By Katie Whyatt
Given recent events, it feels ludicrous to think there was once a time when Bradford City’s problems were almost exclusively of the “why can’t we fit TWO above average League One left backs in James Meredith AND Greg Leigh at the same time?” nature. A week of PR Battleships began on Monday when The Daily Star delivered the first blow, and, while it’s always necessary to treat the words of anonymous ‘club sources’ with a degree of scepticism, seeing the same refrains that had pockmarked social media for months aired in the national press was always going to cause consternation inside Valley Parade. The Blackpool Gazette followed suit the following day, running an interview with City’s former fitness coach Chris Short titled: ‘I deserved more respect at Bradford’.
It is scarcely believable that City, once well-placed enough to fret over trivialities like whether the last digit on the scoreboard was a three or an eight, spent the earlier part of their week caught in thornier brambles. The days of Phil Parkinson debating the relative merits of Leigh and Meredith, losing about as much sleep over the issue as a man toying between a Ferrero Rocher and a Lindt Truffle after Christmas dinner, have taken on a different quality, pointed and sharp, a fragile memory drifting on a dangerous wind. That selection issue was a welcome dilemma for a team that knew, for the most part, what it was, and was well aware of its limitations. Parkinson was adding extra oil for barely audible creaking compared to the churning, thrashing, squealing juggernaut of bad publicity that has crashed and careered down the tracks this week.
Of course, one always has to temper nostalgia, and that regime had its faults – but it is nothing if not sad for all involved that events of 2018 have culminated in Edin Rahic issuing an apology that has proven typically divisive. Rahic’s second full calendar year at the helm has been defined by a litany of ill-advised decisions (and, I mean, take your pick: from the premature sacking and almost-banning of Stuart McCall to appointing a 32-year-old head coach who didn’t even apply for the post), and last night’s statement, issued three days ahead of a home game against Charlton, was timely.
“I am truly sorry for some of the decisions I have made – which have resulted in a loss of momentum,” Rahic said. “I understand some of our supporters are hurting at the moment and so am I. I feel responsible and accept I am open and perhaps deserving of some of the criticism which has come my way. The appointment of the coaching team – and Michael Collins as head coach – did not work out and I am responsible for this. He received our full backing from day one, as did the playing squad and his fellow staff. But the results did not come on the field.”
It is, to Rahic’s credit, something of a start. For some, the co-chairman’s words felt sincere, and it is likely that Rahic, still relatively new to football ownership, has learned a lot from a bruising second season at the reins.
If he could turn back time, he probably would hesitate before throwing McCall from the ejector seat, or pause before drawing Simon Grayson from the ‘in case of emergency break’ box. After all, not one moment of the tragicomedy that has followed has vindicated that first big call. The tepid, lukewarm football of 2018 has proved particularly thin gruel compared to McCall’s more bounteous harvest. Rahic’s contemptuous treatment of his former head coach – in particular, the alleged attempt to ban McCall from covering the Shrewsbury game for Sky on ‘safety grounds’ (I’m assuming they feared McCall would sink into the quicksands of the Valley Parade pitch) – needlessly stoked fan ire.
There were so many ill-considered missteps, Rahic lumbering from one wrong move to the next like Sideshow Bob thwacking through a yard of rakes, and all of them probably could have been prevented had Rahic consulted more closely with willing, well-placed advisers.
For others, though, Wednesday’s statement was no more than a hollow sticking plaster to a still-gaping wound. We have been here before. Rahic, for what it’s worth, gave an unconvincing performance at last season’s Fans’ Forum. Stefan Rupp, you might recall, used the words “we’ve learned our lesson” at last season’s Player of the Year Awards, and perhaps it would be reasonable to wonder why Rahic’s “full backing” of Collins never extended to vocally supporting his head coach in public when the going got tough.
In any case, both sides of City’s fractured fanbase would probably agree that this needs to inspire concrete change among the powers that be. If Rahic finds himself uttering the same words at any point in 2019, and Hopkin departs parroting the same list of grievances that have soundtracked Rahic’s tenure like an incessant echo, the thought of where that leaves the public reputation of a regime that has already churned its way through five head coaches is unsettling. Because of all the accusations that have plagued the club during this annus horriblis, perhaps the one that will cut Rahic the deepest is that City’s identity, once so well-defined, has been irrecoverably fractured and lost.
The reception to Valley Parade’s 1911 Club was once overlooked by a portrait of Stuart McCall, beaming from the Main Stand beneath that same unchanging haircut, that was emblazoned with the words: “New era, same values”. It no doubt proves an apt symbol for the current state of the club, and its failings up to this point, to learn that glass photo has long been removed. To an extent, you can understand why Rahic, like a disconsolate lover Tippexing their ex out of the family album, Pictures of You blaring in the background, would want a clean break, given how emotive and politicised McCall’s departure ultimately became. But that’s not what this is about. The thing to take from this is that the club have demolished the final permanent reminder of a mission statement they should have clung to for all they were worth.
I mean, that’s genuinely what they said they would do. On the record. I give you: “We are looking forward to working with everyone associated with the club and respect its traditions. We do not have plans to make big changes but to work with the existing structure” (Rahic, May 2016). “We prefer to adopt these things soberly and conservatively” (Rupp, June 2016). “Football is not an industry where innovation is always needed” (Rahic, April 2017). They pledged to be “transparent and open” (Rahic, August 2016). Rahic made known his disdain for clubs who switch managers too quickly and disregard their overall strategy. His mission statement – play attractive football, develop young players – was hardly a secret. And the club’s template was all there for him, gleaming, ready to embrace him with open arms.
Instead, the values Parkinson bequeathed to them have been subject to the same treatment as most of their own principles: played with for a while and discarded. Grayson and David Hopkin are not known for being guardians of breathless, high-octane football. Michael Collins was not known for being a guardian of breathless, high-octane football. Their long-term strategy has seen five different head coaches take charge of games this calendar year. They pulled the plug on McCall after his first bad run. This apparently overarching ethos has tended to far more change than expected.
72 different players have played under them since 2016/17, and it cannot have escaped the owners’ notice that the vast majority of this playing group are viewed with indifference by a public that once filled City Park to welcome home its League Two heroes. This is a squad that, at the moment, lack the obvious spirit to accompany the bravado. As a rule, it is not a good sign when your centre half begins his assessment of the playing group with the words: “I’ve got to call a spade a spade.”
It can’t be encouraging, either, that, seven games into the season, their captain in Josh Wright is yet to exhibit any qualities of any kind of midfield leader: he does not boast the quiet guile or vision of an Andrés Iniesta, nor the relentess visibility of Gary Jones, nor the sheer obduracy of Scott Parker. Their previous ideals remain just that. Untouched, unused and overlooked.
It all means that very few of the conclusions you can draw from their opening games are actually positive. Based off the side’s first seven league games – the emphasis you want to place on those, given six of them came under a different head coach, is up to you – City are on course for 39 points this season. That would be their lowest total since their relegations in 2003/04 and 2001/02. That kind of points haul would have seen them relegated to League Two every season since Division Two was rebranded League One in 2004/05. They’d have finished 24th in three of those seasons.
Survival, then, is the first test Hopkin faces, but the extent to which Rahic can salvage the season hinges on far more than if City finish above the line. Livingston, the club Hopkin steered to the Scottish Premiership via back-to-back promotions, had his stamp all over the paintwork, apparently. Like Parkinson before him, and Chris Wilder at Sheffield United, and Eddie Howe at Bournemouth, and Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, and David Wagner at Huddersfield, and Sean Dyche at Burnley, Hopkin was one of an ever-shrinking cast of managers allowed to set the beat for everyone else to march to. That, of course, is unlikely to happen to the same degree here – to an extent, it’s simply modern football – but one would hope Rahic’s statement is a tacit agreement to curb his level of influence.
Hopkin, after all, likely possesses the force of personality and experience that Collins lacked, and it was a damning indictment of the latter’s City spell to hear Hopkin admit at his press conference on Thursday that he has had to re-introduce ice baths and protein bars to the players’ recovery plans. Ultimately, something must have changed for Hopkin to finally sign a contract for the club with whom he was supposedly in talks during the summer. You have to wonder what the sticking point was back then and what, months down the line, prompted the U-turn from both parties.
We may never know for sure, but the answer, I expect, will be self-evident over the coming weeks and months. Rahic is still very much in this for the long-haul, and he must hope his leadership, even with so much history, is not beyond repair. This is the same public who received Rahic so warmly when, in 2016, he bought the club and promised its best traits would be preserved. He still commands some support: there is nowhere near the universal loathing the chairman of Saturday’s opponents in Charlton, Roland Duchâtelet, has endured for several years.
For all the failings at Newcastle or Leyton Orient probably bear closer resemblance to some of Rahic’s early mistakes, Charlton’s own off-field issues, rightly or otherwise, will make comparisons likely over the weekend. Perhaps welcoming the team that is now home to three of McCall’s brightest stars in Josh Cullen, Billy Clarke and Mark Marshall will provide an opportune moment for Rahic to reflect on all that he, and the club, have lost in the 450 days since the 2017 play-off final. Maybe Rahic will look at Saturday’s opponents and see, as Ebenezer Scrooge did when he looked upon his gravestone, exactly how joyless for all involved the road to that level of discord really is.
In sacking Collins, Rahic interceded just before City fell off the cliff. In hiring Hopkin, he has a man who may, given time, pull them back from the brink and have his players’ thighs screaming with lactic acid in the process. It won’t be easy, it probably won’t be pretty and it definitely wasn’t part of the plan, but only if Rahic’s mea culpa proves genuine do City have a fighting chance of being anything other than what they are.
I’m sorry Katie but we don’t!
Anybody with any sense will see that it was a false apology and only brought about by the Daily Star article. There’s no acknowledgement of what he did wrong or what he was apologising for or how it will be significantly different in the future.
Keep the pressure on him. Protest as you see fit, peacefully.
Yes I agree. Rahic only made the statement (not really an apology of substance) this week because of the Daily Star article. But there were three other articles in the Mail. Blackpool Gazette and the Football League paper that were also damning of him. Add to that John Dewhirsts article in last Saturday’s T&A and the mounting fan pressure and you see the real reason he felt he had to do something.
But although my initial thoughts were won’t the lines of ” it’s a small step, but maybe we should give him a chance” particularly if his words were followed up by actin, since seeing the statement I have concluded that nothing has really changed and is unlikely to.
If we go a goal down to Charlton tomorrow he might start to see the passion of the City support and be looking for a quick way back to us desk at Bosch!
I very careful not to be involved in what I call the Rahic witch hunt.
Yes so far Mr Rahic really as made mess of everything we as supporters valued at our club.
When we lost at Wembley I honestly thought the owners would have built on that squad to give us better chance next season.
The sacking of Stuart McCall was way too hasty … from then on its been total mess on the field as off the field.
Fair play to Mr Rahic with an apology to supporters… it’s start of the healing process .
Mr Rahic needs to now get in place structure with people who know how to deal with the gulf between supporters and fine balance from been involved with the players and interference from him.
Let David Hopkin do what he needs to do … yes opinions I’m sure David will listen too but the last word must be Hopkins no question.
It seems Mr Rahic as problems with people who do not agree to his policies and some what sulks like child .
I’m willing to go along to some of these supporter meetings he’s going too with open mind and listen .
What a mess we are in,this season is a write off with the squad we have, and we can not sign any quality new players until January,that’s if we can get anyone to sign for us, by then I think we will just br about relegated and will take a miracle to get out of trouble,a lot off people will not support a a league two club again and I worry for the future under this management structure.
The worst apology ever! Pathetic and futile! Ironic that he is pictured before an empty Kop! Totally behind Hopkin and the team but the owners need to go!
Let’s all roll over and accept the apology then, I may not get a thumbs down for stating this….
After a few wins the obsession & medling will creep back in, you mark my words.
Those pesky Germans.
Why is Rahic so fixated on reducing costs? City appear to be sixth in the table based on revenue and 11th to 13th in first team payroll. Obviously, the development squad is more expensive to run but where is the balance going???
It’s gone on too long and, too far.
This “team” so far as I have seen are the worst in years.
No identity, No leadership, (obviously NO captain)
The fans can not relate or engage to ANY player, or Manager…and you can take your pick on any of them.
Just hope we manage to get above the dotted line, and rely heavily on three other shambles that save our bratvworst!
Sadly….I doubt it
Sad really sad.
Edin……….take time out and reflect on this ……….
In the words of Jim Bowen…….HERES WHAT YOU COULD HAVE WON!!!!!!!
Took me two days to read this article. I’m a very slow reader 🙂 I don’t like calling out players but the captain’s role is so important. However, as you point out Josh’s performances have not been upto the standard we’ve expect. Getting him out of limelight/firing line might be good for all parties.
Keep up the excellent work Katie!
On Saturday it will come down to the 2 Josh’s. Cullen and Wright. Whoever wins that will win the game. Unfortunately for us Wright is no where near the standard of Cullen.
Back to Rahic.
It seems if he thinks you are below him he wont listen to you. That is his biggest problem, EGO. The only reason he has apologised is because he is getting slated in national papers. If it wasn’t for that we wouldn’t have heard a squeak out of him. It seems the only ones who can reign him in are Rupp and the National Papers( sorry Simon Parker).
That been said whatever he does he will get slated so he is in a no win situation. This to me is a good first step but it doesn’t excuse all the sackings for people who has worked at our club for years who deserved better.
He needs to keep his head down and let people do their jobs
Even though its a good first step I would still prefer R+R out of our club
A very well-written piece once again. Just one small difference of opinion. You say that the special identity that is the soul of Bradford City has been “irrecoverably fractured and lost.”
That special identity will never be lost.
Whilst it is severely damaged at the moment it will recover – most likely after a change of ownership as there are precious little signs of a genuine change of heart coming from the current incumbents -but it will recover.
Great work again Katie, l love your use of language. It really has been ‘thin gruel’ all round.A very tempory respite for the loathed Rahic the Terrible methinks.
The longer that Rahic is at the club, more fans will drift away by the week. As in life, the “trial seperation” will likely lead to a divorce and many of those fans will be lost forever. I have a total disconnect for the club and, looking at the names on the team sheet, the wholesale change of personnel means I have no affiliation with any of them. The whole ethos of supporting a club has been shattered. You’d struggle to achieve what Rahic has done in such a short space of time, even if you’d set out to do it on purpose.
There are loads of people who have exactly the same view.
I just can not relate to anyone or anything at VP anymore.
Might as well watch Sunday morning footballers
Wonderful command of the English Language in succinctly putting how we all feel.The man looked a very lonely figure yesterday.Sat all on his own.I am told as he departed (on his own) with a few files he looked utterly dejected.A friend held open the door for him.He did not even acknowledge it.Rupp did NOT engage with him and indeed sat a row in front and well away with family.The spirit is low but the poster above is right it will NEVER be extinguished.Yesterday was a start where in weeks we could have a new hero.Enter “take no prisoners” Jim.More in the Abbo style than any of the 72 you mention.72 players says it all.What a joke.Football clubs on the up (as this was) need to change usually just 3 to 4 a year to keep progress.Rahic thought he could rewrite the book.