Changes In Institutional Memory

The optimistic nature of the football fan should never be forgotten and – in the case of Stuart McCall as he ends his first six months in charge at Bradford City – is a powerful agent in making the more important shifts in the culture that when crafted can generate success.

The recently deceased John Harvey Jones specialised in turning around companies but even he would be impressed with the way McCall’s men have gone from eight defects to play off dreams since Boxing Day.

It is business turn around at the speed of light and it works. Most clubs in football struggle not for the want of ability but rather organisation and motivation. A bit of positive thinking can do a power of good.

Take Newcastle United as a prime example. The Magpies are blessed with players as talented as any in the Premier League – Owen, Duff, Smith, Martins and Geremi would not be out of place in any squad in the top flight – but they flounder because as ill fated Big Sam found they are gripped by a culture of defeat.

Indeed so gripped is St James Park in the notion that the club will always under achieve that they see no irony in describing the big chair there as a poison chalice. Recast as ‘a job at a team that could compete’ – and there are precious few of those – then the role may be more appealing.

Appealing or not the problem Sam was beaten by at Newcastle and McCall addresses at City is one of institutional memory. Put simply just as a player learns patterns to be repeated in muscle memory so a club retains habits good and – in the majority of cases – bad.

At Bradford City since the fall from the Premier League defeat has become the default setting and while players, managers, chairmen and almost everything has changed the institutional memory clings onto the negative culture.

Ask one of the tea bar staff if City will win and they will say probably not. When new people come into the club at any level they are tacitly invited to join this way of thinking.

Shifting from negative to something more bright is difficult but not impossible and Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes are attempting manfully. The most significant move was bringing in The Legend McCall whose presence has been the most significant change in the culture of the club in recent years. His presence alone has stopped much of the negative thinking.

Indeed should Newcastle United be looking for a sign of the effects of having an Alan Shearer or a Kevin Keegan at the helm then they would do well to look at Valley Parade and McCall. It is not just the patience with which the Bantams fans stuck with the manager through that long period of defeats but the ease in which the mood of the ground was turned around.

Put simply with the club’s legend at the helm the supporters want to believe. That is a significant shift at Valley Parade.

Persistent change in institutional memory – to get a club to forget the (footballing) past and look forward – is a more difficult thing to master but Stuart is doing better than anyone at City in the last ten years. He is the shock to the system to change the memory.

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