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.

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