The football hasn't always been dramatic but, as Mark Douglas explains, there's been quite a song and dance this summer just to keep Valley Parade open
For supporters of most clubs, the worst thing that can happen in the summer break is the odd player scandal, a dodgy new away kit or the possibility that you might sign Brian Deane. Not so Bradford City. Just four years ago, Valley Parade basked in the glory of Premiership survival. Now, the dwindling Bantams support are just happy to have survived the summer months with a club at all.
It began with a dramatic gesture in January. Theme-park impresario and former chairman Gordon Gibb took to the field before a home game with a microphone and vicious intent. Gibb, along with millionaire Bradford businessman Julian Rhodes, had come up with the rescue package that steered the club through its first crisis. He proceeded to tear into his former colleague Rhodes, accusing him of undermining his reputation and ruining the football club.
From then on there was no turning back in the boardroom. The club slid back into administration, cueing a mass player exodus and the inevitable relegation. The administration meant a new company voluntary arrangement – a dreaded document that would come up with a plan to cope with the debts. When it came out, the true scale of the problem became apparent. The club still owed former striker Ashley Ward hundreds of thousands of pounds. The new stand, half full for most of the season, had not been paid for.
Still, the noises coming out of the club were positive. Even Bryan Robson was quoted as saying he fancied his chances in Division Two. The optimism, however, was merely masking frantic behind-the-scenes panic. Drama- tically, the CVA was withdrawn with the weary Rhodes, who was shouldering the responsibility of saving the club virtually on his own, even threatening to step down due to lack of support. A crisis meeting was held, where Rhodes told fans they needed to raise £250,000 for the club to survive the summer.
From that point on the club ran on goodwill. The previously anonymous supporters’ trust launched a campaign with the local paper, the Telegraph and Argus, who donated £10,000 to kick off the drive. The council advanced the club their sponsorship money and £100,000 was raised within a fortnight.
Supporters, too, were galvanised and began to make large personal donations. One fan even ate maggots for sponsorship money. A rather spurious charity game, featuring “stars” from the soap operas as well as Bantams legend Stuart McCall, raised a hefty £50,000 – with 10,000 supporters packing into Valley Parade in a game dubbed the most important in club history. The £250,000 raised overall was the largest amount produced for a football club by a community.
But then, just when things appeared to be taking a turn for the better, disaster struck again. In July the administrators, with a couple of days’ notice and no prior warning, announced the club would fold unless Gibb waived his claim to rent for the ground he owned. The round of recriminations started up again. Caught in the crossfire, Gibb later said that he even received death threats from irate fans. Still, he refused to enter negotiations.
Deadline day dawned and it did not look good. As one rather dramatic posting on a supporters’ website asked, with reference to the Premiership odyssey, “Is this the price you pay for chasing your dreams?” In the end, the price was just more bitten fingernails and shredded nerves. In scenes more reminiscent of a particularly grizzly episode of The Sopranos, a succession of mystery businessmen, including car magnate Jack Tordoff and former Halifax chairman Jim Brown, had promised to find money to keep City afloat. They talked of cash injections and helping Rhodes shoulder the burden. The much maligned Gibb even announced that he was willing to step in with a rescue package, although rather bizarrely it would involve him “never stepping foot in Bradford again”. By 5.30pm it was announced that the Bantams had been granted another stay of execution – at least their third of the summer.
Since then, a sort of optimism has descended on the club, with the steering committee members helping Rhodes to put out a new CVA and the club actually winning a few pre-season games. However, supporters aren’t jumping for joy just yet. Season-ticket sales are perilously low – with most staying away until the future is secured. And 25-year season-ticket holders, who pay for their tickets in monthly £50 direct debits, have been told to pay an extra £150 just for the privilege of watching the side next year. Some threaten legal action. A few lifelong fans have even renounced the club altogether.
It is a sad fact, but as our new “League One” campaign starts, most weary Bradford City fans are just awaiting the next battle.
From WSC 211 September 2004. What was happening this month