Still falling: Bradford risk losing their home 10 years after 'chasing the dream'
No Premier League club has slipped further and, writes Simon Hart, they may now have to quit Valley Parade
Friday 20 May 2011
The centenary of Bradford City's solitary FA Cup success is being marked by an exhibition at the city's Industrial Museum. A more recent golden era, Bradford's two-season stay in the Premier League, ended 10 years ago yesterday with a 0-0 draw at Coventry City but it must feel like equally distant history right now for the troubled West Yorkshire club.
When Bradford concluded their poorest campaign since 1966 with a 5-1 home drubbing by Crewe two weeks ago, leaving them 18th in League Two, the worst aspect was not the pitiful performance but the knowledge that it could prove their last at Valley Parade – or the Coral Windows Stadium as it is currently known – their home of 108 years.
After four seasons in the bottom tier, Bradford's owners say they can no longer sustain the costs of the ground – £750,000 in rent, with overheads taking the annual total to around £1.2m – and are considering joining the Bradford Bulls rugby league team at Odsal Stadium. As Mark Lawn, the club's joint-chairman, put it last week: "If you've got a millstone round your neck, do you try swimming with it – or do you cut the rope?"
Bradford have easily League Two's largest attendances – an average of 11,127 this season – yet even with that Valley Parade stands over half-empty on a match day. Although the club sold more than 9,000 season tickets in 2010-11, most were on cut-price deals, while the average number of away supporters at the ground was no more than 300.
It was under Geoffrey Richmond, chairman from 1994 to 2002, that Valley Parade was redeveloped; ironically, the second tier on the 9,004-seat main stand now resembling a white elephant was opened after relegation from the Premier League in the summer of 2001. Simon Parker, who has reported on the club for the local Telegraph & Argus for the past decade, believes the blame for their plight rests ultimately with Richmond, who resigned in 2002 and was declared bankrupt two years later.
"They have made mistakes since but the root problem was spending crazy sums chasing the dream," he said, citing Richmond's self-confessed "six weeks of madness" after the club had stayed up in 2000, when they signed Benito Carbone on a £40,000 weekly contract – including half a dozen return flights to Italy for him and his family – and broke the club's transfer record on the £2.5m midfielder David Hopkin from Leeds. This summer, Bradford must cut their wage bill by a third from £1.5m.
When it comes to teams relegated from the Premier League, Bradford's is not the only cautionary tale but no club can match the depth of their descent. If three relegations between 2001 and 2007 were not enough, Bradford have twice been in administration too – in 2002 after the collapse of ITV Digital and again in 2004.
It was during the second instance that they agreed with Gordon Gibb – the owner of the Flamingo Land amusement park in north Yorkshire, who had bought the ground a year earlier before quitting as chairman – the rental arrangement which they now want restructured to avert the threat of a third administration. The Gibb family's pension fund is the technical owner of Valley Parade, while the club's offices are owned by Prupim, a property investment company. Their combined sale in 2003 yielded £5m; each costs £370,000 per year on a 25-year lease and joint-chairmen Lawn and Julian Rhodes wish to stagger the charges to pay less now, with proposed increases on each step back up the divisions. With the Football League requiring notification next month, a decision on Valley Parade is due but negotiations are ongoing.
Peter Jackson, the interim manager since Peter Taylor's departure in February, was Bradford captain when the club played at Odsal after the 1985 Valley Parade fire which claimed 56 lives. He is hopeful the club will not have to return there. "With what we all went through 26 years ago Valley Parade means so, so much to a lot of people, so hopefully it won't go to that," he said.
Jackson's own future as manager is equally uncertain but he adds a note of optimism. "We can't go any lower than we are now, I feel, with the threat of administration and of moving stadiums and where we finished last season in the league – we only survived with two games to go. The only way the club can go is up."
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