Issue A proper pre-season

As told by Jason Mckeown

The new season will move a step closer this week as the pre-season friendly programme begins at Farsley Celtic. An almost annual stop-off point for Bradford City’s preparations, this Wednesday’s meeting will provide those of us attending with our first football fix in months and offer some clues as to what sort of season the Bantams may enjoy.

It’s been well documented that City was under-prepared as they embarked on their first few pre-season friendlies a year ago this week. On the day of the first game, at Harrogate Town, Paul Heckingbottom had become only the third summer signing, after Peter Thorne and Barry Conlon.

Having taken over with less than a full team of senior players on the books, it meant new manager Stuart McCall had to use a squad topped up with trialists. Some impressed and earned new deals, some were quickly released and a couple of those who were – Peter Leven and Simon Johnson – earned chances at clubs who performed better than City over the season. It was hardly the most ideal of beginnings and it showed during the disappointing first third of the season.

The lack of preparation undoubtedly influenced the subsequent disappointing midtable finish last season; and the traumatic pre-season the year before shaped the even worse 2006-07 campaign. Then, five the six pre-season friendlies ended in defeat – including two 4-1 thrashings to sides in the division below. Manager Colin Todd was badly lacking in players as the Peter Etherington investment was delayed and then terminated behind the scenes.

The majority of new faces arrived less than two weeks before the opening game – all loan signings. A good start followed but, as form collapsed cumulating in relegation, it was obvious from those pre-season thrashings that the warning signs had been there from the start.

The memories of both patchy pre-seasons have clearly been in the thoughts of many fans as this summer has unfolded. There still remains a degree of unrest that certain key positions in the team are yet to be recruited for but, compared to the progress at this stage last season, there are plenty of reasons to feel confident. It’s likely a trialist or two will pop up in City colours during the next three weeks, but the majority of the squad is already in place and Wednesday will be the first of six build-up games to hone an understanding.

Which, traditionally at least, is what pre-season games are supposed to be about. Will Chris Brandon be better in the centre or the wing? Should Mark Bower or Matt Clarke partner Graeme Lee in defence? Is Willy Topp going to be up to it this season? Stuart will be able to better decide on such matters during the next few weeks, rather than having to rely on the first few competitive games of the season.

The result on Wednesday won’t matter but, given the fact it’s the third year in a row City has visited Throstle Nest pre-season and the last two ended in disappointing defeats, there may be something to be read into the outcome. It’s likely the remaining signings will quickly follow and Stuart should have a very strong idea of the squad’s capabilities in time for the first game which really matters, on August 9.