Written by Jason McKeown, with the full support and input of Tim Penfold, Mike Harrison, Dominic Newton-Collinge, Tom Fletcher, John Dewhirst and Mark Neale
It’s been another week of soul-searching at Bradford City. After Saturday’s sixth straight league defeat to Portsmouth opened up a daunting seven-point gap to safety, very strong speculation grew that Edin Rahic was about to leave as chairman. Instead there was the shock news of Julian Rhodes’ return to help out the club. Crucially working alongside, rather than instead of, Rahic.
Against this backdrop, it’s understandable the announcement was greeted with dismay amongst many fans. The idea of a swift conclusion to this toxic situation clearly held large appeal, and yet that now looks further away than ever. There has to be an acceptance, however impalpable, that Rahic will be here until at least the end of the season. I know that isn’t an easy thing to read. But that’s the reality. Those negative feelings most of us hold towards Rahic’s dismal leadership will not shift, but if there’s any consolation it is that he is no longer steering the ship.
Over the last few days Rhodes has held multiple conversations with WOAP, The City Gent, Bantams Banter and other well-known supporters. Based on what Rhodes has said to us, we’re confident and reassured that it is he, not Rahic, calling the shots. This week’s announcements over free travel to Peterborough and £1 tickets for the Oxford game are absolutely from the Rhodes playbook. They are ideas we’ve seen several times under the Rhodes/Mark Lawn ownership – think of the famous Stockport County game in February 2011. WOAP also understands David Hopkin had previously expressed a strong desire for a CEO-type figure to be appointed to support him. Rhodes can work closely with the City head coach on January transfers, just as Rhodes worked very closely with Phil Parkinson during the club’s modern day resurgence.
But it is bringing back fans that Rhodes has identified is the key priority. The darkening atmosphere around the club means this is a considerable challenge, and there is talk of organised protests for the Oxford game. However, it’s not impossible. Unlike Rahic and his misguided comments through the Supporters Trust blaming supporters, Rhodes was nothing short of complimentary about City fans. He gets the frustration and the anger.
And rightly so. Whilst Valley Parade has hardly been the cauldron of noise we’ve seen in the recent past, fans have actually been largely supportive of the team during matches. The problem lies not with supporters, and Rhodes is keen to harness the positive energy that we can all provide.
We’d like to think the recent Stephen Darby appreciation night can act as a small catalyst. The decision of the current players to attend the evening, even paying the entry fee, afforded them the chance to take inspiration from heroes of the past. Perhaps most significantly, they were witness to the astonishing reception Gary Jones received as he made his way to the stage. Proof, to the current crop, that if you give everything in a Bradford City shirt, we supporters will get behind you. It was this very point Jones made on stage during a direct address to the present squad. Other guests too offered genuine advice and encouragement to the class of 2018/19.
The Portsmouth game might have ended in the all-to-familiar pain of defeat, but the performance of the players was significantly improved. They showed greater ownership, desire and character, and were ultimately unfortunate not to take a point against the best team in the league. Of course, it’s easy to take plaudits for running the league leaders close, and another matter to actually repeat it and win games against lesser sides. But if those players can take heart and encouragement from their performance, there’s every chance they can stop the rot. And if they do, fans will respond.
There can be no question City’s league position looks desperate. Time is still on our side, but it will take a major transformation in form to rescue the situation. Yet surely the team cannot give up now. And neither should we supporters.
With the ownership situation still a mess, but not going to be fixed overnight, we think we’ve reached a point where we should focus on the team, and trying to support them in avoiding relegation. Because make no mistake, falling back into League Two could be a major blow for the club. It would involve a financial hit, an inevitable drop off in attendances – and, as our last relegation to League One, in 2007, showed – it can take several years to come back. Relegation would undo all the amazing work of 2012-2017. And with the gap between the Championship and League One widening further and further each year, due to the distortions of Football League TV distribution money and Premier League parachute payments – it could consign us to being a third/fourth tier club for eternity.
It’s a huge, huge ask to avoid relegation already. But it’s not impossible. If the team can build on the spirit shown against Portsmouth and somehow keep in touch with the other strugglers between now and the end of 2018, there’s an opportunity in January to bring in reinforcements that can give the club a fighting chance. And if we fans can make the Valley Parade atmosphere intimidating to opposition players again, we can do our part to keep City in League One.
Of course, surviving relegation doesn’t change our distrust and our dismay at Edin Rahic. It doesn’t make him more popular, or less accountable for his mistakes. We are all dismayed at his continued involvement at the club, the way he fulfilled his duties as chairman, and his overall behaviour. Disturbing stories about his conduct only add to that opinion.
We don’t see a way back for Rahic, and we don’t like the idea that his misguided approach is considered in anyway a success. Staying up doesn’t validate anything he has done, but going down just adds to the damage that we all face. On the opening day of the season, Rahic said we were targeting the play offs – so this season has been a failure whatever happens. But going down to League Two? That could damage the club for decades to come.
So collectively we want to forget about Rahic for now. To ignore him as much as is possible. We trust in Rhodes to lead the club, and are confident that Rahic has at least realised he must let Rhodes do just that. We want to do our bit to help Bradford City remain a League One club next season and will work with Rhodes. And once our outcome is known either way, the inquest will fully re-open and Rahic will not be spared.
Right now, Bradford City are in the fight of their lives. We don’t like one bit about why we have come to be in such a dismal position, and the character stripping of the values this club stands for. But let’s see if it’s possible to limit the damage – so we can rebuild Bradford City into the football club that it can, should and must be.