Exclusive: Bradford City could quit Valley Parade over rent costs

JOINT chairman Mark Lawn last night warned that Bradford City could be forced to abandon their home of more than a century within the next 12 months unless agreement can be reached with the landlords of Valley Parade over a drastic rent reduction.

City pay £370,000 per year to the family pension fund of former chairman Gordon Gibb, who bought the stadium for around £2.5m in 2003 at the height of the financial troubles that followed a two-year stay in the Premier League.

A similar amount has to be paid to investment company Prupim to rent the office block that stands next to the ground which, together with the annual outlay on rates, electricity and other overheads means the Bantams have to find around £1.25m before a ball has been kicked every season.

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In contrast, Bradford Bulls rugby league club are believed to pay less than a fifth of that sum to play at the Council-owned Odsal.

For City, a seven-figure outgoing has proved increasingly difficult to meet since relegation to League Two in 2007 – as was proved earlier this month when the latest quarterly rent bills were paid a week late.

Lawn claims Prupim is open to a rent renegotiation – which the club want to be incrementally-based, meaning the size of payments would fall immediately but rise if promotion was achieved.

However, the trustees of the Gibb pension fund have so far failed to respond – prompting City to begin talks over a possible move away from their home of 108 years.

Should the Bantams quit Valley Parade, the 24,000 capacity Odsal – where City spent 18 months following the 1985 fire that claimed 56 lives – would be their likely destination due to the Council and Bulls both, it is understood, being keen on such a move.

Lawn said: “We simply can’t afford the rent at this level (League Two). I won’t take this club into extinction but that is where we are heading if we stay at Valley Parade with the current overheads.

“We are trying to talk to our landlords about a proposal to reduce the rent now and then raise it if Bradford City win promotion.

“But, so far, it seems one of our landlords is prepared to talk and one is not.

“The bottom line is if agreement cannot be reached then we will have to look at the alternatives.

“Moving would not be a decision we would take lightly. I have been a fan all my life and was there on the day of the fire so understand just what Valley Parade means to this club.

“But if the alternative is there being no club at all then staying here is not an option. I won’t risk Bradford City’s future.”

The Bantams are eight years into a 25-year lease, meaning quitting Valley Parade would be a complicated business.

However, asked what timescale the club had in mind with regards a possible move, Lawn added: “Why not next year?

“I am not joking, either. This is a serious situation and one that cannot continue. This club is debt-free only because of money that has been introduced from outside over the last few years.

“I have put £2m in, while the Fabian Delph transfer (from Leeds to Aston Villa, which sees City paid 12.5 per cent of a fee that could rise to £8m) has brought in £1m.

“Even those two amounts, though, pale into insignificance compared to the financial commitment made by Julian Rhodes and his family over the years.

“The bottom line is if we don’t do something now then the club will fall into debt once again. And neither me nor Julian have the resources to cover that this time.”

City have played at Valley Parade since being formed in 1903 but the club’s financial problems early in the new Millennium led to the site being sold to the family pension fund of Flamingo Land owner Gibb, who was then the club’s chairman. The Bantams started paying rent a year later.

When contacted by the Yorkshire Post for his response to City’s plea, Gibb, one of several Trustees of his family’s pension fund, declined to comment other than to say, “There has been no direct contact”.

The sale of Valley Parade in 2003, together with that of the adjoining office block to London-based Development Securities, brought in £5m – money that was used to help repay a mortgage that had been taken out on the two properties.

City’s stated aim at the time was to buy back both the ground and offices once finances improved, something that proved impossible due to the Bantams having since dropped two divisions and had one stint in administration.

Lawn, who confirmed Lewis Hunt will not play again this season due to a clause that guarantees the full-back another year’s contract if he makes one more appearance, said: “If Bradford City are not here, what use would Valley Parade be to the landlord?

“Maybe the steel could be sold, but I am not sure just how high the price is right now.”