Issue Stuart McCall, Harris Tweed and the cycle of failure

As told by Michael Wood

If you want to see me sad say to me the words: Harris Tweed.

I designed a website for Harris Tweed – the Scots fabric – that I consider to be amongst my best work ever. Have a look and hopefully you will agree it is nice stuff: Lovely fabric texture at the back, frayed edges, muted tones. I was rather proud, still am.

Harris Tweed owner Mr Haggas was not so impressed and had his mind on a different type of website which he dubbed a “unique sales experience” and everyone else said looked like it had crawled from worst use of the web in 1999. For various reason (not all of them bad, and none to do with you Steve) the people who had the job of protecting my design allowed it to be slaughtered and what went live was a travesty.

A travesty and a tragedy in that all the effort that had gone into creating something one could be proud of had been subverted in processes and systems which everyone involved knew and acknowledged would only bring failure. It did. The Harris Tweed website was redesigned within weeks of launch.

I knew my design was good, I knew Mr Haggas’s changes were mistakes and in the end I was right just as I suspected I would be but the first thing I said to my long suffering wife: “Am I a crap web designer?”

Stuart McCall is leaving Bradford City – be 99% certain on that – and it is heartbreaking for me and for many – but not all – who watched him sweat for the club on the field over twenty years. It is as God has stepped back on Earth and his feet have been found not to be those of a deity or to be of clay but to be flesh, and blood.

A desperate McCall – a man of steel, now broken – held back tears following the weekend defeat to Dagenham deciding that he must be “a crap manager” to have got the club into this situation. A situation which it must be noted is defined by what it is not more than what it is. We are not relegated, we are not running into the ground. This browbeating is all because we are not going forward, not cause we have gone backwards.

Melancholia apart though I’m distressed at the way that the end is coming to McCall at Bradford City and what that means for the club. The pressure on McCall comes – almost entirely – from the supporters, the levels of expectation they have and the timescales they expect those expectations to be matched in.

For as long as BfB has been going I’ve been hoping that the correlation between often changing managers and a lack of success might be grasped by all at, and who watch from the stands at, Valley Parade. Alas it seems not to have been and the virtues of sticking with a manager – any manager – and allowing them to build a club and a dynasty rather than a single team are lost.

My hope for McCall – the reason I wanted him to have the job – was that his legendary status might provide a shield from the ire so often and so calculatedly poured onto managers and allow him to do his job but this has not been the case. If anything the levels of expectation McCall’s name brings has been a handicap for the manager.

I hoped that McCall might turn up at Valley Parade every day for the next ten years putting in the levels of effort needed to make this club – any club – a sustainable success are all but gone and we are back no doubt to hired hands like Frank Stapleton who sees the job as a thing he can do twenty hours a week or Bryan Robson who seems to flaunt how little he cares for the club.

Perhaps it is not the manager himself changing which represents the most significant change but the structures of management. The 1974 Charity Shield’s pair of managers – Paisley taking over from Shankly and Clough from Revie – shows the merits of maintaining managers and the structures they are allowed to build on a long term. Revie’s replacement might have been damned but Liverpool hardly missed a beat going from Bill to Bob.

Closer to home we look at the change between Lennie Lawrence and Chris Kamara and then Kamara to Paul Jewell (and Jewell to Hutchings, although by then the cupboard was bare) and see the head changing and the body of the management team remaining the same. That said if McCall goes his backroom staff need not follow and if Wayne Jacobs was to be made manager not only would it be cost-effective but it would have a kind of sweet irony for all those who have carried out a personal vendetta against the City assistant manager which has gone beyond reason.

Certainly Jacobs and Wetherall have no reason to resign and there is a good case to be made for putting Paul Jewell in above them but Jewell has gaps in his armour that in two years his critics will be exploiting for all they are worth.

One wonders what the point of appointing a manager at the club is when we go through this pathetic charade every two years hoping that these incantations of shortlists and appointments will being about success all the while denying to ourselves that what we are doing makes that success less likely. The fact that one in twenty times this randomness might work does not justify its continued use.

I don’t think that McCall is a crap manager any more than Harris Tweed meant I was crap web designer and just as I felt let down then so Stuart McCall has no great reason to send a good number of the players he recruited a Christmas card this year nor does he have much reason to return to Valley Parade to be involved with the fans of the club again. The Stuart McCall All Stars who were assembled to raise money to save the club will have to find another manager if they are needed again.

Ultimately McCall takes responsibility because that is what managers do – take responsibility when success is not achieved within the timeframes supporters and directors want – but in letting him do so one deludes oneself that managers are the only factor in success in football, one excuses all other parties that are involved in making things in the community of the football club go in the right direction but are dereliction their duties and one damns the club to a continuing cycle of failure.