Bradford City need Oli McBurnie windfall and Stefan Rupp funding

Oli McBurnie’s 2019 move to Sheffield United will give Bradford City an extra £1m’s grace as they “fight for their future”, but the club says it is “absolutely inconceivable” owner Stefan Rupp will not have to dip into his own pocket to keep them afloat.

Fortunately, Bradford’s director of communications Ryan Sparks says owner Rupp remains “totally committed” to a club he has already loaned £1.76m to.

Bradford’s problems are typical of those facing lower-league clubs during the coronavirus pandemic and they are fortunate to be able to call on such a big windfall to help.

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Valley Parade has not hosted a match since February, and last week the Bantams warned supporters it is increasingly unlikely they will be able to play in front of crowds this calendar year.

Aaron Mooy of Brighton tussles with Oli McBurnie of Sheffield Utd.  Picture: Simon Bellis/SportimageAaron Mooy of Brighton tussles with Oli McBurnie of Sheffield Utd.  Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Aaron Mooy of Brighton tussles with Oli McBurnie of Sheffield Utd. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage | ©Sportimage

The loss of matchday income threatens to be crippling for clubs like League Two Bradford, heavily dependent on matchday revenue without the broadcast deals at the top of England’s football pyramid. The Bantams have suspended 2020-21 season ticket sales because of the uncertainty, and promised refunds “at a later date” for anyone unhappy with the free streamed games that are likely to be offered for behind-closed-doors matches.

McBurnie joined newly-promoted Premier League side Sheffield United for a then-club record £17m, potentially rising to £20m, from Swansea City last summer. McBurnie started his career at Valley Parade, and the deal which took him to south Wales included a 15 per cent sell-on.

An initial £1.5m was received last year, with a further £1m due this, but it had already been earmarked to help mitigate the disastrous overspending of 2018.

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Then in League One, the Bantams built up a £4m wage bill, the fourth highest in the division, in the hope of winning promotion, but were relegated. Many of the players signed on contracts due to expire next month.

Happier days: Then Bradford co-owners Edin Rahic (left) and Stefan Rupp.Happier days: Then Bradford co-owners Edin Rahic (left) and Stefan Rupp.
Happier days: Then Bradford co-owners Edin Rahic (left) and Stefan Rupp. | PA Wire

The 2019-20 season has also not gone as planned either, with the club ninth and four points outside the play-off positions with nine matches to play if the season is restarted. That form cost manager Gary Bowyer his job in February.

Sparks outlined the current situation. He said: “Stefan’s loan account currently stands at £1.76m and the remaining (McBurnie) funds, given the fact we carried the big contracts into this season, will go towards offsetting further losses,” he explained. “A pandemic and the resulting suspension of the season, couldn’t have come at a much worse time for us or our owner, who remains – as he always has been, in all fairness – totally committed to the cause. It is absolutely inconceivable to think he will not have to put more money in in order to keep the club alive over the coming months.”

Rupp and fellow German Edin Rahic bought the club from Julian Rhodes in 2016. The controversial Rahic left as chief executive late in 2018 to be replaced by Rhodes.

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Last month a number of Bradford staff, including players, were furloughed, and the Government are now paying 80 per cent of their wages, with the Bantams voluntarily providing the rest. That makes the Football League’s aim of resuming the season behind closed doors problematic as they would have to come off furlough before being allowed to work.

“If the season resumes behind closed doors we are paying full salaries to players without income,” explained Sparks.

Jamie Devitt, Callum Cooke and Dylan Connolly’s loans expired on Friday, six days after the scheduled end of the regular League Two season, and will not be extended. Dylan Mottley-Henry has been released at the end of his short-term contract. All four started Bradford’s last game, at Salford City.

Richard O’Donnell, Adam Henley, Kelvin Mellor, Joe Riley, Hope Akpan, Jake Reeves, Jermaine Anderson, Danny Devine, Zeli Ismail, Chris Taylor, Jordan Gibson, Shay McCartan and Clayton Donaldson’s contracts expire in the summer, as do Glen Middleton and Luke McGee’s loans. That raises the possibility they might struggle to field a team of senior players if the season was to continue beyond the end of June.

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Last month the Football League told its clubs not to expect to be allowed to train again until May 16 at the earliest, and their contingency plans are based on a 56-day window to complete the remaining matches, including play-offs.

Some lower-league chairman have suggested that irrespective of when contracts expire, players should be made to play until the end of the campaign without further pay.

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