“The American Revolution was a beginning, not a consummation.” Woodrow Wilson, former US President
When Freddie Ladapo bundled home to secure Plymouth Argyle a 3-3 draw with Bradford City on Saturday, there was a stinging reminder that as welcome as the news is that Edin Rahic has left the Bantams, there’s still a long way to go to fix the damage.
History has repeatedly shown that the success of a revolution is not the act of deposing a regime, but what it is replaced with. That is incredibly topical nationally right now, with the fierce Brexit debate. And as Bradford City embark on life after Rahic, the challenge of rebuilding the club will be an important marker in defining the success of the revolution at Valley Parade.
Make no mistake: these next six months are absolutely pivotal for City. It is going to be a bumpy ride. The mess on and off the field is considerable. The exceptionally poor leadership of Rahic has dismantled so much about what makes this club special. Restoring it will not be easy. As Saturday shows, the removal of Rahic is a big step but not the final act.
The focus now inevitably turns to Stefan Rupp, who this week removed his business partner and is now the sole owner of the club. Rupp has been criticised in many quarters for allowing Rahic to run the club so dismally. That is understandable to an extent, but fails to recognise Rupp has been misled by a trusted partner, and the information he has relied on from Rahic has been incomplete. Rupp has, at least, seen the light and acted. But it puts him in a curious position.
Had Rupp never met Rahic, through sharing the same bank consultant, he would not be the owner of Bradford City right now. He was not a football fan, and his decision to invest in the Bantams was on the basis Rahic would run the club day to day, whilst he continued to live his life in Germany, focusing on other things. It is highly unlikely that he will change that and relocate to West Yorkshire. Meaning that City will be owned from a distance.
As Bradford City supporters, we live and breathe the club – it dominates our thoughts, our conversations and our leisure time. We invest so much time, money and emotion into Bradford City, and it is therefore not easy to accept having an owner who doesn’t share that depth of feeling.
Yet that doesn’t mean Rupp has to be seen as a bad football club owner. Of course, he has much to prove right now and a responsibility to rebuild the club. But his financial commitment cannot be disputed, and he will continue to pour a lot of money into City, over the next six months, to try to undo the damage and save the club from relegation. The priority has to be to stabilise the club.
Historically, Rupp is the richest owner Bradford City has ever had. He is not here to prop up losses forever and understandably so; but the depth of his resources is vital right now. Clearly, Rupp has to restore trust and confidence from supporters, who won’t forgive or forget Rahic in a hurry. But on our part, there is a danger that turning on Rupp will only make the task of rebuilding the club even harder. For now, reserving judgement and giving Rupp a chance to save Bradford City is both pragmatic and imperative.
Rupp’s distant ownership approach means the day-to-day leadership of the club is crucial. The return of Julian Rhodes has undoubtedly brought enormous benefits to City. It sped up the departure of Rahic, as it showed to Rupp that the club can come together without his partner. David Hopkin, who at one stage seemed to be on the brink of quitting, has benefited from being able to get things through – changes to coaching staff, new signings, and even pre-match preparations. Results and performances are getting better.
Rhodes brings many qualities. An air of calm that was completely absent before. Experience of difficult situations. A more recent track of rebuilding Bradford City and helping to deliver major success. His retention to the end of the season is really important.
There is a minority of supporters who seem intent to talk Rhodes down on the back of the club’s previous financial problems under his watch, but what is the alternative right now? The story of Rhodes the Bradford City chairman was getting through administrations and then taking the club forwards. It’s hard to imagine a more important type of experience right now for City’s predicament. Rhodes is vital and deserves our support.
The other crucial cog is David Hopkin. Criticism of the City head coach – now manager – has started to grow in volume in recent weeks. His record since taking charge isn’t great, and the style of football has at times been a difficult watch. Again though, there are mitigating circumstances. He inherited a poorly built squad. He walked into a backdrop of supporter-owner discontent. He is only recently able to make significant changes, and they are bearing fruit. Without a transfer window yet, there is only so much he can do.
Bradford City have been crippled by short-termism over 2018. The controversial sacking of Stuart McCall led to 87 days of Simon Grayson in charge, followed by 78 days of Michael Collins. These are the two shortest managerial reigns in Bradford City history. Today (Monday) is only day 96 of Hopkin’s tenure. The idea that we give in to more short-termism, and consider another change, risks more turmoil – at a time where there so many other challenges to face.
For what it’s worth I like Hopkin. You can see what he is trying to do, and that over recent weeks he has been able to construct a spine to the team that has made them more competitive and tough to beat. He’s on record saying he has developed plans to strengthen in January that he expects to be implemented straight away. I think he deserves that opportunity, and that his past experience at Livingston shows he has a track record of turning around a failing club. It’s worth considering, also, that January will be the first transfer window since early 2016 that the manager will make decisions free from boardroom interference.
As the results will inevitably continue to be up and down, frustrations will continue to boil over. And the nature of us football fans is we will want to find new scapegoats. Rupp, Rhodes and Hopkin will come into the firing line, and it will be a test of their character to keep going. But I would hope that most sensible fans will recognise the huge difficulties faced by the club, and the root of the problems. If we can somehow stick together, there’s a chance we can pull through this.
Ultimately Rupp needs to present a vision for the club that we as supporters can believe in and get behind – but as I’ve argued, we should all be having a say in how Bradford City is reshaped. Communication has to improve significantly from the Rahic era. Broken and fractured relationships between the club and supporters, sponsors and other key stakeholders need to be fixed. With alarming stories of Rahic’s behaviour, the club needs better support for employees. Too many people were hurt by the way Rahic went about things. That cannot be undone, but it must not be repeated.
The players have a massive responsibility to show pride for the club. We’ve seen a significantly improved attitude since the Stephen Darby appreciation evening, and some members of the squad are starting to turn around negative opinions fans hold towards them. There is an onus on the senior players in particular to set the standards.
Whether fair or unfair, a nagging suspicion remains that many of the summer signings didn’t join the club for the right reasons. And when the chips are down, they haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory for their commitment. A good team spirit is essential, and January’s transfer activity might be about who leaves the club just as much as who joins.
If City can somehow survive relegation, the restoration of the club can continue from a much stronger position. Going down to League Two, which remains more likely, will make it far more difficult to fix the damage of Rahic. As the last fall to the basement division showed, it could set us back for years.
It all means every game is huge. That every twist and turn will be emotional. Survive relegation, and it could be the biggest celebration seen at Valley Parade since the 2015 FA Cup run. Go down, and the pain will feel awful. It will really hurt everyone.
Rahic’s removal is far from the end. The revolution has started, but will only succeed if what replaces the deposed Rahic takes us towards the brighter future we crave. On and off the field, there is so much work to do and considerable damage to repair. You’d like to think the adversity can bring out the best in everyone, though the knives will be quickly out if things go wrong.
Patience is going to be needed. And if we can come together, this dreadful chapter in the club’s history could yet have a happy ending.