Lawn: The Development Squad will continue

Speaking to the T&A Mark Lawn has confirmed that Bradford City will continue with the Development Squad following Archie Christie’s departure from the club.

To confirming the club’s intentions to retain the DS Mark Lawn said:

We’d like to thank Archie for all the good work he has done with bringing players in and putting the development squad in place. That will still continue.

BfB understands that Peter Horne will take control of the Development Squad.

Remember the name: George Green – Archie Christie Day: Part 1.5/3

This story works well when read with Archie Christie Day: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.


If you have never heard of George Green before today you are not alone. The fifteen year old who joined Everton for a fee which would rise to in excess of £1.75m is a virtual unknown yet in a list of the most expensive sales in the club’s history Green would rank in the top three. Dean Richards cost a fee up to £2.135m to Wolves, Andrew O’Brien cost up to £2m, then comes Green.

How is it that this kid from Batley Carr that no one has heard of is a part of this deal which could pay for City’s future?

Pull up a chair, dear reader, because the deal was being done on the day BfB spent with Archie Christie and now it is public we can fill in a few details.

Before we arrived for our early morning swim Archie Christie had been meeting David Moyes (the time to allow the manager get to training) to talk about Green but by the time we ended the day we had held in our hand a bid for the player from another Premier League Club.

The deal had been in the offing for sometime although it was coincidence that we got exposed to it (the day of the interview was enforced by mine & Jason’s work commitments, Christie took the first day we offered some eight days in advance of the interview) although in setting up there was a time when I was on Christie’s house phone and David Moyes was the mobile being told that he would be called back.

It is probably not fair to say who the other Premier League team was it was but you might notice that Everton are replacing Tottenham Hotspur in the four team tournament next summer. Spurs are pivotal in the story of Green’s rise. It was on the training pitches of Tottenham Hotspur that Christie showed off his young player’s talent. “He is Rooney,” Christie told us he had told Premier League managers, “the best in the country.”

They agreed. Green played for one of Spurs’ youth teams against Aston Villa and turned in a match winning performance in front of the the massed ranks of scouts. By the end of the game those scouts were literally chasing Christie to find out about the kid.

27 clubs – including top clubs from Germany and Scotland as well as the Premier League – registered an interest in George Green. Christie proudly showed us the DVD of the game in which Green scored a hat-trick. Fifteen in a game of lads older than he Green stood out, and two of the three goals he scored were superb. A mazy dribble with sublime finish and a first time curled goal that did recall Rooney were impressive enough to enchant youth scouts, Premier League managers, Chairmen, Directors of Football recruitment.

Christie had built up Green’s confidence – a confidence he showed on the field against Aston Villa’s kids who had a pair of central defenders rated as the best young pairing in England – by giving him a place in the Development Squad. Green is proof of concept for the idea of having a way to graduate players from the kids but not to the first team. Green could not have played in the first two months of City’s season and even if he had the realities of League Two football probably would not have helped the player’s development.

But playing in the middle area that Christie’s Development Squad provided a place for City to build Green, and be sure of him. While in the Development Squad Christie and the coaches moved Green’s play forward on the field, putting him into a more attacking role. One of the skills Christie is credited as bringing to his role (See Archie Christie Day: Part 2) is the ability to tweak a players game to develop it. In this case he nudged Green forward up the field and the results are there for all to see.

When I asked him how he could attract the attention of top clubs when parading Green Archie Christie said it was because he so rarely did promote a player, and when he did that player was worth promoting. Said Christie “This is one of the highest deals ever for a 15-year-old from a League Two club. But George is the best I’ve seen in his position at his age. He could become another Wayne Rooney or Paul Gascoigne.”

However Christie would not take all the credit for George Green and Peter Horne – and his team of coaches – have once again found a player and brought him to City who has provoked interest from the top division. The difference between Green and Tom Cleverly is not in the finding but the export. As I understand the deal for Green City have got more up front than the stand to make from the full Cleverly deal, sell on clauses aside.

One can hardly blame the club or the board for that. If you or I – well versed in watching football as we are, dear reader – watched a young player impressing in a youth team game would we know at what level he could go on to play at? Would we know if the player was England material or just someone who might play 150 lower league games? If some club offered lower six figures we might take that because we knew not what the player was worth and how the market worked.

It was obvious watching him work that Christie knew that market. He told the board that he would get over a £1m George Green, they were sceptical – I’m sure that many reading this article are sceptical about someone being able to pull a kid from the youth set up and sell him for more than Andrew O’Brien – but Christie has made good on his promise. Not only that but he had looked at a player and recognised what is rare talent (how many other 15 year olds get sold for £2m?) which might indicate that the man knows a thing or two about spotting players.

In the morning we spent with Christie the deal on the table had a limit to a buy out clause, and a few other points that at the end of the day had been changed. That was on Thursday and a different club so I would not be able to say what the final details were but I’m pretty sure that that deal will be superb for City.

It would have been great to watch George Green break into the first team, to cut a dash in claret and amber, and it is sad in a way that that will not happen but that income can pay for City’s progress. The Development Squad is paid for and so are a good few first team players. Christie’s hope is that with deal like Green City will be paying for the wages of three or four League One players in years to come.

(As a side note, and the complexities are detailed and I may have misunderstood them, but when a player reaches sixteen the FIFA rules on transfers change to mean that rather than being able to get a transfer fee clubs can sign players paying compensation on the basis of a mechanic rather than as the selling club dictating the terms. Had we kept hold of Green with the aim of putting him in the first team there is a risk that he would have left after any professional contract he signed expired – typically the deals offered to sixteen year olds are two years, the deal with Brown differs because it has been subject to a transfer already – and that City would have been paid only “training compensation”. That compensation which would have been much less than the fee Everton have eventually paid.)

The Green deal is a massive success for Bradford City and hopefully a massive one for Everton too – they have developed a few decent young lads in their time – and one which starts to move the club out of the era of relying on cash input from the chairmen and into a time when the club begins to not only pay for the year on year football but also for its own improvement.

I recall watching Dean Richards’ last game for Bradford City and when he left for a deal which could have snuck over £2m with clauses that City could have got more. When Andrew O’Brien joined Newcastle for only £1.5m plus a bit I remember thinking that we should probably view his sale as being aggregate of the fee for Des Hamilton. Dean Windass for the £1m we paid for him, Robbie Blake for half of what we had valued him at. I’ve always thought that City’s players leave cheap. I’ve seen that changing now.

George Green: Remember the name not because he is going to be the greatest player in the future of Bradford City but because his move could pay for the future of Bradford City and rather than being a product of blind luck this boon is brought about by a hard working youth development squad delivering players to a development environment and having a business environment which was able to maximise the opportunity.


This story works well when read with Archie Christie Day: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Archie Christie Day: Part 1/3

Early risers

7.15am on Thursday 29 September. The reception of the Cedar Court Hotel – just at the end of the M606 at the top of Bradford – is quiet and largely deserted, with a small smattering of smartly dressed guests peacefully reading newspapers or checking emails on their lap tops.

The tranquillity is interrupted by the booming voice of Archie Christie, Bradford City Football Club’s Chief Scout and Head of Football Development, as he enters the reception and welcomes BfB’s Michael Wood and Jason McKeown.

Christie shakes our hands warmly and hands us each a towel, before walking to a side door and bellowing “follow me.” We have no idea where we are going or what we’re doing; only that Archie told us we had to wear shorts today.

“It’s a deal-breaker.”

How did we get here?

With the season starting slowly for the Bantams and the fallout over Peter Jackson’s sudden walkout still fresh, summer arrival Christie has become the subject of much criticism from a small but vocal section of City supporters.

It was rumoured he wouldn’t let Jackson manage the club; it has been argued the summer signings who have not yet set the world alight are down to his poor judgement; even Christie’s role at Dagenham has been questioned in terms of how much value he actually brought to the Essex club. Throw in complaints that money is being wasted on the Development Squad when it should be channelled to the first team, and Christie it seems is an unwelcome outsider.

Christie appears to have very broad shoulders, but the criticism has clearly hurt a little. Early attempts to engage with fans by writing a blog were abandoned due to some fans emailing to say they didn’t care about his opinions. Some message board grumblings have seemingly been relayed back to him. Worst of all, two supporters managed to get hold of his mobile number and left some rather disturbing voicemails, demanding the Scotsman leaves the club.

So having become a reader of BfB, Archie contacted us out of the blue with an invitation to spend a day shadowing him as he goes about his job, so we can see and report on what he does for Bradford City. It is his way, we feel, of setting the record straight about how he operates – and the potential value it brings.

Many aspects of what we were to see on the day have to be confidential, though over the coming weeks BfB may be in a position to report on some of them. That said, Christie was true to his initial promise in that we were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime ‘access all areas’ type of day.

There was so much we took from the seven hours we spent with him; so we’re going to run a three-part special of what we experienced (parts two and three will follow Monday and Tuesday).

Along the way we interviewed Development Squad players, Peter Horne, Phil Parkinson, an agent and his head scout – their views will appear over this series. We were able to witness up close the first team players in action, meet the staff who work under Archie back at Valley Parade, and receive a friendly hello from Julian Rhodes. We got a fantastic appreciation of the hard work that is taking place behind the scenes – unseen normally by us regular supporters.

Although none of this would have been possible if we’d forgotten to turn up with our shorts.

Making an early splash

As it was the shorts were needed for joining him for a morning swim at the Hotel’s facilities, which he stays at regularly during the week. So we got changed and jumped into the indoor pool – with water colder than it looked – in order to embark on a few laps with him.

Appearances can be deceptive. This is no life of leisure for Christie – while we showed up bleary-eyed at being out and about so early, he’s been awake since 5.30am having telephone meetings with important people at two different Premier League clubs (one of which was a manager). This is therefore a well-earned mid-morning break, before Christie gets back to his phone that seems to ring twenty times per hour.

As we relax in the pool, football is naturally the main topic of conversation. Carlos Tevez is still in the news after refusing to play for Man City in midweek, and Christie is scathing in his views of the £200k per week striker.

Closer to home, he’s understandably feeling excited at having just secured a pre-season friendly tournament at Valley Parade next summer that will include Glasgow Rangers and Tottenham. The fourth club for this line up is not 100% confirmed yet, so Archie asked us not to disclose it to you – but if it comes off, it is a name that will overshadow the other two in interest it would prompt. Don’t bother booking a holiday for next July just yet.

Christie is full of enthusiasm for the Development Squad players he has signed. With great feeling he describes taking his Development Squad and eight youth team players to fulfil the reserves’ opening fixture at Rotherham – where others told him he was mad and that the team would be heavily thrashed by a strong Millers’ team – and they won 2-1.

After the previously injury-plagued Terry Dixon came off the bench for his first game in two years and scored the winner, Christie declared it was “the proudest moment of my career”. This from someone highly regarded within The Game for his achievements (he turned down scouting positions at Premier League clubs this summer to come here, has an impressive array of contacts and even once sat in the dugout with a country’s coaching staff at a World Cup Finals match).

In addition we talked about some of the criticism he’s been getting and about those shocking voicemails (we won’t repeat the language the ‘fans’ used here). He seems surprised to have received such a hostile welcome to Bradford, but is undeterred by it. It seems a natural time to bring up Peter Jackson and any role that he may have had in the former manager’s sudden departure. Archie talks of how much he respects Jackson as a person, and re-affirms it was a matter of resignation. Maybe one day Peter Jackson’s reasons for quitting will be made public, but that is down to Peter Jackson.

Archie is excited about the four year plan he is implementing, that is aimed at City returning to the Championship. He talked of how much passion he has for the club, how much sorrow he felt about the Valley Parade fire – looking in from the outside – and his despair about the last seven years of under-performance in the bottom two divisions. We’ll come back to this and more later on; when we we’re in a position to record his views.

A successful businessman in a position to retire at 40 – thus moving into football – Christie is not here for the money. He only receives expenses for the work he undertakes, and his only objective is to reignite a football club which has become directionless and desperate.

Fresh fruit and beans on toast

By the time we’re changed again, Development Squad players Andrew Burns and Scott Brown have arrived at the hotel for breakfast. Terry Dixon joins us soon after, while first team players such as Liam Moore, Kyel Reid and new signing Adam Reed mill about.

The Development Squad has been one of the major talking points among City supporters since it was introduced during the summer. So we had asked Christie if we could meet some of these players, to learn more about how they are finding the experience of joining the club. All three players are polite and softly-spoken. Perhaps curious as to what we are doing here, but certainly unfazed. Brown (still only 16) and Burns (18) are living in one of the Chairman’s houses (the Chairman not there), while Dixon (21) has been ordered by Christie to live with him at all times, so he can monitor the youngster’s battle to regain fitness.

“I’ve had a few injuries – dislocating my knee twice and having cartilage problems from the age of 14,” explained former Tottenham and West Ham striker Dixon when we asked him how he joined the club. “I’ve fully recovered from that now, it doesn’t swell up anymore. My agent got in touch with Archie and he said come down and see how you go. It’s going alright at the moment.”

For Brown, who signed from Scottish club Clyde, moving to City was a fulfilment of a dream. He said, “I’ve always wanted to play in England. I think it suits my game more. So when Archie came in for me I was never going to say no. I didn’t know what it was going to be, whether I would be joining the first team or the Development Squad. Turns out it was for the Development Squad, although I’m training with the first team now.”

Burns’ route to Valley Parade seems the most ordinary of the three, having been released by Bolton during the summer he was given a second chance by Christie. “I hadn’t been any where else previously after leaving Bolton, though I had a couple of trials set up,” he revealed. “But after speaking to Archie, then once I had been here a few days, I knew it was a good place to be.

“A lot of people have said to me, dropping down from Premiership to League Two, there must be poor facilities and everything. But for a League Two club it’s brilliant here. It’s a club in the wrong league, definitely. Hopefully it will start turning soon and we will get up there where we should be.”

With numerous players having been signed by Phil Parkinson since he joined a month ago, it would appear that the first team chances for the trio are limited. Yet in actual fact Christie is expecting them to make their debuts this season – an aim that Parkinson reaffirms later. With Dixon it’s a question of getting fully fit and he is currently on loan at Halifax, but soon he should be pushing for a starting place; while Brown almost made his debut against Wimbledon recently.

“Scott was four minutes away from starting on Saturday,” revealed Archie. “Flynn was struggling so Scott was starting.” In Christie’s view, Burns is about six months away from the first team and two years away from being the club captain. “Don’t be fooled by Andrew’s baby-face,” he chuckles. “In the Development Squad he’s my captain and he’s a proper captain. He’s big in the middle, he’ll be saying to others to keep going.”

On his potential debut at just 16, Brown seemed unfazed. “It would have been brilliant, but these things (Flynn’s recovery from injury) happen so you just need to get on with it, keep working hard, training hard and pushing for a place in the first team.”

“At Bolton I didn’t really feel like I was going to get that first team chance,” admitted Burns. “Here training with the first team and impressing the manager, you feel like you have a chance. Obviously Archie says I may not be ready just yet, for another couple of months.”

Dixon added, “Archie told me to be a part of the Development Squad for a couple of months to get my fitness and then push on for the first team. (Being at Halifax on loan) has been alright to be fair. Good set of lads there. Nice pitch as well. I’m getting game time and I haven’t had games in a while.”

We were curious at to the role Christie played with the management of the Development Squad. Did he take the training? “Never. never ever, ever. I only do contracts, development, strategy. Never take training. I have nothing to do with technical aspects whatsoever. That’s what I hire coaches for. Wayne Allison is the current Development Squad coach.

“I help the Development Squad by offering advice on all sorts. If they want to get a mortgage, if they want to get a car, if they want to get a driving licence – that’s what I’m here for.”

Yet talking to the three players alone as Christie ducks out to take yet another phone call, it’s clear they hold him in much higher regard than his own modest claims. Christie regularly drops round to the house Brown and Burns share to check “they’re not getting into mischief”, while he asks all three about their families as we scoffed down breakfast – all three taking the healthy options.

“If we’ve got a problem on the training pitch we go to our coaches, if it’s anything else we go to Archie,” explained Brown. Have you had an Archie figure in your careers before? Neither Scott nor Andrew had, and all three agreed that they viewed him as a surrogate dad. “Any problems you go to him and he’ll sort it for you,” added Andrew.

Terry laughed, “He’s completely mad!”

Aside from Archie, it was clear that the players also receive strong support from Parkinson, Steve Parkin and senior players; with Michael Flynn praised by Brown in particular. On his first game for City at Silsden in July, “It was a great experience, especially playing alongside Flynn. He has a lot of experience and he helped me out a lot during that game.”

As the players say their goodbyes and head off for training, we can’t help but feel impressed by their quiet but strong determination to build successful careers at this club. It seems all three are closer to the first team than we supporters might expect, and are excited rather than apprehensive at that prospect.

The young(er) ones

As the players depart Peter Horne arrives to kindly have a chat with us; more tea and coffee is poured.

Promoted by Christie to Head of Youth Development during the summer, Horne has almost become a permanent fixture behind the scenes – how many other Bradford City employees, if any, have been here since 1998, when he joined? “I’m a Bradford lad. Born in Bradford, lived in Bradford all my life,” he explains when we ask him about his ongoing loyalty. He’s turned down opportunities elsewhere in the past, but has probably never been considered more vital by the club than he is now.

Christie, who made a point of praising Horne when he joined, explained: “It was the first thing I did when I started, sign Peter on a four year deal. When I met the Chairmen I said ‘we need to sign Peter on a long-term deal’ I’d not even met Peter at that point, but I knew from his track record that we needed to sign him on a longer deal. I said ‘find him, get him in front of me and let’s get it done’.

“Players aren’t the most important thing at this club. It’s about the bricks and mortar and foundations we can build the club upon. That’s why Peter was my first signing.”

This promotion was great reward for the job Horne has done, largely behind the scenes, nurturing young players and generating sizable revenue through player sales over the years. He oversaw the negotiations for transferring for large fees the likes of Fabian Delph, Tom Cleverly and Andre Wisdom; often in difficult circumstances, such as the club been in administration and a weak position when clubs came knocking. Without disclosing names and potential figures, Horne and Christie are confident of securing more sales of the best young players to big clubs in future.

Christie said: “Looking forwards we’ve got to change the previous policy. We don’t want our best youth players to go to Liverpool, we want them to go somewhere where Liverpool will buy them (and City would benefit from a sell on clause). We’d rather they go to Glasgow Rangers or Southampton, play there for two or three years and get to 20 and then a big Premiership club comes in.

“You saw Jordan Henderson go for £20 million – that’s ultimately what we want. That sell on would enable us to sustain in the Championship for three years, just that one sell on. Or it would guarantee us promotion from League One, because we could buy three or four players for that.”

“A lot of supporters don’t see that,” adds Horne. “I get a lot of comments along the lines of ‘why aren’t we seeing any young players coming through?’ But it isn’t just about that. Our youth department is working in a different way. Yes we produce some players for the first team, but we’re helping to sustain things for the club.”

So what has changed this summer since Christie’s arrival and Horne’s promotion? Horne stated, “I’ve signed a four-year deal at the start of this year. And with David Wetherall leaving I had to restructure it all, I don’t do as much coaching now but I’ve brought in Steve Thornber from Rotherham who I’ve known for nine years. And we’ve restructured everything.

“I leave some jobs to Archie and the Chairman, and I just oversee the youth development. I promoted Alan Nevison into Centre of Excellence; he’s been working here for a long time. And so far it’s all working alright. Touch wood, it’s working alright.

“I don’t think I’d have the confidence with this whole restructure thing if it wasn’t for having in Archie – a father figure who has a different style. If me and Archie were the same it wouldn’t work.” Christie added: “We’re the opposite. He tells me how it is even if I don’t agree. We speak every day and have meetings three or four times a week. We plan the strategy from the ground up.”

Clearly Archie thinks a great deal of Horne, and the respect is mutual. “There are too many people that waffle and go around corners and round the houses, Archie just gets it done,” Horne said. “If it needs doing he just gets it done. We’ve never had that at Bradford City. It’s a great asset I think, what he does for the club – for example the Development Squad is something I think that we need. Not everyone in the Development Squad will get into the first team, but if we get a decent percentage of them in and considering how low it’s costing – it’s happy days all round isn’t it?

“The best thing that’s happened for our youth department is the Development Squad. Because now when the older youth players get to a certain age, we can offer one a pro and put others in the Development Squad and give them another six months to see if they develop anymore. So it’s fantastic really.

“If Archie wasn’t here, I’ve got to be honest with you I think that I would feel isolated. That’s what his role is, to link the set ups. But you know, if people don’t fit they’re not here are they?”

At which point Christie added, “Yeah if people don’t fit they’re not here. Unfortunately. That’s not arrogance, that’s just a fact of life. We’re club first, Peter and I. I phone him up asking ‘who are you going to watch tonight?’ and we’re both always going to games. Other people were at home with their families. Well their families aren’t more important to them than our families are to us. But we put the club first. Those people who don’t put the club first can fuck off. And you can quote me on that. That’s how I feel.”

With Phil Parkinson’s post-Wimbledon comments about a “losing mentality” at the club still fresh in our thoughts, we ask Horne how important a winning ethos is for the various youth teams. “It needs to be instilled at all levels,” he declared. “I’ve told the youth team that this year I’m not accepting anything but a winning mentality. Winning is really important and you’ve got to have it in at youth team level.”

In no time at all it’s time to end the conversation and prepare to drive with Christie to the training ground.

Talking to Horne is a hugely refreshing experience. As supporters we can often be guilty of only thinking about the youth team when the first team has lost and we’re sulkily wondering “where’s the young talent coming through?” But while Bradford City has had to sell its best youngsters before they were old enough for the first team, there’s little doubt the money this generated has been vital for the club and the likely continuation of this route will see those revenues continue. In future Christie will manage the negotiations of any such transfers with Horne’s support, and both agree this likely to result in securing even larger transfer fees.


Continued in Archie Christie Day: Part 2.

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.

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