Is relegation a real possibility for Bradford City?

By Joseph Marczynski

When Bradford City were relegated from League One, we were almost dead and buried by November. We’d fallen to 24th in the table, only rising to the giddy heights of 20th from this point until the end of the season.

We hit a “turning point” during the festive period, with four wins, including 4-0 drubbings of Walsall and Rochdale. But we failed to build upon them. The season saw more false dawns than a Vicar of Dibley convention, and we all know what happened next.

Emptying a truckload of cash to retain Jack Payne turned his performances from champagne to Lambrini. David Hopkin did the honourable thing and jumped from the already partially-submerged ship. Bowyer-ball failed to stop the rot, bringing untold tedium as we sank into the depths of League Two.

As we fall into the relegation spots following a truly appalling loss to Carlisle, there’s a similar blend of malaise, dismay and fury from the City faithful.

I won’t lament the undoing of Parkinson’s years of progress, because you’ve heard it all before. Just like posting the highlights of the Chelsea game every time Mourinho coughs, it’s unhealthy to spend so much time wandering down memory lane.

Since we were promoted in the halcyon days of the 2012/13 season, the lowest number of points to survive the League Two drop – discounting the season Bury went into administration and the Covid-curtailed 2019/20 season – was 35. That’s 22 more points than we have now, six wins and couple of draws would do it.

If we maintain the abysmal form we’ve shown so far, of just under a point a game, we’d hit this benchmark, with 43 points, give or take.

In the 2017/18 season, this would mean relegation, with 47 the number required to stay up. In the 2016/17, we’d also go down. We’d scrape by in 2015/16 and 2014/15.

Looking ever further back, things are less optimistic. 2012/13, we’d need 52 more points to survive the drop. In 2010/11, we’d need 48.

It’s not a forgone conclusion we’ll still be a Football League club come summer. Relying on Southend and Stevenage to simply bow out gracefully isn’t a coherent strategy. But how did we get here?

There’s only so long we can hang all of the club’s issues on Edin Rahic. Yes, his meddling was about as healthy for the club as inhaling asbestos, but he’s now been gone since December 2018, and the club has continued on its vertigo-inducing plummet into obscurity.

Naivety is perhaps the fairest word to describe the club’s approach this season. Allowing James Vaughan to depart for nothing – not the promised significant compensation – spending little money on a reasonable replacement, was at best foolish, at worst, complete incompetence.

As was retaining players who had failed to perform to even basic standards (Kurtis Guthrie, Dylan Mottley-Henry) or who spend more time on the treatment table than the pitch (Zeli Ismail – the first professional footballer with Quavers for legs, who we somehow originally agreed a deal where he could choose to excercise a one-year extension).

Publicly dismissing the free agent market which has proved useful in the past (Matt Kilgallon, Paul Caddis, Jim O’Brien – I stand by the opinion O’Brien would have helped us avoid the drop into League Two) and sitting on our hands over summer, fearful of salary cap restrictions that were predictably circumvented by more savvy clubs.

Issues in the depth of the team were clear before this season kicked off. Paper-thin with a wince-including bench even when fully fit; this is a hodgepodge of players, rather than a coherent squad. When you’re starting to look back at players from the League One relegation squad with misty-eyed admiration, it speaks volumes about the current crop.

It doesn’t help that the club is a vacuum for footballing potential. The list of formerly promising players who have failed to perform for us is almost endless: Eoin Doyle, James Vaughan, Sean Scannell, Jacob Butterfield, Jake Reeves, Shay McCartan – all had decent pedigree before donning the Claret and Amber.

If we go down, we’ll become the first former Premier League club to fall out of the Football League ever. A once proud, historic club, demoted to a future pub quiz question.

Formerly stable clubs who dropped into the National League have made an uncomfortable home there. Hartlepool, Chesterfield and Notts County are still mired in the Vanarama, with Macclesfield dissolving into the ether upon confirmation of their demise.

I hope I can reflect on this article during a blissful, fully-vaccinated summer, embarrassed by my overreaction, looking back at a steady-midtable finish.

Recruitment in our typically woeful January transfer window will be pivotal, with a new spine – including a goal scorer – the minimum requirement to climbing out of the grave we’re frantically digging for ourselves. Serious money has to be spent. Inertia isn’t an opinion. Shirk the responsibility and commitment again, and away days to Weymouth and Wealdstone could soon beckon.

Categories: Opinion


25 replies

  1. Aside from being 23rd, we’ve scored 14 in 15 games, and not scored in 8.

    We had similar scoring problems last year – even with Vaughan we had a lot of penalties given, and so many own goals scored in our favour it was our second top scorer at one point.

    Then we had the diabolical January window which only made our attacking options worse – Novak excepted to some extent – and similarly in the extended summer transfer window.

    You do need goals scored throughout a side, but our attack has poor for several years – go back to the 2018-19 relegation season where it was poor again. A constant problem where the solutions seem to be signing players at the end of their careers, on downward spirals or green as grass.

    We need at least 1, should be 2 quality forwards in the window. Yes, they may be expensive – but we’re paying the price for neglecting this area is the way.

    ‘It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little.’ – John Ruskin.

  2. From a distance of 100 miles and not having seen City for a couple of years perhapsI I can still look on the bright side!.If the worst
    happens the faithful can look forwards to restoring the local derby with the Fax and, who knows, even closer to home the mighty Farsley Celtic!
    Oh for the days of Campbell and Hendrie

  3. “… Zeli Ismail – the first professional footballer with Quavers for legs.”

    Firmly in the ‘funny cos it’s true’ category, this is going to amuse me all day long – cheers Joseph!

    • Not just Ismail is it, we seem to be expert at recruiting these types of “Mr Glass” players…
      Because no one ever bothers to check out if a player has a history of actually managing to play 35 games a season at a minimum.

  4. The James Vaughan debate promises to go on and on. The player stated his intention to leave VP. His behaviour on the pitch, let alone off it, is that a petulant brat – hardly a recipe for good atmosphere in the dressing room. Having him in the squad would have been a bad influence, sulking on the sidelines. It was not an ideal situation but I think Stuart did the right thing letting him go and by doing so created room within his budget.

    It was inevitable that he had to leave and yet, how easy is it for us to attract an acclaimed striker given that we has established a record as a crisis club? After the experience of the players you name – Eoin Doyle, James Vaughan, Sean Scannell, Jacob Butterfield, Jake Reeves, Shay McCartan – how realistic was / is it for us to attract another star to risk his reputation at Valley Parade? In other words, replacement of Vaughan with a like for like player was easier said than done. In some ways it was a no-win situation that the club faced.

    Stuart has made two fundamental judgement calls this summer. The first has been to stick with a small squad and the second has been over the quality of the squad. On the first point, on the issue of a small squad Stuart has said that he does not want players in the squad who cant get a game. His view is presumably that successful squads of the past have been small and with a good culture and I get that. Injuries have aggravated the problems which i think comes down to fitness. A factor in this has been the lack of pre-training preparation, a direct consequence of the lockdown and i suspect this was under-estimated.

    Clearly there are bad players in the squad going through the motions which is self-evident. Those such as Richards-Everton know they don’t have a future and are potentially a bad influence but with a small squad are difficult to marginalise and cast aside. As regards retaining sub-standard players, if they are under contract and no-one wanted to buy them what can you do? To pay off their contracts would have bitten into the salary cap budget. Stuart has opted to try and get them motivated and onboard – clearly an impossible task. Again, easier said than done to get rid of the dross mercenaries.

    With regards the quality of the squad, on paper at least they don’t look like relegation candidates but judgement on character is another matter. With the benefit of hindsight you would have recruited more players to compensate and provide strength in depth. In terms of recruitment Stuart however deliberately decided to hold back a good chunk of the budget for January and that is still there to be spent. The club cannot be blamed for recruitment or economies in the payroll during the summer, it has been the manager’s decision making.

    Comparisons with 2018/19 are sobering but for me the single biggest factor that has impacted on performances has been that of injuries and the lack of a pre-season must have been an issue in this. City need to escape relegation by getting results and not relying on other clubs to implode but my bet is that we will see plenty of change in the table in the next few weeks. For a start whilst everyone talks about the recovery of Bolton, look at the collapse of Port Vale. Others with small squads will presumably be equally vulnerable to the impact of a hard winter and probably won’t have the spending power to recruit in January. We could actually find that we are one of the few clubs in the market in January able to spend.

    • Just tell me please why move on Vaughan and bring in a 19 year old loan player who spent most of his time on the substitute’s bench at a National League side. Tight squads are all Well and good but when you have eight injuries and have to rely on kids, players that are not fully fit and players that are totally out of form, inevitably leads to the rubbish we are witnessing. A manager must take some of the responsibility of his actions.
      Some are saying, don’t worry re-enforcements are on the way in January. By which time we will be well adrift of the 3rd from bottom side and we will find it difficult to fight our way back.
      We are where we are because of crap decisions made over the last few years. These decision are made at every level. I fear that we fail to learn from them.

  5. Its just unthinkable that we go down.
    Our worst nightmare.
    The knock on effect could be the end of BCFC as we know it or even altogether.

    To the powers that be……
    sort this mess out once and for all


  6. On Vaughan I would say that post-covid the chances of getting a fee was zero. Player power rules at the best of times. Add to that football economy falling off a cliff and nobody is paying a fee with any sense.Rovers could happily wait for Vaughan to sulk his way out of his contract.
    Choosing DMH to add width over Connolly was a puzzle. DCs end product was not always there but he was infinitely preferable of the two. Guthrie looked lightweight from his first inauspicious outing.

  7. i wish that other fans would stop buying into the fantasy that our predicament is caused by the current injury list. there are no superstars in the treatment room just waiting to save our season when fit again. Novak might be marginally, just marginally better than what is currently on show but even he won’t score the goals we have been lacking ( his best seasonal league tally is 13 and that is many seasons ago). i look at the injured players and frankly there isn’t one that gets me even mildly enthusiastic about their return. squad-wide we have defenders who collectively cannot defend and and attackers unable to score anywhere near the goals needed.
    my fear is that (just like all previous January windows) the club will be determined to try and do it on the cheap. waiting till the fag end of the window to scrabble around in the bargain basement amongst the remaining players other clubs don’t want in the hope of getting them cheap.

    • I think the fact that we are waiting for Lee Novak to return as if he was the new Messiah extremely worrying. It just goes to show how poor the alternatives are.

      There is no cavalry in the treatment room. Just a different set of players who are not good enough.

    • Two youth players, 3 players who were not able to get on the bench last year and were playing in non league, and 2 players with barely a seasons worth of league appearances between them were the options from the bench last game. Sorry but injuries do matter. Bowyers initial squad was rich compared to this.

  8. PS Jim O’B looked decent but he would not have kept us up. He certainly did not help County avoid the trap door to the NL after he left us!I agree however that dismissing the free agent option out of hand was a mistake

  9. We are already being run like a non-league club, so it won’t be surprising if we end up there. What does Rupp actually want from the club – what are his long term ambitions for it? Does he want success, or is he just happy to dip his hand in his pocket once in a while to stop the club from going into admin with no other thought? We seriously need more investment, I can understand his reluctance to part with more cash after having his hands badly burnt by Rahic but we need to rebuild from the ground up. Starting with a proper set of backroom staff, to at least match some of the more ambitious league 2 clubs out there. It’s not just about what’s out there on the pitch, its also what’s going on behind the scenes with a decent scouting network, proper coaching setup, sports scientists and data analysis. Director of Football would be a luxury on top of that. I just think that if Rupp has no clear plan for the next few years other than wishful thinking on a shoestring budget, that he should step aside, or at the very least be open to outside investment and maybe joint ownership once again. Listening to the ‘hard truth’ podcast with the Posh chairman saying he would have snapped us up in a heartbeat (if we’d have been available at the time of him investing) and have us in the Championship within 4 seasons is a very sobering thought and one that surely some other third parties also have!

  10. I think we are now paying the price for having ridiculously cheap season tickets!!-We cannot pay decent fees,etc,for Staff-both playing and non -playing staff,from the top of the club to the bottom.What did we expecy?

    • Hear hear. We complain about the club spending on the cheap but when it doesn’t have the income or the funding from a sugar daddy benefactor willing to throw money into VP what do we expect? As regards the Posh chairman claiming he would have bought BCAFC, what stopped him making a bid before the Germans came along??? The lack of assets maybe?

  11. Serious money spent if there is Serious money left within the cap. Im sick of reading about us letting James Vaughan go. James Vaughan did not want to be here. Tranmere wanted him, so he could take his kids to school, and jump over his garden wall to training . Who wouldn’t want to knock 3 hours a day travelling to work and back. To work his ticket he then decided to just go through the motions in training leaving us with little option. Fair enough we haven’t replaced him like for like but to say we shoved him out of the door is ludicrous.

  12. We should not be having this ‘relegation’ discussion but sadly we are….and the answer to Joseph’s question is, I am afraid, ‘yes’, relegation is a real possibility’. No need to rehearse the reasons why but if the worst happens I fear that far from there being a derby with Halifax there will be nothing. The outcome of relegation will most likely be administration. Rupp would call in his loans and the payments on the ground rent would simply be unaffordable…leaving us to follow in the footsteps of Bury and Macclesfield.
    Don’t know how well McCall reacts to pressure. If the more the better then he should be reminded of this nightmare prospect every day by Sparks and supporters alike. If not, we should all pretend that the answer to Joseph’s question is actually ‘no’ !!

  13. Yes, we can go down and the writing has been on the wall since the dark days of Rahic. It’s been one downward spiral and I doubt we’ll arrest it until we drop through the trap door.

    There’s just about everything you can think of that’s wrong with our club and it’s pointless listing them all here as they’ve already been done to death. Suffice to say an absent and disinterested owner, an inexperienced CEO, shell shocked players with the losing habit and a manager who’s record shows he struggles to turn things around when form and results nosedive.

    The one ingredient that’s missing in all the key areas of the club is “quality”. We’ve ended up as a two bit, Mickey Mouse outfit and, in the competitive world we now live, I fear we’re going to sadly pay the price, in terms of league status and, more worryingly, our very existence.

    • The strategy and recruitment over the summer has been a massive factor in the clubs struggles. The decision to go with a small squad is looking lvery regrettable and it’s difficult to see a another win this calender year.

      The signing of Samuals and DMH smacks of been left in the starting blocks and I have not been impressed with McCalls post match interviews or his tactics. McCall can neither motivate or organise this team to defend properly or attack with any purpose. This combination only leads to relegation over the course of a season.

      The club may need anything between 40 to 50 pts to survive this season and given the flimsy squad that cant defend or attack with any conviction then relegation into non league football is certainly a reality. The defeat against Carlisle where we didnt muster a single shot on goal was another embarrassing performance against a squad containing 5 exbantams.

      A defeat that was kept to 1 goal by some good goalkeeping from O’Donnell and a combination of poor finishing from Omar Patrick who was given the freedom of Valley Parade. This was a club we smashed 4-0 on the opening day of the season under the clubs return to L1 under PP only 6 years ago.

      McCall has to get Novak, Evans and Clarke back fully fit and back into the fold. However, these players must be in positions on the pitch within a formation that makes us watertight at the back and gives us a cutting edge up front. For this to happen wecrequire fresh faces ASAP from the non contract market on short term deals. A central defender and a winger within a 442 formation with 2 holding type midfielders to protect the back four would be start.

      Paudie O’Conner and BRE have been awful this season and require dropping. The defence with Sutton and Wood as conventional full backs would gives us a much better shape.

      O’Donnell is captain for a reason, because there is not one leader in the outfield. A sad indictment and reflection of this squad.

      For the club to continue selling cheap season tickets it will become more and more difficult in the future, if the club has a future. I believe 10k is the break even number that is needed for this to be viable.

      The future of the club is very much in the balance. Relegation to the non league with 6k fans and 350k rent to pay is not an option. If the club can survive this season then a discussion is required with the board/owner on a working model of how the club should be run from top to bottom and how we as a club can plan for the future and move forward. If Rupp doesn’t want proceed in this way he has to consider his position and ask himself why an earth did he buy this football club in the first place? If we can survive this season and have fans fully back at VP for the start of next season then Rupps only option is to put the club up for sale and actively find a suitable buyer and begin the process to mend this broken football club.

  14. Rhodes and Rupp’s gamble was that this season would be cancelled due to Covid. Whilst other teams filled their boots prior to the implementation of the salary cap we sat back knowing that they had Vaughn’s salary to spend. The fact that after signing Evans we still have 20% of the salary limit to spend is ridiculous. We get ‘Jigsaw’ Samuels with Wolves paying his basic wages (nonexistent bonuses down to us), DMH probably on £500 per week And yet we expected to be in fringes of the play offs. Unbelievable.
    Their gamble has exploded in their faces.
    We now face January transfers (notoriously poor value already). How much more expensive will it be to sign anyone to a bottom 2 team?
    Love McCall but his acceptance of this budget and small squad in a ‘known’ intensive season is justification enough for the sack. The fact that they extended his contract is an acceptance of Rhodes/Rupps budget error. Again this has blown back in their faces.

  15. Quote: ‘Rhodes and Rupp’s gamble was that this season would be cancelled due to Covid. ‘

    That’s a pretty big accusation even by the standard of online bcfc conspiracy theories.

    Supposition or fact???

    • Then why else haven’t they spent up to salary cap that they apparently voted against?
      20% less than cap is a big gap especially when you consider how much the O’Connors are on. Evans won’t be cheap. Donaldson extended his existing contract.
      Gives an idea of how much the rest of the squad is on.
      Gave the captaincy to O’Donnell to sweeten his reduced new contract.
      The budget was clearly for a mid table treading water season if it did conclude, but instead we are drowning.
      Cheap and not so cheerful.

  16. Worry for me is that if our losing run continues, given Sparks’ inexperience, will he recognise, or accept that the decision to give Stuart a new contract was a mistake, and have the courage to ask a club legend to leave his post. Or will we give Stuart the transfer window, then make the change too late, when we are even further in the mire, and his replacement won’t have the opportunity to bring in his own players, same as what happened with Bowyer last season.

    Watching Patrick at the weekend when he never came close to hitting those heights when he played for us, confirms how heavy the City shirt can weigh on players, with the pressure of expectation to be challenging for promotion, meaning you need strong characters and leaders to be able to cope with this.

    One person that realised this was Phil Parkinson, and if Stuart was to leave his post, then while I’m not normally a fan of players or managers returning, in this case I think it’d be a no brainier to try get him back, although whether he would come or not is a different matter.

%d bloggers like this: