By Jason McKeown
A two-year cycle has shaped Bradford City ever since relegation from League One in 2007. On even numbered years, the club has spent the close season talking up promotion chances and spending relatively big. But after such hopes are dashed, the following summer becomes low-key and features half-hearted talk of building for the future, while budgets are cut back.
We are back to an even numbered year, and we are back to talking up our promotion chances. Perhaps we’re not as expectant as we were in 2008 and 2010 – scars still healing from year-on-year failure – but the mood is buoyant and confidence is high. There’s a feeling that, this time around, it finally will come together. For sure, it can’t be as bad a season as the last two.
Fuelling that optimism has been the sizeable level of spending which has taken place. There is no doubting that signings such as Andrew Davies, Rory McArdle, Gary Jones, Garry Thompson, Nathan Doyle and Alan Connell will not have proved cheap. The joint Chairmen, Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn, made some big noises about handing Phil Parkinson a large budget in order to shape a strong promotion push – the highest in four years.
Despite an encouraging season ticket take up, the Flexi-card initiative means the club have received less upfront capital from supporters compared to previous years. The promotion warchest is instead largely being funded by the sale of the club’s offices and shop block in a deal reputed to be worth £2 million. A year earlier, Lawn, Julian and his dad had bought this property from Prupim, with the club having previously been tied into a long-standing rental agreement that – alongside the Valley Parade rent – was a considerable headache. Profit from the sale, with a new school set to open up, is over £1 million. And the club have saved a further £370,000 in annual rent.
So good news, for Phil Parkinson in particular. Yet there are fears that throwing all or the majority of the profit from this deal into signing new footballers may not prove to be the greatest of long-term legacies. This ongoing two-year cycle has clearly proven difficult for the manager of the time to manage, as wage bills are increased and then cut back. It is a volatile way of building and developing a squad, and as good as things might look now there would have to be some serious questions asked if we end the 2012/13 season talking about another reduced budget, should another promotion bid fail.
Of further concern are the mixed messages from Rhodes and Lawn, over whether the increased budget can be sustained for the entire season. On 1 June 2012, Rhodes was quoted in the Yorkshire Post saying, “We have done the cashflows and the plan is that we set off with this budget and, hopefully, do well. If when we get to January, things haven’t gone to plan then we will have to look to generate from within.” Lawn expanded on this point a few days later, via BBC Radio Leeds, stating that part of the budget is based on the premise of the next chunk of George Green money coming in, or on Liverpool selling Andre Wisdom (for which City would receive a sell-on fee). The latter looks very unlikely.
What this means is the cutting back might start earlier this time around, and it may not matter if City are in a good position promotion-wise. We have been presented with a glimpse of a strategy which appears to be partially funded by events beyond the club’s control. It’s not to suggest a financial crisis such as the one afflicting Bradford Bulls is going to happen at Valley Parade anytime soon, but it does seem as though there is an awful lot riding on Parkinson’s judgement of footballers.
On the part of the club, there is an obvious confidence in this season’s strategy and that – financially – they are doing the right things. Width of a Post has heard from sources close to the Board of a very interesting – radical, even – plan to become much more transparent and engaging with us supporters. Without wishing to steal anyone’s thunder, it would appear that the club is keen for fans to have a stronger say in how it will be run, and a greater access to certain information to ensure that say is based on more informed opinion.
This season is shaping up to be the most pivotal since falling into League Two six years ago. The money has been made available for Parkinson to produce a promotion-challenging side and, compared to last year, the strategy has changed to investing almost solely in the here and now. As Rhodes said in that same interview with the Yorkshire Post, “All the income that comes in will go towards the first team as we want to go up. We have always believed that if we can get out of this division then we can finally get Bradford City moving again.”
For the sake of everyone who loves claret and amber, it’s to be hoped this does lead to progress; and that 12 months from now we are reflecting on how we are much better off. But only four of the 24 teams who compete in League Two this season can secure a place in League One, and the worry for me and many others is that getting much closer to this goal, but not quite succeeding, will lead to another round of cut backs and/or a change of manager.
The biggest budget in four years. And yet we have spent the past four years paying for the decision to set such an unsustainable budget four years ago. You just hope that the club has learned from its past mistakes, rather than be set to repeat them all over again.