The Bradford City ambition debate is the result of a lack of vision

Image by John Dewhirst (copyright Bradford City)

By John Dewhirst

Football has probably done more than the business press to make people familiar with insolvency processes and the circumstances of financial crises. The manner in which they are reported is also radically different from previous times, reflecting the extent to which these are now commonplace episodes and a source of drama.

The coverage of Sky TV in the countdown to EFL deadlines for Bury and Bolton Wanderers was tasteless to say the least and reveals an alarming disconnect between the tragedy of failure and the somewhat blasé attitude towards such crises. It’s become the satellite TV equivalent of Houdini entertainment.

Sadly Bury FC is no more, but true to the regular script Bolton were rescued in a last minute deal. Even then it was reported that a buyer was ready to invest in Bury, the obstacle being the deadline and not the intent.

What then is the Houdini magic of football rescue? The answer quite simply is that there is seemingly no shortage of people wanting to ‘invest’ their money. The football industry continues to attract more money despite every indicator cautioning otherwise. It remains an ever inflating bubble that looks like it will never burst and not surprisingly it gives football clubs an air of invincibility; whilst financial failure is common, rarely does it become a terminal event and Bury FC was the first club since 1992 to drop out of the Football League mid-season.

Supporters could be forgiven the thought that the terminal implications of insolvency are oft mentioned but rarely happen and miraculously, yesterday’s problems can be made to vanish. In which case what’s the problem with failure and getting caught short?

During the last twenty five years or so there has been a change in attitude and response towards business failure on the part of lenders, investors and company managers. Driven by change in insolvency legislation, it has been described as a rescue culture.

Whereas previously business failure was more than likely to be a terminal event, there has become an increasing number of options to rescue a business through processes such as administration, the emergence of specialist funding as well as specialist advisers. Typically, this has involved responding to a situation of crisis through the restructuring of operations, balance sheets and management teams that has allowed a business to effect a turnaround.

Soccer has benefited from this culture which coincidentally emerged roughly at the same time that the current football industry bubble started to inflate exponentially. In turn, football and its bubble economics has been a beneficiary of the rescue culture.

Whereas in the 1970s and prior, directors at Bradford City and Bradford Park Avenue wrestled with the moral implications of insolvency, nowadays it is more the case that today’s bad news becomes tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapper. (Not strictly so because newsprint is no longer used for takeaway food wraps but hopefully the point is made.) There has also been a change in attitude towards personal debt and insolvency – neither does individual bankruptcy bring with it the shame and opprobrium that used to be associated with it.

The rescue culture has played its part in reducing the incidence of company liquidations and preventing the loss of jobs. (NB It’s probably also been one of the causes of lower productivity in the UK, but that is another debate.) Yet whilst businesses have been rescued, not all have necessarily been transformed. A failing business can be rescued from impending insolvency by the injection of new money or reduction in liabilities but that does not always solve the reasons why that business got into trouble in the first place.

In other words, Bolton Wanderers might well have been rescued but that doesn’t mean it will be transformed and become profitable. What has happened at Bolton is that immediate insolvency has been averted but the club’s problems will not necessarily have gone away. Company rescues are not about throwing fairy dust at a situation but are essentially about buying time for a business to sort itself out, if not to kick the can down the road.

In the aftermath of the last recession there were numerous companies that were rescued but which subsequently became to all intents and purposes, zombies. They were burdened by new debt and historic liabilities not all of which disappeared and these then dominated their affairs.

Image by John Dewhirst

If you want an example of a zombie business, look no further than Bradford Bulls. The club has another Grand Slam reputation: administration in 2012, 2014 and 2016 followed by liquidation in 2017. Taking into account the liquidation of the original Bradford Northern RLFC in 1964, it represents quite a record for professional rugby in Bradford. I went to Odsal to witness the last game and it was patently obvious that the club has not had two sticks to rub together for a long time and the aftermath of serial financial crises is there for all to see.

Little wonder that the club cannot afford to stay at Odsal. What it can afford to do is a different matter entirely but it is fanciful to believe that it can fund a new stadium. Nor could it present itself as an attractive tenant at Valley Parade.

Wandering around Odsal I was reminded of Bradford football in the 1970s when City, Avenue and Northern were all on their knees. The big difference between Bradford Bulls and the likes of Bury or Bolton Wanderers is that Rugby League has been bypassed by football capitalists and no bubble conditions exist, as was the case in the 1970s and 1980s. The sport has been on a downward trajectory for the past decade and so when a club like the Bulls goes bust, few people are likely to rush to its rescue.

Attendances at Odsal have been less than half those at Valley Parade although interestingly, the crowd against Sheffield was still in excess of those at other games in Huddersfield and Salford the same day. Nevertheless, with no assets, a tarnished brand and the declining popularity of RL, the Bulls will likely remain a zombie operation until and unless a benefactor with more money than sense can be found.

Bradford City has not been unaffected by the financial crises of the previous decade which remained a big distraction long after rescues were concluded. The lease liabilities at Valley Parade are testament to this and they have dominated the club’s budgeting since 2003. This commitment alone has been an obstacle and a constraint.

It therefore becomes somewhat fatuous for some individuals to complain that the club has no ambition because it is akin to blaming a man with a broken leg that he’s not running fast enough. To make matters worse, in the current circumstances the club is not profitable and trading losses are another factor in the budgeting – in other words, the man with the broken leg has got other ailments.

There is a whole host of gripes about the way that Bradford City is being run and I am sure that we could all contribute to the list. However to suggest that collectively they amount to a ‘lack of ambition’ or to imply that they could be fixed overnight is nonsense. Besides, if you list them all you get into the real world challenge of prioritising.

Neither does it make sense to put them into the same category as frustration with the manager’s tactics. And with regards to Gary Bowyer, let’s not lose sight of the fact that our manager was a popular appointment, generally considered capable of a rebuilding programme to provide exactly the kind of longer-term development and ambition that we all crave.

‘Lack of ambition’ has become the ultimate indictment about the way the club is run but we have yet to see the practical suggestions for how all the nefarious issues can be remedied, by when, at what cost or by whom. It feels like a marital breakdown, an outpouring of all the frustrations and grudges of the past but the criticisms would be far healthier if the complaints could be put into some sort of context and solutions offered to those in charge at Valley Parade.

Maybe the club should actively encourage such feedback. Whether there would be a consensus on how to go about mending Bradford City AFC is anyone’s guess. In the cold light of day it comes down to League position.

Bury was ‘an ambitious club’ that overreached itself, falling spectacularly to earth and I doubt very much that anyone anticipated the consequences and the possibility of a terminal outcome. That sort of ‘ambition’ without evaluation of risk is irresponsible and to assume that there are no consequences of failure is plain stupid.

Is a gambler an ambitious man or just a plain gambler? And is it a coincidence that gambling in the boardroom is mirrored by the gambling virus in football generally? I know that it’s become the latest form of virtue signalling to declare one’s ambition for the club but I think we need to get real and recognise that our man in the race needs a health check before we expect him to sprint to become a gold medal champion.

In my opinion it’s not ambition that is lacking at Valley Parade, it is vision. Everyone at the club wants promotion and Bradford City AFC needs it. Do Julian Rhodes or other board members really think otherwise? On his part, Stefan Rupp knows that promotion is vital for him to realise value from his investment. The short-term ambition or rather, target is unambiguous.

The frustration at this stage is more to do with how and when that target can be achieved, an issue that has more to do with tactics (literally) than strategy. Neither would anyone at Valley Parade be averse to getting promoted to the Championship. Hence when I hear people say that there is an ambition gap at Bradford City, I interpret it as the age old gripe that the directors are not digging deep enough into their pockets in addition to funding the losses. (Ironically when directors at Valley Parade have previously splashed the cash it has not always been successful and there has been a track record of ineffective signings.)

The siren call for new players, a new manager and new facilities on social media is like the wailing of a toddler at a supermarket checkout wanting everything and wanting it now. Social media has become part of the problem with attention seeking experts creating noise and encouraging the detachment from reality with simplistic and emotive tweets.

The apparent resentment expressed online about old people, young people, the bantams family and others who have followed the club through lean years has become like a witch hunt. Certain people are blaming ‘lack of ambition’ on those who sit alongside them in the stands instead of recognising the inheritance at Valley Parade, the legacy of all yesterday’s failings and existing financial commitments as well as the whole Bradford factor.

However I don’t think that the club has helped itself and whilst there have been massive, constructive changes behind the scenes at Valley Parade it needs visible leadership to communicate not only the reality of the situation but the vision for the future, crucially to manage expectations and get everyone behind the club instead of focusing on faults.

As regards the manager’s tactics, yes that is a pressing concern but it’s not to be confused with the vision or strategic direction of BCAFC which is a distinct discussion. The ‘ambition’ debate gets louder when the team loses but strategy is about the bigger picture and doesn’t get reset after every defeat.

Bury FC is a warning to English football that clubs are not immortal and do not have a divine right to existence. One day the bubble will burst and when the tide goes out we will see who is wearing shorts.

To see the pitiful state of Bradford Bulls was depressing and a salutary reminder of what things used to be like before football finances were overtaken by insanity. You cannot defy financial gravity indefinitely and nor can you take it for granted that a benefactor will come to the rescue. We need to be careful about what we wish for.

John Dewhirst is author of ROOM AT THE TOP and LIFE AT THE TOP (pub BANTAMSPAST, 2016) which tell the story of the origins and early history of professional football in Bradford. [Tweets: @jpdewhirst]

Categories: Opinion

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21 replies

  1. Superb dissection of our current position( and that of football clubs as a whole). Much appreciated, John. Plenty to ponder!

  2. The moaning and groaning seems to come from the people who have joined the ranks of supporters in the last 15 years,the ones who have never had to dip their hands in there pockets to help the club servive ie Messrs tordoff and Higingbothoms days
    .I hope for their sake and BCAFC those days don’t come back.

  3. Another superb dissection of life and sport we should all be wary of our club overspending on the false promises of promotion. The unpopular opinion that this season is a consolidation one is probably going to happen and then once all the higher earners have gone we should be able to make progress. First and foremost we should look to keep our club. At the moment let’s see where we are after 10 games, that’s normally a benchmark let’s show some patience

  4. An excellent, thought provoking article. Last December, the T&A had an article with the heading “City’s Future Looks Bright.” The fans, lead by the media are so ill informed. Sad to say but City appear to be going down the same path that Avenue and Northern have taken.
    In the short term, fans should forget ambition and focus on survival. Rupp and Rhodes should be far more visible and transparent. Talking about transparency, what is the current status of City’s debt and how committed in the long term is Rupp to owning and rebuilding the club?
    Rupp’s efforts to stabilize the current management and his equity in the Club is fine. However, fans don’t just want to survive, they also want to see the Club flourish “within their financial means.”
    In summary, what are Rupp’s short and long term plans for City??

    • “However, fans don’t just want to survive, they also want to see the Club flourish “within their financial means.”
      The trouble is Phil, how can we flourish within our financial means when clubs around us are recklessly gambling to flourish ahead of us?
      Football is an arms race and if we’re to be realistic, if we balance the books each season then at best we’re never going to be more that a third tier club based on our income streams.
      If all clubs were to ‘live within their financial means’ then it would probably mean we could progress a little further because it would be a more level playing field. But the problem is, fans want success and owners gamble to deliver that. This in turn leads to the situation we have now where several clubs are one payment away from bankruptcy.
      Fans see other clubs doing well and think ‘why aren’t we doing that’. But they sometimes fail to see how that success is being funded and what will happen to those clubs when the money stops being pumped in and it’s expected to stand on it’s own two feet.
      The last few weeks of the prolonged demise of Bury and what’s happened at Bolton has made me reset my expectations for this season. I’d rather we were financially well run and finish mid-table than gamble for promotion and ultimately lose it all.

      • In general, football clubs are owned by businessmen who’s focus is on making money. The EFL works for the owners and ensures that there are enough loopholes in their rules and regulations to allow for irresponsible gambling in communities which they do not live. The modern day owner of League One and Two clubs in particular, are small time speculators and in most part should not be characterized has being generous benefactors. Those days are long gone.

  5. Eminently sensible article which puts the current debate with regard to “ambition” in its proper historical context. it is very easy to forget that we are still hamstrung by the crass financial decisions made twenty years ago never mind the Rahic debacle. That said there are reasonably solid foundations to build on if we all keep our nerve. A stadium and fan base which as a child of the seventies i would not have believed possible and largely debt free. The clamour for instant results is understandable but it is naive to suggest that we should automatically bounce back. It takes time to turn round any business sustainably. Football is no different. Lets not scapegoat GB for the sins of the past.

    • Paul, I’m questioning your claim that the club is “largely debt free.” That claim looks very dubious to me because it is based on assumptions and not fact. There has been no official announcement that the promised deficit pay off for last season has actually happened.
      At the end of last season City’s gross debt was at least £5 million. I seriously doubt the club is worth that much. In fact, is the Club even worth £3 million in it’s current state?

  6. John, you are well connected at the club, is there a good reason why the club publishes the bare minimum of accounts each year? The lack of communication from those in charge is staggering.

    Does the club have a vision? A plan? Wanting promotion is an aim, not a plan.

    How can we have confidence in a manager who is appearing increasingly lost and whose team selection, tactics and public comments recently are baffling when we have no idea what the owner and Rhodes plan to do to get us to a level we ought to be at?

    I recently wrote to the owner and chief executive regarding the potential for a new stadium, but unsurprisingly i have not had the courtesy of a response.

    This article seems to say “weve always been shit, dont expect us to stop being shit anytime soon, and being shit is better than going bust”.

    Be careful what you wish for? The idea that there is the Rhodes way or financial oblivion is simplistic and patronising, but all too familiar.

    • You appear to have ably illustrated one of JDs contentions. You can pick fault but offer no solutions. The Rhodes/Lawn initiative provided on the field success coupled with financial stability of it. In driving that strategy they were literally breaking new ground and providing an alternative to the inherent risks excessive of deficit budgeting. Whats your magic bullet? The model is not perfect and you are right that PR could be better and there could be discussion around pricing otherwise it is clearly a question of getting the right people in and giving them time to make a difference.

      • With respect Paul, I’m not in a position to offer solutions other than relating to town planning being that is my area of expertise, but as a lifelong fan and season ticket holder I’m simply expressing my opinion, nothing more nothing less. The inability to offer a solution should not preclude a stakeholder from offering their observations in my view.

  7. Leon,

    I’m not connected with the club and have no involvement. This is written entirely from a private capacity. However I do feel qualified to comment, firstly on the basis of having followed the club for so long and being familiar with its history. Secondly, because I make my living working with businesses that have problematic balance sheets, I believe I have a good sense of the issues at VP. If you find this patronising then you’d best ignore my feedback.

    As regards abbreviated accounts, the practice at BCAFC had been adopted long before the last takeover. I don’t necessarily agree with it but it’s perfectly legal and I can understand good reasons on both sides of the argument. From a professional perspective I tend to attach less significance to published financial statements, principally because they are lag indicators and there is always scope to be creative. I doubt very much that intimacy with the balance sheet will change the conclusions about BCAFC or provide fresh insight into what is a relatively uncomplicated state of affairs.

    Your own mind seems made up and you appear to reject reasons offered for the state of the club. I share your frustrations like everyone else and I am not trying to make excuses for those in charge. With all due respect I don’t think that a new stadium is uppermost in the minds of those at VP but that is no reason for lack of courtesy to not reply.

    The following is what I see as the crux of the situation…

    Lower division clubs – and particularly those that do not own their own ground have a value. We need not speculate on what BCAFC might be worth, short of highlighting the fact that the club’s value is far less than the aggregate of what our owner has spent during the process of (a) buying it and (b) funding its losses. The net difference is his exposure or what might be described as his goodwill. In all probability that would have to be written off if the club was sold unless a new buyer was particularly generous.

    In the current circumstances that goodwill is tantamount to charity and the million pound question is how generous our owner wants to be, mindful that the opportunity cost of his goodwill is his family’s inheritance. That is the cold calculation. Today’s debate about ‘ambition’ is no different to that of prior decades, the difference is one of magnitude but essentially it comes down to demanding those in control of the club spend more money. It means either spending THEIR money or asking them to secure new loans.

    A new buyer could be found who might be prepared to pay for that goodwill but he faces the same fundamental question of how or indeed whether he could ever get his money back.

    In the football casino however there is a potential opportunity and that comes from chasing Premier League glory. Unfortunately with every passing year it becomes more difficult and more expensive to bridge the gap. The decision is stark and the implications are obvious. To stand still is to court dissatisfaction among those who claim the club is not ambitious but to take the big gamble risks the ruin of the club.

    The big question is what kind of owner we could expect if our current owner was to divest. Would it be a local businessman with local loyalties or would it be someone with no emotional interest in Bradford City AFC, someone who sees the club solely as a means to participate in the casino. It’s back to the same situation in 2016 when the club was last sold and we can’t afford there to be another mistake. Latterly there have been growing concerns that football is attracting the interest of people looking to launder money. So what chance next time we get a sympathetic, ethical owner or a complete xxxx? Another Edin Rahic perhaps?

    For the club’s critics like yourself there appear to be two constructive options. The first is to find someone with funds sufficient to convince our current owner to sell. The second is to give Julian Rhodes a call and sit down with him to explain how he should run the club and pick the team. Give him a fully costed plan but share it with the rest of us for good measure. In all seriousness I encourage you to knock on his door and let him offer you a response – I am not his spokesman.

    The reality is that the club’s circumstances will dictate what can be achieved in the future. This is not about accepting mediocrity and nor is it about tugging the forelock as one ludicrous tweet has suggested. For sure, let’s dream but we should not deceive ourselves or encourage the idea that the legacy of the past can be set aside so easily. However as I have said in my article I strongly believe that the club needs to define and communicate a vision. If anyone wanted a manifesto of what that should incorporate they need do more than read Jason’s last book.

    In prior times we have demanded that the club is run professionally and in accordance with good business practice. Are we now saying that caution should be thrown to the wind? For those younger supporters vocal about the lack of ambition at Valley Parade I suggest that they need to find out about Bob Martin or Geoffrey Richmond and how the club was run. As ever, we are haunted by our history.

    • John, a very sensible response. City’s legacy of the past should not be ignored.
      Currently, City are heavily handicapped. Sad to say but that is reality and cannot be ignored. Hopefully, Rhodes and Rupp will effectively guide us through these uncertainties to greener pastures.

    • Thanks for the considered response John. As you know I’m old enough to remember the bad old days you refer to, and I recognise you have a greater understanding of the machinations of football finance than I. My beef is with how meekly we seem to accept our fate. How so many of us seem to be happy to muddle along. As you well know, Edin was removed because fans, including you, stepped in and made a difference by bringing him to account.

      I’d just like to see City fans raise their expectations a little. Not in a #bowyerout after three league games type way, just in being more prepared to demand a little more of the club in terms of its professionalism within the constraints it operates under, whether that be managerial appointments, employing key experts in key roles (keeper coach anyone? Fitness coach?) or the fact we don’t have a board of directors, just a chairman and one other director.

      And despite what other readers may think, I have no beef with older fans, younger fans or families, my comment on the recent article was to try and explain where the dislike for #bantamsfamily comes from amongst younger (and not so young) fans.

  8. The call for “ambition” seems to be the latest in a long line of easy to jump on bandwagons (see the phrase “I don’t recognise the club” etc. last season). It appears that a number of those calls aren’t really for ambition but are for recklessness or for gambling with the club’s future. Do we really want to go down that route and should people be castigated for speaking up against that?

    It is possible to be ambitious and live within the club’s means at the same time. Signing James Vaughan is arguably ambitious. Signing Clayton Donaldson is arguably ambitious. The same could be said for the cheap season-ticket scheme being continued.

    Short-term solutions do not really show genuine ambition. They fall more within the “gamble” category. We seem to be in a long cycle (even, to an extent, in the successful PP era) of having to press “reset” and rebuild every summer. It would take ambition to break out of that cycle but in order to do that, there would have to be an acceptance that a flat, mediocre season or two might form part of breaking out of that cycle? Will that ever happen when we seemingly have mass hysteria after four or five poor games? That isn’t an acceptance of mediocrity – it’s an acceptance that sustainable success may take time. There seems to be a mantra of “What do we want? Long term stability. When do we want it? Immediately” from some quarters.

    We all want the club to be successful but personally I want that to be a sustainable success, even if that takes time. There needs to be realism about where the club is and what it has to deal with.

    Leon’s comments above re “employing key experts in key roles” is definitely one area in which the club can show genuine ambition (but again, that isn’t something that yields instant results and so patience would be needed).

    I agree with John’s point about a lack of vision. The foundations for that long-term approach might be being built but we just don’t know. That is one area where the club could improve.

    The point about the filed company accounts seems to be a red herring stirred up by the well-meaning (but perhaps a little naïve in company knowledge) “Price of Football” Twitter account. Bradford City Football Club Limited has published the minimum accounts that it has to since the company was formed in 2004. By contrast, Bradford City AFC (1983) Limited tended to publish full accounts and that didn’t seem to stop the “six weeks of madness” and all that came with it. Full accounts can still hide a multitude of sins. Bury published full accounts at their last filing!

    • Running football club with-in the financial structure does not mean to say it’s impossible to not have ambition.

      I’m sure we could all mention clubs that have gone onto have success and promotion on budgets.

      Peterbourgh United are run off the field with strict financial restraints there always up and around play off places in lge 1.

      You need planning and good recruitment to get team together .

      Knowledge of seeing potential in lower lge players helps.

      • McAnthony runs a very successful and it would seem profitable operation. He does however have the benefit of a private fortune to smooth out any bumps in the road in terms of their sales and purchases in the transfer market. They have made significant losses at certain times. The big difference with the Posh appears to be Barry Fry who has over seen the scouting of dozens of talented Non league players over the years. Difficult to buy that kind of ability and thus replicate the success.Accringtons success is similarly based on excellent scouting. City have looked to the Non League without the same results!. The other obvious variation is the Crewe/Exeter youth development.model.

  9. As others have said its possibly not ambition we lack but a vision, or strategy, and for that to work you really have to trust the guy selling it. You also need a skillfull tatician to impliment that strategy.

    When Radhic first came to the club he correctly identified that to get to be a sustainable Championship side we had to do something different – wealthy Arabs were unlikely to come investing into a club like City. His vision of developing young players, adding value and selling on for a profit to be reinvested in the team was met, at the time, with widespread approval from supporters. His arrival at VP was seen by most as a refreshing, innovative development.

    This approach, along with the much derided ‘transfer committee’ has been used very sucessfully in clubs both at home and abroad – most notably in Lyon in France but also places like Brentford, Peterborough, Barnsley. Its not always popular, Arsenal lost some good players due to the policy of only offering over 30’s 1 year contracts much to the annoyance of some of their fans.

    What followed at City, as we all know, was a disaster. Not because the vision was wrong, but because Edin didnt know what he was doing – and more importantly – he didnt know that he didnt know what he was doing. Sometimes the most important thing is to recognise your limitations. He didnt let the taticians do their job.

    I often get annoyed when supporters start by saying ‘I knew all along’ or ‘I saw this from the start’. Nonesense – the supporter base was right behind this vision at the start. What a shame that Edin couldnt keep his beak out because I think we had an opportunity to be slight disruptive, slightly innovative and with real football people in charge like McCall and Abbott we could have made it a sucess.

    Now, of course, we’re in full retreat. Vision, strategy, ambition are luxuries. We need to stabilise and then look to kick on. Ask a homeless man what his strategy and vision is and it will be limited to finding a dry spot to sleep. Moving into a permanant home is less of a strategy and more of a pipe dream.

    If and when someone does come along with a vision we need to:

    a) Look at it and decide whether or not to buy into it.
    b) Look at the guy selling it and decide whether he knows what he’s doing.
    c) Look at the guys he selects to implement his vision and decide whether they know what they are doing.

    Hopefully between Rhodes and Rupp a strategy will become apparent once they stabalise the club. Whether GB is the right man to implement it when it emerges is another debate entirely.

  10. This article and this debate has at its heart the tension at the centre of British football; that in a capitalist society a professional club is a business asset controlled by its owners who bought it- yet fans see it as belonging to them too, as part of their community.

    This 2013 BBC article about the German commercial approach is worth a read:

    I’m attracted by the idea of fan ownership eg AFC Wimbledon- although there are many examples that show its not a panacea for making the right judgements and success. What it does do is align ownership and community interest. I wonder, when we have an apparently reasonable German owner in Stefan Rupp, whether now may be the time for fans to engage in a discussion about buying into the club, on a shared ownership basis- funded by crowd funding. I know the response will be we have a relatively poor fanbase, but as I know well, actually its a pretty diverse fan base.

    • Ironically the origins of Manningham FC / BCAFC (as well as Bradford FC at Park Avenue) was as a mass membership organisation in which people paid an annual subscription to be a member and had an equal share in votes for decision-making. Both clubs suffered from political infeuding as different factions sought a mandate in membership elections and this also made decision-making more difficult. Neither did the structure allow the clubs to accumulate sufficient capital to finance themselves.

      Like other football clubs, both opted for incorporation because the original structures proved unworkable. This meant that votes became in proportion to shareholding and capital was raised in a one-off issue rather through annual subscriptions. As you say, supporters continue to behave as though football club are mass membership organisations and consider themselves entitled to a having a say.

      As regards conversion to a membership organisation nowadays the same difficulties would surely occur. Interestingly Bradford Park Avenue converted to a membership organisation but has since reverted to a company structure because it didn’t prove workable. I have reservations that it could work for City particularly if we got into a situation where there was a financial crisis or funding gap that needed tough decisions and new money. Crucially it could undermine our competitiveness when other clubs opted otherwise. With regards to Stefan Rupp’s situation however the ultimate objective of recovering his investment is unlikely to be achieved through supporter ownership and to grant a stake to the fans will make it even harder for a subsequent sale of the club.

      In all of this comes a recognition that football clubs need money, ideally the sort of money that doesn’t need to be repaid. Unfortunately BCAFC has commitments that in practice in cannot walk away from and even in 2003 did not succeed in doing so.

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