Issue Chinese whispers

As told by Jason Mckeown

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.