By Stephen Dent
Life as a Bradford City supporter is rarely dull. Though sadly, results and performance levels on the pitch have become increasingly so, of late.
For a club that has become accustomed to steady progress over recent years, the last few weeks have been difficult to endure for all but the most perennially rhapsodic supporter. A disastrous run of results and a lack of fight and character from the team has culminated in the removal of Stuart McCall as Manager Head Coach – all of which has been set to a backdrop of mounting rumour, counter-rumour, speculation and a floundering play-off bid.
Are we suffering from a period of much needed adjustment? Or are we being run into the ground by an vainglorious, egotistical, (if infectiously enthusiastic) charlatan and his wealthy sidekick?
It could be argued (with some justification) that few clubs would move to host a Fans Forum event on the back of such a difficult few weeks; PR hasn’t been a strong suit of the club during the, thus far, contentious tenure of Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp. Would Monday night’s gathering prove to be a masterstroke, dispelling Fake News whilst uniting a club and its fan base to galvanise all concerned for a fresh promotion tilt? Or would it fuel the fires of criticism and risk setting supporter confidence in the club back further?
With the theme of supporter interactions on Social Media being raised on more than one occasion during Monday night’s event – more on that later – the denizens of The Cow’s Arse online forum have gathered to offer their thoughts on this very question…
A point which must be addressed at the outset, is the unacceptable, personal and racially-motivated abuse directed at Rahic and his family. Such abuse should not be tolerated, cannot be justified and is never acceptable; it really is that simple. Little more needs to be said on that matter, which is not to diminish the severity of such behaviour or the offense and distress it has clearly caused.
Let us not, however, be distracted from the fact that such behaviour is confined to a moronic few and does not represent the vast, vast majority of our supporters. Let us also not be distracted from the genuine concerns that many have, and a thorough, considered analysis of the questions and answers provided during Monday’s forum.
In judging whether the forum served a useful purpose, it must be asked – what was its purpose? A call for unity and ‘backing the club’ was emphasised during the event. We can’t speak for all, but the sense within the Cow’s Arse fraternity might be tersely summarised as, ‘talk is cheap – and so are we’. The efficacy of the aim of rebuilding supporter confidence as a result of this forum was dependent on a number of key points:
1) Would there be a sense of accountability for poor player recruitment?
2) Would there be evidence of lessons learned being applied from the last 6-12 months, to how we move forward?
3) How would the more concerning rumours around the manager’s control of team affairs be responded to?
4) What tangible plans could be offered to inspire confidence and trust in our foreseeable future?
Unfortunately, in several cases key questions were either deflected or answered inadequately. The defensive denial of poor planning and execution of the club’s transfer activity in January is, at best, a concern and, at worst, patronising.
It’s dangerously glib to dismiss January ‘as a hard time to sign players’. While that’s no doubt true, it’s theoretically no harder for us than it is any other club. Add to this the fact that had player recruitment been more effective in the summer, the pressure to strengthen in January wouldn’t been as anywhere near as pressing. Excuses aside, for Greg Abbott appear on Radio Leeds and state that a decision had been taken to add ‘only players who would improve on what we have’ in the same month that we then signed an amateur striker from a regional league in Germany…. we’ll be kind and say that ‘it’s a stretch’.
With instances like the above in mind, wherein the hyperbole offered and the actions taken are, at best, distant relations, it’s hard to argue against the idea that much of the criticism aimed squarely at the board and the so-called ‘transfer committee’ is, in no small part, self-inflicted given the way their oratory so often belies their actions. Only the most foolhardy of Bradford City fans would criticise the board for their first transfer window in charge where, given such a mammoth task and so little time, they pulled together to not only ride out the storm but perform minor miracles.
Like an instinctive striker who falters given time and space, however, the subsequent opportunities at team-strengthening have been either disappointing or, in the case of the January, down right shambolic (to use a word that apparently ‘offends’ Greg Abbott). This is particularly galling given the rhetoric that Edin especially seems so keen to employ, ‘we will be prepared for the next window’, ‘there is money to spend’ or ‘if we are in contention come January, we’ll back the manager’.
Mistakes happen in all walks of life – but defending the indefensible was an ill-judged move. Of particular worry is the idea that the club strengthened properly in January might actually be believed by those running the show; the same leadership team who seemed at pains to connect the dots between team performance and supporters ‘just getting behind the lads’. By the admission of Greg Abbott, we’re ‘weaker, man for man than last season’ – surely this represents a failure on the part of all concerned, and there’s no dressing that up. When you perform poorly, you lose the right to be ‘offended’ by criticism of how you’ve approached things.
For a stoic and, at times, cynical Yorkshire public, there’s little that raises the hackles more than braggadocio, which is what a hollow boast or unfulfilled promise quickly becomes in the eye of the beholder. In fact, we Yorkshire folk even have a saying for it and, should the board wish to take note, they might want to consider being a little less mouth and a little more trousers.
The account of how Luke Hendrie’s proposed move broke down seemed strange. It’s hard to escape the feeling that there was more to that episode than was proffered at the forum. It’s equally difficult to believe that Burnley would have taken an unreasonably difficult negotiating position for a youth full-back moving for little to no transfer fee while operating in the cash-corpulent Premier League.
Other answers carried an undercurrent – or outright air – of emotional and defensive rhetoric. Football is a tough industry and the manner of many answers provided last night, indicated that some of those ‘on display’ may lack the thick skin needed to deal with the flak that comes with the territory.
But perhaps the most telling response of all – and an indicator that the fundamental reasons why signs of regression are now evident – was the suggestion that supporter harmony would be a telling factor in Simon Grayson’s decision making process on whether to stay beyond the summer. You’d be forgiven for thinking that he’d have more interest in the extent to which he’ll be backed to undertake the rebuild job that’s needed, and that whether or not supporters are behind Project Rahic would be some way down his list of priorities. Culpability, it seems, is a commodity to be eagerly shared.
In the interests of balance it should be noted that the leadership team that spoke did display a sense of unity and desire to move forward. Seeking to liaise with fans through an open forum, demonstrates a level of transparency and intent to engage with supporters at a time when many clubs show little interest in such and at a time when it must have been quite daunting to do so.
However, ultimately we’re firmly on course for a first season of regression since before Phil Parkinson took the helm. For a side that missed out on promotion so narrowly, and had such a promising basis from which to approach this season, that simply isn’t good enough and last night’s forum offered little in the way of specifics to satisfy the growing concerns that many have.
The event’s primary purpose seemed to have been engineered for the leadership team to seek a degree of sympathy, defend their performance and ask for backing from supporters. Eighteen months into a stuttering reign, supporters are looking for accountability, capability, intent and action.
The languid manner in which several questions were answered, the lack of recognised accountability and articulation as to what lessons have been learned and how we’ll prevent similar mistakes, particularly with regard to player recruitment and an inference that the atmosphere around the club, the recent fortunes of the team and our chances of future success will be significantly influenced by the manner in which supporters behave on social media and ‘support the club’, may turn out to be an own goal and a worrying sign that our club’s custodians lack the insight, ability and resolve to really take this club forward.
I’m disappointed that widthofapost are associating with cows arse. I have always enjoyed the balanced views of WOP , cows arse is just negative drivel and this article is no different
At WOAP we welcome articles from all City fans as long as they are constructive and opinions are based on reasoning. If you would like to write a counter article you are most welcome too. We will be happy to publish.
Just because the views don’t reflect your own does not make them less valid. If you wish to see a balanced conversation, sometimes you may need to read contrasting views without bias and give them a fair assessment.
Great article Stephen and one that no doubt will have been depressing as it is honest!
My biggest bug bear with the club is the mixed messages that seem to be coming out…”we are going for second” followed by “we have to work to the budget” for one of the many examples.
Unfortunately it has got to the point where I genuinely don’t believe what the Club say and as the article says it’s time for less mouth and more trousers.
It genuinely makes me a bit sad to write that if I am honest.
totally agree Alan. I am a very reasoned individual but no longer believe a word they say. Not sure what it will take to change my view. I fear for the ST sales this year and the recent changes to the transfer window will compound the issues without a doubt. Let’s keep wishing for an upturn in fortunes.
A balanced and lucid article. Constructive criticism should be embraced.
I’m not sure what this cows arse is but it seems like a fair and reasoned article to me. I was at the event last night and thought the above article shared a lot of my misgivings about the club at this time. It was important that the online abuse was highlighted early on which it was, there is no call for it at all at this football club.
Excellent article. WOAP spot on again. As Jason McKeown said, last night was underwhelming! Perhaps a brave and bold effort by the club but few answers. The rift deepens. Do we believe? No not at the moment!
Thank you for writing this article and for the speed of it being available to read. I was working a 12 hour shift yesterday so I couldn’t attend the event at Valley Parade last night.
Clearly all is not well at the club at the moment. The Luke Hendrie transfer saga is still a bit of a mystery to me. I didn’t agree with McCall’s sacking. What was happening with McMahon in January?
As supporters, all we want is honesty from the owners. I fear that we will be searching for a new manager/head coach in the summer though.
Agree with this Richard, the panel made comment a couple of times to the 18 months of good form since Stuart has been at the helm and 6 weeks of poor form. Is 6 weeks of poor form a justification of the sacking of the manager? I’m not sure it is. And i’m yet to be convinced that Grayson will be here past his short term spell.
I really wanted to attend the Fans Forum but I was working until 8:30pm. As I didn’t attend, I can’t comment on what was said. However I always like to look at the bigger picture and McCall had done well in his 2nd spell as manager/head coach. Even if it hadn’t been McCall, I still wouldn’t have sacked them. Like the summer of 2000, it’s six weeks of madness.
This article is spot on and highlights perfectly my misgivings about what is been relayed to supporters from R&R. The lack of accountability and culpability from the so called leadership is both arrogant and puts the responsibility firmly on the supporters for not backing their hollow plans. The owners have only suceeded in dividing supporters and players alike which is a far cry from the steadying of the ship and progress of the last five years at the club. Amateurist doesnt even come close.
I watched for the first time the Heart of the Matter at the weekend and when you watch it for the first time in the aftermath of what’s happened since January… Then you can understand Rahic and what has happened.
Personally I think this is a vanity project.. 2wealthy Germans who think it’s great to be the first Germans to own an English football league club.
I think they are out of their depth and they seem to be taking the club backwards… I hope I am wrong
There are still more questions than answers.What Radic does hint is at differences as to value and worth.A counter in relation to the non signing of Greer.One hears rumour of similar dismissal of the value of Luke Hendrie.I think the reality is Edin (despite been a Financial Controller at a medium size German firm) had failed to understand that owning a Football Club is gambling.If his knowledge of losing £700000 in the first year dictated his budget for player wages in his second its perfectly obvious the club has a poorer squad man for man than last year.Personally I am starting to feel Stu had had enough after 18 months of strained relations.Maybe that is what Radic refers to as after the yeovil game “negativity” started.Yes the Hendrie incident appears the straw that broke the camels back.The previous owner felt £40 million was needed to sustain a season in Championship.At least We”re not Bolton whose owner had to write off £180 million in debt.Just for them to still exist.Or Blackpool who apparently owe £25 million to an investor from Premier League days.Or Sunderland.Whose owner is prepared to offload them for £1.Football has gone barking.WE must remember Bradford City was “For Sale” a long time.Few takers in Bradford or at the Bulls.These 2 may not have the hundreds of millions.Hopefully though the club will stay solvent enough for lady luck to take it back at some stage to Championship.Then it starts all over again.How do we survive?Things will implode.The latest TV deal is DOWN on the 2016 one.Things have peaked.Sadly most of the brass ends up in players hands abroad eventually.Indeed probably whilst they briefly play in Britain most they earn probably goes abroad.The government could do something about that.Sorry perhaps not.I doubt they will even realise the billions vanishing abroad..The game has gone.
Mike cant agree more .
I’m of opinion that every penny the club generates should be available for the manager to organise and use within the clubs wage budget. The wage budget was cut why? the development squad was tried under the late Archie Christie and was quickly shut down because it was taking away funds that were better used towards 1st team wages etc.
Edin as bought a club that was showing progress and clear intent in getting into the championship .
I have been a City fan for a while and this is my response to the whole issue.
What I don’t get is the re-imagining of history. That somehow the past 5 years successful progression was orchestrated as part of some master plan…was it heck. Remind me, which summer was it when we had about 7 players on our books up until a week before our first friendly?
Don’t get me wrong, these owners are not an upgrade on Lawn and Rhodes, but I don’t understand why we are judging them against such new imagined higher standards. Did we honestly think they would be anything different?
We have always been run in an amateur capacity, with a make do and mend policy. Our recruitment over the last 34 years has, on the whole been much more miss than hit.
I’m sorry if I have upset some people, (and yes I do care about my club) but we’re Bradford City and we will continue to drift along in league 1, sailed by a succession of captains, who have never sailed before, who run one way then another; with no map, no compass and just hoping the tide carries us to dry land.
You’ve hit the nail on the head.
Supporters were hoping for Lord Nelson but got Captain Pugwash and its all very disappointing.
My biggest concerns surround the reversal of momentum. Under PP and SM we took great strides forward in many ways and to coin another Yorkshire saying our new owners have thrown it out with the bathwater.Even worse things could get worse. If Grayson does not stay we really are back to square one. Season ticket sales will be hit hard. The fans on forums like this are the vociferous few. The silent majority are the ones to worry about. They just won’t renew. I want to be convinced of some stability before I blindly pay even £150 for next term. I need to know these people are intending to take us forward. At the moment I don’t ‘believe’ they are.
This article has got it bang on having listened to the forum l don’t feel reassured at all that the present owners are admitting that they have got some things wrong and they have learnt from them . The Luke Hendrix scenario doesn’t seem plausible at all and yes the January transfer window was a shambles other clubs managed to sign players early doors so why not City? . Not feeling positive that things will change for the better and we are all in it together seems fans on social media are the problem according to E R everyone should take responsibility for this downturn and take a good look at themselves
Was the month of January so difficult to “endure” Stephen? Any City fan of reasonable longevity will have seen a lot worse.Lets have a bit of perspective. I did not find Abbos clarification of the Hendrie episode particularly implausible and if you are to get a straight answer from anyone Greg is that person..It seems that whatever response is forthcoming the speculation will continue. You are entitled to express a view with regard to recruitment but frankly as an outsider in terms of the football business and the club to characterise Abbos work as shambolic is offensive and naive. A City stalwart who genuinely loves the club deserves a more respect.There are genuine concerns about the running of the club but there is an overall strategy toward youth development which can be bought into. Supporters need to take a step back now and let the dust settle. .
Yes we are in a state of an Emergency, and it’s all ER, pardon the pun.
Thanks Stephen. Informative and very well written
I’ll be as concise as possible, because a lot of my thoughts have already been said (including by the author here).
Firstly thank you to the website for publishing this article, and for continuing to publish challenging and thought-provoking pieces. I think there are a lot of fans who are glad that they can read posts that chime with their views, particularly when they feel their views may be in the minority or are receiving a testy reaction from fans on other channels.
I didn’t attend the forum, but read transcripts, and am too disappointed that the club wasn’t more self-reflective, more self-aware of failings. In that respect, Monday was a missed opportunity to draw a line under events by being truly honest. And if the club believes it has been truly honest, then that would be the most worrying part.
It can’t have escaped the club that the forum was held in two suites named after the man they’ve just sacked, and the father of a player whose exit coincided with a startling downturn in form. The events in January struck at the heart of what Bradford City is, and this is why they cast a long shadow. But many of the answers City fans received seem to either be deflections or just opened up further questions; blame was to be shared it seems, but no one was to blame more than anyone else. Except Stuart, who got the sack.
For Greg Abbott to claim to be offended that a supporter labelled the January window as a shambles is itself insulting to the intelligence of City fans. Personally I wouldn’t say shambles, I’d probably say disaster; a window that indirectly played a large part in the club sacking Stuart McCall. We can never know with counterfactuals, but a decent transfer window with good early activity to provide competition in key positions and would we be where we are now?
Abbott also admitted that we are weaker than last season. I agree. But then hang on a minute, with a stronger side, McCall finished fifth and got to the play-off final. McCall is sacked when in sixth place, which would mean that McCall either underachieved last season or was unfairly sacked this.
Rahic told the T&A in January that he felt the team was good enough to challenge for the automatic places (so he either disagrees with Abbott or thinks we underachieved last season). He sacks McCall because he wants to ensure we don’t tail off, which suggests anything lower than top 6 this season is unacceptable. Sackable even. By that logic, Grayson has to finish in the top 6 otherwise he too has failed.
Some of the answers given on Monday dispute things that Stuart McCall told this website. That’s Stuart McCall, veteran of 1985, captain of 1999 and two time City manager. A man who even his worst critics would say is an honest bloke. In contrast the owners have so far overpromised and made sometimes conflicting public statements, therefore giving fans reason to doubt them. The club cannot be surprised that some fans may be inclined to believe McCall’s version of events over their own.
Over the last month or two I’ve felt that the club’s back is up (if an inanimate object can have a back) and that there have been little attempts to delegitimise criticism. Comments linking Grayson’s future with a united fanbase, and ‘getting behind the team’ comments; I haven’t met any fans who are going to VP or to away games who are doing so to do anything other than support the team. It feels as though some comments are aimed at quietening critics by trying to create an Us v Them atmosphere (the club v critics) which is unfair and very risky, but can happen in uncertain times or if the club doesn’t know how to sort the situation it’s created. Even in my comment here, I’ve referred to the club as ‘the club’ rather than us, I am already distanced from my team. But calling out critical fans on social media – that kind of thin skinned stuff – only worsens any problems and double-down on the negative vibes.
If the opportunity is there to interview Rahic then I hope Jason would pursue it, because as much as I get a bad feeling about how things have been going, I also still get a feeling that the owners are approaching the club with good intentions. They’re just not executing these intentions anywhere near well enough.
Spot on comments.
As an exercise in bridge building, this week’s forum back fired as spectacularly as the owners other attempts at public relations. As other posters on here (and the author) have pointed out, here was an opportunity to rebuild some bridges which have been burnt over the last couple of months. You would have thought that with Mr Mason’s previous experience in the media, the one thing the owners would have got right since they took over would be their communications strategy.
For my ten penneth worth, I don’t think that our owners are on some kind of ego trip in buying City. If so, why of all clubs would you buy BCFC? We’re a small provincial club that was once (briefly) in the Premiership and got to a league cup final a few years ago. If they wanted to massage their egos they could’ve bought a London club and had a much higher public profile. I genuinely believe the owners have the club’s best interest at heart. I don’t buy into this evil grand plan that some fans seem think is the real agenda of R&R. If they were going to ‘rape’ this club as some conspiracy theorists believe then they can’t be very good business men. There’s nothing to rape. No big TV incomes, no training ground or stadium to mortgage up to the hilt or sell. No players worth £millions. Nope not buying it
Neither do I think they’re the worst owners ever. As a fan since 1984, I’ve seen worse. Not spending money on players is not a R&R exclusive. Many city fans are still bitter towards Jack Tordoff for not signing players at the end of the ‘nearly season’ which could have got us into the old First Division. If the owners didn’t want to buy Luke Hendrie because they thought he was too expensive for what he offered in terms of ability, then that’s their call. It’s their money. We, the players & SM might not like it, but it seems he was more valued by SM and the players because of his infectious enthusiasm rather than his qualities on the field. Strange how there was no big clamor from fans to sign him before January. From what I’ve seen on social media, forums and speaking to fellow fans, he wasn’t that highly rated. Okay, but not great. Yet, following revelations since McCall’s departure suddenly the failure to sign him is biggest mistake since the ‘nearly season’
I do agree that Rahic & Co seem to constantly have their feet firmly in their collective mouths. Talk of a considered and planned transfer strategy starting as soon as one window closes ready for the next came horribly undone in January (though not in the summer when we had a constant flow of new signings). This of course wasn’t helped by talk of money available and going for it if we were in the mix come Christmas. Here is where Mason should be earning his corn by managing the messages coming out of the club. I work in marketing for a large company and I know that there is nothing more likely to pee off your customers than over selling and under delivering, even though the intentions were good.
This article identifies four key areas that could and should have been addressed before the first question had been asked on Monday night. That way, the club could have quelled much of the criticism leveled against it in recent months. Instead they fudged it and plunged relations between club and fans even lower. Not a great marketing strategy when you’re about to embark on a campaign to sell season tickets.
Geoffrey Richmond was a past master at the fans forum. He could turn around even the most cynical fan at times. And he wasn’t afraid to say when he got things wrong, which often disarmed a hostile audience. And he, like our new owners, didn’t get it all right up until the ‘six weeks of madness’. His tenure was littered with what at the time looked like major cock-ups. His first was when he sacked Frank Stapleton shortly after taking over the club. Prior to this Stapleton had managed the team on a shoe string budget and got us performing above expectations (sound familiar). Like SMs sacking, GRs decision to dispense with Stapleton’s services divided opinion. Some felt GR was itching to get rid of him from the start to get in ‘his man’, whilst other thought Stapleton wasn’t up to it. Some of us believed he should’ve been given the opportunity to prove what he could do with a playing budget before judgement was passed. Parallels with recent events?
Another perceived error GR was pilloried for was making Paul Jewell’s temporary managerial appointment a permanent one. This decision followed a very indifferent end of season run in following Jewell’s initial spell in charge. I well recall fans screaming at Jewell to walk following the 5-0 thrashing we suffered at Crewe, yet within a year he had led us promotion.
The point is owners get it wrong even when ultimately they’re getting it right (like appointing Jewell as manager)
Rahic and Co aren’t always going to get it right. No owner is infallible. And those who keep on saying they should sell up, should let the rest of us know who to? I don’t see any Russian oligarchs or members of the Saudi royal family hanging around VP, just waiting for the chance to own their own club.
I genuinely hope that lessons are being learnt about how to run the club. Even if pride or foolishness won’t let them admit it For the record, I think they are. Their courting of Simon Grayson proves this.
The owners want a successful football club, just as much as we all do and I really hope that given the time, they can deliver that.
Insightful and considered stuff. If Rahic continues to react to criticism in prickly and defensive manner he is going to exceed Lawny in the unpopularity stakes. The PR has to improve. Rahic needs to grow a pair and quickly. That said a lot of the criticism surrounding recruitment particularly is unfair taking their tenure as a whole .Players like McCartan still have time to prove to be real assets.McGowan looks like a class act. We are not languishing at the bottom with Bury and MK where the wheels have really come off.
We need to be careful not to over react to the downturn and show patience which unfortuntately our owners lacked in sacking Stuart.
The only point regarding Luke I can make is that whilst he did not appear to set pulses racing, he had been around a while and both full back positions pre Yeovil were uncovered whilst Mc Mahon and Chickenson were injured.Might not have been one to set pulses racing but was part of the fold that had been getting results.Again seems to have come down to money.Not hundreds of thousands.The manager clearly wanted him.A spirit was derailed.Which in a football clubs success or failure stakes spirit (Togetherness is the word ER uses)are critical in determining success or failure.That is the area he needs to understand fully in this “business” which is more akin to roulette.
A very sensible and considered analysis.
Would all this nonsense and angst about the club have been written had it been any other manager than Stuart. I’ve watched City for decades and known much worse than this and to listen to some of you all its as if Rahic has just shot Bambi. We have a potentially really good manager in Simon Grayson but of course that’s just a smokescreen to listen to some of you to sell season tickets. What more can the club do? They hold a forum, which they didn’t need to and all the people bitter about Stuart react in a negative way. Let’s face it unless Rahic had said” terribly sorry I’m getting rid of Simon and bringing Stuart back tommorow ” it would have been criticised by the bring back Stuart brigade.
Thankfully I am out of the UK at the moment.
The current weather seems to provide a metaphor for City’s current situation. An average winter, has collapsed into an arctic storm, which given that it is March, should not be happening!
I think a little humility by the club, would go a long way. The strategic model, of developing players, may well be laudable, but there does not appear to be a credible ‘bridging’ plan.
Abbott has indicated that inexperienced young players can struggle in League 1, yet the club seems intent in following this approach.
There needs to be a ‘plan B’ to recruitment.
McCall was hemmed in by the current philosophy. There is no guarantee that any ‘one sort of player’ will work. In my opinion you need an eclectic mix. The owners perhaps need to reflect on this and show some form flexibility.
Many who respond to articles here and elsewhere, will renew their season tickets, however unless there is more engagement from the owners, then I fear a significant proportion of others will not, given the current performances on the field.
For me as long as Simon G stays things will work out next season. I don’t think we can make 6th now..but if anyone can engineer it Simon can. He is by far a more experienced manager than Stuart and z more successful one. I love Stuart, watched him as a player1987-88 and 1999-2002, and felt he did a great job until January as manager this time around. Sadly we badly fell away and whilst I didn’t want him sacked the vast majority of managers in all clubs would have been. It’s academic now. Rahic and Rupp must ensure SG stays and must compromise to ensure he does for next season.