Miserably exceeding expectations – the Bradford City decline goes on

By Alex Lester

Ever since 1999, when at the age of nine I accompanied my Grandad to my first ever match at Valley Parade, Bradford City has often been to blame for a number of contrasting emotions.

On that afternoon, City drew with a then bottom-of-the-table Oxford United side, a disappointing result that meant the team’s promotion bid would go down to the last game of the season – an away fixture at Wolverhampton Wanderers, a team that hadn’t suffered defeat in thirteen games.

The emotions felt that day at home to Oxford were a mixture of excitement and wonder, mixed-in with more than a hint of nervous energy. With my programme bought – containing a free poster of Jamie Lawrence no less – there I sat along the Midland Road, my journey with the City about to begin.

In the weeks, months and years that followed, every inch of the emotional spectrum was explored. From the joy of winning promotion to the despair at losing to Leeds United (twice in 1999/2000), each week brought with a new sensation – building to a crescendo of sheer relief upon the final whistle on May 14, 2000.

As a gentleman who’d witnessed City playing across all divisions, my Grandad was quick to tell me that following the Bantams wouldn’t always be like this – and boy was he right.

Miserably exceeding his own predictions, City’s demise since David Wetherall secured Premier League survival during the final game of the 1999/2000 season has been incredible.

Two bouts of administrations didn’t help – nor did a succession of woefully equipped managers, blundering their way from one transfer window to the next, with only the likes of Dean Windass, Danny Cadamarteri and, in more recent times, James Hanson providing fans with a reason to renew their season tickets.

Understandably, anger has therefore become a fairly staple emotion when dealing with Bradford City. From an ever-growing list, standout moments of fury include a 4-1 home defeat to a relegation-threatened MK Dons (February, 2005), Billy Clarke’s miss in the League One play off final and of course, most games from the 2018/19 season.

Superseding this feeling of anger throughout the years, however, has been an underlying love for all things Bradford City. As the family ties mentioned in this article suggest, the Bantams have been a feature in my household for as long I can remember – something I’m sure most fans reading this article can relate to.

Like most football fans across the world, one’s tie to one’s club is something that’s both immeasurably special, and immensely emotional. Which is why the anger felt towards Bradford City today, feels more heartbreaking than ever before.

Where once the tweets, screams and shouts were directed at those on the pitch, today it is those behind the scenes who bear the brunt of our wrath. Never during my time as a supporter has so much been criticised, pulled apart and scrutinised by the club’s fans – and the worst part is, it’s mostly justified.

Apace, the list of injustices post 2016 continues to grow. Duped by a German conman and his gullible ally, fans have seen Bradford City tumble from a Championship-chasing, profit-turning outfit, to that of a meme-feeding, League 2 relegation-facing joke.

Between losses and despair, lines from the club have been drip-fed to the fans – teasing that the end of the tunnel is now in sight.

Take Exhibit A, for example:

Once the bottom fell out of Rahic’s grand plan, Stefan Rupp kicked the PR spinathon off in December 2018, declaring that [the] ‘people of Bradford deserve better than Rahic’, before declaring he would continue to invest in the club he and his pal purchased two years prior. 

Arriving just a few months before the announcement of the club’s ‘Our City’ season ticket marketing campaign, Rupp’s words did manage to raise some belief, as evidenced the fact that 12,000 fans – myself included – had renewed their season tickets by April 2019.

Hopes raised, 2019 started well enough, with City establishing themselves as a play off contender by the start of December. One month later however, and reality once again bit, hard.

Having loaned-out a big-earing Eoin Doyle to fellow promotion contenders Swindon, City allowed top scorer James Vaughan to leave for Tranmere Rovers before replacing him with Kurtis Guthrie of bottom-of-the-league Stevenage, and an aging Lee Novak.

Soon after, Gary Bowyer was swiftly replaced by Stuart McCall as manager and in the summer that followed, Rupp’s seeming lack of interest – especially in areas relating to player scouting and recruitment – became more apparent than ever.

Across the Twittersphere, City’s recruitment policy was laid bare for all to see, with a number of fans questioning the re-signing of Dylan Mottley-Henry and Billy Clarke, while James Vaughan’s departure left fans feeling anxious as to where the team’s goals would come from.

Sensing the unrest, the club chose to relentlessly  press the issue of the pending ‘salary cap’ as a reason to justify its frugal activity in the market, redirecting some of the anger away from the boardroom and towards the EFL.

In the days and weeks that followed, City announced contract extensions for Clayton Donaldson and Richard O’Donnell, while down the road, Antoni Sarcevic, Eoin Doyle, Ian Henderson and James Wilson were unveiled by Bolton and Salford respectively. Once again, City fans were left to eat the dust of their divisional rivals, with a mid-table finish now viewed by most as a best-case scenario for the 2020/21 season.

All the while, the PR cogs within Valley Parade continue to turn. Replacing the underexposed, dimly lit ‘Our City’ campaign, ‘City for All’ failed to match its predecessors figures despite matching it’s equally weak production value, with many fearing season ticket sales would have fallen below the 10,0000 mark irrespective of the global pandemic.

Growing ambivalent at best, fans like John Wade are turning their back on the club, and who could really blame them?

Time after time many City fans feel as though they have been trampled on, lied to and conned.

For too long now, Bradford City’s loyal, loving fanbase feels as though it has been taken for a ride. Families across the region are suffering not because they want a return to the Premier League years, but because they no longer feel the same affinity with the club they grew up loving.

Calls for better communication are pointless – offering the club more airtime could well lead to a further feeling of deception, greater anger and more ambivalence amongst the fans. Instead, I’d like to see calls for a greater emphasis on recruitment evidenced by intelligent signings – starting this January. 

Positive action, rather than cheap, tacky words.  A win or two might be nice too.

Last week, Peterborough Owner Darragh MacAnthony stated that he believed his approach could see a club like Bradford back at the top of League 1 and that if new owners can’t be found sooner rather than later, a fan-ownership model could pay dividends instead.

Whatever you think of Posh’s controversial owner, his words offer some food for thought.

Rupp was right in 2018 when he said we deserve much better. Two years later, and he’s proved himself unable to deliver anything but further failure so far. If things are going to change – if ever we’re to feel love not just for our team, but for our club – it needs to happen from the top down.

Categories: Opinion

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13 replies

  1. I have followed city from first match at three years old.Trounced by Avenue but even in the Taylor time I can never remember this bad. Today we play Oldham by chance I have double booked and not sorry to miss match. Last two years were bad enough but occasionally football was played .This year is the pits ,our defence is chronic I expect a goal against us on every attack.Yes O’DONNELL is a great shot stopper but shots from twenty yards he becomes blind.BRE is gaurenteed a cock up. Our attack doesn’t exist because the midfield can’t give decent balls and everyone is two yards off the pace. Why not have a captain in the outfield . Stuart you are a hero but if you don’t wake up and smell the coffee it will be bye bye and we will be non league. Joe Bromberg Fan for 64years

    • I’ve been saying what’s in this article before the season started, it was so predictable, you simply get what you pay for, the owner dose not want the club but he wants his money back and he his getting out bit by bit at the expense of the future of Bradford City ,if the fans would have been in the ground i do think the situation would have been brought to a head with the toxic atmosphere and demonstrations that would have surely happened. The owner his now trying to steady the ship but for a lot of fans its to late and next season they will vote with there feet,he really should come out and announce what his plans are for the club.

  2. It’s a good article and he share the frustrations of the fans. I disagree with your comment that the club “ allowed “ James Vaughan to leave.
    You can’t keep a player who does not want to be here or play.
    Similar with Doyle . Once he had his head turned by Swindon , he did not want to be here.

    • In part I agree. However, the missing bit is asking why. How did we yet again misuse and alienate players and get nothing out of them when other clubs and managers can. That’s the bit we need to ask ourselves.

  3. This is a well written and balanced article. For me it reflects my feelings about a club I have supported 46 years and prior to this I supported BPA as a young boy. It’s interesting that I am starting to lean back towards my boyhood team. I am pretty fed up with the articles written in the T&A, which are the same old player comments that are not translated to actual performances on the pitch. I have continued to watch City on ifollow and will do the same today and hope we get something from the Oldham game.
    As an optimist, I believe we will survive this season, maintaining our league status, but beyond that things must change inside the club, or we will be having the same discussion points next season.

  4. Bradford City……….. it’s like the ex wife.

    You were excited to see her when you first met, couldn’t wait for the days and nights out.

    Then you get married, and after a few years the days and nights start to get a bit boring.

    You try to keep going and putting your heart and soul into it, because that’s what you should do, work at a relationship, support each other.

    But you eventually run out of steam doing this.

    This then starts arguments, that lead to resentment.

    Spells of not talking or long walks on your own or with the dog follow.

    You would rather be anywhere than with the wife.

    It’s during one of those long walks you make a decision.

    You don’t want to do it, you shouldn’t do it, what would the reaction of your friends and family be?

    But you have decided, enough is enough and its time….time to walk away.

    You say to each other it’s not you it’s me.

    Well City….ITS DEFINITELY YOU on this one.

    I get the feeling many City fans are either already on the long walk, or thinking about buying a dog !

  5. The ‘rationale’ of the impending salary cap, to avoid spending, was disingenuous at best and downright……..
    It was abundantly apparent to anyone who looked at the ruling, that players signed before the introduction of cap, only counted as the ‘average’ salary.
    So other clubs offered higher wages, but in the equation were not penalised, if their gross outgoings were greater than the salary cap.
    From the outside, it appears to have been a financially ‘prudent’ exercise on City’s part, but the reality of the penny pinching has disadvantaged the club against many of our rivals.
    Rupp had apparently budgeted for more and I believe the club will avoid any significant deficit this season, but perhaps at the cost of our membership of the Football League!
    In addition to the outlay, there has to be serious questions about the shambles of the recruitment policy, which seems to have resulted in a disjointed team, lacking in leaders and with players prone to injury.
    Sadly I have to conclude that it is a lack of leadership and that responsibility lies with the: Owner; CEO; Manager and the Players, collectively they have contributed to our current malaise!

    • I agree with you on blame but I think it must be noted that Ryan Sparks is not the guilty ceo.
      He probably has not had a part in the woeful and neglectful mismanagement of the last few years.
      Indeed he has already highlighted the scouting and recruitment shambles.
      Maybe he is the only flickering light in the darkness.
      But I fear it will be too late.

  6. I’m sick to death reading that ‘ we let Vaughan go’ He didn’t want to be here and worked his ticket by not trying in training etc. Who could blame him really , a drive from Liverpool everyday when he can take his kids to school then leap over the garden wall to train at Tranmere. A no brained. Fair comment we didn’t replace him adequately, but let him go is nonsense. With regard to our remaining owner Stefan Rupp , no other Owner has EVER put as much of their OWN money into City as him. Others have invested more borrowed money and then gone bust but that’s the past. His outlay has been squandered by people who he had little alternative but to trust. I’m surprised with all the flack he takes he just doesn’t walk away, cut his losses and live happily ever after. Im sure he could easily afford to do so , but the fact is he doesn’t. If he did what is left even for free. We don’t own our ground, don’t own a training ground and our massive shop was sold to be a school years ago. Dont think we even own the car park. All that’s left is a squad of players that are currently the second worst in the whole 4 divisions. How far up Burlington Terrace would the queue be to take it all on. Not very far i reckon.

  7. I have felt throughout the last few years that this demise could also be an opportunity
    I too feel we will survive
    if we dont
    the value of the club must plummet
    could someone with the financial understanding – in the fan base – already be thinking of a fans buyout
    If ever there was a club to do this surely our family of fans could?

  8. There are buyers circling … or so the internet chatter says. But cruelly maybe vultures want the value of the club to sink further before the deal is done. Let’s hope not. We do not want to fall out of league football … the mere thought of that …

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