Tag Archives: David Baldwin

These things I believe

3 Mar

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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.”

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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

Bradford City becomes the listening club

21 Sep

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By Jason McKeown

Bradford City’s decision to re-arrange the re-arranged Tranmere home fixture for Sunday 13 October, rather than the Friday night, is a great example of the progress it has made building positive relations with supporters.

It was bad enough that the game had to be moved from a 3pm Saturday slot so that a bunch of morons who don’t even live in the city of Bradford can attempt to disrupt our community. The original plan to play the game on the Friday night caused many supporters to contact the club, disappointed by the fact it would clash with a vital England World Cup qualifier being shown live on ITV. The club has listened to this feedback, with a Sunday afternoon kick off a much better compromise. True enough there must have been commercial considerations that going up against the national team on a Friday night would have hit the attendance, but the club deserves great credit for acting so quickly to the benefit of supporters.

One year ago, City took the decision to close its Official Message Board – seemingly the only transparent way in which it encouraged the views of fans. It hadn’t been an ideal relationship, with the club effectively hosting a platform from which its employees would be routinely slagged off. From Mark Lawn and Roger Owen, there were occasional mutterings of distrust of the people posting under usernames. True to their word at the time of removing the OMB, the club has laid on more avenues to interact with supporters. This has included the greater usage of the Bradford City Facebook page and – for a time, until he curiously closed down his account – David Baldwin on Twitter. More notably has been the Bradford City Supporters Board and, to a lesser extent, Friends of Bradford City groups.

The Supporters Board is a revolutionary concept, with 22 members representing the voice of City fans. They meet once a month – the minutes are published on their website and always make a fascinating read – and have been tasked with supporting and even implementing initiatives. Amongst many things, the pre-match and half time entertainment has become the Supporters Board’s responsibility and they are said to have had a role in the new catering arrangements. Such matters always attract a widespread of opinions – what is agreeable to one person is disliked by the next – and the benefits of making such decisions based on a spectrum of views are numerous.

It is to the club’s credit – particularly David Baldwin – that they have pioneered such an initiative. The quality and honesty of the feedback that the Supporters Board members provide is invaluable and would be the sort of set-up that major companies and businesses would crave to have with their customers. The difference being that no one cares enough about, say, Tesco to provide such time and commitment, compared to City asking their supporters to meet up and share what they are getting right and wrong.

So hats off to the club for the progress made, but there is still room for improvement. On Tuesday the club posted a message on its website aimed at 349 supporters who used Kop turnstile N2 to enter Valley Parade for last weekend’s match against Colchester. Access to one side of the Kop has become difficult due to the building of the One in a Million school next door, blocking some of the previous access routes to the turnstiles. With the ticket office located in the same area, there is no doubt that congestion before the match is a problem that needs to be monitored very carefully. It seems that these 349 supporters added to the issue by causing needlessly long queues.

Yet still, the tone and content of the message is, quite frankly, appalling. Whilst having no idea how the processes work at Valley Parade, you have to question how such a statement was not only written but approved for use. It is sneering in tone and reads as though the club is giving these 349 supporters a telling off. Here is just a sample, “There is a minority who do not listen to the advice and cause inconvenience for themselves and others.  If this applies to you, please reflect on this message.”

Ouch, now go and sit on the naughty step.

Let’s just remember – because the club apparently forgot – that those 349 supporters are paying customers of the club (and as Flexi-card holders, they are customers the club especially needs to keep engaged). They might be causing some headaches and, privately, the club can be entitled to be frustrated that they have ignored numerous messages aimed at getting them to avoid causing queues, but it does not mean they deserve to be publically belittled in such a way.

This statement – and the recent saga with Leonard Berry, the City Gent mascot – did not see the club portray themselves in the best light, but the positive is that these are now exceptions and the efforts made over recent years to engage supporters is hugely encouraging. Let us not forget that the Flexi-card idea came from a special supporters panel Baldwin arranged to discuss the future of season tickets.

With that and the cheap season ticket initiative, the club has increasingly been putting the needs of supporters at the forefront of how they operate. The Tranmere re, re-arrange is yet another example of listening to and making decisions based on constructive feedback. For that the club deserves a big pat of the back – and must now work to ensure that this ethos is adopted by everyone employed by Bradford City at all times.

If you like what Width of a Post do, please vote for us in the Football Blogging Awards.

Speaking to Julian Rhodes – part two

27 Aug

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Continuing from part one, Julian Rhodes talks to WOAP editor Jason McKeown about the historic 2012/13 season, the future of Nahki Wells and the renting of Valley Parade.

WOAP: How important is the youth set up?

Our youth system is very successful. Not so much in getting players to play for the first team, but very successful in generating money to help us through the bad financial times and enhance the first team budget.

Since the year 2000 we have had 29 players come through our youth system to play for the club, but not many of them who left have done anything. I think that if they get through to our first team, we are never going to sell them for a lot of money because they have not been picked up along the way.

If you can generate serious amounts of money from a lad who is aged between 12 and 15, and use that to put it into the first team, as opposed to putting them in the first team when you’re in League Two, it works out better financially. How many League Two players ever move for big money?

Also, managers are reluctant to play youth players in the first team. So you look at this list of 29, and then the lads that we sold on at a young age – Fabian Delph, Tom Cleverley, Andre Wisdom, George Green, Danny Ward, Ben Gordon – who all generated us serious amounts of cash. I think that’s the policy we will keep going. You’ve got to maximise these deals and let these players go. Then you get sell ons and stuff.

WOAP: Phil Parkinson had a tough first season in charge. Was there ever any doubt in your mind about keeping him?

No there was never any doubt. I said to Phil when he joined the club – and I don’t want to be disrespectful to other people – I said to Phil “We have a terrible squad”. I didn’t pull any punches with him. I said “If you can keep us in the division this season, your job is done”.

I explained that we knew we would have to spend money to achieve that objective. We had a relatively low budget under Peter Jackson, but we were going to up it because we knew the George Green deal was in the pipeline. So don’t worry, Phil, we will fund the strengthening. We need to stay in the league.

Phil actually said a week later “I’m not sure if this squad is actually better than what you think”. Two weeks after he said “No you were right, we need to strengthen”.

I thought Phil got a lot of unfair criticism that season, because it was always going to be a really hard job. And when you actually look at what he did that first year – in our last 15 home games we only lost once. That’s not bad for a squad that was not great at the start of the season. I thought he did very well.

WOAP: 2012/13 was obviously a spectacular success. What was the Board’s strategy going into it?

It was a bit similar to the strategy of the 1998/99 season. We thought the league was there for the taking, let’s expand the budget and have a go. Phil had done well: let’s give him a decent budget and let’s have a go.

And it also does help when you know you have the Andre Wisdom contract. We were on big money every game he played for Liverpool. So we thought we could have a crack at promotion and it worked!

WOAP: Just how much has the cup run changed the club’s finances?

Perhaps not to the extent that people think. But what it did for the club, with the fans and everything, was fantastic.

We probably ended up – after you have paid the bonuses and everything – with the largest wage bill in League Two. You took out all the cup bonuses and it was still in the top three.

I think the income we took in from the cup was in the region of £2.5 million. But by the time that we had finished with all the wages and everything and the overspend on the original budget, which was substantial, the net result of everything was a profit of about £1.4 million.

We paid Mark his £1 million loan back straight away. And let’s be right, Mark probably thought that he would never see that money again. I was anxious to get it to him because I always said to him that the whole idea of if we ever had a cup run or sold a player for a fortune, that was how he was going to get his money back. So that’s why I was keen to repay him. That left us with £400k.

We also made a small profit on the shop and offices, which we sold through our holding company. So that’s gone back into this year’s budget. The net effect of all that is that, if we don’t have a cup run or we don’t sell a player, we’re probably a £1 million above what we can afford this year. But again, it’s something that we want to do because we want to have a good season. And we think that we have enough in the background that we can cover those debts if need be.

But a fact of life is that we might need to sell a first team asset if all else fails. You know, we did get knocked out of the first round of the Capital Cup. It’s all about balancing the books.

WOAP: Watching that cup run was thrilling for us fans and I’m sure you too. Were you sat watching the penalty shootout vs Arsenal or semi final against Villa with your supporter head on or your chairman financial hat?

Firstly I’m watching as a fan. They were fantastic games and I never thought we’d see nights like it. I have to say that I have never celebrated a goal like I did James Hanson’s at Aston Villa. When that went in I thought “My god, we’re going to a major cup final!”

But also it was nice to then start looking at your cash flows and your profit and loss and realise what it all means. And you think what a fantastic season. We get to a cup final, we cleared the biggest debt we had left which was Mark’s loan, we get rid of the shop and office building – which was the final drain on resources – and we go back to Wembley and get promotion. It doesn’t get much better than that!

The thing that got me last season was just how nice it was to see the smiles on people’s faces. Because it has been absolutely incredible how people have stuck with us. I know we do the cheap season tickets, but look at the crowds still. Wherever you go everyone always says “what fantastic support”. So to see the complete look of disbelief on thousands of faces was unbelievable.

I’ve got a mate who is a Leeds fan and he came along to the Burton play off game at home. He said he has never seen an atmosphere like it. And that was a game we lost.

I couldn’t believe how we’ve kept it going and how good the atmosphere was for the Carlisle game. I always felt that there were a number of things that, if we got back to League One, would be completely different to last time, because we are going back in the right direction. And for me, the atmosphere against Carlisle reaffirmed that. It was fantastic support.

WOAP: After the Swansea game and we’d dropped to mid-table, did you think promotion was beyond us?

I thought it was beyond us at that point. We drew the next few games and the result that seemingly killed it was Exeter away. I thought, after that, forget it. If someone had said at that time, “You’ll get into the play offs with a game to spare” we’d have rightly thought they were stupid.

But we went on a great run. We actually had a great run at the start of the season and a great run to end the season.

WOAP: Given all you have endured in 16 years with your money tied to the club, how did you feel when the final whistle was blown against Northampton at Wembley?

A massive relief. Because, going into that game at Wembley, the outcome of that game would determine whether we had a fantastic season or not. Because if we had have lost, we’d still have been playing Dagenham & Redbridge in League Two. So I was very nervous before the Northampton game. I wasn’t nervous at all for the Swansea game. I didn’t really think we’d win it. It was just fantastic to have got there.

To be 3-0 up against Northampton after half an hour, I still felt this was too good to be true and waited for it to go wrong! So I was just relived at the end. It was great for all supporters and particularly for the players, who were rewarded for all the hard work they’d put in over the season.

Was it the best season in the club’s history? Probably.

WOAP: Giving Parkinson a new deal was a no-brainer. You’ve worked with so many managers. What makes him different from the others?

I don’t think many people can argue with the appointment of Phil after last year, although I do think a lot of people unfairly criticised him the year before that.

I get on well with Phil. The thing I’ve always liked about Phil is that he is very receptive to other people’s ideas and comments. He is a very mature manager. Some football managers can take the attitude “What do you know?” I always think the best managers in any walk of life seek other people’s opinions and then decide what they are going to do.

It’s very easy to have a conversation with Phil. He works hard, he expects his staff to work hard and he expects his players to work hard. And I think that is the main thing about Phil which everyone has bought in to: the effort that his teams put in.

He’s always pushing it. He always wants to spend more and more. But in that respect he’s no different to any manager. He normally will justify it with a reason for doing it. He’s never happy unless he is squeezing every last pound out of us – it’s become a bit of a standing joke! But so be it, if we are being successful that is not a problem.

WOAP: What are your expectations for this season and beyond?

I don’t know. It’s still early days. I was a little bit surprised how expensive everything is – certainly a lot more expensive than last time we were in League One! The wages seemed to have spiralled substantially. So you don’t get as much for your money. We have had to spend quite a lot just keeping the squad that we had last year.

So I really don’t know. We do want to kick on and get into the Championship, but I’m not saying that will be this season. But we just need to keep the momentum going in the right direction. I do think that we are going to find it hard. I do think there is a bit of a jump up from League Two to League One. We’ve only got a small squad, but if we don’t get injuries we will go alright.

WOAP: The transfer window closes soon. Is there the potential for Nahki Wells to be sold?

We’ve knocked back a decent offer for Nahki. But other than that, no one has been knocking which I have to say has surprised me a bit. We don’t have to sell Nahki, we don’t want to sell him. So I think it is highly unlikely he will go. But every player has a price and if someone offered us silly money and he wanted to go, that’s life and you have to move on.

But we would have to have something lined up. We couldn’t afford for it to happen on transfer deadline day because we couldn’t replace him. But I don’t think he will go. Knowing Phil he will just want to add rather than sell anyone.

WOAP: Is there money to strengthen the team, either in this window or January?

I think the plan was to try and keep some back for January. But like I said, it’s all proven a bit more expensive than we thought. Let me put it this way: in League One you are allowed to spend 60% of your income on wages. If you spend anything above 55% you have to certify that you can afford it. We’re in that phase already.

If we had an FA Cup run or something, we could spend more. But you’ve always got that eye on next season, and sometimes, if you’re in mid-table, what’s the point of spending money now that could be better saved for next season? So in January it will depend where we are.

We always do seem to find the money for whatever we need to do. I don’t want to blow our own trumpet but I do think that we are a pretty well run football club.

WOAP: Finally on money matters, there is the unresolved situation with Mark Stewart’s fee. What is the latest on this?

We’re appealing it. You had to pay just to receive the explanation for FIFA’s decision, so we’ve had our legal team looking at it. And it’s going to go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. I don’t know how long it will take. We did go there once before and lost, when Crystal Palace signed David Hopkin and Matt Clarke from us.

WOAP: Season ticket sales have been excellent. You pioneered the cheap season ticket scheme in 2007. It must be something that you are really proud of…

Yes I am. And I want to continue it for as long as we possibly can. I know that prices have inched up a little over the years, but it’s still under £200 which is pretty good and that’s now for League One football. But I think the only way that these schemes work is if people take you up on it. Bradford fans have been so receptive to it.

Bradford is not a rich area. If you want people to come and watch the local sports team I think you have to do things like that. I think the whole thing has worked a treat.

I think the Flexi-card idea is also really good and I can see a lot of other clubs doing it as well. The Flexi-card was something we had to come up with because the numbers had got to the point where the normal sales and income had fallen to a level where it was no longer acceptable to carry it on. That’s boosted it again. So we will carry on.

WOAP: Does it annoy you that only a few clubs have tentatively tried such a wonderful idea?

I just don’t think that they did it very well. I think they copied it badly. The way that ours was marketed was important and we were lucky that the Telegraph & Argus was so great in supporting us with front cover articles. If it doesn’t work for other people I’m not bothered. I’m only really bothered what we do.

WOAP: A few years ago there were efforts to re-negotiate the rent with Gordon Gibb over Valley Parade. What is the future for City and the ground?

The biggest problem we had was the shop and office. That’s now gone. I personally don’t think the rent is bad when you actually look at this stadium. The rent is £380k a year. We more or less cover that from catering and stuff. I don’t think it’s that bad.

There was an idea raised about why we don’t get the rent structured so it is less in League Two, more in League One etc. Well, now we are in League One, and we are paying exactly what we were in rent when we were in League Two: £380k. And we’d be paying that if we were in the Championship or the Premiership.

I think it’s a decent rent and I think we’ve just got to get on with life. Pay the rent like we do and concentrate of moving upwards.

WOAP: How is the club run on a day-to-day basis?

Before Mark came I was running everything really. I now try to focus on the football side of things, which is the biggest part of the business. Mark is more on the commercial side of things nowadays, and David Baldwin does all the operational things. Pretty much everyone reports to David!

WOAP: And how do you and Mark get on? You seem like chalk and cheese!

We get on great. We’d get on better if he bought me out! But he won’t do it. He keeps asking me to buy him out!

We are chalk and cheese, but a lot of the best relationships are like that. When you’re different you look at things differently and you meet in the middle. We are very open with each other. I’ve got on well with him from day one and had very few disagreements. I think we do alright.

WOAP: Do you enjoy being joint-chairman of this club?

Yes. Definitely. I hated it for the first few years, it was terrible. I was drinking too much, not sleeping. We were always one day from disaster for so long.

So of course I enjoy it more now, as we don’t have that kind of pressure. There is still pressure and you want to do well for our supporters and for the city of Bradford. This is a big focal point of the city and it would be nice if we could do a good job for everybody. It’s all about keeping people smiling.

The one thing I never wanted was any kind of publicity. The joint chairmen thing works very well because Mark is the public face of the club.

WOAP: Finally, what are your favourite memories of Bradford City as a supporter?

Bobby Campbell scoring against Liverpool in the League Cup in 1980. I was a ball boy back in those days!

Two of my favourites have been 5-4 away wins. Preston away on 25 November 1992, on their plastic pitch. And then in October 2004 we beat Tranmere when Wethers scored.

One of my favourite games, which we touched on earlier, was that Stockport game (the 3-2 win in Peter Taylor’s last game in charge). Just because the atmosphere was fantastic and to come back and win from 2-1 down was fantastic. It sticks in my memory as the best, because I was seriously concerned we were going out of the league and that win turned it round.

The two trips to Wembley last season were special too, of course!

Post script

The interview over, Julian kindly continued chatting to me for another 45 minutes about Bradford City matters. It was the type of conversation that is carried out between regular supporters all over the region. Because first and foremost, that seems to be what Julian is: a regular supporter.

A regular supporter who was fortunate enough to be in a position to invest into the football club back in 1997 and finance the never-to-be-forgotten promotion to the Premiership. Geoffrey Richmond was hailed as one of the heroes behind it and rightly so, but it would not have been possible without the Rhodes’ family borrowing the money that financed the likes of Lee Mills, Stuart McCall and Gareth Whalley.

Fast forward 14 years to City’s next promotion, and once again another person – Mark Lawn – is enjoying his moment of adulation, whilst Julian stays in the background. That is the way that Julian chooses to have it. After our interview I asked if he would mind me taking a photo of him to include in this article. He refused, before joking about how much he enjoys the fact there have barely been any photos taken of him over the last 10 years. “People still think I’m that 30-year-old!”

His reasons for declining a photo are revealing. He talks about how club chairmen nearly always ultimately depart in sad circumstances and then are rarely able to continue watching their football club. Julian is realistic enough to know that he might one day step down as chairman in less than happy circumstances, and if that day ever occurs he doesn’t want it mean he has to stop watching City. If no one knows what he looks like, that will be easier to accomplish. “I love walking around the ground and no one having a clue who I am” he smiles, before recalling his horror at being recognised by a City supporter outside Wembley last season.

In many ways this sums him up. There seems to be no ego about him or desire to share in the acclaim. Julian has done incredible things for this football club over the past 16 years – not least ensuring its ongoing existence – and though he often doesn’t get the credit he deserves, he doesn’t seem to mind or seek to address that. He is a down-to-earth, laid back type of person. Undoubtedly there is a steel about him that those who have worked with him will no doubt testify to, but he left me with the impression he would be a great person to work for and his revelation of ex-managers still wishing us and him well seems understandable.

Last season, Mark Lawn enjoyed a resurgence in popularity that being a successful club owner will provide. For some reason, there was little comment or praise about Julian. I don’t think that we supporters think any less of him (indeed many hold a higher opinion of him compared to Mark), but his chosen cloak of invisibility seems to leave his name absent from such discussions.

Yet the front row seat that Julian has held for the past 16 years makes him arguably the most influential person connected with the club over the past two decades – at least in a positive context. He helped to take us to the top flight, he cleared up the massive problems left over from Geoffrey Richmond’s six (or, as Julian claims, four) weeks of madness, he saved the club from oblivion, he pioneered the wonderful season ticket initiative, and he and Mark have finally helped the club bounce back from years of gloom.

Somewhere, you hope there’s a photo of Julian proudly holding the League Two play off final trophy and looking every bit a part of the success that he helped to deliver last season. But I bet such a photo will remain hidden under lock and key, destined never to be seen by anyone but his own family.

Just the way he likes it.

The club’s in the black, and so too is Mark Lawn

27 Jun

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By Jason McKeown

There was – typically for the Telegraph & Argus – a wholly positive tone to this week’s announcement that Bradford City made a £1.5 million profit for the 2012/13 season. Undoubtedly it is a significant achievement that rightly should be applauded. The club took what David Baldwin described as a “calculated risk” with the budget last season, a risk that was handsomely rewarded.

Indeed it is worth recalling the consequences of what that gamble failing might have been. Baldwin explained that the club committed to a playing budget £600k higher than it could afford, with four variants identified as offering the potential to recoup the deficit if it was required to be made up.

One of those – the selling of the former club shop to the One in a Million charity, who were opening a school – appeared to be in doubt when the Government ruled the school’s opening must be delayed. The other three variants were City going on an unbudgeted for cup run, re-negotiating clauses agreed with clubs who bought some of our youth players and selling members of the current squad. The cup run more than ensured that there was no need to consider the more troubling variants three and four, and eventually the school deal went through – further boosting the coffers.

A great story then and one that the club’s owners can feel rightly proud of. Two summers ago there was talk of leaving Valley Parade and suggestions of big financial problems if the status quo was maintained. Firstly, there was the excellent move to buy the club shop from its landlords Prupim, to halve the £600k+ annual rent that City were forced to pay. This deal was carried out privately by Mark Lawn and the Rhodeses with no little risk to their capital – the successful sale of this land to One in a Million, for a profit, demonstrating excellent business acumen.

Now we can reflect that the calculated risk agreed last season was also a sound decision. Phil Parkinson had the resources to build a promotion-winning squad, the variants identified paid off and the club made a profit beyond their wildest expectations. Just as faith in Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn was beginning to wane, the pair have demonstrated they have the ability and know-how to take the club forwards.

So all great then? Well, nearly. But not sitting entirely comfortably are the details surrounding the news that Lawn has been paid back the £1 million he loaned to the football club in 2008, details completely ignored by the T&A. Under the terms of the loan agreement, Lawn was been paid annual interest 9% above the Bank of England Base Rate. Since March 2009, Base Rate has remained at the historic low level of 0.5%, which means Lawn was apparently earning a return of 9.5% – or £95,000 – per year.

Four seasons on Lawn has been paid his money back and, according to the T&A, received the interest owed. The exact details cannot be known, but it would appear fair to estimate that Lawn has earned something between £380,000 and £437,000 in interest. This is a tidy profit, which he’d have done well to have made in a different manner, such as investing.

You can, valued reader, form your own judgement over whether this personal profit is agreeable to you or not. Many have argued – accurately – that City would not have found a more favourable interest rate from borrowing this money from elsewhere. Their credit record, on the back of two administrations and regular annual losses, would have made it difficult to raise the capital in the first place – especially as 2008 was the year of the credit crunch and of big name banks requiring tax-payer bailouts. Lawn – who had already invested £1 million 12 months earlier – loaned part of his children’s inheritance when others would not have. So kudos for that.

Yet the issue for me is the belief held that, without the loan, City would not be here today. The money was loaned to the club at the start of the 2008/09 season to fund a gamble on promotion under Stuart McCall, with a £1.9 million playing budget handed to the former City manager. Lawn’s loan was to cover this shortfall, but it was from this point that the club got to a position, two years later, where it was paying players late and talking of ripping out the Valley Parade seats and moving them to Odsal.

Lawn’s loan may indeed have been vital at this time, but the decisions that he and Rhodes made had led us to the point where it was vital. In addition to this capital – £700k of which had been spent before last summer, according to Baldwin – the sell on bonus clause from Fabian Delph moving from Leeds to Aston Villa and George Green’s move to Everton were clearly crucial.

Ultimately, the club’s gamble in 2008 did not work and there was less of a solid plan considered for the consequences of failure, compared to this time around. Lawn’s £1 million loan was a risk on his part – had City gone into administration, he would have been at the back of the queue of creditors – and so it is understandable he sought to ensure he was rewarded for that.

But still, it looks like a big profit…

The point of this article is not to criticise Lawn, or indeed any member of the Board. It’s just that, perhaps, the deserved recent praise for his business acumen is slightly to the detriment of his reputation as being a huge City supporter.

Were me or you in a position of Lawn to loan Bradford City £1 million – bearing in mind your loved ones could lose a chunk of their inheritance if it went wrong – would we be willing to do so and, if so, would we want the type of assurances Lawn agreed? It’s easy to get on the high horse and say we’d want no profit because we love the club, but sadly we will probably never get the chance to find out what we’d really do.

The comparison with Rhodes – somewhat ludicrously rarely celebrated for being a City supporter – and the sacrifices he and his family have made are there to be made. Once the recipient of regular, lucrative dividend payments, Julian re-invested it all and re-mortgaged his home to rescue the club. In contrast Lawn is a richer man for his second £1 million investment at least; and if he was ever to sell his 49% stake in the club he would expect to receive his first £1 million back too.

I have mixed feelings about it, but perhaps overall we should be positive about this development. Lawn has re-established his popularity amongst fans after a successful season, and deserves to share some of the praise for how well things went, due to an improved calculated risk strategy that he helped to implement. When he was less popular, the defence offered by his supporters was that at least he was a City fan – one of us.

If Lawn has made a profit for himself, he has done so whilst delivering a profit for City and taking us forwards. And I like going forwards. And I prefer thinking of Lawn as a successful football club owner than I do thinking of him as unsuccessful one whose failings we overlook just because he is a passionate City supporter.

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