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.