Changes

In September 1959, thanks to parents who bought me boots (and they were boots!) and to teachers who gave up a Saturday morning, I played my first competitive game of football for the under 11s of Harehills Junior School. I can’t remember the opposition or the result but I do remember pulling on a real football jersey – blue and red quarters. I also remember that after the game we were all given concessionary tickets to watch the rather unfashionable professionals in blue and old gold across the other side of the city. Although I didn’t know it then, I was hooked! Football would remain a constant despite all life’s other changes.

Now, in September2009, I am once again eligible for some concessions yet still watching and still playing –albeit friendly 5-a-side – every Sunday morning.

During the intervening years I have experienced ecstatic highs and depressing lows with the two clubs I have supported at different stages of my life. Success at Wembley with both never tempted me to quit whilst ahead, humiliating defeats with both never led me to give up in despair and regular acquaintances with psychotic full backs never made me want to stop playing. I love the game. I have got so much out of it and in some small way put a little bit back.

For many years I, like so many other teachers, was involved in running school football teams at my south Bradford school. Success in hard fought derbies against the likes of Buttershaw, Priestman and Woodroyd was rewarded by “Champions League” knockout stages that involved travel to such exotic locations as Swain House, Belmont and Thornbury. Finals, if you made it, were held at superstadia such as King George fields, Manningham Mills or even….Valley Parade!

But pressures on management are nothing new. School teams were, by their very nature, made up of those in the school. No oil-rich headteachers could attract stars from other schools with the prospect of higher grades and inflated reports. Agents, sorry, parents, did not tout their offspring around to find the team capable of taking their sons “to the next level.” The only hope of strengthening your squad was if someone moved into the area bringing an addition to the school that filled the gap on the left that had always been a problem – which was where I put a young Ian Ormondroyd when he arrived one term!

However the biggest pressure came through the organisation. Because the teams were age-based it meant a new team every year. Whatever success had been achieved the previous year counted for nothing as players were now ineligible for that league as they were a year older. Achievement fluctuated. Highs and lows were experienced. But few managers were sacked because of bad results and the kids were always keen for the next game. Now school football seems to have gone. Maybe better things such as academies, football in the community and local youth teams have replaced them but for those of a certain age school football will be fondly remembered despite all the changes.

So what has all this to do with Bradford City and BfB? Well a glance at the team sheets for September 08 and September 09 have the marked changes in personnel that school teams would show. The change is almost wholesale. Pay packets, personalities and petulance have combined to rid us of much of last September’s team. Luke O’Brian, last year’s youngster, is now the only regular from the last campaign likely to command a regular spot this season. Replacements are like the new school team, mostly inexperienced at this level. Some have played but for “smaller” sides but few have had the set up that Valley Parade has to offer in terms of both facilities and support. And this is the key to how the season might unfold.

For the first time in a while we have the opportunity afforded to few league clubs – the chance to watch a team grow – and what happens…some “fans” are on their backs already. What do they come to City for? What do they come to football for? Does a T.V. diet of Premiership and European leagues raise expectations to an unrealistic level? Is Flynn expected to be Fabregas, Bullock, Ballack or Neillson, Nani? Even superstars make mistakes but rarely face the vitriol poured out by some of our “fourth division fans” who expect perfect passing and first touch control every time.

Recent postings and comments on this site (my own included) have tried to focus on positive support, vocal encouragement and, when necessary, quiet understanding. The boo boys must not hold sway. Personally I am more interested than ever because of the “new” team. There is a sense of excitement, unpredictability and, dare I whisper it so soon, the faint prospect of success – all the things I come to football for.

There is also the challenge of managing a new team. I really can’t believe the criticism levelled at Stuart McCall at the start of this season. Having written in support of him staying just a few months ago I see no reason to change my mind. What I do see is enthusiasm, cooperation on the field and all round effort. Give the manager credit where it is due. The failings of last season in these areas have been addressed quickly this season. Lessons have been learned. Players’ efforts can easily be seen, manager’s efforts are often harder to spot – especially for those blinkered to them in the first place. But for those prepared to look there is a lot of good to see in what has happened this season – and that was just in August!

So, apologies if I am sentimental, excuse the nostalgia if you will ,but please join me in celebrating my 50 years in football by showing pride in those who wear the current City shirt (jersey?) and giving due credit to all involved in making V.P. the place we want to go to enjoy our football. Here’s to the future!

City visit Shrewsbury as the start begins to end

If the end of last season started with the 3-0 defeat at Rochdale’s Spotland then the end of City’s promising start came at Shrewsbury’s New Meadow when the Bantams lost 2-0.

The Rochdale ghost was buried in the week when Stuart McCall’s men came back from behind to take victory with a goal from Scott Neilson that took enough of a deflection to be chalked up to luck.

Not that Dale boss Keith Hill would agree with that railing against the referee on the evening as not being fit to officiate. Odd that last season’s man in the middle who seemed to want to gift the game to the home side did not incur Hill’s wrath. That kind of myopia would fit right in at Rotherham if – should rumours be believed – Hill replaces Barnsley bound Mark Robbins.

At Shrewsbury last season Referee Jarnail Singh practically proved he was not up to refereeing by once again allowing goals to be scored while players were down with serious head injuries and the sight of TJ Moncur staggering away collapsing with the home side celebrating is the enduring one. Moncur and Lee Bullock were invalided away from right back that day.

Bullock’s return to the City team this season owes a deal to the injury to Stephen O’Leary who continues to miss games with a toe problem following his impressive debut against Port Vale.

Bullock is far from universally loved by City fans and in this post-Joe Colbeck era we enter is the next player to split fans.

Personally I’m conflicted internally on him not especially enjoying watching him in the way I enjoy the robustness of Michael Flynn but noticing the correlation between his name on the teamsheet and City winning. Call it the inverse Nicky Law effect.

Bullock and Flynn are likely to be rejoined by Steve O’Brien in the midfield following the youngsters benching in the week while those tight three midfielders will notice little difference on the right with the aforementioned Colbeck gone but replacement Scott Neilson impressing and exciting in his opening one hundred minutes for City.

Peter Thorne was robbed of the chance to impress by a hamstring injury on Tuesday night but he would have likely stepped down for James Hanson and Gareth Evans to continue a fruitful partnership.

At the back the four of Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien will return in front of Simon Eastwood.

That Rehman missed the midweek game was officially put down to a thigh strain although in all likelihood he was being given recovery time being in that twilight zone between injured and fit. As City’s squad shrinks the prospect of the player carrying injuries into games emerges. A week of rest becomes a rare thing and a player’s season becomes defined by how they deal with niggling injuries that would be rested at a higher level but are played through in League Two.

The counter to that resting is the benefits of confidence coming from playing games and it is that which Stuart McCall believes will get the best out of keeper Eastwood.

Eastwood had a ropey start to his City career but the start is coming to an end and the Huddersfield loanee is improving.

As are City. A win at Shrewsbury would be an impressive return – the home side have not yet lost a half dozen games at this stadium – but would be a fourth win in a row and set up parallels with Colin Todd’s side that collected fifteen points out of fifteen four years ago. A draw would no doubt be welcomed by the management keen to show the ability to be pragmatic away from home as a table begins to form and City begin to nestle into it.

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