As Bradford City prepare for two of the biggest games in its entire history, Head of Operations David Baldwin kindly spoke to Width of a Post about the operational arrangements, the potential financial rewards of this remarkable cup run, Phil Parkinson’s contract, transfer plans for the January window and the appointment of Russ Richardson.
By Jason McKeown
Bradford City’s 2012/13 average League Two attendance of 9,975 might be more than double that of 14 of its 23 divisional rivals, but Tuesday’s likely crowd of over 23,000 is anything but the norm for the club. It requires a huge amount of additional operational planning in order to ensure two-and-a-half times the usual matchday crowd are accommodated for, with over 200 additional staff needing to be recruited for one evening’s work. Fortunately, the successful staging of the Arsenal quarter final means the club has been through it once before, and can be confident of getting it right.
“There’s a lot of work to be done in order to be ready for with next Tuesday’s game,” revealed Head of Operations, David Baldwin. “We were generally pleased with how the Arsenal game went. There were some minor problems, but in terms of the number of complaints we received, you’re talking less than a dozen. The ideal for me is that we have no complaints; I don’t want anyone to have a problem when they come to the game. You want them to have enjoyed the experience.
“Generally everybody who has contacted us who did have a problem, we have rectified matters to make sure that problem doesn’t repeat itself for the Villa game.”
The scale of operation is undoubtedly the biggest challenge, but David was encouraged by how well his staff coped with having so many extra customers against Arsenal, “From a queuing perspective, getting into the stadium wasn’t too bad. It was within time tolerance, and pretty much everyone was in from the point of kick off. It’s one of those things where, if you were doing that week in week out, the staffing levels that you’d have and their skill set means you would get rid of the small problems very quickly.
“One of the examples of the problems was that, in the upper tier of the main stand, the water ran out. Simply what had happened was the reserve tank couldn’t fill up quick enough for the volume of water that was consumed. For this type of situation, I don’t think the stadium, even from its construction, had ever been tested to that limit before! It’s an issue that we would have to consider going forward, should we have theses level of supporter numbers at games on a week in week out basis. There’s unfortunately not a lot we can do about it for the Aston Villa game, because you’re talking about major construction issues to try and rectify this issue. But it is on our radar now.”
The big game on Tuesday
In terms of the Aston Villa home leg, the club will once again take on temporary staff – which is likely to mean training new people up from scratch. “The very nature of temporary staff is that they are not necessarily readily available next time,” admitted David. “We have gone through the same supply routes that we went through last time, and you would hope that we can bring in some of the temporary staff who have already worked at the stadium for the Arsenal game back, so that we are not having to get them familiar with the stadium environment.
“The basic principles of how we operated the evening and how we have operated the preparation for the evening – clearly the model worked. It’s just about nipping individual errors quicker.”
The biggest change David is implementing this time around is to offload some of the pressure from the club’s Safety Officer and Facilities Manager, David Dowse. Baldwin explained, “We need to make sure that other departments don’t draw on the time of David from 9am on the Tuesday morning of the game. Against Arsenal he was still getting pulled by other departments to rectify outstanding issues.
“Nobody will be pulling on David’s time on the matchday this time. So he can focus solely on his management of the stewards, medical staff and maintenance staff. You don’t want to be putting the most important person in the ground – the only person who can sanction the ground to be ready and open – under undue pressure.”
Filling the ground
The club is set for another bumper attendance on Tuesday, with interest in City’s first ever League Cup semi final understandably very high. “There was a massive surge on the first day tickets went on sale, we sold over 8,000 tickets on the first day just for the home fans,” revealed David. For season ticket and Flexi-card holders, prices have been set slightly more expensive, from £20 against Arsenal to £25. David explained that this decision was largely out of the club’s hands, “Both clubs present their prices and both clubs have to be in agreement with those prices. And that’s the pricing structure that we were able to agree with Villa. We weren’t able to agree an alternative one.
“The rules of the competition say that you have to have agreeable prices. We choose ours and they choose theirs, and I had a say on the prices they were quoting for the second leg, and they have a say over mine.
“But you know, we are one opposition away from Wembley.”
In addition, the club has had to start making plans for a potential date at the English national stadium in February, just in case City can squeeze past Villa. “The safety officer and the ticket office manager have been to Wembley already, as did all the other clubs in the semi finals, to discuss what potentially would need to be done and the pricing structure for the final, which is already in place,” said David.
“One thing we don’t dictate – and we don’t want to make any assumptions that we will be there – is that Wembley and the Football League set the ticket prices for the final. But the final would be another massive operation, one that we have to be ready for.”
The financial windfall
The financial rewards for City’s progress are clearly huge. Although David is unsure exactly how much they will make from the two semi finals, the club are earmarking this windfall for covering the playing budget deficit and strengthening Phil Parkinson’s hand in the promotion push. David outlined, “When you look at the situation of the Arsenal money and the potential of the Aston Villa money – the amount of which is not confirmed yet – the first thing that money goes towards is clearing that budget deficit. We’ve always talked about this £650-£700k overspend.
“The chances are that the money from these two semi final games will generate something in the region of anything from £1.1 to £1.3 million. What that leaves is the potential for £400-£600k surplus within that. Some of that surplus will be used to enable the manager to strengthen the team in January if he chooses to do so; he has got permission to do that if he wants to. The other part of that surplus may potentially be used for maintaining a decent playing budget for next season as well.
“This money doesn’t want to be wasted away, it needs to be spent wisely. That’s the key. It’s got to be used sensibly for the long-term good benefit of the club, not just the short-term.”
Key to any January transfer spending is the appointment of Russ Richardson as Head of Player Recruitment. A move which David believes will enable both himself and Phil Parkinson to concentrate on other matters, while Russ finds suitable players for the manager to consider. “The bottom line is that our goal this season is to get out of this division. Phil has been given a very clear brief in terms of him telling us what he needs in order to achieve that goal. And he is currently working on that. The reason we have recruited Russ Richardson is to help with that.
“Russ has really good market knowledge of League One and the Championship. He is very aware of what players are around it. January is such a key time for us, so we now have someone whose sole responsibility is to be looking at available players, looking at players coming out of contract, looking at players who might be interested in a move, or even a loan move, all those permutations. And if he feeds this back into Phil, and then Phil feeds back his choices to Julian, Mark and myself, then we can go after our targets.
“Phil needs people to have done the homework for him, and that’s Russ’ job now.
“I noticed that one or two supporters made comparisons to Russ with Archie Christie’s role. It’s a very different type of process. Russ will be carrying out scouting and fact-finding missions for the manager, whereas Archie’s role was about developing a Development Squad as well as identifying talented players who we might want to sign. So it’s a very different set up. And we’re just taking Russ on a short-term basis, while we have a need for it, and we will take stock of how it’s working out on a month-by-month basis.”
The glare of the spotlight
The build-up to City’s quarter final with Arsenal saw the club receive a huge amount of national media attention, and it barely seems to have gone away since. But are any of the players who impressed so much on national TV now the subject of interest?
“Good players always attract interest, but from our perspective we have got no desire to sell anybody,” declared David. “It’s more of a case of who can we bring in. The only player subject to a serious negotiation and bid is Ross Hannah.
“In terms of the players who have been starting regularly for the team, in the run up to the Villa game, such as Nahki Wells, we are certainly not looking to sell these players at this stage. Our primary objective is to get promoted and you want the best players in order to do it.”
And what of the manager himself attracting interest? A week after the City win, Reading fans were heard on national TV chanting the name of their much-loved former player. Meanwhile Phil, out of contract in the summer, has spoken in the local paper about agreeing a new deal at Valley Parade. I was speaking to David on New Year’s Eve (Monday), and he revealed that Phil’s comments in the T&A are now set to trigger contract talks.
“With the way that it has gone, Saturday-Tuesday games continually – since Phil spoke in the press – the two chairmen, myself and Phil haven’t had the opportunity to sit down together to talk about it (a new contract) ,” David explained. “We generally do that on a Thursday, and I dare say that it will come up when we have our meeting this Thursday (3rd January). Or if it doesn’t come up in that meeting it will come up in the following Thursday meeting.
“Because it has been tabled by Phil now, we might as well ask the question about extending his contract and then discuss it.”
Good news then, with Phil enjoying a level of popularity amongst supporters we have not seen for a long time. And as the club prepare for the first leg of the League Cup semi final with nothing to lose, it’s clear that no one is taking their eyes off the main prize this season. David explained that after the Arsenal game, “You move on, and that’s what we did after the initial euphoria of the press, we said right well let’s get back to the main business of trying to get promoted out of this league and getting ready, operationally, for the likes of the January transfer window.”