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.

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