In the history of Bradford City AFC there has never been anything like the revolt against Edin Rahic but the way in which the revolution took place has also been quite distinct from what might have happened in an earlier age. My personal observations thereon…
When the announcement came yesterday about Edin Rahic’s departure it felt like a massive relief. Only six months earlier it seemed that Bradford City might be heading in the same direction as Blackpool or Coventry, its affairs dominated by bitterness towards the club’s owners and division among supporters. Yet now the bogey man has gone.
Nevertheless, whilst we continue to celebrate his exit we also need to be realistic about the immediate outlook. Notwithstanding that he has gone, the affairs of the club will not magically be transformed overnight and it is important to manage expectations. The hard work of rebuilding the club now begins, not just on the field but also in many other areas behind the scenes and it is going to be a long slog. During the course of the next few months we will continue to have reversals and inevitably frustrations will arise.
The biggest danger is that new scapegoats emerge and blame becomes directed at members of the club’s leadership team. What is needed now is unity and for everyone to get behind the efforts of David Hopkin, Julian Rhodes and Stefan Rupp in driving a turnaround. We are vulnerable to the negativity of the cynics and conspiracy theorists in our ranks, those who have enjoyed the opportunity to be negative during the last twelve months and who will struggle to quit the snide and contrarian comments.
The experience of the last year has demonstrated both the strength and weakness of social media in the sort of situation that has existed at Valley Parade. As supporters we have much to thank THE WIDTH OF A POST for. Its role in helping to articulate the grievances of supporters has been pivotal and it has also set the tone for how those concerns should be expressed. Not surprisingly it has been hugely influential in presenting compelling arguments about the need for change at Bradford City and encouraging feedback and contribution on its site from readers. For anyone wanting to follow events at Valley Parade from afar, the WOAP pages have provided a succinct and real time summary of views. It has thus been an invaluable supporter resource.
If WOAP has represented a strength of social media, Twitter and certain supporter forums have also revealed the dark side. Whilst Twitter and the forums have provided an important means to exchange information and opinion, they have also facilitated the expression of what can only be described as emotive and inchoate noise as well as abuse. Twitter has been a prime example of this with a number of contributors thriving in being deliberately contrarian to get attention, focused more on witty and distracting soundbites than constructive comments. (For the record, IMHO the Bantams Talk forum is leagues apart from the apt named bovine slurry forum and is generally sensible in its content. Judge The Cow’s Arse forum for yourself – it’s pretty obvious why they are not taken seriously with occasional nuggets of wisdom obscured by the slurry of expletives.)
In a similar situation in the days before the internet we might have been forced to rely upon protests at games to make the point. Based on what I recall in the 1980s and 1990s, the directors would then have resorted to challenge the legitimacy or validity of protests and the focus would have shifted away from the issues at hand to the personalities of the opposition and the circumstances of the protests. In other words, one of the reasons why supporter protests have tended to be ineffective is that they create distraction from the core grievances and potentially undermine arguments for change.
More often than not, protests fail to communicate exactly what people are upset about. Another massive risk is that they give rise to extreme emotions which again undermines the credibility of the arguments. Last but not least, many people who have grievances have little interest in joining a picket line or protest march or funding a flypast and this can result in protests being entirely unrepresentative.
Edin Rahic was / is a manipulative individual and there is little doubt that had there been a programme of supporter protests he would have claimed that these were the cause of the club’s problems rather than himself. The planned flypast would have been entirely counter-productive to the very objective it sought to achieve and would have more likely emboldened him.
Given that just over twelve months ago Rahic had himself been feted by travelling supporters in Germany, he was able to dismiss supporter disenchantment as fickle emotion. Besides he also deflected legitimate complaints as xenophobic reactions. A campaign of protests was therefore never going to be effective to depose him and despite a certain individual demanding that we ‘show some bloody fight’ it was never quite explained how to do so. Far easier for him to dismiss others as ‘apologists’ than explain how a successful protest could have ever taken place.
For these reasons, this is why the WOAP coverage and the strategy of getting media attention about the circumstances at Valley Parade was going to be more effective at convincing the principal decision-maker of the need for change. Ultimately WOAP proved influential because it helped give expression to a groundswell of genuine and heartfelt comments and this was always going to be more persuasive than chants or tweets of ‘Edin Out’. It was notable that Stefan Rupp followed WOAP and that in the final event he would listen to reason. However, ‘cash tells its own story’ – the decline in form and the deteriorating finances at the club spoke volumes and it was only a matter of time before change had to happen.
Just as the supporter protests proved unnecessary, so too the Supporters’ Trust has proved completely ineffectual which raises fundamental questions about its relevance and reason to exist. One of the priorities for the new regime will be to redefine its communications and PR strategy, not least how it engages with supporters. This in itself demonstrates how things have changed at Valley Parade and the fragmented nature of the support base makes it questionable whether a central supporters’ body is needed. The experience of the last few months has shown quite the opposite, that the voice of supporters has been given expression in an altogether different way that has completely bypassed the BCST. Like the resort to protests, the BCST belongs to an earlier era.
The true test of this revolution will be the next six months and I genuinely believe that the club will eventually emerge stronger. Long live Bantam Progressivism!