Tag Archives: Mark Lawn

2014/15 previewed: Parkinson faces tough challenges to deliver further progress

7 Aug
Image by Alex Dodd

Image by Alex Dodd

By Jason McKeown

“I think it’s a big season for Phil,” stated Mark Lawn in early July, although when is it not a big season for any football manager?

Unless you are the seemingly unsackable Arsene Wenger, every incumbent in the 91 hotseats up and down the country is just one poor season away from being dismissed. At Valley Parade, Phil Parkinson faces what on paper looks set to be one of his most challenging campaigns as Bradford City manager. He is tasked with continuing the considerable improvement he has delivered during three years in the role – yet for the first time must do so with a scaling back of the resources available. To achieve further forwards progress, he will need to make more from less; meaning that every move in the transfer market will be heavily scrutinised over the coming months.

To put it another way, Parkinson simply cannot afford a summer recruitment as poor as the last one.

And though the manager goes into the season popular amongst the majority of supporters, he is but a couple of poor performances away from a return of the pressure that he came under from a section of the crowd during difficult periods last season. In 2013/14 there were calls – from a vocal minority – for the club to sack Parkinson. A level of discontent simmered for a period, and it was only extinguished by a promising end to the campaign that resulted in a highly commendable top half finish. Nevertheless, the halo slipped somewhat on his high standing amongst supporters. It doesn’t take much imagination to envisage a re-emergence of grumbles about his performance as manager.

No matter what pressure there was on Parkinson at times last season, his sacking was never on the agenda. The signing of a three-year contract, in May 2013, provided him with a level of immunity from being handed a P45. It would have cost the club a considerably large amount of money – probably six figures – to have dispensed with him last season, with over two years on his deal still to run. As though he were Wenger, you could argue that City could even have been relegated and the job would still be Parkinson’s if he wanted it. As much as a manager can be, for 12 months he was bullet proof.

And he deserved to be. He really did. The modern day history of the club does not need retelling yet again, but it nevertheless continues to provide an important perspective when measuring the scale of Parkinson’s achievements. Turning around the flagging fortunes of Bradford City had eluded so many of his predecessors – anyone who can bring success deserved to be praised, lauded and loyally backed. That three-year contract was a reward for the unprecedented success the Bantams achieved in 2012/13, and it left Parkinson with credit in the bank that ensured he deserved ongoing support and security when bumps occurred during 2013/14.

The reality last season was that – when the chips were down and old familiar tales of on-the-field woes resurfaced – the vast majority of supporters remained calm, measured and understanding of the situation. Those who were calling for him to go found themselves vastly outnumbered by those who remained right behind him. The fantastic reception Parkinson received prior to the recent friendly at home to Blackburn Rovers dismisses any doubts over his popularity. The goodwill afforded to the manager endures and rightly so. Over a two-year period, Parkinson has pushed the club almost a third of the way up the 92 ladder.

Yet despite the majority verdict from last season, it’s highly likely that the fragmented lines will be redrawn over the coming season, and the debates about the manager’s worth will resurface. The downbeat pre-season mood perhaps helps the manager in terms of where the expectation bar is positioned; but if City are performing worse than they did last season, the excuse of a reduced budget (14th-best in the division according to Mark Lawn) may fail to wholly register.

And though it is fair to say that clubs on lower playing budgets than the Bantams finished above us last season, the correlation between resources and performances is generally a strong one. We must always live within our means, but budget cuts at Valley Parade in the past have not gone well.

Chief Executive David Baldwin told Width of a Post that the aim is to find greater efficiencies in the playing budget, rather than allowing for wastage. “The bottom line is that, over the last few years, we have had players in the building that have not come in on cheap wages, and yet their game contribution to the team has been sporadic to say the least,” he noted.

Undoubtedly true, and the objective of not stocking the bench with, or leaving on the sidelines, unwanted players earning good money is a commendable one that no one would disagree with. The proof will be in the pudding however, and the reality at City – as it is up and down the country – is that managers make poor signings, or players who look good on paper are signed, fail to settle and under-perform. It has happened before, and it will happen again.

If the budget leaves very little margin for error in the players Parkinson has available – meaning any bad signings he makes will have to nevertheless be more heavily relied upon – the problems begin. That players who last season failed to impress are still part of the scene, and expected to contribute more this time, is also a concern.

Because in 2013/14 – with a larger playing budget – Parkinson’s good fortune was that he was able to get away with the fact his summer signings did not work out. He could continue to rely on the History Makers of the season before and, in January, made effective loan signings. Whatever criticisms were at times directed at the likes of Adam Reach, Kyle Bennett and Matty Dolan, the reality is these players all contributed more to City remaining in League One than the likes of Mark Yeates and Jason Kennedy.

And then there is the problem of Aaron Mclean. Despite an improved goal return at the end of the campaign, the striker has yet to convince in a City shirt and the jury is very much out. Rather like John McGinlay did for Chris Kamara, Mclean has the potential to make or break Parkinson. After Wells left in January, the manager was afforded a replacement budget considerably higher than any City manager in recent years has been given to bring in a striker. There is simply no way that Mclean could not be in the first XI this season, so he has to deliver. A pre-season stalled by injury is the worst possible start for the high earner.

In this summer – and like in 2012 – Parkinson has taken a radical approach to the squad. Letting go of numerous players hugely popular with supporters, and bringing in new faces who already it is clear will have a bigger role to play than the 2013 summer signings were expected to. The positive is that, in 2012, an even greater turnover of players reaped spectacular rewards. The business that summer remains conclusive proof that Parkinson has a fantastic eye for a player. He needs to reaffirm that faith, as it has been tested by the business of a year ago.

The other big question mark directed at Parkinson has been his style of football, which fairly or unfairly came in for criticism last season. As is sadly typical of these types of debates, it was over-simplified at times and the efforts of some good players was unfairly dismissed with the tag ‘hoof-ball’.

The fact is that – since Christmas 2011 – Parkinson had built a team around the immensely promising partnership of James Hanson and Nahki Wells, and he was spectacularly rewarded for doing so. At their best in 2012/13, and the first two months of 2013/14, the fast-paced nature of City’s attacking play was enthralling to watch. There was a real mixture of approaches, from the direct ball to Hanson, the attacking wide play of speedy wingers – who linked up so well with overlapping full backs – and the masterful passing of Nathan Doyle and Gary Jones. It was deliberate chaos at times, as opposition teams were attacked from all angles, sometimes not knowing what hit them.

When things started to go wrong last season and players’ confidence dipped, this style of play looked increasingly one-dimensional and easy to defend against. The attacking verve and high tempo waned, and the departure of Wells meant a key part of the team’s focal point was lost. It’s easy to criticise the football when things aren’t going as well as hoped, but the problems were more complex.

Nevertheless, last season saw a gradual shift to a new style of play, and it will be continued in 2014/15 with the diamond formation and greater versatility to change it around. I’ve never believed that Parkinson is a long ball manager, and a rewind back to his first few games in charge in 2011/12 – where he attempted to instigate a passing style of play with mixed results – demonstrates his adaptability. He built the high tempo 2012/13 side after learning the most effective way to prosper in League Two. And now, after a year in the third tier, he is adapting the playing style yet again.

This is the true pragmatism of Parkinson. He will set up his team in a way that he thinks will work in the environment that they play in. And ultimately his performance as manager will be judged on the results he gets. If playing more direct football continued to work past last October, no one would be complaining about him still using it now. If the football this season is more pleasing on the eye but leads to adverse results, no one will be happy and accepting of the playing style. Which would you rather have: principled football or three points? Both would be nice, but if we are forced to choose I don’t think there’s any doubt which would win out.

So some tough battles ahead for the manager. By the end of this season, he will have only 12 months left on his contract and become more easily sackable if the club is not progressing in line with expectations. A failure to match last season’s standards will see him come under heavy criticism. If his record in the transfer market is more 2013 than 2012, there will be no hiding place for him.

A big season for the manager, and a potentially difficult one, in view of the reduced budget and the rising demands. His track record of progress over the past three years continues to be relevant, but in the immediate term he will be judged in terms of how well he can manage his resources and further acclimatise to the division.

On his side, the summer signings are looking good in pre-season and – in view of the challenges around the cuts – he appears to have juggled the budget well. He should be applauded for what he has done this summer, because it has clearly not been an easy task. Even if time proves that he hasn’t got every tough call right, the circumstances around them should not be forgotten.

We fans, and the Board, owe it to Parkinson to support him throughout the season and not lose sight of the conditions under which he is working. This campaign won’t be easy and there will be times when the manager deservedly comes in for criticism, but we need to keep this season in context, and remember that, long-term, Phil Parkinson has the track record and know-how to ultimately build further on his list of Bradford City achievements.

A mid-table budget should reflect the season’s objectives

26 Jun

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By Jason McKeown

The Bradford City chairman, Mark Lawn, is rarely dull when he speaks out, and today’s comments urging supporters not to panic about next season, in the wake of concerns over the growing number of players leaving the club this summer, were certainly very revealing.

The budget reduction has become the talking point of the close season so far. When judged against a playing budget said to have been just over £2 million in 2012/13, the £500k cut represents a significant proportion of the resources manager Phil Parkinson was previously able to call upon. There has been talk that some of the players let go this summer were partially because of their high wages. It would be great to think that everyone who the club has chosen to release have departed entirely due to footballing reasons; but without clarification from the club, speculation has been allowed to grow.

Still, as Mark Lawn told the T&A, new signings will be made to strengthen the squad, “We’ve got a competitive budget so we’ll have a competitive squad – it’s as simple as that. I don’t understand why everyone is panicking over something which will be sorted out before the season gets underway. Obviously we are going to bring more players in because we’ve not got enough at present.”

Although no one likes the idea of the playing budget being slashed, the prudent approach of the club should be congratulated. It is almost 10 years to the day since the Bantams were hours away from going out of business forever; in the midst of a second spell in administration, less than 18 months since the first one. For the past decade, the club has undertaken and maintained a route of living with its means, taking what Chief Executive David Baldwin describes as “calculated risks”. Setting playing budgets higher than the business can afford, with variants in place to recoup these losses later, if needed.

Bradford City must continue to live within its means, and if that means a reduced budget for the upcoming season then so be it. There is a separate debate raging about whether the club should abandon its principled policy of cheap season tickets in order to give the manager more funds (for what it’s worth, I’m against pricing supporters out of buying season tickets), but in the immediate term that cannot be changed. This is what Bradford City can afford, so this is the budget Phil Parkinson must work with.

Which brings us to the most interesting aspect of Lawn’s T&A comments. “We have a competitive budget this year which is higher than at least ten other clubs in League One this coming season.” Accepting that the chairman is unlikely to have an accurate picture of every other League One club’s 2014/15 budget, by his reckoning City’s wage budget is going to be around the 14th highest in the division. In other words, Phil Parkinson has a mid-table budget to work from.

It can be easy to become overhung on budgets and assume they will dictate the divisional outcome – when in fact, year-on-year, there will be clubs with large budgets who don’t perform and others on low budgets who overachieve – but they are clearly important. And it must be a key point in the expectation levels set for next season. Can we, in the Boardroom and in the stands, justifiably expect Phil Parkinson to achieve promotion in 2014/15? Do we have a right to be disappointed if City are not in the top six? Is a mid-table finish considered acceptable?

Because the worry remains that, if City’s league position is judged against unreasonable expectations, it will prove to be a bumpy ride. Parkinson is tasked with making more from less, and improving a squad which, over the previous two years, had lifted the club 30 places up the ladder. It will not be easy and patience is going to be needed. As a club we cannot stand still and tread water, but slow progress shouldn’t be judged as failure against the true backdrop of the budget constraints.

Instead, it should be made loud and clear: Bradford City 2014/15, a mid-table budget, but a realistic objective to perform better. It might not set the pulses racing, but it is a sensible next step for a club that should have a sound, long-term plan to ultimately get back into the Championship.

Always look on the bright side of life

3 May

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Tranmere Rovers 1

Pennington 7

Bradford City 2

Stead 81, Mclean 87

Saturday 3 May, 2014

Words and images by Jason McKeown

As I stood there in the Cowshed Stand, watching my beloved football club relegate another, it struck me just what a complex relationship each of us has with the team we support, and the incredible amount of emotional investment we have committed over many, many years.

Nothing in life – beyond my wife and child – has provided me with as much pleasure as Bradford City; and yet I also can’t think of anything that has consistently provided me with so much pain. All those hours spent not only attending matches, but fretting about results and performances. All the sacrifices I – and those around me – have to make. Compare the person that I am today to the one who first set foot inside Valley Parade and, beyond family and friends, there is not one aspect of what was important to me then that remains. Nothing, that is, apart from going to watch Bradford City.

And as another season of joy, frustration, delight, anger and excitement comes to end, we found ourselves laughing very loudly at the misfortune of others. Schadenfreude, as the Germans say. It is ludicrously cruel to react as we supporters did to Tranmere’s relegation – right in front of their fans, who were enduring arguably their darkest hour in decades. How they must surely hate us forever after this, and who can blame them?

But, well…so what? Excuse my language, but f*** it. This was a hilarious experience, and being part of some 2,000 City fans revelling in a party that had gone sour for the hosts will keep me chuckling throughout the summer. I have no axe to grind against Tranmere, really I don’t, and that’s kind of the point: it could have been anyone. If there’s any consolation, Rovers fans, it really wasn’t personal. Honest.

If this all sounds wrong to anyone who wasn’t part of the bouncing away support, I can only shrug my shoulders and weakly defend myself and others with the cop-out ‘you had to be there’. Or actually, you didn’t. Because relegation is something that every football fan in England, outside of the top Premier League clubs, has endured at some point. And it’s not so much the pain of relegation that blights the life of any football fan – it occurs only occasionally to most of us – but the greater amount of time spent fearing relegation. It dangles over so many of us so often, like a dagger from above ready to strike.

Following Bradford City for nearly two decades, I have been lucky enough to witness promotions and wonderful players and unbelievable goals and last minute winners and beating Liverpool and cup runs and going to Wembley twice. But more than anything else in my time following the club, I have feared relegation. Even in years of mid-table finishes, there has often been a moment where we got flustered over the league position and fretted over some unlikely collapse. In the midst of more serious relegation battles, I have genuinely lied awake at night feeling frightened. And of course, we have gone all the way and actually experienced relegation, several times.

So I – and no doubt most people around me in the Cowshed Stand – took a strange and perverse joy in watching someone else’s torture and pain. It really was enjoyable, partly because we knew what it felt like to be them. It will probably come back to haunt us on day – most things tend to in football – but on a lovely sunny May afternoon in Birkenhead, any long-term consequences of our glee failed to register. Sometimes, supporting a football club allows us to regress in our maturity and go back to laughing when people fart.

You’re going down? Ha ha!

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The cruelness of Tranmere’s harrowing afternoon was amplified by the fact much of it must have been spent believing they were going to get out of trouble. In a game they realistically had to win, Rovers took the lead after seven minutes and held onto it until there were less than 10 on the clock. And then, they managed to lose the match.

Matthew Pennington scored Tranmere’s precious early goal, although a huge slice of credit went to Jon McLaughlin, after his weak hand to a wayward shot completely changed the ball’s direction so that it bounced into the net. Ahead of a week where McLaughlin finds out if he is to be offered terms to remain at Valley Parade, this was a horror moment for the Scot that he must hope won’t affect Phil Parkinson’s decision. That McLaughlin subsequently made two brilliant saves may redeem him.

Nevertheless, as the home side found success in keeping the game’s tempo slow and expertly defending mostly disjointed visitor attacks, for a long time it looked as though McLaughlin’s mistake would win the match and, potentially, keep Tranmere in League One. They still needed results elsewhere to go their way, and on that front Crewe’s lead against Preston and Notts County still drawing at Oldham meant fate remained out of their hands.

Junior Brown is red-carded.

Junior Brown is red-carded.

The heavy tension saw an increasing edge, and tackles grew fiercer and fiercer as referee Graham Scott seemed reluctant to clamp down on the rising anger. It reached boiling point when Junior Brown went in late on Nathan Doyle. The on-loan Fleetwood winger was somewhat harshly red-carded and Tranmere faced up to playing for over an hour with 10 men.

That it took so long for City to make the numerical advantage count is something the home defence in particular deserves great credit for. Ian Goodison might have a questionable character in view of his horrendous elbow on Kyel Reid, in the reverse fixture, and the criminal charges against him – but the veteran defender was outstanding at the back. City pressure came largely from set pieces rather than through open play, and on another day – with a lot more at stake – these failings would have triggered greater frustration from the away end.

For a few brief minutes – seven in fact – Tranmere climbed out of the bottom four. A huge cheer rang out from the opposite side of the ground, as news emerged that Notts County had fallen behind at Oldham. Crewe were now 2-0 up but it didn’t matter to Rovers, so long as Oldham held out. Alan Sheehan’s 75th minute penalty equaliser for Notts County at Boundary Park also triggered loud cheering – this time from those of us in the Cowshed Stand. We were losing this game, but boy were we having a good time.

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A red card for Notts County suggested Tranmere could realistically hope for an Oldham winner, but the only team with 10-men to fold was their own. Finally, with nine minutes to play, Jon Stead equalised with a low finish that was deflected into the goal by, of all people, Goodison. It was ironic that the on-loan Stead finally broke his duck during his least effective performance for City. We went wild celebrating – Joint-Chairman Mark Lawn, stood on the row behind me, included. “Que sera sera, whatever will be will be, you’re going to Shrewsbury, que sera sera.”

Tranmere folded at that point, as City pressed for a winner. In what was in truth an average Bantams’ performance, only Gary Jones really stood out and those around him struggled to make any impact. This included Aaron Mclean, but then – after a poor goal kick from James Mooney – the City striker was presented with a shooting opportunity and clinically drove the ball past the keeper and into the bottom corner. Cue pandemonium. Mclean’s last two performances have not been great, but a goal in each bodes well for next season. “Aaron Mclean, goal machine!” boomed out. Indeed.

Mclean might have made it 3-1 when another shot was well blocked by Mooney, but even an improbable two-goal swing for Tranmere would not have saved them. Notts County had secured the point they needed, and Crewe had defeated Preston despite the scare of a late North End goal. Home fans streamed out of the stadium before the end, as we continued to rub it in.

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The final whistle brought strange scenes, as a Tranmere player appeared to have an almighty bust-up with a home supporter, where he had to be dragged away, and teenage Rovers fans invaded the pitch for reasons unknown. The stewards ensured they couldn’t cross the halfway line, which meant the City players could come over and thank their supporters. All but Mclean gave away their shirts.

There was some sadness at seeing them eventually head to the dressing rooms, as it sunk in that many were saying their goodbyes and will be plying their trade elsewhere next season. Nine of today’s 18-man squad were part of the ‘We Made History’ team, and eight of them are now out of contract. We have come a long way together, these players and us supporters. It truly feels like the end of an era.

And a very joyful era at that, one of the greatest in the club’s history. Perhaps that partly explained the overriding mood of happiness that emanated across the entire Cowshed Stand all afternoon. Relegations, administrations and other, even darker times: we’ve had more than our fair share of pain, misery and upset following Bradford City, and we shouldn’t pass up on opportunities, such as this, to smile.

Through the never-ending narrative of football, what can often be overlooked is that supporting your team is supposed to be fun. There was no danger of forgetting that here.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Drury (Meredith 59), Thompson (Bennett 59), Jones, Doyle (De Vita 74), Yeates, Stead, Mclean

Not used: Jameson, McHugh, Dolan, McBurnie

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Mark Lawn speaks

7 Feb

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By Gareth Walker

Earlier this week, Bradford City Joint Chairmen Mark Lawn was guest speaker at the Skipton and Craven Bantams supporters club meeting and answered questions on a variety of topics. Here is a summary of what Lawn had to say.

Q: Do you still enjoy being Chairman?

A: Lawn said that he’d prefer to just be a fan. Last year was a tough year for him personally, but he is proud that he can tell his grandkids that he was club custodian when they went to Wembley twice.

Q: Have contract negotiations started with Stephen Darby yet?

A: No new contract negotiations have started with anyone yet. The decision has been taken to wait until club is safe in this league.

Darby enjoys being at the club. He is happy and Lawn thinks that Darby (and many other current players) would struggle to earn their current wages elsewhere at this level; because when he signed in summer 2012 he was given League One wages and furthermore earned a bonus when promotion was achieved.

Darby and Gary Jones spoke to the Chairmen last year when there was the prospect of the club being sponsored by The Sun newspaper for their trip to Wembley. They said that they didn’t feel comfortable with that as Liverpudlians, because of The Sun’s reporting of the Hillsborough disaster.

Q: What convinced Aaron McLean to sign for City?

A: The size of the club, its level of support and the stadium.

Q: What is the current situation with Matty Dolan?

A: It’s going okay. The loan window isn’t open yet. Lawn didn’t think Middlesbrough were being realistic in their negotiations over a permanent deal.

Q: Who is the one player you are disappointed that City didn’t sign whilst you have been in charge?

A: Leon Clarke. Lawn was upset that we missed out on him last summer – Phil Parkinson didn’t want him due to his reputation. Parkinson’s emphasis is on team spirit. Sometimes he simply refuses to sign who the board want.

Q: What was the reason behind the decision to freeze season ticket prices?

A: Lawn wanted to put prices up by £20, but the club calculated that sales would drop by 10%. It is expected that the monthly payment plan will continue.

Q: Has the fan base increased post Wembley?

A: Sales of Season Tickets including Flexi Cards have risen from approximately 10,000 to approximately 11,000.

Q: The point was raised how all other Yorkshire clubs advertise at Catterick that free entry to games can be gained if a person produces their warrant card when purchasing a ticket, but City is always missing from the list of clubs that do this.

A: Lawn said that City do operate this policy and he will see to it that it is made clear on the club website.

Q: Why do clubs sometimes have undisclosed transfer fees?

A: Usually the buying club want this to make their supporters think that they have paid more than they actually have.

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Q: Were you happy with the Nahki Wells transfer?

A: Lawn had words with Nahki and advisor prior to the move because he was not happy with Wells’ performances in December. Lawn says that he understands the fans’ bitterness. Nahki wanted to play in the Championship.

We get lots of bonuses and add-ons from the deal. Lawn sees it as a win-win. It’s a good deal for City if Wells fails and it’s a good deal for City if he does well.

Q: Do you think that Wells was tapped up?

A: No comment.

Q: Why is the club shop so short of stock?

A: The shop usually sells between 8,000 and 10,000 replica shirts per year, but they had sold 10,500 before the start of this season because of the two Wembley trips. They ordered another 5,000 but it still hasn’t been enough.

Lawn was not happy that the stock design second kit was not available from Nike when they requested it. All manufacturers are the same – Surridge and Nike have proven very similar. He agrees that the shop probably don’t have enough stock. However, the club gets an agreed level of income from the franchising of the shop whereas when they owned it, it always made a loss.

Q: Were there any offers for any players other then Wells during the transfer window?

A: No. Carlisle offered 50k for James Hanson in the 2013 January window.

Q: What are your thoughts on agents?

A: Everyone has an agent. Luke Sharry had an agent despite only earning £120pw.

Q: Does Nahki Wells’ agent represent any other City players?

A: Yes, he is Robbie Threlfall’s brother but he is not the most difficult agent to deal with.

Q: Is there interest in any of our youth players currently?

A: No and the club have decided that they won’t let youth players go to top clubs on trial anymore because too many were having their heads turned and then demanding to leave. If other clubs want our youth players then they have to pay the money upfront.

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Q: How many squad changes do you expect in the summer?

A: Four or five out and four or five in. The club needs to replace some current squad members with proven League One players. The nucleus is there. Parkinson is eyeing players up for next year already. We could look at some Premiership players on loan.

Q: Would you have liked to have kept any of the players that we released last summer?

A: Personally would have liked to have seen Zavon Hines and Blair Turgott stay.

Q: Why don’t we have a second goalkeeper on the books to compete with Jon McLaughlin?

A: The budget doesn’t allow for a second goalkeeper. Premiership clubs will only let you have one of their young keepers on loan if he is going to play regularly.

Q: How much do agents get paid?

A: Agents typically get 5% over the terms of the contact. It is in their interest to unsettle players. They can get sometimes get players to sign for a club for less money. Clubs and players pay their own legal fees. Agents started in the 1980s.

Lawn told the story of how he was influential in Stuart McCall re-signing for Bradford City in 1998. McCall was going to sign for Barnsley, but Lawn was on a night out with him and heard about this. He rang Geoffrey Richmond and told him to get in quick and sign him before he signed for the Tykes on the Monday.

Q: How confident are you on the Mark Stewart case?

A: City would win in a court of law. Falkirk are claiming training costs from eight years old to 21 years old but he was first team player at 19.

Q: Will next year’s playing budget be lower than this year’s?

A: Yes, the budget will be lower next year. We had mid League One budget last year when we got promoted from League Two and we might have had to sell Nahki last January if we hadn’t have drawn Arsenal in the cup.

Q: Were we interested in signing Nouha Dicko and why didn’t it happen?

A: Yes we were interested, but Dicko was adamant that he didn’t want to step into Nahki’s shoes.

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Q: Are you still happy with Phil Parkinson and is Phil Parkinson still happy at City?

A: Yes and yes but the club will always tell Phil if another club wants him and Phil is obviously feeling the pressure at moment due to the bad run of form.

Q: What do you think is causing the current bad run?

A: In Lawn’s opinion the problem is three fold: Davies injury, Nahki’s attitude and performances, refereeing decisions.

Q: Do you think that Kyel Reid will be here next season?

A: Probably not because he has a young family in London. Lawn is a big fan of Reid.

Q: Why has no outside investment into the club been forthcoming?

A: Lawn says that he would love to get someone in with money at City but nobody is interested.  The pressure of the job is affecting his health. He was really struggling a couple of years ago when he thought that as a fan he might end up taking the club out of existence.

He believes that the reason for the lack of interest might be because we aren’t in the Championship and we don’t own our ground. The cost of the ground rent is currently manageable.

Q: Why hasn’t the Jason Kennedy signing worked out so far?

A: He doesn’t know; it could be playing in front of large crowds or the fact that his confidence was low due to not going into team straight away.

Q: What strides do you think that the club has made since your last visit (to Skipton Bantams)?

A: Fitness, nutrition, backroom staff, training ground.

Q: What were you personal highlights from last season?

A: i) Villa away when his daughter’s muscles and joints froze due to the tension and excitement and she needed medical treatment.
ii) Burton away when his son climbed down to see him on the pitch.
iii) Going on the pitch with his wife after victory at Wembley.

Q: When do the changing rooms need to be upgraded by?

A: The changing rooms have to be done by 2014/15 but it would cost £300k for the cheapest option, which is to move them into the corner where the scoreboard is. So the club have asked for five years dispensation. Arsenal changed at a hotel again for the cup game last year

Q: What is your view on safe standing?

A: It would be okay if someone would pay for it. Club can’t afford it currently. He doesn’t think it will happen anyway because he doesn’t think that the law will be overturned.

Q: How long is Adam Reach on loan with us for?

A: Currently one month but it can be extended until the end of the season. There is no chance of making this deal permanent because he is under contract and highly rated at Middlesbrough.

Q: What are your views on Steve Evans?

A: Lawn doesn’t like him. Nobody has a good word for him. Lawn would never employ him. Rotherham’s chairman is a friend and Lawn asked him why he employed Evans, only to be told that he would get results. Lawn replied that he is not that desperate for success.

We might have to change our playing style a little bit now that Nahki has gone, because McLean needs the ball in the box, maybe this might help us beat them!

Q: What is your view on Oli McBurnie?

A: Phil Parkinson says that McBurnie is the best finisher that he’s seen. Left foot, right foot and head.

Q: Why hasn’t Mark Yeates been a success so far?

A: He’s been disappointing but he works really hard in training. Yeates just seems to want to play central when his best position is on the left wing.

Q: If we had a fully fit squad what would be your current starting line up?

A: McLaughlin. Darby, Meredith, McArdle, Davies, Jones, Atkinson, Reach, Bennett, Hanson, McLean.

Q: Would any of last season’s side get into your all time City XI?

Andrew Davies would. Nahki Wells would only just miss out – he would push Robbie Blake very close.

Q: What is your long term plan for the club?

A: Lawn believes that he and Julian Rhodes could get the club into the Championship but outside investment would be needed to take it further from there.

Q: What is the current condition of the pitch in view of Saturday’s game?

A: The pitch is very heavy at the moment. The club are doing all that they can because they have enough Tuesday night games coming up already but the weather forecast is not good.

Mark Lawn to guest at Skipton and Craven Bantams meeting

30 Jan

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By Jason McKeown

The Bradford City Joint-Chairman, Mark Lawn, is to appear as a guest at the next Skipton and Craven Bantams Supporters Club meeting, on Wednesday 5 February. The event takes place at the White Rose Club on Newmarket Street in Skipton, and costs £2 to get in.

Lawn will no doubt be answering all questions as openly and honestly as possible; and with pints of beer starting at a reasonable £2.50, it should make for a lively evening.

The need for sensible planning

13 Jan

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By Jason McKeown

There are 21 games left for Bradford City this season, but increasingly thoughts need to begin turning towards the long-term. The sale of Nahki Wells has split opinion amongst support, but one of the main threads has been the damage to the credibility of the joint Chairmen, Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes.

There were six weeks before the January transfer window was due to open when Lawn first spoke to the local media about the possibility Nahki being sold. The noises that consistently came out of Valley Parade, throughout December and early January, were that there was a queue of suitors ready to take the striker off our hands. We couldn’t keep hold of our hot property, because the offers set to come in would be too tempting for us and for him.

The deal that was eventually concluded will continue to be debated. But whatever your view, it is now done and dusted – and cannot be changed. We move on, but by moving on that means getting to the end of a season that is increasingly about consolidation. If there were any lingering hopes of mounting a play off charge, they all but disappeared with the sale of Wells. City remain seven points off the top six and eight above the bottom four. A mid-table finish – something everyone would have settled for prior to a ball being kicked this season – looks to be the Bantams’ final destination.

And then what? For Lawn and Rhodes, the priority must be to restore the goodwill they built up last season and to convince supporters that they have a plan for taking the club forwards. City have made huge strides during the last 18-month period, but ultimate ambition continues to exceed the present circumstances.

No one wants to see us become comfortable at merely being a League One outfit forever, especially when both chairmen are on record in the past talking about the club’s aim to get the club back into the Championship. That is a worthy goal that, whilst not easy to achieve, is realistic. But just stating that you want something isn’t enough, there has to be a strategy behind it.

Prior to this January transfer window, there was a general consensus that selling Wells for a big fee had the potential to aid the long-term objectives of the club. A necessary evil. That belief has caused a fragmented reaction to recent events. The harsh reality is that the Wells’ deal isn’t the life-changing sum of money which many people were rightly or wrongly expecting.

The wage bill for this season, as high as it is, has not been enough for City to be competing amongst the promotion front runners, just past the half way stage of the season. If that is all the club can afford next season also, so be it. City have tried the speculate-to-accumulate approach with decidedly bad results – especially under Geoffrey Richmond in 2000. David Baldwin has talked of the Board having made calculated risks over the previous 18 months, with sources of revenue to fall back upon. The current playing budget overspend is probably the furthest that most of us would want to see the boat pushed out.

But if the club’s financial strength means that a promotion push next season is something to strive towards rather than assume, expectations need to be managed accordingly. That is the task of Lawn and Rhodes. They cannot raise supporters’ hopes beyond what is realistic, because the club, manager and players will subsequently be judged unfairly.

If results for the rest of this season and next aren’t fantastic – when measured up to some belief City should be mounting a promotion push – Parkinson will come under increased criticism. In many ways it will be like returning to the days of Colin Todd, where the financial realities and expectations were on completely different pages. Parkinson’s playing budget is probably somewhere in the top half of League One (particularly next season, if Wolves are promoted), which gives us the chance to challenge for promotion.

The challenge for Parkinson is considerable. He goes into the summer with all but Andrew Davies, James Hanson, Jason Kennedy, Mark Yeates, Matt Taylor, Oliver McBurnie and Lewis Clarkson out of contract. That’s potentially just seven players left in the building; and of the current squad whose deals expire at the end of the season, only Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle and Nathan Doyle would be almost certain to be retained.

Last summer, Parkinson’s budget was said to have been increased from £1.9 million to £2.5 million. He used much of that to retain the likes of Davies, Gary Jones, Kyel Reid and Garry Thompson – some of whom probably benefited from increased wages as reward for their achievements – and the majority of the rest of the budget seemingly went on Yeates. There is a suspicion – and it’s purely my view – that the likes of Rafa De Vita, Taylor and Kennedy came in relatively cheaply. The proportion of that overall £2.5 million spend attributed to summer signings (minus Yeates) is probably fairly low.

The decision to retain the bulk of last season’s squad looked a good one initially – heck, it still seems like it was the right thing to do with the benefit of hindsight. But it is becoming increasingly clear that the squad will need to be revamped for next season. For now, this team should be good enough to steer clear of relegation and ensure City retain their League One status. But to go forwards, Parkinson will need to use his £2.5 million playing budget on better players.

That won’t be easy, but it’s not beyond the man who did such a good rebuilding job in the summer of 2012. Over the coming months, he will need to have one eye on who he wants to retain and who he wishes to bring in. It will be a big, big close season for the manager.

If Parkinson subsequently under-performs as manager relative to his actual budget, he will deserve to come under scrutiny. But his two bosses have a responsibility to ensure that he is judged upon the tools they are able to provide him. Not on the sole basis that a club of City’s size ‘should’ be in the Championship.

Parkinson was given a three-year contract by the two chairmen last summer. I think it is absolutely right and fair that – to get another deal – he must have City within touching distance of another promotion by 2016, even if that promotion has yet to occur. The danger is that he isn’t afforded the right level of patience befitting that contract – and the goodwill built up from 2012/13. He deserves the support of everyone, and that extends right up to the Boardroom.

21 games to play, and it all seems to be about tredding water for the remainder of this season. After the stunning progress of the past 18 months, we can’t afford to stand still for too long. Yet the next step forward has to be a realistic one; miracles like last season don’t occur too often. And if, this season and next, a full on promotion bid is more aspirational than entitlement, we have to accept our reality rather than living another one.

We Made History – where do we go from here?

28 Dec

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By Phil Woodward

2013 will live long in the memory for all associated with Bradford City, due to two Wembley visits in a season and promotion from League Two. We currently sit in the top half of League One; and although many would say that is a success at this stage of the season, there are plenty that demand more than that. We know where we’ve been (stuck in League Two for years) and we know where we are now. But where should we be heading in the next few years?

We find ourselves in a tricky position at this moment in time. We are told we are £1 million over budget for the season, despite a League Cup Final appearance and a promotion. It looks like the crown jewels could be sold to the highest bidder come January to offset some of that deficit. Many will say you get nowhere selling your best players, but can a club like ours really afford to turn down any serious offers when we see the player’s value depreciating as the months pass by, due to soon being out of contract?

The alternative is to try and keep hold of our best player(s), but then they will be expecting better wages. Where is the extra money going to come from if we provide new contracts on better wages, and can we afford to do this or will we be living beyond our means? Some suggest raising season ticket prices, while others believe the club need to do more to attract corporate interest and sponsorship to the club. That is easier said than done when so many small businesses will have been hit hard with our previous administrations and lost faith.

A mid table finish this season would not be a disaster, as long as we recruit well in the summer. That has probably been the biggest problem we have faced this season. We seem to lack any strength in depth, and players brought in, such as Jason Kennedy, Rafa De Vita, Matt Taylor and Caleb Folan, have disappointed on the whole; whereas Mark Yeates seems to have the ability but questionably not the desire or attitude to go with it at times.

The feel-good factor and momentum of last season seemed to carry us into the early stages of life in League One, but it does seem like we have been found out and it is recent performances rather than just results that have some fans worried about the rest of the season and the halt to our progress. The most worrying, for me, was the lacklustre performance at Rotherham in the FA Cup; and comments that followed that suggested the happy dressing room was not as happy as might have seemed.

One thing we can’t afford to do is stand still. I don’t care about the promised land of the Premier League, as each season the gap between them and us grows like a chasm. The Championship is where we should be aiming and, in the next three to five years, I believe the aim should be to establish ourselves as a Championship side. The local derbies would surely sell out Valley Parade, and we could look forward to local rivalries with sides such as Burnley, Barnsley, Huddersfield, Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds.

Those sorts of games would bring the fans back to Valley Parade and would surely help the finances. I have the belief that those games would easily see between 20,000-25,000 fans at the stadium and also see an increase in season tickets sold. Promotion to that league would probably have a huge impact on finances, but then Championship players expect a Championship wage and the problems start all over again.

At a Skipton Bantams fans forum a while back, I asked Mark Lawn what the mid-term goal was for Bradford City FC. His answer was to get 3 points on Saturday, which kind of proves what I was thinking: that we don’t have a plan going forward. We seem to just throw money at a manager in the belief that a large wage bill will buy us success. How many years did we try this and get nowhere? We also found out that you can’t get promotion on the cheap or with third-rate Scottish players. Was it a large wage bill, pure luck or good management that got us to a League Cup Final and out of that god forsaken pit of a league last season?

I believe a decent wage budget helps, but a manager will be judged on his signings and working within the given budget. The signings that Parkinson has made this season have so far let him down. I am sure Kennedy was expected to take the baton from Gary Jones, but he hasn’t looked like the player we thought we were signing. We can’t write him off yet, but he needs to improve when given his chance and make his mark on the team.

If Reid were to move back down south to be with his family, then De Vita doesn’t really look like the man to fill his boots. He had a bright opening 10 minutes at Preston away and then faded out of the game and is another that hasn’t impressed when given a chance. Folan has had cameo appearances in the same mould as Alan Connell, and was unlikely to keep James Hanson out of the team; while Taylor seems like one of the most pointless signings of recent times, closely followed by Michael Nelson.

It would be interesting to hear what Lawn, Julian Rhodes, David Baldwin and Phil Parkinson now have to say about plans for the next three to five years. Establishing ourselves in League One might be the main aim, but for me the Championship has to be the objective. Surely teams like Barnsley, Huddersfield and Doncaster can’t have much bigger wage bills than us. I am sure some will point out that two of those mentioned are currently struggling at the bottom of that league, but it wasn’t that long ago we were competing with these teams.

A pessimist would say we are heading for a relegation fight and will find ourselves back in League Two within the next few years. An optimist would say we will be top half of the Championship, and a realist would probably say we will be mid table in League One. I hope those in charge of our club have the ambition to keep moving forward, and I would rather have them at the helm that some foreign sugar daddy that has no connection to the club and would want to bankroll us as a hobby and then drop us when they got bored.

The recent signing of Hanson on an improved contract was a huge plus for the club. The return of Andrew Davies will be like a new signing and will give some much-needed leadership to the defence. If we could sign Nahki on an improved contract it would be the icing on the cake. A change in personnel in the New Year could see us with another late run to the play offs similar to last season, but we must remember this is only our first season in this league and we have already shown we can compete with the best of them.

The failure to sign a creative, attacking midfielder has cost Parkinson, and it is no coincidence that teams like Rotherham and Peterborough are doing well when they have players like Tomlin and Pringle pulling the strings in the middle of the park. Maybe Yeates could fill that role, but that’s for the manager to consider. Other teams also seem to have players that will contribute to the scoring charts, whereas we have an over reliance on the front two and see Rory McArdle, on two goals, as our fourth highest scorer this season.

January will be a pivotal time for our season and possibly for the immediate future of the club. Will we be seen as a selling club that needs to cash in on our best assets to balance the books, or will be seen as serious promotion contenders that can fight off all the vultures circling round Wells as his contract runs down?

The management team have worked wonders with Hanson. I can remember times when he would mistime his jumps and fail to win headers regularly in a game. He would make straight runs towards a central defender and it wasn’t long ago that Michael Duberry had Hanson in his pocket in a game at Oxford. He now makes diagonal runs, leaps like a salmon and hardly misses a header, also getting direction on them and proving the perfect foil for Wells. This transformation has seen the former Co-op shelf stacker score in a League Cup Semi-Final and a Play Off Final.

If Steve Parkin and Parkinson can also do that with some of our other players, such as Kennedy and De Vita, then the future will be very bright. There will be players that are released and others that come in to replace them. If we can address the areas that seem most problematic and replace Wells if he does leave, we would have an outside chance of a play off spot this season.

If we don’t manage that, we still have to support the management team, the players and the chairmen to move forward and plan for next season.

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