Saturday 17th May, 2014 5 months ago

The mystery of Matty Dolan and what is to worry about next season

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Matty Dolan has signed for Bradford City with talk of the twenty one year old having a major part to play in next’s season team.

It is a realistic aim for the player who after eleven largely uneventful appearances at Valley Parade last season should be settled. If given this time on the slip road to get up to speed Dolan cannot nail down a place in next season’s side then one might expect him to never get such an opportunity again. The odd fine pass here, some tidy work there, there was nothing to suggest that Dolan was not worth the effort of a one year deal.

There is a wider question about what kind of Bradford City we will see next year.

Already Julian Rhodes has talked about two distinct differences the club want in Phil Parkinson’s playing squad next season. It must be cheaper, and more attacking.

“More attacking” first. Please save us from the joint chairmen trying to do football. Both the owners of the club consider themselves to be fans and custodians of the club but one – Mr Rhodes – has decided that part of that remit as protecting the future of the club and supporting it is to weigh in on how Phil Parkinson should be doing his job.

Rhodes would like more attacking football – probably a hope shared by all football supporters – but one doubts that Rhodes would like City to lose more and in all likelihood the Bradford City board would not accept losing more. Given the aims to be cheaper and to improve it is unhelpful to say the least for the boardroom to set the objectives of how those things will be done.

Phil Parkinson might conclude that given that remit: improve, cheaper, more attacking; that he should pay more attention to movements in the manager market in the summer. If that is the case then Julian Rhodes might live to regret his pronouncements, especially if they were just to rustle up more season ticket sales.

That is a worry.

Now “cheaper”. Bradford City have a use of the word “budget” that mocks the English language. The club set a figure what it believes it will get in through sponsorship and league games which is called “the budget”. Then the club spend more than that so are “over budget”.

A good cup run (probably not that good) eats into the gap between the “budget” and the “over budget”, or exceeds it and can be used – for example – to pay the club’s loan to one of it’s directors. We might have a respectable cup run that takes the club to Old Trafford and answers the problems.

Transfer fees work in the same way. Nahki Wells’ sale made the “budget” match the “over budget”. If Derby Country get to the Premier League and want to keep Andre Wisdom then the sell on on his move to Liverpool may do the same and a good World Cup could see Ross Barkley move on and leave a place in the team at Everton for Reserves Captain George Green to step up and start City’s pay per play deal. Oli McBurnie might leave at Christmas after twenty goals for a few million. James Hanson might sign for Barcelona. These things all might happen.

But they might not.

And if they do not Bradford City the club will once again looking to try plug the gap between what Bradford City the business’s directors hoped for and what Bradford City the business achieved. For two seasons Wembley and Wells have paid for the club to be run beyond its means and we can say that that has worked if we ignore the number of seasons that boom-or-bust policies did not (and the mess it left the club in) but while we still have some of the trapping of two good years I worry that the club is not putting anything with any permanence in place.

And that means I worry that the future of the club is down to which players the manager can pull in, when the manager is pushed into decisions by the board.

Rather than collecting the right group with the right attitude – the character of players has been decisive factor over the past three seasons – Parkinson has to sign whoever is cheaper and more attacking.

Which means I’m worry because while Matty Dolan might be the next Gary Jones the problems that come if he and the few others signed this summer do not match up to the performances of their predecessors then the ramifications could undo the progress of the last few years.

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Friday 16th May, 2014 5 months ago

Parkinson should give McBurnie a place in the eighteen (but I would say that)

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An even hand is applied to all, but I flipping love Oli McBurnie.

If you have read BfB for any period of time you’ll know, dear reader, that I am keen to see the youth of the club given a chance in the first team squad and that I think that a good club makes good players by playing them rather than being gifted them by good fortune.

That is not why I flipping love Oli McBurnie.

I like to think too that McBurnie shows the talent to justify elevation to the first team squad on a regular basis. Without a reserve team to blood him in the physical game of man’s football it is hard to comment on that side of his game but his cameo appearances for City have shown him as able to handle that side of football well enough to suggest he can handle some more of it.

I do flipping love Oli McBurnie.

I love the romance of the young player. I love the idea that the kid that started for City on Boxing Day 2013 spent Boxing Day 2012 playing Championship Manager. We saw it when Danny Forrest scored in front of the stand he used to watch City from, or when the man who used to work at the Co-op left a World Cup player on his backside at Villa.

It is that Roy of the Rovers drama and its one of the things I love most when watching the seasons of football.

But from a more pragmatic point of view we need Oli McBurnie.

A fast striker who – by virtue of his promotion from the youth set up – is not going to break the bank with wage demands he offers a way to trim the £500,000 overspend Julian Rhodes has talked about. In giving him first team games and making him a real part of the squad rather than a bonus we give him the environment to develop in.

Danny Ings was one of the Championship players of the season after his promotion from bit part player to starter after Charlie Austin left for QPR. Those longer in the tooth will recall how Dean Richards progressed when Phil Babb departed and the youngster was trusted with his place.

To me it makes sense for Phil Parkinson to see McBurnie as one of his main three. The fast one with the target man, and the hard worker. If that does not work out then we deal with that in the same way we deal with a new signing who does not.

When you see potential you have to put the work and give the player responsibility to make a good player. It might not always work, but not doing it never works and that is what City did with Nahki Wells, with Dean Richards, with Stuart McCall.

But even that is not why I flipping love Oli McBurnie.

I’m getting old.

I’m old enough now that I know a player’s Mum and I do know Oli’s. I’m not going to lie it gives me a massive amount of bias in favour of the young striker and that is going to have an impact on how I assess him.

But even as I admit that I still think that as the club talk about squad restructures and going half a million over “what we can afford” then we have the need, the opportunity and the ability to try crack one of the best prospects to have come into the first team for years.

So I think that when it comes to next season Phil Parkinson should consider Oli McBurnie as a part of his match day eighteen.

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Friday 9th May, 2014 5 months ago

Parkinson’s hardest job as Gary Jones leaves City

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The biggest job Phil Parkinson has had since he got to Bradford City is to replace Gary Jones who will leave the club during the summer.

What is more Parkinson’s ability to replace Jones will be the decisive factor in if he is Bradford City manager this time next year.

Parkinson’s tribute to Jones vocalised exactly what City will miss about the captain. “Enormous contribution”, “right mentality”, “character”, “superb role model”, “heart and soul”, “I cannot speak highly enough of him both as a person and as a football player.”

Jones’ ability should not be understated – a League One club (like Rochdale) might judge from his performances last season that he was still worth a place in the team – but Parkinson will miss his leadership. Not since Captain McCall left had City been left with such a significant hole in the dressing room.

A good captain improves the players around him, he pulls them through games, and he inspires them to find something which without him they would not have. Stuart McCall was the example for his and anyone who watched him dragging a City team to the Premier League would have recognised those qualities in Jones at Villa Park, at Burton Albion, at Wembley.

Jones ensured performances from the players around him. After years of watching a team with the nominal leadership of David Wetherall, the withering leadership of Tommy Doherty, the slight times of Simon Ramsden, the shouting ineptitude of Guy Branston City had a player who led on the field and led well. Every great team has an avatar of the manager on the field and Jones did that for Parkinson.

Which leaves the manager with a problem. No matter who gets the armband next season Parkinson needs someone who shows Jones’ leadership. Someone inline with the manager, who can be the manager’s voice on the field, and can give Nathan Doyle a kick up the arse when needed.

Without that leadership any team stop being greater than the sum of their parts and then when parts start to misfire they become less still. We saw this as Stuart McCall’s side faded away for the want of the on the field character that, as a player, he shared with Jones.

That team was – and one could argue this at length – man for man “better” players than Parkinson’s side last season but they were a worse team and much of the construction of that team was in “right mentality”, “character”, “heart and soul” which Gary Jones brought.

And without that City – mid-table last season – cannot expect a better return next year and one doubts that a same again display from Parkinson will be considered acceptable for a boardroom which twitches more than not.

As Gary Jones exits Phil Parkinson has a lot of work to do.


Aside, from Michael Wood, on Gary Jones There was no way to fit this into the article above but as a story I think it says much about Jones. Before Wembley City were approached by The Sun to ask for single game on shirt advertising for the League Cup final. City would have worn The Sun logo on the shirt but at sometime before a decision was made the idea was presented to the two Liverpool born players: Gary Jones and Stephen Darby.

And it was Jones who replied that he did not want the club to take The Sun’s money.

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Tuesday 6th May, 2014 5 months ago

The B team and the eighteen man squad

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The elected conclave at the FA which is charged with the task of improving the England team’s performance are reported to be considering allowing a layer of B Teams to be injected into the middle of the English football pyramid which would see teams relegated from City’s league perhaps playing against Man C B.

Somewhere around the bottom of the professional game – the idea is – Premier League and Championship clubs and probably Crewe Alexandra would be allowed to field teams made up from the members of their squads who were not registered in the twenty five man squad for the Premier League. It would be a league in which the now retired wastrel Wayne Bridge would have spent most of his career and for that reason along I can not fathom why anyone would be interested in watching it.

Nevertheless with the idea that there is a level of improvement to be had for English football in Wycombe Wanderers vs Everton’s players who are not in the first twenty five – and one suspects that that improvement is focused on the Evertons rather than the Wycombes – seems to have taken hold based on some rather weak analysis of the more geographically broad German and Spanish leagues on how they allow B Teams. The small size of England means that we do not have to regionalise our leagues until a much lower level.

I confess that not only do I think it is not needed but I also fail to see how it would be beneficial. For sure first team games are the corn of development for footballers but B Teams are not first team football by definition. Pushing the Reserve League into the gap between Gateshead and Cambridge United and the aforementioned Chairboys is not going to make the football more essential.

The loan system, for all my distaste for it, is a much better way of getting players development matches that matter. Taking a lead from that idea – and if the growth of playing talent really is that important to clubs that The FA are prepared to create gap between the Football League and the Football Conference – then perhaps a better idea would be to only allow clubs to retain fewer over eighteen year old footballers?

If it is important that the likes of Andros Townsend and Tom Cleverley got first team football – which they both did on loan – then my not tell clubs that they can have (for example) eighteen over eighteen year olds pushing players away from the the squad of teams higher up and giving them competitive games further down the pyramid? One suspects the interests of clubs keen to have other peculate their talent would rule that discussion as well it might, I’m not suggesting that is the only way forward, just that it proves that there are things more important to English football than the development of English football.

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Saturday 3rd May, 2014 5 months ago

How we let a good season become bad and what we can do about it

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  • Jon McLaughlin | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, Adam Drury | Garry Thompson, Nathan Doyle, Gary Jones, Mark Yeates | Aaron McLean, Jon Stead | Raffaele De Vita, James Meredith, Kyle Bennett

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Tranmere Rovers 1 Bradford City 2 At Prenton Park in League One, 2013/2014

The 2-1 result against Tranmere Rovers that saw the Birkenhead team relegated to League Two meant more to the home side than it did to us.

The less said about Tranmere Rovers this season the better. A manager sacked for gambling on his own club and players deliberately sent off probably including a time at Valley Parade when Ian Goodison hit Kyel Reid.

Thinking back over the season that Sunday afternoon – it was moved for a EDL protest back before all their voters jumped ship to UKIP – saw the end of City’s promotion push this term. Matthew Bates made a debut but proved to not be Andrew Davies and when Ryan Lowe scored the only goal of the game there was a start of the end of the form that had taken us to Wembley twice.

We came into this division on a high and started very well. That start faded away as did Nahki Wells who joined Huddersfield Town and so City started a slow climb to a performance target which was easily reached.

“Easily reached” being my opinion, but also the opinion of the Tranmere Rovers supporters who would no doubt have looked curiously at you if you had told them that this both our teams had battled relegation.

If you had been following Bradford City this season then you might have been excused in thinking that the season had been a lot more difficult than it has. In fact depending on which part of the chorus of Bradford City supporters you were closest to you might have thought that City had a terrible season.

Not for those lads and lasses at the back of the Kop who make such an impressive noise. They are this season’s poster people for backing a club through thick and thin. At their lowest ebb – Walsall at home – they still made a better noise than Valley Parade heard during our last season at this level.

If you listened to the majority of City fans who mainly did not allow the Bantams to occupy their minds then the club did “ok”. By virtue of the fact that you are the sort of person who is reading this article you may not appreciate just what a small part the club can play in the lives of some people who are proud to self-identify as Bradford City fans.

Mark Neale – he of The Friends of Bradford City and many other Bradford City supporters associations – is convinced that the club has around 2,000 supporters who get involved in the club between games (apologies to Mark if that figure is not accurate, I’m pretty sure the spirit is)

And while that figure might go up or down in small movements over years it is importantly not a percentage of the attendance. If 10,000 turned up they would be 20%, if 3,000 turned up they would be 66%. They are constant.

Which means that this season eight or nine thousand people have been coming to Valley Parade this season having read a bit about City, and talked a bit about City, and largely taking a lead from the two thousand who involve themselves in City between the games.

Which is becoming a problem.

If you are in that two thousand you probably know #bcafc, and Width of a Post, and Claret and Banter, and even the quangoesque Bradford City Supporters Board. If you do know these things, and pay attention to them, you’d think that Bradford City had had a terrible season.

Which is not to say that all of of this coverage have been negative or has all been suggesting that we have been terrible. Far from it. You can find Bradford City supporters who are pathologically positive and can find silver linings on the biggest clouds but when one attests that one is 100% in one’s support for Phil Parkinson one is being drawn into a conversation about a lack of support for Phil Parkinson.

And that has been the conversation this season for the two thousand. That Parkinson should be sacked (or that he should not), or that some (or all) players are not good enough (or that they are), or that City are battling relegation (or that they will win that battle)

Which would make sense if one were in the opposite end of Prenton Park watching our team be relegated but we are not.

At the end of March City dipped to 15th place for a week in a league of 24 teams but for the majority of the season City have nestled in mid-table.

(You can, if you want to be as asinine as it is possible to be, suggest that this is mid-table mediocrity but when Jon Stead and Aaron McLean scored in the last ten minutes left to ensure Tranmere Rovers would be relegated the idea that it is the Bantams who can be termed “mediocre” would not have been well received by the home supporters.)

So why has this season of an expected return – a newly promoted club should plan for retaining their position in their new league – become characterised as being one where City struggled against relegation? When City were in either the top third at the start, or the middle third for the balance, why has the context been that City have been in the bottom third?

Let me draw a line here between the context of this season and the idea of being negative. The problem this season has not been that people have looked at the events and looking at them concluded a negative view. It is that they have looked at them and, ignoring the facts, created a worst view of the status of the club.

You and I, dear reader, can draw a positive or negative view of a season after which City finished in 11th position with 59 points but saying the season was worse than that is just lying. And that is what the conversation has been around all season.

The conversation has been a lie.

It has been that Bradford City are doing worse than they were, and that Parkinson was performing poorly when he was not, and that the players at the start of the season were not good enough when objectively, as a group, they were.

And this has caused a problem because as the two thousand argue a false premise the eight thousand have their support framed in that context. That the people who “know more” than them are telling them that (either) things are terrible (or that things are not as terrible as other people think they are).

This sets a mood. You can have your own view on if the mood around the club and its fans affects the players on the field but I’ve observed that that relationship is symbiotic. Indeed if one were to believe Messers Lawn and Rhodes (and there is no reason why one should not) then they are supporters of the club in the boardroom and thus the fans are the player’s bosses.

Defender Shane Duff – one time Bantam – made it very clear that the mood of one of the chairmen used to directly affect the players in his time at the club.

Mr Lawn sat in with the Bradford City supporters today signing autographs for other supporters and it is hard not to wonder where the chairman – who during the two trips to Wembley could not have been more visible – had been all season? His warm and friendly face has been noticeable by it’s absence since the sale of Wells in January and during the time. When the context of the season needed to be stated he and his partner Mr Rhodes were not to be seen. Not that Mr Rhodes ever is but if there was a benefit to the team of Mr Lawn’s appearances around Wembley then surely there would have been a benefit of the club’s boardroom firmly stating that Phil Parkinson’s team were performing well, despite poor form, and that this season was on track.

Is not the prevailing view in the higher echelons of Valley Parade? If it is why not say it? I worry that it is because of this false premise being argued by the two thousand and the belief that appearing to be on the wrong side of that conversation would not be desirable.

Perhaps it is additional credit to Phil Parkinson that not only has he taken Bradford City to promotion, and then attained a very good 11th placed finish, carrying the mantle of leadership of the club alone and without public support from his employers especially if that support could have addressed the two thousand and challenged the false premise?

One wonders though where City – and specific the two thousand – go from this season? This was a good season but the discussions between the core of two thousand have contextualised it as a poor one. I believe that that has been a part of a feedback loop which has fed the eight thousand which has got to the pitch and by affecting the players made the season worse.

What is more I would suggest that this is a problem for much of modern football where the reality is that 80-odd teams at the end of every season will not have any silverware to celebrate with. That the majority of supporters are suffering this problem of their own two thousand being dragged into conversations based on false premises by sections of that support.

If next season takes the pattern of this then will we see a repeat of this year? If so what can be done about it? Does anything need to be done about it or are we, as a community, happy with the way this season has been discussed?

Those questions need to be considered by football supporters up and down the country, but at Bradford City we have the backwash of two trips to Wembley and what good what good will remains from that. We could use that to try form a community which better understands how a good season has been made bad by a small percentage of a small percentage who really should have been told they were wrong sooner.

The Team

  • Jon McLaughlin | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, Adam Drury | Garry Thompson, Nathan Doyle, Gary Jones, Mark Yeates | Aaron McLean, Jon Stead | Raffaele De Vita, James Meredith, Kyle Bennett

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