By Aaron Bower
There was an interesting discussion in my local pub recently about our favourite footballers of all-time. As it went around the table, the usual set of names invariably came up: Cristiano Ronaldo, Thierry Henry, Paul Scholes. My response was short, sharp and instant: Gary Jones.
My earliest memories of football were noticing my dad left the house at 12pm on a Saturday afternoon and didn’t come back until 6pm, so I eventually asked him to take me along to a Bradford City game for the first time as a six-year-old in 1995. He begrudgingly accepted and, before too long, I was hooked.
It wasn’t glamorous, and it sure as hell wasn’t edge-of-the-seat exciting most of the time, but the thing about Bradford City is that once you’re hooked, it’s very difficult to simply stop caring. The camaraderie you witness among a group of people who are all praying for the same thing. It’s brilliant. The community feel Bradford City has had for years is unbelievable, and of the hundreds of players I’ve seen pull the shirt on over the last 23 years, nobody – or very few – people embodied that spirit quite like Gary Jones.
He was an outsider, a person who had absolutely no affiliation with Bradford City throughout his life before arriving as the most significant piece of Phil Parkinson’s history-making puzzle in 2012. We took to Jones: mostly because Jones understood what it meant to be a Bradford City player and captain.
“I want to give it my best, especially with those supporters,” he once said. They’re just an unbelievable set of fans. They gave you that confidence to express yourself.”
And this where you, Edin Rahic, come into the piece. If you asked 10,000 Bradford City fans to lay down their level of confidence in the current owners on a scale of 1-100, you would almost certainly get a wide range of answers. However, given how the last six months have panned out on and off the field, the average score would be much lower now than it was this time two years ago when yourself and Stefan Rupp assumed control of the club.
It’s important to stress that you’ve spent your own money on purchasing this club, and as such, you have a right to do with it as you please. Attempting to run it as a business is a commendable way of doing things, and no City fan would want to go back to how things were when we came desperately close to losing our club. But unlike any of your previous business interests, most businesses do not have 15,000 stakeholders who want a return on their financial and emotional investment every single Saturday.
While the last six months have been disappointing on the field, off-field matters have been arguably more concerning. Football fans are well-renowned for being a fickle bunch; I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard people come out of Valley Parade on a Saturday afternoon saying they won’t be coming back again only to be there seven days later. But concerns from friends and people who have dedicated most of their adult lives to Bradford City lately underline the problem to me. People allege that the club has lost its identity and direction. I am finding it increasingly hard to disagree, and that is a worry.
My question is simple, Edin: are you listening to your supporters, the people that really, really matter in all of this? Are you aware of the split and disconnect that is developing between club and fanbase? You only have to go back five years or so to find a club that was wholly connected from boardroom to terrace – right now, the situation could not be more different.
Matter of Heart may have looked glossy and glamorous to the outsiders, but when the Telegraph and Argus confirmed that a graphic scene from this club’s darkest day in 1985 had to be taken out, it emphasised that you are not aware of how the supporters feel. If you truly understood Bradford City fans and how they were wired emotionally, you would not have even considered including such distressing footage.
Rumours are exactly that, and are to be taken with a pinch of salt, but the constant talk of you, Edin, being unwilling to heed advice from people who have Bradford City in their DNA, again makes me as a supporter question whether you are listening to the people who care the most about this great football club. When good people like James Mason – who like most of us, was fulfilling a lifelong dream in being involved in the running of the club – feel they have no option but to walk away, you should know something is not quite right.
This is the most crucial season of yours and Stefan’s project. You have got your head coach; and rightly or wrongly, some people believe the appointment of Michael Collins to be a medium for you to get involved with team selection. I have no idea if that is true, but rest assured that City fans will back Michael and his team from minute one at Shrewsbury in August. If it fails, the buck stops with you, Edin. If things go wrong, you should be prepared for an almighty backlash from fans who are already on the brink of rejecting your ownership good and proper.
In May you told the Telegraph and Argus you were “happy with the shortlist we have prepared” in regards to the head coach. It then emerged upon Collins’ appointment that he did not even apply for the job and only became a serious contender days before he was announced. What happened, Edin? It is statements and outcomes like these that leave fans confused, and leave them questioning whether you are the best person to drive this club forward. For want of a better word, some supporters feel like they are being lied to at the moment.
On Thursday night, the news of Colin Doyle’s departure, having in his own words been told the club were going in a “different route”, again left fans unhappy. That, in reality, is a far less significant situation; players come and go in the world of football. But Doyle went above and beyond the call of duty for Bradford City, flying home to play two games in 24 hours. It is that kind of commitment and emotional buy-in supporters crave.
In the video with Bantams Banter last month, you were asked a straightforward question: “Do you acknowledge that mistakes were made this season?” That was the opportunity to say one word: yes.
It would have appeased supporters, Edin, and let them see that you are honest and transparent enough to admit to your mistakes. Instead, you gave a contrived answer about Shrewsbury and Huddersfield showing what is possible with everyone pulling in the same direction. You must now understand that until you are honest and open with your supporters, Edin, you will never be able to get everyone pulling in the same direction. The situation is not irretrievable, but it is becoming more and more so by the day.
One thing I have no doubt about is that you and Stefan want Bradford City to succeed. We all do – and that is the most important part of all of this. Listen to your supporters. Listen to the people who have the club at their heart. It’s understandable that you will make mistakes along the way, because you have to be big enough to accept you are making them. And without a willingness to take advice from the people who bleed claret and amber, you’re doomed to fail in the eyes of many, I’m afraid.
Bradford City will be around long after you, and all of us, are gone. Without its fans, Bradford City is nothing. At the player of the year awards earlier this year, Stefan said: “This year was not as successful as we originally planned. But ultimately, it’s our responsibility and therefore please take the apologies of Edin and me.“ It’s time to now prove that you’ve learned some lessons and are willing to listen to the people who care the most because, together, we are stronger.