By David Pendleton
Hope is probably the most powerful weapon available to a football club. At the start of this season we were being offered a vision. After finishing in the lowest league position since the 1960s, and had endured one of the most dire footballing spectacles since the ‘dark days of Docherty’, talk was of new beginnings and a focus on a progressive policy of hunger and youth.
With Jacko at the helm, and Archie Christie churning out seemingly daily visions of a bright future, the football club appeared to have gained some much needed focus and momentum. The signing of Ross Hannah, the Development Squad ethos and a bright pink kit; this was different, after a decade of decline and the accompanying management merry-go-round, many City fans, myself included, gratefully embraced this change of tack. Bradford City had rediscovered its mojo.
Fast forward ten months. We are back in the lowest league position since the 1960s, the club has once again scrambled over the safety line and used loan players galore to achieve that grubby landmark. The manager changed, Ross Hannah is out on loan, the Development Squad has been scrapped and the pink kit is on the reductions rail. As season tickets sales struggle what are we being offered apart from a cheap deal? Here is the crux: if a football club cannot offer genuine hope, it must offer a vision and one that can be bought into. Last season it managed the latter, this season, as yet, it is offering neither.
Of course, even a club as cursed/unlucky/badly run (delete as appropriate) as Bradford City manages to get some things right in the space of twelve months. The policy of affordable season tickets, and the parallel 50/50 deal, continues and this should be welcomed and not taken for granted. Football as an industry is unsustainable in its current guise. Although many recognise this salient fact, the vast majority of clubs continue to charge ludicrous admission prices instead of reducing their overheads. It reinforces a cycle of financial fragility, yet football clubs continue to hope that by some miracle they will either hit on a winning streak or attract a billionaire oil sheik.
Of course, this cycle is driven by the financial inequalities in our supposedly national game. The actions of the Premier League, the self-styled ‘best league in the world’, in arrogantly cutting adrift the rest of the ‘football family’ results in clubs taking huge financial risks to gain access to the gilded cage: yet when another Portsmouth occurs it is the individual clubs who are ridiculed for their financial mismanagement; the system that positively encourages unsustainable gambles is left unchallenged.
Those who do speak out are dismissed as politically driven or are ridiculed as traitors to their club: I speak from personal experience after being abused for questioning the sanity of paying Beni Carbone £40,000 a week and for the scale of the dividend payments made to the directors of Bradford City when we were a Premier League club.
Times do change though; today supporters are lambasted for suggesting that the club might finish the season in eighth place in the bottom tier of English football – although to be fair such outrageous statements do need to be challenged. After all if Luke Oliver stood on his tippy-toes he would not be able to see the Shangri-la that is eighth place.
Of course, I will be trundling up Manningham Lane with £199 in my pocket to renew my season ticket before the 31 May deadline. There are positives: the exciting wing play of Kyel Reid; the potential of Nahki Wells; the astonishing transformation of Luke Oliver from lumbering epitome of Peter Taylor’s dreary regime to player of the season; the reduction in overheads with the purchase of the club offices and rapid resale at a potentially tidy profit for the investors (but who can begrudge them that); the promotion and relegation of northern clubs into League Two; and the continued pantomime nine miles to our east.
If all else fails we still have some of the best pubs in Britain within a short walk of Valley Parade and, who knows, perhaps George Galloway will talk the sheik of somewhere or other to blow a few million on our mouldering club.