With their short-term existence secure, Bradford City are looking to learn from past mistakes to stop history repeating itself. Gary Rolin looks into their birthday wish
Real Madrid celebrated their centenary year by winning the European Champions League for the third time in five years. At the other end of the football scale, Bradford City’s preparations for their 100th birthday party have been boosted by Leeds High Court’s decision in February to lift the administration order that threatened the survival of the club formed in May 1903 when the Football League voted them into the Second Division.
The Bantams went into administration in May last year and the collapse of the ITV Digital deal was inevitably mentioned as a prime factor. Managing Director Shaun Harvey agrees that the collapse did “focus attention within football clubs” and adds: “Whether clubs are run well or not, sailing close to the wind or far away from it, they don’t budget to win the FA Cup, but they did budget to receive that money.” Nonetheless, Bradford’s plight was not helped by the financial largesse shown by previous chairman Geoffrey Richmond that contributed in no small part to several player redundancies and over 30 non-playing staff getting their P45s.
It was as recently as 1999 that Bradford reached the Premiership, but in similar circumstances to their more illustrious Yorkshire neighbours Leeds United they gambled the club’s future and lost. Players only received their January 2003 wages because the club managed to delay a £350,000 mortgage payment on the Sunwin Stand at Valley Parade and sold Benito Carbone’s £750,000 house, ironically enough in Leeds.
With the threat of administration lifted, the new era of Bradford City will be under the stewardship of incoming chairman Geoffrey Gibb, by far the youngest in such a job, aged just 27. Harvey pulls out the old football adage when pushed about the relative inexperience of his chairman: “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.” He adds: “You have to ask yourself the question: Is Doug Ellis too old?”
Gibb has said he is not in the game to make friends (probably a good thing because he’ll struggle to have a chat about Ms Dynamite with Deadly Doug). The burden of rescuing Bradford should be no problem to someone who was running multi-million pound businesses while still a teenager and has made his family’s tourist attraction, the wonderfully named Flamingo Land, one of the most popular outside the capital.
Speaking to the Yorkshire Post in January, Gibb states rather refreshingly: “To be perfectly frank, they got it wrong in the first place and if they had not got it wrong then I would not be here… I am not going to be doing the things that they did because, as an industry, those old ways of doing things are just what got us in this mess in the first place.”
A point whole-heartedly supported by Harvey, who states: “Bradford will have a certain budget for next season and succeed or fail on the field the club will still be there, we will never again gamble with is very existence.”
With that in mind, he is looking forward to the club’s centenary celebrations that start on May 24. “It’s tremendous,” Harvey enthuses, “there was a time last year when I didn’t think we’d make it. The timing is fortuitous because we can put the problems of the past few years well behind us. It’s a natural break and a great boost, specifically a new start.”
Bradford’s 100th birthday party will start with a commemorative match featuring former City players. Although one suspects that Carbone, Stan Collymore and David Hopkin should not cancel any holiday plans just yet.
From WSC 194 April 2003. What was happening this month