The end of the Rhodes, but the outgoing chairman’s place in history is assured

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By Jason McKeown

No one would have felt more disappointed by Bradford City’s play off defeat than Julian Rhodes. Having all but finalised a deal to sell the club to the German businessmen – Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp – Julian, his father professor David and Mark Lawn went into the play offs knowing that these were their last games at the helm.

And for Julian, who took full charge of the club in 2002, when it was in the second tier, and who also originally invested into the Bantams when it was a second tier outfit in 1997, promotion would have proven to be a romantic, symmetrical ending. It would have meant he’d have left with the club competing in the same league that he found it in.

It wasn’t to be. Millwall didn’t read the script, leaving City with the task of picking themselves up and going again next season. In that respect, the news of the takeover can act as a boost to flagging morale, offering the possibility of greater playing resources and a stronger football club. That is providing the new owners have the financial capability, the expertise and the vision to take the club forwards.

Little is known of the new owners. Rahic owns a recruitment company in Munich. Rupp’s background is in manufacturing (he is a graduate engineer) and he was involved in buying out and taking forwards this company (he is the guy on the left in this photo). The pair have business acumen for sure, but apart from some scouting work by Rahic for VFB Stuttgart, their football experience is limited. WOAP understands that part of the takeover deal includes making sure James Mason stays on for continuity and for his expertise.

Whatever lies in store, there is no doubt that the Rhodeses and Lawn pass the baton on with the club in good health. A best league finish since 2004, average crowds of 18,000, and an inspirational manager whose services are secured for at least two more seasons (assuming, of course, Rahic and Rupp see that as a positive and keep him). Football club owners so often take over during moments of downturns and weakness, but City are looking onwards and upwards. Much of the new owners’ plan should surely centre upon not messing around with a club set up that, on and off the field, is working so well.

Julian should be proud of this. It is 19 years since he and his dad formally put money into Bradford City. Their Filtronic business was thriving, and the father and son wanted to find another business to invest into, as a hobby. The Bantams, a club they supported, was the favourable option. Geoffrey Richmond welcomed them with open arms.

Initially the aim for the pair was to be very much silent partners. Richmond was the front of house. The man with a plan and the drive to see it through. We City fans weren’t really aware of the Rhodeses involvement back then. In fact, the successful 1998/99 Premier League promotion was funded by the Rhodeses. Richmond, Paul Jewell and the players rightfully got the credit, but it wouldn’t have happened had the Rhodes family not borrowed £5 million in the summer of 1998. 

And there also wouldn’t be a Bradford City without the Rhodeses. If there is criticism to direct at their tenure, it is that they remained too distant from the club’s affairs between 1999-2001, and that they didn’t stop or at least challenge the insane financial decisions Richmond was making, which would doom the club for 12 years. The Rhodes family remained silent partners, whilst accepting lucrative dividend payments that the club couldn’t really afford to gift to the Richmonds and Rhodeses.

But crucially, Professor David and Julian stuck around. As the club imploded over the summer of 2002, they picked up the pieces. They repaid all their dividend windfalls and then some. They put their family home on the line to guarantee debts the club had only a slim chance of repaying. They could have lost everything. That should never be forgotten or underestimated. 

Richmond made no such sacrifices. He left, Gordon Gibb came in as a joint owner, but the mess wasn’t sorted and the pressure eventually told. Julian and Gordon fell out badly, and the club’s future was back on the line. Gibb is still viewed by some as the hero of that dispute, but his actions since leaving in 2003 were business and family wealth driven (not that this is wholly an impossible thing to understand). Once again, the Rhodeses were the only ones who stuck around to rescue Bradford City.

Julian has always looked a reluctant club owner. He rarely speaks to the press, won’t have his photo taken as he wants a quiet life. On his own between 2004-2007, the club muddled on in League One. Broke, falling short of supporter expectations, and crowds dwindling. The gamble of sacking Colin Todd and appointing David Wetherall didn’t pay off. City were relegated for the third time in six years.

Since 2007, the burden was at least shared out. Like Julian, Mark Lawn is a passionate City supporter and the club means the world to him. He travelled home and away in the 70s and 80s, befriended players like John Hendrie and Stuart McCall (who regularly invited him up to Scotland to watch Rangers games). Lawn was a self-made millionaire who jointly set up the Driver Hire business. He had looked to get involved with investing into Bradford City for a few years, but the timing wasn’t right. His arrival was inevitable.

The outspoken, plain-speaking Lawn is the cheese to Rhodes’ chalk. Yet somehow it has largely worked as a partnership. There are rumours that relations have strained over recent months, and the parting of ways is a natural ending to that. 

Whatever you think of Lawn (and I am not a fan), his time in charge will be judged as a success. The board appointments of Peter Taylor and Peter Jackson did not work out, and it was Archie Christie who got the credit from Julian for bringing in Phil Parkinson. But Lawn got plenty right too, not least the inspired recruitment of David Baldwin.

Under Julian, Mark, Parkinson, Baldwin and now Mason, the club has made amazing progress since 2012. The numerous great moments and successes over this period are all linked to the joint chairmen. From their point of view, it was just reward for the countless sleepless nights and hours fretting over turning around the club. They deserve plenty of credit for their part in the past four years of upwards momentum. Especially for sticking by and supporting Parkinson through the bumps on the road.

And Julian especially deserves to be long remembered, and celebrated, for the way that he changed season ticket pricing. It was an amazing piece of vision by him to introduce the £138 ticket offer in 2007, when still in sole command and with City heading to relegation. Crowds had dwindled hugely post-2002, but Julian knew the potential was there.

It went from possible gimmick to the norm. During the fruitless years of 2007-2012, Julian and Mark must have been under a lot of pressure to give up the ghost, ramp up the season ticket costs to bring in more revenue. But they knew that, by doing so, many fans would be priced out or use it as an excuse to stop going. The combination of consistently low prices and post-2012 success has transformed the size of the club’s fanbase and cemented a new generation of fans.

Julian especially should be so, so proud of that.

In view of the progress over recent years, it is curious in many respects that the pair would sell up now. But that is to ignore the fact that the pressure of running Bradford City, whilst different now to what it was in 2011, never goes away. There is still an expectation and a drive to get the club up another level, and perhaps the reluctant owner thinks that now was the right time to let someone else take on that burden. Meanwhile he can do other things with his life, knowing he can feel pride in what he accomplished at Valley Parade – and that he will always be welcomed back.

WOAP understands that Mark did not want to sell and would rather have stayed on. With the sad death of his wife earlier this year, we cannot possibly imagine what he is going through and what is best for his future. Stepping back like this makes sense in one respect, but risks him living a life lacking purpose. Whatever his future (and there is a suggestion he will still have a role at the club), I hope he gets the support he needs and I’m sure his family will provide that. He might look back in time and be glad that he sold up, I hope that proves the case.

Certainly if the new owners can continue the club’s progress, build on the success further, it will look like a great deal for all concerned. All eyes are now trained on what Rahic and Rupp will or won’t do over the coming months and years. WOAP understands that Phil Parkinson is not feeling entirely confident about his own future, but it would simply cause a riot were Rahic and Rupp to get rid of such a popular manager, and the club’s biggest asset.

Uwe Rosler (or whoever) can either wait around for a long time or get lost. The real worry for City is that another club looks at the situation and targets Parkinson, like Sheffield United did last summer when the Gianni Paladini takeover attempt was in full swing. 

That is all for another time. We don’t know as yet what the plan for Rahic and Rupp is, or how deep their pockets run. It’s going to be very interesting times to say the least; but whatever the future holds, the majority of us City fans won’t forget the job that Rhodes (especially) and Lawn did.

They got us through the dark times, and step down with the sun firmly shining over Valley Parade.

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Categories: Opinion

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40 replies

  1. I can’t thank Mark and Julian enough. They have become top class chairmen who have fully backed every manager. They have done the city of BRADFORD and BRADFORD City proud. Thank you and I wish u all the best in your futures. Exciting times ahead but also a sad day as the club loses two legends.

    • I agree with Phil T: German clubs are in the whole run for the fans and have a history of cheep season tickets and sensible management so I am confident that the new owners will want to be low key at first and want to build on our current set-up. The retention of Mason suggests this is understood across the board.

      Another factor I would point out is that the season tickets were frozen for next season. This could not have been done by Lawn and Rhodes without running it past the prospective buyers as it could have seen them drop out if they did not like it. The fact it has been announced tells me that bothers of chairmen agreed to it. Positive news again!

      Finally I would like to say a huge thanks to Lawn and Rhodes for EVERYTHING!

      This club would not be here at all if it was not for them, Rhodes in particular, so it really is EVERYTHING!

      I would also say that the dignity with which they have sold the club, seemingly protecting it from opportunists or people with more ambition than sense, and ensuring continuity has been commendable. They did not just look for the highest bidder and wash their hands.
      THANK YOU!

  2. Recruiting Phil Parkinson was the single best decision of the Rhodes and Lawn era, whoever was responsible for it. I hope the new owners have the sense not to mess with the current managerial and coaching set up. They would do so at their peril. Parkinson and his team are such a good fit with City. If they get rid of him in favour of Uwe Rosler or anyone else, there will be much unrest and I think it would harm season ticket sales. I have seen managers come and go at City, but I would be furious beyond words if Parkinson were told to go now.

    • Whilst PP has had his critics (myself included) – his record and feeling for the club is immense.
      Changing a “winning formula” would be madness and I hope these German guys are putting a metaphorical arm around all of our management team and support them.

  3. Forgot to add a thanks to Mark and Julian for all their efforts. The Lawn Rhodes Stand anyone?

  4. Sad to see the guys go as this club is run right (ok might b a tight ship but run right.dont want to see this club to change tbh as we love the club as it is.thanks Rhodes n lawn for saving our club😢

  5. Excellent article as usual Jason.

    Sent from my Xperia M4 Aqua. On O2.

  6. Excellent balanced article. Thanks to the Rhodes family and Mark Lawn. Glad James Mason is staying. PP must stay!

  7. You look at how German clubs are run and Id say we are a good fit for German Owners. A fan centric club.Interesting times ahead but huge thanks to Lawn and Rhodes

    • Sorry Phil T, I agree with your post but have big fingers. How do I remove my negative and give a positive. Sorry bud.

    • There are rules in Germany about club ownership that don’t apply here. I don’t know the complete ins and outs of it, but I believe no one person can have a controlling interest. Fans are well represented on boards and this contributed to low season ticket prices and a connection between club and fans.
      I think this is precisely why our new owners have looked abroad, where the rules are different, they can have a controlling interest and therefore can take the profits when they occur. We probably came on the radar after the win at Chelsea. So I don’t expect a complete replica of the German ownership model here.
      I don’t want to write them off, but they are here to make a profit and for no other reason. They are not fans like Lawn and Rhodes. So whilst they may support Parky in the short term (mad if they don’t), I can’t see them standing by him on a long winless run as we had a couple of years ago in the way Lawn and Rhodes did – and as we have seen, massively to our long term advantage. This is the aspect of the take over that really worries me, the risk to long term continuity of management. Let’s hope it works out and Lawn and Rhodes have been correct about the motives of our new owners.

      • Completely playing Devils

      • That went a bit wrong!

        Completely playing Devils advocate but we don’t know that they aren’t fans of the club.

        I also didnt say it would be a complete replica of the German model but as Stuart R the season ticket offer wouldnt have been passed without the new owners agreement, I think we can take that as a positive that they are at least interested in continuing some of the work carried out by Rhodes and Lawn.

        As you say however I am worried about their patience where Parky is concerned. I hope they see that even through the rough times he has pulled through and produced year on year.

      • Can’t disagree with any of that Anne.

        Certainly the way the Chairmen stuck with PP a couple of years ago and even this year was remarkable – and much to their credit (although the cost of “getting rid” may have been a factor).

        Having worked for a German company there will be an emphasis on the Finances – whether they can squeeze profit out of a low price third tier operation is open to debate – but there might be a little positive investment.

  8. Rhodes and Lawn have overseen the revival of the club over recent years. I will never forget Lawn’s BBC interview after the Chelsea game!! I place more emphasis on Lawn’s arrival for the recovery of the Club.

    Having two supporters run the club at least makes you feel like they always have the best interests of City in their hearts. The Germans will be in the main looking to protect/leverage cash out of their investment – why else would they buy in!

    Ask Newcastle fans about a certain Mike Ashley.

    Sorry chaps, but after this year season ticket prices will be on their way up. One thing investment bankers know all about is borrowing money. They will “invest” – ie borrow to fund a promotion push, but they’ll need more revenue to support that.

    The only crumb of comfort is that if they have done their due diligence they will know how good Parky and his team are and how much loyalty we have to them.

  9. A return to the city’s indusrial roots and heritage. The club had a German chairman at the helm when city won the FA cup and finished 5th in the top tier of English football in 1911. Will history repeat it self? Lets hope so and the club builds on the sucess that the chairmen, board, manager, backroom staff and supporters have built in the last 5 years.

  10. Given the names of investors bandied around when the club was bust it sounds like these two have a degree of respectability. The cheap ticket initiative made massive sense and also demonstrated to potential investors the size of the club. Anyone wanting to buy into a FL club with our support would have struggled to find anyone else for the same money. If these guys have the Euros lets hop there is plenty left in the kitty to invest in players. If we all vote Brexit and the pound deteriorates further they’ll have enough more to spend.

    All credit to Mark Lawn but im glad he’s going. On occasions he’s been an embarrassment.

    Let’s just hope PP stays.

  11. I can’t put into words how grateful I am for them both saving the club and building what we have today. It can’t have been an easy job and the fact they stuck with it shows how they must love the club.
    City Gents in every sense.

  12. Yes the Rhodes Lawn double act will be most fondly remembered and huge thanks and good wishes to them both.
    Turning to the future – I would be appalled if the management team is changed but whether they have the skills to operate on a (presumably?) enhanced budget could be open to question. Who wpuld the club target? Whether Cullen, Burke & Evans could stay is probably more to do with their parent club wishes than hard cash.
    Targeting a proven goalscorer is probably equally problematic – look at Tom Pope! Maybe someone like Tom Bradshaw but someone around 24/26 – not a journeyman like McLean please. Also on the shopping list – a combative midfielder a la Gary Jones. Whilst I am not advocating David Syers, he is out of contract at Rochdale.
    Defensively Nathan Clarke is a year older and his performance against Millwall perhaps highlighted his shortcomings. McMahon has been steady, but Marshall unable to force himself into the first team picture says it all.
    Jimmy must stay as should Proc who have been good for each other – I’m not convinced about S Davies as to what he really offers. Many thanks to Reidy but obviously past his best.
    Finally Ben Williams. It would be incredibly harsh to release him after his record run but how much have the team been sacrificed at the other end to protect him? He should be retained.
    I dont think the new owners need to go mad – a few judicious signings should see us across the line next season.

  13. I do fear for Parky’s future under the new owners and i think he’ll be feeling the same right now. I would like to see him stay and be given the funds to build for a promotion push next season, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if he walked, or was given the push by the new owners.
    Uwe Rosler’s name has been banded about on many social media platforms and has been met with much criticism from City supporters, but you cannot knock his record at Brentford and Wigan. He likes to play good football, and i would welcome him here. Just because he had a short unsucessful spell at Beeston under Cellino would not put me off.
    But let’s hope PP stays!

    • I don’t think Wigan fans would agree he was a success at their club!

      • Guided them to Championship play-offs and Cup semi final. Was sacked after a bad start to the season after, which Dave Whelan later said was harsh decision

        It’s all about opinions. if he can guide Brentford and Wigan to the top end of table finishes then no reason why he can’t do it here

  14. I look forward to the future now we have new owners they must have the financial clout for us to progress or why bother especially as they are from Germany. I can only imagine they where looking for a club big enough to have a go at getting into the premiership with all that brings on the financial front. As a club without investment this summer we would begin to go backwards so as a supporter I welcome the new owners and get ready for the ride

  15. A superb & fitting tribute Jason. I dont think anyone of will ever forget Julian especially or Mark. They have seen us through times we will hopefully never ever see again. I can fully understand them wanting to pass the mantle on, for both personal reasons & for the good of the club. The inspirational season ticket scheme to which you refer, may well have proved to be a double edged sword – the weight of expectation grows heavier almost by the day, I hope Messrs Rahic & Rupp recognise & embrace this. Any talk of a managerial change should be rejected out of hand & treat with the contempt it deserves.

  16. A very well written and trueful report, i cant say a big enough thank you to both chairmen. i hope the future is bright for my beloved Bradford city and Mr Lawn and Rhodes. thank you

  17. Gutted. Absolutely gutted.
    On way back to Canada from Millwall match and just read this in airport.
    Mark and Julian have made BCFC ours where we all feel the club belongs to us. It’s because they’re fans and not just a club or business to them.
    City Gent and WOAP need to do an in depth interview with the Ğerry asap to find out all the things we’re asking.
    I do not want to sell the soul of our club for temporary investment aka ‘success’.
    My two cents worth.
    Ps. Not that my opinion matters or I have any money to invest in city. After this trip the cat’s going to go hungry.

  18. Let’s wait and see.

    I think both Julian and Lawny always said they would only sell to the “right” investor. We will see.

  19. Most who post on here will expect the new owners to respect the clubs integrity and identity. We need continuity behind the scenes with Mason and PP. I hope we have the owners we deserve and it does seem that they are established and successful businessmen. Thanks to JR and Lawny for a memorable journey.

    • Hope all internet rumours about Rosler are unfounded. It would be remarkably stupid to sack PP as one of their first acts. Hang on – who tried to invade Russia?

  20. May just be the Germans eyes and ears here on a Consultancy basis whilst the thing goes through. It would be a dropped bollock of enormous proportions to ditch the Special one

  21. We need them to come out with some sort of statement pretty quickly otherwise rumours are just going to escalate. The questions I would like answering are:

    1. Why invest in football.
    2. What do you want out of it.
    2. Why Bradford City.

    Back in the day clubs used to be owned by local businessmen made good. Their motivation was perhaps a touch of philanthropy, an ambition to put something back into the community with maybe a touch of ‘indulging a passion’ thrown in. I’d say mark and Julian fell into this bracket. Successful businessmen and City fans wanting to help out the club they loved (I’m sure it felt like that in the beginning but turned into something else entirely!).

    My point is Julian’s and Mark’s motivation for being involved with City was clear, the Germans’ motivation is less so. Until we know the answers to the questions above I remain nervous.

    • “Investors” want a return on their money.

      Chuck a few quid at it to increase the clubs value (promotion to the promised land).

      I hope another “dividend gate” et al ” Richmond” era is not around the corner.

    • Hi Andy, most of us share your concerns but unlike Man Utd our owners are doing things right. They are allowing the new owners to sit down and speak to all the staff before the media.

      It has been made clear since the announcement that no official statements or interviews will be released until the staff are all aware of the situation.

      Tomorrow all becomes clear…hopefully 😄👍

  22. For all those open to a new manager, I must admit, I’m quite surprised.

    Granted, the football has been dire at times and the cutting edge in front of goal has been telling – a 25 goal striker would have had us promoted automatically, I’m certain.

    The thing is, I’m sure PP knows this as much as anyone and I remember pre-season he tried to sign a number of strikers such as the fella who chose Doncaster over us (unlucky :)) ), Williams, who was one of the divisions top scorers last season with Swindon – so it’s not like he didn’t try.

    For me, PP has done enough for the club to truly deserve to stay in the job – which I can’t believe is even up for discussion. See, I’ve only seen this rumour on one website (which has then been re-quoted on many other publications) and for all I/we know they could simply be speculating – linking a German name with new German owners.
    The new owners have been in discussion with City for a while, so it could well be that they too share an appreciation for Parky.

    No manager in modern football has taken a 4th tier club to a major final – it’s unheard of and last season he was a whisker from going back to Wembley for an FA cup semi final, this season, his fifth in charge has seen a fifth consecutive improvement – who wouldn’t keep him?
    They owe it to the man himself, the club and the supporters to keep him at the helm and surely they would realise (unless they are of the same ilk as the nutjob in charge of the club just up the road) that they will be getting off on the wrong foot by sacking one of our greatest ever managers.

    I don’t think PP chooses to play direct football necessarily as a preference, I just think our failure to land any forwards of note pre-season and following the bad start, that he needed to shore up at the back and play to our strengths, with any sort of backing now, I’m pretty certain we’ll be a very attractive package to any incoming player and the calibre will be better than before. PP can get us promoted. Apparently, we will hear from the new owners tomorrow or at least Rahic, so we should know more by then.

    PP gets my vote though. COYY

    • Absolutely.

      IPWT.

      The man has a record second to none. He has been immense and whilst some of the football has hardly been inspiring – in a results business PP has delivered season after season.

      What more could a replacement do? Spend money and worsen the situation? No success is auti promotion next year and I cant think anybody is more likely to deliver that given his track record.

    • I don’t think anyone could argue against that….

  23. My first City game was in 1961 and I’ve been an irregular supporter ever since. I intended to be there in the stand with my son on that fateful day 31 years ago but fortunately for us circumstances meant we were not.
    Following the success under Rhodes and Lawn I’ve become a season ticket holder and intend to carry on as such. All the new owners have to do is look at the league attendance figures and they’ll see that we’re second behind Sheffield United with a terrific regular home following (18,090 v 19,803) so if it ain’t broke don’t meddle with it, that’s a lot of happy folk to upset.
    Re Parkie couldn’t agree more he’s done a terrific job and long may it continue; all the team needs is a bit of tweeking plus a regular goal scorer up front and promotion should come.
    During the Bank Holiday weekend a trip to Southend for the last away match of the season brought home to me how lucky we are. Their average attendance is 7,001 but was boosted that weekend by the 1,500 to 2,000 City supporters who made the trip. Speaking to the owner of the hotel where we stayed the season ticket price is well over double what we pay at around £350. He was amazed at how many supporters had made the long journey to Southend and to find that we have over 18,000 season ticket holders. Long may the fantastic support continue behind Parkie and his backroom staff.
    And finally thank you and good luck to both Julian and Mark for a job well done; I couldn’t agree more that a renaming of a stand in their honour is long overdue.

  24. Thank you so much Julian and Mark. Fantastic dedication that has helped to make Bradford City a great place to be and be part of. Cheers guys.

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