Far be it for me to criticise…
It’s worse than I thought. I’m overwhelmed by the scale of the problems facing Bradford City. November is not going to be a happy month.
This is a club that, after several years of struggle in League Two, had finally been relegated six months ago. Finally exiting the Football League is the culmination of a decade of decline. The league table doesn’t lie, as they say, and this graph neatly describes Bradford’s recent history:
I don’t know the ins and outs of the club’s history, but just from the graph alone, I can’t help thinking that the promotion to the Premiership was a blip. Maybe the club overreached itself? Maybe it tried too hard to compete at the top level and has suffered the consequences. Still, on the basis of the attendance figures and the capacity of the ground, I feel that the club’s natural level might be found in the Championship. Given that many clubs in that division have comparable levels of support, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to be able to compete with them assuming sufficient revenue to pay the required wages. Still, given that we are currently near the bottom of the Blue Square Premier, it’s probably best not to put the cart before the horse.
The club has an outstanding loan of over one million pounds, and are deep into their overdraft. So, you’d think that now they are inhabiting the less-than-lucrative upper echelons of non-league football, someone would have taken a hard look at the club and what it is spending its money on. Right?
There are 75 players on the books. Astonishing for a debt-ridden non-league club. The wage bill is in excess of £1M per annum. The club is haemorrhaging money. Apart from being utterly demoralised, the first team doesn’t look too bad. The real problems seem to be with the youth set up. There are 45 players in the U18 squad, and none of them are rated by the backroom staff at all. There doesn’t seem to be a prospect amongst them. So why are they here at all?
In my first week, I terminate the contracts of 29 players and three staff members. It’s a pretty gruelling start to the job. I retain sixteen U18s to be able to fulfil their fixtures for the rest of the season, but I know that they will be leaving come next May too. Still, youth contracts are inexpensive, so this only makes a small dent in the wage bill. The board’s budget is particularly miserly at only 18% of turnover, but I have to accept that they are determined to get the club’s bank balance looking a bit healthier.
I can’t help feeling annoyed at my predecessors. What were they thinking? In general, I think that football clubs are too willing to arbitrarily sack their managers. Often, the core of the backroom team will leave with the manager, and the resulting turmoil can only lead to prolonged instability. It’s short-sighted and destructive. In Bradford’s case, though, I think they were probably right to sack their manager: I simply can’t think of any justification for the mess I have inherited.