How Football is ploughing fields without planting seeds

An away trip through South Yorkshire

Chesterfield away is a classic of the genre. A one goal victory that came when Bradford City ground the ambition out of the home side leaving only struggle.

Every pass forward was marshalled and pushed away by an imperious defensive line. Every easy clearance was made hard by strikers and midfielders who chased down what would have been the routine were it not for the attitude that manager Phil Parkinson has drummed into his team.

The goal came when Tony McMahon finished off a mazy run and low cross by Billy Clarke. Clarke enjoyed his best game in claret and amber and tormented the Chesterfield backline dropping into the hole between James Hanson and the midfield and exploiting it.

Chesterfield’s response – to bring on the aging Richie Humphrey – showed a team stepping back on their home turf. McMahon’s goal finished off the home team.

Parkinson would say after the game that City could have had four – indeed the post was pinged a number of times – but really the City manager oversells his policies. A one goal away win excites Parkinson – and excites me – because of the grind that has seen wins come Scunthorpe United, Rochdale, Doncaster Rovers, Oldham Athletic.

Those days are Parkinson at his best.

Playing away to teams that want to win mirrors the visits of Sunderland, or Arsenal, or Aston Villa, or the trip to Chelsea. When the opposition commits to victory Parkinson uses Hanson the battering ram occupying multiple defenders, and soaks up pressure with a mean back four.

The City manager’s problems come at home when teams sit back and defend the Bantams attack which is sporadic as shown by the third fewest goals scored total in League One. When City are forced to make the play in a game then games slip away from Parkinson.

Or sometimes things do not work.

An away trip to South Yorkshire

Text message before the game with Sheffield United: “Upper or lower?”

Reply: “Neither.”

Going to a football match should not cost more than going to the cinema. I’ve said this in the past and I believe it.

I think that Bradford City’s home pricing is a rare oasis of sense in a madness of a game in which this generation sells the game from the next and does so with a great deal of support from those getting fleeced.

Bradford City’s away pricing – and walk up pricing – is equally toxic to the game as a whole. Last time I checked it cost £25 to go to Valley Parade as an away fan. It cost £22 at Chesterfield, it cost similar at Walsall, it cost similar at Doncaster, or at Scunthorpe and so on.

The impact of this aggressive pricing that makes following football a thing that only some can afford is obvious to anyone who sees the aging supporter group and the gentrification which seems to come with it.

£27 to get into Sheffield United is certainly something I can afford but it is not something I will pay. It is a few pounds more than other games and those few pounds are hardly significant to me but I will not pay it.

And I do not know when the hand becomes the wrist nor do I feel like I’ve created a hard and fast rule never to be broken but I would not support this part of football’s attempts to gouge out of my pocket because they assume that because I can pay it they should sell to me, aged 42, for a price that me, aged 21, would never have been able to pay.

The combination of the two

If you enjoy a team that puts in a performance that is part frustration, part opportunism then you would have enjoyed the Chesterfield game.

I would argue that Chesterfield, or Scunthorpe, or Doncaster, or Oldham were little different to the game with Chelsea that defines 2015 for Bradford City: Minimise chances coming at your goal and maximise what one has at the other end.

But I cannot say with all honesty that all people would enjoy all or any of those games. I am cut from a cloth were I am more impressed with hard work and honesty on a field than I am by rabona kicks and 45 man massing moves.

I enjoy seeing a team with limitations which overcome those limitations, some of the time, and the processional football of the Champions League leaves me cold. I’ve no interest in football where the players who walk onto the field against Barcelona believe they are beaten before kick off.

Winning away at Chesterfield from few chances but battling to make sure that the team does not concede a chance let alone a goal is a good Saturday afternoon for me but probably only because of the narrative it creates.

It is enjoyable to watch my team Bradford City attempting to overcome limitations because I know those limitations. There is an overarching story of the emergence of Rory McArdle from understudy to as rock of defence, or about Tony McMahon finding a role having floated anchorless at the start of the season.

(There is also a story about James Hanson being not good enough for a transfer to a professional club, not good enough for the bottom of League Two, not good for the middle of League Two, not good enough for a League Cup semi-final, not good enough for a play-off second leg, not good enough for League One, not good enough for a team chasing the League One play-offs. One day he will not be good enough and I’m sure the phrase “we told you so” will be used regardless of all the times naysayers were proven wrong. Watching Hanson over the last few years is a lesson in the narrative of football.)

These things are seen over the course of months, and years, and not in isolation. Football, for me, is never viewed in isolation. I find the idea of turning on Sky Sports to watch any old game as mystifying as opening a book at a random page, reading twenty pages, and then putting it back on the shelf.

To watch the unfolding narrative of a team one needs to be able to watch often and prices over £20 are no aid to that for me but would have been a substantial problem to me twenty years ago. Is Sheffield United vs Bradford City £27 worth of entertainment when – if one considers it – one could take a friend to watch The Force Awakens in IMAX and still have change for popcorn?

I can’t remember a worst time

Sheffield United away is not Chesterfield. Without a game owing to waterlogging and without the regular training pitches owing to flooding reports return that City lack sharpness and are easily beaten. Football is a multi-polar world and games are hard enough when preparations are ideal.

The supporters – both Bradford City and Sheffield United – are subject to some racist chanting from Sheffield United fans and some chanting that is unpleasant. This will be passed onto The FA – who are perhaps the least able and qualified body in the Universe on this subject – but probably not to the Police.

The FA never seem to tire of their role as prosecutors of – some might say persecutors of – those whom the Law of the Land can find no case against claiming their lower standard of evidence as somehow better than the one that is required by any court which could not be prefixed with the term Kangaroo.

I would not want to have The Racists of Sheffield who were at Bramall Lane to be convicted for what they said or what they think. I’m happy to just consider them to be a collective of idiots and be done with it.

But I did not pay £27 so what can I say?

The focus

To suggest that football needs to understand better its audience is to allow the game – the collective of clubs and organisers – leniency on the charge that they understand full well that they increasingly greying men who populate matches are the ones who will dig deepest for tickets and that they exploit that.

The people who run football always need more money and they know that people aged 35+ in good jobs with good incomes will fund their extravagant demands for more wages paid, more promotions pushes, more mistakes and managerial pay-offs.

These people are the focus of football’s attention. In twenty/thirty years time when those people have retired to Saturday afternoons in more comfortable surroundings there will be no generation to replace them because that attention is so narrowly focused.

Oddly enough because of the odd combination of Wembley twice and season ticket pricing Bradford City are one of the clubs who have some protection against this – there is a healthy group of younger City fans who have been allowed a stake in the support – but mingle with the home fans at an away game and appreciate the difference.

Football is ploughing fields without planting seeds.

The longview

Sheffield United away is I am told a bad performance in isolation but not out of keeping with how Bradford City perform. When taken over a longer period City are averaging a point and a half a game away from home, as well as the odd Chelsea if you will.

Often the game plan of Chesterfield works but when it does not the result is as it was in South Yorkshire. Since Phil Parkinson arrived his plans have had a shifting impact on the mentality of the club.

When he arrived the club was congratulating itself for avoiding relegation out of the Football League under the hapless Peter Jackson. Now there is a consideration that the club is not ideally placed to reach the second tier of English football.

But I – and perhaps you – only know this having been fortunate enough to be able to afford to follow the club from that period to this.

I do not see how that will be possible for the coming generations of football.

The opposition to #one four nine and how where it comes from

#onefournine is a success at Bradford City because it makes sense.

It makes economic sense mostly. West Yorkshire is a big place, City are the only club enjoying the sort of success which peaks between Manchester City and Arsenal on Match of the Day, and the stadium is big enough that supply can outstrip demand.

This has been obvious to Julian Rhodes for some time and carried on being obvious after Mark Lawn arrived. It was obvious to David Baldwin and is obvious to James Mason who aligns the policy more with a social movement than an economic one.

Mason buys into the idea that #onefournine is about making football affordable and while the club before him had cast doubt over that with threats to remove the policy if it were not well subscribed – hardly the talk of social reform – it is often the case the social policy has a better chance of succeeding if it coincides with economic interest.

And that should be it. Mason delivers affordable football to an area which is justified in feeling that the club they are asked to support actually care about their support. I’d like to see the club go further but I’m pleased with where they are.

And I’m pleased with where we are: the supporters. The support at Bradford City is vibrant and interesting. There are amusing songs about pies and the sort of mood that makes going to a game about more than the result of a game. As Roberto Martinez said to Phil Parkinson in 2012 as City beat Wigan pointing at the away support “Are they ever not noisy?”

City seem to be – for whatever motivation – at the heart of a reform in football support taking back something which was lost in the commercialisation of the game over the last twenty years.

You have to wonder sometimes if other chairmen might try take Rhodes and Lawn to one side. “You’re making us look bad…”

They never seem to.

But there are dissenting voices and – most curiously – those voices always seem to be from other team’s supporters.

The tone of them is obvious and sneering. The only reason – they suggest – that Bradford City will be playing in front of 18,000 season ticket holders next season is because the price is low and that were the price to go up then the number of season ticket holders would go down.

So far, so Economics 101. If you put the price of a Mars Bar up then you sell fewer Mars Bars. If you bring down the price of a Rolls Royce then you sell more Rolls Royces.

But this is not solely a question of economics. Football at the level of Bradford City – give or take a division in either direction – has to accept that it has a problem. Teams are battling with the Match of the Day sides for supporters on a daily basis.

Sky Sports, BT Sports, every newspaper and a good deal of the football coverage online are dedicated to trying to get you supporters more interested in following Manchester City (or Chelsea, or Real Madrid) from afar than getting down to Bradford City (or Leyton Orient, or Real Vallecano)

The entire game under the elite level of under a fairly constant bombardment.

It is not a huge leap of comradeship to suggest that considering football is played between two clubs that what is good for a peer is good for you too. If more people start watching football at Bradford City’s level then everyone at Bradford City’s level benefits.

And of course you can put it down to a tribalism and a point of jealousy if you want but whatever the motivation for the criticism and the implicit attempts to thwart or discourage similar schemes at other clubs the results are the same.

Walk around Bradford and see the Liverpool shirts, the Chelsea shirts (try not to smile that much) and the Barcelona shirts and contemplate how difficult it is to get people interested in one club over another when one has the masses of media on their side. As fans of clubs outside the elite we should turn cartwheels whenever someone makes headway in attracting more people to get off sofas and go to stadiums.

Moreover though what does it say about the game if supporters of it – from any club – might suggest that there is a virtue in the idea that people should be not able to go to a game because they cannot afford it?

This is, in embryo, what the criticism of City’s pricing policy is. A statement that it is better if poorer people are not able to afford to go to football matches. To suggest that demand should be artificially suppressed with prices specifically so that people less able to afford to go to football should not be able to go to football is basic financial apartheid.

It is as contemptible a statement as made and the people who make it for that reason are worthy of contempt.

We can only hope that Bradford City start to be an example to the rest of the game and that those voices are minimised.

Using the power of home supporters to bring down the prices for away fans

For some of us, it is a matter of principle. It is going to hurt to do this, but the board of the Supporters Club & Trust have collectively decided not to attend this game. – Bristol City Supporters Trust on the season opening game with Sheffield Wednesday.

The attempts of Bristol City supporters to mobilise a boycott of one their club’s games is not new in the bowels of English football nor is it likely to have any serious impact on the authorities who it targets.

The Robins Supporters – or some of them at least – are refusing the £39 entrance fee to Hillsborough to watch Bristol City’s return to The Championship. The argument is almost entirely economic on their part in that they believe that a pound short of forty is simply too much to pay for a football match.

The economics of the situation go deeper than the reach of one club into the pockets of supporters of another. The higher up in football one attempts to go the more the expenditure of clubs is, and the more the income rises to match that. Clubs pay out more to stage a Championship game than a League One game and do that by higher TV deals, and higher admission prices.

Stroke Leo: £20 a time

Football runs on a common assumption that the higher up a team a person supporters in the pyramid the more money they have to support them. I’m a Bradford City supporter as an accident of birth – I am because I was raised in Bradford – rather than as a function of what I earn.

Bristol City as a club are no strangers to the idea of throwing a lot of money around – we remember their approach to last season’s League One – but the club Bristol City and the people who follow them are not the same.

The governing assumption in football support is that whatever our football club do we are conspirator to and that we lend our support to. On the most case this is a harmless assumption although I know of a good few who have involved themselves with clubs (myself included) who end up with a Go Set A Watchman moment.

In the case of teams like Sheffield United, or Oldham Athletic, when they were trying to sign Ched Evans that assumption is tested to breaking point but those cases are rare. Most of the time if our club do it then we have done it.

This was illustrated to me in an argument with Rochdale Football Club (No, not that argument with Rochdale Football Club) when I suggested on this very site that £20 admission to a League Two game was too much and was told by Rochdale’s fans that “I charged the same.”

Do I? Personally?

Economics is ethics

Refusing to pay to go to Sheffield Wednesday for Bristol City supporters is an inherently ethically based act but when they stand on a point of principle the ground beneath them is shaky.

Well meaning though they are the Bristol City Supporters Trust compare the price they pay to £25 that Reading and in doing so charge Sheffield Wednesday with this greed rather than the culture of football that gives us these assumptions.

If only this were someone else’s problem and Bristol City’s trip to South Yorkshire was on a Tuesday night in January and priced accordingly.

Which is not to criticise the Bristol City Supporters at all just to suggest that they redirect their ire. The people at Hillsborough probably do not care about what Bristol City fans think. The people at Ashton Gate probably do.

Mark and Me, Me and Mark

I once suggested to (Joint-Chairman) Mark Lawn that Bradford City look at extending the policy of affordable football – which is an economic rather than an ethical decision from the Valley Parade boardroom – to away supporters.

Mr Lawn said that the support had 1,000 “walk ups” a week – this was back in League Two – who paid £20 each and I suggested that had someone travelled all the way from Torquay to watch a League Two game they deserved a medal for services to the game rather than what I considered to be an expensive admission charge.

To his credit Mr Lawn agreed with the principal and said he would have a look at it. He was unhappy with the interview that that meeting resulted in and I could not say what happened to the idea.

So I speak from experience – albeit thwarted – when I suggest that the Bristol City Supporters Trust should be talking to their boardroom about how much away supporters (and home fans without season tickets) pay and that Sheffield Wednesday supporters should be doing the same at Hillsborough.

Clubs listen to their own supporters, not someone else’s, and it is with their own clubs where supporters have power.

There is an obvious solidarity here. You get your club to bring prices down, we will get ours to do the same.

Using the power of home supporters

Bradford City have – almost by accident – become a case study in how to build a fan base that has resulted in the superb #onefournine effort. Massive credit goes to James Mason at the club for realising the potential and for starting enacting a social reform in football pricing.

When any club says they simply have to put up prices they can be directed at Bradford City as a riposte which says that building a fanbase is about committing to making football affordable.

I’d like a constitution of Bradford City that enshrined affordable football as a permanent value but failing that I’d call on the club to take affordable football a step further to away fans and to walk ups. I’d like a pricing structure for season ticket holders, walk ups and away fans that was built around a common ethic that football is affordable for football supporters.

I’d like the club to reduce the price for the Torquay supporter who has come from Devon, or the walk up at Valley Parade, or anyone to (for example) £10 not because of the economics of the situation but because of the ethics. I’d like Bradford City fans to politely suggest to those who run Bradford City that they do this. I’d like those who run Bradford City to politely suggest to boardrooms we visit that they do the same.

Away supporters have no power in football. They are the moveable problem that home teams deal with as a crowd and then forget about. It is perhaps overstating matters to suggest that to the home team away fans are second class citizens but you will, Dear Reader, have your own experience to draw on on that conclusion.

But home supporters have a degree of power over the clubs they support. Home supporters can put pressure on their club and put points on a club’s agenda. A boycott of away fans represents a smaller policing bill, a boycott of home fans represents a probem. We have power as home fans.

I think you, I and the Bristol City supporters should start using that power for the common good.

Where do you see the club in a decade?

The win over Nottingham Forest has done much to get City’s season under way and optimism is higher as a result but winnings game, and indeed promotions, while wonderful are only parts of a wider progress which fans hope the club will make – or fear it will not – in the coming years. The weight of the question is significant. Clubs up and down the country talk in short terms about the weekend matches and the end of a season but supporters are with the club for decades, for the long term.

“We all have high hopes for City this season but where do you see the club in a decade’s time and what are the club doing now which will bring us to that stage?”

Jason Mckeown City Gent & BfB Writer

The nature of the question “Where do you see yourself/the company/the football club in x years time?” always fabricates a positive frame of mind when asked to ponder it.

The future is always something to look forward to, and inevitably you think of how today’s problems will have been overcome and everything will be perfect. You throw in a tint of realism to make sure your vision achievable – it would be foolish to predict that in a decade’s time Bradford City will be Premier League champions and about to embark on a Champions League campaign. Yet ultimately your 10-year future will be a grandiose improvement on matters now.

But sadly life doesn’t seem to work out like that, and one only needs to think back 10 years ago and recall where Bradford City were then to see how things can easily change for the worse too. If asked this question at the start of the 2000-01 season, I dare say you and I would have agreed City would continue their upwards progress and become fully-established as a Premier League club. Enjoying the thrills of beating Leeds United and Manchester United home and away, of lifting the FA Cup, of playing in Europe on a semi-regular basis and of having incredibly- talented players preparing in state-of-the-art training facilities.

Our vision would not have featured three relegations in six years or going into administration twice or Geoffrey Richmond turning out to be something of a traitor or a guy who owns a theme park running off with the deeds to our stadium or losing home and away to an abysmal Stockport County or Gareth Edds or crowds dwindling or a legendary player failing as manager or Bradford City 0 Accrington Stanley 3.

We can ponder the next ten years and dream of how our current woes – stuck in League Two, not owning our own ground – will have been addressed and Valley Parade will be a utopia of happiness. But even if the next decade delivers success, it will bring new issues to worry over.

So I honestly have no idea where this club will be in 10 years time – but I bet we’ll have something to moan about.

Paul Firth City fan and Author of Four Minutes To Hell

Ten years ago Bradford City were justifiably proud of staying in the Premier League and, with the riches that came with survival, looked forward to seeing some star names perform further magic. It is not necessary to go back over what happened in those ten years, unless there is someone out there who has learned nothing from two administrations.

So, trying to look ahead another ten years, the prime target must be financial security, even if that dampens the expectations of the fans. Maximising the income and minimising the outgoings will require perpetual vigilance from those who control the purse strings.

Maximising the income still means solving the riddle of where to pitch ticket prices, not least for the younger fans who are the future of an club. Today’s schoolchildren will be buying their own tickets in ten years time, provided they can be kept with the club. Only if at least two promotions follow will television income be a major proportion of revenue.

Minimising outgoings means a player budget that is sensible and adhered to. At Valley Parade it also means not paying huge sums in rent – so it means finding a way of owning the ground that is less costly than present obligations.

And speaking of today’s youngsters, all clubs bar those who are content to rely on billionaire owners need to develop their youth system. City will need to keep finding the next Dean Richards or Andy O’Brien, even if the end product is not a first-team centre back, but money from a bigger club paid on the progress of a very young player.

All of this requires skilful management off the field, preferably by someone with an astute business brain and experience of the successful running of a big company. If that someone was also a Bradford City supporter, he or she would be the perfect person to secure the medium-term future of the business that all clubs must be.

With that sort of future to look forward to, success on the field is more realistic. As illustrated recently by BfB, two promotions in ten years is achievable. Established in the Championship, three home grown heroes, our own ground, 20,000 crowds and financial security. I’d take that now.

Alan Carling Chair of the Bradford City Supporters Trust

I know where I would like the club to be in a decade’s time. As Julian Rhodes has emphasized many times, one of the main factors holding the club back financially at our current level is the rental bill for Valley Parade that has to be paid annually to the Gibb Pension Fund. But there has always been an obvious way to deal with this issue, which ticks many other boxes for both the club and the District. If Valley Parade is brought back into community ownership, the rent can be renegotiated, and the stadium developed as the focus for a fan-friendly, community-oriented club. And if both the Council and the Bradford Bulls were involved, there would be further benefits on the commercial side, and a stronger, unified presence for full-time professional sport in Bradford.

Just as there’s a restrained optimism on the playing side this season, I have a similar feeling about the project for Valley Parade. As Mark Lawn has now revealed in public, the Gibb Pension Fund has already named its price for the stadium, and the club has swung behind the idea of ground-sharing with the Bulls. There is a new administration at City Hall, which seems to recognize that fresh thinking is needed for the Council’s sports strategy, after all the problems with the Odsal Sports Village. It is going to be very difficult, of course, for Bulls’ fans to accept a move away from their Odsal home. Good luck to them if they were able to develop a new super-stadium there – we might even have considered joining them. But as things stand, it seems very unlikely that the finance will be available from either the public or the private sectors for a big new building project. And they still have to find new playing accommodation from somewhere within the next two or three years. This surely leaves ground-sharing at Valley Parade as the Bulls’ best available option.

Putting all this together, there is a huge opportunity waiting to be seized, and I would love City fans to be an integral part of it. Will it happen? Who knows… it would require people to work together in ways that may be unfamiliar to them, and feel a bit uncomfortable. But I hope that the club can get over its fears, and work constructively with supporters to build something special around Valley Parade – not just the bricks and mortar, but the inclusive community spirit. One thing is for sure. No-one is going to come in over the next few years to hand us success on a plate. So why not try doing it for ourselves?

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.

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