What Dreams May Come: the End of Bradford City Website Boy from Brazil

Posted by on Feb 3, 2012 in Uncategorized | 20 Comments
What Dreams May Come: the End of Bradford City Website Boy from Brazil

In January, I cast an eye on the unending cacophony of abuse in online football communities, with a section on Doncaster Rovers website Viva Rovers, and provoking a compelling spate of comments involving Leeds United blog, The Scratching Shed. The problems are not confined to Yorkshire alone, but as an important follow up, Michael Wood here provides an epitaph on the Bradford City site, Boy from Brazil, one of the very best chronicles online and one that closed towards the end of 2011.

It is the dream of every football fan: The day the club you support calls your name and says “We need your help”, and it happened to me.

Bradford City were my club and when they called it was not to have me pull on claret and amber and come on for the last fifteen minutes of or take over as manager having recognised my obvious qualities in that area from the website I’d written for the last twelve years.

Those twelve years that had started as an unexpected promotion push came to Premiership fruition and ground down through two spells in administrations before concluding at the foot of League Two. Few clubs will have had the tumultuous times which Boy From Brazil, or BfB as we knew it, had to report on.

Twelve years of reporting at arm’s length from the club but with a respect for all involved with Bradford City which I insisted on. BfB was not to be a place to fire insults at players, managers, chairmen or other supporters. I was told that, before its closing on 4th of November 2011, it was the example that other club’s websites were told to follow. I’d like that to have been true.

There must have been a quality about the website that, one evening, prompted Bradford City’s Director of Football Developments Archie Christie to call me and ask for my help.

To take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them

Christie had been appointed at Valley Parade in the summer of 2011 having been asked by City’s joint chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes to write a blueprint for the club’s future. Christie did and so well was this received at boardroom level that he was asked to come put that plan in practice.

Only four months later Christie’s broad Scots brogue was asking me just why he was running into such vicious opposition from his club’s own supporters? Having tolerated some early abuse, an increasingly upset Christie had been the subject of some very insulting and vulgar voicemails. One called him a Cockney C**t, which at least raised a booming North of the Border laugh, but really there was nothing funny.

As discussed on this website, there is an increasing problem in football concerning a general degradation in the quality of discussion. Here was a case in point. A larger than life character Christie was never smaller than when he was asking me why he was suffering the vilification from a section of supporters of the club that he was dedicating himself to. I do not understand why people who follow Bradford City felt it was right to tell the guy who was trying to improve the club to “Fuck off back to London”, and nor did he.

Christie made me a promise that if myself and fellow writer Jason Mckeown spent a day with him and, at the end, were not convinced that he was doing all he could for Bradford City then he would leave the club. We were convinced.

‘Was’ because Christie left the club some six weeks later. At BfB, we had been very proud of the series of articles which seemed to have reversed many people’s positions on the Scot. Shadowing him around for a day, we saw and wrote about his hard work. As coincidence had it, he was doing a £1.3m deal to sell the 15 year old George Green to a Premier League club which later became our inside view on the £2m sale of the player to Everton. We saw Christie’s plans for the club which are badly needed for the team that at time of writing is mired in the bottom half of League Two and we were pleased. In fact it was very much the type of focused development that we had been calling for from the club for years.

The articles were extremely well received inside and out of the Bradford City community. The tone of discussions around Valley Parade changed. Some people at the club itself were reported to be overjoyed with the piece despite some initial worries and Christie himself felt that in opening his doors to us and telling all that we had seen, he was then able to get on with doing the job he had arrived at Valley Parade to do with warm backing.

A happy ending then? Not so much, no.

This undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns

On the wall of my office amidst the Post-it notes about client work that needs doing and crib sheets on HTML entities for typographic characters there are but two things which would tell you that it had been a place where over 3,500 articles on Bradford City had emerged from.

One is an email sent from Christie. I printed it out and blu-tacked it up. It is effusive in its thanks and apologetic that the focus of the abuse which Christie had been suffering had shifted in our direction. It was true to say it had but the flow had slowed to a trickle. Most comments were genuine questions and were easily explained with reference to things unmentioned in the article. Some called this the finest hour of BfB and it is hard to disagree. Here was a place that the club trusted to communicate to fans, and that the fans on the whole trusted to get answers for them.

And then everything changed.

I was standing on the steps about to go into a job interview when I found out that Archie Christie had left Bradford City and the circumstances around that. BfB was a marquee item on the CV I held in my hand. Twenty four hours later it would be closed down.

There are details of the discussions which went on between the website and Bradford City FC around the time of Archie Christie’s departure from the club that you will not hear from me. Private dealings, I believe, stay private and I’ve not read a single rumour or report since (even amongst those who profess to be ‘in the know’) which gets near enough to the truth of what happened to be considered accurate. To encapsulate, there had been a shifting of sands under our feet and people at Bradford City who previously had expressed a worry that we would misquote Christie now no longer considered his word to be unimpeachable.

Christie left and behind him there was friction caused by an article written by my co-writer Mckeown about the reasons for his departure. The club wanted us to take a course of action which I felt I could not do and would have gone against my principles. I offered compromises, I offered space for an alternative view, but I could not get to a point where I thought the site could continue before the ability to write articles about the club was not compromised by the dispute.

And there was pressure. There was a level of pressure put on myself and Mckeown from the club which many around us considered to be wholly unreasonable. I would accept that a person (or in this case the business that that person owns a part of) has a right to bring pressure on a publisher in a situation such as this and obviously Bradford City feel that the level of pressure exerted is an appropriate way to deal with its supporter base. I would not agree.

I broaden the subject from myself and Jason to a wider supporter base deliberately. I founded the website in 1999 and since 2007 Mckeown had been co-author but well over 250 Bradford City Supporters wrote full articles, over two thousand had commented, and there were twenty thousand unique visitors who read the site every month. Modesty aside BfB had become a big part of some people’s experience of being a Bradford City supporter. One email read “BfB was the way that I followed Bradford City, so now I don’t follow Bradford City.”

The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to

Being close to the club unearthed a number of very ugly issues. There is a saying that there are two things that one does not want to see being made: Laws and sausages; and I’d add football clubs to that list. Having not seen into the core of any other club I could not say if Bradford City are run any differently to other clubs (I suspect not) but as discussion and pressure from the club continued it occurred to me that going forward I would find it very hard to write about the current incarnation of Bradford City.

In fact knowing what I now know has taken the heart out of my love of Bradford City. I posted a message on www.boyfrombrazil.co.uk that said that the website had been removed and I pressed delete on twelve years of work.

There is an irony that on the day that the website was taken down the current board of Bradford City lost one of its more reasonable commentators . The site was known for, indeed often criticised for, not being aggressive (or at times for not being directly insulting) to the players, managers and chairmen over the years. I lost count of the number of times I changed user-submitted comments from reading “Fat Controller” to “Mark Lawn” out of a politeness and courtesy.

Yet it is people who would use much worse terms without shame who have the loudest voice at Bradford City now shouting into the chasm between an increasingly authoritarian club and the low depths which seems to attach themselves to football clubs. The Bradford City Official Message Board is a bear pit dominated by a small, dedicated clique where no holds are barred and the prevailing mood is that he who can shout loudest, and more aggressively, is correct. Many a new, or moderate, member had told me they had been driven away when trying to read the debate let alone join it.

As I write there is currently a question mark over the Official Message Board to do with – reportedly – a sponsor’s demand that he be allowed to be homophobic on that site least he withdraw his funding. This is the situation for the current incarnation of Bradford City are in.

The long running The City Gent fanzine was neutered after their own clash with the same forces at Valley Parade which I dealt with and there are other websites but they range from the promising to the intellectually insulting. The supporters’ organisations were ‘brought under a single umbrella’ by the club recently. Whatever the message that the club might want to disseminate, the one which emerges is that if you are to do something to follow Bradford City as a supporter then that better be something which the current ownership approves of.

Supporters cannot look to local media either in this landscape where the experience of supporting is increasingly privatised by the club for an independent voice. Only this weekend a story we ran in the summer about Bradford City’s winger Omar Daley having been offered a new contract, which local Radio and the club’s manager joined together to flatly deny, was confirmed as having been true. Only when the clubs are threatened, will local media outlets be mobilised in a way other than disseminating the line given by the clubs and then one suspects it is driven by the same self-interest that drives them to fealty.

Which is far from healthy. Commentary and decency are important things in a strong community. My belief that the ad hoc (or ‘unofficial’ if you prefer) endeavours like websites or supporters groups are the lifeblood of football clubs comes out of following a team that twice in the last decade have smashed hard into administration. The Bradford City supporting community was created around hubs too numerous to mention but each hub served not entirely overlapping sections of the support and it was the combination of all which made for a community strong enough to save the club.

Twice in the last twelve years the club went to that supporting community begging for significant sums of money to keep it going, each time with the promise that a new Bradford City would never forget the accomplishments of its supporters in those dark hours. You can imagine, dear reader, how I feel that promise has been honoured.

One has to wonder what would be left of that community when they inevitably come asking for a third time.

Be all my sins remembered

There seemed to be an assumption, rather unhelpfully aired by a Radio Leeds presenter who had no knowledge on the subject, that within a week BfB would come back under a different name and the community would have its website back. Not since the plug was pulled have I been able to consider the prospect of such a thing without wincing. On some Wednesday mornings I read that City have played the previous night in the Guardian Sports Section. I’m a changed man.

I would hope that others could create a replacement which carried out the same work BfB did but were someone to ask my advice if that were worthwhile, I would look back of twelve years of racing back from games to write timely reports, of evenings spent away from wife and family writing previews, of abuse from supporters of many clubs who disagreed with the most minor points and because of that would have you close the site down, of abusive phone messages from very nasty people following what amounted to little more than disagreements, and of the massive pressure myself and Jason Mckeown were put under by the club that had but two months before asked for help and I would say ‘No’.

I would pause a moment though.

Next to the printed email and HTML codes is a photograph of a banner which someone put up at Valley Parade on the day after the site was removed. It simply reads ‘Boy From Brazil’. I find it hard to look at that photograph without feeling nostalgic pain. I feel I have let down whoever put that banner up, and the people like them, by not offering them BfB anymore.

Those people are the majority of football supporters not wanting to swear and abuse nor control and manipulate but just wanting to read a decent view of the game and have a bit of a sensible chat about it. Sadly it seems, and beyond Bradford City, these people are to be marginalised.

The banner was taken down at half time by officials of the club. It was too late though. My name was on a banner at Valley Parade, in a way anywhere. This was where my dream came true.

Michael Wood
Michael Wood wrote Bradford City website Boy From Brazil and has done since 1999, on and off. He tweets as @michaelwood.

17 Comments

  1. Jo Billingsley
    February 3, 2012

    The closure of the BfB website has genuinely taken away part of the “supporting” experience for me. Reading, and at times interacting, with the site was like an addition to, or extension of, things like the match day rituals of drinks before the game or post-match diagnostics in the car home. One’s interest in the club, and their take on issues on and off the pitch, had a place in which to continue these discussions and diagnostics. The writers on the site provided strong articles from which healthy debate between like-minded (but crucially not “like-opinionated”) supporters could develop. Hopefully something similar can grow in time (the OMB is dire), hopefully the writers and commentators can find the will to make their voices heard.

    Reply
  2. Lanterne Rouge
    February 3, 2012

    Cheers for your excellent comment Jo. Jason Mckeown has a new site, The Width of a Post and this looks to be shaping up quite nicely.

    http://widthofapost.com/

    Reply
  3. Leon Carroll
    February 3, 2012

    BfB was a lifeline for fans of the club not able to regularly get to games for whatever reason. My dad in Cornwall, friends in London, myself here in Bradford but too skint to pay match day prices and unable to commit to the cheap season ticket due to other responsibilites. Here was a website that made you feel like a supporter, even from a distance. I didn’t always agree with Michael, Jason and the other writers but I knew their articles were well thought out and well argued. I even wrote one myself once, a long time ago. The comments below the line were a world away from the awful, awful OMB. The site never sunk or allowed others to sink to abuse, namecalling or general meanness. People visited the site to get a good quality independent view on the club, the matches, new signings, the future that they cannot get anywhere now. BfB will be and already is sadly missed.

    Reply
  4. Richard Pipe
    February 3, 2012

    I’m not a Bradford City fan, in fact I support Colchester United. I have followed Bradford’s recent fortunes more closely since our former manager, Phil Parkinson, went there. Michael Wood’s article above, is one of the most thought provoking pieces I have read in a long time. Although I have never visited ‘Boy from Brazil,’ it obviously meant a great deal to many Bantams supporters and it’s closure is very worrying indeed.

    Reply
  5. George Savu
    February 3, 2012

    I just wanted to say ‘Thank you’ to Michael for his hard work. BfB is the only site where I felt as if I was getting a realistic view of BCFC and I even took the time to comment on occasion. As has been mentioned I feel less engaged with Bradford because of this . I still haven’t had the heart to remove the link from my favourites as I feel as if it will signal an end to something (that as others have noted ) was a positicve way of following City.
    I really appreciate the time and effort you have put in to the site and wish you and your family all the best for the future.

    Reply
  6. Frank Wood
    February 3, 2012

    Thanks Michael for explaining this so clearly. Most will be unaware of the difficulties this situation presented. You can move on with your head held high because at no time were you prepared to compromise your principles. That deserves enormous respect. For such a popular, high-quality website to cease to be available is a great pity but for 12 years you did it, you did it well and you have much of which to be proud.

    Reply
  7. DennisTM
    February 3, 2012

    Michael
    Thanks for many years of enjoyment in reading the articles you, Jason and others have incorporated into BfB. Its demise is a sad occasion but I sincerely hope that one day it will be resurrected in a new form. I am a contributor to both the OMB and Claret & Banter but hope that in my small way I introduce a reasoned approach through my comments and observations. Others may well disagree however. I hope that my own contributions are not in the ‘loudest and aggressive’ category! I don’t deny that I am a vocal critic of the current shareholders of BCFC and indeed intend being so until they can prove to all supporters that they are serving the best interests of our club. Along with others, I indeed questioned the original appointment of Archie Christie and particularly his footballing and business credentials including some of his claims in your own articles. It was a sad day however when his own departure led to the the end of BfB. I hope that one day, the principal protagonists who were involved directly and indirectly in the closure of BfB look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves why they did it

    DTM

    Reply
  8. Eoghan Darbyshire
    February 3, 2012

    I echo many of the above comments; bfb was a fantastic site and will be missed by many. A well written and balanced blog providing a class service, directly in comparison to the conjecture and drivel on the OMB. Ironically my main criticism would be it’s conservative nature. I’m glad you have kept the historic articles online and hope you continue to do so.

    This article raises more questions than it answers however. Not being a person ‘in the know’ It is difficult to make a judgement on our current chairmen and despite rumours on internet forums, interference in the gity gent, peter etherington, stuart mccall, two administrations, the odsal fiasco, archie christie and the DS, peter jackson and some of the stories you hear in the pub, I and many others still kindof give them the benefit of doubt, given the cheap season tickets etc…

    However, the above list isn’t short (nor trivial) and is only getting longer. The way the club is portrayed by Michael is not pretty at all and, given the authors integrity, could go a long way to changing how mild mannered fans view the board, especially ML and JR. Clearly not many really know what happened with the whole Christie saga but one would hope the club may act with a little more respect to bfb given their continued support of ‘the party line’ , forgiving them this one mistake, if indeed that is what it was.

    It’s real shame that Michael Wood now feels the way he does. I hope with time (regime change?) he will come back to watching and writing about city.

    Thank god we still have the City Gent !

    Reply
  9. Jim Bedford
    February 5, 2012

    Michael was a good guy and I miss the reports.

    Reply
  10. Big John Hendrie
    February 6, 2012

    I too miss the views of Michael and the BfB crew (well most of them – one author’s articles meant I stopped reading for a couple of years) – Glad that Jason has a new site, but where does that leave Michael? Good luck in the future Michael and as the saying goes…
    “Don’t let the bastards drag you down”

    JH

    Reply
  11. Graeme Stone
    February 6, 2012

    Thanks for the BfB site Michael, I was a regular reader and, as an ex-pat exiled from the day to day happenings around City, was really grateful for the comments from all the contributors. I’m sorry that the site has gone, sorrier that the club has behaved so ridiculously over the whole issue, and sorrier still – as should be the club – that you’ve lost heart for Bradford City.

    Reply
  12. Philip jackson
    February 7, 2012

    I can only echo the sentiments in this article and the other comments.
    I’d like to add that I found bfb a barometer of good sense and intelligence and was again my main link to the club as, like others, I don’t live anywhere near Bradford. It’s demise was a shock and as a result feel less connected, and that the club hasn’t such a special place in my heart anymore.
    Thanks also for publishing the article I wrote.

    God bless for future prospects

    Reply
  13. Chris H
    February 7, 2012

    I do not live in England anymore, BfB was the only decent way to keep up with what was going on with City and I am really sad that it no longer exists! Nobody else bothers to write as consistently, frequently and to such a high standard about City. I feel like my only connection to City has gone.

    Reply
  14. Michael Wood
    February 7, 2012

    Thank you all. Your readership, and your support (regardless of agreeing with me, I was always surprised by how many did) was and is always appreciated.

    Reply
  15. Oliver Bradford City dot Com
    February 8, 2012

    A great website and was a shame to see the end. Hopefully we can do the supporters some justice in your absence. And we (cannot) promise not to offend too many people but after all if you got such a hard time for being as even handed as possible, it is pointless us trying to be as diplomatic.lol

    Boy from Brazil was a real loss and sad that it got to that point. Glad you have kept the archive up, that would have been a real shame to lose.

    Reply
  16. Ben
    February 12, 2012

    Fantastic article, Michael. I rarely read BfB but it’s clear it meant an enormous amount to its readers.

    Presumably you regret ever allowing yourself to be seduced by getting directly involved with the club? It must have been difficult to resist, given the prospect of getting the inside story – but the club clearly felt that access wasn’t unconditional. Ultimately you can’t put a value on independence. That said, not sure we’d be able to resist at Black & White & Read All Over, though the offer’s never likely to come! (We don’t certainly have the same readership or level of influence, and are also not above directing firm criticism and mocking comment towards individuals if we feel it’s deserved.)

    Intelligent, reasoned online commentary independent of both clubs and media, which doesn’t necessarily toe the party/populist line, is (to my mind) vital. That’s why we do what we do, and why the loss of sites like BfB and Viva Rovers is such a shame. Frankly it’s appalling that the club could treat BfB with such little respect and effectively bully you into closing it down. Whoever’s responsible should be ashamed of themselves for cutting through many supporters’ umbilical connection to the club.

    Reply
    • Michael Wood
      March 1, 2012

      I’m not sure if seduced is the right word but I regret getting that close, and it was close in a way I worried about at the time but do think was justified, because by being close I found out a truth I did not like but I do not wish I did not know that truth. I’d rather a truth I hated than a lie I loved.

      I think the club (and the day we spent with Mr. Christie was not “cleared” with the entire board and we were not entirely welcome) see the relationship with supporters of all stripe as being conditional and the more involved you are with your club (in terms of the more you publicly support them) the more power they thing they have over you. I suspect right now there is talk in around Port Vale about how Robbie Williams (high profile supporter) will have to put his hand in his pocket to for them.

      Far too often football treats its supporters as Serfs and they expect to be able to ask for tribute. If you run a website or fanzine or supporters group they expect you to behave in a certain way that pleased and serves their (rather than the community of the club’s) aims.

      Reply

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