Opposites attract to steer City to calmer waters

Bradford City are unique in having two chairmen, Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes. Here, Richard Sutcliffe discovers the dynamic between football’s odd couple.

Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes
Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes

RICHARD SUTCLIFFE: First, I want to ask both of you to try and put into words what Wembley means. I’ll start with you Mark.

MARK LAWN: It means I have achieved a goal I wanted to achieve when I first came here – to re-write history somehow. You do that by winning promotion or doing well. But this is something else. For a fourth-tier club to get to the League Cup final means I can probably go a happy man.

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JULIAN RHODES: Are you planning your departure from the club? I wish you’d said.

ML: I meant shuffling off this mortal coil. My work here is done and all that.

JR: Crikey, I know you looked like having a heart-attack at the semi-final but that’s going a bit far. As for what it means to me, I was going to say £1m. But that sounds a bit shallow after what Mark has said. What I have enjoyed the most – and this may sound a bit soft but it is true – is seeing the reaction of everyone. The last 10-11 years, it has always amazed me how 90 per cent of the people have been very supportive. Even in the really dark times. So to reward those people is amazing. I’ve never seen a goal celebrated as much as James Hanson’s at Villa Park. And to then see the footage of the fans coming out with a disbelieving look on their faces.

ML: Particularly the young lad who couldn’t get his breath as he said, ‘We’re going to Wembley’ to the TV cameras.

RS: There has been a lot of hurt and heartache along the way to get here, but what has been your lowpoint.

ML: For me, it was when we went to Morecambe in my first season. We lost and slipped to fourth-bottom. All I could think was, ‘I’m going to be the one who takes us out of the Football League’.

I couldn’t sleep. Julian and I had meetings about what we could do if we were relegated and things were bleak. We even discussed playing at a lower level than Bradford Park Avenue. Thankfully, the team rallied and we got out of trouble.

JR: To be fair, we’ve had those same meetings over the past couple of years, too. And said the same things!

ML: (laughs) That’s right, we just dust off the same folder containing our emergency plan...

RS: How about you Julian?

JR: How long have you got? Joking aside, okay we’ve had a few scares lately about going out of the League but they are nothing compared to what happened for the two or three years from 2002. The ultimate low for me was May 9, 2002, when Geoffrey Richmond told me we definitely had to go into administration. They came in a week later and every day for the next two to three years was a case of, ‘How the hell are we going to survive this?’ There were so many times when we were minutes from going out of business. So, to go from that to this is incredible.

RS: No other club has two chairmen. How does the dynamic work among you two?

ML: I have always had partners in business, right from my time at Driver Hire. You are either an animal who can work in a partnership or you aren’t. The key to me is that both partners must see the strengths in the other and they must also be different characters. The partnerships that fail are the ones who look at each other and see an identical person staring back. We are totally different. I am a little bit feisty and jump up and down. Julian is much more laid-back. I appreciate Julian’s experience in football and we have a deep respect for each other.

JR: I think back to before Mark came in and I always knew we needed to be more high profile. But that is just not me. Mark has taken that on and is so good at it that you can now buy a Mark Lawn face mask. I am going to wear one to Wembley.

ML: (laughs) To make more money, we are thinking of selling special Wembley darts so fans can throw them at the facemasks once the final is over.

JR: I’d have a go at that. No, seriously, we work together well. It is like when we have been looking for a manager. We have usually got all the CVs in and then sat down together to go through them. Then, between us, we agree a shortlist and take things from there.

ML: It was a bit different with Phil. Julian came in and said three or four people had recommended him. I did a bit of my own research and within a few days he was our manager.

JR: The good thing with Phil is we knew straight away he was down to earth and also going to work hard.

RS: Do you find you usually come to the same conclusion?

ML: Like anything else, we turn round and try to see where the flaws will be. That goes for any decision, not just a new manager. The key is how you get round those flaws.

JR: The thing I really liked about Phil from the start is he was prepared to work as part of a team. A lot of managers put the barriers up and insist, ‘I know best’. Phil is like a manager in any business in that he is willing to take opinions on board.

ML: It is still always his decision. There are certain things we won’t go in to here but with statistics and things, we have put those to Phil and he has taken them on board. It might be something he hasn’t realised, but he then goes away to look into it himself.

RS: If you two have a disagreement, how has it been settled?

ML: I don’t think we really have, to be honest. Nothing major, anyway. My thinking is that if I can’t explain something to Julian and get over to him the benefits then it is probably not an idea worth pursuing in the first place.

RS: Do you find people outside the club are fascinated with how it works between two chairmen?

ML: Definitely. Other chairmen, in particular. We were at Swindon recently and their chairman asked us, ‘How the hell do you do it?’ My answer was what I’ve just said to you. If I put an idea to Julian and he can’t see the worth then maybe it wasn’t a good idea in the first place. I then told the Swindon chairman, ‘You possibly don’t have that filter system or anyone to bounce off – you just think you’re right straight away’. Two heads are better than one and with neither of us having an ego then it isn’t a problem.

RS: Did you know each other well before Mark joined the board in 2007?

ML: (laughs) Well, Julian did try and take my money earlier.

JR: Guilty. We were in administration the second time in 2004 and I approached Mark. But his bloody advisers told him not to touch the club with a barge pole.

ML: So, I didn’t. I wish I’d listened to them three years later as well.... Julian is still in my mobile as ‘Robbing B***ard’. He’s cost me a fortune. (laughs)

JR: I’ll always be that to Mark. I bet he wishes he’d never met me. No, seriously, I will always appreciate Mark coming in as while we may have gradually got the debts down, we still needed money. You always get these people coming along shouting their mouth off about this, that and the other. Plenty did that but none backed it up, whereas Mark did. We might joke about me lying to him and not saying where the club was at. But I didn’t.

ML: You’re right, I had all the facts and nothing was hidden. This is a tight ship we are trying to run. That’s why we were panicking a little bit as budgets were flying up a few months ago. Without the Cup success or crowds being up in the League, we were heading for January and the thought that there might not be enough money in the club to pay the wages. It had seriously got to that stage. That would have meant money having to be put in or players sold.

RS: As lifelong fans, does it make things harder when the big decisions have to be made?

ML: We have to calm that side down. Julian has definitely had to do that with me from time to time. I don’t just mean when setting budgets, I mean after a match. I’ll be saying, ‘That performance was a bloody disgrace’ and he’s calmed me down. But, equally, I’ve had to do the same with Julian when he’s said, ‘That player is a piece of cheese, we have to get rid’.

JR: That’s why I make a point of not speaking to managers any more on a Saturday. As a fan, you tend to over-react. Wait until the Monday and if I still feel the same then there is probably something in it. That’s what I like about Phil. We have a relationship where we can talk about anything. We are honest and open, maybe at times a bit too open.

ML: I am the sort of person who, once I’ve made my point and the other person has had their say, then it is forgotten. I’ve seen big corporate companies where the vindictiveness can keep going for months.

RS: Julian, I know you don’t like a high public profile and, as a result, Mark has become the face of Bradford City over the past five-and-a-half years. Do you feel for him when the flack starts flying, particularly on the messageboards?

ML: The first thing Julian said was don’t look at them. He was right, because I did at first.

JR: It can detract from what you are trying to achieve. If you do your job properly and those people complaining still have a club to support then, ultimately, who cares if people want to shout their mouth off who don’t know anything. I will admit, though, that it has upset me when I’ve heard people giving Mark stick. It is so out of order.

RS: What’s the post-Wembley targets for the club?

ML: Plenty of drinks. Win or lose, we are having a party. Realistically, we have rolled the dice four times and won. If we were in a casino, there’d be no-one thinking we could win a fifth straight spin. It isn’t impossible, but we are massive underdogs so my message to the fans is go there and enjoy the day.

RS: Finally, as normal etiquette at a Wembley final is for each club’s chairman to sit either side of the Football League chairman, Greg Clarke. What’s going to happen with you two?

ML: Julian can sit there....

JR: ...with my Mark Lawn facemask on. That’ll fool people.

RS: A fitting way to end. Thanks for your time, gents.