The Michael Wood Column

Friday 10 May, 2002

Has a boardroom split caused City shares to be suspended?

We have been criticised at BfB for not talking more about the club's finances. We have covered dividends and the likes in part, but for some people, we never gave them enough coverage.

The bottom line is that ask me about the offside trap or about pairing midfielders in the centre then a lifetime of watching football gives me the right to answer but I have little experience of business, especially at the level of millions that football clubs are operating on and with the whole point of BfB being to provide some sort of intelligent comment then I preferred not to dilute that comment with my own take on the balance sheet. The doors were open for columnists to write on the subject but to date it has not given us many columns inches.

Until today. With City's shared off the OFEX index and the club issuing terse statements the balance sheet burst from the boardroom and out of the realm of the expert to being the business of every Bradford City fan.

It would seem that the directors of the club need a new way forward. They do not like being in the position of having to fund the club as it loses money following the failing of ITV Digital and the return of Benito Carbone.

The directors, who it would be remiss of me not to point out took substantial dividends when the club was doing well, are looking of a way out of the fact that the club will at present lose £10m over the next two years.

As a result of this the shares have been pulled from the OFEX and the national radio is carrying stories about how Bradford City, 19 years on from almost folding, are backing in the poor house. "Get the collection hat round" said one email.

What of this figure of £10m. It assumes that no television deal will replace the ITV Digital deal and suggests that the clubs legal action against the broadcasters will come to naught. It does seem unrealistic that no one will step in to snap up rights to First Division football next season. Of course City can not expect £5m a year from a new broadcaster or even the figure gained last season, but should a deal be reached this £10m over two years will be cut by at least, it is safe to assume, 20%.

Then there is the Carbone matter. Beni will take £2m out of the City coffers over the next season, a season which at the present rate it looks like will be between 24 First Division teams of part timers in flip flops because they can afford no one else, and his strike partner Ashley Ward around £1m. £6m over the next two years. It would cost the club £3m to free these players today, hardly a solution, but both are able and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that one or both could leave Valley Parade in the summer.

Take Carbone off the wage bill and a further £4m comes off that £10m. Both these factors leave City with the prospect of losing £4m over two years.

£4m over two years. Its not chicken feed but then again it is not a huge ask either.

All of which leaves one to suspect that there is another force at work other than the worries about losing money. This smells like a boardroom split.

The prospect of losses is enough to suspend shares. If the boardroom has divided, and I have to admit I do not know what lines it would divide down, then City could face trouble.

The club now exists at the whim of directors. We are some £12m in debt to them. Should those directors funding City's stay in Division One pull out of the Bantams then the club will need to find funds to pay them back. Hull City faced similar with David Lloyd who wanted to wind the Tigers up for no other reason than he had "Had my fill of people around here".

Hull got another backer and new chairman. Depending on the split, if there is on, then City could be looking for the same and after spending years, long years, in the wilderness pre-Geoffrey Richmond, I sincerely hope that this is not the case.

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