By Jason McKeown
There isn’t a corner of Bradford City that has escaped David Baldwin’s influence; or an aspect of the club that he hasn’t been involved with. The title ‘Head of Operations’ covers all manner of activities, meaning anything and everything has fallen under his responsibility at some point. David Baldwin’s stamp is firmly placed throughout the football club that he departs this week.
From organising the selling of tickets for the two Wembley finals through to player recruitment. The set-up of the corporate hospitality through to supporter relations. The training ground redevelopment. The continuation of cheap season tickets. Overturning an FA Cup expulsion. The online ticket system. Flexi-cards. The arrival of Nahki Wells. Even dancing on Soccer AM.
It is a long list of personal achievements – especially for what was initially supposed to be a short-term involvement. Six weeks was Baldwin’s initial remit, it turned into seven years.
It was a commitment that caused him to come out of early retirement in Spain. Instead of the life of Mediterranean luxury, he was working ridiculously long hours for City that often saw him leave very early and return very late to his Cullingworth home. In 2012, David told me that he averaged 60 hours per week, adding, “I’m a qualified commercial pilot, so when people ask how much I am being paid at City I always say that ‘if I flew for four hours per week, I would make more money than I do working for the club’.”
He arrived at Valley Parade in the summer of 2007 as a favour to incoming chairman Mark Lawn, after the pair had met at a charity football match in Spain organised by mutual friend and former City winger, Mark Ellis. Baldwin said he’d be happy to help the under-staffed Bantams for a few weeks – initially to revive the commercial operations – and Lawn duly invited him to West Yorkshire. It could rank as the chairman’s best-ever signing.
Flash forward to January 2011 and an agitated Lawn is defending Baldwin to me, following criticism led by The City Gent over a poorly conceived Christmas season ticket campaign nicknamed ‘Santa Dave’. Lawn revealed that Baldwin spent the first year working without a salary, and then even at the point of being paid “does not work for a lot now because I don’t pay that well”. Baldwin would also turn down attractive job offers from other clubs – roles that paid five or six times more – to continue what he had started at Valley Parade. At times it must have seemed a thankless task.
By this point Baldwin had moved on from the commercial side of operations to looking at the club’s infrastructure. At reducing the running costs, and getting the maximum value from third party deals such as the club shop. He arranged for Nike to become the kit supplier, set up a partnership with Woodhouse Grove School to vastly improve the training facilities available to City, and arranged for RIASA to forge a mutually beneficial partnership with the club. All of these and others have aided the club’s lift off from struggling at the foot of League Two to the current half-way positioning in the division above.
The longer Baldwin has been at the club, the more influential he has become. Since 2012, he has worked closely with Phil Parkinson to bring in the manager’s targets. He also became front of house and the go-to man for the media and sites such as this one. During Sky Sports’ August coverage of the League Cup victory over Leeds, they interviewed him pre-match and showed a shot of him looking proud at full time.
The strength of Baldwin is that he gets things done and is approachable to everyone. What other figurehead at a football club would combine the leading of transfer negotiations with dealing with supporter ticket enquiries on the phone? At times it seemed as though Baldwin was doing the job of two if not three people.
Baldwin leaves behind a club that – on and off the field – is so much more professional and progressive than the outfit he walked into seven years ago. The Bradford City of 2004-2007 always had a make-do, don’t-expect-too-much feel. In the aftermath of 2004’s second spell of administration, ambition was limited to tredding water – and ultimately even that wasn’t achieved.
Baldwin succeeded in removing barriers across the club. It’s not as if there has been any significant leap in the number of people employed by the club since 2004-2007, nor were the staff members of that era uncommitted and lazy. But it took someone from the outside to come in and demonstrate leadership; to devise and implement plans that addressed areas of neglect. As David told me a year ago, “Always focus on what you can improve and never be satisfied with where you are. That is the mind-set of this football club.”
The job is far from done and there is a fear that, without Baldwin, the club might slip into bad old ways. It will be interesting to see who replaces him as the public figurehead and operational leader of Bradford City.
But what cannot be denied is Baldwin’s place in City’s modern history. He might not have scored the goals that took the club to Wembley twice, he might not be the managerial mastermind of the downfalls of Arsenal and Aston Villa. But in both full sight of supporters and behind the scenes, David Baldwin has been a key figure behind the turnaround of Bradford City.
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