From July, 2007
Mark Lawn should be more careful about his publicity stunts. As City’s new joint-owner cooked up a tasty fare of barbecue food to people queuing up for season tickets on Sunday, he might be finding his special talents are needed again in a fortnight. Given the impressive uptake of City’s bargain bucket season tickets, far beyond expectations, you wonder if City will be able to cope with the higher than expected crowds this season. Hey Mark the half time queues for food are huge, your cookery skills are needed on the Kop concourse…
The season ticket offer ends on Tuesday and, six months after the idea was originally announced, Lawn’s new sidekick should be feeling especially pleased with himself. When Julian Rhodes launched the scheme last February, he was greeted with a degree of indifference and an apparent reality of how much the district of Bradford was bothered about having a football team.
City are leading the way with making football affordable to everyone and, if our biggest crowds for years are celebrating promotion come May, it will surely become an initiative copied elsewhere.
People were asked to ‘pledge’ to buy a ticket and the numbers who did so were not enough. Given City failed to win a single home match and their feeble attempt to avoid relegation during this period, it’s perhaps to be expected the T&A post bag wasn’t exactly bulging. Nevertheless, the lack of response to the cheapest season tickets in English professional football felt both demoralising and embarrassing.
So what’s changed? Why are we now about to kick off the new season with just under 12,000 season ticket holders? A third relegation in six years occurred, yet the optimism among supporters for the season ahead is probably the highest it has been since promotion to the Premiership. It appears that the summer arrivals account for the late surge of interest in watching City’s first bottom division campaign in two decades.
Yet Mark Lawn’s investment in the club, while crucial and welcomed by every City supporter, would surely not be of enough significance to suddenly make lapsed supporters return. It’s the arrival of one of City’s sporting icons who must surely take credit for that.
It’s worth noting just how powerful the Stuart McCall factor is. Cheap season tickets or not, it appears several thousands are returning to watch Bradford City on the strength of his appointment. This shows the depth of feeling people have for our ginger hero. Stuart has been at the forefront of some of City’s more recent prominent moments, both happy and tragic. He has proved himself to be the ultimate hero and one that, crucially, is easy for everyone to identify with. He is loved by so many, including those who gave up watching City years ago.
After the previously poor response to the season ticket offer, few would have blamed Rhodes if he had abandoned the initiative last spring. He kept going, partly helped by behind the scenes support from Lawn. His long term aim was to get Stuart in, although this also looked unlikely for a time. With the offer not going well, Stuart remaining tight-lipped about his future and City heading for relegation; many supporters decided to vocally criticise our owner and the ‘get rid of’ brigade began calling for him to step down. Rhodes even briefly contemplated giving those people what they wanted, but thankfully decided to stay on.
His plan might not have looked successful for a time and his determination to wait for Stuart clearly cost City their League One status last term, but luck changed and the snowball effect of good news stories continues at a fast pace. Now Rhodes can hopefully sit back as the season kicks off with his efforts paying off. It won’t happen but, after Stuart gets his great reception from fans as he walks to the dugout against Macclesfield, it would be wonderful if a chant of ‘there’s only one Julian Rhodes’ rang out from all three home stands.
The season ticket offer is wonderful. I’ve written a few bfb articles calling for reduced ticket prices in the past. As someone who hasn’t been financially well off for a couple of years, I was acutely aware how expensive it was to watch City and I’ve had to miss some matches before finally been able to afford a season ticket again last season. I think it’s wonderful that, as ticket prices continue to rise nationally and the Premiership becomes more and more removed from reality, my club has taken this fantastic lead in making the game more affordable for ordinary folk.
Bradford City have been criticised in the past for not doing enough in the community, but this move is a significant step towards integrating the club as an important part of local people’s lives. Now around 11,500 of us will be visiting Valley Parade every fortnight and the new season promises to be exciting, carrying with it the promise of a promotion push.
It won’t be easy, Stuart doesn’t have a huge transfer budget and undoubtedly not all of his summer signings will prove successful. The loan system is being heavily utilised and some fans are already needlessly panicking because City have lost a couple of friendlies. The new investment from Lawn gives City a chance to push forward, but it doesn’t mean City have bucket loads of cash to spend. The problems of recent years are probably best illustrated by the return of Paul Heckingbottom on loan. It’s three years since he departed; yet he still remains the last left back City signed on a permanent basis.
Promotion this season would make for a wonderfully happy story; not just to a club that has forgotten what success is like, but for football fans everywhere. City are leading the way with making football affordable to everyone and, if our biggest crowds for years are celebrating promotion come May, it will surely become an initiative copied elsewhere.
If the fairytale ending of promotion does occur, Rhodes can be even prouder than he must feel right now. As fans criticised him last spring, many seemingly dismissed the fact he and his family had twice saved the club as a minor irrelevance. While this is ludicrous and sadly typical of some of our fans, Rhodes’ vision could be about to create a legacy no one could shrug off. It’s unfortunate that history will so far record Rhodes tenure as a time linked with failure and financial strife. With his wonderful offer, new investment on board and a City legend as manager; Rhodes’ plan is coming together and it’s to be hoped all of this hardwork will pay off.
If anyone deserves to succeed with City, it is surely Rhodes. Hopefully this season he can sit back and enjoy some success. It’s sure to taste even better than a Mark Lawn burger.
A 1-0 defeat at York City gave Stuart McCall of a first taste in management of the pereinial Bradford City problem of mistaken identity. City turned up against Burnley winning plaudits for a draw with the Championship side but soft pedaled against the non-league Minstermen and were beaten.
This kind of attitude has seen the Bantams able to turn up against the best sides but get beaten by the weaker ones across all four divisions in the last decade be they a 1-0 defeat at Watford contrasted with beating Liverpool or home thumpings by Stockport County against wins over teams that would get promoted McCall needs his City side to address this before progress can be made.
City lost needlessly getting little out of a game where Chris Beardsley tapped in a rebound from a Craig Farrell shot and the Bantams – albeit with a share of trailists – never looked like replying. Fast forward this to the league and three points against anyone is three points and were the previous two games in a season then City would have one point and not the three that the positions suggest we should.
McCall is taking an extended look at trialist Kyle Nix – he has a month contract to prove his worth – and hopes to firm up a contract with Paul Evans this week.
Bradford City 1 Burnley 1 At Valley Parade in Friendly Game, 2007/2008
First things first. Bradford City took honours against Burnley in the one all draw at Valley Parade against a strong Burnley side in what was the best pre-season test at Valley Parade since Sam Allardyce stormed out of VP following Wayne Jacobs testimonial with a face on him that said “That mattered”.
Tonight Burnley tried, City tried and City edged it.
Burnley, however, had more class. The gap between the two divisions was there for all to see as Burnley pushed the ball around and controlled it with the kind of ease that City once did but what the Bantams lacked in class they made up in the kind of passionate play that manager Stuart McCall – in charge of his first City game at Valley Parade for seven and a half years – typified.
If not first to the ball then City snapped around the feet McCall is building a team in his own image and at the hub of that McCall seems to have found his number four in the shape of tank like midfielder Paul Evans.
At times Evans is McCall’s McCall to a tee. He harries at everything then tackles hard but fair – most of the time – and like McCall he can move the ball. More short ten yarders in future maybe but with City playing a 433 with Omar Daley and Joe Colbeck on a remit to get down the channels beyond the increasingly impressive Barry Conlon Evans played quarterback hitting balls that will rip apart League Two defences. Evans is not essential for City or for McCall – Craig Bentham can do his job – but with the Welshman having other offers but preferring City one gets the feeling that he could make much more of an impact on results in his second coming than he did in his first.
One hopes McCall gets his man.
Also worth getting would seem to be Australian born midfielder Kyle Nix who buzzed around the midfield of the field next to Evans and Eddie Johnson with a classy touch and an eagerness to impress his former Sheffield United reserve manager McCall. Nix almost won the game for City with a free kick late on that pyjamaed goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly saved impressively in an impressive midfield three which saw Eddie Johnson continue his transformation to a man of the middle with a long channel ball to Joe Colbeck which the winger took in stride and pulled back for Evans to slam in from the right hand side of the box. Two passes over sixty yards and more impressive play from Colbeck that will no doubt be ignored by his detractors.
Not to be ignored was the train sized gap which saw Burnley’s Michael Duff thread a ball behind Mark Bower and in front of Donovan Ricketts for Ade Akinbiyi to turn in for the opener. Defensive communication is the heart of all winning teams and should McCall’s men be celebrating on May this will have been either sorted out on the training ground or no one in League Two will be capable of playing that sort of pass.
The back two of David Wetherall and Mark Bower seemed at home with Paul Heckingbottom’s gradual return at left back and new signing Darren Williams slotting in to the right back role and showing ability to support the forward play coupled with strength at the back and seeming to be a very useful player.
From the bench Tom Harban impressed at right back and striker Luke Medley looked huge but lacked the experience to fill Conlon’s vital role in the set-up McCall is building but most vital in that seems to be a McCall of a player to fill the manager’s shoes. Contract for Paul Evans? Very much so.
Farsley Celtic 2 Bradford City 1 and North Ferriby United 0 Bradford City 2 At Throstles Nest and Grange Lane in Friendly matches, 2007/2008
Farsley Celtic are the success story of West Yorkshire football. Standing in their cobbled together ground seeing a club punching over its weight going for it against a twenty-two man Bradford City team one cannot helped but be impressed with what is going on at City’s new nearest neighbour. If Bradford City or Leeds United punched this high then Championships would be won.
Farsley mean business and were in race trim. Gareth Grant had something to prove against City and roasted Luke O’Brien at left back and City’s first half middle which included Everton trialist Scott Phelan whent from control of the game to a worrying back foot. Simon Johnson up front was fed by Joe Colbeck and slid over a ball for Peter Thorne to get a debut equaliser but Damien Dunne gave the home side a decisive lead.
Four days later and Colbeck – persistant target of both critisism and plaudit even amoust the thousand who travel to pre-season – impressed in a 2-0 win over North Ferriby United ripping into the home side’s full back and firing over a string of excellent crosses. Joe Colbeck with end product is almost everything. The rest comes from Peter Thorne and Barry Conlon who both look like the burley sort of striker that City will need in League Two. Thorne got his second – adding to an opener by Omar Daley – and City had both good win and good workout.
Wins and workouts aside the modern friendly is about squad shaping. Conlon and Thorne are Bantams and they will surely be joined soon by a return of Paul Evans who slotted back into Bradford City colours aptly. Evans taking a free kick blasted at goal is a sight one thought one would never see again and one is so glad that the midfield engine seems set to return.
Joining City seem to be Nathan Joynes and Thomas Harban on long-term loans from Barnsley. Harban looks an interesting player with decent ball skills. Joynes – a forward – is superb until the finish which “lacks polish” to say the least. Simon Johnson moves on to Hereford having not impressed McCall. Joynes seems to offer the same. One wonders if the fear of a two year contract should City win promotion is behind that one.
Former Hartlepool United and Sunderland right back Darren Williams has been offered a contract. He is not Darren Holloway. Repeat it softly to yourself before you go to sleep dear reader.
Kyle Nix is to be told on Monday what his future is. It is six to half a dozen if he will stay. McCall seems to want Scott Phelan and Phelan – a full back at Goodison moving into midfield – looks worth a punt. As with Nix he finds out today as McCall – two wins and a defeat into his City career – inks in names to his team sheet.
Midway through the first half of City’s friendly at Wetherby Road, a Harrogate Town midfielder hit a long ball that rolled straight through to Donovan Ricketts. With the striker still chasing through, Ricketts sold him a dummy and dribbled the ball around him before clearing up field. Football, at least as we know it, is back.
Barely two months since the disappointing 2006/07 season ended with a 2-2 draw against Millwall, unfamiliar faces lined up with familiar as the Stuart McCall reign began with a 1-0 win. The goal came after 14 minutes from the head of the ever reliable captain David Wetherall. Some can point to irony that it was the previous manager who scored the goal to mark the start of the new boss’ time in charge. Stuart will have seen it as a clear signal that his captain will be one of his most reliable players in the coming months.
No disrespect to Harrogate Town, but I do enjoy these trips to non-league grounds. It’s great to see the enthusiasm and hard work from the people who run the club, but there is often an air of comedy about the whole experience. Whether it’s paying for three people at the turnstiles with a £20 and £5 note (tickets £8 each) and been told they didn’t have any change (I was owed a £1) – so instead the gateman only charged us £20, there seems to be a great collection of characters around the ground.
Making our way to the main stand for a seat (a wise decision given the torrential second half downpour) we were stopped by an elderly gentleman who asked us for an extra £1 each to sit here. For a minute I wondered whether he was on the con, but handed over our extra £1s anyway. I guess that made up for being undercharged at the turnstile!
The crackling tannoy system played ‘Life is a rollercoaster’ by Ronan Keating prematch and we soon realised, as the next record kicked in, that they were in fact playing the Irish singer’s full album (not that pre-match music at Valley Parade is usually any better). We were then treated to a display from a local group of young cheerleaders who sang about how they rule this town and only seemed to know four songs/routines. They were happy to repeat their four dances again and again like a CD stuck on repeat.
Meanwhile the front row of the stand was filled with excitable parents capturing the whole performance on camera. They were the only ones to join in the audience participation moments and you got the impression they were not regulars down at Wetherby Road. Another elderly gentleman walked to the front and seemed full of pride as he watched and applauded the cheerleaders. He looked like he might be Bill Fotherby, the former Leeds Chairman now in charge at Harrogate. He turned to us under whelmed supporters in the stand and, in a Brian Potter-esque way, excitedly exclaimed how he had never heard so much noise in his whole life.
Fortunately the game soon started. City’s first half team came out on the pitch quickly followed by Stuart and Wayne Jacobs, who both naturally received a great reception from the large contingent of City fans. Being half deaf, I stood little chance of hearing the tannoy announcing the City team so struggled to work out who some of our trialists were. One familiar face was Paul Evans, who fired over the free kick that Wetherall scored from to put us in the lead. A bloke a few rows in front stood up shortly after and started loudly cheering for Town, before just as suddenly stopping and sitting back down.
“How old is the number 9?” asked the wife referring to new signing Barry Conlon. “28 I think.” “No he is not, he looks 52!” Soon after Conlon was presented with an excellent chance after a cross was floated towards his ageing forehead. His header ended up going well wide, almost threatening the corner flag. “Look’s like we’ve signed another three goals a season forward.”
Among the first half trialists was Simon Johnson, who showed some skill but was easily knocked off the ball. Number Two Darren Williams looked useful, although the last right back we had called ‘Darren’, who also used to play for Sunderland, still prompts horror flashbacks. The number 8, who I later find out is Scott Phelan, could be worth a contract. The half closed with Harrogate putting in plenty of effort and The Don looking much calmer than towards the end of last season.
Queuing up for an ice cream at half time, a clap of thunder boomed over and it began to rain. Someone joked about dropping ice cream on the blue Bentley parked by the Ice-cream van, until someone else pointed out that it belonged to Mark Lawn. Now what was the name of the last City owner who drove a Bentley? We paused to watch Jacobs bark instructions at the subs warming up before another clap of thunder hurried our retreat back to the sheltered stand.
As we walked back, I realised that former City players Mark Prudhoe and Chris Wilder (now Halifax manager) were walking past the opposite way. Just as I tried to pluck up the courage to ask Mark what he is up to these days, my friend accidentally backed into our former keeper almost knocking his coffee all over him. As he looked slightly menacingly at my clumsy friend, I realised the moment had passed.
With the exception of Ricketts, a completely different team kicked off the second half. These included more trialists and another returning former player, Paul Heckingbottom. The second half team have to endure a torrential downpour that at one stage put the match into doubt. I was left wondering when, if ever, was the last time that City had played a pre-season friendly that was abandoned through bad weather.
Adapting to the conditions better than most was Omar Daley, who showed off his electric pace and went on a couple of mazy dribbles. Daley carried on where he left against Millwall last May, playing up front to decent effect. Eddie Johnson was also back in midfield, suggesting his temporary switch there last season could become a permanent one. City knocked the ball around well at times with some promising moves breaking down. This will only improve with each game.
Harrogate, whose players were clearly up for putting one over their more famous neighbours, pressed hard but second half defenders Mark Bower and Simon Ainge impressed. As the match wore on, some of the Harrogate tackles got harder and the game ended with Craig Bentham squaring up to one player after been unhappy at the strength of one challenge.
It wasn’t a great performance, there is clearly work to be done and tough decisions to be made over which trialists to offer deals. But, as the rain eased off and we disappeared into the Harrogate night, I was left with a satisfied feeling about the ten months ahead for City.
Football is back.
Harrogate Town 0 Bradford City 1 – Friendly Game 2007/2008
David Wetherall got back to playing matters as Bradford City bested Harrogate Town 1-0 at Wetherby Road in the opening friendly of the 2007/2008 and with the Bantams using twenty two players during the game one found it hard to read much into the result or the performance save the idea that everyone is a half a game fitter.
Wetherall headed in Paul Evans free kick – how good it is to have Evans back – in the first half and trial kid from Everton Scott Phelan looked good. Nothing else much to note and most – despite the assurance that the result does not matter – will look at the score line and think not of the heavy rain but of the limber new progress of the McCall regime.
Confidence comes from this.
Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs will stand next to a football field taking charge of their first Bradford City game tonight as the Bantams campaign for League Two and beyond begins at Harrogate Town on this sunny Monday night.
McCall has been squad crafting and like the managers before him at Valley Parade has scrambled for signings. Chris Brandon is a no-no as Huddersfield want money for him – the T&A read this as a confirmation that “Internet rumours” linking City to the Tong born midfielder were wide of the mark – as so it is for the new City manager picking up players where he can.
Two strikers have joined the Bantams – Barry Conlon and Peter Thorne – and Paul Heckingbottom joins Paul Evans as a returner from the teams of before. One time BfB player of the season Heckingbottom has signed on loan from Barnsley until 2008 and shows the priorities that the new City gaffer has filling shirts with trusted character rather than potential flair. Do not expect Robert Wolleaston to be given a call any time soon.
A host of other trialists will feature for forty five as City get going and Tom Penford and Craig Bentham are expected to be given a chance to play together in the middle as McCall looks for a partnership. Evans – keen to impress on his return – will make a case for his inclusion as well in Harrogate on Monday, Farsley on Wednesday and North Ferriby at the weekend.
Good character is what is required. McCall looks for it not for a successful League Two campaign but beyond. The club so often peopled by Bobby Pettas and not run by the man who epitomises the opposite is looking for now looking for the impossible dream – a team of Stuart McCalls.
There has always been a bit of a nasty niff in the air when an east winds blows in from Beeston, but of late it seems to be blowing a cloud that matches something from the James Herbert novel “The Dark” in terms of it’s noxious smell and taste.
True, we’ve never viewed Leeds Urinals as the best of neighbours, but somehow that could always be written off as jealousy at their status or ability to compete, and yes we’ve viewed the recent footballing downfall with a bit of amusement.
However, over the last few weeks, things have turned decidely ugly at Elland Road. The smell that permeats from the board room leaves little room for any sympathy to be extended to the owners, but a good deal to the genuine fans who stand to lose their club. A club most have supported long before the current lunatics took over the asylum.
In short, what has happened at Beeston Utd is not far short of criminal. In facts it’s not disimilar to the 1960′s “Long Firm Fraud” made famous by the Krays – where goods were ordered from suppliers, sold off cheap and a runner was done before the invoices became payable.
The Beeston Boys have ordered the goods in, sold them off and now expect the suppliers to accept 8% of the cost.
Now coming from a club who have been in this situation twice, it might seem a bit of pot calling kettle a rather off shade of brown (to be policitally correct). However it has to be said that neither of our administrations were manufactered to a time that suited BCFC, this can not be said of the one at Elland Road, and neither of our rescue packages can be seen as a cynical way of duping creditors in order to dump debt.
I hope Leeds survive, if only for the sake of their fans, but they must realise that they can not be allowed to walk out of administration and straight back into a position where ther pay transfer fees and high wages to buy promotion – forget the 10 point deduction, administration should come with a 5 year embargo on paying transfer fees and and a 5 year salary cap.
If Leeds do survive, and at present that is very much an if, then for the good of football they must be barred from immiedate investment in players and come out with completely new owners.
It’s time for the football league to give the two fingered salute to Mr Bates.
And so the signings commence. After what seems like a age, Stuart has made his first pair of signings and the promise of more to follow, but what of the new boys and does it signal anything in terms of what we can expect from Stuart in terms of style?
Peter Thorne is relatively well known, a bit of an Ashley Ward lookalike, same town of birth and similar size! Barry Conlon, I’ve got to admit that I know diddly squat about other than he seems to be a deadringer for Jimmy Nesbit, and (if the message boards are to be believed) comes with the tag of being a bit “washed up”.
Both are six footers. Both have been around the block and, judging from the stats, should present us with something in the region of 30 goals between them. Thorne is the more prolific. His strike rate is around 1 in 3 over a career that has been primarilary at Championship level. He’s also commanded transfer fees that total around £2.5 million over his career. Compares well to the man he will be seen to replace, one Mr Windass, who has a career rate of 0.32 goals per game. However, Deano’s most prolific period was by far his second period with us at approaching 1 in 2. Take this out and he’s dropping down to nearly 1 in 4 elsewhere.
Thorne stacks up very well and is a good buy.
Conlon is a legend in Darlington! He’s had more clubs than Tony Jacklin, but still comes with a strike rate of better than 1 goal every 4 games, which whilst worse than the career average of Ashley Ward, is around the same as his strike rate with us. The difference is Cashley didn’t have a one in 3 man alongside him. If he had he would have created and ben a BCFC legend.
Conlon is washed up and Irish (allegedly) but remember our last washed up Irish striker and his mid 30′s strike partner – John Hawley. Nuff said.
So what of formation? This remains to be seen, but with an attacking pair in place, an aggressive midfielder ready and champing at the bit in the shape of Eddie Johnson, a flying winger in Omar Daley and the potential that Joe Colbeck has to realise this season, and we could be in for something akin to the 1985 team that Stuart flourished in. What we are short of now are two flying fullbacks and a playmaker in midfield and that’s the team sorted. All the rest will be squad players.
That 1985 team had followed an pretty good one that exited Division 4 in 1982, albeit with a bit of surgery, and if Stuart can deliver league one football by 2008, followed by Championship football 3 years later then he can be judged a success.
Bring it on.
Stuart McCall started his bounce back strategy for Bradford City bringing in two muscle forwards to lead the line for the Bantams next season.
Peter Thorne and Barry Conlon signed – tellingly on one-year deals – with both laying claim to being cut from the cloth of Dean Windass, of Lee Mills or Bobby Campbell.
Much travelled Thorne, 34, joins after his wasted two years at Norwich City in which he only scored twice and tells the usual hard luck injury stories. McCall brings a fresh start to Bradford City and there is no reason why Peter Thorne cannot be a part of that. He once menaced a Valley Parade defence for Stoke City and used to notch thirty a season. Cardiff City once paid £1.8m for him. League Two gives him a chance to be a somebody again.
History will record Conlon as McCall’s first signing. He is 28 and joins from Mansfield and got 12 goals in this year last season. McCall will want a greater return and to provide it he needs to find ammunition for his new strike force. Tom Penford and Craig Bentham should be his first reserves but as McCall pulled on tracksuit for training yesterday his thoughts no doubt turned to his need of midfield men to augment if not replace that pairing. The romantic has both Penford and Bentham rising McCall like in the side and the former number four says
“With the lads here now, I know there is definitely enough quality and spirit having been in with them and hopefully in the weeks leading up to the season there will be more people coming in.”
Scott Phelan, former Everton central midfielder, looks likely to be one of them. Ben Rix is lining up. John Spicer of Burnley is a long way up a shortlist.
Things are starting.