(Bradford) City Spent

Posted by on May 11, 2011 in Uncategorized | One Comment
Having spent the past few days working in North Yorkshire, I’ve been able to engage in a guilty pleasure of mine: football stadium rubbernecking on the train. Although perhaps not living up to the heights of the Birmingham New Street – Nottingham special in which eagle-eyed passengers take in the grounds of Tamworth, Burton and Derby within a mere 20 minutes, a debut ride between Leeds and Bradford Interchange offered some interesting parallels on this, the 26th anniversary of the Bradford stadium fire.

Upon leaving Leeds for the west, it’s difficult to miss Elland Road. Or more precisely, its prodigious Hesco-clad East Stand. Rising sharply above the neighbouring housing estates and suburban retail parks, the stand is a tribute to what the club might once again become if it can keep patiently knocking on the door. As an individual who’s shamefully never set eyes on either ground before, I was hoping that a glimpse of Bradford City’s Valley Parade would provide a sharp contrast upon which to build an article on the Bantams’ ongoing tribulations, but I was instead left feeling that the two aren’t a million miles apart.

Indeed, although coloured in a different hue, a similarly tangled web of metal creeps commandingly above its central surroundings, reminding us of the boom period that City fans fleetingly enjoyed at the turn of the 21st century. Viewed from every which way it’s an impressive sight, particularly when set against the backdrop of Victorian architecture and mill chimneys that characterises the place. If league positions were awarded on the space that a club’s ground keeps then Bradford fans would have nothing to worry about, that’s for sure.

Walking out of Bradford Interchange, though, it’s difficult to draw out the illusion that this is a club that’s enjoying itself. Whereas it takes some time to circumnavigate your way around the plethora of glass-windowed highrises and Victorian Arcades of Leeds when exiting that City’s station, you’re slapped by workaday reality as you arrive in noticeably more down-at-heel Bradford and Park Square almost at once feels like it could be a million miles away. Leeds has prosperity by the spade load, a World Top 100 University and a Harvey Nics; what does Bradford have?

A football team would be a good place to begin. While there’s no room to explore the relationship between the club and its diverse population in this short piece, it’s obvious that the Bantams are close to the local population’s heart and you’re never far away from the claret and amber in Bradford. With an average attendance of 11,128 this season, spurred by what’s now a well-documented season ticket price structure, I was hardly surprised to spot around half a dozen shirts today, and the club’s flag flew above the City Hall; a decision that you’re unlikely to see replicated by many other councils across this island.

But City are at a crossroads. The Bantams can’t afford the rent demanded by their landlords, former chairman Gordon Gibb and London-based Development Securities, and the current owners have started a dialogue about whether the club’s future might be safeguarded by cutting their ties and moving on to Odsal, the home of Rugby League’s Bradford Bulls. The sums are staggering when one considers that this is a basement team. At present, City pay around £1.3m per year in rent and rates, and that’s before staffing costs are taken into account. Historically, the Bantams have gone for it since they found themselves in League Two, current chairman Mark Lawn bankrolling a failed promotion bid under Stuart McCall to the tune of £1m two seasons ago, but several years of underachievement have their toll and the signs are not looking good.

The payment of wages has been delayed on several occasions, there’s talk of slashing budgets for next season and Administration is being discussed as an option. The squad has already been trimmed in preparation for a period of belt-tightening and if late season tonkings against Torquay (3-0)Southend (4-0), Accrington (3-0) and Crewe (5-1) are anything to judge by, then supporters should be steeling themselves for another challenging season on, as well as off, the field. The chairman seems to think that John Still is the man for the job, apparently obsessed with the £750k budget he worked under in Dagenham’s promotion year from the same league, and he is odds-on with caretaker Peter Jackson to replace former manager Peter Taylor.

But how can a club make long, or indeed medium, term plans when there’s a question mark hanging over its future whereabouts? City have played at Valley Parade for their entire existence, and even the suggestion that they might find themselves doing a Rotherham will have destabilised the club, undermining any decisions on future management or playing staff. But supporters must move on, and 2011-12 needs to be prepared for come what may. In the past, Boy From Brazil (a site that we would urge you to peruse) has complained of in-fighting amongst fans and a breakdown in communication between board and supporters, but a promising interview with the engaging Lawn back in January (see Parts One and Two) suggested that the future might be rosier. Little seems to have been achieved in the meantime, but surely it’s now time to revisit those words by mobilising the fanbase in order address the club’s immediate problems collaboratively. A Championship club this may be, but it’s time for the Bantams to finally focus on the here and now and start working together to bring about change. A flag on the City Hall’s a good start; where to next?

is co-editor of The Two Unfortunates. He's 31, supports Plymouth Argyle and takes a particular interest in the fortunes of those Football League clubs west of Bristol. He tweets @lloydlangman.

1 Comment

  1. Mike
    May 12, 2011

    How has it come to this? I remember the Bantams best from their time in the Premiership, beating Boro on the opening day of the season (starting a happy tradition for newly promoted teams), etc. Did it really all start going wrong with that ill-advised spending splurge, bringing the likes of Carbone and Petrescu to the club, or is something more going on?


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