From August, 2009
Bradford City 2 Torquay United 0 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2009/2010
The drive from York to Bradford is quite a nice one on a Saturday lunchtime; with Fivelive on in the background it represents the calm before the storm. Today however, I had to find a different route thanks to the Bramham Park music festival and, discovering myself stuck behind a traction engine near Harewood I had an ominous sense of foreboding.
That said, I wouldn’t trade my journey for the trek faced by the reasonable number of Torquay fans who will still be making their way south, with, let’s face it, rather little to talk about.
Today’s match was an interesting, if not always entertaining affair. Torquay did not, like so many before them, come simply for a draw – though despite their open play, never really created anything of notice. This openness afforded both teams the opportunity to play some nice football in patches and when City did, they looked impressive.
For much of the first half City looked nervous, hardly like a team that had scored 5 only seven days prior. But when the ball found Luke O’Brien or Joe Colbeck, and the space and width were exploited City burst into life.
A fantastic move on about the half hour, which saw a delicate chip from the comfortable looking Williams finding the head of Hanson, whose cushioned header was met by a lovely control and volley by Evans – just wide, was probably the highlight of the first 45. On about 45 minutes and 59 seconds however came the breakthrough, which left barely enough time for the ref to restart before he called for half time. The goal, a James Hanson header from a subtly chipped James O’Brien free kick was a well-earned reward for City who had been dominant without being spectacular. It was also a fine reward for those who hadn’t hurried off for their half time pie.
As I reflected during the break the word that came to mind was professional. Nowt fancy I’ll grant, but a professional performance from City over all, professional from Simon Eastwood whose ears must burning from all the jeers that were desperate to leave the mouths of City’s boo boys.
Professional also from a back four that attended to their defensive duties before surging forward. Professional from Colbeck, who despite not having his best match, seemed to be at the centre of anything positive that hadn’t come from Luke O’Brien. Professional from Gareth Evans who chased every ball regardless of whether he had much chance of catching it. My only gripes at the interval where that we still seem to lack pace and though James O’B played rather well, he is not a natural wide player.
The second period was something like a childhood trip to Morecambe; we were always going to get there in the end so there was no real need to rush and once you got there, there was very little to write home about anyway.
City were always in control of a match they were always expected to win. And, despite neat passages of play involving the O’Briens, or Colbeck, or Evans, Or Hanson, with the ball failing to hit the net, I feared that those natives with shorter attention spans would become restless.
Fortunately for all, the last quarter of an hour saw the introduction of the much-anticipated Scott Neilson. The former Lilywhite instantly lifted both the team and the fans with a couple of quick, direct, enthusiastic, and relatively successful surging runs. He reminded me of an ‘on-song’ Colbeck, though the fans seemed much happier to forgive Neilson’s couple of slips than they ever have with Colbeck.
Neilson was positive and he was fast. Quite frankly it served as a reminder of just how effective Omar Daley can be and the thought of both playing on the flanks really does fill me with a sense of excitement. I’d just finished telling my mate that I thought Stuart McCall could have possibly tried Neilson and Colbeck together for that bit of extra pace rather than bring Chris Brandon on, when the number eleven sprinted onto a through-ball and applied a cool finish to end the game.
Again, a nice reward for a professional, if not spectacular City performance and a nice reward for Brandon who I felt brought a bit more balance to the left side when he was introduced.
I started by saying that this match was interesting if not always entertaining and it was; McCall’s collection of youngsters, rookies, basement-bargains and until recently, amateurs, turned in a thoroughly professional performance and look like they’re starting to gel.
Scott Neilson will hardly get a mention in the news of League Two signings this week.
The right winger has joined The Bantams from Cambridge City and is expected to start on the bench and make his debut against Torquay United as Stuart McCall’s team looks to build on the first win of the season last week at Cheltenham but one doubts that the coverage of our division will concern itself with that.
Rather eyes will be set for Barnet and Sol Campbell’s debut for Notts County as football looks to see what a player who gets £40,000 a week in League Two looks like.
The contrast could not be more sharp. City spent a week haggling with the Lillywhites over the price of Neilson coming up with a fee thought to be around £7,500, a friendly and some more cash should City make the play offs. Campbell agreed a deal worth over £10m and one is left to wonder why such a deal was necessary. The Magpies already seemed to be able to win handsomely most weeks and concede only penalties. Campbell will perhaps plug that tiny hole and is expected to come into the side to replace injured former City skipper Graeme Lee.
So two debuts in the same division but as far apart as – well – as City are from Torquay geographically perhaps as the Devon side visit a Valley Parade which is flush with comparative optimism following the characterful 5-4 win last week.
Having had more than his fair share of criticism this season Stuart McCall took credit for the victory with all five of the goals the Bantams scored (Simon Ramsden having a deflected shot) chalked up by a player he has brought in this summer as he looked to rebuild the side without the sort of big money, low character players which one assumes County will have to avoid.
James Hanson claimed a first goal for City leading the line in a 451 formation with Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding pushed down to the bench. Hanson’s play this season has been honest and impressive and he is expected to reprise his role up front although McCall must decide if he is to keep the same side and deploy Gareth Evans and Joe Colbeck as wide men or play a more traditional 442 pushing Evans alongside Hanson. Evans celebrated his first goal for the Bantams while Colbeck was recognised for his performance with a place in the League Two team of the week.
It is rare for McCall to opt for anything that could resemble defensiveness at Valley Parade and so one might suspect he will push both wide men into a three man forward line perhaps leaving Colbeck out for Boulding or Thorne.
The midfield three of Lee Bullock, Michael Flynn and James O’Brien are a curious set with O’Brien especially prompting much attacking play last week but fairly obviously failing to control and close down the game when City took the lead. Midfields need time and games to blend together and this is best done by picking a set and sticking with it which proves difficult at the moment and that area is very much a work in progress.
The back line of Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien with Simon Eastwood behind is causing sleepless nights. Eastwood struggles to get any control over his back four not talking enough and – when he does – talking to the wrong people while Zesh Rehman has yet to grasp the organisational part of his role as senior central defender.
Williams is learning the game and coming along as is Luke O’Brien. Both are bright but eclipsed by Simon Ramsden who is that rarest of things – a popular Bradford City right back. Of the defenders few would suggest Matthew Clarke should be put in as a solution to any problems but Eastwood will know that he needs to get better quickly and build a rapport with his back line.
Torquay come to City with two wins and two defeats since returning to the League in August losing last week to Barnet. No one was really interested in Torquay vs Barnet game last week but a debut should change that this.
Probably won’t be Scott Neilson’s.
Stuart McCall has raided non-league football once more to sign Scott Neilson from Cambridge City for a staggered fee with the midfielder playing a final game for The Lillywhites against Halesowen before joining up with City for Saturdays game with Torquay United.
Neilson is McCall’s third capture from outside the league and will look to start his City career in the style of Steve Williams and James Hanson.
The former non-league pair both scored first goals for City at the weekend and have generated no little affection from Bantams fans following a season of well paid senior pros who underperformed. Neilson joins a group of players being defined as opposite to those with hunger which was sadly lacking last term.
The veracity of such characterisation has yet to be seen but Neilson will be expected to affirm it.
Despite Bradford City’s welcome 5-4 win at Cheltenham yesterday, there is talk from some quarters claiming things are far from rosy at Valley Parade.
Rumours and speculation are the order of the day, with a number of different sources pricking the BfB team’s ears that manager Stuart McCall went into Saturday’s game one or perhaps two games away from the sack. The evidence for this seemed to be that the three main members of the board had turned up to watch the team play Cheltenham. All three were City fans before City owners and – as the word from Mark Lawn suggests – if they did not turn up then there would be something to talk about.
Nevertheless such circumstances are the source of idle gossip. BfB has also heard from other, more reliable sources that the rumours of boardroom unrest with Stuart are if not a complete fabrication then very much largely untrue, leaving strong suspicion such rumours are the work of people with an agenda against the manager McCall. The agenda belonging to the people who regularly tell the rest of us that our manager is “not a manager” a proportion of whom step past the respectful mark of stating an opinion and into the realm of trying to agitate a scenario to support their views rather than speaking as is seen.
Recent history supports a view that the board are not looking to replace the boss. Julian Rhodes has previously backed his managers – it’s rumoured one of the triggers for the falling out with Gordon Gibb was over whether to sack Nicky Law and other chairmen would have sacked Colin Todd and even Stuart sooner. Mark Lawn’s outlook on managers is less known, but would have played a part in the decision to award Stuart a new contract last February.
Before the ink could dry, things had turned sour with the end of season collapse and near resignation of Stuart. The manager has started the season under pressure from a section of supporters and it’s unlikely a win which saw four goals conceded will be enough to quieten such doubters. The season is only four games old, but seems to already be approaching something of a knife edge. It can still be a campaign that ends in glory and there are plenty of positive indicators to support this, but the swirling rumours and lack of communication from the board could easily see fortunes take an entirely separate direction.
As a football fan, it’s common to return from a game to find other people have taken an entirely different view of the events collectively witnessed, but the attempted re-writing of history some are seemingly attempting to apply to the ‘Save our Stuart’ (SOS) campaign at the home game with Rotherham last April is pushing credibility. After the two defeats in Nottingham in the first week of the season, someone asked what happened to all those people who had displayed SOS banners in support of Stuart staying. It was quickly dismissed as an activity carried out by a small smattering of ten years old only which no one, certainly not the people demanding Stuart now be sacked, would admit to taking part in.
Odd, because I remember SOS signs held up all over the stadium in huge numbers (I also took photographs). Not everyone joined in of course, but it was a high enough participation to be considered a majority. When I looked immediately around where I sit, no one, even the blokes in front who complained non-stop all season about the lack of substitutions, failed to hold a sign up. I also looked over to the Kop, to the Main Stand and to the Bradford End and white pieces of paper with red writing were everywhere. Yet few appear willing to admit they held theirs.
Which suggests one of two scenarios. The SOS campaign was a unique and welcome opportunity for every supporter who attended the Rotherham game to vote on whether we should stick or twist with Stuart as manager. Everyone had the chance to share their view, by either holding up a sign or keeping their arms folded. This on its own was not how Stuart’s decision to stay on was ultimately made, but certainly a significant factor. I wonder if Julian and Mark held up their signs?
If you voted for Stuart to remain as manager, you surely have a responsibility to make sure your decision is followed through. Not by pretending you never held up such a sign a couple of defeats later, otherwise why should your opinion be taken seriously now? By holding up your sign to call for Stuart to stay, despite the fact he had offered to quit, you were making it known you wanted him to have another chance and four games into the next season he has not yet be given that.
If the fact everyone on message boards and T&A forums are telling the truth and genuinely didn’t hold up their SOS signs, it raises questions over how representative such sites are. A huge number of City fans did hold up those signs, but if the people who regularly contribute to message boards and forums are all people who didn’t it suggests they reflect only the opinion of a small section of supporters rather than anything close to the full picture.
Put another way, when the anger is really rising among some supporters and the comments on the T&A forums are stacking up, they still total few in the bigger scheme. Around 100 comments per story seems to be the average after a defeat, but these 100 comments usually feature the same five or six people writing more than once. Even if it was 100 hundred separate supporters angrily saying Stuart should walk, that’s 100 out of 11,000 who turn up to Valley Parade every other week. A sample of opinion which has validity – but not enough from which to shape tough decisions without further and wider consultation.
At BfB we claim only to be representative of the the writers views not of the readers – though we are grateful to receive 1,400 to 1,800 unique readers most days and have had over 120 people have articles published over the last decade. How many City supporters regularly make their views known to others in a wider context than mates down the pub? The SOS vote was the most public democratic decision we supporters have undertaken in years and its results should not be quickly forgotten.
With the speculation Stuart’s future may be in doubt, those who still support him, who held up their signs and who chant Stuart’s name at every game have a responsibility to ensure their voice continues to be heard. Too often those who shout the loudest have been able to dictate matters and while they are entitled to shout loud the fact that City have slumped from Premier League to League Two is not something which can be fully blamed on six weeks of madness.
Publicly at least, Stuart has retained a positive persona and will have done much to ensure the players’ spirits are not crushed by the disappointing start. The gradual improvement is there for all to see and the players Stuart has brought in appear to be settling in well and making a difference. There is every reason to believe the bad start can be just that – a bad start. As supporters we have a part to play in helping the club go forward and to end the season with a long overdue taste of success.
Though the Valley Parade boardroom also has a role to play and, while there’s plenty we supporters can disagree on right now, we can all find common ground in a desire to hear what they’re thinking.
Cheltenham Town 4 Bradford City 5 At Whaddon Road in League Two, 2009/2010
I have to initially confess that a combination of circumstances over the last few years have meant that I haven’t been a regular attendee at City games home or away, and indeed haven’t seen my beloved Bantams in action at all since the season before last. Guilty as charged your honour – I’m a slacker and a slipped fan.
So first, a bit of preamble. My journey of residences in t’South (since migrating from t’North some 10.5 years ago) has taken me from Watford to Reading to Swindon and most recently to the delights of North Somerset, where I’ve been by the seaside for the last 1.5 years and think I’m finally settled.
When the fixture list was published in June, I was determined to look up my local fixtures, clear the appropriate weekends and get my best mate and his missus down here for at least one away day. With due consideration to the “grounds not visited list” and not being enthralled by the idea of Torquay away at the end of January (though I’ll be there), it came to pass that Cheltenham in August was favourite – the girls were to go on a shopping expedition and the boys were to dutifully support the mighty Bantams at Whaddon Road. Pre-season had me looking forward to the day, but after City’s inglorious start to the season, well… I’m sure you can forgive some trepidation when the day finally came around!
A lovely sunny West Country day was on the cards and we set off from Clevedon at around 1245hrs, doing the 50 miles up the M5 in reasonable time and arriving at Cheltenham town centre. The girls were dispatched to shop shop shop, whilst Jamie and I found directions to the ground and set off, with the aim of stopping off in a watering hole on the way. Within moments we’d come across “The Conservatory” where a pint of “Hooky Bitter” was definitely hooky, being like vinegar, and was replaced with a pint of John Smith’s Smooth without a problem (the barman even refunded the 30p difference). After this, we wandered further towards the ground and stumbled across the delightful “Sudeley Arms” – a bit quiet, but a lovely welcome and a cracking serving of “Black Sheep” bitter would see this as a recommended pub if any future visits to Cheltenham are required.
All too soon it was about time to head on up to the ground if we weren’t to miss kick off – with hindsight, we’re glad we didn’t! Whaddon Road, or rather, the Abbey Business Stadium (I hate these sponsored ground name changes) is a compact ground in the middle of a nice-ish residential area, not a bad place to walk through. Away end is covered, but costs £20 to get in and there’s nowhere to smoke at half-time – sheesh.
Took our seats in a sparsely-populated away end (official site confirms only 297 away followers – understandable given the start to the season and the distance involved), just as the teams were coming out. A quick look round saw that Stuart was making some changes – no room for Brandon (apparently ill), Boulding or Thorne in the starting 11.
We’re off and running on time, and before we’ve really settled back down into our seats, Evans collected the ball just inside the Cheltenham half and went off on a storming run to the byline before crossing into the box – the ball was only cleared as far as James O’Brien, who rifled in from the edge of the area. The second minute and City are 1-0 up after not managing to score in 4 games – brilliant.
Oh wait, within 2 minutes, Cheltenham were level – poor defending doesn’t pick up the man coming in at the far post, who’s a little lucky when he almost scuffed his shot and it looped over Eastwood and into the corner of the net.
3 minutes later and City were 2-1 up! Luke O’Brien played the ball through for Evans, who went on another storming run down the left, taking the ball forwards before cutting inside the defenders, making space for himself in front of goal and coolly slotting the ball into the left hand side of the goal. Joy, rapture, sheer brilliance…
….and within 5 more minutes, Cheltenham were level again – a disputed free kick (the referee gave us nothing through the whole game – yet Cheltenham only seemed to have to lose their footing and they got a free kick) about 30 yards out was played into the box and their guy got a free header that flew past Eastwood into the corner of the net. Woeful defending again.
Not long to wait for us to go ahead for the 3rd time though – on 20 minutes, a Luke O’Brien corner was nicely floated into the box and Hanson was rising to put away a glancing header. Lovely stuff, and I wondered where the City that couldn’t score was?
Question was, could we defend this lead for a bit longer? Answer was…..no!Well, we did alright up until 2 minutes before the break when more poor defending saw us not able to clear the ball properly, Cheltenham played the ball into the area and their guy scored with an overhead kick (his arrogant swaggering celebration towards the away end afterwards should’ve been classed as inciting the fans).
Well, at least we went into the break level…I got a text from a mate of mine saying “3-3 at half time, must be great to watch”….ummm, not really – our goals were well taken, but you never got the feeling that we could defend the lead. On the way up when I’d joked to Jamie that if we hadn’t gone, City’d score 5 – that was looking on the cards, but it was looking equally likely that we’d concede 5 too. I texted my mate back to say I wouldn’t be surprised if it was 5-5 at full time.
Anyway, half-time was pie-time, and trying to keep my mind off the nicotine monster growing inside, I wandered up to the tea bar thingy and paid £5.10 for a coffee, a bovril and a meat & taty pie. The pie wasn’t good – the pastry was too flakey and wasn’t really firm enough to restrain the contents when picking the pie up – the filling wasn’t exactly tasty either, some grey mush with potato-looking lumps in. It filled a hole, but then so would a bale of hay….
Time for the 2nd half to start and we wondered what joys this would bring. We didn’t have to wait long to see City take the lead for the 4th time – about 5 minutes actually – a long free kick from Ramsden to the left hand side of the area to Hanson to head across the area for Williams to power home a header from the edge of the 6 yard box. 4-3 to the City – come on!
21 minutes later, City extended the lead to 2 goals by virtue of an own goal – though not before Cheltenham had given us a scare and had a goal ruled out (didn’t see much wrong with it myself – Eastwood not communicating with Williams caused the problem).
We still looked like scoring again, but of course, the game wasn’t done giving us scares yet – in the 89th minute, in lovely sunshine, Cheltenham scored their 4th to give us some more minutes (3 added at the end of each half) of anxiety, ’til finally the referee ended the nervousness with his whistle. We were off back to the “Sudeley Arms” for more nice ale and a chat with the locals – good atmosphere, great people – pop in if we ever have to go back to Cheltenham!
Brief thoughts – Evans was an absolute star. Colbeck does good running the ball out from defence – he’s got some pace and some skill and seems to tie in nicely with Evans and Hanson. I quite liked the look of Flynn too. I have to say though that Eastwood doesn’t appear to have any command of his area, or be able to communicate with the defence
On balance, I think we deserved the win and more probably by a greater margin.
I notice the official website says that it was a “superbly entertaining affair” – perhaps it was if you were a neutral, not so much if you’re a faint-hearted or loose-bowelled City fan! Really a tale of 2 dodgy defences – but no matter, it’s still great to see City on the right side of a scoreline with a 5 on it – oh what fun it is to see City win away.
The nine goals that City and Cheltenham enjoyed on Saturday changed the context of the debate on the Bantams as rapidly as they hit the back of the net at Wealden Road.
Within eight minutes when Gareth Evans powerfully ran from the left to slot in suddenly suggestions of how best to use Michael Boulding and what to do with Peter Thorne were cast far from the mind and as equalisers followed goal the discussion switched to the defence and how to stop it leaking goals. With Bradford City – it seems – there is one glass worth of water and two glasses. One is always going to be half full.
Nevertheless without want to pre-empt or even join either of these discussions one recalls City’s two recent odd wins in nine goal thrillers and how they effected things at Valley Parade hoping to get a pointer as to what the upshot of this match maybe.
Colin Todd’s men who went to Tranmere Rovers on the back of three straight wins won 5-4 thanks to a late David Wetherall goal. That 5-4 win at Prenton Park became the stuff of short term legend with the gate – then a more mutable figure – rising as a result as the Bantams made some news for a display full of character and in that say Stuart McCall’s side may be similar to that of Todd. The Bantams are opt characterised as being a spineless team who are too ready to use adversity as a chance to put heads down.
However three times City were dragged back to level terms and three times the players established a lead once more. Also tellingly every lead was given by a player Stuart McCall had brought into the club following the collapses of the end of last season. James O’Brien, James Hanson, Gareth Evans and Steve Williams all were brought in in the summer by the manager and all gave City the lead at some point.
The 5-4 at Prenton Park saw troubled top spot in the league for a while until encountering Luton Town and Joe Ross who combined to inflict a 4-0 defeat which Todd’s side – in retrospect – never recovered from and perhaps it was precinct that the defence at Tranmere was breached by the Hatters and their many account paid players and of which the utterly impartial Ross said “You need to sort your defending out.”
How true – and utterly inappropriate – the Referee was and so McCall will think the same. One never likes to trust the Press Association stats that are produced (and reproduced on the BBC Website) but over the course of the last two games with Lincoln and Cheltenham the opposition has mustered as many shots on target as they have scored goals with the homes side at the weekend (recordedly) having four at Simon Eastwood’s goal and me struggling to recall Lincoln having to make the City keeper do more work than pick the ball out of his net twice.
All of which will worry McCall but he may cast his mind back to the other 5-4 when the Bantams were beaten by West Ham United in the Premiership in one of the games dubbed as the best the top flight has ever seen.
McCall famously chewed out Dean Saunders for not squaring a chance for City to get a fifth in that game but will reflect that the Bantams backline and goalkeeper that day were hardly a settled unit with Aidan Davison the third of City’s three keepers that year not really getting to grips with sitting behind David Wetherall and Andrew O’Brien.
Defensive units are hard things to gel for sure and anyone who is ready to put all the blame for concessions two the goalkeeper – and Simon Eastwood has been criticised from the second he took to the field for City for not being a bigger name keeper – is naive but it will have escaped the notice of none that the triangle of Zesh Rehman, Eastwood and Williams has not been enjoying the greatest of births.
The West Ham game though – while taken in some quarters as a nail in the coffin for the Premiership City – was used by Paul Jewell to bring heart to his players suggesting that the game was proof that while they lost the game they were involved in the scrap and that he would ask of them only that – that the brought the effort needed to compete.
A lesson which McCall will draw for his players in the coming week. When heads are up the far forward becomes so much clearer.
The disorder of the day is a question of Peter Thorne.
Thorne took a pay cut to sign an extension to his City contract and was lauded for it. He has a fantastic scoring record for the Bantams which – Dean Windass aside – is probably not matched since Lee Mills ten years ago but that was four games ago and the whispers against the City captain have started.
“Why don’t you do us all a favour and hang up your boots Thorne!” said someone on the kop – how dare he assume to speak for me I angered – and sure enough the short termness of football thinking is brought to bear on our centre forward who slogged though a tired game on Tuesday night ineffectually.
Thorne will score again. You know it. I know it. Peter Thorne knows it. Stuart McCall knows it.
Nevertheless much of the criticism of Thorne comes from the fact that not only has he yet to score – no one else in six hours of football has either – but from the fact that he is the captain.
I’ve never approved of a striker as skipper – or a full back, keeper or winger for that matter – preferring a player who is more in the heart of the side in central midfield or defence just as McCall the player was for the Bantams. Alan Shearer skippered Newcastle United from the front line as did Kevin Keegan but for every example of a half decent non-middle man skipper in the for column Bobby Moore, Alan Hansen and John McGovern are on the other side. Strikers don’t often make good skippers.
However when recalling the teams of Moore, Hansen and McGovern casting eyes around the field would have shown four or five other able men who could have taken the armband while looking around the City team one sees Zesh Rehman and… erm… that is about it.
Rehman, Chris Brandon, Michael Flynn are all names banded about but as Lincoln put in their second goal on Tuesday night no City player was suggesting great leadership. David Wetherall was an obvious choice to replace Stuart McCall who was himself an obvious choice to replace Peter Jackson when he headed to Newcastle in 1987.
No player is suggesting that they would be a better captain than Thorne no matter how well or badly the striker is managing to do the job and frankly if there is a player in the City side watching his team mate’s long faces and thinking that if he tried gee anyone up then he would face some kind of PFA demarcation dispute then he is not that man to captain my club.
Seriously. If someone in the current City side is a great captain just waiting for the armband then they are hiding it bloody well.
Zesh Rehman though is likely to have the armband as Thorne feels the effects of four games and is rested. Rehman’s partner Steve Williams is likely to keep his place despite his tumble on Tuesday even with Matthew Clarke fit again. Simon Ramsden looks good at right back and Luke O’Brien is in at left back.
Simon Eastwood is going to spend four months being criticised at City and may as well get used to it now. Five, two, three, none it matters not. When he plays badly he gets it in the neck, when he plays well he gets it in the neck.
Stephen O’Leary took part in Tuesday night’s warm up but not the game leaving Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn to pass the ball around Lincoln until such a time when (according to Simon, a Lincoln fan in line with Ramsden’s tackle) that never a penalty happened. The pair are likely to continue although O’Leary and Flynn would seem more suited to battling away against a newly relegated side.
City’s forward line is likely to be where Stuart McCall makes changes. Michael Boulding turned down Cheltenham to join City and his pace may be used to do to the home side what Lincoln did to us. James Hanson and/or Gareth Evans might be employed as target men and McCall may opt to play with a lone striker with Joe Colbeck far right, Hanson on the left with Evans up front.
Or Thorne might play.
Football is a game dominated by the word should – in its margins, in its illusions and even in its contradictions.
A team defending a set piece should never concede – listen to the regularity of managers declaring it “unforgivable” their team conceded from a set piece – yet the team with an attacking free kick or corner should produce a meaningful threat on goal. A winger charging forward with just a full back to get past should beat their man, yet when the same team’s full back faces a winger in similar circumstances they should always stop the route to goal.
And so it was at Valley Parade on Tuesday night where a story of two penalties saw the outcome of the match decided by achievement and failure to do the should . Bradford City’s Michael Flynn should have scored the first half penalty – despite a wonder save preventing him – while Lincoln City’s Rene Howe did what he should from the exact same spot in the second half, firing his penalty into the net. It was a game that, based on chances and territorial advantage, the Bantams should have won, but instead they ended the night beaten when they should not have been – on this occasion should have won and should not have lost proving to be two separate things.
The first half showing from the home side was notably more impressive than anything mustered so far this season. Overcoming a tentative start, the ball was passed around with greater urgency and attempts on goal belatedly began to be unleashed with regular occurrence. Of course City should have scored from one of a number of presentable chances, though the slightly lowered confidence and slightly heightened apprehension due to not yet finding the net this campaign contributed towards making what would normally be relatively simple opportunities more difficult to take.
The clearest opportunity of them all was that spot kick from Flynn. While the penalty taker should always score in such circumstances, penalty misses are a fact of life and it’s difficult to attach too much blame on Flynn’s effort given Lincoln keeper Rob Burch’s impressive athleticism in keeping it out. Nevertheless what happened between the referee blowing for the spot kick and Flynn beginning his run up was troubling, with Flynn, Gareth Evans and Peter Thorne all seemingly fighting over who should take it.
Which doesn’t reflect brilliantly on manager Stuart McCall. When debates rage over the great managers of this sport, one of the most common features among the success stories is a meticulous attention to detail and level of planning. If, as the evidence of the argument suggests, City took to the field without a designated spot kick taker it would appear certain preparations were overlooked by the management staff. Nothing wrong with Flynn being the penalty taker, but his thoughts while preparing to take the spot kick should have been focused solely on which direction he was going to dispatch his effort, not on fighting off team mates from taking the ball off him.
Thorne’s role as captain is also open to question. He may have only been part of the discussion to moderate proceedings between Evans and Flynn – his last penalty kick for City was a tame and costly effort – but if he was arguing his case to take it, his subsequent failure to do so leaves question marks over his authority. A penalty miss is forgivable, but the decision for who was to take it should already have been made on the training ground.
But if Lincoln should have trundled off at half time two or three goals behind, their second half response was a lesson for everyone. The Bantams continued to press forward, but a half time tactical switch from Lincoln, which saw Andy Hutchinson replace Scott Kerr, exploited a weakness in the way the home side were lined up. The Imps time wasted, fouled at every opportunity and took steps to keep slowing and stopping the game, but retained an ambition to get forward on the counter attack that was to prove decisive.
Stuart should have spotted Lincoln’s intentions sooner, twice they broke through and almost took advantage of slip ups at the back, but steps to close the gaps were not taken and eventually punished. Both the quick-fire goals were the result of defensive slip ups, with every member of the back four seemingly culpable at differing points, but they can justifiably argue that a lack of cover from the rest of the team left them too exposed to Lincoln’s attacking pace.
Chris Brandon is showing himself to be an effective, if sometimes frustrating, player going forward. In an effort to make City less predictable and break down defensive-minded teams like Port Vale and Lincoln, he’s been afforded a free role to roam around the pitch stimulating attacking moves. James Hanson has lined up on the left side of midfield, with the instructions to support the attack rather than play a traditional winger role. Yet when City were not in possession the positioning from both caused problems, with both Simon Ramsden and Luke O’Brien left too exposed. With Lee Bullock and Flynn also neglecting their defensive responsibilities after the break, too many home players appeared only concerned with breaking the deadlock. This could be gotten away with against a Vale side short of attacking purpose, but with Peter Jackson successfully able to spot the flaws a game City should not have lost was.
All of which leaves questions over the way City lined up. Playing Brandon is such a role looks good and will surely lead to goals in time, but is allowing one member of a hard working but limited team the freedom to charge around with few defensive responsibilities a luxury that can be afforded? With the relatively higher wages and undoubted higher level of ability, Brandon is hardly a player Stuart can ignore, but his role in the team may have to be adapted at the sacrifice of roaming around to find a match winning pass in order to be a more integral part of a side that is harder to beat.
The second half was far from doom and gloom, with City’s response to going 2-0 down encouraging given the heads didn’t drop and the chances were created – watch a re-run of the many home defeats in recent years and compare. Even a consolation goal might have made a significant difference to the mood ahead of a tough trip to Cheltenham on Saturday, where defeat is entirely possible and will see pressure growing ahead of the next home game against Torquay.
This in turn leaves Stuart under increasing scrutiny. With each impressive performance and League Two-busting signing from Notts County, the 5-0 opening day defeat appears less of a shock. Few could have expected a result at Nottingham Forest in the cup and the Port Vale game was generally encouraging, but defeat on Tuesday came when City should have won and while that is largely down to chances that should have been taken it also is also partly down to Stuart, who should be doing better at maximising the advantage his team appeared to have.
So what should happen next? A heavy cloud of doom and gloom has descended on BD8 since events at Meadow Lane, and shows little sign of shifting just yet. City badly need a goal, which will be the start of bad luck reversing and the unquestionable high effort being rewarded. A win at Whaddon Road makes the world a brighter place, a follow up victory over Torquay would raise the status of the start of the season from ‘bad’ to ‘indifferent’. Stuart has to prove himself good enough, the players have to prove themselves good enough, but we supporters should also consider ourselves part of the team that must turn it around, too.
It’s time to crank up the volume and back this club louder than ever – at least that’s what should happen.
Bradford City 0 Lincoln City 2 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2009/2010
Bill Shankley said that Football was a simple game – made complicated by fools – and so in that spirit we shall, dear reader, keep this short and simple.
City lost to Lincoln City 2-0 after missing a penalty which would have turned and excess of possession into the goal advantage required to win the game. Michael Flynn saw Rob Burch save his spot kick but impressively Flynn – who had a great game at the hub of things for City – did not let his head drop.
Heads though were lost when the Bantams were paggering into the visiting team and got caught on a break with Simon Ramsden being penalised. The Referee was so sure that Ramsden’s last man foul was a penalty that he gave him a, well, a yellow card.
It was that sort of refereeing all night long. Spineliness, gutless, worthless and of a sort to create a terriable game of football.
The penalty went in and heads were lost with Steve Williams erring and a second goal going in. Gareth Evans could have got one back but Burch – a keeper Stuart McCall wanted to sign but was outbid for – saved well twice and City completed a fourth game without a goal.
One thousand and one solutions then for the problems City are facing and one will be taken which guarantees perhaps only that the vast majority of people will be left unhappy.
Unhappiness being the order of the day – to each his own grumble – but until that penalty went and and as that penalty was saved City did not do a lot wrong.
Scant consolation as the most simple thing – Shankley may say – is that unless you score more goals than the opposition you will not win games.
Tonight was simple: they scored theirs, we didn’t. From that the complications begin.
Back in the day when newspapers were typeset by hand, Jimmy Hill’s chin presented Match of the Day and Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine had yet to be applied to the job of applying three points for one win and sorting such a collection of results into an ordered lists League tables after two games simply did not exist.
Not that it was impossible for the scholars of 1974 to work out that a 3-0 defeat on the opening day of the season put Cloughie’s Leeds bottom of the First Division or that a win, a couple of draw and a few defeat in said man’s first six games only gave his side four points but with the effort that had to go into totting up columns, creating news print and video overlays for Television to roughly project onto brightly coloured pictures there seemed very little point in bothering.
The table at that stage did not mean anything after all, and if it did you could be sure that Shankley’s Liverpool would be top of it. Tables tended to turn up in newspapers and magazines in September after about ten games and then they were accompanied by football managers of the day warning that said table could not be read until everyone has played everyone else at least once – except for Jimmy Sirrel who insisted it did not lie.
The modern football table – the sort that sits all summer with naught in every column – is more of a database waiting to happen and has given rise to an obsession with starting counting league position by the minute of each game. In fact ten years ago City were forth in the Premiership for the 22 hours until Manchester United won moving us and everyone else down a place.
Match of the Day made a return this weekend and had the top four places of the top division coloured golden to indicate Champions League slots – somewhere Platini fumes – with the aforementioned United excluded, lagging down in eighth position with zero points in zero games.
Back in my day in March a half blind man would draw a dotted line somewhere approximating the promotions places – and he were always wrong – if you were lucky.
All of which is preamble to saying that aside from the fact that Notts County are top and everyone else isn’t the League Two table means – frankly – “nowt” which is just as well because if it were to mean something City would be third bottom.
The opening point of the season came with the weekend 0-0 draw with Port Vale which presented a Bantams side that – rather surprisingly considering the previous week – had very little wrong with it.
The back four did not put a foot wrong with Steve Williams starting to impress in that way that suggests he is taking to professional football better than Matthew Clarke – who he replaces in the side again tonight – would take to cutting hair in Bamber Bridge. He is partnered by Zesh Rehman and is in front of Simon Eastwood who are both a clean sheet further away from Notts County.
City’s full backs against Vale probably had more pitch to play in than they will in most games this season with the Valiants anything but. Simon Ramsden – it would be amiss of me not to point out after a number of discussions with “our Rovert” on the subject – could have done with more support in front of him when he came forward with the ball while Luke O’Brien could do with putting a bit more air into his crosses with the hope of beating the first man. If not air then variety as the promising young left back’s play became a little easy to read on Saturday.
Promising young left backs though are not in short supply at Valley Parade with Louis Horne ready to replace O’Brien who was sliced in half by Anthony Griffith at the weekend and may not play. Horne – for the uninitiated – is the son of Peter Horne the man in charge of youth development at VP but those who have seen him put in a few games ensue suggestions of nepotism with phrases like “he looks a bit good.”
Horne is a bit good although which bit is not yet clear. He can use the ball, tackle, and has a good head on him and while that is deployed at left back often he does take the left wing and – in the humble opinion of this writer – might want to try his hand in the centre of midfield.
Not that City need any more number fours with Michael Flynn and Stephen O’Leary finding a way of keeping the back door closed and O’Leary especially useful in taking the ball from the central defenders and moving it on with minimum fuss. The pair look set to anchor behind the roving Chris Brandon – who will face up against his former Town boss Lincoln manager Peter Jackson – who comes inside and left flank man James Hanson who loses nothing in the air and comes in from the flanks to add to the attack.
All of which leaves City a little thin out wide but we should not mind the width if we can feel the quality and the quality of City’s approach play impressed on Saturday.
Approach play good and the strikers were not able to profit with Boulding seeing the best of the chances saved. Peter Thorne struggles with four games in eleven days and so may sit out to allow Gareth Evans to lead the line. Michael Boulding is expected to partner.
Bradford City 0 Port Vale 0 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2009/2010
If the season started here in the third match following the week in Nottingham then it started slowly with a 0-0 draw with Port Vale which saw the visitors get the point they came to West Yorkshire for and City stop conceding after eight goals had been lifted out of Simon Eastwood’s net since the season started.
Indeed so clear was Stuart McCall’s desire to ensure that the Bantams would not be looking at a hefty concession rate that the changes had been rung and the solution was found in a full midfield that saw two number fours – Michael Flynn and Stephen O’Leary – hold and Chris Brandon nominally given the right hand side but spread himself over the middle of the pitch in the kind of performance that his status called for.
The industry of the Flynn and O’Leary pairing allowed Brandon to enjoy his roving role – James Hanson was also nominally left flank but spent more time at the far post assisting the strike pair of Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne – and linked the midfield to the forward two effectually or as effectively as the Valiants would allow with their deep sat five and midfield on top.
As such the pattern of the game was set. Vale’s ambition was limited and City’s measured with the Bantams controlling play in the first half to such an extent that at one point a twenty pass move probed either side of the visitors backline without finding a way through. City’s best chance came when Hanson – powerful in the air – won the ball for Brandon to take into the box and Michael Boulding to try finish only to find Chris Martin standing tall to make a save. I tried so hard to come up with a joke about Coldplay’s lead singer but as with City just lacked that touch of inspiration.
Vale on the otherhand failed to convert a few crosses that flashed past the City box for the want of men in the box and some good defending from – especially – Simon Williams who made his home debut with a performance of genuine quality calmly showing a class to slot alongside Zesh Rehman and a physicality to cope with the ageing late sub Geoff Horsfield.
Williams and Rehman kept Marc Richards in pockets save an stinking shot from an actuate that Eastwood took confidently. Second half and City had James Hanson go close cutting in with a shot and could have won the game late on when a cross from Simon Ramsden – who did a grand job down the right with an acre in front of him and little support with Brandon playing more inside – hung deliciously but Hanson rising at the wrong time.
Hanson impressed too although seemed to fade in the last quarter of the match. Gareth Evans came off the bench and hit a dipping shot over the bar. Michael Flynn tested the keeper from range, Luke O’Brien did the same.
Flynn and O’Leary responded to some aggressive play by Vale with a series of lively challenges as the Bantams seemed to find a pairing that looked interested in joining a League Two battle. Vale’s four Anthony Griffith was lucky not to see a red card after a string of feet off the floor tackles ended in Luke O’Brien getting spun and limping through the rest of the match. Born in Huddersfield perhaps he was an excitable Town fan. Regardless he was lucky to stay on the field long enough to be substituted.
Flynn showed a willingness to battle but O’Leary was something of a minor revelation making himself available in midfield for passes, getting stuck in and using the ball well it was a mighty promising display and one that might keep Lee Bullock cooling his heels on the bench. Late in the game Vale put on former City favourite Claus Jorgensen who was roundly and warmly applauded but in the last five minutes that despite some bluster both clubs were happy to see out goalless.
The men on the bench – the management that is – made the point today with a team that joined the battle for League Two. Tuesday night Lincoln City come to Valley Parade and City will look to build on this match but as with the team of Paul Jewell’s eleven years ago – who drew early on with Sheffield United and Bolton Wanderers making the two points from seven games – the shakedown of the start of the season was brought into context later in the season.
Today City did not let anything past – or look like letting anything past – and anything that comes later comes from that.
When it comes to first weeks of the season they have never come any worse than this one for City.
Ten years ago we were sitting fourth in the embryonic Premiership table after a win against Middlesbrough. A decade on and we are at the foot of an equally new League Two table smarting from a 5-0 defeat and out of the League Cup. That was the week that wasn’t.
Wasn’t very enjoyable that is – unless you like the City of Nottingham – but probably not unexpected. When Championship side (and lest we forget, twice European Cup winners) Nottingham Forest came out of the hat for the first round of the League Cup – away to boot – not a single City fan would have said that the Bantams were anything other than rank outsiders.
Likewise when Notts County started spending money in the summer culminating in recruiting Sven Goran Errikson the majority of Bantams fans would have thought it a surprise if the Bantams had come back from the Lower League all-stars who are assembling at Meadow Lane with a point.
That both things came to pass is the way they did – scoreless and remorseless – has distorted those original assumptions that when City kicked off against Port Vale in the first home game at Valley Parade they would probably have no points and be looking at a few midweeks off after a cruel draw.
Stuart McCall has had little but food for thought in the last five days having played perhaps five different formations during the two matches and used sixteen players one of whom – Jonathan Bateson started his City career in the worst possible way with a red card for slicing Nathan Tyson in half for what seemed like little or no reason. Bateson could not have impressed less.
Steve Williams could have impressed more – it was not a week of full throttle – but he has most probably done enough to secure a debut alongside Zesh Rehman and in favour of Matthew Clarke who seems to be fall guy for the five goals that Notts County put past City despite – whisper it – having a better game than Rehman that afternoon.
Simon Ramsden has started his City career well and slots back to right back after a sojourn at centre back and Luke O’Brien is left back.
The midfield should revert to the four in the middle with Joe Colbeck, Michael Flynn, Lee Bullock and Chris Brandon although James O’Brien played on Wednesday night with Brandon cooling his heels. As a boyhood City fan robbed of his first year as a Bantam Brandon should be bursting to impress and one hopes he puts in a performance that suggests the desire than comes from playing for your own club. So far such as been lacking from the left midfielder but tomorrow can be his Alpha, should O’Brien not get the nod over him.
In the forward line Gareth Evans impressed on Wednesday but is expected to step down to allow Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding back into the line.
Having draw with Rochdale on the opening day Port Vale got arguably a more testing League Cup trip than City – to Sheffield United – and won it although that was more down to comedic goalkeepering which one hopes Simon Eastwood – the City stopper who makes his home debut – will not follow.
The season is young – baby young – and already City are thrashing around but in football everything becomes right with a win and at Valley Parade – under McCall at least following years of home defeats – wins have become expected and City are doing as expected thus far.
Nottingham Forest 3 Bradford City 0 At The City Ground in League Cup, 2009/2010
There will have been much to occupy Bradford City manager Stuart McCall’s thoughts as he made his second return journey up the M1 in days on the back of a heavy defeat. A degree of pride was restored on route to yet another early exit from the League Cup, but the aggregate 8-0 score from the two trips to Nottingham tell of a shocking start to the season that sees pressure building ahead of its first home game. At the final whistle Stuart told his players “the season starts here”, but the fear remains that the last few days are a taste of what’s to come.
City were much better at The City Ground compared to the general feebleness evident less than a mile away at Meadow Lane on Saturday. Mindful of playing too open again, which had contributed to the heavy opening day defeat, Stuart opted for a 5-4-1 formation with James Hanson taking the left wing spot when City were on the defensive and fellow debut signing Gareth Evans asked to take on a lone assignment that was supported by Hanson when City were on the attack.
The objective was to frustrate a talented Nottingham Forest side, who passed the ball around quickly and accurately only to be frustrated – for 47 minutes at least – by a well organised Bantams backline which was able to plug gaps. In a dull first half the only chances of note were a Lewis McGugan free kick Simon Eastwood did well to tip wide and a Lee Bullock header over after some promising City build up play.
Essentially, it wasn’t pretty from City. The notion of playing defensive football and only one striker is something which upsets a number of City fans, who will happily roll off the number of times it hasn’t worked and tell you they’d rather watch City go for it and lose. But, considering the gulf in the two sides, there was plenty of encouragement to be taken from how well City contained their Championship counterparts and a feeling that, with more practice, such an approach can pay dividends in some away fixtures this season.
Steve Williams made a very impressive full debut and Simon Ramsden, switched to the centre, demonstrated his versatility and made one crucial first half tackle when it appeared Forest might score. Zesh Rehman – captain for the night – recovered from a torrid afternoon on Saturday to look more assured and debut full back Jonathan Bateson got forward well when he could. In midfield Michael Flynn looked promising covering the back four, though the formation didn’t seem to suit Joe Colbeck who was anonymous for much of the night.
It’s up front that will have given Stuart some of the strongest encouragement for playing this way on the road again, with Evans performing a brilliant job holding up the ball and allowing others to get forward. Stuart’s previous attempts to play with a lone striker have been hampered by the lack of striker who could adequately play such a role, but Evans’ effectiveness and work rate suggests he now has that striker. The downside of City’s tactics was that, predictably, they were less of an attacking force in the final third, with the number of black shirts getting into the box when on the attack too few for possession to be fashioned into decent chances. Still as Evans battled hard and Hanson showed some good dribbling skills, Stuart may have been tempted to glance ruefully over to Meadow Lane on his left and wonder what he might have done differently last Saturday.
The other problem with defensive tactics is when the opposition score and the urge to find a plan B, though how well City did in almost coming back at Elland Road last season when sticking to 4-5-1 shows it’s far from game over. Two minutes into the second half Forest claimed the lead when Nathan Tyson found space on the left and crossed for Paul Anderson to head home. City might have equalised after Evans brilliantly held up the ball and picked Hanson out, but his burst through one-on-one with Paul Smith was cut short by a late flag for offside.
Any encouragement sought from the move was extinguished by Forest instantly going 2-0 up after Tyson again provided a brilliant cross which was tapped home by Dextor Blackstock. The impressive McGugan added a third after another flowing move and the night ended with further misery after Bateson’s none-to-clever lunge on Tyson was rewarded by a red card and the Forest striker having to be stretchered off.
So beaten, but it was difficult to fault the players’ efforts if not their quality. A Forest-supporting friend told me afterwards that his side’s second half performance had been their best for some time and the consolation for Stuart is that City won’t be facing opposition of this calibre in the league. Yet still these are worrying times, pre-season optimism is ebbing away and City go into two successive home games without yet having managed a goal.
But while others can lose their heads with worry – a visit to City’s official message board finds one fan demanding Stuart be sacked should City lose to Port Vale Saturday – the man in charge must not lose his. As Stuart’s thoughts of the defeat occupied his mind travelling back up the M1, the so-far positive stance he’s adopted in defeat is far preferable to the miserable persona of the end of last season. The only worry when hearing he was planning to play more defensively-minded at The City Ground was how much he talked of it upsetting supporters in the past – as though he’s previously stopped himself doing it for fear of upsetting some geek on a message board.
No matter what, Stuart is still widely-loved for his close relationship with this club, but a certain detachment is needed from him in order to worry less about letting people down and focus solely on doing the right thing. City may be out the cup, but against higher division opposition on top form it’s difficult to muster any meaningful reasons to criticise Stuart for that. Instead, like Stuart, the focus should be on the next game and the much work needed ahead of it towards getting the season belatedly going.
Not a great night in City’s history, but the biggest positive may prove to be that Stuart is not attempting to apologise for it.
Maybe I shouldn’t care, but I do. After all, I never listen to the radio commentaries for home games, because I’m almost always there. The one time I wasn’t there last season, I was too ill to listen to anyone. I get to quite a fair number of away games too, although sometimes you wonder why you bothered. And, since I don’t even live within the area where the main radio commentaries can be heard, the only option I have is the internet, which will still be there. So why should I be bothered?
Well, two reasons. The first is a young friend of mine. He comes with his dad to as many home games as he can, but misses some because he’s at a residential school in Worcester. It’s a very special school for a very special group of youngsters. They’re all blind or partially sighted. My young friend has no sight at all and, sitting in the Midland Road, relies on the radio commentary to add to his other sensory perceptions. Without a commentary his enjoyment is lost and neither he nor his dad, who’s effectively his carer, will come to games.
So there you have my very personal reason for urging those who can address this issue to do so. I’m guessing City has more than one blind fan and the club tell me that they used to provide a commentary service using some ‘very expensive equipment’ which was lost, stolen or broken. On Saturday my young friend and his dad have been given the chance to sit behind whoever is doing the commentary for the internet. It may work; it may not. We shall see. But it took some organising and the original response from the club was not helpful. And therein lies my second reason for being bothered.
When my young friend and his mum went down to Valley Parade to hand in a letter and asked to speak to one or two people, they were told that they were busy, because there was a match on Saturday. A match on Saturday? Well, who would have expected that at a football club? Once mum had made a call to the press, the same people were not too busy to talk to the media about the issue and then to mum herself. Of course, this is an issue where the very subject matter reduces the extent to which the regular media can be involved, but it doesn’t prevent some of us from putting in our two pennyworth.
I gather that on Saturday, while I was finding a parking space in the vicinity of Meadow Lane, both of the local radio stations interviewed senior people at Bradford City. Both interviewees seem to have said that all this is about how much the radio people should pay for the privilege of live commentary. It seems the club thinks that £430 per game is the right figure, although I’m not sure if that means £430 each or shared between them. (I think it’s the former.) The Director of Operations says that the club will not ‘give away’ this right. They didn’t ‘give away’ the right last year or the year before or in the many years before then. What he means is that they think they’ve underpriced it. (I do not use the word ‘undervalued’ for reasons that will become clear in a moment.)
Well, if they have underpriced it, so have a lot of other clubs. I believe that the sum City want is about double the going rate in League Two, although the Director of Operations may well be able to prove otherwise. If he can, I shall agree with him that the price is now right. And our local stations seem to have negotiated a suitable price for live commentary at a club just to the west, who play in a league above us, and for live commentary at opponents’ grounds.
And when he was asked about those who, for reasons of infirmity, can’t get down to Valley Parade, the Director of Operations seemed to suggest that consideration would be given to the club’s paying for their subscriptions to the internet service that will be their only hope of receiving live commentary for home games. It would be best not to think about whether they already have the necessary computer equipment, expertise and financial means to have broadband access, just in case this awkward question might reveal how little thought had really been given to their difficulties.
But it’s that word ‘consideration’ that forms the second reason for my being bothered about all this. It seems the whole argument is about money; the difference between the £430 per game the club says is an offer still on the table and whatever the radio people paid last year. (It could be that £430 represents an increase of as much as 66% on previous years, if I remember accurately and believe a snippet of a conversation I overheard some months ago.) The possibility of bringing in a small amount of extra revenue, as against the risk of losing all the revenue the commentaries used to bring in, seems to have taken priority over the enjoyment of fans, young and old, who rely on radio commentaries. And at the moment the revenue from radio commentaries will be precisely how much? Good business deal there, then.
Professional football, at least from the date of the formation of the Premier League, is first and foremost a business. Like any other business, it relies on its customers for its income. Unlike most other businesses, its main customers are called ‘fans’, at least in the lower leagues, where the ticket income is a significantly higher proportion of the club’s revenue than it is in the TV sponsored world of the Premier League. That sounds a little like a captive audience, like a group that can often be taken for granted. I should know. I’m one of those who can be taken for granted by Bradford City. But those currently responsible for running the club should know that it is not they who can take me for granted, but the team. And there are thousands of others they take for granted only at their peril. Radio commentary is not something to be bought and sold like a second hand car. It serves more purposes than some might have perceived and it produces more, intangible and unquantifiable benefits than might be immediately obvious to the bean counters.
In his play ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’ (a very different type of ‘fan’), Oscar Wilde gave one of his characters the chance to say that a cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Cynicism is no way to run a business. Still less is it a way to run a business that relies on fans. A rethink is not too late. It might yet bring in some income and at the same time show a willingness to think about the fans.
Wouldn’t that be quite an achievement?
Deja vu, here we are again, back in Nottingham, a place I’m sure most of the team would rather not visit again so soon after the drubbing they had inflicted on them at the weekend. This time however we are here to face a team which, if some fans are to be believed, we should be playing in the league. The fact is, from where we are looking right now, Nottingham Forest might as well be a premier league team with European ambition, just as they were in 1995.
It doesn’t seem like 14 years ago that City came to the banks of the Trent having beaten Forest 3-2 at home and meted out one of our most memorable cup giantkillings. It was a late Ian Ormondroyd header and a Paul Showler strike which salvaged a 2-2 draw after a 3-2 win at Valley Parade and meant we dumped Forest, then a side containing such names as Steve Stone and Stuart Pearce, out of this very competition. Sticks says he still dines out on that goal and rightly so, it is vital goals like that which made him a legend. One wonders if this game will offer up an opportunity for someone to give the fans, and the team, a much needed fillip, even at this stage of the season.
Both sides go into the match without great recent league cup pedigree, Forest having not advanced beyond the first round for two years and City having faltered here every season since 2005. Stuart may ring the changes in defence with it seeming likely that Clarke and Rehman will be dropped, being replaced by debutants Steve Williams and Jon Bateson, the latter coming in at right-back with Ramsden moving into the middle. Rehman has made the right noises in saying that this is a chance to make amends but he may have to wait until the weekend to make his personally.
Midfield may well feature one of Steven O’Leary or James O’Brien in the middle and we can expect to see Gareth Evans given a good run-out upfront alongside Boulding or Thorne, if not a start. The rest of the team should remain unchanged from Meadow Lane.
These are games in which some players will be out to show that they should be in the first team, impress against Nottingham Forest and a starting place could be theirs against Port Vale.
Forest have injury/suspension worries with 5 defenders out which means that midfielders Chris Cohen and Kevin McCleary will play at left back and right back respectively. With this in mind it could be hoped that Joe Colbeck may be able to make inroads against a player in an unfamiliar position, if only Omar Daley was up and running on the other flank. Going forward Billy Davies’ side look strong, even without Rob Earnshaw, who is on international duty with Wales. Nathan Tyson, Dexter Blackstock and former City loanee Dele Adebola will be vying for starting spots and will give City’s defence a testing time.
It looks as though after recent comments, should the ‘nightmare start’ continue, the naysayers may be up in arms and after the head of McCall. In that case it would seem fitting that after every time Nottingham Forest score a goal they taunt the opposition with a rendition of the Righteous Brothers “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” A sentiment which obviously applies to some within the City faithful. Let’s hope that in the balmy summer evening we can come away having witnessed the birth of a new ‘Sticks’ singing one of of Bill Medley’s post ‘Righteous Brothers’ hits – “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.”
There is an article on BfB about Stuart McCall saying that he should not be City manager after the 5-0 defeat to Notts County at the weekend and similar discussions are being had on other fora. I respect David’s opinion on BfB and I understand his worries but I do not agree.
It is three months since Valley Parade demanded that Stuart McCall stay as manager. What has changed in those three months? Not much, but for some reason the people on the thin end of the argument think it is time to reopen it.
The argument has been had and a decision was reached. Those people who wanted Stuart McCall to leave City made a case, had a say, and should remain in the back seat understanding that Valley Parade has had its say and backed McCall in big numbers. We remember the SOS signs and the banners? One banner at the end of last season summed it up: Save Our Stuart, Stuart Must Stay.
One defeat does not change that.
One defeat to a team that has just spent oil millions on bringing in the best quality of management in Sven Goran Errikson and a collection of players who are too good for the division certainly does not change anything. It is not that case that we look at Notts County being really rich and should decide we have to do something, anything!
City the same problem a few years ago Colin Todd’s side lost to Southend United in the first game of the season and everyone screamed cause that we had lost to a newly promoted side but eight months later they were promoted and we had ripped ourselves up over being beaten by a team that went to The Championship. You do not change a determined attitude on the basis of a single result.
That decision was a value judgement made by the widest collective of City fans one can remember – minute’s silences and protests about administration aside when else can one remember Valley Parade reaching a consensus as it did at the end of last season when it backed Stuart McCall?
There are a couple of things to notice.
Firstly that for all the changes at Notts County this summer one thing that is not changing is the manager – Ian “Charlie” McPartland – who has been at the club for a decade and is trusted to carry on his work that includes finishing 19th last season because he knows the club. For all the money of the Munto Group and the Sexy Swede’s spending the thing that the boardroom at County know you can’t buy is the passion for the club to want to do well or the continuity of an establishment at a club. Can we not take that as a lesson from yesterday?
Second we need to know that sticking with your manager is not something you give up after a bad result in any game. Sticking with your manager is a belief that things get better with time, when patterns are built up, when knowledge is pooled and shared and that belief that that banner at Valley Parade summed up perfectly: Eight managers in six years we need stability (I paraphrase) and it is a belief that people at Valley Parade sung for, stood up for, and want.
That is a belief. If you change your belief after a bad result it’s not a belief at all, It’s a hobby.
I do not have a problem with people not rating Stuart or not thinking he is a good manager but we have already had this debate at City at the end of last year and we came to a decision to keep faith in our manager not just for the summer but for the long term. Some people made it really clear they did not want Stuart at the club but more people did want him.
Three months on the (and I used a broad brush here) anti-McCall people are back and they are intent on trying to unsettle the manager that everyone else wanted. These people lost the argument in the last breath and in the next want to carry it on.
Managing a club in the long term is done over years, not single games, and I would suggest that McCall’s position should not be questioned for years. Realistically though those people who argued that McCall should not be City manager and lost the argument can take a back seat for at least twelve months if not more rather than trying to pedal short term solutions to longer term issues.
The people who lost the argument need to show some respect for everyone else, sit down and shut up to allow McCall to get on with what people wanted – managing the club on something other than a game to game basis – rather than trying to push the agenda back around to something that has already been decided.
Writer’s Note: Comments are not on on this article. This is a debate that has already been done and I do not believe it should be reopened now.
The headline on the official website – McCall: “Not good enough” – certainly summed up a dismal display at Meadow Lane. But why was it so bad? Perhaps removing the punctuation from the headline would give an indication. I have yet to see anything in Stuart that suggests he is indeed good enough.
I am not anti-Stuart. In fact, I like and deeply respect everything that he stands for. As a man and a player, there are few, if any, in the game whom I respect more than Stuart. I would always want City to be successful, but to achieve success with Stuart at the helm would be all the sweeter as I know it would mean as much to him as it does to us. That’s what makes writing this article all the more difficult because I genuinely do not believe we will achieve success, however modest, with Stuart as manager. The mauling at the hands of Notts County was embarrassing in the extreme, not least because the 5-0 scoreline flattered us.
Yes, it could have been different had the referee – or his assistant who had an unobstructed view – given us a penalty for the blatant two-handed shove by Hoult on Thorne, but in truth I expected nothing less than a defeat prior to yesterday’s game. I thought perhaps that I was being a little negative, but consoled myself by thinking that at least I could not be disappointed. I wasn’t.
Yes, Stuart is a young(ish) manager. But young managers need to learn from their mistakes if they are to become successful. Stuart displays a worrying inability to learn from his mistakes, and even when he identifies mistakes, fails to put them into practice. Last season he talked at length about a need for leaders. Yesterday we did not have even one leader on the pitch, perhaps until the arrival of Steve Williams who despite not being faultless, at least looked capable of organising and motivating team-mates. As for the decision to make Thorne captain, that’s really the subject of another article. Suffice to say, other factors must have played a part because it’s certainly not down to Thorne’s leadership ability.
During the summer Stuart talked about the need to adopt a more realistic attitude away from home. Surely if there was one game where a more defensive, hard-to-beat approach was warranted, it was at the home of the title favourites. At the very minimum we needed to produce a performance full of grit, passion and desire – the lack of those attributes on display from those in claret would be laughable were it not so serious. Stuart the player would not have accepted such a performance from his team-mates, so I find it so difficult to accept, that as manager, he appears unable to instil this in his players.
Perhaps part of the reason that the players lack grit, passion and desire is that Bradford City is too nice a place to be a player. I have no evidence of this, it’s just a feeling I get. I get the feeling that if you’re an old pro, Valley Parade is your destination of choice – you won’t get worked too hard, you’re likely to play every week (if you want to) and you get to trot around in front of 12,000 supporters every other week. So that’s the old pros accounted for, what about the youngsters? Well, if you’ve come up through the youth system, you go to the bottom of the pile. If you’ve been brought in from elsewhere you’ll get a game in front of a BCFC youngster, but not if an old pro plays in your position. Just go through the first eleven and substitutes from yesterday and look at how true this is. I can’t imagine it’s great for morale. And if you’re a left-sided midfielder or left winger, don’t even think about getting your agent to phone Stuart, the position doesn’t exist at Bradford City. Bizarrely, in the position most people would advocate playing an experienced player, goalkeeper, Stuart signs a youngster on loan to push our own youngster down the pecking order.
I find it very hard writing this article and criticising Stuart the manager, because like many supporters, I have found it very difficult to separate Stuart the man from Stuart the manager. I could not and would not criticise Stuart the man and could never fault Stuart the man’s or Stuart the manager’s commitment to the cause. One incident in yesterday’s game, however, brought it home to me that he just hasn’t got it in him to be a manager. In the first half we received a throw in on the left, level with the edge of the Notts County box. After some confusion Michael Flynn trotted over to take it, and it became apparent that no-one knew (Stuart included, I suspect) that he has a long throw. I suspect it’s an indication that Stuart doesn’t really know what he’s signing. I may be doing Stuart a huge injustice. If one of the reasons he has signed Flynn is because he has a long throw, then I applaud him, but I suspect he didn’t know. If he did know, he certainly hadn’t communicated it to the players.
Yes, this was only the first game of the season and yes, we won’t play against teams like Notts County every week, but this was the chance for The New Stuart to make his mark. It saddens me more than I can say that I truly believe that Stuart is not the man for the job. I agree that stability at football clubs is key, but having the wrong man at the helm for an extended period of time is not stability; it is folly.
Editors note Comments are off on this article in favour of a retort, which will follow later.
Notts County 5 Bradford City 0 At Meadow Lane in League Two, 2009/2010
The opening day of every season is about learning lessons after three months of playing football in a hypothetical context give way to ninety minutes of reality and sometimes that reality is cold and sobering.
Bradford City’s lessons today were sobering. The afternoon started with a minute’s applause for the late Sir Bobby Robson. Robson had a lesson which he passed on to another manager who like Magpies boss Ian McPartland had seemingly endless riches to spend – a young Jose Mourinho – who relates the story as “One of the most important things I learnt from Bobby Robson is that when you win, you shouldn’t assume you are the team, and when you lose, you shouldn’t think you are rubbish.”
The World’s media came to watch Sven Goran Erikkson and the millions which are being pumped into Meadow Lane and went away purring about the home side caring hardly at all for the visitors who were but ballast in the story.
When Brendan Moloney pushed forward from full back leaving Lee Bullock to simply not track him back and allow him to score. Bullock’s head was down with the Bantams 4-0 down but he should have done more, put in more effort.
That he did not came after a grinding ninety minutes. City began brighter than their visitors with Stuart McCall having opted to send his side out to try upset the home team with a high line and a pressing forward line. The theory that McCall employed was – one assumes – that being at home and under scrutiny County would play similarly but alas they did not preferring to approach the game almost as an away match and sat back to play on the counter-attack.
So City pressed and as the season with fifteen minutes old Joe Colbeck had been unlucky to see his header saved after some great approach play and Peter Thorne look menacing on the far post with the ball under City’s control and City looking easy on the ball. County’s responses seemed to be entirely physical with Moloney especially guilty of some fearsome challenges with studs showing. City faced a midfield battle and bit by bit were edged out.
Edged out perhaps because while Bullock and new signing Michael Flynn looked tidy in possession and decent in the scrap they often found the ball pumped over their heads and when it was pumped in between Matthew Clarke and Luke O’Brien City were incapable of dealing with the ball across and expensive import from Shrewsbury Ben Davies finished on the far post.
It was not especially deserved and City should have kicked themselves with Clarke and O’Brien – not for the only time today – incapable of stopping the ball getting across the face of the box. New keeper Simon Eastwood hardly showered himself in glory with his control of the backline – very little – but collectively this was the beginning of errors that continued all afternoon.
That said City should have been level – or had the chance to be level – when Peter Thorne was shoved with two hands from behind by keeper Russell Hoult at a corner minutes later but the referee was curiously unmoved. The game was littered with pushes and free kicks many of which were given for much more malignant offences and not giving a penalty there was pre-season refereeing.
One had thought that the studs showing challenges were the results of being rusty – rather than a desire to be rustic – but they continued throughout the game with Graeme Lee engaging on any number of lunges h simply did not do for the Bantams last year. Anyone who wondered what Lee used to do at City and thought he would not be missed will not have hung their head when another long punt bounced in front of and over Zesh Rehman – who had a poor afternoon – and fell into the path of Lee Hughes who rounded the keeper and scored.
On to Lee Hughes now who rejoiced in his goal celebrating in front of the City fans who were taunting him with chides about his conviction for Causing Death by Dangerous Driving four years ago. Hughes faced the boos and on scoring pranced in front of City fans with delight.
There is a misunderstanding around Hughes when he is booed and responds to that jeering with his self-congratulatory dancing which would eventually get him booked in this game. Hughes is not booed as a former player like Graeme Lee or because he has long hair and is dubbed “Gypo” or because he has dived in a previous game. Many, if not most, people find Lee Hughes and his actions when arrested as being despicable and have the opinion that his playing cheapens the game of football. I think a man has a right to earn a living and Hughes does so but what is he trying to say when he goes to away fans and taunts them?
He has not proved fans wrong as a former player putting one over his old team mates would or silenced the people giggling at his hair yet he acts like Dean Windass returning for Sheffield United did. Frank Leboeuf said “He might be a good but footballer but he is a shit man” and no matter how many goals Hughes scores in this or any other season he has not proved anybody wrong. His prancing leaves a bad taste in the mouth as do the County fans who praise him. One can only hope that Sven and the Munto Group asks why their centre-forward is being called a murder and is as repulsed by the behaviour as I am.
Hughes got his second goal through another failure by Luke O’Brien to cut out a cross from the right. His third from a shameful dive from Luke Rodgers prompting the question of if County are going to be so good do they have to cheat? Seemingly so but the fourth goal killed City’s hopes off.
Steve Williams, James Hanson and Gareth Evans all made debuts off the bench and performed well with Williams looking mobile at the back coming on for Clarke who had had a better game than Rehman but had been replaced anyway. Evans and Hanson took the flanks coming on for Colbeck who had looked good in the first half and for Chris Brandon. Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding combined well with Brandon to see Boulding flash a shot wide.
The fifth goal came as the game dragged to an end leaving City looking back at ninety minutes of a defensive performance littered with individual mistakes – although Simon Ramsden looked good and pocketed Jamie Clapham – and a choice of approach from McCall that got it wrong and flew in the face of the manager’s talk of the Bantams learning to go away from home and play ugly, shutting up shop and being hard to beat.
County seem to be going onto bigger and better and perhaps their is no better illustration of the future for the Magpies than Hughes. Sneering success, at at any price, no matter what.
For City’s part though the short hop over the Trent to Nottingham Forest for the League Cup – bizarrely we parked next to the Brian Clough stand this Saturday afternoon – and then to Port Vale in League Two on Saturday looking to start the 45 game season anew.
The media beyond League Two are calling Hughes sparkling and toasting Sven’s perfect start but rather than the Swede one recalls the other former England manager and the lesson he would give for both teams today “When you win, you shouldn’t assume you are the team, and when you lose, you shouldn’t think you are rubbish.”
The League Two season is back with a bang on Saturday as Bradford travel to Meadow Lane in a reverse of the opening fixture of last campaign. And for Bradford faithful still reeling from last season’s disappointment, this is all that matters. Forget the long running saga at Newcastle United with an untold number of messiahs. Forget Leeds United’s third season in the third flight of English football. And please, forget last season.
Stuart McCall decided to stay with the club this summer despite suggesting otherwise last term. Managing at a young age is always a learning curve and there isn’t a manager out there that hasn’t made mistakes at some time in their career. But in my opinion, this club and it’s fans would rather have somebody with a loved for the club at the helm taking it one step at a time, than a manager with no passion who will come and go within two seasons at the most. The fans have cried out and it appears that stability is the way forward.
McCall has been busy this summer with his dealings in the transfer market, with no less than twelve players departing, not including Dean Furman, Steve Jones and Nicky Law, and nine coming in. Only goalkeeper Simon Eastwood has so far come in on loan as McCall plays the waiting game with the clubs in higher divisions to see who is available following pre-season. Eastwood’s arrival at the club shocked many, with an experienced keeper expected to come in alongside Jonathan McLaughlin. Only time will tell if this turns out to be a bad decision, but it is telling that Eastwood’s contract is only until January rather than a full season, with McCall preparing himself should the opportunity to bring in somebody different arise. Quite who will be playing between the sticks for City also remains a mystery with Eastwood not doing himself any favours with a nervous display in the final pre-season game against Carlisle.
Zesh Rehman has made his move to Bradford permanent and has been rewarded with the club captaincy. Much has been made of Rehman’s work in the community following his loan move last season and it appears that the club see Rehman as the ideal role model for youngsters in the local area. At a time when club finances are tight and extra revenue is a priority, it will be a challenge for Rehman, along with Omar Khan, to influence the Asian population to make Valley Parade their second home.
Jonathan Bateson, Simon Ramsden and Steve Williams join Rehman as new signings in Stuart McCall’s new look back line. Ramsden in particular looks like he could be the solid right back that has been missing at Bradford for a while now, though Paul Arnison will feel disheartened that his efforts last season resulted in his exit from the club. When Arnison played last season, City tended to fair better defensively. The facts don’t lie. However, it was apparent that McCall was unsure about him with Tom Moncur and Zesh Rehman preferred at times in what was evidently not their strongest position. Ramsden looks composed, strong in the tackle and fairly good in the air. Add to this that he can also play in the centre and has featured regularly for Rochdale in three successful seasons by their standards and you can understand why McCall has brought him to the club.
Gareth Evans and James Hanson, dubbed The Co-op Kid (I prefer The Idle Working Man – Ed), have bolstered McCall’s striking options. Both are young and play with a real desire which is a joy to see. McCall has high hopes for both and this is supported by the clubs willingness to pay a fee to Macclesfield for Evans services. Hanson looks like he can offer height in the attack, in the absence of Barry Conlon, and comes to the club with a decent scoring record in the last two seasons. Experienced duo Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne are still with the club and both agreed to cut their wage bills accordingly, with Thorne rewarded for his loyalty by becoming team captain. Up front, City look a lot stronger this season and it may be a weight off Peter Thorne’s shoulders. Michael Boulding openly admitted his disappointment at his goal tally last season and will be expected to do better this time around.
Following a fluster of activity in the days before the season opener, Stuart McCall has brought in three central midfielders, an area which he was keen to improve on. The signs are that Michael Flynn, City’s second signing from Huddersfield this summer, will slot in alongside Lee Bullock to form what looks like a solid pairing. Flynn ranks alongside Simon Ramsden as McCall’s best signing in my opinion and his ability to score and create goals from midfield will fill the void left by Nicky Law. Michael O’Leary and energetic James O’Brien have also signed, albeit on short term contracts. Luke Sharry missed the chance this pre-season to stake his claim for a place in the team and may now find himself the odd man out with many feeling Chris Brandon is also above him in the pecking order.
Omar Daley’s absence may be missed, with City only having the aforementioned Chris Brandon, Joe Colbeck and Leon Osbourne to turn to on the wings. Arguably Rory Boulding, Gareth Evans, Michael O’Leary and Luke Sharry can all play in this position too, but City do look thin in this department. Rumours of a loan move for a winger from an unnamed SPL club allay fears somewhat though undoubtedly Daley’s comeback will be in the back of everyone’s mind. Osbourne has looked impressive this pre-season and looks ready to make the step up to first team duties. Chris Brandon will be looking to make up for a torrid season last time round and will be a very important player for City should he stay free from injury.
When you thought things couldn’t get anymore unpredictable, Sven-Goran Eriksson appeared at Notts County and shook the football world to the core (or League Two at least). His arrival at Meadow Lane marks one of the most bizarre appointments in history and mounts the expectation on County to achieve things in the short term. Ian MacParland’s job will be under scrutiny with the media circus that unmistakably follows such a high profile appointment. In the last few days, Stuart McCall has claimed he is not envious of the position County find themselves in, words which as a fan I cannot help but agree with. Clubs in the situation Notts County now find themselves have the potential for success, but also dramatic failure. Should County fail to gain promotion this season, they will probably find themselves starting from scratch with a new manager and possibly a whole new team next term. It is once again easy to see why fans at this club, who have suffered the repercussions of bad decision making by the money men in the past, strive for stability and a realistic approach.
Last season’s skipper Graeme Lee will probably be coming toe to toe with former team mates and, unfortunately, may receive a hostile reception. The culture of booing ex-players and managers is one that I’ve never understood, though there are factors in some cases. It is understandable that a Crystal Palace fan would be annoyed at the sight of Iain Dowie, not for the obvious reason, but for the way in which he departed the club to become manager of Crystal Palace. Lee, however, put in some solid displays last season, though he did have a dip of form which coincided with the teams inability to win games and keep clean sheets. Nevertheless, any players that represents our club should have our support and his departure was not turbulent and instead was a financial decision. It must be hoped that his exit from the club will suit both parties, with Lee himself wishing the team luck in the coming season. I will leave the defence of Lee Hughes to somebody braver than myself.
How the tables have turned from this time last season when County came to Valley Parade and suffered at the hands of a superb solo performance from Peter Thorne. The City captain has a tendency to score against County, something Graeme Lee may be given the duty of preventing happening on Saturday. I would be happy with an opening day draw in all honesty, but the optimism of the travelling Bradford fans says otherwise. City are out to ruin the party celebrations for Sven’s men are will make themselves heard – win, lose or draw.
The new season is here.
When last we kicked a ball in anger there was anger after the Bantams promotion push had fizzled out and beating Chesterfield was an inglorious end to a year of promise.
Three months later and while it seems that much has changed the Bantams start the season with six players who would have featured in the team which kicked off last year with Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding leading the attack a good example of how Stuart McCall has been able to cut costs while retaining the integrity of the squad.
The five forwards this year swap James Hanson and Gareth Evans for Barry Conlon and Willy Topp which is easily argued to be no worse and perhaps better with Barry’s rambunctions being matched by Hanson’s vigour, at least in theory.
If such claims of parity could be made for the strikers then they would not be applied to the two keepers who combined are not as old as Neville Southall was when he kept goal for City and the worries over that inexperience are rumbling.
Simon Eastwood seems favourite to start as he battles Jon McLaughin for the gloves and I am forced to say that I have never seen competition for the number one shirt bring about anything but uncertainty in the past.
One can only hope that one of the two claims the spot which Rhys Evans grew to suit. Evans exit remains a mystery with the obvious hole left behind by his exit but last season’s failure has been attributed to poor morale and one can assume that some of those who exit do so because of what might be known as “off the field reasons”.
Paul Arnison’s exit was down to such and Simon Ramsden is considered a more than adequate replacement playing right back more like a central defender than a winger. Again McCall has cut while not losing quality, although the people at Rochdale take issue with the statements that Ramsden has joined the Bantams on comparable terms to those he was on at Spotland.
Zesh Rehman has joined the club full time and replaces Graeme Lee – who may very well take the field for Notts County after his summer move – and it is hard to see that exchange as worse for City. Rehman has played at a higher level than Lee and on the evidence of last season is no worse a player and much more of a talker. Good player Graeme Lee but not the lynchpin we hoped for. Rehman could be.
Matthew Clarke is still Matthew Clarke although this year faces competition for his place from Steve Williams who impressed more than any in pre-season. Expect Williams to grow in ability over the opening months at City has he gets used to the ways of professional football. He promises a mix of Clarke’s physical play and the mobility of a Dean Richards or Andrew O’Brien.
At left back Luke O’Brien has a one deal and little immediate competition for the role however cover is provided by Louis Horne who is making similar progress to last season’s player of the season.
The midfield has been talked about at length over the summer. Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock are the two senior men with James O’Brien, Stephen O’Leary and Luke Sharry offering a much shallower depth of quality that last season’s midfield which of course assumes that one believes that last season’s midfield had quality.
Objectively the choice of Nicky Law, Dean Furman, Paul McLaren and Bullock is incredibility strong however wise man say that team with a strong midfield get promoted and obviously we did not. Stuart McCall has to make changes to move the team on from that and so he has.
On the flanks Omar Daley will be missed – he is “out until Christmas” but rumoured to be on course to join the squad before that – but Chris Brandon comes into the season fit and looking useful. Joe Colbeck is on week to week contracts but as long as he plays well this week, and then next week, few will have a problem with him. Cover on the flanks is thin on the ground although Rory Boulding and Leon Osborne are available.
City’s summer of cost cutting has been far from mirror at Notts County. Sven – of course – has arrived but it is said has spent much of the week talking to lawyers about a story that concerns a blonde which reminded me of another story about when Eriksson left England but I’m far too in fear of legal action to even mention that…
So we shall move past him onto a squad that has been bolstered by the signing of Lee midfielder Ben Davies from Shrewsbury and – more notably – forward pair Lee Hughes and Karl Hawley following a significant investment from a consortium of mystery which could not be held in more suspicion in the football world outside of Meadow Lane if they were gruff looking sortd who owned disused Theme Parks in episodes of Scooby Doo.
It is said that at some point they will be signing Dietmar Hamann and Sol Campbell. Let us hope that is after the weekend.
What will be at Notts County will be and there is very little that football fans can do to stand against the cavalier attitudes taken to ownership in the modern game.
City tried spending to get out of the division and failed. Notts County’s owners are unlikely to balance risk and prudence as Mark Lawn says City have which may see The Magpies to achieve what City could not last season.
The long term effects on County will be seen in time – the other Magpies though that they were going places when they got big investment – but City start out the season with a mix of players: some young lads, some old heads, some local lads made good; and if that is not the recipe for success then success is not worth having.
Now though football starts again. Great.
Five questions about Bradford City in 2009/2010 were asked to a whole bunch of people connected to City from City officials to long time fans, from mascots to midfielders and naturally to BfB writers. Some people replied, others didn’t but these are the questions and then the answers…
- What are your hopes?
- …and your fears?
- What or who will be the most important thing for City this season?
- …and what or who will surprise us?
- And finally, how do you see next season ending?
New BfB writer
What are your hopes? We are here as a club this time next year, with you asking this very same question. It’s a few years since we dodged that bullet, but I still feel pretty lucky whenever I realise that we, Bradford City, still exist. A shot at the play-offs would be nice as well.
…and your fears? Our big (league 2) club mentality cannot be shaken; ‘small’ clubs still see VP as a place where the bus should be parked (on the edge of the box), our fans still expect promotion and get on the players’ and manager’s backs. Macca leaves after Christmas, season over, tickets for the subsequent year never really take off.
What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? Zesh Rehman. Is he the ingredient that will alchemically transform our fortunes? Probably not, but he will be hugely important at the heart of our defence.
…and what or who will surprise us? How hard the division will be. It has been a poor division in the past, but this season you can think of maybe 10 teams who will fancy their chances of promotion. Not just the obvious, but the Rochdales, Daggers, Crewes – there will not be many easy away games. I also think Boulding could put in a decent shift, which would make all the difference.
And finally, how do you see next season ending? Sneak the last play-off place and enter the showdown as a team with confidence.
City Gent and BfB Columnist
What are your hopes? As disappointing as last season turned out, it shouldn’t be forgotten it was the closest City have come to gaining promotion for a decade. But for that end of season collapse, a play off spot at least would have been achieved. Hopefully City can build on the positives from last season and finish in the top seven if not top three.
…and your fears? That a slow start to the season results in too many supporters turning on the team and manager Stuart McCall, feeding the sort of negative atmosphere that has undermined efforts on the field in recent years. Last season supporters were too quick to turn on the team. It was easy to sing and do Mexican waves when City were 5-0 up against Aldershot last March, but where was the backing for the players when Port Vale went 1-0 up two weeks later? Let’s get behind the team in victory and defeat, remembering it’s a long season.
What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? The ability to bounce back when things go against the team is vital. During the first half of last season we saw some brilliant fightbacks, for example at Accrington and Luton and at home to Chesterfield. During the second half of the campaign the spirit was lacking and there were too many collapses. When City fall behind, the players need to retain the courage and belief to come back.
…and what or who will surprise us? When reading about a new signing, the words “former Man United trainee” strikes heavy in my heart. I think of Eddie Johnson, Ben Muirhead and Ashley Westwood – all players who looked decent at times but ultimately came up short, appearing to lack something. Gareth Evans arrives this summer with that ex-Man U tag, but I remember been impressed by him when City beat Macclesfield at Valley Parade last season and think he could prove a shrewd signing. Could Evans become the first number 9 widely-liked since Lee Mills? Now that would be a surprise.
And finally, how do you see next season ending? Even though other teams in this division have bigger resources, there’s nothing to fear. A play off spot or even better should be achievable.
The City Gent, Mascot Legend
What are your hopes? My hopes are to at least get a play off position this season bit disapointed last year to say the least.
…and your fears? My fears are that we start of not so good and the rot sets in. Its all about getting stuck in.
What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? The most important thing I would think is keeping there head above water financially and 2nd promotion. Come on you Arabs we have a great mascot! lol
…and what or who will surprise us? Lot to choose from on that account with so many new players about looking at some of the young lads to give it a go and show the 2nd division its not all about money.
And finally, how do you see next season ending? I think we may end like I said in Q1 think maybe end up in the play offs at least. Looking forward to doing my stuff.
What are your hopes? Today, 3rd August 2009, I have been to pick my season ticket up, and there was an air of optimism around the ground(everyone from the people in the ticket office to the people in the club shop were buzzing about the forthcoming season) Last season was a season of what-if’s. “What if we had done better against this team?, what if we had beaten/drawn against this team?”. In reality, last season we were 2 points, yes 2 points off the play-offs. But that is LAST season, and we need to build on that position.
…and your fears? My fear is that the team seem to be lacking a leader. An actual battler in the centre of midfield. No offence to the midfielders that go out there week in, week out, but someone in the centre to take a game by the scruff of its neck and turn it around. The captains armband has been given to Peter Thorne in recent matches, but realistically, he isn’t going to play every game.
Also, with new signings, a team takes time to gel, to work out how each other plays etc, and if it is not done quickly, this can sometimes prove costly. Pre-Season has gone well, only 1 defeat, but there still doesnt look to be any sort of leadership in the middle of the park.
What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? The single most important thing for City this season will be the fans getting behind the team 100%. Win or Lose. On the few occasions I managed to get to VP last season, I actually heard people Booing their own team!!
…and what or who will surprise us? I think that some of the younger players will be featuring in the squad more this season, and I think they will be the ones to look out for. Players such as Luke O’Brien, Rory Boulding, Jon McLaughlin and James Hanson. Players that have been on the fringe of the first team but have not seen regular first team action, I believe that it will be their year to shine.
And finally, how do you see next season ending? I can see this season being the year for us. We need to capitalise on the success we had last year. We are 3rd Favourites for promotion! Come on lads you can do it!!!
From Bantams Past
What are your hopes? We’ll surprise ourselves and do very well.
…and your fears? That the moaners will turn on the young team – in particularly the keepers.
What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? Stay positive.
…and what or who will surprise us? If the fans remain positive…
And finally, how do you see next season ending? I can’t shake off the feeling that we’re in for more of the same. However, trying to keep in the positive mood, a late surge grabs us the final promotion place and Valley Parade goes insane!
What are your hopes? I hope is that we are competetive in the league and on the last day of the season are still competing for a promotion/play off spot to keep the excitement running until the end. And I also hope we manage to finally end the curse of the cups and manage a little run with a tasty third round away draw against one of the big boys.
…and your fears? My fears are that once again we miss out on even a play off spot, the fans turn their backs on our beloved Stuart and Luke O’brien scurries off on a free transfer with us receiving no more than a small ‘compensation’ fee. Furthermore Omar Daley returns at christmas but has lost his electric pace, without which he would be a very mediocre player, and Peter Thornes ageing limbs stop him from playing regularly or finding the net.
What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? Whoever takes the starting berth next to Lee Bullock in midfield. I’m not sure what we need is another Stuart but someone who can weigh in with a few goals. More of a Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, with Bully doing the ugly stuff. (Since writing Flynn has signed which seems to answer Luke’s worries)
…and what or who will surprise us? Mr.Eastwood in goal. I am unfortunate enough to live with a Town fan, who also works at club and from what I have heard Eastwood is regarded highly by our ‘friends’ down the road but they consider Smithies to be the best young keeper in the country and have just given him a 5,000 pound a week contract to fight of interest from Everton. Also Joe Colbeck, once before when everyone doubted him he went on to become player of the season. I expect him to do the same once more unfortunately due to his contract not being renewed it may result in us losing him.
And finally, how do you see next season ending? The league to me is so open this year and impossible to call. I think we will finish in the top 7 though, but miss out on the automatics. A big day out at Wembley to finish with and a sense of deja vu against Notts County!
Singer/songwriter and freelance writer
What are your hopes? As they have been for the last 3 pre seasons, my hopes are to get out of the basement division, that we can avoid the traditional slump that seems to spoil every season and that we bantams might have something to celebrate after much frustration and disappointment.
…and your fears? I am afraid that we have not, as of yet (Again, Flynn’s signing came after this was written), filled that hole in the centre of midfield. It is an area where last year we were too often bullied out of games and should this happen again confidence may drop and the team may struggle. The defence and forward line look strong but it is someone to get stuck in and do the dirty work that we may be lacking, if only we could clone Stuart in his heyday…
What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? First of all, the fans. At too many times over the last few years abuse has been thrown at the players far too readily. We are supposed to be the 12th man, spurring our men on, not hurting their confidence because they put in one bad cross. By no means should we be blinkered but we should not be alienating players who can make a difference by getting on their backs. Shout until you’re hoarse and do your best to inspire, then if it goes wrong you can’t say you didn’t do your part. Secondly, whoever plays in goal. At the time of writing, we are going into the season without a recognised goalkeeper, Eastwood or McLaughlin may well step up but if they dont have what it takes, we are in trouble from the very beginning.
…and what or who will surprise us? I’m going to stick my neck out and say we’ll be surprised by the non-league boys. Hanson and Williams will be relishing the chance to play league football, especially at a club with ambitions of promotion and should be hungry to impress. Hanson’s record especially is impressive and with the improvement in quality at non-league level, making the step up is no longer the daunting prospect it once was. These guys should show the passion that has been missing in recent years.
And finally, how do you see next season ending? I see absolutely no reason why we cannot be looking at a top three finish. Injuries permitting we have a strong XI which is capable of beating any opposition in what I think will be a very open league.
Stephen O’Leary has signed for City until Christmas making the Bantams third midfield recruit in a week following Michael Flynn and James O’Brien and finishing the Bantams rebuilding of that area of the field.
O’Leary has previously impressed for other clubs but has much work a head of him if he is to win a longer term deal than the one which sees him come to Valley Parade that ends as the Winter transfer window closes in January 2010 with Lee Bullock and Flynn tagged as the starting pair.
When one includes Luke Sharry in the mix boss Stuart McCall has five more similar players than last season’s midfielders with O’Brien perhaps the most close to a number four (it is about the position, not the numeral) but not as defensive thus far as Dean Furman was. Likewise Flynn is not as attacking a player – or number eight, if you will – as Nicky Law Jnr was leaving McCall with more options for personnel but fewer options.
As such a balanced midfield will be easier to strike – even the most attacking pair of Bullock and Sharry would have defensive merits a Law and Kyle Nix partnership would fail to match.
One can expect a midfield picked more on form than on approach perming two from the five rather than tipping the balance by selection.
After a summer of drawing out the differences between number four and number eight City have – at least until January where three are out of contract – pulled together a group of box to box midfielders.
There was something symbolic about the transfers of Ben Davies from Shrewsbury Town to Notts County and Nicky Law from Bradford City – indirectly – to Rotherham United.
The Magpies and The Millers have taken on the mantle of possessing the division’s biggest playing budgets from The Shrews and The Bantams, coming with it the expectations of League Two domination. The balance sheets point to both County and United celebrating promotion come May, though the fact City and Town were unable to press home such advantages, while apparent lesser teams succeeded instead, should as a cautionary tale.
Typically for a division which saw four of its 24 participants the subject of points deductions last season, matters in League Two are far from clear. Just like the Premier League’s so-called big four, who have each managed to rack up huge debts despite the advantage of Champions League revenue year-on-year, the good news stories that emanated from teams who finished at the top of League Two last season were in limited supply.
Exeter and Gillingham’s elevation aside – the former stunned everyone including probably themselves by taking the third automatic promotion spot – and behind each manager’s words of praise for “a great set of lads” was a bank balance in the red. Andy Scott rightly received plenty of plaudits for leading Brentford to the title, but the growing debts acquired along the way suggest it came at a price that must surely slow progress eventually.
Then there was runners up Wycombe, a club previously well-regarded as one of the pioneering supporter-owned clubs, who changed their rules a few years ago to allow businessman Steve Hayes to loan significant money in return for running the club as managing director. Wycombe have subsequently run up a £7 million debt, owed to Hayes, by seemingly spending beyond their means. Hayes graciously agreed to write off £3 million of it in return for 100% ownership of the club, ground and training facilities. He is also the owner of London Wasps and has announced plans to build a new 20,000 capacity stadium for both clubs, moving them out of the 11,000-capacity Adams Park which neither can fill. Somehow it seems unlikely Hayes will ultimately end up out of pocket from writing off that debt.
At least Brentford and Wycombe succeeded through less-than-prudent financial planning, the same can’t be said of Darlington. While most football fans will have sympathy for a club saddled with a white elephant of a stadium which is compromising their existence, the mood locally is less charitable. As with many clubs who go into administration, like City, the local community is suffering from the Quakers’ latest spell in financial limbo. The St Johns Ambulance charity is reportededly again left out of pocket – by £2,500– while one local hotel owner claimed she could go out of business as a result of the club failing to pay money owed for accommodating loan striker Liam Hatch.
All of which leaves the question of what price promotion into League One at the end of this season is worth? While we can all cast envious glances at Meadow Lane and the Arab-based consortium now in charge, few Notts County fans will surely believe the new owners’ motivation is anything less than a healthy return for the investment within five-ten years. The media glare will fall on City’s visit to County this Saturday with Sven Goran Eriksson appointed as Director of Football, but he and County’s success will be judged by how long he holds that role. Will the new owners take the approach Man City have so far in backing the manager, or will it be more like at QPR? It’s not difficult to envisage Eriksson in the away dug out when County come to Valley Parade in January, a scenario which would suggest things weren’t going to plan. As Stuart McCall can testify, it takes time to learn what it takes to succeed in League Two.
County have made some decent summer signings, but finished 19th last season – 10 points above relegation, 22 points from the play offs and 38 points off the title. A huge improvement is needed to live up the pre-season hype and this season looks set to be more of a transitional one.
A far better shout for promotion is Rotherham. But for their 17 point deduction, the Millers would have finished fifth. Mark Robins is proving himself to be a determined and talented manager and has a great chance to bring the title to South Yorkshire. As valued as that would be for the supporters, there is still much long term work needed for a club which has been on the financial brink too often in recent years. The Don Valley stadium’s un-football friendly set up is a good home advantage to have, but a horrible place to watch football. As important as money on the playing squad is, the new owners may need to find money to build a new stadium back in Rotherham as part of the council’s plans to build a community stadium.
Two clubs expected to be in the hunt again with no such off the field concerns are Rochdale and Bury. Both were beaten in the play off semi finals, but have good managers who can ensure they bounce back from such disappointments. Bury continue to hold onto the talented Andy Bishop while Dale striker Adam Le Fondre is blossoming into the sort of striker Keith Hill’s talented side of two seasons ago lacked. Other contenders will probably include Chesterfield, now managed by John Sheridan, and Bournemouth – who picked up so well at the end of last season to avoid the drop.
Newly promoted Torquay will hope to replicate their Devonshire rivals Exeter in sailing through the division, while of those who were relegated from League One last season, Cheltenham may be in the best position to bounce back. Northampton are struggling financially, while Crewe no longer appear to be the stable club others aspired to be of a few years ago. City and Shrewsbury may have had to cut budgets, but should both still be strong enough to feature in the promotion-hunting pack.
Last season’s relegation battle was something of a non-event, with points deductions allowing many to sail through a nothing season in the comfort of mid-table. It might have been a great opportunity for some of the division’s traditional strugglers to build and move away from the dangers of non-league, and some may soon be kicking themselves should they be sucked back into such trouble this season. Accrington, Macclesfield, Aldershot and Barnet all appear likely contenders to be scrapping it out at the bottom, though newly promoted Burton’s momentum from previous manager Nigel Clough may continue to slow as it did towards the end of last season, ensuring their league status is short lived.
Hoping to be free of such matters and in the safety of mid table, with more than an eye on the play offs, are Lincoln, Hereford, Colin Todd’s Darlington, Grimsby, Port Vale and Morecambe. Dagenham were close to a play off spot last season, but have lost some of their star players and may struggle to hit such heights again.
Selling players – one of the traditional ways lower league clubs thrive. With two of last season’s four promoted teams succeeding by spending beyond their means, the question of who has the largest playing budget isn’t perhaps the most applicable when predicting the division’s promotion winners. Hereford were promoted two seasons ago largely due to bringing in loan players that they could never otherwise afford, but last season spent nothing and were relegated while Stockport, who spent beyond their means and ended up in administration, stayed up.
The ones celebrating promotion next May might prove to be the ones prepared to take the biggest gambles, though the same might apply to anyone who ends the campaign with points deductions or an uncertain future.
I know it’s hard to believe, but we’re not all obsessed. Personally a summer without football is, unlike many clubs, easily managed. But time passes and the prospect of a new season is finally stirring the brain cells if not yet quickening the pulse.
The thing is, unless you keep up to date with the almost daily off-pitch activity – often more rumour than truth – and can spare the time and cash for pre-season friendlies – neither of which I do – then the opening game can come as something of a shock to the system.
There are changes every season and this is certainly no exception. Some big money players have moved on, possibly for bigger money but no great loss there. Some big hearted players have been lured elsewhere, a cause for some sadness but in a short career life you wish them well. Some have stayed but don’t know how long they will be around. (Being a City supporter is not a week-to-week option so I hope that being a City player is not seen in that way for too long.) So that leaves the committed, and gestures such as accepting reduced terms whilst offering full effort is something to be admired and be grateful for.
Then there’s the new-comers. Eagerness to impress should come as standard. A lack of experience can be more than compensated by enthusiasm and a willingness to learn, (the opposite was true for too many last season), and putting names and numbers to new faces is all part of the new season’s fun.
The chant of “Who are yer?” may not exactly resound around V.P. in the coming weeks but the question will certainly be asked about our own team. The new kit will add to the confusion but hopefully it will put an end to the pathetic and pigmentally-challenged “Come on you Yellows!” (“Come on you Clarets!” has other connotations for those of us suffering from the taunts of neighbours just over the border, so we’ll see what replaces it.)
So with new signing Michael Flynn joining this week we’re all set then? The hope is that we have a midfield balance of muscle, mobility, motivation and magic. Sometimes you get most of these in one player but, at this level especially, these qualities have to be spread around more.
I find it easier to come to terms with teams that beat us by out-playing us than watching teams out-muscle us, out number us or plainly out-desiring us. This has to be the worst memory of last season and last season is where those failings should remain.
We have the qualities we need in our new-season’s squad albeit thinly stretched. I may be in a minority but I think Lee Bullock can once again be the player he was when he first came and go a long way to filling a somewhat soft centre. The question is does Lee Bullock believe he can be that player? Self-belief is critical.
I think Joe Colbeck has an “engine” as good as any and, contract issues aside, will take fewer wrong options to become more than just an attacking force, if the self-belief is there with him.
New signings will surely have the motivation that the ground, crowd and level of football must inspire in them. So that leaves the magic!
Last season we borrowed it mainly in the shape of Dean Furman and the incisiveness of Nicky Law, both magical on their day and well on the way to being the players we need. Now they are well on their way full stop.
Perhaps the right captain can make man management on the pitch provide a kind of magic that we have lacked. The who and how of this position is perhaps more important than the number on the shirt and will only become clear once the real games start. If it goes well then the team clicks to benefit all. If not the harsh realities of last season’s slump may return to haunt us.
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right will, hopefully this season, be restricted to the blokes I sit with.
Omar Daley has a contract with Bradford City until 2011. We can say that with certainty; on that, we can all agree. Therein, however, ends the consensus on Daley. For my part, I love him, am a signed up, card-carrying member of the Omar Daley fan club – an honorary ‘reggae boy’. I have watched him mooch around never leaving second gear for 70 minutes, all the while hoping the next pass reaches him, because in him I have faith. I have sat and watch him persecute a young right back, electrify the crowd, and provide a real cutting edge to our attack, all the while my Father is complaining about his lack of commitment. I tell you all this now because Omar is a love-him-or-loathe-him player and if you loathe him, you will find no satisfaction here.
In the anonymous world that houses the plethora of message boards and online forums, the post-season boredom has frequently given way to wistful reflections on what could have been. If only McCall had a plan B, if only Brandon had played, if only Lee was a better captain, if only McLaren had not been too good for this division. Obviously, deep down none of us blame one decision or one player, but I can’t help feeling that had we been able to call upon Omar Daley throughout the last two months of the season, we may have faired better. He’s a game changer and I can’t imagine he wouldn’t have at least made something happen against Port Vale at home, or away at Chester. Four points was all we needed.
So how will we fare without him, and more importantly, what will his reappearance do for our team, or season, our hopes of promotion? I remember the talk around Christmas last, about how the return of Brandon would be akin to a new, ‘big-name’ signing. For one reason and another, that failed to materialise, only now are we seeing our ‘new’ signing, and the jury of the terraces is still out. But Daley isn’t Brandon; we know what Daley is capable of – know what he is capable of in a City shirt for that matter. I’ve spoken to plenty of folks who believe that if we just hang in there-or-thereabouts until Christmas, Daley’s return will give us the impetus to race toward that May finish line, a race that with Jamaica’s second fastest man is sure to be exhilarating.
But can we, in all honesty, even with a glass half-full, really believe that? This is a player who will have missed eight months of football, will need at least another month to regain match-fitness, and is largely celebrated/utilised for his pace, which will surely be diminished at least slightly. How do we even envisage his return? Will this be a return that can’t come too soon, necessitated by the failure to perform by the ineffectual, sluggish Brandon, or inexperienced Leon Osborne/Luke Sharry? As a return out of necessity to replace the recently departed Colbeck, who has, at last, been rescued from the shop window by Oldham? As a return that is hampered by the niggly nature of the injury he suffered? Or what about a return that is largely constrained to the bench due to the fantastic half a season had by his replacement on the flank?
Anything other than the latter scenario could be catastrophic for both player and club. A hurried return steeped in expectation is likely to end in only one, predictable manner. A bit-part role however, for a player who can leave the bench for 30 minutes and change a game not only represents a genuine alternative for Stuart, but a sensible rehabilitation for a 29 year-old whose physical and psychological state must surely have deteriorated during his eight month absence. It also limits his exposure to the fickle-faithful, the boo-boys who will undoubtedly forget that Daley has just spent the last eight months struggling to walk. This season is not Daley’s; anything he contributes must be seen as an unexpected bonus. We can get back to the expectation game with Omar next season, but we have to accept that whilst it has gone unsaid, any injury that keeps a player nearing his thirties out for eight whole months is most definitely career threatening.
I hope that this time next season Omar is terrorising some Alfreton Town fullback, cutting in from the touchline to score goals galore. But we must also prepare for the possibility that Daley’s game will have to change long-term, that we will never get the same lad back again. It has happened to the best of them, Giggs being the prime example. The pace will never completely desert him, but it is used sparingly, deployed in a targeted fashion, even used in a different position. I’m not sure whether I can ever see that happening with Daley, as even his fans often see him in one-dimensional terms, as a pacey winger with a few tricks. If that pace is dulled with age and injury, Stuart is going to be faced with a dilemma; armed with a winger who no longer puts the fear of God into division 4 defenders, does he throw him on the scrap heap, or deploy him differently?
I think if you look back at his best games, they have come when his searing pace has been coupled with a drift inside, when he has picked the ball up in the centre of the park and had every direction in which to run. These games have also seen him charging back to help out the fullback and then play his way out of trouble. These games have also seen him pop off a shot or two. The Daley knockers will counter that he rarely gets such a shot on target, that he often passes too late and that his distribution is inconsistent, and indeed they may have a point, but show me a division 4 player who doesn’t tick those same boxes.
I could of course be wrong, Daley may give us all an early and gratefully received Christmas present by bursting back onto the Valley Parade turf, full of beans and as fast as he always was. If that happens it has the potential to reinvigorate the team and give them an extra dimension. But if he doesn’t, I hope we will put the time and effort into a lad who signed a three year contract, a lad who hasn’t been constantly angling for a big move (to Oldham), a lad who began his international career at right back, who often plays in the centre of the Jamaican midfield, who is respected for his leadership qualities within the national team set up, and may just surprise us with the depth of his ability.
Former Huddersfield and Gillingham midfielder Michael Flynn has ended Stuart McCall’s search for a partner for Lee Bullock signing for the Bantams and being expected to make his debut on Saturday.
Diminutive Welshman Flynn takes the number four shirt although perhaps not the role with the player being considered by followers of his former clubs as an attacking midfielder rather than the ball winner to replace Dean Furman.
Flynn signs the day after City caught the prospect of a near million pound payout after an offer was accepted for Fabian Delph of Leeds. Flynn is thought to be thinking over the clubs offer from before that Delph news rather than having come as a result of it.
The Delph move, the transfer income generated and the relationship between that income and the directors loans and funding to the club have come under scrutiny with calls from some of the support to open the clubs books – or at least allow more light to shine from those books – in the name of transparency.
It is impossible to gauge if and why the club would or would not let this occur and they are under little legal prompting to do so and no doubt considerable pressure from suppliers, players et al to respect confidentiality but any increased transparency is good and the Bantams could set best practice by showing what they can of the accounts.
Should the club account penny for penny how much comes in and goes out from the Delph deal would the education not be of benefit when addressing supporters?
For example when the mental totting up of the Delph Million begins will anyone include the tax City have to pay on the amount received assuming City will have to pay tax on it.
Such transparency helps fans understand the boardroom and the board understand fans and is no bad thing, even if it is limited by practicalities of confidentiality.
The shape of the club on the field and in the midfield especially is changing with Flynn’s signing but the shape of the club off it is needlessly and unhelpfully vague.
City are building a team in hard financial times we are told by Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes and if the books were edged open a crack to show thinks like the cost of NI payments for professional footballers, the expenses occurred running a club or the thousand of other factors on a balance sheet that never figure in the mental totting up of income and expenses then I’m sure the picture of a club balancing in and out coulmns would be aptly illustrated and understood.
Through the looking glass
It’s almost upon us, as always in a summer bereft of international action, the gap between end and start of season stretches out like a shimmering hot desert, the oasis of that first game still a mirage on the horizon. The Ashes wets the whistle but nothing quenches that thirst like the first roar of the home crowd, the first sight of a new team lining up, full of optimism, the first goal of the season from a man in a claret and amber (or now mainly claret) shirt.
This summer has been all about money, Manchester City offering the England Captain £250,000 to join the Eastlands revolution, Real Madrid buying up just about every sought after footballer on the planet and bizarrely, Sven-Goran Eriksson being installed as director of football (though some think he might be manager in all but name) at the newly oil-rich Notts County.
Of course for those of us not owned by rich consortia from the middle east, the opposite has been true, purse strings have been tightened, wages have been slashed and optimism is a word whispered quietly, especially around the streets of Bradford. You see, we bantams have had our fingers burned. Cast your mind back to last season, full of bluster and bravado after the signings of players with proven calibre in a level above, we played Notts County in a mirror image of this seasons first game and, it must be said, came away fairly happy with a 2-1 win. However, the tale was a cautionary one, we flew too high too fast and came down with a bump, now it is Notts County with the millstone of money around their necks and I for one, think this will aid us.
This league asks for passion and desire, with an ability to deal with the physical side of things, something maybe players such as Paul McLaren didn’t have the stomach for, in this respect I believe the signings we have made, whether they be forced upon us by circumstance or not, will be ideal for the league. Steve Williams and James Hanson have served their apprenticeships in non-league, they know the game is kick and be kicked. Non-league is no longer a footballing wasteground, the level of football has long been improving and there is no doubt that players coming from that background can step up, you only have to look at Stockport and Peterborough in recent years for examples of how buying players with a point to prove from lower levels can work.
Gareth Evans and Simon Ramsden know this league well, Evans should hopefully develop and blossom alongside the experienced finishers we have in Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne and Simon Ramsden seems to be the kind of solid, no nonsense full back Stuart has been looking to fill that gap for some time.
So come the first day of the long awaited season, when Sven looks out onto the Meadow Lane pitch and wonders what the hell he’s got himself in for, City fans, with our hearts full of pre-season optimism, should relish being the poor relation as it might just have forced our hand into getting what we wanted all along, a ticket out of this league.
James O’Brien has signed a three month deal with City as Stuart McCall tries to put the finishing touches to a squad that could grow following on from yesterday’s news on Fabian Delph.
McCall has told a number of targets that today is the cut off point to sign for the club and runs the rule over Stephen O’Leary once more in a closed doors game with Sheffield Wednesday.
So it would seem that City have someone to play midfield in what The Times would call the top of the table game on Saturday at Notts County. If O’Brien is that fabled number four depends on how this influx of cash affects the player budget.
Leeds United has accepted an offer from Aston Villa for highly-rated teenager Fabian Delph, a player whom Bradford City have a reported 12% interest in. It means that Mark Lawn, who had revealed at last month’s Fans Forum he couldn’t see Delph leaving this summer as Leeds were asking for too much, will be delighted at being proved wrong.
The transfer fee has yet to be made public, but disappointingly for City it looks set to be less than it might have been. A statement on the Leeds United’s website thanks Villa “for the manner they conducted their interest in the player” and adds of the approved bid, “we had no intention of going back on that.” Clearly Ken Bates, a man of principles when it suits him, is upset at how Man City have conducted their business.
With add-ons and clauses expected to form part of the accepted offer, it looks as though the fee will fall some way short of the £10 million that Man City were reportedly offering. With Spurs also interested, it appears Leeds had the power to instigate a bidding war that could have seen the transfer fee go past such a figure. Bates is obviously content to cut off his nose to spite his face, so it means City will receive less than they might have.
But receive something they will and, at the forum, Mark Lawn confirmed that, should it reach a certain amount, Stuart McCall will have some budget for an extra loan signing. Five days before the start of the season and with that number four-shaped headache remaining, this will come as welcome news for the manager. Yet given the fee may still end up far more than Lawn had predicted (it’s rumoured two weeks ago Villa had made a £4 million bid which was rejected which may have been along the lines City were expecting Delph to leave for, it may be double that now) it could be that City have a bigger windfall than they dared hoped.
Much has been made of the fact Lawn and Julian Rhodes had budgeted for the sale of Delph last season or gaining promotion, failure on both counts resulted in Lawn putting money in to cover the losses and a radically reduced wage budget this season. While it’s right the Delph windfall goes towards sorting out some of those issues, should the mistaken assumption City would have received it last season act as a reminder of focusing on the long term picture?
The club has budgeted for Delph to remain at Leeds this season (he was on a four year contract), but instead of just throwing this now unexpected bonus on a couple of extra players, could it better used towards the greater good of the club? Lawn attempted to buy Valley Parade last season only to be quoted an inflated price by Gordon Gibb. While no one would want to make the former Chairman richer, could this extra money help to reach some form of compromise?
Of course a significant number of fans will want the money spent on the here and now, with the worry remaining that the affects of a reduced budget are yet to be seen. If City struggle in midtable this season and the money goes towards getting Valley Parade back, will Lawn and Rhodes be criticised or can another season of mediocrity be accepted if the club’s home is secured? Or should we again gamble on promotion and the difference more investment could make, assuming money to buy Valley Parade will increase with the elevation up the leagues or the option of Odsal?
City’s bank balance is set to look much healthier over the next few days, but there are some big considerations to be made.
Bradford City 3 Carlisle United 3 At Valley Parade in Friendly, 2009/2010
In seven days time City will have faced Notts County in what is game one of the new season but in a rain soaked Valley Parade the Bantams seemed to have started the season early in a 3-3 draw with Carlisle United.
To suggest that the friendly between Stuart McCall’s City and a Carlisle side managed by his former midfield partner Greg Abbott was “competitive” would understate the content that saw the visitors copy their manager’s combative style and at one point boiled over into typical Abbo violence.
Richard Keogh swung for Joe Colbeck and in a proper game would have been sent off no questions asked leaving his team to play with ten men for seventy odd minutes. Keogh missed Colbeck’s square jaw just as Brandon missed with a kick at Michael Evans in the dying minutes which would also have resulted in red and followed on from the sort of tackle by Evans that littered the game. Too physical, too much, and never allowed in the season for real.
So in that way the work out for City was perfect – bad refereeing of the league season being substituted by soft pre-season officialdom and City responded to that work out well.
Another number four got a run out for the Bantams with former Luton and Hereford midfielder Stephen O’Leary wasting no time in pressing his case for a contract by finishing tidily a headed cut back by Michael Boulding who got on the end of a superb Joe Colbeck cross deep on the right.
Carlisle reacted poorly with Keogh swinging at Colbeck who spent the first half tormenting former Leeds man Ian Harte and looked distinctly second best. City’s second goal came from another Colbeck cross – a corner – which headbanded Matthew Clarke jumped for and may have connected with but landed at the feet of Peter Thorne who finished easily from close range. It was – at that stage – comprehensive.
Nevertheless twenty minutes later City were losing. Firstly Graham Kavanagh was allowed to turn on the edge of the box dropped away from the central defenders and not being picked up by the midfield – one of Stephen O’Leary and Lee Bullock should have been there – and was allowed time and space to fire in impressively from thirty yards.
Secondly the rain became torrential taking away Zesh Rehman’s legs as Joe Anyinsah played the ball to Matty Robson and was shown enough of the goal by Clarke to be tempted to shoot and duly did giving a second goal in two minutes. It was unimpressive defending and seemed to snap City right back into last season’s lower moments.
The spine of the team was found wanting, and the heart. Things went against the Bantams and the Bantams responded by sulking. It was Morecambe at Easter or Barnet away all over again and City visibly wilted.
The third goal came eight minutes later when a corner headed in by Joe Anyinsah with Simon Eastwood left flapping at the ball.
Eastwood has yet to impress and will need to communicate more with his backline to become a better keeper while his judgement at coming out to try collect this corner was curious to say the least. At the moment all he offers over Jon McLaughlin is that he is someone else.
So the black shirted Bantams trudged in at half time having been the best for thirty minutes but mostly through errors ended up losing. So far, so last season.
Nevertheless something that Stuart McCall said at half time reminded the team that they had been comfortable in the game for a long time because what one would hope is normal service was resumed with Bullock and O’Leary combining well with the attacking pair of Thorne and Boulding and Colbeck and Brandon coming inside and working the ball forward well with sudden, tight controlled football. Eastwood’s first half display may have been duplicated in the second had Carlisle mustered a shot worthy of the name in the second half but aside from a shot that flashed across the goal they threatened rarely.
City on the other hand revealed an alternative to the 442 which McCall favours with a 4231 that saw two holding midfielders in Bullock and O’Leary, Gareth Evans lead the line ahead of Colbeck, Brandon and James Hanson who lot a header today – a thing that is notable only for its infrequency such is the impressive abilities of the Idle Working Man.
Before the change in formation Michael Boulding had flashed a Peter Thorne chest down wide and Colbeck did similar following an impressive nutmegging of the referee but it was a breakaway from Evans which won a corner that when slung in the former Macclesfield man tucked away from close range despite a heavy first touch in a crowded penalty area.
Three all it finished and while Keogh would never have finished a league game and some of the tackling used the weakness of pre-season refereeing to avoid bookings and neutering giving both teams a good work out but causing worry for City.
Abbott’s side too easily bullied City – especially in that fifteen minute spell before half time – and the Bantams were not able to counter that physical play or that sudden burst of (for want of a better phrase) “wanting it” which undermined a performance that was worthy of a win.
O’Leary looked no better or no worse than other number fours we have tried but one of he or James O’Brien would seem to be about to be offered a contract this week and making a debut next but the Bantams need someone to sit in the midfield and someone to prompt and inspire in the way that McCall did when he rejoined City in ’98 galvanising a team that had lead the league in ’97 but faded into a genuine promotion side.
One would hope that City could find this type of leader from within the club – Peter Thorne seems to be captain apparent – and Zesh Rehman and Lee Bullock also hinting that they could emerge as characters but leadership is lacking and when City trudged back to the centre circle after the second and third goals there was no geeing up, no encouraging, no leadership pulling up everyone else’s game as McCall The Player did.
Brandon’s ill tempter kick certainly was not it and he needs to wear his status as City’s senior player with more conscientiousness and sobriety.
Ultimately though football is a game of balance in flux. In a match which was competitive this game was the 1st of 47th in a season that starts next week and may be no different to last with the collapse before half time so reminiscent of last year but perhaps it will be the 47th of 2008/2009 and in a week when the season kicks off City will be a team a year older, more experienced and able to drag a draw out of a game in which a lead was surrendered in contrast to last season.
One can but hope. Either way the phoney war is over and the season – nine months of elation and agony, anguish and exhilaration – starts now.