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the Bulls taking residence at VP was done without consultation with BCFC and goes on figures that are nearly 10 years out of date.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.

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.