Bradford City plot brighter future after avoiding 'Armageddon'
Of all the clubs to have graced the Premier League, none have fallen further than Bradford City.
Three relegations, two administrations and the selling off of their stadium at Valley Parade in six years, followed by five seasons in League Two, have hit the club and its supporters hard.
A 1-0 victory over Macclesfield, in their penultimate home game of last season, ensured the Bantams would survive for another season but 18th place in the table, which equalled the efforts of the previous campaign, left City in their worst finishing position since 1966.
Joint chairman Julian Rhodes is blunt in his assessment of the club's future if they were to drop out of the Football League.
"It would be Armageddon," he told BBC Sport. "I did start looking at the figures last year and we could maybe go on for one year, but we wouldn't be able to afford to pay the rent to play at Valley Parade."
The fact that City pay a suffocating £1m per season in rent and overheads stems from the downward spiral which began with former chairman Geoffrey Richmond's well-documented "six weeks of madness" in the halcyonic summer of 2000.
Bradford in freefall
- 1999-2000: 17th, Premier League
- 2000-01: 20th, Premier League (R)
- 2001-02: 15th, Division One
- 2002-03: 19th, Division One
- 2003-04: 23rd, Division One (R)
- 2004-05: 11th, League One
- 2005-06: 11th, League One
- 2006-07: 22nd, League One (R)
- 2007-08: 10th, League Two
- 2008-09: 9th, League Two
- 2009-10: 14th, League Two
- 2010-11: 18th, League Two
- 2011-12: 18th, League Two
With the passing of time, Rhodes is able to joke that the start of City's demise "was David Wetherall's fault", referring to the defender's headed goal in a 1-0 victory over Liverpool that secured Premier League survival on the last day of the season.
A sense of humour helps when your team has only once in the last 12 years finished higher on the league ladder than in the previous campaign - in 2009, City reached the dizzy heights of ninth in League Two, having finished 10th the previous year.
Initiative also helps. Attendances, understandably, were beginning to dwindle so Rhodes, with the prospect of a first campaign in the bottom tier for 26 years and a 25,000-seat stadium to fill, decided to offer season tickets for the 2007-08 campaign at £138, or £6-a-game, the lowest price in the Football League.
"That summer was one of the best," recalled Rhodes as he enthusiastically shot forward in his seat. "We got [former player and City legend] Stuart McCall in as manager, the local paper launched the deal and supporter Mark Lawn [who would become joint chairman] came in with a £1m investment.
"All of a sudden we had a competitive budget, we were a big club in that division and we had sold 12,000 season tickets. It was snowballing."
Unfortunately, results on the pitch did not match the optimism and expectation off it and, acutely aware of the need to keep fans coming back in these days of austerity, Rhodes has introduced a ground-breaking 50/50 flexi-ticket for this coming season - fans pay £50 to reserve a seat then get half-price tickets for each game they attend. Under 11s pay £5 for the entire season.
Rhodes on City's managers
- Nicky Law 2002-03: "Good job in tough circumstances"
- Bryan Robson 2003-04: "To try and get bums on seats but football took a back seat"
- Colin Todd 2004-07: "Liked the way he worked but fans didn't appreciate financial constraints he was under"
- Stuart McCall 2007-10: "No-brainer"
- Peter Taylor 2010-11: "Just didn't work out"
- Peter Jackson 2011: "Had been out the game too long - mistakes were made last summer"
"We realised that a lot of fans were taking advantage of the cheap season ticket but not coming every game, so this is a more affordable option for them," he said.
"Bradford is a poor city and we have some of the poorest fans in the country so we have to do deals. Football is traditionally for the working classes and we want to get back to that. Even if we go up, we'll always do deals for fans."
On paper it appears a shrewd move. Pack the fans in and create an intimidating atmosphere. However, after two near misses at the wrong end of the table an murmurings of discontent in the stands, Rhodes knows he has to keep delivering on the pitch as well.
"We are having a crack at promotion again as well," said the 43-year-old, who was a ball boy at Valley Parade in the 1970s.
City made a substantial loss the last time they made a push for promotion, in McCall's second season as manager in 2008-09, and have spent the intervening campaigns rebalancing the books, but Rhodes is prepared to give current boss Phil Parkinson - City's 15th this century - a similar level of backing.
Supporters could be forgiven for not getting caught up in the hyperbole, given the last dozen years or so, but Rhodes is genuinely excited about the calibre of the nine players he has brought in.
Among them is centre-back Andrew Davies, who impressed enough during last season's loan spell from Stoke to make his move permanent.
The experience of former Rochdale captain Gary Jones will add steel to the midfield, while experienced striker Alan Connell moves from last year's League Two champions Swindon.
"We have done the sums and if we do make a loss it will be because we choose to," Rhodes insisted. "It's sustainable.
City's youth deals
- Fabian Delph: Joined Leeds as a 12-year-old and earned the club a reported seven-figure sum when he joined Aston Villa for £8m in 2009.
- Tom Cleverley: Joined Manchester United as an 11-year-old and City were paid for his first 10 appearances for the club
- George Green: Joined Everton as a 15-year-old for a reported initial fee of £300,000 that could rise to £2m dependent on appearances and contracts
"We are in a position we are comfortable with. We are a well-run club. We are self funding and I won't be putting any more money in," added Rhodes , who, along with his father, Professor David Rhodes, has provided more than £9m in cash and millions more in securities to keep the club afloat since becoming a director in 1997.
Extra funds have come from the purchase and subsequent sale of an office block close to the ground that City were paying an annual rent of £370,000-a-year on - it will be used as a school - while further revenue has come in from sell-on and appearance clauses in the contracts of former youth players.
"It's the way we fund things," said Rhodes. "We have developed a good youth programme and if a kid is being watched by a bigger club and he wants to go, we let him.
"The over-riding thing over the last 10 years has been keeping this club going.
"Of course there are times when you think of giving up, but then you think of the fans who raised £250,000 to help keep the club going in 2004 and you see the look on people's faces at a game and the joy a victory can bring.
"Even though we are in the bottom division," he added with a cheerful grin.