Recent adversity highlights need for bigger picture thinking at Bradford City

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

By Jason McKeown

The chairman of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, sums it up well. In times of adversity and change, he believes, “We really discover who we are and what we’re made of.” Unfortunately in the case of Bradford City, the adversity that came up during the final week of the transfer window did not produce outwardly positive answers about the strength of the club.

It’s no secret that the Bantams remain wounded by the destructive era of Edin Rahic. Financially, personnel and status-wise, the club is poorer for the former chairman’s wrecking ball approach to leadership. But the events of late have really highlighted the structural issues at the club. And the huge importance of getting it right.

The adversity came from on the field matters, where a poor run of form came to something of a head the Sunday after City were battered 3-0 at Mansfield Town. Bowyer had called the players in for a clear-the-air meeting. It is the type of moment football clubs up and down the land typically go through at some stage of every season. But whatever was discussed between Bowyer, the coaching staff and players, it didn’t appear to bring everyone together.

And it left City in an astonishing position of going into the final week of the transfer window prepared to let two of their main strikers leave. The merits of Eoin Doyle and James Vaughan’s departures have been debated at length. But whatever the rights and wrongs, it was the succession planning that underlined the issues at the heart of the club.

At such a crucial, high pressure moment of the season – with Bowyer’s own future in doubt – City were forced into a reactive approach. It led to a rush to identify and try to sign suitable replacements. Bowyer himself talked about relying on his coaching staff to hurriedly rush through the research on the transfer targets. It was clearly frantic, and the club deserve some credit for at least getting Lee Novak and Kurtis Guthrie through the door, especially as Aramide Oteh and Omari Patrick also departed on the final day. The alternative – of having no pure strikers on the books, other than Clayton Donaldson – might have effectively ended the season now.

But even so, it doesn’t appear to be a well-planned, methodical transfer strategy. To the outside, City were left scrambling to fix a huge problem. The departures of Doyle and Vaughan were sudden and unexpected, probably even to the club. But with a more thorough succession approach to recruitment, City might have been able to bring in more high calibre replacements.

Whilst Bowyer clearly merits criticism here, he can with justification argue that he does not have the support he needs. Bradford City has no chief scout or analysis team, at a time when even most lower league clubs have such a set-up. Bowyer’s focus – first and foremost – is on the team and upcoming matches. Where would he have had the time to go out watching other games to identify potential signings?

Compare and contrast this window with four years earlier, and the 2015/16 season. There are some telling similarities to the situation. Then-manager Phil Parkinson was under some pressure following a poor set of results – and especially a lack of goals in his team. Many fans were urging him to select his top scorer Devante Cole, who was hardly getting a look in. But then seemingly out of nowhere, Parkinson sold Cole to Fleetwood Town. The deal included swapping Cole with Jamie Proctor – a little-known Fleetwood forward, who couldn’t get in their team.

The reaction from City fans was reminiscent of the way last week went on social media. Parkinson had lost the plot. We’ve done a terrible piece of business. As fans favourite Gary Liddle was also allowed to leave, the questions directed at the club and Parkinson were similar to those aired right now. Where was the ambition? What was the club doing?

Yet Parkinson proved to be right in these calls. Proctor scored on his debut, and performed well over the rest of the season. The outgoings also left room for City to sign Wes Thomas and a certain Josh Cullen. City lifted themselves out of their mid-season rut to reach the play offs.

The major difference of then to now was that Parkinson was working with a chief scout, Tim Breacker. Whilst there was a number of transfers that didn’t work out during this period, crucially enough were successful, which allowed City to prosper. Breacker would have been out there spotting players like Cullen and Reece Burke. The Bantams had also built up good relationships with clubs like West Ham. And so, when it appeared the club was taking leave of its senses in allowing good players to leave, there was actually a plan behind it.

This time around, City were completely reliant on their manager, who would have struggled with the time and resources to make better decisions. And all this, at a point when the City manager himself is under serious pressure and fighting for his own future. It’s hard to look on the events of the final week of the transfer window and conclude City have made the best decisions they could have. Through adversity, the thinbare structure of the club must have been creaking at the seams.

Even if Bowyer survives the harrowing defeat at Oldham, and his new signings do a good job, the club is still operating a recruitment approach entirely at the hands of whoever is the manager. And when they inevitably leave, City are left having to make big changes. Players are signed on contracts that comfortably out-last the manager who brings them in.

There is just no long-term outlook. The club has got used to operating on a week-to-week basis with short-termism decisions.

And the problem is that this issue is not confined only to the coaching set-up. There are some very good people who are employed by Bradford City. They care incredibly deeply about what they do. They want to do the best for supporters. But do they have enough support around them? Do they have the resources and structure they need?

That all points to the top. The club remains owned by Stefan Rupp, who doesn’t live in the country and never bought Bradford City with the intention of running it day-to-day. Rupp seems to be a good man with honourable intentions, keen to fix past mistakes. It would be wrong to say he doesn’t care. But without the desire and time to become more involved in the direction of the club, there is a leadership vacuum.

The biggest issues at Bradford City right now are investment, long-term thinking and communication. Responsibility for the first two in particular lies with Rupp. He has put serious money into the club and no one should forget that. Not only did he invest a lot of his capital at first, in buying Bradford City, Rupp has also had to cover serious losses that his old partner Rahic ran up and tried to cover up.

Rupp’s own healthy financial position means he could invest more into Bradford City. He doesn’t want to do so. And that is not unreasonable when he has probably already put in £10 million without any sign of a return. But the hard truth is the club needs investment and vision to really move forwards. So where does it leave us?

Rupp is something of a reluctant owner, and he has every right to be. If he could turn back the clock to May 2016, he would probably have never bought the club. But ultimately, Bradford City needs a more hands on owner who will be prepared to invest into the structure of the club. Who has the time and skill set to drive it forwards. Rupp reportedly turned down an offer for the club last summer. After another 12 months of not much progress, you wonder how much more tempted he might be if another offer comes along.

It’s hard to see how long this can go on for. The longer Rupp owns the club with all its problems, the more likely it is he will squeeze investment and become less engaged. I just don’t see how this works in the long run. Perhaps, moves to sell the club are underway. It might explain some of the recent transfer activity.

Rupp has employed Julian Rhodes to run the club for him – whilst there is some form of search for a new CEO. With 19 years previous involvement with steering and owning the Bantams, Rhodes undoubtedly has the experience to repair the club. His expertise is vital right now and shouldn’t be discounted – if he wasn’t running the club right now, who else could be? – however, he is also in danger of tarnishing his legacy.

Rhodes has never wanted to be front of house. But that reluctance, coupled with Rupp’s own unwillingness to climb into the spotlight, is seriously hurting the club. Bradford City is effectively being run by two people who cannot or will not communicate with fans. That has been a real issue for some time, but in moments of heightened uncertainty like now it simply isn’t practical.

Ryan Sparks, as director of communications, is doing a fine job. But at times of crisis – real or perceived – fans need to hear from those at the top. There are certain messages that need to come from the owner or CEO. What is the explanation for recent events? What does it mean for the future of the club? What exactly is the long term plan?

Back in that 2015/16 tough transfer window, the team’s form initially remained poor and they went into a home game with Fleetwood on the verge of social media unrest turning into outpourings of anger in the stadium. But what helped then was a more proactive public relations approach. James Mason sat down with Parkinson to record a 11 minute interview that the club put out before the match, titled ‘Your City needs you‘.

It wasn’t exactly brimming with subtlety – they filmed it in the 2013 suite, so Parkinson was talking in front of a background of photos of his previous achievements – but the open communciation and humble tone about the challenges of the day undoubtedly helped. City went onto beat Fleetwood 2-1, and the storm quickly passed.

At the time, Mason told me about the initiative, “We wanted to do an in-depth feature interview, to show the transparency of how the club is run. A cards-on-the-table interview to ask some of the questions that fans are asking themselves and to give them the answers, with the transparency of saying that we are hurting just like the fans are with recent results. And that we are doing everything we can.”

Right now, City need to really communciate with fans about what is happening and what the future holds. The club has talked about wanting to get back to the Championship over the next few years. But to us supporters, there is no obvious strategy towards achieving it. In a rare interview, Rhodes disclosed an aim to get 20,000 season ticket holders next season. Yet on and off the field there are few reasons to buy one other than loyalty.

Does the club have the solutions? Perhaps, perhaps not. And you know what – if they don’t have all the answers, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing either.

Right now, City have a fanbase who are hurting and who feel incredibly disillusioned. But no one has stopped caring. Social media has become a pit of anger, that at times goes way too far and loses any sense of rationality. But if you actually sit down with, and listen to, supporters, we all have opinions, views and ideas that might actually help the club.

I think it’s time Bradford City truly opened the doors to fans. If the club are having some financial issues, trust us to be adults in grasping and accepting the reality. And if there aren’t financial concerns, get that across in a way that is more credible.

I would give serious thought to organising an event at Valley Parade. A fans forum that goes deeper. Share the challenges and invite our views. Get people who work at the club to talk about the issues and the work they’re doing to build things.

Football clubs are blessed with a customer base who are so engaged and passionate about what they’re trying to achieve. And despite the best intentions of a lot of good people who work for Bradford City, there is more that can be done to engage and tap into our views – and even our skill sets.

Fixing Bradford City is clearly a huge, huge challenge. But whatever the future holds, we supporters will always be the ones who stick by the club. It’s time to be properly honest about where this football club is going. And for everyone to work together to build a better Bradford City.

Categories: Opinion

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25 replies

  1. Not sure sone of the best managers we have had during my time attending matches had a massive supporting cast? Did George Mulhall have a huge scouting network? Probably not, still signed the best centre forward it’s ever been my privilege to watch on a City shirt.

  2. Completely agree, that interview with Parky made a hell of a difference. The club simply cannot remain silent and Ryan’s hands seem tied behind his back at the moment. They need to speak up and do it soon.

  3. Wise balanced view in the midst of a maelstrom.
    Hope Rhodes/Rupp takes this on board but I fear the Bowyer situation has become too toxic to rectify with words.

  4. I’m not sure another mumbling interview full of excuses would rally the fans.

    The games in the last month suggest that Gary Bowyer did well in the first half of the season by pure chance. His tactical inadequacies have become far too apparent during this time.

  5. And it needs to start by getting shut of Bowyer

  6. No communication leads to speculation. Since October there has been nothing. All the poor results and performances there has been nothing. Only excuses and promises of improvement followed by excuses etc. etc. Therefore, supporters speculate and form strong opinions some nasty and some constructive but in both cases it’s just speculation. You are right. The communication at city is terrible. Good communication will reduce the level of negativity brought about by those of us (myself included), creating their own view of what’s going on. We need to go back to the Parkinson model that brought a renascence of how good city could be. Whether we need a new football management team remains to be seen. The vision needs to be communicated to the supporters to try get the backing the club needs. It’s not going to happen overnight. It could take a season or more. Progress will be slow but it will be progress.

  7. Jason you have commented on city for many years. You always try to be fair and balanced and you truly care about the club. What you say today, since it is clearly true, fills me with despair.
    First, I think Bowyer’s tactical approach is wrong. That is obvious to any fan. I saw the line up yesterday and knew that if Oldham scored they would win .
    But there is no strategy behind the scenes. Your comment that there is no professional analysis or scouting network shows antediluvian thinking.
    Julian Rhodes knew the transfer window was coming. I did. He should have prepared. He should have known that Burnley might sell Wells and this could impact on Oteh . He should have had a replacement for Doyle lined up
    Bowyer has done poorly but his superiors have done worse .
    The future is bleak. Sadly unless we get management who are competent it will get worse.
    I think bowyer should go now but his replacement needs to have proper professional support which is lacking at present .
    Desperate days.

  8. The club has a very much “make do and mend” feel about it. The transfer window suggested we went into the last week with no defined targets and were left with last minute pickings. No Chief Scout, so staff frantically watching video clips of every Tom, Dick and Harry.

    As you say, if we’ve got financial problems, be open with the supporters. At least we’ll be understanding of the situation. On that subject, if we have got financial problems, how come we’ve ended up with four goalkeepers? Why sign, an admittedly, good keeper, on a deal to the end of the season, when we could have recalled Hornby, to cover the three game absence of O’Donnell.

    I really wonder if the indecision surrounding Bowyer, is based on a potential sale of the club.

  9. Just to remind the club and fans that by not having two forums per season they are contravening their own charter and that of the EFL. The last one they had was heavily stage managed by the club and it ended up achieving little. This is where fans groups come in. In the past FoBC and the former OSC have organised these and the club were happy to let them. The result was that fans felt a ‘connect’ with the club that many percieve has gone in recent months and years. It is vital that the club have such a conduit, as it avoids speculation and rumour. It seems that we do not have effective fans organisations any more with the exception of Shipley Bantams. The Supporters Trust and the Supporters Board seem to.offer little these days andmay as well not exist to many fans. FoBC also are very quiet now and do not act as a positive organisation, without the effective help being given to the club up to four years ago. Even the Junior Bantams organisation has dissappeared despite record numbers of member only a few short years ago. The fans of the future!!! Forget that. So in common with Jason i think its time for both our owner and CEO to make some kind of statement of whats happened in recent weeks, and also lay down, once again our short, medium, and long term.aims and how we are to reach them

    • Totally agree with marks comment. Time for the owners or the CEO to come out and give us fans some information. We have been left in the dark once again.

  10. Admirable perspective and a reminder to thinking City fans as to the extent to which the club has been hollowed out and the constraints GB is working under. Others may have made a better fist of it but it would have taken an outstanding individual to do so. PP had a top drawer team around him throughout and a structure above him on non playing side which was stable and effective. GB is clearly not blameless and the job may be beyond him but I don’t see a queue of quality candidates out there to replace him. At the end of the day what we see on the pitch is probably a fair reflection of the state of the club as a whole. GB cannot carry the can for that. You have got to get a lot right as a club to be one of four out of 23 to get promotion. There are a number of well run clubs ahead of the curve in League Two and we are playing catch up.

  11. whilst i always appreciate and broadly agree with your articles Jason, in this case my agreement is tempered by a feeling that it comes far too close to a Gary Bowyer excuse/justification. let’s tell it how it is, the guy is not up to the job. comparisons with John Docherty for being the worst manager in the modern era are eminently justified.that said the lack of forward thinking and a plan behind the scenes at the club is the work of AMATEURS. to let your two main strikers depart just as the window was about to close with seemingly no potential replacement targets identified and the panic which ensued would be laughable were it not so detrimental to the club and wholly unsurprising to fans.
    the comparison with Phil Parkinson in the 15/16 window misses the most important difference…..Parkinson had a lot of credit built up in the bank of City fans. sure he got some criticism but the overwhelming majority of fans trusted him because he’d done almost all things right before, making the right call time and time again. Bowyer has no such credit with fans. he has been overdrawn with fans and increasingly so for months. frankly it is extremely difficult to point to much that Bowyer has done right.

  12. Jason, thank you for a very thought provoking article. City is a small business and you have noted many deficiencies that a well run operation shouldn’t have. In particular, City do not appear to have a business plan. Saying their goal is to gain promotion to the Championship within five years may be good PR in the short term, but fans will soon realize there is no plan. Just wishful thinking.

    Based on my own business experience I would say no business plan equates to an operation that is flying by the seat of it’s pants on a day to day basis. Focused primarily on putting out fires with no roadmap of where their going next.

    Far too many false promises have been made by the owner(s) and credibility continues to be a problem. Possibly the reason for their disappearance act. Rupp ensured there were financial resources available to cover the cash flow problems last year created by him and his ex partner. However, he’s since been handsomely reimbursed. I highly doubt we will see any new investment from him.

    City’s future looks very foggy. New ownership, ultimately may be the answer, but that could be a treacherous road to travel. Currently, we truly look like a Mickey Mouse operation in a very poor league.

    • Phil, how has Rupp been handsomely reimbursed? He’s invested millions and is unlikely to get these millions back. Let it go man

      This is a great article Jason (as per) but I’m not sure the failings this year can be put on Rupp. He’s a silent shareholder. It’s Julian as the CEO that should be putting together a business plan, comms strategy, etc. etc.

      Julian has a lot of credit in the bank and this year doesn’t diminish what he’s done for the club

      However it does seem that he doesn’t really want to be here anymore and that’s feeding through to the pitch.

      I think the hire of a new CEO could be just as important as the Appointment of a new manager.

      If we can get these half right then next year could be exciting given that we will be virtually staring from scratch…I’m clinging onto this hope right now

  13. Slim, I’m glad you didn’t tell me that Rupp was duped after all, he helped create the mess last year and fulfilled his financial obligations by covering the deficit. Why people should feel so much gratitude towards him is quite puzzling. He’s a successful businessman who’s made a poor investment. Currently, he’s employed Rhodes and Bowyer to stabilize the business and ensure that it is self sufficient (no more investment). Well, based on what happened last week I would say they are failing badly.

    Do you really think that Rupp will have the patience to hire a new CEO after the mess created by Rhodes and Bowyer? In fact, a big question mark is how much patience and confidence do the fans have to buy season tickets for next season?

    I would not be surprised if the Club is up for sale in the near future. City need corrective action now, not a new CEO to cleanup the latest mess next summer.

    • Yes fine, he’s made a bad investment on bad advice
      But he has fulfilled his financial obligations – he could’ve rolled up his SPV and let the creditors come. For a man not interested in football he has done the decent thing and we should acknowledge that

      As far next year? Yes it worries me how long will he be decent especially at the cost of millions
      We should

  14. Great post as always.
    Unfortunately this read is quite a depressing one.
    I agree with everything said although I really had no idea about how thin on the ground we are with backroom staff.
    Has rupp really invested around £10m without any payback?
    I just don’t see how.
    Obviously his initial investment was supposed to be around £4m.
    Surly with all the clauses we’ve received from sell one including nahki wells promotion to the prem with Huddersfield and then his sale to Burnley plus Andrea wisdom sale to derby, oli mc Burnie to sheff utd including the add one at Swansea, the sale of Doyle and more I just can’t think of late on Sunday evening!
    I know we’ve also paid for players.
    It’s all a little vague but £10m?
    God I hope we get this very worrying situation sorted out soon.

  15. Rupp and Rahic paid over value for the club slthough Rahics input was said only £250k. Since then Rahic has been bought out by Rupp. The club bought a house in Baildon for Rahic. Rupp supported the club both.operationaly and transfer window last winter. Further support in the summer was underwritten by Rupp. The total amount is said to be £10m. As Jason alludes to in his piece there were potential.buyers who were put off by the amount Rupp wants for the club. In short he wants his investment back..

    • Where has the £10m figure come from?
      How is it broken down?
      Does this include income or us this just expenditure?
      £10m just doesn’t add up from my knowledge.

  16. The fact that City had a scouting system under Parkinson and that Parkinson had a philosophy about signing players with the ‘right attitude’, helped to develop a cohesive unit. On the whole this changing group of players, worked well together, and developed on the field. The club in tandem had a dynamic leadership who ensured that it sent out a positive message.

    Fast forward to where we currently are. It is impossible to say what criteria is being used to sign players. As I said in a previous report, how does the club target players? What personal characteristics does Bowyer seek in a player? What sort of players is he seeking to compliment the existing squad, in terms of playing attributes? How does he identify them? Is it now a case that agents are in the proverbial ‘driving seat’, touting their players, irrespective of their potential value to the club. Does City have any formal scouting system or people working for them? What is the plan for the future?

    Quite a lot of questions there. I know the club will monitor this thread, so they cannot deny knowledge that supporters are having serious doubts about how the club functions. If there isn’t to be a fans forum(s) scheduled, then a lengthy and detailed ‘clear the air’ article needs to be produced. I would have thought that these are very valid questions for a further fans ‘Media Group’, included perhaps in an agenda, circulated beforehand.

  17. “Further support in the summer was underwritten by Rupp,” first I’ve heard of this. What factual evidence have you got to support this statement?

    Also, “The total amount is said to be £10 million,” pure speculation on your part. Absolutely no different than if I said it could be closer to £8 million. By the way, these figures are estimates for total outlay and ignore revenue. I think his estimated loss is likely in the £4 to 5 million range if he was to sell the Club now. Actually, a minor loss for a man rumoured to be worth £100 million or more.

  18. Another great and balanced article which gets directly to the problems the club currently faces.
    Whilst I’m no fan of the manager merry-go-round which some fans seem to think we need to indulge in, GB is in a tight spot. He looks devoid of ideas and the team has that haunted look which we saw only too much of last season.
    But, as Jason article alludes to, not all the blame can be laid at his feet. The lack of scouting system coupled with working with a number 2 that wasn’t his choice (and probably remains in the role only due to financial reasons) can’t help. That and a need to get rid of a lot of dead wood in the playing staff have lead to the toxic place we’re in right now. He’s also become (almost) the sole mouth piece for the club, which is clearly not his strong point.
    This brings us to the other point about communication. The club effectively shot itself in the foot before a ball was kicked by talking up promotion as a must. Yes, it is but, should they have been so explicit about it? They could’ve toned down the rhetoric whilst sending a message to fans we’ve a tough season ahead, we need everyone to show their support and back the club, whilst we climb out of the mess the clubs been in’. Instead they chose to make an automatic return to LG1 the ‘must have’. That leaves you nowhere to go when the wheels fall off. The club sowed the seeds and now they must reap the whirl wind.
    If the club was more open and honest about where we are financially and structurally deficient, we may have set expectations lower and brought the club and fans closer together.
    I hope that Rhodes hunt for a new CEO is successful. He’s gone on record as saying he wants out at the end of the season and is really only keeping the seat warm. It may also explain the lack of structure within the club. Is he (Rhodes) waiting for the new CEO to put in place the structure they want? A blank canvas if you will?
    Rupp needs to make a call too. If he’s trying to sell to recover his alleged £10m investment, he’s going to struggle to get a buyer. In that case he needs to either lower his price and cut his losses, or accept his long term obligation to the club and start to really invest in the right people in the right roles to move us forward.

  19. Well another good article but very concerning all the same all the reply messages on here all have a point to make also and until the club Rhodes/Rupp or somebody else tell us different these views will continue through these outlets after all we are fans and concerned just like the club is with there constant pushing of how important the season ticket sales are to the clubs welfare.
    I do believe there is a good hardcore of support a lot of them at Oldham who I think should get there match day ticket money back from the club,but for the club making claims of the number of tickets as to be a certain figure well you have to give them something worth buying the ticket for it does not matter if it’s £150 or any other price you still have to go hopefully enjoy it and come away looking forward to the next game.
    I am looking forward to maybe some good and responsible decisions over the next few days from those in charge regards the clubs future this needs Rupp to come over and have a look at his investment which is in a poor position not much as being added to the club since his ownership the hospitality suites inside the stadium look tired and worn and no need to mention the value of the current playing staff and from posts on here he thinks it’s worth £10 million I am no expert but would be very surprised if he achieves that.

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