Outsiders are welcome

“Come and visit Bar 71 lads”, said the Swindon Town steward who had appeared from nowhere after we had queued up at the County Ground away ticket office for tickets to Saturday’s game. “It’s for away supporters only, and we’ve put Bradford City photos up to make you feel at home. There’s even one charting how far you’ve travelled today, which I researched myself.”

So we did visit Bar 71, located directly underneath the away section of the County Ground. And though the posters looked a bit naff (see photo below) and the beer hardly cheap, it was nevertheless a pleasant experience with plenty of room and big screen coverage of the Chelsea v Arsenal game. And though we were the only people there for half an hour, by the time Robin van Persie was completing his hat trick, Bar 71 was packed out with City fans. And suddenly in from the pitch outside burst a jokingly annoyed Lennie the City Gent, wondering why no one was sat in the stand watching his routines. “Never mind the beer,” he ordered “get out there.”

"Welcome to Swindon, here's a picture of Craig Fagan to make you feel at home."

"Welcome to Swindon, here's a picture of Craig Fagan to make you feel at home."

There has been much comment made of Swindon’s decision to charge us £25 to watch a League Two match and rightly so. Times are tough and all that – football, at this level especially, should be an affordable activity not a luxury expense. A week earlier I’d attended the Blackburn Rovers v Tottenham Premier League fixture and paid just £17 for the privilege. When you consider the petrol expense of travelling 200+ miles to Wiltshire, Saturday was a costly day out.

Yet after getting past the monetary concerns, it was also a hugely enjoyable experience. Bar 71 might be little more than a glorified Working Mens Club, but it was a nice touch by Swindon to lay on facilities for away supporters. Financially profitable for them, of course; somewhere nearby, there will have been a local pub or two missing out on revenue we would have otherwise provided them. But the Robins were also making an effort to ensure our matchday experience was a good one, rather than rely on others to do so.

It may have cost £25 a ticket, but if we’re in the same division next season I personally will favour a trip to the County Ground over some League Two away games (like, for example, Port Vale – £20.50 ticket, not allowed in their supporters bar).

And that’s a point that few football clubs – Bradford City included – appear to be aware of. Away support is an important financial consideration, and there is much they can do to make sure a visit to your stadium is an attractive proposition beyond providing away fans with a decent view of the match.

Perhaps Brighton deserve the status of pioneers in this respect. As part of the development of their brand new Amex Stadium, they built an away stand where they can make bespoke changes to the facilities. Visiting supporters to Brighton this season have arrived into an away concourse in the colours of their team, with posters of their present and past heroes on the wall. Inside the ground, the away seats are cushioned. Martin Perry, Brighton Chief Executive, explained the reasoning to the BBC during the summer: “Why not be welcoming to your visiting club? Why not make it a fantastic experience for them? Because actually what happens is, they look for the Brighton fixture and they say “I’m going to that one” and we get a full house.”

Swindon’s Bar 71 was a low rent equivalent. Bespoke posters on the wall, a chance to socialise before the match and then a 5-second walk to the away turnstiles once everyone in your group had supped up. Certainly profitable for Swindon in terms of the bar and food takings; but potentially even more rewarding for the club when it comes to the number of fans who attend their club’s fixture at the County Ground the following season.

Not that it’s solely a football club’s responsibility to ensure away fans have an enjoyable experience. My favourite away trip of the season so far was Oxford in August. A few hundred yards from the stadium was a pub which put on outdoor seating, a special beer tent and a DJ playing indie classics. We were warmly welcomed to join the large group of home supporters, and we spent a good hour chatting to a number of friendly Oxford fans. A great experience which they do for every game, apparently; and because of it we’ll be travelling to Oxford the next time that City play them.

At Morecambe, Bradford City supporter Dan Thornton – who’s caravan park is based opposite the Globe Arena – has for the last two seasons put on special events before Morecambe-Bradford matches for City fans only. Although the racist stand up comedian was not to my taste and so I won’t be going again, other City fans were not bothered by it and will go in the same high numbers next time.

Whoever instigates them, the efforts of Brighton, Swindon, Oxford and Dan add something extra to the day which makes them more rewarding. When the most important factor – the match itself – is beyond our control and more often than not disappointing, it’s nice to return home from a day out with something positive to look back on from it.

Which brings us to the obvious question of what – if anything – Bradford City and us supporters are doing for visitors to our own city? As much as we can complain about Swindon’s £25 entry, the fact we charge away fans £20 to see their team at Valley Parade makes our moral high ground position rather dubious. The facilities in the Midland Road stand are okay but nothing special, while there is no Bar 71 equivalent (or a realistic location to open one) to offer visitors.

Sadly, there are no decent pubs in the immediate vicinity of Valley Parade and – without doing some research first – few away fans would have a clue where to find one. The excellent Haigy’s is hidden away, and the City Centre pubs aren’t especially football-focused. The Sparrow Cafe on North Parade, for the moment, remains a hidden gem that only a handful of City fans are aware of (well worth seeking out if you’ve not been, mine’s a pint of Bernard Unfiltered if you’re buying). That and a good curry after the match aside, it’s hard to know what would make a trip to Bradford especially more attractive for an opposition supporter.

Does it matter? When opposition away followings at Valley Parade are sometimes dipping below 100 and rarely top 500 I think it does. Consider that – to a Southern-based opposition fan – a trip to Bradford is similar in distance and effort to Accrington, Morecambe and Rotherham, which would you favour if money and a social life meant you had to pick and choose?

In early 2012 City will face away trips to London borough clubs Barnet, Wimbledon and Dagenham – a fair equivalent to the above for us. Some fans will go to all three of these; me I will probably go to two of them. Wimbledon I’ve not been too before so that will be included, and my other choice would probably be Barnet on the basis I had much more fun travelling down to North London last season compared to going to Dagenham the year before.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Perhaps we shouldn’t give a toss what away fans think of Bradford and the fact they will rock up on Manningham Lane at 1pm looking for a pint and can find only sex shops. But when experiencing the difference in visiting a club who were genuinely welcoming to me and who had clearly made an effort to ensure I enjoyed my time, I feel sad and wonder if we lose out financially from the fact ‘Bradford City away’ is unlikely to be any opposition fans’ highlight of the season.

In a Bantam Frame of Mind

A mini-photographic exhibition featuring life around Bradford City’s Valley Parade ground

An image of Valley Parade by Jess Petrie

A mini photographic exhibition will open in the bantamspast museum on Saturday 8 October. A series of twelve shots, taken by Bankfoot photographer Jess Petrie, captures a taste of life around Bradford City’s Valley Parade stadium. The photographs were taken as part the bantamsmemories project, which sought to gather the memories of the varied communities that have lived in the shadow of the football ground over the last fifty years.

The mini-exhibition runs parallel with the Bradford wide Ways of Looking photographic festival, which runs throughout October. The curator of the bantamspast museum, David Pendleton, said: “We are delighted to be able to display a small portion of Jess’ work. We hope to commission her once more in the near future to record the area around the ground on a match day. The importance of the football club, both socially and economically, to Manningham is perhaps taken for granted, but we feel it is important to recognise the shared links of two communities that come together for a few hours every time City play at home.”

Jess Petrie gave her thoughts on the project: “I was honoured to be commissioned to document scenes of daily life from around the area.

In true reportage style I set on my little journey ‘in the shadow of valley parade’.

‘I had a clear vision of the people and places I was to focus on; all the people that belong to the local religious establishments in the area, the worshippers, local business workers and the local people and communities.
The diversity and multiculturalism surrounding the area is so vast and it’s so nice to see communities of different cultures mixing, working and living together… it’s harmonious and how the rest of the world should be living.

‘It’s been refreshing and eye-opening to hear the stories that everyone has to tell about their life surrounding the stadium and the changes that the area has gone through over periods of time. The opportunities that have arose from the football club, the vibrancy and ‘team spirit’ that leaves an ambience in the air before each match, the beaming smiles on the faces of local business owners after each match, and the proud feeling inside everyone that is part of the community.

“I have witnessed a lot of positive actions whilst taking part in this project. And my views of Bradford have been seen in an even newer and positive light since working on it.

“The communities around Valley Parade are full of support and care for one another and have great dignity. Everyone has been so welcoming, kind, warm and open. I would like to thank all those who shared their stories with me, their time and their smiling faces, I will take a lot away with me from this pleasant experience.”

Phil Parkinson looks to address the mentality, but the problems run deep

Phil Parkinson’s post-Wimbledon defeat comments about a losing mentality at Bradford City may be entirely accurate, but it remains curious where this mindset has originated from and how it can be addressed.

After the Bantams third successive defeat, Parkinson declared: “In the second half after we conceded their second goal I thought there was just too much acceptance that it wasn’t going to be our day… The club is fragile in terms of getting beaten too often and I’ve got to change that mentality around.”

It might seem an obvious statement to make that a club which has endured such a dismal 11 years has a losing mentality, yet a look at the starting eleven on Saturday suggests it’s worrying if this is the case. Seven had either joined the club during the summer or within the past month. Of the other four, only Michael Flynn and James Hanson were at Valley Parade just two short years ago. If it’s all about mentality, how does it spread so quickly to relatively new faces and what is causing it?

On a day where we celebrated our 125-year-old home, it was the long-standing problem of a poor Valley Parade record which again came into focus. Since returning to the Football League in 2001, City have won 85, drawn 62 and lost 88 matches at home – a weak platform which has hindered attempts to halt the slide down the divisions. Only once over the previous 10 seasons – the 2008/09 promotion failure – have the Bantams not lost at least a quarter of their home games. The rate of player turnover has been relentless over that time, but it seems the problem cannot be solved.

What is it about our own turf that opposition players find so welcoming and our own so daunting? Perhaps the lack of width – Valley Parade is one of the narrowest pitches in the country – is a hindrance. On Saturday Wimbledon lined up in a 5-3-2 formation which made it very difficult for City to get in behind, especially on the flanks. Looking at many of the teams who have triumphed over the years, a defensive focus is a common feature in how they line up. Either flood the midfield or keep numbers at the back, and City struggle to find the space to play in the opposition half. Other clubs with wider pitches don’t seem to have this same issue.

At a considerable cost, the pitch could be widened by getting rid of the first few rows on the Main Stand and Midland Road sides, although the disabled facilities in the latter are hugely important and would need to be adequately replaced. All of which is perhaps unrealistic and it’s worth noting that Peter Beagrie had few problems with the pitch; but as Kyel Reid struggled to get past his full back all afternoon on Saturday and attracted a barrage of abuse from fans, you couldn’t help but feel he would have benefited from a bit more space to utilise.

As for that barrage of abuse, it remains a bone of contention just how well we as supporters get behind the team at times. Earlier on in the season the atmosphere was much improved and the standing ovation the players received when trailing 1-0 to Bristol Rovers two weeks ago undoubtedly had an influence in the second half recovery. As the half time whistle was blown on Saturday and with City having played okay but not fantastic, a fan nearby kept his arms folded before breaking out into a smug grin and telling his friend “I’m not applauding that”.

Fine, not exactly the finest 45 minutes we’ve seen, but surely missing the point of what been a football fan is supposed to be about?

Too often people seem to have this viewpoint that they are not on the same side at the team. If the players don’t do the business, it becomes their job to tell them by booing and swearing and moaning and a variety of other negative reactions. We undoubtedly have the most fans in League Two, but no one can tell me that we have the most supporters. I genuinely don’t understand this refusal to get behind the players when they struggle, and instead opt to be personally outraged.

Of course such attitudes prevail at football grounds up and down the country and so can hardly be used as an excuse for repeated failure. Deep down, I think, we all know that being positive and cheering for the players would make some difference, but we each have our reasons for choosing to behave the way we do. Perhaps, for the seven players which started on Saturday who are new to the club, coping with the obstacle of fan abuse is something they simply have to get past and they will become better players for it.

Looking beyond the mentality issue and for other reasons for the backwards steps in form recently, the early days of Parkinson in the Valley Parade dug out deserve some consideration. Two weeks ago it seemed the unexpected transition from Peter Jackson to Parkinson had gone remarkably smoothly, but now the disruption in line ups and strategy is becoming clear.

Parkinson hasn’t changed a great deal in truth, replacing two loanees from the previous starting line up with permanent players and strengthening the attack and defence. The victims of these changes – Oscar Jansson, Jack Compton, Mark Stewart and Guy Branston – can certainly feel hard down by, but the potential shown by Reid, Jamie Devitt, Craig Fagan and Andrew Davies suggests the squad is stronger as a result of these arrivals. Just as the season started with Jackson’s team struggling to find its rhythm; it is now taking time for the new-look team to come together.

Time being a key word when looking at the job Parkinson performed at other clubs. He has never been an instant impact type of manager that Ron Atkinson was famous for in the 1990s. The promotion achieved at Colchester took four seasons of building work; he was sacked by Hull before been given time to turn a poor start around; and he was relegated as Charlton boss in his first season before developing them into play off semi finalists the year after.

His methods appear to be proven in the long-term, but short-term pain has to be lived through first.

Indeed his first 10 games at his three previous clubs show an interesting pattern for two at least. At Colchester he made a great start, taking 19 points from a possible 30 – though the team had already been in good form before he took over under caretaker boss Geraint Williams. At Hull, his first 10 league games saw only one win and a total of five points acquired. At Charlton he lost six of the first 10 league games, picking up only six points. The two points from a possible 15 achieved at City so far are very much along these slow-burner lines.

All of which fits in with the club’s abandonment of short-term thinking which has occurred so often in the past. Parkinson has delivered clear improvement over time at Colchester and Charlton (at Hull we’ll never know), but it wasn’t a speedy journey. Even before we get depressed about the League Two table after 10 games, we can probably predict with confidence that Parkinson will not deliver promotion during his first season at Valley Parade. For him to succeed, patience will be required.

If a losing mentality really does exist at the club, it’s been proven in the past that drastic changes are not the answer. Defeats like Saturday hurt a lot, but as fans it often seems like the lows are more severe than the highs. It’s almost as though we’re collectively nursing an open wound that isn’t allowed any time to heal, causing every subsequent bump to seem even more painful.

There is – perfectly understandably – a losing mentality amongst us supporters in that we are far too quick to allow the gloom to descend; indirectly forcing the recent past to weigh heavily on the shoulders of everyone connected with the club. We have to find a way of coping with defeat better; we have to find a way of not allowing the most recent 90 minutes of football to dictate our mood for the next seven days; we have to change this scapegoat culture and learn to better support our players in good and bad times.

The only constant of the past decade is our narrow Valley Parade pitch and us supporters. The misery we’ve endured over that time certainly isn’t our fault, but we can all play a role in turning around the club’s fortunes by challenging the mindset that this constant failure has inflicted upon us.

Happy Birthday Valley Parade

When Bradford City meet AFC Wimbledon at Valley Parade in a League Two match on Saturday 24 September it will mark the 125th anniversary of the first use of the Bantams’ home ground as a sports stadium. A birthday party will be held in the club’s bantamspast museum at 1.30pm – Admission free.

Bradford City’s midfielder David Syers will cut a specially designed birthday cake at 1.45pm to formally celebrate the famous ground’s anniversary. Images and film of Valley Parade will be shown on the museum’s big screen. David Pendleton, the co-curator of the bantamspast museum, will speak about his forthcoming book Paraders, the 125 year history of Valley Parade, which will be published in November.

Valley Parade opened in September 1886. The ground was developed by Bradford City’s predecessors Manningham Rugby Club when they were forced to vacate their former ground at Carlisle Road to allow for the construction of Drummond Road School. Manningham were the Rugby League’s first ever champions in 1896. However, a downturn in fortunes saw the club switch to football and become Bradford City in 1903. Eight years later they had established themselves as one of the top five clubs in the country and Valley Parade was extensively rebuilt. In 1911 their FA Cup winning team were photographed in front of the elegant Midland Road stand.

The ground that was rebuilt for Bradford City’s promotion to the First Division in 1908 remained largely unaltered until the tragic fire of 1985. In the wake of the Second World War the Bantams were firmly rooted in the lower divisions. Limited funds for ground maintenance, weak regulation and the steep topography of Valley Parade combined to turn a discarded cigarette into one of the worst tragedies in the history of British football. Few need reminding of the events of 11 May 1985 when 56 supporters were killed and hundreds more injured.

It seemed that Valley Parade had hosted its last football match. The Bantams were in exile at Odsal Stadium, which had been rebuilt in order to stage the 1985 World Speedway Final, but a vigorous campaign by City supporters, and a fortunate injection of cash from the disbanded West Yorkshire County Council, saw the club return to a rebuilt stadium in December 1986. Bradford City defeated the England national side in an emotional reopening game. In recent years the ground has been reconstructed on two occasions, the most recent came when Valley Parade hosted Premier League football between 1999-2001.

Valley Parade, situated on its steep hillside and with its connections to triumph and tragedy, the ground is a central part of the club’s identity. Bradford City without Valley Parade is almost as unthinkable as abandoning the club’s famous claret and amber stripes.

Happy Birthday Valley Parade! Bradford City’s home ground celebrates its 125th year

On 24th September when Bradford City play AFC Wimbledon Valley Parade will be exactly 125 years old. Supporters will celebrate the landmark with a birthday party in the cafe and museum. There will be a birthday cake, birthday cards and balloons (claret and amber of course).

During the summer there were fears that Bradford City would leave their historic ground due to on going issues regarding the rental payments made to the ground owner, former chairman Gordon Gibb. Thankfully, Bradford City’s joint chairmen, Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn, purchased the office block alongside the ground which reduced the club’s overheads and allowed Bradford City to remain at Valley Parade.

Valley Parade was built by Bradford City’s predecessors Manningham Rugby Club over the summer of 1886. Manningham’s former ground at Carlisle Road had been compulsory purchased to allow for the construction of Drummond Road School. The rugby club faced the significant challenge of finding a suitable parcel of land and then constructing a ground all in the space of a single summer. Their options were further limited by having to remain in Manningham – where the majority of their support resided – and find a piece of land large enough for a ground in a city that was an economic boom town. When we understand those factors we can begin to realise why Manningham Rugby Club built Valley Parade on a steeply sloping site.

Hemmed in by terraced housing, overlooking railway lines and a heavily industrialised landscape, Valley Parade was quite different from the quintessentially English Park Avenue grounds of their main rivals Bradford Rugby Club (later Bradford Park Avenue AFC). Park Avenue was the civic enclosure, beautifully adorned with a gabled stand and the ‘dolls house’ changing rooms, not to mention the adjacent cricket ground, it was a world away from the smokey, workaday Valley Parade.

However, success came to Valley Parade when Manningham became the first ever champions of the Rugby League in 1896. Even greater prizes awaited when Manningham switched from the then declining Rugby League game and became Bradford City AFC in 1903. With eight years City won the FA Cup in 1911 and established themselves as one of the top five clubs in the country.

Sadly, the glory faded after the Great War and by 1922 City had been relegated from the top division. Valley Parade, which had been completely rebuilt in 1908 following promotion to the first division, began a long decay and by the 1980s its Edwardian splendour was falling apart at the seams. No one needs reminding of the terrible events of 11 May 1985 when 56 fans died and hundreds were injured in the fire that ripped through the ageing main stand in a matter of minutes.

That is where the story of Valley Parade could have ended – one year short of the ground’s centenary. Bradford City were playing at a number of home grounds while the future of Valley Parade was debated. Bradford Council made no secret of its desire to see the club playing at a rebuilt Odsal Stadium, but the City fans themselves mounted a passionate campaign to return to the club’s spiritual home. A rebuilt Valley Parade as a tribute to those who lost their lives became an irresistible cause. In 1986 Jack Tordoff oversaw the rebuilding of Valley Parade and in December of that year City defeated the England national team 2-1 in an emotional home coming.

Since that day Valley Parade has been once again extensively reconstructed into a 25,000 capacity all seater ground. The club has risen to the very heights of the English game and has crashed down to the bottom division in a dramatic decade. Despite that the supporters still flock up Manningham Lane in large numbers, just as they have for 125 years. For thousands Valley Parade is their second home, as important to the club’s identity as its unique claret and amber stripes.

Valley Parade’s birthday party will be held in the cafe and museum above the club shop on 24 September prior to City’s home match against AFC Wimbledon. Festivities commence at 1pm and as usual with all bantamspast museum events admission is free.

A history of the ground, entitled Paraders, the 125 year history of Valley Parade, written by David Pendleton will be on sale in November. The format will be similar to the much acclaimed book Glorious 1911 which was published last year and told the story of our FA Cup victory in 1911 and City’s Golden Era at the top of Division One before the Great War.

Subscribers to the new book Paraders can have their name entered at the back of the book and purchase for a discounted price of £12.50. Order forms are available from the club shop, ticket office or the bantamspast museum at Valley Parade.

Last November we organised a film night at Pictureville featuring film of the first ever Football League game at VP in 1903 and footage from the FA Cup Final. We are planning a repeat film night this November to include more recent footage.

For further information check out www.bantamspast.co.uk and/or email glorious1911@paraders.co.uk to join our mailing list.

Profits from these projects will be donated to Friends of BCFC. Last season we raised £5,000 for the Burns Unit from the sale of Paraders enamel badges (www.paraders.co.uk).

Petition to lower the prices at Valley Parade

There is a petition which – should it gain enough signatures – will be forwarded to Bradford City, the suppliers of catering at Valley Parade and to local media outlets making it known that fans would support a reduction in pricing for food and drink at Valley Parade.

Talking about the campaign the petition organisers made clear the intentions saying

We think this is something that can be changed for the good of many families, pensioners, and low income supporters that attend the games. As far as I am aware (The club) do not take a cut, however, (we hope) they can have an influence over stopping unfair pricing.

The petition can be signed at ipetitions.com/petition/fairprices/signatures

Vincelot rejects Bradford City, but the club’s spending intentions are made clearer

Defender-come-midfielder Romain Vincelot completed a move from Dagenham & Redbridge to Brighton for an undisclosed fee last Friday, after Bradford City had emerged as an improbable and highly unlikely rival to the Seagulls for the Frenchman’s signature. Having failed to persuade him a future up North in League Two was more attractive than competing in the Championship on the South coast, all eyes will now be on what the Bantams do next.

Like just about every other supporter who read the Sky Sports story that City had made a six-figure bid for Vincelot earlier last week, I initially dismissed it as utter rubbish and an unusual case of that website getting its facts wrong. It’s just short of a decade since the Bantams last spent so much money on one player – Andy Tod – and the recent financial issues that had threatened to see us depart Valley Parade this summer suggested such resources were not available.

But then joint-Chairman Mark Lawn told BBC Radio Leeds that a bid to Dagenham had been submitted – and while that offer may have been short of six figures, it will still have been significantly high. From pleading poverty to landlord Gordon Gibb a few months ago, City apparently have money in the wallet as they shop around for new signings. That money won’t be going on Vincelot, but a statement of intent has been made.

The source of this surplus money is no secret – the windfall of a cup tie at neighbours Leeds United and the fact Sky Sports are screening it live. Ticket sales for both sets of fans are reported to be good, and City’s reward for the evening is reputed to be around £100k before a ball is kicked. This pile of money wasn’t planned for when the budgets were drawn up last May – we could just have easily faced a uninspiring first round trip to Scunthorpe United for no tangible financial benefit – so like finding an extra tenner in your jeans pocket the morning after a night out, why not treat it as a bonus and spend it freely?

Indeed Lawn and Julian Rhodes can argue that, without this surplus, they have already successfully done the boring bits of budgeting – and the club is in a much healthier position for it. The stadium rent situation is as resolved as it can be for now, new training ground facilities are already in use, additional coaching staff have been acquired and the Development Squad is up and running. With season ticket sales holding up surprisingly well given the crushing disappointment of last season, everything seems to be falling into place.

So why not use this unexpected bonus on bringing in one, better-calibre player? Manager Peter Jackson is said to have a playing budget comparable to last season, but given how badly that went one can argue an increase in this area is required in order to improve the squad’s capability to achieve promotion. A marquee signing can trigger many things – a warning to rivals, an increase in season ticket sales and a confidence booster for the squad. Certainly a big signing this summer would alter the outlook of what people expect City to achieve.

Yet still, spending this windfall on just one player? At this level more than most, football is a team game and the lessons that can be taken from the clubs which have been promoted from League Two over the past few seasons is that collective endeavour usually triumphs. Chesterfield last season and Brentford two years ago are notable examples of teams that had several good players but without standout stars. Would one luminary player make such a major difference to City’s prospects, or would signing two or three good-if-not-stella players be a better use of this money?

But beyond how to spend it is the usual fear of what happens if the season goes badly, just as it has so often in recent history. If a year from now the club has finished mid-table and Jackson’s replacement is told he needs to get rid of high-earners and work on a reduced budget – will spending a large sum on one player be looked back upon as a clever tactic?

While there is so much to laud the joint-Chairmen for regarding the off-the-field planning this summer, the lack of consistency to the playing budget over the years remains a concern. Perhaps this windfall should be largely left for a rainy day – if Jackson needs it mid-season for instance. Or perhaps most of it should be used to help with next season’s preparations, so if things don’t go well the consequences aren’t as severe as they have been in recent seasons.

Even more worrying is how this potential spending would look if financial problems arose again. What if City need to go and speak to Gibb again over the next 18 months about the rent? Would he be more sympathetic, or would he note that – when City hit the jackpot with a cup draw – they fritted away surplus money on an under-performing big name and conclude it is not his responsibility to help?

That is not to suggest that Lawn and Rhodes are being reckless giving Jackson all of this money. But if this windfall is used to buy someone else, after failing to sign Vincelot, and the club later regrets the outlay and the wages; it’s worth considering how it might look to other people.

Lawn and Rhodes deserve fair treatement from all as Parkin’s offer puts them under pressure

There are two huge considerations for joint Chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes when deciding on Steve Parkin’s offer to buy Bradford City – one of which people expect them to act in a certain way upon simply because they are City fans, the other of which demands greater attention in their capacity as supporters.

With Parkin having laid out his terms in a plain but somewhat biased way via the Yorkshire Post, Rhodes and Lawn have been backed into a corner with some directing their anger at the pair for rejecting an initial bid. The first of those considerations – whether to accept the offer on the table – is one easy for others to make, but few people in their shoes would be willing to write off so much money no matter how much claret and amber blood runs through their veins.

The offer to Lawn of repaying him his latest £1 million loan – overlooking the fact he has invested some £3 million in total since joining the Board in 2007 – plus pay the pair around £375,000 each would appear derisory. Quite how much Rhodes and his family have ploughed in over the years must be considerably more, and Julian disclosed to the club that the Board has collectively invested £5.5 million into the club.

Parkin has offered the Board the potential to receive further returns dependent on the club’s performance, the precise details of which have not been disclosed. But even taking this into consideration, Lawn, Rhodes and other Board members are being asked to sell the club for a fraction of the amount of money they have pumped into it. That doesn’t seem fair in anyone’s book, and one can understand Rhodes’ response in the Telegraph & Argus that they believe the club has been undervalued.

The popularity of Lawn and Rhodes waned badly in the wake of the Valley Parade rental negotiations, but whatever your view on the way they have operated the club it seems unfair to criticise them for rejecting an offer given how much money they would surely lose. Yes they are City fans, but they have family and their long-term future to consider. They have both put money into City when others have not – and in Rhodes’ case, saving the club from going out of existence. They have both already showed they are true City fans for these past actions, and so it seems unfair to criticise them for not simply stepping aside minus the wealth they have kindly shared with us.

If we were in their shoes, would we really be prepared to act any differently?

Beyond that though, the pair have a huge responsibility towards the second important consideration – the suitability of Parkin owning our football club. The club have stressed that they are yet to receive full details of Parkin’s plan, and if and when they do get to view it they can evaluate whether it really is in the club’s best interests to potentially join forces with Bradford Bulls.

On the face of it there are plenty of potential pitfalls. A few years, Huddersfield Town supporters complained loudly about the club being owned by the same people as Huddersfield Giants, with accusations the Rugby League outfit got favourable treatment and greater investment. Similar frustrations have been heard from Wycombe and their sharing with London Wasps.

The principle that both City and the Bulls would get equal treatment might sound fair, but is it viable in practice? Let’s say City are doing well but the Bulls are struggling, would money be directed towards the Rugby club to ensure they can improve – potentially slowing City’s progress? And what would the overall objective of the Bradford Sporting Club be? Right now, the two outfits are more competitors than colleagues.

A hole in Parkin’s proposals today came from Bulls chairman Peter Hood, who declared that they have had no contact from Parkin, despite the millionaire stating to the Yorkshire Post they are in favour of the Sporting Club proposal. Indeed the whole Yorkshire Post article was so focused on City and not the Bulls that one has to wonder just how serious Parkin’s Sporting Club intentions are. But also what happens if City accept Parkin’s offer but the Bulls reject, would the deal to buy City be put in jeopardy?

Then there’s the stadium situation. Parkin has talked of building a new stadium for both clubs – though whether this is at a new venue or rebuilding Valley Parade or Odsal is unclear. Parkin or Rhodes and Lawn in charge, the Gordon Gibb lease situation would be the same and City are tied to their home by a contract which to break could involve administration.

Do we want to move anyway? Parkin talks of the Bantams easily being able to become a Championship club again, and if that was to happen we would already have a perfectly suitable stadium to play in. What on earth is the point in building a completely new football stadium, aside from the lease problem? Surely it would cost a lot more money to buy land and build a new ground, than to purchase Valley Parade from Gibb?

Those are the main talking points so far, but the motives for Parkin purchasing City are also very unclear. With no previous connections to the club, Parkin will be looking to make money from his investment and that is understandable. But that isn’t necessarily the same motives and interests of us supporters. Would we see steep season ticket price rises, for example? No one looking to make money from football would see the current strategy as the best way forward to achieve this objective.

It is the responsibility of Lawn and Rhodes to fully evaluate the proposals Parkin puts forward, not simply for the terms of the sale – but the suitability of him as the owner of Bradford City. A comparison can be drawn with Liverpool and the farce over George Gillet and Tom Hicks owning the club, with how previous owner David Moores – a true Liverpool fan – sold up without undertaking the necessary due diligence over the suitability of the Americans. He was heavily criticised in hindsight, later responding via a letter to the Times about his actions.

If Parkin took over the club and it didn’t go well, for whatever reason, Rhodes and Lawn would share the responsibility too. They are the custodians of this 108-year-old club, and it’s their duty to pass it onto the right people in time. It would be foolish to sell it onto the first person flashing a wad of cash, just because they make big promises about spending money on new players. If Parkin is the best man to take the club forward, the pair have a duty to act accordingly – but first of all they need to take proper time to establish whether this is the case.

Two huge considerations – tough decisions that few of us would ultimately want to swap places with them for, no matter how easy it is for us to demand what Lawn and Rhodes should do next.

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.

Where are the Bantams?

Negotiations carry on around the future of Bradford City and where they will play next season – and going forward form that – with talk about leaving Valley Parade. Odsal is the assumed destination but Mark Lawn was quick to point out that Bradford is a big area with many sites available.

With this comes talk of City moving up the Aire Valley towards Keighley. It is thought that Bradford City supporters are increasingly based in the area to the North West of the City and that it would make sense to relocate the club in that direction. Indeed when there is talk about City fans clubbing together to buy Valley Parade there is a separate conversation which discusses if millions of pounds raised by supporters might be better spent on a new stadium rather than the ground in Manningham, Bradford.

Popular wisdom tells us the Aire Valley – rather than the middle of Bradford or its immediate suburbs – is where the City fans are, but how accurate is this? Aside from speculation it is difficult to find any hard and fast data on where Bantams fans are. So at BfB we thought we would ask.

The method

A question was asked to people who follow BfB’s Twitter feed for them to send the first half of their postcode. This message was repeated three times over the course of the weekend of the 6th, 7th and 8th of May 2011.

The assumption was that the Twitter feed would represent a cross section of supporters and that enough supporters to give a picture of the distribution of post codes would respond. It was also assumed that respondents would be Bradford City supporters who went to games.

The post codes were plotted onto a map with varying sizes of circles used to represent the number of respondents within that post code. A modification was done on these circle sizes in order to maintain a visual integrity of the wider circles.

That calculation is:
cityfans[postcode].population * (500 + (250/(cityfans[postcode].population)))

The limitations

Twitter naturally taints results towards its user base which is slightly younger than the general public. The sample size gained – eighty – represents around 1 in 137 Bradford City supporters (considering the attendance of the final game of the season) and a better study could be achieved by using a wider sample size. There is no guarantee that respondents regularly visited Valley Parade. Post Code areas are sized around populations rather and land area and so many rural areas have larger surface covered by their post code than urban areas.

The results

The map of Bradford City supporters can be found here. The data which supports that map is available to anyone who wants it (it is anonymous data which is basically a set of post codes and coordinates) but written out the eight responses were:

B16, BB5, BD2, BD2, BD2, BD2, BD2, BD2, BD2, BD3, BD3, BD6, BD6, BD9, BD9, BD10, BD12, BD12, BD13, BD13, BD14, BD14, BD14, BD15, BD15, BD15, BD15, BD16, BD16, BD17, BD17, BD18, BD18, BD19, BD19, BD19, BD19, BD20, BD21, BD21, BD22, BD24, BN3, CH48, DH1, DN14, DY1, DY6, GU12, HD4, HD6, HD6, HU18, LN2, LS6, LS12, LS16, LS16, LS17, LS24, LS25, LS28, LS29, LS29, M1, M14, M6, MK45, NG13, NN10, PL2, PR3, RG42, S1, SL4, SW9, UB7, WF6, YO16, YO23.

My take

Data analysis is a science and I could not offer a definitive answer to the question as to where the Bantams are but looking at the map it is obvious that Valley Parade (the more northern of the two markers, the other being Odsal) is situated very much within the heaviest population of Bradford City supporters.

Indeed looking at the idea that City’s fans are in the Aire Valley while it is true that there are populations of Bantams supporters in those areas these would appear similar in size to those to the South of Valley Parade in Cleckheaton and in Brighouse. The Aire Valley – so this limited survey suggests – is no more a home of City fans than any other direction away from Valley Parade.

The point

Data collected on Twitter and ink blot maps are not the definitive statement on the distribution of Bradford City supporters but they do show a challenge to the received wisdom about a migration of City fans into the Aire Valley (or indeed any other direction) showing Bantams supporters very much within urban Bradford while expanding in all four directions. York, London, Manchester and Leeds all have distributions of supporters.

If this data can be gathered over a weekend and conclusions drawn from it then one has to wonder what analysis of the Bradford City season ticket holder’s database would present and what conclusions could be drawn from that. Certainly when talking about relocating the club one would hope this data would be investigated rather than assumed.

Much of Bradford City is received wisdom: That the fans are here and not there, that these people will come to games that those will not, that this behaviour is set in stone; and one has to wonder if that received wisdom is challenged and – if it is not – if by asking the supporters (and lapsed supporters) the right questions new truths would be revealed.

Dave Baldwin outlines the challenges, and now we wait

Sitting in the BBC Radio Leeds studio next to Dave Baldwin – the Bradford City Head of Operations telling listeners about the club’s latest position financially and on the rental talks over Valley Parade – offered a somewhat unique and surreal view of current matters. But above all else I personally took away stronger feelings of relief, encouragement and reassurance.

Baldwin took the time to honestly outline where Bradford City Football Club is at, ahead of a summer of huge uncertainty and unrest. Those explanations and reasoning may not be something we can all fully agree with, but compared to the majority of the messages we supporters have heard to date they were at least enlightening and detailed.

A huge part of the frustration in recent weeks – as City’s position dramatically shifted from trivial worries that the playing budget might be reduced a little next season, to full-blown fears over whether we’d even have a club to support – has been the drip-feeding and stop-start nature of the communications we’ve received. At times the club’s future has been painted in the bleakest of terms, leaving us to question how sincere these warnings were and – if they were entirely accurate – how the Board had allowed the financial position to become so bad.

Dave veered away from the hysterical, and instead calmly discussed the issues facing the Bantams and the solutions they are actively pursuing. These are difficult times for the club, that much was clear, but it’s not the end of the world we might envisage. There will at least be a Bradford City to support next season, and the Board is endeavouring to ensure it is a Bradford City playing at Valley Parade.

Once we’d finished the programme, Dave turned to myself and BBC Radio Leeds’ Derm Tanner and joked how he’d “wait and see how some supporters twist my words”. In the recent past words uttered by Mark Lawn and Baldwin have been presented in entirely different light by some fans, which Lawn admitted to BfB in January had caused him to rein back speaking publically. There is a growing sense of unrest from fans towards the Board at the moment, and those who want to garner further ammunition to throw at them can find – or already have found – bits that Baldwin said on Radio Leeds to use against them if they wish. But whatever your view of their strategy, it is better they communicate to us honestly than not at all.

The audio of the hour-long Radio Leeds programme can be found here (note: link content only available until Monday 16 May).

So now we wait. Rumours are flying around rapidly – some ludicrous, some seemingly credible, some shocking, some encouraging – and BfB won’t irresponsibly report on these. But what is obvious is that the outstanding issues that we take into the summer won’t be cleared up for some time. Baldwin is hopeful of a decision over the rent negotiations soon, but it may take weeks. In the meantime season tickets are on hold and the managerial vacancy is likely to remain unresolved.

One criticism to come out of the programme is the assertion by Baldwin that any agreed rent reduction would help the playing budget for next season. Certainly it would be irresponsible for the club to use all of any savings they are able to agree on the short-term objective of promotion. BfB understands, however, that interim manager Peter Jackson has been informed the playing budget for the manager next season could be extremely low, should the talks not go well and City remain at Valley Parade. To put it one way, the much-talked of £750k budget Dagenham were promoted with last season would seem luxurious in comparison.

Endlessly throwing resources only on the playing budget would be reckless; but without extra revenue or savings from somewhere City could once again struggle stay in the league next season.

Patience is the name of the game. As supporters we want a positive resolution to these talks, we want to be looking forward to kicking off the season at Valley Parade, and we want to be debating football matters like summer signings and pre-season friendlies.

But these talks with the landlords are not just about next season, but the future of Bradford City for years and decades to come. So we have to tolerate the delay, and hope it proves to be worth it for entirely the right reasons. As much as many supporters don’t trust the Board right now, we have to hope that they continue to share the best interests of every supporter and that they will take the correct decisions.

Having heard what Baldwin had to say, I’m more confident this will be the case. So long as they remember that it’s good to talk, and to keep us fans in the loop as much as possible.

A reminder, if one were needed

‘Abide with me’ was sung softy. It was a beautiful moment. Until then those gathered to commemorate the 26th anniversary of the Valley Parade fire had kept their emotions in check.

We had muttered and mumbled through the prayers. But, as the words ‘shine through the gloom and point me to the skes’ drifted gently among us eyes were dabbed and tears blinked back.

A reminder, if one were needed, that Bradford City leaving Valley Parade is not merely a mathematical formula.

You cannot buy emotion and attachment. Opposition to a move away from Valley Parade has, thus far, been relatively muted. However, should an abandonment become a real prospect there is bound to be an emotionally charged campaign against it.

Valley Parade is not just a collection of tin clad stands. Although its ownership can be bought and sold, the soul of Valley Parade belongs to the people of Bradford and this Bradfordian is not willing to give it up without a fight.

There is relief, the season’s over

There is so much to trouble the mind and soul related to Bradford City at the moment, but at 3pm Saturday there was a reminder – however unwelcome – of what’s really important.

There is a football match taking place at Valley Parade. Not the most noteworthy game occurring around the country today, but between 3 and 5pm it is the be all and end all for us. Fretting about winning, fretting about the players’ effort levels, fretting about a horrendous scoreline and performance. Today is not a good day, but the weekly soap opera of trying to win football matches is everything that matters. Our purpose. The other stuff just gets in the way.

There is what could be the last ever football match taking place at Valley Parade. It feels strange walking up to and entering the ground, trying to mentally train yourself to appreciate what could be your last proper visit to your second home. Your last time through the turnstiles? Possibly. Your last time walking to your seat? Possibly. If this later proves to be it, maybe not knowing now is for the best. It would be so emotional to be here realising it definitely was for the final time; we would hardly be able to bring ourselves to leave.

There is perspective offered to the current worries by a minute’s silence to remember the Valley Parade fire of 26 years ago, just before kick off. Fitting that the 56 people are remembered if this is the final ever game at Valley Parade, but also a reminder of how reluctant we should be to leave the scene of such tragedy. I was only four years old – and living in Wales – when the fire occurred, so it’s not something I feel I have the right to write about. But as people argue City shouldn’t allow those terrible events to prevent us from moving, it strikes me that – having been so determined to rebuild and return to Valley Parade in the wake of 1985, with such strong emotion involved – giving up our home now because of a squabble with the landlord seems somewhat ill-fitting to the memories of the 56.

There is moaning 11 seconds into the game – surely a new record, even after this last decade. The kick off is messed up by the players, and the outrage at their efforts and level of ability begins in earnest. Still it’s normal, and while not to mine and other’s tastes a reassuring kind of normal. Debating the merits of Jake Speight up front, questioning the suitability of Lee Bullock as centre back. Normal. The kind of discussions and reactions taking place in football grounds up and down the country. As we look set to spend the next few weeks fretting about financial matters, moaning about Omar Daley’s effort levels is a welcome relief.

There is a goal to Crewe inside 12 minutes. City had started the game okay, but then give the ball away in a bad position and Shaun Miller races clean through on goal and past the recalled Jon McLaughlin, before tapping into the net. Crewe, like City, have nothing to play for aside from ensuring departing striker Clayton Donaldson ends the season with the League Two Golden Boot trophy. As the players celebrate, Donaldson – who had already tried a couple of shots from ridiculous angles – looks upset and one of his team-mates has a word. Miller had done the work, but Donaldson, it seemed, wanted his strike partner to allow him to slot the ball home. Great team player.

There is some resistance from City, initially at least. Speight has a drive at goal parried by Rhys Taylor, and a struggling-for-form James Hanson can only fire the loose ball against the angle of post and crossbar. Minutes later Hanson passes up another chance, and his growing army of critics in the stands are fearful in their abuse. “Get back to the Co-op” they yell at last season’s player of the year. Last season’s David Syers, if you will. Once looked upon as a solution, Hanson is now apparently part of the problem.

There is the occasional positive from this dreadful season. Syers harries for possession and plays Speight through on goal. Just as he’s about to pull the trigger he is pushed over by a Crewe defender for a penalty he then converts. The last ever Valley Parade goal by a City player? Possibly. Three goals in five games for Speight now, a decent end to the season. But the real hero was Syers, a player to build next season’s team around.

There is applause at regular intervals. Applause for McLaughlin when he tips over a long-range piledriver. Applause for full debutant Dominic Rowe after cutting inside and hitting a low shot that has to be palmed out by Taylor. Then applause for Crewe’s lethal counter attack from the resultant City corner, which sees Bryon Moore race down the flank and play Miller in to score. Whatever your views on the way we City fans get behind our own, that sporting nature within us to applaud wonderful opposition goals and pieces of play is something we should be proud of. I guess you could say we get plenty of practice.

There is a brilliance about the visitors and how they pass the ball around. Since attending the 2-1 loss at Gresty Road last January, I’ve retained a view that Crewe – on their day – are the best team in League Two. They should have done better than the 10th place they finish, as they rip City apart time and time again. No one is picking up Moore, who is running the game and laying on numerous chances for the dangerous Miller and Donaldson. 90 seconds after going 2-1 up, Donaldson gets that goal he wanted so badly – sealing the Golden Boot. A Bradford lad of course, but this is one piece of sporting excellence we all struggle to share pride in. His 28 goals are one more than City have managed in total at home all season. If only he hadn’t left City at 15. If only.

There is a growing sense of embarrassment. Danny Shelly has a goal ruled out for handball, but then scores legally right on half time with a shot McLaughlin should save. At half time – the last ever half time at Valley Parade? Possibly – the boos ring out and the reception from fans in the Bradford End in particular looks nasty. Part outclassed, part lacking in effort – the players looked beleaguered. They’re not bad people, but as a team too many individuals are unwilling to truly put their bodies on the line and the rest are letting them get away with it.

There is a white flag waved from the home dugout. Peter Jackson addresses the issue of his midfield being overrun by hauling off Hanson and Daley and pushing Alex Flett and Luke O’Brien into midfield, but it’s a negative move aimed only at limiting the damage. City know they are beaten and go through the motions. Only Rowe offers us something to cheer with a series of promising runs at defenders which hint at self-confidence soaring. Flett works hard too, and City become better at retaining the ball. Still, with 45 minutes to go we’re just playing out time.

There is only one more goal, a second for Shelly following a scramble and initial save from McLaughlin. The ball somehow bounces through a crowd of bodies and into the bottom corner. The last ever goal at Valley Parade? Possibly. It’s hardly a moment of beauty, but one that arguably best reflects the 108 years of struggle and under-achievement that Valley Parade has been home to.

There is a mass exodus of people from the ground once the fifth goes in, despite 23 minutes to play. The last 23 minutes of football ever at Valley Parade? Possibly. Anger has been replaced by resignation and black humour, with sarcastic cheers for successful passes and, when City cross the half way line, cries of “shoot”. O’Brien eventually obliges with a shot from the edge of the box; it’s tame and easily held. Someone else gets up to leave, joking to us all “see you at Odsal”. No one laughs.

There is a mixture of almighty groans and laughter when Rowe’s low cross into the box looks perfect for Speight to tap home, only for him to miss the ball and fall over. Before Speight’s backside has smacked the grass, the usually patient family who sit in front of me head for the exit. A odd way for the 2010/11 season to end for them really, watching our £25k striker fall on his arse. You can imagine spending the summer playing it over and over again in your mind. It probably sums up the entire campaign.

There is no pitch invasion at the end, as an army of stewards block every route from the stands to the turf. Even allowing for the pointlessness of previous seasons pitch invasions, it would have been ridiculous for anyone to have wanted to bother. The Crewe players are given a standing ovation by City fans. The ground empties quickly, and a few hundred of us stay for the players’ lap of appreciation. All week on message boards, people like me – who like to clap the players at the end of the season regardless – have been slagged off for being willing to applaud failure. But it’s our choice, and you don’t have to stay. A fear of a protest booing against the players grows as we wait for them to come out, but in the end it seems those sufficiently outraged are already on their way home.

There is a quietness to the lap of appreciation. The players look a little embarrassed, with good reason of course. But the outfits most are wearing offer some symbolism over the failings of others. They’re wearing suits, those damn suits that at the start of the season City were proudly declaring on their own website were a wonderful thing, “In order not to let down Peter (Taylor’s) required standards.” Quick fixes, gimmicky ideas, yesterday’s answers.

Lap of appreciation

Smartly dressed players on their lap of appreciation

There is a dignity to Jackson all afternoon. This is not his team, but they might just have cost him the manager’s job for next season. He is emotional during his two local radio interviews, but passionate about staying. Possibly shown up tactically today, I nevertheless hope he gets the job because he deserves the opportunity to show what he could really do.

There is a relief the season is over. As the players head to the dressing room we take a long lingering look around Valley Parade – our last ever glimpse of this view? Possibly – before heading out into the summer’s night observing City fans shaking hands with Crewe supporters and congratulating them for their brilliant team. Before getting into the car and switching between BBC Radio Leeds and the Pulse talking about the rent problem. Before spending the next few weeks and months anxiously checking for news on City’s future. Before eventually, hopefully, being able to look forward to next season with genuine hope rather than fear.

There is so much we don’t know, but there is one thing I can be sure of. I’m City till I die.

Gordon Gibb’s Pension Fund finally responds to Bradford City

BBC Radio Leeds has this evening reported that Gordon Gibb’s Pension Fund – one of the two Valley Parade landlords – has finally responded to Bradford City’s requests for talks over the current rental arrangements.

Responding to press criticisms from joint-Chairman Mark Lawn, legal representatives for Gibb have stated they are willing to speak with City and have asked the club to outline their full proposal for the tiered rental approach they are seeking.

In more negative news, however, the club’s late payment of wages to the players in April could be repeated this month, due to ongoing cashflow problems. It’s hoped these are short-term issues which can be prevented in time and, with Gibb’s representatives finally showing some willing, the longer-term problems may also slowly be on track towards a resolution of sorts.

City pay the wages late while battling for a rent reduction – two issues that should not be linked

As the negotiations over a Valley Parade rent reduction go quiet for the time being, this morning the Telegraph & Argus has reported on another financial problem that will strike fear into the heart of every Bradford City supporter. Mark Lawn has revealed the players received their wages late this month, because according to the Joint-Chairman: “money’s tight and we’ve told them that”.

Simon Parker of the T&A presumably asked Lawn further questions on this matter, but no further information has appeared (either online or in today’s printed edition of the T&A); so, as supporters, we are left with a number of questions. How late were the wages paid? Why were the wages delayed? How bad is the financial situation at the club? And how on earth has this being allowed to happen?

First though a note of sympathy for the players. In recent weeks they’ve been heavily criticised and at times deservedly so; yet if they’ve been asked to put their bodies on the line to fight for a club unable to pay them – at least on time – one can understand how uncertainty and fear might have effected their performances. Let us not inflict upon our players the stereotypical ‘overpaid prima donna’ tag – many will be on wages comparable to you and I. Were we to receive our own wages late, we would struggle with the bills and feel let down by our employees. Bradford City League Two footballers have the right to feel the same way.

In the end though they have been paid, and so attention is firmly back onto the financial strength of the football club and its ability to meet its future obligations. BfB has already reported on how the club’s Abbreviated Accounts paint a gloomy picture, and so we should not be dubious over Lawn’s claims the club cannot survive another two years under the current status quo. But still, that does not explain how City can be struggling to pay their players now.

Surely the club budgeted sensibly and accurately last summer, when handed then-manager Peter Taylor a sizeable playing budget to build a team with? Therefore how can they be so short of money before the end of the season? True, attendances have been below expectations this season, and the club has so far not put season tickets back on sale for next year. In addition, Taylor will probably have received some form of contract settlement when he departed in February – Lawn has previously admitted the club was paying Taylor well – while interim manager Peter Jackson presumably isn’t doing the job for free. Colin Cooper has also been hired to assist Jackson, while previous coaches Wayne Jacobs and Junior Lewis were placed on paid gardening leave.

We can argue about the rights and wrongs of the management and coaching staff situation, but of the above financial issues only low attendances have been beyond the Board’s control. Is around 1,000 less fans turning up every fortnight the difference between players receiving their wages? Let’s imagine this season had gone to plan and City were in Wycombe’s position now – would the club have been able to pay wages on time?

And beyond questioning the logic of awarding Taylor a playing budget the club now appears unable to have afforded, let’s not forget Taylor was allowed to go over this budget too. Lewis Hunt’s arrival pre-season put City over budget, though Scott Neilson did depart to Crawley for a transfer fee shortly after. Taylor was then allowed to bring in Lee Hendrie on wages that, come January, the Board had to tell the manager they could no longer afford. And what about those young defenders signed on loan while first team players such as Zesh Rehman, Luke O’Brien and Robbie Threlfall sat on the bench?

The Board has no right to interfere with on the field issues; but if Taylor was asking for yet more money to bring in players on loan, they were surely entitled to challenge him back over why well-paid first teamers were being overlooked, especially if money was tight.

Lawn has probably disclosed this revelation about players being paid late to tie it with the pressure he is putting on the Valley Parade landlords to agree a rent reduction, but it’s highly questionable whether the two are linked. The club may not be able to afford to play on at Valley Parade under the current terms for much longer, but spending relatively huge sums of money last summer and now struggling to pay the bills is an entirely different situation – one which the Board must shoulder responsibility for.

City knew the terms of the rent before the season started; and, as much as we can all agree how unfair it is we are forced to pay such large sums of money to people whose ethical validity for owning Valley Parade is highly questionable, it doesn’t excuse apparently poor budget planning elsewhere. The implication of linking the two – whether Lawn meant to or not – is regrettable and one has to wonder what the two landlords make of the club’s requests for rent reductions while it has seemingly spent money it cannot afford on other things. It’s a bit like pleading with the gasman that you can’t afford to pay your quarterly bill, because you’ve spent it on a brand new state-of-the-art TV.

It is not Gordon Gibb’s fault the players got paid their wages late this month. Lawn will know that too and perhaps only intended to disclose this information to soften us supporters up to a move away from Valley Parade. Yet by taking this route he has left the Board open to criticism and doubts over its ability to be sensible and prudent.

Clearly these are very worrying times for this football club, and what it will look like and where it will be playing when next season kicks off on August 6 is a question no one can answer. But while we can’t change the past, it’s time for everyone to radically think about the type of football club we want and the type of football club we can afford.

The club hired Taylor on a one-year contract because that’s all they could budget for, yet allowed him to sign players on two-year deals and on sizeable wages. The expectation is that we have to be promoted each season, so too much resources are placed towards this while neglecting other important factors or adequately considering the consequences of failing to achieve it. The club’s strategy is entirely the prerogative of the manager, who is always under pressure and fear of the sack after a couple of games are lost.

And now it leaves us fearing for the club’s very survival, again. In his first ever interview when investing into the club, back in 2007, Lawn quickly pointed out he wasn’t another Geoffrey Richmond; yet recent statements and actions leave us Bradford City supporters fearing how true that proclamation will actually turn out to be.

Relatively miserable

Like the bad guy or monster in a film who you think has finally been defeated, only to keep reappearing and causing further havoc – Bradford City’s relegation prospects have become a recurring nightmare in recent weeks. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water and be consoled by mid-table mediocrity, it has been back to looking over the shoulder.

So as a confident Burton Albion raced into a lead on Tuesday which, in truth, they rarely looked like surrendering until Jake Speight popped up to equalise with 15 minutes to go, I – and no doubt thousands of others inside Valley Parade – was gripped by fear and pessimism about the immediate future.

Just like after we lost at home to Chesterfield, trailed 2-1 to a nine-man Stockport and were defeated 2-1 at Stevenage; I was fearful that this relegation threat – as daft as it seemed at other times – was very real. And with the club making loud noises about its long-term future being uncertain, the additional problem of a demotion to non-league could be terminal. Well-placed sources claim City’s Board has approached the Football League for their views on the ‘doomsday’ scenario of the Bantams entering administration and moving to Odsal. The League is said to relatively sympathetic, but the experiences of Chester and Boston suggest Conference officials may not be so helpful if City were to drop out of the Football League and go into administration.

Such dark thoughts occupied my mind as, in front of me, on the pitch, City’s players struggled to find the desire – not to mention the guile – to cancel out Burton’s lead. And as the atmosphere inside Valley Parade simmered backwards and forwards between discontent and positive support, I feared not just that we were in a losing battle to stay up but witnessing the third to last match ever at our 108-year home, before we start again next season supporting some AFC Bradford City on a Sunday league pitch.

Then Speight scored, and joy quickly turned to relief that things might not turn out so bad after all. And as the cheering subsided and we roared City onwards towards an unlikely – and what would have been undeserved – victory, a chant of “We are staying up” bellowed out the Bradford End. And I half-joined in, feeling much better about everything.

And then someone near me got angry, and I felt a bit stupid and very frustrated before wondering what’s the point.

The angry person was upset at the Bradford End chant, and it triggered him into a sarcastic rant about how pathetic it is that people are pleased over such a small achievement that City should now be able to survive the drop. His point had some validity; we began this season with credible hopes of achieving so much more and, as a club, we largely still believe ourselves too important for our surroundings. But still the timing of his outburst – firmly puncturing the mood of those around him just as we had something to celebrate – revealed a side to football supporting that I struggle to understand.

Unhappy that we can now be happier, because it’s not good enough to be thankful of avoiding the worst. Nothing can change how disappointing this season has been – and a huge inquest needs to take place when the dust finally settles – but limiting the damage at least should allow us to break into the briefest of smiles.

But that negative attitude has become such a widespread fabric of supporting Bradford City. 10 years ago, a Premier League club getting booed off for playing poorly against Southampton. Ever since it’s has been a downwards spiral of ever-lowering standards.

Under-performing players who in the end have to be ditched to save money. That weaker financial position leads to weaker replacements who become equally unloved, who are then swapped with even more inferior players. It has gone on and on like this. Performances always seemingly getting worse – from the disgrace of losing to Southampton in the Premier League to getting thrashed 3-0 at home to Torquay in League Two. Even the wins are tempered by the fact they generally came against teams we were recently much higher above.

It’s been on heck of a bumpy, uncomfortable fall. This past decade.

Aside from an almost year-on-year decline in league position, it’s the lack of good times and moments widely savoured along the way which illustrate how low the enjoyment factor has been allowed to fall. And this circle of decline means that even players who deserve some recognition for their efforts in claret and amber have largely been quickly forgotten or are widely derided.

Imagine you were asked to draw up a six-player shortlist – PFA-style – of the best City players over the past decade, in terms of their impact over at least one season. We’d all struggle to compile such a list, and even then widely disagree. (For what it’s worth, my personal top six from this decade of despair would be Mark Bower, Dean Furman, Stuart McCall, Donovan Ricketts, David Wetherall and Dean Windass – bet you disagree with at least two if not more of my choices). Top six team performances of the past decade? Top six moments? Not a great deal of choice to go for, is there?

But the upshot of all of this is that the pressure of continued failure and lowering expectations lies heavily on these inferior players of the present. This current team isn’t capable of much, other than preserving our league status. That might not be good enough, but one has to wonder whether the blame of failing to realise expectations beyond what the players are collectively – and individually – capable of should be fully piled onto their shoulders?

For 90 minutes on Tuesday, many received non-stop abuse for their failings. It ain’t Gareth Evans fault we’re in League Two, forced to recruit players like Gareth Evans.

Above all else, I guess I wish we could act as though we are on the same side as our players more often, instead of this near-constant outrage that they are letting us down. So when we are urging our team to equalise against Burton, but then – when they manage that – instantly turn around and slate them for not being good enough, it seems we are merely trying to inflict as much misery as we can upon ourselves – and. ultimately, it is we who suffer for that.

No one would suggest we get out the open top bus should City stay up this season. But, after staring down the barrel of the non-league gun, we should take some degree of consolation that it probably won’t turn out as badly as it might have.

The stark warning as Bradford City’s future is presented in the bleakest terms

While doing the media rounds today, Bradford City Joint Chairman Mark Lawn has issued the starkest of warnings: maintain the status quo, and there will be no Bradford City Football Club in two years time.

As we exclusively revealed last week, the Bradford City Board is attempting to renegotiate the terms of the Valley Parade rental agreement. The club currently has to find £1.3 million annual running costs to use their home of 108 years, and as fortunes on the pitch continue to stall the ongoing existence in League Two is proving to be a huge hinderance.

So Lawn has, as is his way, laid it out in plain terms. No success in renegotiating the rental terms, and the club will have to move out. This could take place within a year. Lawn tonight told BBC Look North that the club cannot survive two more years in League Two at Valley Parade under the current arrangements.

The Yorkshire Post claims Odsal is the most likely destination if City move out. Much has been discussed about the home of the Bradford Bulls over the last two years, with a proposal to redevelop the ageing ground quietly falling by the wayside as the effects of the UK’s deepest recession since the 1930s have squeezed public spending and corporate appetite for construction.

At present the Bulls could lose their Super League licence, such are the inadequate facilities at Odsal. With it’s unsuitability for football seen when City moved their in the 1980s – while Valley Parade was rebuilt following the fire disaster – it seems a hugely unattractive option that wouldn’t be chosen lightly.

As would the potential path to get there. The club has previously admitted breaking the 25 year lease they are bound to at Valley Parade would likely lead to a period of administration. In recent days, reliable rumours have surfaced that the club views going into administration as a route they may be forced to take.

Such a scenario would be one to fill every City fan with dread – we need only remember that the club’s second spell of administration, back in February 2004, was initially presented to us a technicality that we shouldn’t be concerned about. Five months later, we stood on the brink of losing our football club forever.

Moving to Odsal, potentially going to administration – these are all unappealing options to anyone with Claret and Amber in their heart. Therefore the focus returns to the club achieving a positive outcome to these rental talks. The Yorkshire Post – which has confirmed the club is looking at the rental proposal BfB had suggested (not that they are acting on our idea) – has revealed Prupim, the company City rent the Valley Parade offices from, are willing to talk about a rent reduction. However stadium Landlord Gordon Gibb is apparently unprepared to talk to City. Though a spokesman for the Gibb Pension Fund told the Yorkshire Post they have had no direct contact from City.

Why are these talks being played out in the public arena? If the club is in such dire straits, why are we persisting with cheap season ticket deals and £1 offers for home games? Why are we wasting precious money on unproven non-league strikers like Jake Speight? All of these questions circulate around the head and are not a criticism as such of City; but one has to wonder whether the seriousness of the situation we’re being presented with is quite backed up by the club’s actions.

If Gibb is the key to Bradford City’s future, shouldn’t we be banging down his door and begging him to be reasonable; rather than threatening to abstain from a 25-year agreement via the local paper?

There are worrying times for the club. Lawn has revealed that we cannot carry on as we are, and the answers apparently lie with people who semingly don’t have the club’s best interests at their heart and have very different priorities.

We can only trust in Lawn and Julian Rhodes – owners and custodians – to act in our best interests and find the solutions that ensure the future of the club is preserved and we can continue for another 108 years at least. But in the meantime, as we read the situation presented so gloomily by Lawn in the local paper, we feel worried and pessimistic and helpless and scared.

So many times over the past decade we’ve endured miserable failure and tried to stay positive by declaring it can’t possibly get any worse. As this disastrous season comes to a close, let’s hope that for once we are proven to be right.

Is there any solution to Bradford City’s Valley Parade problem?

BfB understands that Bradford City are attempting to negotiate with Valley Parade landlord Gordon Gibb over the terms of the current rental agreement. It would be wholly inappropriate for us to publicly disclose any details of these talks – due their high sensitivity – other than to say that City’s Board is trying to find a compromise to this ever-present problem.

As the 2008-09 and 2009-10 financial accounts show, the current rental and running costs City must pay annually to use Valley Parade are hindering their ability to achieve success on the field. City’s overheads are covered by income not generated by the football, and the playing side is paid for by season ticket sales and gate receipts in general. With season ticket sales on track to be lower next season, it means the playing budget will be reduced for City’s next manager. However, the club’s existence is currently assured by other income streams.

That said, the Valley Parade situation remains a millstone around the club’s neck. The idea of moving to Odsal was floated two years ago, but now seems as unlikely as the council’s  redevelopment of the Bradford Bulls’ home which was proposed at the time. City have attempted to talk to Gibb about buying back the stadium, but the former Chairman’s asking price is too high. A 25-year lease means City are left paying huge annual rental payments which are undermining efforts to revive our ailing fortunes.

So the Board – as Gibb’s people seem happy to disclose to other people – are looking to negotiate new rental terms that would be more favourable for City. At present City are paying £1.3 million per year in rent and running costs, and in January Mark Lawn told us that Gibb was earning a 15% annual return on his original investment.

Gibb has no reason to agree to reduced terms, but if the rent issue remained so difficult that it threatened the existence of Bradford City Football Club, he could suddenly be left with no annual return and a piece of land that would be difficult to sell in the current climate. So one must hope the club can convince him that it is in his interests to help them along the way, while still providing him with a healthy return.

One solution could be to broker a structured rental deal that can help both parties achieve their aims – City to climb up the leagues and Gibb to build his family’s pension fund. Lawn told BfB that: “This club needs to be in the Championship. In the Championship we survive and we survive well. That’s where we need to be. The overheads suddenly don’t become as bad because we need this type of stadium to survive.”

So one idea could be – and this is a BfB suggestion rather than necessarily a proposal on the negotiating table – that the rent is restructured for which division City are in. In League Two revenue is clearly more tight, and the size of rent becomes such an issue that it holds back the club. If the rent could be more favourable now, it would only enhance the Bantams’ ability to earn promotion to League One. Here the rent could be increased again, and then increased even further if and when City return to the Championship and benefit from far greater revenue. All the way along, rent would be manageable to the club.

For that to work, Gibb would have to accept the rent would be lower for now, plus an inherent risk that he would never receive the same level of return if City continue to bumble about on the field. For that reason, City would have to make the terms more favourable in the Championship (and, hey 20 years is a long time, so include Premier League terms too) than they are now, so that Gibb could potentially receive an even greater return on his investment.

All of which may seem unattractive to Gibb, but the alignment of two goals – City to climb to leagues and Gibb to make more money on his investment – would in many ways be more agreeable to all. Right now the two parties don’t get on well, and while that may not be such a problem for Gibb one would like to believe there remains some feeling for the club he once cared so passionately about.

Whatever the solution, we need to avoid looking at Gibb as the villain and beating him with a stick. The club badly needs his help and, as much as we might argue it is unfair he is getting richer because of us, if that objective was at least parallel with our objectives it would surely be the best compromise from a far from ideal situation.

We watch on with interest, as these talks are clearly vital to the club’s future.

Bradford City made half a million profit in 2009/10, but it’s not all good news

The Yorkshire Post has this morning revealed Bradford City made a £501,000 for the 2009/10 season – largely thanks to the sell-on clause in the deal which saw Bradford-born Fabian Delph transfer from Leeds to Aston Villa for £8 million in August 2009.

The Bantams received an initial £800,000 windfall for the part they played in developing the young midfielder. The Yorkshire Post also claims that total has risen to just short of a £1 million due to further clauses being triggered – chiefly Villa qualifying for Europe and awarding Delph a new four-year contract.

Were it not for the Delph money, City would have made a loss of around £299,000. For the 2008/09 season, where the Bantams had spent big on wages – a £1.9 million playing budget – but missed out on the play offs, the club recorded a loss of £765,000. One can take an educated guess that City will make a similarly high loss for this season, having again pushed out the boat.

All of which is troubling. Without the unexpected windfall from Delph, City would have lost over £1 million over the previous two campaigns and something similar this year – whether these totals includes loans provided by Lawn and Rhodes is unclear. The decreasing success of the subsidised season ticket scheme will add further pressure, and Julian Rhodes, Mark Lawn and the Board are left in a position where unless they keep investing more of their own money the club is left in an incredibly weak position.

The Valley Parade rent and running costs amount to £1.3 million each year. If the ownership situation could be altered this situation would ease, but it would be wrong to assume that it would lead to City making a profit each year as many of the running costs would still need to be met no matter who owns the deeds to the stadium. And that’s before we consider the costs involved if the club were able to buy back Valley Parade. People often say that you should never rent a home as it’s “a mug’s game” and City are in a similarly position of being trapped and effectively throwing money down a blackhole.

Clearly next season is going to be a tough one financially. The club has spent big on wages again this year and there were other sizeable costs last summer, such as relaying the pitch. With season ticket sales unlikely to match or better this season’s, the resultant playing budget for whoever takes over as manager will be significantly reduced and with it expectations must surely recede.  A huge consideration, when selecting the manager, must be their ability to deliver over-performance on a shoestring budget.

What of the longer-term future? Unless City can get back to the Championship, it’s unlikely revenue streams will significantly increase anytime soon – unless they abandon the season ticket initiative. The Valley Parade situation looks unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, if ever. Outside investment remains a faint possibility, but City are far from an attractive proposition. The possibility of further windfalls from other former City youngsters – most notably Tom Cleverly and Andrew Wisdom – remains, but is hardly something to build a five-year business plan upon.

Rumours have recently floated around that another administration is a possibility, but hopefully this can be filed under malicious nonsense. Nevertheless, these are somewhat worrying times for Bradford City and, as gratefully received as the Delph money clearly was, it cannot prop up the club forever.

Throwing the game

Bradford City are almost certain to face FA action after referee Rob Lewis had a missile hurled at him on Saturday following his frankly rubbish performance in the game against Northampton Town.

The missile at Lewis comes in the days after City were told that they had to address the issue with things being chucked from the stands. The club have tried and been unsuccessful in stopping the problem which has occurred far too often.

Not that one would criticise the club’s endeavours in this area. They are proactive in trying to stop the missile issue offering an anonymous text line to report offenders but targeted one person in ten thousand is always going to be difficult.

The club need the help of supporters to condemn the action and tell the perpetrators that what they are doing in unacceptable. I’d sign BfB’s name up to that piece of paper without hesitation. All the criticism of Referees that supporters make is invalidated when someone lobs something at the man in black.

Rob Lewis’ display should have been the stuff of investigations – questions like “what did you book Kevin Ellison for?” should have been asked – but instead of that the blame has fallen on the supporters once more, for the misbehaviour of one in our midst.

I have my own issues with the way that Refereeing is approached and believe that those in power do no favours to the work-a-day League Two officials who are at the sharp end of the game. The fact that when Lewis disappears down the tunnel he is out of contact and unquestioned adds to the level of frustration fans feel, but does nothing to justify assaulting him.

In a better world Lewis would post his match report for us all to read and we could find out why Player X was yellow carded while Player Y was not but there is no feedback for the paying customer, no respect from the official side of Refereeing that the supporters deserves to be informed.

The lack of respect though that causes someone to hurl something at a man is a different, and more serious, matter. It is little wonder that the game considers fans as chattel if fans cannot police themselves to the extent that offenders are not outed as displaying behaviour which is considered unacceptable.

I’m in favour of a top to bottom review of Refereeing that includes changing the relationship between official and supporter to give the support a right to know how and why a decision was made.

That cannot happen though when Referees are dodging objects and City fans need to join the club in making it clear that this sort of small minded, small brained, big problem will not be acceptable behaviour for anyone who wants to call themselves a Bradford City supporter.

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.

Where do you see the club in a decade?

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

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

Jason Mckeown City Gent & BfB Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Firth City fan and Author of Four Minutes To Hell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Carling Chair of the Bradford City Supporters Trust

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

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

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

Avenue back at Valley Parade for friendly

After an absence of a good few generations Bradford Park Avenue will return to their former ground to play Bradford City for a pre-season friendly.

Avenue played at Valley Parade just before the club lost its battle for survival in the early 1970s with Bradford City extending the hand to their rivals in those tough times.

City have invited Avenue for a pre-season match at Valley Parade on Tuesday, August 3rd 2010 – the Tuesday before the season starts.

On Tuesday July 13th City will play Guiseley at Nethermoor as a part of the transfer deal that brought James Hanson to Valley Parade.

Some of the crowd are on the pitch…

For football supporters of a certain age the pitch invasion is possibly the most unwelcome sight in the game of football. It brings back memories of bad days when fans would pile over fences onto field and the match would become a secondary event to young men indulging in territorial disputes on the field.

Football hooliganism was a lot about charging at one set of fans to get them to run in the opposite direction as much as it was about the actual punches and kicks and to that mind set – to me it seemed – the playing field offered the ultimate in territory. There are many books about football hooliganism, not one of them I want to read.

So for fans of a certain age the sight of people spilling onto the field reminds one of bad days and or worse days. Of Valley Parade’s fire of course and of Heysel and Hillsborough. Why did it take until six minutes past three to stop the game in Sheffield when Liverpool played Nottingham Forest? Many people will tell you many reasons but the heart of most explanations is that keeping people off the pitch was the prime concern of the age.

The sight of people coming onto the pitch means nothing good, to football supporters of a certain age.

Younger supporters – with no lasting memory of those days not only of disaster but of distaste – have no such associations. They see the end of season pitch invasion as a jolly, a chance to mess about and share the fun and why should it not be? After City retained Premiership status – beating Liverpool the supporters of whom have reason enough to condemn invaders – the sight of supporters on the pitch was a joyous sharing of the triumph.

English football is – as we shall no doubt hear once or twice in the next six weeks – summed up with the words “Theres some people on the pitch, they think it’s all over…

Kenneth Wolstenholme – BBC commentator on the day England won the World Cup and he who utter those immortal words – would not have comprehended the idea that people would invade the pitch to act aggressively nor to harm the supporters of another club – or in the case of Luton Town on Saturday – the players of York City. Such aggression was simply not correlated with football at the time.

So why is a pitch invasion in 2010 different to one in 1966 before the fences and Hillsborough or in 2000 after them as evidently it is, or was at Luton, at Sheffield Wednesday and at Valley Parade?

We look for answers around football, around the regulation of football, around the Zeitgeist events of football but perhaps we have to look much closer to home to find how the pitch invasion has changed from joy that can be shared by Liverpool supporters to Northampton Town fans throwing tribute t-shirts back at the City fans in the space of ten years.

On this website we have talked many times about the atmosphere at Valley Parade and it would be remiss not to say that Saturday had a touching memorial and one of impeccably observed silence but it also had – around my seat in the Kop – the continued screaming of abuse from grown men at kids on the field. Leon Osbourne puts the ball through someone’s legs but shoots rather than passes and his is a “fucking greedy idiot”, Adam Bolder opts to not cross the ball and he is a “useless git”, Gavin Grant’s ignoring of (a much better placed) Michael Flynn see him called a “greedy, greedy, greedy waste of space.”

Matthew Clarke manages to get through a game without conceding a goal despite being described as both “clumsy buffon” and “utterly useless” but Gareth Evans is cheered from the rafters for his goals which is a contrast to a month ago when he was invited to “fuck off to Halifax Town, or back to Macclesfield, or both!” In-between play results from other grounds are checked to see how Leeds United – or L***ds as many would dub them – are doing with the hope being that they are not doing well.

When Bradford City were promoted to the Premiership it was almost in disbelief – people to us said as we set off to Wolves that “they will blow it again” – but in the years of decline that have followed the support around the club seems to have gone past simple belief into an arrogant expectancy. “We are Bradford City,” the attitude often seems to be “we used to be Premiership so we should be beating everyone in this league.” Perhaps the obvious, bubbling anger comes from that feeling. Wherever the origins are maybe it was a tiny fulfilment of that over blown belief – that we can beat anyone – that prompted Saturday’s goading of the visitors.

The point is that the aggression of City fans did not start when they ran over to the Northampton Town supporters, not as I see it, and while banning people for invading the pitch could be a good idea the ramping up of aggression at Bradford City in the last ten years that makes Saturday different to the final day of the Premiership season is not restricted to the people on the grass in front of visitors.

Bradford City – in common with many clubs – is suffering a resurgence of aggressive and yobbish violence after utterly failing to address the problem of aggressive and yobbish supporting. The mentality that sees a grown man screaming obscene abuse until his face goes blue at a 20 year old Joe Colbeck is the same mentality that runs over to the Northampton Town fans.

You can find a history of talking about the rise of aggressive support here, here, here, here, here and here. To be honest it comes over in most conversations about following football these days. Manchester United hate Liverpool, Manchester City hate Arsenal, Spurs hate Sol Campbell, everyone hates Lee Hughes.

Back to Wolstenholme and his era of football and the idea of such reckless hate being spewed around would be alien. Talk to a City fan in his sixties or seventies and he will tell you about going to Park Avenue on odd weekends and supporting them, while favouring us. The idea that your football rivals are to be loathed is a modern conceit drawn from hooliganism and in many ways represents the lingering elements of those dark days.

Modern aggressive football support – be it the kind of external manifestations we see or the internal abuse of players described above – is a breeding ground for the scenes of the weekend at Luton, at Wednesday and in front of the Northampton supporters and while each fan involved is responsible for their own actions and should be punished as such the wider community around football clubs needs to address this tide of aggression.

Because if the 1980s tells us one thing is it that if we the fans cannot set our house in order then other people will try to put it in order for us be they the club, the police or the (perhaps same Conservative) Government. The last time that occurred results the results were, in very many ways, horrific.

Remember

“Remember” it said on the t-shirt that arced from the arm of a Northampton Town supporters at the young Bradford City fans who stood in front of them, taunting them, jeering at them.

“Remember” is what on the t-shirt of the man who jogged back towards the Kop moving with only a little pace past a father – one assumes – who took a photo of his daughter in front of the goal posts.

“Remember” is what it said on the shirts of the men who walked back behind the cordon of yellow high-vis jacketed stewards who would separate supporters from players as the team walked a lap of appreciation. Unlike the young people described in not too favourable terms elsewhere who charged the length of the field to and from the visiting fans these men walked back calmly, casually, arrogantly.

“Remember” it said on the t-shirts of the people who had remained in the stands and watched events on the field -a shameful ten minutes in the history of Bradford City where visiting fans were subject to utterly needless abuse – and they might have wondered why after years of watching this wretched ritual of misbehaviour that happens after the home game of every single season why the club are so lax on the offenders.

During the week, before the game, during the pitch invasion there were warnings about the legality of invading the pitch and the possibility of lifetime bands. Still, we know Mark Lawn’s thoughts on yobbishness and we know that he will pursue the people who invaded the pitch with the same vigour and promise of life bans that he did people who attacked his car. The Accrington Stanley car park might not have good CCV but the Valley Parade pitch does and a good hundred people could not see inside the ground again, with every justification.

Because “Remember” is not just a word, a word on a t-shirt, a word to talk about the people who died in the Bradford City fire and in a way it never should be. No one effected by 11th of May 1985 needs a t-shirt – no matter how well meaning – to tell them to remember.

“Remember” is a message. A message which rings through from a different age of football supporting where yobbishness was the plague of the age and football fans were penned in behind high fences to prevent them from getting onto the field in celebration, in exuberance, in emergencies.

“Remember” is a requirement for anyone who lived through the 1980s when at Valley Parade, at Birmingham, at Heysel, at Hillsborough, at Furiani to pass on.

“Remember” why it is easy to step from the Kop at Valley Parade onto the field, remember what would have happened twenty five years ago if it had not been. Remember what did happen and remember how the game changed to try ensure that people could go to football matches in safety.

Football changed after the 1980s and supporters were afforded – at long last – a respect that they were not a part of a homogeneous whole of misbehaviour. That happened so that facilities were improved, that safety was improved, that fans were not assumed to be animals to be caged in shoddy, dangerous environments and it happened because supporters and clubs made it clear that the behaviour that had taken use that point could no longer be tolerated.

Ultimately the offence on Saturday was not a sullying of the day where this club was supposed to remember it was a realisation that to some people – the people who invaded the pitch and not just those who taunted the visitors but the dad and his daughter and similar – “Remember” was just a word, hollow and meaningless.

If it is worth the football community – as opposed to the families – remember the fifty six people who died at Valley Parade then it is worth doing it in the context of how we make sure the circumstances that brought it about never occur again.

By bringing closer a situation where you and me when going to a game are less people and more crowds, are less individuals and more a mob, are less who we are more who they were then another Bradford or another Hillsborough becomes more likely.

That is what the people on the field needed to remember. The things these criminals did when they invaded the field was not just an insult to the people who did lose their lives twenty five years ago, they made it more likely that a loss of life at football will happen to fans again.

Political parties talk sports in Bradford: Lib-Dems ‘will not support stadium solely for Bulls’

Last night the deputy leader of the Liberal-Democrats, David Ward, stated that his party would not support revised Odsal Sports Village plans if it meant the bulk of the £15m of tax payers’ money set aside for the scheme being used to refurbish a stadium solely for the Bulls use. The remarks came during a sport related election meeting organised by Bradford City Supporters’ Trust at the Bradford Irish Club.

Councillor Ward, the prospective parliamentary candidate for the new Bradford East seat, was supportive of the sports village concept, but was critical of the differences of policy the Council had in supporting the Bradford Bulls and Bradford City. Unfortunately, the ruling Conservative group declined to attend the meeting and were therefore unable to explain, or defend, their policies. The panel, which also included Minister for Sport, Bradford South Labour MP Gerry Sutcliffe, and Councillor Martin Love, leader of the Green Party in Bradford, were unanimous in believing that the Odsal Sport Village plan could not go ahead in its current guise given the economic situation.

All also believed that the revised plans for the Sports Village should be wider ranging and include the issue of ground sharing and wider use of training facilities for all three of the Bradford Districts professional clubs and the wider community. Martin Love spoke of the fabulous sports facilities he had recently seen on a trip to Belgium. Seemingly, even small towns have superior and centralised facilities that put Bradford’s to shame. Councillor Love thought it was important that everyone involved in sport in the District, be it athletics to professional football, should come out of their respective, often insular, worlds and see how sharing facilities and enthusiasm could benefit all.

Bradford South MP Gerry Sutcliffe built on the debate by suggesting that a wider Bradford Sports’ Trust, or even a Bradford Sporting Club, be formed to push forward cohesive plans for shared facilities in the District. He thought it was ridiculous that Bradford City had been forced to leave the District in order to find suitable training facilities. The relationship between the Bulls and City was debated and it was thought that someone ought to act as facilitator to try and get both clubs to talk about a future ground share – be it at Odsal, Valley Parade or even another venue. As Gerry Sutcliffe said ‘shouldn’t that be the Council’s role?’ Among the audience was a member of the newly formed Bradford Bulls Supporters’ Trust and there is now a commitment, among supporters at least, to build bridges between the two main professional clubs in the city. Gerry Sutcliffe also intimated that once the election is out of the way it is an issue that is worthy of further examination.

David Ward questioned the ruling Conservative executive’s commitment to the city of Bradford. He noted that the majority of them lived in places such as Ilkley and Haworth. Councillor Anne Hawkesworth, who holds the remit for sport, does indeed live in Ilkley. Gerry Sutcliffe expressed his frustration that not once had the ruling Conservative group contacted him regarding the Odsal Sports Village. Unfortunately, once again the lack of a Conservative voice on the panel left questions unanswered and did leave many wondering about their commitment.

A question was asked about safe standing at football grounds. Gerry Sutcliffe said he would support safe standing at new football grounds. Martin Love pointed out the discrepancy between football and other sports and wondered whether, given the improvement in supporters’ behaviour, whether some of the laws could now be reviewed? The Minister for Sport agreed that issues, such as not being able to drink within sight of the pitch before matches from corporate boxes, does seem a nonsense. Though he was mindful of where we have come from, and the reasons why the bans were put in place, he was open minded and wanted to act for the majority and not the minority. A suggestion from the floor that the lower tier of the Bradford End be used as a trial for German style safe standing was well received. However, ultimately it would be the club’s decision, though given the positive response from the panel it could be an area worth pursuing after the election and perhaps the club could attract funding for the experiment?

Wider issues such as supporter ownership, or part ownership, of clubs and the governance of the game, in particular the dominance of the Premier League, were also touched upon. However, it was the specifically Bradford areas of the debate that will be of greatest interest to supporters. There does seem to be a willingness to push some of the issues forward once the election is out of the way. It is perhaps as much our imperative as supporters to keep the channels open as it is the clubs and politicians. Quite clearly if we keep pressing on issues such as a Bradford Sports Trust and safe standing there does appear to be support among our politicians – though once again the absence of the Conservative party is to be regretted.

I am the walrus

The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things… – Lewis Carroll

Is it me or are we losing sight of some of the real issues affecting our club?

Whilst Pete Moss’s interesting article prompts debate and reasoned comment about the future use of Valley Parade by the Bulls (or “Odsal Sports Village” by the Bantams) and other sites swap as many insults as arguments, am I the only one who thinks we are adding to something that obscures real concerns.

Of course the future of both clubs is important and needs to be addressed sooner rather than later but right now I feel there are more pressing concerns. Call it paranoia or conspiracy theory but has all this hypothetical discussion – generated in no small way by Mark Lawn – obscured the fact that other items on Mr. Lawn’s desk are dragging on without comment?

Whatever happens in the V.P. v. O.S.V. debate, City (barring extreme financial disasters) will still have a ground on which to play next season but will we still have the manager? Why is there still no resolution to the protracted contractual discussions despite all the right noises being made by both parties?

Almost a year ago I contributed my first posting on this site. Much of what I said in “Anger, Management and Rotherham” concerned the future of a certain Stuart McCall and the need for those running the club to make a clear statement on the manager’s future prior to the end of the season. Now I find that the “will he/wont he doubts that were so divisive at the end of last season are with us once again. The confusion over the future of S.M. is now being repeated with confusion over P.T. – and we are debating hypothetical venues!

How can players commit to a future with a club that has uncertainties with their manager for next season? How can undecided supporters commit to next season’s ticket with so much uncertainty regarding manager and players?

If the board are hoping to generate much-needed extra revenue through further season ticket sales to those fans as yet undecided then they seem to be going about it in the wrong way.

If the number of extra season ticket sales is a factor in Peter Taylor’s decision on his future then the problem is even further compounded by a ground sharing debate that, whilst relevant, is not of immediate concern. It creates doubt rather than commitment.

Surely the priority is to get the manager’s contract sorted out first? Then he can begin negotiations to keep valued players. THEN maybe we can sort out something on the ground sharing. It seems simple, it seems logical, so why isn’t it happening?

If there is another agenda for Peter Taylor, and/or another agenda for Mark Lawn then we are conveniently obscuring it by the ground sharing debates… or is it just me?

If it is me then I’ll put it down to another “senior moment” but if others share my concerns it would be interesting to know. Either way the time has come not to talk of many things, but to clarify a few and, in doing so, bring about commitment – on all sides – and, with it, the much needed extra revenue that commitment – on all sides – would surely create.

Odsal vs Valley Parade – The debate rages on

Mark Lawn, ever the shrinking violet, came out with a robust statement regarding the Odsal debacle at the weekend. His points, however valid, are unlikely to improve relations between BCFC, the Bulls, and Bradford Council. His programme notes for the Morecambe game are also interesting. He states that the council’s feasibility study around the Bulls taking residence at VP was done without consultation with BCFC and goes on figures that are nearly 10 years out of date. Yet they are prepared to throw £1million of taxpayers money at yet another Odsal plan.

I took two work colleagues to VP for the Morecambe game last Tuesday night. One was a Middlesborough fan who said he liked the stadium, particularly the ‘house’ in the south-west corner! The other was a one time City trainee/first-teamer and full time Bulls fan. His view of the situation was akin to most Bulls fans. VP is not suited to Rugby League. He’s right.

Our jaunt to VP on Tuesday was part of a sports fan away day thing we do at work. Recently we travelled to the Keepmoat stadium for the Boro vs Donny game. I sadly missed this but the agreement was we would visit both Odsal for a RL game and VP for a bit of hoof ball. The Odsal vs Castleford game was an enjoyable experience for all concerned. It had been a while since I had been to the ground. In the late 80s and early 90s I went to a lot of Stock Car and Speedway events which I feel Odsal is great for. This time I got to see what the grass in the middle was used for! I enjoyed the standing, the beer on the terraces, even the obligatory overpriced Ecoli burger was good. All in all, it was an enjoyable ground, if a little chilly with no shelter to speak of.

Can it support football? Yes, with some serious development work. Due to the track surrounding the pitch, the corner areas are elevated up. It looked like an upside down parachute with the corners being pulled up by imaginary lines. This would need to be flattened out before suitable for football.

The pitch was in much better condition than the VP one. Despite a good game of egg chasing every other week and the same kind of harsh winter that VP has seen, it was green. I can’t foresee any complaints from the 22 footballers who have to earn their brass there.

So Odsal has some good stuff going for it. Transport links and parking is very good, with bus users having the benefit of the improved Manchester road to get them to and from their beer and nightclubs!

So then: Valley Parade. Well, its better isn’t it. A well constructed (I should know, I put a fire retardant wall up in the new Kop approx 10 years ago) and seated stadium. First class facilities (except the loos!) and a great location, only 15 mins stagger from the city centre or Forster Square retail park and train station.

The ground has so much history. Manningham Rugby Club which became BCFC. 11th May 1985, RIP the 56. The finest City goals the Leeds Utd fans have ever seen (thanks to Beags and Collymore!). Its part of Bradfordian life no matter which bit of the city you grew up in. The sentiment is there which maybe Odsal doesn’t possess. Didn’t it used to be a rubbish tip?

But it can’t support Rugby League can it? Yes it can. VP seats 25,000 fans. Whip out a few rows at the northern and southern ends and you have a longer pitch. This will satisfy the men with odd shaped balls. Better for hoof-ball as well! Its has covered seating areas and the possibility of reintroducing terraced areas in the lower Kop and main stands. There is much that can be done to VP to accommodate the RL lot and also please a fair few stalwart footy fans who like to stand as well.

What’s more, it’s a little cheaper. Mark Lawn estimates it would cost £5.5million to buy the ground back from the cash strapped Gordon Gibb. Mr Gibb is likely to want that cash injection as soon as possible before he sells it to someone else who may not want to be as ‘kind’ on the rent side of things. Another £1-2 million in pitch strengthening and other adaptations mean that its a maximum £7.5 million outlay for a true multi-purpose stadium. The remainder of the £15 million airport windfall can then go on redeveloping Richard Dunn and creating excellent training facilities for both codes, and all other sporting endeavours in the city. Sell Odsal for a few magic beans and you have more houses being built on a brownfield site.

Now I’m not a business man. I am a council worker, but for them east of Pudsey. The figures look attractive, sustainable and value for money. Say those 3 words/phrases to anyone in local authority and a green light usually beckons!

So why not? Its all about politics. All concerned are private businesses. The council wont want to hand £5.5 million to someone who runs his business in the North Riding of Yorkshire and until recently, Lincolnshire. They would rather build a pond or a grass verge in their fair city.

BCFC and the Bulls are private companies that serve the Bradford populace. However a major development that doesn’t meet all demographics is difficult to implement. How many Polish descent Bradfordians go to City or the Bulls? How many Asian, Irish, Chinese or other ethnic groups are likely to use these facilities? These are all questions likely to be asked at a high council level. This is not meant to sound inflammatory, racist or bigoted. Please don’t think it is. It’s the fact that all councils in the UK are required to show how investment in the community brings a benefit to all social and ethnic groups. Its called being inclusive and the dreaded ‘sustainable’ word.

I can only hypothesise. I don’t know what is said at the high level of Bradford Met Council. This is my guess, coupled with an almost fanatic rivalry between Bulls and City (two different sports, please get over yourselves!) and a local council without a party majority. Politics are stifling the sporting progress of two fine clubs who deserve better and also a Bradford population who continue to suffer whilst our elected members continue to bicker.

So what is likely to happen? The status quo. Bulls will stay at Odsal and get some covers for the terracing at an unattractive price. City will continue to pay huge amounts of rent and struggle to maintain the VP site.

I echo Mark Lawn’s words. We don’t need a pond, we need leadership.

What one single thing would you change about Bradford City?

As we worry that Bradford City will be heading for the worst finish the club has had in forty-four years drastic measures are being debated for the future of the club with almost nothing having been changed, tweaked or altered in the hypotheticals that Bantams fans are talking in. Flights of fancy or wild notions to serious notion and simple building blocks have been heard and discussed.

And so the fifth of the Barry Article asks…

“What one single thing would you change about Bradford City?”

Jason Mckeown City Gent & BfB Writer

What a question! After another hugely disappointing season, the temptation is to simply say “to have success”. But I believe football clubs go in cycles and the good and bad times can never last forever, so I’d prefer to retain my blind faith that it must be our time again soon and use my wish on something more ever-lasting.

Which means I also wouldn’t want to change chairmen, manager or players; as these things happen over time anyway. Nor strategy, as what seems the obvious one now may not be in two or ten years time. I prefer to trust that those responsible for getting it right will do so eventually. Please.

So having nobly avoided the temptation to wish for a ten-point lead at the top of the Premier League or signing Lionel Messi, I’m going to push my luck and ask for two wishes. The first is for the Kop to go back to terracing. Standing up at football is how it should be and there was nothing wrong with our beloved former terrace.

I miss the days where I stood next to the same group of 20 or so people and the banter we had; when we went all-seater, we suddenly never saw each other. Now I sit behind the same moaning idiots every week, debating moving my season ticket for the next campaign but fearing I’ll just be stuck with different moaners. It was never a problem standing in the Kop, I yearn for that.

And the other thing I’d change is for City to have their own anthem we can all sing before the match. Nothing horrible like what that lot down the road sing; more like other clubs who adopt their own anthem and sing it before every game with such passion and excitement. Sheffield United, Notts Forest and of course Liverpool fans, I’m so jealous of the way you sing your anthems.

If only we could have our own anthem to sing similarly passionately prior to every match, maybe we’d finally get rid of that dodgy home record. Which reminds me, that’s another thing to change. Hmmm, any chance of a third wish?

Dave Pendleton Bantamspast Curator & Former City Gent Editor

A simple question to answer. The ownership of the ground. Without the dead weight of the lease payments City would have, according to David Baldwin, the ability to pay Championship level wages. Of course, whether we would want to pay high wages is another matter, but to have the ability to do so would obviously only benefit the club’s progress.

I would love to see the ground placed in the ownership of a non-profit making co-operative and have the ground set aside for sports use only in perpetuity. Even better a City of Bradford Stadium, with City, and possibly the Bulls, playing at a Valley Parade central to the sports community of the entire City of Bradford. It would once and for all remove the burden of repayments and ground development costs from both clubs and would send a tremendous signal regarding community cohesion. It would take a leap of faith, particularly from a section of the Bulls fans who view visiting Manningham to be akin to signing your own death warrant, and those City fans who resent Zesh Rehman’s presence in the City side, but with open minded optimism we could be on the verge of something special at Valley Parade.

Whether Gordon Gibb fancies being paternalistic towards Bradford, or Bradford Council is brave enough to push through such a scheme, is questionable. However, we have to be optimistic, otherwise we will fall into the same self-fulfilling cynicism that often dominates thinking about Bradford and Bradford City.

Steve Baker Stalwart City fan and Bantams Bar regular

I’d like to see some proper sales and marketing plan. What are we doing to raise funds off the field? I know Roger Owen has been brought in, but I’m yet to see what he has put in place to generate more revenue to the club. I have loads of ideas that would help boost the clubs coffers, but there is no point in suggesting these to the club as it just falls on deaf ears.

If there is more money coming in, it makes everything easier. There are loads of things the club could do – but whether its void of ideas, or just restricted due to lack of staff members. I’m happy to chuck ideas into the pot, but there is no fixed process for this.

When the Peter Etherington saga ended, the club advertised for a new commercial manager. I applied for this post and heard nothing back from the club. Im not saying I was a perfect candidate but I had some good ideas, and definitely have the passion for such a role.

So that’s what I would want to see – a club that offers great value on season tickets, but looks for all available opportunities to expand its money earning potentials. At the moment we are stuck in a rut, one we need to get out of ASAP. The money isn’t the be all and end all, but would Rhodes and Lawn turn down more income?

Paul Firth City fan and Author of Four Minutes To Hell

This would have to be a ‘If I won the rollover lottery’ moment.

I’d buy back the ground from the Gibb pension fund and charge City a nominal rent. I have no complaint with the rent the present landlord charges. I think it probably is a commercial rent. But it is a rent City cannot afford, given their overall finances.

As long as the cheap season tickets continue (and that, hopefully, means for a very long time indeed), the club cannot afford high outgoings on rent and at the same time the wages for the sort of players that our impatient supporters demand. So, if expectation is to be met, the outgoings have to be cut or the ticket sales have to go even further than the extra 5,000 being sought. (OK, or the prices have to go up, but that’s far from a simple equation.)

If I don’t win the lottery, then I would be looking for a kindly benefactor who can afford the price of the freehold and, in the short term, won’t mind getting less than a market return on his money until the club can buy the ground back – which should be feasible in the medium term. Anyone one have Sir Ken’s number?

Odsal Sporting Village plans over?

The Telegraph & Argus is this morning reporting that a funding crisis has all but ended Bradford Council’s Odsal Sporting Village Plans. The proposed £75 million development was to include facilities for all types of sports, plus a new stadium for the Bradford Bulls and, possibly, Bradford City to play in. A hotel was also mooted.

But the Learning and Skills Council has frozen funding to refurbish Bradford College’s campus, so one of the sporting village’s main funders now has their own unexpected extra costs to meet and cannot support Bradford Council. The gap in funding has left the Council investigating scaled down Osdal revamp plans, with an urgency needed given Bradford Bulls may lose their Super League licence if their stadium stays in its current state for much longer.

It might be premature to write off Odsal as an option for the Bantams – the problems of high rent payments to meet at Valley Parade which led City to even consider moving have not gone away, and a solution of sorts needs to be found. The eventual revamped Odsal project may centre on just producing a new stadium for the Bulls that City could also use; although it seems wrong to move away from supporting other sports who more urgently need top facilities and just build a new rugby ground, when the Bulls could easily move into Valley Parade instead.

What it does show is that City cannot realistically wait around for a realistic vision of Odsal to be agreed and built – history of failed redevelopment plans and the recent obvious vanity of Odsal Sporting Village offer no confidence they will get it right this time. The Council has just short of £20m committed to the village, perhaps some of this money could now be used to purchase Valley Parade for City and the Bulls and use the rest of the budget making Odsal a home for other sports? Perhaps a deal can be struck so City and the Bulls pay rent to the Council, which directly goes to funding the other sporting projects?

With a General Election approaching, it will be interesting to see what political statements are made about the situation over the coming weeks. Bradford has two well-supported and worthwhile professional sporting clubs which help to raise the city’s profile – it’s time to take a firm grasp of reality and work out a solution that best meets everyone’s  interests.

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.

Is the club’s ambition killing it from within?

Over the last couple of years I’ve witnessed a lot of the goings on at City through various media. The first has been the Internet, to which this site is but one of many saved to my favourites, and others have been the paper publications such as the T&A, Bantams World and The City Gent.

In the last three years I have been a season ticket holder and spoken to or overheard opinion from fellow supporters. As I have been a Season Ticket holder for nearly three seasons, bar a time in my mid-teens when the club climbed into the second tier, I’ve also witnessed the League Two displays and formed my own opinions.

What’s my conclusion based on all this evidence? Read on.

  1. We think we are a really big club.
  2. McCall is a good City man but not a good manager
  3. The squad are not fit to wear the shirt
  4. The officials are awful at this level
  5. It’s a lot warmer at VP than at Odsal!
  6. We haven’t a penny pot to pee in
  7. Where’s the money from all them season tickets/Delph money

Do I agree with any of these conclusions? Like all people with splinters in their posteriors, I’m going to say no and yes.

We think we are a really big club….

Well we’ve got a big ground – we don’t own it and sold it for a 10th of what we paid to develop it originally. We now pay nigh on £1.2 million just to play here. Our squad is tiny. We use council pitches or a five aside complex to train at.

We played in the Premier League – yes for two seasons where like most un-established clubs, we stretched way beyond our means and suffered as a result. In the Premier League we were fodder for the big teams, a challenge for the middling teams and could gain points from the rubbish teams. We stayed by the skin of our teeth. We’ve got this little bit of history to keep us proud but we’ve never been a massive and consistent force in English football. Ask a foreigner even when we were in the Premiership who City was? Well the Swede I spoke to in London in 2002 said he didn’t know and had to ask a friend.

What about our big fan base – I should think so from the 500,000 strong Bradfordian population which makes it the 4th largest metropolitan district in England. Premier league Burnley is 88,500 in population. Someone said to me that Bradford is a rugby town. Well on Friday night against Castleford, we had less than 9,000 in Odsal. Admittedly, the game was on Sky Sports and it was freezing (see point 5) but still, City competes with that having 11,500 average for this season. In division 4. Not the top tier of rugby league!

In conclusion we have delusions over our size. But I believe that this keeps the gates high. We have some serious potential. We also have some unbelievable risks in the rent paid to play at an oversized ground we no longer need. City needs to downsize physically as well as in aspiration.

McCall is a good City man but not a good manager

Yes. We all agree in these difficult times that Stuart McCall is a great City man who holds iconic status in almost everything he has done for us….

Except as manager. Do I think he was bad? No, but as another Arnold Laver product chafes my cheeks I also say yes. He has brought some interesting players to the club. At times he has brought some bizarre signings in like the 5ft 4in forward David Brown two seasons ago. Brown entered the field of play at VP after scoring on his debut in a previous match away at Macclesfield Town. He looked like a Smurf against Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy! Central defenders and centre forwards in league two are big for a reason. Diddy David was not. However, it did provide some good amusement for the City faithful.

Do I think McCall should have left? Yes, because he wanted to. I thought the reason for getting McCall in would be to build slowly and carefully to build a platform to grow the club again. We wouldn’t sack Stuart. That would make us Judas. But talk of promotion which was unfulfilled, talk of double promotion which was also unfulfilled and then talk of promotion despite a massive reduction in playing budget which has also gone to pot makes me think that only the very best managers in English football could cope with all that pressure of expectation.

The fans and the board in my opinion did not use Stuart McCall to his strengths. We could have built a strong squad like Rochdale has in the time McCall was given. Instead we went for broke in his second season(remember the premier league?), failed to achieve promotion and then battled to compete in an allegedly poor league. We thought the club would bounce. A club with this much weight around its neck does not bounce. To compete, you must be agile. We are currently lumbering round without coherent direction, attainable goals or hope. This is not Stuart McCall’s doing. Its us. The fans and board members, with our insatiable appetite for success whatever it takes that crushes our own development

In conclusion, McCall failed because we fail. It’s a competition, not a divine right (see point 1).

The squad are not fit to wear the shirt.

Fit that in with the opposition chant of only singing when we win. Well, like petulant and ungrateful children we do throw our toys out the moment it all goes wrong. We boo the players, myself included which is shameful. When you feel bad, things keep going wrong and someone you want to impress (the fans) keep telling you you’re bad… guess what? You’re bad.

The affect of morale has been plain to see over the turbulent last few weeks. Its clear now that the players were playing for their manager. They had a great affinity for him and are crushed as a result. Many are out of contract at the end of the season and while they can impress in the safety of a training ground, on the pitch is a different matter. When you are down, doubt yourself and are afraid for your standard of living you will make errors. You will take the wrong decision under pressure. You will hoof the ball up to a lad who wins 9 out of 10 headers even though he will loose possession and it will be back soon.

What is needed is determination. Only a few of our lads have it. Ramsden and Flynn are definitely those who will not give up. The rest? Whilst not giving up like Dan Petrescu did all those times, they are not battling for the full 90 minutes. Especially in the two games following McCall’s exit.

Are they fit to wear the shirt? They are the only players we have got. Get behind them, give them the strength. Find forgiveness in your hearts for Zesh Rehman and Matt Clarke. They are only men. But us as fans can give them that little bit they need to achieve that little bit more. If its hard for us to watch, it must be harder for them to cope with the pressure of expectation. We must play our part even if they are currently not achieving theirs.

The officials are awful at this level.

Yes. Full stop.

My knowledge of the game is poor to say the least but even I know when Michael Boulding has his own shirt twisted twice round him by a slow centre half’s hand. Its poor. Its allowed, because Clarke for us gets away with it every other game. But its not good for the game.

Until refereeing gets a major overhaul, we need to be good enough in this league to beat 12 men. Yes, the one with the whistle and the power to send players off included! Can we do this? Yes with investment, both in money and time to develop some quality players.

It’s a lot warmer at VP than at Odsal!

Yes, it is. But I’ve sat in the Midland Road stand for the last few seasons. We are protected from the elements by the Main stand and because of its orientation. The Kop on the other hand is like being sat in a wind tunnel on the occasions I have swapped to sit there!

If we could save ourselves significant amounts of rent by relocating to Odsal despite its run down appearance, upturned corners of the pitch and rugby connotations we could achieve more in terms of playing budget. It’s a no brainer. But its not without its critics including me.

The Odsal Sporting Village will not be completed. I will stake big money on it. There is no political clout within Bradford Council to achieve this development much like the hole in the city centre. If it happens, I’ll laugh my head off because I was wrong and that Bradford have come together to actually do something for the community. £70+ million for a 18k seated stadium, though? Someone hasn’t done a Value for Money investigation on that one!

VP is our home. Its also dragging the cash straight out of the club and into the hands of someone who profits from other’s misfortune. Its becoming tough choice for the board members to make now. What ever happens, a solution must be found to the £1.2million overheads we pay before a ball is even kicked.

We haven’t a penny pot to pee in

This is true. We are working within our means as far I know. Players such as James Hanson actually earn less being a full time pro than what he got working for Co-op as an assistant manager. Our top scorer earns less than a shop worker. Just think about that when you think about how big Bradford City is.

The overheads don’t help. Big name players cost money and are not guaranteed to achieve success. For us to progress we need to make our own stars of tomorrow. This won’t happen this season, next season, or even the year after. But it has to be an avenue to explore along with the others. Peter Taylor could help us with this. We can only wait and hope.

Where’s the money from all them season tickets/Delph money?

Stuart was given a playing budget of £1.2 million for this season. Couple that with the £1.2 million overheads and countless other running costs for the club, we can safely assume that the Delph money went into a financial black hole that is City’s accounts book.

Fans look to the board to provide sufficient finance to ensure success on the pitch and rightly so. Mark Lawn injected £1 million to ensure stability last season. Although he did well out of Driver Hire and the Rhodes family have had some success with Filtronic, they cannot afford to throw money at something at the expense of their own wellbeing. For fans to expect that is quite unbelievable.

Despite me trying to work out the City incomings, I still don’t know how the club keeps afloat. I then have to assume that the board provide funds from their own reserves (which will have depleted in the last few years due to the recession) to keep the club going. Mark Lawn restructured the clubs income stream to allow two amounts of season Ticket money to come in per season. One at around Christmas and one in the close season. This will have given the club some initial boosts in finance but this is now over. I have to have faith in the board of Bradford City because, quite frankly, who else is there to turn to.

New investors will not approach City whilst we reside in this league. Ask yourself this: Do you want to be in the same position as Notts County? They can keep their 5-0 mauling of us if we continue to remain solvent and they disappear from the football world. A terrible set of affairs.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, its all a bit pessimistic isn’t it? We are constrained financially and this won’t go away. We are in a major rut and are sailing dangerously close to going out of the league entirely.

Come on, Pete! You must have some positives? Yeah. In the potential stakes we are pretty good. The focus needs to be on reducing the overheads, maintaining the good season ticket sales and growing the playing staff. These are all long term aims.

In the short term we can and should survive this year. I believe if Peter Taylor wants to stay and can improve this club he should be given a two year contract to provide progressive improvement. First year should be the aim of a top ten finish. This is achievable. Second year should be the aim of playoffs and hopefully promotion. This could be achieved if the quality of playing staff recruited in year one can support progressive improvement into year two. If he smashes this and we go up next year, he and the club will have exceeded our expectations and we’ll be as delirious as we were after Wolves all those years ago. Or maybe not!

What about us fans? We need to be patient. Stuff the ‘big ground-have you seen the premier league-we all hate Leeds scum’ rhetoric. Lets build for the future and actually trust the club to improve itself rather than bowing to our insatiable appetite for success.

‘Can we do it?’ said Barrack ‘Yes, we can’ shout the City faithful.

Time for Bold Action at Valley Parade

Whatever our thoughts regarding the departure of Stuart McCall, the arrival of Peter Taylor offers the opportunity of a fresh start at Valley Parade. As ever with the arrival of a new manager there is a new impetus among supporters.

As a business Bradford City have a window of opportunity when their core customers are in a positive mood. They should cash in on this golden opportunity, it is time for bold and radical action. In particular the coming days offer Mark Lawn a chance to put the last few weeks, when his stock among supporters fell alarmingly, firmly behind him. To pinch a quote from Tony Blair, City’s joint chairman are ‘at their best when at their boldest’.

The arrival of Peter Taylor nicely dovetails with the reopening of season ticket sales. Though the first offer was taken up in large numbers, and was touted as being only available in its pre-Christmas timeframe, the change of manager has radically altered the outlook of the club and crucially its fans.

Some may well have declined to take up the offer because of Stuart McCall’s position as manager. That has changed, so why not reopen the offer until May and reopen it at exactly the same price as previously offered? Radical times call for radical measures, an opportunity exists to push season ticket sales over well over 10,000 and the club should take it.

Undoubtedly, the club would receive complaints from those who feel aggrieved by the reopening of the offer at the same price, but given the altered landscape in the wake of Taylor’s appointment they should be ignored.

Similarly, an opportunity exists to address the matchday admission prices. Whatever we hear regarding similar prices elsewhere in the division, the fact remains that they are way too high to attract floating supporters.

On an average matchday there are around 13,000 empty seats. The revenue from an empty seat is nil. As companies such as Easyjet have illustrated gaining any revenue from an otherwise empty seat is better than nothing at all.

Of course, with the massive £1.2m overheads to pay each year the club has to juggle affordability and protecting its income, but can it afford ignore the lost income 13,000 empty seats represent? With this season all but dead, why not slash admission prices in half? Offer family tickets (2 adults and 2 children) for £20?

All too often I’ve heard the size of Valley Parade used as a negative, turn the logic around and use the spare capacity to the club’s advantage. The time for bold action has arrived, let’s drive this club forward once more.

Farewell to Stuart

A decade that began with Stuart McCall captaining Bradford City in the Premier League ended with Stuart McCall managing Bradford City in the bottom division of English football. As I watched Stuart McCall walking around the pitch applauding the supporters at the end of the Bury game, and what turned out to be his last game as manager of his beloved Bantams, I reflected on a traumatic decade which could have barely been more disastrous for the club. I say barely, because the one positive to be taken is that there is still a club to support and that has been a huge achievement by any standards.

The departure of Stuart McCall could be viewed as the moment when we begin to look forward and not back to the wreckage, albeit fleetingly glorious wreckage, of our Premier League adventure and its sad aftermath. As Stuart McCall walked slowly around Valley Parade there was the odd shout of anger, but in the main the fans either returned the applause or watched in sad, but affectionate, silence. This was the man who personified an era at Valley Parade, from the fire to the Premier League and beyond. How could we turn on him? It would have been akin to screaming at ourselves in the mirror.

As we begin to emerge from the long shadow of the Premier League, quite how the club evolves lies largely with two factors. One is the continued support of the fans in large numbers. Given the encouraging take up of the season ticket offer that seems assured, at least in the short term. The second, and arguably the crucial factor, is resolving the issue surrounding the ownership of Valley Parade itself. Heaping abuse on our former chairman Gordon Gibb will achieve nothing – other than further cementing the already strained relationship between the Gibb family and the club. In buying Valley Parade Gibb secured the short term future of the club, his pension fund has already profited from the sale and our best, and probably only hope, is that he realises that the existing agreement is damaging the entire viability of the club. The futures of the Gibb family and Bradford City are joined at the hip. The prosperity of both, albeit one is much more vulnerable than the other, will require both compromise and a dash of humility. If an agreement really is being held back by personalities, and I have my doubts, then the individuals concerned should reconsider their stances, or even positions, for the greater good. The sacrifices that have been made over the last decade have been enormous, but if the club stagnates, or worse, then those sacrifices were made in vain. That’s the brutal truth.

Gordon Gibb has to understand that the current agreement will either result in the long slow strangulation of Bradford City, or an unwanted move to Odsal Stadium via a spell of voluntary administration. The status quo is clearly unsustainable. Until the ownership of the ground is resolved, or the lease payments reduced, there seems to be no way this club can escape its current malaise and the future appears to one of constant struggle resulting in the eventual death of the club.

As we wave a fond farewell to Stuart McCall, we move into a new era and one in which the fight for the very existence of Bradford City AFC is about to begin.

All Together Now

Singing in support of your team has been a traditionally accepted role for all football fans but at City, with the exception of a small but thankfully vociferous and melodious minority, we seem to struggle to fulfil this aspect of our allegiance.

So why don’t we all sing?

Well, to use the musical taunt, it’s a lot easier to “sing when you’re winning” and that is something we haven’t done enough at home this season. But that in itself is nothing like the full story.

Football singing is a community activity but evidence seems to suggest that, despite thousands being there under the banner of “supporter”, the City fan base is a divided community.

For the “critics” having paid the ticket price is support enough and unless success is achieved (instantly?) then booing is the only thing that unites them vocally .It’s the old story of “I’ve paid, it’s my right” and you can’t deny that but calling it support is stretching the interpretation of the word.

The “stoics” are a significant section, maybe even a majority, of City’s support. They applaud effort as well as achievement but try not to get too visibly emotionally involved – disappointments of the past still hurt. Words of encouragement are freely given if occasionally tempered with cries of frustration as the reality of lower league football is accepted for another game/season. Highlights are rare and do elicit vocal, even musical, responses but comments tend to be made in conversation rather than in song.

The main vocal support comes from the “young guns” and thank goodness it comes from somewhere! Without their contribution the place would be eerie indeed. They carry the silent majority in a way that is appreciated by travelling fans far more than the crowds at home.

Each of these groups is full of supporters who would all claim a commitment to the City cause but there is no coordination especially when things aren’t going so well. So why don’t we all sing?

Well, daft as it sounds we need something to sing – not something to sing about, just something to sing. Cast your mind back and see how many of “City’s Greatest Hits” you can recall. What did we sing at Wembley? What did we sing in the Premiership? If it’s not the level of success that raises the level of song then what is it?

My answer may not be scientifically accurate but I believe it lies in the chant “Who are yer!”

For what seemed so long the City squad suffered from rotation. Not the tactical rotation beloved of the rich Premiership managers but the rotation brought about by short term stays and /or commitment of so many players. It is hard to chant a player’s name when he is only with the club on a few months loan. The affinity built up with players such as Michael Proctor and, more recently, Dean Furman, is all too soon broken, often for reasons beyond our control. (The “Deano” chant still rings in my ears.)

The cult (correct spelling) that was Barry Conlon was another case in point and whilst some of the chanting was ironic it did at least unite many fans.

Of the present City staff who among them has their name ringing round the ground? Not one player and yet this team has showed itself more worthy of vocal support than any for a long time. The manager then? Well yes but as debates on this site and vitriol elsewhere have shown for every one chanting “Stuart, Stuart” there seems to be an equivalent number of critics thinking if not calling, “Out,Out”. We are not all together!

So who will take the initiative? Stuart himself has been criticised on this site for using players’ nicknames. Oh for that level of familiarity in the stands! Who then will unite us in vocal support? Who will be our heroes on the pitch and how will we show our appreciation?

Would James Hanson appreciate “Jimmy, Jimmy” as much as Jimmy Quinn? Is there a prospect of “The Mighty Flynn”? Would Luke and James welcome a revival of “O.B., O.B.” ringing round the ground? Would Gareth Evans respond to “EVO, EVO” in a similar way to Deano? Can we as supporters boost the morale and maybe the performances of Zesh, Rambo, Bully and the rest simply by chanting. Whether it’s nicknames, real names, initials it’s worth a try. We need to get behind players as individuals well as the team. If there are no natural “characters” in our side we need to create them. We need to turn youngsters into legends not through irony but through genuine encouragement – dare I say affection!

As a “stoic” I want to sing, I join in chants but they seem to fade before they are established where I sit. I am not interested in abusing the opposing fans – they have their job to do. I am tired of berating referees – it does no good as far as our results go. I want to do my bit for the team.

As for real singing, we don’t need to borrow “HI, HO [insert club name] from Jeff Beck and many other clubs, when we already play “I love the City tonight”. Why not bring it forward. Playing it as the players walk off is too late. Give us the chance to make it work for us not accompany our exit (well the exit of those that have stayed to applaud the players off).If we get it going now Snow Patrol can contribute to our City long after the white stuff has gone.

All together now.

Anger

After the score went to 2-3 yesterday I was disappointed, at 2-4 I felt an emotion I have experienced several times during my active period of support for city. This disappointment and anger was not directed at the team or Stuart, they showed commitment and effort. Rather it was directed at the sizeable proportion of “fans” around me in the Midland Road stand who suddenly remembered that they had something really pressing and important to do and needed to leave the stadium immediately.

What I witnessed at Valley Parade was a game that could have gone either way, it was exciting, tense stuff that did not justify a walk out. It seems to me that a section of our fans don’t really want to support our team. What they want is to sit there comfortably and watch a score board showing the ”right” result.

I am not talking here about blind faith. I have sometimes felt that the team have not given their all and consequently did not deserve to win. This wasn’t the case against Rotherham, they fought and they wanted to achieve.

In conclusion I would like to ask that fans stay until the end of the game and support their team, If they can’t do that then stay away and do their washing, shopping or other essential Saturday afternoon task. I’ve mentioned support a couple of times, that’s what supporters do.

Notes on a Move

There’s been a little consternation over the last week or so about Bradford Council’s much vaunted ‘Sporting Village’ project at Odsal. As we all know this project has been doing the rounds for longer than most can remember, and every so often concerns are raised about Bradford City’s potential involvement. Let us for a moment forget the fact that ‘Odsal Sporting Village’ is as likely to happen as us winning the FA Cup this season and take this situation on both its merits and its drawbacks, because I don’t believe such a move would be the earth shattering event some would predict.

Firstly, as we all know, our beloved Valley Parade is leased back to us for a reportedly silly amount by our Rollercoaster loving ex-chairman. This would be a main facet of any argument which supported our moving home. A satisfying two finger salute and a fresh start; this brings me to the other point which I think would hold weight. The talk this season around the Bantams has been of a start from scratch, a club reborn from the failures of the bloated wage packet and ego brigade from last season. So, why not augment this new breed with a step away? I am by no means saying that we engineer a move away from Valley Parade as soon as possible, but I see no reason other than nostalgia to hold on with a death grip to a home which has not seen success for a long time.

The proposal itself would offer a wonderful arena for both ourselves and our egg-chasing cousins, potentially athletics and much more too, ok, so we would have to share it with others, but we wouldn’t be the only ones in that boat, Wigan Athletic manage it. If we are, as many feel, starting from right at the bottom, then this would give us an opportunity to do so in a new home, perhaps without the trappings of memory and expectation which haunt our current one. Moving stadium does not kill the club, it is us, the fans, who are that lifeblood, and I’m sure you feel the same as me, in that as long as Bradford City AFC exists, I will watch them regardless of what pitch they inhabit, I love the club, not the stadium.

That said, it would always be a wrench to leave, and there would be many thousands who would balk at the thought of leaving, and yes, it is a spiritual home, but there would doubtless be successes at any new ground, and potentially more revenue, without a crippling amount of rent. Tradition is important, but so is making the best of your situation and I, for one, believe a potential move would be a benefit to our club.

Yes, we have had some wonderful moments at Valley Parade, times which none of us will ever forget, David Wetherall with ‘that’ goal, beating Arsenal, Gordon Watson’s brace from the bench! But do you not think Arsenal fans witnessed some fantastic times at Highbury? Middlesbrough at Ayresome Park? Shrewsbury at The Gay Meadow? These memories do not die if the stadium does not remain, but our debt to Gordon Gibb might. However, this is the same council which seems to have created Britain’s biggest building site as a tourist attraction in the city centre, so I won’t hold my breath. For the time being, I will continue to enjoy inhabiting Valley Parade, hopefully it can provide some more happy memories.

Seeking the bald facts of an Odsal move

Recent talk had me thinking about the current situation off and on all day. would it be possible to get to the bald facts on the possible Odsal move without the ever present emotion getting involved as it has had a way of doing so far?

I can but try. Let’s start with each party’s point of view. Why do they want to come to a deal?

Firstly, Bradford Council. Committed to the costly Odsal sports village, part of which involves filling in the existing stadium bowl and building a new ground of only 18,000 capacity (by any yardstick, the smallest new ground envisaged for any major English city) overlooking the site of the original stadium. The scheme is as I’ve said very costly. A look at how the finances might stack up has convinced them that the figures look infinitely better if City can be persuaded on board with the extra income that would generate.

Next Bradford Bulls. Having wanted a new ground for years (some might say decades) they really wished for a rival to the Galpharm at Huddersfield, not only to preserve their super league status but to provide a venue for RL representative matches. This would have involved a new ground capacity of 25,000+.

They will grudgingly accept a 18,000 ground to secure their SL status on the present site and, equally grudgingly, they will accept a ground share with City if it means a lower rent for them at what they will still consider their (new) Odsal home.

Finally, Bradford City. On an ongoing financial knife-edge due to the costs of their Valley Parade home. 1/3 million a year just to play at VP (compare this with Notts County who pay £25,000 a year to play at Meadow lane.) then on top of this City also pay annual rent for the shop/office block. it probably doesn’t all add up to £1million a year but it will still be a crippling total figure.

The benefits? They’re clear enough for the council and Bradford Bulls!

The financial benefit is really the only Pro for City (unless you accept that a ground that is easier for away fans to get to once a year, while at the same time being far more inconvenient for most City fans 23 times at least every year, is a Pro)

There are more Cons for City. the revenue from advertising and the bars and catering franchise would be lost. There would be the major hurdle of negotiating their way out of the existing lease with Mr. Gibb…that won’t come cheap. Over time they would lose support from Baildon, Bingley and up the Aire valley as supporters found it more troublesome and inconvenient to travel to the far side of the city on matchdays. they couldn’t rely on replacing all the lost support from around Odsal for 100 years a rugby stronghold. Even keeping emotion aside, there is also the almost certain outright opposition to the move from fans. Finally there is the capacity. would any club voluntarily move from a 25,000 capacity ground in their major catchment area to a ground of only 18,000 capacity right across the city?

To do this is a tacit admission from the joint chairmen of permanent mediocrity. No more talk of a return to the Premiership ever.

Finally, there are the terms at the new ground. here we have no choice, we are compelled to speculate. Even though City are the bigger professional club, the bulls regard Odsal (even the new ground) as their home. they would not agree a deal which made them 2nd class citizens at Odsal. This being the case, as the bigger club, would City agree a move on terms inferior to the Bulls?

Would City agree to be the junior partners?

The council seems determined not to consider a move the other way…Valley parade could be bought and completed to a capacity of 30,000+….a home for both clubs more in keeping with our big-city status, for far less than the new Odsal stadium outlay and there would indeed be Rugby League representative matches and even the possibility of England under 21 soccer matches at the ground.

Whatever happens It is time their was a City fans forum on this one proposal – the possibility of moving to Odsal. time all the facts were made known by the joint chairmen. Mark Lawn has said that an offer was made to Gordon Gibb to buy back the ground but that he wanted a higher price than City could pay at that time. Let’s have the figures…what did City offer and what did Mr. Gibb want?

There has been too much cloak and dagger already in this whole affair. let the fans have all the facts and the true situation.

Groundsharing at Odsal moves from debate to battle

The Bradford City Supporters Trust holds its AGM this evening, with one especially pensive agenda item up for discussion.

Last February Bradford City revealed it was considering an option to ground share with Rugby League neighbours Bradford Bulls, in a council-backed redevelopment of its Odsal stadium. With the rental payments and running costs of City’s 105-year-old home, Valley Parade, somewhere in the region of just under £1 million per year, the opportunity to be released from expenditure which is potentially holding back the club’s  progress is one difficult for joint chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes to ignore. The time is approaching where the debate moves forward and firm actions need to be taken.

When plans were first mooted for turning the basic Odsal ground into a sporting village, it was easy to dismiss it as fruitless council activity that would ultimately be ruled unworkable. The cost of the project is widely expected to be over £80m, a quarter of which would be provided by the council. In the mist of a UK recession where the affects are more visible within Bradford than many parts of the country – witness the giant hole in the city centre that was supposed to be a shopping complex by now – it’s questionable where the rest of the funding would come from, but the council is said to remain confident of acquiring it. It means that, rather than sit back and wait for the sums to not add up, City fans against their club moving home need to make their voice heard.

Writing in the latest edition of City Gent, BCST Chairman Alan Carling outlines a timetable for council activity which suggests a decision over City’s future could be made by early 2010. A green light would see the Bulls temporarily move to Valley Parade in 2011 while building work on Odsal took place, with both clubs beginning life in the redeveloped Odsal by August 2013. Alan also suggests the Odsal go-ahead is dependent on City’s involvement, as the income streams from only the Bulls make it difficult for investors in the development to receive a desired return.

Not that matters are so simple for City, with the giant question mark of the 20-year Valley Parade lease the club is financially obligated to complete as part of the 2003 deal which saw then-Chairman Gordon Gibb buy up the stadium. Alan speculates two ways the council and City might work around that problem, neither which appear financially desirable. The first is the council buys the stadium from Gibb, thus freeing City from the terms of the lease. The cost of purchase and then demolition of the ground is a poor use of tax payers’ money given the returns from then selling on the land will be far less – and that’s ignoring the sheer ludicrousness of the council buying and demolishing a stadium City want to remain in so they can persuade the club to move elsewhere.

The other suggested option is a strategic City administration, with the idea being the new City owners would be removed from previous financial obligations and be free to leave Gibb with an empty stadium. Whatever is thought of Gibb, this is morally wrong and risky, as the club cannot put itself into administration until it’s about to move over to Odsal, in four years time. Is the business-wise Gibb going to sit back and wait for that to happen? Is the Football League going to allow one of its members to so blatantly get out of financial commitments? Is the council going to devise a sensible business plan on the basis of encouraging a local company to bend the rules?

In his article Alan wrote, “My personal concern is that if the club goes along with the Council’s Odsal plans, we may be venturing into an ethical and practical minefield for the sake of financial gains that are both uncertain and distant. And these anticipated gains are unlikely to be large enough to outweigh the attendant risks, which may include risks to the survival of the club.”

All of which continues to make it difficult to see just how Bradford City and the people of the Bradford district would benefit from the club moving to a redeveloped Osdal, when there is already a suitable venue for the City’s two professional clubs in Valley Parade, achievable to buy for a fraction of the cost. The proposed Odsal Sporting Village is aimed at providing a wider range of sporting facilities, but there is no obvious reason why it couldn’t still be developed to the benefit of local athletes. Training facilities for both City and Bulls could be situated here too.

It would still a disputable use of public money to buy Valley Parade for two commercial organisations, but it could be argued that, by doing so, the space vacated by the Bulls could be developed into an important sporting community focal point that aspiring local athletes can develop from. It would be reasonable for City and Bulls to pay rent to the council and, within Valley Parade, there may also be opportunity to push ahead supporter desires for a return to standing areas.

Of course the prospect of the Bulls moving to Valley Parade is something its supporters are understandably opposed to in the same way City fans don’t want to be moved to Odsal, but is their discomfort more important than ours and is it justification enough to unnecessarily spend millions of pounds? Even allowing for the hindrance of claret and amber-tinted spectacles, I find it difficult to see the logic in the whole proposal.

But those with the power to make it happen clearly do see something, and tonight BCST will discuss how City supporters can make their voices heard. There are suggestions the club is taking an increasingly-dismissive view of the Trust’s power and influence, largely due to its membership size, but whether members or non-members all City fans opposed to the Odsal plans should be considering how they can support the Trust in leading the fight. It has been suggested the club will hold a referendum with all supporters before any final decision is made, but is it enough to sit back and wait for a voting slip to appear?

The biggest concern over the decision to stay or leave Valley Parade is that assumptions and apathy might come to be later regretted.

*The BCST AGM is being held at Bradford Irish Club from 7.30pm tonight.

So Mark Lawn was wrong – now what?

Leeds United has accepted an offer from Aston Villa for highly-rated teenager Fabian Delph, a player whom Bradford City have a reported 12% interest in. It means that Mark Lawn, who had revealed at last month’s Fans Forum he couldn’t see Delph leaving this summer as Leeds were asking for too much, will be delighted at being proved wrong.

The transfer fee has yet to be made public, but disappointingly for City it looks set to be less than it might have been. A statement on the Leeds United’s website thanks Villa “for the manner they conducted their interest  in the player” and adds of the approved bid, “we had no intention of going back on that.” Clearly Ken Bates, a man of principles when it suits him, is upset at how Man City have conducted their business.

With add-ons and clauses expected to form part of the accepted offer, it looks as though the fee will fall some way short of the £10 million that  Man City were reportedly offering. With Spurs also interested, it appears Leeds had the power to instigate a bidding war that could have seen the transfer fee go past such a figure. Bates is obviously content to cut off his nose to spite his face, so it means City will receive less than they might have.

But receive something they will and, at the forum, Mark Lawn confirmed that, should it reach a certain amount, Stuart McCall will have some budget for an extra loan signing. Five days before the start of the season and with that number four-shaped headache remaining, this will come as welcome news for the manager. Yet given the fee may still end up far more than Lawn had predicted (it’s rumoured two weeks ago Villa had made a £4 million bid which was rejected which may have been along the lines City were expecting Delph to leave for, it may be double that now) it could be that City have a bigger windfall than they dared hoped.

Much has been made of the fact Lawn and Julian Rhodes had budgeted for the sale of Delph last season or gaining promotion, failure on both counts resulted in Lawn putting money in to cover the losses and a radically reduced wage budget this season. While it’s right the Delph windfall goes towards sorting out some of those issues, should the mistaken assumption City would have received it last season act as a reminder of focusing on the long term picture?

The club has budgeted for Delph to remain at Leeds this season (he was on a four year contract), but instead of just throwing this now unexpected bonus on a couple of extra players, could it better used towards the greater good of the club? Lawn attempted to buy Valley Parade last season only to be quoted an inflated price by Gordon Gibb. While no one would want to make the former Chairman richer, could this extra money help to reach some form of compromise?

Of course a significant number of fans will want the money spent on the here and now, with the worry remaining that the affects of a reduced budget are yet to be seen. If City struggle in midtable this season and the money goes towards getting Valley Parade back, will Lawn and Rhodes be criticised or can another season of mediocrity be accepted if the club’s home is secured? Or should we again gamble on promotion and the difference more investment could make, assuming money to buy Valley Parade will increase with the elevation up the leagues or the option of Odsal?

City’s bank balance is set to look much healthier over the next few days, but there are some big considerations to be made.

City pay the rent to Gibb who refuses to sell

Another year, another payment of the rent once dubbed “peppercorn” on Valley Parade to our former chairman Gordon Gibb.

Gibb’s connection with Bradford City goes back seven or eight years to when he rode in white knight style to save the club from Geoffrey Richmond. Gibb fell out with Julian Rhodes, made big noises about City being able to play at the ground he ended up owing but once described rather distastefully as worthless and retreated to his position of angry landlord.

Last year he put the prices up as is his right in the contract. They stay at this higher rate this year and the club look at its options.

Mark Lawn has revealed talks to buy Valley Parade back from Gibb which faulted because of Gibb’s demands to be paid more for the ground than he paid. Again some would say this is his right as owner of the asset.

BfB attracted some criticism for labelling Gibb “a cretin” recently and some was deserved – it is insensitive – but the comments heard back of “that is offensive to Cretins” is typical of the attitude towards City’s landlord amongst some groups of supporters.

Others though look at the situation and declare that Gibb is simply acting within his rights as landlord. Gibb breaks no laws when dealing with Valley Parade and let no one say he does.

However let no one say that Gibb has acted in a way that is in keeping with good football governance and maintaining the future of football clubs in communities like Bradford. How often though are the ethics of Gibb’s owning Valley Parade looked at?

The former chairman bought the ground when City needed money to pay the bills that were mounting at the club. Gibb paid £2.5m for Valley Parade giving the club, along with a sale of the offices to a second investor, £5m to stave off administration which happened anyway due in no small part down to the tax Bradford City had to pay on the lifeline £5m that it is said the chairman “didn’t realise would need to be paid”.

City needed £5m and got £4m – so it is said – and we all remember the results. We all remember fans earning £500,000 to keep the club going and the administrator being forced to wave the same amount. Half a million Gibb The Chairman failed to get when selling the ground to Gibb The Landlord.

Which raises questions as to the deal made between Gibb’s two roles at the club. One has to wonder how many other parties were invited to make an offer for Valley Parade, if any? One has to wonder how and to whom Gibb’s offer was made? The spin on the deal was that the sale of our single most valuable asset had secured the future of the clud but nothing could be further from the truth with administration a year away only then and disproportionate rent now a millstone for a business that struggles now.

Gibb is seen as someone who got involved and got pushed out ending with the rough end of the stick and out of pocket and now holds assets haplessly and with the malice of a wrong child but perhaps that is an unfair assessment of his business acumen.

He took over a football club which was in financial trouble and managed to end up owning the biggest asset which he bought for less than it is worth – or at least less than he thinks it is worth when talking to Mark Lawn – and did so under the claim that he was saving the club.

Perhaps one hopes that Gibb is a “cretin” because the alternative is – while legally above board – a damning state of affairs which could be put alongside the Luton Towns, the Wimbledon’s/Milton Keynes Dons and York Citys of recent football history.

Chairman buys clubs and sells the assets to himself before leaving. It is not uncommon in the world of football but how many people inside the community of Bradford City let alone in the wider footballing world see it as so?

To put it in context Gibb ended up with the Valley Parade, Geoffrey Richmond ended up being declared bankrupt yet when articles are written on the decline of the club Richmond’s name figures often and Gibb’s hardly at all.

What should happen next – Bradford City vs Aldershot Town – League Two 2008/2009

It’s March, which in recent years for City fans has meant either anxiety over surviving relegation or disappointment at having nothing to play for.

It’s been exactly 10 years since credible promotion hopes have lasted this long into a campaign and there’s a sense of excitement at what might lie ahead. City welcome Aldershot to Valley Parade tomorrow and then travel to promotion rivals Rochdale and Exeter a few days later. It’s time for our bums, to quote Sir Alex Ferguson, to start squeaking.

Credit for what the management and players have achieved so far this season is often in limited supply from some quarters, but they have delivered more than other recent City teams in getting this far. Though there is perhaps one mental block that it’s still questionable they’ve overcome this season which will be put to the ultimate test tomorrow – the comfortable home win.

City should win tomorrow, although should is a dangerous word. In our first season out of the Premiership we should have beaten Stockport, Millwall and Sheff Wed at Valley Parade. We should have earned home victories over Gillingham and Walsall in 2002/03, Derby and Rotherham 2003/04, Torquay in 2004/05, Bournemouth in 2005/06, Northampton 2006/07 and Accrington 2007/08 – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. When we should win, we invariably slip up and it’s such habits which could be looked back on with regret if promotion is not achieved come May.

City’s home record is much better this season and only Bournemouth have taken maximum points, though that was a game we should have won. There have also been draws with Luton, Barnet, Dagenham and Accrington which the team and us supporters went into confident we should win. Aldershot may have a woeful away record and go into their March with nothing to play for, but they should not be taken lightly as any points dropped by City would undermine whatever’s achieved in Lancashire and Devon next week.

After a much-needed and well deserved win over Macclesfield Tuesday, manager Stuart McCall will have a more confident squad to choose from and is likely to keep it similar. The biggest question lies up front with Peter Thorne rested and now vying for a recall and Stuart debating whether to hold him back for Tuesday. Barry Conlon came in and had his best game for some time while Michael Boulding was much improved after his frankly pathetic showing at Notts County. One may drop to the bench and the other may face that prospect a few days later.

In midfield the partnership of Nicky Law and Dean Furman did more than most to earn the Macclesfield win and both are a joy to watch at present. Furman has revealed his celebration for Tuesday’s winner was dedicated to the injured Omar Daley which is not what you might typically expect from a loan player, it also seems to go against rumours of dressing room unrest which have been circulating.

Steve Jones frustrates me for his less-than-committed attitude and it will take a while to forget the disgraceful manner he left Zesh Rehman to be slaughtered by Myles Weston at Meadow Lane last week. He is popular with some fans and can be excellent when he wants to be, but his style of running down blind alleys and woeful crossing is a little too reminiscent of Ben Murihead 2003 for my liking. He will keep his place on the left with Joe Colbeck continuing to find form and fitness on the right. The flurry of games over the next fortnight make it a good time for Chris Brandon to be almost back as it may prove too much for last season’s player of the season to start them all.

The defence should continue as they were. On Tuesday Graeme Lee appeared to be the target of the boo boys with previous victims Matt Clarke and Paul Arnison passed over, probably due to how well they both played. Such ‘support’ has yet to be directed towards Luke O’Brien, who was much better after a slight wobble of late. Rhys Evans keeps goal and will be proud of a home record that has seen him beaten only once – a deflected free kick – between the sticks at BD8 in nine games.

Aldershot seem to be enjoying the kind of season newly-promoted teams regularly enjoy in starting well before drifting off towards the end. They’ve won one in 11 and none on the road since November, although did cause Gillingham a few problems recently when they drew 4-4 at the Priestfield. They also inflicted City’s first defeat of the season back in August.

Which means there is that usual danger lurking behind thinking City should win tomorrow. We’ll turn up that bit more relaxed, get behind the team that bit less and get frustrated that bit sooner. A home win wouldn’t be earth shattering but, though we’re not used to games meaning something in this way come Spring, we shouldn’t forget that picking up maximum points as often as possible is what’s vital at this stage – whether it’s a fixture we should or shouldn’t win.

All heart

It’s at moments such as these – with the clock showing 10 minutes to go, with the chant “City till I die’ emanating from all four sides and with those who run the club having put the books to one side to join 12,689 people in watching City ultimately triumph 1-0 over promotion rivals Wycombe – that you wonder why we’re even bothering to consider leaving Valley Parade at all.

This was an afternoon where I hope I wasn’t the only person to feel the hairs on the back of his/her neck stand up through been part of such a superb atmosphere. City have won a corner and I look fondly over to fans in the Kop climb out of their seats to help suck the ball into the net. Behind the opposite goal, supporters in the Bradford End are keeping up their non-stop chanting efforts which began before kick off. The final whistle was met with huge cheers and triumphant home players hugged each other. An important three points, a potentially pivotal moment of the season, another special afternoon in our home.

Sure I’m being sentimental and romantic, but then it is Valentines Day so why not? Of course the fantastic atmosphere could be replicated – who knows even bettered – in another ground a few miles up the hill. But just like our Claret and Amber colours, fanatical supporters who will even come to the game on their wedding day (hope you didn’t miss that at half time!) and players who aren’t the greatest but who we love in our own way – Valley Parade is a much a part of the Bradford City experience. We need to use our heads when considering the potential move, but yesterday we got to follow our hearts.

Heart that was apparent on the pitch too as both City and Wycombe gave their all to produce an absorbing contest. With Brentford, Bury and Rochdale all expected to and managing to win their games, for City this win was for self-preservation purposes in their interest of a top three finish. They started in the same confident manner which has characterised their previous two victories with Omar Daley and Steve Jones stretching Wycombe down the flanks and Dean Furman and Nicky Law again pulling the strings in the middle. Both look too good for this level with Law’s vision and ability to produce killer passes a huge asset and arguably something City have not had in their armoury since the manager himself was out on the pitch.

Wycombe, who lost central defender Mike Williamson to Watford in the transfer window, defended deeply but struggled to deal with crosses from which City came close to scoring a few times. Matt Clarke should have done better with a header from a corner and Peter Thorne – captain for the day – headed wide, Law’s long range shot was deflected wide and a Wycombe defender almost turned one cross into his own net.

Yet the Chairboys, who until Tuesday had led the table since November, got back into the game and showed what a good side they are. Their movement off the ball when on the attack was impressive with players marking late runs from deep and in the centre Tom Docherty was excelling by playing deep and pinging some probing passes forward. Furman excellently cleared off the line from striker Jon-Paul Pittman’s header, Matt Harrold air-kicked a great chance after which Matt Bloomfield wastefully fired wide and Chris Zebroski’s overhead kick attempt sailed narrowly over.

Arguably against the run of play, City struck the all important goal just before half time. It was yet another example of the devastating football this team can produce. First Jones did well to win possession before being tripped after releasing it to Furman. Referee Carl Boyeson allowed advantage and the ball was with Law to charge over half way. His pass to Daley lacked pace, but the Jamaican beat his man and cut inside before squaring to Luke O’Brien. The full back’s cross was intended for Michael Boulding but squirmed through to Thorne who beautifully laid off the ball to Jones to fire home on the half volley.

It continued to be end-to-end stuff in the second half with Wycombe inserting strong pressure in the early stages and Rhys Evans having to make some good saves. The defence in front of him was lacking their usual leader Graeme Lee and Zesh Rehman, switched over from left-back, struggled a little with his ball control though was generally solid. Clarke was outstanding and seemed to revel in the more senior responsibility while Paul Arnison’s performance could be best illustrated by the fact the usual full-back ‘experts’ in the crowd weren’t on his back. The clean sheet they would go onto earn was a seventh in ten games and only Evans and Clarke have figured in all of those; something which Clarke’s army of critics, who seem to be ignoring his recent upturn in form, might want to mull over.

Boyeson’s bizarre style of refereeing took more centre stage in the second half. He let a series of fouls from both sides go and at one stage left the impression he’d forgotten his cards – Arnison should have been booked – while displaying an anal-like determination to ensure all throw ins were taken from exactly the right spot. Frustration of the officials and from losing seemed to get the better of Wycombe players who began to self-destruct with a series of poor challenges. None more so than Docherty, who’s coolness in the first half had given way to recklessness and who should have been booked long before he eventually was.

Boiling point was reached after Zebroski’s ludicrous high challenge on Clarke which saw boot connect with face. The red card was quickly issued and the final 12 minutes were that little bit more comfortable for City. A second goal might have come before that with Boulding volleying over, but in the final stages Law and substitute Joe Colbeck went agonisingly close to ensuring Wycombe would not be able to produce a sucker punch at the other end.

It was close, but City just about edged the game and three wins in a row provide great confidence ahead of another vital encounter on Tuesday. The team is finding form in all areas – Thorne for example was outstanding leading the line and contributed more than he usually seems to – and one only has to look at who can’t get in the team to see how well the players in it are doing. Lee will presumably join Paul McLaren, Lee Bullock, Barry Conlon and Colbeck on the bench Tuesday with the clear message to those on the field that they must keep producing.

Or should Lee go back in and Arnison be dropped? Should Colbeck start on Tuesday and Daley be rested? Yesterday conversations on such matters will have filled the air instead of whether to pack up and do this all someplace else. Maybe we’re on the final chapter of Valley Parade’s history and such occasions will shortly be over, though as we listened to the radio on the journey home we heard of renewed hope that a deal to buy Valley Parade might be reached.

It was good timing, for yesterday at least the head had no chance of winning over the heart.

Back to the field of play – Bradford City vs Wycombe Wanderers League Two Preview

Much has happened since last Bradford City walked the grass of Valley Parade in the 2-0 win over Grimsby Town.

The Darlington game bit the dust – or the snow if you will – and City had to wait a week before recording an impressive 2-0 at Gillingham leaving people talking about promotion prospects again until distraction came in the news that the Bantams seem unable to find a replacement for Bradford and Bingley who will not be sponsoring the club next season and are able to find a replacement for VP in the shape of an Odsal Sporting Village after revealing that it cost £1.2m to play at home a year. The game with former league leaders Wycombe Wanderers seems small beer in context.

The move from Valley Parade will be debated elsewhere and is surely one of the most serious in the club’s history dwarfing the problems with sponsorship which have effected many clubs in football and seen Mark Lawn effectively begging the businesses of Bradford for the £60,000 asked for by Friday afternoon that would assure the shirts that went to the manufactures could feature something emblazoned upon them.

City have handled the sponsorship situation poorly. Bradford and Bingley’s problems were there for all to see and the assumption could have been made that they would not renew a long time ago. In that situation City could go looking for a backer on the quiet and – if one were not found – do as Aston Villa and Barcelona do and hand the ten square inch of real estate on the front of the shirt over to charity. Either that or decide that it was to be left blank claiming this was a deliberate decision as Leicester City have done.

The scrambling for cash from anyone who will give it and the naming of a base price the Bantams will accept serves to cheapen the product when interest in sponsorship picks up. £60,000 of sponsorship equates to two Sky TV games – an interesting piece of information that casts a different light on City’s attempts to get the Darlington game on – and illustrates the rather random nature of football finances at this level.

The Darlington game takes place on Tuesday night and promises to be equally as tough as the visit of Peter Taylor’s Wycombe Wanderers. The Chairboys were top – taking over from City in November – until the middle of this week but the two games in hand they have over Brentford, who went level on points with them, suggest they may return to summit. Nevertheless when they do get to play Taylor’s side are not in the greatest of form with recent draws with Macclesfield, Exeter City and Luton Town being coupled with defeats to Grimsby Town and at AFC Bournemouth and arguabily the Bantams are playing them at the right time.

Stuart McCall goes into the game with a grumbling keeper Rhys Evans wanting a new deal – he has earned one but timing is everything and Evans’s comments in public are ship rocking – but in good form. City concede few and are building another run of clean sheets with Evans not picking the ball out of the net for the last 180 minutes. Much of this is down to adding a third commanding aerial figure in recent weeks in the form of Zesh Rehman who will most likely switch to the central defensive role to cover Graeme Lee who is suspended. Matthew Clarke will partner and Luke O’Brien will hope to have recovered to play left back with Paul Arnison on the right.

The midfield of Nicky Law Jnr and Dean Furman seems set in stone although Paul McLaren’s set plays are missed greatly when he is not included and the Bantam number four would be in my starting eleven as would Joe Colbeck who builds up match fitness to the point where he seems as if he will explode. Steve Jones on the right hand side will make way for him this game or next. Omar Daley continues on the left and McCall tells us that we should not be so negative about him, which is strange because we are not and perhaps someone should tell City’s players and management to spend less time fixating on criticism or at least balance it up against the praise.

I illustrate this with the fact that BfB got a ratio of 3:1 in comments in support of Daley during the week so ending that week with a spirited defence of the player is – perhaps – giving undue credence to one side of the debate.

Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding continue up front.

The Odsal debate calls for steady debate in the conflict of hearts and heads

In football, as with any love, decisions are often made by not by a valuation of the choices but of the criteria which those choices are assessed by.

We know the merits of two sides of an argument but we evaluate the weight of those merits. We know that Omar Daley makes some poor decisions and be frustrating but also that he can scream through defences and can score breathtaking goals. Our decision is not on if a series of things occur but rather how important those things are to us when weighed against each other. In a way we do that when we declare our allegiance. We know wins are more likely watching Manchester United but we feel more connected to Bradford City and the feeling is more important than the knowledge.

These decisions are the interplay between the heart and the head, between logic and the soul, and they are the very core of why we follow the clubs we do, marry the people we marry, live the lives we lead.

So it is in this context that we frame the notion of moving Bradford City to the Odsal Sporting Village in the medium to long term.

The arguments are simple. In the white, black and red corner there is the idea that City pay out £1.2m a year to play at a stadium owned by a hostile landlord in a part of town that has problems and few amenities in the half mile around the stadium for fans while the players train at a school playing field five miles away from the stadium and its offices. In the claret and amber corner is the fact that Valley Parade is – as Jason so eloquently points out – our home, our memorial and our history at a ground that is connected to the community the club serves and is one of the finer stadiums in the country out of keeping with our lowly league position as anyone who went to Accrington Stanley would tell you while Odsal is a bowl away from the City Centre where one would turn up, watch and go home.

We all know the arguments and could probably throw a few more onto the pile. Perhaps we could even add further corner or two to the debate. I warm to the idea of creating a ground within the City Centre if it were possible and others have talked about new locations in the Aire Valley. The options are plentiful for discussion.

Nevertheless those options will always return to this same decision making process. The head vs the heart and how important one is compared to the other. Is it more important to give the players decent training facilities than it is to play near The Fighting Cock? Is it more important to have strong links to a community or to a motorway network? Is it more important for Bradford City to be at the physical location where our supporters died or is it more important – even as a tribute – to do what (would seem, and one assumes is designed to) move the club forward?

The weight of one over the other keeps me awake at night and this is a time for clarity. In this debate – a significant debate on the future of the club – that clarity needs to come from an honest and frank assessment of the two options involved rather than the sloganeering and ad hominemisms vs silence and high handedness which has marked BORG and the authorities in the debate over the Bradford Odeon.

Perhaps it is not too much to ask for two sides of an argument presented and positive without attack on the other and a good debate followed by a ballot of season ticket holders to decide this issue. The future of club’s under the elite level in football is in engaging supporters then – on this the largest question of all – the club need to engage now.

Should they engage then the onus falls on us – the City supporters – to hold that debate appropriately.

It’s our home

Whenever you start to believe that the financial problems which have blighted Bradford City during the last eight years are behind us, you remember about Valley Parade.

It was presented as good news when City’s stadium was bought by then-Chairman Gordon Gibb in the summer of 2003, because it got the pressure of a mortgage lender owed millions of pounds off our back. Sure, the owner’s pension fund held the ground’s deeds rather than the club, but no one was going to repossess and kick us out of it. We had a Chairman committed to a bright new future who was creating headlines by offering City’s then-squad a seven figure bonus if promotion to the Premiership could be achieved in the season ahead.

Not even six months later the new dawn had given away to dark clouds. Gibb left and a mud-slinging battle with the Rhodes’ ensued which threatened to spell the end of a club which was supposed to be celebrating its centenary. In July 2004 it looked like it really was over, but an 11th hour peace-deal was eventually brokered between the man who held the keys to the stadium and the family who held the keys to the club’s future. City carried on, but with hefty rent payments to meet from their no-longer friendly landlord.

When Mark Lawn was quizzed about the stadium ownership at the fans forum last year he spoke of attempts to buy back the stadium been met with an uninterested response from Gibb, who was apparently enjoying the money. Reports today suggest Gibb never received a formal approach. For sure there seems to be no threat of Gibb evicting City to build luxury flats in the near future, the credit crunch if nothing else has seen to that. But like for many people renting is not ideal, sees much-needed money sucked down a black hole and there persists a feeling that your home is never truly your own. I doubt City are allowed to redecorate, or keep pets.

Reports are circulating today that City are considering moving to play at Odsal when it is redeveloped. When should really be if because for years we’ve heard fanciful talk of a super stadium springing up on Odsal top and it seems no closer than ever. Maybe this time it’s different, maybe one day pigs really will learn to fly.

Who knows how true the reports of City’s interest really are, but they are certain to worry Gibb. Valley Parade is in far from the most beautiful of locations and there is no sporting team who’d be willing to move in and pay equivalent rent payments. The credit crunch makes it a foolish time to plan building flats on the site instead and, even when the economy returns to normal, who’s going to buy a high-rise pad overlooking the sex shops of Manningham Lane?

Perhaps that’s the point of these stories, a whiff that the Bradford City gravy train might be departing up the road surely weakens Gibb’s position at the bargaining table. Maybe City just want to force him into negotiation over rent payments or ownership.

As for the prospect of moving away from Valley Parade, it’s clearly an emotive subject for all fans. Personally I’d scream no, but if the rent payments from staying are so significant they can seriously hamper future progress then sacrificing tradition must at least be considered. I hate seeing these pop-up grounds like at Doncaster which have no character, and if that’s what a ‘community stadium’ in Bradford might look like then the pleasure of going to watch my team will be less.

But for me the efforts which have been undertaken during the last couple of years must continue. The Bradford City Supporters Trust has done much to lobby the Council to be more even-handed in its support of the district’s two largest professional clubs and it must continue. Sure I’m biased when I believe the Council should help more, but I don’t think tax-payers’ should subsidise what is ultimately a business – just for some equality with Bradford Bulls.

The credit crunch means less bank managers are going to be prepared to loan Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes the money to make Gibb an offer, but is a solution to suit both parties possible? Can’t the deal be restructured, for example, so that City’s rent payments become repayments and eventually Gibb receives back what he originally paid, plus interest, and we take back what belongs to us.

Maybe that’s naive, but at the very least good relations with Gibb must be built. There is probably still anger there between the Gibb and Rhodes families – but this isn’t just about boardrooms, it’s about 12,000+ people who watch Bradford City play every other fortnight from whom Valley Parade is home. We’ve been coming to our gaff for years and we even redecorated it before Gibb came along. It’s a place we expect to keep coming to for a long time, and then for our children to bring their children to.

Moving to Odsal might seem a tempting option, but let’s not give up on our home just yet.

The worst news of pre-season is that we have to deal with Gibb

Everything was going right. Everything seemed to be going Citys way until the money men at Valley Parade started talking.

Almost everything that they said we great. City are making money just about but they will lose some next season as we go for promotion.

The money for selling Dean Windass and him getting promoted at Hull has helped but no one ever gets into football to get rich so Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes don’t expect to make a fortune. Football is a fan’s game for them and you don’t get rich doing that.

Or do you?

Because the worst news of pre-season came when the “landlord of Valley Parade” which is Julian Rhodes code for “that twerp at Flamingo Land Gordon Gibb” got paid. Not only did he get paid but we also found out that he had a freeze on the rent for five years and now the **** can ramp up the rent.

This is the pepper corn rent he talked about when he had the club sell Valley Parade to him. Pepper corn rent? If he told you it was raining you’d go out to get wet just to check.

He is getting rich off of us and thanks to a deal which is very shady. How much money did City get from the £2.5m sale of Valley Parade and why sell it if we were going into Administration not that long after?

We can’t trust him. We need to be rid of him.

Mark Lawn, Bradford Council, Someone wanting to be a third partner in City, need to get some money together and get our ground back from that man.

Because the worst news of pre-season is that we still have to deal with the chairman from our past.

The pressure cooker

It had been a dreadful first half performance, of that no one could argue.

Trailing 1-0, poor in possession, uncertain at the back and limited going forward, City didn’t appear to have the desire of a Mansfield team fighting for their lives. Perhaps most worrying, some players appeared to be hiding; giving the ball to others when they could have taken the initiative and hoping someone else would get City back in the game. Then just as the game moved into injury time Paul Heckingbottom fired over a free kick and Barry Conlon headed home the equaliser.

To the players it must have been a great relief; they’d failed to do themselves justice but could now put it right having got back level. It’s often said the best time to score is just before half time and how those visiting players’ fragile confidence must be rocking at seeing their good work undone. Roll on the second half, our players must have been thinking.

Then the half time whistle blew and boos rang out from the three home stands. Whatever psychological advantage City held was gone. Instead of going in on a high they were bluntly reminded of their failings. If Mansfield players had begun fearing the worst they were given a loud reminder of just how well they’d done. Instead of looking forward to coming out for the second half and putting right their wrongs, home players probably feared leaving the warmer confines of the dressing room. Soon after half time City fall behind and ultimately the game is lost.

We can criticise the players and consider it shameful they’re underperforming, but their League Two counterparts don’t have to face such a level of hostile abuse from their own crowd and it’s painfully obvious our players are, at best, average players for this level.

I wouldn’t disagree that the players deserved to be booed off at half time, but I don’t understand how anyone thinks it helps them. There was a lot wrong with City’s first half display and the players must have realised that, but there was no doubt Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs would be telling them so. We all wanted City to win but, while the players let the club down, wouldn’t warm applause and cries of “come on City” have being a better confidence boost as they trudged off for the interval, rather than loud boos ringing in their ears?

The booing culture is nothing new at Valley Parade of course and the dismal football we’ve largely endured in recent years has understandably resulted in low patience, but as City enjoy the biggest crowds in this division you wonder what sort of advantage it really gives us. It must be fantastic playing in front of a five figure crowd when they’re right behind you, but when things go wrong and the booing starts it must be very difficult. We can criticise the players and consider it shameful they’re underperforming, but their League Two counterparts don’t have to face such a level of hostile abuse from their own crowd and it’s painfully obvious our players are, at best, average players for this level.

Are our players scared to play at Valley Parade? Four defeats in the last five home games suggest that’s the case. During that same period there have been three wins from four on the road. Our midweek kick offs have seen some superb atmospheres but on Saturday afternoons the place can be too quiet with the opposition fans making all the noise. Just at the players are guilty of failing to set their own tempo, surely we supporters should be getting behind the players better?

When I look back on the home games this season the Peterborough win in September really sticks out. Not because Mark Bower’s second half header helped City climb to a season-best seventh position, but the fact the players were booed off at half time that afternoon. The score was 0-0 and, while Peterborough had dominated possession, they’d barely created a chance. I was stunned at the booing and looking at where Peterborough are now makes it even more incredible. Peterborough were a good side, but we weren’t playing that badly and went on to win the game. The reaction of the fans in booing the team off at the interval that day probably epitomises the pressure those wearing Claret and Amber have had to cope with all season.

But what’s the solution? Next season we’re dreaming of 20,000+ attendences, which some Premiership and Championship clubs can’t even manage. Yet we won’t be signing many players used to playing in front of such large crowds and we can only hope they can cope much better with the expectations and pressure than this season’s lot have managed.

I’d love to think that we fans could better our attitude and make the huge crowds more of an advantage, but the fall out and huge level of criticism over the last couple of days shows it’s unlikely. We now have a small percentage of fans who would actually be happy if Stuart was sacked tomorrow. That won’t happen and he will get the opportunity to build a better team for next season, but what happens if we then experience another slow start? The pressure and level of booing is probably only going to get worse. True it might be directed more at the management than the new players, but what will they think if they hear their manager, a supposed legend at this club, barracked by fans who claim to worship him?

In some ways it’s good there was little riding on the Mansfield defeat and I’d like to think such a reaction wouldn’t have occurred if City were in contention for promotion and struggling during a home game, though I’m not so sure.

Boo

Two things. Thing number one: Very little could not have been better about Bradford City’s 1-0 defeat at home to Wycombe Wanderers.

The refereeing was appalling – if the standard set with Omar Daley’s fifth minute booking had held through the game then the match would have ended with eighteen players on the field – as was City’s defending for the goal of the game although anyone looking to blame Donovan Ricketts is very generous to the back four that dropped so far back into the six yard box that the keeper was amongst them rather than behind them.

Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu’s header in the opening minutes from Tom Harban’s cross should have been better executed – free headers in the six yard box are not to be wasted – as should Omar Daley’s dribble and shot although Stuart McCall was rightly incensed by the Referee’s refusal to give a corner as the man in black seemed set to give Daley nothing all day long.

The creativity City showed was poor. If City have played well then Eddie Johnson has completed many passes. If we have been bad then Johnson gets the ball in midfield and the likes of Daley, Ndumbu-Nsungu, Peter Thorne and Kyle Nix are all hidden or have run off behind defenders as if the ball cold be spirited to them rather than passed over a short distance well. If Johnson is looking to make killer balls to find a man – and he was forced to – then the forward players are not making themselves targets well enough.

City failed to test the Wycombe keeper seriously until a Paul Heckingbottom free kick late on although two or three good shouts for penalties were obviously turned down cause – well – they always are aren’t they? Searching for penalties is always the sign of a bad display.

It was a bad display. Very little that could not have been improved on in some way.

Thing two: Very little that would not be better without the stream of barracking and booing that has plagued City for years and still does. Half time and the Bantams are booed and those who do applaud effort are barracked, Donovan Ricketts is ironically cheered for fielding the ball, Barry Conlon is booed when he comes on although why I have no idea, full time and City are booed once more and while the performance was not good it is hard to see that being rectified with jeering.

It is just this simple. This is the last chance for Bradford City. Mark Lawn, Stuart McCall et al. Last chance. If we do not make a go of this then the club – which having seen the books myself I can guarantee you has been dangerously close to closing about a half dozen times in the last three or four years – will go out of existence.

Atmosphere? Getting behind the team? Trying to raise the players? These are not options any more if we want a club. Everyone has a right to an opinion I’m told as a justification for the kind of barracking that has plagued City for years now and if that is true then this is mine. This club is on it’s knees and rather than trying to help us get back up there is a not insignificant section of the Valley Parade “support” who want to hack those knees away.

Very little at Valley Parade would not be improved if those people found something else to do with their Saturdays.

The Future Is A Kind Of Vague Reddish Yellow Colour

There is a school of thought on message boards and forums that has it that Gordon Gibb is preparing to ride to the rescue of Bradford City with a huge financial investment which would see him take control of the club to protect his asset – Valley Parade – and catapult the team back to glory.

Frankly I wish I had some of what those people are drinking. Gordon Gibb is not the white knight riding to our rescue. In fact Gordon Gibb would not know one side of a white horse from the other and the investment he has in Valley Parade is as much his sister’s as his and belongs to a pension fund.

Nevertheless BfB understands that some kind of investment is coming and coming soon. Julian Rhodes has been in talks with a guy with a bob or two and the upshot would seem to be that his time as the man holding the weight of Bradford City on his own may be coming to an end. I doubt the phrase White Knight should be used – should it ever be applied to someone preparing for the thankless task of football ownership – but maybe Knighthood is a good metaphor to use.

For a long time Bradford City – as a whole rather than a group of directors or owners – have operated a kind of Quixotic belief that the club would flourish on the basis of a couple of decisions taken in popularist ways. For the La Mancha windmills read the managers of Valley Parade. Each one slain would prove something, would right some wrong, but never did.

In League Two we face up to reality and that reality is that any investment in the club from another owner needs to be matched by a reality check around the ground. I’ve spoken too long about atmosphere and development of players in that environment, about expectations and setting them to reasonable levels and about good old fashioned get behind the lads support. I honestly believe that without these things being addressed then money into City is wasted. I honestly believe that a very good start addressing these would be to appoint Stuart McCall.

It is a commonly held belief that McCall would have become City manager had we not been relegated this season and from what BfB understand this is the case but McCall has issued no comments rather than denials and – as he faces up to trying to keep Sheffield United in the Premiership as assistant tomorrow afternoon – is torn between his head which tells him to coach at The Blades until a top two divisions job comes up or follow his heart back to Valley Parade.

For inspiration perhaps McCall will look ten years to his left tomorrow to Paul Jewell who took City and Wigan and made his own Premiership clubs. Had Jewell not taken brave decisions with his career then he would not be considered the manager he is today. League Two to anywhere is a huge ask but City need McCall and he knows it but without him City’s future looks bleak.

McCall’s thinking time has the same clock as the investment and Julian Rhodes’s desire to announce a new manager – read into that what you will – and those who are in the know say that it is not as cut and dried as he won’t come cause we went down and in situations such as these the murkiness of uncertainty is better than assured defeat.

So It Has Come To This

I’m still not really sure how this happened this relegation thing.

I remember having an argument with a few people about how City were going to grind away to mid-table mediocrity under Colin Todd and I was saying that we should give the guy time cause he was doing a good job just having us in League One and then I was told that sacking him we could get promoted.

It was like a promise that getting rid of Todd would make things better. Someone must have believed it. I wish this was me being wise after the event but I said it at the time.

I remember that we had a guy up front called Dean Windass who could do some stupid stuff but was the best striker in the league and people were telling me we shouldn’t play him to teach him a lesson or punish him for getting sent off and then someone said he should not even play for us again and now it looks like he won’t.

I’m pretty sure that things were not perfect and that basically things have been wrong at City since Richmond’s summer of madness but it struck me on Saturday that this club has a load of problems caused by Richmond and a load of problems caused by the way that big football screws over little football and a lot of problems caused by rubbish refereeing but we also had a load of problems caused by us.

The booing, the insisting that the gaffer is sacked, the guys who pick on one player be it Deano or Ben Parker or Billy Paynter or anyone, the mood at VP that is so negative. All stopping people coming to Valley Parade. All real problems.

So I remembered that City had loads of problems outside the camp and then it struck me as I watched half a team playing out the end of League One football that we should sort out the problems inside the ground and inside us fans first.

Thumbs Down

It seems to me that booing is the new cheering. I’m old fashioned and I remember a time when a supporter would make good on the term and shout words of encouragement from the sidelines with the hope that a passing player may be effected. Of course I have no idea if whailing “Skin ’em Johnny” to Hendrie caused the dominative Scot to make that one final but perhaps decisive run past a defender or not – one doubts his plan was to do anything else – but I like to feel that he felt inspiration.

I like to think that had someone bellowed at lung limit to Pansear yesterday Stay in for more than three balls and make a hundred run last man stand then he might have at least been inspired to do so.

Nevertheless the chorus of boos has replaced the round of applause at sporting events these days and there is no better example of this than the treatment of Joe Colbeck at Valley Parade. The lad has a few thousand of the worst sort of School game Dad’s berating his every mistake and like a shrinking 12 year old it shows in a lack of confidence.

Booing has replaced cheering because it is easier to do. Destruction has always been easier than creation and recognising the good has always required a little more than pointing to the bad. Especially in situations like City’s were the one so obviously outweighs the other. Of course this is all Thatcher’s fault. The every man for himself model of society clashes with the ethic of team sports as a community representation. Success at all costs, loathing for those without.

Realpolitik aside this is hardly a new phenomenon. In the Coliseum Emperors signaled who was to live and who was to die with the famed thumbs up/thumbs down gesture. It is a curio of history that the with the digit pointing upwards signalled that to the delight of the masses the Gladiator in question would be ripped apart and generally killed which while pleasing for the crowd was so what damaging to the fighter’s career.

We use the thumbs up to mean good things – at least The Fonz did – in recognition of how it means that good things would happen. A thumbs down probably saw the Emperor booed so he will have avoided it. As long as the crowd get what they want everyone is probably happy.

None of which brings us round to Valley Parade on Saturday. It has long been the opinion of many that there is a significant section of City fans who enjoy the moan more than the match and the thumbs up of City getting beaten gives them a focus for their week of conversation.

City’s own Julian Rhodes – and Emperor of sorts – said about the weekend all or nothing game with Leyton Orient

“Saturday is not going to be pretty. It’s all about blood, guts and endeavour. But the pleasing thing is that every player is giving it their all. To see the loanees putting in the kind of effort they are has been a joy to watch.

Me, I’m less keen on the sight of someone being ripped limb from limb and old school enough to cheer or say nothing at all. I was brought up on “Skin ’em Johnny” not skinless Gladiators and I’m happy to stay that way.

Is it time to leave Valley Parade?

Anyone reading in the T&A recently that the latest incarnation of the ‘Odsal Sports Village’ had received the backing of the government and Sport England can’t have failed to notice that there was no mention of Bradford City in the scheme. After the financial traumas of the last few years, and with crowds struggling to create an atmosphere in a ground that is now bigger than one we couldn’t fill against Arsenal in the Premiership, the question is:

Should City join forces with the Bulls and Avenue, and create a new home for Bradford sport which the whole city can be proud of?

First thing’s first. the news that the Odsal scheme is a step nearer to fruition is surely good news for the city in terms of sports participation. A recent spell spent working at South Leeds Stadium in Beeston brought home to me how far behind Bradford has fallen compared to our bigger neighbour. In Bradford we have decent local sports centres, but no real focal point for sports participation which measures up to the facilities in deepest, darkest Beeston. The Odsal scheme would provide exactly what we are lacking as a city in that respect.

Clearly, by choosing to incorporate their plans for stadium development into a community facility of this kind the Bulls will benefit greatly by receiving grants and investment which they would otherwise not have been able to get had they simply developed Odsal as a Rugby League ground. It would also appear that Bradford (Park Avenue) will gain a new home into the bargain, possibly in a smaller stadium next door, although this would seem to depend on whether the plans for housing on Horsfall playing fields get the green light.

Where, then, does all this leave Bradford City? What would City gain from being involved in the Odsal scheme? For one thing, the short-sighted development of the Sunwin Stand has left VP misshapen and over sized. It’s widely accepted that it was a bad idea to increase capacity when we weren’t filling the seats we had in the Premiership. I can’t see a way that VP can be ‘fixed’, and I can’t see a day when we regularly get 25,000 punters through the turnstiles. A move to a more realistic sized ground would be ‘a good thing’ in this respect.

Also, a football club does not just need a stadium ? Benito Carbone was reported to have been appalled by City’s training facilities when joining the club, and attempts to improve these over the last few years have come to nothing. The ‘Odsal Village’ will have first class facilities of every kind.

Thirdly, by leaving VP we would be rid of Gordon Gibb forever.

However, we are not talking here, about leaving any old ground. This is Valley Parade. I was an 11 year old in the Bradford End on the day of the fire, and every City fan of my generation and older feels a deep affinity with the ground which the majority of football fans do not share. This attachment has been passed down to new generations of fans, but how long will this continue? Perhaps the importance of Valley Parade will fade over the years, and the emotional ties will weaken as generations of fans who weren’t born in 1985 become the majority.

For the present though, those bonds remain, and even though there seem to be plenty of reasons to go, when I think about leaving Valley Parade the thought of City not playing there fills me with dread and emptiness, like trying to imagine going on without the love of your life. A bit dramatic perhaps, but there you go.

Perhaps, then, the answer is not to join forces with the Bulls, but to take a leaf out of their book. I will admit to not particularly liking the egg chasers, especially after their fans whinged about having to travel so far whilst sharing VP, and how Manningham was ‘dangerous’. Whilst I tire of seeing another corny photo opportunity in the T&A, and seeing the bloody car stickers on 4×4’s, there is no denying that the club presents a more community friendly image than City. A more aggressive marketing stance may also plant City deeper in the consciousness of the community at large ? how about a bus with ‘Bantams’ plastered all over it for a change!

This attitude might then be extended to enable City to develop a training complex for use by the club and the community on a brown field site somewhere in the north of the city. Such an approach is far more likely to receive public and government support than trying to build an academy in leafy Apperley Bridge, with its conservation areas and armies of NIMBY’s.

As for Valley Parade, whilst I wish the Sunwin stand wasn’t so big and empty, and that it ran the length of the pitch, I can forgive these things simply because of how much the place means to me. As one of my City supporting mates put it, the cold ‘scientific’ view is that leaving Valley Parade may one day be inevitable, but I for one hope he’s wrong.

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