From November, 2007
Until this season, I held the misguided and naive belief that the proportion of media coverage each football team received was related to their standing on the league ladder. Back in those heady Premiership days, it was not unusual for news of City to feature prominently in national newspapers. Remember when a Stan Collymore dressing room prank ended up on the front page of the Sun? As City have fallen down the leagues, national newspaper coverage has inevitably dipped. These days, were lucky to receive a 50 word match report in the Sunday tabloid papers.
Of course there are exceptions to the rule of how much media coverage a team receives in respect to the division they are in, such as big clubs falling on hard times. Nottingham Forest’s bumbling attempts to get out League One have filled many column inches while Man City’s slump to the old Division Two nine years ago could not be ignored. But it’s the coverage of another big club’s demise to the third tier of English football that is bothering me.
Of course the summer events at Elland Road meant that media coverage of Leeds United was higher than usual. Whether the 15 point deduction they were handed was fair is a matter of opinion, but their response so far this season has been extraordinary. Yet the amount of coverage their efforts are receiving is starting to annoy me, especially locally.
Covering the whole region, the Yorkshire Post has a lot of football teams to report on. Inevitably the Yorkshire teams in the Championship are awarded the most column inches, but matching and often beating them is the coverage awarded to Leeds. The editor and journalists seem to have ignored that Dennis Wise’s team are in the bottom two divisions and give major coverage to everything they do. With only a handful of sports journalists, the paper relies on the Press Association for a lot of its weekend match reports and sends their reporters to selected games. They nearly always have a reporter at the Leeds match; no other local League One team receives such attention.
Last week was a good example. In Tuesday’s edition there was a lengthy story about Leeds’ decision to loan out midfielder Shaun Derry – I don’t remember Lee Crooks’ loan from City to Notts County a couple of seasons ago receiving such attention. On Wednesday there was a large match report on Leeds’ FA Cup defeat to Hereford the night before. Fair enough with little else going on, yet on Thursday there was another lengthy piece about why Leeds’ shock exit was a good thing and Dennis Wise was upbeat about it. Why are the Elland Road outfit awarded this degree of coverage? There was no story in Thursday’s edition about Rotherham’s more shocking FA Cup exit.
Undoubtedly what’s happened to Leeds has made an interesting story (and quite an amusing one at times to us City fans) but I believe the Yorkshire Post’s fixation with everything going on at Elland Road, while ignoring most other local clubs, is down to ensuring they don’t upset their readership. Clearly there are a lot more Leeds fans than any other club in the region and so are buying their paper, but surely there should be a little more balance?
BBC Radio Leeds has taken a similar stance. For years they have split their coverage of the West Yorkshire clubs over two frequencies – FM for Leeds United and MW for everyone else. In the past this can always be justified by Leeds being in a higher division than the rest, but this season they are at the same level as Huddersfield and the station has continued as they were. It would be interesting to see what they would do should Town go up, Leeds stay down and City go up this season. Though I get the feeling nothing would change.
With the excellent Derm Tanner, Radio Leeds’ coverage of City is still largely good (providing you have a digital radio) but there is no doubt the station suffers from not having a regular co-commentator for every City game. John Hendrie is there for home games and he is very interesting to listen too, away from home Derm is often on his own which must be hard work and isn’t as interesting. In this respect, Pulse Gold Sport are ahead with Ian Ormondroyd assisting Tim Thornton with commentary, although I find them frustrating to listen too as they can be extremely critical of City’s performances. They remind too much of other fans I sit around at VP, who moan at everything and look for fault. I listened to Tim interview Stuart McCall after the Chester league win and he was bursting with pride for Stuart getting the win, obviously no runs in as yet a-la Todd last season!
In my view, local football has suffered from ITV’s questionable decision to reduce the budget for regional coverage in the last few years. In the past we had the excellent Goals on Sunday with highlights of a local game every week, plus Football league Extra in the early hours of Monday. The Sunday morning Championship programme is fantastic and, like it’s predecessor Football League Extra, is the best produced ITV football show, but the loss of ‘Goals on Sunday’ still feels sad.
Instead we now have the Thursday evening half hour programme Soccer Night. I’m left confused and angry as to why, every year, the new series of this begins months into the football season. This year it returned at the beginning of November. I look forward to this show every week as it’s an all too rare opportunity to watch local football, though I stupidly always forget how bad it’s going to be.
Presented by Andy Townsend, a massively underemployed ITV pundit with no relevance to Yorkshire football whatsoever, the show usually devotes little air time to the region’s teams. Last Thursday’s edition began with a ten minute chat about England’s Euro 2008 qualifying defeat the night before. Yes this is interesting, but it was receiving huge coverage every where else. This slot is supposed to be for local football!
Not for the first time they had invited a guy called Mike (a TalkSport presenter) as a guest. He seems to go out of his way to offer ‘controversial’ opinions. Townsend asked him what he thought of Leeds being 4th in the league, Mike replied that it was disgraceful that they and Forest were in League One and declared that a new rule should be brought in where, if a big club finishes in the drop zone, their relegation is cancelled if the club due to take their place has a smaller fan base. Ignoring the sheer idiocy of such a view, didn’t anyone on the programme consider how offensive this might be to supporters of other clubs watching? What about Scunthorpe United fans, whose team replaced Leeds United in the Championship this season? Townsend just nodded along as though he agreed!
Also sitting on the Soccer Night sofa each week is Peter Beagrie. Much as I love our former hero, he seems to be one of a new generation of football pundits who look comfortable on camera but say nothing of value. On Thursday, Townsend asked Beags about City’s season so far. After stating he thought his mate Stuart had been mad to take the City job, he explained that he hoped City would get some investment next season as ‘not a lot of people know that Julian Rhodes is keeping the club going on his own’. He then ‘revealed’ City have one of the smallest squads in the division! At this point I was searching around my room for something to throw at Beags, for talking garbage on my TV.
If Beags had done his homework, or talked to his mate, he would know that City now have investment from Mark Lawn, a guy who recently stated that City need to trim their squad as it’s too big! I find it really frustrating that this half hour weekly slot to cover local football is wasted by this awful programme. The views expressed lack any research or thought.
Although at least they ignore Leeds United as much as the rest of the region’s teams.
Bradford City 1 Stockport County 1 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2007/2008
Our home game verses Stockport County came at the end of a footballing week that most England supporters will want to forget. If you are reading this piece of editorial and you don’t know that England lost to Croatia by 3 goals to 2, you must have been on the moon for the past week. England’s failure to qualify for the Euro 2008 finals has got football supporters up and down the land contemplating what went wrong for Steve McClaren and the England football team. Whilst I am disappointed that England haven’t qualified for next years finals, I was more concerned about the outcome of Bradford City’s home game verses Stockport County. Prior to kick off we were sitting in 18th position in Division 4 with 18 points; only 8 points above the trap door to non league obscurity. Yes, we went into the Stockport game having won our previous 3 games but we should remember that there is still a long way to go until the end of the season and we could still get dragged into a relegation scrap.
McCall made one change to the team which won 4-1 at Dagenham and Redbridge last Saturday by recalling Ndumbu-Nsungu following his one match suspension and placing Daley on the substitutes bench after his goal scoring appearance for Jamaica against Guatemala in mid week. The first half was a tight affair, but neither side created a goal scoring opportunity. There were no corners in the first half which indicates that the first 45 minutes were rather void of goal mouth action. Indeed, the pre-match talk in the Bantams Past museum outlining Bradford City’s triumphant 1911 FA Cup story in the presence of Jimmy Spiers great grandson was far more incident packed as Dave Pendleton and John Ashton decided to re-start their interesting presentation owing to Spiers great grandson and family’s delayed appearance.
Surely the second half would be more incident packed. I had queued during half time for a cup of tea and actually missed the first couple of minutes action of the second half but was informed by Messer’s Ashcroft and Onions that I’d only missed a good save by Ricketts. City started to pass the ball a bit more which is always good to see and this was partly due to the fact that we had more width with Daley replacing Phelan at half time. However, for the second consecutive home game we had a man sent off for a second yellow card; this time it was Heckingbottom early into the second half. Could City hold out like they did verses Chester City in the FA Cup? McCall decided to employ the hard working Nix at left back and kept two up front with Thorne and Ndumbu-Nsungu. As the clock ticked away the City supporters found their voices more and we played better with only 10 men. Evans was effective in midfield whilst Clarke continued to improve alongside Wetherall.
With only 20 minutes remaining, Evans played a neat pass into Ndumbu-Nsungu, who strongly held off a couple of challenges before unleashing a low right foot drive past Logan in the Stockport County goal. City continued to play the better football although Ricketts did make one excellent finger tip save. With time running out, the 4th official displayed 5 minutes of injury time. Grumbles from within the home sections of supporters could be heard and as the ball bobbled around in the City box, Poole stroked the ball past Ricketts for a late equaliser.
Talk at the final whistle centred around the fact that City had annoyingly conceded a late equaliser whilst others stated that they would have accepted a point when Heckingbottom was dismissed. As I walked away from Valley Parade I kept thinking about Nicky Law’s response when asked who should be the next England manager? His answer to the Radio Leeds presenter the day before the Stockport County game was Stuart McCall. Now then, which team would you rather follow; one managed by McCall or one by McClaren?
I watch a lot of football, live and on television. On Saturday I was at Valley Parade for the cup game and by Monday evening I was in front of the TV watching Coventry v West Brom. In little over 48 hours I saw the arguments for and against referees being assisted by technology – or at least by each other.
Let’s start with G’s sending-off. I was in the Midland Road, Block B, near the back. The sending off was for an ‘offence’ near the Main Stand touchline, about a third of the way into the other half of the pitch from my seat. I was, thus, the best part of 70 or 80 yards away. The referee, Mr Salisbury, was probably 15 or so yards away and his assistant not much more than 10 yards distant, with nothing between him and the incident. The fourth official was along the same touchline and perhaps 20 yards off.
The referee – and perhaps only the referee, for we will never know – decided almost instantly that whatever he thought G did amounted to a bookable offence, with the inevitable consequence for a player he had booked a few minutes earlier. The assistant, according to reports, and perhaps even the fourth official, didn’t think so. Indeed, even from the other side of the ground the first thing to be seen was City players and officials going to the assistant, clearly imploring him to speak to the referee and say what he saw. As far as I could tell, he stayed motionless and mute. By then, he must have thought, it was too late, such was the speed with which Mr Salisbury produced the card.
Next day, with the aid of those clever people who invented the Sky+ box, I saw the incident again, first in real time, then slowed down and several times over. The cameraman, at the back of the Midland Road stand and on the half-way line, did a good job and produced a reasonably close picture of the incident. I saw nothing to support the referee’s hastily-formed view and everything to support the equally quick opinion of Wayne Jacobs and others. Not for the first time, then, an injustice appears to have been done and one that cannot be challenged on appeal.
Move forward now to Monday evening. The referee was Mr Dowd, a Premiership official. (I hope he won’t take offence if I suggest he would look fitter with less round the middle.) A Coventry player, Michael Mifsud, ran toward a long, high, diagonal pass at the same time as a West Brom defender, Carl Hoefkens, came from a different direction. Because it was a long ball, the ref was never going to be on the spot and was probably 30 yards away when the two players came together in mid-air. He did, however, have an unobstructed view and blew immediately for a foul by Mifsud.
The foul took place some thirty yards into the half Coventry were attacking and near their left wing. The assistant on that touchline was on the other side of the half-way line, so further away than Mr Dowd. The assistant in that half of the pitch was inevitably on the opposite touchline, much further away than Mr Dowd. The fourth official, Mr Hall, (seen to do a good job at Valley Parade as recently as a Tuesday of the previous week) was also on the opposite side of the pitch and again much further away then the referee.
Mr Dowd did not reach for his pocket. A few West Brom players made their anger toward Mifsud fairly plain, suggesting that he had led with his elbow. Still Mr Dowd was not going to his pocket. Instead he was putting his hand to his ear. At this level the officials can all communicate with each other through earpieces and someone was clearly trying to communicate with Mr Dowd. He began a curious process of backing away from the incident and toward the fourth official. He continued this journey for most of the width of the pitch before he began checking his pockets. It was plain that he was making sure which card was in which pocket. He called Mifsud over to him and finally produced a red card.
I watched that incident a few times, as well. Mr Dowd’s decision was absolutely spot-on. Mifsud did indeed lead with his elbow and wasn’t even looking at the ball. If Mifsud had been Hoefken’s size (he’s about a foot shorter), there was a broken cheekbone waiting to happen. So, well done Mr Dowd and, perhaps, well done Mr Hall and/or one of the assistants.
Questions were asked in the half-time studio chat, not least about whether Mr Hall could have seen the Sky pictures – there was a screen not far from his position, but it seemed unlikely that he would have gone to it, given its particular location. The real question for the pundits, however, was what had happened to persuade Mr Dowd, after such a long pause and backward trot, that the correct decision was a red card. Somebody, somewhere had clearly been talking into his earpiece. Maybe he would have sent off Mifsud anyway. We shall never know.
Maybe, if he’d had some communication in his ear from either his assistant or the fourth official, Mr Salisbury wouldn’t have given G that second booking. He might even, as Mr Hall had done in the previous game and as Stuart McCall is now doing, have questioned whether a Chester player was being entirely honest. But maybe no amount of communication would have changed anything. Maybe Mr Salisbury was right all along – or at least believes that to be the case.
But this isn’t about good and bad refereeing decisions. If it was, picking one from your own team’s match would be a poor decision in itself. No, this is about how refereeing decisions are made. If, for example, Mr Dowd had had four assistants, one would have been very close to the Mifsud incident, almost as close as Mr Salisbury’s assistant was to the G incident. If Mr Salisbury had had Mr Dowd’s communication system (am I right in thinking that at our level some referees do have this system and others don’t?), might there have been a word in his ear or might it simply have been too late anyway?
Try to put to one side the actual circumstances from Saturday, especially that it was a City player involved. Then ask yourself as a football fan, which would you rather have – that the referee makes quick and sometimes wrong decisions that might change the course of the game; or that the referee takes a little time, gets better information and makes more correct decisions, using whatever technology is available.
I have a friend who works in Dutch television. Just a year ago I was with him in the press seats at the Amsterdam ArenA (and that really is the way to spell it) watching England play Holland. I saw how quickly the replays can be shown. Neither Saturday’s game nor Monday evening’s would have been slowed down in any way by resorting to a replay, if the screen had been made available to the fourth official. Of course, there are some cases where there should be enough eyes sufficiently near the incident to make any replay redundant. But that requires that referees don’t reach hasty conclusions, that their assistants really are allowed to assist, rather than just follow in silence, and that the fourth official, himself a qualified referee, does more than hold up the board for substitutions and stoppage time. It also requires that a referee is prepared to accept that he may not always be right, which in some cases may be a problem.
Well done, Mr Dowd, I say. And you can work out for yourself what advice I might give to Mr Salisbury.
Bradford City 1 Chester City 0 At Valley Parade in FA Cup First Round, 2007/2008
Cup football presents certain opportunities. A chance to see the Bantams face someone different from usual (although for City that’s largely not been the case recently), reading a match day programme filled with contributors’ sentiments of how “it’s about time City went on a good cup run” and, largely unnoticed, the prospect on an entertaining cup tie. The Tranmere 1st Round FA Cup tie two seasons ago was one of the better games of that season while the 4-0 thrashing of Crewe, which took place exactly a year ago, was probably City’s best performance of a forgettable campaign.
It’s also an opportunity to be there when so many others fail to bother and bask in the smug satisfaction of labelling yourself a ‘loyal supporter’ when the pitiful attendance, in this case less than 4,000 City fans, is announced. With even more empty seats than usual, there’s also an opportunity to watch the game from a different place.
If you include the live beamback of the Newcastle United FA Cup tie in 1999, I’ve watched City play from each side of Valley Parade. There’s one view point I’ve been especially interested in watching a game from and, with all seating up for grabs, I took the opportunity on Saturday. I wanted to watch the game from how the dug out sees it.
Arriving half hour before kick off, we made our way to the front row of the Main Stand and took a seat just behind the home dug out so that we could see and hear how Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs behave during matches – something I couldn’t possibly tell from where I usually sit, on the opposite side of the pitch.
Wayne reacted to Thorne’s goal by running towards Stuart for another hug, but the City boss rejected his advances. Perhaps fearing he might have hurt his assistant’s feelings, Stuart then stuck out his hand so that the two could enjoy a more reserved, gentlemanly handshake.
We were also able to witness a hilarious argument with Bobby Williamson and supporters. During the week the Chester manager had somewhat bizarrely made public comments that Bradford City don’t have any outstanding players, a view that surely fired up people in the home dressing room. As Williamson came to the away dugout, one supporter stood and began angrily barracking him for his comments. Williamson responded by turning away and laughing. The fan continued shouting, prompting a member of the Chester backroom team to tell him to shut up. Another City fan then shouted at this Chester coaching member, who replied by inviting the City fan to ‘take this outside’!
Attention soon turned to Stuart and Wayne walking down the touchline, both of whom received a round of applause from fans nearby. The game kicked off and both spent the whole 90 minutes stood on the touchline barking encouragement. It’s a cliché but true, they really did appear to kick every ball.
Both Stuart and Wayne were continuously giving instructions and demanding more from certain players. In particular they were shouting at Eddie Johnson and Omar Daley. They had clear ideas of where on the pitch they wanted Daley to be, going forward and defending. Eddie was called over to the bench for instructions on several occasions. At times Eddie’s face was that of someone fed up of being told what to do, but he always appeared to take on board the instructions and enjoyed another decent game in the hub of midfield.
He missed City’s best chance in the opening stages when he failed to connect to Paul Evans’ brilliant free kick. Soon after City were in front with an excellently worked goal. Daley was ordered to take up a good position from a throw in and he and Darren Williams worked the ball along to give Evans a chance to cross. His delivery was perfect for Peter Thorne who headed the ball into the far corner for his first City goal.
Viewers of Thursday’s Yorkshire TV Soccer Night will have seen a clip of Stuart and Wayne hugging when City’s second goal on Tuesday had gone in, a celebration perhaps wilder than usual. Wayne reacted to Thorne’s goal by running towards Stuart for another hug, but the City boss rejected his advances. Perhaps fearing he might have hurt his assistant’s feelings, Stuart then stuck out his hand so that the two could enjoy a more reserved, gentlemanly handshake.
Joy soon turned to anger at the referee’s inept performance. Just before half time Guylian Ndumbu-Nsungu challenged for a loose ball which he appeared to win. At worst, he slightly tapped Chester’s Laurence Wilson in the process, but the full back collapsed as though he had been shot. The referee sent G off for two yellows. It was a moment strikingly similar to Steve Schumacher’s incorrect dismissal against Blackpool last season. Naturally Stuart was livid and ran over to the linesman and referee to tell them so. He later revealed, on radio, that the linesman had agreed with Stuart that it was wrong to send G off.
In the second half it was backs to the wall again as City sought to hang on. Like on Tuesday, Chester piled on the pressure forcing City deep but again the home side largely defended well. The substitutions, who I enjoyed getting to know about before everyone else by being able to hear Stuart tell them they were coming on, were also highly effective. Scott Phelan should be feeling especially pleased. He’s become somewhat forgotten since the Accrington debacle but he has some promise about him.
For all their pressure, Chester had only one real chance with Donovan Ricketts saving well. At one stage Ricketts’ came rushing out of his goal for no reason. Hearing Stuart mutter “what’s he doing now?” made me smile – proof that Stuart is thinking the same as the rest of us! It’s been a great week for our recalled keeper and a second clean sheet of the season will only increase his confidence.
At the final whistle Bobby Williamson turned to clap the fans in the main stand with a curious smile. You get the feeling he had enjoyed the banter he had experienced with City fans, but will probably be glad he doesn’t have to visit us again this season. I wonder if he still thinks we have no outstanding players?
As for Stuart and Wayne, it was hugely enjoyable to observe them from close quarters. Both spent the match barking instructions and Stuart clearly has belief in his assistant Wayne to allow him to shout out his own views. Occasionally they chatted to each other, but both seemed happy to watch and talk to the players on their own initiative. Stuart is clearly his own boss and he has already perfected those bizarre managerial finger movements and hand signals which don’t appear to mean anything.
It was also quite bemusing, midway through the second half with the game stopped due to injury, to observe Wayne call Paul Heckingbottom over and give him instructions for a few minutes. During his first spell at the club Heckingbottom won the left back spot over Jacobs. Clearly no lack of respect from Hecky, as he took the advice of a bloke he used to keep out of the team!
In the pub before the match I was asked that, if a non-legend had been in charge, do I think he would have been sacked for the results so far this season? If some people really believe that’s the case it shows what’s wrong with fans expectations sometimes. Legend or not, should any new manager be dismissed so quickly? It’s still very early days in Stuart’s managerial career and some of the criticism he has received in recent weeks has been undeserved. It’s going to take time to turn around a club which has been falling for so long. Hopefully these two victories over Chester point to an improvement which will continue.
As for the dug out view, it would be wrong for me to write that Stuart and Wayne showed themselves to be a great management team. I don’t know what’s good touchline behaviour, or what’s bad. What I did see and hear was how they wanted City to play and what certain players should be doing. I also saw a decent performance – not as good as elements of Tuesday’s, but also not as bad – where everyone in Claret and Amber contributed. I will return to my usual seat in the Midland Road stand for the Stockport game in two weeks continuing my backing for a management team who, legend or not, I believe can eventually turn round the flagging fortunes of this club.
Bradford City 2 Chester City 1 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2007/2008
Managers should know their own position – at least that is the theory – and for sure Stuart McCall seems to have started to learn a lesson about his position holding the Bradford City midfield together.
As he wakes this morning McCall has his first win as Bradford City manager in eight games – a 2-1 victory over Chester City – and when pieces fall together one hopes the correlation between the return of Paul Evans and his pairing with the industrious Eddie Johnson and the spirited Nicky Law will not be lost. McCall put out a midfield with a remit to work hard and keep the ball and the desire to do both seldom flagged.
It is impossible to under estimate the impact that the return of Evans has had on the side. As an engine in the midfield he equals McCall in spirit if not ability and as an exemplar to the rest of the Bantams he should be lauded from the rooftops of Manningham. If every player in the side showed the effort that Evans puts in – playing every ball as if it were his last kick in the profession – then we would see more performances like Omar Daley’s best of the season last night.
With engines engaged the likes of Daley – shifted to a forward role for long periods last night to allow a tight midfield four of Johnson, Evans, Law and Nix to control the game – improved immeasurably. Daley’s opening goal – a screamer from distance – had been coming for some time and arrived with an implicit challenge for McCall to raise the levels of the winger’s performance that high on a weekly basis.
Confidence is the key – it normally is – and City seemed to bloom with the confidence of having the ball courtesy of the ball winning midfield. With some control of the game and the returning Peter Thorne intelligently holding the line confidence started to flow through the team. Passing movements – lost in recent months returned – and Paul Heckingbottom and Kyle Nix began to craft chances on the flank which built to a corner which resulted in a clumsy tackle by Mark Hughes on Eddie Johnson after the City man had stepped around him and a penalty that – curiously – Young Nicky Law decided to take and took weakly for keeper John Danby to save. I always admire a player who has the cahoonas to take a penalty but like David Batty circa 98 before him I’ll never understand why non-goal getting midfielders take the job on.
Law’s weak attempt was but a memory after Omar Daley gave City the lead that first half deserved – and let us not forget the context of the 19 of 21 points Chester City had picked up on the road – and even a curiously given second half penalty against Matthew Clarke for fouling Kevin Ellison on the edge of the box could not dent City’s gathering of a win.
The foul seemed a mirror of a free kick given against Chester for a foul on Thorne in the first half and one supposes the Ref Andy Hall saw a significant difference in the two but the sense that justice was done when Donovan Ricketts saved the spot kick was clear. Ricketts deserved it on his return.
A mention also for Matthew Clarke for whom Mark Bower was dropped and who provided the pace and power that allowed a more able display from David Wetherall with the older man’s pace problems less readily exposed and the younger man’s presence working well.
Nevertheless despite increasing second half pressure and a rather bizarre switch of Law and Johnson which seemed to nullify both Wetherall and Clarke will have more busy evenings.
Alex Rhodes made the result sure with a run that probably included a bit of the stands as well as the left wing so far out it seemed but that did not seem to matter when Rhodes finished off the move with a smart finish. Two minutes later Kevin Ellison made it interesting with a diving header that seemed a good way offside – League Two Referees have a way of levelling things out – but the final whistle came and McCall had that much awaited win.
From the win though come the lessons. The passion that Paul Evans brought to the team raised the games of many around him – as McCall did for City – and as with the ginger midfielder’s ball winning of old the more that the Bantams had the ball the more chances came. Perhaps the real lesson is that while Stuart could perform the role solo it takes two men to replace him.
After Saturday’s game, I distinctly remembered a comment from a friend that was made before a ball had been kicked this season, which I took as a joke at the time. “How long or how bad a run would it take for City fans to start calling for Stuart’s head?”.
Well now, after six defeats in eight, and lying forth bottom in League Two at the start of November, the fingers are already pointing – and yes, our Stuart is not even exempt from being blamed by some supporters.
It has widely been discussed that we have tried all kinds of managers with different attributes and reputations since it was apparent that we were about to fall out of the Premiership in early 2001. All have resoundingly failed and the task of getting City back on track was handed to one of our heroes this summer amidst widespread euphoria within the club.
In his playing career, everywhere that Stuart went, success came instantly, and many thought that this trend would continue managing his beloved hometown club. But the story so far this season has been difficult to say the least.
Perhaps Stuart set expectations too high when he was appointed. But I was absolutely delighted to hear the optimism of “If we don’t bounce back into League One straight away, I will view myself as a failure”. Getting spirits, expectations and morale up within a football is essential if you want to become a winning team – and more than 12,000 people put their hands in their pockets to see if Stuart could come up with a winning formula and create a team capable of challenging this season.
But the reality has been hard to bear so far. Our dreadful home form has continued in the same vain as in recent years, and when we do play well, we can’t finish teams off and/or put the ball in the back of the net. A glance at the League table makes worrying reading indeed and after Saturday’s performance most fans feel like we don’t have a chance of being at the business end of the league this season and that we should concentrate on avoiding relegation.
So, who is to blame for our start to the season? To be honest with you, I would hesitate to single out even one person. Everything at the club seems to be set for a successful season. The support at all matches is there without question. Yes, on Saturday, supporters were not behind the team as much as they should have been, but I view that very much as a one off.
Stuart was everyone’s first choice as manager, and supporters questioning his appointment or ability as a manager are nothing short of foolish. He wants to bring success to this club so badly and I am sure he will have turned down more money offered by other clubs during the summer to come “home”. His signings have been positive. Thorne was his big signing, and there is still hope he will come good. Conlon scored 12 goals in this league last season ( so his credentials appeared to check out, despite his poor performances that he has gone on to have), Heckingbottom and Evans were welcomed back, and Alex Rhodes and Kyle Nix look decent players.
We must not forget that this is Stuart’s first shot at management. He does need time to work out how to get promoted out of this league, as he has never been involved in lower league football before. He needs time to work out his best formation and style of play. He needs to work out every single strength and weakness of all his players. All these things cannot just magically happen when you come into a club that has been in free fall in the last seven years.
I believe that we need to stick with Stuart for literally as long as it takes for him to get it right. For all we know, we still might have a shot at the playoffs this season ( which is getting less and less likely the more games we see this year!). But even if it takes years to get this club up the leagues, Stuart is the man for this job. He wears his heart on his sleeve and will never quit until he gets success. That has what he has done throughout his career and it is what you are guaranteed with Stuart McCall.
There may come a time in the future where Stuart has taken us as far as he can, or as a result of his success, he gets poached by another club. But as we stand today, let’s unite behind our all time favourite player. He will turn our fortunes around sooner or later, and the more we support him, the more determined he will be to get us back on track. Negativity is bound to go hand in hand with bad results, but we have 32 games left to play this season and the teams in this league are nothing to worry about if we get our form sorted out.
Lets support Stuart and the team tomorrow night like I know we can. Lets get them believing in themselves again. If we turn against our messier, like some supporters have been doing, we will never get this club back to where we should/want to be. If we continue with negative attitudes, those demons will shoot us down until Bradford City FC is no more.
Bradford City 1 Brentford 2 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2007/2008
If you want to read about which players were to blame for yesterday’s defeat and who we should ‘get rid’, you’d be better advised reading the numerous City message boards instead of this. Most of these will be filled with views of who is the biggest disgrace, which players aren’t fit to wear the shirt and how it’s also Stuart and the Board’s fault. A lot of these opinions will be hysterical rubbish, but are likely to satisfy the need of the many fans who consider everything disgusting.
They’re right of course; Saturday was indeed disgusting. I left Valley Parade feeling appalled and pessimistic about the future. However, it wasn’t the performance and attitude of the players that left me feeling angry – it was those in the stands.
What happened? To date the efforts of supporters has been largely fantastic, but on Saturday I felt it was us who didn’t turn up. From the moment the teams came onto the field and Donovan Ricketts, back in the team after his four game ‘rest’, failed to receive a good reception, the atmosphere felt odd. The game kicked off but there was no chanting, no cheering and little support offered towards the players. The place felt flat and at one stage I could hear the players shouting at each other on the pitch – I sit close to the back of the Midland Road stand and I’m half deaf! In a ground with 13,000+ supporters that simply isn’t good enough.
I’m sure you’re backing will be fantastic again. I can’t ask for any more than that – Stuart McCall’s programme notes
The fans in the Kop have been fantastic this season, but only seem to find their voice when the players kick off towards them in the second half. Why don’t you start chanting from kick off? The support in the Midland Road stand was even more pathetic, save for a handful of fans in C block attempting to start chants. As fans, we expect the players to show 100% effort and commitment for the cause – yet we can’t even be bothered to sing a few chants.
No one was getting behind the team, who after a slow start began to get on top and created some decent chances. Everyone appeared more happy to moan and find fault with the team’s efforts, no matter how tedious their complaints were. After a few good passing moves into the Brentford area didn’t quite result in a goal, City played a long ball which went through to the Brentford keeper. “You see!” said one fan a few rows in front of me, “all we do is launch long balls up, we’re so predictable!” Yes, of course that’s all we do.
I wouldn’t argue City were fantastic in the first half, but we were the better side and desperately unlucky not to take the lead. Then Brentford scored with a wonder strike. At half time the boos came down from all three stands, undeserved in my view. Walking around the concourse with steam coming out of my ears, one fan decided to helpfully tell me that City were going to be relegated this season. Thanks for this insightful knowledge, now I know not to bother with the rest of the season. Maybe we should tell the players and management this so they can give up on the season as well?
In the second half City came out all guns blazing and fans finally started getting behind the team. Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu hit the bar with a header and Barry Conlon wasted the rebound. When Conlon missed another easy chance minutes later, the boos started again. At one stage there was the ridiculous situation of Conlon being booed while in possession, as it appeared he was about to lose it. The Irish striker then did well to keep the ball and play it to another City player, the silence from these fans was deafening! Where’s the “good play Conlon, come on City!”?
They were soon booing him again when he was subbed though, which I thought was completely unfair. Conlon was guilty of missing some excellent chances and didn’t play well, but he gave everything and hardly meant to miss.
After Brentford scored the second, again against the run of play which most fans chose to ignore, we had more boos and anger. A friend in the main stand told me that a couple of fans in the Kop threw their season tickets onto the pitch in disgust. At the final whistle, despite City almost coming back after Mark Bower scored, there were more boos from the fans who hadn’t already left. Some stayed back to wait until the players had shaken hands with the Brentford players and began walking over to applaud the fans, so they could boo the team again. The players just turned away and walked off and who can blame them?
Let’s put this into perspective. I think City were very unfortunate to lose this game. It wasn’t a great performance, but they were on top for large spells and created some excellent chances. The ball just wouldn’t go in, while Brentford created two chances and scored them both. The only time I thought the players were poor was in their response to going 2-0 behind. Their heads dropped and they looked beaten, despite there been 30 minutes still to play. But as supporters had given up – on both the game and the season – who can blame them?
I’ve seen worse performances from City this season and to receive such a high level of abuse was unjustified. We’re on a really poor run of form and confidence is low. Understandably we’re all really frustrated, we expected to be around 4th in the league – not 4th bottom! But for how bad our recent form is I really don’t believe we should write off the season like this. There’s a long way to go and I still think we can sneak a play off spot this season.
Fans demanding we get rid of certain players are being simplistic. Should City really throw money away cancelling contracts of players not performing? Where do they think this money will come from? More than likely it would be from whatever transfer budget Stuart has for improving the ability of the playing squad. We can demand some of the younger players come in, but would they have the mental strength to cope with the boos from 13,000 people? It could destroy them.
I continue to be both astounded and humbled by the level of support both at home and away and I can only hope your patience is rewarded eventually – Julian Rhodes’ programme notes.
The simple fact is that, until January, we have to persist with the playing squad we have. Of course changes have to be made for Tuesday and Stuart will do so – a recall for Paul Evans is surely a must. This current squad can do much better than present form and we should get behind them in attempting to do so. There’s no magic wand to make it all better, they need to keep working hard and give their all and eventually our luck will turn.
As fans, we have a huge role to play. I really think that the reaction and atmosphere on Saturday harmed the team far greater than Conlon’s misses. It felt like the day the fans wrote off for the season but this shouldn’t be the case. On Tuesday we should be getting behind the players from the first whistle to the last. Players will make mistakes and there are times we all groan but, if we stick with them and save the moaning until half time or the pub after, our support can make the difference.
We’re all sick of losing and being where we are in the league, but everyone needs to take responsibility in turning the situation around. That especially includes us supporters.