GIVING A VOICE TO BRADFORD CITY SUPPORTERS
The Birth of the Trust: the First Administration
The origins of BCST lie in Bradford City’s financial crisis of 2002, when it became clear that the then-Chairman, Geoffrey Richmond - who owned 98% of the Club’s shares - had mismanaged the finances when City experienced the dizzy heights of Premiership football.
Signing ‘star’ players on exorbitant wage contracts proved to be a millstone around the Club’s neck and when ITV Digital collapsed, plunging the Football League into crisis, it was revealed that Richmond had run up debts of £36 million. This was the last straw for City fans. Geoffrey Richmond rapidly became the most unpopular chairman at the Club and staged an inevitable - though initially reluctant - exit. The accountancy firm of Kroll, Buchler and Phillips were drafted in from Leeds, and Bradford City was placed into Administration on 16 May 2002. The Rhodes family - who had been involved as investors since 1997 - were then joined by Yorkshire theme-park owner Gordon Gibb in a desperate bid to keep Bradford City afloat, and to satisfy all the stakeholders in time for the start of the next season, less than three months away. They succeeded in the necessary financial restructuring by the skin of their teeth, and the club emerged to begin the 2002/3 season in (the then) Division One, with a new Chairman, Gordon Gibb, whose family had acquired Valley Parade though its Pension Fund; a settlement with the PFA over players’ wage issues, and debts reduced to (a mere!) £20 million.
The Bradford City Supporters Trust was formed in the same year, with Bantams’ fans hardly needing persuasion of the new ideas that were spreading nationally, about the enhanced role football supporters could and should play in protecting and developing their clubs.
The Trust Saves the Day: the Second Administration
This point was driven home even more forcefully less than two years later. By early 2004 it had became apparent that the money was drying up. It was proving almost impossible to service the debts and to keep the Club playing in Division One at the same time. The strains led to a fall-out between Gordon Gibb and the Rhodes family. Mr Gibb resigned as Chair, to be replaced by Julian Rhodes; Messrs. Kroll arrived once more from Leeds, and the Club entered a second period of Administration on February 27th.2004.
Bradford City, an integral part of the lives of so many, was once more in danger of going out of business. Throughout the Spring and Summer of 2004, the club remained perilously close to extinction, and the finances were not secured finally until December 2004.
Legal and financial deadlines came, and were just met; players were sold, major creditors faced down, and still the future of the club hung in the balance...
... it was at this point that the Supporters Trust took the initiative. A vigil at Valley Parade was organised for May 13th 2004. Eight hundred fans gathered on what was thought to be the last night in the club’s history. The message was stark: “raise £100,000 in six weeks and the club would have a fighting chance of making it through the summer” (Markham and Sutton, The Bradford City Story, p 267). The next day the Bradford Telegraph & Argus (T&A) joined in, with its Save Our City appeal. The combined target rose to £250,000, which Julian Rhodes promised to match from his own funds. In the words of the club’s historians:
The Trust’s hardcore of volunteers, fronted by chairman Mark Boocock and vice chairman Phillip Marshall, suddenly found themselves in charge of a major fundraising drive. Margaret Hainsworth, the Trust’s secretary, devoted herself to the cause, collecting and banking scores if not hundreds of cheques every day (Markham and Sutton, p. 268).
The campaign saw thousands of people as a community organise fund-raising, from school children and fans auctioning off their treasured collectors’ items to local business leaders throwing their weight behind the Club. The mood was summed up by Jim Greenhalf, writing in the T&A on May 28th:
"For many, Bradford City is a symbol of hope in the future of the City. The Club is everything to them. The very bricks and stones, the floodlights, the way the sky changes above the ground as the season change, speaks to them personally."
The campaign culminated in a an all-star pro-celebrity fund-raising match that drew 10,000 spectators to an emotional occasion at Valley Parade on May 30th. By the end of the summer, the £250,000 target had been smashed, the club had been saved, and it was left to Julian Rhodes to complete the difficult negotiations with the outstanding creditors. This fund-raising effort was the greatest undertaken by any football fans on behalf of their club up to that time. It was important not just materially - for its practical contribution to the club’s funds - but morally - for the message it sent of the club’s deep significance to the people of Bradford. And it is not going too far to say that without the Trust’s initiative in the midst of this crisis, Bradford City might not exist today.
To be Continued...