benefits that board member but will financially hamper Rahic and Rupp and has been a millstone for the club ever since. Rhodes was there when the club went into administration again in 2004 and watched as £500,000 from supporters pockets was what kept Bradford City going.

Rhodes was there when the club took a 9% above base rate loan from a new director which – were it not for Parkinson’s team’s historic League Cup final appearance – would still be outstanding and costly now.

I know Rhodes has done good things for the club and I appreciate the efforts he has put in and will be sorry to see him leave for reasons that – when I read the above litany – I cannot fathom. The impression seems to be that Julian Rhodes has always wanted to do well and perhaps, had he not ended up with the characters in the boardroom he did, he would have.

But that is not the case, at least not when one considers the club were in the Premier League and ended up at the foot of League Two via two spells in administration.

Perhaps the most honest history on Rhodes’ time at the club is that he represented rationality amongst irrational men and without him the forces of irrationality that allowed a football club to sell its home, to give its money to its directors, to come so close to non-existence, would have been more damaging that they have been.

As it is history named Rhodes the man who took City to promotion twice, and not the man at the club that went into administration twice, and that is nice for him.

History is set to lavish praise on Mark Lawn too, although one wonders for how long.

Lawn is a strange character to meet. Myself and Jason McKeown (mentioned again, like some forgiven child of mine) had a stand up argument with Mark Lawn where the joint-chairman had a tantrum at us for not having painting him in a better light in an interview that painted him in a good light.

Because the tantrum fell in the middle of an interview we were conducting with someone else it was recorded on Dictaphone and made for a curious listen later. Lawn’s main gripe seemed to be that we had been accurate in our reporting of what he had said and that were we more professional – Jason is, I’m not – then we would have changed what was said to something that was not said, but that he wished he had said, because it would have been better to have said that and not what he did.

I mention this because a lot of what I read about Mark Lawn seems to be from people who have had not had the pleasure of meeting him but judge him and his contribution entirely on the progress of the club.

Lawn gets credit because the last few seasons at Bradford City have been very good to watch and there is a reflection from that. How much impact he had on that, how much he created that, is something that will come out in time no doubt.

Lawn was – before Phil Parkinson’s arrival – the joint-chairman who took it upon himself to organise a training match to give a trial a South African player who – according to a ludicrous scene described in former manager Peter Jackson’s book – was not good enough to be a footballer. Lawn then abandoned the game because the players in the other Bradford City squad would not pass to the inferior newbie. That the City squad were involved in the charade Jackson details goes a long way to describing Valley Parade at the time just before Jackson left to be replaced by Parkinson.

He may also be the joint-chairman who – according to former player Shane Duff – used to insult the players performances as he served them lunch in the (admittedly excellent) 1911 Suite at Valley Parade. Imagine being at your work and hearing something like “here is your fish, and by the way you are garbage at your job”. Imagine being the manager trying to build a successful team in that environment. Imagine believing that doing that was a way to bring success. The mind should boggle.

These are two examples, many more come through grapevine. Many who encountered Lawn had a story of curious behaviour but vested interests and the desire to stay on the right side of the club are powerful motivators. With the need to stay in his good graces no longer important you might start to hear a second side to the story of Mark Lawn’s seven years at Bradford City and his role in the progress under Phil Parkinson.

You can choose to believe – Dear Reader – that Lawn went from failed scout (and, perhaps, demotivational chef) to architect of football success in the space of a few months if you wish but I would suggest that if you do then you convict yourself of naivety.

Your choice.

What should not be accepted though is the suggestion that Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn saved Bradford City.

Lawn’s claim to this has always been a mystery to me. Lawn invested in the club and a good deal of the investment – a loan and some funds – was spent on a promotion campaign with an increased playing budget. There was no promotion but the club did not go out of business as a result.

Had Bradford City not spent that money then the club would have achieved at least the same outcome but – considering later it would get to the League Cup Final with a smaller budget – there was no reason to suggest it would be endangered without it. Just that City wanted to spend more money to get promoted. The only danger of a bust was, not for the first time in City’s history, the result of trying to get a boom.

If Mark Lawn never offered his money to City then City would have just had to make do with (in one season in L2) a £1m smaller wage budget and still not have been League Two’s lowest spenders.

Mark Lawn as the saviour of City is a myth.

Julian Rhodes’ credentials to the honourific are a little better.

Rhodes and his family have invested into the club as well as taking out of it but given an appreciation of the comprehensive view of his time one might be tempted to suggest that Julian Rhodes saved the club from himself, or at least from situations in which he was involved.

It would be wrong to minimise the efforts Rhodes (or Lawn’s for that matter) has put in to Bradford City but equally wrong to overstate them. If he is to be credited as saving the club then he must also be attributed as being there when the club was put in danger.

Which is the crux of the matter.

When Bradford City was put in danger in 2004 following a schism between Julian Rhodes and Gordon Gibb it was not Rhodes who saved the club. It was you.

You and other supporters.

The supporters of Bradford City, and the community of Bradford and football at large, found around £300,000 in the space of a few weeks which was used to fund the club over the summer where football clubs have no income.

This ensured that when Rhodes wanted to return, and for that matter later when Lawn wanted to invest, there was a Bradford City at all.

Without that £300,000 – £300,000 raised by you and people like you and added to by Rhodes (see below) – Bradford City would have not been saved. Neither joint-chairmen at the time (Gibb and Rhodes) would fund a summer without income. When August and paying customers came round again Julian Rhodes was able to launch a CVA that gave him ownership and control of the club without Gibb and – according to the Kroll administrators at the time – with no debt.

That there was a Bradford City to sell for £6m in 2016 is because of the money you gave in 2004. Money you did not give as a loan at nine per cent, or in exchange for shares, or with any expectation of being paid back.

Julian Rhodes as the saviour of City is a myth.

It was not Julian Rhodes who saved Bradford City, nor was it Mark Lawn.

It was you.

If you want to give that credit away then again, your choice, but be very wary of anyone who wants to give it away for you or to take it from you.

As the club changes hands to new owners then it is worth remembering that the reason there is a Bradford City is not because of Rhodes and Lawn, or Richmond, or Gibb, or Rahic and Rupp.

It is because over the years supporters decided it would not let the club die despite the decisions in the boardroom by people who come and go.

Lawn and Rhodes are not the custodians of the club, nor are they saviours of the club. You are.

We are.

People can name stands after Rhodes if they like or build statues of Lawn if they have that much metal but never let anyone say that those people saved the club.

You did that.

Not the boardroom, the fans.

They messed up, you fixed it. You always do. You have the power, not them. Owners, directors, chairmen and all will come and go at Bradford City but you will remain.

You saved the bloody club. You are the bloody club.

Mr Rupp and Mr Rahic need to know that as they arrive at Valley Parade tomorrow.

End / End

All good things, it is often said, must come to an end and so it was that on the 48th game of a season that started with an unsettlingly easy 4-1 defeat at Swindon Town Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City acquiesced to remaining in League One for another season.

City lost a two legged game 4-2 to Millwall and while there was plenty to be said about those games: why was that wall lined up like that? Why was a handball to deny a goalscoring opportunity not the cause of a red card?; more needs to be said about how City got to the play-offs.

Parkinson’s team had been built to win promotion, but struggled badly, and what was built was rebuilt. 2015/2016 was the year of two the Bradford City teams. The first was a team with flying wingers – even in the inside midfielders were wingers at heart – and had a name goalkeeper and a pacey forward. The second was a nailed together collection of talented loan players, short term signings and making the best of what was there.

And to that extent the success of this Parkinson this season – his ability to forge a team from scraps – is also his failure in that the summer recruitment of 2015 has more than anything shaped the campaign. That failure is shared – very little at a modern football club is down to one man – but the lessons from it need to be understood for the club to make progress.

The success of this season was the return of Kyel Reid as Parkinson attempted in a reboot of his team. Lee Evans and Josh Cullen were better than anyone can expect a pair of loan players to be and Reece Burke showed no little ability but each of those successes is a retrofit to a mistake in the summer. Jamie Proctor, who others adore but I have reservations over, arrived a swap for Devante Cole.

Paul Anderson and Mark Marshall had campaigns which neither would like to remember. That Anderson’s was hampered by a broken leg was unfortunate but neither before or after did he look like he was going to prove as useful to the side as Reid has. Likewise Tony McMahon’s season leading number of assists is impressive but his place on the right hand side of midfield was a result of his failure in the holding midfield role Cullen would take.

It is impressive that Parkinson found a way to make McMahon work – he is certainly the City manager’s type of character – but had McMahon, Anderson, Marshall et al started the season as well the likes of Evans, Burke and Cullen finished it then the play-offs would have been a consolation in a failed promotion bid rather than a richly deserved reward after playing catch-up.

The failure to recruit a goalkeeper – remember Jussi Jääskeläinen in a City shirt – which concluding with a disinterested Brad Jones wandering away led to Ben Williams which in turn led to a team necessarily stacked towards defending. Williams deserves some credit for a record number of clean sheets this season but never had a City team been so committed to not allowing the opposition to cross the ball and that commitment to defence and mutated the team into a glass-jawed pugilist able to take nine our of ten blows but incapable of landing a knock-out blow and on the canvas when something gets through the guard.

The credit for Parkinson is that he recognised that he had to shape his team in this way and – after doing so – shaped that team superbly. The fix worked, and some, and the fact that City were in the play-offs at all is a success far outweighs the problems in the first half of the first leg, and the second half of the second, and for that matter in the summer of poor recruitment.

Without Parkinson everything that is good about Bradford City would be lost.

Change

Next season everything about Bradford City changes.

The game that Bradford City play is changing. The next time you watch Bradford City a player making a foul while trying to play the ball in the penalty area that denies a goalscoring opportunity will not be sent off with the penalty and a yellow card being punishment enough.

That player would be sent off were the foul outside the penalty area leading to the potential for a situation where a player in the first minute of a game might beg the referee to place the offence in the box, not outside it, thinking that one down with eleven is better than level with ten.

Also a dog can head the ball into the net now, and it can still be a goal.

The players Bradford City play the game with is changing. Obviously a large number of the current squad are either out of contract or were on loan. A retained list will come out which will probably reduce the squad by four or five – we may have seen the last of Billy Knott, and that is a shame – while Lee Evans has already bid farewell to be followed by the other loan players. We will miss you Reece Burke. We will not miss Wes Thomas.

Loans in the style of Wes Thomas will not be replaced. The FIFA laws of the game have long been out of sync with how loans work in the Football League and the Football League have finally had to comply. Loans will be made in transfer windows. The team at the end of August will be the team at the start of January – Paul Anderson broken leg or not – and so more pressure is put on clubs to get their summer recruitment right.

We will never see another Kevin Wilson month loan cameo at Valley Parade again.

The club or Bradford City is changing. You do not need me, dear reader, to tell you the rumours around the ownership of the club or how much credibility those rumours have gained. The Rhodes family – who own 66% of the club – have long since said they are prepared to sell.

Whatever the reasons why the sale has suddenly become motivated, and whomever the new owners are, the challenges for the club remain and were unconquered in the co-chairmanship of Juliand Rhodes and Mark Lawn. The story that Bradford City missed out on Leicester City’s en vogue Jamie Vardy caused some amusement earlier this season but City seem to spend the summer months missing out on targets. Andy Williams ended up at Doncaster Rovers when Parkinson wanted him, Mark Beevers reached the play-off final with Millwall having sat around a table with City.

This is not a new problem. Chris Brandon once stunned his manager Stuart McCall by revealing how much he had been able to negotiate as a weekly salary. The club missed out on the chance to sign Gary Jones 12 months before he actually arrived having shown him around Valley Parade. Just after that Parkinson told me and Jason (The WOAP man, when he was still of this Parish) than every club needed someone who could get a deal over the line.

Recruitment is identifying targets and acquiring them in the most efficient way. If it were Lawn and Rhodes, of Mr Palidini, or the Germans, or the contacts George Galloway had (who never seemed to materialise, like all of Galloway’s promises) the task would be the same. Find more players to choose from and then the choice is made, sign them for the right price.

And this is the final headline of length, and with sub clauses, about how change will happen

That Parkinson was able to make a superb season out of the wreckage of the Summer 2015 recruitment is testament to his abilities as a manager. He got it wrong, and then got it right, and his right was bigger than his wrong.

But as Bradford City as a whole woke up with a sad heart after play-off defeat its worth noting that any failures done did not happen on the field against Millwall but in the summer before.

Bradford City need to be better at recruitment or this season will happen again, which might be no bad thing because it has been a blast, but were we to get recruitment right then we have a manager peerless to get the best out of them.

Bradford City vs Manchester United vs Rangers vs Everton in the Summer of 2012 Four Team Tournament that never happened

Fargo

This is a true story about a four team football tournament that never happened but was going to happen at Valley Parade in the Summer of 2012 at Valley Parade, Bradford.

The tournament would be hosted by Bradford City and feature three of the biggest names in British football: Rangers, Everton and Manchester United.

It is a strange story and one which seems out of keeping with the profile of the club at the moment but take my word for it, it did happen.

Some of the names have been left out to avoid embarrassment for the people involved who did embarrassing things.

This does not include David Moyes who, if he reads this, may feel embarrassed.

Sorry David.

Flashback episode

Jason McKeown and myself, when we talk, invariable talk about the day we spent with the Chief Scout and would-have-been Director of Football at Bradford City Archie Christie. At the time we talked about the day as like being on Jim’ll Fix It but now we don’t.

The day had an unreal air about it. The aim for Christie – the 49 year old Scot who had recently arrived at Bradford City – was to show what he did in a day and how what he did did not conflict with manager Phil Parkinson but rather augmented Parkinson but thinking back I believe there was something else behind our invitation.

Christie lived in London but worked out of the a Bradford hotel most of the time. The conflict between Christie and the people he worked with like Mark Lawn, Roger Owen, and Peter Jackson I could – and perhaps will – write a book about but suffice to say that at the end of long, hard days of work the gregarious Christie went back to The Cedar Court hotel at the top of the M606, and was alone.

I imagine that Christie thought when he took the job that he would have more to do with the people around Bradford City. I imagine he thought that he would be part of a group of people, a gang, and that he would trade stories about his adventures in football and about the club he had joined but instead was spending a lot of time in a featureless Bradford hotel.

I think he probably wanted someone to talk to about Bradford City, and I think that someone was me.

Everton Part 1: Tom Cleverley

Tom Cleverley signed for Everton under freedom of contract and for no transfer fee this week leaving Bradford City without a percentage payment on the deal which took the England international – then a twelve year old child – to England’s biggest football club Manchester United.

Bradford City co-chairmen Mark Lawn is honest about how much the club were expecting that one day Cleverley would leave United and sign for someone in a deal which activated City’s sell on clause but that will not happen now and so City were – in his reading of the situation – out of pocket.

The detail of the transfer that took the twelve year old Tom Cleverley from Bradford City’s to Manchester United included a percentage of any transfer fee paid for the player, and it included a payment for each Football League/Premier League appearance the player made and – I believe – ended up netting City about £75,000*.

At Bradford City it was thought that that £75,000 was dependent on Cleverley playing for Manchester United. It was also thought that the “sell on clause” percentage applied to full transfers, and not loan deals.

However in the Autumn of 2011 Christie he drove over to Old Trafford with a copy of the transfer deal in hand and demanded the money be paid for the games played for Leicester City, Watford and Wigan on loan, and a cut of any loan fees that United were paid for Cleverley.

Christie’s point was that the transfer deal didn’t specify that the games Cleverley played had to be for Manchester United – they could be for anyone – and did specify that City were entitled to any transfer fee which included temporary transfers. The Scot was prepared to sit in the reception area until someone would deal with him, and agree with him.

He camped out for a few hours in Manchester before returning back to Valley Parade with a cheque from United for the amount which went straight into manager Peter Jackson’s budget.

The fact the money arrived for Peter Jackson to spend rather than over the following years may, or may not, been significant but what was useful was the conversation which that Christie had started with one of the biggest clubs in the World.

Christie used the opportunity to create a relationship with people in the system of Old Trafford. The terms of the relationship seemed to be that Christie would keep Manchester United informed of developments at Bradford City, and in his newly set up Development Squad and Manchester United would compensate his Development Squad Fund for that to the tune of £45,000 over a period of time*.

Money, and The Development Squad Fund

The Development Squad Fund is always a source of some confusion. It confused me and I had a good look through the spreadsheet. I knew how much the young player who Christie had offered the chance to turn their careers around at Bradford City were being paid and let me tell you they were not millionaire footballers.

Players were on around £100 a week. Christie believe that that would root out players who wanted the lifestyle of a footballer rather than to be a footballer. To live on £100 a week in Bradford you had to really want it*.

As with all clubs The Football League give money to Bradford City to be spent on for youth development some of which created a part of the fund as was appropriate because it featured some of the youth side.

The fund was augmented by other money that Christie could generate from the squad itself. This might include the Development Squad being paid to play closed-doors friendly matches at other clubs, or it might include anything raised by loaning out Development Squad players*.

This money then went into a separate pot to the manager’s budget and could not be used by the manager because it was – in part – made of Football League grants and could not be spent on transfer fees or first team players.

Christie controlled that separate pot and used for his Development Squad. From this pot players like Scott Brown, Dean Overson, Dominic Rowe, and Nahki Wells were paid, although they were not very much.

Some of the players who joined the Development Squad from other clubs were given a simple proposition by Christie. “You’ve failed as footballers to this point, your previous club does not want you, and you are going to have to get a real job now but we at Bradford City will give you a last chance. Impress us and we will put you in our first team and you do not have to go work in a Supermarket.”

Nahki Wells’ name stands out on the list because he embodied that proposition whereas the rest have had more modest careers as footballers, or no careers at all.

Wells’ name seems to justify a project like a Development Squad for clubs like City – who benefited from his transfer to Huddersfield Town for £1.25m – and justify too Premier League clubs like Manchester United investing in what are ostensibly rivals to make sure that any gems they – or their rivals – accidentally let go can be polished up and returned to the crown.

Wells has not gone to the Premier League football but Cleverley did, and so did Fabian Delph. Delph and Cleverley were both spirited away from City very young and coincidentally both played in last week’s FA Cup Final. They made the big time.

Of the tens of thousands of eleven and twelve year olds kicking a ball every weekend how did Delph and Cleverley ended up becoming the subject of real football transfers. How do clubs like Manchester United or Leeds United (who bought Delph from Bradford City) even find out that if they watch that specific game of the thousands they could watch in a weekend then they will see a future England International?

The answer seems to be from relationships such as the one which existed between Bradford City and Manchester United as a result of Archie Christie’s involvement in making Manchester United pay for Tom Cleverley.

A Person with a Black Book

In the World of Advertising Agencies (in which I have worked) there is always a New Business department and within that department there is always a Person with a Black Book.

In that book is a list of names and the names are the Person’s Contacts and those Contacts work for potential Clients. Probably the Person has got his or her job because of the names in that book and the prospect of linking Agency up with Client that Contacts represent.

After a while the Person moves on to another agency and takes the book with them. At the new Agency the Person start getting in touch with Contacts who by that time have moved to different Clients and work is done. Even though the Agency and the Client are different the Person and the Contact are the same, and that is how the business works.

What is important though is that the relationship between Agency and Client is actually a relationship between Person with a Black Book and Contact.

I’ve worked in an Agency where the Person with a Black Book has been fired on a Monday and on the Tuesday the Contact has taken the Client’s business away. This is how I am used to business working.

Advertising is a strange business like football is. It seems in both that the people have all the control they need but they do not. No matter how much work you put into a Pepsi campaign if Coca-Cola do a better campaign you lose, and no much how much work you put in in a football match if the other team do it better you lose.

In this world without control people are loyal to people.

Whatever relationship there was between Bradford City and Manchester United was really a relationship between Christie and someone at Old Trafford who was taking an interest in making sure that the Red Devils knew what was going on in the youth set-up of various clubs to make sure that they would be on hand when the next Cleverley, Delph, or Andre Wisdom or (in 2011) George Green emerged.

Whoever that was at Old Trafford – and I have no idea who it was – would probably be highly sought after for the contact book he had and likewise the contacts Christie made at Bradford City would stay with him wherever he would go after.

The cost of being Manchester United

All this might seem odd but think that Manchester United spent £59m in a transfer fee on a single player last season, and paid that player Angel Di Maria a further £280,000 a week in wages. It is estimated that Di Maria will cost United £70m over the course of five years.

By way of contrast in 2014 players who were signed young at United were often paid much less than those bought in for large transfer fees. Juan Mata was paid £140,000 a week, Shinji Kagawa £80,000 while Danny Welbeck got £75,000 and Cleverley got £40,000.

This means it would probably cost United a six times more over five years to employ of Angel Di Maria rather than Tom Cleverley.

In that context it is not hard to see why a club like United will have relationships with teams like City. To bring in a serviceable first team player when young represents a massive saving for a club even at Manchester United’s level.

Team #2: Manchester United

So it was that Manchester United agreed to take part in a four team tournament at Valley Parade in the summer of 2012 along with Bradford City which was of course an agreement between Archie Christie and someone at Old Trafford. City would be playing their full team and United would not which is how – one suspects – the agreement could be made.

The tournament was designed to fill a part of Phil Parkinson’s pre-season plans on the one hand and to showcase Bradford City on the other.

It was something Christie would have liked to do when he was working in his previous role at Dagenham and Redbridge before joining City but the poor facilities at that club prevented that.

Dag&Red is no place for entertaining the glitterati of British football but Valley Parade – a Premier League standard ground – is. Christie was a place where football people could be networked and the club could re-build relationships within the game.

“He runs up and down and kicks people”

At the start of 2011 Liverpool signed Jordan Henderson for £15m from Sunderland and some four years later that would seem to have been a good investment. Henderson has blossomed into a very good player.

At the time though Henderson was considered a curious signing by Reds boss Kenny Dalglish and was the poster boy for the idea that football’s valuations of transfer fees had lost touch with reality.

It was probably that reality which had prompted the Bradford City’s board to be somewhat amused by Archie Christie’s statement that he could get over a million pounds for fifteen year old junior player George Green. At the time Green was unknown even in Bradford City circles.

Christie had told me that the other co-chairman Julian Rhodes told him how much City were hoping to get for Cleverley and that he would be impressed if Christie could get more for Green.

Christie did. Everton paid £2m for the youngster in October 2011.

I once asked Archie Christie if he thought George Green was worth that much money and he shrugged his shoulders and indicated that most players values had little to do with their abilities and much to do with how many people wanted to buy them.

With George Green the value was set by a bidding war which was started out by Spurs following a game Green played on trial for Alex Ingerthorpe junior side (Ingerthorpe is now at Liverpool, and a great example of a person who has taken his contact book with him to another club) and the bid went to a number of clubs before eventually settling on Everton.

One of the suitors was Glasgow Rangers.

Christie’s relationship with Rangers had started long before I crossed paths with him and would carry on after. Christie involved himself in one of the many takeover bids for the club he supported and would have – when asked – call Rangers his dream job.

Christie saw Rangers as the perfect club for Bradford City to sell George Green to explaining that he wanted the youngster go to a club who would then sell him after he had progressed as a player and so City’s sell on percentage clause value would be maximised.

I believe* that Rangers put a bid in for Green and that bid included City getting their choice of the Rangers youth ranks to take on loan to Valley Parade. I was asked who I would take and joked “John Fleck“, to which Christie indicated that not only did he agree but that that would be the deal.

Fleck turns up at Valley Parade as an impressive Coventry City player now and again but at the time signing him seemed unrealistic.

Negotiations with Rangers seemed to have produced an offer and part of the negotiations included Christie telling his opposite number at Rangers that Green would eventually be a better player than Henderson who “runs up and down and kicks people”

Rangers agreed – or rather someone at Rangers agreed – to join in the four team tournament in 2012 and like Manchester United they would be sending a young side. They may have had a similar agreement in place about the Development Squad or being kept informed but not long after they were thrown out of the Scottish League structure after spending more than they could afford and many of the staff left the club, including Fleck.

I asked Christie what he really thought of Henderson and he said he thought he was a good player. I asked him how Green was worth £2m and sighted an example of another player who had sold for less and his reply stays with me now for its oddness: “I’ve Spice Girlsed this.**”

That Championship Manager problem again

We are a generation of football fans schooled on the computer game Championship Manager.

In Championship Manager every player has a value set by the game as a function of his abilities as represented by statistics. The higher the stats the more a player is worth, and the stats are (mostly) visible to all.

This is how we got to understand transfers as we grew up to a football world increasingly interested in money. We understood that within football there was a way of looking at a player and – with an experienced eye – knowing what his true value was.

Of course there is not. Not in reality.

We also know the economist credo that something is worth what a purchaser will pay for it. That proposition does not help us in trying to find how much a footballer is worth in the absence of anyone attempting to purchase him, or anyone making a bid.

City had had a single bid for Tom Cleverley and so Tom Cleverley was worth £75,000*.

With George Green bidders were set against bidders and the price escalated until a fifteen year old who only played his first League Two games this season (on loan at Tranmere Rovers) sold for more money than City would end up receiving for top scorer Nahki Wells when he left for Huddersfield Town three years, forty two goals and two appearances at Wembley later.

Nahki Wells was not Spice Girlsed.

Everton Part 2: “I was pissing by the door”

Tottenham Hotspur had put in a transfer offer for Green. This transfer offer was for £1.5m is unique in the entire history of professional football.

It is the only one which I have held in my hand.

I walked to the printer, I picked up the five copies, and I read one. It was six or seven bullet points detailing when City would get various payments for Green’s services and it was signed at the bottom by Daniel Levy, the Spurs chairman.

None of the points were that Spurs would take part in the pre-season tournament at Valley Parade but Christie told Jason and myself that the North London team would be sending a side as he headed to a board meeting, transfer offer in hand.

Again the relationship seemed to exist between Christie and someone at Spurs, rather than Spurs themselves.

Eventually Everton made the deal and agreed to take Spurs’ part in the four team tournament. We’ve talked about this before, dear reader, but there was a curious aside and an interesting finish.

Christie was rarely in London but late one night – I was surprised by how late football does its business – during the bidding for Green I was on a call with Christie on his house phone when his mobile, paced within earshot of the landline, rang.

“Its Davie Moyes” Christie said excitedly before asking me to go along with anything he said to Moyes in the next five minutes. I caught my breath.

Sure enough the familiar tones Moyes could be heard from one phone to another and I heard Christie informed the then Everton manager that he could not take the his call because he was on the other line but rather than saying it was a conversation with me, he said he was talking to Bayern Munich General Manager Uli Hoeness.

Moyes did not believe Christie at first and so Christie offered to allow Moyes the chance to talk on the phone with his German rival. This inspired no little panic on my part as I imagined my inability to convincingly impersonate Hoeness.

I know no German at all and my accent is very much Bradford. I thought of the television programme ‘Allo ‘Allo and uttered the word “Ja” softly but audibly in practice. No one heard I assume.

I need not have worried. Moyes was convinced of Hoeness’ presence and hastened off the other line.

It struck me as embarrassing that Moyes should believe such a fanciful story as Germany’s leading football club trying to buy a young English player that no one had ever heard of but it turns out that at the time Bayern Munich were doing just that.

They were indeed one of the many clubs to express some kind of vague interest in George Green and later they signed Dale Jennings from Tranmere Rovers. They had set up a scouting network in the English lower leagues under the belief that English Premier League clubs might be ignoring the talent that was under their noses in favour of buying in players.

Munich may still believe that but the only player they signed from English lower league football was Jennings and he left for Barnsley after a few years. The English are notoriously bad settlers and this may put Bayern off but it is true that Bayern Munich have scouts watching English League Two football. Perhaps they are the only European club who do or perhaps not.

Maybe City games are occasionally attended by the Barcelona and Real Madrid, Juventus and AC Milan scouts all searching for the next big thing and fearing that if they do not over turn every stone in that search then their rivals will.

After our crossing of sorts I followed Hoeness’ career. He was jailed in 2013 for evading 30m Euro in tax and resigned from Bayern Munich. I tracked down a recording of him speaking about his case.

He sounded very German.

Team #4: Tottenham Hotspur Everton

The deal was done at £2m for George Green to join Everton.

Christie sealed it with a handshake and drove away only for – and this is how Christie related it – Spurs to get back in touch and Harry Redknapp himself to up his offer over Everton’s £2m to £2.4m.

The new Spurs bid was turned down because a deal had been agreed but not before Moyes had “become aware” of it and had sought assurances that he would not be gazumped.

It was important that Christie show that when a deal was made with Moyes all football knew it could not be broken. It was important in re-establishing Bradford City’s credentials in football as a club you could do business with.

Re-establishing because in 2011 City had twice been in administration in the previous ten years and that means twice evaded debts they should have paid. This could make people nervous around deals with City and so it was important to Christie that the club start a rehabilitation of their reputation as a club of good standing.

The handshake sealed the contract and this impressed Moyes who had already agreed to send an Everton side to Valley Parade for the Summer of 2012 Four Team Tournament and now agreed to send his first team as a show of gratitude.

That Moyes would send a strong Everton side was a mark of respect but it was the respect which would prove most valuable in the long term. I was started to see the point of the Summer of 2012 Four Team Tournament that Christie was planning was far beyond good matches and bums on seats.

I had thought that football was an imperfect meritocracy before but now I was beginning to see where those imperfections were. Of course a lack of money holds you back in football but it seemed that a lack of respect was a problem too. If you are not taken seriously as a club then serious clubs will exploit you.

This could have been what happened with Tom Cleverley, Fabian Delph and Andrew Wisdom who joined Liverpool when young all for small fees – I could not say – but I’ve been watching Bradford City for over thirty years and have always noticed that our best players leave us for relatively small amounts.

City’s 1980s heroes Stuart McCall and John Hendrie were good value for the teams that picked them up. Nahki Wells was good value for Huddersfield too when he joined them. The only time I can recall City selling a player and seeming to have got the better side of lopsided deal is Des Hamilton‘s exit to Newcastle United in 1998.

Then City were run by Geoffrey Richmond. He was a serious man indeed.

By assembling a group of big name sides to stand next to City Archie Christie believed that City would start to build networks, to get respect by association, and to become a serious club in the business of football.

The business of football was not unlike other businesses and was built on personal relationships and on being well thought of in the football community as being capable or at least that is what Christie seemed to think.

In writing this I read back this comment from Mark Lawn about the Cleverley deal which seems unlike anything else the co-chairman has ever said in its tone and content.

We’re currently in discussions with (Manchester) United. They are a professional and sensible club so I don’t see a problem.

That sounds like Christie’s words and not Lawn’s who is lauded for being the plain speaking Yorkshire man on Match of the Day. I mention this not to suggest Lawn did not say them but to show how the club was operating in those days.

The highest complement that City could pay the highest team in the land in negotiations – some carefully chosen words – was that they were professional and sensible. City – via Lawn – bestowed upon Manchester United the traits they were so keen to claim back for themselves.

Christie had been offered the Director of Football job at Valley Parade. He had a letter making the offer which he had – for reasons which would become clear – not replied to despite his having a plan in place for the Summer of 2012.

Before that though he would host a collection of influential football scouts and agents to watch a game at City as part of his building of City’s reputation.

It was relationship building but Christie told me he had seventeen people who could help him help Phil Parkinson get together squad he wanted. It was Archie’s way of announcing that City were a serious and credible football club that football could do business with again.

The game was Marine at home in the Second Round of the FA Youth Cup.

So now then

The Summer of 2012 Four Team Tournament never happened of course.

I have no idea how close it came to being scheduled or even if it been talked about at any level with anyone else at Valley Parade but Christie left Bradford City.

It would not surprise me at all if the people at the various clubs had – like Christie – moved on and that little is remembered about sketched plans to take teams to pre-season games.

David Moyes may recall agreeing to bring his Everton side but he has – famously – left Everton since for Manchester United and then Real Sociadad.

The person was at Rangers is almost certainly not at Rangers anymore and who knows who was in the depths of Old Trafford agreeing to bring whatever team to Valley Parade but one can imagine that that person makes it their business to make many of those deals every season.

I would not like to say if what Christie was planning at Valley Parade was unique but I doubt it was. I suspect football is littered with the plans of the ambitious. Not remembered as the agenda moves on, and perhaps not worth remembering to some.

I remember though. I remember because it was such an education into how football worked beyond how we – the supporters – assume it does.

It was arbitrary in a way that exceeded anything I could have imagined even after covering City for the ten years previous and it was more personal than anyone would think.

That is what makes football like any other business. It is not because of the money involved but because like any other business people want to do business with people they like, and respect, and believe can do a good job.

And while those relationships are crucial to a club they are not tied to the clubs but rather to the individual people at the club.

Epilogue: The Archie Christie Memorial Trophy

Summer 2012 in Winter 2013.

A Saturday of semi-finals and then a third place and a final on the Sunday. It was the Olympic Summer and I remember heat of the end of July but it was a cold Winter eighteen months later and I had not much to do.

  1. Bradford City
  2. Manchester United (II/u18)
  3. Glasgow Rangers II
  4. Everton

I played out the games using Championship Manager (FM2013) assuming that City would play Manchester United in the semi – City lost – and Everton would beat Rangers leaving a full strength Everton side to play a Sunday final against Manchester United.

Everton won. Moyes beat Manchester United.

So David did get something out of it whole thing, in a way, but I don’t think anyone else really did.


Notes

* These figures and deals are from memory rather than recordings, and could be inaccurate because of that, but they are to the best of my memory.

** Archie Christie died in 2014 and much of this article is made up of conversations only some of which were recorded so I have attempted to avoid verbatim quotes through out. Some stick in the mind though.

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, back in communist Russia

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

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

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

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

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

Everything trundles along as it was, and should be.

I want to wet my feet in Albert Square

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything trundles along as it was

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buying Bradford City and worrying

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

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

But there is worry.

…be happy

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

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

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

The third way

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

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

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

End of aside.

What to worry about

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not worried about

This is what I am not worried about.

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

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

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

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

We continue

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

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

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

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

I’m worried about that.

How the Reading job showed City’s Parkinson problem

Why Colin Cooper did not get the Bradford City job

I heard a story from the horse’s mouth. Colin Cooper, in interview with Joint Chairman Julian Rhodes, was asked how he would work with incoming Chief Executive Archie Christie and Cooper was clear.

“I would not,” he said, “I’d get rid of him.”

“Well,” Rhodes is said to have replied, “he is making the decision.”

The dream job comes up

As soon as the statement was read out that Reading had “parted company” with Nigel Adkins Phil Parkinson’s name was being mentioned in connection to the vacancy. Within a few days Steve Clarke had been appointed to the job.

Parkinson is to Reading what Stuart McCall is to Bradford City – or Peter Beagrie perhaps – but a man of some significance at Elm Park and his performances as Bradford City manager could hardly suggest his name more.

However Parkinson’s achievements – and other Football League achievements – seem to be unimpressive when it comes to recruiting managers in the Premier League. This tendency to forgo Football League managers has started to spread downwards.

Which saves a problem

All of which saves Bradford City looking for a replacement for Parkinson and the upheaval that that would bring.

It would be foolish to say that Parkinson is a peerless manager and that City could not replace him but remembering that the last time the people in the boardroom were asked to come up with a name to manage the club that name was Peter Jackson.

When one looks at the difference between the club then and the club now it is hard to find anything which cannot be put down to Parkinson. From Wembley to Wembley, Wells to McLean, the club is built in the image that Parkinson wanted.

Which is not to criticise

And this is not an overt criticism of the boardroom just a recognition that they greatest achievement they have in the modern Bradford City is not getting involved and allowing Parkinson to build the club as he wishes. The impressive thing is how much Parkinson has built on his own.

Of course he has had Good Lieutenants at his sides but compare the years under Parkinson to the conflicts at the club between Peter Jackson and Archie Christie, or Archie Christie and Mark Lawn, or Mark Lawn and Peter Taylor (or rather, some of his players), or Stuart McCall and Two of the Boardroom and on and on.

Since Parkinson arrived Bradford City have not so much been a club united as a club with someone to stand behind and follow. Right now Parkinson is running Bradford City and everything at the club is adjunct to that.

The boardroom request to play more attacking football is characterised as just that – a request – rather than a demand. When Parkinson could not get his team playing around a playmaker he decided to revert to his previous less attacking formation and not a peep was heard publicly from the boardroom.

What would be left?

Without Phil Parkinson Bradford City have very little at the club on the footballing side. One assumes that on his exit Parkinson would take his backroom team with him – they all signed contracts at the same time suggesting that unity – and once Parkin et al leave then there is no chance of continuity.

For the right reasons they appointed Phil Parkinson with a remit to remake the club as he saw fit. To their credit they have largely stayed out of how Parkinson has run the club. I have worried in the past that Parkinson needs some support in his role and that the club lacks institutional knowledge retention but I’d be more worried is this boardroom started to tell the manager how to do his job. When it comes to football at Valley Parade Phil Parkinson is by a good distance the domain expert.

The boardroom are stuck in catch 22. They found success by giving Parkinson free reign to do as he wants but then they are under the constant threat that Parkinson could be tempted away and they would be left with nothing.

This is the Parkinson problem and without a solution there must just be relief that when Steve Clarke was appointed.

Why Steve Cotterill left Phil Parkinson lost for words

From these marble halls

In the marble halls of Arsenal’s Highbury ground sat a besieged Stoke City manager Alan Durban under criticism from a press corp who had had to suffer The Potter’s defensive tactics attempted to frustrate the home side.

Unsuccessfully as it turned out – Arsenal had won 2-0 – but Durban was unrepentant on his approach. He was not going to send out an attacking team that Arsenal would look good beating. He had come with the aim of splitting the points.

Told that the ninety minutes had not been entertaining he offered up a reply to posterity: “If you want entertainment go and watch a bunch of clowns.”

He does not detach from reality for long

Perhaps it was frustration at seeing his Bristol City team fail to beat a Bradford City side which was in poor form before Tuesday night’s 2-2 draw that prompted Steve Cotterill to say that Bradford City would see the game as a good point gained where as he reflected on two lost.

Cotterill’s comments not would be appreciated by his opposite number Phil Parkinson. “We were the only team trying to win it, Bradford came for a draw and they got it.” Parkinson disagreed.

Cotterill’s frustrations are understandable – his team twice led the game – but he allows them to cloud obvious (if received) wisdom. A manager who loses sight of the idea that any point away from home should be welcomed as the most which could be expected is one who is unnecessarily detached from the realities of League football. Cotterill, one of the brighter managers in the game, does not detach from reality for long.

Nor does Parkinson who was quick to point that he had sent a team out to win and but for an injury and a foul on Jordan Pickford they might have done that. Parkinson has good reason too make the correction too.

His remit to create an attacking team this season has been laid out in the boardroom and Cotterill questions the City manager’s attempts to achieve that.

Wanted: A bunch of clowns

At the start of the season Julian Rhodes talked about how the board had told Parkinson that there was a need for City to be more attacking this season. Indeed Rhodes’ ally Mark Lawn had been “the last to sign off” on appointing Peter Taylor as City manager because he feared that the football would be less attractive.

Parkinson is not required to win promotion, just be more entertaining while maintaining a similar position to last season, and Cotterill is suggesting that the opposite is true. “We (Cotterill’s Bristol City) couldn’t get the tempo of our game going in the first half because Bradford kept slowing things down, but fair play to them for that.”

The accusation that Phil Parkinson’s teams are not engaged in creating exciting football matches is not uncommon. The first time Parkinson came onto City fans’ radar it was during a spat with then manager Colin Todd in September 2005 in which Todd accused Parkinson’s Colchester United team of “killing the game as a spectacle.”

Parkinson’s response was confident and erudite in it simplicity. “He’s looking for an excuse for his team’s failure. Rather than analysing his side’s performance, he’s looking to blame me and it’s disappointing from a man of his experience.”

“I don’t have to justify my tactics to anybody.”

Parkinson’s position has changed, or been changed. As City manager he has to justify his tactics to Julian Rhodes and the Bradford City board who wanted more attacking football.

Is Parkinson failing?

So is Parkinson failing to do as he is told by his employers? If he is then what will the ramifications of that be?

Answers to these questions are not clear. If City are less attacking then losing Nahki Wells – a transfer was handled in the boardroom after the player had declared he wanted to leave – would have to be taken into account. Some players are just more exciting to watch than others.

But the difference between this season and last is more than players in shirts. Last season’s wingers have been replaced by (save us from the dumbing down of the word “diamond”) a three man midfield with a playmaker between the forward lines.

Fast, flying wingers are the most elaborate display of attacking football the game has to offer regardless of the result of that play. Teams with flying wingers will always be loved even if they lose because they are attacking. Yet Phil Parkinson allowed Kyel Reid to go unreplaced in the City squad.

Mark Yeates’ playmaking role is less about skipping over tackles and more about intelligent use of the ball. When winger moves end (if they end poorly) it is in sprints and limbs. When playmaker’s do not achieve their aims it ends in the ball being shuffled back to defenders.

When playing well a playmaker is insightful but looking for flashes of insight to play killer balls is not as “attacking” as flying wingers, at least not in the meaning which Rhodes seemed to present it.

Are City more attacking this season? Steve Cotterill does not think so, and not do I, and one doubts that the boardroom does.

So what does this mean for Phil Parkinson?

What does Phil Parkinson say on the subject of attacking football when he sits and talks to his bosses?

He may point out that with the team in poor form its not clear if a City playing better would not look better, or he may point out that this time last season City were on the back of an amazing run that led to promotion, or he may say that the team is more attacking as is shown by the result especially away from home.

You will have you own thoughts, dear reader, on if those arguments are compelling and if Parkinson has delivered what he was told to deliver – attacking football.

Perhaps though when told not only that he should win but how he should win Parkinson might regret not having taken a lead from Durban and stuck to the line “I don’t have to justify my tactics to anybody.”

But he did not, and so he could not offer it as a riposte to Steve Cotterill either.

The mystery of Matty Dolan and what is to worry about next season

Matty Dolan has signed for Bradford City with talk of the twenty one year old having a major part to play in next’s season team.

It is a realistic aim for the player who after eleven largely uneventful appearances at Valley Parade last season should be settled. If given this time on the slip road to get up to speed Dolan cannot nail down a place in next season’s side then one might expect him to never get such an opportunity again. The odd fine pass here, some tidy work there, there was nothing to suggest that Dolan was not worth the effort of a one year deal.

There is a wider question about what kind of Bradford City we will see next year.

Already Julian Rhodes has talked about two distinct differences the club want in Phil Parkinson’s playing squad next season. It must be cheaper, and more attacking.

“More attacking” first. Please save us from the joint chairmen trying to do football. Both the owners of the club consider themselves to be fans and custodians of the club but one – Mr Rhodes – has decided that part of that remit as protecting the future of the club and supporting it is to weigh in on how Phil Parkinson should be doing his job.

Rhodes would like more attacking football – probably a hope shared by all football supporters – but one doubts that Rhodes would like City to lose more and in all likelihood the Bradford City board would not accept losing more. Given the aims to be cheaper and to improve it is unhelpful to say the least for the boardroom to set the objectives of how those things will be done.

Phil Parkinson might conclude that given that remit: improve, cheaper, more attacking; that he should pay more attention to movements in the manager market in the summer. If that is the case then Julian Rhodes might live to regret his pronouncements, especially if they were just to rustle up more season ticket sales.

That is a worry.

Now “cheaper”. Bradford City have a use of the word “budget” that mocks the English language. The club set a figure what it believes it will get in through sponsorship and league games which is called “the budget”. Then the club spend more than that so are “over budget”.

A good cup run (probably not that good) eats into the gap between the “budget” and the “over budget”, or exceeds it and can be used – for example – to pay the club’s loan to one of it’s directors. We might have a respectable cup run that takes the club to Old Trafford and answers the problems.

Transfer fees work in the same way. Nahki Wells’ sale made the “budget” match the “over budget”. If Derby Country get to the Premier League and want to keep Andre Wisdom then the sell on on his move to Liverpool may do the same and a good World Cup could see Ross Barkley move on and leave a place in the team at Everton for Reserves Captain George Green to step up and start City’s pay per play deal. Oli McBurnie might leave at Christmas after twenty goals for a few million. James Hanson might sign for Barcelona. These things all might happen.

But they might not.

And if they do not Bradford City the club will once again looking to try plug the gap between what Bradford City the business’s directors hoped for and what Bradford City the business achieved. For two seasons Wembley and Wells have paid for the club to be run beyond its means and we can say that that has worked if we ignore the number of seasons that boom-or-bust policies did not (and the mess it left the club in) but while we still have some of the trapping of two good years I worry that the club is not putting anything with any permanence in place.

And that means I worry that the future of the club is down to which players the manager can pull in, when the manager is pushed into decisions by the board.

Rather than collecting the right group with the right attitude – the character of players has been decisive factor over the past three seasons – Parkinson has to sign whoever is cheaper and more attacking.

Which means I’m worry because while Matty Dolan might be the next Gary Jones the problems that come if he and the few others signed this summer do not match up to the performances of their predecessors then the ramifications could undo the progress of the last few years.

Bradford City left considering credit where credit is due

Carl HcHugh already has scored more important goals for Bradford City than his last minute looper from a corner over Port Vale which gave Phil Parkinson’s side a first home win in months but weight lifted off shoulders at Valley Parade has seldom been greater.

McHugh got his head to a corner put into the box by Gary Jones which seemed to have gone beyond the young Irishman but had not and then was describing an arc Chris Neal into the back of the Vale goal. It denoted similarly to the goal which was decisive against Aston Villa in the League Cup semi finals last season but connotations were massively different.

This was relief, it was all relief.

City had looked like being frustrated again. Frustrated by a team which played strongly but has only won once in twenty one fixtures. Frustrated by a by a Vale side who played for a draw save the odd enterprise forward that Jon McLaughlin can be pleased keeping at bay. Frustrated by a referee Mark Brown who seemed to have decided that he would keep bookings and controversy to a minimum by ignoring what deserved one and would have caused the other.

And that frustration came to an end when McHugh’s goal went into the goal which itself came some had been convinced that the Bantams did not look like scoring. They streamed away into the dark Bradford night frustrated at City’s inability to score.

And while those people were ultimately wrong it was not hard to see how the conclusion formed.

As strong as the back two of Rory McArdle and Andrew Davies looked and as well as Stephen Darby at right back and McHugh returning to the left after his cruel exposure at Sheffield United played the Bantams did not threaten goal enough.

James Hanson is Sir Bobby Robson‘s one in three man and does all he needs to but Aaron McLean is struggling to play off him.

McLean seems to need more room than is available when a solid defence close to a deep midfield is deployed as it did today with the risible Anthony Griffith playing a holding role for the visitors. Still McLean’s endeavour does not falter and that earns him his chance to play in a City side swelled by victory.

In midfield Nathan Doyle seems not to be as he was while Gary Jones retains a level of energy and application which one cannot help but be impressed by but Jones’ work rate would be impressive for an eighteen year old.

The two wide men offer contrast. Adam Reach asks a question of a defender almost every time he gets the ball and sometimes the answer is simple – you can’t go past me but you can have a throw in – other it is not and every time he makes the defender work. Kyle Bennett is too easy to defend against and while one feels that there will be occasions where things go right for him in a spectacular and impressive way those occasions will be fleeting. Reach does more than Bennett but one gets the feeling Bennett will one day do something Reach could never do.

Bennett is a frustrating figure – an un-Parkinson like player – but he has the benefit of being defensively disciplined. Reach is a much harder player to play against for defenders and Bennett still has to show that he can be useful to the team on a consistent basis.

Nevertheless Bennett was one of the last off the field at the end of the game after Jones had led the applause for the supporters who had not gone for the early bus. They make an impressive noise, these City fans, and they do it regardless of wins or goals.

And they seem linked by symbiosis to the Bradford City team who seem refuse to give up on games, or on the spirit in the club, or on the manager that must have come close to the sack.

The players must have known that had spirited defeats become meek surrenders then the manager Parkinson would have struggled to keep his job and its to their credit that they did not let that happen. One hope that they continue to not let it happen at home to Milton Keynes Dons on Saturday.

Its credit too the boardroom at Bradford City that they have watched three months or more of games with only a single win but did not flinch. No articles distancing themselves from Parkinson, no whispers that the boardroom might be unhappy, no suggestions that things “had to turn around soon”. Just support for Parkinson and what he carries on trying to do. Credit is due to Messrs Lawn and Rhodes for resisting baser urges.

Urges which would have said – correctly – that the way a chairman wins over support is to be seen to be doing something even though that the best course of action was to do nothing other than support Parkinson in what he continues to do.

And will continue to do on Saturday taking what he can from the last few months. I confess I’ve no idea what Parkinson did when McHugh scored – goal celebrations I do alone – but I imagine he allowed himself a moment of relief before looking soberly at the team, and where improvement is needed, and how to get that improvement from the players.

A year this week Parkinson was preparing his team for Wembley in the League Cup final. The team was beaten that day but that defeat became a tool of motivation for the rest of the season.

Having looked the end so squarely in the eye in the last months one waits breath bated to see what Parkinson will make of this opportunity.


And if you, dear reader, want to know more about Port Vale then BfB points you to One Vale Fan which is a site older than this one.

How do we understand the word Budget when used by Bradford City?

When talking about what can be spent on the playing squad Bradford City use the word “Budget” in a way which seems to cause some confusion amongst supporters. When we hear the word “budget” in connection to Bradford City it tends to mean “what the business can afford” and this distinction is more than linguistics.

The business of Bradford City is – Julian Rhodes tells us via the unquestioning T&A – ready to go “£500,000-£600,000” over budget and of course that statement is a nonsense in itself. If the club is prepared to spend £1.5m on players or £2m on players then that is the budget.

The budget cannot be over-budget any more than the weather can be hotter than it is. As soon as more money is put into the budget the budget is that new figure and when talking about a future figure the best one can say is that it is over a previous budget or a revised budget.

Again, not just linguistics.

What is being said that the business will be spending that amount over what it believes it can afford and that is a much different proposition.

This might not always be true. It might be that the business has reserves which it does not plan spending and the word budget is not so keyed into what we can afford but that seems unlikely in this case.

If the business generates enough money to pay players £1.5m a year and it decides to spend £2m without another income stream then the business is running at a deficit. When a business is running at a deficit then, eventually, it has to get that money from somewhere. Being over-budget is a way of saying that we will spend more than we can afford.

What does a business do when it has spent more than it can afford?

A business can raise capital by selling an asset. Its a good idea in business to never be in a position to sell fixed assets to pay variable costs. Football has a curious view on what is an asset though and this is not an uncommon strategy. You can make up the money you have over-spent by selling a Nahki Wells type player but can you expect to produce a Nahki Wells to order when a bill comes in? It may be a way to manage windfall but not to pay debts.

A business could repay over-spend by cutting costs by a similar amount to that which it had over-spent. If £500,000 is added to player expenditure this year to push it up to £2m then for the following season – if other revenue streams do not increase – then player expenditure is £1m. One weighs up the chances of being ahead one year with the certainty of being behind the next.

A business cut its expenditure in other areas although with Bradford City being largely a business about playing football one doubts that it could make £500,000 of cuts outside of the playing squad.

A business could increase income which if other spending was kept at a level would repay the over-spend. This is betting on promotion with the stakes of the financial health of the business and I’d suggest that using that as a business strategy is laughable at best and sinister at worst.

The final way for a business to cover over-spend is to borrow the money.

Bradford City’s credit might be good somewhere – two administrations and all – but if the business can get loans to cover this over-spend then it would have to pay interest on those loans which would feature on balance sheets to come.

The legacy of Bradford City at Wembley was a substantially debt free business. Why put ourselves in the position where that is no longer the case and the future of the club was in the hands whoever had lent us money? We can see the effects of that being played out in gruesome detail at Elland Road right now.

What would we want to do it for? To buy some “better” players to improve the team that beat Arsenal while on a fraction of the Premier League club’s salaries? If the adventures of Bradford City over the last few years tell you anything it is that (while finance is not unimportant) throwing more money at a squad is not the way to improve it.

But make no mistake that is what is being talked about when football clubs talk about being “over-budget”. In this case we are talking about the business of Bradford City spending money that it does not have on players that it cannot afford.

Again.

And that is what needs to be understood when the “budget” is said from football clubs and perhaps from Valley Parade. If we are spending too much how are we going to pay for that? What is the contingency if that over-spend does not lead to increased revenue streams? (Read: without promotion) How realistic are the aims we are setting to enable us to cover over-spending?

There could be very good answers to these questions but as supporters of Bradford City the club we have had to pick up the pieces after Bradford City the business have decided that it should go beyond its “budget” before.

What could have been done when Wells decided to join Huddersfield Town?

“Nahki Wells only wanted to join Huddersfield Town” – Bradford City joint chairman Mark Lawn told local radio with the inference being that once the striker who departed Valley Parade for the our West Yorkshire rivals for a fee described as a snip all the Bantams could do was arrange a fee which could aptly be described as “what the buyer wanted to pay”

Lawn’s interview suggested an honesty which won many people over although while no one doubts the veracity that he could do nothing to stop the striker leaving for a fee which was half of what Julian Rhodes had said he wanted for the player but a month before the question – for me at least – is not how little could Lawn do but what could someone else have done?

What can you do when a player decides he wants to leave?

John Henry is about as far away from Mark Lawn as one could hope to find. Urbane, American and successful Henry’s level of fame as Boston Red Sox owner is such that he is able to go to the movies to watch someone playing him (in the film Moneyball) or he can turn on Channel Five’s Being Liverpool and see himself in charge of the Merseyside football club he bought in 2011.

In the August of 2013 Henry faced a situation not dissimilar to the one City faced with Nahki Wells and perhaps because of his being an outsider he did not buy into the “what can you do” wisdom that Lawn speaks.

When Arsenal decided they wanted Luis Suarez to give them the advantage in pushing for the fourth placed spot which Henry wants for Liverpool the American owner said no. Henry – a devotee of Sabrenomics – concluded that because Arsenal were a rival for that position, and because Suarez would afford Arsenal a competitive advantage over Liverpool, he would not be allowed to join the Gunners for any price.

And so Suarez – who like Wells had made it clear that he wanted to join a named, specific club – was sent to train with the juniors. The risk of a sulk and the idea that you cannot keep an unhappy player was challenged. Henry and his manager Brendan Rodgers waited for other bids and there were none so at the end of the August transfer window – with only a bid that Henry would not consider on the table – Luis Suarez was invited to apologise and return to the fold.

Five months later and he is currently the top scorer in the Premier League and perhaps the player of the season.

But Bradford City are not Liverpool? Can we afford to have a player like Wells on the sidelines? Do we have Liverpool’s strength in depth? I’d argue we could. I’d argue that James Hanson is the most important forward at City and that Wells is our Daniel Sturridge not our Luis Suarez.

Had Wells been told that he could not join Huddersfield Town and that his choice was to either consider a bid from another in the open market or stay at City then on February the first had one not emerged would he really have sat out the rest of this season and next? Or would he, like Suarez, have returned to the fold?

Could City have done that? What would we have to lose? Unless the money for Wells’ is urgently needed – which would be a damning indictment for a club that was at Wembley twice last season – then one fails to see why not? We would have broken the Huddersfield Only monopoly and been able to sell him for something like the price we wanted.

Or we could have sold him to Huddersfield Town for more money. Yohan Cabaye – again having raised excellent reviews for Newcastle United this season – spent most of August in “the wrong frame of mind” to play after a bid from Arsenal of £8m for his services.

Cabaye wanted to leave St James’ Park for London but was told that he would be going nowhere unless the club’s valuation of him was met. Newcastle United said they wanted £20m, the rumour was they would have settled for £16m, but unlike Bradford City they did not let the buying team set the price.

Arsenal were told in no uncertain terms that there was a price to pay and unless they met that price they would not be able to sign the player. Cabaye sulked – or what is termed as a sulk for footballers – and missed August but again when he was faced with months on the sidelines he midfielder came back into the fold. The fans forgive him for his long face and his and Newcastle United’s performances this season have been excellent.

Newcastle United chairman Mike Ashley – much maligned in the North East – and his team decided that they did not have to accept the idea that “player power” decided what they could and could not do. They decided they would exercise what control they had and get either the money they wanted or keep the player.

And why could the same approach not have been taken about Nahki Wells. Why could Huddersfield Town not been told that unless they were to give the figure which City wanted for the player, rather than the one that they wanted to pay, then Wells would not play for anyone.

Huddersfield are given a stark choice – £3m or don’t have him – and Wells gets to choose between cooling his heels on a Saturday if that money can’t be found or playing football to try attract someone who will pay it. If he chooses cooling his heels then so be it but very few footballers decide that they have 18 months of their career to spare and if there was anyone the fans could forgive it would be a goalscorer.

Again one wonders what would have stopped Bradford City doing that? The need to do business early in the market is a short term concern about trying to reignite a promotion push which is fading while the attempt to get twice as much for a player fuels the long term prosperity of the club. Is getting a player in this season really better than another £1.5m in the bank? That is the entire wage budget for our promotion season.

Which is not to say that either of those approaches were guaranteed to work but neither represent the meek surrender which City showed when allowing Wells and Huddersfield Town to decide the future of Bradford City.

I don’t think there is any dishonesty when people say “what could the board do when Wells had decided he wanted to join Huddersfield?” but that is different from “what could have been done?”

Sadly the answer to that last question is “anything, which would have been better than nothing”.

The time and the place for Michael Flynn

At a Q&A session in the week – and again in the Telegraph and Argus – Michael Flynn has talked about his belief that while the Bradford City’s plans on developing players are well meaning but the club should focus on the first team squad and should direct all the resources at getting promotion.

City’s skipper speaks out and people listen. It is good to hear the thoughts of any of the players even if they did prove to be slightly off the mark when talking about the cost of the development project (he apparently claimed Development Squad players earn £300 per week, a figure way off what Archie Christie, who is in charge of the club’s budgets, told BfB when explaining the £145 a day cost for the whole set up) – although some of the players might object to their leader talking in public about their pay packets – but is this really the time for Michael Flynn to be voicing his thoughts on the way the club manages its resources?

Signed by Stuart McCall, Flynn has played under four different managers at Valley Parade. Peter Jackson seemed set to dump the number four casting him to the depths of the squad but Flynn’s big performances saw him work his way back into the first team up to being captain. Every manager has grown to appreciate the Welsh midfielder as much as the supporters who he acknowledges diligently at the end of every game. Three times the job of manager of Bradford City has come up while he was at the club. He has – as far as we know – yet to apply.

That sounds factitious but is worth consideration. Flynn is telling the club how it should be spending its resources and his suggestion is that we should direct everything – George Green money and all – into getting out of League Two. If that sounds familiar it is because it is the modus operandi of Bradford City in Stuart McCall’s second season, and in Peter Taylor’s season at the club.

It is the ideas that brought Paul McLaren to the club for a season, and Tommy Doherty and we recall how those seasons turned out. Flynn’s comments echo John Hendrie back in 2009 when he talked about throwing more money at the first team. Lots spent, some promise but ultimately no return and much of what was in place before had to be taken apart after. One might argue that the club is still recovering from the decision to spend the money that came from Fabian Delph’s sale on the first team. One might also say that we are on a long road of recovery from Geoffrey Richmond’s six week plan that we should put everything into a first team that would stay in the Premier League. Certainly it is hard to argue that we are not recovering from allowing Peter Taylor to build a one season squad last term.

If it is Flynn’s opinion that it is the Second Season of McCall/Season of Taylor plan that Bradford City should be following – perhaps hoping for third time lucky – then there is a time and a place to make that statement. The time is when a new manager is being recruited, the place is in a job interview where he tells Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes why focusing everything on the first team will bring promotion this time when it did not in the previous two attempts. That time and place is not in the last three paragraphs of a T&A article.

None of which is to say that Flynn should not vocalise his thoughts or that the club should not allow its captain to talk about his thoughts, but Flynn needs to explain just why the throw everything at promotion approach will work in 2011/2012 or 2012/2013 when it did not in 2008/2009 or 2010/2011.

The club deserves credit for trying to break a cycle of failure which has seen us slide down the leagues each time thinking that if we could just get back up a division then we could start planning for the future. Even if the current development squad project was to fail then merits of trying a different approach rather than repeating the plans of past seasons – which many would say failed – are today are still valid (and perhaps even more so in future), and they are still laudable.

Even if the captain might not agree.

Archie Christie Day: Part 3/3

Continuing from Archie Christie Day Part 2 and started in Archie Christie Day Part 1. See also Remember the name: George Green.


The stereo remains off on the journey from Woodhouse Grove to Valley Parade, enabling us further opportunities to ask Archie Christie more about why he is here at all, given he is unpaid. “Julian Rhodes said last night ‘if nothing else, just get things done for the club’,” revealed Christie. “I can make money off the back of the club but I don’t make a penny. And the club know that and they like that.”

We talk about a description of Christie that has been repeated by almost everyone we’ve spoken to that day – he gets things done. “That’s what I do well. I get things done,” he nods. “I get the preparations done, I get the opposition done, I get the budgets done and I get the deals done. I get things done. I don’t have any arrogance and I don’t have any ego, I don’t take the criticism so I don’t take the praise. The plaudits are for the players and the manager. I just get things done for the club.”

But why this club, and what possesses him to take on such a massive challenge? “I want to do it because I want to turn Bradford City into a giant. At Dagenham we went from the bottom of the conference into League One. We beat Charlton, Sheffield Wednesday and Colchester. Bradford City can go to the Championship, and we can compete with Leeds. And on an equal footing. Not as second term neighbours, but as equals. Our 20,000 against their 20,000. Our 11 versus their 11. That’s what I want and believe.”

The conversation turns to young players at the club that he rates, and how far they can go at City and beyond. For someone who has been at City for such a short time, his level of knowledge of all the players – from first team to junior – is impressive, and one wonders whether previous first team managers would have such a detailed overview of the club. As we tell him the stories of Geoffrey Richmond and the excesses of that era, he is interested but unsurprised having already been filled in by Julian Rhodes.

“If we got back to the Championship I would then come up with a new strategy,” he comments as we pull into the Valley Parade car park. “So that we never have to worry about the bad times ever again.”

A first Bradford pint

The 1911 Club inside the Main Stand is marketed as a venue for business lunches during the week, but today (1pm) the beautifully decorated restaurant is empty of customers. Julian Rhodes is talking to the Yorkshire Post’s Richard Sutcliffe, with the pair about to head off somewhere so the Chairman can be interviewed. Julian is warm and welcoming to us both, trendily dressed while sporting a pair of beach sandals. “I’ve never seen him without sandals,” quips Christie.

In the corner sat reading the paper is another director, Graham Jones; a kind and softly-spoken man who is very friendly as we chat to him for two minutes. There’s a Board meeting at Valley Parade due to start in half an hour, which Christie has to attend. We don’t have much time left with him, so we follow him as he takes us outside into the padded seats that provide a terrific view of Valley Parade.

“I’ve not had a beer in Bradford up to now” Christie reveals, as he hands us each a pint that he’s just bought for us from the bar and begins to sip his own. The sun is beating down and the view feels familiar yet always engaging. We talk about recent games and about the potential crowds we could enjoy if the club was to climb back into the Championship. The here and now – getting some results quickly – is clearly vital, but Christie’s ideas and plans are more focused on further down the line.

“We’re starting to put together an infrastructure and mechanism into place that will stand this club in good stead for years to come,” Christie explains. Do you feel like when you joined you had a blank canvas? “Totally. Before I joined I wrote the Chairmen a 16-page report, on ‘if we want to change this is how we have to change’. Doing the same things and expecting different results, that’s a sign of madness, someone once said. We have to change, and this is how we change.”

Selling young players is clearly going to be a vital part of that strategy, but Christie doesn’t believe it should detract from the bigger picture. “Dagenham sold three players this year for one million and fifty thousand pounds,” he points out. “Who did we sell?

“We need to bring in boys that we can sell on and sell on at the right price. Along the way we have to sell some of our kids to generate revenue, in order to get to the Championship. By putting mechanisms in place, we can build sustainable income for when we are in the Championship.”

Of all the things we’ve seen and heard, the fact Christie joined a club with no scouting structure remains the most shocking. “Every Saturday we’re now watching games, and then two or three nights a week. We’ve got scouts covering the whole UK now. We’ve even had a fan from Romania who wants to set up a scouting network for me in Romania. A fan! We’ve got a proper scouting network now.”

And suddenly he jumps to his feet and leads us back into the 1911 Club, where he’s arranged lunch. It’s a good job we can eat fast, because in no time at all he’s back to work.

“I look like a fat Fabio Capello!”

Past the club shop and beyond the ticket office booths, a small door take us into the Bantams Business Centre where the offices of the joint Chairmen, youth development, finance and other admin staff are based. On the opposite side of the long and narrow corridor are small businesses that are providing vital rental revenue to help the club, and you get the impression City’s own staff will be moved to alternative rooms inside the stadium itself as and when demand for their small-but-homely offices increases.

Archie’s office is at the end of the corridor, and around five other staff members share it including the club’s press officer, Mark Harrison. Christie’s desk seems small and humble – amongst the other staff, rather than hidden away on his own in plusher surroundings. He clearly gets on well with everyone as they swap catch up stories, while he logs into his computer to check emails. These emails include a written transfer bid for George Green from a major Premier League club which he needs to print out and take to the Board meeting. He’d quickly spoken to Julian Rhodes about this offer – which had been made on the phone earlier – back in the 1911 club. We were witness to the surprise in Julian’s eyes regarding the bid’s size.

The sheer number of letters, emails and DVDs Christie receives from footballers looking for a trial at Bradford City is mind-boggling. CVs run for three or four pages each, coming from players stuck in reserve teams at other League Two clubs to kids knowing they are on their way out of a big Premier League club and in need of a break. And those are just the applications from players in this country. There are others from as far away as Australia.

Kath Brown, the club secretary, pops in to finalise the Dominic Rowe paperwork and discuss a range of different queries for Christie to sort out. “When are you back in?” she asks. “Not until next week” is the answer, as he lists the range of tasks he’ll be undertaking around the country on behalf of the club (mostly related to Green and securing the best possible deal for the club in view of the number of clubs chasing him). It seems he does not do days off.

Julian calls him twice. The Board meeting has started, where are you? He’s heading to the door with various bits of paperwork to show them, but all the while having banter with staff, who seem to enjoy his company and are giving some back. A fresh-faced work experience kid is helping Mark Harrison with content for the official website. “Please do me a new stock image to appear on the website, will you?” orders Christie. “The one you use at the moment, I look like a fat Fabio Capello.”

“This is my Manchester City”

We walk out with him as he heads to the Board meeting back inside the stadium, and we head home feeling utterly exhausted. Christie thanks for us for coming, and hopes we’ve got plenty to write about. Hopes that fans will have the chance to appreciate what he actually does. Hopes the criticism will recede. “People keep saying I’m just waiting to move to Man City. I’m not, this is my Man City.”

He starts to walk off, before turning back to us and pointing upwards at the giant Main Stand that towers high into the blue Bradford sky. “This place is a cathedral. I want to turn it into a fortress.”

And then his phone rings yet again.

In conclusion

It was 11:30pm on a Wednesday evening two weeks ago when I – Michael Wood – first talked to Archie Christie about myself and Jason spending a day with him. I was watching some a really bad movie on ITV4, he was still working. That is the first recurrent theme you pick up when dealing with Archie.

He works hard – to a level I’ve never seen before in any of the businesses I’ve worked with or for – and he is entirely focused on Bradford City. Only once during the entire day did Christie involve himself in something other than Bradford City – a thirty second call about a problem at his home – and unless directly asked he would not talk about anything other than Bradford City, his plans for the club, and how he intends to achieve those plans.

It was startlingly single-minded and it was exactly what I want at Valley Parade.

Hard work is a virtue of course but it would be wrong to let you, dear reader, go away with the idea that Christie brings only effort to the club – although do not doubt that he brings that and in abundance. There is an efficacy to Christie’s efforts and an aim to everything he does. During the day we were able to see deals (and other structures) put in place which will help City for years to come and I can put hand on heart and say that without Christie some of those deals – and one especially – would not have happened. Or had it done, would not have happened in the massive way it has.

All these deals will come out in time. Scott Brown will play for the club, as will Terry Dixon and Andrew Burns, and other people at Bradford City will have taken a share in those achievements, but from what I have seen, and who I have talked to, Christie is the start of those things. General George Marshall once said “There is no limit to the good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Christie would appreciate that point. BfB has talked in the past about the need for Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes to bring a football expert to the club and so – as our day wound down – I asked Christie if he would consider himself that football expert. He flatly rejected the term. “I bring business planning to football, that’s all.”

Football businessmen – which is to say people in the boardroom of clubs – have a reputation for not being the sharpest you will meet, but talking to Christie he shows an intelligence at odds with the profession he is in. When speaking about the criticism and abuse he has had from a section of the City “supporters” (quotes mine) he offers us the explanation “I am Jean Valjean.”

Christie speaks five languages, and has fluency in four of them. “English is the one I’m not fluent in” he jokes in a gnarled Scots brogue. He has built up and sold his own business – retiring at forty – and been a part of £800m deals to sell one company. His last board meeting, before joining City, was with NCP before that multi-million pound sale.

At some point one’s cynicism has to admit defeat.

Archie Christie does not need Bradford City as much as – and I mean this most sincerely based on ten years of decline and having seen plans coming to fruition in the course the day – Bradford City needs Archie Christie.

Which begs the question as to why is he involving himself at all? He could have been a Premier League scout – “I’d be bored” – so he is not looking at moving on. He seems financially well enough off to not need money from the club and does not get any anyway working for expenses as he does. He confirmed that he does not get a commission for selling players, be they Development Squad, youth or first team. When his achievements bubble to the surface – and they have so far – they often do with someone else’s name attached.

How to get to the core of a man’s motivations? Why does Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan own Manchester City? What does Abramovich get out of Chelsea? Neither make a profit. Why does Sir Alex Ferguson carry on at Manchester United having already done everything he could ever hope to?

Why etch your name in stone? The restoration of Bradford City offer someone a great work to carry out which is beyond the scope of what could be offered as a cog in the machine of a Premier League club. No other club in football can match City’s potential while being so obviously in need of new ideas. After watching fifty years of football perhaps Christie just thinks he can do football better. I know I would do it.

Swimming lengths and treading water in the shallow end at half seven in the morning we talked to Christie about Carlos Tevez who had refused to play for Manchester City in the week – he was none too complimentary – and later at breakfast in front of the gathering of young players he looked with disdain at the headlines about Titus Bramble.

Looking out over Valley Parade later in the day he talked about moral absolutes. His most offended moment is when he talks about having read that following Craig Thompson’s suspension for Hearts for sex offences against children that City would soon see Christie draping a City shirt over him and announcing him as a new signing. “I have daughters,” he says, “why would someone say that?”

There is a morality to the man but it is not worn falsely. After talking about Marlon King we ask him about Jake Speight who was jailed after signing for the club for assaulting his former girlfriend and who was not in Jackson’s plans. Christie sold Speight on his first day at Valley Parade after the club had had no interest in him previously and got back what Peter Taylor had paid for him. We asked him how he did it and his answer is matter of fact. “I knew Dean Saunders needed a striker.”

Another player – signed to the Development Squad and talked about by Christie when he arrived – was sacked on his first day having been arrested for an assault, and lying about that assault on a woman. Christie checked out the situation and tore up the contract just signed. “A seven stone lassie,” Christie says, “but the fans don’t see that. They say ‘He promised us this player.'”

Perhaps that is why he is involved at City. Essentially a blank slate on his arrival, Bradford City offers a chance for someone to build a club almost from new, and to do so in a way which does things the right way.

“Spend a day with me…”

Archie Christie made us a promise before we started this endeavour. “Spend a day with me and if at the end you don’t think that I’m the hardest working man, working so hard, for the good of Bradford City then I’ll walk away.”

He is that hardest working man. But it is not just an appreciation of the effort which one takes from a day next to Archie Christie – it is the purposefulness of that work, and how utterly convinced we were that what he is doing is absolutely what needs to be done at Bradford City if the club is ever to turn around.

The things which I (Michael) have been talking about for the twelve years I’ve been writing this website Christie is doing. Everyone involved with Bradford City since Geoffrey Richmond has talked about wanting to get promotions, wanting to turn the club around, but until Christie none have ever had the objectives to go with those aims. No one has ever convinced me that they know how to do what they are setting out. Until now.

It is a great credit to Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes that they saw Christie and recognised that he could bring to the club what had been lacking in the past decade (and no slight on them) and we applaud them for taking his advice.

If, reading this, you are thinking that the acclamation is coming a little too thick, we would appreciate that – without experiencing the day we have – it is not easy to see just how hard working, and smart working, Christie is. You will just have to take our word for it. If you have been waiting for Bradford City to return to direction of the mid-to-late-1990s then the wait is over, or at least I am convinced it is.

If you seek to criticise Archie Christie then we’d wonder what you want from a person involved in Bradford City? The man works very hard and – on the basis of what we saw – gets a very good return on that work which without him we would simply not have. And he does it for expenses only, while generating the club in his first three months (by rough maths) enough to pay for the Development Squad five or six times over. Any idea that Christie and his Development Squad cost the club money is a lie. Any idea that Christie had Peter Jackson sacked is a lie. Any idea that Christie is taking money out of the club is a lie.

Christie’s origins before Bradford City have an element of mystery in them. There is talk about how much he actually did for Dagenham following some clarifications the Essex club issued, but their manager John Still talked on the phone to us about the long standing relationship the two have had and he was not alone in his admiration for Christie. From City’s young players to our manager to the manager of a top Premier League club to that manager’s chairman. The meshing together of the day told its own story.

We could understand people saying that Christie could be difficult to work with by virtue of the fact that in the late afternoon we were shattered and knew that he was carrying on working for another half a dozen hours or more. He demands commitment from the people around him but we have no problem with that, and in fact we’re glad that someone who will not put in that effort finds it hard to work at Valley Parade.

Conspicuous by its absence during the whole day was the sense that there was any disharmony around Christie’s role at the club. Director Graham Jones – who we bumped into at Valley Parade – could not speak highly enough calling the job that Christie was doing fantastic. The three young players – when talking about Christie – did so with a genuine affection and did not flinch from saying how much Christie had done for them. Scout Nigel Brown and Youth Supremo Peter Horne both talked about how Christie had given them remits to work and – in the case of Horne – that Christie made his job easier by taking some of the tasks he did not feel he was as well suited to on.

We’ve seen with our own eyes what Archie Christie is doing for Bradford City, and in turn for us supporters, and we could not fail to be impressed.

Third bottom of the Football League, no win in six games and we have reason to be optimistic.


With special thanks…

In addition to thanking Archie Christie for being so welcoming and open to Michael and Jason, BfB would also like to thank everyone else who kindly took the time to speak to us over the course of the day. In particular this includes Andrew Burns, Scott Brown, Terry Dixon, Peter Horne, Alex Llevak, Steve Parkin, Phil Parkinson, Nigel Brown, Julian Rhodes, Graham Jones and also the staff who share an office with Archie.

Everyone we talked to we were given the chance to talk to without Archie Christie being present and everyone we talked to was as open as you could hope for. There is a level of privacy which had to be respected but that was not especially stringent or out of keeping with any professional environment.

A surprisingly good fortnight for Mark Lawn

18 days on from a rather unpleasant-looking storm brewing over Valley Parade, it’s hard to imagine how the past two weeks could have gone any better for the Bradford City Board. When Peter Jackson resigned as manager on Thursday 25th August, the lack of explanation initially offered left Joint Chairman Mark Lawn on the receiving end of some truly venomous criticism. Yet just like the summer interest from Steve Parkin in taking over the club, Lawn has avoided any serious blows and emerged in a stronger position.

Sometimes you just can’t win and, having dallied for a long time appointing a replacement for Peter Taylor last season, the speed at which Lawn and Julian Rhodes recruited Phil Parkinson following Jackson’s walk out was viewed by some as too hasty. Yet a period that could have been so disruptive and difficult has proven to be a relatively smooth affair.

Michael Flynn’s last-minute penalty on Saturday means the team still hasn’t lost since Jackson departed – a notable statistic given four of the five previous games had ended in defeat. Parkinson has made three exciting signings that have undoubtedly improved the squad, while at the same time not dismantling the team building that had taken place before him. City have being drawn to play rivals Huddersfield Town in round two of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Colin Cooper’s decision to quit the club last week is the only genuine negative moment in two weeks of good news.

When the storm clouds gathered, Lawn was typically not shy in sharing his views. But while he may not be blameless for Jackson’s departure it’s hard to dispute that – fronting up to a potential crisis – he has shown strong leadership that has made a positive difference. It could easily have gone much worse this last fortnight, and Lawn could have justifiably pointed the blame at others for that happening. But while most managerial changes in recent years have seen this club go backwards, the early signs are that we are still moving forwards.

Lawn probably won’t get it from some quarters, but he deserves credit for this and for maintaining the long-term approach that it appears he and Rhodes chose to instigate this summer. Since the end of last season the pair have secured the club’s immediate future at Valley Parade by pouring more of their own money in, addressed the long-standing training ground problems and revamped the way young players are recruited and nurtured. They could have just as easily told Jackson to make do with Appleby Bridge – it’s not as if he was complaining – and thrown all the money into a playing budget and make it a ‘promotion or bust’ season yet again. Instead they have focused on a new vision to improve the club.

Jackson’s departure was the first test of this strategy, but instead of being tempted to tear it up they sought to take decisions that ensured its continuation. If the rift between chief scout Archie Christie and Jackson was as bad as some say they could have handled that very differently, such as by sacking the former Dagenham scout. We don’t know the ins and outs of what really happened, but it’s clear the pair retained support for Christie and backed him to continue the job he has started.

Time will tell how successful Christie’s development squad will prove. A sad fallout from the whole Jackson saga is that a number of supporters now view Christie in a negative light and seem less willing to support the development squad idea. But in making this appointment during the summer it’s clear Lawn and Rhodes sought to find a football man to instigate a strategy they are not qualified to manage (and – not that BfB believes Lawn cares what we think – we did tell him). That’s not to say Christie is some form of genuis (his role at Dagenham may have been slightly overplayed), but clearly he has strong contacts and has brought in some talented players from Scotland and England.

It appears getting rid of him – if that ever was a consideration – would have left a bigger hole than Jackson did.

Lawn appeared to handle the criticism he received remarkably well. It seemed he accepted why he was targeted and didn’t seek to make it worse by arguing back. He didn’t challenge his critics to a fight, and he didn’t label those who questioned him ‘morons’. Instead he concentrated on getting City back on track. It’s too early to judge whether appointing Parkinson is a great decision, but initial signs look very promising.

Lawn will probably never be widely popular among City supporters. But the fading levels of criticism towards him probably illustrate just what a good job he and Julian Rhodes have done in guiding the club over this unexpected bump in the road.

Another search for a manager begins

Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes will be used to looking for a new manager and – after three appointments two of which lasted less than a year and a bit – they show no signs of having a grasp of the right criteria to make those appointments.

When Stuart McCall “resigned” from the club the question we asked was what the plan was for the recruitment of his replacement was. A lot of these questions have been answered with the move to new facilities at Woodhouse Grove and the appointment of Archie Christie as Chief Scout and Director of Football Development.

There is a plan at the club which Christie was brought in to implement to develop players for the first team – and to provide more players for the manager with a more extensive scouting network – which aims to take some of the onus of recruitment from the manager and have a retention of knowledge beyond the man in the dug out. Unlike the situation where Peter Taylor left and his backroom staff were sent away with him Jackson having left yesterday the players have familiar faces around them.

It is this type of system which saw an end to Kevin Keegan’s second spell at Newcastle United and – in a way – Alan Curbishley at West Ham but is increasingly common in football. Indeed on Jackson’s last day at Valley Parade Michael Flynn told Radio Leeds that Colin Cooper took the players through their paces while the manager spent the morning on the phone to football managers trying to find a striker on loan. The team and manager lunched and went over the plan for the Barnet game, then resigned.

(It should be noted, and as an aside, that Keegan’s contracted stated that he would have the final say over players brought into the club and when the club’s Director of Football Recruitment Dennis Wise signed Xisco – the issue which Keegan resigned over – Newcastle United were in breach of that contract and while Keegan resigned he later successfully sued the club for constructive dismissal. One wonders what the detail of Jackson’s contract was.)

The manager’s remit is the first team and the requirement is not for an holistic club builder but rather for a game winner, and someone who with coaching and deployment can edge a performance an inch or two better. There is a list of managers who were considered to replace Stuart McCall (now Motherwell): Peter Taylor (now Bahrain), Steve Cotterill (now Portsmouth), Russell Slade (now Leyton Orient), Peter Jackson, Lawrie Sanchez (now Barnet), Jim Magilton (now caretaker assistant manager Shamrock Rovers), Dean Windass (working for BSKYB), John Coleman (still Accrington), Iain Dowie (no club), Martin Allen (now Notts County) and Wayne Jacobs. Six months ago John Hughes (no club) declared an interest in joining City and John Still (still Dagenham) interviewed for the position.

How many of these fulfil the remit which Jackson was being asked to work within? Certainly John Still – the victorious Dagenham manager of last week – would do having worked with Christie before but one has to wonder how much of an appreciation of what skills the next manager needs to have, and how those skills are distinct from those which were required when looking for McCall or Taylor.

Having appointed a big personality in Jackson – and perhaps had personality clashes – Lawn and Rhodes may be tempted to opt to bring in a younger manager who is more malleable, less set in his ways of how to run a club, and able to work within the current structure. They would do well to avoid “Yes” men.

The aim of the club is to have an appointment before next week’s trip to Morecambe which suggests that there is someone in mind – probably someone who has talked to the club six or eighteen months ago – but that Lawn and Rhodes do not have the clarity to bring someone in immediately. Were John Still to be the choice then one imagines a call would be made, a resignation drafted, and the new man revealed on Monday. The fact that there is a week until appointment suggests that there are discussions to be had and a choice to be made. There is a suggestion that three interviews will be held this week. One has to wonder what Lawn and Rhodes think they will hear in those interviews which they had not heard in the last two rounds, and how they will be able to sift the answers to get the right man. We are to assume that Jackson and Taylor were both the most impressive people in interview.

The early runners

The link to John Still – who talked about how he would have joined City were it not for the uncertainty over the future of Valley Parade – is a strong one with the Dagenham manager being in the final two of the club’s thoughts when Jackson was appointed. The club would – not doubt – have to pay Dagenham to free Still from his contract.

Impressive in the last round of interviews was former Hibs and Falkirk manager John Hughes who is out of work at the moment and could come in without any compensation payable. Hughes is a strong candidate for the job but one might expect him to be appointed this morning rather than next week if he is the chosen one.

Former players Peter Beagrie and Dean Windass have their name’s mentioned often in connection with the job. Beagrie has shown no interest in moving into management thus far but Windass has made his desire to take over the club known – Terry Dolan as his assistant – and could fit in as the type of rookie manager who may appeal to the board who have had problems dealing with experienced number ones.

Former Barnsley manager and City man of the 1980s John Hendrie is also an option although one might wonder how many conversations Hendrie has had with Stuart McCall about the board at Bradford City and how that would colour his view of the job were it offered.

City have always been fond a bit of fashionability and so perhaps Jim Magilton – who is working as caretaker assistant at Shamrock Rovers who qualified for the Europa League with this superb strike last night may be an outside bet having talked to the club previously.

Other names work mentioning include Colin Cooper the current caretaker manager and former player and Farsley manager Lee Sinnott. Paul Ince has been mentioned – his promotion with MK Dons would impress the board almost as much as his collection of shiny medals but his track record is patchy.

Finally John Coleman has interested City in the past.

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.

What we learn as Parkin fades away

His attempts to buy Bradford City, and then to join the board of Bradford City, seemingly having failed local businessman Steve Parkin seems to be moving on and away from Valley Parade.

Said Park “It’s cooled off a little bit. We’ve had further talks and can’t get to a deal” which seems to translate towards the idea that he wanted the club for less than the price tag put on it and Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes knocked him back.

He talked about joining the board but again those talks seem to have stalled. The less said about other things, the better. City move on and are seemingly more able to distinguish between the bend in the arm from the but that one sits on with appointments of coaches, scouting networks and the like starting to resemble a plan for improving the club.

So what have we learnt from Steve Parkin’s attempts to buy City? Firstly – and surprisingly perhaps – that while Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes are not everybody’s cup of tea they seem to represent familiarity. The last four years seem to have taught the chairman a thing or two about running a football club – the impotencies of sacking managers, the ineffectiveness of wholesale squad changes, the need to bring in the best backroom staff you can – and that is not worth swapping for whomever comes along with the only attraction seemingly being that he is someone else.

Secondly that the Bradford City books are in a good state. Steve Parkin’s people looked over them and liked what they saw. The club are investable – if you have enough money – and that suggests that the business the club is doing is on a sound footing. The curiousness of the summer is that while it started with the threat of administration it ends with the knowledge that the bottom line does not put anyone off.

However people are put off by the idea of a Bradford Sporting Club. The Rugby chasing people of Bradford Bulls seem to be in a sticky situation and the football club regularly lurch in and out of such a state. Perhaps neither look across at the other expecting stability and supporters certainly have no great will to united.

Parkin seemed to offer very little and there were question marks around what he could deliver that could not match even the slight returns that the current board have brought. Four years of League Two football is thin, but many club has been ruined by unscrupulous owners and all emerged as Parkin did as wanting to improve the club. Perhaps the greatest thing we have learnt, as City fans, is that we cant get fooled again.

Rhodes and Lawn have promised to move out of the way – with the caveat that they will not be out of pocket – should someone come along who will improve the club and nothing Parkin said seemed suggest he was that man. He had some plans to improve the club but everyone does and his seemed no more fated to success than Lawn or Rhodes’ and perhaps much less having not been tried.

Parkin moves on saying “Unfortunately I’ve got a very big deal going down right now with something else which I’ve got to get over the line.” One awaits to see what it could be.

At Valley Parade though Lawn and Rhodes sit a little more comfortably in their seats having had their guardianship of the club tested, and passed that test.

The development squad and a plan to improve the club

Blame it on Silvio Berlusconi. Back in the early 1990s the man who would bring the term bunga bunga into common usage was the flamboyant chairman of an AC Milan team which sported Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard as the allowed three non-Italian players.

UEFA and Serie A rules mandated that a club could only have three non-Italians and so the practice was that the Lira went to a chosen trio of outsiders. Clubs were defined by the foreign players they had and Milan were the Dutchmen, across the City Inter were German with Jürgen Klinsmann, Lothar Matthäus and Andreas Brehme. It was a simpler time to watch football, and to be Silvio Berlusconi.

The future Italian PM announced though that Milan would be signing three more World Class non-Italians and – starting with the unfortunate Gianluigi Lentini – eight more Italians to create a second team which would play in European competition in the week. The one would be fresh for the weekend, the other fresh for midweek, and players would swap between the two teams.

And so modern squad football was born.

Bradford City’s own Phil Babb was a part of the emergence of the squad in the English game. in 1994 Babb and John Scales joined a Liverpool side managed by Roy Evans who already had the beloved Neil Ruddock at the heart of the back four and the maths did not match. Was Ruddock for the chop? Would Babb be out at left back (or up front, as he was at City)? What was Evans doing signing more than two top quality central defenders?

“Moving to a back three and wing backs” turned out to be the answer to the question poised by the question itself was illustrative. Growing up in the eighties my brother and myself could name the one to eleven of every team in Division One and that one to eleven was set in stone, seemingly unaffected as today’s line ups are by loss of form, injury and failing super-injunctions.

A team like Liverpool seemingly had no need for a spare defender – one sub, four four two and all – but soon the idea verbalised by Berlusconi would make the sort of questions that Evans face irrelevant. Within two years and in the run up to Euro ’96 Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United were signing Tino Asprilla when they already had Les Ferdinand, Andy Cole, Peter Beardsley, Alan Shearer, Super Mac, Wor Jackie Milburn et al.

In 1981 Aston Villa won the League using only fourteen players all season. The modern football squad demands eighteen per match and a host of others to insure that even the League Two player is not required to take the field with the sort of injury which was played through in earlier eras after which players retired at thirty, and could not walk.

So we have a situation where Manchester City have over forty players in their first team squad as an extreme example and most teams could put out something approaching Berlusconi’s two teams a week. If you are on the edges of one of those huge squad – and Bradford City’s is 21 strong at current assessment – then you seem a long way from the first team. Unless you get to do something special from the bench you are a long way from the first team.

So while the dozen and some who regularly feature in the first team focus on getting from game to game the players on the edges – especially the younger ones – should be focusing on improvement. Enter the development squad.

It seems to have come from Archie Christie who came to Bradford with John Still when the Bantams interviewed the entire Dagenham and Redbridge backroom staff for roles at Valley Parade. Something had powered the Essex club’s rise from non-league compound to League One club and it seems that Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes believe that Christie is it.

Chief scout and he brings in some young lads from Falkirk which seems a sensible move but not an unexpected one but as Head of Football Development Christie’s Development Squad offers something new.

Wayne Allison approves and has been recruited to coach “The Developments” as they shall be hamfistedly dubbed with his aim on taking players who have signed professional contracts after their two year apprenticeships but are not in the first team picture week in week out, or who are falling in the limbo between young player and first teamer, and concentrate on improving them as players over getting them ready for matches as the first team squad do.

Squad sizes have increased massively in the last fifteen years, but the focus of training is on preparing a group of players for the next game leaving those who play ready, and those who do not having wasted that time. The Development Squad offers a chance to make better use of those players allowing the first team to focus on preparation, and the fringe on improvement.

Of course the idea could be a failure. Dag & Red’s success might be down to something else entirely, Christie’s ideas might not be relocatable, it all just might not work but for once Bradford City have come up with a plan to improve the quality of the footballers at the club rather than trying the tried and failed method of trying to buy in promotions or assemble squads on a season by season basis.

A plan on improving footballers is a plan to improve the football club and, in effect, the first time since the Premier League that Bradford City have had a plan to improve the club that might work.

For once, the fitness question has a different answer

Readers of long-time Bradford City fan John Watmough’s outstanding Counsel and Criticism column for the City Gent will be only too aware of the number of occasions a new Bantams manager has complained about the fitness of the players. And, as the players returned for pre-season today, at improved training facilities, latest manager Peter Jackson has taken his turn in bemoaning  the condition of the squad he inherited.

So often has the Telegraph & Argus relayed such sentiments from City gaffers that one can’t resist feeling as weary and cynical as John when reading them. If every new manager really had gone onto improve the players’ fitness when they arrived, City should be putting people forward for the Olympics. It comes across as a cheap shot, a chance to talk down the past and propose that behind-the-scenes training exercises they have instigated – which we’d otherwise never notice the fruits of – will make a positive difference.

Though Jackson has at least has gone further than some of his predecessors in his plan to address the supposed problem – with the appointment of Nick Allamby as fitness coach. Allamby, former head of fitness at Middlesbrough where he worked with City assistant manager Colin Cooper, will help the players through pre-season and then two days a week once the campaign gets underway. His arrival is the latest dot in a more joined-up thinking strategy that seems to involve finding experts and letting them run their own areas of the club, rather than the manager controlling and taking responsibility for all.

After all, what does a football manager know about fitness? As a player they would have been required to follow exercises set out by their club’s coaching staff and their own focus would have been on building and maintaining their own. When undertaking the necessary coaching badges that all managers have to complete these days, learning about fitness and how to build it in players would have undoubtedly figured on the courses. But that hardly makes them an expert in an area that almost every City manager seems to take pleasure in deriding their predecessor for.

At lower league level and City in particular, fitness experts are rare if ever used. When taking over as caretaker manager in 2007 David Wetherall did employ the outside help of Sports Scientist Ed Baranowski to improve the players’ fitness levels, but the results of Wetherall’s attempts to implement a high tempo playing style were poor. With managers before and after, the fitness side of matters has apparently been down to the manager and coaching staff to implement. There’s probably little wrong with this if all of City’s rivals are doing the same; but in a league where the tiniest of percentages can make a huge difference, Jackson and Cooper’s move to bring in Allamby could make a tangible difference.

Allamby’s arrival follows Archie Christie’s appointment as Chief Scout, with his very own budget to work with and objectives to achieve. And suddenly Bradford City’s future does not quite seem solely the responsibility of the manager, but a number of different experts working towards a universal goal. A well qualified person to pick the first team on a Saturday, a specialist scout to unearth hidden gem players that can form part of that selection, and a skilled fitness coach to ensure each and every player is at their physical peak. Other key figures at the club such as Peter Horne will also have a big role.

Perhaps most encouraging of all is that it is difficult to place the credit for this developing off-the-field strategy on one person. Cooper has brought in Allamby with Jackson’s approval, while it appears Christie’s arrival is more the work of the joint Chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes. There is apparently some like-minded thinking in Lawn, Rhodes and Jackson’s vision for next season, and hopefully with it will be a better chance of achieving those goals.

A year ago it seemed Peter Taylor was the only person with a plan, with Lawn and Rhodes bending over backwards to help put it into action. Taylor’s superb track record meant this was understandable, but the fact he didn’t see out his one-year contract left the club struggling for direction when he departed. Perhaps the pair have learned from this experience and are consciously doing things different now instead of devoting almost every penny to signing players – the new training facilities, after all, were their initiative.

This time around, it can be argued the buck for failure won’t rest solely with the manager. Those who have access to the bigger picture will be able to look at every area and assess where it might be falling down. That way the long-term planning doesn’t need to end when the manager departs.

Wishful thinking maybe, but if and when Jackson is relieved of his duties in the dugout it would be nice not to have to read other staff being placed on gardening leave and for everything to be torn up yet again.

Unwanted attention

Some 500,000 new businesses are launched in the UK every year, but the recently-formed Bradford City Limited is one to prick the ears of everyone with claret and amber matters close to their heart.

Bradford City Limited was registered with Companies House on Wednesday 8 June 2011 – six days before businessman Steve Parkin told the Yorkshire Post his desire to purchase Bradford City Football Club from current joint owners Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn. The publically available documents list Marc Feldman as the new company’s only director and his own company, Harkers Associates Limited, owning 100% shareholdings.

Previously, the club’s company name was Bradford City Football Club Limited. Following the agreement to buy the Valley Parade offices, ownership of the club was transferred to a newly formed company, BC Bantams Limited.

There is no stated link whatsoever between Feldman and Parkin, or the club’s current Board members, but the timing of this new company’s registration and choice of name would hint of some relationship between Feldman and the prospective investor.

Which would be hugely worrying if so. Newspaper reports from August 2010 reveal that Feldman received a 12-month jail sentence – suspended for two years – for a £159,000 fraud, with health and family problems saving him and his business partner from serving time. Information on Harkers Associates Limited is slim to non-existent.

Is there any reason to be concerned? Probably not, after all the words ‘Bradford’ and ‘City’ are hardly exlusive to the football club. One might like to think that Feldman’s actions in setting up Bradford City Limited are something Parkin, Lawn and Rhodes would be unaware of or – if they are – do not see as a concern.  But recent amendments to laws on similar company names (made April 2011) do suggest that Bradford City Limited would require permission from the football club in order to use it.

According to Chapter 8 of Companies House’s guidelines – Objections to Company Names:

You could be required to change your company name after incorporation if: the name is ‘too like’ an existing name on the index…In general a name is ‘too like’ an existing name if: the differences are so trivial the public are likely to be confused by the simultaneous appearance of both names on the index; and/or the names look and sound the same.”

There is an exception to the rule:

The ‘same as’ rule will not be applied in the following circumstances: that the proposed company will be part of the same group as an existing company; the existing company consents to the registration of the proposed name; the application to register includes a letter/statement from the existing company which confirms its consent to the incorporation of the new company name and that it will form part of the same group.”

Of interest to this situation is ‘opportunistic registration’:

Opportunistic registration is the term applied to a company or LLP which registers a similar name to one in which another person has goodwill.  There is no restriction on who can complain.”

So City’s Board and/or Parkin could have cause to complain about this new company, or there could be some connection with the increased likelihood that the club ownership will be altered soon – either with Parkin joining Lawn and Rhodes or buying City outright. BfB has no reason to believe the latter is true, and would not claim otherwise.

If Feldman has no connection with this football club – at present or at any time in the future – let us consider this article to be a load of gibberish from a handful of over-concerned supporters. If, however, a convicted fraudster has some interest in the Bantams, let those who he has conversed with speak up to explain what is going on.

BfB would prefer to look foolish in raising these concerns than to have cause to feel genuinely concerned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contrast that with the last few years.

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

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

Parkin’s bid lacks the substance to earn supporters’ leverage

There was a plan to build a bridge from Midland Road over Canal Road, and across the Valley to link Valley Parade with the other side of the City.

The plan – which was talked of much but I confess I have no idea how seriously it was took being but eight at the time – was supposedly the brain child of then chairman Bob Martin and would fund the clubs rise from the foot of football. By bridging the valley Valley Parade would be fuller, so more people would mean more money and more money would lead to an improvement of the club.

Not long later and Bradford City had called in the official receiver – administration in old money – to be bought back and re-established by Stafford Heginbotham and Jack Tordoff. On the plan to build the viaduct across the Valley which Martin had said would bring in the missing people to Bradford City Heginbotham said only that the club had to be based in the real world and not in cloudcookooland.

Steve Parkin’s bid for Bradford City may – or may not – include a significant bridging project across the Valley that divides Bradford but probably does not. Despite talking to the Yorkshire Post about his bid for the club and for our egg chasing neighbours at Odsal the Bradford Bulls Parkin has done little to outline his plan for progressing both clubs.

His stated aim is to share facilities – a good idea for sure if one considers the costs of running two ticket offices and extrapolates – but such vision hardly requires a change of ownership to achieve. Parkin talks about being the man who can stop the Rugby club and Football club distrusting each other. Perhaps Martin’s bridge idea was realistic in comparison.

Moreover though Parkin has a plan for both clubs to share a single ground – the most cost effective one – which would be Valley Parade. A summer of trying to get out of the deal with Gordon Gibb to rent Valley Parade had proved that it is not cost effective to escape that deal contract leading one to conclude that Parkin has a plan to divest the Bulls of Odsal and move them to Manningham.

Parkin’s plans expand to creating a new stadium for both clubs to share but there is no indication as to when such a project would be undertaken. The ramifications of recession should make construction costs cheaper so a plan that includes waiting for an upturn to provide the funds for a new ground would seem flawed. Parkin is not oblivious to this suggesting that he could pick up another club for nothing which had an asset of a ground. He is not incorrect, after all Gordon Gibb did the same to City.

Parkin’s offer to Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes compensates them £750,000 each for the club and pays back Mark Lawn’s loan over 18 months with and extra £750,000 based on performances and such a deal would leave the current owners out of pocket. Lawn and the Rhodes’ family recently bought the business block next to Valley Parade and while different people will give different figures for how much the chairman have invested and how much the club is worth there is no onus on them to sell for a price they do find acceptable.

One might argue that the pair promised to leave the club if someone came along with an offer which did not leave them out of pocket but that has not occurred in this case with Parkin’s offer failing short of that mark. Lawn and Rhodes have another promise to balance – that they would only sell the club to someone who could improve Bradford City – and thus far there is nothing in Parkin’s bid that guarantees he would do that.

Were Parkin looking to invest Jack Walker money into the club then there would be a pressure for the current chairmen to exit but he does not. He talks of the same kind of effects which the current board are tying to achieve and there is very little reason to believe that he would enjoy the success that eludes Lawn and Rhodes.

Parkin wants the club and he wants it for a price that is not as attractive to the current owners but if he has a masterplan which makes him a better option – which suggests that Lawn and Rhodes are standing in the way of the club’s progress – then he has yet to reveal it. Recalling Bob Martin’s bridge plans one might worry that without sight of those plans, they could be anything.

Perhaps Parkin’s plan is summed up with his phrase “I want to invest as much money in the team as possible as that is the most important part of any football club.”

Mark Lawn says the exact same thing.

One can only hope that Parkin has to offer something other than simply being someone else to impress the supporters of Bradford City as he – ostensibly, and through the press – attempts to use them as a crowbar for leverage in his attempts to get the current owners to accept his offer.

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.

Steve Parkin looks to form Bradford Sporting Club

The Yorkshire Post has this morning revealed that millionaire Steve Parkin – Chief Executive of the company Clipper Group – is looking to buy both Bradford City and the Bradford Bulls to form a joint sporting club.

An initial offer has been rejected by the Bantams, but Julian Rhodes has disclosed that talks are ongoing. Parkin’s plan would eventually include building a new stadium for both clubs, though in the shorter-term both would share one venue – either Valley Parade or Odsal.

Parkin also told the Yorkshire Post:

Under the plans, the day-to-day running of both Bradford City and Bradford Bulls would be done by two hand-picked management teams. They would be run independently but both be divisions of Bradford Sporting Club.

“People have tried to do this in the past but because of the individuals concerned it has never got off the ground. It is almost as if neither side trusts the other sufficiently to believe their own club won’t lose out.

“I believe it would take someone like myself to make it happen.”

On buying City specifically Parkin added:

I was approached on behalf of Bradford City quite a while ago to see if I would be interested in investing. I was, basically, offered a third of the club. That is not how I work, I instead prefer to be in overall control.

“Despite that, I did have a couple of conversations and then looked at the books. I thought things were going swimmingly and a week last Friday I believed the deal would go ahead. But then Julian and Mark came back to say ‘no’.

“My offer to buy Bradford City involved me raising around £3m. As part of that, Mark would be paid back a £1m loan he has in the club over 18 months. I was also willing to pay £750,000 for the shares owned by Mark and Julian with a possible further £750,000 based on performance.

On the talks with Rhodes and Mark Lawn, Parkin disclosed:

I wanted to set up a capital structure, whereby existing shareholders would retain 25 per cent of the shares in the football division of Bradford Sporting Club but have no voting rights. Any dividends would then be paid if the club was making a profit. That way, they would be paid on a performance-related basis. The same would apply to the Bulls with existing shareholders having 25 per cent of the shares in the rugby league side.

“Unfortunately, Julian and Mark didn’t want that. They wanted it to be guaranteed. I can’t accept that. There is no point me raising £3m and handing over £2.5m for Bradford City, which is basically not worth a lot in the open market.

“I have looked at a few football clubs and there are a lot who can be picked up for nothing. And they have assets, such as owning their own ground. That is not the case with Valley Parade.

In response, Rhodes told the Yorkshire Post:

Discussions are ongoing and we appreciate Steve’s interest. His accountants were impressed with what they saw.“We will always do what is in the best interests of Bradford City and, in that respect, we are still waiting to see Steve’s business plan.”

All of which is fascinating stuff and the next steps will be very interesting. BfB has recently heard of interest from another investor too, so although Parkin’s proposals are worthy of consideration it may not be the best deal on the table.

Parkin, who tried to buy Leeds United in 2004, is currently on the Board of Guiseley AFC and earlier this year was in discussions with Wakefield Wildcats about purchasing the Rugby League club. Instant comparisons can be drawn with Geoffrey Richmond and Gordon Gibb in Parkin being a well-made businessman keen to make further money from investing in sporting clubs.

Whether City’s Board will welcome this public announcement is unlikely. It will surely increase the pressure on them to sell the club – and the terms that Parkin has revealed, which they have rejected, will led to fierce criticism from some. But while the lure of more transfer funds and even moving to a new stadium with lower costs is appealing to some, it’s important this offer is fully consdered and the longer-term interests of this football club stay in mind.

Is Parkin the best person to own our football club? Time will tell, but without the full facts ourselves we have to rely on Rhodes and Lawn to make the best judgement for all our best interests.

Lawn and Rhodes earn the right to repeat in optimism

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

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

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

How appropriate that optimism is is questionable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Jackson confirmed at City manager

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Bradford City to stay at Valley Parade, next season’s planning begins

Bradford City’s Board has this morning announced the club is to stay at Valley Parade rather than leave their 108-year-old home, after it agreed a deal to buy the office blocks from landlord Prupim.

The deal, which involves David and Julian Rhodes, Mark Lawn and Dave Baldwin setting up their own parent company called BC Bantams Limited to transfer both the ownership of the office blocks and – curiously – the ownership of the club, will see the Valley Parade overheads reduced enough for City to be able to afford the remaining rent for now. Talks with Gordon Gibb’s pension fund are also said to be ongoing, but the rent that City will now receive from owning the office blocks will be enough to pay the stadium rent.

The previously silent Julian Rhodes told the club website: “This move does help to ease all of our more pressing problems and means that we are saving the Club a lot of money in the process. I’m not saying it solves everything but it means we will be able to stay at Valley Parade for next season.”

With this important news confirmed, the club can finally make proper plans for next season. The season tickets are expected to go on sale again shortly, and BBC Radio Leeds has revealed the next manager will probably be appointed within 24 hours. However it may not be interim manager Peter Jackson, as expected, with an interview due to take place this week with another candidate. A logical guess might be that this is Accrington manager John Coleman.

Whoever takes the reins, they will be moving into the manager’s office AT Valley Parade, they will be plotting a league campaign AT Valley Parade and they will begin the season not on minus points. We’re staying at home, and while this saga is far from over today represents a significant step and is a moment for every person with Claret and Amber in their heart to cheer.

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.

The 2010/11 season reviewed: part two, off the pitch

If there was one chant that must have been music to the ears of Bradford City chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes it will have been the chimes at Southend that rang “Love the club, hate the team.

The team which failed on the field were cast as no hopers who could not care less and the manager who brought them to the club maligned. Regardless of your feelings about both players and manager(s) those in the boardroom must have thought it was just a matter of time until the Valley Parade ire would be turned in their direction.

And, dear reader, you will have your own thoughts on how justified that ire would be.

The season started off with Bradford City’s directors proudly backing Peter Taylor as the new manager although later Mark Lawn would tell us that he had reservations about the appointment having watched Taylor’s style of play. Nevertheless City – according to the directors one of whom had reportedly fallen out with former boss Stuart McCall – had the right manager in place and promotion was on the way.

Mike Harrison of The City Gent disagreed and felt the wrath of Valley Parade being unceremoniously called into the club to explain his prediction of eighth. Come the end of the season the “ludicrously optimistic” jokes wrote themselves but one could share a worry for the Bantams directors had they not handled the situation so poorly. Feedback loops at football clubs and Bradford City have been in a negative loop all season. Taylor’s arrival was an attempt to change that with the hope that positive thinking off the field would be manifest on it. That change of culture – from negative to positive – is important but the way to achieve it is more a matter of winning hearts and minds than applying the strong arm.

The club’s confidence stemmed from Peter Taylor’s appointment and from the traits which Taylor brought which were lacking in the previous manager. One could argue past the return of bovinity about the merits and methods of both but Taylor had been involved in success and knew what that success looked like. When he told the club that the team needed overnight stays, new suits and Tommy Doherty then the directors put hands into pockets and found the money for them, or so it was said.

Doing, and having to do

Savings were made at Valley Parade: A burst pipe fixed here, a new lighting system there; but most impressively Mark Lawn announced that – with some sadness – City were relocating to training facilities in Leeds with Apperley Bridge no longer considered suitable. The day before pre-season and suddenly Apperley Bridge was fine, the training facilities Taylor demanded to join the club were not forthcoming and the mood for the season was set. After the cameo of Lee Hendrie he and his uncle John were at a supporters evening chaired by Lawn who made it clear that despite the urgent need of the summer to replace the facilities they must now be considered good enough. He told BfB that they had to be, because there was no money to change them.

Taylor, in the meantime, had started using the relaid Valley Parade pitch to train on and credit to all that it withstood a bad winter better than many other surfaces. The trapping of success include a good surface and on that City have progressed this year. The supporters – underwhelmed probably – respected it enough to stay off it after the final game of the season.

The winter of bad weather also saw a season ticket promotion which prompted calls of amateurism from the club on the one hand and on the other asked questions about the strategic direction of the club. There is a worry that the club create direction and policy on the hoof and looking at a “cheap and cheerful” promotion which prompted a response of being “cheap and nasty” those thoughts seemed to be confirmed. It was not just the cackhandedness of the advertisement but its inability to communicate the message that City’s season tickets were superb value, a message which was lost in the infamous Santa Dave advert.

All of which led to a comment in The City Gent and threats passing from club to fanzine. Legal action was mentioned and once again the club was at loggerheads with supporters. One has to wonder if – on reflection over the season – these fall outs between the directors and the supporters which increasingly crop up should be approached differently. Mark Lawn’s car is vandalised and he talks about winding the club up. Mike Harrison talks out of turn and there are threats. The City Gent’s John Armitage criticises and there is talk of legal action.

Perhaps it is time to look at a new approach?

2004, and all that

Administration looms large over the summer and it will be said that this is not the time to talk about anything except securing the future of the club but those who battled to put the club in the hands of Julian Rhodes in 2004 for Mark Lawn to join him in 2007 will recall only too well the talk of how supporter would be at the heart of the new Bradford City. The club saved by the fans would not forget the fans. If 2010/2011 tells us anything it is that the supporters of Bradford City are to toe the line.

I speak as someone who has sat with Mark Lawn this season. He is not an unreasonable man and in talking to him one cannot help but be sympathetic to a man who clearly loves the club, clearly is trying his best, and clearly is crying out for assistance. Jason and I heard him talk about how the supporters interact with the club. How the OMB is used in anonymity and how a “Friends of Bradford City” scheme could be used to raise much needed funds and while these things are true the tone of the conversation stands as a stark contrast to 2004’s rhetoric. The club that was saved by the fans putting in a six figure sum is now telling them what to think, or so it might seem.

Lawn cuts an isolated figure at times. He admits to his blustering style but one wonders if it belays a worry that his aims for the club will never be realised. He is at great pains to paint out that his door is always open but one wonders if an open door is enough. Bradford City as a club pledged itself in 2004 to be more about the supporters. Perhaps Lawn and his fellow directors need to engage with supporters in a more active way. Show me a hundred Bradford City fan and I’ll show you a hundred skilled people across many fields. The only time these people ever get asked for help is when there is snow to be cleared from the field on a winter afternoon.

Indications from the club are that there are developments on this and it will be interesting how much the club are prepared to let go in the interests of supporter involvement. The benefits of supporter involvement are all in engagement. At the moment Bradford City is a product consumed by supporters – and in that context the customer complaints procedure is pretty bad – and how long any club should carry on in that way is debatable. In 2004 this was going to be our Bradford City. That spirit needs revisiting especially as we once again skirt the waters of administration if only because the loss of it has contributed to rendering the club in the position it now finds itself in.

Should this not all wait until after Administration?

There seems little doubt that Bradford City are in for a torrid summer and one might think that talk about learning the lessons form 2010/2011 off the field can wait until we know for sure that there will be a 2011/2012. Were you to think that, dear reader, you may be correct.

However our experience after 2004 tells us that things said in the heat of a troubled summer fade in the winters of a season and many of the problems the club finds itself in can be put down to the distance that emerged between supporters and City in the last ten years.

The atmosphere at Valley Parade is atrocious but with supporters set firmly is customers rather than invested parties there is little invitation to do much more than pay up and turn up, little reason for many to treat professional football as a thing they are invested in.

In addition the boardroom is out of touch with supporters. For sure there is a note of websites such as this one, of the Official Message Board, of The T&A comments section, of The City Gent but these are the publication of enthusiasts not the word of the man on the Clayton Omnibus. Small samples taken as representative have informed decisions made with the club.

Geoffrey Richmond would not take a meeting with any supporter’s organisation which numbered fewer than 4,000 members but – in a very real way – handfuls of people on the Internet are setting an agenda which the club respond to and those people are not necessarily representative of the general view of supporters and it is that general view of the people who tossed tenners into buckets in 2004 which the club losing sight of.

Moreover though as the club struggles to survive once more the need for vigilance in the boardroom could not be more clear. Supporters are a constant for the club which is under threat from a boom or bust policy which targets promotion. The spirit of 2004 suggested that involvement from supporters would create guardians for the club within the boardroom to prevent us from reaching this situation again.

Yet here we are.

The lesson of 2010/2011 off the field is a correlation between the deterioration of the relationship between Bradford City’s boardroom and Bradford City’s supporters

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.

Bradford City made half a million profit in 2009/10, but it’s not all good news

The Yorkshire Post has this morning revealed Bradford City made a £501,000 for the 2009/10 season – largely thanks to the sell-on clause in the deal which saw Bradford-born Fabian Delph transfer from Leeds to Aston Villa for £8 million in August 2009.

The Bantams received an initial £800,000 windfall for the part they played in developing the young midfielder. The Yorkshire Post also claims that total has risen to just short of a £1 million due to further clauses being triggered – chiefly Villa qualifying for Europe and awarding Delph a new four-year contract.

Were it not for the Delph money, City would have made a loss of around £299,000. For the 2008/09 season, where the Bantams had spent big on wages – a £1.9 million playing budget – but missed out on the play offs, the club recorded a loss of £765,000. One can take an educated guess that City will make a similarly high loss for this season, having again pushed out the boat.

All of which is troubling. Without the unexpected windfall from Delph, City would have lost over £1 million over the previous two campaigns and something similar this year – whether these totals includes loans provided by Lawn and Rhodes is unclear. The decreasing success of the subsidised season ticket scheme will add further pressure, and Julian Rhodes, Mark Lawn and the Board are left in a position where unless they keep investing more of their own money the club is left in an incredibly weak position.

The Valley Parade rent and running costs amount to £1.3 million each year. If the ownership situation could be altered this situation would ease, but it would be wrong to assume that it would lead to City making a profit each year as many of the running costs would still need to be met no matter who owns the deeds to the stadium. And that’s before we consider the costs involved if the club were able to buy back Valley Parade. People often say that you should never rent a home as it’s “a mug’s game” and City are in a similarly position of being trapped and effectively throwing money down a blackhole.

Clearly next season is going to be a tough one financially. The club has spent big on wages again this year and there were other sizeable costs last summer, such as relaying the pitch. With season ticket sales unlikely to match or better this season’s, the resultant playing budget for whoever takes over as manager will be significantly reduced and with it expectations must surely recede.  A huge consideration, when selecting the manager, must be their ability to deliver over-performance on a shoestring budget.

What of the longer-term future? Unless City can get back to the Championship, it’s unlikely revenue streams will significantly increase anytime soon – unless they abandon the season ticket initiative. The Valley Parade situation looks unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, if ever. Outside investment remains a faint possibility, but City are far from an attractive proposition. The possibility of further windfalls from other former City youngsters – most notably Tom Cleverly and Andrew Wisdom – remains, but is hardly something to build a five-year business plan upon.

Rumours have recently floated around that another administration is a possibility, but hopefully this can be filed under malicious nonsense. Nevertheless, these are somewhat worrying times for Bradford City and, as gratefully received as the Delph money clearly was, it cannot prop up the club forever.

What are City asking the six?

There are six football managers being interviewed for the job of Bradford City manager which Mark Lawn hopes to have appointed around the start of May but as lists circulate as to who these names may be a more pressing question, perhaps, is what those six might say.

More to the point what the questions might be when asked. What are the Bradford City chairmen going to want to know from those who sit in front of them?

The questions that present themselves are hardly tempting. “How do you deal with having really poor training facilities, a situation that is not going to change?”, “You will not have the biggest budget in the division but it will be assumed you do, how do you cope with that?”, and of course that old chestnut “Your team wins one nil, the crowd boo, do you praise them after?”

The success of any interview process is dependent on a rigid definition of the requirements of the role and in this the Bantams come unstuck. For sure everyone knows what is wanted from as a result of the process: promotion; how to achieve that is a different matter.

Moreover how to assess if a candidate can achieve that represents something of a mystery. The question can be asked but who would answer in the negative?

Likewise the candidates cam be asked how they would approach the job’s finer points. “Will the players be required to wear suits? To enjoy coach journeying together?” None of these have proved essential indicators to job performance.

Much better would be to ask the candidates what augmentation the will have brought to City on a year on year basis. Ask the manager who wants the job in May 2011 what will have changed for the better at the club by May 2012 and if his only answer is “promotion” give him a wide berth.

The pursuit of promotion an end in itself has to end at City. The club’s long term aim seems to be set as sitting in the Championship and one promotion gained solely by gutsy performances on the field do not achieve this. That aim needs the club to start improving this like youth development and player realisation, which is to say getting the best out of the playing squad rather than allowing quality footballers like Tommy Doherty to become bit part players, making good on the investment in their services.

I’d like questions on those areas to be asked of the candidates. “How, considering the facilities, are you going to get the best out of the players?”, “How are you going to take the players we can afford and make them into players other people want to buy?”

Talk of promotion is pie in the sky. The next manager needs to arrive with some ideas of how to improve the club, not just what the results of improvement would be. The board need to make sure that the new man, the one of the six, knows that that is his remit.

Otherwise City are just Del and Roderney (sic) wishing to be millionaires next year, but just trusting to fate that they will achieve that.

Taylor walks away carrying all the cans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taylor gets a final chance to write his history

Peter Taylor exits Bradford City after Saturday’s game with Stockport County which is described by joint chairman Julian Rhodes as “possibly one of the biggest in the club’s history” but the judgement on his time at the club will not follow until the end of the season.

Taylor’s time at City has been marked with upset over negative play and managerial mistakes as well as the manager criticising supporters who he revealed today were the cause of his decision to leave but his position in City’s history will be written in May when he is either written off as an experiment gone wrong or written in stone as the man who had Bradford City relegated out of the Football League after 106.

An assessment which would be harsh for sure – you do not go from the Premiership to the Football Conference in just over a decade because of the guy who got the job twelve months ago – but one which will no doubt be made. Taylor’s only input into this writing of history is the tone he sets in his final game.

The final game with Stockport who – in something of a minor irony – have helped to seal the manager’s early exit. Mark Lawn and Rhodes talked about their requirements for the medium and long term when thinking about the next appointment but it cannot have escaped their notice that by changing manager Lincoln City and Saturday’s opponents have turned seemingly moribund seasons around with revivals.

There is something to be said for that approach too. It is football in the ludicrously short term – the financial position being what it is and relegation hovering City may only have a short term left – but increasingly it seemed as if the players had lost belief in Taylor and that they might benefit from another voice in the dressing room.

Be it David Syers and Tom Ademeyi being given the midfield roles against five Lincoln players, Scott Dobie being given the job of chasing high balls or Luke O’Brien and Lewis Hunt playing full back without anyone supporting them when they are doubled up on the players are coming under criticism for decisions made by Taylor, and on occasion that criticism comes from Taylor.

That they stop thinking that following the manager will lead to success is a problem addressed by Taylor’s exit, although after that one suspects the problems will begin and that chief amongst those problems will be finding a new manager who has the same effect on City which Steve Tilson has had on Lincoln to some degree or another.

If the benefit of Taylor’s exit is a change of voice in the dressing room then there seems little benefit in appointing Wayne Jacobs until the end of the season but the assistant manager has twice taken control of the club as caretaker in the past. The two week gap that follows the Stockport game suggests City will have time to bring in short-term appointment and that a caretaker taker will probably not be needed.

Names suggest themselves: Phil Parkinson and Brian Laws mentioned in one breath, Dean Windass and Terry Dolan in another. Martin Allen has previously impresses Mark Lawn and could get a chance to do again but those problems are for Monday. Saturday is more pressing.

The effect of Taylor’s departure on that game is hard to measure. The City players responded to Stuart McCall’s departure with a loathsome display at Accrington Stanley in Peter Taylor first game. In his last one might expect the squad to be equally nervous although perhaps they will feel they have something to prove to the outgoing manager. If they spot a trenchcoat in the main stand they may feel they have something to prove to the incoming manager too.

Taylor is likely to stand by the players who have figured in the majority of his squad although there is a sneaking feeling that he may employ a 235 1911 style in a final flash of “attacking football.”

Assuming he does not Lenny Pidgeley will keep goal behind Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver who more than most will be effected by Taylor’s departure one suspects and Luke O’Brien. A middle three of Michael Flynn, Lee Bullock and Tom Adeyemi seems set to continue – one has to wonder why Jon Worthington was brought in – while the forward three could feature a return for James Hanson alongside one of Scott Dobie or Gareth Evans, and Kevin Ellison.

These players are tasked with winning the game – an everyone in for a pound offer which sadly was not extended to the visitors should see a few more bums on seats – and starting writing what could prove to the the last chapter in the 58 year old manager’s career.

A win and graceful retirement to Newcastle United’s backroom awaits, a defeat and he starts to become the man who killed a club.

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.

Taylor stays as manager for now: probably the sensible decision, now for sensible planning

We may all carry very strong views on the subject but, ultimately, very few of us would have wanted to swap places with Bradford City Chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn on Wednesday.

The day after the Bantams had disastrously suffered a fifth defeat in six games, Peter Taylor was called in for a meeting with the pair. And a decision over whether to sack the City manager or allow him more time to turnaround a sinking season must have been a difficult one to make. It carried a huge weight of responsibility, and only time will reveal whether retaining him for now proves the right or wrong call.

There is growing pressure for Rhodes and Lawn to take action. Taylor could not have picked a worse time to make catastrophically-bad management calls, and the situation is becoming desperate. Just like the Burton Albion postponement two weeks ago, the cancelling of Saturday’s game at Macclesfield seems especially ill-timed for Taylor. By the time City welcome 2nd-placed Wycombe to Valley Parade next Saturday, midweek results could have dragged them ever-closer to a desperate relegation battle.

And that’s why, despite the huge levels of unrest over Taylor from what can surely be considered the majority of City supporters, sacking him now is not the straightforward answer many assume it would be.

Lessons from the past

Certainly it would be interesting to gauge Rhodes’ take on the situation, and I’m sure the name of Colin Todd must be playing on his mind. Almost exactly four years ago Rhodes took the decision to sack the then-City manager with the Bantams slipping down League One but still in mid-table, and come May the club was relegated. The rights and wrongs of Rhodes’ actions then are still argued to this day, but it’s difficult to dispute that dismissing the experienced manager just after a turbulent period of transfers and replacing him with the club captain made City much weaker for the battle ahead.

Perhaps more telling is to look back a year before that, when Todd was under-pressure from a large proportion of supporters during the 2005-06. Just like in 2006-07 and just like now, the expected promotion push had faltered and City were becoming embroiled in a relegation zone. When Oldham thrashed the Bantams 4-1 in March, it looked curtains for Todd. Yet Rhodes stuck by him and Todd was able to turn it around during the final few weeks and ensure a mid-table position.

It is a repeat of that type of situation that Rhodes and Lawn will be hoping Taylor can deliver. Because as bad as the last few weeks have been for City, it should be remembered that, up to the collapse at Barnet, the players had proved they were capable of winning matches (just badly lacking consistency). The squad Taylor has built are not proving good enough for promotion, but that doesn’t mean they’re not good enough to keep the club in League Two.

Equally Taylor has shown over the past 12 months that he is capable of turning around poor runs of form. It will take a long time for those of us who attended both games to forget the Accrington and Rochdale away games when Taylor first took charge last season. At Accrington it looked desperate, and no -one would have predicted City would follow up their worst performance of the season with their best to defeat the then-league leaders. Even earlier this season it looked bleak for Taylor and City after a dismal 1-0 loss to Morecambe – City won four of their next five matches.

Can City recover from Tuesday’s debacle? Taylor’s history suggests so.

The negligible impact of changing managers

It’s exactly a year to the day since Stuart McCall’s final match in charge of City. The 1-0 defeat to Bury left the Bantams languishing in 15th place and eight points from the play offs – they finished the season 14th and 10 points short of the top seven.

It can be argued Taylor halted the slide that had occurred during McCall’s final two months of the season, but that there was no improvement in results underlined yet again the ineffectiveness of changing managers mid-season. Sure at other clubs a new manager can have a dramatic upturn, but it never happens here. Sacking Todd didn’t improve the club, dismissing Chris Hutchings and Nicky Law didn’t prevent relegation in 2001 and 2004 respectively. Even when the club’s last successful manager, Paul Jewell, was first appointed as caretaker he failed to improve results instantly.

You have to go back to Chris Kamara to find the last time changing managers mid-season improved the club – and that was 15 years ago.

Lawn and Rhodes may not have been around to make all of these managerial changes, but they were involved in the club as supporters at least and they should know that the history of City changing managers mid-season has undeniably proven a flawed strategy. At best it makes no difference, at worst – like when David Wetherall replaced Todd four years ago – it can prove a fatal mistake. Neither may like Taylor very much right now, but the risks of removing him are so great that sticking by him at this moment is surely the sensible option.

Taylor needs to save the club in the short-term, then the Chairmen need to start focusing on the long-term

City’s situation doesn’t look great, but it could certainly be a lot worse. If a victory can be ground out and followed by another two or three quickly afterwards, relegation will no longer be the potential issue it is becoming and a mid-table finish will be assured. Right now City are battling to ensure they can enjoy a meaningless end to the season.

Whatever happens, it’s highly unlikely Taylor will be our manager beyond May and, if the Bantams ship can be steered back onto a safe course, the thoughts of Rhodes and Lawn have to quickly turn towards finding his replacement.

And that above all is the futility of sacking Taylor now. It will cost City a certain amount of money to issue him an early P45 and to hire his successor before the end of the season. And, with the playing budget likely to be reduced next season, is it the best use of limited finances to make that change now because we’re sick of the dreadful style of football Taylor persists with?

Instead City can take their time, assuming results are quickly turned around. Rather than rushing in to finding the next manager, they can conduct a lengthy search and even enlist help from people outside the club in choosing the right person. They can think long and hard about the type of manager they believe can take City forwards, and start the recruitment process sooner rather than later.

Why wait?

Because why wait? Taylor wants to see out the remainder of his contract, City are highly unlikely to renew it. As long as results improve and City are comfortably in mid-table, what’s stopping Rhodes and Lawn from confirming to him there will be no new contract and that they are beginning the search for his replacement? Taylor can be free to see out the final few games, and his successor can be lined up to take over before the season ends.

That way the next City manager can assess the playing squad and make decisions on whether to offer out-of-contract players new deals and which areas of the squad needs strengthening in the summer; rather than arriving sometime in June with a number of players having left and limited opportunities to assess the players he has until next season gets underway. Taylor can even offer advice and information before he departs.

Maybe this isn’t a practical idea – though this sort of transition would take place in pretty much every other walk of working life, so why are football clubs different? Who knows, by taking this approach Taylor can even be assured of leaving the club with his dignity still in tact, rather than a scenario of his final few days being played out with City underachieving in mid-table and Taylor continually being quoted in the Telegraph & Argus that he is “hopeful of a new deal”.

In the end, most of us will get what we want

Let’s be frank – this is one of the bleakest periods supporting Bradford City we’ve ever experienced. The last 10 years have been woeful at times, but this current mixture of poor results and appalling style of football is crushing to watch. I’ve never known a season where City have won matches and I’ve still felt miserable, such has been the way some victories have been achieved. Taylor was an outstanding appointment a year ago, but for whatever reason it’s not worked out.

However, it’s clear Taylor will be leaving the club within the next few months. And so as much as some of us want him to depart instantly, in the end the potential negative consequences – plus financial implications – of speeding that process mean that sticking by him, for now, is the sensible option.

That said, if the league position gets worse the pressure for Lawn and Rhodes to act will become intense and they will have to re-assess Taylor’s immediate future .

This club has never fallen into non-league before, having been elected into the Football League in 1903 before a ball was even kicked. 100 years on from our greatest triumph of winning the FA Cup, it falls on Taylor to ensure we don’t experience our lowest-ever on-the-pitch moment.

We need him to turn it around urgently. We don’t have to like the guy, but right now we should be supporting Taylor in keeping our beloved football club alive.

Talking to Mark Lawn: Part Two

Following on from Part One, our interview with Mark Lawn continues as we move onto the relationship with Bradford Council and the training facilities…

And we continue

BfB: How about the council, is there any interest on their part to help out?

I’ve worked very hard to build relationships with this council, and we now have an okay relationship with the council. They don’t do a lot for Bradford City Football Club, we don’t ask a lot out of Bradford City Council.

BfB: Following on from Valley Parade other people see the training ground as a significant problem – back in 2000 we had Benito Carbone, Dan Petrescu and a flooded Apperley Bridge – and Peter Taylor was keen to address this problem.  Again how important do the board of feel the state of the training facilities is? What is being done to address this situation (if considered important)? Can the club’s aims be achieved using Apperley Bridge?

We’re looking at ventures, perhaps with a private company that may want to address Apperley Bridge to improve the facilities down there. But it’s in the very early stages so I can’t discuss who it is and what it is. It’s council-owned land, so we’ve got to talk to the council about it as well, but we are looking to get those facilities down there.

BfB: Are the players still having to get changed at Valley Parade and go down there?

Yeah they are, but under Peter as well they’re using the pitch here (Valley Parade) a lot. The pitch is in better condition now, so it will take it and then we can fix it and get it right (for matchdays). So they tend to use this pitch when it’s bad down there.

BfB: How important do the Board think the training facilities are?

It’s a little bit like a chicken and egg really. I mean you can turn around and say that’s been our training facilities since the 1960s and they got us into the Premier League. I mean the facilities have got to be improved, but they can be used as an excuse I think as well.

If I’d have been here in the Premier League I’d have made sure that we have something like Blackburn Rovers now have without a doubt. I’d have put money back into the club and into facilities like that. But Blackburn Rovers are struggling aren’t they? And then look at Middlesbrough, they are renowned for having the best academy for kids – and they’re dropping down the leagues. And I think that’s the state of the game today, because we have so many foreigners coming in. And Geoffrey had this thing, and maybe he was proven to be right. He turned round to me and said “It’s no use giving me a kid who is going to be good in six years – I need someone to score on Saturday.” And I think that goes right throughout the leagues.

You look at these academies, and the problem is they’re (young players) not coming through are they? I think that is to do with the pressure put on managers to get a result as well. They’re not under pressure to bring a kid through.

I think that Leon Osborne, personally, would be better if he could get a run of six or seven games – but who is going to give him six or seven games if he doesn’t perform after two? Because the manager has got the fans on his back.

BfB: Talking of young players, what did you think of the reception Joe Colbeck received from some fans when he came back recently?

I think they forgot that Joe gave his all when he was here, he might not be the best player in the world but what Joe did give you was 100%. And I’ve always thought that Bradford fans always respected players who gave 100%. I always tell new players who come here that “You can be rubbish, but if you always give 100% these fans won’t slag you off.” So it is a bit disappointing that Joe has come back and got that. We seem to have problems with wingers getting stick don’t we? You go back to Summerbee and things like that.

BfB: If Peter comes up to you and says he wants to bring in a loan player for Saturday, in the back of your mind do you think “Why don’t you just play Leon?” (for example)?

Yeah I’d like that because it saves us all money (laughs), it means the budgets are easier! But if he turns round and wants one that’s his decision. We’re in talks with a loan player now.

(Note: Lawn then discusses negotiations with a loan player but doesn’t reveal who. We later discover, at the game that evening, that it is Jon Worthington).

In terms of negotiations for players, we usually take it in turns and Julian is working on this one. I normally get the awkward ones (laughs). I was the one who had to tell Martin Allen he’d didn’t get the job (laughs).

BfB: And on Martin Allen, how close did he come to getting it?

He was very impressive. His commitment (pauses) and if we’d have wanted a cheaper option – he didn’t want paying!  He’d got a pay off from Cheltenham until October, so he just said I’m already getting paid. So if we’d have wanted a cheaper option we could have taken Martin on.

BfB: Going back to the training facilities, do the club think they’re good enough for our aims of getting back to the Championship?

Well they will have to be, because we ain’t got the money to improve them unless we go into a joint venture with a private company. That’s what we’re trying to do. We might not be able to put up capital, but what we can do is rent the facilities off the company at a guaranteed rent for 10 years – so they’re getting a return on their investment. So that’s what we’re talking about doing and hopefully we can get that cracking.

We’re trying to make the facilities better for everybody, but let’s just turn round and state a few facts. Did you know Blackpool still take their training kit home and wash it? Did you know Rotherham take their training kit home and wash it and they don’t get fed? We’ve got a chef who cooks for them here (Valley Parade). And not only that, some of them have got dietary needs and some want a bit of fish and the chef looks after them. He spoils them!

So, I do expect a bit more out there than what we’re getting – considering what we’re putting in.

BfB: Much has been said about the affordable season tickets which are being offered once again for a fourth year.  Do the board feel that this has been a success? Is that success qualified in any way? Would anything result in the club moving back to the previous pricing policy?

It’s a difficult situation of where you balance it. We could do with more money, and surely the fans have got to realise that we’re doing it for them. What gets me is that (pauses) I mean I don’t read the websites, but people tell me what they’ve read – people saying “we should be charging more money.” So I think “well why doesn’t that person donate another £100?” No one is stopping anyone who is paying £150 from turning round and saying, “It’s too cheap; here you are, here is an extra £100.”  We don’t get any of that. So all those people who are saying we should be charging more, well pay more. We’re not stopping you from paying more.

We looked at this year in particular because of the recession and we thought, it’s going to be a tough year and a troubling year for people – everything’s going up, and people are going to be down. And you know what if you can still get to see a football match, you’ve got your ticket paid? I think that (the season ticket initiative) it’s a great idea.

I don’t think that Bradford City get enough credit from the Football League and the FA. We’re doing it, and no one is praising us. Four years we’ve done this, and not a single bit of praise from anybody. People turned around at first and said “you’ll never be able to keep it going.” Well we have kept it going.

The demographics in Bradford – it’s not the best paid here. So we’ve got to keep it reasonably priced.

BfB: So is the pricing a permanent thing?

As much as anything can be permanent. We’ve got to get prices up, but the Board still want to make football accessible. I think we’re still the only club who do under 11s free – everywhere else it’s under 7. And we don’t get any credit for that. We don’t win Family Club of the Year, Huddersfield do. And when they quote why they won that they say “under 7s go free” – and our under 11s are free. Maybe we don’t shout about it enough.

BfB: From an ethical point of view I believe the pricing policy to be utterly commendable – times are tough and City are helping people out for one, for two why should it cost two and a half times more to go watch football than it does to see a film? – but considering that ethical basis would the club consider extending the offer to include people who pay on the door and to include away supporters? If not, why not?

The away fans is something we’ve not thought of to be fair. They are getting in same price as our fans because of Football League rules. So if we did that we’d have to do walk ups (City fans who pay on the day) at that price as well.

Now to be fair we’ve said if you want to put your money there ahead it’s cheap, if you want to pay game-by-game and choose when you come or not, it’s a little bit more expensive. Because those people are subsidising the people who do buy cheap season tickets.

BfB: Do you get many fans who turn up on a game-by-game basis?

We get about 1,000. 1,000 when we’re not so good (laughs) and you can get 2,000 when we’re doing alright. I think we’ve got a fan-base, realistically in this league, of about 13,000-14,500. I think that would go up by 3 or 4,000 if we went up a league. And for some games, certainly, we’d be filling it if we were in the Championship. We play Leeds United – well they’d want 5,000 for a start.

BfB: Before you joined City, Julian agreed deals with Surridge and EMC to run the club shop and catering facilities respectively, are these deals proving financially-rewarding?

Absolutely brilliant – he stitched them up like a kipper! We’ve never taken as much money as we get from EMC, even when we were in the Premier League. We are having to renegotiate the deal with EMC this season, so they will continue but perhaps not as a good a rate going forward. What people need to realise is that the staffing levels, just to build and maintain facilities like that, is frightening. You can’t just get temporary staff in, you need a fair bit behind you.

BfB: Do you find there is a massive difference between what people perceive the problem is and what the problem actually is?

Well I was the same! Before I came on board, I didn’t realise what was involved with running a football club. It is very difficult, and there’s lots and lots of problems that you’ve got to sort. I used to think “why don’t they do this?” and then you come in and you understand why.

BfB: Any examples of that?

(Thinks for a few seconds). One of them was food for the footballers. I thought “bugger it; I’m a chef I will do that.” But you can’t because you’re too busy doing everything else! So you think there are roles that aren’t necessary, but they are when you get involved. It’s not as simple as you like to think.

BfB: Words like “failure” are banded about for most clubs in football – for Chelsea second in the Premier League is failure, for Aston Villa that would be success – and the term loses its meaning if it is not rigidly defined on a club-by-club basis. So what do the board consider to be a failure for Bradford City at present and what constitutes a success? Is there any middle ground between the two?

Well you have to have bite-sized chunks don’t you? And my first bite-sized chunk is that we’ve got to start finishing in the play offs. That’s got to be the minimum bite-sized chunk. Every season we don’t get into the play offs is, in my view, failure.

BfB: And then, does it get to the point where we finish in the play offs and that becomes acceptable or do we then say that’s not?

Not more than twice! I wouldn’t be happy losing in the play offs more than twice. If I was the Bury chairman, I wouldn’t be happy about losing in the play offs two or three times. I’d be starting to ask questions.

BfB: Which brings us onto the long-term. 18 months ago I was present at the VP Fans Forum where Mark you stated the club’s objective is to be in the Championship in five years. With only three-and-a-half years to go that vision may not occur in this time frame, but do you believe the club can still rise up the divisions in the next few years?

Well 18 months ago I put £1 million in and that was part of the thing that got blown (laughs). So, like with any aspect of business sometimes you’ve got to change your thinking. Look, our business plan is still to get there but our business plan has been curtailed by (pauses); I don’t want to speak ill of people, but we put a lot of money into this club and it didn’t work.

BfB: It’s almost like a snowball effect in that if we got one promotion we’d build momentum…

Yes I think so. If we got one promotion we’d get more fans. I think the base is there to bring more fans in. I think we’ve got a hardcore of around 7,500 fans – real hardcore. I think 7,500 would watch us if we were playing on Peel Park. And then I think we’ve got another 2-2,500 who are dependent on things like where we are in leagues. And I think we’ve probably got another 5,000-10,000 more fans where it depends where are in leagues, how we’re doing and whether they can pick and choose games they want to come to. I might be wrong but that’s where we are abouts.

BfB: Do things like the size of the fan-base come into it when we’re talking to people like Nike and EMC?

Without a doubt. When they see things like our season ticket sales for this year and next, it’s that sort of thing they want to get on board with. They realise that, if we can get up these leagues, they got a base there. You know Bradford City Football Club – and I’m not being derogatory to other football clubs here – Bradford City are a proper football club, that’s been starved of success. You’ve only got to turn around any look at what happened when we went to Wembley. If we could give the Bradford public success, I think they will come out and watch us. And that’s what we’re trying to do.

BfB: Is more outside investment needed to climb the leagues?

It’s a difficult situation that, because you look at other football clubs. Look at MK Dons, they got out of this league by having the biggest budget. I think there budget that year was £2.5 million.

BfB: That’s a lot for this level…

Well we had £1.9 million once, and we didn’t get out of this league. So is it the budget? Then you turn round and see Dagenham get promoted with a £750,000 budget. So is it the budget? I think it’s down to managers, I think you look at managers and it’s getting that right manager.

As for us, I don’t know if we’ve been kicked by Gypsies or something (laughs), whether we are cursed, but you look at what we’ve done. We’ve put in lots of money, we’ve brought in an established manager in Peter Taylor who has been a success at every single level that he’s been at – and certainly this level – and up to now it’s not worked.

I’m still not giving up on this season, there’s still a lot of games to be played. But what we do need to do realistically is go on a run of winning five games. We need 69-72 points by the end of the season, that’s what you need to get in that last play off position.

BfB: So you don’t see that more money is the only thing that will get us success?

Well more money often buys more success whereas more money for us didn’t buy success. It did buy MK Dons, it did buy Peterborough…

BfB: What about the lad Tom Cleverley? If he moves on from Man United do we get a similar kind of pay out to Fabian Delph?

Not quite as good. The one that’s good is if we get the lad from Liverpool (Andre Wisdom) – that’s better than the Delph. Knowing our luck he will probably play for Liverpool for the rest of his bloody life (laughs). Have a great career, and never move on!

BfB: Would we put that money straight into the playing budget?

Yes of course. 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. Everything works in the Championship, once we get into the Championship. So everything needs to be directed on getting players to get us into the Championship. Then when we get there, we can turn around and start looking at buying new facilities, etc.  First of all it’s how can we get out of these leagues?

BfB: What is your view on the way the non-league players have developed at the club? For example some people are calling David Syers player of the season…

Well let’s not call him player of the season because they always go then don’t they? (laughs). I think Syers has a long way to go but he’s got a lot of potential. He’s shown he’s got it if he can keep improving. I think that (James) Hanson needs to keep improving as well, but I think he can go on. I do think Hanson should be playing in the Championship. If he can keep learning from old pros and stuff. That is how to be a centre forward, I’m not talking about his lifestyle, but how to make the right runs, etc. If he can learn that I think he can play in the Championship. I think Steve Williams has also got the potential. There’s not been as much fuss about him like Hanson, but if he can learn as he makes the full transition he can go far.

One thing I would say is that the transition can be a problem, and this is where the PFA should be getting involved and helping. They have to quickly learn to become athletes, because they haven’t been brought up as pros. And perhaps this is a transition that maybe we could help better with – because it’s a big leap for them. It’s not just the training, but a matter of I’ve got to watch what I eat now, I’ve got to watch what I drink now, I’ve got to go to bed early. It’s that sort of thing that, at non-league level, they don’t really need to do. So perhaps we could do a little bit more for them.

BfB: No one doubts how hard you and Julian work and how much you have put into the club; it must be so frustrating for you to see the club continue to fail on the pitch despite your best efforts…

I have a lot of sleepless nights. When I bought into the club Julian shook my hand and said “Welcome to Bradford City, now you become an alcoholic insomniac!” I said to him “I think you’re joking” and then talked about my Driver Hire company which had a turnover of £75 million and 120 franchises – “You don’t think I can run a football club?!”

When we lost to Morecambe in the first season I rang Julian up the next day and said “I’m in the alcoholic-insomniacs club!” And I think it’s been like that ever since (laughs)!

BfB: But you do seem to enjoy it?

I have a passion for the club because I love the club. I’m probably the only Chairman in the Football League that has a tattoo of their football club on their arm. I had an argument with Peter Risdale at one of the Chairmen meetings, because I said “I can’t understand why, if you’re a Leeds fan, you’re at any other football club.” I would never be at any football club but Bradford City. It’s hard work, and I certainly ain’t here for the glory or money. I’m here because I’m a fan, so I didn’t understand him. He took exception to that!

BfB: It’s been really great to talk to you like this and I’m sure our readers will be delighted to have this opportunity to hear your views. As a final question, what are your favourite memories of supporting Bradford City over the years?

(Long pause) Oh the ones I can tell you (laughs). Darlington away (1969), I was nine-years-old. My sister took me on the coach. It was my first success. Then we had the bleak years didn’t we? I think everyone forgets that.

I’ve supported them since 1964, I think. My first game, Southend United I think it was. We won 3-0 and I thought that’s what always happens!

Also, Cambridge away (1984/85). Leaving my coat on the barbed wire so everyone could use it to get over onto the pitch! I ended up kissing John Hendrie, I don’t think he appreciated that! (laughs) I’ve known John and the players from then a while before and those lads aren’t as aloof as they are now. If you could get that spirit now – they used to be singing songs on the bus going home. And they mixed with the fans as they weren’t aloof. Maybe they’re under more pressure these days, I don’t know. Certainly there is more expectation on Bradford City players now than there was then.

But the best day of my life was Wolves (1999). I’ve got four girls and a boy and we took everyone down except for the wife. After the game they all just dived on me and I ended up in tears. The whole family was crying with joy. That’s something my wife is really upset about because she missed that, and it’s something that you can never take away from me. Pure joy between myself and children at that stage.

Wembley was good too, but I spent most of it throwing up in the toilet with nerves. Even though we battered them didn’t we? (Laughs) I didn’t really enjoy that one!

Post-amble

What is the perception of Mark Lawn? That he is a blunt man but a passionate one, perhaps? Perhaps that he is a Bradford City supporter first and a chairman second. Going into – and coming out of – an hour and a half conversation with the man these perceptions seemed confirmed.

He speaks as he sees it for sure and that may or may not be a good thing but few could doubt that his dedication for the club, and for bringing success to it. Talking to the man he seems as desperate and one might not agree with or appreciate way he is taking the club to try achieve that but not his commitment to, and his honesty about, wanting those achievements.

Moreover though talking to Lawn – the first contact that BfB has had with the club – there was a feeling of a man (or a group of men) isolated from a support with both sides entrenched into positions of opposition. There are plenty of brickbats thrown over the walls of Bradford City at Lawn and his fellow directors – we have thrown a few ourselves, and no doubt will again – but for all the things lobbed over the wall it seems that, if you try it, the door is open.

Anyone trying to enter with an idea, an inspiration, even a constructive criticism might be surprised at the welcome they get.

Mark Lawn and stopping thinking about promotion

Mark Lawn’s successes at Bradford City are limited.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The season ticket struggle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So there you have it.

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

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.

As Taylor fumes about the OMB will Lawn and Rhodes take action?

A month ago Peter Taylor set himself at loggerheads with the joint chairmen of Bradford City in a demand to be given full throated backing but today the City manager has taken on the people who really decide if he has a job.

Peter Taylor told the users of City’s Official Message Board who started rumours that James Hanson had been left out of the City team for the game with Bury because he has been out drinking that they should “got to go and get a life” and branded them with the damning phrase of “Not Bradford City fans.”

In taking on a section of the club’s official message board Taylor takes on the people who – with systematic campaigns – were able to unseat the previous two Bradford City managers. With the club seemingly using the Official Message Board as a barometer of the mood of supporters in a very real way Taylor is taking on the decision makers of Bradford City.

Taylor denies that Hanson was dropped for going out drinking. The City manager said

I picked Jason Price and Omar Daley for that game because that’s what we wanted against two centre halves who don’t like playing against that type of player. I don’t go on these websites but somebody drew my attention to this one. Because I’ve had to look at it, I’ve read certain other things. I’m not convinced these people are Bradford City fans. They will just drive players away. They can’t be proper fans to talk about things like that. It’s unbelievable, really.

Unbelievable to Taylor perhaps but often believed and certainly given some regard by the club by virtue of the name. That the club run an “Official” message board is no bad thing, that it is so loosely policed is astonishing. When Rochdale FC took legal action against this website their complaint covered only one comment on the article and four in the comments which BfB was liable for publishing (Two from Rochdale supporters, incidentally). The club sits in a similar position and the laissez faire attitude towards moderation allows for some remarkable statements that emanate.

Indeed the club’s own moderator Jon Pollard was attacked with some horrible allegations on the Official Message Board and at the time one had to wonder how the club could maintain a system so often used against it. Taylor has brought attention to this problem once more, but no one at the club could say they are not aware of it.

So if one assumes that the club are aware of the problems of the Official Message Board – and it should be said that for all the ills of the OMB it played a key part in the attempts to save the club in 2004 and is most often used for what one would want it to be, fans talking football with fans – then perhaps they do not believe it has much impact other than being an indication of what supporters think. That one can take the temperature of the support from the OMB, but that the individual aliments are of no importance.

Peter Taylor, the man at the club who knows the most about football, disagrees and with the club returfing the pitch and looking for new facilities to keep the manager one wonders what they will do to follow the manager’s recommendation as to another way to improve the club.

In the short term now the man they pay to tell them how to make the best football club is telling them that some people on the OMB are harming that club will they take action or choose to ignore the manager? Tell him he can make do with the situation on the club’s own website like he as to make do with Apperley Bridge. The club dragged in The City Gent to talk about a preview they found too negative, yet the pay for the Official Messageboard.

Moreover though Taylor is saying that the club that they need to work on redefining being a Bradford City fan. There was an agitated argument in the Kop in the Oxford game when James Constable waved an imagined yellow card to suggest Luke Oliver should be booked – an action which is mandated as a caution in the Laws of the game – with one side being chastised for bias for demanding the official take action. The current definition of bias at Bradford City – for some fans – is to want City treated even handledly under the rules of the game.

The culture of the Bradford City Official Messageboard – with its anonymity and one user/multiple name – is often similarly negative as it the mood on a match day. Not a question of rose tinted glasses or optimism but rather allowing the negative – no, the destructive, to be unopposed.

Having taken on Lawn demanding backing and not blinked Taylor will hope for a similar result. In seven months the manager’s contract will be up or renewal. One doubts he will receive much backing from the people he has criticised today, should he not be unseated before, leaving Lawn and Rhodes to decide how much credence to give to the Official Message Board and how much they should listen to Taylor’s recommendations on how to take Bradford City forward.

Stand by your man(ager)

With an international weekend that didn’t even feature England until Tuesday, it became one of the big media stories of the week.

Struggling, free-falling, inept Bradford City had gone from the Premier League to one place off the bottom of the Football League in 10 years – and Peter Taylor was football’s next managerial sacking. Compare the national media attention before City’s trip to Barnet with the low-key post-match coverage of the 2-0 success, and it was clear the press hadn’t got their story.   

But as the journalists switch attention back to Fabio Capello, the immediate future of Bradford City remains decidedly unclear. How true were those various media reports that the Board were going to sack Taylor if he couldn’t pull off victory at Underhill? And what happens if City lose to Cheltenham on Saturday? Or win that, but lose at Burton the Saturday after?

Such thoughts have clearly also been occupying the mind of Taylor, who via the Telegraph & Argus today has called for his joint Chairmen to publicly clarify his position. It is unclear what dialogue has been taking place behind the scenes prior to last Saturday – or what will be said inside the Valley Parade corridors following today’s news reports. But the ball is firmly in the Board’s court to speak or let their continuing silence appear deafening.

No subsequent comment, and the pressure will only build up as the 3pm kick off against Cheltenham approaches. It’s hard to believe Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes will publicly declare that Taylor must win on Saturday or he’ll be sacked – if that’s their intention – but they have now effectively been backed into a corner where it will be easy to assume that’s the case unless they come out and deny it. If this was a game of chess, Taylor would now be saying “Check” to the joint owners. 

So what if the press had made the whole thing up to grab attention during a quiet period? The strength of feeling against Taylor from a significant amount of City supporters means public denial of the rumours from Lawn and Rhodes will be heavily criticised by this group.

And let’s not forget that both Taylor’s predecessors, Colin Todd and Stuart McCall, were only occasionally the subject of public comment over their futures despite been under similarly heavy pressure for months. In January 2007, after 18 months of Todd been under pressure from fans, Rhodes finally told the media he might be sacked in the near future (and Rhodes’ dismissed him a month later). McCall was on the receiving end of public criticism from City Director Roger Owen a month before he eventually quit. Meanwhile Lawn had not only stopped speaking to McCall, he refused to speak about his manager’s future publicly.

But that doesn’t make it okay to sit in silence now. Taylor has every right to feel frustrated that he alone is left to carry the can for City’s poor start to the season. At the best of times, managing a football club is a stressful experience which carries a high degree of pressure. For all of the ill-feeling over poor results to rest upon only his shoulders is a huge burden, and he is entitled to believe his employers should be willing to support him through a tough period.

Public backing can ease some of that pressure, enabling Taylor to continue working with greater confidence. Surely this would help him to do a better job, and surely he deserves every ounce of help he can get to turn around this disappointing start.

Some fans have already argued he doesn’t deserve any support, but how would each of us feel in our own lives if you heard a rumour you might be sacked at work this week, and your boss refused to comment? Would that help us to keep our mind on the job? Would it encourage us to offer the same level of commitment we would if we felt settled and happy? Would our performance improve or get worse? Would the whispers of others bother us? It’s a vicious circle, and the current situation appears to have influenced some of Taylor’s decisions.

But above all else, sitting back and saying nothing while Taylor feels the heat is poor leadership and is absolving responsibility. Everyone employed by the football club – not to mention us supporters – should be doing everything they can to haul the club out of this slide. Whether doing everything they can for the Chairmen includes sacking Taylor is another question, but if they continue to employ him they should be supporting him and making sure he has the best available tools and resources to do the best job possible.

And if Taylor is ultimately to be told “Checkmate”, a huge degree of ownership falls onto Rhodes and Lawn’s shoulders too. It was the City Board who decided to appoint Taylor – after sifting through a number of applications and sitting through a series of interviews with the best candidates. It was the City Board who opted to offer Taylor a new contract last April, following a successful trial. It may be the City Board who determine Taylor should be sacked just 12 games into the season.

If Taylor is to blame for the current problems – and that, dear reader, is a matter for debate entirely – then surely they are to blame for appointing him in the first place. So if Rhodes and Lawn still believe they made the right decisions last February and April, the least they can do is call up Simon Parker right now and make it clear they are behind their choice of manager.

The clip show

Don’t you just hate it when a sitcom resorts to doing a clips episode? A tedious plot which somehow requires the main characters to spend half an hour looking back on the funniest moments of the past, so the majority of the episode is just about re-living past highlights. It suggests laziness – or a lack of ideas – on the writers’ part. And it should be redundant in these days of DVD boxsets.

Well we at BfB are not lazy – or at least not being any more lazy than we usually are – and we’d like to think we’ve still got plenty of ideas; but with recent events feeling something like Groundhog Day, a step into the archives is an interesting way of placing some perspective on our current woes.

So here goes

Let’s begin in April 2009 and an article written by former BCST man and much-valued BfB contributor Richard Wardell. With Stuart McCall on the brink of leaving as a promotion bid collapsed, Richard argued against those calling for Dave Penny to be installed as manager by offering a vision of the future.

It was a warm Tuesday evening in late September 2009 and as the City supporters trudged away from Valley Parade, there was much talk about whether the appointment of Dave Penney in the summer had been the right move by Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn following Stuart McCall’s exitNow that Penney and City had suffered their third consecutive home defeat, this time to league newcomers Burton Albion which left them in the bottom half of Division 4, many City supporters were questioning Penney’s appointment.

What’s so astonishing about these words is how close to the truth they are now, in September 2010. Replace Burton with Port Vale and Penny with Taylor, and the words pretty much describe the current reality. So far the decision to replace McCall has not worked out in the way some fans argued it would, and that has to register with people who are already beginning to tell the rest of us that Taylor’s removal is now the answer.

Taylor arrived last February to widespread acclaim. Everyone was pleased he was to become our manager this season, including a minority who are now slating Lawn and Rhodes for appointing him.

Let’s go to the Official Message Board – so often the platform for supporters’ views the club pays a lot of attention – to remind ourselves. A poll of who should be next manager saw Taylor come out on top with 53% of the votes, with the second highest votes coming for Martin Allen with 22%. 116  supporters voted, a decent representative of City fans. The day Taylor was confirmed to widespread joy, one fan commented, “I would love Taylor to bring [Tommy Doherty] into strengthen the midfield!”

The point of digging up such old comments and poll results is to highlight how everyone has a responsibility in the views they air. The changing of managers allows every one of us the chance to put ourselves in the position of the owners and decide who we’d like to see installed in the dugout. The fact the majority of fans clearly voted for Taylor in February – and voted he remained when a new contract was discussed last April – means we must take some responsibility for his appointment.

It’s therefore deeply wrong to so readily drop that support and pretend you never wanted him – and to blame Lawn and Rhodes for making a decision you had called for. And if supporters are going to ignore their old views or pretend they never aired them, how are there opinions now in anyway credible? Like Lawn and Rhodes, we need to be giving the manager support during this difficult time, because the majority of us appointed him believing he was the man for the job.

There’s also a big question mark about where calls for Taylor lead us. The club have only been prepared to back him for a short time, how long will the next guy get? Suddenly the club is not been run on the basis of a long-term plan, but on the form guide. It’s a highly unlikely-route to success that will only succeed in ensuring an increasingly regular vacancy is unattractive to sane managers.

Or as Michael excellently put last February:

For as long as BfB has been going I’ve been hoping that the correlation between often changing managers and a lack of success might be grasped by all at, and who watch from the stands at, Valley Parade. Alas it seems not to have been and the virtues of sticking with a manager – any manager – and allowing them to build a club and a dynasty rather than a single team are lost.

Taylor, with his training ground demands, perhaps represented one last chance to allow long-term thinking to work. An alternative strategy has yet to be aired – or perhaps even considered – by anyone.

An increasing criticism of Taylor in recent days has been his TV commitments. Over the last fortnight Taylor has appeared on the BBC, Sky and ESPN – usually offering punditry on the England national team. The complainers argue he does not have his mind on the City job and is failing to manage the players – he should after all have them in for 25 hours a day training. But if City were winning no one would bat an eyelid over his TV work.

So the question is does it make a difference? Let’s go back to Taylor’s track record for our next clip. To May 2005, when Hull were celebrating a second successive promotion. Or to May 2006, when Hull were celebrating staying up in the Championship. Taylor was the manager who oversaw this memorable chapter in the club’s history – but that wasn’t all he did. He was also England U21 manager.

That’s right, Taylor managed two football teams at the same time, and was hugely successful in the club one. Suddenly spending an evening in a Sky TV studio doesn’t quite seem so disgraceful, does it?

Let’s fast forward a little bit, back to McCall as manager. We all dreamed his appointment would lead to instant glory, but only three months into the job there was a crisis as City suffered eight winless matches and fell to fourth bottom of the Football League. Eventually results improved, and although the damage to City’s promotion bid was already done for that season at least, the turnaround in form was impressive. City finished 9th, thinking “if only” about that poor autumn run of form.

There are obvious similarities to the current poor run of form Taylor is trying to turn around. Let’s recall how bad it was in the autumn of 2007:

Ultimately, too many had an off night. What we were left was a displayed blighted by defensive howlers, woeful passing and players with heads down. Free kicks, corners and crosses were truly appalling. On a night full of frustration, the…final 20 minutes were perhaps the most telling. During these periods, the players had clearly given up, were shying away from touching the ball and were just waiting for the referee to blow his whistle. As supporters we can forgive players having an off night, they’re only human. But when we see players clearly not trying and giving up so feebly, it really hurts.

That was describing the infamous 3-0 defeat to Accrington, but it could equally have been an account of the recent 2-0 defeat to Southend. The point of looking back on this miserable time is that we know City were able to turn it around, just like they can this time. And unlike in 2007, if the turnaround can occur soon there will be much more of the season left to climb up the league. Back in 2007 the players looked hopeless and you couldn’t see us scoring a goal, but hard work and determination saw them eventually turn it around and show how good they were.

The current crop of players are capable of doing the same.

Finally let’s look back to the even more recent past – Taylor’s arrival. That too coincided with a shocking performance against Accrington, and as the club’s poor form under McCall continued it was difficult to see where the next win would come from. The fact City’s next match was away at leaders Rochdale meant we all certainly knew it wouldn’t be anytime soon. How wrong we were.

The players were brilliant that night – so too were the fans. Non-stop chanting that began well before kick off and only ended when we’d finished applauding Taylor and his players off the pitch. It was a reaction to the dismal form and the woeful atmosphere, which had been especially dreadful at Accrington. And it clearly made a difference to the players.

So I’d like to end by looking back on my own words ahead of traveling to that ‘inevitable’ defeat because I think they are as prevalent now as they were then.

Yet again City are drifting and, as familiarly depressing as this is, now should be the time to do something about it. Those of us going tonight should loudly back the team like we haven’t done all season. We should be chanting at 0-0, 1-0, 2-0, whatever. We should be leading the fight for our cause – even if we’re not sure what the cause is.

This is our football club, and we’re allowing it to fall into further decline by standing their muted at Accrington and booing the players. They didn’t deserve their bus ride home on Saturday, but if someone’s going to inject some passion into their boots and make them remember what an important cause playing for Bradford City is, well it’s got to be us.

So tonight we sing, tonight we support our team in defiance…Tonight we sing about how we’re City till we die, before the club itself really does.

See you at Stockport.

When there’s no end in sight…

Part unfortunate, part self-inflicted. Bradford City’s fourth consecutive defeat carried greater meaning and misery than a mere glance at the fledgling League Two table.

Commentating on The Pulse, Michael Flynn – oh how he is missed on the field – perceptively summed up the home crowd’s inevitable discontent at 2-0 down as more than just unrest over a fourth league defeat in five, but because it caused further prodding of the open scar that is ten years of dismal failure. A decade ago City were facing Manchester United and Arsenal in the space of a week; no one needs reminding of the subsequent bumpy fall, and there’s a lot of baggage that will only be released when overdue success eventually occurs.

But until then, that baggage weighs heavy on this current crop of players.

This was a much improved display by City, easily their best performance in the league to date. Yet the confident visitors ultimately deserved the three points after narrowly holding the edge in most areas of the pitch. Those who write off Port Vale as an average side arguably miss the point of what it takes to succeed at this level.

Sure they were ungainly and a succession of physical challenges perhaps deserved greater punishment – both Marc and Justin Richards deserved second yellow cards – but those who succeed in escaping this division upwards are invariably as good at battling as they are putting the ball in the net. Four years on from Stuart McCall noting City needed bigger players to better compete, the Bantams are still some way off possessing the resilience that grinds out regular victories.

Back in a traditional 4-4-2 formation, City made an excellent start and for once managed to set the tempo of the game; but the narrow way the midfield was lined up and lack of pace in the wide areas limited creativity. Peter Taylor does not seem to favour out and out wingers and, although left midfielder Luke O’Brien and right midfielder David Syers acquitted themselves well, no one seemed able or willing to run at people.

It was all a bit predictable.

The main battle was fought between the two Richards and Luke Oliver and Shane Duff. City’s centre backs stood up to the physical challenge for much of the game, but criminally the whole team switched off from a Port Vale corner on the half hour and Marc powerfully headed home to give Vale a crucial lead in a game where the first goal felt so vital.

City argued strongly that the corner shouldn’t have been awarded following a Vale handball in the box during the previous attack, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of marking. And the decision was evened out minutes later when O’Brien appeared to haul down Gary Roberts inside the area, only for a free kick on the edge of the box to be awarded. Referee David Coote and his assistants gave bizarre decisions against both sides all afternoon. This was his Football League debut and one questions whether appointing him to officiate in front of such a large crowd at this stage of his career was a sensible one.

Although Vale’s goal rocked City for a five-minute period, they regained composure and were unfortunate not to equalise before the break. Jake Speight, making his full debut, continued to impress and one jinxing run from the corner flag to penalty area saw home defender Gareth Owen hit his own bar. Seconds later Speight missed an open goal when he unnecessarily handled trying to control the ball – he just needed to poke it home. Any half time boos were drowned out by supportive applause from other fans for the effort.

But while the atmosphere was much improved following Southend, limited patience meant in the second half the crowd again turned on the team when it needed to stay positive. Listen to opposition managers talk before they bring their team to Valley Parade and without fail they mention City’s crowd. All appear to use it as part of their tactics – how can we get them to turn on their own players? We supporters are being used against our own, and it’s time we wised up to it. As attacks broke down, the groans got louder and when Taylor made a double substitution he was booed for taking O’Brien off.

It can’t be a coincidence that, having got the visitors on the back foot and unable to get out of their own half for a spell, the sloppiness and uncertainty to City’s play returned when frustration from the stands was allowed to fill the air. Though there was no excuse for the craziness of the second goal which killed the game and could have a major effect on City’s season.

It was a comedy of errors. All afternoon Jon McLaughlin and his centre backs had attempted to play the ball out from the back, but the high pressing of the Richards’ usually saw it abandoned. This time the keeper rolled it out and a risky ball was worked up to Doherty, who was quickly closed down. The cultured midfielder attempted a woeful chipped backpass that McLaughlin failed to control under pressure, presenting Justin with a tap in.

The boos understandably rang out, but as the game kicked off and Doherty’s every touch was also greeted with boos a line had been crossed. I’ve no time for people who think it was right to boo City’s number 8, no matter how heat of the moment it was. It was disgusting, it was moronic and frankly it’s time such people found something else to do on a Saturday afternoon.

We cannot allow a culture where mistakes are booed, because every player will simply retreat into their shell and only play safe passes – and City will not prosper.

As I walked back to the car at the end I had a lively debate with a guy I know from the pub who reckoned Taylor should be sacked and Doherty is a waste of space. The Doherty-bashing is growing and I don’t understand it. Our problem is not that we have a player like Doherty in the side – but that we don’t have enough players as good as him.

Some of his passing during the game was stunning, he picked out balls that no one was capable of spotting or producing so accurately. He misplaced some passes and his mistake for the goal – which McLaughlin was hardly blamelessly for -was bad, but City need to build the team around him rather than get rid.

And that’s where the main problem left over from the Southend defeat remained. If 4-4-2 is to be used, a ball winner has to be deployed in the middle of the park so Doherty can do what he does best. But his partner Tom Adeyemi is, at this moment, badly struggling to adapt to this level. He looked poor in possession and incapable of winning the ball back. Dropping Lee Bullock was highly questionable and, until Flynn is fit, he or the impressive Syers should be starting alongside Doherty as they can do the defensive work that then frees Doherty to hurt the opposition with his obvious ability.

City battled to the end, but over the course of the 90 minutes the amount of decent chances on goal was worryingly low. Omar Daley, away on international duty, was badly missed and Taylor must contemplate signing a winger this week to replace Neilson. Gareth Evans struggled to make an impact and James Hanson – officially, at least, injured. Though there’s a whisper his off-the-field behaviour has angered Taylor – was missed. If 4-4-2 is continued, a Hanson-Speight partnership looks the best option.

And as the final whistle blew and an impressive Vale following loudly celebrating a win that keeps them fourth – but only seven points above City – it was the greater team ethic that had won the game, and which City must replicate.  The uncompromising Jon McCombe and Owen at the back, the close tie up of full backs and wingers and the clever inter-change between the two Richards up front – Port Vale were a team of intuitive relationships, which City are not yet close to matching.

Right now the players look too unsure of what each other will do, and only when they begin to feel and look like a team will fortunes improve. It will take time.

But in the midst of louder calls for Taylor to go and criticism towards Chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn – the latter the subject of worrying rumours that he’s fallen out with Taylor, which he would be wise to publicly address this week – it has to be remembered this was an improvement. Good enough? No. But something to build on and take into next week’s game at Stockport.

The doom and gloom descends again, the pain of the last 10 years remains at the forefront of the mind. But the calmest people at Bradford City right now need to be Taylor, Rhodes and Lawn. As for us supporters, an atmosphere akin to Rochdale away last season has to be produced at Edgeley Park. It’s not just on the field where City need to become more of a team.

Football viewed from afar

The thing about seeing City twice a year is that you spend the rest of the time trying to guess what the team are like.

You read match reports and watch highlights and your head makes up the rest of the game. You try to guess why the team does well or badly. You add the bits you read to the bits you see and you try see what makes the team good or bad from a long way away.

You get to see the odd game. Torquay is not that far from where we live and so you turn up all happy because you are getting to see the team you used to support week in week out but now you only see a couple of times and when you do you make sure you know all the names of the players and what people think of them, how they look on the Football League Show but seeing them play is different.

Wearing all white they look different to the claret team that kept me up watching Sky Sports News to see the winner against Forest or the one who had struggled to a win last week. I was expecting that kind of dour grinding out of a result. It didn’t take long to change.

I would have thought before today that John McLaughlin was a much more confident keeper than he looked when he stood stock still when tiny Gills winger Danny Stevens ran from the middle of the pitch and put the ball past him but he isn’t. He looked raw and not really the player who had demanded a chance for first team football like you’d believe from reading the talk about City.

Lots of supporting City from down here is about reading. You read the club’s website and you read the Telegraph and Argus. You read Fred Bloggs Bantams, BfB and Bantams Fan. You read Claret and Banter and The Official Message Board and you join in but you know you are cut off from it all because when you watch Zesh Rehman who you are led to believe is the worst sort of rubbish you think you must be watching a different player and when you see the so called bearded wonder Tommy Doherty you can’t see what people see in him at all.

I wanted to see Jake Speight today to see if you could see the horns and tail and I wanted to see more of Luke O’Brien because I liked his hustle last year. Louis Moult was supposed to be the great white hope. He hardly got noticed.

Rehman came on cause Robbie Threlfall was sent off after ten minutes for a handball that was caused by a lot of confusion and seemed a bit harsh but when you only see City a couple of times a year and they have already gone a goal down and conceded a penalty and had a red card then you think that everything is unfair. McLaughlin saved the penalty and then made a couple of other great stops. It is funny to see a footballer like McLaughlin who’s confidence lags behind his ability. Normally it is the other way around.

McLaughlin could have been at fault for the second goal when Chris Zebroski seemed to back the ball into the net but it was hard to tell in the melee. It seemed that the City keeper needed a drink of what they people who watch City drink. They assume that the Bantams are great and just need to play that way, McLaughlin can play great but doesn’t seem to know it.

City never looked like winning the game after the sending off although last year’s hero Gareth Evans looked good and James Hanson was good having two headers which could have been the first the home team conceded in the last fifty years or something. Three wins out of three for them so far. Taylor went to a wing backs formation taking off the disappointing beardeo and the fact that we were in the game as long as we were was something but I was glad for once to not have to be driving all the back to Bradford cause there was not very much to cheer you up.

Its funny but some of the City fans don’t want cheering up or the only way they do want cheering up is by Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes taking what they call drastic action. Over a drink before there was talk about Steve Cotterill and how he should have been appointed rather than Peter Taylor and how much of a difference that would have made. After there were more grumbles but no one really knows what drastic action is including me.

At the game some people got aggressive and there were boos and jeers. This always upsets me cause when I left Bradford I thought that the thing about only going to away games from then on would be that you only got the great support that we had at Tranmere 5-4. Not like that now.

The joint chairmen are in a funny position now. They gave the fans who wanted a change of manager a change of manager when Taylor was appointed so how can they justify not doing it again? Lawn and Rhodes gave the decision making at City over the the people who moaned the most and if those people are moaning again why not do as they say? Apart from the fact that we are three games into the season and have got what almost everyone agrees good manager. You have to wonder how long it is before stories about how nice the suits City wear are not enough to stop the fans from looking at the City board after changing manager time and time again but never changing fortunes.

So I’ll go back to reading (and writing) and wonder what state the Bantams will be in the next time I see them. We used to say it couldn’t be much worse but it always can and even when down and struggling today it never seemed that Taylor could do much other than make sure his players kept their heads and hung in the game. Last year Evans got us a bit of luck in the last minute and today we were in with a chance of that for a long time. It wasn’t to be and it looked unlikely for most of the match.

On Tuesday perhaps Speight will be in the team to play Preston North End and I’ll be back to following City from afar. Funny it is easier to see what is going wrong from miles away or at least it seems to be.

To illustrate Bradford City

On The 2010/2011 Season

Bradford City League Performance to August 2010

Peter Taylor is charged with taking Bradford City to promotion which has happened but eight times in the ninety-seven seasons Bradford City have played in. Relegation has happened in ten seasons three of which were within the last decade.

The number of blank squares above shows the scarcity of promotion in the clubs history. The club have never had consecutive promotions – an aim of Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes three seasons ago – nor have City ever been promoted the season after being relegated. Only once has the club been promoted within four seasons of being relegated which is the task presented to manager Taylor.

None to which is to say that City are wrong to have the aims they do but it does illustrates – perhaps – the folly of planning on the basis of achieving what is infrequent in the club’s history.

Bradford City Transfer Fees to August 2010

There is much talk about resources at Bradford City and many ways to measure the club’s resources. The above shows the record transfer fees the club has paid – largely around a decade ago – and contrasts them with the four members of the squad transfer fees can be found for. This is presented to illustrate the scare of the diminished scale of the club’s resources.

Bradford City Appearances to August 2010

The above shows the more senior players in the current Bradford City squad in the context of the most appearances any player has made for the club. It is presented to illustrate two points. Firstly current squad’s newness which shows a transience which is common in football and at Bradford City. Secondly it illustrates the short term nature of the players at the club. Gareth Evans signed for the club last season and is the fifth most appeared player.

Bradford City Top Scorers to August 2010

As with the number of appearances the goals scored by the current Bantams players when compared with the club’s historic goalscorers. It illustrates both the distances the current players have to match those who have gone before and the excellent starts that both Evans and Hanson have made in that although noting that it will take another four or five seasons at the current rate for either to add themselves to the list.

The Bradford City Squad International Affiliation in August 2010

A final table to show the international representation in the Bradford City squad which illustrates very little aside, but looks nice.

The ownership model which deserves some success

Fresh from reading another article about the Glazers, at the weekend I asked a Manchester United-supporting about his views on the American owners who are seemingly taking money out of the club for their personal gain having not contributed a cent of their own money in the first place. His response stunned me – “Who cares? The only thing which matters is that we’re winning trophies.”

My friend’s attitude is far from representative of most United fans. The Glazers have saddled the previously-richest club in the world with eye-watering levels of debt which is beginning to hinder their ability to compete at the top. But worse is their loyal supporters have endured a 50% rise in season ticket prices and the highly controversial (now scrapped) automatic cup ticket scheme, while the Glazer family has legally being able to take part of the profits for personal needs and shows no intention of using their own money to pay back its borrowings to buy the club. It’s not hard to see why the fan protests of last season were so sizeable in number and anger.

But nevertheless does my friend have a point? The Glazers’ arrival prompted thousands to defect from the club and set up their own, FC United, but many thousands more stayed and paid those ticket hikes. Only when United began to struggle by their own high standards did the protests start up, will they continue next season if the likelihood of trophies becomes stronger?

While the rest of football watches closely and wonders how on earth the Glazers can get away with their actions, unless the previously unseen sight of empty seats at Old Trafford for some Premier League games last season continues to grow momentum, the continuing huge levels of revenue generated will protect the Glazers from re-evaluating their business plan. And it’s difficult to expect loyal fans to register their displeasure by depriving themselves of going to watch their own football team, no matter how much it must grate to know the harm it is seemingly doing.

The Glazers must surely be the worst football club owners in England, but they are not unique in putting self interest above the welfare of the club they are custodians of. The Premier League has thrown the door open to outside investors and the returns they can enjoy are clearly highly rewarding. Most supporters will accept this as long as they “put their hand in their pockets” and spend millions buying better players. The odd billionaire with a mountain of cash to offload aside, it’s doubtful how often some owners really do spend their own money to buy these players without eventually making a bigger return. It is at odds with the hopes of supporters, but if the club is performing well it can be largely forgiven.

The ownership model at Valley Parade is very different, for better or worse. Towards the end of last season, and not for the first time, there were rumours of foreign businessmen investing in Bradford City. Predictably nothing materialised, but the thought of a significant cash influx for new players naturally excited many fans who heard the speculation.

If an investor ever does materialise beyond the imagination of a message board rumour-starter and into the Valley Parade reception, questions must surely be first asked about their intentions by both current owners and supporters. Clearly any would-be investor with no previous connections to the club is going to be striving to become richer. This would be largely acceptable if the investment is able to elevate City beyond a level they currently struggle to reach and can be sustained in the long run, but equally it has to be understood that the risk prospective owners take investing their money, with no guarantee of success, deserves that reward in the long run.

At the fans forum a year ago, Mark Lawn was asked why the Munto Finance organisation had invested in Notts County and not Bradford City, with a tinge of jealousy floating around the room. It didn’t take long into the season for all of us to agree it is a good thing they had designs on someone else. Notts County might have gained promotion last season, but the financial mess left behind threatens to catch up with them sooner or later.

Was the Notts County Supporters Trust right to sell the club to Munto last August, given the successful promotion it couldn’t have financed themselves? Was it better for County to continue struggling on in the bottom half of League Two, or to enjoy some success at the potential price of their very existence? We’ll watch closely this season to see, but I know which choice I’d have voted for.

Despite a huge fanbase and relatively small debts in comparison to the traumas of the two administrations, Bradford City is clearly not an attractive proposition for would-be investors. Whether this is due to the high running costs of Valley Parade – has anyone viewed the books? – or the reputation the club and City possess is unclear. But while Liverpool fans curse their previous owner David Moores for selling the club to Americans with no heart and little money, we could easily have ended up in a situation where we regretted Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn selling up.

Though it is worth considering whether City are really in need of investment. Sure, the idea of suddenly having sizable transfer funds to buy the best available players has an appeal, but to succeed the Bantams would still need to ensure all the other factors which they can control without extra investment are still in place – namely solid management, suitable facilities and a collaborative spirit.

The reality is that City have two owners who care deeply about the club and for whom making a profit is on the agenda. No one can deny owning Bradford City has reduced the Rhodes’ family’s wealth, and while Lawn has loaned money to the club which he will eventually receive back, allegedly with interest, he is undoubtedly as passionate about the club as any of us.

Naturally neither are far from perfect. Lawn’s public statements in recent months have often seemed naively blunt, alienating many fans in the process. Rhodes’ more considered views are more enjoyable to hear and read, but his obvious reluctance to take a public profile means leadership is not as visible as we’d all like to see. Although I’ve seen many photos of Rhodes over the years, shamefully I’m not confident I’d recognise him walking around Valley Parade. The number of times I’ve seen Lawn in and around the stadium on match days in comparison suggests I’ve probably walked past Rhodes without realising. He probably likes it that way.

The recent visit of David Baldwin to the Telegraph and Argus’ message board also emphasises another regular failing, namely that the club is too concerned and pays too much attention to those supporters who shout the loudest, regardless of whether they are representative of most supporters views. Whatever the views of Stuart McCall’s departure, the less-than-sensitive way the club handled the situation last February was more in keeping with pleasing those who’d strongly urged the club to get rid, than those who were genuinely upset at the way it ended for a club legend.

It appears too often that the City Board is more reactive than proactive, and that a clear vision of the way the club should be progressing is lacking – with decisions too quickly abandoned and changed. Much of the recent strategy has come from the outside views of Peter Taylor, rather than the bright thinking of the boardroom. There is little Geoffrey Richmond-style innovation or feeling the chairmen are one step ahead of supporters in their thinking, though equally of course there is also no fear of hidden motives and risky gambles which could dramatically backfire.

But I’d love for them both to finally get the rewards their efforts deserve in the shape of a promotion this season. Like my ignorant Manchester United supporter alluded to, it’s success on the field which ultimately matters. Whatever the past mistakes, they both work hard to bring success and without Rhodes, and perhaps even Lawn, there would not be a Bradford City kicking off another pre-season this Friday.

They own the club because they care, not because they want to make money out of our passion. They are striving to make it a self-sustainable business and, while this may have limitations at times, it’s an ownership model that deserves to succeed.

Certainly more so than the get-even-richer-quicker approach of other football club owners like the Glazers. It is truly sad that modern football has become so geared up to making money and that success and failure is not always connected to exploits on the field.

Hopefully this is the year an under-achieving West Yorkshire club can buck the trend – and Julian and Mark can take a deserved spot on the open top bus.

Lawn, the business men and knowing which Devil you know

People want to buy Bradford City – Mark Lawn insists – but none of them have the money.

The City joint chairman reacted with a measured head to rumours around the future ownership of the club as the close season dragged on and rumours seemed to emerge for want to anything else to talk about between City fans. This rumour had it that Lawn and Rhodes were at negotiation stage with some business men about selling Bradford City and seems to be a half truth, if a truth at all. Three months ago the rumour was that City were going to be bought by SL Benfica as a feeder club, the portugese obviously having an eye on Andrew Villerman and Leon Osbourne.

Lawn is clear about his and Rhodes position at the club they both support and now own. They would leave without making a profit if someone came along and made them an offer but while there is plenty of talk no one ever comes to the club with enough money to buy The Bantams.

There has always been someone looking at Bradford City since I came here three years ago but none of them have come up with the money. I’ve always said, if it’s in the interests of both Julian (Rhodes) and myself to go, we will go without making a penny profit.

Lawn’s position at Valley Parade is an uneasy one with three years of stewardship resulted in plenty of talk but thus far no success. The club is in a rude state of health owing just a £1m but having an outstanding problem with the huge rent paid to The Gibb Pension fund on Valley Parade. The main issue with taking over the club and moving City forward seems to be – for many – the ownership of Valley Parade and the costs involved or the costs of relocation.

The club is in a strange position of being in good health but having relatively few assets having already been split form its major one. On a balance sheet Bradford City are the money that can brought in from good will of the support less the costs of running the business including the rent to Gibb.

This alone is probably is enough to attract “business men” and it is credit to Lawn and Rhodes that they are seemingly immune to the talk by potential suitors of how they could improve the club. David Moores spoke recently of his regret at selling Liverpool to squabbling American pair George Gillett Jnr and Tom Hicks who have loaded the club with the debt of purchase and seem set to spend the summer selling the family silver.

That Lawn would go back to “a pie and a pint” should someone come in who had the funds to take City further than he could illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of the man. He is a firm hand on the tiller at Valley Parade but his imagination is limited. A lieutenant, not a leader, but a good lieutenant at that.

I have my issues with Lawn but bertainly he is a better option than is conjured by the words “business men” which is so often football’s catch all phrase for all that is wrong in the game. “Business men” – in football speak – are the opposition of “Proper Fans” and their arrival is hardly ever a good thing for the communities around clubs. It is a simplistic view that says that all to do with business is to the detriment of supporters but Lawn’s prudence in assuming that is good for Bradford City. “Business men” are too often the devilment of football.

If at one end of football Liverpool have problems with Americans than at the other Chester City had problems with Liverpudlians – specifically Stephen Vaughan – who violated the club out of existence. Vaughan is the warning for anyone who owns the club they support about selling to the next guy through the door and one can only hope that should the time come when Lawn and Rhodes do sell then we can only hope that it is not to a character this unsavoury. John Bachelor – who died recently to very few regrets in York where he was once chairman of the Minster Men – said of his attempts to buy another football club following his attempts to take Bootham Crescent from York City and into private (his own) hands to sell off the land for housing “This is what I do, I fuck businesses out of money.”

A Bachelor would find nothing to interest him at Valley Parade but a Vaughan – who managed to run up £650,000 in one year in cleaning costs for The Deva Stadium which were paid to (you guessed it) Vaughan Cleaning Ltd or some such – would find much to enjoy at Bradford City.

If Lawn is a Devil – hard talk on someone who while rubber stamping spending £600,000 in a year has managed to take a club that haemorrhaged money at an unprecedented level to a breakeven point – then he is at least the Devil we know with even the overnight administration he held like the Sword of Damocles over the club’s head following the car attack incident at Accrington being preferable to the slow death of Chester City.

The rumours continue about buying and selling Bradford City and typical of Lawn he reacts to them directly rather than inviting all to look around at massive cuts announced yesterday suggest that there is little money around and to draw their own conclusions.

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?

Taylor already signed for next season as City face Burton Albion

A curious week for Peter Taylor draws to a close as his City team face Burton Albion in League Two as the the League Two season draws to an end more closely resembling pre-season for next term under Taylor than the end of the disappointing 2009/2010 campaign.

It is the understanding of BfB – supported by the hints dropped in the T&A on Monday – that Peter Taylor has put ink on paper on an agreement to be Bradford City manager. Why this information should not be presented as so if it is so is probably down to management of the season ticket appeal the Bantams are running – 5,000 needed to keep a manager falls flat if the manager is already staying but perhaps not as flat as the week went for the Bantams.

The pair of one goal defeats for a beleaguered and injury hit Bantams side has burst the bubble of optimism although the expectation remains that Taylor’s Bantams will perform far better next season than they do at the moment remains. Taylor was never going to have a honeymoon period coming after a manager who remained popular until the end but the former Wycombe Wanderers gaffer managed to eke out a few good results before this current form.

Taylor is – it has been said – still the outstanding candidate for the job and the fact that Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes have – we hear – signed him for next season regardless of result is a credit to them.

Reading Mike Harrison’s interview with the man which is to appear in a forthcoming City Gent and is well worth a read he seems to be bedding in for the future with an interesting and different approach to the club than McCall had. He comes over as a man with a clear idea of the path to success and a healthy desire to follow that path.

The path takes him to Paul Peschisolido’s Burton Albion. Peschisolido took over from Nigel Clough – although former Bantams boss Roy McFarland has a three month spell following Clough’s exit for Derby – who was at the East Midlands club for some eleven years each one save one offered incremental progression. Such returns are well regarded in the game but would probably not be considered good enough by the oft militant Bradford City supporters.

The Bantams go to Burton Albion following a 1-1 draw at Valley Parade which was the first time since an early 1990s FA Cup game in which Gary Robson’s arse chalked up a goal doing more in one game that his brother did by sitting on his gluteus maximus. Taylor will certainly hope to have more of an impact that Bryan Robson.

The manager goes into the game with the same half team which struggled over Easter. Matt Glennon keeps goal while Luke Oliver’s continued deployment as a target man looks like it may continue leaving the defence shod of the six foot seven man who looks to join City in the summer.

Jonathan Bateson will feature at right back with Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams at the heart of the defence and Robbie Threlfall at left back. Youth payers Andrew Villerman, Phil Cutler and Louis Horne are all expected to be in the squad with Villerman thought to be interesting Taylor who is keen to assess what he can expect from the young players at the club.

Taylor has passed on his wisdom to Leon Osbourne but is not expected to hand him a starting role with Luke O’Brien on the left wing and Gareth Evans on the right. Adam Bolder – who I think is a good player although he seemed to be curiously booed during last week’s game – and Lee Bullock take central midfield.

With James Hanson injured, Evans in midfield, Boulding sunning himself in the Bahamas and Peter Thorne rock climbing in Mexico – perhaps – Ryan Kendal looks to start making a mark and Luke Oliver is expected to lead the line.

Being robbed of Hanson is a blow for Taylor and the City manager can rely on his worldy target man getting one in three for the Bantams next season. Kendal certainly has not shown anything to suggest that he is the man to get the one in two which Sir Bobby Robson would say a club needs to get promoted and much of the manager’s success will come down to his ability to find that goalscorer.

With – we are told – a manager inked in for next year one can see a City team emerge for next year. Taylor seems to like Williams and Oliver at the back. Hanson is in it up front and Omar Daley is the flair player wide in a working midfield that contains a couple of hard workers like Bullock and Flynn (or perhaps Bolder) and a tighter flank player.

These are – one hopes – the blocks of a promotion side. Certainly the first block of that is the signature of Taylor and if what is said is true – we have that.

Taylor, Rhodes and Lawn discuss a new deal and a lasting legacy

The end to another English football season is approaching, and it promises to be a very exciting period.

Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal are battling fiercely for the Premier League title, the race for the final Champions League is as un-tedious as it’s ever been, the battle to stay in the top flight is thrilling. In the Football League, the fights for automatic promotion, the play offs and to avoid relegation are still largely wide open. With the conclusions of the Champions League and FA Cup and the lottery of the play offs to look forward to, many fantastic stories are waiting to be written ahead of a World Cup summer.

The English football season is set for an exciting conclusion, but few people beyond Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore are still oblivious to its long term problems. Debts continue to rise throughout the leagues, many supporters are waking up and protesting at the way their club is being run.

Manchester United may celebrate a fourth successive league title in a few weeks, but the heavy debts are going to remain a burden long after the problem of replacing Sir Alex Ferguson becomes a headache. As well as a season of great entertainment in the Premier League, it was also the first time a current member, Portsmouth, has fallen into administration. Points deductions are now par for the cause in any Football League campaign and it’s a question of who – rather than if anyone – will follow Southend and Crystal Palace’s woes next season.

The UK recession has so far largely unaffected the football industry, but the signs suggest it could be the next victim. In a period where the top clubs have been able to generate billions of pounds, it seems criminal there is so little to show for it with almost all of it been thrown on players’ wages. Despite so many clubs badly hurt by over-ambition, others continue to believe it’s clever to live the dream.

Away from the excitement elsewhere, Bradford City’s season is understatedly coming to a forgettable conclusion and the focus is already shifting to the next one. Manager Peter Taylor’s contract talks appear to be progressing positively, and it now seems a formality that he will become the permanent Bantams manager. Yet the sticking points to solve are apparently not weekly wages or the size of the transfer budget, but the facilities to prepare.

Joint Chairmen Mark Lawn has revealed the club is in talks about renting new training facilities in order to meet the demands of Taylor, an unusual and unexpected occurrence from a man who it might have been considered wouldn’t be too concerned with the long-term interests of the club. Yet Taylor is prioritising a problem so many others have either not been allowed to address, or not been bothered about.

As I understand the training situation, and please correct me if wrong, City’s players are currently required to drive to Valley Parade for training, where they use the changing rooms to get ready before having to drive to and from Appleby Bridge in their training gear. It seems a somewhat amateurish way for a professional football club to operate, yet this arrangement dates back before even the Premier League years.

Some players from that time, notably Stan Collymore and Lee Sharpe, have used their autobiographies to bemoan these facilities when they were at the club, and it seems incredible City were spending big money bringing such exotic names as Benito Carbone and Dan Petrescu, and expecting them to train in this way. Sharpe claimed the squad of the time labelled our beloved club “the Dog and Duck” for being so poorly-run.

And the subsequent managers have made do too. Perhaps Stuart McCall, a player who got used to these facilities, considered it unimportant towards building the club when he took over, and was too inexperienced to question such matters. Colin Todd took over in 2004 with the club in dire straits, so stood no chance of arguing for better facilities. It’s unknown if the likes of Bryan Robson, Nicky Law and Jim Jefferies found it frustrating, or even cared.

But Taylor does, and so would appear to be happy with resources diverted away from signing players in order to develop a better workplace. With his trial having gone well and with City in a position where they need him more than he needs the club, Taylor is perhaps in the strongest of bargaining positions of any manager in modern times. He can make such demands, and the club is willing to meet them. It’s a long way from the situation McCall found himself in a year ago, where a promotion failure led to his coaching staff having to take a 20% pay cut and the playing budget slashed by a third.

Taylor is in a position to do more in his time as manager than just battle for a promotion; his methodical approach has the potential to leave a lasting legacy off the field, which his successors can also benefit from. It also has the potential to attract later criticism – a couple of early season home defeats next year, and expect message board users to be ridiculing the wasting of money on training facilities that are “making no difference”, which could have been used to sign a couple more players. Few of us will ever see the new training ground, only the fruits of hours of labour during the week on a Saturday afternoon.

Compare Taylor’s potential promotion challenge with McCall’s attempt last season – and if Taylor’s McLaren doesn’t work out he probably won’t have the spare money to sign a Dean Furman and Nicky Law on loan instead. It’s a long term approach, not putting all the eggs into a playing budget basket; long-term is usually only tolerated by City fans if the progress is visible on the field.

Put it another way – Taylor has not made next season promotion or bust, but expectations elsewhere may not quite fall the same way. 

And as Lawn excitedly talks about the new training facilities, he has also revealed he and the Rhodes family will be investing more money into the club for next season. It’s been a difficult period for Lawn, with a huge amount of criticism aimed at him in the light of how McCall’s exit was managed, but he has shown broad shoulders to largely accept it without going to war. City remain fortunate to have Lawn and the Rhodeses willing to fund the club, but the question of the terms of this additional investment is worth pondering.

Most investors expect a return, particularly in football. Is this new investment adding to the loans which the two parties have already provided to the club, or is it money that they don’t expect to recuperate? They certainly have every right to get it back, but if so when? Would it be due back in a year or two? Or is it just added to the tab to be returned at a later point?

For the reality of these loans is they are debts City will one day repay, and though it’s not on the same scale as almost every Premier League club at the moment, another round of strong criticism towards either Rhodes or Lawn could push patience to the limit and cause those debts to be more hurriedly demanded back. City have plenty of other bills to pay, which appears to discourage potential other investors. So the Bantams need Lawn and Rhodes, but they also need to be self-sufficient in their development.

The 2008-09 promotion bid was a gamble that failed, and City had to cut their cloth accordingly this season which has led to steps been taken backwards on the pitch and the challenge of getting out of this division seemingly more difficult than ever. Increased investment next season can also be considered a gamble, and it’s to be hoped lessons are learned so it doesn’t cause subsequent difficulties if it fails.

Away from the excitement of an English football season coming to a conclusion, City are quietly drawing up plans towards being involved in a nerve-wracking end to the next one. Taylor is charged with getting it right on the field, the Chairmen are providing him the tools off it. It all looks sensible, so long as it’s not based on the kind of madness that has taken hold elsewhere.

Peter Taylor mulls over City’s contract offer and the first act of football management

The first act of a football manager in the early days of the game was not to pick a team or make a transfer. It was to be sacked.

Not only was the first act of what we would recognise to be the emerging figure of “football manager” to be sacked it was to be sacked to carrying the can for the failures of a group of directors who acted as the Selection Committee and picked the team.

Before The Major and Herbert Chapman started to define the manager’s role as we know it now the job was split between Club Secretaries, Trainers and these men in the boardroom who made up the selection committees. Selection committees picked the teams and made the transfers leaving players to decide the rudimentary tactics – such as they were – and eventually as the Football League grew and supporters vented anger they vented that anger in the direction of the men who made the decisions.

And so a decision was made and that decision was – in most cases – that either the club secretary or (more often) the trainer should be held responsible, and so he was fired. So was born the football manager not out of a need for new ideas or new direction but rather in order to distract, to shift attention. The sleight of hand of the boardroom and perhaps if on binning that first trainer – the hapless soul who took his squad on jogs and ensured they were banned from having a ball until the weekend to make them “more hungry” for it – had not caused eyes to move away from the problems that those club failed to conquer then perhaps the culture of the game would have been different.

Alas it did not and in the hundred odd years since the manager has assumed more control of footballing matters at a club and emerged as the figure we recognise today but still he is haunted by that first sacking. Hunched on the touchline, shouting until he is horse, the manager knows that the heart of his job is not the teams he picks or the transfers he makes but rather it is the responsibility he carries.

So Peter Taylor sits at his desk – well – at Stuart McCall or Colin Todd or Paul Jewell’s desk probably and in front of him he has a contract to become the manager of Bradford City on a full-time basis which Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes are offering.

Taylor is in contract talks with the two employers over a deal which is rumoured to take him to the summer of 2012. Another two year deal and one which would take the manager to his 59th year. Considering that Taylor is without a doubt the best candidate the club could attract then why that deal would not be longer one can only speculate on. No mistake should be made about Taylor’s suitability for the role. He is achieved success repeatedly using pattens which he is able to replicate. The attractiveness of his football – and it is not the most pretty – counts for him in the end as much as it has counted for his predecessors which is to say not one bit. By virtue of what directly proceeded him Taylor is on a remit not to be liked and try play football but to get promoted.

He might look over that desk he sits at and notice the odd indentation – a fist slammed down in anger – or a nick out of the wood which could be the result of a telephone slammed down. He might look over that desk and wonder.

Mark Lawn talked about opening contract negotiations with Taylor saying

Talks have started about player budgets, not about his wages. He’s coming back to us with what he thinks would be a realistic figure to help us get promotion.

Rumour has it that Taylor has a list of wants and needs before he takes control of the club for keeps. Some say he wants the pitch to be re-laid while others that he wants better training facilities. Some talk about how much Taylor would want to spend on players and others that the manager is concerned over the long term future of the club that is hobbled by the rent it has to pay on the ground and has a chairman who threatened it with being put into administration.

Certainly Taylor might note other comments Lawn makes about the nature of his teams – the old Selection Committee thinking; That directors know enough about football to talk to the “trainer” about it – and his contacts which he hears are “immense” and “willing to help.”

Perhaps Taylor has a longer list of friends who will play for him for free as Gavin Grant does but when it comes to signing a long term deal maybe the manager does not want to rely on his friend’s help. Contacts are valuable in all walks of life but they should not be used to make up for a failure to provide adequate resources to build a team to match the aims the boardroom lay out.

When Stuart McCall left the questions start and perhaps those are the questions which Taylor asks now as he considers putting ink on paper. What is Mark Lawn’s plan for improving the club, if he he has one?

What is the plan for giving more resources to Taylor? For stopping the haemorrhaging of money on renting Valley Parade? For improving the training facilities so they represent more than a school playing field? For building on the work done which has seen the number of young players coming out of the ranks and into the first team squad?

Taylor will be asking all these questions and perhaps he will be hearing the answers he likes or perhaps he will hear a call from the midst of time and the collective psyche of the football manager born from those first days of being called to book for the failures of others. The raison d’être of the role being to distract the supporters.

The role of football manager is on a timeline of attempts to gather a level of responsibility that matches accountability they hold.

I hope that Peter Taylor will sign the contract not only because he is by far the best candidate the club could attract to the role at the moment but also because should he do so one might assume that Taylor has received answers to the questions he asks and that he might be able to hold his employers to those promises.

14 games to make a judgement on Peter Taylor

It was always a long shot, but Tuesday night’s 1-0 defeat to Aldershot has probably closed the door on any distant hopes of Bradford City making a late play off charge this season.

The league table finds City lying in 16th position on 40 points – 14 points off seventh-placed Notts County, having played two more games. More comparably, City are 15 points off sixth-placed Shrewsbury with two games in hand. Still catch-able, but the kind of form required to overtake the Shrews looks well beyond this City team.

With 14 games to go, the remainder of the season has a somewhat hollow appeal. But with the managerial situation needing resolving before the planning for next season can truly begin and with so many players out of contract in May, there is still plenty to be play for. Defining what that is – and the subsequent expectations – is a matter for strong consideration from the returning-from-holiday Mark Lawn and his joint-Chairman Julian Rhodes.

Four games into his initial contract, the honeymoon period feelings of goodwill continue to be directed towards Peter Taylor. After the win over Darlington there were calls for interim manager to be handed a long-term contract straightaway, for fear of another club snapping him up. That will certainly remain a concern when the short-term deal moves towards its conclusion, but it’s foolish to award a contract on the basis of two wins – no matter how impressive defeating leaders Rochdale was.

I agree Taylor should be given a longer deal, but that should have happened when he was originally recruited. Instead the club has gone the route of assessing a short-term tenure, so judgement has to remain reserved. It’s surely impossible to evaluate him over the short period of time so far, and the danger with some of the praise he’s receiving is that it contains an air of falseness that undermines credibility.

Or to look at it another way, imagine if Stuart McCall had still been in charge for those four games and made the same decisions and same comments? After the Accrington defeat Taylor was asked about the 1,800-strong away support in a post-match interview. He was quoted saying we supporters were “too hard on the players”.

Barely a year ago McCall mentioned the huge travelling support for an away game at Rochdale might have caused the players to feel nervous, which attracted incredulity from some fans that was twisted into McCall “blaming the fans for defeat” – incredulity which was repeatedly brought up right up until his resignation. Taylor’s criticism of the Accrington away support – albeit a very valid one – has attracted no attention.

Stuart was also consistently derided for being too respectful and full of praise to opposition teams ahead of matches, which some ignorantly claimed de-motivated his own players. After the 3-0 defeat to Rochdale in December, there was anger ahead of McCall’s pre-match thoughts on a trip to Darlington with threats, “he’d better not go on about how good Darlington are.” Ahead of Saturday’s home match with the Quakers, Taylor was declaring the bottom club would provide a tough game, no supporter battered an eyelid.

The Darlo game itself was also a differing indicator of acceptability. It was remarkably similar to the 1-0 win achieved in the North East last December, right down to timing of the only goal (23rd minute in the away game, 26th minute last Saturday). In the first halves of both games, City were dominant and should have scored plenty, but the failure to score a second goal prompted nerves in the second halves on both occasions, and in the end City were relieved to hear the final whistles.

The general performance was better in the Valley Parade encounter, but the acceptability of the afternoon was a huge contrast to the disappointed reaction after winning narrowly at the doomed club before Christmas.

Expectations have clearly dropped.

Then there’s the tactics and line ups. Under the final few weeks of McCall, there was the usual annoyance all managers seem to receive for playing people ‘out of position’. Yet Taylor’s decision to move left back Luke O’Brien to left wing and striker Gareth Evans to right wing attracts no criticism – had McCall tried the same thing, there’s little doubt he’d have been slated.

At Rochdale midfielder Michael Flynn was played up front and the decision was applauded if not praised (well it was Wayne Jacobs’ idea and a section of fans want him gone), when McCall played Flynn up front against Bournemouth he was labelled tactically clueless.

Which is not to suggest Taylor isn’t doing a good job, but that the well-meaning praise in support of him lacks substance and the goodwill has yet to be tested by the inevitable occurrence of a run of bad results. Right now the manager can do little wrong and any failings are directed to the players, but this will not last and the question of whether we can objectively rule if Taylor is the man to take the club forwards – seen as we’ve decided to take the probationary approach – is one that cannot yet be answered.

Yet Taylor is clearly impressing so far in the quiet-but-determined manner he’s going about the role. After using only two loan players under McCall, there are now four short-term players on the books, as Taylor attempts to stamp his own shape on the team. Meanwhile rumours rage about the future of Chris Brandon, who it seems clear will be leaving the club soon, and Scott Neilson is set to go out on loan.

Having overseen a debut game in charge that saw an unconfident City knocking the ball too direct and having nothing to offer on the flanks, he’s pushed O’Brien and Evans into unfamiliar roles that is bringing a degree of success and greater overall balance. Despite having some excellent striking pedigree to call upon from the sidelines in Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding, Taylor has brought in Mark McCammon in the belief he’s a more effective worker to match James Hanson.

Perhaps under McCall life was too comfortable for some players, though this may be more to do with injuries and lack of depth than a manager giving them an easy ride, but there is suddenly greater competition for places and those in the starting eleven have every reason to look over their shoulders. Some players will have had their nose slightly put out of joint by Taylor’s approach and selections, but the experienced man has publicly offered only praise for everyone and done nothing to belittle the previous regime.

But what is the target for the rest of the season, by which a reasonable and fair judgement can be made over whether he should be given a longer deal? A top half finish would seem a realistic objective. The number of winter postponements gives the league table a distorted look, but the gap is bridgeable over the remaining 14 games. An improvement in position and results from what McCall had achieved would build Taylor a strong case for being handed a longer deal.

Perhaps looking more ambitiously though is matching the points total achieved last season – 67. In what was a more competitive season with a smaller gulf in quality between top and bottom, that tally took City just short of a play off spot. This season the same total wouldn’t take the club as close, but it would send a powerful message.

For Taylor would have been able to steer City to matching the points tally of the year before, from working with a squad that cost a third less. It would represent a hugely compelling case for what he could do over a full season, with what is sure to still be limited resources.

To achieve this City would need to gain 27 points from the remaining 42 available – nine wins from the last 14 games. It’s a huge ask, especially considering City have won only ten games this season; but the closer he can finish to it, the greater the optimism for the following season would be – with Taylor at the helm.

Ultimately the goodwill currently directed towards Taylor is a positive thing and it is within everyone’s interests the short term trial works out. The potential for the club to be rudderless with a managerial vacancy this summer is both real and worrying, where all Taylor would have achieved is sign some loan players that denied City youngsters a chance.

The parallels of McCall’s first season, which lacked preparation, is one which could be made if a new guy has to start from scratch with just six players to choose from. Taylor is in a position to fully evaluate the squad before doing things his way this summer, the hope is the trial goes well enough for him to get that chance.

For a club which has nothing to play for this season, there’s an awful lot riding on these last 14 games

Breaking even and City in the Champions League

English clubs owe more money than the rest of Europe combined. The huge debts at players like Old Trafford and Anfield are so great that UEFA’s Michel Platini is so concerned that he is trying to ride to the rescue with a rule that would exclude any team from the Champions League or the Europa League that is not in the black.

It seems that 53% of European football debt comes from the top of the English game and while the people in the top flight point to that fact that no only is the majority of debt – but also the majority of income – based on the Premiership. The TV Deals, the popularity, the money coming in they say justifies the red figures on the back account.

Platini – an egalitarian – sees things differently and while the rules he seeks to bring in are undoubtedly going to harm the English clubs from 2013-2014 when the Frenchman wants to begin enforcing the rule onwards one might doubt that it will harm the English football fan.

The benefits of The Glazer deal at Manchester United, the Americans at Liverpool, the Icelanders at West Ham United or the men of unfixed nationality at Portsmouth for the football supporter is debatable. The most shocking thing about Leeds United’s 1-0 win at Old Trafford in January for the East of Pudsey people I spoke to was not the gulf in the teams that had grown in the years since the clubs parted company but the increase in the price. It was £42 for a Loiner to get into the game, twice as much as it was less than a half decade ago.

What is bad for English football making the club’s less attractive for the investors who have flocked to the Premiership in the last decade or so might be good for the English supporters who for all the joy of seeing the “best players in the world” have suffered a counter balancing effect of a third of teams going into administration. Make club’s less desirable for investors looking to use the assets they purchase to mortgage the business and one makes the football club (rather than the football business) safer, in theory at least.

Of course this begs the question as to who owns football clubs if it is not the current ranks of investors and interested parties not all of which can be said to be moustachio twirling madmen. One answer is found at Valley Parade.

Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes are a pair of local businessmen and for all the increasingly – and for me troubling – autocratic nature of one of the joint chairmen in his approach to planning at the club the previous plan he has followed has worked.

Worked not on the field – at least not in the medium term it was judged – but certainly off it. Mark Lawn arrived with a plan – a plan that Julian Rhodes had hoped for for sometime – of the club working within its budget and living in its means and we are told that this plan has worked.

Bradford City are one of only two professional English football clubs who are in the black. Lawn and Rhodes’s plan worked, that is why it would be nice to know what the plan is now and why I’d hoped that Lawn would come out with his arm around Peter Taylor with a contract that lasted for years and announce that nothing at Valley Parade would change, aside from the manager. That he still believed in the long term planning and stability that had got us to the point where we lived within our means that that Peter Taylor would be given that stability and ability to avoid having to boom or bust to keep his job. Alas he did not.

Nevertheless if it is true to say that City are in the black – the news was written to a fan and is mentioned in the excellent and once again plugged City Gent #162 – then the joint chairmen deserve credit and we shall keep our fingers crossed that this last month where the plan that has been us in such rude financial health is questioned that it has not been dumped.

It is an achievement for the club and everyone at it that at the turn of the decade that saw City go into administration twice that Bradford City have learnt the lesson and put being in the black as an a significant aim.

Michel Platini will hope that we still do because if things were to continue as they do now then in 2013 when the Frenchman aims to enact his new rules Scunthorpe United and Bradford City will be England’s only two entries to the Champions League.

Is the club’s ambition killing it from within?

Over the last couple of years I’ve witnessed a lot of the goings on at City through various media. The first has been the Internet, to which this site is but one of many saved to my favourites, and others have been the paper publications such as the T&A, Bantams World and The City Gent.

In the last three years I have been a season ticket holder and spoken to or overheard opinion from fellow supporters. As I have been a Season Ticket holder for nearly three seasons, bar a time in my mid-teens when the club climbed into the second tier, I’ve also witnessed the League Two displays and formed my own opinions.

What’s my conclusion based on all this evidence? Read on.

  1. We think we are a really big club.
  2. McCall is a good City man but not a good manager
  3. The squad are not fit to wear the shirt
  4. The officials are awful at this level
  5. It’s a lot warmer at VP than at Odsal!
  6. We haven’t a penny pot to pee in
  7. Where’s the money from all them season tickets/Delph money

Do I agree with any of these conclusions? Like all people with splinters in their posteriors, I’m going to say no and yes.

We think we are a really big club….

Well we’ve got a big ground – we don’t own it and sold it for a 10th of what we paid to develop it originally. We now pay nigh on £1.2 million just to play here. Our squad is tiny. We use council pitches or a five aside complex to train at.

We played in the Premier League – yes for two seasons where like most un-established clubs, we stretched way beyond our means and suffered as a result. In the Premier League we were fodder for the big teams, a challenge for the middling teams and could gain points from the rubbish teams. We stayed by the skin of our teeth. We’ve got this little bit of history to keep us proud but we’ve never been a massive and consistent force in English football. Ask a foreigner even when we were in the Premiership who City was? Well the Swede I spoke to in London in 2002 said he didn’t know and had to ask a friend.

What about our big fan base – I should think so from the 500,000 strong Bradfordian population which makes it the 4th largest metropolitan district in England. Premier league Burnley is 88,500 in population. Someone said to me that Bradford is a rugby town. Well on Friday night against Castleford, we had less than 9,000 in Odsal. Admittedly, the game was on Sky Sports and it was freezing (see point 5) but still, City competes with that having 11,500 average for this season. In division 4. Not the top tier of rugby league!

In conclusion we have delusions over our size. But I believe that this keeps the gates high. We have some serious potential. We also have some unbelievable risks in the rent paid to play at an oversized ground we no longer need. City needs to downsize physically as well as in aspiration.

McCall is a good City man but not a good manager

Yes. We all agree in these difficult times that Stuart McCall is a great City man who holds iconic status in almost everything he has done for us….

Except as manager. Do I think he was bad? No, but as another Arnold Laver product chafes my cheeks I also say yes. He has brought some interesting players to the club. At times he has brought some bizarre signings in like the 5ft 4in forward David Brown two seasons ago. Brown entered the field of play at VP after scoring on his debut in a previous match away at Macclesfield Town. He looked like a Smurf against Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy! Central defenders and centre forwards in league two are big for a reason. Diddy David was not. However, it did provide some good amusement for the City faithful.

Do I think McCall should have left? Yes, because he wanted to. I thought the reason for getting McCall in would be to build slowly and carefully to build a platform to grow the club again. We wouldn’t sack Stuart. That would make us Judas. But talk of promotion which was unfulfilled, talk of double promotion which was also unfulfilled and then talk of promotion despite a massive reduction in playing budget which has also gone to pot makes me think that only the very best managers in English football could cope with all that pressure of expectation.

The fans and the board in my opinion did not use Stuart McCall to his strengths. We could have built a strong squad like Rochdale has in the time McCall was given. Instead we went for broke in his second season(remember the premier league?), failed to achieve promotion and then battled to compete in an allegedly poor league. We thought the club would bounce. A club with this much weight around its neck does not bounce. To compete, you must be agile. We are currently lumbering round without coherent direction, attainable goals or hope. This is not Stuart McCall’s doing. Its us. The fans and board members, with our insatiable appetite for success whatever it takes that crushes our own development

In conclusion, McCall failed because we fail. It’s a competition, not a divine right (see point 1).

The squad are not fit to wear the shirt.

Fit that in with the opposition chant of only singing when we win. Well, like petulant and ungrateful children we do throw our toys out the moment it all goes wrong. We boo the players, myself included which is shameful. When you feel bad, things keep going wrong and someone you want to impress (the fans) keep telling you you’re bad… guess what? You’re bad.

The affect of morale has been plain to see over the turbulent last few weeks. Its clear now that the players were playing for their manager. They had a great affinity for him and are crushed as a result. Many are out of contract at the end of the season and while they can impress in the safety of a training ground, on the pitch is a different matter. When you are down, doubt yourself and are afraid for your standard of living you will make errors. You will take the wrong decision under pressure. You will hoof the ball up to a lad who wins 9 out of 10 headers even though he will loose possession and it will be back soon.

What is needed is determination. Only a few of our lads have it. Ramsden and Flynn are definitely those who will not give up. The rest? Whilst not giving up like Dan Petrescu did all those times, they are not battling for the full 90 minutes. Especially in the two games following McCall’s exit.

Are they fit to wear the shirt? They are the only players we have got. Get behind them, give them the strength. Find forgiveness in your hearts for Zesh Rehman and Matt Clarke. They are only men. But us as fans can give them that little bit they need to achieve that little bit more. If its hard for us to watch, it must be harder for them to cope with the pressure of expectation. We must play our part even if they are currently not achieving theirs.

The officials are awful at this level.

Yes. Full stop.

My knowledge of the game is poor to say the least but even I know when Michael Boulding has his own shirt twisted twice round him by a slow centre half’s hand. Its poor. Its allowed, because Clarke for us gets away with it every other game. But its not good for the game.

Until refereeing gets a major overhaul, we need to be good enough in this league to beat 12 men. Yes, the one with the whistle and the power to send players off included! Can we do this? Yes with investment, both in money and time to develop some quality players.

It’s a lot warmer at VP than at Odsal!

Yes, it is. But I’ve sat in the Midland Road stand for the last few seasons. We are protected from the elements by the Main stand and because of its orientation. The Kop on the other hand is like being sat in a wind tunnel on the occasions I have swapped to sit there!

If we could save ourselves significant amounts of rent by relocating to Odsal despite its run down appearance, upturned corners of the pitch and rugby connotations we could achieve more in terms of playing budget. It’s a no brainer. But its not without its critics including me.

The Odsal Sporting Village will not be completed. I will stake big money on it. There is no political clout within Bradford Council to achieve this development much like the hole in the city centre. If it happens, I’ll laugh my head off because I was wrong and that Bradford have come together to actually do something for the community. £70+ million for a 18k seated stadium, though? Someone hasn’t done a Value for Money investigation on that one!

VP is our home. Its also dragging the cash straight out of the club and into the hands of someone who profits from other’s misfortune. Its becoming tough choice for the board members to make now. What ever happens, a solution must be found to the £1.2million overheads we pay before a ball is even kicked.

We haven’t a penny pot to pee in

This is true. We are working within our means as far I know. Players such as James Hanson actually earn less being a full time pro than what he got working for Co-op as an assistant manager. Our top scorer earns less than a shop worker. Just think about that when you think about how big Bradford City is.

The overheads don’t help. Big name players cost money and are not guaranteed to achieve success. For us to progress we need to make our own stars of tomorrow. This won’t happen this season, next season, or even the year after. But it has to be an avenue to explore along with the others. Peter Taylor could help us with this. We can only wait and hope.

Where’s the money from all them season tickets/Delph money?

Stuart was given a playing budget of £1.2 million for this season. Couple that with the £1.2 million overheads and countless other running costs for the club, we can safely assume that the Delph money went into a financial black hole that is City’s accounts book.

Fans look to the board to provide sufficient finance to ensure success on the pitch and rightly so. Mark Lawn injected £1 million to ensure stability last season. Although he did well out of Driver Hire and the Rhodes family have had some success with Filtronic, they cannot afford to throw money at something at the expense of their own wellbeing. For fans to expect that is quite unbelievable.

Despite me trying to work out the City incomings, I still don’t know how the club keeps afloat. I then have to assume that the board provide funds from their own reserves (which will have depleted in the last few years due to the recession) to keep the club going. Mark Lawn restructured the clubs income stream to allow two amounts of season Ticket money to come in per season. One at around Christmas and one in the close season. This will have given the club some initial boosts in finance but this is now over. I have to have faith in the board of Bradford City because, quite frankly, who else is there to turn to.

New investors will not approach City whilst we reside in this league. Ask yourself this: Do you want to be in the same position as Notts County? They can keep their 5-0 mauling of us if we continue to remain solvent and they disappear from the football world. A terrible set of affairs.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, its all a bit pessimistic isn’t it? We are constrained financially and this won’t go away. We are in a major rut and are sailing dangerously close to going out of the league entirely.

Come on, Pete! You must have some positives? Yeah. In the potential stakes we are pretty good. The focus needs to be on reducing the overheads, maintaining the good season ticket sales and growing the playing staff. These are all long term aims.

In the short term we can and should survive this year. I believe if Peter Taylor wants to stay and can improve this club he should be given a two year contract to provide progressive improvement. First year should be the aim of a top ten finish. This is achievable. Second year should be the aim of playoffs and hopefully promotion. This could be achieved if the quality of playing staff recruited in year one can support progressive improvement into year two. If he smashes this and we go up next year, he and the club will have exceeded our expectations and we’ll be as delirious as we were after Wolves all those years ago. Or maybe not!

What about us fans? We need to be patient. Stuff the ‘big ground-have you seen the premier league-we all hate Leeds scum’ rhetoric. Lets build for the future and actually trust the club to improve itself rather than bowing to our insatiable appetite for success.

‘Can we do it?’ said Barrack ‘Yes, we can’ shout the City faithful.

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?

Taylor’s arrival sparks more questions than answers

The appointment of a new manager is almost always a time for optimism; but despite today’s confirmation Peter Taylor is to succeed Stuart McCall in the Valley Parade hotseat, I’m left with some uneasy feelings.

It’s not that I didn’t want Taylor to get the job. In an encouragingly strong shortlist, he stood out as the most capable candidate. Instead, it’s the length of contract he’s signed – until the end of the season – and the short and long term question marks which it raises. Just what are Taylor’s targets between now and then? What are his ambitions beyond this summer? There’s a danger the 18 remaining games this season could be among the most irrelevant in the club’s history.

Imagine the scenario of Taylor managing to turn around the recent poor form. City accelerate up the league table and threaten a play off spot, but the season’s end comes too early and they narrowly miss out. In between agonising over the what ifs, there would be loud calls for Taylor to be awarded a longer deal. Yet other clubs – in a division above and closer to his southern base – show interest too. Taylor leaves, City are back to square one.

Or, imagine the scenario of Taylor doing nothing to improve on what’s so far been a disappointing campaign. The Bantams finish little higher than they are now, or even drop lower. There are few fans willing for him to be given a new contract and so Taylor departs. Again, City are back to square one.

If there’s another managerial vacancy advertised at Valley Parade this summer, the eventual appointment would find out of contract players – Matt Glennon, Simon Ramsden, Luke O’Brien, Michael Flynn, Matt Clarke, Lee Bullock, Peter Thorne, Chris Brandon, Steve Williams, Jon McLaughlin, Michael and Rory Boulding, Jon Bateson, Leon Osborne, Luke Sharry and Steve O’Leary –  had all probably departed, or Taylor had made a decision for them. Even if these players were still around hoping for a deal, would the new manager be able to adequately judge which ones to keep with no competitive action?

In the meantime there’s also the uncertain future of the existing coaching staff, the potential for the youth set up to be ignored, the threat that loan signings Taylor may make quickly departing having done little but block City’s fringe players from the opportunity to step up. The brief for Taylor seems to be little beyond steadying the ship, but does that mean we suspend considering the ship’s ultimate course?

Perhaps this is a clever approach. If Taylor doesn’t impress during his initial contract, we may be thankful the club is not committed to entrusting him for longer and having to consider an expensive sacking. It may be also be Taylor isn’t 100% sure about committing himself to the Bantams, and so working at the club for a few weeks wins him over and he becomes eager to sign up for longer.

The other consideration is whether the club has a long-term successor to McCall and Taylor firmly in mind, who isn’t available until the summer. BfB has previously reported how Paul Jewell is still being paid by Derby County, but come the summer he is more likely to be in need of work and may relish a return to City.

Joint Chairmen Mark Lawn has also been quoted on a number of occasions recently about a current League Two manager they wanted to speak to, but were denied permission. The smart money is this being Accrington’s John Coleman, and perhaps the club are prepared to hold out until the summer in order to get their man.

Whether Jewell or Coleman are in the long-term sights or not, Taylor’s arrival is at least reassurance the club isn’t repeating old mistakes. Three years ago last weekend, Colin Todd had been sacked and it was no secret Chairman Julian Rhodes was holding out to get McCall. With the City legend making it clear he was to see out his contract as assistant at Sheffield United so wouldn’t join until the summer, Rhodes resorted to David Wetherall as caretaker and the club slid to relegation. Handing the role to the City captain was not only costly for his inexperience, it meant one of the key players had their mind occupied on far more than his own game.

By appointing Taylor this time, the chairmen should have ensured a short-term boost of the team delivering at least the 10 more points needed to avoid relegation – but this is not a time for the pair to relax. There has to be a plan that goes beyond the final game of the season at Crewe, and then there has to be a plan B and a plan C. They simply cannot allow the club to be in a position of not knowing what to do if Taylor doesn’t work out, or they risk next season as well as this one being wasted.

The worry I have with Taylor coming in is the chairmen might increasingly look at managers as easily expendable and believe that, just because their mailbox was jammed with managerial CVs this time around, there’ll be as big a queue next time.

If they consider Taylor to be the man to guide the club over the next few months, what about the next few years? If they consider Taylor to be a stop gap, the search for a new manager must begin now.

City to move on with an outstanding managerial appointment

Peter Taylor is an outstanding appointment as the next Bradford City manager and over the next four months of the interim contract he is to sign at the club on Wednesday the former England manager will be trying out the Bantams just as much as the Bantams are trying out him.

Taylor’s appointment represents the pinnacle of what could be expected from the joint chairman who have brought in perhaps the only replacement for Stuart McCall who could be said to near guarantee an improvement on the field.

The former Spurs player turned manager’s track record is one of often repeated success showing an appreciation from Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes of the quality that Taylor offers. Taylor has taken Dartford, Gillingham, Brighton & Hove Albion, Hull City and Wycombe Wanderers to promotions in varied situations. He has failures in his career for sure but his ability to create and replicate success puts him head and shoulders above all other managers who the club could have appointed.

All of which is not to say that this is an appointment without danger – it is possible that Taylor will record the kind of performance in the next ten games as he did in his last for the Chairboys that saw him fired – but in terms of minimising the risk Lawn and Rhodes could not have made a better choice.

Not only that but a usefulness is given to the four month interim period as Essex boy Taylor tries out life in West Yorkshire.

The Southend born Taylor will spend four months at Valley Parade in which we will audition him for the job of permanent manager – with the exception of the perhaps available Paul Jewell one would struggle to think of a better candidate who might be available in the summer – and he will get to know us.

While manager of Hull City – a job that saw him take the Tigers to two promotions – he spent three days a week at his home in the South of England and perhaps he will do the same at Valley Parade. Certainly in the next four months Taylor will be given a chance to decide if he wants the Bantams job on a full time basis.

One can only imagine what will add to that decision to be taken in four months time. Geography is certainly a factor for the 57 year old but one wonders what the effect of the notorious Bradford City support will have on the man who represents by far the best man available? Four months of the sort of treatment that Colin Todd and Stuart McCall suffered at the hands of some “supporters” and Mark Lawn need not even bother offering a contract in four months.

Nevertheless credit the joint chairman with offering one now. Some would say that this deal could have been struck in the hours following the Bury game – certainly this website said that Taylor or Jewell were the only two acceptable appointments – and thus the new manager would have had a start at home to Grimsby Town but let us celebrate the offer at all and reflect that something approaching due process has been carried out.

Despite the delay that saw the Grimsby game frittered away Lawn is in the rare position of having appointed the consolidation candidate who commands more instant respect that perhaps any other option. One can only hope that this top quality manager – the man who picked out David Beckham as England captain – will be given the chance to build something at the club and not be judged on short term results and win percentages. Now Lawn has got the manager – and hoping the manager enjoys dating us enough to marry us – then the joint chairman needs to ensure the whole club is dedicated to creating a position where the manager can succeed.

Since McCall’s departure one game of nineteen is gone, are two points in fifty-seven and Taylor starts away at Accrington Stanley on Saturday. His style of football is practical, his manner is intelligent and considered and he always, always signs Junior Lewis.

Welcome to Bradford City Peter Taylor. You are the best choice, you have some good tools to work with and I hope you stay for a long, long time.

Time for a new deal at City?

The next Bradford City manager will face criticism from day one and unless he achieves unprecidented levels of success he will be subject to calls from him to resign or be sacked.

Paul Jewell – who took Bradford City to the Premiership – was subject to massive criticism from some City fans in the 1999/2000 season and Geoffrey Richmond was certainly not the only person who would have said that if the manager was out of contract he would not get another one.

Stuart McCall offered his resignation after failing to reach the play-offs last season and has arguably done the same this. One must wonder if without McCall’s offers and the subsequent appeal for him to stay would he have been fired last year?

It is impossible to say conclusively, to do so would be to try read the minds of the chairmen of the club.

Moving away from Bradford City to the now infamous John Terry meeting with Fabio Capello a week of discussion and debate over what might happen was quickly ended by what did happen. Were we able to read the mind of Capello we would have known his views but as the man responsible was charged with setting the tariff of punishment uncertainly was the way of the week.

Excluding matters of misconduct would it be possible to end some of the uncertainty that Bradford City managers such as Stuart McCall face? There had been an agreement of sorts that McCall would be given until the end of this season made at the end of last but that agreement has not been honoured causing a lack of stability at the club which hampered the progress this season.

This lack of stability is not helped by the fact that supporters have such a wild variety of expectations for the club. Some look at the league and say that Bradford City have no right to beat anyone and that considering the £1m which is paid out to play at Valley Parade before a ball is kicked they are happy to maintain a competitive place in the division, others say that the club is massively under performing and believe the club should be in the Championship and that anything other than that or the progression to that is unacceptable.

More uncertainly where one side believes that a performance is acceptable while another that it is not. This situation was accurately felt when one group of supporters believed that Colin Todd was performing well, another that he was under performing. Any debate on the club fell into a depressing series of lies and abuse. I was accused of closing BfB down as a protest at the continued management of Colin Todd, nothing could have been further from the truth.

One might recall the effects of acting in that swirl of uncertainty and to have a mature debate as to what the next manager is expected to achieve at Bradford City and when he is expected to achieve it.

With debate done, enshrine those requirements within the contract of the next manager and end that uncertainty.

If the next manager is required to get a play-off place at the very minimum then write into his contract that should he not achieve this then his contract is nullified, if it is promotion that is required then include that. If there is a fear that we could end up breaking up something that is being built then write into the contract a number of wins which must be reached so as to not tie our managers to the performance of others?

If the number of home defeats is unacceptable then stipulate that the manager’s deal will be renewed at the end of the season should he have won a number of these games and not otherwise. If the development of young players is important then write in that he has to have given a number of players under a specific age débuts or once again his contract is not renewed.

At the start of the season give the manager not a vague idea of what might be nice to achieve but a set of black and white rules that govern his earning a new deal. The club – in turn – agree to a set of punitive clauses in the contract that ensure the manager is not dismissed outside of these renewal periods.

The problems with this system are potientally plentiful should the requirements be poorly set but the benefits for the incumbant of the job are equally significant chief amougst them being the end of the uncertainty that has dogged McCall this season and dogged Colin Todd, Paul Jewell and many other managers previously.

With a set of aims agreed and obvious to all the need for the kind of blowhards to mount thier campaigns to unseat managers is gone. BantamCook98 need not think up as many alaiases as he needs to seem legion in his criticism of the management he need only wait until the end of the season when the renewal assessment is made on the basis of targets achieved rather than the mood and whim of the boardroom which seems over interested in winning favour with the very people they should be ignoring.

If the bar is set at a point that BantamCook98 does not like then his beef is with the board, not the manager and as a result the manager is allowed to get on with his job concentraing on what he needs to achieve rather than which collection of agitators he needs to keep happy.

A system like this should not be need – I would not favour it over one of strong planning in the boardroom – but it is significantly better than the free for all of aggression and appeasement that has become supporting Bradford City in 2010 and is a much better situation to put the next manager into.

The next manager meets his boss

When Stuart McCall left Bradford City in February he walked away with a huge push he was given on his way from some supporters and from within the club. At the end of last season there was a will displayed by a majority of the supporters that McCall be given this season and almost from day one that will has been undermined in the stands and – if rumours are to be believed – within the club.

That is what the thoughts of the majority of the supporters are worth. Football supportting as a community at Bradford City simply does not exist.

Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes move on to looking for the next man and should do so with trepidation. The bar set for the new manager now excludes anything other than constant, unprecedented, relentless success.

Finding someone who can deliver that is impossible and by the yardsticks created in the aggressive pursuit of McCall are unattainable. The list of criticisms that McCall faced as brickbats preclude a manager changing his tactics, although he must have a “Plan B”. He must give players a chance, but should pick a consistent team. He must play attractive football, but results are all important. He will not have patience or time to build a squad, Mark Lawn’s talk of stability turned out to be just talk.

The next man cannot afford to have a season without promotion. Not only that he cannot afford to spend any time where a mass of supporters do not think that promotion can be achieved. Not only that but – as Stuart McCall found – even should the next manager be top of the league then he will still have critics working against him.

These critics may be amassed in the next few days as runners and riders appear for the vacant management chair. The next man will not be a unanimous choice and as a result a section of people who would vocally put forward the opinion that things would be better with someone else will appear.

Every defeat will start to amass critics, any selection decision which is not approved of will too, any transfer whim that is not acted on will be made into a case against. Should the next man take a chance on a player that chance has to work out, or he faces the criticisms McCall did for signing Simon Eastwood.

Some supporters will simply make things up about the next man twisting half truths and telling lies to mount attacks. They will no nothing about what make successful coaching but they will attack his backroom staff for not being good at it.

Stuart McCall was criticised for not trying to sign Lee Hughes at the start of the season and Scott Loach in the middle of it. These may seem flippant but they added to an increasing sound of discontent.

That sound of malcontent will be the metronome of the next man at Bradford City. It will be the creeping end of his time at the club starting from the moment he arrives. It will not be conducted with dignity or as debate. It will be swearing and abuse and it will attack every part of him from what he wears on a match day to where and how he stands near the dug out to the tone of voice he uses in interviews.

You may think that this can be stopped – this scenario of never ending malcontent – by victories and great football but this season saw the best unbeaten run in City’s post-war history and that did nothing to silence the constant grumbling.

You might think that it can be stopped by a gradual improvement but McCall is the first manager to show a season-on-season improvement and his time at the club has been abruptly ended in this swarm of bad feeling which prompted responses such as this.

The next man will not be protected from anyone who has any complaint with his management of the club and mounting a campaign to get rid of him for whatever trumped up, exaggerated reason they decide.

The community which used to hold a consensus at the club is gone, destroyed by those who decided they would ignore that community in order to get what they wanted and unseat McCall. Any influence supporters have on the boardroom for the next man will not come from support in the stands but from the snipe nameless people on message boards gossiping, rumouring, lying, agitating.

These people have what they want now, but the cost will prove too high. Stuart McCall enjoyed a massive respect at the club which allowed him thirty odd months to do his job, the next man will probably not have that and as Colin Todd found out the levels of abuse quickly ramp up to sickening levels.

The club’s voice is no longer that of the stands but the agitators on message boards and texting Lizzie on The Football League show and the club – in accepting McCall’s resignation which some would suggest they have forced the club have bowed to those people. If previous chairman had run the club at the behest of the loudest noise on the terraces the current chairmen do it at the whim of the malcontent and the faceless, nameless reactionary.

That person – the guy who will not say his name but knows all his sign on handles – is the next man’s new boss.

Stuart McCall is gone and when the people who rounded on him want patience for the next man will it be forthcoming? When next there is an appeal to a minority to respect the will of the majority will it be heard? Why should it be? Bradford City are just another club with no idea how to improve itself but dire need to do so.

The next man will be expected to win constantly and when he does not small groups of people will start trying to get him sacked and – eventually – they will succeed.

The sightings of Manningham start today

Tell someone that you have seen the Yeti wandering around Thornton and they will not believe you. Talk about seeing Little Green Men wandering through Idle you will be looked at in a curious manner. Say you saw Spaceships over Shipley you will be considered wrong in the head.

Today – however – if you claim to have seen Sir Alex Ferguson wandering around Manningham you will be believed and you will have started a rumour.

For today is the day that – some days too late in the opinion of this writer – Bradford City step up the search for a replacement for Stuart McCall holding interviews for the position of Interim Manager.

The role is a curious one. It promises “pole position” for the job as it is appointed in the summer but is distinctly a fixed term contract. Achievement is touted as impossible in the role with joint chairman Mark Lawn making it clear that he believes that that club is not going up or down this season. Julian Rhodes – who thought similar when appointing David Wetherall three years ago as a prelude to the sink to League Two – could not have kept a straight face saying the same thing.

If the financial situation at the club did not then the nature of this interim position – as opposed to the caretaker role Wayne Jacobs has presently (he is taking care of the team, that is why they are called caretaker managers) – precludes the idea that one of today’s appointments will be with a manager who currently has a job ruling out swathes of names. Alan Knill, Keith Hill, Fabio Capello; these are just some of the people who despite no doubt frequent sightings in BD8 would almost exclude themselves from the process should they show poor enough judgement to leave one club for such a transient position.

The timing of the change also precludes the idea of bringing in a player manager unless the player with ambitions is currently without club in which case they are probably no longer to be considered player-managers but rather rookies which would not seem to be the type of person the club are looking for. The irony in this is that this would have excluded Roy McFarland, Trevor Cherry, Chris Kamara and Paul Jewell from the job who are the only City managers who have achieved promotion in my life time, and I ain’t as young as I was.

Nevertheless Mark Lawn has talked about bringing in an experience manager and some have suggested that this means Terry Dolan which perhaps is a definition of the word experience which might not be as expected but is accurate. In the same way that when fans talk about a team needing to be consistent they do not desire a side that always lose so when they talk about experience do they mean someone who has failed often and at many levels.

One recalls the words of Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling: “I have learnt from my mistakes and I could repeat them exactly.”

Not that that is to suggest that Dolan is especially worth mentioning as being an poor candidate over and above the no doubt hundreds of names who have failed often at clubs similar to City. Expect Peter Jackson to be sighted around the club looking to bring some of the “magic” that he showed in his previous appointments to Valley Parade. He should be used to the journey by now having been interviewed and accepted the role of Bradford City manager in December 2000 only to decide that he would give backword a day later.

Not that every manager who has been sacked can automatically be assumed to have failed. Mark Cooper – son of Leeds’s Terry – was sacked from Peterborough by an increasingly mad chairman while Gary McAllister’s record at Leeds United of 25 wins in 50 games certainly does not suggest that he should have been put out of work.

Experience managers who are out of work are not uncommon and should they have every worn claret and amber in action then they will probably be mentioned as meandering around Bedlington Terrace sometime this afternoon.

The obsession clubs have with appointing managers who have played for the club is always a curious one. Chris Wilder – the manager of Oxford United who aside from going well in the Conference would also be able to reunite with Jacobs who was his assistant at Halifax Town – played for the club for months more than years but still this promotes his name above Graham Westley or Martin Foyle who manage the clubs above and below the Us.

One would hope – and it seems that these hopes are to be dashed – that Mark Lawn will have looked to low risk appointments of managers who can point to a repeated track record of success such as Peter Taylor or Paul Jewell but were that the decision then there would have been little reason not to appoint the man on Monday. Jewell – incidentally – is still being paid by Derby County as part of his severance from Pride Park a year ago. That contract expires in the summer when Jewell is looking for work.

Expect Jewell and Taylor to be sighted though, and hope that the sightings are true.

For while Lawn is confident that the season is done for the Bantams one cannot help but recall Wetherall’s fourteen games at the club and think that how a similar return of one point of every four from the next nineteen games would give City 14 more points to add the the current 33. The aforementioned Cooper got a single win and four draws in thirteen games at The Posh this season despite his being brought not from the dole queue but from a job he was excelling in at Kettering Town and City cannot afford that sort of performance and, as with Peterborough, would find it hard to predict it.

47 points is normally enough to avoid relegation but the whole endeavour seems to pile a level of risk onto the club for little return considering that in four months time the process, the sightings, the looking for a new manager will start all over again.

Only rather than having a manager who knows the players names we will be left hoping that the one sighting that turns out to be accurate can manage to quickly get to the level of being average and stay there for a few months.

Fans at the top risk belittling the ‘other’ Bradford City legend

So after months or rumours and speculation we now know. The Telegraph & Argus has said it, Stuart McCall tellingly said nothing; but the truth is out that the former manager and joint-chairmen Mark Lawn’s relationship was strained to the point they had “barely communicated in months”.

It seems incredible that a professional football club could operate with two key figures working on such fractured terms. It also raises legitimate concerns over the state of the partnership between Lawn and co-chairman Julian Rhodes, and the damage a clear difference of opinion might have caused in both the short and long term.

Rhodes and Gordon Gibb were widely-stated to have begun their painful fallout because of the decision to sack Nicky Law in 2003, will recent debates over the future of McCall cause history to repeat itself? It’s claimed Rhodes owns 51% of the club to Lawn’s 49%, was the latter willing to accept the former’s wishes to persist with McCall?

McCall’s lack of comment on Lawn, choosing instead only to praise Rhodes as he departed, speaks volumes. Lawn’s weekend quote on McCall’s expected departure that, “Obviously I’ve only heard this through the grapevine. Stuart hasn’t spoken to me,” does him no favours. The last few days has demonstrated just how many supporters still wanted McCall to be manager and, as they come to terms with the departure of a legend, Lawn is becoming an increasingly obvious target for their anger.

Lawn was probably not the only Board member keen for a change. I missed the Christmas games against Shrewsbury and Cheltenham so didn’t get to buy my usual copy of the matchday programme. When in the days after the Cheltenham game McCall publicly declared, “If anyone wants to pack up and clear off, then I don’t want them here. That goes for anybody connected with the club,” the target of the attack was unclear. The City Gent’s John Watmough, via the Official Message Board, suggested Stuart’s anger was aimed at director Roger Owen for comments in the Cheltenham programme. Intrigued, I had a look at the article when visiting the club shop on Saturday, and was as stunned as John by Owen’s words.

Talking about the JPT 3-0 defeat to League One Carlisle, he seemingly dismissed the sending off of Simon Ramsden as having no bearing on the game before bemoaning the so-called gulf in class which showed how far behind City are from their intended target of League One football. City were very unlucky to lose the game, giving everything with 10 men and coming very close to pulling back the tie at 1-0, so it’s understandable if McCall was fuming at reading these criticisms from a member of the Board. It was unfair for any manager to have his team so publicly attacked internally; it also suggests lifelong fan Owen sees things from Lawn’s point of view.

Perhaps this is the downside of the much trumpeted ‘fans running the club’ idea of a couple of seasons ago. No one doubts the huge work rate and commitment of those responsible for running the club, but come 3pm on a Saturday afternoon it seems they are no different to the rest of us in becoming fans, with conflicting views and ideals to others.

With access to bending the manager’s ear and a financial interest in how the club is run, they have greater opportunity to share those views, such as perhaps suggesting a lack of firepower could be rectified by some Chilean flair. But ultimately their views as fans are no more or less insightful than the rest of us, and were probably sometimes unwelcomed by a single-minded manager.

I can’t help but feel Lawn and Owen, like other fans, were of the opinion that the removal of the manager is all that is needed to catapult City up the leagues. A friend of mine used to work under Lawn many years ago, at his driver hire company, and regularly told me how his boss had a box at City and complained all the time about how bad we were. As a supporter, perhaps Lawn has allowed himself to take a regular fan’s view of blaming all faults on the manager, when it’s partly his job to help them find positive solutions.

There’s a sense of irony that, after so many fans moaned McCall had no plan B, we find that, after allowing him to leave, the City board don’t have one either.

But it is Telegraph & Argus’ reporting of the cause of the fall out between McCall and Lawn which troubles me the most – that of the apparent lack of experience in the coaching staff. It’s a well run and frankly boring debate which has been raging amongst City fans ever since Stuart appointed Wayne Jacobs as his assistant. That Jacobs had a few years experience as assistant at Halifax Town seemed to be ignored.

The whole thing never made sense to me, it was as if fans didn’t believe McCall knew what to do so had to have someone older telling him. Surely if people really believed he needed an assistant to make the decisions, he shouldn’t be the manager in the first place?

But it’s really more to do with the fact it’s Jacobs. He spent some 10 years as a player with City, raising from Division Two to the Premiership with the Bantams, yet for almost his whole Bantams career we had to endure supporters at games loudly screaming abuse at him.

Jacobs was the soft target to pick on, the obvious choice for those who like to inflict their football knowledge onto other people to highlight as the cause of all problems. How these people became excited when other left backs were signed to replace Jakes, how disappointed they were after he fought challengers off to keep his place. Jacobs, the worst left back in Division Two back in 1996, marking David Beckham in the Premier League in 2000 – how did that happen?

And as Lawn apparently argued with McCall that he should ditch his ginger friend and bring in someone like Terry Dolan, fairly or unfairly I can’t help but picture Lawn sat a few seats along from me at various games over the years, ready to jump on his feet and scream at Jacobs when he next lost the ball. The fans who were doing this were probably the same ones who shamefully tried to pin the blame for two-and-a-half years of League Two failure on Jacobs, and on McCall for employing him.

And if you believed McCall should have appointed a more experienced number two, but you say it’s nothing personal against Jacobs, please answer me this honestly – would you have been demanding a more experienced number two if McCall had instead recruited Peter Beagrie?

As we say goodbye to McCall, it seems the lesser celebrated legend that is Jacobs will also soon be departing. He seems to have no chance of earning the managers job, those who ridiculed him as assistant are already informing the rest of us on the message boards that they would hurl their season tickets on the floor in disgust if he were appointed.

Personally I think this is really sad, because there’s merit in enabling Stuart’s building work to be continued in the same manner Paul Jewell once continued Chris Kamara’s, rather than ripping everything up. Yet losing a manager is always coupled with an abandoning of the policy which led to their appointment. If Colin Todd was the cheese to the chalk of McCall, it’s likely his ultimate replacement will be the type of experienced man Lawn and others were apparently craving to be his assistant.

So unless the new guy has a need for Jacobs, he will be gone too. Ridiculed by fans and indirectly insulted by the Board, hopefully he’ll at least get to be in charge for Saturday’s game with Grimsby.

If that is the last time he’s employed by Bradford City, let’s make sure he too gets the reception he deserves.

McCall to leave City on Monday

The Telegraph and Argus are reporting that Stuart McCall will resign as Bradford City manager on Monday in a meeting with joint chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn.

McCall’s 133 games seem to have concluded with an excellent performance in a 1-0 reversal to Bury.

McCall confirmed his exit saying

It’s time for somebody else to come in and take up the reins and hopefully do well. I’ve been very fortunate as a player to have had two great spells here. I’ve been very fortunate to have the career I’ve had. I’ve been honoured to be here and the support I’ve had from everyone has been fantastic.

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.

Accrington nearly don’t come to Valley Parade but the happy ending becomes more predictable

The heavy rain of the past few days must place Bradford City’s home fixture with Accrington Stanley in a modicum of doubt, but then the prospect of Saturday 21 November being a blank Saturday for the Bantams seemed very real a few weeks back.

Accrington, the club that wouldn’t die, almost died. Given six weeks to pay a six-figure tax bill, the collection buckets were rattling around the Crown Ground earlier this season as part of rescue efforts which brought out the best in its North West neighbours. Yet not enough money was raised and its claimed officials arrived at the club’s High Court hearing with no plan B and left with the gratitude of a local businessman stepping in to make up the shortfall. Accrington live on, and the prospect of early season results been invalidated – to the joy of those Stanley beat and the despair of those they lost to – and of a 23-team division with only one relegation spot was ended.

As Southend prepare to take on the national media’s attention as club basket case, that Accrington survived may have caused some to indifferently shrug their shoulders and consider how, for every League club that it’s reported is on the brink of financial oblivion, something always turns up and their survival is assured. And while everyone enjoys a happy ending, the reputed predictability is breeding subsequent hostility from some, just ask Darlington. Poor old Accrington, struggling to get by. Hang on, didn’t they spend £85,000 on one player (admittedly later sold for a profit) 18 months ago?

Last Saturday Bournemouth were in town with the strong criticisms of Rochdale Manager Keith Hill still echoing. Ahead of Dale’s 4-0 success at Dean Court, Hill had stated, “They overspend and it is to the detriment to clubs like ours and it is happening too often now…i’m sick of it continually happening.” Having been stuck in the basement league since 1974 and with a largely untroubled recent financial history, Hill and Chairman Chris Dunphy are clearly aggrieved at how their efforts to live within means see them lose out to others who gamble more recklessly with their future. One wonders if Hill’s pre-Bournemouth mood was influenced by his team’s home defeat to Accrington the week before.

For as Accrington seek to climb back onto a more stable financial future after the local community helped to prop it up, what’s the most morally appropriate way to progress? There were stories of a nine-year-old Accrington girl emptying the contents of her piggy bank into a collection bucket last September, would it be right for the club to spend money during the January transfer window? And if not then, when? Hill’s views on Rotherham United, with two recent spells in administration, purchasing his star striker Adam Le Fondre earlier this season probably aren’t printable.

Rochdale and their supporters don’t seem to care much for Bradford City, but the Spotland club may have a small degree of respect for the way joint Chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn cut the cloth accordingly over the summer after pushing the boat out a year earlier in the quest for promotion. City were the first club to fall into administration following the ITV Digital collapse, but while many others who followed were quickly able to brush off mistakes and get busy in the transfer market again, the self-inflicted scars continue to cause pain for the Bantams. Plenty of people lost out due to the infamous six weeks of madness, but Bradford City and its supporters remain high on that list too. Those financial woes may largely be a thing of the past, but the lesson has not been forgotten.

The conservative but sensible actions of the City Board has seen Manager Stuart McCall’s playing budget reduce by a third  but, though its widely agreed he’s used it admirably, regrettably it appears a small minority of supporters don’t appreciate the ramifications. City’s 1-1 draw with Bournemouth, joint leaders no less, should have generated a greater mood of approval if not satisfaction, but the injury list which hindered efforts was brushed off by some to make way for criticism.

Theres nothing like managers playing people out of position to trigger red rage from a certain breed of football fan, and the circumstances which saw Zesh Rehman in midfield and Michael Flynn up front were slammed in a manner which deliberately ignored the bigger picture. A reduced budget means Stuart simply can’t retain the strength in depth and the same level of quality, so the length of the injury list is likely to prove a more telling factor this season. And when it does, players will be asked to take on unfamiliar roles and performances are going to suffer to a degree. A negative perhaps, but one which has to be tackled positively.

The injury situation clears up slightly this week with James Hanson returning to partner Gareth Evans and Scott Neilson up front, which will allow Flynn to return to the attacking midfield position he is performing so effectively alongside Lee Bullock and either Chris Brandon or James O’Brien. Just one player’s return it able to make that much of a difference, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that competition for places continues to be undermined by the unavailability of Peter Thorne, Michael Boulding, Steve O’Leary, Omar Daley and Leon Osborne. No longer down to the bare bones, but Stuart is hardly flush with options. A loan signing has been suggested, at the time of writing there are no few faces.

At the back the big question concerns whether skipper Zesh Rehman will reclaim his place in the back four or whether Matt Clarke – impressive in the last two games – will retain the role. Rehman has struggled for form of late and Clarke’s general solidness alongside Steve Williams may give him the nod in the way he took Mark Bower’s place in the team two seasons ago after the former defender also vacated the back four to help another area of the team.

At right back Simon Ramsden should also be fit enough for a return, ahead of Jonathan Bateson. The former Blackburn youth player has struggled with his distribution of late, though continues to display a great attitude and a confidence to get forward.  Luke O’Brien is left back – and there are a couple of interesting talking points concerning last season’s player of the year. The first is that O’Brien has been asked to take on more responsibility, as part of the new-look 4-3-3 formation, with strong encouragement to bring the ball forward more.

The other talking point is how, in recent games, the lack of cover afforded to the 21-year-old from midfielders in front  has been targeted by opposition managers. At Macclesfield, for example, Emile Sinclair was instructed to use the space in front of O’Brien to cause problems. It’s for this reason the selection of James O’Brien to play in front of him, rather than Brandon who likes to drift around the pitch, is widely preferred by fans.

Simon Eastwood keeps goal and has shown improvement of late. He will need to be wary of a reasonably strong Accrington line up that will include former City striker Michael Symes. An away win would see Stanley climb above City and give rise to promotion hopes, but such success may not be considered the fairy tale stuff it would have before the tax bill reminder came through the door.

As City try to achieve more from less this season, it could be argued a Bantams’ promotion would be more romantic than a club who’s name is often-proclaimed the most romantic in football.

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.

Chinese whispers

Despite Bradford City’s welcome 5-4 win at Cheltenham yesterday, there is talk from some quarters claiming things are far from rosy at Valley Parade.

Rumours and speculation are the order of the day, with a number of different sources pricking the BfB team’s ears that manager Stuart McCall went into Saturday’s game one or perhaps two games away from the sack. The evidence for this seemed to be that the three main members of the board had turned up to watch the team play Cheltenham. All three were City fans before City owners and – as the word from Mark Lawn suggests – if they did not turn up then there would be something to talk about.

Nevertheless such circumstances are the source of idle gossip. BfB has also heard from other, more reliable sources that the rumours of boardroom unrest with Stuart are if not a complete fabrication then very much largely untrue, leaving strong suspicion such rumours are the work of people with an agenda against the manager McCall. The agenda belonging to the people who regularly tell the rest of us that our manager is “not a manager” a proportion of whom step past the respectful mark of stating an opinion and into the realm of trying to agitate a scenario to support their views rather than speaking as is seen.

Recent history supports a view that the board are not looking to replace the boss. Julian Rhodes has previously backed his managers – it’s rumoured one of the triggers for the falling out with Gordon Gibb was over whether to sack Nicky Law and other chairmen would have sacked Colin Todd and even Stuart sooner. Mark Lawn’s outlook on managers is less known, but would have played a part in the decision to award Stuart a new contract last February.

Before the ink could dry, things had turned sour with the end of season collapse and near resignation of Stuart. The manager has started the season under pressure from a section of supporters and it’s unlikely a win which saw four goals conceded will be enough to quieten such doubters. The season is only four games old, but seems to already be approaching something of a knife edge. It can still be a campaign that ends in glory and there are plenty of positive indicators to support this, but the swirling rumours and lack of communication from the board could easily see fortunes take an entirely separate direction.

As a football fan, it’s common to return from a game to find other people have taken an entirely different view of the events collectively witnessed, but the attempted re-writing of history some are seemingly attempting to apply to the ‘Save our Stuart’ (SOS) campaign at the home game with Rotherham last April is pushing credibility. After the two defeats in Nottingham in the first week of the season, someone asked what happened to all those people who had displayed SOS banners in support of Stuart staying. It was quickly dismissed as an activity carried out by a small smattering of ten years old only which no one, certainly not the people demanding Stuart now be sacked, would admit to taking part in.

Odd, because I remember SOS signs held up all over the stadium in huge numbers (I also took photographs). Not everyone joined in of course, but it was a high enough participation to be considered a majority. When I looked immediately around where I sit, no one, even the blokes in front who complained non-stop all season about the lack of substitutions, failed to hold a sign up. I also looked over to the Kop, to the Main Stand and to the Bradford End and white pieces of paper with red writing were everywhere. Yet few appear willing to admit they held theirs.

Which suggests one of two scenarios. The SOS campaign was a unique and welcome opportunity for every supporter who attended the Rotherham game to vote on whether we should stick or twist with Stuart as manager. Everyone had the chance to share their view, by either holding up a sign or keeping their arms folded. This on its own was not how Stuart’s decision to stay on was ultimately made, but certainly a significant factor. I wonder if Julian and Mark held up their signs?

If you voted for Stuart to remain as manager, you surely have a responsibility to make sure your decision is followed through. Not by pretending you never held up such a sign a couple of defeats later, otherwise why should your opinion be taken seriously now? By holding up your sign to call for Stuart to stay, despite the fact he had offered to quit, you were making it known you wanted him to have another chance and four games into the next season he has not yet be given that.

If the fact everyone on message boards and T&A forums are telling the truth and genuinely didn’t hold up their SOS signs, it raises questions over how representative such sites are. A huge number of City fans did hold up those signs, but if the people who regularly contribute to message boards and forums are all people who didn’t it suggests they reflect only the opinion of a small section of supporters rather than anything close to the full picture.

Put another way, when the anger is really rising among some supporters and the comments on the T&A forums are stacking up, they still total few in the bigger scheme. Around 100 comments per story seems to be the average after a defeat, but these 100 comments usually feature the same five or six people writing more than once. Even if it was 100 hundred separate supporters angrily saying Stuart should walk, that’s 100 out of 11,000 who turn up to Valley Parade every other week. A sample of opinion which has validity – but not enough from which to shape tough decisions without further and wider consultation.

At BfB we claim only to be representative of the the writers views not of the readers – though we are grateful to receive 1,400 to 1,800 unique readers most days and have had over 120 people have articles published over the last decade. How many City supporters regularly make their views known to others in a wider context than mates down the pub? The SOS vote was the most public democratic decision we supporters have undertaken in years and its results should not be quickly forgotten.

With the speculation Stuart’s future may be in doubt, those who still support him, who held up their signs and who chant Stuart’s name at every game have a responsibility to ensure their voice continues to be heard. Too often those who shout the loudest have been able to dictate matters and while they are entitled to shout loud the fact that City have slumped from Premier League to League Two is not something which can be fully blamed on six weeks of madness.

Publicly at least, Stuart has retained a positive persona and will have done much to ensure the players’ spirits are not crushed by the disappointing start. The gradual improvement is there for all to see and the players Stuart has brought in appear to be settling in well and making a difference. There is every reason to believe the bad start can be just that – a bad start. As supporters we have a part to play in helping the club go forward and to end the season with a long overdue taste of success.

Though the Valley Parade boardroom also has a role to play and, while there’s plenty we supporters can disagree on right now, we can all find common ground in a desire to hear what they’re thinking.

So Mark Lawn was wrong – now what?

Leeds United has accepted an offer from Aston Villa for highly-rated teenager Fabian Delph, a player whom Bradford City have a reported 12% interest in. It means that Mark Lawn, who had revealed at last month’s Fans Forum he couldn’t see Delph leaving this summer as Leeds were asking for too much, will be delighted at being proved wrong.

The transfer fee has yet to be made public, but disappointingly for City it looks set to be less than it might have been. A statement on the Leeds United’s website thanks Villa “for the manner they conducted their interest  in the player” and adds of the approved bid, “we had no intention of going back on that.” Clearly Ken Bates, a man of principles when it suits him, is upset at how Man City have conducted their business.

With add-ons and clauses expected to form part of the accepted offer, it looks as though the fee will fall some way short of the £10 million that  Man City were reportedly offering. With Spurs also interested, it appears Leeds had the power to instigate a bidding war that could have seen the transfer fee go past such a figure. Bates is obviously content to cut off his nose to spite his face, so it means City will receive less than they might have.

But receive something they will and, at the forum, Mark Lawn confirmed that, should it reach a certain amount, Stuart McCall will have some budget for an extra loan signing. Five days before the start of the season and with that number four-shaped headache remaining, this will come as welcome news for the manager. Yet given the fee may still end up far more than Lawn had predicted (it’s rumoured two weeks ago Villa had made a £4 million bid which was rejected which may have been along the lines City were expecting Delph to leave for, it may be double that now) it could be that City have a bigger windfall than they dared hoped.

Much has been made of the fact Lawn and Julian Rhodes had budgeted for the sale of Delph last season or gaining promotion, failure on both counts resulted in Lawn putting money in to cover the losses and a radically reduced wage budget this season. While it’s right the Delph windfall goes towards sorting out some of those issues, should the mistaken assumption City would have received it last season act as a reminder of focusing on the long term picture?

The club has budgeted for Delph to remain at Leeds this season (he was on a four year contract), but instead of just throwing this now unexpected bonus on a couple of extra players, could it better used towards the greater good of the club? Lawn attempted to buy Valley Parade last season only to be quoted an inflated price by Gordon Gibb. While no one would want to make the former Chairman richer, could this extra money help to reach some form of compromise?

Of course a significant number of fans will want the money spent on the here and now, with the worry remaining that the affects of a reduced budget are yet to be seen. If City struggle in midtable this season and the money goes towards getting Valley Parade back, will Lawn and Rhodes be criticised or can another season of mediocrity be accepted if the club’s home is secured? Or should we again gamble on promotion and the difference more investment could make, assuming money to buy Valley Parade will increase with the elevation up the leagues or the option of Odsal?

City’s bank balance is set to look much healthier over the next few days, but there are some big considerations to be made.

McCall has not even started at City who need to decide who runs the club

Stuart McCall has to stay as Bradford City boss and not because he is a good guy or a Ginger God or a club legend but because sacking him will only make sure we end up in the same situation we are in now in eighteen months time and throws away any good work that has been done at the club leaving us to be run by a much of bitter moaners.

Second point first. Who runs Bradford City?

Is it Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes representing the supporters who have backed McCall with League Two record attendances or is it forty or so Scrots and a bunch of Chavs on a message board taking time away from posting up racist abuse and commenting on how right the Daily Mail is about everything? If it is the latter then tell me now and I’ll find something better to do with my weekends if it is the former then they should hold a steady line.

First point now. Hold a line because Stuart McCall has just got started at Valley Parade. There is no point in appointing a young manager if after 18 months of doing the job you let him leave. If you want instant results go to Terry Venebles, if you appoint a young manager then you don’t let yourself be forced into letting him leave when he is just working out how the phone system works and where the cones are kept at Applely Bridge.

Patience isn’t a virtue in football, it is a necessity if you want success.

If you are happy to piss away money hiring and firing managers then give them eighteen months each and edge them out the door after that. It is practically proven to fail and for every example of instant success you can find you get pull out ten where changing a manager has made f*ck all almost no difference.

Everyone wants stability at the club. Stability does not start with the next guy it starts here and now with sticking to a manager especially one who is bothered about the club and giving him the time to get things right.

Cause in the end what is sacking a manager (or letting him leave cause some morons have hounded him out)? Is it a punishment for him or for us? Look at the say the muppet crowd got rid of the England manager. Did Sven Goran Erickson go off sobbing while Steve MacLaren took us to European glory? No fecking way. Sven got paid all the same and we had The Wally with the Brolly so tell me who got punished then?

McCall will be gutted to leave City but he will leave and we will be left with a Aidy Bothroyd, a Keith Alexander, a Alan Rape Me Pardew for a year and a half and be wondering why we carry on looking disjointed and have no passion.

How can we demand passion from out players when we get rid of our most passionate player? How can we want a stable club with we keep smashing up any stability we have?

We should not even be talking about Stuart McCall’s position at this club until he has had three or four years. It is not like we are in danger of relegation. We might not go up! Big fat hairy deal! Not going up we should be used to by now. When was the last time with eight games left City even looked like they might get a play off place? 1999?

The club have got to decide who runs it and what it is for. Is it Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn or it is whoever shouts the loudest? Once that is decided if they could all they need to do is decide if they want to be successful and try doing the same things that work at the clubs who do well (Liverpool have got to sack Benitez ! He sold Robbie Keane! Liverpool don’t have any strikers! Hang on, 4-1!) or just want to piss around wallowing in mistake on mistake until everyone loses interest.

Note Oh yeah, I don’t want comments on this article. If you don’t like what I say then argue all you want, call me whatever you want. What people who want McCall out of City are doing is smashing up my club because they are too vindictive or too stupid to know better. If you are one of these people I don’t want to have a nice little discussion with you. Hell, I’d find it a tough choice to brake at a level crossing for you.

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.

McCall’s reward of a new contract is armour for Lawn and Rhodes

As far as signals of intent go Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes offering Stuart McCall a new contract could not be clearer.

As far as statements of fact go Mark Lawn’s unequivocal comments on the club he has been at for eighteen months could not be truer

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

Lawn, Rhodes and McCall will sit around a table this weekend and start talking about a new contract for the Gaffer that will improve his deal and give a seal of approval to his first year and a half as a manager and as manager at Bradford City. It is Lawn cutting dead the talk of if McCall The Boss will work out and declaring that it has worked out. It is Lawn saying to every Bradford City fan that Stuart McCall is the man to get behind to put a line under – once and for all – debates about his aptitude for the job.

Lawn is no one’s fool and in a typically Bradfordian way knows the value of a pound. He trust McCall to make good on the investment in Bradford City he has made and with good reason. McCall looked at Jon Shaw of Halifax on a free but would not match Rochdale’s £70,000 bid for him. Six months later McCall is getting the best out of Barry Conlon and Shaw – £70,000 and all – is being loaned out to Crawley. Oh but if every Bradford City manager had had such concern over the chairman’s money.

Anyone watching the Bantams this year should have noticed an improvement in the quality – if not the skill – of the football. Stuart McCall’s midfield controller Paul McLaren might not have the passing touch of Colin Todd’s Marc Bridge-Wilkinson (although some would say he does) but he certainly fits into a team with more ease.

The same is true all over the park. McCall’s players are on the whole less able than those who played in any of the teams since relegation from the Premiership but they play far better as a unit and have a greater team understanding. These talents – ascribed to McCall – are scalable and Lawn/Rhodes have recognised that.

Some may suggest that without midfield injuries Stuart McCall’s side would sit where Wycombe Wanderers do now – a debatable point if ever one was presented – but more importantly with the crippling treatment room McCall’s team maintained robust results which says much about how well embedded McCall’s ideas are within the club and the way the team plays. One of the more impressive wins on paper at least – 2-1 over Milton Keynes Dons was done with a rag-tag collection of players in the middle of the park.

McCall’s future at City – once contract is signed – can only be bright. With promotion this season not the deciding factor in his employment he has the security of not having to race for the finishing line at all costs during this transfer window and should the worst happen and the Bantams be lining up for more League Two next year then one doubts we would be less competitive. I believe that come May a top three place will be assured and McCall – like Paul Ince, Paul Simpson and Peter Taylor – will be being talked about as a manager for move up (Ince did – with little success) with this extended contract as armour to defend the man who has – along with Lawn – restored stability to the club.

Football at the speed of thought

Remember when Michael Boulding was a bit dodgy, a bit of bother who wanted to sign but only if we would take his brother?

Remember when Darren Moore snubbed us for what looks like one season of Championship football and we had to ‘make do’ with Graeme Lee?

Remember when Omar Lazy used to get groaned at every five minutes?

Remember when City used to lose at home?

These ideas and loads like them have changed at City so quickly that the club seems to have altered itself over night. Going top of the league seemed a long way away after Huddersfield but we are and suddenly Stuart has a whole new set of problems.

How are we gonna get rid of Daley has become who will come in for him at Christmas? Boulding is starring and the summer is long forgotten. The City who no one ever thought much of are now expected to win every week. Hell even the full backs can go 90 minutes without being jeered.

After eight years of falling how quickly it has all turned around. How ready we are to have some feel good factor. Sure this is a good month and not a good season but the quickness of the people with brains to condemn the morons who booed on Saturday suggests that the City fan has a bit of belief and wants to enjoy his football again.

All this the result of two good months? Probably not.

Hard work on and off the field by Julian Rhodes first to keep the club and Mark Lawn to build it. By Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs and by a group of players prepared to put in hard work. Barry Conlon I’m talking about here, showing everyone that giving your all is the minimum.

So to us City fans. Away from home everyone is a Barry shouting and cheering but at home we have some of last season’s Omars needing to turn their performances round and believe in the team a bit more.

The good news is that we can do that turnaround at the speed of thought.

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.

Lawn & Rhodes look at the easiest spin

One has to wonder what the reaction of Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes was at the “failure” of the 9,000 season ticket sale plan that only reached 8,296 adults giving a grand total of 10,707 holders at Valley Parade next season.

If it was not punching the air then it was probably a wry smile because while this is a public failure for the club in private the upside must have been talked about.

Had City sold 705 more season tickets then Stuart McCall would have had around £85,000 more in the kitty but the £1.25m generated will be more than most if not all clubs in League Two have. 95% of last season’s first stab at cheaper tickets has been generated.

The 9,000 free seats could have been filled by potential new supporters – the idea of giving the taste to would be fans for free in the hope that some are converted is a good one for a club that has twice as many seats as season ticket holders – but what atmosphere this would have created has been a worry.

What response would a person who will only go see a team if it costs nothing have had to going a goal down? Are they they sort of person who would by programmes and shirts? How would the paying fan have reacted to the freebies around him? How would he have reacted to having to park further away because of the extra cars from people who did not pay? To wait longer in the queues for the bars or the loos?

Such questions are avoided and while Lawn and Rhodes have a scheme that has failed to reach stated targets one cannot help but think that for many reasons the 700 fewer result is best for all. The 9,000 seats not given away for free can be resold. Commercial Manager David Baldwin must already be planning the Bradford City half-season ticket as the perfect Christmas present.

Should City be riding high then why not sell an 18 month for £200 this December cashing in on any extra interest that a claret and amber side at the top of League Two would have? This would not be possible with 9,000 extra seats claimed if not used.

Lawn and Rhodes could put on a face of failure for sure and for sure many will say this is a defeat but with over 10,000 coming in to see League Two football which is a greater average attendance then we ever got in League One then would be justified in coming out ebullient.

The spin to apply to this is not that the Bantams have failed to reach a target – it is that City are once again the best supported club in League Two.

Cheap season tickets – taking football back to supporters priced out by the sort of rampant increases of the post-Premiership years that have ripped into support levels and put off a generation of fans – is a significant movement in football. It started at Valley Parade last year and is being taken up elsewhere this. If 95% retention is common at Huddersfield Town, at Brentford, and at the other place that have adopted the policy then the permanent revolution in pricing will start to take hold.

Eight years of hurt

The relative irregularity of international tournaments helps them become memorable experiences through life, and I often find the beginning of a new one sees me look back at the last to measure how things have since changed.

Four years ago when Euro 2004 was taking place in Portugal, I watched games in between working two jobs; neither of them what I wanted to do with my life. I feel happy with subsequent career progress and even the current disputes over TV watching, which will largely consign me to following Euro 2008 from an old TV upstairs, is a nice way of appreciating the fact I’ve got married since Greece improbably became European Champions.

An examination of Bradford City’s fortunes since Euro 2004 leaves a big question mark over whether things have progressed during the past four years. That summer City had just been relegated from the-then Division One and were facing up to a first campaign in England’s third tier for eight years. Since then a first basement division campaign in 25 years has occurred and with it high, but typically unfulfilled, hopes. The term ‘disappointing’ is usually the politest used to describe a City season in recent years, with lowlights including that 3-0 home defeat to Accrington, getting relegated after loaning out the top scorer and Bobby Petta.

When looking further back at where City were during Euro 2000, the current position seems even more dismal. The ‘most exciting signing in the club’s history’ was unveiled a month after David Trezeguet’s golden goal won Euro 2000 for France, reputedly earning in a week what City would seven years later pay as their first transfer fee since 2001. We supporters were relishing another campaign of visits to Old Trafford, Anfield and Highbury; compared to next season’s trips to Moss Rose and Christie Park.

But as Euro 2008 kicks off with Holland and Spain throwing down early markers, something will be achieved at Valley Parade later this month that hasn’t occurred since those Premiership days – the club has broken even. It might not be earth-shattering news to turn the national media’s focus away from debating where Ronaldo might be playing next season, but it should be a worth a pint or two celebration for City fans. After years of rising debts and the struggle to merely keep going, plans for the future are being laid on more solid foundations.

And if nothing else, the thing to look back on when recalling Euro 2008 in future years should be that we were free to watch it without distractions over our team’s continuing existence. Anyone remember who Portugal and Greece had to beat in the semi finals to reach the Euro 2004 final? I couldn’t without looking it up (Holland and Czech Rep by the way). While the rest of the country debated David Beckham’s quarter final penalty shootout miss, we were wondering how we might cope without Bradford City.

At the end of June 2004 that looked reality as the club were minutes away from closing. If there’s been nothing major to celebrate since, that we were saved at the eleventh hour is something that shouldn’t be forgotten. After all, will supporters of Rotherham and Halifax care whether Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s goal for Holland was offside the other night?

In the four years since we’ve had two and half years of mid table mediocrity under Colin Todd, before a calamitous and avoidable relegation to League Two. New investment was promised by Peter Etherington but delivered by Mark Lawn, and now a club legend is charged with delivering Julian Rhodes’ ambitious aim of a return to the Championship before the 2010 World Cup kicks off in South Africa. It’s easy to scoff, but then four years ago no one was talking about City returning to the Championship anytime soon – and that was just after we’d exited it.

So far this summer City fans’ focus has been on the increasingly unlikely chances of the season ticket offer reaching its target, but even if it fails average crowds next season are still likely to be higher than the three post-Euro 2004 years in League One. Stuart McCall has a transfer budget bigger than most in League Two and is apparently aiming in high with his targets. Lofty expectations are justified and, a year into the job, there is confidence in Stuart to deliver.

All of which is due to the hard work of Julian Rhodes and others in bringing City back from the brink in 2004 and keeping the club afloat before Mark Lawn came on board and helped the club finally break even.

There may be no England to cheer, but Euro 2008 should be a more enjoyable tournament for us to sit back and watch knowing there aren’t any doubts whether City will be part of the big kick off August 9.

The next four years before Euro 2012 in Poland/Ukraine should be very interesting.

Why I hope City have not dropped the ball with the 9,000

In February 2008, we were told of the new offer for 2008/2009 season tickets – if 9000 adults or more were to buy a season ticket before 15th June, they’d each receive another, free, season ticket. It’s now less than a week to the deadline and only slightly more than 6000 have been sold – despite selling twice that number last season. Why is this the case?

Are City fans jaded? Perhaps so – last season, for all the signs of recovery and general optimism, was a mid-table finish in the fourth division when all is said and done.

Are City fans lazy? Certainly some are – witness the mad dash for season tickets as the deadline approached last season.

Are City fans fickle? Maybe. It’s fair to say that a good deal of the fans who bought tickets last season were definitely conspicuous by their absence in the years post-Premiership.

Are City fans cheap? Yes.

The fact that we sold more season tickets at a lower level of football just because of the ticket price speaks volumes. I applaud City for lowering the cost, I really do – football has always been too expensive to watch, and to put it in the financial reach of real people is how football should be.

The offer itself is where I think Bradford City have dropped an absolute clanger when it comes to this season’s season ticket sales. It is my belief that the reason that there is a shortfall of 3000 season ticket holders is solely down to the buy one get one free offer – people are waiting to see how many tickets are being sold, before swooping in at the last minute and grabbing two tickets – one for themselves, one for their mate, and paying half each. These will be the same people that then complain that “City have no money again” as they sit there having contributed less than 4p for each minute of league football played that season at home.

I think City’s BOGOF offer is an inspired way of getting more people through the turnstiles, but it has been handled all wrong. The message should have been “Buy One Get One Free – for the first 9000 adult season tickets purchased, if we sell 9000 adult season tickets”. There would then have been a mad scramble at the start of the promotion (although it’s been made unnecessary by allowing renewals to be done online this season) as will inevitably happen at the end of this one, and those that bought after the 9000 mark would still only be paying £150. Even play it a little cloak and dagger, and don’t publicise how many tickets have been sold. Those that were going to split the cost with their mate would still be able to if they get in early enough – and if I’m honest, at least these people might actually attend the games instead of having an extra season ticket to give to someone who more than likely won’t turn up. At this rate, instead of getting 9000+ new supporters (which is the aim), City could be in a position where anywhere between 3000 and 6000 people just don’t bother getting a ticket at all, as they’ll miss the deadline and instead of paying £150 for two tickets, will have to pay £300 for one.

“City Til I Die” is the mantra from the stand – but in reality, it’s more like “City while I can bleed them dry” for most. And that saddens me.

Time to deliver on and off the field

One of the great things about emailing people is you can pretend to be sincere.

When I mailed a Leeds-supporting friend if she’d at least enjoyed her day out at Wembley last weekend I was able to do so without the immature smirks and wisecracks Leeds-supporting colleagues who sit near me have had to endure. I was equally glad she wasn’t able to see me shaking my head in despair after receiving her reply.

Yes she’d enjoyed the occasion, but was still carrying a sense of injustice that her beloved whites had lost to Doncaster Rovers. Not because she felt the players deserved more than the 1-0 defeat they suffered, but because the Leeds United supporters had notably outnumbered their South Yorkshire counterparts.

The Doncaster fans were rubbish for the number of empty seats they left she claimed, while ignoring the fact Rovers were forced to suspend ticket sales due to the number of ticketless Leeds fans attempting to buy them. I couldn’t help but feel it was a flawed logic to believe one club deserved to beat another on account of how many supporters they could muster.

Typical Leeds United fans – arrogant and looking down their noses at clubs who are now their equal, perhaps another season in England’s third tier will teach them to be more humble.

But wait. Supporters convinced success is their privilege on the basis of the number of their own, belief that opposition players won’t be able to handle the ‘intimidation’ of your big crowds, the feeling you can sit back and enjoy assured success…it all sounds a bit familiar – like us a year ago?

If there’s one thing the 2007/08 season should have taught us it’s that having more supporters than your rivals is not an advantage on its own. With our crowds averaging 10,000 more than many others, it was easy to get carried away in the belief these small clubs wouldn’t fancy running out at Valley Parade and we’d sweep everyone aside. The reality proved somewhat different as nine defeats contributed to the best supported club in the division managing only the 11th best home record.

Another year on and, despite the lack of success on the pitch, the aim is to dramatically increase crowds once more with a second remarkable season ticket offer. The daily updated figure at the bottom of City’s official website suggests it doesn’t appear to have yet captured the Bradford public’s imagination, but with many likely to be holding out until the last minute the club are still confident that the 9,000 adult applicants needed to trigger everyone getting a free second season ticket will be reached.

The season ticket initiative deserves all the applause it’s getting, but it does throw up plenty of questions for the season ahead. Will everyone who receives a free season ticket find someone to use it and, even then, will they go to every game? Are there enough supporters anxiously waiting until just before the deadline to see if the club are close to the magic 9,000 target, where they can then split the cost with a friend confident of getting that free season ticket?

The number of season ticket holders increased markedly following the £138 offer for 2007-08 season, but many of these were clearly floating supporters lured by the optimism that Stuart McCall’s return generated and novelty of live football. If, after watching a failed campaign of League Two football they renew it’s an achievement of sorts, but do they have other friends they can persuade to join them or will they think £75 a ticket or not bother? And what if 9,000 isn’t reached, what does the club plan to do then?

The growing uncertainty of if the season ticket initiative will succeed is similar to last season, where as City failed dismally to fight against relegation the number of supporters pledging to buy a season ticket was worryingly short of the 10,000 target. Julian Rhodes decided to run the offer anyway and the summer euphoria of Stuart’s return and Mark Lawn’s investment helped the uptake exceed expectations. There will be no such off the field moves this close season and it’s unlikely Stuart will be making the sort of headline signings that would trigger large queues at the ticket office. The next few weeks are going to be very interesting.

The hope is that the offer will succeed for more reasons than for those of us who have bought a season ticket for 2008/09 to get a second free. When Rhodes unveiled the first season ticket offer in February 2007 his motivation was to make the local football team affordable to everyone in the area. Football’s incredible rise in popularity over the last 15 years has sparked unprecedented interest, but seeing it in the flesh has gone beyond the reach of many.

The original season ticket sought to readdress the balance and, after some prodding, captured people’s interest. Other clubs have since replicated what City pioneered and, as the Premier League becomes further grasped from reality, Football League clubs have the chance to re-establish their importance in local communities by being a place young and old can afford to be.

Should the 9,000 be reached, prompting the second free season tickets, more fans will be supporting City next season than during the 1998-99 promotion season exactly 10 years earlier, a fact which underlines the high ambition of the initiative. Clearly it’s going to be touch and go if this is achieved and, even if it does, question marks over the future will remain. What about season ticket prices for 2009-10? What about 2010-11? It’s unclear if Rhodes and Lawn will have such a long term strategy and ultimately it could be out of their hands.

All of which underlines the importance of things going right on the pitch next season. City must mount a stronger promotion push sooner rather than later or the renewed interest in the Bantams will fade for many as quickly as it was rediscovered. There is a hardcore support who will continue to follow City come what may, but no amount of great offers will persuade the more fair-weather supporters to keep coming if we’re going to continue struggling against the likes of Accrington and Barnet. If City can be celebrating promotion the cheap season tickets will remain popular, but it seems unlikely there will be a strong uptake next year if another season of mid-table mediocrity follows.

The statement of ambition from Julian Rhodes this week, while putting pressure on the management team, is welcome. Whether the club should believe they can be in the Championship in two years is debatable, but the old saying of shoot for the moon and, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars could be on the chairmen’s minds. Certainly the immediate aims should centre of promotion from the basement league and provide those of a claret and amber persuasion the first opportunity to celebrate success in nearly a decade.

The pictures of Leeds United supporters crying at Wembley might have give us all a good laugh, but they should also act as a warning that big crowds at Valley Parade next season offer only limited help to achieving the goal of promotion. It’s appears such lessons are being taken on board with the announcement Stuart is to have a larger than anticipated budget to mould a team capable of achieving the dreams of a fickle and impatient Bradford public – before they conclude that even some of the cheapest season tickets in the country aren’t worth it.

Rhodes applies some pressure with a lofty promotions demand

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Permanent Revolution

On Saturday Stuart McCall’s team will try record a third win on the bounce and continue a run of good form that started on Boxing Day and has given rise to some optimism at Valley Parade. The 14,000 odd at Valley Parade have reason to be happy with the way that the team is going and Julian Rhodes should be given an award for that.

Rhodes – along with Mark Lawn – will probably pick up the Football League award for the Perform Best Fan Marketing campaign after going down a division but doubling the attendance. They are planning on getting 20,000 into Valley Parade next season through similarly impressive decision making but even if they do one doubts it will make as much difference as dropping season ticket prices last season has.

Back in October, 2005 – Friday 7th to be exact – I wrote the article A rough sketch of a business plan for the future of Bradford City in which I said

A permanent revolution in pricing is needed. City need to set the cost of going to Valley Parade around the level of a trip to the cinema in order that is represent something approaching value. A cursory glance around VP will tell you that the £15 plus price has put off a generation of supporters with older faces outnumbering the young considerably.

After a half season of what in the history of modern football is by far the closest thing to the permanent revolution in pricing those words are starting to bring fruit.

While the atmosphere at Valley Parade has been up and down all season the weight of a support behind Stuart McCall’s side when they capture imagination is impressive. Not only impressive but it seems to be working. I have gone on record as saying I’d like to have the cacophony behind the Bantams at all times but we cannot have everything we want and until City fans get the unfettered support that really would be a permanent revolution then I’m happy that 14,000 people can chant “Barry, Barry, Barry” when the man trundles onto the field. It is the sort of support that builds atmosphere.

And atmosphere – for want of a better phrase – begets enjoyment and enjoyment brings return visits. Just like the kid-a-quid scheme of Geoffrey Richmond the work being put in now is building a generation of supporters for the future. One could only estimate how many City fans would be retained next season should prices have been returned to former levels for 2008/2009 but one can be sure that that number is greater than it would have been in the season following our relegation last term.

So Rhodes and Lawn push on with the two-for-one offer which hopes to bring 20,000 to Valley Parade for League Two football – or perhaps better fingers, toes, eyes crossed – and they deserve credit for not resting on their laurels.

More than credit though they deserve recognition that what Bradford City have done this season is special, should be copied and in a very significant way is giving football back to the supporters.

A shiny trophy is the least they deserve.

Graduation Day

I think I remember how this works. Many things happen during a Summer and this Summer was more eventful than most but on a weekend in August everything that is shaken up returns into place and – on a sun soaked afternoon as the clock ticks over to three – football in all its would be egalitarian glory returns.

For minutes everyone is equal – nice to see the Premiership kick off on the same day once more – and until the first goal is scored in the country no one is ahead and no one is behind. Except for Leeds United. My Nan Margaret Gunn used to say that one should be nice to people on the way up because one would meet them on the way down. That is pretty much all one can say about Leeds.

Within minutes some unlucky group of supporters are going to watching their custodian pulling the ball out of the back of the net. Within forty five and when the expectant 12,000 at Valley Parade are looking for probably rare pies someone will be three down and they will be beginning a bad season. With hope that will not be Bradford City.

Football is watching Bradford City this season. The £138 season ticket and return of Stuart McCall has suggested a new paradigm in football. Give them something to watch and do not stop them from coming to watch it. In a very real way a small revolution is happening at Valley Parade tomorrow and who knows where it will end? Football pricing in line with a trip to the cinema. Mr Rhodes, you deserve the best of things.

One suspects though that Mr Rhodes and his new partner Mark Lawn would settle for a win – any win – but if the footballing Gods smile then a good win. Stuart McCall’s return is invigorating and both he and Wayne Jacobs have proved something at assistant level. It is graduation day.

McCall’s first team for his first game in the big chair at home to Macclesfield Town will feature the heart of the defence of last season. Donovan Ricketts behind David Wetherall and Mark Bower could be the best three in the league. Paul Heckingbottom makes his second debut at left back and Darren Williams plays on the right. A defence that picks itself week in week out is the basis of the best teams.

Paul Evans – still without contract – is expected to be signed up in time to take the number four shirt and the McCall position breaking up play and moving the ball on. Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley scrap over the right wing – what the former lacks in class the latter lacks in effort – and Alex Rhodes is expected to make a debut on the left not long after signing from Brentford as McCall opts for a 442. A host of players would partner Evans in the middle but expect Eddie Johnson to get the nod.

Barry Colon takes one slot up front but Peter Thorne’s injury prevents McCall from giving a first outing to his pairing. Gillingham’s Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu – signed on loan yesterday – is expected to add pace and power to the forward line.

Three o’clock. Turn up, cheer, see a win. I’m not sure is how it has been working for a good few years now but this is graduation day and things can change.

A New Season And Reason To Be Optimistic

Well, it’s that time of year again when all supporters up and down the country start to talk about their team’s chances for the forthcoming season (except in Scotland where the season has already started). It has certainly been an interesting close season this summer with football authorities shirking their responsibilities with both the on-going Tevez affair and the recent announcement of the 15 point deduction for Leeds United. (At this point, I must add the City supporters should have some sympathy for Leeds United supporters after ourselves going through two separate administration periods. We, the City supporter, should understand how it feels when your club is in serious financial difficulties. City supporters laughing at Leeds’ current position have short memories and deep down would you really want to see our rivals disappear from the footballing map?)

Following our third relegation since the 2000/2001 season in May of this year, you would have thought that going into this new season, City supporters would be full of pessimism. Far from it if you gage supporters views on messageboards, in newspapers and from general discussion. The main reason for this new found optimism is the return of a true hero, Stuart McCall, as our new manager. Julian Rhodes should take alot of credit for securing McCall’s employment as he stuck to his task of obtaining the legend after the sacking of Colin Todd back in February. Indeed, when Neil Warnock was relieved of his duties at Bramell Lane, many people thought that we had no chance of obtaining Stuart as our new manager.

Stuart now has the enormous challenge of getting us promoted during his first season in charge. Well, this is what most supporters are demanding before a football has even been kicked. Stuart has made some interesting signings since he took over at the helm and along with the players who remain from last season, I believe that Stuart will have done well to have secured a play-off position come May 2008. It will be interesting to see how the likes of Penford, Bentham, Colbeck and Ainge perform this season. Much has been written about home grown players in the past and supporters all have their own views on the four players that I’ve just mentioned. For me, City looked like a more balanced side when Bentham was playing in central midfield last season and it will be interesting to see how Eddie Johnson performs in his new midfield role this season. Penford was down the pecking order when Bridge-Wilkinson and Schumacher were at the club. They have now both departed but McCall has signed Scott Phelan (another midfielder from Everton) and he looked useful against Farsley in pre-season. Ainge could have a promising future as he looked composed on the ball when he was given his chance in the first team last season. Of the home grown players, Colbeck played the most first team games last season and much has been written about him. Supporters need to give this young lad time to progress. At Farsley, supporters were barracking him if a pass went astray but then he played a neat pass to trialist Simon Johnson who set up Peter Thorne’s goal. All of a sudden, Colbeck’s not such a bad player. Talk about supporters blowing hot and cold with their opinions.

Another reason for renewed optimism is the fact that the club has told over 12,000 season tickets. Again, credit to Mr Rhodes for sticking to his guns when others thought that his superb idea of reasonably priced football was set to fail. If Stuart hadn’t taken up the managerial reins, the number of season tickets that would have been sold is debatable. However, we don’t have to worry about that and we should have the biggest home attendances in Division 4 this coming season. We will be the big fish in a small pond. Other teams will come to Valley Parade and will feel inspired to play well in front of a large crowd and a fantastic stadium. As we know from the past, this could have a detrimental effect on our performances. Hopefully, our new look team will feel the need to perform well in front of their own supporters. We shouldn’t however have this big club mentality and should keep our feet firmly on the ground. As I mentioned earlier, many supporters are demanding promotion this season and I’ve even heard people say that if we don’t gain automatic promotion they will be disappointed. After seeing us in freefall for the past few seasons, it would be nice if we can have a good season but we must remember that we don’t have a divine right to promotion just because of out stadium and the size of our attendances.

However, we have a good platform from which we can build a club that we can be proud of again; a legend as manager, a great club servant as assistant manager, a Chairman who supports the club (I use the word support in relation to passion and not in terms of financial support), a solid supporter base in terms of number of season tickets sold and no large debts hanging around the club’s neck thanks to our new Co-Chairman.

If, and it’s a big if, we are promoted at the end of the season I would be absolutely delighted for two people more than any others; firstly Julian Rhodes for supporting the club in times of crisis and for David Wetherall who has stuck with us despite 3 relegations.

Bring on the new season!

The price is right

Mark Lawn should be more careful about his publicity stunts. As City’s new joint-owner cooked up a tasty fare of barbecue food to people queuing up for season tickets on Sunday, he might be finding his special talents are needed again in a fortnight. Given the impressive uptake of City’s bargain bucket season tickets, far beyond expectations, you wonder if City will be able to cope with the higher than expected crowds this season. Hey Mark the half time queues for food are huge, your cookery skills are needed on the Kop concourse…

The season ticket offer ends on Tuesday and, six months after the idea was originally announced, Lawn’s new sidekick should be feeling especially pleased with himself. When Julian Rhodes launched the scheme last February, he was greeted with a degree of indifference and an apparent reality of how much the district of Bradford was bothered about having a football team.

City are leading the way with making football affordable to everyone and, if our biggest crowds for years are celebrating promotion come May, it will surely become an initiative copied elsewhere.

People were asked to ‘pledge’ to buy a ticket and the numbers who did so were not enough. Given City failed to win a single home match and their feeble attempt to avoid relegation during this period, it’s perhaps to be expected the T&A post bag wasn’t exactly bulging. Nevertheless, the lack of response to the cheapest season tickets in English professional football felt both demoralising and embarrassing.

So what’s changed? Why are we now about to kick off the new season with just under 12,000 season ticket holders? A third relegation in six years occurred, yet the optimism among supporters for the season ahead is probably the highest it has been since promotion to the Premiership. It appears that the summer arrivals account for the late surge of interest in watching City’s first bottom division campaign in two decades.

Yet Mark Lawn’s investment in the club, while crucial and welcomed by every City supporter, would surely not be of enough significance to suddenly make lapsed supporters return. It’s the arrival of one of City’s sporting icons who must surely take credit for that.

It’s worth noting just how powerful the Stuart McCall factor is. Cheap season tickets or not, it appears several thousands are returning to watch Bradford City on the strength of his appointment. This shows the depth of feeling people have for our ginger hero. Stuart has been at the forefront of some of City’s more recent prominent moments, both happy and tragic. He has proved himself to be the ultimate hero and one that, crucially, is easy for everyone to identify with. He is loved by so many, including those who gave up watching City years ago.

After the previously poor response to the season ticket offer, few would have blamed Rhodes if he had abandoned the initiative last spring. He kept going, partly helped by behind the scenes support from Lawn. His long term aim was to get Stuart in, although this also looked unlikely for a time. With the offer not going well, Stuart remaining tight-lipped about his future and City heading for relegation; many supporters decided to vocally criticise our owner and the ‘get rid of’ brigade began calling for him to step down. Rhodes even briefly contemplated giving those people what they wanted, but thankfully decided to stay on.

His plan might not have looked successful for a time and his determination to wait for Stuart clearly cost City their League One status last term, but luck changed and the snowball effect of good news stories continues at a fast pace. Now Rhodes can hopefully sit back as the season kicks off with his efforts paying off. It won’t happen but, after Stuart gets his great reception from fans as he walks to the dugout against Macclesfield, it would be wonderful if a chant of ‘there’s only one Julian Rhodes’ rang out from all three home stands.

The season ticket offer is wonderful. I’ve written a few bfb articles calling for reduced ticket prices in the past. As someone who hasn’t been financially well off for a couple of years, I was acutely aware how expensive it was to watch City and I’ve had to miss some matches before finally been able to afford a season ticket again last season. I think it’s wonderful that, as ticket prices continue to rise nationally and the Premiership becomes more and more removed from reality, my club has taken this fantastic lead in making the game more affordable for ordinary folk.

Bradford City have been criticised in the past for not doing enough in the community, but this move is a significant step towards integrating the club as an important part of local people’s lives. Now around 11,500 of us will be visiting Valley Parade every fortnight and the new season promises to be exciting, carrying with it the promise of a promotion push.

It won’t be easy, Stuart doesn’t have a huge transfer budget and undoubtedly not all of his summer signings will prove successful. The loan system is being heavily utilised and some fans are already needlessly panicking because City have lost a couple of friendlies. The new investment from Lawn gives City a chance to push forward, but it doesn’t mean City have bucket loads of cash to spend. The problems of recent years are probably best illustrated by the return of Paul Heckingbottom on loan. It’s three years since he departed; yet he still remains the last left back City signed on a permanent basis.

Promotion this season would make for a wonderfully happy story; not just to a club that has forgotten what success is like, but for football fans everywhere. City are leading the way with making football affordable to everyone and, if our biggest crowds for years are celebrating promotion come May, it will surely become an initiative copied elsewhere.

If the fairytale ending of promotion does occur, Rhodes can be even prouder than he must feel right now. As fans criticised him last spring, many seemingly dismissed the fact he and his family had twice saved the club as a minor irrelevance. While this is ludicrous and sadly typical of some of our fans, Rhodes’ vision could be about to create a legacy no one could shrug off. It’s unfortunate that history will so far record Rhodes tenure as a time linked with failure and financial strife. With his wonderful offer, new investment on board and a City legend as manager; Rhodes’ plan is coming together and it’s to be hoped all of this hardwork will pay off.

If anyone deserves to succeed with City, it is surely Rhodes. Hopefully this season he can sit back and enjoy some success. It’s sure to taste even better than a Mark Lawn burger.

Fundraising Efforts Prove Worthy

So, as our beloved Bradford City begin a new era with Stuart McCall as our new manager and Mark Lawn as the new Co-chairman, those supporters who put their heart and soul into fundraising during the perilous summer of 2004 can say “it was all worthwhile”. At the time, these people who were completing sponsored walks, eating maggots and ground hopping across Lancashire to non league grounds such as Leigh RMI, were raising monies to assist with the survival of the football club. That was the short term aim which provided a platform for Julian Rhodes to then keep the club afloat.

However, without these people’s efforts, there would be no Bradford City today. Make no mistake about it, our club was within minutes of going out of business back in the summer of 2004. Individuals including Julian Rhodes, Colin Todd and ex-Chairman of the Bradford City Supporters’ Trust, Mark Boocock, should be applauded for staying loyal to the football club during some of our darkest hours. I realise that many supporters wanted to see the sacking of Colin last season, but whether you were pro-Todd or anti-Todd, one fact remains and that is that is stayed around at Valley Parade whilst Bryan Robson couldn’t wait to get away from Valley Parade. (All very strange as Robson the player was such a battler.)

So firstly there was the individual supporters’ efforts, then there has been Julian’s tremendous support over the past five or so very difficult years. Now we have a new hero in Mark Lawn. The one thing that impresses me about Mark Lawn, is like Julian, he is a Bradford City supporter, which should count for a lot in the coming months and years.

If you raised any money, no matter how much, stand up and be counted. Your efforts have allowed, first Julian Rhodes, and now Mark Lawn to bring the football club back onto a financial even keel. Be proud of your actions. It just proves that a team effort can have a positive impact. Let’s hope that Stuart gets the team pulling together on the pitch. Now then, where are those map directions to Morecambe?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McCall To Reap The Rewards Of The Endeavours Of Julian Rhodes

Stuart McCall will be shown off as the new Bradford City manager on Monday morning and as he returns to Valley Parade for his third coming and after many years of silent mumbles from the club expect there to be there will be much talk about the two men flanking him.

One will be Wayne Jacobs – or we at BfB hear it will be – was McCall picks the steady hand of the former Bantams left back his number two. Jacobs is a serious man, a devout Christian whose commitment to the Bantams sits him alongside any to have worn the claret and amber. If the public face of Stuart McCall for some is the Scot falling off the top of a car then Jacobs is the signal of serious intent needed to put that ghost to rest. McCall is here to do business in his first job managing a football team and wants all to see it and that is why Jacobs and not the equally qualified but publicly less sombre such as Peter Beagrie stands alongside him.

Flanking McCall on the other side is a man who’s name we omit if only for clarity of spelling (Is it the stuff in the garden or the pork product?) A local businessman with seven figures to invest in his home town club he is going to join Julian Rhodes at the helm of Bradford City’s new dawn. He has been very significant in bringing Stuart McCall back to Bradford City and has put his money as well as his faith in the new manager. He does not have ginger – or strawberry blonde – hair as the men who are charged with taking the club forward do but his arrival is no less significant.

And in the background is Julian Rhodes. Never one to cling to the spotlight and uneasy in front of the media Rhodes has had Bradford City forced upon him after getting involved in a good idea nearly ten years ago only to end up keeping the club he follows together with re-mortages and hope.

Without him and the Herculean endeavours he has faced to maintain a business where there was no business hope this day would not have come.

Roll On Up As The Greatest Show On Earth Begins Anew

Much effort and energy has gone into the decision made by Julian Rhodes to cut Bradford City season tickets from the £15 a game prices that are common in all football to the £138 they went on sale at today. Six quid a game is cheaper than the cinema and the best value in football. It is brave, it is ambitious, it is innovative and brand defining. It is everything people who work in marketing and branding would want. It deserves to work.

Rhodes cuts prices with the hope of increasing demand and nurturing an atmospherical fan base for the future. In a way Julian Rhodes is legacy building the in same areas that Geoffrey Richmond started. The Quid-a-Kid generation at Valley Parade are now the foot soldiers of our fans.

For so long Rhodes has stood alone at the helm. The Gang of Five do in some cases superb work – David Bosomworth’s dealings with the youth set up is paramount – but Jim Brown’s ability to take up the mantel of leadership above and beyond struggling with Peter Etherington for that position has been noticeable. Enter Stuart McCall.

McCall provides the leadership to push Rhodes’s plan to fruition. We are Stuart’s club again. This is a good thing and everyone sees it. The Midland Road stand – unsponsored for a year following Peter Etherington’s promises – is to be redubbed The Morrison’s Stand as the local supermarket magnet Sir Ken’s grip on the company that holds his name lessens and the board of Bradford’s biggest plc come round to the community the inhabit. Should Intersonic not want to continue then – as BfB understand it – Bradford City would play at The Morrison’s Stadium.

Sponsorship – as with bums on seats – is on the up. So is Mood.

Simon Ainge signed a new two year deal to do the job he loves and boomed

We should be expected to do well because we are a big club. We were a big club in League One so of course people will be looking at us to be up there. We obviously need some more players but with the ones we’ve got here already, I can’t see why we won’t go back up.

Stuart McCall must be pleased. Ainge has offered to play right back next term should the David Wetherall/Mark Bower partnership not be plundered. McCall himself started in the number two slot for the Bantams and the fact that Ainge joins Tom Penford, Joe Colbeck and Craig Bentham in signing contracts with the club shows a spirit of trust in the products of Bradford City.

On a Friday afternoon the mind is given to idle speculation and the mix of young players and a new serge of supporters all playing for a man who has gone from bootroom skinny to backroom manager fills the heart with anticipation and joy.

£138? I’ll be getting one.

The Boy Who Never Grew Up

Dean Windass probably likes to think of himself as a footballing Peter Pan. Despite pushing 40, the evergreen striker continues to bang in the goals and shows no sign of winding when so many other players his age have already hung up their boots.

Bradford City fans may be inclined to agree with the Peter Pan comparison, although at this moment not in the same way. Forget playing like a child, he certainly seems to have the mindset of one. Listening to him air his views on Radio Leeds today, you could almost hear the sound of his toys been thrown out of the pram. Windass has spit out the dummy and declared he is taking his ball home as he doesn’t want to play at Valley Parade anymore. Peter Pan is apt; he is certainly the boy who never grew up.

The reason for his outburst? The evil Captain Hook, or Julian Rhodes to us, has demanded a pirates ransom (250K) in return for his freedom. Should Hull not come up with more gold, he will be locked up and forced to spend the rest of his days in the tortuous abyss (League Two). Our hero is trying to escape, screaming for help as loudly into any passing microphone. But with the dastardly Rhodes’ Ginger-haired Smee tying him up harder, he won’t be walking the plank to freedom just yet.

Listening to Deano label City’s demands as ridiculous makes me want City to reject any offer from Hull and force him to rot in our reserves. How can £250k be considered ‘ridiculous’ when City have twice turned down double that offer for him in recent years? After each of Wigan’s failed bids, Deano was offered extended terms as a reward for loyalty. Having been well looked after by the club, he thinks its unfair we are asking so much for a player who has scored 20+ goals three years in a row. Apparently Rhodes agreed he could go, so that’s that. How dare the evil pirate ship Bradford City demand to receive what he’s worth?

The most frustrating thing about the whole episode is why he has felt it necessary to come out and say anything. Listening to his words, he sounds like a sulky Italian or ungrateful young star. You certainly wouldn’t think he was a 39 year old player with a career of almost two decades. Why couldn’t he just stay quiet and wait for the deal to inevitably work itself out? He could have left the club where he has become a hero with most people’s best wishes.

We City fans have a lot to be grateful to Deano for. In two separate spells, he has proved an excellent goalscorer and good figurehead. He is our 4th highest goalscorer of all time and has provided numerous happy memories. His goals have been crucial and plentiful. Windass is very much like Robbie Savage and Paul Dickov in been a player opposition fans love to hate, often with good reason. It was incredible some of the stick he would get, but it made us love him more. As the City Gent’s Mike Harrison once wrote, “he may be an idiot, but he’s our idiot.”

Yet City in turn have been good to him. It was by playing for us that he rose to national fame with his swashbuckling style of play and cheeky chappy media demeanour. After proving himself a Premiership player for us, he got a good move to Middlesbrough. As his career took a dip, he rejoined us and again showed his form and ability after a difficult first season back. It’s not surprising he has such a long list of admirers in other managers and several moves to sign him have been turned down.

He also clearly loved been a big fish at City. He was our hero and lapped up the ‘Deano’ chants. It seems to have gone to his head and his attitude has upset some. I’ve heard stories about Deano’s behaviour last season that cannot be put in the public domain. If true, it’s fair to say the decision to loan him to Hull last January was not completely about the money.

There’s no doubting we missed him and relegation would probably have been avoided had he stayed. There were also some idiots on message boards criticising him unfairly, but it’s fair to say the majority of City fans appreciated our number 10 and still considered him a hero. What a shame he has to act like this and upset his second love.

Last season Colin Todd famously said that Deano considered himself, “bigger than the club.” Those comments may have been tongue in cheek, but they certainly seem very fitting now. He will get his move and one day, as he compiles his inevitable autobiography, he may be ashamed of how he left this club. Although don’t bet on the boy growing up.

Windass Cuts Up Rough About Smooth Move To Hull

It was anticipated that Dean Windass’s move from Bradford City would go without a hitch and it probably would have done but for a missing zero. City want £250,000, Hull have offered £25,000. No one is happy.

Julian Rhodes maintains that City are not going to seel a Championship quality player for a cut down price, Windass complained about City “moving the goalposts” – lovely football metaphor fom the big man – while Hull manager Phil Brown maintains that City suggested that they loan payment the Tigers (Tiger-Ra-Ra-Ra) made for the home town hero should be knocked off the £250,000 tag. Rhodes would probably say it has been. Perhaps Rhodes will suggest Hull take the £25,000 to Milton Keynes Dons and see how close it gets them to signing Izale McLeod who is perhaps the only comparable goalscorer in the league.

Windass is frustrated and calls the price tag an absolute joke but after two administrations and many staff losing jobs few are laughing at Valley Parade when it comes to finance. Windass has two years left on his City contract and the Bantams pay him something around £85,000 a year. Simple maths suggests that any bid less than £170,000 less than the Bantams value the player at – that sort of figure that Windass would be looking at spending if he wanted to buy himself out of his deal at Valley Parade to move abroad – is bound to be rejected but Windass wants age considering and his desire to play at his home town club.

For Hull’s part £250,000 is probably more than they would want to pay for a player with no resale value but resale value on footballers is an increasingly outmoded concept. Reading signed Steve Sidwell from Arsenal for nothing which was exactly how much they got from Chelsea for him when he left having rejected a new contract with the Royals. For the wages they paid him they got a contribution to a promotion and another year the Premiership which represents decent value in anyone’s book. It is this model – not the idea of footballer as resaleable asset – that is taking hold in the game and be is £250,000 or £25,000 that The Tigers spend on Windass they would be advices to spread that cost with the players £1,000 a week as a liability cost of ownership but I’m sure Adam Pearson does not need a lesson in football accounting from me. He was smart enough to get out of Leeds before the money ran out.

Is £250,000 a joke for Windass? Is £25,000? One rumour has it – and we stress that this is little more than idle gossip – that Jan Molby had run up a phone bill of £42,000 in three months when he was fired by Hull City which he expected and got the club to pick up. This is a world where people sweated blood to raise that sort of cash to keep clubs up and down the land in business.

Were the positions reversed and Hull were returning our talisman then no doubt different views would be taken but as it is the men in the East hold all the cards: they are two divisions higher, have more money and have the will to take the player to the KC Stadium. City have Windass and that rules all.

The strikers options are limited should a deal not be struck. He could threaten retirement unless he is allowed to join but such a move would only work as leverage to get the Bantams to allow him to leave for as little as he wants to and while no one has ever accused Deano of having the greatest reason he will at some point begin to wonder what the purpose of his move is if Hull are not prepared to offer the going rate for him? How valued would Dean Windass be at his new club if they only wanted him on the cheap? How many games can he expect to get in the next two years if he is considered a nice-to-have player rather than the first name on Stuart McCall’s team sheet?

One can assume that Windass’s anger at City for demanding big money is equaled by Hull’s instance that he is only worth small potatoes. Without Windass Hull would probably be back in the bottom two divisions – isn’t that worth £225,000?

Or is Windass’s return a sop to supporters who want to see the Lionesque forward reduced to a bit part player poked onto the stage for their amusement. Surely Dean Windass is not going to be reduced to a cameo ten minutes at the end of a Championship game so that the Tigers can applaud their hero but not reward him with the ninety plus games he has left in the next 24 months of his football career.

McCall Escapes Overnight

It escaped sometime overnight and was said to be a leaking of information but one suspect that an inability not to shout from the rooftops has motivated Julian Rhodes as he formally announced

In light of intense media speculation, I’m delighted to say that the new manager is Stuart McCall.

McCall was to be unveiled as part of a three card trick coming at the start of June but idle speculation suggested snags where none existed and to keep momentum on the manager Rhodes opened up for all. He inherited Nicky Law, Gordon Gibb picked Bryan Robson and an administrator promoted Colin Todd. McCall is Rhodes’s first manager and probably the one he has been dreaming about giving the job to.

Tributes for Stuart are plentiful and lead by Walter Smith at Ibrox – the most decorated manager in that club’s history – who says that McCall has all the attribute to make a great boss. McCall seems ready to add Wayne Jacobs to his backroom team as a number two. Jacobs never takes the credited for Darren Moore and Linvoy Primus but both men name Jacobs as the biggest influence on their careers.

Mccall may also have Dean Windass to select after Hull City offered little for a striker whom they credit with a lot. Phil Brown has suggested that Windass’s goals kept them in the Championship but in negotiations he is an 39 year old and not a season-saver and the East Coast side want to pay for him as such. City would rather he be considered similar to Mark Bower – a player capable in The Championship – and paid for accordingly.

Rhodes addresses his opposite number at Hull when he says

The point I made to Adam (Pearson, Hull’s chairman) is that Dean Windass is a striker who could score 30 goals in League Two and what sort of price can you put on that? When Dean went to Hull, and I admit it was at my instigation due to us needing to save money, the understanding was always that the move was temporary. It was not with a view to a permanent deal with the plan always being for Dean to return in the summer.

Windass will not be sold for less than the cost of a thirty goal striking replacement says Rhodes. The inference is there for all. We needed the money before. Do might need it now?

Windass is a man of heart and in McCall in the Premiership he found a kindred spirit. He wants to go back to play for his hometown club but he has done that now and the prospect of giong back into the trenches with McCall may a worthwhile project for the final two years of the lively striker’s career.

McCall will also have the Yang of Windass’s Ying to call on with David Wetherall confirming his intention to step back to playing duties as McCall himself did after a spell in charge. Wetherall hopes to get a chance to run the reserves but seems shell shocked by his time in the big chair and wants to go back and process information on the field until he is ready to take charge again. He will probably be the best – if not the quickest – defender in League Two.

McCall is squad building at the moment. He weighs up options including – BfB understands – reoffering a deal to Steven Schumacher while Marc Bridge-Wilkinson joins Port Vale on a free. There is a calm to follow Rhodes’s confirmation, to precede a storm.

Good Things Happen At Last

It’s five years since Stuart McCall was shown the door by Bradford City. Considered too old, too expensive and a little disruptive, his contract was not renewed and his number four shirt handed to someone else.

The impending financial meltdown that would come to light weeks later was the true reason behind showing a City legend the door. Yet as a near full house waved goodbye to Stuart during his testimonial game with former club Rangers, it appeared his best days were behind him.

Stuart hooked up with Neil Warnock’s Sheffield United and enjoyed a new leash of life by playing a significant part in the Blades reaching the League and FA Cup semi-finals and losing the Play Off final. Not bad for a player who Jim Jefferies, less than a year earlier, famously wrote off by saying his legs had gone. When those legs did eventually go, his coaching career took off. Rising to Warnock’s assistant, the sight of Stuart stood behind the Blades boss in the dugout has become a regular sight on Match Of The Day this season.

As for his first love Bradford City, it’s not been pretty. Administration, administration again, relegation, relegation again. Six years ago City were the butt of people’s jokes as they exited the Premiership, relegation to League Two was deemed barely worth a mention. The fall from grace may not have been as quick as the club formerly known as Wimbledon, but it’s still startling.

But just as we wondered if good things would ever happen to City again, Stuart comes over the hill as the proverbial knight in shining armour. City shocked the footballing world by signing Benito Carbone seven years ago and some will again be left scratching their heads in disbelief at Stuart’s decision to take the reigns at Valley Parade. Chiefly among them will be us City supporters and the staff, probably even Julian Rhodes himself.

When Colin Todd was dismissed last February, Stuart became number one target. There was nothing doing at the time, so Rhodes entrusted David Wetherall to look after the team and saw it relegated in feeble fashion. The wait continued and, after a turbulent week for the Blades, Rhodes incredibly got his man.

Through all of the waiting and debate of who should be manager, most supporters wanted Stuart in charge. We hoped he’d take the job, but who really believed he would? This is a club that has sunk to its lowest position in quarter of a century, become saddled with debts and played increasingly poor football. Decent players were replaced by average players – and then they were replaced by even poorer ones.

What have we achieved, other than continuing survival, since Stuart left? Staying up in 2002-03, but losing relegation battles in 2003-04 and 2006-07. Signing some decent players like Paul Henderson, Damion Stewart and Andy Gray, but only receiving a fraction of their value back. Attracting a world class big name manager, but discovering he was not a world class manager. Winning some memorable games, but losing more often and when it really mattered.

Good things haven’t happened to Bradford City for a long time. So who would have been surprised if Stuart had of landed the Sheffield United position and turned us down? Of course part of the reason we have got him was because the Blades decided he wasn’t right. But it hardly matters a jot.

A manager to finally unite the fans, attract more interest in the club and breed genuine optimism. A Bradford City man to inspire those who work under him, emphasise with the fans and demonstrate the long sought after ‘passion’ that some supporters believed was lacking in previous managers. A hungry individual with a point to prove to those who rejected him, ambitious for a good career and determined to succeed.

A man to help us remember happier times and look to the future with new belief. Good things haven’t happened to Bradford City for a long time, Stuart’s arrival will hopefully herald a change.

The Real McCall Begins The Third Coming

From The Real McCall which was written in 1998 by by Alan Nixon and Stuart McCall

One day, in the distant future I would love to manage Bradford City. If I had the choice, that would be where I would start. I would like to repay the Bradford fans for all their support and courage for those years ago. There is some unfinished business to be done as far as I’m concerned. I have never meant to put pressure on the manager in charge of Bradford at the time, I am talking down the line…

Andrew Stuart Murray McCall will begin his third spell at Bradford City with a weight of expectation. His first spell saw triumph and tragedy in the same afternoon in 1985. His second saw the hugh achievement of Premiership promotion and the subsequent fall into administration. His path is littered with success.

As the ink dries on the two year deal to manage the Bantams there is no idea of anything other than a replication of those glories.

Julian Rhodes has stood alone over the past few years keeping the club together – let history record that and damn the doubters – but now he is joined and in pursuing McCall so fervently that he was prepared to knock back a job two divisions higher to join City he has made the decision Geoffrey Richmond failed to.

Back in the summer of 2000 when Paul Jewell left the job at Bradford City the invigorating force of McCall should have been employed as manager with Chris Hutchings kept in the role of number two. Bygones. A mistake is only a mistake if it is repeated.

McCall takes over City and immediately has decisions to make. Dean Windass is keen on a transfer to Hull but the return of McCall may see the striker rethink. Windass is McCall’s second call.

McCall’s first call no doubt will be to the man he has in mind to be his assistant. Some think Terry Dolan, others Terry Yorath. Do not be surprised if McCall pulls out a name from his time at Rangers – do be surprised if that name is Paul Gascoigne. Also do not be surprised if David Wetherall’s coaching is rewarded with a place on the staff.

Once his backroom is in place and the Windass situation is resolved McCall will look at the out of contract four of Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, Steven Schumacher, Richard Edghill and Xaviar Barrau and make some decisions. No, Yes, No, No.

After that McCall begins to build and he could start that building at Southend United although not (just) for target man Billy Paynter but for former Bantam and Blade Simon Francis.

Lincoln City’s play off defeat means Spencer Weir-Daley favours us over them. It remains to be seen what McCall thinks of him.

Had we been two years ago then McCall’s side would have no doubt included If McCall gets a call from Italy from an excited Benito he should take it. If he gets one from Lancashire from a bloke called Ashley he can hang up. Players want to join clubs where they can see good things happening and this is Bradford City’s Keegan to Newcastle.

Decisions to be made. McCall is understood to have cancelled his family holiday to start work and what glorious, what long awaited, what wonderful work it should be.

The Third Coming – Stuart McCall Is The New Bradford City Manager

Bradford City have confirmed that Stuart McCall will be returning to the club as the new manager. The former Bantams skipper shook hands with Julian Rhodes on the deal and is expected to be presented to City fans on the 1st of June following a two week family holiday.

McCall returns City after five years away at Sheffield United having previously rejoined in June 1998 when he skippered the Bantams to Premiership promotion. Previously McCall played for City from 1981 to 1988 with distinction taking the club to the brink of the top flight. He played and scored in the World Cup for Scotland in 1990. He was part of the Rangers team that knocked Leeds out of the European Cup. His nobility as a young profession following the fire of 1985 is marked with unspoken appreciation. He is – without doubt – the definitive legend of Bradford City and he is back.

His return today – a return which comes in preference the job at Sheffield United despite the word coming out of South Yorkshire – shows the meaning of that legend status. McCall returns at Bradford City to find a club on its knees and in doing so shows a massive faith in the club and the supporters.

It is up to the supporters – to us – to repay that faith. It is up to Bradford City supporters to put an end to the negativity and bad atmosphere that has blighted the club since the fall from the Premiership if not before. It is up to us – to all of us – to match McCall’s faith with some of our own.

McCall’s faith will be matched at Valley Parade soon with investment and aid for Julian Rhodes – Rhodes’s work in keeping City alive to this day is matched by McCall’s joining and has made it possible – arriving within the next two weeks that will mean that McCall’s first job at Valley Parade will not be to sell because we have been relegated but rather to start building a team for promotion. McCall may choose to sell Mark Bower or Dean Windass but – as BfB understands it – he will not be forced to.

McCall has shown the faith and it is up to all supporters to keep it. This can be the catalyst for this club turning round. If we owe Stuart McCall anything it is to take up an attitude of positive, positive, positive in matching the faith he has shown.

In being positive McCall returns to Bradford City to find not a club in its knees but an endless potential for the future. How many times did we see promoted teams from League Two flying by us in League One? McCall, Rhodes, the new investor can take heart from that. Should the innovation of Julian Rhodes’s season ticket policy be rewarded with a significant supporter boost then we could be on the brink of a push that could put the Bantams back into The Championship and then set us to push on from that.

McCall has shown faith and we must reward him for that by putting every resource we can as supporters into turning this club around into a place fit for McCall’s level of passion. Make no mistake about no matter what comes out of Sheffield United McCall has selected City over The Blades.

I’m sorry to say, dear reader, that we must have some secrets and I have been withholding from you the fact that Stuart McCall agreed to become City manager on Wednesday morning. When Terry Robinson talks about not offering Stuart the chance to manage The Blades because “(They) didn’t feel Stuart met the criteria necessary to get the club back into the Premiership” he speaks with forked tongue because while The Blades were lining Stuart up Stuart was confirming to City that he would be joining us.

Stuart has knocked back a good job at Sheffield United to show faith in us. We owe him everything we can do to ensure his and our success with him at the helm.

We owe Stuart McCall a repayment on the faith he has shown us. This club was going to Hell in a handcart despite the best efforts of many but this is the moment that everything turns around. This is year zero. This is Bradford City Resurrectus. Scratch that, even Jesus only came back once.

He is the resurrection and for this club he is the life.

Welcome, one and all, to the Third Coming.

Finger Out Mr Rhodes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or we could be in the depths of despair…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pinches of Salt

One pinch of salt needed:
Stuart McCall will agree to be City manager today (Wednesday 16th of May 2007) or the job will be offered elsewhere.

Another pinch of salt needed:
Stuart McCall will agree to be City manager today.

McCall has spoken to BBC Radio Sheffield today and talked about the contract offer to Neil Warnock and how it is not acceptable to the Blades manager. Following that McCall intimated that should Warnock go he would leave also.

It would seem that McCall is split between head that tells him to see what falls down at Sheffield United and heart that pushes him back to Bradford. Significantly Mrs McCall favours the heart.

More salt:
City are believe to have investment – proper investment that comes with support as Peter Etherington once promised but most definitely not Etherington – coming in the not at all distant future and that investment is offering something more to McCall than League Two and an empty bank account. City are not looking at having cash to splash but – as BfB understands it and considering the income streams the club has built – enough to stop the reliance on Julian Rhodes’s handouts for survival and perhaps some squad building cash.

Still more salt:
McCall has been in informal talks. McCall knows about the investment. McCall is looking at both City and Sheffield United and it is not cut and dried.

On the day that one ginger midfielder said he would love to come back – Paul Bolland of Grimsby wants to rejoin the Bantams and rumour has it that Huddersfield’s Chris Brandon is keen to have a word too – the other one has a decision to make about his future.

Failing McCall there is a list of names: Peter Beagrie, Lee Sinnott of now Conference side Farsley Celtic, Roy McFarland, Peter Jackson and on and on. Failing McCall there is a list of names but McCall has never failed us in the 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 Name is Clear, The Tools Are Not

David Wetherall added his weight to the calls for Stuart McCall to become the next manager of Bradford City and while the former Bantams skipper is keeping his own council it does seem that there is a growing momentum that will install he ginger one as the gaffer at VP.

McCall spent yesterday at Oakwell as the best player on the park in a Bantams legends vs Barnsley match to mark ten years since the Tykes went to the Premiership. He was asked and dodged the question as to if he was to be the new City boss. He has to focus on Sunday when either he or former boss Paul Jewell will probably be relegated from the Premiership. It would be unwise for him to talk other jobs at this point but he only has a week left at Sheffield United before his contract is up.

At 42 he looked a tidy player on the field. His last game was a reserve match at Valley Parade against City – McCall going out of professional football as he came in and on that day as yesterday he plays with vigour combined with smarts. Watching Stuart McCall play has been a joy in my life.

Watching him manage I’m hoping for. I think we need it. Should he come in the summer then he will look at his charges as a depleted unit in need of re-enforcing.

Donovan Ricketts between the sticks has probably made enough mistakes to remain at the club next term but really he deserves a higher level. Russell Howarth has never impressed nor looked worth giving a chance to. If the Jamaica number one is still at City next year then the incoming gaffer could have the best sticksman in League Two.

At right back Richard Edghill is thought to be on his way and John Swift is absent without leave. Swift looks and talks the part in the juniors and reserves and his failure to ascend is an enduring mystery at VP. The new manager would be advised to go to Swift over the uncommitted Edghill but will probably end up bringing in a new face.

At left back word has it Ben Parker is ready to join with his own team – Leeds United – having hit the skids hard. Parker is a player of some potential – not in the bracket of a Nathan Doyle or a Lee Holmes but good enough for this level and above – and so the next manager would do well to sign him.

The next manager will hope to have the previous manager to call on in David Wetherall but will probably be looking for another partner as Mark Bower moves to the Championship – Burnley and Stoke are interested and figures of £450,000 have been mentioned – but the pace and presence of Simon Ainge is worth giving a chance to. Ainge was called on periodically though the season and never looked less than impressive. Certainly he seems more able than the League Two stalwart Matthew Clarke.

Should the next manager be McCall then he will look to his own position – holding midfield – as being underused by the previous two managers. Neither Colin Todd nor David Wetherall favoured a break up man and both tried to mesh two more attacking players into the midfield. Craig Bentham is City’s only McCall and for sure he should be the number four next season regardless of who the gaffer is.

The opportunity to link Marc Bridge-Wilkinson and Steven Schumacher is probably over with MBW reported to be rejoining Port Vale. Schumacher is thought to be ready to return but might rethink when he gets City’s contract offer. Tom Penford – who has a season cameo on Saturday – is of course a favourite of this parish and could do a job replacing MBW were he given a chance. I can only hope he will be.

Omar Daley and Joe Colbeck are both contracted beyond the summer leaving the next manager with a Ben Muirhead too many on the right wing. On the left Xaviar Barrus will hope for a contract and should a new manager favour a 442 then it is probably a good idea to do more than nominally look at the idea of having a pair of left wingers to use.

One of the failures of managers at City and beyond is believing that the left wing role is to be given to a third striker – Danny Cadamarteri springs to mind – leading to a huge gap appearing in front of the left back and very little coming forward. If we are to raid down the flanks we need proper left wingers to do it with.

Up front Dean Windass will exit stage left for the right price with Hull City his probably destination. Spencer Weir-Daley is hoping to have impressed City into offering him a two year deal and the word that has reached our BfB ear is that he has done that. Joe Brown is looking over his shoulder at Saturday’s sub Leon Osborne who is pushing for a role up in the squad.

The top four of League Two this year are the bottom four of League One the year before. Bouncing back is common place but to do that City’s new manager is going to have to take the picked over bones of the club and build a team.

The experience of the past few years suggests that building teams out of loan players is an ultimately fruitless exercise. The likes of Richard Edghill – jobbing footballers signed to 18 month deals – are also hardly likely to be the stuff of success either.

The next manager needs to make a squad that is able to play the kind of committed football that McCall typifies. To do that we need to think beyond temporary players and start to make some long term deals.

We need to start putting faith back into the players – be bold and mighty forces will come to you aid – and to do that we need to put our faith in a manager we want to employ for more than the statutory Bradford City sixteen months.

Julian Rhodes. You know what you have to do.

We will always have Barrau

There was something refreshingly ecstatic about Xaviar Barrau’s reaction to both his goals at Valley Parade in this 2-2 draw with Millwall on the final day of League One for Bradford City for a year at least. Barrau wheeled away twice in delight after twice giving the Bantams the lead in a game which could not have had less meaning had it been played as a friendly but still seemed to warm the heart.

Heart warming first was the immaculate silence for the 56 supporters of 11th of May, 1985 observed at both ends of the ground. Whatever reputation Millwall supporters have they got some marks in the plus column at 2:58 on Saturday afternoon.

David Wetherall’s reputation seems to have survived his first spell in management. In the post game walk around he is applauded for his efforts over the past fourteen games and the past seven years and should this be his final game in management at this club then one hopes he can get a go elsewhere at some point. Wetherall is backing his predecessor as captain to be his follower as manager saying

“I would be absolutely delighted if we got Stuart McCall here as manager. I haven’t got a clue if it is going to happen, but I think that it would create such an interest in the club and around the city that it could only be good for Bradford City. With Stuart McCall in charge we could get the club going in the right direction and I could play a part in that on the pitch and not from the dugout.”

Wetherall’s last act as City gaffer was to use a 433 formation – unseen since the days of Jim Jefferies and Bryan Robson – to make up for the holes left in the side when Wetherall calmed down following last week’s fury following the Chesterfield capitulation. Billy Paynter and Spencer Weir-Daley were absent leaving a forward line of Joe Colbeck, Omar Daley and Barrau in front of a midfield of Steven Schumacher and Tom Penford sitting atop Craig Bentham who protected a back four of Edghill, Mark Bower out of sorts and position on what could be his final game for the club, Matthew Clarke and Ben Parker. Donovan Ricketts kept goal.

The result was a City team more capable going forward than has been seen in recent weeks but susceptible at the back. Twice Barrau gave the Bantams a lead which was pegged back in short time by the visitors who punch for punch looked no better than the team that will start life as a League Two club next term.

None of which is to suggest that City unveiled a prototype for promotion next term but rather that given the chance and without the pressure it could at least be enjoyable to watch the Bantams again. The first half was satisfying until Joe Colbeck knocked in a low cross just before half time that Barrau muscled a defender for and blasted into the bottom corner. Barrau charged to the bench to celebrate with David Wetherall and as he ran a season of frustrations seemed to drift away behind him.

At some point we have to zero the clock on this club and start from even. Let it be now.

Millwall equalised a minute after half time after making a sly substitution and slipping on an extra forward without telling anyone. The extra man snuck in behind Mark Bower as the left footer played on the right hand side and the annoying but reasonabiliy ammusing Darren Byfield beat Donovan Ricketts.

Nevertheless City had a sort of dominance attacking with some flair down the right and pace down the centre. Omar Daley charged at centrebacks all afternoon and at one point freed Joe Colbeck who slipped the ball into the path of Barrau for the Frenchman to fire into the top corner and celebrate equally exuberantly as Lenny Pidgely in the visitor’s goal blasted a poor linesman suspecting offside. Within two minutes Millwall were level following a cheap free kick poorly defended and a low shot by Tony Craig.

City had the chances to win the game notably when Steven Schumacher – more on whom later – blasted over following good work and when Barrau was felled in the box sparking a scuffle that saw the Frenchman booked and butted by goalscorer Craig. Wetherall gave sixteen-year-old Leon Osborne a debut in the place of Daley and withdrew an injured Joe Colbeck who despite setting up both goals was lightly booed by a section of supporters than shall henceforth be know in a knowingly supercilious manner as “The Idiots”.

“The Idiots” will always have a voice at City – the have not learned after forcing Dean Windass on his way – but hopefully the more bums on seats Julian Rhodes and his cheap seats can get next term the more they will be marginalised to a point where their voices are counter-productive whimpers not destructive shouts. “The Overtly Sensitive” can join them for all I care. Yes Steven Schumacher used some shop floor language to City fans last week but having been in football crowds for the last twenty five years I can guarantee he has had worse said to him and frankly to use his slip into effing and jeffing as a stick to beat him is the worst kind of politicking.

If a person does not care for the way Schumacher players or the performances he has then say it. Anything else I pretty much could not care less about.

Next season will be different. Different team, different manager, different supporters, different atmosphere hopefully – more like the backing off the post lobbing a ball around ten minutes at VP today please – and different heroes and favourites. Exuberant knack for goal scoring and joy at getting a goal? Different Dean Windass too by the look of things, and this one is a Frenchman.

Into The Darkness as City Face the Last Day of League One

We always worried that the final day of the League One season this year woudl have City having nothing to play for but I doubt we ever thought it would be like this.

Colin Todd’s team is going to end up in mid-table mediocrity I recall people saying. Perhaps Todd put that on his CV as a plus point judging by how we have plummeted since he left.

To be fair to David Wetherall and Julian Rhodes it would seem that City – Todd and all – have been dodging bullets for years and failed to this term. We start in League Two next year because that is the way that we are being pushed and yes that is down to finance and yes that is boring to read and only half of the truth but there it is.

So news this week that Julian Rhodes is talking to investors is music to the ears. The scale and feasibility of investment in the past nine years – since The Rhodes Family in fact – has been risible so a measured approach would probably be best. If someone wants to help with the rent then that is cool but if someone is coming to buy players then let us not fall for it again. It is a year since Peter Etherington was going to put us in the Championship. Look what happened.

Rhodes wants a new manager in place within three weeks and will be talking to Stuart McCall about the job so this could be David Wetherall’s final game as gaffer. He has Donovan Ricketts in goal and Ricketts had made enough mistakes this term to suggest he will still be around next. Richard Edghill is probably going to get a final game although John Swift would be – in my humble opinion – a better option. Wetherall’s mistake is fielding too many players who have no investment in the future of the club. He needs to start to look at the players who will be around next season so like Swift Simon Ainge should play and probably will in place of Wetherall who will step down to sub.

This could be his last game at Valley Parade – he deserves a rapture of applause when he appears.

Mark Bower is fancied by Burnley so this could be his final game. Ben Parker at left back will return to Leeds but may be back as they lose players. He his a decent player and would be welcome.

Omar Daley, Joe Colbeck or Ben Muirhead have the two flanks – perm any two from three they all have their merits. Steven Schumacher is forgiven for swearing at City fans last week – tempers were frayed – so take the midfield role with Tom Penford. I’m a confirmed fan of Penford’s cool midfield calm and believe he should have been considered long before this stage of the season. Eddie Johnson is out injured.

Billy Paynter and Joe Brown are expected to start up front with Spencer Weir-Daley returning to Nottingham Forest. Weir-Daley may return next season – rumour has it we have offered him a two year deal – and should Paynter be kicking his heels should he be released from Southend then he would be welcome too.

Billy Paynter and Spencer Weir-Daley are expected to start up front with Joe Brown and Nick Smith standing by in case Weir-Daley’s injury problems continue. Weir-Daley may return next season – rumour has it we have offered him a two year deal – and should Paynter be kicking his heels should he be released from Southend then he would be welcome too.

Welcome too no doubt is the break. Next season needs to be so much better.

Another Barmy City Summer

With events off the field proving far more dramatic than that on it in recent years, it appears we’re all set for yet another summer where we won’t be able to keep our eyes off what’s happening at Valley Parade.

Fortunately this summer is unlikely to be as traumatic as others, but still hints of carrying far too much significance in shaping the season ahead then what goes on during the winter months at Appleby Bridge. And as we supporters prepare to say goodbye to another season on Saturday, it could potentially be a very different Bradford City we welcome back in August.

A change in manager seems highly probable. Julian Rhodes has had to be careful with his words this week, but his hopes of still luring a certain Premiership assistant manager betray any firm belief that caretaker manager David Wetherall is the man to revive this ailing club. Wetherall remains in contention, but his chances depend on others saying “no”. He has already hinted that a full time appointment might lead to him hanging up his boots and, with Mark Bower rumoured to be catching the eye of The Dingles; Wetherall the player might be needed more than Wetherall the gaffer.

What of the chances of Stuart accepting an offer to manage his first love? The story I’ve heard is he was prepared to take the job should City have survived, so it remains unclear what appeal the job now has. Last September, Stuart spoke of his aim to leave Sheffield United at the end of this season and take the plunge into management. No one could argue taking the reigns of City would require his heart to rule his head, although news of potential investment might make his ears prick up.

According to Julian Rhodes, talks are taking place with a few interested parties. It remains to be seen who these people are, but one potential investor could even be prepared to buy out the Rhodes family. Given the never-ending struggle to pay the bills and recent criticism from some supporters, few could begrudge Julian for handing over the reigns and reverting back to being a supporter like the rest of us.

Even if nothing happens, City hardly face the stiffest of opposition next year. Some of the headlines this week have focused that City won’t have much money to mount a promotion bid. Who does at this level? We had a wage bill ranked midtable for League One this season and even a reduction in this area shouldn’t handicap City’s chances too severely. Our ability to attract decent League Two players should also be greater than that of some of our new rivals.

Dean Windass won’t be staying, but City should still be able to command a decent transfer fee for him. There is pressure from the Hull fans for the Championship club to sign up their old favourite and City should enter the negotiating table in a strong position. The only worry is if there are any agreements in place for knocking the original loan fee off any future transfer fee, which we will suddenly get to hear about.

That leaves just six other professionals still in contract, giving the manager plenty of room for manoeuvre. There will be a few goodbyes after Saturday and, given how poor the team has played this season, certain players won’t be missed should they be looking for a new club this summer. The squad that begins life in League Two is likely to be very different, with new heroes and new villains to get used to.

So come August, City could be starting a new season with a vastly revamped squad, a new manager and new owners. Even the crowd won’t feel the same with an extra couple of thousand turning up each week. There’s still one last game to go and it’s not clear who we should be biding farewell to against Millwall. One last singsong, one last dismal defeat (probably), one last flourish of boos or cheers and we will all go our separate ways.

We supporters are the only ones definitely coming back next season. It’s doubtful we will be switching off from events at Valley Parade in the meantime.

In Consideration of Stuart McCall

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

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

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

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

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

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

However it is said that McCall would not want to join a League