Why a positive start on the field needs to be reflected better in the stands

Aside from the Huddersfield Carling Cup debacle, it’s been a very encouraging start to the season for Bradford City. Maximum points collected and only one goal conceded in the league leaves the Bantams among the early pace setters. There’s still a long, long way to go and no one, not least manager Stuart McCall, will be getting carried away; nevertheless a good start is better than a slow one and already high standards have been set for the team to maintain over the coming months.

For us supporters, it’s clear the squad Stuart has assembled for this campaign is stronger than the last. Injuries and suspensions have yet to significantly affect plans, but there is confidence with what is in reserve to cover such occurrences.  The test of how the team reacts to a set back has been met once and is probably the only positive to take from the Huddersfield thrashing. It’s a long season, but confidence this can be our year looks justified so far.

Most City fans seem to be positive about our chances, but the feeling of excitement at the prospect of a memorable season isn’t fully there yet. Perhaps stuck in familiar behaviour patterns or too eager to fear the worse, there’s still a degree of negativity around Valley Parade.

Despite some promising team performances so far this season there remains doubts about certain players, not over some of the new faces who are still unfamiliar, but two of those who have never won over the Valley Parade faithful. One of them is Jamaican winger Omar Daley, who seems to remain a figure of hate for some fans. Daley has made a very encouraging start to the season and been a real threat in the games so far. When on the ball running at defenders there aren’t many more exciting sights, but all too quickly the boos will come his way when things go wrong.

With open-mouthed wonderment, I watched fans around me scream abuse at Daley on the opening day of the season against Notts County. City were 2-1 up but hanging on against some strong County pressure with the game in it’s closing stages. In some people’s eyes, the team’s struggle was all Daley’s fault and he suffered some fearsome abuse about not tackling, not passing, passing when he should have run and crossing when he shouldn’t have. A normally mild-mannered man who sits near me was on his feet screaming so much his face turned a shade of purple. It seemed totally unjustified given Daley was defending reasonably well and had put in a decent, hard working performance.

Towards the end of last week Daley was interviewed in the T&A, which gave his detractors another opportunity to abuse him. Daley was quoted saying, “Defending is not a problem for me but you don’t expect me to make a 60-yard run to attack and then make a 30-yard run to defend. I think I’m doing much better in defence than last season and I’m trying to concentrate and hopefully bring an end product to my game.” Underneath the story came angry comments from fans, ignoring the beginning and end to the quote, stating is was a disgrace Omar said he should be above making a 30-yard run back to defend.

To me at least, what City’s number 7 said made perfect sense. He is in the team to attack and set up chances, he will defend when he needs to but he’s playing in front of a full back who’s primary job it is to defend. Why is Paul Arnsion not expected to race forward 60 yards and dribble past three defenders in the process? Should Daley charge back in the manner people expect and City win possession, he will not be in a position up the field to be fed the ball and then charge forward on the break in the manner he has so far this campaign.

Such attacks reveal just how unrealistic the expectations are of Daley. He is expected to charge at defenders and never lose possession (meanwhile City’s full backs are expected to always win the ball when opposition wingers run at them). He should always play a good pass, but never backwards. He should race to the byeline and whip in a delicious cross, then charge back to the other corner flag and prevent a goal. I wish Omar could do all those things and more, but I know we’d be saying goodbye to him pretty soon as such an ability level is far greater than League Two.

I must admit to being seething with anger when I hear the abuse Omar is subjected to by fans. He’s made a great start to the season and the challenge is for him to keep it up until May. He’ll have bad games and hopefully have better ones than he’s enjoyed so far, but when on form he’s an asset to this club and doesn’t deserve the abuse he’s receiving.

He has his faults; aside from the obvious his decision making needs to be better in the final third of the pitch, his brain needs to somehow keep up with his legs better,  his temperament can be questionable and he needs to be tougher mentally when things go against him. But this can be improved on and as Stuart selects Joe Colbeck on the other wing – a player vastly improved over the last 12 months – he can be confident that by continuing to develop Daley he can produce a more effective team player.

It seems a section of City’s support has already judged Daley from his poor second-half of last season form and have no time for him now. Looking through the City squad, Daley would rank at the top end of players who let their emotions get the better of him, so barracking him when he struggles is the worst thing we can do. No one should be blinded to his short-comings and three good performances don’t make him a star, but if we supporters can get behind him better he could enjoy a great future with this club.

Rivaling Daley in the abuse stakes is Barry Conlon. At Macclesfield a week last Saturday, some fans chose to boo him as he warmed up on the touchline nearby. When a chant of “Barry, Barry” was started up by some fans, other people became very angry towards them. There are reports that Conlon was booed in some parts of the ground when coming on as sub against Rochdale, while the various City-related message boards wouldn’t make pleasant reading for his family.

Is such abuse justified? The recent criticism has stemmed from Conlon’s poor performance against Huddersfield, yet he was in good company that night among those wearing Claret and Amber. If Omar Daley is criticised for having ability but not showing enough effort, it seems Conlon is criticised for opposite reasons. His detractors argue that all he does is try, but when on form there is so much more to his game. Thinking back to last season some of his best games – Morecambe, Bury and Darlington – all came away from Valley Parade. The majority of City fans have arguably not seen him at his best, with his lack of consistency his biggest failing. He certainly isn’t the most composed in front of goal, but on form he is an excellent target man at this level.

One supporter added to a message board a countdown of how many days Conlon’s contract had left to run, as though life couldn’t possibly be filled with happiness until the day comes to wave him off. It’s quite possible Conlon will be looking for new employment come January and it will probably be justified, but it’s not a forgone conlclusion. Unless Willy Topp or Rory Boulding prove themselves as back up strikers, and/or another forward is signed, it’s likely Conlon will find a six month contract extension in his Christmas stocking.

Such a scenario will no doubt agast some. It’s obvious Conlon has shortcomings and in an ideal world a better replacement will be brought in, but if Conlon can prove himself an adequete back up to Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding over the next few months Stuart may be foolish to cut ties. The five-goal haul in the reserves this week will no doubt help his confidence, but it’s the reception he gets from supporters everytime he plays in the first team which will really matter.

I’m not Conlon’s biggest fan, but I can at least see qualities he brings beyond mere effort. Booing him isn’t going to help him display them more frequently and while he is likely to leave sooner rather than later, why can’t we get off his back in the meantime?

City are no different to clubs up and down the land in that there is always some negativity amongst supporters; but the danger, as we’ve seen in the recent past, is it can undermine the players efforts on the field and hold the club back. No one is asking for blind support and to get behind the players no matter what, but there is a big difference between fair-minded criticism and over the top abuse and to much of the latter is heading in the direction of Daley and Conlon and it’s highly questionable what good it is doing.

Given the lack of success over the past decade, it’s inevitable that most City fans think of the 1998/99 promotion team when they think of the last good City team. Certainly that season players were not exempt from abuse and some, such as our current assistant manager, needed to be tough mentally to block it out. What should also be taken from that team was how well organised it was, with everyone knowing their own role and ensuring they do it. The need for strength and depth was also obvious and while Gordon Watson’s contribution to the promotion was less than Lee Mills and Robbie Blake his goals were no less significant when they came.

Omar Daley is currently in the team and doing his own role, which includes tracking back and helping the defence when needed, very well so far. Conlon was always going to be a back up striker this season and we hope he can make an impact coming off the bench and when starting when others are injured. Just like the rest of the squad, they deserve to receive more support from the stands.

The objectives this season of both players will be similar to us supporters and if we all channel our efforts in the same direction we can all achieve something very special this season.

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