By Jason McKeown
So that’s that then. Almost a month after it was first mooted that Bradford City’s League Two season would be cancelled, a Tuesday vote has finally confirmed the campaign has been curtailed.
Final placings have been determined on unweighted points per game, which means the Bantams officially finish ninth with 67.14 points – 4.97 points off the play offs. That supposed City would have claimed 13 points from their final nine fixtures – so we missed out on witnessing four wins, one draw and five defeats.
It’s been clear for several weeks that City had no desire to fight to keep the season going, even with Tranmere’s proposal of deploying Einstein’s Margin for error theory, that would have seen the play off participants extended from four to six, with City getting to take part. The club had already released 10 players, and would not have been in a great position to carry on player-wise. More importantly, the financial implications of coming back were just too severe.
So it’s another year in League Two, and now naturally thoughts turn to the 2020/21 season. The resumption of Premier League, FA Cup, Championship and the play offs means that the 2019/20 campaign will stretch into August. It has been suggested that the next Premier League season will begin on the weekend of September 12/13. And so logically the Football League – and Bradford City – will return around then.
That would mean we’ve got 94 days to wait until we get to see the Bantams in competitive action again. It’s been 96 days since City were last able to play, so we’re possibly about half way through this unprecedented break from watching the Bantams.
You have to hope that the improvement in the coronavirus pandemic situation allows for the season to get going by then, for the future of our game. There have been dire predictions of a host of lower league clubs facing up to going out of business. The fact City are owned by a wealthy man in Stefan Rupp provides some protection compared to other clubs. But clearly the longer they operate with no real revenue, the more difficult that financial position will be.
The extending of the furlough scheme until October is helpful to City. And if they can start to get things going before the scheme ends, they can hopefully pull through and emerge with fewer scars than other clubs.
That said, the expectation levels of what will happen next season are going to be challenging. This week, Stuart McCall talked of bringing through a crop of youth players. That new signings would probably be limited to five, with the loan market probably utilised. It does not sound ambitious for sure, and has quickly attracted adverse comment from the usual suspects. The disappointment of not getting promoted this season has been dimmed by the bigger life priorities of Covid-19, but the expectation has not gone away to get out of League Two as soon as possible.
McCall is speaking about a future reality that right now no one can predict, and we just don’t know what the League Two landscape is going to look like come next season. With season ticket sales likely to be down and months of lost income, it’s hard to disagree that football budgets will fall as well. But whether that leaves City in a weak position – relative to their rivals – is not yet clear.
Glancing around League Two, there is not a lot to be worried about. Just look at the clubs coming down: Southend and Bolton are in a mess. Tranmere won’t be any great shakes. The point is what whilst ambition will naturally decline at Valley Parade as survival takes precedence, they might find they are more ambitious than many of their rivals.
Those five new signings could be an opportunity to focus on quality over quantity – after all, amongst the players still at the club, there is the basis of a decent team. Assuming Richard O’Donnell re-signs, City’s goalkeeping, centre back and left back situation is pretty much okay. The same up front, where there are four good League Two strikers already on the books.
It is midfield and right back that are the priorities, and five good recruits in these areas – to add to Zeli Ismail and Harry Pritchard – could really elevate City. It’s also exciting that youth players will get more of a chance – how good would it be if they could make their mark?
And even with a playing budget cut, the market is going to be different. It’s been suggested up to 1,400 players will find themselves out of work this summer. A significant portion of them are probably not going to get themselves another club, at least in the Football League. Average wages will probably fall, because clubs will be more prudent and able to be more choosy. And that means City can still bring in decent players. There should be plenty to choose from.
With the closure of the 2019/20 season at last, clubs like City can now start to look forward. McCall has no need to rush out and make a raft of signings – the club does not need to start paying extra wages right now – but he can certainly start to explore the market. As I’m sure he already is.
Austerity is going to be the buzzword in lower league football. At least until we return to a time of full capacity crowds, sponsorship and commercial revenue. City are not immune from the climate, but with 10 players now off the books – many of whom were nowhere justifying their wages – the opportunity is there to rebuild and come back strongly.
I’ve noticed a lot of City fans on social media already panicking about next season with our current squad and SM saying we are only going to make five or six signings, but you have to think that every other club in league two are in the exactly the same boat as us! Unless some owner is willing the chuck some money at it next season, every club is skint and scraping the barrel. No money, mediocre signings, quite a few loanee’s from the leagues above. If you think last season’s league two was poor, then prepare yourself for next season. It’s wide open for anyone to win!
Good article as usual Jason. Yes it was just too expensive for Div 2 to finish the remaining fixtures. Next season will be like no other that i can remember. Clubs like Salford etc should make an impact due to their financial backing. Hopefully we should be ok on that score, but we don’t know how the virus has impacted on Stefans finances, hopefully not that bad. I think the club should allow those that want to buy a season ticket now, be allowed to do so. Its our way to help out. I know nobody knows how many home games we may get out of it, but i don’t care at this point, i just want a club at the end of all this.
Enough of the “I just want a club to support at the end of this”, “At least we are not Bury” mentality. Rupp definitely has the finances to survive this downturn. He’s not just going to throw away all the millions his ill advised foray into football has cost so far. It’s time to strike while the iron is hot. There are going to be players out there desperate for a club, players who 4 months ago wouldn’t have dreamed of playing in L2, all desperate just to keep playing. It’s the best time ever for Rupp to take a hit and spend a small amount of cash with possibly the easiest chance of promotion He will ever have next year. I’m absolutely sure that’s what they will be thinking in Salford.
The Club retains a significant goodwill in the City and many supporters would/will assist financially if a well thought out opportunity was devised (ground purchase/player sponsorship etc). City really should be tapping into this.
110% why aren’t we trying to buy the ground back. Look at chelsea is owned by 21,000 shares no one person can have more then 10 shares. Imagine a Bradford city supporters trust set up to buy back valley parade & not have to charge the club a fee just they look after the upkeep.
15,000 season tickets
Let’s say average of 7,000 buy max 10 shares each. So 70,000 shares at what Gordon Gibb would sell for.
Eg wants £1,750,000 divided by 70,000 = £25 share
Buying the stadium back is a must!
Great reply from Malcolm Harrison, yep we want a club at the end of all this. SM knows his way around and his heart is on the badge, come on City we are still a big club in this division.
If City are going to proceed with a squad, somewhere in the region of 22/23 players, with a number of those coming up from the juniors, then it leaves them vulnerable to: injury, suspension (both league and club),illness, and/or loss of form, with little room to bring in change. Currently the match day squad is 18 players, consequently we could struggle to fill the bench. The goalkeeper issue is difficult, especially if one or two are unavailable! If we have a transfer window that closes about three weeks into the season, then I would seriously be concerned, although I assume the club could sign an unattached player (who would probably lack any reasonable match fitness). Personally I think we need about 26 players, to have a durable and flexible Squad which could stand the rigours of the season
I don’t disaggree Rod.
Whilst we all like to see youth do well we’ve tried it may times at City (during Niky Law’s time, Jackson’s ‘development squad’ and most recently the Radhic debacle). Whilst one or two gems do bubble up (Nakki Wells) we never seem to be able to base a team around them in the same way as other clubs have done over the years.
In fact City seems to be a graveyard for this type of player. Forrest, Colbeck, O’brien were all players I rated but who failed to kick on (maybe this is way I’m not a football manager!). Fickle form, injuries and the pressure of playing in front of a big crowd seems to take its toil. Where we do seem to find sucess is in players who never play for the team but get signed by bigger clubs as youngsters (Delph etc).
You’d have to go back to the mid eighty team of Ellis, McCall, Hendrie, Jackson etc to find a City side built built in this way.
Lets hope Stuart gets the blend right. A few good, solid signings with a sprinkling of magic dust provided by some promising future England stars in the form of loan signings could get us back up and running.
Just gotta trust in Stuart! dont disagree ROb
My concern is predominately about the proposed size of the squad. Here are Stuart’s comments, “We’ve got 14 players signed on for next season and we’re adding four young lads getting promoted from the youth team. “I would probably say we are looking for a squad of 22-23, so it might not be a case of a raft of signings”.
If you have a squad of 26 players, then you have some capacity to cope with adversity.
Look at Riley and Robinson. For very different reasons, they never played a game for City last season, yet were two of the first team squad.
I certainly don’t want to see a ‘bloated’ squad full of misfits, but I am concerned that if the squad is very light on numbers, it makes us vulnerable, if adversity kicks in.
For sure, bring in young home grown players, but If it is a significant number, then it may not be want the club needs, if we are to push for promotion.
The correct outcome across both Leagues One & Two due to the cost of resumption. The relief was evident in Ryan Sparks’ Twitter comments. As mentioned in Jason’s summary, we are in a decent position compared to most with Rupp offering support and a bit of a boost from transfer bonuses i.e. Doyle.
Off the field, we are fortunate to have a large enough supporter base that will provide much needed revenue when the club is ready to offer products. The first thing on the agenda appears to be next season’s home shirt which, if the club have got it right, will provide a much needed boost. The focus will also be on making sure next season’s season ticket product is attractive – it’ll be interesting to see how iFollow is incorporated into this given the likelihood of playing games behind closed doors.
In terms of on the field, Stuart’s return was timely as we know that he can get the best out of underachieving players as well as inspiring younger players which will be required given our squad situation going into next season.
Great article summing up the current state of affairs at both BCFC and football in general.
In the post COVID world I think there’ll be a more level playing field for clubs at our level. Most clubs are going to have to tighten their collective belts, which means players won’t have it all their own way when it comes to finding clubs and the kind of wages they could demand.
There’s been talk of season long loans of PL players, funded entirely by the player’s parent club. If this is a serious reality next season then we could capture some decent players, which would offset the small quota of signings SM has already outlined.
Whenever L2 resumes in whatever format, most fans will be desperate to get back to following their clubs again
Is it just me that is actually looking forward to seeing some youth given a chance? Staunton (okay, he is in the first team with a FT contract), Cousin-Dawson, Sikora, Shanks and Morris all featured in pre-season last year and during the shit-cup round robin table and looked handy. There is talk of how good our academy is, yet its time to show it. Add to that the surplus of available players, both from L1 & 2 but also Prem U23 that are let go or available for loan, whom will all no doubt be available on cheaper contracts as suggested in the article, it could (and I use that word loosely) be a better season than many suggest. Ever the optimist though
A good read thank you.
Trying to build a picture of the squad – do we know who the young players are Stuart is looking at progressing and what positions they play?
We could do with some pace up front but other than that the key is centre midfield.
I hope under different management Paudie OConnor can progress again.