By Pete Moss
When you think of Bradford City’s recent history, you think of an ex-Premiership club. You think of a run to the League Cup Final in 2013. You reminisce about beating Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea on their own turf in the FA Cup. You recall trips to the new Wembley three times in six years. You remember beating Leeds United on 27 August 2014. This is the stuff we remember with pride.
These are our achievements and proud we should be.
When you think of Bradford City, you also remember the difficult times. The Eleventh Of May, Nineteen Eighty-Five.
The Six Weeks Of Madness. The two administrations and several near misses. The Peter Taylor era. The Gary Bowyer era. The Edin Rahic era, if that’s even a thing. Bad football and even worse results. You painfully recollect walking round work all day saying “Accrington Stanley, who are they??!” then watch them be 3-0 up at half time on a cold Tuesday night. At Valley Parade.
These are our embarrassments and we hate them with all our passion.
So where are we now? Back where we started in 2007. League Two, with players we perceive not to be good enough to win us promotion. This is the consensus amongst the noisy majority I have consulted with.
Rather than digging up old ground again, I want to analyse Bradford City Football Club and try to bring some different viewpoints.
Stefan Rupp is a rich man. He’s no oil baron but he’s alright for cash. He bought Bradford City as an investment vehicle. The concept is that you buy something, improve it and then sell it for more than you bought it for. The football equivalent of Homes Under The Hammer. He had a business partner who ‘knew football’. He placed his trust in that partner to deliver the business plan. It failed.
Nearly four years on, the club has deteriorated. Expensive ‘improvements’ have failed to deliver the kind of value expected and as a result the club is worth less than when it was purchased, no matter what price tag is attached. Now there is a worldwide pandemic, the income streams are restricted which causes more problems and increases the need to invest more just to keep the club running. Not improve it. Keep it running.
The old expression: The way to make a small fortune from owning a football club is to start with a large fortune.
The silent one. Julian Rhodes has been around football club ownership and management for more than twenty years. He’s seen more than most owners the massive highs and crushing lows of that industry. He has had to deal with deficits, cost control, player contract negotiations, as well as the running of an organisation with a complex, and very public, portfolio of activities.
You don’t hear much from him. He himself has said he doesn’t want the limelight, whether the results are good or bad. He quietly (in public) gets on with running a football club. He ensures that the income is maximised and the costs are controlled. He also needs to ensure the customer (you and me) are happy with the product that is vended. Football is a competitive sport and sometimes the quality can vary greatly, often from week to week.
He makes decisions. Sometimes those decisions are wrong. Just in the same way we’ve all bought a car, a TV, or a washer that ended up being a bit rubbish. He’ll never be forgiven or forgotten for his mistakes, but will he be lauded for the incredible achievements of Bradford City during his tenure?
The old expression: It’s not so much a thankless task, more a job with no thanks.
The big tangible asset of any football club is it stadium. Except we don’t own ours. To stop the significant threat of a mortgage lender winding up the club, a certain J Rhodes sold it to his then co-owner’s company pension fund (the only source of cash available to Bradford City Ltd, full stop) in return for a 25 year lease on reasonable terms at the time.
It seats 25,000 fans. Its been filled only a handful of times in the last ten years. It sits in the middle of a working class city, walking/staggering distance from the city centre.
Average but not hideous transport links enable able-bodied fans to amble on up to the ground. Its standard is generally good, toilets aside. The dream of hot water in the gents on a January night game is almost as dreamy as a 20 goal a season striker on a 5-year deal. But its tidy, not dilapidated but the Bradford End needs a lick of paint. One colleague described it as two stadiums in one. One half is the San Siro, the other is Saltergate. It amused me greatly!
The old expression: Rolls Royce in a council house front garden (might have made that up a bit!)
Club legend, Stuart McCall. Our Stuart. Mr Bradford City. Some have now come to call him Teflon which is most amusing and explains their view of managers.
My view of managers is that they are there to manage the football endeavours. None of that business nonsense for them. They are given a budget to invest in playing staff that will improve the position of the club. They might bring a player in that gets sold within two seasons for, let’s say £1.3 million plus add ons. Or they might bring a tall lad in from a local club/supermarket as a prospect for, I don’t know… maybe £7.5k and ends up being PIVOTAL in the club’s progression in the league.
Managers are rated on their recruitment, especially in the pressure cooker transfer windows. They are also rated on the quality of their football. I’d say in thirty-odd years of watching City, I’ve kind of got a handle on what the average City fan wants. Effort, lots of it. Fast wingers and big centre forwards. Bone-crunching tackles. A bit of handbags when a tackle goes too far.
Aggression. Grit. Determination. A little bit of class in the centre of the park or up front that can dance through defences on their best days and hit the onion bag regularly. Nice football, but lots of good attacks and goals. We don’t like sideways or backwards passes. Failing to mark the big lads at corners. Flapping goalies. Anyone who doesn’t try or looks to give any less than 100% effort. Anyone who shows disrespect to either the club or its fans.
The manager has to get it right. And there is a lot of variables to get right. You can win with the wrong tactics if a ball goes in off a right-back’s arse and you defend well. You can lose playing expansive football and beautiful little triangles if your centre backs are snoozing when the high ball comes in.
Stuart has been at the club three times as manager. He has had very good patches in all the seasons he has been at the helm. He has signed some good players. He’s signed some stinkers as well. He plays the kind of football that most fans appreciate. He is 100% committed to the club and hurts like a fan. He’s probably the most affordable ex-International former footballer, ex-Premier League assistant manager, ex-European football club manager we could have.
The only thing he hasn’t got on his side is success at Bradford City as a manager. As a manager, with the club desperate for success on the pitch, he is in a very challenging situation.
The old expression: He without sin please cast the first stone.
This is a hard one. I’ll start with value. Who in the current squad has value? By that I mean a resale value. Many people feel that Connor Wood is a valuable first team player for City. First name of the team sheet, maybe? But he’s also been part of a defence that has shipped many goals in the last few seasons.
How about Zeli Ismail? In Football Manager 2014 (I know, get an upgrade!) he is a Championship quality winger. He’s not kicked on yet and is injury prone, from what I understand.
Elliot Watt, then. Promising midfielder who played well in League Two last season. He still has to prove himself to become a saleable asset. Okay, upfront then. Hmmm, there’s not exactly a bunch of untapped potential there, really. So we don’t have any real star players in our midst.
In recent seasons, our recruitment of players seems to have been based on ability. All our players have good ability. We don’t really have any donkeys who couldn’t trap a bag of cement. They all look relatively comfortable on the ball.
But in recent seasons we’ve been carved open like a tin of sardines regularly. We have leaked goals and that is coupled with a wasteful approach to scoring them at the opposition end. This season is marked by a recruitment of ‘character’.
Players who have determination, focus, concentration, desire. They are hungry, apparently. With the end of the transfer window a few weeks away, the expectation is that between two and five more players with ‘character’ are signed. Patience is the key here.
Chinese Proverb: One moment of patience may ward off great disaster. One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life.
The best in the world. Without a doubt. In our successes over the last twenty years we have been almost exemplary in our behaviour. We come out in force. The Bradford Boys are usually making all the noise away from home. Bit more peaceful at home unless it gets a bit tasty.
Valley Parade on a big match day (my favourite is QPR at home on the last day of the season in 1997, Nigel Pepper, take a bow) is a force to be reckoned with. The top can come off the stands with the noise and passion. Its incredible and its something I hope my young son will experience when he is old enough.
We are also the most demanding, conspiracy theory prone, angry and unrealistic fans I have met. Admittedly my sampling of fan opinion comes from the echo chamber of social media that erupts the moment a bad result is reported. But the evidence is there. There is a majority that are reasonable and moderate their expectations when confronted with facts.
However, some believe that telling fans they’ve been after some big names in lower league football is some kind of mistake. They wanted to know why the club was not going after some big names in lower league football, so the club replied. I’m bewildered by the reaction.
I’m not here to slag fans of my club off. We are entitled to our opinions and we should voice them. We’ll always disagree and debate because we are humans and that’s how we’ve got to where we are in society. If anything, our fans are the club’s greatest potential. If the club becomes successful again, the fans will bring the noise and the value of the club will increase. Its almost limitless potential as big Geoff proved in the 1990s.
The old expression: Great passions are incurable diseases
Fans are right to be angry. We have gone backwards. The value of the club has diminished. The recruitment has not inspired the fans. The global pandemic has reduced income streams across the industry.
We now have a salary cap that stifles the ability to sign better players through cash investments. We have a disinterested owner who doesn’t want a small fortune at the end of his ownership. We have a perceived lack of vision for the future, but this is in keeping with all businesses in this troubling time.
We have a big stadium that we can fill with our amazing, passionate supporters when it is truly safe to do so. We have a football manager with a wealth of experience spanning forty-odd years at a very high level, but needs some success. We have a CEO with a track record of managing a tight ship financially and supporting incremental improvements.
We have capable, but unexceptional, players at this level of football. We have a lot of attributes that could push us forward like they did 8 years ago.
What we don’t have is patience.