By Jason McKeown
It’s so difficult not to fear the unknown. To avoid feeling deeply anxious, as a world that seems alien and utterly confusing threatens to collide into one you know inside out.
Over the past two days, Bradford City supporters have had to try and get their heads around cryptocurrency and the idea it might be about to fund a fast ticket to the Premier League. Google will have a noted an unusual Thursday night spike in searches titled ‘What is an NFT?” from the Bradford area.
When you have to go to the Washington Post to read about the future of your football club, you know you’re living in unusual times. A Thursday night Twitter live space event with the prospective new owners of Bradford City Football Club – filled with talk about social media influencers, making a TV documentary and how inspiring Ted Lasso is to their ideas – felt like the online equivalent of accidentally walking into a room full of strangers.
“So sorry, I must be in the wrong place.”
The speed as much as anything sits uneasy. The potential owners – collectively calling themselves WAGMI United – spoke on the live space event about the deal being concluded by the middle of January, in time to invest in new players before the transfer window closes. They claimed in the Washington Post article to have already spoken to the EFL, who “has proven to be surprisingly progressive in our conversations with them, and they’re excited by the outsized interest we hope to bring.”
To hear them talk like this was to feel as though the revolution of Bradford City Football Club had begun before we’ve had chance to ponder whether it’s actually a good idea. Or, in fact, if we even get to have a say.
And that really does feel uncomfortable. Bradford City is a historic institution with a heritage that goes back 118 years. It means so much to so many of us, with years and years of dedicated support that sees the baton passed on generation after generation. It’s our football club, our stadium, our claret and amber colours, our Billy Bantam even. There’s a story of ups and downs that we’ve collectively experienced and which bonds us. We share the same heroes and villains. Hopes and dreams.
Supporting this club for many years gives us a sense of ownership and a huge emotional stake. And when listening to loud, brash and highly confident Americans talk about taking something that belongs to you and how they want to completely remould it – using concepts that are really difficult to understand – it’s easy to feel deeply concerned.
The morning after the Twitter space event, the Bantams’ current owner Stefan Rupp applied a huge dose of cold water over the WAGMI United’s bold claims the deal was basically done. His short statement revealed there had received an offer by email and that was as far as it had gone. And although that hardly brings an end to the matter, it does point to a huge level of naivety from a group of investors who might ultimately be the next owners of Bradford City.
Indeed, it’s hard to look at the public start WAGMI United have made as would-be football club owners and feel in any way impressed. Of course, it is great to engage with supporters via a Twitter event – not something you would ever see Rupp do, for example – but it feels premature. And all their brazen talk about taking Bradford City to the Premier League couldn’t disguise the lack of self-awareness about their limited football knowledge.
They talked about how when they were kids they played football together, and were taking inspiration from watching Ted Lasso.
That kind of was all they had.
I think all of us know someone who sits near them at Valley Parade that talks utter rubbish for 90 minutes. They come across absolutely clueless. Well, that person in your life knows far more about football than these guys trying to buy our club. The ones telling us they’re going to lead City to the Premier League.
Their expertise lies in social media and branding (plus, of course, making a ton of money through NFTs). And it is clear they are focused on building their global presence rather than caring much for the community whose lives revolve around Bradford City.
When questions were asked by fans at the Twitter space relating to Bradford City challenges – such as the fact they don’t own their own stadium – it felt like they were unaware. Later that evening, some of the would-be owners Tweeted some incredibly dumb and naive things that further emphasised their lack of understanding about Bradford City.
The guy leading the Twitter space event has a fire icon as part of his bio, and at one stage one of them talked about how “we don’t want to come in and start fires”. These are not the best image and word choices at a club like Bradford City. The kindest thing you can say about them is they have an awful lot to learn.
WAGMI United are not the first group of rich people looking to buy into a football club with big ideas about getting a lower league outfit to the Premier League. And like others in the past, their simplistic ideas suggest they have no concept of just how difficult and expensive that would prove. Of course, WAGMI United’s financial backing would make a return of top flight football to Valley Parade much more likely than is currently the case, but money alone won’t do it if you don’t have the expertise.
Their big weapon is a link-up with the football analytics company StatsBomb. And whilst there is absolutely no question such support would make a hugely positive difference to Bradford City, it is hardly revolutionary within English football, the higher you try to climb.
There’s just a bit too many echoes of Edin Rahic to all of this. When he persuaded Stefan Rupp to buy Bradford City five years ago, his big pitch was all about how English football does lots of things badly and his continental way of thinking would give them a edge to drive the club up the football pyramid. As Rahic learned, reality tends to bite. Very hard.
Look, it’s not a great first impression in my opinion. At best, they’ve jumped the gun in going so public, having not really taken the time to understand what they’re trying to buy and the core audience (us supporters). At worst, they’ve made themselves look completely stupid. There’s certainly a lot of people – outside Bradford City – currently laughing at them.
But can we be so dismissive? Is this definitely a terrible idea, or is there something in their plan? Personally, I wouldn’t want to write this off completely just yet, despite my overriding scepticism. There’s something about this modern, social media-driven times that seems to encourage people to quickly make up their minds without knowing the full facts, and then stick to that position no matter what.
We’re already seeing it play out in the #bcafc community, with a big split between those dead against the idea and those ready to embrace it.
The biggest thing about the City supporter reaction is that this is a development goes right into the heart of the overriding debates of the last few years. The club has been on a decline and seems incapable of reversing the trend, at least on the field. Many supporters feel there is a lack of ambition in accepting our meagre lot. And that we should not be settling for anything short of a full push back towards the Championship.
This is the kind of scenario that tests where you are on this ambition scale. Many people perceive the club to be playing it too safe over the last couple of years, and that – if we’re going to progress – we have to seriously invest and think smarter. This opportunity from WAGMI United offers that possibility for the club to drive forward, even though everyone can see the huge risks.
There are comments along the lines of we’ve nothing to lose from this, given our moribund status in the basement league. That even if it ultimately ends in tears, at least it gives us a greater financial shot of reviving the club. A “Hail Mary pass” opportunity, as American sports fans would say.
On the other side, the very real fear is that it could lead to the end of the football club. That the risks are so great that if it went wrong there would be no recovery. And whilst it might be frustrating bobbing along in League Two, it’s better than having no football club at all. Or having to build a phoenix club in the North West Counties league.
I’m leaning against this takeover attempt because it just seems completely nonsense. But there is a part of me prepared to listen for a little bit longer.
The reality is we just do not know enough about the WAGMI United proposals to make any form of conclusive judgement about whether tying the club’s fortunes up in cryptocurrency is a good idea. If these guys are genuinely serious about buying the club and taking it forward, they have a deep responsibility to all of us to communicate openly and clearly in a realistic way. From how, exactly, will you fund the club? How would you plan to run it both day to day and long-term? All the way through to what would happen if NFTs suddenly experienced a huge market crash?
If they put the bluster to one side and provide a serious proposal, then that would be a welcome start. And if they’re not capable of doing that they need to go and find another football club to pick on. Or stick to watching episodes of Ted Lasso.
I absolutely adore this football club. Outside my family, this is what I care most about. And I’m so lucky this season to be taking both my daughters together for the first time. We’re having so many great Saturday afternoons together, and the experiences mean the world – something I hope we do for many years to come.
I love the many great memories the club has given me over the years. The thrill of a City goal never gets old. Going on (these days rare) away trips is still great. And there’s a beauty in always having that hope that – even if things aren’t going as well as you’d like right now – better days will eventually come. As they have before.
I want to be really old before I die. And I want to spend each and every year between then and now going to Valley Parade to watch Bradford City. If WAGMI United want to embrace our heritage and help us go forwards, then please let’s talk. If you’re just in it to have some fun, get some likes on TikTok and – to quote you in the Washington Post “try a bunch of unconventional stuff …And our hope is that it works. There’s not that much downside if it doesn’t” – then please look for a different shiny toy.
You can easily walk away from any failure, but that doesn’t mean we can.
But the worry, for me and no doubt many others, right now, is just how little a say we might have in all of this. WAGMI United clearly have the means to pay Stefan Rupp whatever he wants. What responsibility does he have to make sure he is passing the club onto people who will genuinely look after it?
And what about the EFL? Who in recent years have rightly been criticised for allowing terrible owners to come in at clubs across the Football League and the ineffectiveness of the fit and proper test. Can we rely on them to look after our best interests?
It’s all deeply worrying and unnerving. It could be the best thing to happen to Bradford City for years, or the worst development in its history. It could turn us back into the football club we aspire to be, or it could kill us forever.