The three wise men

A year ago they could be described as little more than supporters. One of course was a club legend, but employed elsewhere he could do no more than watch, with concern, from afar. The other two viewed matters more closer but could only squirm with the rest of us as Bradford City completed the collapse of Premiership to the bottom league in six miserable years.

Less than 12 months on and, if the reverse in decline hasn’t quite begun just yet, Stuart McCall, Mark Lawn and David Baldwin are heavily influencing the rebuilding of a club which had gone past falling to its knees. On Tuesday evening they met with supporters inside the Valley Parade suite that bears the name of the club legend to share views on what progress has been made and what the future holds.

The questions from the semi-packed floor were mainly for Stuart McCall. Coming up to one year in the job, it’s undoubtedly been a tough baptism for the rookie manager. He’d probably endured one of his most difficult days yet having earlier broken the news to 13 players that they weren’t going to be kept on.

Stuart spent the opening half hour of the session going through each squad member to explain those tough decisions. Darren Williams, Eddie Johnson and Tom Penford were probably the biggest surprises of those being released. With Williams and Johnson, it’s a matter of looking for more from these areas of the team than either have been able to show. Williams has been a solid defender, but hasn’t the legs to get forward and overlap the winger in the way Stuart has often observed from opposition full backs.

Johnson was prepared to take a drastic pay cut to remain and while his release has probably sparked the biggest debate among fans, it’s a clear message that doing ‘okay’ is not good enough for next season, particularly if you’re a high earner. Stuart’s view was the former Manchester United trainee enjoyed a decent first half to the season, but didn’t kick on in the second after returning from injury.

That Tom Penford is looking for another club this summer should be considered a positive of sorts, after Stuart revealed the young midfielder came close to packing in the game last Christmas. Regular chats with club chaplain and trained sports psychologist Andy Bowerman helped Penford rediscover confidence and he enjoyed a few good games in early Spring, before dropping off again. Stuart could have kept him on, but felt he could end up a squad player yet again which is not a good situation for a 24 year old who has played less than 40 senior career games.

There were few surprises over Alex Rhodes (“a good substitute, but didn’t show enough when starting”), Paul Evans, Scott Phelan and David Brown. Barry Conlon has been offered a new deal, but with it the forewarning that four goals from open play all season isn’t enough and another striker will also be sought during the summer. Kyle Nix is also chewing over a new contract offer but there are rumours of interest from other clubs. As yet there are no definite new signings and hopes of a certain former City favourite returning this summer look slim.

For next season Stuart aims to bring in two goalkeepers, one possibly on a season long loan; a right back, centre back, central midfielder and striker. He was challenged by one supporter as to why he plays Omar Daley on the left instead of the right (because of his tendency to cut inside rather than charge to the by-line) and revealed he had big hopes for Wily Topp next season, who he compared to Robbie Blake.

Joint Chairman Mark Lawn took some time to explain the club finances, with the gloomy assertion the club is paying out over £1 million in costs from the current set up of Valley Parade. Discussions have taken place to buy back the stadium, with Lawn hinting he’d be able to borrow the money to do so, but former Chairman Gordon Gibb is not interested in giving up ownership and the £300k+ annual rent he receives from it.

The issue of season ticket sales was also raised with the latest uptake figure around 3,000, but the club are not worried and are ready to implement a full marketing campaign in the close season which they feel will bring in the numbers. The impressive David Baldwin, Head of Operations, went onto explain some of the initiatives they’re ready to launch, which includes local radio advertising and posters in local pubs.

Lawn was asked the biggest disappointment of the last 12 months, which he revealed to be the failure to mount a promotion push that he believes Stuart can deliver next season. He said he had never failed in any of his other businesses and is determined to take City, “back to where we belong.”

The summer arrival of the three may not have heralded instant success this season, but the obvious determination and commitment to get things right, and evidence the club is moving in the right direction off the field, suggest it may not be too long. Each bring new skills, new ideas and new acumen and if the dream of celebrating promotion this season in front of 14,000+ crowds may not have materialised, through their hard work it could prove reality in 12 months with 20,000+ people there to celebrate it.

There’s a feeling this club may be on the verge of something special and such optimism is arguably more realistic than it was 12 months earlier. Next season promises to be an exciting ride, it will hopefully prove less bumpy than in recent years.