Tag Archives: David Baldwin

David Baldwin on the 2013/14 season: part two

29 Apr

SAM_1713

Following part one of our in-depth season review with Bradford City’s Chief Executive, David Baldwin, we move onto discuss with David next season’s plans.

By Jason McKeown

WOAP: How is the playing budget looking for next season?

We have been pretty honest in saying that we have given the manager a bigger budget this year than was actually the break-even point. And what we were using was the carry-over of the surpluses from the Capital One cup run. So going into next year’s budget, it will again be greater than the break-even point of the trading position of the business. It will be supplemented by extraordinary income such as transfer fees.

The bottom line is that the amount that comes through the turnstiles, the amount that comes through the catering and the amount that comes through commercial – minus the running costs of the football club – the figure we give to the manager is greater than that. It is at this point where you count in extraordinary income. This includes cup run money and transfer fee money. The extra income forecasted to come through will supplement the manager’s wage budget beyond the break-even point.

We have got a reasonable figure in for gate receipts, and that’s why I keep hammering home the point about the season ticket campaign. We could just up the prices on season tickets and still achieve the same income number, but we genuinely want to make sure that the price can remain as competitive as possible. Next season will be three years on the bounce at the current price, and it’s going to be hard to put in what we have for the playing budget if we don’t get the numbers through the door. We are hoping that we will get close to the same numbers as this season.

This is where the 12th man comes in. I need people to put things into perspective and think ‘we are staying in League One, we are back in League One next season and we’ve still got the same prices for the season we were promoted from League Two’.

The club is trying to be as fair as possible to get as many bodies in here, and to get the best atmosphere at the ground – so there is a whole army going on a journey together. This is more preferable than saying ‘oh well we will put the prices up to normal prices – some League One clubs are charging £350-£395 – as we will only need half the numbers to earn half the money’. And actually, halving the numbers would reduce our operating costs substantially, so we would only need 40% of the current numbers. So instead of 10,000 season tickets, we could have 4,000.

But it would destroy the atmosphere and it would destroy the journey. We don’t want to do that.

WOAP: Season ticket sales are obviously vital…

This is where we need the fans to do their bit. We need them to continue coming in numbers. And to consider it value for money. And to appreciate that it isn’t always going to be perfect and it isn’t always going to be the best performance in the world.

This is a club with an endeavour to keep improving itself. And I think from 2007, when I first joined, to 2014 today – this is a much improved football club.

It is much improved with its community engagement. It is much improved with its social responsibility in terms of the geographical area. We are engaging with over 2,000 people per week in the community, in terms of some form of coaching and educational exercise activity. And that’s excluding the partnership with the (One in a Million) school.

You look at the community stand, there are a thousand people coming every home game thanks to the community programme: that’s the next generation fans that we are encouraging. We are not just giving tickets away, it is not based on that. It is ticket incentive schemes, for different schools and organisations across the district. It’s not the same thousand people every game, it’s potentially a different thousand people on 23 different occasions. It is many more people bought into the potential of becoming Bradford City supporters for life.

I’m very grateful that some of the contribution to this community scheme is being provided by a private benefactor, who wanted to encourage next generations. I won’t embarrass him by naming him because that wasn’t part of the agreement, but the bottom line is that it was a fantastic gesture by him. And as a result, I genuinely believe that we will have another generation of die-hard Bradford City supporters.

That is progressive improvements. There are only 12 people running this football club full time. 12 people have to look after 14,000. People are committed tirelessly to their jobs. That £199 is not just going towards putting 11 players out onto the pitch. It is going towards building up a football club that has a sustainable future.

WOAP: So how are season ticket sales going?

They are behind schedule, but I do think that people will wait as late as possible. I expect there will be a late rush, and it will be a bit of squeaky bum time to get to those numbers. The offer runs out on 31st May, and then all season ticket prices step up by £100. No decision has been made on the Flexi-Cards from that point.

In order to be guaranteed the cheap prices, buy before the 31st May – and I don’t mind making the sales platter! I want what is best for this football club, and I want to stand shoulder to shoulder with 10,000 people, cheering on this team and having a real go next year.

We are putting faith in the manager with the budget we are setting him; but we need the numbers in order for that to work, otherwise we would have to make adjustments later in the season. We don’t want to do that.

The easiest thing to do is to double the prices and go back to full market value. But that is not being progressive, that is not being socially inclusive, that is not being community-spirited.

WOAP: The Mark Stewart case has obviously hung over the club for over a year. What is the impact of its outcome?

We hoped that we would have it completely overturned. We were brave enough to go for it (with the appeal), because the fight was worth the fight.

Ultimately they wanted 330,000 euros under the compensation scheme, and they have ended up with 185,000 euros. So you would argue over the period between the start and the end, the saving in-between is significant.

It is frustrating, because you measure a player by his performance and we didn’t get a performance from Mark Stewart at Bradford City Football Club. So as a result of that, you think it’s a lot of money to spend for a low rate of return. Nobody likes to pay for something that they don’t feel they have had value of money from.

Ultimately the lessons have been learned. I do genuinely feel that we were treated unfairly, but you have to draw a line under it. It happened, but it will never happen again.

My role at the football club has migrated over the past seven years. My first responsibility was to revive the marketing and commercial side of the football club. Then it became operationally-driven. And then, over the last two years, my responsibility has increased to governance. Now, everything goes through me, and it has gone through me for the past two years.

When it comes to contractual situations and the budget control, that is now in my remit and I work very closely with the manager on that. I have been responsible for every single transfer in and out since 2012, and will continue to do so.

There was a time where we had to take stock of who did what at this football club – and the Mark Stewart case provided that moment. There are now very defined roles on who does what.

WOAP: A large proportion of the squad is out of contract in the summer. Have the Board and Phil started to plan who may be offered terms and who will go?

There are talks going on between the Board and the manager in terms of devising a plan. There are talks going on between myself and some of the players in the squad in terms of their activity for next season. We will reveal the outcome of those conversations in the fullness of time when they are dealt with and done properly. I won’t speculate on where we might be with them.

In addition to that there is a talent identification process going on, and a hit list of targets in all positions and throughout the whole squad. We are looking at who we have got in the building, who we have got in the building who is out of contract, and who is out there in the market place that could fit the Bradford City mould. We want the dynamics to be right in terms of if they would fit in with the team, ones that will wear the shirt with pride.

So we are having lots of meetings going on at the moment, and there is lots of tracking taking place. I was at the Guiseley vs Harrogate Town game the other day, and we are constantly reviewing players.

Other people speculate, and you see names on Claret and Banter with people saying ‘Why don’t we sign X? Why haven’t we looked at him’ Well I can assure you that they have not mentioned anybody who we don’t know about! And we know a lot about them all. We do our homework well.

WOAP: There are also a few players clearly not in Phil’s plans who have another year on their contracts to go, is this being looked at?

There is always a post-season review, and the manager will look into those players’ eyes and have a discussion with them about where they see themselves, and what they think they are going to bring to the table next year. Once you get that information you evaluate it and decide the best option for the club.

There is always a cost of moving out a player who is under contract, whichever club you are at. There’s also then a cost to bringing in a replacement. And so you’ve got to ask the question of what is the net effect of exiting a player and bringing in another one? With the budget, when it is gone it is gone, and you could end up making compromises elsewhere. If it costs you too dearly to take a player out, the danger is you weaken your starting point.

It is all up for discussion and no decisions have been made on any player. It has been difficult for the new players to break into the established squad, which had had a life-changing experience last season. But the one beauty about the end of the season is we turn that page and start with a blank canvas.

WOAP: A clear highlight this season has been the performances of the Bradford City youth set up…

For a lower league club, the youth set up offers the ability to realise the asset value of certain players at a younger age by selling them, and the funding of that contributes towards the first team running costs. The Fabian Delph sale to Aston Villa funded the Stuart season where we had a real go, for example. Without that money, we wouldn’t have had that opportunity and we wouldn’t have been in the top three until March.

The youth department is self-sustaining. It runs itself and it doesn’t lose money. It can also make a positive difference to the first team budget. You don’t plan for those youth sales, so once they arrive you can decide how this extra money will be used.

The youth team are all training at one site on Woodhouse Grove, and all of a sudden we are seeing 12, 13, 14-year-olds catching the eye of big clubs. We won’t necessarily see the benefits of these players, as people who step up to our first team, for three or four years; or we can instead sell them as assets earlier.

It is a healthy youth system, with a good crop of players throughout each age group. And good active opportunities for trailists to come in as well. There is no greater feeling than to see one of the stars of your youth team make the step up to the first team.

WOAP: And how is the RIASA link-up progressing?

There was recently a Bradford City friendly against Hull City – featuring several Hull first team players, who needed a game before their FA Cup Semi Final against Sheffield United – and eight of the City XI were RIASA players. We lost 3-0, which I would consider to be a moral victory!

The goalkeeper performed quite well, and Phil is keeping an eye on him. He is a North American, but he may have Swedish heritage which we are looking into at the moment. It is complicated, but we know what we are doing with overseas players.

WOAP: There has been a criticism that the failure of squad players to challenge first teamers for a place is due to the lack of a proper reserve team. Is this something the club would agree with?

I think that’s a big assumption. Whenever we have needed to have a game on we have set one up, and we haven’t always announced the games we have played. We can set them up quite easily, when we want them to take place rather than have a fixture list enforced upon us, and also control the level of football that you play against.

The danger you get with running the reserves is one week you can be playing an under 18s team who had a game the previous Saturday. And also sometimes, because of lack of first team players, we were doing the same with our youth team players. Now is that fair to their development?

I would say that our youth team has benefited substantially from not having the commitment to reserve team fixtures. It gives them an opportunity to grow and develop at their normal rate.

WOAP: Is there a vision for the club on where the Board expects to be over a certain timeframe?

It’s very dangerous to put a specific time on it, but we want to push to get to the Championship. We don’t want to be a yo-yo club that comes straight back down, we want to be sustainable there. People always ask the question ‘how are you going to be sustainable in the Championship if you can only just generate a budget for League One?’ Well the answer to that is you get an extra £6 million a year just for being in the Championship.

The beauty for us as a club is that our infrastructure is set up for the Championship. We have the training facilities, and the stadium is right, the fan numbers are right because the ticket prices are right. The corporate stuff we do is in place.

We have all the ingredients in place to be a successful Championship club, and we don’t have to make sweeping changes when we get there. And the extra funding required when we are there comes through the Football League’s distribution of money. It is such a massive jump up. 12% of the pot goes to League One clubs, and 8% goes to League Two. The other 80% goes to the Championship clubs. So that’s the golden goose to get.

And if we did get there, all of that money would be invested into the playing side of the club. It’s not going to go out in dividends, it’s not going to go to operational staff at the club – there isn’t that many of us. It would go onto increasing the playing budget.

WOAP: Finally, any plans for pre-season yet in place? Any tours to look forward to?

We haven’t decided on a tour as yet. We have two friendly games confirmed, but no dates yet. One of them is we will be going to Guiseley again. We have also arranged a game at home to a Championship club. It will be played somewhere between 26th July and 2nd August. Gate prices will be £10 adults and £5 concessions.

If you are planning your holidays, try and be back for the 26th!

David Baldwin on the 2013/14 season: part one

28 Apr

SAM_1711

By Jason McKeown

David Baldwin has a rather wonderful office during the week. He lives in Box number five of Valley Parade, adorned by photos of former claret and amber heroes and with a glorious view of the pitch out of the window. The Bradford City Chief Executive kindly found time in his busy schedule to speak with Width of a Post for an hour, to reflect on a challenging season for the club during which the stated objective of League One survival has been achieved.

This is the seventh season that David has been working at Valley Parade, a period which has coincided with some very dark times for the club. He is keen that people have perspective about the steps forward taken since, when judging Bradford City’s 2013/14 season performance. “Let’s focus on those positives that have been achieved, but rest assured the people in the football club won’t rest on their laurels and we continue to look at what we can do to drive the club forward,” he recently wrote in the matchday programme.

With that in mind, Width of a Post quizzed David on the previous 12 months and what the future holds for the club.

WOAP: What have you made of Bradford City’s first season back in League One?

The season was all about consolidation and maintaining our League One status. The most important thing is that we have achieved that and are continuing to take forward steps.

Things change and you have to adapt. And the adapting for us in the league this season was that people worked out what we are about. It is also a much better division. It is extremely easy to fall out of, and it’s also extremely hard to get out of the other end. So being somewhere in the middle, and being in a comfortable position, is a nice thing.

Avoiding relegation has been in our hands. We were always in a position where we could ensure our own safety, and that has to be a positive. People judge the season negatively against the great start we made in the first 10 games. But then you have to reflect on what has happened since that October highpoint. We lost Andrew Davies through a long-term injury. We lost James Meredith through a long-term injury. We lost Nahki Wells through an injury and then, upon returning, we went into the transfer element of the season. We then lost Kyel Reid to a long-term injury. We have also had to do without James Hanson for a period.

I would say to any fan out there: if you lose five of those players from your team, how much of an impact is that going to have on your ability to perform? These are all high-impact players. And at any one time, there have been at least three of them out of the team.

New players come in and they need time to gel. So there was then this morphing period in January and February. There was also the exact same morphing period two years ago, when we were struggling near the bottom of League Two – and look what happened the following season!

WOAP: Going back to last summer, can you talk us through the player recruitment and retention strategy? There’s a feeling from many fans that the recruitment side proved unsuccessful…

The strategy last summer was two-fold. First and foremost, we put faith in the players who got us into League One. And I don’t think that anyone could argue that point. Retrospectively, you might question if we did the wrong thing showing loyalty to these players. But no one could stand up and say that, last summer, they thought the 2012/13 team didn’t deserve that right to demonstrate they were capable of playing at a higher level. It’s very easy to be wise after the event, nine months later.

As the season progressed there was an effect to that establishment of players by virtue of the injuries you had with James Meredith, Andrew Davies and the like, plus Nahki being sold. These events will have an impact on your season.

In terms of new players, if you look at the situation on paper, what we signed last summer were four players. One player had been part of a promotion-winning team from League Two to League One with Swindon. One player had been part a promotion-winning team from League Two to League One with Exeter, and then part of a promotion-winning team from League One to the Championship with Charlton. One player had been promoted from League Two to League One with Rochdale. And the fourth player had played 32 games in the Championship and being part of a play off final match just five weeks before we signed him. So in terms of their pedigree of the new signings and what you anticipate they can bring to the table in terms of ‘have they achieved it at this level?’ The answer on paper was yes.

But these are human beings we are talking about. And there are all sorts of permutations for why things do and don’t work. Could we have seen a better return on the incoming signings? Probably. Are there mitigating circumstances in that? Probably. Were they questionable signings at the very beginning in terms of their historic pedigree? Not to any fan that I spoke to.

What you had to do was bring in players who you felt would complement the squad. But at the same time they had to break into the team. And I think that was the thing that happened during the early days. It took a long time for them to break into the team. But more importantly, probably by the time there were opportunities there was an element of being disaffected.

Finally to say on these players, three of the four have contracts for next season. Two of them have carried injury issues throughout this season. And who knows what a full pre-season will bring to the table with those players? With that in mind, we will see how they do. I think everyone should be given a fresh opportunity next season. When you turn that page over at the end of the season, they are all starting with a blank canvas.

WOAP: The season got off to a flyer but then October saw the beginnings of a bad run. What was the reaction, internally, to these difficulties?

It was frustrating for everybody. But the most important thing is you don’t hit the panic button. And if I was to read some of the fans’ websites, some people hit those panic buttons very early.

What you need in situations and scenarios when things aren’t going how you want them to is calm heads – who can think methodically about things, and put a corrective action plan into place.

The reality is that the actions that were taken in January to freshen up the squad is a typical, stand-back-and-don’t-panic approach. And if you take the results as they have been from mid-February through to the end of the season, barring a little bit of inconsistency, the return of points has been much better than the middle block.

So that is a perfect scenario of not hitting the panic button. It’s actually saying ‘we are not happy about this, we need to do something about it’. It was about looking at the reasons behind results and then determining what we can do to correct it. We put an action plan in place to correct those shortfalls.

WOAP: The Nahki Wells situation increasingly dominated the conversation around the club approaching the turn of the year. Was there a moment where, as a club, you realised there was no choice but to sell him?

We offered Nahki the opportunity to name his price to stay; and his agent told us quite categorically that it didn’t matter what we were going to offer, he was not going to sign an extended contract.

We knew the ramifications of letting his contract run from January to July – which was quite substantial – so what was then important was to consider what action to take and when to take it. The first thing was to get the saga settled, early on, so we had the whole of the transfer window to then reconcile what our alternative plan would be. We were working on a number of permutations of that.

There were other players where fees had been accepted, but ultimately that player choose not to come to us. For example, our offer for Dicko at Wigan was accepted. At one point, Nahki was potentially moving to Wolves. So as a result of that, they probably wouldn’t have gone for Dicko. It was all a bit of a domino effect, as Nahki going to Huddersfield meant Wolves were still in the market for a player. And just as Nahki made the choice to go to Huddersfield, Dicko made the choice to go to Wolves. So we had to act accordingly.

We were covering a few bases. And that’s a constant thing when you are moving players in and out. You have to have more than one plan in place. The reality is you don’t want to wait until the end of the month and have the transfer window close on you.

WOAP: January was a busy month with loanees coming in and late difficulties with Matty Dolan…

Matty was to be signed as a permanent player on an 18-month contract. As it was, the transfer deadline passed without the deal confirmed. The deadline came and went, and the activation of that paperwork required Middlesbrough to add their signature, and they were dealing with a number of other transactions at the same time.

The two clubs have instead entered into an agreement that we will take him on loan and then we will sign him at the end of the season.

In effect, as a player Matty is one of our own. It has hindered us because of the impact it has had on the number of loan signings you can include in the matchday squad. Unfortunately, there was no round it.

I was up until 1am the evening on transfer deadline day, trying to get the deal over the line. I was actually at Darren Moore’s house, having a Chinese with Darren and Wayne Jacobs! It was Wayne’s birthday weekend and he was coming as my guest to the Wolves game (the day after).

Thankfully they are two football legends who completely understood, because I didn’t spend any social time with them. I used Darren Moore’s office and I used Darren Moore’s fax machine. I even had him running across to his neighbour’s fax machine because we couldn’t get a document through in time! It would have made for a fantastic sitcom! We did everything our end, but couldn’t get the ball across the line in time.

I think it is safe to say that the bodies we brought in during January freshened up the environment. Yes, we would like to see more goals from Aaron Mclean, but I am confident that he will get them once he has a good pre-season under his belt.

WOAP: Other than Mclean and accepting the Dolan situation, Phil Parkinson has brought loanees in during the second half of the season. This is a policy that both chairmen and the manager have criticised in the past. What prompted the change of heart?

It is more a case of circumstance. Let’s put it into context. We didn’t at the start of the season find a back-up keeper, and the one we had on loan we couldn’t extend to the end of the season. There’s one tied in.

The second, Matty Dolan, was never intended to be a loan. With Adam Reach, he was brought in because we have a long-term injury to Kyel Reid. Kyel could be available to sign a new contract with us at the end of the season and we will have a discussion with him in due course. But at that moment in time, we needed someone to fill in for him for the rest of the season. If we had signed a replacement on an 18-month contract in January, that could have hampered discussions that we might want to have with Kyel Reid during the summer. Adam Reach coming in has fitted the necessity of providing cover for Reid.

Then with Adam Drury, we have proved that finding left backs is not an easy thing to do. And he was brought in, like Adam Reach, to cover for a long-term injury.

Chris Atkinson was to offer the team another dimension. Sometimes you do a little try before you buy. You will remember we brought in Will Atkinson on loan from Hull a couple of seasons ago and subsequently signed him for another year. Chris could fall into that mould. He is out of contract at the end of the season.

Kyle Bennett has been brought in as an alternative on the right-hand side because of Rafa De Vita’s long-term injury. He has another year left on his Doncaster contract, but he might be a potential year-long loan next season. Jon Stead is the same scenario of covering an injury.

It was all about freshening up the squad but also taking the chance to look at players. We have been able to bring in players that cover injuries, but who don’t expose you to contracts beyond a period after which you might not want to keep them. Therefore, we have not made any unnecessary spend.

It’s not a policy change, although I do think that a number of League One clubs, who have brought in loanees from the Premier League and Championship, have demonstrated the benefits of the system. You look at Alex Pritchard at Swindon and Patrick Bamford at MK Dons (now Derby) as good examples.

If the ingredient is right, having a loan player is not a bad thing to have.

WOAP: Phil Parkinson has come under pressure from a section of supporters. What would you say about the job he has performed this season?

I think that Phil is extremely methodical. He thinks about everything carefully, and boy does it hurt him when we don’t get a positive result. He really cares. I have got nothing but praise for him as an individual – that’s my personal view. I enjoy working with him. Under Phil, that panic button wasn’t getting hit.

You look at where we were two years ago. You make improvements because you learn from some of the things that work and the things which don’t work. And the one thing about football is it’s not about doing things wrong – because there isn’t a right and a wrong way – it’s about when you try something and it hasn’t come off as you hoped it would have done, you re-evaluate and then you decide whether that is something you want to consider pursuing.

We have to keep analysing what we are doing well and what we could be doing better. Everyone is doing that, and that is the nature of sport.

What I would say is there are lots of progressive improvements being made to this football club, and this place is a better place than it was two years ago. And Phil has to be given credit for that.

The path of progress is not a straight line. It sometimes goes up and then goes down. And at that dip, you rise again if you learn the lessons. If you don’t learn those lessons, you continue to go down. As a club under Phil, we started at a low point, have gone on up but have not then turned and gone all the way back down again.

In part two, David talks about the playing budget for next season, the latest with out-of-contract players and the long-term ambitions of the club.

David Baldwin: next season’s planning underway

26 Apr

SAM_1708

By Jason McKeown

The Bradford City Chief Executive, David Baldwin, has confirmed to Width of a Post that planning for next season’s playing squad has already begun, with talks commencing with the out-of-contract players about their futures.

City are also starting to look at new players to bring in during the summer. “There is a talent identification process going on, and a hit list of targets in all positions and throughout the whole squad,” David explained. “We are looking at who we have got in the building, who we have got in the building who is out of contract, and who is out there in the market place that could fit the Bradford City mould.

“We want the dynamics to be right in terms of if they would fit in with the team, ones that will wear the shirt with pride.”

Reflecting on City’s performance during the 2013/14 season, David admitted that the club has struggled at times due to the opposition working out City, and the higher quality of the division. “The adapting for us in the league this season was that people worked out what we are about. It is also a much better division. It is extremely easy to fall out of, and it’s also extremely hard to get out of the other end. So being somewhere in the middle, and being in a comfortable position, is a nice thing.”

Nevertheless, David feels the club has navigated the season effectively and that key to reversing the autumn/winter nosedive in form was not panicking. “The reality is that the actions that were taken in January to freshen up the squad is a typical stand-back-and-don’t-panic approach,” he added. “And if you take the results as they have been from mid-February through to the end of the season, barring a little bit of inconsistency, the return of points has been much better than the middle block.”

David also reiterated that the long-term ambition is to get back into the Championship, and how suitably placed the club is to thrive in the second tier. He said, “It’s very dangerous to put a specific time on it, but we want to push to get to the Championship. We don’t want to be a yo-yo club that comes straight back down, we want to be sustainable there.

“The beauty for us as a club is that our infrastructure is set up for the Championship. We have the training facilities, the stadium is right, the fan numbers are right because the ticket prices are right.”

A full in-depth interview with David Baldwin (two parts), reviewing the 2013/14 season and looking to the future, will appear on Width of a Post next week, from Monday lunchtime.

These things I believe

3 Mar

SAM_0353

By Jason McKeown

Over the last 9-12 months, I’ve mellowed considerably in my emotions towards Bradford City. I don’t seem to feel the highs quite as much as I used to, but more importantly I don’t get caught up in the lows too badly either. Walking out of Valley Parade at full time on Saturday certainly carried a depressingly familiar sense of disappointment, but I couldn’t muster the outrage and anger that other people clearly seemed to.

Perhaps it’s due to becoming a dad for the first time and a change of perspective. Maybe it because of a significant health issue related to a family member that troubles the mind. There’s also the lingering sense of satisfaction gained from last season’s heroics that I refuse to let go of. It’s probably a bit of all three, but my old ways of screaming passionately in disgust at a poor referee, sulking all weekend following a defeat or raging at over-critical fellow supporters has faded inside of me.

I’m still deeply engaged by events at Valley Parade, just no longer as emotional.

I’ve no doubt that I’m in the minority on this one, as right now passions are clearly running very high amongst supporters. There is upset, outrage and hurt over recent form and about losing at home to the division’s bottom club. A panic from some that we at the beginnings of some sort of Bradford City apocalypse, one that will inevitably end with the club back in hell: League Two.

We don’t always have to be miserable

A few years ago, I wrote an article for BoyfromBrazil reflecting on where I saw the club in a decade’s time. My cynical answer was that I had no idea where we would be, but that I could guarantee one thing: we’d have something to moan about. As Bradford City sit in 11th position in League One and people are calling for the manager’s head – when on this weekend only two years ago I was watching us lose 1-0 at Dagenham & Redbridge, with City slumped near the bottom of League Two under the same manager – that answer seems so apt.

We will always have something to moan about: whether it be just, unfair or simply stupid. But I’m personally weary of joining in.

The simple truth is I enjoyed Saturday’s game for its entertainment. I wasn’t impressed at all with my team’s performance – we reacted badly to the situation, and the way the back four collapsed in Andrew Davies’ absence was alarming – but I admired the manner in which Stevenage approached what for them was a must-win game. I was impressed by the tactics of manager Graham Westley and the constant positional interchanging of the forward line, something the Bantams just couldn’t get to grips with. It was as though Jack Reynolds and Sam Alladyce had got together and created a new template for Total Football.

Stevenage were a team fighting for their lives and playing out of their skin, whilst we were a side which had arguably relaxed that little bit too much, losing with it some focus. Prior to the match Adam Reach talked on the radio of embarking on a late play off push, but relegation worries had not been fully extinguished by those previous back-to-back victories. We still needed to concentrate on ensuring our League One survival. Our goal prior to kick off should have been the same as Stevenage’s; but on and off the pitch we looked as though we believed ourselves to be above them.

Yet still, Stevenage were bottom for a reason and for all City’s complacency the players could and should have taken something from the game. Three quarters of a season in League One has shown that we belong here and that – if not amongst the best sides – we are not one of the worst. City had the chances to have won a match in which they didn’t play well, but perhaps the biggest lesson to take from the game is that we aren’t yet good enough to win games, at this level, when under-performing.

The mask has slipped, but Parkinson is still the man

The knives have been out for Parkinson since the Carlisle defeat. There are things that he has not got right this season, not least the summer transfer business which has proven to be wholly unsuccessful. The sight of Mark Yeates as a late substitute was a reminder that not one of the players that Parkinson brought in during the close season have impressed, and this has led to the team stagnating over the autumn and winter months. The January shake-up has had some impact, but mid-season is not a time for revolution. Parkinson has to largely make do with what he has, but I do believe there is enough quality in his charges to ensure relegation fears are put to bed before the final few matches. Then, he needs a successful summer in the transfer market – one similar to 2012.

The knives have been out for Parkinson – and the reality is that this is unlikely to change. The manager previously enjoyed widespread popularity, but now the mask has slipped. Too many people have publically made their feelings known. Disgruntlement was never going to be extinguished by back-to-back victories. There will be quietness in good times, but a loud lack of patience during the bad. That is going to be the soundtrack to the coming weeks and months, and it’s a well-versed tale at Valley Parade; one that, sadly, usually has a predictable ending.

The positive for Parkinson is that he clearly enjoys the backing of the majority of supporters. That much was obvious when he took to the dugout ahead of the Port Vale game and received a rapturous reception from the home crowd. He will need to count upon these fans to continue to rally behind him in order to succeed. I felt proud of the way that most supporters rationally reacted to the ‘one win in 21’. Parkinson’s considerable past achievements had afforded him – and continue to afford him – a level of patience and understanding.

I find myself dismayed by the reactions of those who want Parkinson to go; so much so I struggle to find the motivation to read or listen to their views. I’d love to hear constructive and thought-provoking arguments for why a change of manager is the answer, but I just don’t see any put forward. On Saturday night I logged onto Claret & Banter and the first comment I read was that Parkinson should “f**k off back down South” (erm, he was born in Chorley) and it was easier just to log off than read any further and become enraged. When I read Tweets like this (warning: bad language features) I utterly despair at the shocking lack of respect.

If Parkinson is chased out of the club with pitchforks then I might seriously consider joining him. Not because I’d be upset not to get my way, but because of the nature of the abuse that one of the club’s greatest managers is receiving leaves me feeling embarrassed.

He deserves better.

Greater perspective is needed

The back-to-back victories over Port Vale and MK Dons were vital. Just contemplate what the League One table would look like now without them: City would be 18th, but only out of the relegation zone on goal difference. Those two results really mattered, and two-and-a-half years of Parkinson at the helm have seen him repeatedly triumph in those must-win contests; grinding out victories when the chips are down. Not since Chris Kamara have City employed a manager who is so successful at achieving wins when they really, really matter.

For this reason and many others, I firmly back the manager. I’m proud to be pro-Parkinson (or #IPWT, if you will) and instances like a failure to deal with #StevenageTotalFootball don’t change my view. I believe he is capable of keeping us in League One, and – despite an unsuccessful record in the transfer market of late – am confident he can rebuild this team to take the club to the next level: challenging for the League One play off places.

Beyond the football, I also believe in what the club is trying to achieve. I have every faith that Julian Rhodes understands what it takes to run a successful football club, and that thanks to David Baldwin there has been considerable off-the-field progress which can be continued.

Before Saturday’s match, City’s Chief Executive spoke on local radio about the season ticket initiative and the continued development of the training facilities (City have moved forwards on the pitch considerably since those lingering training ground issues were finally addressed). Baldwin talked about the cheap season ticket prices as a ‘club ethos’ and an eighth consecutive season of low prices can indeed be certainly considered a long-term, established strategy.

We should be proud of that season ticket ethos, but in many ways it is now taken for granted and – inevitably – criticised by some. When (or if) you renew, please feel a sense of pride in what the club is trying to do. The increased crowds and wonderful atmosphere at most home games this season demonstrate the positive effects of people before profit.

We will be okay

I think that the club’s overall progression – if not reflected in the short-term form guide – is evident enough to avoid any temptation to rip things up right now. Sacking Parkinson, less than a year into his three-year contract, would cost a considerable sum of money and risk jeopardising the forwards momentum. As Rhodes told the T&A on Friday when reflecting on the patience most fans have afforded the manager, “Phil has earned that right for what he has done in the last two years. We always talk about honest, hard-working players. That’s exactly what he is as a manager and we all appreciate that….With a manager like that, people give him time and all the support he needs.”

It’s hard to determine if this season is going to be looked back upon as enjoyable or labourous, but I know one thing at least – 2013/14 sure beats the 12 years that preceded 2012/13’s heroics. Perhaps more accurately, this has become a season of transition (with all the good and bad things that come with that).

My own, mellow outlook is that the short-term noise of defeats like Saturday are something not to get too caught up about, and that the ups and downs of a football season need to be measured against the bigger picture. The issues of the day are just that – for the day. The long-term outlook is hugely promising. Accuse me of my head in the sand, of wearing rose-tinted spectacles or whatever; but I’m personally very happy with the way the club is operating, and believe that we will ultimately get to where we want to be.

And in the meantime, I’m going to try and enjoy the ride – and enjoy the fact it no longer seems to ruin my weekends.

Do you have a question for the Supporters Board?

21 Dec

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By Jason McKeown

Set up just over a year ago by Bradford City’s Chief Executive, David Baldwin, the Bradford City Supporters Board is a representative group of Bantams supporters who work closely with the club, spearheading initiatives and providing valuable feedback. As David explained to Width of a Post last month, “It is a fantastic sounding board for the club to get a broad view on everything we do…We are prepared to make changes based on the feedback from the Supporters Board.”

The 23-strong Board meet on a monthly basis. For their next session, on Monday (23 December), they are holding a live Q&A session, via its website. If you have a question for the Supporters Board or David Baldwin, you are invited to submit one by completing the following steps:

1. Register for the site now by clicking here and selecting ‘Click here to sign up’ in the new user section.

2. Log onto www.bcfcsupportersboard.co.uk at 8pm on Monday (a ‘live chat’ button will be added to the site that evening), where you can submit a question or simply view those questions (and answers) which are put forward.

Click here for more information about the Q&A.

Bradford City offer Nahki Wells new contract

15 Dec

By Jason McKeown

Speaking to a room of Bradford City fans prior to Saturday’s game with Leyton Orient, alongside the Supporters Board and Width of a Post, David Baldwin revealed that Nahki Wells has been offered a new contract that would make the Bermudian the highest paid player at the club.

Baldwin also commented that the Bantams have a playing budget deficit of £1 million, and are set to make a £500k loss this season. To keep the wage budget at the same level as next season would result in a similar loss. Therefore, the club is looking at alternative sources of revenue.

David added that the difference between selling Wells in January or during the summer may prove at least £1 million in terms of the transfer fee they could receive, due to the striker’s contract expiring in the summer of 2015. It therefore appears that how Wells responds to the contract offer will dictate the January transfer window.

Click here to read Alex Scott’s superb match report of Bradford City 1 Leyton Orient 1.

Maintaining the momentum as Orient come to town

13 Dec

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Bradford City vs Leyton Orient preview

@Valley Parade on Saturday 11 December, 2013

By Gareth Walker

On Saturday Bradford City begin a hectic period of playing five games in two-and- a-half weeks, most of which are against teams who themselves hold promotion ambitions. The Bantams own aspirations have taken somewhat of a knock over recent weeks, as we have managed only one win in the last 10 games in all competitions

There are of course mitigating circumstances for this current run. In my opinion, it is far from coincidental that the sticky period has occurred in the absence of Andrew Davies from our defence due to injury. To find our last win prior to the recent victory at MK Dons, you have to go all the way back to the 2-0 triumph away at Walsall on 5 October, which just so happens to be the last time that we saw Davies in a City shirt.

To be without a player such as Davies for a significant period of time is going to hit any team at this level quite hard, but to lose two players of that calibre, one at each end of the pitch, could prove to be unmanageable – and that is what City have had to cope with for a good proportion of this slump. Prior to the Walsall win was City’s last home victory – 2-1 against Shrewsbury – where we lost Nahki Wells for a period of five games.

Now back in the team and back in the goals after a rusty couple of games against Wolves and Crewe, Nahki is showing us what we had been missing. Despite City only having registered the win at MK Dons since his return, supporters are much more optimistic of picking up three points and going on a winning run with the Bermudian in the team than they were when he was stuck on the sidelines.

His wonderful hat trick against Coventry, tap in at MK Dons and neat finish in the club’s last outing against Oldham have meant five Wells goals in his last four games, and 13 league goals for the season. It is difficult to argue that City would have earned more than the two points they achieved when Wells was missing. In fact, a further delve into the stat book shows that – out of the 32 league goals that we have scored this season – Nahki has been responsible for over 40% of them.

It is understandable, therefore, that we lost some of our momentum when Wells was out of the side. Momentum is a massive thing in football. As a result of the momentum built up from last season’s heroics, the whole atmosphere around Valley Parade has been fantastic. It is important that we ride on this crest of a wave for as long as possible and let it take us as far as it can.

Opposition fans who have visited BD8 have commended us on the positivity that we supporters have provided our side. Yet, of late, it has been disconcerting that some of the moaning minority are finding their voices in the stands once again. We need to be reinforcing the momentum, not contributing to its premature conclusion.

Considering the contribution that Wells has made both this season and last, it is understandably concerning for everyone connected with City that talk has again turned to the possibility of his transfer out of the club. Supporters could be forgiven for thinking that, during the two recent T&A interviews with joint Chairman Mark Lawn, we were being braced for the sale of our top scorer. Indeed, Lawn’s comments about the club needing to find some cash due to our first round exits from all the cup competitions appeared to contradict David Baldwin in his recent interview with WOAP, during which he stated that the club budgets for going out in the first round of each of the cups.

My own personal opinion is that Nahki will leave in January and I have mentally prepared myself for his departure. Furthermore, I think it is ludicrous to expect the club to lavish a large chunk of the money from his sale on a replacement. However, I am not of the opinion that his departure should signal the end of our forward journey. On the contrary, we should use it as an opportunity to take us to the next level.

Obviously Wells has been a massive factor in our success over recent years. But he is only one part of what we have achieved, and with him in our squad at the moment we are still sitting outside the play off places in the division. We have been told that the money from last season’s cup run has now been spent and it concerns me just how long the current momentum will last before it peters out.

The worst case scenario for us is that Wells’ contract runs down and we lose him for next to no transfer fee, assuming that he isn’t going to sign a new deal. At least if we were to sell him on our terms in one of the next couple of transfer windows, we would benefit financially to an extent whereby we could tie down our other better players to longer term deals and, hopefully, build an even better squad for next season.

What is becoming clear is that we are not going to be able to keep Wells and invest in other, better players to strengthen the rest of the team. And as his departure now appears to be more and more inevitable, we have to make sure that we get the best deal for the club so that his sale – and his goals – contribute to the continuation of our momentum and upward progression, rather than signalling the end of the journey.

Our next four games are against Leyton Orient, Peterborough, Rotherham and Swindon. Orient are first up this weekend and currently sit proudly at the top of the League One table. The Os have been the surprise package of the season so far, as they have defied the small numbers in their squad and brushed aside all before them.

Managed by the wily and astute Russell Slade, they are the top scorers in the country and, understandably, their strike force of Kevin Lisbie and Dave Mooney has been making all the headlines. Lisbie has been around for a long time and is a proven lower league scorer, but captain Mooney in particular is having the season of his life. Fortunately for City, both marksmen could be missing for the game at Valley Parade. Lisbie has been absent the last two games through injury and remains a doubt; whilst Mooney is definitely out as he serves a suspension for the red card that he received in the final minute of Orient’s last outing against Walsall.

Even if both strikers are missing however, City will still have to be at their best against a rampant team that also includes one-time Bantams transfer target Romain Vincelot and former Huddersfield Town captain Nathan Clarke.

As for City, Phil Parkinson will be expected to field the same starting XI that drew at BoundaryPark almost two weeks ago. That would mean Jon McLaughlin in goal behind a back four of Stephen Darby, Matthew Bates, Rory McArdle and James Meredith. The midfield will be the only area where we might see changes, as Mark Yeates will stand by to replace Garry Thompson, who has been struggling with an injury. The other three midfielders of Kyel Reid, Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle pick themselves at the moment despite Jason Kennedy’s brief cameo in the side a couple of games ago. Inevitably, James Hanson and Wells start up front.

Come the end of the festive fixture programme, we should be somewhere closer to knowing what the future holds for Wells and for Bradford City. If Wells is still wearing Claret and Amber and banging in the goals, all would be well and good. But if he is on the verge of leaving us, let’s make sure that we’ve enjoyed it and got as much momentum out of him as possible. Using his sale as a means to continuing our progression.

Catching up with David Baldwin (part two)

20 Nov

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David Baldwin (back to camera) celebrates promotion with the players.

Part two of Width of a Post’s in-depth chat with Bradford City’s Head of Operations/Chief Executive David Baldwin (part one here)

By Jason McKeown

Although much has gone well for the club over the past 12 months, there has been the occasional bump on the road and even personal difficulties for David. In the summer he closed his Twitter account due to the personal abuse he was receiving from some supporters, and the strain it was putting on his family life.

David admitted, “My motivation for being on Twitter was to answer queries from people. But when you get personal abuse and are answering questions at quarter to one in the morning; I think if I had have carried on like that, I would have had a heart attack.

“My health was suffering quite badly; not in the sense of being offended by the things being said, but just the inability to switch off from it. My wife was really concerned about my health. You have to listen to your family.

“I realised that the Twitter bit had fulfilled its duty for helping people through the two Wembley finals. I still make myself available to reply to emails and ensure that everyone who does email me gets a response, often by ringing them back.”

I asked David about the Lenny City Gent mascot controversy, which he was reluctant to discuss; but he was more forthright on the BBC Radio Leeds fallout, with the local radio station no longer providing commentaries of matches due to failing to strike a new deal during the summer.

“In terms of the amount offered by Radio Leeds for the home and away commentary, year-on-year, compared to what we were getting last season, it was half price,” revealed David. “They wanted to pay less. The Pulse offered us a much improved contract on the basis of exclusivity – more than double what they paid the previous year. There is a big jump up in the revenue we receive. Their offer on its own is a better deal than when we had both Radio Leeds and the Pulse last year.

“Economically, I think it is my responsibility to take the best deal for the football club. Because every penny that comes into the club is essential to Phil Parkinson’s budget. Our revenue streams from our website have also increased, because there isn’t the BBC website articles to the same degree meaning more people are reading our articles. There is also Bantams Player for people who can’t get the Pulse, which brings revenue to the club.

“I didn’t want to compromise the value of our product, and I felt it was being devalued by Radio Leeds’ offer.”

A more recent supporter fallout has concerned the introduction of a priority card for away games, which caused more than a few message board stirrings. David felt it was vital to introduce some form of scheme, after the heavy demand for Burton away play off tickets last May which hopelessly outstripped supply.

“If you take the Burton game last season, there was a feeling that we had to do something,” said David. “In such situations, with a priority card, you wouldn’t have to sit out in the cold for 12 hours queuing for tickets, with the club having to employ staff to steward it.

“The away priority card is a layer of protection for travelling supporters. It’s not gone out to the general public. You have to be a season ticket or flexi-card holder to buy one, and everyone had the option to buy one. It got launched on all platforms at the same time: online, ticket office and phone. Setting up the scheme has come at cost in terms of system changes, so the £10 charge was about recuperating some of those costs.

“I’ve purposely not published the figures of how many priority cards have been sold, as it triggers speculation about what it all might mean. We will review it on a game-by-game basis. We will monitor it as an idea and decide later on in the season whether to continue it next year. I will discuss it with the Supporters Board and try and get a view on what fans think. If it goes on sale again, next year, they will again be available on a first come, first served basis.

“We genuinely do what we think is best for the majority, and we do listen. You will never please everybody, but I would like to think we facilitate positive things for the good of everyone.”

David’s initiatives

When I spoke to David last November, the Supporters Board was in its early stages. A year on David is delighted by how this unique idea is working. “I chaired it to start with and put the group together. It now has an independent chair and vice-chair who were voted in by the group. I’m challenged by them on certain aspects and have to explain why we do things.

“All in all it has been a success and I think it will continue to be. It is a fantastic sounding board for the club to get a broad view on everything we do. I might discuss something with Mark and Julian that seems very plausible. All of a sudden I have 23 other people to run it by, and you have a spectrum of views from which you can take a general consensus. We are prepared to make changes based on the feedback from the Supporters Board.

“Those 23 people have a greater empathy for what we have to deal with. They’ve seen it first hand, and it can be a bit of an eye-opener: how do you appease everybody?

“We have 23 people around the table who represent the fans. They give up their time to do what’s best for the club and supporters. I personally want to thank them for that, because I think it is fantastic, and I know that they recognise that there are many other people who would love to do what they get to do. They don’t see themselves as some hierarchy; they simply want to improve the football club.”

Then there is RIASA, which continues to quietly operate in the background, supporting the club by acting as its Development Squad. David discussed the youth and reserve set ups, “We have got no reserves this year. That has really helped the youth team in terms of not having youth players, who are underdeveloped, playing on a Saturday morning and then a reserve game during the week, to make up for the fact the reserve team doesn’t have enough senior reserve players.

“In terms of the Under 21s, at no cost to the club, we have already played an Under 21 Development game at Garforth against Notts County and played Walsall down at St. Georges Park. We can also use these games to look at trialists rather than just RIASA players. We play Middlesbrough next week, and there are a couple of trailists that have played for London clubs who are going to come and play in that game.

“Is there another Nahki Wells on the immediate horizon within RIASA? Potentially. There are some younger ones in the under 19s bracket that have got dual nationality. But what we don’t do is make a big song and dance about it. I would rather underestimate and over-deliver. I would rather see a player come onto the scene when they are right, rather than have a big fanfare.

“There is no cost to Bradford City. All the transport, the meals for players, paying for officials to ref the game are all funded by RIASA, with the benefit that Bradford City can tap into these players. There are also side benefits; for example there is a non-league player the club is looking at who was flagged up by a RIASA coach.”

The RIASA scheme has led to other players achieving professional careers in other countries, although Wells clearly remains the standout star. David – who did so much to get him to Valley Parade – is justifiably proud of the Bermudian’s progress and popularity amongst fans.

“Nahki has to be the most exciting player in years. We used to talk about Edinho the Brazilian, and now we have Nahki the Bermudian!”

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The future of the club

With the national and international spotlight that fell on the club last season, rumours of investors wanting to take over the club have inevitably surfaced in recent months. David admits that there has been some interest, but nothing that has translated into serious proposals.

“We get lot of enquiries, which has probably being amplified more because of the cup run last year,” said David. “I must have done loads of sit down chats and provided information about the financial state of the club to a number of interested parties.

“The one thing I would say about the current owners – which I am personally really pleased about – is they will only do what is in the best interests of the club. If someone came along who was genuinely going to provide the club with the capability to compete at a higher level, they would step aside right away. But the reverse side of that is they are not going to have someone come along and asset strip it.

“I think that this is a fantastic position for the club to be in. We’ve got three owners (the Rhodeses and Mark Lawn) who see themselves as custodians of the club. And I applaud them for the investment and commitment they have made over the years.

“Plenty of people knock on the door, and the club is always for sale to the right person, to do the right thing with it. But it’s not for sale just to anybody. If anything was ever to happen, it would have to happen for the right reasons – for the advancement of the football club.”

Nevertheless, investment could play an increasingly important role in the structure of English football during the next few years. Over the weekend, pre-season promotion favourites Wolves climbed to the summit of League One – something that seemed inevitable during the summer, given their £20 million-plus parachute payments. With the new Premier League TV deal meaning the rich will become even richer, there is a danger of a major split between the haves and have-nots that City could fall narrowly on the wrong side of.

David reflected, “The Premier League has already moved away from the rest, and it is very hard for a Championship club to break into that. You could then see the danger of the Championship moving away from League One and League Two. The money you now get in the Championship is significantly higher than the bottom two divisions. At the minute there is a widening gap, but it’s not insurmountable. And so for us, the next couple of years are about endeavouring to get in the Championship.

“No one has a crystal ball, but getting there within that timeframe could be the difference between forever being a lower league club or being at least in a division that sits below the Premier League.

“All you can do is facilitate the best opportunities for your manager, to give him the best amount of tools to try and get out of the division you are in. And I think we are as well placed as anybody to be able to do that. Sooner rather than later ideally! But I believe that, if you make a forward step, you should build foundations to make sure that, when you make the next step, it doesn’t just crumble below you.”

David continued, “I think that it would be fantastic to get out of this division, but we also have to manage the expectation that, if we don’t, it’s not seen as a failure. The biggest success of last season was getting out of the division, not the cup run. The ambition this year is to endeavour to go for it and to get out of the division again. But, if we fail to do that it is not a failure. And you can be damn sure we wouldn’t give up on that aim next year.

“I think most fans are realistic that, if promotion isn’t achieved but we are fighting for it as late as possible at the end of the season, it would still be a success.”

For a club which has endured so much disappointment over the last decade, to have finally achieved progression last year must have be viewed as a validation of the strategies employed by the board. So is it a simple case of more of the same? “You don’t get complacent,” said David. “We constantly re-evaluate ourselves.

“Julian, Mark, Phil and I meet every Thursday, without fail, and have a long discussion about playing matters. We are constantly asking ‘what do we need to do to improve?’ And I think that it is key, in an environment of sport, that you are never satisfied with what you have. You build on the things you do well and look at the things where you know you could do a little bit better, whilst not biting off more than you can chew.

“We want to take forward steps, but it’s identifying what are realistic targets to make those forward steps. That’s constantly being re-evaluated every week. What can happen is you strive for something that realistically is completely unattainable, and you become deflated when you don’t achieve it. “

David concluded, “Always focus on what you can improve and never be satisfied with where you are. That is the mind-set of this football club.”

Catching up with David Baldwin (part one)

19 Nov
Picture courtesy of Bradford City FC

Picture courtesy of Bradford City FC

By Jason McKeown

It is just shy of one year ago since I met with David Baldwin in his Cullingworth local for an in-depth interview for Width of a Post – and it’s fair to say that plenty has happened since.

Two trips to Wembley – not to mention the respective two-legged semi finals that preceded them – and promotion has brought the club huge amounts of joy but also major workloads for the staff. Holding the title of Head of Operations/Chief Executive, no one will have felt this side-effect of the club’s success more keenly than David. Even now, long hours are a regular part of the job, rather than an anomaly.

As we meet again at 8.30pm in the same pub the evening after City’s pulsating 3-3 draw with Coventry, David is fulfilling the last duty of a working day that began before 7am. He won’t return home from our chat until after 10pm (“I’ve not had my tea yet”). At the weekend he is travelling to Spain to meet officials at Real Sociedad, mainly in relation to RIASA (“There might be some Spanish players that the club can look at”) and then it’s off to the Court of Arbitration to stand in the witness box for the hearing into Mark Stewart’s Falkirk transfer fee.

“I have definitely aged a bit in the last year,” chuckled David. “My poor wife has put up with some really long working days away. But at the end of the day, it’s my club and I want to do the best for my club. She is fully supportive of that, and that’s very important. I couldn’t speak more highly of her.”

Reflecting on the personal successes of the past 12 months, David immediately points to the way that the club handled the unprecedented demand for tickets for games like the League Cup Final. “What’s nice is when people come up and thank you. When they say how the organisation of the Wembley tickets was brilliant, for example. We know that we are not going to get everything right. But when I looked back at the stats for the Capital One Cup Final, we sold 27,000 tickets in less than six hours.

“We introduced an online ticket system a year earlier, because we had to move into the 21st century. The implementation of that was costly to the club. In terms of did it pay dividends? Without a shadow of a doubt, with the Capital One Cup.

“So that side of things I took a great deal of personal satisfaction from, knowing we implemented that. And it was nice to get good feedback from fans on it. Those who did have problems, we got them sorted really quickly.”

The scale of this achievement is further emphasised by how few full-time members of staff the club employs. David said, “I think people think we have a huge amount of staff and we don’t, certainly not away from match days. The actual day-to-day running of the business is done by a dozen people on a full-time basis. That’s not a lot of people to run a 25,000 seater stadium.

“The reality is that every penny you spend off the pitch, to improve things, is a reduction in the manager’s playing budget. And the feeling is we want to give as much budget as possible to the manager, to get the best possible product to rise up the divisions.

“In the month of the play off final, we received 33,000 calls. So it was all a mammoth task. A big thank you to the staff for that. It was a real team effort.”

The here and now

As the club establishes itself in League One and currently finds itself in the mix for a second successive promotion, David’s focus has quickly shifted to building on the successes of last season and providing Phil Parkinson and his coaching staff with the tools they require.

“The key thing is it is about making forward steps,” revealed David. “Take the training facilities. We are still in the process of developing a second pitch at the training ground, which is coming along nicely. Come next season, we will have two pristine pitches for training. We have a new full-time ground member of staff, based at the training ground. That’s an investment.

“That’s your forwards step. Last season, the forwards step was developing the relationship with Woodhouse Grove (who own the land where City’s training facilities are based). We have invested in gym equipment. Nick Allamby was very specific about some of the equipment he wanted, and we have found the budget to provide him that.

“It’s step by step improvement. Then, when you eventually look back, you realise we have made quite big strides. We haven’t just jumped; we have built upon things that are sustainable. I think that’s key. It’s no good having a go one year and then it collapsing. It’s putting improvements in place that will be seen year after year.”

Much of this has been funded by the League Cup windfall, so how was this revenue split between on and off the field matters? David explained, “I think some people think we have got this big pot of money just waiting to be used. It’s been well-documented that, in reality, there are three facets to the way the cup money is being used.

“Step one was the fact we had set a speculative budget last year to try and get out of the division, so there was already an overspend to make up. Step two was Mark Lawn having a loan in the company to be paid back, and step three was that we wanted to give the manager a decent budget if we got promoted. So the manager already has a budget this year that is greater than the break-even point.

“The position we ideally want to get to is that, come the end of this season, we have a controlled deficit. We don’t want to have massive debts, but we want to have given the manager a budget to have a go. There is quite a sizeable difference between break even point and the budget we have given the manager, but we are now a third into the season and in and around the play offs. That wouldn’t have happened with a lot less budget. The aim was to see if we could compete in this league.”

David continued, “We are very close to all the Capital One Cup money being gone, but we are sustainable as a club. Come the end of the season, we will be back to that position of needing to determine how we can continue to have a sustainable budget going forward. There are all sorts of ways we can do that, you look at the young lads coming through who we might be able to capitalise on. You look at the existing squad and decide whether to let someone go to freshen it up. Those decisions are for another day.”

So what of January and the transfer window: will there be money to spend? In August, Julian Rhodes told Width of a Post that the club were committed to 55% salary-of-turnover, with the maximum allowed by the Football League 60%. Since then Caleb Folan and Matthew Bates have been recruited, suggesting Parkinson will need to move people out to bring people in. “There’s a financial review of the wage cap due by the 8 December,” said David. “What you do is analyse whether what you projected for your income is up or down, and you make adjustments accordingly. So far, in terms of income and budgets, we are a little bit ahead of the game, although not by a lot.

“In terms of ticket income, we are probably slightly ahead of the game at the minute. By nature of the flexi-card system, positive results do improve attendances. If we had a run of bad results, that group could shrink down again. It’s a big pendulum swing.

“In terms of cup revenue, we are nearly on budget. We budget to go out of the first round of each one, but we had two good first round draws in Huddersfield and Rotherham from a revenue perspective.

“The commercial, advertising and catering side – those numbers are where they should be. And running costs are also where they should be. The adjustments that we need to make in the December report will show we have a slight improvement that may release a bit more money, but not a huge amount.

“Fundamentally I think you have to accept that to bring someone in, it could involve other players going out on loan to facilitate that.”

One longer-term money consideration is tying down James Hanson – out of contract in the summer – on a new deal. David confirmed that talks have been held with the striker, “Dialogue is still ongoing. It’s important to retain good players and we want to. Ideally, the club would like to retain his services and I think every fan would say that also.”

Although recent form has not been great, David is still pleased with the team’s progress this season, “I think you have to realise that teams will have dips in football. When you lose two of your most influential players, Andrew Davies and Nahki Wells – one at the back and one up front – you are likely to leak a few more goals and score less. So we have to be philosophical and treat it as a section of time.

“If you take the marker point of the first round of the FA Cup. Last summer if someone had said you will be in a play off spot come the first round, you’d think ‘that is successful’. There are a good dozen teams who could get promoted this year, at least.

“The Coventry game was against the most in-form team in the league, and we went 2-0 down after seven minutes. Yet we got back up off the canvas and came back, and I think that says a lot about the spirit of the club – on and off the pitch.”

SAM_0013

The 2012/13 legacy

With the club firmly in the mix to challenge for a place in next season’s Championship, the board potentially face a dilemma over the future of season ticket prices. Do they continue with the cheap initiative, or will that change as crowds continue to increase? “The ethos is there to try to remain as competitive as possible with season ticket prices. I think that it is important that we make them affordable.”

Will there be another Christmas campaign? “Allowing the season tickets to run through last year was successful in terms of people buying, so we have no immediate plan to look at a Christmas campaign this time. Things can change very quickly in football so I’m not going to say we don’t do one, but as it stands we are concentrating our efforts on potentially having an early bird offer later in the season. There are a lot of factors we need to consider.

“Even if we don’t run one. If people wanted to buy one for Christmas for a loved one, I am very happy to create a voucher that can be used to get money off buying a season ticket when they do go on sale. If anyone wants to do that for a loved one, please email me direct (davidbaldwin@the-bantams.co.uk)”

I asked David about the legacy of last season and the huge amount of interest the club’s exploits generated from the city of Bradford – how can this be maximised on? He pointed to the club’s understated community efforts, which he is clearly proud of. “We outreach to over 2,000 children a week, in and around some very deprived areas. We offer the ability to be coached, and not just football, but rugby and cricket. There are links to Yorkshire cricket and Bradford Bulls as well as ourselves. That’s one of the things we have worked quite closely with the charity One in a Million on. We signed one of the first partnership agreements with One in a Million.

“That is very much at the heart of what I believe in doing, as an individual. We have a responsibility to allow our collective community of the people of Bradford to feel part of something that is about much more than 11 guys who play football on a Saturday. I think the evidence is there to see. Through One in a Million and also Football in the Community, our links with the Bradford City disabled team, and the Bradford Positive Life Centre. These are not things that have been happening the last six months, but in many cases the last eight years. I’m very proud of that. I’m proud of our partners.

“We don’t massively blow our own trumpet about the things we do, because I think there should be some modesty about it.

“I was at an awards dinner for One in a Million a week last Saturday as a guest of Wayne Jacobs, to present an award. And I have to admit that, sitting in a car park at Rotherham at 5.30pm, it was the last place I wanted to go to. I wanted to go home and hide. But I went and, by the end of the night, I left feeling really inspired by it.”

In part two, David discusses recent controversial issues, plus the Supporters Board, RIASA and future objectives of the club.

10 years of writing about Bradford City

15 Oct

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By Jason McKeown

It was only a 1-0 defeat, but the scoreline flattered the beaten Bantams. Ipswich Town had played us off the park and should have won by three or four goals, with only a 10-minute rally at the end offering any encouragement that the relegation battle which Bradford City had become embroiled in could be won. I was angry, I was disillusioned, I was fed up.

And so after that Division One (Championship) game, 10 years ago this week, I wrote my first ever article about Bradford City.

The piece was published on the hugely popular City website boyfrombrazil.co.uk. Three months earlier, I had graduated from Sunderland University with a middle-of-the-road Journalism degree and a desperate need to gain some writing experience. I had, in truth, not made the most of the three-year course and was not exactly the most employable graduate of the thousands entering the job market that summer. I had failed to build up much writing experience beyond the University magazine, and so a need to rectify that – and the fact I was returning to watching City on a regular basis – prompted me to get in touch with BfB’s editor, Michael Wood, to see if he would let me write for his site.

That first article was very much out of keeping the hundreds I have produced since: I was slating the manager. Nicky Law’s excuses for City’s dreadful performances had failed to impress me, and the piece stated that it was time that he proved himself. Cringeworthy looking back – Law had more than proved himself up to that point, guiding the club through Administration One, and did a decent job overall – but at the time it was a proud moment to see my byline appear on a site that I loved so much.

One article soon became a few and before long I was contributing pieces on a regular basis. As I struggled to hold down a temporary job and spent most evenings scouring various websites for journalism-related vacancies, writing pieces for BfB was light relief and a godsend for sharpening my writing skills. These days – based on emails I receive from University students – Journalism undergraduates are encouraged to start their own blogs and practice, practice, practice. It’s excellent advice, and I was lucky that Michael allowed me to use BfB as a playground to get better and better as a writer.

Article number three had been to reflect on the inevitable sacking of Law, and article four reviewed one of his first games in charge, another 1-0 home defeat (West Brom), but this time with City playing well.  New manager Bryan Robson brought improved performances if not results, and I backed him strongly. Improbably retaining belief that relegation to the third tier could be avoided.

By February I wrote my first ever match report, a 2-1 defeat to West Ham. I made the mistake of planning my intro before a ball had been kicked that afternoon, meaning a disjointed start to the report that didn’t really fit in with how events panned out. For the rest of that season I wrote about every game I attended. Michael wrote reports also, meaning BfB would often carry two per game. A bit strange looking back, but it helped me no end.

I’ve always taken a review type approach to match reports for BfB and latterly Width of a Post. I am mindful that I am writing to a selective audience, but one that has a huge amount of knowledge on the subject matter. Most people reading my reports have attended the match also. They don’t need me to tell them what happened because they saw it for themselves. Even if they didn’t attend, they will already know the score and – these days – have probably seen the goals. So I don’t go into detail of what happened each minute, and instead focus on attempting to tell the story of how a game was won, drawn or lost.

Back in 2003/04, the web was a different beast, with the phrase ‘social media’ not yet invented. That meant no interaction or feedback from readers. No one telling you if they agreed or disagreed with what you wrote. The first time I received any kind of response to an article came in August 2004 when, after our first home game following Administration Two, City drew 2-2 with Peterborough and Nicky Summerbee was booed by his own fans. I wrote my disgust at the reaction he had experienced, and when I checked my emails that evening I had four from City fans – two agreeing, and two very angrily disagreeing with my stance. It felt a bit disconcerting, but also nice to know that people were reading my stuff.

That match came at the start of Colin Todd’s reign as manager. I was, until the bitter end, an advocate of what Todd was trying to achieve at Valley Parade. For a while so were most people and the 2004/05 campaign was a fun one to write about, especially those five straight wins in October that put the Bantams second. One year on, Todd was being heavily criticised by a growing section of support and BfB came under fire. I and most of the other regular writers supported the City boss, leading to accusations of the site failing to offer balance and cover the anti-Todd view. This was despite Michael always welcoming articles from anyone.

By this stage I had the boost of securing a writing job. My first day in the role was the week before the 2004/05 season ended at Oldham. In many ways BfB had served its purpose in that my original reasons for writing for it – to get a full time job as a writer – had been achieved. But I was having so much fun and still gaining a great deal from writing up my views on City’s endeavours in League One that there was no doubt about continuing. Writing about Bradford City had become a hugely enjoyable hobby.

I’d like to think that I was developing a reputation amongst City supporters as a decent writer with fair and considered views, but the polarised opinions that Todd’s reign triggered across the fanbase meant those angry emails appeared a little more frequently in my inbox. I rarely read message boards, but one day I stumbled upon the City Gent website’s board (run by the now defunct company, Rivals) and was left shocked by numerous postings about me. Some praising me, others absolutely slating me and my views. I vividly remember one: “I’m sick of the utter s**t that Jason McKeown writes” (asterisks my edit). Ouch.

At least they weren’t trying to shut us down, however. That was what a Southend United supporter threatened both myself and Michael with in December 2005, after we wrote articles defending goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts when he was sent off at Roots Hall for gesturing to the crowd – the Jamaican claiming he was being racially abused. This supporter obviously didn’t believe the Don’s accusation and was upset that his fellow supporters had been questioned by me and Michael. So he sent us both long and angry emails informing us that he was taking steps to get BfB shut down. Eventually he calmed, but somehow Michael’s contact details made it to a Southend message board, with nasty results.

It wasn’t an easy time for Michael, and by October 2006 he made the decision to take a break and stop BfB. I found out just like every other reader – by logging onto the site one morning to read a statement. I was gutted. This was still the days before blogs were as easy as they are now to create, and I had no skills or knowledge to start my own. I didn’t want to stop writing about my beloved Bantams, so approached Mike Harrison of the City Gent and began a column – Midland Road Mutterings – which I continued for five years. As a long-time reader of the fanzine, this was a great privilege.

BfB returned at the end of that season, but the landscape had changed considerably. Todd had been sacked, Dean Windass departed and City were in free-fall. My first article back writing for BfB was a match report of relegation being confirmed at Chesterfield.

The site was very different on re-launch, and behind the scenes Michael set it up so I could upload and publish articles directly myself, easing his own workload. BfB became a blog format, rather than news site. A lot of people didn’t like it at first, but with City in the basement league the simple fact was there wasn’t as much going on around the club to make daily news reports fulfilling. What was Michael to do, simply repeat Simon Parker’s interviews with players for the T&A? Even in the present, nothing really happens at Valley Parade in-between matches.

So BfB became all about opinions. Which suited us fine, as both Michael and I were rarely short of them. The Stuart McCall era certainly provided plenty of material as City adapted to League Two. If Todd had my measured support, McCall was a different level altogether. I’ve long held the view the managers need to be given years not months to build something, and so the presence of my greatest City hero in the dugout was a continuity I wanted to see maintained despite the difficult moments of his tenure.

It was a mixed time, response wise. Many people shared our views and BfB’s readership grew substantially; but when form suffered and other elements of support turned on McCall, we too found ourselves in the firing line of the anger. I had many a heated exchange with other supporters as I argued passionately for the manager I believed in. It was not nice to watch McCall eventually be driven away by supporters and members of City’s board. In truth, I found myself disenfranchised with all things City for almost a year after his departure.

By now Peter Taylor was in charge. A good appointment on paper that did appease me, but my enthusiasm was not what it was. It was a strange period, as I went from being slated for backing one manager too much, to being criticised by the same people for not supporting the next one strongly enough. By January 2010 I’d had enough of Taylor and wrote a heartfelt piece about my loss of support for him as manager. I was far from the only one, and a month later he was gone.

That year – 2011 – must rank as BfB’s best, at least until its abrupt ending in November. In that January (and before Taylor went), I had nervously sent an email to David Baldwin asking if Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn would be willing to be interviewed by myself and Michael. To our surprise, they said yes. In the end Rhodes couldn’t make it, but the two hours we spent speaking to Mark Lawn inside a box at Valley Parade was a wonderful experience. We received a great reaction for the two-part interview we published and I think that it helped Lawn’s reputation too.

A month or so later, we were to get wind that City were looking to talk to Valley Parade landlord Gordon Gibb about reducing the rent, and got to break the news exclusively. A testing period for the board and supporters – where the prospect of moving to Odsal was raised – saw me write some in-depth pieces about club finances and the like. I felt like the David Conn of Bradford City. It was good fun, and it even culminated in a couple of appearances on BBC Radio Leeds. My writing had widened to producing occasional articles for When Saturday Comes magazine (for which I get paid) and the excellent TwoHundredPercent website. A year earlier I had moved jobs to become a copywriter. On top of all this, I was writing a book about Bradford City which was published in December 2011.

Then came Archie Christie. A quiet September evening at home was interrupted by a phone call from Michael saying he’d had an email from the club’s new Head of Football Development. We were invited to spend the day shadowing him, during which we met and spoke to players, management and chairmen. As we chatted to Phil Parkinson at the training ground, I felt like we’d won some once-in-a-lifetime competition. It was an incredibly insightful day. We later heard that several national newspaper journalists had read our three-part story and expressed jealousy at the level of access we had been granted.

That series of articles was well received in the main, even though some of the stick Christie had been receiving from a minority of City fans had now trickled over to us. Lots of long and unresolvable arguments by email with people ended with a line being drawn under. It was undoubtedly an exciting period as Christie – delighted by what we had produced – regularly confided with us on City matters. It was a nice feeling to be aware of new signings a day or so before they were announced, and we always kept what we were told to ourselves. Talks were underway to interview players and Phil Parkinson, before it all suddenly stopped and BfB closed.

Let’s leave that horrible period to one side.

I had come to love writing about City so much that stopping forever just wasn’t an option. In the American version of the sitcom ‘The Office’, one of the characters, Creed, talks about how he writes a blog. He’s old and clearly not up with technology, and straight after his blog revelation the show cuts to another character, Ryan, who reveals he helped Creed set up what he thinks is his own blog, but is in actual fact just a Microsoft Word document. Ryan is protecting the world from the unknowing Creed, stating, “I’ve read some of his stuff. Even for the internet, it’s pretty shocking.”

If it came to it, I would write a blog like Creed’s: a word document that no one would ever see. Anything to continue writing about my favourite subject matter. So after BfB’s end, I went it alone, got around my technophobia and – after weeks of trying to think of a name – on 28 December 2011 launched widthofapost.com

There was a big change, going from co-writer, only concerned with my own articles, to website editor. Thanks to a network of talented writers that Width of a Post has built up over the past two years, a lot of my time is now spent editing and publishing other people’s articles, in addition to focusing on my own. It is an amazingly humble feeling when anyone takes the time – unpaid – to write and send something for you to use on your own site. My thank you replies to the writers must come across as pathetic in how grateful I sound, but I am genuinely appreciative each and every time. Width of a Post is strong because a number of people care about making it strong.

I am grateful, because I appreciate how much effort goes into writing a piece. On a good day, when something is very topical and I know what I want to say, it can take me two hours to write and edit an article. On other occasions it can take considerably more time. My recent match report of the Colchester United draw took over six hours. That was my Saturday night after that game: getting increasingly frustrated and stressed that it wasn’t flowing.

I can’t begin to imagine how many evenings and mornings I have sacrificed to write match reports and the like. City’s slump to League Two in 2007 coincided with suddenly being able to afford to go to more away matches and, for the last six years, I have probably seen 80% of all City games. Travelling to far-flung places like Plymouth, Dagenham, Barnet and Wycombe, sitting in traffic, and then getting home and spending hours sat in front of a computer writing about it – I am extremely lucky to have such an understanding wife!

The 2012/13 season was a dream to cover, right from the first of the 64 matches, at Notts County. It was campaigns like this that made up for years of writing about dismal away defeats and attempting to defend under-pressure managers. Being editor of the site meant I could award myself the job of covering those amazing nights against Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa. There was a sense of responsibility to do a good job recording the emotions of those occasions, knowing these matches would be talked about for years and years to come.

As the club shone brightly under the national media spotlight during the 2012/13 cup run, the likes of City Gent, Bantams Banter and Width of a Post benefited too, and I received numerous media requests. I’m proud of the coverage our team produced last season, which included a report of every single match. Talks had been held with a publisher to produce a best of WOAP 2012/13 book to raise money for the Burns Unit, but this has now stalled.

Phil Parkinson has been fantastic to write about. That day following Archie gave me opportunity to speak to Phil for 15 minutes, and he imprinted on me his values and the importance he placed on bringing in footballers with character. The promotion-winning side clearly had his stamp all over it and it so wonderfully mirrored what we supporters had been crying out for in our players for many years. Like others, I had my doubts about Parkinson during 2011/12 – but he has done, and continues to do, a magnificent job. I’ve always held Paul Jewell to be my favourite City manager, but now I’m not so sure.

Also in 2012/13, the relationship I had with the club was restored. Unlike when Archie was there I don’t have that day-to-day closeness, but a healthy professional distance is good and gives me the scope to be critical as and when I feel the need arises. David Baldwin has been wonderfully supportive of the site and we plan to meet up to do another interview soon. In August, Julian Rhodes sat down with me for a very revealing chat. I do enjoy interviewing people, and I hope to continue working with the club in order undertake many more over the coming months and years.

Things changed this summer on a personal level with the birth of my first child. That makes it harder to balance working, watching City and writing about the Bantams with family life, but so far so good in maintaining Width of a Post. I’m proud of what the site has achieved in a short space of time (being interviewed by BBC Two’s Newsnight, two days before the League Cup final, with the caption ‘Jason McKeown: Widthofapost.com’ was arguably the peak moment).

Writing is everything to me. I’m very lucky that I get to do it professionally, with my day job including writing for national newspapers most weekends. And through Width of a Post, I also get to write for fun. One decade completed, and I can’t imagine giving up covering the fortunes of my beloved football club for a long, long time.

The Width of a Post

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