Caring too much taking its toll on Bradford chief

MARK LAWN says that health problems caused by the stress of trying to keep Bradford City afloat have led to his family wanting him to quit.

The Bantams have endured a miserable time since the turn of the Millennium courtesy of three relegations and two spells in administration.

For the second consecutive year, City are locked in a fight for Football League survival after a disappointing first half of the season.

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The cups have also offered little respite with this year being the first time Bradford have been in the FA Cup third round since 2004 when, as a then Championship side, they qualified automatically.

Lawn, who joined fellow chairman Julian Rhodes on the board in 2007 just after City had been demoted to League Two, is working hard to arrest the long decline but admits there has been a high price to pay.

Speaking exclusively to the Yorkshire Post ahead of tomorrow’s Cup trip to Watford, he said: “I am not enjoying it, I won’t lie. I am the unhealthiest I have ever been and that is because of the stress.

“I am too close to it and, if anything, care too much. I suffer sleepless nights with all the worry.

“It is probably similar to Stuart McCall in that it got to the stage where he couldn’t sleep when Bradford manager because he worried too much.

“I doubt he has that problem at Motherwell as they aren’t the team he has loved for 30 years. He possibly cared too much and that is how I feel about Bradford City.”

Asked if it had ever got to the stage where he has contemplated quitting Valley Parade, Lawn replied: “My family would like me to walk away. And my wife would certainly like back the £2.5m I have put in.

“They worry about me a lot because they can see the damage it is doing to my health. I have had a heart attack before, in 1998 when I was 36 years old.

“I don’t want another one but, if anything, I felt fitter then than I do now.

“I keep trying to slow myself down but how can I?’ I have to do this job 100 per cent, it is what I am about.

“My target for 2012 has to be to get healthy and to stop using alcohol as a release valve. It hasn’t been easy these past few months, with all the worry of relegation and so on.

“It is why I want us to get to 50 points as quickly as possible. Once we get there, the planning for next season can start.”

Lawn first tried to get involved at City in the wake of the club slipping into administration in 2002 but his accountant advised caution and talks with Rhodes stalled.

The two did, though, agree to stay in touch and after Rhodes had brought the debt level, which once stood at £36m, down to a more sustainable level, talks resumed and eventually led to Lawn taking a 50 per cent share.

Lawn’s hope was that his seven-figure investment, together with the return of McCall as manager in the summer of 2007, would help reverse City’s slide but instead the club have become a mainstay of League Two, this being their fifth consecutive season in the basement.

An opportunity to sell up came last summer when millionaire businessman Steve Parkin launched a bid to buy City only for Rhodes and Lawn to rebuff the offer, saying it was way below a level that they found acceptable.

On the possibility of selling up, Lawn said last night: “Of course, I would love to be able to go back to being just a fan. But there isn’t a rich oil baron out there who wants to buy Bradford City.

“I look at what has happened at other clubs in the lower divisions and it would destroy me if the same happened to Bradford City.

“Look at Notts County and all the debts they built up under foreign owners. And Port Vale, where the alleged saviours have scarpered without putting a penny in.

“I actually feel as a club we turned a corner over Christmas with those three straight wins. The challenge now is to build on it.

“I feel we have a good manager in Phil Parkinson, who is articulate and an intelligent person. The squad he inherited was not good enough after we naively thought we could do it with young kids.

“He has brought in some new signings, and importantly they are all men. The performance at Rotherham (last Monday as City lost 3-0) was disappointing but, otherwise, we have done well lately. I think a couple of home wins against Burton and Morecambe could even put us as good as safe.”

As he prepares to travel to Championship side Watford tomorrow, Lawn is sporting an unusual look due to having decided not to shave until City are out of all three cup competitions.

He said: “I look like a mix between (Claude) Greengrass from Heartbeat and Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses. It is my son’s fault – he was growing a moustache for Movember and asked if I would join in.

“I did and then decided that I wouldn’t shave it off until we were out of all the cups. Usually, that’s the first week of December but this season has been different.

“It has got a bit wild in the past few weeks.”

Bradford City’s cup of woe...

Bradford City failed to win a FA Cup tie between 1999 and 2005.

This season is the first occasion the Bantams have reached the third round since being relegated from the second tier in 2004.

Bradford have fallen at the first hurdle of the FA Cup in seven of the last 12 seasons.

Before this season, City had beaten just one team (MK Dons in 2008-09) from a higher division since triumphing at Everton in 1997 when Chris Waddle scored a wonder goal.