Talking to Mark Lawn: Part One

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

How did we get here?

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

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

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

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

Overlooking the pitch

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

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

And so to the main event

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BfB: What happens with the shop?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BfB: And how did our budget compare?

Ours was a lot more, certainly over double that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have an overdraft, a small overdraft facility.

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

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

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

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

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

End of part one…

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

Ricky Holden’s Defence of Mark Lawn

The following appeared in The City Gent #167 in reference to an article in the previous issue by Ricky Holden. It is included here for completion.

After taking in Ricky Holden’s spirited discussion of Mark Lawn on page 31 of issue 166 heartened to read such a passionate defence of the man and as I looked through the article it stuck me how few of the points Mr Holden batted away were ever brought to joint chairman as criticisms.

Mark Lawn used to travel on the CTC coaches and is a proper City fan the article screamed and one would be mistaken for thinking that there was a campaign against the joint chairman that sought to expose him as a fraud who oversold his association with Bradford City. In the three years of covering his involvement at City on BfB never have I heard anyone suggest that Lawn was not the passionate Bantams fan Ricky Holden states he is. One can only wonder why Lawn is defended against charges not levelled at him.

It is certainly true that people accuse Lawn of having a gruffness to his public statements and as Ricky Holden says he is rough around the edges but again seldom is this ever seriously used as criticism against him. On the BBC recently Lawn’s “University of Hard Knocks” saw him – paraphrased no doubt by the article author – more or less suggest that the Bantams were doing all they could to attract Asian supporters by having a Chicken Tikka Pie. One could, if one wanted, find any number of ways to portray Lawn over this and few of them would illustrate him will but again there is no campaign against the man because of his manner public speaking.

“The one thing,” Ricky Holden tells us, “that I do know is he is 100% Claret and Amber” and with that it would have been interesting to settle the term “100% Claret and Amber” with “I spent the weekend deciding if I was going to withdraw my loan and put Bradford City into administration” but again Lawn is forgiven and afforded the honorific “Supporter Chairman.”

One would be satisfied to write the article off as a passionate, if slightly misguided, defence of a man who takes his fair share of criticism if it were not for the statement that Lawn was “the only one willing to put his money where his mouth was” which is increasingly said of the chairman and so inaccurate as to be insulting.

Insulting to the people who in 2002 and 2004 spent summers raising money to keep the club in business and to everyone who did at that point put their money where their mouths were and did so to the tune of hundreds of thousands. That there was a club for Mark Lawn to invest his money in/loan his money to is because of the community of Bradford City supporters who put their money, time and efforts where their mouths were and stopped the club from going out of business. It is said that Bradford is a poor City – indeed financially it is – and the people of this City squeezing out £250,000 in eight weeks is the stone wringing its own blood. An act which deserves more than being written off as not having put money where mouth is.

One could write books on Lawn and his actions at Bradford City and opinion over the man will no doubt be divided but let us not create a revisionism that insults the people who have kept this club going – the supporters – and affords their success to the boardroom.


Michael Wood
www.boyfrombrazil.co.uk

Taylor, Rhodes interviews in new City Gent

Issue 164 of The City Gent goes on sale at Valley Parade tomorrow and includes interviews with joint chairman Julian Rhodes, City boss Peter Taylor as well as the transcript from joint chairman Mark Lawn’s recent chat with Derm Tanner on BBC Radio Leeds.

The Taylor interview gives an insight into the new City boss and how he is approaching life at Valley Parade, his thoughts on Bradford The City and the secret that Wayne Jacobs never told his new boss.

Issue 164 goes on sale on Saturday 17th April at the usual cost of just £2 which is less than a Valley Parade hot dog, and probably tastes better.

Put prices up to compete? City should be extending the reductions

After three years of what are called “cheap” season tickets there is talk that Bradford City should abandon the policy and begin to charge comparable prices with the rest of the league for admission to Valley Parade to make the club more able to compete in League Two.

The people putting forward this idea have been following City for a long time – Mike Harrison is editor of The City Gent and he put the opinion forward, Darren Slingsby who made the suggesting in the T&A letters page has been supporting the Bantams longer than I have been alive – and they make fine and valid points.

However, as I lay claim to first mooting the idea back in September 2005, I feel I should speak for the defence and say why I believe that not only is the scheme a good idea but also one that should be extended.

The idea behind the reduction in prices at Valley Parade is a mixture of ethics and the rudiments of supply/demand. The Bantams have a massive supply of seats for football matches at Valley Parade – about 25,000 of them – which outstrips the demand which even at the reduced price only runs to around 11,000. This is not uncommon in football at the level we are at by any stretch of the imagination. Most filled ground in League Two belongs to Burton Albion who cover 62% of seats. City are sixth on this table with just over 45% of seats at VP occupied – or at least paid for.

Rochdale’s 29% and Bury’s 26% come from clubs that are doing well – perhaps speaking to the idea that wins are what puts bums on seats – and Notts County’s 33.5% suggests that simply throwing money at a club does not guarantee packed houses.

Supply is common and demand tends to be low for League Two clubs at least and a look at the league above where Leeds fill fewer seats as a percentage than Burton suggests that this will not change even with promotion.

I come from the position that the status quo at Valley Parade in these terms are very much the one we have to live within. Price elasticity of demand governs how sliding this price up or down will effect that 11,000 and those who believe that increasing the price will give City more ability to compete come from the perspective that should it double then over 5,500 people would renew with similar points on that sliding scale having a similar response. They might be correct, they may not be. The science of economics is much less of a science than one would expect.

The effect of increasing prices would no doubt be fewer people in Valley Parade with the effects that will have on the atmosphere – not necessarily making it worse, but having an effect – but at some point one ends up recalling the Jasper Carrott joke about turning to the guy next to him at half time and say “Oi! You over there? Can you hear me?”

Joking aside the ethics of – while in the worst recession in eighty years – not pricing an afternoon at the local football team as more expensive than one to the cinema are admirable. Both are entertainments that people seek to enjoy on a regular basis and by making football affordable we make it inclusive.

By being more inclusive Bradford City are more relevant. The 11,000 Bradford City supporters have more weight when talking to Bradford Council about why they fund Bradford’s Rugby team rather than the footballers when one looks at how The Bulls pulled in 9,244 for a game with Wigan last week. The fact that City get more Bradfordian bums on seats should not go unnoticed.

Bradford City have supply, I believe that we need to increase demand – which is to say the number of people who come to Valley Parade – to enable us to compete better by virtue of having more funds available.

Away supporters pay £20 a head to come to Valley Parade and casual home fans pay a similar amount. Should we half that price then not only would it fit more easily alongside the season ticket prices but it would perhaps tempt the transient support to give City a try.

The typical family of four can more easily afford a £20 plus pies to go to a game than it can £40 and by welcoming those people – the parents and children – to Valley Parade we move to growing the support.

Few football fans start as season ticket holders and if we are to try grow the support then we cannot expect a person to go from sitting at home watching the results come in or staying in the pub doing the same on a Saturday to holding a season long commitment to the club.

Add to that the idea that by cutting the prices for away supporters the Bantams bring about a situation where more away fans can come to the game. The cost of a coach or car to Bradford for one of our rivals might be £30 – not cheap – but if slicing our prices in half means that that can be offered at £20 and thus get more uptake then let us do that not just because more visitors could increase the atmosphere or because we can guarantee that twice as many would be interested but because it takes a moral lead in the game that says that the very lifeblood of football – people who can be bothered following clubs away from home and could be dubbed “committed fans” – are not ripe to be ripped off.

Following City up and down the country is an expensive business and from Rochdale to Rotherham Bantams fans spend a lot doing it. We should – for the sake of some empathy with other football fans – try to set an example that respects the visitors to Valley Parade and rewards them with a break in the pocket. We can do it, we have the space, and I believe should do it.

Further ways of increasing demand require a longer term effort and I could never promise a reward from them but they are worth investigating.

There is much talk about a safe standing at Valley Parade campaign which is being given just attention. If we could get people back to the club by allowing them to stand then we have a way to increase demand.

My memories of football in the nineties are all about going to games with a number of friends which could be as low as two or three or as many as twelve or thirteen but the season ticket nature of Valley Parade at the moment means that unless one person is not attending then it is impossible to bring someone new to the match.

I have no idea of the legality or safety implication of allowing people to buy a season ticket not for “Seat 82 Row G Block F” of the bottom of the North Stand but rather for “The Bottom of The Kop” but that ability to float around as we used to do in the old days could allow the fan of today to drag a few of his mates enough to get them to come along. Something worth investigating in the name of rolling out further reductions and bringing innovations that might fill empty seats with paying customers rather than adding to the cost of the seats already filled.

We are three years into a revolution in pricing which – I believe – needs to be a permanent commitment to fans to respect them and thank them for the backing they show with affordable prices. There are problems with the model for sure, but rather than having those problems see us step back I would suggest that they are indications that we should push on, learn the lessons and find out how we can grow the support of the club.

Ultimately the problems with the level of competition the Bantams can show would be solved with a far greater change in the status quo at Valley Parade and the ownership and rent situation of the ground. On this subject I note the efforts of The Cambridge United Supporters Trust who are trying to buy back The Abbey Stadium.

The supporters buy the ground and allow the football club business to play there. Sounds like an idea to me.

City Gent on sale tomorrow reflects on Stuart

A new issue of The City Gent goes on sale tomorrow which features a lengthy, exclusive, revealing and touching interview with former City manager Stuart McCall.

The issue is dedicated to the former manager and discussion on his exits and the events around it with the usual mix of passion and thoughtfulness of the counties longest running fanzine.

Pick up your copy from gentlemen tall and short around Valley Parade tomorrow.

Before Darlington City consider what is a good footballer?

After last Saturday’s game at Accrington Stanley Bradford City’s players were “simply not good enough” and Peter Taylor had to get rid of them. After the win at Rochdale on Tuesday night they were “brilliant and capable” and had beaten a team five points top of the league.

This weekend the same players face moribund Darlington. So which is the real reflection of the current set of Bradford City players?

The season has seen them wend a way to the lower mid-table for sure but also create a club record of games unbeaten. Rochdale made them looked hapless, they returned the favour and beat them when Dale’s lads were brimming with confidence. How good, or how bad, are the City players?

Certainly following the game Peter Taylor was clear about what he thought had transformed the team saying that the return to a 442 on Tuesday night with Michael Flynn up front alongside James Hanson – a function Taylor credits Wayne Jacobs for passing on to him – and an evening of hard work.

Said Taylor

There were so many good things but most importantly they realised that they got the result through hard work and togetherness.

So if the players are together and work hard then they are “good” divided – as they were following the departure of Stuart McCall and the communal lip out sulk – they are “bad”. So are they good or bad?

Perhaps the question is framed wrong.

The terms of good and bad in football have always been around but have come into a sharper focus in the digital era where games like Championship Manager and FIFA demand that players be rated and assessed. If you, dear reader, ever played one of the LMA series of management games you did so (in some years) with a Bradford City team assessed and rated by yours truly.

I recall opening the spreadsheet and being given a range – Bradford City players could not be rated over 59% or under 44% – and were scored in categories like shooting and passing. I wondered how one rated players like Bobby Petta in those stats. For sure the man could hit a ball, but only when he could be bothered and why award him the higher fifties because he once leathered a ball in against Huddersfield when Steven Schumacher scored more – albeit less impressive – goals?

The question asked in that instance really was one of “good” and “bad” but that is the world of clicks and buttons and the reality of football offers more depth. Robbie Blake – for example – was considered for long periods of his career a player who would be good enough for the Premiership if only he had the pace suggesting that his abilities would be spread between percentages, if they could be encoded at all.

The way that the good people at Codemasters created their game allowed an even spread of abilities up and down the game. There were as many players with the ability levels suited for the Premiership as for the League Two – linear distribution – and as City slipped down the leagues having risen up in double quick time the previous decade it struck me that that notion was wrong.

As the skill level of players at, and visiting, Valley Parade decreased from the days of Paul Scholes volleying in a David Beckham corner it became clear that there was a level of ability which rose and fell up and down the leagues but that as we fell down the leagues this quality did not drop off to the same extent. The difference between the second and third tiers of football were not as great as the drop between the top of the top flight and the clubs at the bottom.

The exponential growth of players able to play at a level as one descends the league means that while only one English footballer might have the abilities of David Beckham and ten are good enough for the Champions but a hundred Englishmen are good enough for the Premiership on the whole and thousand able to play at the next level down which encompasses an area I’d say is roughly the half way down the top of the Championship to the middle of League Two.

It is crude analysis for sure but it explains how a Paul Jewell or a Peter Taylor can take clubs like Wigan and Hull and take them through the leagues to the edge of the Premiership play-offs. The players who were idling either at those clubs or to be bought up from rivals of a similar standing did not improve in natural ability – the did not become “good” having been “bad” but they certainly improved.

Improvement that is put down to coaching and to motivation. The latter being shown in Paul Jewell’s ability to build a mental toughness in his players in which they believed they were capable of beating any team at any level and the former being in team drilling and understanding of the roles and responsibilities on the field and the pattens built up.

The average player in League One when promoted would be expected to get on in the division above, when relegated to be able to play in the one below. The same group of players who seem hopeless at one point can seem brilliant at others when they have the right approach to the game and to each other.

Which brings us back to Bradford City and the difference of three days between Accrington and Rochdale. Assuming the players have not simply “become good” over the space of three days and that Taylor requires more than a couple of sleeps to have the players won over to his tactical approach or his mental position how have the Bantams improved?

Probably the change has much to do with the depressed mood at the club that came as a result of sacking Stuart McCall being superseded as a worry by the idea that if a team cannot complete with Accrington then it is likely that that club would be relegated. The players had a sulk, they were upset, but professional pride – or perhaps the mental toughness they have – kicked in and they raised the game in keeping with the raised noise from the away end.

Add to that Taylor looked at simple basics of the team and noted that – since Paul McLaren left – we have had no quality delivery. That problem has been fixed by loanee Robbie Threlfall. Threlfall’s delivery played a part in all three goals against Rochdale. A small practical fix which allowed Luke O’Brien to move forward to balance the left flank and set City for victory.

Threlfall makes his Valley Parade début against a Darlingtonnnn side managed by Steve Staunton who was himself a Liverpool left back loaned to City and is set to be joined as a temporary transfer at the club by Gillingham’s Mark McCammon,physicalcal striker.

McCammon seems likely to partner James Hanson up front as the club praised The City Gent for raising £5,000 to pay two thirds of the transfer fee for the player. The last two weeks has seen much debate over the club and the owners of that club and acknowledgement is given to the joint chairmen for the investment they have made but The City Gent’s – in effect – buying a player is another of many examples of the supporters of Bradford City funding the business of Bradford City and when calls are made to the joint chairmen for clarity it is done in the knowledge that frankly amazing actions such as Jeremy White’s fund raising is done by people who should be considered more than consumers of the Bradford City product.

The McCammon/Hanson combination sees Peter Taylor go about the business of making the no nonsense attack that his Wycombe side had and will allow Michael Flynn to slot back alongside Lee Bullock in the midfield alongside O’Brien on the left and Gareth Evans on the right although a return for Omar Daley or the inclusion of Scott Neilson is possible, but would be harsh on Evans who is returning to form.

The back four of Simon Ramsden, Matthew Clarke, Steve Williams and Threlfall will continue in front of Matt Glennon.

Good players, to a man.

McCall echoes Law’s bluntest comments – will we pay attention this time?

Arresting oratory rarely comes from the most lucid speakers. Churchill’s finest hours came not from his desire to play with words but the bluntness of his statements. “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat” may flow off the tongue well but more importantly, it is guttural, basic.

As one decade ticks over to another there is a tendency to look back to the last and encapsulate and in doing some one piece of oratory sticks out above others. A couple of years from the start of the decade then manager Nicky Law delivered this damning pronouncement:

At some grounds the crowd are like a goal for the home team, here (at Valley Parade) they are like one for the opposition.

It is blunt to the point of offence and hastened Law’s exit from the position he had at the club but remains – despite two administrations and three relegations – the outstanding comment of the ten years perhaps because of the bluntness. It was the manager of the club at the end of his tether and is perhaps made more significant by the slide that followed Law’s exit. The gaffer – love him or loathe him – was issuing a warning to supporters. He was not the first.

Ten years before IPC Magazines – those people behind Roy of the Rovers and NME – had asked all 92 clubs what music they ran on to the pitch to. This was before the Sunderland’s use of Republica’s Ready To Go updated run-on music and years before Burnley perfected it with Arcade Fire’s Wake Up (Coyle, leaving that, you must be mad) amid the usual Z-Cars of Everton and Newcastle’s Local Hero came not the name of a song but an anonymous comment from Valley Parade.

We usually run out to total silence

Both phrases talk in terms of warnings and strike hard against the memories of Valley Parade after Gordon Watson’s goals against Barnsley, against Liverpool in 2000, against Blackpool in 2003 but anyone who has followed City – especially those who follow City on the road and have heard the contrast between VP and away grounds – knows that for the talk of “best fans” which is heard from all clubs the Bantams backing at Valley Parade is almost always underwhelming.

The City Gent‘s Dave Pendleton talking about the rising Ultras movement in English lower league football commented on how fifty Accrington Stanley fans were able to out-sing 11,000 Bantams in Valley Parade. There are many reasons for this – the movement from standing to all seats, the breaking up of singing groups in the stadium, offish stewarding and so on – but Pendleton’s reflections are not isolated incidents.

At the time Law’s comments seemed to be petty, small-minded and ungenerous – the last actions of an Emporer before the fall of his Rome – but in retrospect they read as as stark a warning every issued to a footballing community. “Care for you club” – they seem to say – “because no one else will and you will suffer the consequences.”

The comments point to a helplessness – a desperation – of manager Law at the time. Some took his comments as a direct criticism of all but from the distance of years they strike one more as a man saying that he can only do so much. “I’m doing what I can,” they float, “how about a bit of help from the supporters?”

Within a couple of years a dozen people were sitting about the Goldsborough in Bradford trying to tie two ends of the club together, trying to riase enough money that City were not be put into liquidation rather than continuing administration, and no one had time to consider Law’s words but they rang around the chasm between the pub and Valley Parade with a mocking resonance.

Reconciling the two positions is difficult. Twice in the last decade Bradford City supporters showed summers of endless depths of passion, of stoicism and of belief to keep the club in business and able to play football through winters in which often the converse was true. Impatience was common, spinelessness frequent and, sadly, distaste poured forth. I heard it said by one of the dozen people who spent a summer raising the money to keep City going that the club was not just saved to give some people a place to moan every two weeks.

This decade was not a week old when Stuart McCall delivered a comment which to many echoed Law’s words and while they were less blunt than the previous manager’s they – for some – contained the same meaning.

If anyone wants to pack up and clear off, then I don’t want them here. That goes for anybody connected with the club.

Rumours following the comments – which the T&A’s Simon Parker attributed to being about the supporters rather than McCall pointed at – were that the manager was upset at the attitude of some of the directors perhaps specifically Roger Owen although one was also reminded of the infamous Brian Clough story which has the great man sacking three tea ladies he discovered sniggering at a Derby County loss. Negativity – Clough believed – undermined everything.

Certainly McCall was quick to point out that he was not criticising the supporters talking about the great backing they have had from the fans 6,000 of whom have signed up for Season Tickets for next season but as with Law’s comments some see this as McCall’s attack on the fan and want a similar response with the manager being stripped of his responsibilities.

Regardless of his intended target McCall’s comments apply equally to supporters as they do to the boardroom, the dressing room or elsewhere at Valley Parade. Clough and Law shared the belief that negativity aided the opposition and it seems that McCall has come to the same conclusion.

One has to wonder what Bradford City 2010 have been like were the reaction to Law’s comments not a ire that he should dare speak against Bradford City supporters but as a motivation to resolve to make what difference a full throated support can for a club? Poor atmosphere is common in football home ends up and down the country but it need not be the case and if atmosphere has a purpose in victories in football then the Bantams support could resolve to be the team that uber-supports rather than just another ground where nothing is ever as good as it could be.

Would we have seen Bryan Robson’s side slide away? Would we have seen the lifeless surrender of League One status at Huddersfield and at home to Leyton Orient? Would we have seen the wilting away of last season’s promotion push? Would any of these things been avoided had Law’s comments rung true and the type of support which often is only witness in away ends could be heard in the home sections of VP.

Certainly at the club the idea that there is a negativity at Bradford City has been noted. Mark Lawn has talked about the message board and making posters responsible for what is said in the hope that it would alter the tone while the moving of away fans to create a noisy Bradford End has been a qualified success with the atmosphere created by some way the most positive in the stadium, and the noisiest.

This website stand accused – from time to time – of “having a go at the fans” which is sometimes true but in this case is not. (Incidentally for my part I have no qualms about saying that on occasion I feel the need to point out unjustified negativity of a section of City fans and for those fans to bleat about being “attacked” or being the subject of having BfB “having a go” is an hypocrisy. If – in one example – a person is man enough to stand up in front of the fans around him – including a good few twelve year old kids – and call Joe Colbeck “a c*nt” then he is man enough to take any criticism aimed at him.)

This is an article about a nameless source at Valley Parade in the 90s, a manager in the form of Nicky Law in the last decade, The City Gent’s Dave Pendleton and another manager Stuart McCall in this one and it is about putting aside a pompous pride and thinking about what is best considered for the wider Bradford City community.

I’m a guy with an opinion, Some bloke at VP is just some bloke, Law was a jobbing manager, Pendleton is just a guy who writes a fanzine, McCall is a club legend and they all speak to the same conclusion about the effects of support and the detriments of negativity. What voice are we not going to ignore before this issue is addressed?

Note on comments An interesting debate on Stuart McCall is taking place elsewhere on this website which need not be duplicated here. Instead – and this is a departure from the usual track of comments – suggestions on ways to improve the mood, the atmosphere, the tone of the club are would be appreciated below.

The long close season

Okay I admit it, I’m jealous. Two days after watching Burnley gain promotion to the Premier League on the tele I’m beginning to crack. I’m just relieved I didn’t watch Gillingham beat Shrewsbury or Scunthorpe beat Millwall the two days before it as well, or I’d be more glum than Kevin Blackwell upon discovering the referee of his next game.

I know it’s all our own fault and that there are too many what ifs and if onlys for a sane person to contemplate, but it could, and should, have been us. I’m not referring to Burnley taking a place in the Premier League – we’ve been there, done it, be nice to do again someday but no rush. I’m talking about Burnley enjoying a slice of glory, a day out at Wembley, a chance for regular players to become all-time club heroes.

Having lived in the Skipton and Craven area for almost 20 years of my life, the ramifications of Burnley’s glory are more obtrusive. Round our way there’s always being more Leeds and Burnley fans than City, the days of walking to the bus stop in my claret and amber shirt on route to Valley Parade and been mercilessly ridiculed by Burnley fans in the pub opposite are still easily recalled. It means their celebrations don’t begin and end with the TV remote like they can with other clubs, my face feels well and truly rubbed in it.

I quickly hopped over the Lancashire border on Saturday and it seemed every other car had a Burnley flag flapping in the wind. For the last week I’ve overheard numerous conversations between non-football fans about watching the big game. I’ve been bored by people who’ve not been to Turf Moor in years bragging about how great the Clarets are. Too many friend’s Facebook status have read “looking forward to going to Wembley”. At least the open top bus is unlikely to go through Skipton.

And I’ve got no problem with it really, but it just reminds you what you’re missing out on. Round our way a few years back, folk were making the same amount of fuss about Bradford City going up, but since beating Liverpool to stay in the Premier League there’s been no opportunity to get drunk in celebration of City’s achievements, to rush out and buy the commemorative video/DVD, to elevate well-liked players into heroes.

One day our turn will come again, but every close season I think that and it’s always someone else’s players dancing with a trophy a year later. Wembley looked good on the TV on Monday and the Burnley fans looked liked they were having fun. On more than one occasion at work yesterday I caught myself day dreaming of us being there. Of Sky interviewing goal scoring hero Peter Thorne who calls it “one of the best moments of my career”; of Graeme Lee climbing the royal box steps and lifting the trophy; of Stuart McCall having another go at trying to stay on top of a car.

It’s stupid to waste such energy, but I only have myself to blame. I hate the prospect of the close season and of three months without meaningful City games. I’m usually ready for a break from it by the last game and this season was no different; but after all the Premiership, Champions League and FA Cup issues are sorted there’s nothing on and so the weeks before the first pre-season friendly feel bleak.

So I try to soak up as much football while it’s on as I can, this year being a little better than most with the Premier League finishing later. But each team enjoying their slice of success and each set of fans going crazy in celebration only reminds you of what might have been with City and how much ending the next season in glory would mean, given the pain endured during the previous one. Then suddenly you’re looking forward to next season, and it’s still weeks and weeks away.

I’m not a complete freak, at least I don’t think I am. During the season I can be guilty of neglecting friends and it’s nice to have full weekends to make up for that with. The weather is usually better and there’s always other sports to try. Formula One might be good this year, I really should go and try Keighley Cougars at least once…oh, when is the first pre-season friendly?

When there’s no European Championship or World Cup to block up the gap, I find myself setting City-related leisure tasks to make the weeks go by a little quicker. Read every edition of City Gent I own in order, or go through an especially memorable season’s collection of matchday programmes. This year I’m attempting to watch every City video and DVD I own, covering some 15 years of action, in chronological order – sad I know. But I’m enjoying recalling the contributions of some of our less celebrated heroes – Shaun Murray, no one ever talks about him anymore, what a great little player. And if you’ve never heard of Keith Coates, get yourself to the Upfront store right now.

All of which beats waiting for City transfer news, which is largely unrewarding and frustrating. You want to be greeted by news of an exciting signing when you load up the Telegraph & Argus website in the morning, not yet another interview about an underperforming player hoping to do better next season. The message boards used to be a great source of rumours, these days it’s full of unrealistic tales of Championship players apparently considering dropping down the ladder or non-league hot shots Stuart would be stupid to overlook.

Of course I should be grateful, because we get nine months of the year filled with going to watch City and at least we can feel stress-free for those three months it’s not with us. It’s just I don’t think I’ll be able to fully enjoy a summer again until I’ve ended the previous season with something to celebrate.

For now Burnley fans, please stay out of my way. I’m starting to forget how you feel.

Todd and making the future work this time

Prefacing this by saying I like The City Gent and Chris Armstrong who runs The City Gent website we at BfB were interested to see that website use it’s front page to make a case for the prosecution against Colin Todd calling for the City manager to be sacked.

The content of the article runs through a damning list of “crimes” and makes it clear that Todd should be held accountable for the teams performance – a view I personally think always lets the team off with ineffectual displays but one I respect the writer’s right to hold.

However such talk is neither especially interesting or especially new. Indeed City fans need only cast minds back to October 2003 when the same comments were being made about Nicky Law.

That those comments may – or may not, depending on your opinion – have been proved true is hardly important. What is important and what would be needed to convince me that the Todd Out protests had enough merit to be worth supporting is an answer to the questions asked back when Law was sacked.

For all the talk about from City fans about the relative merits – or lack of merit – of Todd and his position at the club I have yet to hear anything approaching a convincing argument which tells me that sacking this manager would not be as ineffectual in halting City’s decline as axing Law was.

Genuinely curiously I wonder why would sacking Colin Todd improve the club any more than sacking Nicky Law? Or Jim Jefferies? Or Chris Hutchings? Why would the next manager turn our fortunes around when Bryan Robson’s arrival did not? Or when the return of popular coach Terry Yorath as manager in 1988 could not?

By anyone’s yardstick – including the one Colin Todd applies to Sven Goran Eriksson – Todd would be overdue the bullet from the vast majority of jobs in football. What I am interested in – and what we as supporters of this club should be interested in – is the future of the club beyond the short term buzz of a sack and search.

How will the job of managing Bradford City be different for the next manager than it is for this one and it was for the last one, and the one before that, and before him and before him?

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