Julian Rhodes’ return offers Bradford City some badly needed leadership

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

By Jason McKeown

The former Bradford City chairman Julian Rhodes has today made a surprise return to Valley Parade, taking on a consultancy role. Out of football since selling the Bantams to Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp in May 2016, Rhodes’ return could act as a timely boost for the beleaguered club.

WOAP understands that Rahic approached Rhodes over the weekend to ask him about coming on board to support him. Rahic, who is back from a two-week break in Germany, faces an increasingly impossible task reversing public opinion. Since his abrupt exit at half time of the Accrington game, the Bantams have fallen to the foot of League One. Supporter and sponsor anger at City’s dramatic collapse – Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Portsmouth was a sixth successive league defeat, extending the gap to safety to a daunting seven points – is firmly directed towards the hugely unpopular joint-owner.

It is some backdrop for Rhodes to walk back into, and a stark contrast to the upbeat atmosphere around Valley Parade when he sold up two-and-a-half-years ago. Back then, City had just finished in the League One play off spots under the inspirational management of Phil Parkinson – one of Rhodes’ last acts was to recommend Stuart McCall as replacement. The volatile levels of change since, under Rahic and Rupp, means Bradford City is a very different club on and off the field.

Having spoken to Rhodes on the phone tonight I can confirm he is taking on a day-to-day role. Comparisons have inevitably be drawn between the consultancy title assumed by Rhodes, and that of the role James Mason was supposed to have held after his resignation from the club in May. Mason was not consulted by Rahic, let alone brought into discuss anything. During our short talk tonight Rhodes was already full of ideas, which will become apparent over the coming weeks. He recognises the club must prioritise somehow winning fans back.

This surprise news follows a week of intense speculation that Rahic would be leaving Bradford City, removed by his partner Stefan Rupp. It would never have been that simple. Rahic owns around 22% of the club, and cannot simply be sacked. Nevertheless the growing hostility towards Rahic has seemingly made his position untenable. If it’s not already too late, this is his last, last chance.

Rahic has got so much completely and utterly wrong over 2018. But for once, this looks like a very good decision on his part. It is an acknowledgement and acceptance, finally, that he does not have the expertise and know-how to run a football club. That he needs support if he is to have any hope of salvaging this self-inflicted mess.

My advice to Rahic would be this: listen, listen and listen. Let Rhodes lead in decision-making. Trust in him to rebuild the club. Support him in everything he wants to do. Any illusions you have that you know what you are doing are surely now firmly shattered. There is no shame in asking for help. It’s just such a pity you waited this long. After selling the club in 2016, Rhodes had initially stayed on as a consultant before Rahic told him he wasn’t needed, just six weeks later, saying that personality wise they were very different. Don’t make that same mistake this time around.

And if he does listen and fully trust in Rhodes, Rahic will find he is working with someone he can really learn from. A lifelong City supporter, Julian – and his dad, professor David – first invested in the club back in the summer of 1997. They were very much silent partners behind the bluster of Geoffrey Richmond, providing the finances that helped the Bantams win promotion to the Premier League in 1999.

During those top flight years, the Richmond and Rhodes families rewarded themselves with healthy dividends, but after Richmond’s reckless financial gambles pushed the Bantams into administration by 2002, the Rhodes family paid those windfalls back and then some. David even put his house up as a guarantee to keep the club afloat.

In 2004, the Rhodes family once again rescued the club out of administration, aided by supporters raising £250,000 to keep City in business. And though the slide down the Football League continued, Julian – aided by the 2007 investment of Mark Lawn – eventually turned it around.

From 2012 onwards, Rhodes was instrumental in the resurgence of Bradford City, backed by bulging crowds that were the result of a pioneering approach to season ticket prices that Julian had introduced in 2007. The appointment of Phil Parkinson proved a masterstroke, and when Rhodes sold up in 2016 the club was firmly in the black, and knocking on the door of the Championship.

For Who We Are, I was able to secure Rhodes’ first major interview since leaving the club. He told me, “When we first took the punt, it was incredible really to enter the Premier League, and things seemed to be going very well. But then it all went wrong. I knew there was a big job. I didn’t envisage I would be around for that long.

“The horrific time was 2001-2002 really. It just got a little bit better as we went along. 2004 wasn’t great, but it was a lot better than 2002. And then I used to say to Mark [Lawn] – from 2007 onwards, it was nowhere near as bad as it had been, albeit we flirted with going out of the Football League, which to your average fan looked horrific. But the finances were just getting better and better, and I think I knew if we could keep them in the Football League, there was always going to be that period where everything would bottom out, and we could start moving in the right way again. The catalyst for that was Phil Parkinson coming in as manager in 2011. And I think I owe him quite a lot. I think we all do really.

“To be honest, I was quite proud of the way we brought the club on. You had to be close to it to realise what a basket case it was.”

That experience and know-how of turning around a crisis is absolutely crucial right now. What has damaged the club so badly this calendar year has been the complete and utter failure to show resilience to set backs – both on and off the field. And that comes from poor leadership.

The story of Bradford City’s rise between 2012 and 2016 was not just the cup runs and year-on-year league improvement, but overcoming set backs and sticking together in tough times. That backbone required strong leadership from the top, which Rhodes contributed heavily towards.

And that, coupled with the fact Rhodes has stared into the abyss of the 2002 and 2004 crisises and somehow guided the club to better times, makes him the absolute ideal man to come in right now. Edin, listen to this man. Simple as. And if you can’t and won’t, please go and take a longer holiday.

The scale of the task for Bradford City is enormous. There might still be a long way to go this season, but the desperate league position and poor squad means it is going to be a tall order to avoid relegation. Small crumbs of comfort came from a notably improved performance against league leaders Portsmouth.

Research conducted by WOAP’s very own Alex Scott, in to League One teams bottom after 17 games, since 2004, found only five clubs managed to save themselves from the drop. And only two of those five did it from as far back as City (Tranmere Rovers in 2009 and Notts County in 2013). Both Tranmere and Notts County went onto produce the equivalent of top 10 form to avoid the drop – is this City team capable of that kind of transformation?

It means that money in January remains absolutely vital. With club revenues down, Stefan Rupp will simply have to put his hand in his pocket to give David Hopkin any chance of significantly improving the team. It will need plenty of funds too. All clubs around City will inevitably sign players too. A January window as powder-puff as the last one simply won’t cut it.

If City can somehow avoid relegation, at least the damage of Edin Rahic’s dismal leadership of the club can be salvaged, and there’s a chance to rebuild. But fans will not be easily won over simply by Rhodes’ return, and Rahic’s own re-emergence at Valley Parade this week will see him remain under intense pressure to step down and leave the club.

It’s going to be one heck of a battle rescuing this sinking ship. But at the very least, City now have a man at the helm with proven experience of doing just that.

Categories: Opinion

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17 replies

  1. Whilst having Julian back is a step in the right direction this is just another PR ploy by Rahic to try to win us over.
    Well it’s not working and I’m afraid I can’t support Rahic in anyway whatsoever and so my boycott of VP matches will continue until Rahic is well and truly rid.

  2. It’s a very big IF…..IF Rahic listens… he has listened to no-one so far….IF he acts on what he is advised….he has ignored everyone so far….IF he is prepared to defer to Julian Rhodes….he has insisted he knows better than everyone else, both inside and outside the club, as he knows football.
    Personally I think it’s too little too late, he has all but destroyed ever good thing about the club since 2011, ripped it apart and discarded it…..he has to go.

  3. Juilan Rhodes is very shrewd operator… im sure before he took this task on there will have been certain conditions that will allow him to make difference .
    I’m over the moon we now have safe pair of hands at the top with claret and amber running through his body.
    Maybe there is hint of guilt from Juilian for selling the club to pair of clowns who have destroyed momentum .

  4. This isn’t a PR stunt. If it is successful and our fortunes change over the course of the season us City fans will be praising Rhodes and somewhat Rupp if he does invest in players in January like he said he would. We won’t be praising Rahic so his pr won’t go up.

    There is no way that Rhodes would have taken this role on without having conditions in place.

    We do not know whether Rahic has intervened in Hopkins tenure as manager. It was the shambles which he created with the pre-season and transfer policy combined with the injuries (probably due to the lack of conditioning) that has caused this mess. Only time will tell if Rahic has genuinely changed his ways but I am in no way supporting him.

    Hopefully this week we can make a couple of signings and with the fa cup this weekend the free agents can get up to speed fitness wise (if any are signed).

    Rhodes’ appointment can only be positive and a step in the right direction.

  5. We await to see if his first 6 week consultancy is repeated.The Rhodes family care.Rumour of how much the club was sold for in 2016 suggest Julian/Dad made a significant gain.Rumour of a price of £6 million.Net assets in the clubs Balance Sheet showed less than £2 million value at the date of disposal.Some pretty dodgy prior year adjustments to the filed figures made.Quite frightening really.Wondering if there are even any books given more rumour that the club has gone through 4 Accountants under Rahic.I can see administration and Rahic walking penniless.It needs Gibb involved.He owns the ONLY asset.45 players some who costs hundreds of thousands yet hardly played.Jones.So long since I saw him forgotten the name.Pony tail.Ex Wimbledon.Another £200k man at Lincoln.Invest to accumulate policies leading to the bankruptcy court.Rhodes Lawn had it right 5 years ago.Only player investment James Hanson.£7500 Guiseley.These loons have lost the lot.Then we bring a kid out of London and he”s been suspended weeks.It really is a circus Julian is walking into.

    • I can assure all BCFC supporters there was no dodgy dealings in clubs accounts when it was sold!
      The Club had a clean set of accounts and was run as well financially as any medium sized limited company.
      Monthly accounts , P&L and cash flow forecasts completed monthly , in some cases weekly .

  6. My initial reaction to this news is one of cynicism, Rhodes sympathising with the Parasites plight !
    Only investment, investment and more investment will save this club, where’s the investment coming from when it’s take take take ?
    The parasites need to go, unfortunately easier said than done.
    If they’re still here next season, I’m afraid after 46 successive years of support, I’ll not be back until they go for good.
    Then when my money isn’t buying the club for them anymore, I’ll be back regardless of what our league status is.

    • Agree entirely.

      Only money can make any difference and then it needs to be spent widely and what decent player wants to come to the worst EFL club of 2018?

      Added to the toxic atmosphere – anyone would steer clear.

      It’s defo League 2, probably administration and possibly worse.

  7. Thank you for that article, Jason. Whilst I can see that Julian Rhodes might do some good, I cannot see why it would make me yet reconsider my decision not to waste my time watching City. I have wasted my money on season tickets, Rahic is still there, there is no guarantee that he will change his ways, so I am hardly any less disillusioned. It’s the same squad, the same owners, sadly, I fear, the same results.
    I hope I am wrong, but doubt it, because people like Rahic cannot change. When stuck down a hole they keep digging.

  8. Just a shame this wasn’t done weeks ago, and at the very least announced the day before a home game – just think how much better the atmosphere around the place could have been if this had been announced last Friday before Portsmouth game or even on the Stephrn Darby night?? Maybe that would have lifted players to a win….

  9. Rang him on Sunday? This was rumoured all last week. It doesn’t change a thing. I shan’t be setting foot in the stadium until these owners have cleared off.

    All designed to deflect the flak from Rahic. The owner who couldn’t get out of Bradford City quick enough now can’t wait to snuggle up to these chancers. It really is a circus.

  10. Sorry but this is a PR ploy and pure flim flam, leopards dont change there spots, this is just a cover to deflect the growing discontent and anger at the way the club is currently run.,We are haemorrhaging supporters at an alarming rate, not just the fair weather type, but real die hard supporters who have attended through thick and thin, myself included who after this season will not set foot in valley parade till Rahic is out of this club, I have watched home and away since 1969 apart from 4 years when I lived out of the UK., but enough is enough, so good luck Julian in re arranging the deckchairs on BCAFC TITANIC, but I will only get back on board under a new Captain, not under the stewardship of Herr Reichsfuhrer Rahic.

  11. Jason – Julian “is not at the helm”. He is a consultant being paid pretty handsomely I guess – and for what?

    No amount of marketing spin is going to diffuse the toxicity of the current regime. No amount of PR is going to make the club more attractive to players and coaches.

    Success has to come on the field and the team/squad have proved wanting in every department, save GK perhaps. Moreover the dream of developing young talent has gone by the wayside. You can’t develop youngsters in a struggling side and in any case apart from young O’Brien and Miller (both LOANEES) There was not one young BCFC player started against Portsmouth.

    Julian might advise on selling and that would be both the kindest and best thing for BCFC but it is seemingly a course of action the owners do not want to pursue.

    I, like many, am a supporter of 50 years plus and just can’t believe the mess and mayhem Rack and Ruin have brought upon us. Relegation is inevitable as is defeat to Conference side Aldershot.

    If JR persuades the Germans to quit then he will be worth every penny but the club is now valueless as the hard/earned 20,000 base has dwindled alarmingly.

    How much to get a decent squad – £2m, £5m? How much wages £1m a year or 2. All far out of our reach. Say in January window we have 24 points (a big ask) We will still.need reasonable form to survive. Can’t see it happening.

    • Hi Andrew

      Whilst I agree with the majority of your comment, it is a bit of a wild leap on your part to assume Julian is being paid handsomely.

      I’ve spoken to Julian and asked him what he is doing and his tasks. I don’t see Julian as a PR or marketing spin – if that’s Edin’s aim he picked the wrong guy – I see him actually getting a grip of things behind the scenes and trying to provide the leadership that Edin is wholly incapable of. It may not work, it might be too late, but I feel a bit more confident that at least we have someone who knows what he is doing. If Edin sees this as window dressing and doesn’t give Julian control, he will quickly leave and Edin will look even more stupid. He has an expert in the building now. If he doesn’t take advantage of that, it will further speed up our failure.

  12. It’s good news to have Julian back at the club. It could be a PR exercise, alternatively it could be a sensible decision. But even if so, it’s unlikely there will be a quick fix, no sudden injection of cash in January. The work of turning City around looks depressingly like the struggle the club faced in the early noughties. This is a crisis, it will get better one day (and Julian knows all about that), but it could take City a long time to bounce back, and things will probably get worse, before they get better. In that context Rhodes, feels like an inspired choice to bring in. Older and wiser that 2002, I hope he has the nous and the diplomacy to work with and around the Rahic-Rupp wreckers. If anyone can do it, it’s Julian.

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