Open dialogue

Photographer Alex Dodd/CameraSport

By Jason McKeown

On Tuesday 21 May, Bradford City fans media groups were invited to have a meeting with representatives from the club.

The Media and PR Manager, Ryan Sparks, and Commercial Manager, Mick Shackleton, met with myself and Tim Penfold (WOAP), Mike Harrison (City Gent), John Dewhirst (Bantams Past), Aaron Bower (Bantams Heritage) and Rod Lawson (Bantams Talk). Dom Newton-Collinge and Tom Fletcher (Bantams Banter), plus Saiful Khan and Zeeshaan Tariq (BantamsVlogs) were also invited but were unable to make it. There are plans to turn these into regular monthly meetings. So, hopefully, they can all make the next meeting.

What worked well about the meeting was there was no set agenda for what we’d discuss. It was not about the club trying to ram a PR message down our throats, but an opportunity for us to dictate the conversation by asking the questions we feel fans are looking for the answers to. Naturally, some of the responses contained bits that were off the record and can’t be repeated here. There is nothing sinister and we don’t know anything ground-breaking. A lot of it is simply down to the fact the club want to manage the timing and messaging of their own announcements.

The first talking point of the night was communication and the lack of it from Valley Parade right now. The summer can always be a frustrating affair as a football fan. You’re always waiting for news of new signings, there have been no details about the kit, and the departure of Andy Todd as assistant manager has fuelled rumours the club is experiencing financial difficulties.

Myself and Rod were especially vocal in getting across our criticisms of the lack of communication, which I think was taken on board. In defence of the club, Ryan explained there will be several key announcements over the next few weeks (including the kit, pre-season friendlies and new signings). He also stressed this is still relatively early in the close season, and that the domestic football season isn’t even over yet. Gary Bowyer is on holiday. Most players are also away too.

As for Todd, it was explained that his exit was a mutual decision rather than cost-cutting, with Todd having personal reasons. Financially, the club could have made him a significantly better offer than the package he was on, to try to keep him, but decided against it. Bowyer is back from holiday next week and is going to be looking at his backroom staff then.

On the financial side, Ryan confirmed Bradford City operated with a playing budget of £4.1 million over the 2018/19 season, which ended up being the fifth highest in League One. A large proportion of the 16 players under contract will experience a contractual wage decrease because of relegation, but no one has a relegation release clause.

Stefan Rupp was last week over in West Yorkshire to discuss next season’s plans, and has agreed a player budget of £2.6 million. However, as it stands the 16 in-contract players account for £1.6 million of that budget. We can expect more outgoings to ease this wage commitment, but patience is key. Players are away on holiday and not exactly in a hurry to sort out their futures (as is standard across the football industry). Clearly moving on players is vital, otherwise Bowyer effectively has only £1 million left of his budget to sign new players. Season ticket sales for 2019/20 amounted to £1.6 million revenue.

We asked how competitive a £2.6 million budget would be in League Two, and the feeling within the club is that it should allow City to push for promotion. However, that will only be the case if Bowyer is in a position where he can recruit well. My personal view is we might need a couple of years to climb out of League Two. It’s unrealistic to expect all 16 players to leave this summer. In fact, Ryan made the point that Bowyer will view some of them as part of his plans for next season.

Stefan Rupp has injected a further £1.2 million to help the club’s debts. And if various sell-ons of previous transfer deals come off, the club’s finances will be stronger. That includes a potential promotion bonus on the Charlie Wyke transfer, if Sunderland win the play off final this weekend. The big one is Oli McBurnie, which the club retain a 15% sell-on fee for. Ryan said he has seen the paperwork that confirms the sell-on fee exists, despite the Sun’s Alan Nixon recently claiming otherwise. Any McBurnie windfall will help to plug the debts.

That brought us onto talking about Stefan, and his own commitment to the club. Stefan has every confidence in Julian Rhodes’ ability and acumen to get City back on an even keel. Ryan stated that Julian won’t leave the club until it is in a break even position. No one seems to be under any illusion over how tricky this will be – revenue takes a further hit from relegation, as City’s share of the Football League central pot of money goes down by £400k through being a League Two club. If McBurnie isn’t sold by Swansea, Rupp is committed to covering the remaining debts.

I asked how involved and interested Rupp really is. Ryan said that the City owner speaks to Rhodes almost every day, and follows results keenly from afar. He has his life in Germany and clearly isn’t about to up sticks to Bradford, but is involved with decision making.

The difficulties left behind by Edin Rahic are still clearly causing issues. Last summer Stefan and Edin had agreed a £3 million playing budget, and Stefan was kept in the dark about the £1.1 million overspend. The truth only arose in November after Rhodes’ return. There are other off the field issues caused by Edin still to be repaired.

We fed back about the loss of Bradford City’s identity and culture felt by many fans. And, without being explicit, Ryan and Mick talked about the restrictions they experienced working for Edin, and the consequences of certain decisions the former chairman took. Some of those actions have damaged that identity and the closeness many fans felt towards the club. It is going to take time to recover from this.

The identity problem of course includes the poor character of the players last season. The club are acutely aware of the widening gap between players and fans, and through social media have plans to address the problem.

Ryan painted an interesting picture of the contrast between some of the players signed last summer and the recent arrival of central defender Ben Richards-Everton. Whereas a year ago some new players signed their contract before dashing off in their car to leave Valley Parade as quickly as they could, Richards-Everton brought his family along when signing the deal. And he then spent a large amount of time standing on the Valley Parade pitch with his loved ones, taking it all in. He was in no rush to leave.

Richards-Everton is really excited to play for the club and considers it a big deal to be a Bradford City player. This is not the attitude many of last season’s signings displayed.

On other players, we asked about the latest on Tyrell Robinson and Jake Reeves. The police is still working through the case on Robinson, and there is no timeframe for how long it might take. There is every chance the situation could rumble on well into next season. The situation with Reeves is one we can’t go into publicly right now, but his fitness is progressing and the hope is he will be back for pre-season.

Bowyer has a lot of time for Reeves, and even got him involved at the end of the season by asking him to go and scout Scunthorpe United for him, prior to City’s trip to Glanford Park.

The aim is to meet with the club once a month for similar meetings. It allows us to ask questions and to also provide our feedback. It’s not a closed shop by any means, and if you would be interested in attending a future meeting get in touch. The reason that fans media representatives have been invited is simply because we have platforms that allow us to share the output with more fans.

The club are also holding three mini fans forums over the summer. And there are plans to have some sort of evening celebrating the heritage of Bradford City during July, with ex-players attending.

From chatting to others after the meeting, I think the key word is patience. Most of us supporters understand and accept the club is not in the best of shape right now, and that it’s still a huge job to fix it. But it is encouraging to hear that people working for the club recognise this too and are working to turn things around.

Ryan could have tried a PR approach of trying to convince us everything is rosy. He didn’t. It felt like he and Mick were being honest and open with us. As ever, time will tell.

It is going to be a long summer, and we probably won’t have a clear picture about what next season will look like until the middle of pre-season. Whether we will make lots of exciting new signings and push for promotion next season remains to be seen. Yet this is a time for realism. For truly rebuilding the club from the mess Edin Rahic has caused. Hopefully, the sun will be shining on Bradford City again very soon. But it is going to take time.


Summer break

At WOAP we’re taking a break for the summer to concentrate on other things, namely family. We’ll be back towards the end of June to announce the 100 Most Popular Bradford City Players Of All Time. Expect coverage of the pre-season friendlies.

In the meantime, we’re delighted to be appearing at Bradford Literature Festival on Sunday 7 July. Please join me for a Q&A with Gary Jones, James Mason and John Dewhirst about the culture of Bradford City and what makes us special. Tickets are available from here.

(Oh and if you miss us over the summer, copies of Who We Are are not quite sold out yet – go here.)

Categories: Opinion


22 replies

  1. Thanks for the update Jason. I think the club have to be as transparent as they can be so as fans we understand why it is the way it is.

    These forums can only benefit that channel of communication out into the wider fanbase.

    Let’s hope it’s just a blip and we will be on the rise again soon.

  2. Good read about what’s going on behind the scenes and for us special fans to understand the realism of building the club back up which will take time no quick fix here

  3. Excellent update, and the Club seem to know what needs fixing, it won’t happen overnight, so hope they are given to to sort it out.

    Loved the comments about Ben Richards-Everton, hope any further signings have the same attitude.

  4. Thank you for a honest and frank update. Many fans crave for information like this as we are all very passionate about our club, 13,500 ticket sales says it!

  5. Fantastic update, Jason. And one that was much needed. It certainly seems like the club is on its way back to reengaging with its biggest asset – the fans. Not just these forums but small steps such as reintroducing a family section (which was bizarrely unpopular with a selection of supporters on social media).

    Its good to have Rupp’s commitment clarified and certain underlying issues such as McBurnie, Robinson & Reeves expanded on. I’m glad to hear that the latter is getting back involved and that Bowyer is working with him with a view to some involvement in pre-season because he has ability.

    Given that some of the players from last season are likely to be involved next season, hopefully if they can be surrounded by players with the attitude that Richards-Everton seems to have shown then we can strike the right balance and make a good go of it next season.

  6. Jason, thank you for a very informative financial update of the Club. At your next meeting it would be interesting to know how much debt the Club is carrying into next season. With the financial year ending June 30, that info should be readily available.
    Nice to see the payroll for the current 16 player squad is manageable at an average of £100k per player. Hopefully, a lot of these players will move on to greener pastures in the summer.

    • 4.1million 1.1million over budget on there agreed 3mill budget.
      Just goes to show Rahic was about as much use as chocolate firegaurd running the club.
      Thank goodness all this came to light or I dread to think what the consequences would have been long term for the club.
      Im sure The contracted players agents are making moves to get there player a move… I’d expect mutual terminations of there contracts should some find another club.

  7. Interesting and positive to see a lot of openness there. Surprised you’ve been given such an explicit insight into the next season remaining player budget, which you’d think would be commercially sensitive at this stage when they’re competing for players. Presumably that will change as some remaining players move on, one way or another.

    I’ve always had my fingers crossed for Jake Reeves. I thought his initial performances looked really strong before his groin injury slowed and stopped him. If he can still remember how to kick a ball, he could yet play a big role next season.

    Tyrell Robinson was also a loss last season. Justice has to be done, but you have to wish the wheels of justice turned more quickly, for all concerned.

  8. Feeling a lot more positive now from the article, sounds like we are in a no lose situation from the contracted players as it should be due to results, and the door is there to rip up contracts to ease the pain for both parties, or knuckle down and embrace the club & fans, it’s going to be hard work, so if you are shy move on for the love of the club……

  9. Jason thank you and to all the other forums that attended on our behalf.
    A nice update and a corner turned. We have turned into a difficult street mind. We will be a big scalp next season and your comment about being in L2 could be very true dependant on player recruitment.

    Anyway the only way is up! CTID!!

  10. Another great article just the one thing troubles me in all these articles is the blame always with regards to RAHIC it’s getting a bit like brexit yes I understand he was at fault but I have stated before on here just cannot accept RUPP was so out of touch you said he looked at results from afar well was he happy with results last season ?.
    I wish everybody at the club the best for the next season and we do need to move on from RAHIC likewise some supporters have never forgiven GR but it’s easy to blame human nature I guess for me GR gave us a great deal and a lot of good times.
    I back this sort of involvement from the club but we have to move forward and it’s not going to be easy or a quick fix it will be uncomfortable next season at times other clubs will be out to beat us big club,big ground,big crowd etc,some of these teams and there supporters are going to love coming to VP.

    • Although Rahic must be despatched to the past at some point, the effect of his time at still with us and eill be for some time. We have to accept that as moving on is difficult. Such is the mess we remain in. Thats fact.
      The club to some extent are caught between a rock.and.a hard place. too much and the whole extent of everything will frighten everybody. Tellus too.little and they are accused of hiding things.

    • Such was the nature of Rahic’s approaching to running – or rather, controlling – the club that it is impossible to separate the man from the chronic failings and poor decisions that were made… Although he has now nothing more to do with BCAFC it doesn’t mean that his mistakes can be rectified overnight. The reason the club is in the current situation is principally a consequence of the player recruitment, the contracts of employment and the way the club was managed financially whilst Rahic was at the helm. Furthermore he also had a toxic impact on the morale of staff at Valley Parade. No-one is seeking to make him a scapegoat as an excuse or a means to temper future expectations but the reality is that Rahic screwed up big style and it is pretty difficult to explain how we got into this mess without recognising his part in it.

      Stefan Rupp is on record that he regrets having allowed ER the freedom of action and the failing at BCAFC was ultimately that of corporate governance. However until October last year Rahic was able to provide plausible reasons for what was going wrong whilst claiming that many supporters were fickle and racist. The manner in which a lot of the criticism of Rahic was framed on social media (including the personal abuse) was arguably counterproductive and actually made it more difficult to convince SR of the problem. Rahic was not simply a megalomaniac but a manipulative psychopath and sadly will not be forgotten.

  11. Plenty of quality/desire on show in all the League Two play off Semi Final legs. The Club is going to have to get a lot right on and off the pitch next season if we are to compete

  12. Thank you for sharing what you can with us Jason, I’m hoping for an encouraging summer and pre season not expecting it.

    I hope you enjoy your well deserved summer break with your family.

  13. PR is key.
    Why didn’t the club state that Andy Todd has family elsewhere in the country and has decided to look for work closer to home?
    Why don’t the club state at the time that Reeves improving (physically and mentally) and is playing an active role in scouting opponents?
    The clips that randomly went out last night of Drury and Devine training together are great but shouldn’t the official site be posting these?They show intelligent coaching, staff working in the holiday period and allow fans to engage with staff as individuals. I think fans are ever more interested in tactics and performance now (see The Times – game dissected analysis) A really quick article with Drury explaining what was happening in the clip and why would raise his profile further.

    • I get the impression that the club are now starting on a new era of ‘glasnost’ following the Rahic era. It’ll take time but forums like the one Jason attended is a good start. It’s good to see they’re not sugar coating some of the more unpalatable aspects of our situation.
      I know it’s too late for the upcoming season’s kit, but if the club really want to build fan engagement why not let us design and select the 2020/21 kit?
      They could run a competition where fans can enter their designs for the home, away and third kit. Then Gary, Stephan & Julian can select their favorite top 10 and fans can vote online for the three that will grace the backs of the players.
      Last year’s home kit was horrible. At least this way the fans have a say in how the kit will look rather than waiting for a big reveal, which time and again over the years has been a huge disappointment.

      • The with the lower division clubs, the amount of fabric needed for ‘ad hoc’ kit design and the costs do.not stack.up

        These ‘fans’ competitions have bèen tried before, with limited success.
        We end up choosing from.a template set the manufacturers

        We have Avec which are related to Nike but the kit has to their design packages with a mix of colours. Obviously each season reduces the options..At the end of.the day it relates to how many shirts will be sold

  14. Thanks for the update.
    Thanks for all your coverage this season.
    Thanks for helping get rid of Rahic.

    Hopefully next season will give us something to cheer about, but how much would I love to know the list of those contracted players, who have been told by Bowyer that they have no future at the club.

  15. Great article got some great insight on things at the club but one thing that I was wondering was why can’t Robinson play as innocent until proven guilty him and a fit scannell would rip league 2 to bits on what I saw in the play off final yesterday hoping a o Connor and wright go though

  16. Went with a friend awhile ago to watch Halifax vTranmere final game of the season and Tranmere secured play off position with a two nil win with a goal from centre forward and a city target (Cook) they went on to win at Wembley promoted back to the football league and now bypassing us into league one.
    I remember talking to a couple of there supporters that day and there honesty over what had happened to them struck a chord with me how they accepted that they are very close to some very cash rich football clubs and seemed really glad to have survived there troubles yes they had persons to blame but like they said we are where we are and just have to get on with it when I saw they had won the other day I felt glad for them two blokes and thought if they can do it so can we.

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