Issue Great game, Charlie

As told by Paul Firth

A raw wind blew into the faces of the thousand Bradford City supporters who made their way over to see a not-quite-must-win-game at the Deva Stadium. At the end of the game, although the wind had abated somewhat, the mood among the faithful had dropped several degrees.

But let me not put all the City fans into the same category. Let me give a special mention to one particular fan. I know him only as Charlie. At Valley Parade he is to be seen at the bottom of the Kop, having been asked not to sit just behind the dug-outs, I understand, where his vociferous support drew a few complaints.

Within the very limited confines of a stadium with a capacity of a little over 5,500, Charlie found himself, as just about everyone is in this ground, well within earshot of the officials and the players. And several ears were well and truly shot at throughout the afternoon. If it wasn’t the unfortunate assistant who spent the entire match on Charlie’s touchline, it was the fresh faced referee getting the benefit of Charlie’s expert knowledge of the rules of the game.

On the odd occasion that Charlie wasn’t holding a conversation with the officials, he had plenty to say to the City players. As far as I could tell, all of these comments were constructive, not to say even encouraging. I was quite sure that Luke O’Brien paused in the first half to take in Charlie’s instructions.

Now Charlie may not be everybody’s cup of tea. Some may even wish he would occasionally just sit down and watch the game. But there can be no one who would suggest that Charlie does not give his all for the team within the limitations he faces – the most serious of which is that he can’t actually get on the pitch.

Charlie gets in the faces of everyone who makes him feel aggrieved. He exhorts and cheers every half decent piece of play from his side. And his hand gestures and general body language give the most eloquent, silent expression to his moments of disappointment. There were many such occasions for Charlie to endure at Chester.

I mention Charlie at such length because he struck me as the very epitome from the fans perspective of so many of the qualities that the same fans look for from the players. Charlie is commitment personified, constantly pressurising the ‘opposition’ and never conceding an inch until that final whistle has been blown. I really would like to describe the team in the same words.

Paul McLaren came in for Keith Gillespie in the only change to the starting eleven after the home defeat to Port Vale. But McLaren is no tricky right winger and the midfield had to perform one of its many recent reshuffles to accommodate a player who used to demonstrate how far above this league he is. Dean Furman was the nearest to a left-sided midfielder for City, although most of the attacking down that wing in the first half came from Luke O’Brien, who looked much improved on one or two of his recent displays.

A Furman shot and a Lee header both gave some work for Danby in the Chester goal, with Rhys Evans being required to make a save at the second attempt from Kevin Ellison. The first half had a few goalmouth scrambles, especially at the end City were attacking, but neither goalkeeper was exactly overworked.

As the wind dropped for the second half, all the fans must have been hoping for some more cultured football. As any City follower knows, you can always hope, but must be prepared for your hopes to be dashed. Long range shots from O’Brien and Law went just over and wide before Evans dived full length low to his right to save from Lowe. The more notable features were the continuing tussle between Clarke and Ellison, which eventually earned the pair of them yellow cards, and the substitutions of Brandon and Bullock for Jones and McLaren.

By the last ten minutes City were playing with hardly any width and even less invention. Chester scrapped like a side fighting to stay in the league and having to make do with a small squad of players that hardly looked anything above their league position. Once again City did little to suggest they were much better than their opponents. Furman, as ever, covered every blade of grass and the front two never stopped running, despite rarely looking like taking any of the few half chances that slipped through the net of this drab game.

With only one goal and now one point in the last five games, that 5-0 win seems so long ago. With promotion rivals taking points off each other, the gap to the play offs is a lot less than recent form ought to have made it. But now that City’s target is apparently seventh spot and with Chesterfield edging ever closer, we have to be grateful for points deductions, without which we would already be tenth and looking at another season of mid-table mediocrity. It is all a far cry from that early optimism and, without Thorne and Daley, there are few occasions when you really believe City will score. Cue the league leaders and an unlikely home win.