A Tale of Two Cities

Lord cleanse my soul with a Bradford v Swansea League Cup final. Recalled to life, darkness and light - it's a true Dickensian story.

The phrase that is going to be bandied around over the coming weeks is that these two clubs have had ‘contrasting fortunes’ over the past ten years but that would suggest this had something to do with luck. Are there two better examples of how to (and how not to) run a small Premier League football club?

When I started this blog and an accompanying Twitter account I chose to describe myself as a ‘disillusioned, independent football fan’. I didn’t want it to matter which team I supported and, as that team was Bradford City, I never thought it would come up. Being a Bradford fan (and a tenuously linked to Bradford fan at that) has allowed be to grow-up free of any blind love or hate for a particular ‘big’ team. As such the top division has generally been a smorgasbord for me. I pick and choose who I like to watch and who my wandering affinity might be towards with gay abandon. I base my feelings only on current style or ethos. Over the years I have jumped out of my chair and screamed at the tellie for AC Milan's early nineties team, Manchester United’s late nineties team, Arsenal’s undefeated team of Henry and Viera, Chelsea’s fine imports of Gullit, Zola and Vialli and, as a Bradford fan, even the Leeds team of McAllister and Strachan in 1991/2. I am a slag for good football. 

I understand why people love teams that play good football and win things but being from Dorset, I just couldn’t get next to Liverpool (the top team for me growing up) with any real seriousness. I followed them but they were always just too far away to have any true affinity - an affinity that could be so strong as to affect my mood should they win or lose. That changed for me with the fire disaster at Bradford in 1985. I did a sponsored bike ride around my local park and raised £80 for the relief fund. The mayor of Bradford sent me a tracksuit to say thank you. That was enough for a eight year old.

As a Bradford fan I get subscribing to a team or philosophy regardless of geography. What I cannot fathom to this day is why someone who supports Tottenham hates Arsenal. That’s just a bit stupid - support your team but don't hate another. What is even more difficult to understand is why an Arsenal fan from Dorset hates Tottenham or a Liverpool fan from Dublin hates Manchester United. That’s more than a bit stupid, that’s completely moronic. People say “you don’t understand” but I do, it's not a particularly advanced emotion. You hate your nearest rivals because? Because they are your nearest rivals and 'we' have always hated them. Scum. Bore off. Seriously Arsenal fans take it from me, Tottenham are great to watch on their day - you’d love them if you gave it a try. Likewise Liverpool fans, Manchester United are just like you - a club built on history with a 'win at all costs' mentality that has created a dynasty in English football by playing, at times, a breathtaking style of pass and move football. Check it out.

I have more affinity with managers than I do with teams. I think more people should follow managers, they transport a style and a philosophy. What with clubs changing owners with increasing regularity your only failsafe way of supporting the same style of play is to follow a manager. For the last few seasons I have followed Martin O’Neil. It’s not because of the way he plays actually, just that he’s a top man and I can get next to him. O’Neil is honest, free of bullshit and spin and he very rarely says anything I don’t agree with, likewise David Moyes as my previous blog entries will testify. I have also been enjoying Swansea City’s managers. First Roberto Martinez, then Brendan Rogers and now with Brian Laudrup. However, with Swansea you don’t need to follow the manager, you just need to stick with the Chairman. I remember a Swansea fan being interviewed on MOTD shortly after Rogers left last season. Asked if he was worried about losing such a successful manager the supporter replied “I would be, if we didn’t have such a fantastic chairman.” 

Huw Jenkins, the fantastic Chairman, is a lifelong Swansea fan. In 2002 he headed a consortium that took control of the club and has since gone about rebuilding it from the bottom up. You won’t find much about him online and you won’t find too many interviews, Jenkins stays in the background and does everything with the clubs best interests at heart rather than his own. Since 2002 Swansea have built a great new stadium, the club are on a sound footing and, for a small club, they seem to be very commercially aware and have grown with the times. From rock bottom, Swansea have slowly worked their way through the divisions and are now an established Premier League team with their very own brand of football.

When Brendan Rogers left, the feeling was that Jenkins would just make another sound appointment. We all like to think of ourselves as ‘in the know’ about football but did anyone, and I mean anyone, have Brian Laudrup on their shortlist? In terms of surprise appointments it was up there with Mauricio Pochettino for me. This is what Jenkins said after he had made the appointment:

“We are all delighted to get someone, not only with his background of playing for clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona but first and foremost I think his thoughts on football are well suited to us and ultimately, I think he’s a very, very honorable and trustworthy person. A person we can bring to this club and work with. Having the right personality to work with on a daily basis is very, very important to us.”

When do you ever hear a chairman say that?

On top of this you only ever hear good news coming out of the club. This week Swansea full back Rangel Angel had some left over food on a freezing cold night and drove around Swansea to give it to the homeless and today, their 2m bargain of the season Michu, signed a new contract. This is what he had to say about it:

"It was an easy decision for me. I am living a dream here at Swansea. I'm probably enjoying my football more than ever.... I'm really happy here in the city with the people, the club and the fans. Everyone has been so nice to me since I arrived. I think the club are happy with me because they have given me a new contract. I am certainly happy with the club."

"I've read and listened to all the speculation, but it doesn't interest me, and that's why I've signed a new contract. I'm enjoying myself too much because the team always tries to play football. All I think about is the next game and helping Swansea to be successful. This is my life," the Spaniard said.

When do you ever hear a player say that?

Michu has been the talk of the transfer window. Given the season he has had I am sure a Champions League club would have been interested in him, no doubt able to pay him more than Swansea can. We often hear about mercenaries and ‘cultural differences’ but this is a Spanish player moving to Wales, coming to the English league for the first time. A player that is willing to reward the respect shown to him at his club by signing a new deal and ending speculation before it becomes a hinderance.

This is all in stark contrast to Bradford City’s second season in the Premier league. After surviving our first season Geoffrey Richmond, then Chairman, went bananas. Richmond chose revolution rather than evolution. I can remember the Benito Carbone press conference - one of many ludicrously expensive signings. Richmond was sat next to manager Chris Hutchings who said “40k a week is a lot of money but this is a 20 goals a season man”. It was a shame Wikipedia hadn’t been invented, I was pretty sure Carbone had in fact never scored 20 goals in a season. You know what happened next - near liquidation, 36m of debt and free fall to the fourth tier of English football. Richmond and his son, David, had shared with Bradford's co-owners and directors, David and Julian Rhodes, dividends of £8.125m plus VAT in 1999 and 2000. Bradford and Richmond showed the football world how not to do it. Portsmouth didn’t notice, QPR don’t seem to notice now but Swansea, all the while, have been doing the exact opposite. Swansea are now admired globally - all from good management and a steadfast commitment to play good football.

I got my tickets to Wembley today so I will be there. I’ll be wearing my Bradford shirt and a Swansea scarf. It’s going to be a great day.

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