By Luke Lockwood
On Tuesday 21st February, at Herriots Hotel, Skipton around 50 members of Skipton and Craven Bantams waited in anticipation for Joint Chairman Mark Lawn to take his place in front of them and face whatever question they were to pose him. Although it is fair to say Lawn does conflict opinion amongst Bradford City fans, I feel that I can speak on behalf of all attendees at the meeting in saying that he was open, honest and interesting in all his answers and came across as a friendly, witty City Gent.
The Supporters’ Club chairman opened the evening with a question of his own. The poor state of the pitch was certainly evident at our recent home fixture with Port Vale and having spent a good deal of money trying to improve the surface was there an explanation for the demise?
Lawn referenced the other pitches at this level and explained that you would struggle to find a decent surface. Taylor had requested for the improvements to be made and they had spent money trying to do this but, due to typical British weather, it is very difficult to keep the playing surface up to that standard.
He was then asked about his thoughts on artificial surfaces that have recently been approved by the Football League and, although he believes they are a great idea for a variety of reasons, he does not believe we will be seeing one at Valley Parade for quite some time. Other sides may test the water and Bradford will assess how successful it is elsewhere before installing one themselves.
Season tickets and attendances
As most fans know a committee of supporters has been working towards the best solution and most suitable offer for season tickets. However, this will be announced on 3rd March and the Chairman believes that these once again offer value for money.
He did, however, explain that the playing budget for next season will rely on ticket sales and went onto discuss how much potential he felt there was to attract high attendances. He believes a Bradford City side playing well and competing at the top of League 2 could attract 14-15,000, attendances, around 18,000 if we were competing for promotion in League 1 and hopefully around 20,000 in the Championship.
The Development Squad
Lawn said that although this has not been binned it has changed format and they are still looking to develop players, but possibly in a different format to the way this was previously being done. There are some players from the development squad still with the club such as Scott Brown. He has a 2 year contract but unfortunately has not progressed as quickly as hoped and he is quite far away from the first team. Lawn believes that should he get his head down and work hard he still has the potential to make it in the side.
The Development Squad began running up costs that impacted on the first team budget and instead the development is more likely to come from projects like RIASA – where Nakhi Wells was produced from. Nakhi’s brother, Rico, was also discussed and is showing a lot of potential but he will continue his development within the project and be looked at in the future.
Lawn has overseen a number of appointments in his time with the club and was questioned on the various managers who have attempted to get us out of League 2. As supporters, the majority of us thought Peter Taylor was a fantastic appointment. However, Lawn did point out that one member of the audience made his negative opinions of the ex-manager clear to the Chairman on the day he arrived.
Lawn felt that the reason Taylor may not have lived up to our expectations was because he was an old fashioned manager and his man management techniques had not moved with the times. As an example he referenced Luke Oliver, explaining that Oliver had not become a different player he was just being managed differently.
He was complimentary of both Stuart McCall and Peter Jackson saying if anything the reason things didn’t work out was because they loved the club too much. He didn’t want Stuart to leave and felt that when he did go elsewhere where he wasn’t so emotionally attached to the club he would be successful, as he is now proving at Motherwell.
Another ex-City hero, Dean Windass, has shown interest in the Bradford managers job in the past but Lawn said he would not employ the club’s 3rd highest ever goal scorer currently. He thinks Deano needs to cut his teeth elsewhere and prove he has what it takes.
Phil Parkinson appears to be winning over most supporters now and the Chairman also appears to be a big fan. He believes that Parkinson has vastly improved the squad and due to that both performances and results are improving also. He seems to consider Parkinson a very astute and clever manager who the players respond to.
As a passionate supporter Lawn offered his opinions on some of the players that have come and gone over his years as Chairman. He mentioned that the most disappointing was Tommy Doherty and believes that we didn’t get the best out of Paul McLaren. It seemed he felt that – while Doherty’s own attitude was his downfall – Mclaren didn’t work out for a different reason. Whether that was because he didn’t fit the playing style or he was not managed correctly it was difficult to say.
He went onto say that two of the least impressive players that have appeared in the Claret and Amber over this period were Kyle Nix and Chris Brandon.
His favourite players have been Omar Daley for the excitement he offered on the ball, and Peter Thorne for his finishing. However, he also described Kyel Reid as outstanding and the best winger we have had. Reid, he believes, offers a spark to the side and this is something he believes we should be looking for on the other flank.
He said that one player who could have offered us something on the right had he chosen to stay was Joe Colbeck. His opinion was that although Colbeck was one dimensional, he was also willing to run at defenders and this scared opposition sides. Lawn felt that when Colbeck and Daley were on opposite sides the side was really flying and this is something we have possibly lacked since. Apparently we did offer Colbeck a very good deal but he chose – with the help of his agent – to go elsewhere.
Lawn feels agents – who can often be a player’s father – don’t do their players any favours. Either they think a player is better than what he is or convince him he can get better money elsewhere, but often they end up having to settle for worse packages when they realise they aren’t worth quite as much as they thought.
He was full of praise about our current back four and reserved special recognition for Andrew Davies. Lawn considers Davies to be the ultimate professional and an ‘old fashioned’ one who is brave enough to stick his head where others would only stick their feet. Unfortunately he also thinks our chances of signing Davies were very slim due to the wage the player currently earns and what clubs even in the Championship will be prepared to offer him. The Davies deal was achieved by Phil Parkinson using his contacts and, had the players contract with Stoke gone on to next season, we would have a better chance of signing him on a further season long loan but sadly this is not the case.
He was, on the other hand, confident that 90% of the players that Parkinson would like to keep next season would stay and explained how important it was that the squad did not have such an overhaul as it has in recent years, so we could have some continuity going into next season.
With the recent events at Rangers and also Portsmouth, Lawn was asked if he believed that there were many clubs within the Football League who could face similar problems. Lawn thinks that many clubs struggle for money and wouldn’t be surprised if other clubs suffered a similar fate.
Mark explained that our own finances were tight, but that the club will always do their upmost to maximise the budget that was available for the manager’s squad. However, as stated earlier that budget will now rely heavily on us as fans to fill the ground. He also mentioned that if Parkinson was to come to the board with the name of a player he felt could give us 20+ goals a season then we would have to try and find the money from somewhere, even if it meant cutting back on other areas of the squad.
On this point he mentioned that we were chasing 3 strikers in January but eventually got outbid for them. He also added that we decided not to go for Paul Benson after seeking advice from one of the best knee surgeons in the country who explained that the length of the contract he wanted was ridiculous due to concerns over his knee. Although he added that – when he sees Benson scoring regularly now – he feels a little regret, it was still the right decision to take that advice.
We have gone over budget this year to support Parkinson and improve the squad to ensure we do not get relegated. If we were to be relegated Lawn thinks that it would be impossible to stay at Valley Parade considering the current costs; but he thinks if we were to move away we could survive – he would at least do anything he could to ensure that was the case.
He once again reiterated his stance that, were someone interested in the club that were in a better position to take the club forward, than he and Julian Rhodes they would happily step aside. Steve Parkin’s offer – he thought – was ludicrous and Parkin would not offer certain guarantees to help take Bradford forward. Since Steve Parkin there have been no other interested parties.
Mark was asked to pick his favourite Bradford City XI since becoming a fan:
Ramsden Wetherall Tommy Hallet Halle
Ellis Whalley McCall Beagrie
Mark Lawn was very forthcoming on any topics discussed and more so than anything his love for Bradford City shone through. He is – like the rest of us – a City fan. On behalf of the members of Skipton and Craven Bantams Supporters Club, I would like to thank Mark Lawn for his time and also the fantastic work and service he continues to provide to the club.