By Rob Burn
As a Bradford City supporter, I’m not sure what to feel about City potentially being sold and perhaps I should have considered it before now to prepare myself, especially with the buyer being someone I don’t know and I’m not sure I want to know.
It seems that Mr Paladini, our suitor, has already featured in City’s past, when I wasn’t watching, and although he doesn’t look like a skeleton from our trophy-less cupboard, after having had Bryan Robson as manager, I know looks can be deceiving.
If I’d thought about it I’d know how to tackle the sudden anxiety that causes me to absentmindedly fill my supermarket trolley with spaghetti hoops, until I get “the look” from my wife. I suppose that for most football supporters this seismic challenge (I don’t mean “the look”) is part of life and happens frequently during the union with their clubs. My worries started when I realised Gianni had, in the past, albeit distant past, been chairman of the recently relegated and trumoured to be in financial trouble, QPR.
I view this prospective takeover as an “arranged marriage” because City is something I have affection for and care deeply about, which is how I try to feel about my wife too. My relationships with my club and my wife do have similarities but I’ve never thought seriously about leaving City and don’t go to bed dreaming of someone else, no matter who’s been on telly on Saturday night.
I just hope Gianni calls us Bradford City and that he knows our history and traditions mean we’ve earned the right for our proper name to be used, although, for some reason, never by Gary Lineker or Sky.
It’ll be a bad start if Gianni talks about buying Bradford unless the journalists have mixed us up and it really is Bradford, the Park Avenue bit, he wants. Perhaps he hasn’t been up here much and bumped into an Avenue supporter when stepping out of the Interchange asking for directions to “Bradford’s” ground and finished up at Avenue’s.
I know Gianni has been here before, but possibly only the once, on the afternoon he sold Benito Carbone to Geoffrey Richmond. If that Avenue supporter had been hanging around all those years ago and directed Gianni to Avenue, Carbone might have played for them instead of us and Richmond might have bought us Beckham, Shearer and(?)Gascoigne. I’ll be listening anxiously to hear which Bradford team Gianni starts talking about.
But whatever the outcome of his proposal, Gianni needs to know that with City he’ll be joining a threesome because he’ll be sharing the club with me. City has a call on a large part of my mind, a large part of my heart and a small part of my pocket (I’m from Yorkshire, don’t forget) so maybe this is why I’m worried.
I want to shout out what William Hague said in his first speech to Mrs Thatcher when he was still wearing shorts and his voice hadn’t broken: “Be careful what you do because I’ll still be around when you’ve gone.” In anticipation, I’m already wearing my old football shorts, and they’ve shrunk so it’s no trouble speaking with a squeaky voice.
I’ve lived through many previous takeovers at City and know there are no certainties with some starting badly and ending badly and some starting well and ending badly. I’ve nothing against our prospective new owner but at City we already have our own tragic history of takeovers….and I don’t mean the history some attribute to Richmond.
The one takeover that did work was his and it wasn’t his takeover that caused the problems. If we hadn’t signed our cheques until ITV Digital had signed theirs, Richmond would probably have been given a season ticket for heaven, and if he hadn’t signed Ashley Ward at all that ticket would have been for a good seat in the stands up there.
Those who criticise Richmond forget he came after numerous previous owners had departed, sometimes leaving only pleas to creditors for extra time to save the club. I’ve always thought we were fortunate City were better at last minute cash than last minute goals.
I remember, before Richmond, standing on the Spion Kop in the open air, with the crowd of three others and a dog (and it probably hadn’t paid), freezing in the December sleet, watching City lose to Oldham Athletic, again. In our numbness we couldn’t raise much enthusiasm to argue about the losing streak reaching 100, concluding our best hope was a draw somewhere – possibly Hartlepool United who were in the league only so no one else needed to finish bottom.
If the heavens had opened (with more than sleet) and told us what success Richmond would bring we’d have played for the devil, no matter what the signing on fee, and even if the dog was in goal. I was there. What came later should make us wary of prospective owners promising a quick climb to the top tier, which now has several billion more rungs on the ladder than it did then.
The Richmond Revolution helped City leave a mixture of stagnation and decline that had seen me lose my youth in the Fourth Division. I saw an occasional, sometimes very occasional, win as we returned to our default place in the lowest tier of league football. In truth, many fans and, importantly, the players, seemed comfortable with this and if we started a season winning a few games we could rely on the players to do their best to avoid promotion and secure our place in the division for another season.
Our preoccupation was dreaming of playing in the FA Cup’s third round with the “big boys” from higher divisions but we were happy with a win now and again. City was a club that appealed to us youngsters because the playing standard felt to be only just beyond our schoolboy skills and reachable when we grew a bit older, a bit stronger and, most importantly, a bit dirtier.
I’d been troubled by the way Simpson, our chairman at the time, and the ambitious Richmond, Scarborough FC’s chairman, negotiated the deal, and we weren’t sure it qualified as a takeover. It was clear that even though Simpson didn’t speak our (football) language he could still see the writing on wall and we were happy Richmond appeared not to have read the script written over our decades of decline.
I could see what our chairman wasn’t doing to my club and I’d heard what Richmond was doing to his but it didn’t seem right that rich men, at least one of whom was keeping his money for himself (and we didn’t know that later Richmond would keep his money for the Inland Revenue) could swap. We’d never heard of it and it took the shine off just swapping football cards at school.
We listened to Richmond’s promises and knew it was desirable and only a gnat’s cock from being unbelievable. Exchanging a semi-final in the West Riding Cup, against Halifax Town, wasn’t in the same night, never mind dream, as winning the double. We were fed things that were easy to swallow (not the gnats) but we didn’t realise we’d get indigestion. After the takeover this time let’s hope it’s not the diarrhoea we’ll be remembering.
We haven’t a great record with takeovers and during my time it’s running at lost 10, drawn 1 and won 1. I have flash backs from the early 1960s of collecting money from my schoolpals to “save City” and although other clubs regularly changed hands for £1, our bid of £3 6s 2p, not mentioning a few foreign coins, was rejected. However, every cloud has a silver lining and one of those departing owners helped me share space in a Saturday evening edition of the Yorkshire Post with Tom Flockett, City’s captain.
Flockett was on the front page and I was hidden in the middle pages but other things were similar – he’d given the ball away for City to lose after 90 minutes and I’d given money away for City to lose after extra time. I felt it was unfair because Flockett, the uncredited inventor of the game now called Walking Football, did his thing every week but it was my City debut.
With these experiences, I worry about anyone whose football successes are a little vague, and who seems unwanted, eventually, by other clubs. About a decade ago I used to read about QPR and be fascinated by attacking play off the field as well as on it but then I discovered East Enders.
I don’t know why Port Vale rejected Gianni but I hear they didn’t like what he promised so he must have talked about more than just winning the FA Cup. I can’t understand Birmingham City not wanting an adopted, local Solihull lad, but if he’d suggested they could become European Champions I can see why they’d need more thinking time. I’ve nothing against Port Vale, QPR or Birmingham City, even though they do seem to have something against Gianni.
I hear Gianni has recently been replaying his vision of how to reach the promised land but he hasn’t scored, so far. I can see why he might want City, as I do, but I was born here and he’s hardly heard of us. When we think of him are we being distracted by dreams of beating Chelsea on a regular basis or holding our own against other mega-businesses owned by super-rich aliens from a different world? Are we being motivated by a hope that Lineker might get our name right if hears it often enough?
In the past we’ve paid dear for ignoring weaknesses in front of our eyes and looking too long, and longingly, at a future almost within reach. If we only think of the sweet taste of success we might forget there may be medicine to take afterwards.
I’ve been expecting new owners before now but Lawn and Rhodes have persevered longer than I thought, giving me chance to win the lottery and buy City myself. I hope that with our unexpected successes they’ve stayed long enough to get their money back, if they can’t afford to spend any more.
I’m not happy with everything they did but despite Rhodes being too demur and Lawn being too autocratic, they appeared to care about City and it doesn’t seem to be an outrageous divorce settlement they’re looking for, just a comfortable one. I know there’s ambiguity in the complexity of the Rhodes family’s long involvement with City but we’ve done well under the Rhodes/Lawn ownership, although sometimes I’ve felt it’s been touch and go.
This takeover leaves me wondering if City’s future will go on forever and whether it will be something I’ll enjoy. I want glory but I want it to be honourable too, which means continuing to be proud of my club, whether we win or lose.
After the takeover I hope we’ll remain a football club and not turn into a window of investment opportunity. I hope Gianni wants glory for us rather than money for someone. There are many stories of how new owners damaged their clubs, sometimes taking the ground (not literally) or plenty of dosh as they left.
I want to worry about what happens on the pitch not on the balance sheet, I want to think about keeping the ball down, not the cashflow up. I hope Gianni keeps City as a community conscious club even though he might not know much about Bradford as a city. I know he’ll do his due diligence checks on us before any takeover, and I hope the ones done on him by Rhodes and Lawn are thorough, too. As in recent years, we’re still relying on Rhodes and Lawn for an awful lot.