Width of a Post: why we do it

By Jason McKeown

“You’ve got an agenda”. “You’re just sh*t-stirring”. “You’re not helping the club”. “You’re letting them kill the club”.

When it comes to the civil war that has taken place in and around Bradford City since January 2018, we at Width of a Post have taken a few blows too. It has been a challenging time to write about the Bantams, with comment about the club’s direction receiving criticism for either being too harsh or too soft.

It has prompted plenty of feedback and questions about what WOAP stands for, and opinions about what it should be. And so just before the head coach is finally due to be confirmed next week, and as we look forward to next season, I thought it would be a good time to set out how we see WOAP’s purpose and the way we try to run the site. Then we can draw a line and move on.

How we’ve got here

WOAP creation in December 2011 was timed very well. Within months of the site’s launch, Phil Parkinson was building the History Makers squad and we were able to report on the wonderful ride that followed. From the big cup nights against Arsenal and Aston Villa, trips to Wembley, promotion, Chelsea, Sunderland and Reading, we covered all the highs and the infrequent lows of that period. Supported by a growing team of writers, we were busy.

These days the site is co-edited by myself and Katie Whyatt. If there is an editorial team, it is also made up of Tim Penfold and Alex Scott, as we have a Facebook chat group and talk daily. We also have a loose Facebook group of other writers and we chat from time to time. But the direction of the site is mainly the result of myself, Katie, Tim and Alex.

The frequency of writing has significantly dropped over recent years, largely due to me starting a family and with it new commitments on my time. I’ve also stopped chasing other people to write, albeit I still greatly welcome other contributions. In 2013 we published 365 articles – one every day – it has fallen year on year to just 138 last year (less than two a week). So far in 2018, we’ve published 32 posts (around five a month).

It has benefited me hugely. Writing so frequently before risked a burn out, and placed self-inflicted pressure to publish new articles that reduced some of my enjoyment supporting the club. Katie has also been completing her University degree and had other commitments. Over the 2017/18 season, our stance was only to write when we think we have something stronger to say. I’d like to say quality over quantity, but that’s for others to judge.

At the same time, I’ve personally attempted to write in a more informed style. Over the years running the site, I’ve built up a range of contacts. People who have associations with the club (from the outside, rather than leakers), who have kindly helped to build up a picture of happening. This guidance is not used to expose secrets – gone are the days I chase exclusives – but merely to provide context and greater understanding, which I can then try to relay to readers.

From the club itself, I was very fortunate to have strong relations with first David Baldwin, and more recently James Mason. They acted as a useful buffer to enquire about the accuracy of rumours or whispers. They weren’t always in a position to confirm if my information was right or wrong; but at times their help stopped me publishing something that was false, or guided me on a more accurate and balanced path. On occasions they’ve trusted me with club secrets, to allow them space to communicate news to supporters themselves in the right way. And in return, they’ve always been supportive.

And the third layer behind how I write is a loose network of fellow City supporters – many who are friends – who provide feedback on our writing. They’ll get in touch on a regular or infrequent basis to share their thoughts on recent pieces, or offer their opinions on City matters, which help us to gauge the positioning of future articles. Their honesty is invaluable, and I couldn’t do it without them. Finally there are reader comments to our articles and social media feedback, which is always useful.

The upshot is I feel the writing on the site has grown stronger, and more informed. Against the 2011-2017 backdrop where the club has got a lot more right than it has wrong, it was easy to praise the way it has operated on and off the field. We’ve been prepared to be critical when necessary, but always tried to be constructive. Even before the explosion of social media, mindless and ill-informed attacks on the club by some supporters has been common place. We’ve tried to always stay measured.

We haven’t always got it right, and we’ve occasionally upset people for sure, but the spirit and ethos of the site is not to be malicious in our intent.

The last six months

For the first six years of WOAP’s existence (December 2011-December 2017) we’d be infrequently criticised for being in the club’s pocket, or for not going at them hard enough. That has certainly changed since January 2018, with the events of the past six months attracting what can be deemed as negative coverage from this site.

Given the fact that, over this period, Bradford City won just 3 out of 21 games, dropped from fifth position to an eleventh-placed finish, and have gone through two managers, it is unavoidable that recent events have been judged critically. Nevertheless, the content we have produced has, at times, attracted a surprisingly strong reaction.

Many questions have been thrown up – not least, what is WOAP’s purpose? We’ve traditionally had a very pro-club readership, and there is a feeling from some supporters that we should always be behind the club. And that if we are disappointed or frustrated about something, we shouldn’t write anything as it won’t help the situation.

As editor I find it hard to steer the site with this type of remit. We are not the club’s PR department, and it wouldn’t be helpful to them if we were. Whilst there is danger of over-emphasising our influence, if and when we are praising the club, we want it to be meaningful. To feel merited and for it to be accepted that way. But that can only be the case if we have the freedom to hold them to account on occasions we think they’re getting it wrong.

If we can’t write honestly, running the site instantly becomes unappealing. We are not the Telegraph & Argus or BBC Radio Leeds, requiring a level of composed professionalism. I love the club, and I get emotional about its ups and downs. I want the site’s writing to reflect those passions. To be something that supporters, going through the same emotional rollercoaster, can relate to in terms of how they feel too.

At the same time as focusing on our own efforts, I take a keen interest in the wider City community and how others see events. Just like WOAP, there has been a shift in outlook towards City from other respect media journalists – Ian Dennis, Mark Douglas, Richard Sutcliffe and Simon Parker. They are all sensible, responsible people, and yet during the last six months there has been a change in the tone of their commentary. This is a pattern matched by long-standing supporters on social media. For years many of these fans have been hugely positive about club events, yet in recent months they have become more openly sceptical.

It feels like the landscape has shifted, and it’s not just WOAP that moved with it.

What I learned over the past six months is that our influence is higher than I personally think it should be. When we wrote critical articles, we appeared to stir up some people’s emotions. That if they were angry about the situation, we prodded them to be angrier. And in an atmosphere increasingly toxic, we had to show greater responsibility over the small modicum of power that WOAP holds.

So we felt like we held back for a time, even if certain people urging us to shut up might not have realised. When people approached us for advice on organising supporter protests, we politely declined to get involved. Some fans offered to write articles critical of the owners, but we had to hold back the WOAP platform. I can’t pretend I got everything right, and there was still a critical tone to our pieces, but during a volatile close season period searching for the head coach, we stepped back and worked on other things.

What’s the agenda?

The honest answer is there isn’t one, and never has been. From time to time the club will make decisions that we personally don’t agree with, and we’ll offer our opinions on why we disagree. But the intent behind the writing is always that we are merely a small representation of thousands of Bradford City voices, rather than more important than anyone else. And everything stems from a passion and a love for the club. Like everyone else we want the best for the club, we just don’t always agree on what that is.

The sacking of Stuart McCall is a great example. At WOAP we have a history of backing managers, for example during Phil Parkinson’s infamous run of one win in 21. I didn’t personally agree with the decision to remove McCall and still don’t. But that’s purely based on the way he was managing the team, and a belief that the issues that led to his dismissal were collective failings. And I tried to argue that point. Subsequent events offered little credibility that the sacking was the right call, but that doesn’t mean I or anyone wanted the club to fail. We’ve been wrong on so many things we’ve written before, and that will continue. We’d have been very happy to have looked wrong about McCall’s sacking, as it would have meant the club had succeeded.

But even after the dismissal, the red mist never descended. The critical eye on a wretched six months for Bradford City was applied because things were going wrong. It was never meant to be personal for or against anyone. Indeed, many of the people criticised were praised on this site in the past in good times, and will again in future if they get it right. But equally through various contacts, we have been made aware of confidential information about the goings on at Valley Parade. We have chosen not to publish such content; but knowing what we do has made us feel more comfortable about taking a critical stance.

The future

Overall I’m very pleased with where we are with WOAP. There’s a team of people still involved, with Tim deserving a special mention for his recent efforts on the podcasts. Katie is currently taking a break, but hopefully will return soon. The door is open for new writers.

I hope you enjoy what we do as well. Like every other Bradford City fan media outlet out there, we don’t appeal to everyone. But we have a strong audience, readers that we love and a decent relationship with the club that endures, even during a period of negativity. In the Bradford City community there are lots of fans outlets – the #bcafc on Twitter, Bantams Talk, the Cow’s Arse, City Gent, Bantams Banter and BfB. We’re just one of many, doing our thing.

I’ve tried to take on the ethos of the City Gent I grew up reading, and the BfB I was first a reader of and then a part of. That is to attempt intelligent, more informative writing (compared to anonymous message board-bashing).

We are an independent website with no one to particularly please – not the club, and certainly not every single fan. We’re a little corner in a big Bradford City world. Proud to appeal to a section of supporters. And like any independent supporter group, publication or site, we have to find the balance between being critical and positive.

And now we’re in the summer, the slate is wiped clean and we go again. A line drawn under the recent past. I’ve no idea what to expect next season; but what I do know is that as a fanbase we’ll always find something to disagree on. So at WOAP we’ll continue to call it as we see it, and enjoy offering up our small slice of participation in the wider debate.

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Categories: Opinion

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20 replies

  1. Well said Jason totally agree

  2. thanks for an excellent summary

  3. And thats a thumbs up from me. Keep up the good work👍

  4. I understand the reasons to publishing this article.
    It seems to me that the actions of the current owners of Bradford City have caused a split amongst the supporters and to my mind that is THE worst aspect of the last few months.
    In the main City supporters have always seen eye to eye and pulling together towards a common goal.
    There have been more times I have been proud to be a City supporter in my fifty two seasons than to ashamed of my fellow fans.
    And I think I speak from a unique position having twice been Chairman of the old supporters club, and involved in City Gent almost since it’s inception. And I was largely responsible for the formation of the Supporters Trust, and Friends of Bradford City.
    Never was I more proud of our supporters than at Wembley in 2013 when at 5-0 down we demonstrated with our flags total support for a team that could not even get the ball from their opponents.
    Also under extreme provocation from Millwall and L666s fans we behaved ourselves when many clubs fans would not.
    But the fall out since the sacking of SM has disappointed me and we have see deep division amongst our supporters.
    There is a lack of respect for individual views and actions.
    If a fan has decided not to renew his season ticket in an attempt to demonstrate his opposition to the actions of our new owners he is vilified and told to “f**k off to L666s” r that he is not a proper fan.
    6k supporters have decided the current strategy of the owners is not for them and that is worrying.
    Many more, some of them long term fans or even people myself who have dedicated time, croft and money into supporting the club have renewed but are pessimistic, may, even worried about the way the club is being run and the direction they are taking.
    These people are slated as being negative.
    No they love the club and are concerned about what may happen.
    I personally feel that being told to ‘believe’ by the club is an insult. What do they think I and many other out term fans have been doing for ma y years?
    And what exactly are we supposed to ‘believe’ in.
    And for our owner to state publically that we either agree with the strategy or ” know where the door is” is a disgrace.
    So we now have a fan base which for the first time in my experience is divided, and that to me is the worst aspect of this whole sorry saga.

  5. If everyone had the same opinion, life would be very boring. That is what makes football so enthralling.
    Please keep up the great writing and commentary.
    It has been good news with the new signings and new coach/manager soon will take the good feelings even higher.

  6. Yes. Keep going

  7. I have always looked forward to reading the WOAP articles over the years and can count on one hand the ones I havent enjoyed.

    For me this will be my 40th season come August and I am very much in the camp that I cant stand the pure arrogance of this regime. It has really saddend me whats gone on since January espeically after the past 5 years of bantams progressivism.

    Keep up the good work and I look forward to reading many a more articles pre and post season.

  8. Another excellent article, thank you.

    I have supported Bradford City for just over 30 years now and during that time, I’ve experienced highs and lows.

    At the moment I’m feeling disillusioned with the club that I support. In my humble opinion Stuart McCall shouldn’t have been sacked based upon his record during his second spell as our manager.

    He received the loudest positive chant at Blackburn Rovers away in April so what does this tell you about how most of our supporters feel about his sacking?

    However, I have chosen to renew my season ticket for next season and I hope that WOAP will continue to write about all things Bradford City.

  9. Don’t talk about WOAP in the same breath as the Cow’s Arse because it is poles apart. City fans need intelligent and challenging comment, not the sort of incoherent and moronic drivel found elsewhere (ie Cow’s Arse). Keep up the good work.

  10. I am happy with the way you operate. I wish you could do more reports on away matches because sometimes they have been the most balanced reports we could get. I am not disillusioned at present, we have renewed our season tickets, I hope for the best, but , with many , many years of disappointment behind us, I do not expect too much.
    But I have to repeat that our owners are the only owners we can have, no one else was prepared to buy City, so we must accept them.

  11. Football is a game that will always generate conflicting views and opinions. It will stir contrasting emotions with the joys of the highs, to the despairs of the lows. For me it’s part and parcel of being a fan and why I love the game.
    I believe WOAP via yourself and your fellow contributors equally reflects your passion for the club and desire for it to succeed even at times of negativity. This last 6 months has been one of the most testing times during my many years of watching with unprecedented vitriolic criticism of the club.
    Whilst at times I’ve not fully agreed with the viewpoint or timing expressed on WOAP, I do totally respect and enjoy reading your balanced and honest articles and am pleased to see your commitment to continue.
    To Jason, Katie, Tim and Alex, along with all the other contributors, one thing that stands out above al else is that nobody could ever doubt your love for our club so please keep up the good work.

  12. I’m probably in the minority among Width of a post readers , but I actually think Edin and Stefan are building proper foundations for the clubs future. The investment in youth, the club shop back in the clubs hands, the proper repair of the pitch rather than the previous owners bodge. I am also pleased with the transfer dealings so far this summer and see no need for this hostility from some fans. I remember well the trip to Wembley for the league cup final, it should have led to years of financial stability but within 10 months we were desperate to sell Wells as we were skint again. The following summer we were again so skint Parkinson could only sign Morais and Williams on monthly deals unless we got another cup run. We then got Leeds at home and it enabled us to sign them till Jan. Lawn then announced we would have to get past Millwall in 3rd round of FA cup to extend the contracts, fortunately we did and then beat Chelsea so we were stable again. Some City fans may have felt more connected to the club in those days but it relied totally on cup runs or selling players, in other words the club was built on sand. Had the cup runs not occurred we would once again be struggling to survive and Lawn and Rhodes would have been the target of the hate mob.

  13. City supporters are well served by WOAP and the quality of its editorial also reflects positively upon the wider community of all those involved with the club. By the same token I echo wholeheartedly the comments above about the Cow’s Arse.

    The big row about the club’s ownership is frankly depressing but I fear that it has a long way to run and it could become particularly vitriolic if we have a bad start to the season.

    Keith is correct to say that the club was built on sand under the old regime, as indeed was the playing surface. I was certainly not upset to see the back of Mark Lawn from the boardroom. Ultimately the old regime lacked the finance to take the club forward and therein lies the fundamental issue. The cold reality is that BCAFC is not profitable without the bonus of a cup run or a big transfer sale and it comes down to the willingness and/or ability of people to underwrite the losses.

    Bradford City remains loss-making and the new regime has decided that it is unwilling / unenthusiastic to underwrite future losses which I can fully understand. It then begs the question whether there was a degree of naivety at the time of buying the club as to how easy it would be to transform the finances. My suspicion is that our new owners have been taken aback and surprised by the financial circumstances of the club although ultimately – if that is the case – it was a failing in their due diligence and over-confidence.

    I agree entirely with Keith that it makes sense to get the club into a situation where it is self-financing and financially viable. No-one can argue with the sanity of such a strategy. Unfortunately the vast majority of the clubs we compete with don’t subscribe to the same mentality and there are other directors / ‘investors’ willing to cover losses and provide financial support. It means that we are not operating on a level playing field and the chances of being able to compete will prove extremely difficult. Hence, whilst there is a lot of sense in the ‘new strategy’ it cannot be expected to deliver success in the short to medium-term and the club will remain dependent upon new money being injected to avoid us going backwards. In my opinion that will be the test of the forthcoming season because I am simply not convinced that the cost-cutting at Valley Parade can be sustained. Nor will there be transformation overnight. It all hinges on how much the owners are prepared to invest in the club and I suspect that for many supporters there is an expectations gap.

    However the other test of the chosen strategy is that of its implementation. The general consensus is that Edin Rahic has been incredibly successful at alienating a broad cross-section of people involved at Valley Parade whether sponsors, staff, management or players, not to mention many customers. The net effect is that the financial challenge of maximising income this season will be all the greater. My conclusion is that Edin is badly qualified and ill-suited to be the club’s figurehead. Accountants rarely make the best business leaders.

    We are told that lessons have been learned and we are about to discover whether that is the case. I have my doubts and I am sceptical about the club’s prospects this season but let’s wait and see. The honeymoon is well and truly over and I suspect that by next spring we’ll have a good idea whether the experiment is going to be successful or not. Irrespective, as Keith says, it doesn’t appear that there is anyone else knocking on the front door of the VP boardroom to buy the club and invest millions. For the sake of the club we need Edin Rahic to be successful and we need to give him our support. However if it really does look like the experiment is going to prove a massive disaster then the likes of WOAP can hardly be blamed for saying so. We need more than blind faith and critical challenge from WOAP is vital.

    • And now James Mason has resigned. There will be nobody left soon if the sackings or resignations continue. I’m used to lower league football, after all, I’ve been going 55 years, but never have I seen so much destruction by one person. I hope Rahic doesn’t destroy my club. He thinks he knows football. He certainly knows how to fall out with people.

    • John insightful stuff and a fair summation of the current predicament of the club financially and otherwise. There is always an expectation from some fans that money will be spent without any real appreciation of where it might come from. I would be interested to know given your Accountancy background whether you think ER/SR got value for money for a club which historically has rarely made a profit and has no assets save player contracts?

      • I am not party to detail of the sale transaction and reluctant to speculate online as to the numbers. However without sounding flippant my response would be that just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder so too is value. What someone pays for a business comes down to a number of factors – what they can afford, alternative options, an assessment of the cost of subsequent ownership, what the seller wants and, ultimately how much the buyer wants it. The timing of the sale is another factor and arguably the club was sold when its star was in the ascendancy, able to command a better value. The motive / objectives of the buyer is also a big part of the deemed value – the prospect of a future financial gain or non-financial reward. It is not inconceivable that someone could buy a business in the knowledge that the eventual return could be negligible or even negative.

        I believe it is significant that the buyer of the club was an outsider, lacking the knowledge of locals familiar with the club warts and all. From afar I am sure that the desktop research and due diligence painted a far brighter picture of BCAFC than might be provided close up. For example how could an outsider comprehend or imagine the workings of Bradford Council with regards to car parking regulations or for that matter the true state of the pitch. Due diligence serves to identify potential risks of ownership but it is more difficult to do so from a distance. By the same token, in the enthusiasm to buy a business such pitfalls may be discounted or dismissed as a consequence of excessive self-confidence.

        Ultimately the football industry is pretty unique. For example I can’t think of other sectors that have existed in a seemingly perpetual bull market of ballooning values and financial transactions. Nor does a sports business benefit from the sort of certainty or probability that tends to exist in other long established businesses that allow reliable projections to be made. The difference between success and failure can be wafer thin and hinge on luck. Just as mortgages carry health warnings, so should football clubs and from a buyer’s perspective the best advice would be not to spend what you cannot afford to lose twice over.

        My sense is that Edin Rahic’s desk research did not contemplate the hidden costs of ownership and under-estimated the possibility of failure. I really don’t think that you can understand Bradford City in a spreadsheet or for that matter, make rational assumptions about Bradford.

        As I posted above, I believe that Edin has been surprised by the extent of the financial challenge at Valley Parade and hence there is an expectations gap for both owners and supporters. In my opinion what is now being dressed up as a blueprint masterplan is essentially a panic reaction and face saving exercise in response to deteriorating circumstances. The fact that Edin Rahic has probably been a big factor behind the serial calamities of the last year is another matter.

        If I was Stefan Rupp I’d be pretty hacked off at being expected to underwrite the future losses of the club. He is an extremely capable businessman who has made his fortune through hard graft and it is unreasonable for supporters to expect him to provide an open cheque for the benefit of the club at the expense of his own family’s interests. Therein lies his dilemma because I can’t see the club’s finances being transformed overnight and a declining supporter base (paying cheap prices) is not going to help the situation.

        Just as hubris plays its part in the buying decision I suspect it will become a factor with regards the ownership of the club and what happens next. Sooner or later you would expect the head to dictate that if a commercial initiative is doomed to failure you cut your losses and divest. However, having derived considerable publicity from acquiring BCAFC it would be a tad embarrassing to pull out so soon. It is indeed an intriguing situation, I just wish that it wasn’t Bradford City on centre stage.

  14. What a fantastic read and explanation as usual
    Appreciate what you do We are all fans st the end of the Day but at the moment some are so stuck in their ways its unreal.
    Which is causing a hatred and war of words
    Between each other.
    Causing a unhealthy balance.
    We must all look to the future and give those at the helm a Chance to right their wrongs
    This will take time but I’m sure they will get it Right.
    They are not monsters like some of fans seem to think they are.
    They just have a different vision and way of doing things
    We all don’t always like change but sometimes its needed to progress
    Like one step back and two forwards.
    But in the end we will get to the promised Land.
    I personally think the recruited b players so far is far better than previous seasons
    And whoever the head coach maybe we should all get behind them
    A fresh start for Everyday
    Because the future is Bright
    The future is claret&Amber
    Onwards and upwards
    Keep up with the Excellent Work
    Thanks again Andy H Bradford fan

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