Bradford City remain a shadow of what they were, and there’s only one person to blame

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

By Jason McKeown

Some time after the final whistle had sounded at Valley Parade on Saturday, with the floodlights turned off on the empty stadium, the former Bradford City head of operations, David Baldwin, and the Bantams forward, Billy Clarke, warmly greeted each other at the back of the main stand lower tier.

Two men who had, in their own ways, played a significant part in the revival of Bradford City. Their respective periods at Valley Parade overlapped by just a few short months, but the lengthy chat said much about the strength of their relationship. They probably had much to talk about, but the current state of matters at Bradford City would have inevitably come up.

Both Baldwin and Clarke had left Bradford City with the club in a better position than when they had joined it. Baldwin, who has flourished in the chief executive role at Burnley, is still a semi-regular visitor to Valley Parade, after turning around the Bantams’ commercial fortunes between 2007 and 2014. Clarke has just recently returned to Bradford City, revealing he never wanted to leave in the first place. Saturday’s game with Plymouth Argyle was his first start for City at Valley Parade since the play off semi final victory over Fleetwood Town in May 2017; a game he played really well in, hitting the post during the first half.

For two men who dearly hold the club close to their hearts, they will surely share supporter anguish over the subsequent decline of Bradford City.

The club had been knocking so loudly on the door of the Championship. The supporter base had grown dramatically. The team was lauded as heroes, with players enjoying close relationships with supporters. First Phil Parkinson and then Stuart McCall were hugely popular managers. There was a tremendous atmosphere around the club. A widespread feeling that we were part of something special. Sharing and making memories that would be treasured for decades to come.

Fast forward to the present day, and the heart and soul of Bradford City remains damaged. Its recovery is slow and fragile. No longer looking up, City are scrambling in the quicksand of League One’s relegation zone, staring at the very real prospect of a return to the basement league. It’s incredibly tight, and survival remains very possible. But hope is ebbing away again, after two winnable-looking home games yielded just one point. The upcoming fixtures are starting to get significantly tougher.

As Baldwin and Clarke conversed, I was stood several feet away in the press box with the Pulse’s Jason Thornton, who was reading out a succession of tweets from supporters reacting to the Argyle stalemate. Some were blaming David Hopkin, others were sticking up for the City manager. Individual players were criticised. Many fans said we are doomed to relegation. Others that we live on to fight another day.

The criticism of Hopkin has grown in volume over the past fortnight. It’s harsh, but not without thought. As football supporters, it’s only natural that in difficult times we look for causes and scapegoats. When we invest so much time and money into something that we cannot directly control, there’s something psychologically comforting about the idea of an easy solution, such as the theory that a change of manager or player can herald a turnaround in fortunes.

Yet the difficult and unmovable reality of Bradford City’s current struggles is the ultimate blame for them is not with any present club employee, but someone who is no longer a part of Valley Parade. That person is Edin Rahic, and the troubled legacy he left behind continues to haunt the club.

The cause of Bradford City’s decline was long ago pinpointed and fixed, but the damage Rahic caused is considerable. At Valley Parade on a Saturday afternoon, it’s everywhere you look. Every contributory factor for why Bradford City are a shadow of what they are can be traced back to Rahic.

Just over 15,000 were officially at Valley Parade on Saturday, but the reality is it was likely to have been a much lower attendance. Empty seats have sprung up everywhere, when 18 months ago it was becoming a challenge to find spares on a matchday. Season ticket sales took a sharp dip for this season. And even with the very attractive season ticket offer for next term, it’s going to be a tough ask to better the reduced uptake next season.

It means the atmosphere at Valley Parade has become quieter, and less feverish than before. The Kop made some excellent noise during the second half against Argyle, but it hardly compares to the enthusiasm and vibrancy of a couple of years ago, when Valley Parade was considered to have one of the best atmospheres in the country.

Before the game on Saturday I had bumped into a couple of City fans who told me they weren’t going to the match. A few years ago, they were the type who followed the Bantams home and away. Everywhere we go. Now, they tell me they don’t have the enthusiasm to attend. They’d rather do something else that doesn’t risk ruining their mood for the next seven days. They and others tell me they’ve not felt the same about City since Rahic almost destroyed it. The scars do not heal quickly.

The team responded to the second half noise to produce a strong display that deserved the three points. But they don’t create enough good chances, and ultimately don’t score enough goals. Billy Clarke returns to Valley Parade after 19 months away, only to find there is just one dressing room survivor – Nathaniel Knight-Percival – from when he left. How on earth was that excellent City team of 2016/17 deconstructed so quickly? Why were history makers so readily consigned to history? It was madness.

It was broken up because of Rahic. Bad planning on the out of contract players after the play off final defeat, and then an ill-judged rush to remove anyone with a loyalty to Stuart McCall last summer. Whilst battling with his cancer treatment, Greg Abbott warned Rahic not to let the likes of Nicky Law, Timothee Dieng and Romain Vincelot join Colin Doyle and Tony McMahon in departing. The reason being that whilst these players were starting to decline, they would be very difficult to replace, especially for a similar cost. Not for the first time, Abbott’s judgement proved correct.

Phil Parkinson used to sign players because of their character, which helped to build a clear identity of who Bradford City were and what we stood for. With Rahic at the helm dictating transfers, the criteria for new players has been muddled, expensive and ill-judged. For a time Rahic used to argue that he was not holding the deciding vote on transfers. But that mask somewhat slipped last summer, when in-between head coaches he continued to make signings anyway. And the players he brought in when there was no manager to shape the decisions? The current outcasts, Josh Wright and Joe Riley. Go figure.

The fact City couldn’t get the well-compensated Wright and Riley off the books in January held back recruitment efforts to improve the squad. And Hopkin is largely left with a group of players that were not his choosing, with many on expensive deals that don’t run their course until the end of next season. The results of Rahic’s hands-on approach to transfers are there for all to see. A squad that supporters struggle to identify with, battling grimly to stay in League One, who cost more to assemble than the successful City teams of recent past. Just imagine what Parkinson and McCall could have achieved with a budget the size as this season’s?

Hopkin takes the flak in the dugout, but he walked into a club in chaos, falling apart at the seams. Parkinson had just one meeting with Rahic before realising he had to get away. McCall endured a frosty relationship with Edin, but despite this was able to keep City in the play off positions for 19 months. That he was dismissed with City sixth in the league looked far from clever at the time, but it now ranks as one of the most ill-judged decisions of Bradford City’s modern history.

Rahic’s sacking of a high-performing club legend was a major risk tactic that backfired badly. Simon Grayson, McCall’s replacement, brought a coldness to Valley Parade that never really endeared him to supporters. And then there was the utter farce of Michael Collins, who should never have been put in a position of being the club’s head coach. Hopkin took the reins to find a bloated, badly constructed squad that was ridiculously unfit following a dreadful pre-season. And there’s only so much he can do to change it.

That is not to say Hopkin is blameless. In recent weeks, the team has been found out and opposition managers have proved it is straightforward to stifle our creative players. So far, Hopkin has not been able to counter this with a different, more effective approach, and the team has not scored in three matches. His substitutions on Saturday were effective to a point, but he needed to take more risk to win the game.

When a club gets on a downwards spiral and starts going through managers quickly, it can be a difficult cycle to break. Manager X was sacked for a bad run of form, so surely Manager Y must go in similar circumstances? But at some stage, you have to stick with a manager during a difficult period so they have the necessary time to build foundations for future success. You need only look at the last two Bradford City promotion-winning managers – Paul Jewell and Phil Parkinson – for proof of the virtues of sticking with a manager over the long-term. Both had bad patches before they built successful teams. These lessons in history don’t mean that keeping Hopkin now guarantees he will be a success over time, but by sacking him we’ll certainly never know.

(And that’s before we consider the cost implications of sacking Hopkin, the high likelihood his coaching staff would follow, and the costs of bringing in someone else, which would further hurt the deficit.)

The irony is that appointing Hopkin might ultimately prove to be one of Rahic’s best decisions, but in the short-term the damage was done before it. Hopkin has been dealt an exceptionally poor hand, and truly placing his stamp on the squad will require a proper close season, much like Phil Parkinson was belatedly able to do in the summer of 2012.

In the meantime he makes do with a squad that has quality but lacks balance, performing on a Valley Parade pitch that is cutting up, suggesting the summer investment from Rahic and Stefan Rupp on the playing surface was not carried out as successfully as hoped. WOAP understands that, under Rahic, the club used heat lamps on the pitch 24/7, which quadrupled electricity bills.

Behind the scenes, commercial revenue is said to be down. Some sponsors have quietly let known their displeasure of how they were treated by Rahic. Julian Rhodes is trying to pick up the pieces and restore the club back to what it was. But with many good people from behind the scenes having left the club under Rahic’s tenure, the experience of what made Bradford City tick during the recent good times is understandably lacking.

Rhodes’ return has been vital in providing calm and experienced leadership during troubled times, with staff behind the scenes talking up the way the former chairman has empowered people and made them feel valued. At present, Rhodes is contracted only for the rest of this season, and there may be doubts over whether he would be willing to stay on. If the worst happens and Rhodes does leave, Rupp would do well to somehow attempt to persuade Baldwin to return.

The departure of Rahic was a source of great joy when it was confirmed in early December, and we saw the club embark on a welcome bounce of form, suggesting the dark clouds of his tenure had been lifted. But results have tailed off again. The team’s style has become too predictable. Expectations of January signings were raised too high with supporters, and the club was unable to live up to them. A £2 million deficit hangs over City, while Rupp – who was persuaded to invest into the club on the back of Rahic’s supposed acumen – plugs the gaps. Rupp’s commitment is clear, but you have to wonder if he has the appetite for this over the long-term.

We move on from Rahic, but as the club still struggles we mustn’t forget the destruction he caused, and the size of the task there remains in restoring Bradford City to what it was. The ship might no longer be leaking, but there’s plenty of water damage that threatens its ability to stay afloat.

It’s easy to push the blame onto others who are still at the club, key to the success of the survival mission. But it’s also unfair. Somehow, as a club and a community we have to come together and get through this difficult time. Because the next few months will go a long, long way to determining the long-term future of Bradford City.

If we can get over the line and still be a League One club next season, the rebuilding can truly gather pace from much stronger foundations. And only then can we truly restore Bradford City to the club we so deeply loved – before Edin Rahic did so much to ruin it.

Categories: Opinion

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34 replies

  1. A good timely rallying call, hopefully to help quell the dissenters that only see as far back as the last 45mins of a game.

  2. An excellent piece Jason, as ever. I think that the most telling comment is the fact that, upon Billy Clarke’s return, the only player still at the club is NKP. Success on the field comes from having a stable core of commited/talented players and gradual improvement of the squad. Wholesale change will never work. I believe that DH should be given the opportunity of shaping his own squad and this will not happen until the end of the season. He has proved that he can do it at his previous club and so let’s give him a chance. What’s the alternative? Sack him and enter again into the merry go round of appointing another reluctant manager?

  3. Good article as always why certain fans defended Rahic I will never know as soon as he uttered “you must take me seriously I know football” we were in trouble. Parkinson is no fool and sussed him out in one meeting. However if we can stay up we will recover the game on Saturday is everything, win and we can survive lose and it’s going to be very difficult.

  4. Great article. We need a time of stability going forward. You are right about changing the manager is not the answer. Hopkins like many other employed managers has flaws. The isolation of players out of favour, the constant tinkering of team selection, his questionable substitutions and his lack of culpability of responsibility when things go wrong are is main faults imo. Watching the second half against Plymouth brought me some hope that we might just get out of this mess. However, other teams around us are also picking up points.
    Going forward, I hope Rhodes stays on board for next season regardless of where we are. We definitely need that stability. Likely, we will need to rebuild the team next season. We will lose all our loan players and I would imagine the higher paid players will be off-loaded. It will be a testing time and that is where continuity his needed. I only hope the Hopkins recognises his flaws and show his metal to build a team to suit the way he wants to play. Only time will tell.

  5. Very good article again And this time I agree with your assessment. I will point out though that only 2 games a go you laid most of the blame at the players door and I was criticised for blaming Hopkins tactics. Only one game later and this article also questions Hopkins tactics :).

    For what it’s worth we deserved to win Saturday and it was very noticeable that Hopkin had attempted to change from the big boot nonsense of the previous game.

    • Hi Danny

      This isn’t really true though is it? In the Fleetwood report I wrote that Hopkin’s approach had been found out and he needs to find a new way, which is pretty much what I’ve written in this piece.

      I’ve been pretty consistent with my view 😉

      • Hi Jason.

        I state “most if the blame”. I pointed out that the keeper booting it long all game was by manager instruction whereas your emphasis was on the players. Hopkin clearly changed this tactic last Saturday and we were better as a result.

  6. Great article Jason – and I completely agree with getting behind Hopkin is the best chance for staying in league one
    For next season though – if Rupp stays, if Rhodes remains and if we stay up…any thoughts on trying to get Parky back? It’s a sh*t show at Bolton, he’s worked well with Rhodes before and it would be a near blank canvas on the playing side
    Perhaps it’s fanciful but you need to try look at the stars every now and again when you’re in the gutter

  7. This is a very sad and depressing story and I for one gave rahic the benefit of the doubt for too long. There was actually no doubt but I couldn’t see it. I fear for City in the future. Short and long term. I hope Hopkin succeeds but I really think we are favourites to go down. We desperately need a new owner because I cannot see that rupp will continue his funding. But who would buy us when they don’t own the ground. Rahic has so much to answer for and we rue the day he picked on us,
    Please let me be wrong.

  8. Anyone questioning DH needs their head looking at.

  9. Mainly agree on all but surely Nicky Law’s legs had gone and is settled at the right level now with Exeter in div 2 . Roman Vincelot was a super acquisition , a great warrior and captain but age I think had caught up with him. Opposition players were going round him at will in midfield and he became slow at the back. A shame but all players reach that point. Since V P he has only by and large warmed the benches at Crawley and Shrewsbury. Keeper Doyle was ok but far from being the best. He too has been on the bench until recently and did you see the goal he let in last week. ? Our problem has been not been getting the right replacements in. No excuses really with th budget that was made available. C T I D.

  10. Excellent analysis! The legacy of Edin!. Ironic that Stuart wins MoTM! Total ruination of a good family club! There is hope but seems to be receding.

  11. Jason, are fans expected to believe that Rupp is blameless???
    No pragmatism in your article about Rupp???
    Reality, this article sounds like wishful thinking on your part.

  12. Woody. Give it a rest. You are repeating yourself with every post. I have strongly hinted to you that people on the ground here in Bradford know more about what went on (Jason being a fine example) but maybe not in a position to put it the public domain. Have you ever stopped to consider Rupps position? He was conned into investing in something which is now worth less than he paid and he is having to prop it up financially. No doubt its not worked out as planned and costing him money, he probably feels a bit embarrased. He also clearly is not comfortable with the effect that the Rahic effect has had on our supporters and you have to give him credit for that. Unlike Rahic who told everybody if they didnt like his ways, they knew where the door is !!!!! So lets cut Rupp a bit of slack.
    Those who have met him say he is to be trusted with our club.

    • Mark, I don’t disagree with anything you say. However, it is delusional to think that Rupp sat back and had virtually no feedback or input in the decisions made by Rahic. What Jason is asking you to believe that Rahic made ALL the decisions and Rupp was oblivious to what was going on. Surely, that doesn’t sound realistic to you???

      • At no point have I said Rahic made ALL the decisions. Clearly he consulted with Rupp on matters like sacking Stuart McCall. But as I wrote back in November, Edin made sure that all the communications Stefan received came from him, in other words the reality Stefan was presented with was entirely shaped by Edin.

      • Jason you are using semantics. You have unequivocal stated in your article that City’s current mess is a “legacy” left by Rahic. Absolutely no mention of Rupp’s involvement in being a partner in creating this crisis situation.

  13. Great articlexas always Jason. I for one totaly believe we will stay up if we beat Walsall and Peterborough…and will be 18th on Monday 25th Feb at 10pm…once Shrewsbury draw !

  14. Woody
    Without stating the obvious, again, there are people here, Jason included, who know a lot more facts about what has happened between Rahic and Rupp. Rupp more or less let Rahic run (or ruin) things and Rahic took advantage of that trust and reliance. Certainly the details going back to Rupp were heavily edited particularly where finances were concerned. Rahic made sure he was the only one in Bradford talking to Rupp
    It took a group of fans who shall remain nameless and one fan in.particular to prove to Rupp what Rahic was actually doing. It took nearly a year and a trip to Munich to do this. So in essence these people know more than you in Canada, and more than the vast majority in Bradford. We should be grateful that they did what they did and accept that peoole like Jason know a lot more than they can.publ8sh.

    • Mark, I sincerely hope you and Jason are right. Like I’ve said before, we are likely to see how honourable Rupp is over the next six months.
      I do believe living 3,000 miles away likely allows me to have a different perspective but only time will tell if there is any validity to my skepticism.
      I agree that Hopkin should have the balance of the season and hopefully avoid relegation.

      • Feels like the comments section is being hijacked those lacking self restraint. Maybe WOAP you need to add a validation layer to the comments section to prevent it being devalued. Alternatively just delete comments from those who lack etiquette.

      • Surely we have already had the evidence that Stefan Rupp has been honourable in his conduct, firstly by paying the wages in November and then injecting further monies to cover trading losses. He could have limited his own exposure well before now. I have found him to be a decent, principled guy and said as much three months ago when i met him in Munich. Thus far everything he said then about remaining committed to the club has proved true. I do get the sense that some individuals are desperate to be contrarian but their cynicism and prejudice makes them blind to what is happening. Furthermore, wild allegations on the basis of supposition lack credibility.

  15. Jason, do you know more about Baldwin’s situation than you are letting on? Surely he wouldn’t consider leaving Burnley to return to Valley Parade?

    • Depends on what role Baldwin might return in surely? As CEO under Rupp for example may be not. But what other role would a man in Baldwin’s position be interested in?

  16. Not sure what you’re after Jason. Man City success on the field with accrington Stanley old fashioned values off it? Rahic goes – (a short period of time after we all danced at Fleetwood to his merry tune) under a heinous cloud and takes all of the blame for recruitment problems/financial problems/pitch problems/staff problems and us still being in the doldrums of league 1 despite his departure and Rupps significant backing of the squad and manager since.
    Hopkin indeed not blameless as you state, but still despite the mini resurgence directly in the wake of Edins departure we are perilously positioned and realistically I cannot see how we avoid the drop at this time, I don’t want us to go down.
    The pitch problem again can not be levelled at Rahic, level it at the pitch consultant who frequently applauded his own work via twitter videos. The electric bill increase due to lamps on the pitch is a price to pay for a good surface. Just what do you want? An old fashioned Wembley billiard style surface and no ongoing cost? Be realistic. This is an expensive business to be in, the rewards are fantastic if it goes well, if it doesn’t the costs are crippling as we know – again Julian is a steady hand, he has ridden the rollercoaster, and likely made mistakes on the way, 2 admins, many managers and no cash, AND he too was hoodwinked along with Mr Lawn by Rahic to sell the club to them in what has been a disastrous sale – albeit with promise of so much more.

    Applauding Abbott illness aside is also hard to swallow, Greg was just a pawn who the fans respected, but for him to stay amidst all that has been stated about Rahic seems unusual and questionable as to why he would remain when NO decisions he was making or ideas suggesting were taken on, frankly it just went wrong and Greg was in the middle of it and didn’t get himself out.

    Seems Parky was the only person on the planet who knew what was going to happen, when ultimately he had no reason to go – new owners, a successful run, fans onside, new cash for investment…but he still went.

    Stuart did everything he could for the club. He is one person who is without blame because he shielded the dressing room from Rahic more effectively than anyone else managed, and for that reason became a victim of the flawed regime.

    No ones mentioned The McElhone effect for a while, and I’m surprised that some of the almost ever presents this season such as o’brien And Payne are receiving such plaudits, players as good as they are should be dragging us up, and that’s simply not happened, the table does not lie, yes we’re a few wins off mid table but only if everyone else in the bottom half loses.

    I can’t see Rupp staying in league 2. The 2m deficit has no chance of being recouped. There are no starlets coming through, all we’re waiting on is getting lucky and more McBurnie money if he gets a move

    I’m a bit disillusioned and I want us to be Man City with Accrington’s values and a Wembley pitch but I can’t lay blame solely at Rahic’s door, it’s all gone wrong and the cycle of success has moved along and we will have to wait a while longer for it to come back.

    • I think you will find that if City has invested in the right technology i.e LED light rigs rather than HPS they would have made significant reductions in electricity costs with better results. Yes the capital costs would be more but the payback is short term when running costs are factoured in. Intrigued to know what work was actually done to the pitch and what the cost for this was?

  17. Great article and I’m ashamed to say whilst we have ST’s we no longer attend. We went to the Ice Hockey on Saturday and really enjoyed the game full of honesty, endeavour, fighting and excitement.My boys loved it. It will be hard to not renew the ST but I’m genuinely unsure whether my boys would go again. A bit of a conundrum really

  18. Just a note to readers to say that I’ve taken steps to ban comments from Woody Canuck.

    I’m very reluctant to have had to have done this, but he’s had countless warnings. I’ve received a lot of complaints by email, Facebook, on the comments here and even in person today about his conduct. He is unfortunately spoiling the site for everyone else.

    I’ve no issue with anyone having a counter viewpoint, but enough is enough.

  19. Just to be clear, his opinions do not reflect the same as the rest of us in Canada 😉

    I follow WOAP to stay informed. I’m in no position to do anything else from this far out.

  20. Hi Jason
    It’s been a while since I posted (just busy with work and also a bit lazy) but I always read the articles as soon as they come out.
    I was home over Christmas and went to all 4 matches (I still feel if we were given the goal at Sunderland we could have gone on and won that match) and will be home at Easter for all the matches from Coventry away until end of the season.
    I say this only to put into context that watching on iFollow cannot compare in anyway to actually being at the match and/or at VP speaking to those closely involved with the club to really know and understand what’s happening at City.
    What you, Mark Neale, John Dewhirst, Mark Harrison, Dave Pembleton (apologies to others not listed), do for the Club and us fans is greatly appreciated and without question we all know you all always have the best interests of our Club at heart.
    This is why us exiles rely on you all so much! We’re not there week in week out but you all are.
    The amount of time (unpaid) and energy you all spend to keep us all informed and/or organise events to raise awareness and funds is just amazing. Just reading what Mark wrote about someone going to Munich to see Rupp because of what Rahic was doing is incredible (I’d love to hear all of this story and hopefully Mark will be able to share more).
    Therefore, it sadness me when people directly or indirectly question your integrity or doubt your sincerity in what you pass on to us.
    In this case, you reported on a 10 min conversation with Hopkins on how he wanted the players to play and what his tactics were. You didn’t have to tell us that but you did and it gave us all a great insight into Hopkins mind. You didn’t do anything apart from report on the conversation, yet somehow it became your ‘fault’ for City playing the long-ball or Hopkin’s not telling players to play to his tactics.
    Whilst I’m generally against people being banned for speaking their mind I can understand why WoodyCanuck was. I think there is a difference between healthy debate and just being argumentative and maybe there are other and better suited forums for his comments rather than WOAP. I see from reading the City T&A comments each day that WoodyCanuck is quite vocal there.
    Anyway, this is just my 2p’s worth and I’m heading to bed now as it’s gone past midnight here and I’m up again in a few hours (6.30am my time) to watch Walsall away on iFollow.
    Come on City, 3 points please – we can do it.

  21. Sad but true reading all that Jason.I understand we may be on course for nearer £3 million losses in this year to June 2019.At least a million and a half to June 2018.That is likely to continue whether we are in L1 or L2 with expensive contract players sat doing nothing not wanted here or indeed anywhere.I cannot feel Rupp is comfortable with the little interest he holds in football.Looking pretty bleak just now.

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