Mark Lawn and stopping thinking about promotion

Mark Lawn’s successes at Bradford City are limited.

Whatever one thinks of the man and his actions – not talking to his manager for nine months, threatening to wind the club up when three or four idiots vandalised his car, authorising spending £600,000 of money the club did not yet have for selling on a youngster Fabian Delph on players rather than facilities – it is hard to suggest that the vast majority of them have had the aim he desired.

That is because Lawn’s aims are two fold and firstly – and most obviously – it is promotion and three and a half years since he arrived the closest the Bantams have come to troubling League One seems to coincide with the moment when Lawn’s relations with his gaffer went sour. We all recall the hours and the times.

But I come not to bury Lawn but to praise him for his second aim – and the one which he is most tempted to drift away from – is perhaps more important than promotion. It is the financial stability of the club and the fact that in a game fuelled by Bradford City – on the whole – are in the black.

Season on season since Mark Lawn arrived Bradford City’s balance sheet has – more or less – shown the the club is not losing money and considering the significant and huge drain on the resources that the rent of Valley Parade from the Flamingo Land Pension Fund represents this is not to be underestimated. The club owe Lawn (and Julian Rhodes) a chunk of cash but that loan is (it is understood) offered at a rate that allowed the Bantams to stop paying debt maintainable and use those funds.

So when talk emerges that Bradford City are being looked at by investors as a potential purchase it comes as no surprise. A rare beast in football, a club that when they are purchased ostensibly at the price of paying back Lawn’s (estimated, correct me if I am wrong) £1m and whatever the club owe Rhodes then the business side is solvent from the first day of trading.

Lawn – apparently – is not short of offers for the club but most of them are more Peter Etherington than Geoffrey Richmond and the joint chairman sums up the situation saying “At present nobody can come along with the sort of investment that would make a difference.”

It would seem that Lawn is as stuck with his critics as his critics are with him and the frustrations of owing and working under the restrictions of ensuring solvency of the club show in his statements. He talks about supporters with wide eyes looking at other club’s spending saying “So unless somebody can find a magic money tree and give it a shake for us, (City’s ability to sign players in January is) not going to change.”

Lawn talks about waiting for the right man to take over rather than someone who would look to make a quick buck and he is right to talk in such a way but perhaps he is the right man.

One could talk about the business sense of the Bradford City board – The Santa Dave leaflet, please no – but the main problem seems to be a kind of cart before horse approach to that aim of promotion where everyone at the club is part of a mad scramble trying to get into the top three of League Two.

Promotion is set as the aim – Julian Rhodes talked about back to back movements up to The Championship – but with that contradicts the talk of solvency when teams like Notts County or Peterborough United are stealing the League Two title. Those clubs spend buckets of cash on the idea that they must ascend the leagues as soon as possible.

Those teams tough represent the exception and the rule in football is that things are won by the club with biggest club, rather than the biggest spenders. Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea and (perhaps this year) Manchester City have all opened the wallet and tried to buy the Premier League title but if those big spenders fail then Manchester United win it as a default setting. No mad scrambles at Old Trafford, just maintaining the pace.

So rather than setting promotion as an aim create some objectives, set some areas in which City are to improve. I make no apologies for talking again about facilities because the higher up football one gets the bigger and better they are but the correlation between facilities and league position is unignorable.

There are plenty of things which are done by others which should be – and sometimes are – replicated at Valley Parade. Peter Taylor’s insistence on overnight stays is a good example of this as his desire to have a better playing surface (although his desire to suit and boot the players contrasts to Arsenal’s leisure suited lads).

Innovation has its place but is is naive to disguise failure to compete on various levels as new thinking and using the established pattens which have brought the promotion that Lawn and City crave to clubs like Rochdale and AFC Bournemouth – making the setting up of those established pattens as the aims – could prove more fruitful.

When asked about where the club will be in five years the tendency at City is to list a division – famously and with some effectiveness in building belief Geoffrey Richmond said “The Premier League” – but if the answer were about an increased turnover, better facilities, and so forth then perhaps the horse would go before the cart.

Perhaps making Bradford City a bigger club, a club with more of the trappings of a successful club, will bring that success and there is no reason that Mark Lawn – with a sound financial head – is not able to stop talking about promotion or bust and start talking about how he is going to make City bigger and better by whatever increments he can and let osmosis take the Bantams up the leagues.

At the moment Lawn is a Dave Simpson of a chairman – a hand on the tiller and not someone one always agrees with but someone who has as many good limits as bad – but there is no reason why the current chairman should not change the priorities of the club towards stable improvement in increments rather than boom or bust thinking.

City move training to Leeds, again

At long last Bradford City have new training facilities after Mark Lawn detailed the Bantams proposed new base in Weetwood, North Leeds with the chairman proudly delivering on his promise to Peter Taylor.

Taylor had stated the need for better training pitches for the Bantams as one of his demands were he to stay at City beyond the end of the season and Lawn has begun to deliver on the shopping list the manager wants taking a swipe at Bradford Council’s inability to provide facilities in the team’s home City.

The place is top class, a very good facility and a lot better than what we’ve got and certainly up to Championship standard. It would have been very nice if Bradford Council had done something, but if they don’t offer anything then we have to go where we can go.

A BBC report suggests the move to Leeds “could attract some controversy” probably without reference to the location of the current training facilities.

Mark Lawn and the French Revolutionary

There is a story of a French Revolutionary watching an angry mob run past the saloon he is in and saying “There go my people, I must find out where they are going so I can lead them there.”

Long awaited news has started emerging from Bradford City over the past few days. Strange news and news that is long overdue but no less welcome.

We are told that new training facilities are being planned for the first time in years – the last plan was a custom built facility just off the roundabout at the top of the M606 which bit the dust when the money ran out creating a great illustration of how the club frittered away the golden years of English football. We are not alone, almost every other club has too.

Now we hear that Mark Lawn is looking at bringing in turf experts to find how the Valley Parade pitch can be improved.

These efforts are long overdue – the pitch itself is not as bad in most years as it looks at the moment following the harsh winter and more fool the clubs that react to a harsh winter by adapting the pitch for such circumstances in a world where the words “global warming” feature so often.

These changes are aimed at wooing Peter Taylor to the manager’s seat at Valley Parade. They are what the interim manager considers to be the minimum requirement for a football club that wants to progress and if he is going to commit himself to Bradford City then Taylor wants Bradford City to commit to doing the basics right at least.

Lawn is keen to be heard to be making the right noises although sometimes his approval of the manager’s methods and techniques ring hollow. Hopefully he has realised that in Taylor he has by far the best candidate for the job and that he is trying to do all he can to keep him is a good thing.

One has to wonder though as Lawn tells all about how we need to move to better facilities where this thinking was two years ago when the club had over a half a million pounds to spend? Indeed where was it two and a half years ago when the chairman was chasing the signature of Chilean players?

Even if we assume that Stuart McCall rose on his haunches and demanded with fury that he be given transfer funds why did Lawn – if the benefits of the changes he current outlines are so obvious – tell the manager that the club’s funds would be going on infrastructure improvements and not paying Paul McLaren or signing Willy Topp?

If he went along with the idea of spending money on players then why – when Peter Taylor told him that he wanted training pitches and weight rooms – did he not point him to a map of South America and ask him where to find a great striker who could train at Applely Bridge? Why not tell Taylor that all he needs is to find the players and that the training facilities are up to snuff?

When Mark Lawn started looking for a replacement for Stuart McCall I worried that rather than outline a plan and a vision to a candidate and asking how that candidate would fit into it he would be sat on the other side of a desk asking the man who could be his next manager what the plan is to make the club better. As much as I welcome – at last – the club looking at improving the basic infrastructure needed to get on in the game one cannot help be struck by the idea that whatever the current plan for making a better Bradford City is it has not come from the boardroom.

It is said that the difference between American Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton is that Bush – rightly or wrongly – had certainty in what he did and that Clinton would change his mind on the basis of the last expert he met. That is how Lawn comes over at the moment. He blows in the wind and – with news the the club is to get further investments and without knowledge of if these investments will be capital funds or loans – ready to put gamble on the last expert he talked to being the right one.

Why worry though is one agrees with what is happening at City? Taylor is a near peerless manager at this level and very much the best we have available to us and the improvements to the club’s infrastructure are long overdue. Does it matter that Mark Lawn has been led to these realisations by Peter Taylor rather than outlined them to him?

One might worry that because the plan to improve the club starts with the manager then that plan would leave with him should he exit, also that manager’s have more of a vested interest in promotion rather than the continuity of the club and if Taylor were to not look beyond two years in his planning then few would blame him. To expect a Bradford City manager to enter a third year of management has been unrealistic.

That aside the original of City’s plans does not at all, on one proviso.

That Lawn recognises that it is the manager’s job to run the football club and his to provide resources and get out of the way and let him do it in the long term.

If he can do that without talking to another expert that changes him mind then we might start to improve.

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