By Mark Douglas
You have to cast your mind back quite a while for the last time Bradford City made such a contentious managerial change.
20 years, in fact – back to the day in January 1998 when Chris Kamara was fired with an over-achieving team nestled safely in mid-table in the second tier. For Geoffrey Richmond, it was not enough – the final straw being a 2-0 defeat in the FA Cup at Manchester City.
Times have changed since then but there are plenty of parallels: Kamara was popular, an ex-player and had achieved promotion and then safety in his first two seasons. It was universally felt to be a harsh call: not least by David Mellor, the host of the BBC’s 6-0-6 talk-in. Larger-than-life Richmond was to appear on the radio a week later to address Mellor’s criticism in one of the more bizarre footnotes in Bradford history.
And yet here is the kicker: Richmond’s call was proved right. The unpopular call was to fire Kamara: the braver decision was to appoint Paul Jewell, whose brief caretaker stint was unremarkable. 18 months later, City were in the Premier League.
Now that the initial anger and outrage has subsided, it is perhaps worth delving a bit deeper into the situation at City. The reflex reaction is to rail against the way a club legend has been cast aside and there are problems and issues that urgently need to be addressed at Valley Parade. But Stuart McCall’s dismissal might also be the necessary end of a particularly enjoyable era at Valley Parade that was – in truth – coming to the end of its sell-by date anyway.
For all the affection for McCall – and for all the feeling that Stefan Rupp and especially the controversial and self-proclaimed Head of Football Edin Rahic have handled this horrendously – this is an opportunity to press reset in the relationship between new owners, supporters and the dressing room. It may also be the shock to the system that the club and new owners need to address some simmering issues.
My first reaction was anger but this is my club rather than the club I cover. I’ve heard the same innuendo about interference that others have and felt the same fury and fear as other fans but 48 hours of calls have convinced me our co-owners aren’t in the model of Francesco Becchetti, who ruined Leyton Orient, or the Oyston family, who are at war with Blackpool fans. Instead there has been a difficult dynamic between an emotional, heart-on-the-sleeve manager and a Head of Football in Rahic who is brash but, perhaps, out of his depth.
The key man in all of this feels to be Rupp, the majority owner who is based in Germany and who cuts an impressive figure to those who have met him. He has the resources and vision but his information comes from his co-investor, who is involved so closely with football matters that it can hardly help him to formulate a true picture of what is going on at City.
The hope would be that Rahic can learn lessons and moderate his approach while Rupp’s involvement becomes more hands-on. They are in it for the long-haul, have the best interests of the club at heart and have been stung by what has happened since the turn of the year. They have a different approach that leaves me feeling uncomfortable, but sometimes the easy thing isn’t always the right thing.
Here’s my seven-step programme to give the owners a chance to reset at City.
1) Repair relationships
Rupp and Rahic have made the right noises in public about the importance of the club to the community and they clearly value the central part that it plays in the city.
But they have to back that up now. It does not pay to be involved in disputes over relatively modest bonuses – as we understand they are – with players and, in particular, our most important striker. These are people the owners and the club need onside. Whatever it is that has caused this needs to be addressed as morale seems to have sunk off the back of it. Trust is easily squandered.
Similarly the Luke Hendrie situation seems to have been badly handled, not least because his father – like Stuart – is a City legend. I know from my professional life covering Newcastle that employing and empowering legends are two very different things. Mike Ashley has given Alan Shearer and Kevin Keegan the manager’s job during his time at Newcastle but has alienated both and his popularity has never recovered.
Leaving McCall feeling as if he might be better off out of the club was a terrible error. You can challenge ‘the Bradford Way’ if you want – it might be slightly shambolic or homespun at times, or in need of modernisation in other areas – but these relationships must be handled with care. Similarly, in a community club sponsors must be nurtured. It’s a lesson they must learn.
2) Recruitment has to change
Rahic, infamously, told Richard Sutcliffe of the Yorkshire Post that he “knows football” and his views must be respected by whoever the next manager is. But his record in bringing players over from Germany suggests that he is yet to get to grips with what is required to succeed in League One.
Bradford have seven German players – with 23-year-old Kai Brunker the latest to join. But none have made an impact yet. Goalkeeper Rouven Sattelmaier is utterly out-of-his-depth and has cost City points. Australian Lachlan Barr, signed from a lower league club in Berlin, was unable to make an impact at Harrogate Town. Perhaps individually they were not costly but collectively that is a chunk of City’s wage budget that may be better spent elsewhere.
City’s wage budget is not markedly bigger than it was in the dying days of Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes’ time at the club but it is competitive in League One, there is a transfer warchest there to spend and there is not the need to urgently sell to balance the budget that there was previously if City didn’t progress in the Cup. So they are better off with new owners – but not if the chairman’s say on recruitment is exaggerated and is so hit-and-miss.
A bit of humility, heeding the words of whoever the next manager is and giving Greg Abbott his head would serve City well. Recruitment at our level is key. We have clearly not done it as well as other clubs in the division this season.
3) Edin Rahic must take a step back
Rahic is passionate, determined and desperate to make City a success. We started this piece with a nod to Richmond and it’s worth noticing that others in the boardroom at City have hardly been shrinking violets. Many found Richmond difficult to deal with and others didn’t get on with Lawn, a lifelong fan who lived and breathed for the club.
But Rahic’s approach, at times, seems to have been like a bull in a china shop. It is perhaps time for him to listen as well as lecture. He clearly has an energy and determination to make the club a success but this is a new football culture that he is getting to grips with. Just as we as a supporter base have to accept that him challenging some things at City might be timely, so he needs to understand that Bradford is a club that needs to stay tied to its roots.
4) Sweat the small stuff – and invest in it too
The owners have invested impressively in the Academy and they have impressive, over-arching grand plans for the club. The pitch may be next on the agenda. This is the kind of infrastructure investment required at a club that doesn’t own its stadium and has no training ground.
But if you’re going to do that then you need to pay for little things too. The turnover of staff has been substantial. Those who remain need to be given the tools to do their job, whether that’s a company laptop or whatever. Again, it’s not going to win games but it might make a difference.
5) Get the right manager
McCall might have felt like the perfect candidate when put to Rupp and Rahic but the relationship was obviously not right from the start. For the ex-manager to say he would have walked after two weeks if he was going to quit hinted at the tensions that festered throughout the 18 months.
McCall is a great at City but he himself wouldn’t accept the portrayal of him as flawless. He is a certain kind of manager – a player’s boss and that came out in the way his team reacted to his sacking.
But playing devil’s advocate, they let him down in the way they played when the heat was on. Eight defeats in ten is sacking territory and while he had earned patience in my opinion, there were problems on-the-field. The home record, the way inferior sides were able to roll us over so easily at Valley Parade or the way the team tired were problems.
I don’t think, either, that McCall is really that interested in managing upwards – a skill that many at the League Managers Association now counsel is critically important for a new generation of managers. Rahic is not the only hands-on chairman and there are more difficult places to manage than City. Perhaps another manager might be able to be a bit more detached – or might more readily utilise data analysis and the appliance of science and be able to push back against the chairman’s nagging questions.
It is what works for the owners as well as the manager. There will be some good applicants for the job and it’s my understanding that there’s no desire to bring in an unknown from Germany to act as a puppet for the owners (not that plucking the unknown David Wagner did Huddersfield any harm). That’s a good thing.
6) Address the atmosphere
Valley Parade had a feeling of a stadium where anything was possible during the Phil Parkinson era. But it was inevitable that would fade as expectations rose and results plateaued. We have big numbers filing through the gates but we need to recruit players who thrive in that. Too many of the class of 17/18 don’t seem to.
And as supporters we have a part to play here too. Maybe a reset in the relationship can help.
7) Don’t write cheques you can’t cash
Arguably Rahic’s biggest problem in January came with Rahic’s January 5 interview about Kieffer Moore. Talk of a “substantial offer” for him raised hopes of big signings in January before the club had a chance to properly assess the market.
This was compounded by more statements about finishing in the automatic promotion spots – a tough ask given Wigan and Blackburn have bigger budgets and momentum that seems to clinch them.
Ambition is a positive. We tend to talk down our club at times. But it needs to be grounded in reality. This is a top eight squad that with good management and better additions in January might have made the top six. There is still plenty good about the club – and I’m happy that James Mason and the excellent Greg Abbott (unfairly pilloried after the January just passed) remain at the club.Rahic, too, I believe is well-intentioned.
We all want the same thing: a successful City. It’s not that far away, even if these have been difficult days at the club.
Mark Douglas is the Newcastle United Editor for the Journal, Chronicle and Sunday Sun, covering the Magpies fortunes since 2008. He is also the author of the highly acclaimed book, Inside the Rafalution. Mark is a Bradford City supporter who retains a keen affection for the club.
Good article and I hope it is read by the people who are referenced in it. Wise words indeed. CTID
I couldn’t agree more, Mark. An excellent article with perspective and balance.
A really good assessment of the way forward for City at this time . Some things do need to change not least the relationship between owners and all involved at the club. We all have the best interests of the club at heart like any partnership it’s a matter of give and take with no place for inflated egos we are all in this together let’s get behind the club and move on
Great article Mark, thank you. (I remember reading your articles in The City Gent.)
Rewind to June 2016 and you can understand why Phil Parkinson left us as he wouldn’t have overall control of all transfers. Stuart McCall must have known that when he accepted the manager’s job for the second time that he wouldn’t have total say on transfers. We, the supporters, can only speculate on how the relationship between McCall and Rahic was. However, our new manager needs to have the total support from our owners if we are to be successful on the pitch.
Clearly there are a lot of unhappy Bradford City supporters, me included, following McCall’s sacking but we must stick together as a club. The atmosphere at home to Bury this Saturday will be interesting. I feel that because we don’t have enough players with a long-ish playing career at Valley Parade, there is a lack of relationship between the players and the supporters which has a detrimental effect on the atmosphere at Valley Parade.
The fact that we don’t own Valley Parade is a major concern but that’s another whole debate.
It’s never dull being a Bradford City supporter and that’s what I enjoy about our football club.
great article – as far as historical parallels go, I was thinking of the period at the end of 2007 when we went from challenging for promotion from league one in January to relegation at the end of the season. Again a serious of decisions lead to this; the selling of Dean Windass and Jermaine Johnson to pay an outstanding tax bill (with the alternative being a potential winding up order) in the belief that we’d accrued enough points to stay up, a subsequent nosedive in form leading to Colin Todd being sacked for the results of someone else’s decisions, David Weatherall being appointed, we couldn’t buy a win and our relegation was confirmed at Chesterfield. The next season was Stuart’s first in management. Personally I was never a fan of Todd, but if we had let him stay in charge till the end of the season, I think we could have stayed up, and things might have been different for both the club and our next, and last, manager.
Excellent article. Points well made. Now EVERYONE needs to get behind the CLUB
Great article Mark. It is good to be reminded that we all want success for City, we may all have different views of how we get there, but the destination is exactly the same for the Owners, Board, Management, Team and 20000 + supporters.
The comparison to Kammy is an interesting one, I was against that decision which appeared to come out of the blue, but Richmond was a gambler and took risks in the short term it came off, but in terms of preparation it was nowhere near what was needed.
The rumours that have been circulating have been worrying, then to top it off SM gets sacked. It is obvious there has been friction between Stuart and Edin, which while the team was doing reasonably well was at least bearable. I know a Stuart has made mistakes I have sat there myself and wanted him to make changes and not be so predictable which I think we have been at times. As a team we have allowed teams at the bottom to role us over, which has been worrying. Yes so I do understand that the owners wanted better results and performances don’t we all, but they have to make sure they are not found wanting and especially when they are dealing with a man who has Claret and Amber running through his veins.
I have calmed down now, but we must make sure our next manager is the right one. I am not sure we can stay in the playoffs, but obviously everyone wants to give it our best shot. If we do, this horrible January could be the making of the team. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Sorry but I can not agree with this.
When our new owners came in they said they got that BCFC was a working mans club and the heart of the community.
I don’t believe they got it at all.
There are 56 x Plus reasons why this is the FANS club.
We have been fed platitudes from them from day one.
The fact is we are not some club who has spent the years in the doldrums going through season after season ticking over. We have a history, great at times and dreadfully sad at others.
That’s what make the majority of BCFC fans angered at the false promises and statements that have come out from the owners from day one.
BCFC fans are not mugs and should not be treated as such.
It’s easy to to say “we want premiership football in our lifetime”…we all want that !
It’s easy to say we want top two…we all want that as well.
It’s easy to say we will back the manager …(with a 45% win record, best this club has had in 36 years)…….Oh hang on….The owners didn’t…….
THE MAJORITY OF THE FANS DID BACK THE MANAGER!!!!
Talk is cheap, and actions speak louder than words.
Wonder how many season tickets we will have next year? After yet another team rebuilding exercise?
After 40+ years being a BCFC supporter, there is only one time I have felt as low as this.
Good counter argument against the current regime. Probably represents the feelings of the majority of city supporters. It will be interesting what the supporters reaction will be on Saturday. I hope city can brush aside the internal politics and put on a professional performance the fans deserve.
Absolutely my sentiments too , great post 👌
Spot on – Rahic, with good intentions or not, is a self obsessed arse . The comparison to lawn and richmond is wrong, all 3 very different. Richmond was boastful and put his money where his mouth was, unfortunately he was too greedy. Lawn was an arse but always backed his manager, with the exception of jackson who had little support wherever you looked. Rahic has failed to show a good quality or offer something of note other than build a community club spirit, which by his actions this week he has blatantly failed to grasp and shows he hasnt tried hard enough. Hard to comment on rupp as you dont hear from him, just know hes the one with the cash.
Excellent, in keeping with WOAP tradition. One point I do not understand is the reference in 1) above to “disputes over relatively modest bonuses” and then an obvious reference to Charlie Wyke.
Can someone please expand or explain.
That’s what confused me too John. Never heard any rumours about Wyke’s wages
It is rumoured that the players received a bonus from the PFA for their excellent disciplinary record last season. But this bonus was not passed onto the squad by the chairman.
As for Wyke, the rumour is he was due to a bonus for scoring a hat trick vs Bristol Rovers earlier this season, as stated in his contract, and the club initially refused to pay the bonus.
Thanks for the reply. That is shocking by the board, you cant run a club like that. Anybody due a bonus should receive them regardless especially for exceptional performances. Just hope they have learned going forward
If what you say is true, then it is appalling, and possibly against contract law.
Excellent article – thank you.
The best, and worst, thing about being a football supporter is that it is a game that constantly stirs your emotions. That’s great when we are winning, but when we are losing, its very easy to create a toxic atmosphere that results in a mob mentality. That mob mentality results in a much simpler 3 step approach to problem solving
Step 1 Find a tall tree and a rope
Step 2 Find a likely suspect (McCall? Rupp? Abbott? a player?), frankly any will do.
Step3 Hang em high
It seems clear that the relationship between Stuart and Edin was not good, and although I really wanted Stuart to stay, having a positive working relationship within a leadership team is more important than any individual. Edin is not going to go, so sadly that means Stuart had to.
The major leadership priority for Edin and Stefan once they have appointed the next manager is to focus all of their efforts on building that leadership team. Good teams know how to disagree with each other openly and forcefully, and how to move on from disagreements in ways that make them stronger. If Rahic and Rupp are the businessmen they portray themselves to be, they will know this from their business careers, and they will ensure that the new manager is an integral part of their team, not just the man who trains and picks the players.
That will be really difficult to achieve whilst there is a mob with a rope outside looking to solve the next problem…
As the hours turn into days and it looks like they will become at least a week or two, the sacking of Stuart looks worse and worse for me. I’m not going to get into the argument about whether he’s good enough (He is!), but the lack of replacemnet and willingness to let the team drift under caretaker guardianship suggests that the Chairmen obviously believe that in the short term no manager is better than having Stuart – this seems incredibly harsh. Following on, IF the play-offs or better is genuinely the goal, they believe that this can be more realistically achieved under caretaker guardianship – this just seems strange
Ultimately the decision was motivated by a desire to part company with Stuart more than a sense that it was a necessary decision. They have jumped at literally the first opportunity presented, without extending any opportunity the other way. If they felt that a new person was needed right away so as to save our season I could maybe understand the decision (though not agree). But instead they have given the couple of weeks that Stuart could have used to turn things around (as the recruits that the Board accepted were needed are able to bed in) over to a vacuum. It feels like they didn’t want to waste this opportunity to get rid of Stuart – him turning things round is ultimately what they wanted to avoid.
This increasingly feels like a decision devoid of footballing reasons.
We all are what we are. After more years in business than I care to recall, I’ve come across bullies, tyrants, control freaks and the like, who have been advised to change their ways in the interests of a better working environment and the need to stem the loss of unhappy staff. I’ve known them change for a short while but, without exception, they’ve reverted to type. Therefore, there is little prospect of a permanent “reset”.
The fact the club appears to have had no replacement lined up probably means that Edin took umbrage to Stuart’s remarks after the Oldham loss including that, if he was going to quit, he’d have resigned after two weeks.
Almost daily, we’re receiving disturbing pieces of news coming out of VP and, is it little wonder that the players have displayed little motivation when reports of bonuses not being paid are the latest adverse publicity to be reported?
Yesterday morning, I saw a neighbour who has watched City for over forty years. His comments are unrepeatable but the outcome was that he’s through watching City, under the current set up. I’ve heard reports of demonstrations planned for Saturday, all of which will be like water off a ducks back. The way I will show my indignation is to boycott the match. Swathes of empty seats will have more effect than three minutes of “Stuart McCall’s Bradford Army”.
Regarding the continuing shocking condition of the pitch. Someone will be able to correct me if I’m wrong about this. But didn’t either Mark Lawn or someone else once say that the pitch was never going to be good because of the stadiums position on the side of a hill and its substructure being the remnants of an old rubbish dump? I’m sure this was talked about when they attempted to improve it by re-laying it one off season. I agree that it does need improving if players are expected to play fast attacking football on it and I don’t think it was as much of a hindrance under Parkinson’s style of play, it may have even helped City out at times.
I’m sure I read that there is a structure under the pitch, like a wall, that is causing the drainage problem.
The wall is under the pitch running along the main stand. It was the original boundary wall of the main stand which was demolished to widen the pitch sometime in the 60″s or 70s. This used to cause the pitch to flood on that side as the water couldn’t drain away. I seem to think the old wall was dug up during the Richmond era. Maybe when the top tier was added?
The pitch has been an issue since the stadium was rebuilt following the fire. I agree with Lawns theory that the topography has lot to do with the poor condition it seems to get in every season.
I can’t help but feel that the club is divided between old fashioned die hards, and you know who you are and what we have been through over the years, it doesn’t need repeating here…and a new generation of fans. Fans who think it’s acceptable to post things like “ McCrap” on social media…the club means more to me than the last six games as it did my grandad before me. I suppose it’s an old fashioned and idealistic trait being loyal and respectful to one of the heroes of my youth and at the moment I’m not sure I want to be around some of my fellow “ fans” at Valley Parade however small the anti McCall brigade is/was…and interestingly I have just compared Stuart’s win ratio to Neil Warnocks….have a look for yourselves. A hugely dissappointing decision for me and one I will be angry about for a long time….
Pretty much my view. I have literally grown up with Stuart ( he is a month or so younger than me). Like you i will have seen his debut and first goal (although i can remember neither!). I remember him before that sat with Don Hutchins at Scunnys capacious Old Show Ground Hospitality with a gaggle of other City youngsters. Most of all i remember the look on his face at full time at Wolves (we were sat directly in front of him). R and R need to learn quickly a make up a lot of lost ground. Right now they have shown they do not understand the club at all
I’m not sure some of the fans understand the club…..It’s just a fact that some of the fans we have on the back of the cheap tickets would have ended up at Elland Road supporting a “ bigger’ club….I can see the mentality in some of the opinions being expressed…is it wrong to long for the time of smaller crowds but fewer boo boys and a more cohesive audience at Valley Parade?
That’s how I feel. I can remember the fan protests against Stafford when we were up at Odsal. The same man who has saved the club from extinction back in 83.
The older you get the more you see the same issues come around again and again.
Some of our ‘newer’ supporters think our new owners are the devil in lederhosen. But those with longer memories remember the Simpson era and years of mediocrity. These guys have the clubs interest at heart, even if they have made a pigs ear of it in recent weeks.
Although I am angry about Stuart’s sacking (the same as I was about Trevor Cherry and Frank Stapleton’s) but I’ve come to realise that owners, players and managers come and go. Only the club and fans are the constant.
Newport County on a Tuesday night away, back at 3am straight to work, two hours sleep in the canteen at Royal Mail then work at 5….I think there may have been a hundred City fans at Somerton Park that night….just doesn’t feel the same….
I am a city fan and I am a Bradfordian, I know what I want, and I know how to get it, let’s get rid of R & R, cause I will always stay at CITY……………
Will Simon Grayson, have in his contract that the hierarchy can have involvement with the squad, somehow, I don’t think so, I reckon Rahic will have had to take a step back on this one to get the man they want, otherwise He would not have come, it’s funny all this, feel sorry for McCall, He was in a no win situation, with upset in camp, finger pointing and dodgy bonuses.
Of course Grayson will have reached agreement about Rahic involvement, hopefully the lack of it. Football is a small industry and managers talk to each other. If many supporters knew what was going on within the club then I am sure other ms where did too. The key to success, either this season or next is to allow Grayson to do a job he had already proved he can do several times.