By Jason McKeown
This promises to be a very interesting few days for Bradford City, and it’s not just events on the field that will be in focus.
In-between the Bantams’ back-to-back home matches against Rochdale and Coventry City, there’s the not insignificant matter of the FA Cup first round draw on Monday evening. The implications could be huge for Bradford City’s season – and, for that matter, the ownership tenure of Stefan Rupp and Edin Rahic.
For all the talk of supporters and David Hopkin that the January transfer window can fix the club’s dismal campaign, the worry is just what level of financial war-chest, if any, the head coach will actually have at his disposal. The club’s plight is serious, and the poorly constructed 2018/19 squad is badly in need of reinforcements; but is the club going to be in a position to provide the finances Hopkin needs?
And that’s where the FA Cup comes in, because the competition represents the final opportunity to bring in serious revenue this season.
The early exit from the League Cup to League Two Macclesfield – who still haven’t won a league match by the way – was a costly moment. City are still in the CheckaTrade trophy, but with one group game left and only two points gained so far, their fate hangs in the balance. And anyway, you can only get serious money from the CheckaTrade if you get to the semi finals.
So getting through the first couple of rounds of the FA Cup, and landing a money-spinning third round tie, could be absolutely crucial. And without realising this aim, it’s tempting to ask where the club goes, and what it means for Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp.
Last January, Rahic told a gathering of 25-year season ticket holders that City were on course to record a loss of £700-£800k for the 2017/18 season. This all came before the sacking of Stuart McCall and the major fall out that followed, culminating in a major drop in attendances, a fall in season ticket renewals and, apparently, a steep decline in sponsorship and commercial revenue. In other words, the loss was probably greater than that forecasted at the mid-point of the season. And unlike in 2016/17, there was no play offs and Wembley ending to bring in a late financial windfall.
With the club having subsequently embarked on an extensive pitch relay work and a revamp of the squad that probably didn’t come cheap, it’s not unrealistic to believe the finances have become further stretched. The sale of Charlie Wyke helped matters, but ultimately that will only have recouped some of the transfer fees that were spent in the summer on the likes of Sean Scannell and Eoin Doyle. And though it was rumoured Michael Collins was underpaid, giving the 32-year-old a three-year contract to be head coach and sacking him after only six league games will have involved a financial hit too. And crowds this season are unlikely to be including many floating punters.
In short, if the club was on track to make a loss of £700-800k for the 2017/18 season last January, just how much worse will the financial picture be right now? How much revenue is the club as a business actually making that can be used as a January transfer budget? There are no more saleable assets other than perhaps Shay McCartan. And so the club is probably running out of money.
Stefan Rupp is reportedly worth £100 million. He has the personal wealth to inject capital that can be used to strengthen the squad. But the question is would he really want to do that? Rupp is supposed to be a silent partner, or an angel investor. The person who puts up the cash, and who presumably at some stage is expecting a decent return on his investment.
He is not really a football fan. His first ever live football match was Bradford City’s 0-0 draw with Coventry in November 2015, when he and Rahic were in advanced talks to buy the club from Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes. And he continues to live in Germany, flying over only occasionally to watch games and to make decisions.
All of which is not to criticise Rupp – and those who seek to lump him in with Rahic’s errant ways should probably remember that the footballing strategy is being implemented by one man and one man only. Rupp is unlikely to relish the idea that it will probably have to fall on his shoulders to provide a sizeable January transfer budget, and why should he? It is because of the incompetency of others that the club is in such a bad position and the squad needs yet another overhaul. At this stage of the pair’s two-and-a-half-year reign, he would not expect to have to be propping up a business that his partner would have sold the idea of investing into as a way of making money.
Throw in the toxic unpopularity of Rahic amongst supporters, which looks utterly beyond repair now, and just how much motivation will Rupp have for continuing this venture? If he could turn the clock back to May 2016, when he was just about to complete the deal and buy 80% of the club, would he now wish he’d not have bothered? It’s hard to see what, if any, enjoyment he is getting out of this. At least when it comes to this calendar year.
The worst-performing club in League One
And if Rupp is fed up, he’s not alone. As a calendar year, 2018 has been utterly, utterly dire. Just seven wins all year long – Fleetwood on New Year’s Day, under Stuart McCall, Gillingham, Portsmouth and MK Dons, under Simon Grayson, Shrewsbury and Burton, under Collins, and Wimbledon, under Hopkin – seven draws and 21 defeats. An utterly dismal record of just 28 points from 36 matches.
How badly does this stack up? For comparison WOAP looked at the 2018 league records of all 31 clubs who have played in League One this year. That includes clubs promoted from or into the division last season, and those relegated from or into it too.
I won’t keep you in suspense. City’s 2018 league record is the worst of every League One club. We trail Oxford United by five points, and are well behind other under-performers Burton, Northampton, Sunderland, Bury and Oldham – who were all relegated last season. If 2018 was a league season, City would be going down to League Two.
The bottom of the 2018 League One table is below.
|29. Burton Albion||34|
|30. Oxford United||33|
|31. Bradford City||28|
In the match report of the Accrington Stanley defeat last week, I asked the question of whether any set of Premier League or Football League fans were having a worse time than ourselves. Well, the answer is yes, probably.
Discounting the Premier League, who play less games, I’ve looked at the league record of all 72 members of the Football League in 2017/18, from 1 January 2018 to the present day. This includes Chesterfield and Barnet, who were relegated to the Conference last season, and whose records in the National League so far this campaign I’ve added on. I’ve not included the teams relegated from the Premier League last season, or promoted from the Conference.
And the results? Bradford City have the 71st-best record of the 72 members of the 2017/18 EFL. They have a better record than one team – Reading. Amazingly, like City, the Royals were defeated in the 2017 play off final and suffered an almighty hangover in 2017/18. narrowly avoiding relegation. They’ve been equally dismal this season. Unlike City, they’ve only gone through two managers this year. Although similar to the Bantams, fans are unhappy at the direction of the club and the owners – they were bought by Chinese pair Dai Yongge and Dai Xiu Li in May 2017.
For what it’s worth, Reading’s points haul of 25 over 2018 is only three fewer than City’s, and they have played one less game. So there are few crumb of comforts for us. When it comes to 2018, Bradford City fans have suffered badly. Here’s the bottom of the 2018 EFL.
|65. Oxford United||33|
|66. Ipswich Town||33|
|67. Hull City||33|
|69. Port Vale||30|
|71. Bradford City||28|
What a contrast to how things were just 13 months ago, when for two years Bradford City had the best record in the entire country. And it is that complete and utter collapse that leaves the mood incredibly dark going into this week’s Valley Parade double-header.
If Rahic was hoping the corner was being turned over recent weeks, Saturday’s dismal defeat at Accrington – which he departed from at half time, having curiously sat alongside Dougie Freedman – has shattered the fragile mood once more. And though the talk of protests has so far failed to generate into meaningful action, the angry scenes in the away end at the Wham Stadium will only be intensified if City fall behind on Saturday. For the past six weeks since Collins’ exit, the club has been perched on the edge of a cliff, trying to crawl away from danger. But we might be about to go over the edge. The point of no return.
The pressure is huge. On the players, who were on the receiving end of sharp words from Hopkin after the Stanley defeat that will have most of the squad sweating on their place in the side. On the head coach, who for the first time received some hostility from fans and appeared rattled by it. And most certainly on the chairman, who is in big trouble. Rahic is understood to have chosen to head back to Germany for a two-week break and so will not be at the game tomorrow. He has a lot to reflect on, and the time away may give him the opportunity to question himself and whether this is ever going to work.
And though Rupp is cushioned from the sharp rawness of what is happening at Valley Parade, this week’s piece in the leading German newspaper Zeit brings the spotlight closer to home. Journalist Kit Holden wrote, “The German fairy tale has become an English nightmare.”
Holden unearths a quote from Rahic 11 months ago that says much about his misguided belief in his own abilities. “I’m not just an owner, but also a kind of sports director. It’s very unusual in England because, unlike in Germany, the sports director’s job is usually done by the coach, but the German model is better because the coach can only focus on football.” You won’t find many City fans who would agree the German model is better, or at least Rahic’s interpretation of it.
The next 100 days seem absolutely pivotal in the ownership of Rupp and Rahic. If the team can somehow win some games, it might take some of the edge off the darkening mood, but if the club are knocked out of the FA Cup early, Rupp is going to inevitably face some major decisions.
Things cannot continue as they are. It is all coming to a head. You have to believe that the future soul of Bradford City can somehow be saved before further damage is done, but it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better.
After all, there’s still another two-and-a-half months to go of this miserable year for Bradford City.
There’s less than two weeks to go until the Stephen Darby apprectiation night at Valley Parade – and there are now only limited tickets left.
As part of the activity in and around to raise funds for the Motor Neurone Disease Association, James Mason’s Five Nine Agency are auctioning off a very special prize – a private dining experience with Stephen Darby, Gary Jones, Peter Jackson and others. To bid for this amazing opportunity, simply visit this Tweet and either submit your bid by DM or by tweeting.
The Who We Are Stephen Darby appreciation evening is being held at Valley Parade on Tuesday 30 October; tickets £10, with all money going to MND Association.
Already advertised to appear on the night are James Mason, Paul Jewell, Gary Jones, Rory McArdle, James Hanson, Filipe Morais, Billy Clarke, Jon Stead, Simon Parker, Bantams Banter, Katie Whyatt and John Dewhirst.
I’m pleased to announce the following have also been added to the bill: David Baldwin, Mark Ellis, Terry Dolan and Lee Duxbury. The current City squad, including head coach David Hopkin, will also be there.