Part one of Where did it start to go wrong for Bradford City? can be found here
By Jason McKeown
In his superb 2020 book Rebel Ideas, Matthew Syed produces a revealing and engaging insight into the power of cognitive diversity. This means the inclusion of people who have different styles of problem-solving and who can offer unique perspectives because they think differently.
Using powerful real-life examples, Syed explains how teams made up of people with different views, backgrounds and ways of looking at things will always achieve much more than groups of people who all think and act the same way.
“The trick is to find people with different perspectives that usefully impinge on the problem at hand,” writes Syed. He also explains that if leaders are surrounded by people who think the same way – or who are too respectful of reporting lines to challenge someone of higher authority – the leader is “more likely to form judgements that combine excessive confidence with grave error”.
The team of Richmond and Jewell would appear to have had strong cognitive diversity. They were very different people, but unquestionably brilliant at what they did. And by working closely together between 1998 and 2000, they were able to deliver great things.
Jewell helped to challenge and keep Richmond’s thinking in check, which benefited the club. A good example is in January 2000, after City had lost in poor fashion to Sheffield Wednesday. Richmond could see the team needed help, so supported Jewell by making transfer funds available. However, he also had strong views on who Jewell should sign, and attempted to engineer the capture of Stan Collymore.
Jewell was resistant and dissuaded Richmond, arguing Collymore would be bad for team spirit. Collymore ended up signing for Leicester, where he would score just five goals and cause all manner of problems off the field. He was sacked within months, after fighting with a team-mate in a reserve match. Jewell’s argument was therefore vindicated.
Jewell revealed to me, “Geoffrey played a big part in the success of Bradford City, no doubt about that. And if he’d have been less egotistical, and let the football people run the football, he could have elongated Bradford in the Premier League.
“Geoffrey wanted me to sign Paul Ince, Benito Carbone and Stan Collymore. I’m not saying they’re not good players, because they obviously were, but they were not what we needed. As soon as I left, he basically went out and signed them. I’m sure he’d now admit I was right.”
The problem when Jewell left was Richmond lost access to the power of cognitive diversity. Someone who would challenge his thinking, and therefore improve his decision making. Hutchings seemed like a good man, but clearly had no authority or confidence to resist Richmond.
One of the most startling examples that Syed uses in Rebel Ideas concerned co-pilots in planes. And it has echoes of the leadership approach at Bradford City in the summer of 2000.
On 28 December 1978, United Airlines 173 took off from Denver on a scheduled flight to Portland. Just as they were preparing to land, the captain pulled the level to lower the landing gear only for there to be a loud bang. The light that signified the landing gear was down didn’t come on. So the crew had no idea if their wheels were down. The captain kept the plane flying around the airport in a loop whilst he tried to troubleshoot the problem.
A new problem emerged – the plane was running low on fuel. The engineer who was sat in the cockpit with the pilot spotted this. But rather than warn the pilot, they decided to keep it to themselves. They were fearful that if they mentioned the problem, it might carry the implication that the pilot wasn’t on top of all the key information. And that it might appear he was challenging his authority.
Finally, with the engines starting to flame out, the engineer made the fuel problem explicit. But sadly it was too late…
This was not a one-off. A 2008 study found there had been over thirty airline crashes, over the years, that were the result of a co-pilot failing to speak up and warn the captain there was a problem with the plane. To afraid to speak to their leader for fear of looking like they were challenging their authority, even though they had really important information that could have made a real difference.
When Richmond, Shaun Harvey and Hutchings were locked in late night talks in Milan with Carbone, the chairman desperate to do whatever it took to bag his man, Hutchings was arguably that co-pilot.
There also wasn’t anyone in the boardroom to keep Richmond in check, with the Rhodes family effectively silent partners at this stage. “We weren’t involved at all. I remember finding out about the signing of Benito Carbone on Teletext!” Julian Rhodes told me when I interviewed him for Who We Are. “We let him get on with stuff. We did have a shareholder agreement, where he was supposed to refer to us for certain items. But he just did it, so what do you do?
“I remember thinking, even at the time, he must have had a better understanding of the money than we do – the Sky money must be through the roof or something – he just never thought about it. He thought we were the next Man United. We had stayed up in the Premier League. Then he spent lots of money, but he did it all at the same time as building the stand. It was a big gamble that we wouldn’t go down. But we did, didn’t we?”
Richmond was making decisions that a chairman simply should not have been leading. Signing players that would get bums on seats, but who would damage the fantastic team spirit and hard-working ethos of the squad. As Sharpe summarised, “A manager has to decide who will best form part of his team. It’s a recipe for collapse.”
You have to wonder how much Richmond was motivated by proving Jewell wrong. That if he could sign the players Jewell hadn’t wanted, improve the style of football and results, he might show up his former manager.
There was also a clear hint of desperation in the money chucked at capturing Carbone. In July, Noel Whelan, Nichlas Alexandersson and Nicky Summerbee all rejected moves to City. Richmond also tried to buy Paulo Wanchope for £4 million, but the Costa Rica striker turned the Bantams down to sign for newly promoted Man City. That was four days before the trip to Milan.
All this might explain why Richmond moved so far away from his rational outlook post-Liverpool. When unveiling Carbone he told the assembled media, “People called us ‘Boring Bradford’ last season. They can do it again – but seeing Benito here proves we are serious.”
Richmond was exhibiting the characteristic of hubris – excessive over-confidence, over-estimating your own abilities to the point you lose contact with reality. Eugene Sadler-Smith, Professor of Organisational Behaviour, University of Surrey, wrote an article on hubris in leaders. “Hubris is a dangerous cocktail of overconfidence, overambition, arrogance and pride fuelled by power and success.
“When found alongside contempt for the advice and criticism of others, hubris causes leaders to significantly overreach themselves, taking risky and reckless decisions with harmful, sometimes catastrophic consequences for themselves and their organisations.”
These words feel like a very apt description of Richmond’s decisions around this time.
If there is an example of just how much Richmond was calling the shots, it’s the story of how Collymore belated became a Bradford City player in October 2000.
The club had started the season poorly and had just five points from the first 10 games. Carbone was playing well, but far too much expectation had been placed on him by the club – Hutchings predicted he would score 20 goals that season. Meanwhile record signing David Hopkin had a bad injury, £18,000 a week Ashley Ward couldn’t buy a goal, and £1 million Dan Petrescu was underwhelming. Richmond opted for one more throw of the dice of bringing in another expensive ‘star’ signing.
Stuart McCall told me the story when I interviewed him for my 2016 book Reinventing Bradford City. “Chris Hutchings had rung me up and said ‘the chairmen’s on about bringing in Collymore’ and I said ‘you’re joking aren’t you?’ We’ve got one out-and-out individual in Carbone, and unless you are a top five Premier League side you can’t have two. Stan had also just left Leicester after an altercation, and hadn’t played much football.
“So I remember saying to Chris ‘what sort of shape is he in?’ and Chris wasn’t sure. He added that he had agreed with the chairman that the two would meet up with Collymore at a service station, so I said ‘Have a look at what shape he is in, ask him about his state of mind and ambition, ask him if he still has that hunger’. We didn’t want a player who would disrupt the team spirit.
“I didn’t hear anything else and the next morning I was driving to Bradford and speaking to Chris on the phone. I said ‘I never heard again from you last night, what happened with Stan?’ Chris replied that he hadn’t met him, so I said ‘Oh, so the deal is off then?’ and he replied ‘No, the chairman has signed him, we just have to go on and get the best out of him’.”
Like Phil Parkinson 12 years later, Jewell fully understood the value of a strong dressing room, players with the right character and unity. Bringing in players on significant higher wages, who didn’t exhibit the same gritty ethos, was something he simply would not have advocated.
And that’s why the six weeks of madness was so damaging. It wasn’t just that Richmond spent more money than he really should have, he spent that money really unwisely.
As Jamie Lawrence summarised when I interviewed him for WOAP in 2012, “When you were seeing those players come in, we were thinking ‘We got the club into the Premier League and we kept them there, but now they are bringing people in on £40k a week’. We all loved the club, we loved the fans; we gave everything and didn’t earn a lot. And then these players were just coming in for the money.
“I believe that we stayed up that first season because everyone gave 100%. We weren’t good enough to carry anyone. Now we were carrying the likes of Benito Carbone and Dan Petrescu. I think that Chris Hutchings was out of his depth. If Paul Jewell had stayed, he would not have signed those players. The best thing would have been to not sign those players, and we could have stayed up that season.
“Our aim should have been to be like a Leicester; where what Martin O’Neill did was keep the core of the team, and keep adding grafters year on year, the likes of Neil Lennon and Muzzy Izzet. That’s the way to do it, not go and sign these so-called football stars who had been at top clubs.”
The club was trying to run before it would walk. The £40,000 a week – £2 million a year – package that Carbone was on would have been better deployed on infrastructure. Carbone was wisely not shown the training ground before he signed. Once he was a City player, he would discover in horror the ritual of players having to get ready for training at Valley Parade, then driving to and from the training ground in their muddy gear.
It would have been far better for City to have strengthened in a sensible way, bringing in players who could compliment and enhance what was in the building, but not risk bankrupting the club. Meanwhile some of the Premier League riches could have been spent building a proper training ground, and investing in youth development – giving City a much stronger legacy, no matter what the future had in store.
The decision instead to spend big on player wages that summer – coupled with the ground redevelopment – left the club with a legacy of debts. In the Pain And The Glory Richmond admits the main stand “was a major mistake”, adding, “It was too big a financial strain on the club, but it characterised my chairmanship. I wanted to improve the club both on and off the pitch, establish the club in the Premiership and give it the capacity to do so. However, the £7.5 million loan proved to be an albatross round our neck.”
For how good Carbone was – and he did work exceptionally hard in a City shirt – he was too talented for the rest of the squad to make best use of. One opposition manager summarised the Carbone issue perfectly, “Opponents are often wrong-footed by Benny’s movement, but at Bradford his team-mates are, too.”
Carbone was signed on a four-year deal. He produced some exceptional performances and scored some great goals for City, but it was nowhere near enough to save them from relegation.
Hutchings lasted just 12 games, before Richmond panicked and gave him the sack. McCall was asked to take over as caretaker and quickly got sight of the financial mess City were in. He told me for Who We Are, “I remember a lower league manager rang up asking about taking one of our young players on loan. He asked me how much his wages were, to see if they could afford him.
“So I said I would find out and ring him back, and I asked the secretary for the details. He explained there was a book inside the bottom draw of my desk, listing every player’s wage. So I opened it up and saw what money everybody was on – it was the worst thing I could have done!
“It was crazy what they did. What had kept us up had been the spirit and scrapping. There was nothing wrong with looking for more quality, but we were always going to be battling against the odds that season.”
Hutchings was replaced with Jim Jefferies – an experienced outsider with a different perspective – and the Scot quickly told Richmond he had to get rid of Carbone, Collymore and Petrescu. By the end of the season the chairman was shipping out any asset he could to reduce costs, but the situation was spiralling beyond his control. The club was falling to pieces financially.
“I will never, ever forgive myself for spending the money we did,” Richmond told the BBC in May 2002. He was speaking with the Bantams in administration with debts of £36 million. Carbone was still owed £4.16 million in wages. Technically he was entitled to claim 80% of this amount, which the club simply could not afford to give him. Carbone graciously agreed to walk away without receiving a further penny. His actions saved the club. Richmond, meanwhile, was facing bankruptcy over an unpaid tax bill and had not been able to invest the dividend payments he’d received.
It ultimately left him with no option but to depart. In The Pain and The Glory he admits, “I regret the ending and I totally accept my shortcomings that led to administration, but I played my part too in lifting the whole city. It came alive and people were proud to be Bradford City supporters.”
Professor Eugene Sadler-Smith summaries, “Hubrists don’t normally set out to wreak havoc, but this is all too frequently the unintended consequence of their actions.
“Positive self-image is psychologically healthy, and self-confidence, proper ambition and authentic pride are necessary qualities for any successful leader. However in the hubrist these qualities morph into excesses, and the hallmark of hubris is contempt. The result is that – one way or another – hubristic leaders end up overreaching themselves and, as we know, the retribution served by Nemesis is likely to be severe.”
Richmond deserves so much credit for the club’s rise and rise – and for giving Jewell the job in the first place – but the fall out he caused over lunch that day was hugely damaging for the long-term future of Bradford City. On Jewell, Richmond stated, “In a hundred years’ time people will say he was the best manager the club ever had. I’m proud of seeing that manager in him.”
In some ways, the club had to gamble to an extent in 2000. They were up against 19 other clubs spending huge sums of money, many gambling themselves by committing to transfers and player contracts they could ill-afford if they were to be relegated. The difference was that other clubs like West Ham, Man City and Newcastle could afford to get a few gambles wrong and rely on their big support, heritage and owners with greater wealth for them to recover. Richmond’s big mistake was to think he could play on the same terms as established Premier League clubs, and that if it went wrong he could gamble again.
The Premier League was not a level playing field. Had City just spent within their means they’d have probably gone down anyway. If not in 2000/01, then at some point soon after. To be in the top flight means having to speculate to accumulate.
Of the 20 clubs who competed in the Premier League in 2000/01, 14 have subsequently gone down. In addition to City, six have had a spell in administration – Coventry, Leeds, Ipswich, Leicester, Charlton and Southampton – and others like Sunderland, Aston Villa and Derby have experienced some financial difficulties. Football is a volatile sport, and City were not going to remain immune from that no matter what path they took.
Yet still, few clubs who made it the Premier League have suffered to the extent that City have. And for that, we largely have the six weeks of madness to thank. The transfer spending, but just as crucially the Main Stand work. The latter left City with a crippling mortgage that ultimately led to the ownership of the ground switching to the Gibb Pension Fund in 2003. Up until 2011, they had annual rent of nearly three quarters of a million to pay to use Valley Parade. By that point, City had slumped to their lowest league position since the 1960s.
Richmond was over-confident after everything he had achieved, and there was no one to challenge his approach. It’s led to 20 years of suffering, with mistakes followed by more mistakes. Bradford City had a big opportunity to be something else. Something greater than they had ever been, at least since the 1910s. And they may never get that chance again.
Coming soon: How the lessons of 2000 are still affecting the Bantams’ outlook in the modern day.