By Jason McKeown
It’s been another difficult week for Edin Rahic. The signs of improvement at Blackpool were overshadowed by a late collapse. Meanwhile the spotlight of the chairman’s methods has moved to the national stage, with negative coverage appearing on Quest and within the pages of the Daily Star and Daily Mail.
The outgoing chief operating officer, James Mason, revealed on Twitter he is not being asked for advice, despite the club previously stating they would be using him as a consultant. Glenn Ackroyd, a former associate director, also used social media to reveal advice he offered to Rahic that had been ignored. And the former fitness coach, Chris Short, told the Blackpool Gazette he quit the Bantams during the summer because of Rahic.
It has been a public relations nightmare for Rahic. With more and more Bradford City supporters turning on the joint owner, the revelations – and threats on Twitter from other ex-employees of more to come – have added to the storm. WOAP understands the Daily Star piece, penned by Jeremy Cross, did contain some inaccuracies; but the damning picture it paints largely fits with what sources have told ourselves and others. It would appear that all is far from well behind the scenes. The struggles of the team on the pitch mirroring the way it is operating off the field.
The turnover of staff has been immense. Rahic has argued that the different culture and strategic approach he wants to instil means there was always going to be changes, but even replacements don’t seem to last long, and some positions aren’t replaced at all. Since Rahic and Stefan Rupp bought the club in May 2016, WOAP understands the club has employed three secretaries, four kit men, three accountants – plus, of course, David Hopkin is the fifth different manager/head coach. The stadium manager has left; the player’s liaison officer disappeared and hasn’t been fully replaced. A series of development squad coaches have departed. Members of the commercial and media team have also left – sources close to them suggesting they didn’t want to go.
It has been no better on the pitch. Since the start of the 2016/17 season, an amazing 72 different players have featured for Bradford City. The side that did so well to reach Wembley in 2017 was dismantled too easily, and even the summer disassemble of last season’s under-performing squad was arguably too severe.
Only three players who have figured this season were at the club at the start of 2018. Nathaniel Knight-Percival is the only player to have lasted the Rahic and Rupp reign. As for the European contacts the club was supposed to benefit from, it has been a story of failure with Vincent Rabiega, Rouven Sattelmaier, Lukas Raeder, Lachlan Barr and Joel Grodowski arriving and quickly exiting without making an impact. There are few signs, yet, that it will be any different for Kai Bruenker and Thomas Isherwood. Just how costly were these blunders?
In the press conference unveiling of David Hopkin as head coach, Rahic admitted that as an owner he will be judged on his decisions. Those decisions don’t look clever so far. It is hard to look at his leadership as anything but counter-productive to Bradford City’s progress. He and Rupp played a part in taking the club to within one game of promotion to the Championship, but since that May 2017 play off final defeat the club has gone backwards and fallen apart. The one positive is that WOAP understands that Rahic recognises he needs to take a step back, instead of the alleged over-bearing approach that sees him repeatedly accused of meddling with first team affairs. But has it come too late?
Over the last two weeks, Bradford City has seemingly dangled on the edge of a cliff, just one more stumble away from self-implosion. Anger and disillusionment amongst fans has given rise to talk of protests, and at Bloomfield Road there was the first airing of “Rahic out” chants.
Sacking Michael Collins afforded Rahic a window – the smallest of windows – to steer the club away from civil war, temporarily delaying the launch of protest action. But it needs a short-term, immediate bounce of results to bring a level of calmness. Losing to Blackpool in such a painful manner could prove a pivotal moment in the club’s modern history. Small margins, but crucially the Bantams fell on the wrong side of them. If City find themselves behind against Charlton on Saturday, the mood will turn very ugly. We could be about to fall off that cliff.
As fans we all have our own personal feelings on the situation. My own view is this. There are very serious, and very legitimate, reasons to be concerned about the future of the club. There are big, big questions over the leadership. It goes beyond winning and losing football matches, but right to the very soul of what Bradford City stands for, and the kind of club we fans believe City should be. The disillusionment and worry that people feel is rational and sensible, and that should guide our course of action.
Protests can get ugly. They can get hijacked by emotion, which can undermine the cause. Some people could use them as a platform for violence, or to promote a racist agenda. Even if it doesn’t sink to those depths, a protest could hurt the endeavours of David Hopkin and the players. At the very least, a protest needs to be carefully organised, and at its heart should remain peaceful and respectful. Right now, it’s highly questionable if an organised protest could even be arranged, simply because no City supporter group organisation has yet shown any willingness to pick up the baton of leading a fan movement.
It also needs to be clear what, we as fans, want to achieve. Is it to try to force a change of ownership, or a change of approach from the owners? Rahic and Rupp both state they are here for the long-term and have no intention to sell, so going down the route of trying to drive them out could be ugly, long-lasting and damaging to the club. Witnessing the scene in and around Bloomfield Road on Saturday, what Blackpool supporters are trying to do to unseat their own owners is laudable. But it inflicts a lot of pain on their club and on the majority of fans, who no longer go and watch their team. And even more depressingly, they’ve not yet succeeded in achieving a change of ownership.
My own view is that we should first be looking to campaign for a change in the ownership approach. When I’ve sat down with Rahic and heard his views and philosophies, most are difficult to disagree with. But the club is lacking the ability, expertise and experience to bring them to life and to implement them successfully. The owners need to open the doors not close them. Appoint the right people – then trust them. Seek advice and different perspectives. Engage with fans. Make them feel included. Respect what they have to say. Be open and humble. Bring back some personality to the club. Embrace the history and traditions of Bradford City. Recognise why people are passionate Bradford City fans, and do everything you can to encourage it.
A campaign for a change of ownership approach could be achieved through making a peaceful statement. For example, I quite like the idea of a designated five minute period in a home game where as fans we all chant and cheer on the team loudly and enthusiastically – to demonstrate how wonderful the club can be, and the importance of fans. Followed by a five minute period of silence, or retreating to the concourse, to highlight the risks of an eroding supporter base and of people turning their back on the club. It could be very powerful. And, importantly, it doesn’t have to get personal.
Ultimately, what we are asking of our owners is realistic and fair-minded. We are not demanding Premier League football or expensive signings. We just want a club we can relate to and feel proud of. Rahic and Rupp might be the owners, but there are thousands of us who feel as though we own a part of the club too. That this is every bit our institution as well. And the anger comes from the prospect that someone is hurting our club, or operating in a way that ignores our views and leaves us feeling irrelevant.
Without supporters, the owners have nothing. We are the biggest asset they have. The number one determinant between success and failure. And if they don’t believe that, they need to watch videos of the Chelsea or Aston Villa games. Revel not just in the heroic player performances but the intense backing from fans that took them to such heights. Lose that, lose everything.
As fans we have a duty to be respectful and to not let emotion cloud our next moves. We have every right to be upset with the way Bradford City is operating, and it should be shown in calm, measured and responsible ways, so our views cannot be ignored.