Tag Archives: Mark Lawn

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.

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.”

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

The Bantams crow again

9 Sep

SAM_1130

Last season’s successes on the pitch have provided a great platform for Bradford City’s further advance. The outgoing Chair of the Supporters Trust, Alan Carling, reflects on the possibilities for future development.

Football clubs in Britain have been owned and run traditionally by local businessmen out of a sense of service or a desire for prestige. Ownership was not aimed primarily at making money, and yet the organisation of the clubs was socially exclusive and hierarchical, reflected in the segregated spectator areas within the ground, from Kop to Box.

Under these arrangements, both players and fans were expected to know their place. The maximum wage confined players to their lowly social status, and the idea that supporters might be involved directly in the governance of clubs would seem as strange as the idea that colonial peoples were capable of self-government. At its best, this model of organisation embodied an ideal of trusteeship across the generations; at its worst, the neglect of supporters’ essential interests led to the tragedies of which we are too familiar.

This traditional, paternalistic, model of club governance has by no means died out, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain. Some of the older habits of deference have declined, and the social distance between directors and players can hardly be maintained when a player like Wayne Rooney could buy a club like Bradford City with three months wages. The traditional model has also come under intense pressure more recently from two alternative models for the organisation of clubs – the Offshore Model and the Community Model.

The Offshore Model is now common within the Premier League. It treats football clubs either as vanity projects for individuals of fabulous – and frequently dubious – wealth or simply as vehicles for leveraged profit-making. The local club handed down by history is re-conceptualised according to this model as a branded franchise, without any necessary local roots, and the fans are seen not as members of the club, but as consumers of a commercial entertainment product.

The core fans of the historic club are vulnerable in this respect, because following a club ‘win or lose’ is a form of addiction, albeit not as damaging to personal health as crack cocaine. Since the club is the monopoly supplier of a product to which its customers are addicted, a perfect recipe exists for ruthless commercial exploitation by an aggressive business. And as the business succeeds, so its horizons expand.

If the club is not tied to a locality, it can seek its location and its fan-base anywhere it likes. Say that a gap in the market is identified in mid-Kent. Let’s move there – the Tunbridge Bantams, anyone? And why confine ourselves to England and Wales, or to Scotland? Why not promote ourselves as a global brand, and reach our audiences mainly through TV? As the Premier League’s Richard Scudamore said recently: “It’s not my fault [this] country is only 60 million”. To go beyond the confines of a small country like Britain, it is only necessary to keep enough supporters coming through the gates to add some local colour to the TV footage.

And why tie down ownership to the local business scene when the club – or corporation, as it now is – aspires to revenues from so much further afield? There is believed to be a club in West Yorkshire whose ownership was wrapped in so many layers of mystery that its poor fans did not even know who the ultimate owners were. And offshore registration does not make life any easier for HM Treasury to collect its dues. Apart from taxes, another unwanted headache for any branded club is the possibility of relegation, which blows a hole in the business model. If the League cannot be closed off to new entrants, it is still possible to ease the headache by making parachute payments so large that it becomes almost impossible for outsiders to join the elite.

Football’s Offshore Nirvana

Carry these trends forward, and the ideal development of Offshore football – the commercial nirvana to which it aspires – begins to look like Formula One. The term ‘Premier League’ is fair enough as far as it goes, but it hardly conveys the requisite level of absolute superiority. And for this purpose ‘Super’ is not quite super enough. So let’s inaugurate a successor league – call it the International Supreme League (ISL) – containing an entirely self-governing and self-perpetuating group of twenty clubs or so, registered as a body in the British Virgin Islands, say, and responsible only to their corporate shareholders (if it can ever be known whom they are).

The ISL will induce desperate countries around the world to pay its teams to perform in each country’s national stadium – or to build new ‘football tracks’ especially for them – so that the ISL can tap additional layers of consumer demand. Why depend on local traditions when you can aim for global reach? And why pay taxes when you can attract subsidies instead?

Richard Scudamore surveyed this new horizon in words following those quoted above: “There are 212 countries playing this game. We are blessed to have 20 of the world’s largest 50 clubs. Within that 20, between three and five of the biggest 10. There are only 10 football clubs vying for [the] top talent”. And to bring all this home, so that everyone understands the new realities of the global marketplace, why not organise a World Cup in the middle of a desert somewhere at the height of summer, hundreds of miles away from any known centre of football interest. “Let’s go to Qatar in 2022”; “Where’s Qatar?”, “Exactly”.

In stark contrast to the commercial realism of this Offshore Model is the utopianism of the Community Model, which has been adopted by some of the lesser clubs in Europe, such as Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid and Barcelona. In this model, the club is owned and run on behalf of supporters, and for the benefit of the local community.

Ticket prices are kept deliberately low, facilities for spectators are first-rate, public transport is laid on for matches; the grounds are full, the atmosphere is superb, and there is safe standing for those who wish. The obvious superiority of the Premier League over this debased model of fan-pandering football is further indicated by the success of the England national team, compared with the struggles of Germany and Spain to make their mark in international competition. (Author extracts tongue from cheek).

A Fans’ Club Through and Through?

Nearly every club in the English and Scottish Leagues, and all their supporters, face the choices implied by the co-existence of these three ways to organise a football club: shall we soldier on with some version of the old paternalistic model; shall we sell out to offshore interests, or shall we go down the community route?

It is worth remembering that it was only eighteen months ago that Bradford City was facing the real prospect of relegation from the Football League, and a dog-fight for mere survival. The team’s extraordinary success in 2012/13 has created a platform, for the first time in years, from which the club and its supporters can look outwards and upwards with some confidence. How should City use this platform? Which way should it go?

The Bantams now are finely-balanced between these different models of organisation, so that the future could develop in several different directions. I am certain nevertheless that the best future for City lies in continuing with current trends towards the Community model.

The club is owned – and run in many ways – as a conventional small business with a majority (two-thirds) shareholding by the Rhodes family, and a minority (one third) holding by Mark Lawn, each of the three shares being worth £1m. Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn also act as co-Chairmen of Bradford City, and both are genuine long-standing fans of the club.

In the period since the two administrations in 2002-2004, which were necessary to wind down the huge debts incurred by City’s excursion into the Premier League, the business has been run on a prudent commercial basis. The owners have not taken any dividend money out of the club for themselves over the last few years, and any windfall gains have been ploughed back into the club. The Rhodes family took huge losses to keep the club afloat in the early 2000s – many millions of pounds – and yet the club has been run subsequently as if it were a not-for-profit community enterprise.

This is not the only respect in which the private company that owns the club has conformed to the Community model. A pioneering scheme of low-cost season tickets has been introduced and maintained, with Flexi-card options designed to be inclusive for less-frequent supporters. And the club has introduced a Supporters Board, with the active help and backing of the Supporters Trust, to mediate its relationship with fans.

In its first year of operation, the Supporters Board has already performed important work in establishing new communication channels with supporters, developing fan-friendly commercial initiatives, and building community links. The Supporters Trust has applied to the Council to have the stadium at Valley Parade registered as a Community asset, which provides significant legal safeguards over the future uses of our historic home.

The general importance of the community side of the club has been underlined by the two Wembley appearances in 2012/13 – which took 32,000 and 24,000 fans to the national stadium – and by the attendant publicity for club and city, both national and international. City received additional revenue of about £2.5m. from the cup run, most of it from gate receipts at a time of economic recession.

Few other institutions in the Bradford District can show the same strength of popular support, or the same capacity to spread the good name of Bradford around the world. The basis has also been established for a more equal and more fruitful relationship with Bradford Council, which many people believe has traditionally favoured the Bradford Bulls Rugby League Club over Bradford City FC.

The elements are therefore all in place from which Bradford City could develop into a fully-fledged Community Club. City fans have been praised endlessly for their loyalty during the mediocre years in League Two, and for their response to last season’s developing success. The obvious next step is to go beyond this, and to build such a well-spring of support into the structure of the club.

It may be too radical to adopt the full continental model of the German Bundesliga, but other options are available, including a fans’ minority shareholding such as Swansea City’s, operated in collaboration with private, community-minded business interests. The example of Swansea City also demonstrates how a fans’ club through and through can create its own forms of competitive strength, and strive to challenge offshore rivals in the Premier League.

Towards a Community Future

A Community Club at Bradford City would cement the relationship between the club and its fans, provide new resources to strengthen City going forward, and create insurance against setbacks. It is also the model most likely to deal constructively with the demographic transition of the District’s population, on which the long-run commercial health of the club depends.

Football supporters are prone to exaggerate the dreadful significance of a bad loss, and to exaggerate the blissful potential of a good win. Something similar goes for seasons too. Coming out of City’s wonder year of 2012/13, it would be easy to become overconfident, and imagine a future of unbroken success, yielding a rapid ascent to the heights of the Premier League. The owners might therefore think that the best plan is to conduct business as usual, without any change to the ownership model – to simply carry on, and hope for the best.

But if this is the preferred scenario, it still means of course that the ownership of Bradford City can change at any time. The problem with this prospect from the fans’ perspective is the lack of control over the identity of any new owners, and their subsequent plans for the club. The point at which a club like Bradford City becomes attractive in the market is precisely the point at which offshore interests begin to circle.

If we step back a minute from the prevailing assumptions about club ownership, it is very strange that a major public institution – such as Bradford City is in the Bradford District – should be owned as an exclusively private entity. But given the reality of continuing private ownership, it is impossible for the fans to exert any effective control over the fate of the club once it is sold on, even though it is primarily the fans’ money – spent year-after-year – that is responsible for the value of the club as a commercial asset. One does not have to go to the ultimate horror stories of private ownership – the Portsmouths or the Coventrys – to appreciate the dangers of this possible outcome from the fans’ point of view.

It is very important, then, that City does not rest on its laurels of recent success, but considers adopting the more explicit aim of becoming a fully-fledged Community club, which can safeguard the fans’ interests for now and for the future. This could involve a variety of different developments.

There is, for example, nothing to prevent a group of fans investing in the club alongside the existing owners. This could be supplemented by additional corporate investment, strengthening the capital base of the club, and sharing the considerable responsibilities of ownership. The Supporters Board will certainly have an important role to play in a range of different areas, and I hope that its influence with the club will broaden, and its relationship with the fans will deepen.

And it is vital too that BCST retains its position as a strong independent voice for supporters, which can insist where necessary on its status as a representative fans’ organisation separate from Bradford City, and co-operates with the club as fully as possible to achieve our common aim – the strength and success of Bradford City.

I have been honoured to serve as Chair of the Supporters Trust over the last seven seasons, and I will look forward with great interest to developments over the years ahead, building on the extraordinary successes of 2012/13.

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