The Michael Wood Column

Thursday 01 August, 2002

What kind of Bradford City do you want anyway?

"Liverpool FC exists to give pride to it's supporters. It has no other purpose." David Thompson, Liverpool chairman, 1999.

Bradford City are safe for the moment. This is the good news, Hell it's the best news I have had all summer and for that I thank everyone involved in making sure that the guys in claret and amber on August the 11th will not be crying into their beer talking about what might have been.

This is not a criticism of what has gone on at Bradford City this summer or any of the people involved. This is a chance to step back and look at what we have saved and what it is for.

What is Bradford City for?

David Thompson chairman of Liverpool FC has no doubt what his team's role is. "Liverpool FC exists to give pride to it's supporters." Said Thompson, "it has no other purpose.". Does this logic transfer down to City? We do not win championships or cups but do we instil pride in our supporters? Undoubtedly yes. Cast your mind back to the tenth of May, 1999. I walked into work in a shirt still covered in champagne smiling like a melon with a slice missing. I kept that smile, gave or take a waver or two for a goof fifteen months until the Chris Hutchings affair and the realisation that the bubble was deflating.

Pride gave way then to fear and fear to what we have now. Bradford City can be a source of pride to us but of late it has not been and I'm not referring here to the administration period or even the poor league position last season.

I'm talking about the little Italian. Benito Carbone is not a bad sort, indeed he did thrill, but he never made your heart burst with pride. Eoin Jess, Andy Tod, Juanjo, Peter Atherton, Ashley Ward, Ian Nolan, Dan Petrescu. If you felt even one hundredth of the pride when they saw one of these guys in a Bradford shirt as they did when the watched Stuart McCall I would be keen to meet you and find out how your mind works.

Dean Windass, Robbie Blake, Lee Mills for most of us, Gunnar Halle even, David Wetherall yes. These players filled your heart with passion.

This is not one of those things that cannot be controlled.

This is not one of those accidents.

Mark Bower and Tom Kearney both came into the City side late on last season. Bower had been kicking around the place for years, Kearney grafted at Odsal and impressed his way into a contract and a first team place. Nicky Law is to be thanked for giving a chance to both of them.

Read that back. Nicky Law gave them a chance. Jim Jefferies had no interest in a trip to Widnes to watch for a gem in Everton reserves as Law must have done. He had little interest in the young Bradford born defender. These were choices made.

We have players we like, we have players who give us pride. Somewhere along the line a choice can be made to pursue players like this. It was a choice that Jim Jefferies did not want, he kept with his own guys and that's all I want to say on the subject, but a choice can be made.

If we want a Bradford City that produces Stuart McCalls, Andy O'Briens, Dean Richards then somewhere along the line a choice can be made to do that.

Can we make that choice?

Are we empowered?

No.

It is not Geoffrey Richmond's fault that football clubs in England, and in Italy for that matter, are run at the behest of the wealthy. It is the dominant model for running the game here and in most other places in the World.

There is an exception. Barcelona are owned not by a wealthy man but by the season ticket holders at the Nou Camp, around 100,000 of them.

These season ticket holders elect a President and will deselect him if they do not like the way things are being run. The candidates for President's approach the members with manifestos and a choice is made based along the lines of what kind of Barcelona the Barcelona season ticket holders want. If Barca fans want to give everything to a push for the Champions League then they elect the guy who says that. If they want domestic success first and foremost then another guy gets in. You get the picture.

We accept a powerlessness when faced with our football club. We have just been offered for sale as 8,000 loyal season ticket holders. We are a commodity, we are the value of the club, yet we feel without value. We feel as if we have no voice.

I think we need to get a voice, a real voice.

And this is where reality detached from theory. At BfB we are often accused of being pro-Richmond. I admit that I am. Many of his calls would have been my calls so I feel it is churlish to criticize him for doing what I would have done. However I do not believe that Richmond is the problem anymore than Dave Simpson was the problem. The problem is that while football clubs exist because rich men fund them then the people who the club is for, the supporters, will not have a voice.

Miles Standish Proud

If I could this is what I would have in the place of Geoffrey Richmond and any other chairman. This is my dream for Bradford City.

We are not starting again as Bradford City Thank God but if I were to draw up a wish list if you will for how the Bantams should be then it would run along the lines of the following.

If Bradford City fans are Bradford City then we need to own the club just like the members of Barcelona do. As the owners of the club, all 8,000 of us, we would be privy to information that has previously been hidden from us.

We need to be able to see things like the books of the club. Last season when people were crying out for a million to be spent here and there very few had a grasp of the real trouble the club was in. How could we? We never saw the books. We never saw the figures and how they do not add up.

We would be forced to accept responsibility for our actions. If we the members of Bradford City had faced the summer of 2000 knowing that the current squad would probably be relegated and that most of the players we had tried to sign had rejected us would we have signed Benito Carbone? Had we taken a look at the balance sheet would that have deterred us? Imagine a vote of all 8,000 of us on the proposition that Bradford City extend a contract of 40,000 a week to Mr Carbone. Yes or No.

Why shouldn't we have the sort of decision making power? If we are the club then shouldn't we be able to have a say in the biggest decisions? If we had, would we be able to complain about the outcome?

It would be our call, right or wrong.

We would elect a President Barcelona style. We could decide how much the job was worth and elect him based on his aims. Had Geoffrey Richmond stood up and said that one of his goals as Bradford City president would be to employ Nicky Law to find young talent as he did when he appointed the former Chesterfield manager he would get my vote. Had he stood up and said he thought Chris Hutchings was the right choice for manager I would have looked elsewhere for my President. The important thing would be that I had a hand in the decision making process because if I am to be bought and sold as part of this club I should have some power over it.

The greatest document written in favour of democracy starts with the phrase "We the people". We the people who follow Bradford City need to look at what we want.

Back to reality

For the moment City and most other clubs are bound to rich men for support and frankly I do not feel that Geoffrey Richmond is any worse than any other rich man who owns a club and in some ways he is much better but what I do think is that in the interests of maintaining this club there needs to be a meeting of minds between Richmond and Rhodes and the supporters who were the club. If we are the club then we need to be empowered to make decisions for the club. If we make decisions then we get responsibility and when we get responsibility for the club we get an even more pure emotional investment than we have now in Bradford City.

Bradford City is safe but the wolves are coming after us. Big football does not want us using it's fans. They want us at Elland Road. As we breath again as a club we need to look into the future and see how we can make sure than in five, ten, fifteen years time Bradford City is still relevant.

The way to do that is to give us something that big football will never give its followers. Control.

Food for thought.

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