There is a strong argument to make that it was Bradford City’s lowest modern day moment. May 2007, and the Bantams were relegated to League Two, just six years after being part of the Premier League elite.
Twice the club had almost gone to the wall, somehow limping through scary periods of administration. The effects ran deep. If ever there was an important decision to make, Bradford seemingly got it wrong and fell further. How much worse can it get?
That was the backdrop which David Baldwin walked into after a new investor into the club – Mark Lawn – asked him to spend six weeks at Valley Parade on a consultancy basis to try to revive City’s commercial revenue. Baldwin worked for free, and so impressed were Lawn and co-owner Julian Rhodes that he was quickly invited to stay on longer.
Weeks turned to months, months turned to years. By 2009 he was at least receiving a modest salary, and the club were getting tremendous value.
Baldwin was actually in early retirement prior to Lawn’s proposal. Having successfully built up and sold a recruitment business, he was living a relaxing life in Spain – long working days seemingly behind him. Given the title of Bradford City’s ‘Head of Operations’, an increasing amount of responsibility was thrown his way, as he set about reviewing and improving every element of the club.
By 2012, that even stretched to working with the club’s manager, Phil Parkinson, on signing players. Baldwin became Chief Executive and the public face of the Bantams. An articulate, engaging speaker who always looked to sell and promote the best interests of the club, he was someone you felt proud to represent us when speaking to the media.
My first direct dealing with Baldwin occurred in 2010. I was unhappy about a Christmas season ticket offer being run, and had emailed the generic Bradford City contact email address. Amazingly, within a few hours Baldwin was ringing my mobile and we had a great discussion. He outlined the reasons behind the promotion, and the benefits it brought to the club and supporters. I ended up feeling so convinced that I almost bought one on the spot.
This is typical of the man – and you can expect a similar approach at Burnley.
Baldwin has never been a person to hide behind other people or to ignore supporters. I have lost count of the number of similar stories to my own that I have heard: many fans were even invited to the ground for a face-to-face chat with him. It probably sounds clichéd and false to say that he cares what fans think – but he genuinely does. He will make time for everyone, and he will take feedback on board.
In 2012, Baldwin launched a Bradford City Supporters Board that enables the club to hear first hand what supporters think; and to communicate with them in an open and honest manner. I know fans who are part of this board, and they cannot speak highly enough of the value that it brings and the interest Baldwin shows in it. This really isn’t a box-ticking exercise that generates some PR: the Supporters Board and the club work very closely together to improve the experience for all fans.
As editor of a high profile Bradford City website – widthofapost.com – I have been fortunate to build up a good professional friendship with Baldwin, and have carried out a series of interviews with him for the site over the last three years. I’d like to think that these interviews were mutually beneficial, as I was able to provide him with the platform and space to outline the club’s strategic approach, and reasoning behind decisions that were debated by supporters. From our point of view, it certainly helped our readership figures and credibility.
And he remained someone who would always pick up the phone to me, and go out of his way to help in different ways. After our final interview was completed at Oldham’s Boundary Park prior to his final game before he departed for Burnley, he thanked me for always being fair and accurate. He even promised to do another piece with us at the end of the season, to share how his time at Turf Moor is going.
Baldwin was at Valley Parade for just over seven years and his impact can be seen on virtually every aspect of the club. It clearly wasn’t the plan when he first joined, but in essence Baldwin had a blank canvas that meant he was able to transform the way Bradford City operates. Success on the field did take a while to arrive, but seasons like 2012/13 – where Bradford reached the League Cup final and earned promotion back to League One – were the result of careful planning and long-term structural changes that Baldwin had more than played his part in shaping.
To an outsider, it seems unlikely he will have quite that impact at Burnley, simply because you are evidently in a much stronger position on and off the field and less will need to be changed. But in a way, that could mean Baldwin makes a more meaningful difference in the areas that he is responsible for. The real shame at Bradford was that there weren’t three David Baldwins working for the club – the one we did have simply had too much to look after. At Burnley, he can focus his efforts on a smaller number of areas, which should have a tangible effect.
He will be missed at Bradford City – not simply for what he did, but for the great man he is. You’d struggle to find a City supporter with a bad word to say about him, and that to me is the rarest of qualities in football.
Look after him. And if he’s not looking after you, get in touch and tell him – and you will find that he is receptive to hearing what you have to say.
What would you like to see Baldwin change? Comment below.