From October, 2009
The week had started with a chatter around BfB with articles upon articles about the sending off of Lee Bullock last weekend, about the game in which he was sent off when the Bantams beat Hereford, about the stewarding of the game and on to suspensions and how they work and Leeds and what is going on there.
It was like old times, a little too like old times, and thus it arrived in the form of US Sports Academy in Alabama and an obnoxious report. Mark Lawn speaks for us all saying
“If they want to mention the fire and quote what actually happened then by all means do, but to connect it with hooligans is wrong and for him to actually do that is derogatory to the people who lost their lives.”
What is to be done about such massive mis-representation. The Bantams supporters simply do not have the numbers of Liverpool supporters who so often find themselves in similar situations and cannot mount the boycotts and rapid responses. People write the odd letter and they fire off emails and they are right to do so but unlike the Comeuppance Steve Cohen had visited on him we will never cause a quake that can shake financially and so are left to appeal to whatever good nature might be found in places like Sport Journal.
Mis-representation then that sours a week and very little in the way of a solution aside from this suggestion. Misinformation in the form of the Sport Journal or When Good Times Go Bad 3 is not going to go away nor will the clips be removed from You Tube and the likes. They will not be removed but misinformation can be competed with and better with information.
Information similar to Paul Firth’s book on the subject – well researched, truthful, honest – which stands in competition to the misinformation to allow those curious to find that truth. The club could do this but better that it works with supporters – the same supporters who are rightly activated and appalled by events like this week – to create a web resource of information for those who want to know the truth and put right shocking, shameful, disgusting lies.
So to Macclesfield and the mood is soured. The Bantams are looking to build on last week’s hard win despite the absence of the suspended Bullock who will be replaced by James O’Brien who signed a new 18 month deal with the Bantams following three months of excellent play after his arrival from Birmingham City while Chris Brandon – who is said to be keen to press his abilities in central midfield – will make a three with O’Brien and Michael Flynn.
The midfield three will have Scott Neilson dropping back from a three up front to join in with James Hanson and Gareth Evans – who faces the club that he credits with turning around his career after his release from Manchester United – in the forward line.
Jonathan Bateson will retain his place at right back with Simon Ramsden still injured. Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams are in the middle and Luke O’Brien at left back. Simon Eastwood is in goal.
The lawyer still inside me – I’ve been retired nearly four years now – can’t resist a quick look at Lee Bullock’s suspension. It’s not the rights and wrongs of whether he should have been given his two yellow cards against Hereford – Bullock himself is quoted as saying it was his own fault he was sent off. It’s not even the rights and wrongs of any of his earlier yellow cards, especially that one from Mr Attwell at Morecambe for an innocuous foul on the half-way line, when Mr A didn’t wave his piece of plastic after several more serious offences were committed in more dangerous areas of the pitch.
What gives me pause for lawyerly thought is the received assumption that Bullock will be serving just a one game suspension, despite having been sent off and, in the same game, having been given his fifth yellow card of the season to date. I pause further to wonder whether this ‘received’ assumption might yet be changed by a letter not yet received from the Football Association, perhaps one of the thirty million somewhere in a Royal Mail sorting office. More likely, these days, even the FA have access to e mail and fax machines. So there’s still the possibility of a different length of suspension.
But let me carry on with the one game assumed ban and quote a passage or two from the F A’s own disciplinary procedure. Paragraph 6(a) (i) of that procedure covers five recorded cautions – ‘suspended automatically for a period covering one first team match’. Nice and easy, then.
Although I shall need to come back to paragraph 6(a), let us move quickly on to 6(b), which deals with ‘players sent off under law 12(7)’ – two bookings in the same game, to me and you. The player ‘will be suspended automatically from FTCM commencing forthwith, until such time as his Club’s First Team has completed its next FTCM.’ (FTCM is a first team competitive match)
Now they may look identical provisions, but I assure you they are not. The reason they are not identical is back in paragraph 6(a) again. As far down as 6(a) (viii) the procedure says that ‘Any period of suspension arising from recording cautions will commence on the seventh day following the date of his last offence.’ (It says ‘recording’, but it must mean ‘recorded’. The lawyerly instinct for looking at individual words also survives, I fear.)
So, now let’s put the two pieces together and see what happens. The two-yellows-in-one-game suspension starts ‘immediately’ and the five-bookings suspension doesn’t start for seven days. No problem there, then, since our next game just happens to be seven days after the Hereford game that gave rise to both suspensions.
But just think how it might have been if the fixture list had been only a fraction different. Suppose we’d been playing Port Vale in the JPT during this midweek. If that had been the case, the two-yellows-in-one game suspension, starting immediately after the Hereford game, would have ruled Bullock out of the midweek fixture. But the five-bookings suspension, commencing on the seventh day following the date of his last offence, wouldn’t have kicked in until seven days after Hereford, i.e. at Macclesfield. The fixture list and the FA’s procedural rules would then have combined to ensure that Bullock served a two game suspension.
So, I ask myself, can it be right that the length of suspension is determined by a quirk in the fixture list? Well, to me the obvious answer is ‘No, that can’t be right.’ And that takes me and my judicial mind right back to where I started. I was used to dealing in what legally speaking are called concurrent and consecutive terms. In short, three months and three months concurrent still add up to three months; three months and three months consecutive add up to six months. I would only use concurrent sentences where the offences arose out of the same circumstances. By definition four of Lee Bullock’s cautions arose out of different circumstances in different matches.
Does one ‘first team game’ and ‘one first team game’ add up to one or two? If the answer is ‘It depends whether you have a first team game in less than seven days’, then the rules are pretty poor and, I would say, unjust. I doubt if the answer does depend on that, although I may be being kinder to the F A than they deserve. I believe the rules should mean that one plus one equals two, no matter when your next first team game is due to be played. I doubt if the F A deal in concurrent sentences. And that means that Lee Bullock should miss Macclesfield and Notts County. But the FA are the only people who really know the answer – unless, of course, Lee Bullock knew all along and deliberately got himself that second yellow a few minutes from the end!!
It won’t be long before the FA tell Bradford City either that their own rules are unfair or that Lee Bullock will miss two games. Anyone ready to place their bets now?
In every football team, particularly those enjoying success, there are the fan’s heroes. In the main these are the eyecatching players, usually strikers because they score the goals. but there are also the unsung heroes who don’t get the recognition they deserve!
Stuart McCall is fond of comparing his current team with the side of ’84-’85 which won the old 3rd division championship. Stuart himself and John Hendrie immediately come to mind. But for John Hendrie there was Mark Ellis (who played on the left even though he was right footed) and for Stuart McCall there was Martin Singleton – The unsung heroes of the side.
Today’s team is no different. the eyecatching players might be Scott Neilson, Gareth Evans and Michael Flynn but for Evans we also have James Hanson and for Flynn we also have Lee Bullock – the current unsung heroes.
Now I’m not in the habit of watching particular players but, before Saturday’s win over with Hereford I’d decided to pay particular attention to Lee Bullock to see how he was growing into his more withdrawn midfield role. I watched him for around 80 minutes until his totally unjustified sending off. In that time he regularly won the ball (often breaking up dangerous Hereford attacking moves in the process) and passed it, usually forwards, to a team mate in space.
Now cynics might say he was just doing his job but, it was more than that! He was doing his job well. In the whole 80 minutes I only saw him make one misplaced pass. To my mind Bully epitomises the unsung hero – doing a good job week in and week out but, because he’s not eyecatching, he won’t win many man-of-the-match awards during a season.
Bullock fell foul of a Referee who sent him off for a second bookable offence. In a season when we’ve had some shockers (the league seemingly saving their worst for games involving Bradford City) This chap was bad.
Fans don’t ask for much. just impartiality and consistency. OK, this ref was consistent – he got just about everything wrong, awarding free kicks for challenges which weren’t even unfair and waving play-on after late tackles, pushes in the back or deliberate hand balls.
It’s a common lament that things will even out over the season. If this is the case then surely we’re due some first rate referees some time soon.
The long recuperation from injury for Omar Daley is expected to reach a new chapter as the Jamaican winger is expected to feature for City’s reserves against Leeds Reserves at Valley Parade at 14:00.
Daley’s injury seemed to bring about the start of the end of the promotion push last season. His return to the first team – which is not expected for some time although the game with Accrington Stanley on Saturday, 21 November 2009 might be pencilled in – promises the prospect of James Hanson supported by Gareth Evans and Omar and has one wonder about how the player will differ in this more obviously hard working Bantams side.
Nevertheless the rights and wrongs of politics aside we can – on the whole – agree that free speech is to be welcomed and that attempts to stop someone saying something because you do not like what they are saying is not.
So there is something worrying in the news that David Conn and the newspaper he writes for The Guardian are no longer welcome at Elland Road because of Conn’s revealing articles about the ownership of the club who went down 2-1 to Millwall.
Conn’s writing had untangled a web of financial strands around the Leeds United chairman Ken Bates and the administration they went through which he emerged as owner of a debt free club following. The complexities are near mind boggling and commenting on them directly would be a presumption that I understood the detail but one thing becomes very clear when looking at stories of Cayman Islands-registered Forward Sports Fund and Guernsey accountants that the world of Leeds United administration is very different to that of Bradford City’s.
Likewise Bradford City’s two administrations were different from each other and both were different to Leicester City’s infamous debt shuffle which is a million miles away from what happened to AFC Bournemouth which was nothing like the Rotherham United into and out while still spending money which could never be afforded at Darlington.
Every administration is different, has different causes, ends in different results. When Bradford City struggled to stay afloat it was said at a supporters fund raiser that it might take the Bantams twenty years to recover from the woes but recover we would. I am of the belief that that statement was in essence true and that last season’s finishing a place higher than the previous season was a significant – if slight – sign of that recovery.
Other administrations see clubs like Rotherham United pleading poverty one year and then the next making offers to players like Nicky Law Jnr and Adam le Fondre whose former chairman Chris Dunphy has a thing or two to say about good governance in the game but oddly allowed a club that did seek protection from creditors to take le Fondre for an “undisclosed fee“. The people who had debts written off in South Yorkshire would probably be keen to know how much cash The Millers were able to find this year that was not there last.
The ownership of Leeds United is unclear but Conn’s articles would seem to suggest that the ownership is structured in a way that preferred Bates in the process and thus is not only illegal but would also be against the promises made by Bates and Leeds to the Football League. The punishments for the legal side of things – should Conn be accurate – one can only guess at and the football sanctions are rumoured to be as stiff as given out to any club in my memory with the Elland Road side facing a two division relegation should it be found that Conn’s conclusions are accurate.
The reaction of Bates to these allegations is troubling for Leeds United supporters as he attempts – one assumes – to give a lesson to those journalists who would dig too deep into his dealings that they will no longer be allowed to carry coverage on his team. Leeds are big business and newspapers – especially regional newspapers who struggle to keep going – can hardly afford to upset the local football side and Bates is infamous for enforcing a hegemony in the local media.
Of course Bates has a right to allow whomever he wants into Elland Road – as Conn attests he owns the League One club – but one doubts that will assuage any worries Leeds United supporters might have at the thought of getting promoted this year only to step backwards and be forced to find a new owner during a financial crisis. They would do well to follow the example of the Liverpool supporters who demand answers from their owners rather than doing as the Notts County fans do as some happily ignore things off the field and the muddiness of that club’s ownership.
Every administration is different, this is a point that is maybe lost on some, but in footballs age of rapid change of ownership the constant which is bought and sold is the good will of supporters. In our administration that was manifested by the half a million pounds raised because there was no other money to keep the club going but in but other clubs cases less scrupulous people – yes less scrupulous even than Gordon Gibb – have become involved and as a result supporters have suffered.
So The Guardian resisted the proposed riposte of leaving a large blank square in the sports pages to highlight the “ban” they are facing but when chairmen start stopping a newspaper from investigative reporting – and when such a ban is allowed to pass without comment from the rest of the media on the whole – then alarm bells need to ring for supporters.
Supporters should want the questions that need to be asked to be asked by the likes of David Conn and that every newspaper does not boycott Elland Road in protest is shame on them. The right for supporters to have their serious questions answered when asked by the highest quality of journalists is something that needs to be protected and when it is attacked by one is should be defended by all.
It was a long way back home – 180 miles to be precise – for the 176 Hereford supporters at Valley Parade on Saturday, but for many it will not have been Gareth Evans’ 41st minute strike and subsequent celebration in front of them which will have provided the lasting impression of a disappointing day.
The welcome some received from the people of Bradford could be fairly summed up as ugly, with stories of heavy-handed stewarding and a gang of teenagers punching and spitting on supporters outside the ground at the end. Small and trivial these incidents may be considered in the context of the history of poor stewarding and hooliganism, but little consolation for the few on the receiving end.
It was midway through the second half that attention was diverted from a reasonably entertaining League Two encounter to the block of the Midland Road stand which housed Hereford supporters. Without knowing what was happening, it was clear stewards were dragging out a small handful of supporters in the most heavy-handed of manners. A Bulls visitor to Claret and Banter claims the stewards began throwing out supporters for persistently standing. When these fans quite reasonably argued that home supporters in other parts of the ground were also standing, they were apparently removed for questioning the stewards’ authority.
Meanwhile the photo evidence of a young supporter appearing to be forcibly removed reflects badly on the the people charged with home and away supporters’ welfare and some questions should be raised by those with the power to ask them at Valley Parade this week. At numerous City away games in recent years, stewards have attempted to force City fans to sit down; but the larger number of away fans make it next to impossible to enforce and efforts are usually quickly abandoned. Were these Hereford fans penalised for supporting a small club?
As the skirmishes ended, the reaction of City fans in the Bradford End was hardly commendable either. Aside from strong rivalries, banter between sets of fans at games is generally good natured and fun for both. The same Hereford fan who left a message on Claret and Banter claims home supporters initiated slit throat gestures towards them, while the choice and tone of the chanting towards them came across as unnecessarily threatening. Such anger might be understood, if not excused, were it directed towards Leeds, Huddersfield and Burnley fans, or even if the visitors were leading. The Hereford fans had done nothing to warrant this humourlessly-bile form of chanting.
And then outside after the game it got worse. Walking along Midland Road after home games all season, it’s been noticeable that gangs of teenagers have begun congregating on street corners in the hope something might “kick off”. A small mini bus for Hereford fans was positioned close to the away turnstiles, with one steward stood talking to them. I’d begun to walk past and towards my car, so didn’t get the best of views, but within minutes this group of Hereford supporters were surrounded by a gang of teenagers and fighting broke out. Those nearer claim a female supporter was punched while another female was spat at. Other Hereford fans tried to defend their own and the steward looked helpless. Eventually more stewards arrived to help and two police vans pulled up, with the group of teenagers fleeing up the hill towards Manningham Lane and hiding within the grounds of the nearby Mosque. A long journey home for Hereford fans must have felt significantly longer.
And as they departed so to did a bit of the club’s reputation. “Going to Bradford away? Watch yourself, I’ve heard the stewards are violent and home supporters ambush you outside the ground at the end,” is the kind of story which travels fast among rival fans. After the match City manager Stuart McCall had spoken of his frustration that, mid-way through the first half, a supporter within his earshot had barracked the players with the words “come on, we’re only playing Hereford,” but in this situation “only Hereford” is an important point. Perhaps these cowardly fans who attacked visiting supporters will steer clear when the likes of Rochdale and Rotherham come to Valley Parade, as they will bring sizeable numbers of fans which are likely to include plenty willing to get involved with a fight.
Next Saturday City travel to Macclesfield, a fixture I’ve been looking forward to for weeks due to the warm welcome I’ve received from friendly Silkmen fans on my previous two visits. Luton and Chesterfield aside, that’s usually the norm wherever you go in League Two and, for the majority of well-behaved City fans, it’s part of the enjoyment. What a shame that, thanks to the minority, there are now less people who will consider a trip to Bradford anything but ugly.
Bradford City 1 Hereford United 0 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2009/2010
No matter what they do some people will never be popular. They will watch as others are given plaudits and get few of their own. On birthdays, at Christmas, they will get few cards.
It seems that few of the Bradford City squad will count amongst these unpopular ranks with a series of performances this season suggesting that the players contrast to those who took the field in claret and amber last season by virtue of that fact that they seem to like each other. In this 1-0 victory over Hereford United the kind of spirit – of collectiveness – was evident and proved telling.
City have a side which works hard for each other. It is raw and mistakes are made but those mistakes are viewed as team errors rather than the dagger staring which followed problems last year. Stuart McCall talks about how the mid-eighties team he played in still keep in touch because of friendships which transferred onto the field.
Stuart probably gets lots of cards at Christmas but if rumours are to be believed one of those will not be from Chris Brandon who it is said does not get along – does not like even – the Bantams Gaffer who got his team back to winning ways following two defeats with chief complaint from the City fan number eleven being that the manager will not play him in central midfield.
So perhaps Brandon’s favour was earned as he started the game in a three man middle alongside Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn in a Bantams midfield to go to battle with a Hereford United side who were expected – and did – drop two lines of four behind the ball and try play on the counter attack.
Any ire Brandon has at McCall – and the same rumours suggest that the midfielder maintains that he only remained at the club because of his boyhood support rather than a lack of interested parties who would match his never lessened wages – would be more appropriate if the playmaker put in the type of performances that made him undroppable rather than seemingly adopting an attitude that if given a chance to excel in the midfield he would excel.
How would McCall look Flynn, Bullock, Stephen O’Leary or James O’Brien in the face – how would the team ethos be effected – by cementing Brandon into a side that cried out during the second half when the Bantams needed the game taking by the scruff of the neck while he continues to be a frustratingly capricious player.
That City needed the game neck scruffing came after a first half in which the Bantams near total dominance came that produced only a goal when Gareth Evans followed in a fierce shot that came in from Michael Flynn’s right foot at the edge of the box following a series of corners City won and attempted to take short.
Evans pushed the ball into the goal five minutes before half time and celebrated on his knees shaking a fist up at the visiting Hereford supporters which left one wondering what the away fans had done to deserve the number nine’s ill advised displeasure and why the Referee did not issue him with a yellow card.
For this question was on the lips of all when Referee Colin Webster looked at a two feet off the ball lunge by Ryan Valentine on Scott Neilson that left the City winger hobbling for the rest of the game and should surely have resulted in a red card – considering that Lee Bullock was booked five minutes before for returning the ball to the corner taker when Webster had decided that a City man got the last touch from the previous cross – and only gave a caution.
It seemed obscene that minor infringements are given the same punishment as tackles as bad as Valentine’s and one had to wonder why the left back piled in on the right winger. Nothing thus far in the game had suggested bad feeling and unlike Graeme Lee’s hatcheting of Michael Boulding last month there seems to have been little chance for the little winger to have amassed enemies from former clubs. Perhaps Neilson had done some especially poor plumbing at Valentine’s house at some point.
Either way Neilson seemed to have not been especially popular and Valentine had received something approaching the benefit of the doubt and it was that sort of doubt which City ended up cursing in the opening ten minutes of the second half after Kenny Lunt dribbled the only shot on target of the game from the visitors at Simon Eastwood from twenty five yards out and the Bantams had the ball in the goal twice with Webster’s linesman ruling out both goals.
Firstly Neilson – not popular with the linesman next closest to Valentine either, perhaps it was his aftershave – was hit by a Gareth Evans and ended up with the ball at his feet to pop into the goal once balance was regained but the flag ruled the goal out despite appearing (from my position, which it has to be said was better than any of the officials had) to have been onside.
Minutes later more excellent pressing had Luke O’Brien – who has really stepped up his performance this season and looks a very able player – cross for James Hanson to dart in front of his defender and diving head home only for the same flag to rule the goal out and the same impression that City’s number seventeen was level or behind the defender when the cross was made.
Apologies for being so boring as to refer to the Rules of Football – worth a read although I do wonder if League Two games are played under these auspices – but the instruction is that the attacking player is given the benefit of the doubt in offside decisions and I simply cannot believe that that has been the case in both these decisions. Unless the linesman can say with certainty that one of both players were offside – and I could not – then the rules say he should not flag for an offside. Is he has that certainty then he is wasted in football and should be telling us what happens in the Zapruder footage.
Hanson had a second header brilliant pushed over the bar by away keeper Adam Bartlett but after the strangeness of the Valentine decision and the two goals chalked off the Bantams players looked for inspiration rather than suffering under the toils of unfair Refereeing. The excuse was become crafted in the minds of the players that should the Bulls snatch a goal – and the closest they got was a backpass that Simon Eastwood struggled with – then City would have been hard done to despite doing their best.
If Chris Brandon wanted to press his claims to be the undroppable man then this was the moment the game needed to taken by the scruff and for ten or fifteen minutes City dropped back and allowed the game to be played in their half. What should have been a good few goals to nil was in danger of becoming an obnoxious draw. Brandon was withdrawn for James O’Brien, Stuart McCall off the Christmas card list, although the win that probably resulted in the switch to a more robust middle three will maintain the manager’s popularity which after two defeats was being tested for a few.
McCall ended the game furiously confronting Referee Webster after a last ten minutes which saw the Bantams galvanised by a red card for Bullock which was in no way deserved and seemed to come out of some dark corner of Webster’s mind rather than the rules of football.
Bullock was involved in a tangle with Lunt and pulled down the former Crewe man in the middle of the Hereford half. Webster allowed the payer to wander away and then – on seeing the number perhaps – sent off Bullock who from his fifteenth minute booking had committed not a single offence and given away not a single free kick.
The rules of football – yes those pesky things again – have this to say give the referee seven reasons to book a player: unsporting behaviour, dissent, delaying the restart, not retreating at free kicks, entering the pitch without permission, leaving the pitch without permission and “persistent infringement of the Laws of the Game”.
Bullock had committed not a single offence and given away not a single free kick since being booked after fifteen minutes and the single foul that followed – and Bullock seemed convinced that Lunt had made more of the offence but regardless – does not merit a yellow card through any of those seven reasons outlined above. “Persistent infringement” cannot – by definition – be a single offence and unless he has not read the rules of football then Colin Webster knows this but decided that he would make up his own rules.
This was a disgraceful Refereeing decision which had no justification in the rules of football. They say that winning teams never complain but Stuart McCall should raise Hell over Colin Webster and his Refereeing using his own rules.
That Ryan Valentine was allowed to dive in for another bad tackle on a City player and walked away without a resultant red card was perhaps justified by the word “persistent” above but there are no way of running a football match that say that Bullock should be sent off and the Hereford number three should not have been.
Edrissa Sonko roughly handled Webster as the game petered out and was only yellow carded but the sending off which will cost the Bantams a player who is putting in the performances that Brandon needs to if he is to demand a place in the side pushed City over the finishing line. The Bantams had dug in but only after feeling a second type of injustice at the hands of the man in the middle who – for whatever reasons – went to great lengths to apply a different set of rules to the two teams on the field as best illustrated by Bullock committing one trip and being sent off and Valentine hacking once and fouling while remaining on the field.
Webster left Valley Parade unpopular as he no doubt will leave many grounds until he starts to referee on the basis of the rule book rather than his own whims and fancies.
No Christmas cards, no birthday cards and certainly not enough Valentine cards.
As was learned two years ago, the chase is rarely fun in football.
Bradford City’s first season in League Two was defined by a poor start which left too much ground to make up during the campaign’s final two thirds. Good runs of form had led to hopes of a late play off push, but each defeat felt that more significant as the chasing pack remained out in front. A contrast to the emotions of last season where a strong start kept City in the top seven for virtually the entire first three quarters of the campaign, meaning defeats felt more careless then terminal.
The slow start to this season has left City with catching up to do again. Although the eight-game unbeaten run in the league saw the gap close, the last two defeats have seen it widen again. Stronger conclusions can be drawn from the league standings with each passing week, and the 13th position the Bantams currently occupy – albeit only four points off the play offs – make less than enthralling viewing. Saturday’s visit of Hereford offers the chance to kick start the chase.
The two defeats have prompted a slight puncturing to the growing mood of optimism, exposing the fickle nature of some City supporters with a small number re-commencing with questioning the ability of manager Stuart McCall and prematurely writing off the season as another destined to end mid table. It’s easy to have faith when things are going well; the most encouraging outcome of the recent setbacks is that only a minority of supporters have lost theirs.
Nevertheless Stuart will know as well as anyone the grumbles will increase if another weekend goes by without a win and, with no reported new injury concerns, will have spent much of this week contemplating a few dilemmas ahead of picking a team to bounce back. The biggest question raised by supporters’ concerns goalkeeper Simon Eastwood and the slim balance he offers between stunning saves and stunning cock ups. Both goals at Dagenham could be blamed on the Huddersfield loanee, further testing Stuart’s patience.
As is often the case in these situations, the level of criticism has gone somewhere past sensible. While few supporters would be willing to argue Eastwood’s case, he has not been as bad as some are making out. The cries for Jon McLaughlin to take over ignore the reality that barely 1,000 supporters have seen him in competitive action, or that he began this season with the same level of senior professional experience as his young rival and has shipped in more than a few goals for the reserves. He may be a better keeper, but no one can know for sure and his name might as well be Jon McAnyone-else. It’s an all too familiar type of argument in recent years, you could almost rehash some of last year’s debate about Matt Clarke and Mark Bower, replacing their names with Eastwood and McLaughlin where applicable.
The back four too is prompting unease, with Steve Williams and Zesh Rehman impressing at times but struggling to retain their command through a full 90 minutes. The smart money is on Simon Ramsden eventually moving over to centre back for one of the pair as the season progresses, with the promising Jonathan Bateson brought in at right back. Luke O’Brien continues to hold his own at left back.
In midfield Stuart must decide whether to continue employing the three across which works well on the road but less so when City are the home side, or go back to a more traditional 4-4-2. Lee Bullock’s superb performance against Crewe didn’t prompt the level of praise it deserved while Michael Flynn is matching him in the consistency stakes. James O’Brien is a bit more hot and cold, but is surely worthy of a longer deal when his temporary one expires at the end of this month. Chris Brandon may be brought in to make a four man midfield, although has plenty of convincing to do after a woeful showing against Crewe.
Up front Michael Boulding is expected to have shaken off the bug which ruled him out of playing at Dagenham and be back in contention. Conspiracy theory fans were happy to speculate that his late withdrawal from the matchday squad at Victoria Road was due to him being upset at Stuart for relegating him to the bench following three goals in three games, though if even the tiniest grain of truth was found in this rumour it would look worse on Boulding than it would be considered a harsh managerial decision. The fact Stuart stated after the match Boulding would have started if fit also blasts more than a few holes into the unfounded speculation.
Which may mean an instant starting eleven recall for Boulding, but more likely he will be on the bench with James Hanson, Gareth Evans and Scott Neilson up front. After a bright start Neilson has struggled for form of late, though the difference he made when coming on against Crewe and lack of alternatives makes it unlikely he will be benched for now. It’s worth noting Stuart began the season with Joe Colbeck while still waiting for Omar Daley to recover from injury, with Neilson signed up on Joe’s departure but probably expected to be back up when the Jamaican returns. Neilson has another month at least to prove his worth on a more consistent basis.
Visitors Hereford were last here during Christmas 2007 and the questionable refereeing decisions which paved the way for a 3-1 away success that day left City languishing in 16th place with 24 games to play and prompted Stuart to effectively rule out City’s promotion chances. Promoted to League One that season before coming straight back down, Hereford are improving after a slow start but are yet to register an away win.
For both, the league table reveals there is much work to do in climbing among the promotion runners and then staying with them. Defeat may not be a disaster tomorrow, but the chase would seem that little bit tougher.
Dean Windass followed in the footsteps of Bradford City legends Chris Kamara, Paul Jewell and Peter Beagrie at Sheffield Wednesday last night, when reporting on one of his former club’s 2-1 defeat to Preston for Sky Sports News. Carrying out the usual format of hopping from ground to ground to keep tabs on the latest scores, the programme kept handing over to a slightly nervous-looking Windass, who tripped up a couple of times but generally tried to do his best Kamara impression in relaying the excitement of the Championship fixture. Nice work for a retired man.
His playing career is now over, after almost ending in the most fairytale of manners. It’s less than 18 months since Windass fired home a stunning volley for Hull City at Wembley, elevating his home town club to top flight status for the first time in its history. The former brick layer who was once rejected by the Tigers, then awarded a second chance and quickly became a cult hero. Deano moved onto to bigger things, playing in the top division for Aberdeen, Bradford City and Middlesborough, before one day returning to his first love to inspire them to new heights.
Had he known what was to come next, Windass might very well have retired upon the final whistle at Wembley. It was always hard to believe he’d be able to cut it in the Premier League again, now approaching 40, although the lack of first team chances he received during the first half of Hull’s debut top flight season was a surprise. He was then the victim of Phil Brown’s ego self-preservation, publicly taking the rap when the manager chose to berate his players on the pitch at half time of the Tiger’s eventual 5-1 mauling at Man City. Loaned to Oldham where it seemed certain he’d do well, his arrival coincided with a play off bid collapse and disastrous team bust ups that while not named as the cause of was nevertheless associated with Deano’s influence. He ended the season not allowed to play for Oldham or Hull, with Brown ordering him not to come back to the KC.
Taking the first steps of management this summer after new Darlington boss Colin Todd appointed his former player as his number two, the new chapter was beginning before the playing chapter had quite concluded. A few weeks later and after a dreadful start for the Quakers, he and Todd were gone. Despite earlier in the season claiming he wanted to keep playing until 2011, the boots have now been hung up.
Windass has already confirmed he’s applied for the vacant Grimsby job, though a question mark remains over whether any club chairman would give him such an opportunity. Often compared to Gazza in terms of personality, he will have his work cut out convincing would-be employers that he has the maturity to handle matters such as playing budgets. His infamous bust up with Neil Warnock at Sheff United, when he was dropped for the play off final, also throws up questions about how well he’d be able to manage his own players reacting in such ways.
Hopefully someone will give him a chance though, as his obvious enthusiasm for football would be a great loss to the sport. Surely he can still contribute more to it than patiently waiting for Jeff Stelling to utter the words “and now over to Dean Windass.”
After sitting inside Ewood Park for 30 minutes before kick off and witnessing the singing efforts of Blackburn Rovers’ supporters getting louder and louder, the temporary stunned silence former Bradford City striker Robbie Blake has just triggered left me wondering where to look.
Blake had just received the ball out wide, darted inside and unleashed a stunning curling shot which flew into the corner past former England keeper Paul Robinson to put Burnley 1-0 up over Blackburn Rovers in an East Lancashire derby they would go on to lose. I’m sat in the perfect position to appreciate the distance of Blake’s effort (I’m at Ewood Park thanks to a freebie, not a change of alligence) and as all around me Blackburn supporters are on their feet yelling abuse towards ecstatic Burnley fans at the other end of the field, I’m relieved no one has noticed my smile.
Robbie Blake, is it really eight years since you departed City? What are you doing here, scoring brilliant goals in the Premier League? When he departed Valley Parade, the move across the Lancashire border to Burnley felt like a sideways step, or even a move downwards.
Robbie Blake, the guy signed by Chris Kamara and then almost instantly placed on the transfer list for off-the-field misbehaviour. I remember meeting you a few weeks later when you and Craig Midgely attended a community programme which was also my poorly-paid summer job. You joked with my then-boss about how Craig had to drive you about because you were banned, but I was too awestruck at meeting two City players to cringe or laugh along.
Robbie Blake, the guy who Chris Kamara belatedly put in the team mid-way through the next campaign as an early season promotion bid started to hit the buffers. Too bad it was too late to save him from the chop. Chris, what were you thinking persisting with John McGinlay? All he did was complain to the referee and stand by the opposition keeper as he tried to kick the ball forwards. Robbie came in and scored against Huddersfield, but after defeat to Man City the week after Kamara was gone. I used to appreciate Paul Jewell employing Robbie and Edinho together subsequently, shame you couldn’t sustain your form. Sent off on the last day of the season against Portsmouth, by the time you could play the following season there were two £1 million strikers in front of you.
Robbie Blake, part of the dream double act with Lee Mills. After winning your place, initially on the right wing, you helped the team recover from a bad start to join the promotion-chasing pack. We all liked Issy Rankin for a bit, but he kept missing chances even that fat guy who used to start anti-Peter Jackson chants on the Kop behind me could have scored. Then Jagger dropped him and Mills and Blake was formed. Each week it was Mills and Blake, or Blake and Mills, banging in the goals. That wonder strike you scored against Crewe, that double against Sheff United on the tele. You got the winning goal against Wolves on the final day after earlier setting up Mills’ effort which put us 2-1 up. As the person sat next to me at Molineux remarked near the end, it was the only two things you did that day. Still it got us promoted to the Premier League, so not bad going.
Robbie Blake, the star in waiting for our Premier League who threw it away. What were you doing handing in a transfer request on the eve of the season, Robbie? We were going to shock those pundits who said we’d be relegated by Christmas, and at the end of the season, after finishing comfortably mid-table, you’d be leading England at Euro 2000 as the next Peter Beardsley. Two Premier League goals was all you managed that season. Mind you, Millsy wasn’t the most reliable guy when the chips were down either. Thank heavens for Dean Windass.
Robbie Blake, back to form in Division One. The second Premier League season was marginally better for you but not very good for City. Back in the Football League, you were the main man after Benito Carbone was loaned here and there, but the financial catastrophe was around the corner and £1 million from Burnley looked good business from the Bantams point of view. We quietly chuckled when you didn’t manage a goal for Burnley during the rest of that campaign. It was less amusing when you returned to Valley Parade and netted the following season, though.
Robbie Blake, adding to the heartbreak. In hindsight we were always doomed to relegation in 2003-04 season, but you didn’t need to add to our woes with three goals in the two games against us. I’ve rarely felt as heartbroken as the day you, your mate Brian Jensen and Ian Moore poured untold misery on us in the flukiest 2-1 away win you’ll ever see, with the winner from Moore deep in injury time. That was the day we were down and a part of this club died, which we’ve not yet been able to resuscitate. How did you sleep that night, Robbie?
Robbie Blake, back in the Premier League. I remember reading comments from then-Birmingham boss Steve Bruce when he signed you, which suggested he wasn’t convinced you’d prove to be a Premier League player. Two league starts and nine sub appearances later you were heading back to the Football League. I guess you never were Premier league class really, eh Robbie?
Robbie Blake, in a Leeds shirt. Less said the better I suppose, though you were part of the team which got relegated to League One. Thanks for giving us a chuckle.
Robbie Blake, back at Valley Parade summer after summer. Having re-joined Burnley we’ve seen you on the Valley Parade turf three pre-seasons in a row. Like with your previous returns for league games, there’s been a mixed response from City fans with some choosing to boo and others applaud. Me I’ve always been the applauding type, remembering that for how much you messed us about over that contract dispute and how disappointing it was you failed to find your best form in the top flight, you remain one of the most entertaining players to have worn claret and amber that I’ve had the pleasure to watch. I will always remember you for your mazy runs, your powerful drives at goal and your clever tricks and passes.
Thanks for allowing me to admire your brilliance again at Ewood Park today, even though I had to pretend to tell you to ‘eff off.
I was asked by the wife “Who are City playing next week?”
“Dagenham and Redbridge.”
“That is not fair,” she said “having to play two teams at once. Do they have 22 men on their team.”
Mrs Wood’s cheekiness aside Stuart McCall may soon start to wish he could field two teams on the field as after he saw his side’s ten game unbeaten run come to an end last week against Crewe and was left in the rare position of wanting to reward – rather than make corrective changes to – the side.
None of the City players left the 3-2 defeat with anything other than gold stars leaving the City skipper looking at excesses of talent in all areas of the field.
Up front – for example – Gareth Evans has returned from a highly unjust sending off at Morecambe which interrupted him in excellent form but in his absence Michael Boulding has three goals in three games and the principal of motivation by visibly rewarding achievements says he can not be dropped despite the odd dereliction of duty in the endless chasing role against the Railwaymen.
James Hanson’s ball winning abilities are endlessly useful and he scored a superb goal last week making him hardly droppable and Peter Thorne – well Peter Thorne has the luxury of being able to be benched at the moment which considering the club practically put his left arm up his back until he signed for another season with his right I’m sure he appreciates.
Three players and – should the City manager keep the formation that sees a tight three in midfield with one lose on the wing that worked so well, or should he retain the diamond that looked great going forward in the opening half hour against Crewe but let in two goals – then he has two slots in which to place them or the option to start fudging players out of the positions which seem to suit them such as dropping Boulding into the advanced midfield role where Scott Neilson has sat and where Chris Brandon played last time out for the latter two thirds of the game.
The solution is to play three forwards.
McCall gave Neilson great credit for his performances since he arrived at the club from Cambridge City despite giving the toothpaste smiler a bench place only on Saturday which allowed Brandon’s return. Brandon had performed well – a late goal against Notts County included – and won his place in the side despite a nagging feeling that as a player he does not put in enough “work”, “work” being defined as running around chasing the ball and tackling people which while simplistic has been an important addition to City’s arsenal this year that was lacking last.
Of course the figure of Omar Daley – looking at a return at the end of October in a Tuesday afternoon reserve game against Leeds United – looms large over the pair. Opinion on Daley was divided but his injury and the decline and fall of the promotion campaign are linked post hoc, ergo propter hoc and my breath is baited at the thought of this side which needs a tiny bit more to win games having a player who does that tiny bit more that wins games in it.
For the moment though the solution is to play two wide midfielders.
In the middle Michael Flynn – who put his hand to scribbling this week revealing that he used to be a postman and Peter Thorne enjoys surfing (the sea probably, not in the way that Bobby Petta used to enjoy surfing – is the definition of an undropable player impressing more and more with every game and spending the time out to applaud the supporters at the conclusion of ninety minutes. Lee Bullock has also made himself undroppable having switched from a passable if somewhat frustrating attacking midfielder into a defensive lynchpin. Bullock allows the play around him, moves the ball on, makes himself available. Any success the team has at the moment is in no small part down to him and the management’s belief that he could be switched to that more rearguard position.
Stephen O’Leary made a cameo and impressed before losing his place through injury – he is back soon – but James O’Brien is in good form keeping up the running, harrying and work rate of the squad. Should O’Leary’s come back prove as impressive as his first game then one might expect to see him in the side again soo but as it is the solution at the moment is to play Flynn, Bullock and James O’Brien. Three in the midfield.
The back four is settled although Jonathan Bateson knocked firmly on the door with Simon Ramsden currently an immensely impressive right back and cover for the central defensive roles filled by Steve Williams and Zesh Rehman. Williams continues to wobble in a single minute of a game while looking like a player with ability above and beyond for the other 89 making him the Rio Ferdinand of Bradford City. Luke O’Brien is proving that the season after being player of the season need not be a problem.
Four at the back. Simon Eastwood in goal. No problem then. City need only play thirteen players and considering the opposition have twenty two that will not be a problem.
More seriously though as Stuart McCall challenges his team to put together another ten game run the difficulties of his position having more than a team of players who deserve a team place. The likes of Boulding need to be rewarded for coming onto the team and doing what is asked of them in the same way Barry Conlon did last season but doing so would require other important players to be left out.
The balance, and how to cope with and maintain excess, is the challenge now.
A lifetime ago I stood in a half time queue to buy an expensive pie at Old Trafford as Chris Hutchings put out a Bradford City side playing 442 against a Manchester United team which was sweeping all before it. Hutchings had put Ashley Ward and Benito Carbone up front and at half time we were struggling.
“We need to drop Carbone back into the midfield and go to 451.” I said matter of factly as I edged closer to my £2.50 pie. “I’d rather see us get beat 5-0 than play wit’ one up front.” came a voice from the queue in front – someone I’d never met but his point was valid. Nevertheless my riposte proved to be precedent: “Well tonight you will get your wish.”
I was right – City left Old Trafford having been stung by a 6-0 defeat – largely because we were utterly incapable of getting the ball in the midfield but so was he because the idea of watching a rear guard action with a ball being hit to Ashley Ward is no one’s idea of a good night out. Yes we suffered a heavy defeat but, at least, we tried to play some football and there was a certain pride in that, braggadocic pride at best, but pride.
On Saturday – ten years on from Old Trafford – the Bantams had 26 shots at goal and played some wonderful, entertaining, enjoyable football – we even got an apology from a Referee – in an luscious football match but we lost.
The Bantams are not getting poor results but sit in mid-table having played in some brilliantly attractive high scoring draws. Trips to Northampton and Barnet brought 2-2 results which were great to watch as were the wins at Cheltenham and Shrewsbury but were the Bantams to put up the defensive shields of Port Vale or Lincoln City would we have had eighteen points on the road not nine.
Likewise at home we have eight of eighteen points – a draw with Crewe which we would have had had it not taken Referee Carl Boyeson three days to see the penalty we all saw at the time would have given us the same home record as we have away – but have been treated in the last few matches to the most enjoyable football since Peter Beagrie, Robbie Blake and Lee Mills graced the side.
In manager speak City need to “tighten up” which is to concede fewer goals while scoring the same amount but one had to wonder when taking an ale in Fanny’s at Shipley talking to five or six smiling strangers all of whom were joining me in waxing lyrical about the admirable effort and plentiful enjoyment of the Crewe defeat if a tightened City side would illicit such fanfaronnade.
Yes, we all want to win but would we give up the football of the last week for it? Hopefully the choice will not have to be between one and the other. It was Sexy Football, but Sexy Football went out of the window at Chelsea when they wanted to win something. The talk between supporters is a quantum leap away from last season’s back biting and while last season was characterised by disagreement this is increasingly admired for the beauty, or sexiness even – in what is beheld.
Nevertheless after two seasons of the football of expectations after eight seasons of constant narrow decline it is good to have a new criteria on which judge the side: Pride, and the swell of it on a Saturday night.
James Hanson’s spinning volley on Saturday gave the Bantams a chance of getting richly deserved points but came at the wrong time for the club as they prepared for a Football League Tribunal where City and Guiseley will be told how much the striker should cost.
Protected by his age Hanson signed for City in the summer with the fee to be decided later and perhaps it is the excellent start the striker has made that has seen them asking for a fee reportedly of £50,000 for the player – Mark Lawn says that the Leeds club want more for Hanson than club paid for Gareth Evans. Guiseley manager Steve Kittrick sums up the non-league club’s stance and frustration saying “We are prepared to mediate, but their mediation is very, very slight.”
Kittrick says “I’d rather not say what fee we want, but on a scale of one to 10, Bradford have started at one and now moved to two and we’ve come down from 10 to eight.” and that would suggest the Bantams are refusing to go over four figures.
One can not blame Guiseley for trying to ask the league club for as much as they can – after all a player in this league has been paid the figure they want for one game of football – but looking at the balance books City no doubt see their financial picture as closer to non-league than the haves of professional football than the Netherfield club would probably suspect.
At League Two level how does one rate the value of a professional footballer when without the contract the Bantams offered in the summer Hanson would – probably and unjustly – still been working in the Co-op in Idle? Without the interest from a professional club – or at least the chance of a contract – a player has almost no value but why should Hanson have less value than Evans just because one came from a League Club and the other did not? Jon Shaw – one time Halifax Town man who City would have taken for nothing but Rochdale bought for £70,000 – has ended up back in non-league football at Barrow. Is he worth the fee paid or does the fact that he cannot prove himself at league level mean he is worthless?
Hanson’s four goals prove the player’s value but that same value was given to Willy Topp who did much less, less well than City’s current number seventeen. Guiseley and City are left going to a tribunal because frankly a player is worth as much as a team can get for him and as Hanson scores and wins everything in the air he seems to be worth rather a lot. Had Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding put Notts County to the sword in the opening game of the season and Hanson been cooling his heels all season would Guiseley have been happy with the traditional non-league fee of twelve tracksuits and a couple of balls?
Bradford City 2 Crewe Alexandra 3 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2009/2010
I have never walked away from Valley Parade, having just witnessed a home defeat, with such pride and optimism for the future.
Crewe and City came into this game with starkly contrasting form. City unbeaten in ten games, league and cup, and Crewe having lost five games on the bounce. Nonetheless, the reinstatement of wiley old Dario Gradi ensured that a very different Crewe side would show up to Valley Parade compared with the team that had heavily unperformed so far this season following their relegation from League One.
The game began well for City – forcing a number of early corners. But it was Crewe who stuck first in devastating fashion. From an acute angle from a throw in, the live wire Calvin Zola produced an unbelievable strike that even some of the home fans applauded. It was the best goal produced at Valley Parade for some years – and was reminiscent of Luke Medley’s strike for City against Wrexham in 2007.
Zola, a real handful and danger every time he touched the ball, performed at a very high level in this game. There is no doubt in my mind that he was the best striker that has been on display at Valley Parade for many, many years. I guess that’s what £200,000 buys you at this level.
City fought back from the early set back with some more pressure, but were then let down by some naïve defending. Joel Grant almost doubled the Alex lead as he charged at Zesh Rehman with pace, who backed off and backed off even into his own penalty area without putting a challenge in, where Grant produced a couple of step overs, leaving Rehman on the seat of his pants. Grant drilled a low shot that cannoned off the left hand post. The warning signs of a 2nd Crewe goal were there for all to see.
And the Railwaymen did double their lead courtesy of Zola again. An uncharacteristic mistake by Steve Williams in possession at the back , left the loose ball to Zola, who quickly reacted and hit a fierce shot that stuck the post and curled into the back of the net. 2-0 inside 23 minutes. It was clear that City’s spirit was really going to be tested.
But they never gave up, and didn’t let the scoreline affect their performance. More City pressure ensued , and Micheal Boulding from six yards out was presented with a chance that was harder to miss that score. But he struck the bar, to the despair of the home fans. Boulding was being given some stick in the Midland Road stand right from the word ‘go’ from one fan in particular (“Thunder” as he was known in the days that we were in the Premiership, the predominant Voice of Midland Road) who slated Boulding for not chasing down a heavily mishit long ball from Rehman. Unbelievable.
And it came as a great relief to City and Boulding when a quality piece of attacking play reduced the scoreline to 2-1. Flynn sprayed the ball down the right for James O Brien ( who had an off day ) who produced a first time cross that Boulding headed into the back of the net on the stroke of half time. Game on.
City again pressed early in the 2nd half, but were dealt a killer blow as ex City Midfielder Steve Schumacher’s long range shot bounced awkwardly in from of Simon Eastwood and flew into the back of the net for 3-1. Previous City teams, even last year’s team, would have given up on this one.
But not this season. Scott Neilson was introduced for Chris Brandon and City reverted to a 4-3-3 which again seemed to work so much better than a standard 4-4-2. The absolute domination of periods of the 2nd half in this formation should surely convince McCall that 4-3-3 is the formation to start with home and away. And Micheal Boulding contributed to another City goal as he produced a quality cross that James Hanson volleyed in quite superbly. City continued to dominate, had shots that were cleared off the line, whistled wide, and a very strong penalty shout which was turned down in favour for a free kick just outside the box which was subsequently wasted.
But time ran out for City. But it wasn’t for a lack of trying. And the home crowd showed their appreciation for City as the final whistle drew the game to a close.
McCall has assembled a squad that deliver the minimum requirements that the Valley Parade crowd demand. Effort, passion and determination. And we can even forgive the team for losing a game as long as every player has worked their socks off. It was very evident in this game that every player did. Simon Ramsden in particular had a solid game, but what really stood out was his appetite and commitment to get City back into the game even when they were facing adversity and 2 goals down. He had urgency in his play and even the simple things like making sure the ball was put back into play really quickly when it landed into the crowd was so good to watch.
Chris Brandon didn’t have his best game – but his work ethic and commitment could not be questioned. And McCall has got this from his players all over the pitch. There are no passengers or players not willing to put the work in, and that makes me as a City fan really proud. McCall’s ability to combine good seasoned Pro’s like Ramsden, Boulding and Flynn with non League talent like Williams, Neilson and Hanson who never stop working hard and are getting better by the game, has been the key to the recent unbeaten run and reason for optimism this season.
The key thing though, and only worry, is that we need to get into the playoff’s this year as a minimum as that is the only real sign of progression under McCall in this results driven business. Our home form this season has been too mixed – 2 wins, 2 draws, 2 defeats – and we really need to improve that sequence if we want to turn a fully committed team into a successful one.
The stats of the Crewe game (26 shots on goal, 15 on target, 16 corners) show that the players are giving their all to the cause. Whether they can match their effort with points on the board in League Two remains to be seen – and will be the key question come May.
But as far this team being a team who are enjoyable to watch and give their all to the cause, there is no question in my mind that it’s the best City side I have seen this decade. I just hope that success follows them as it is nothing less than they deserve.
There was a joke in football in the eighties that went along the lines of asking who the strongest team in British football was to which the answer was, hilariously enough, “Crewe, because they hold the rest of them up.”
That such a jest is outmoded is largely down to the opposition manager Dario Gradi who took charge of that laughing stock club and in a near two decades made alterations which changed the public perceptions of the Gresty Road club.
Crewe, the Football League’s shining example of a well run club to writer David Conn in his 2003 book The Beautiful Game, became synonymous with the development of young players with a series of high profile internationals either coming through the ranks or were picked up following release and turned around.
Gareth Whalley, Stuart McCall’s midfield partner in 1999, came from Crewe.
This track record is largely credited to Gradi and his youth development skills but credit is shared by a whole club prepared to rise or fall on the strength of the talent unearthed. A poor crop of youngsters could see a bad season or relegation but that was never considered a failure of the system which brought rewards on and off the field and certainly not a reason to change that system.
Gradi moved upstairs after his sixtieth birthday but has been called back to the job as caretaker following the dismissal of one of his successors. Crewe, it would seem, have staggered from the light of what they did well for twenty years and perhaps that is why they find themselves back near the position of mirth.
City’s attempt at continuity in management seem to be more faltering with manager McCall given a break from the attempts to oust him as his team continue a run of ten games without defeat that was made more impressive by the changes made in the midweek penalties victory over an unamused Notts County who once again employed the technique hence forth known as “If not a win then spin.”
Ian McPartland tells the vast majority of County fans who were not at the game that they were robbed and that Graeme Lee should not have been sent off and it is not true but creating the suggestion takes some pressure off him.
To be clear City got everything they deserved on Tuesday night.
That this was the case came from a squad capable of fluidly filling in roles in a formation and take responsibility for the performance. Leon Osbourne has yet to win me over but he let no one down on Tuesday for the majority of the game and can take pride in his display.
The winger will no doubt be dropped with James Hanson ready to come back from illness but Michael Boulding is becoming increasingly hard to displace in the side and when Gareth Evans returns from suspension – and the Ref who sent off Evans would have had cause to red Graeme Lee three times despite the Magpies manager’s protestations – Stuart McCall might have to pick between Boulding and Scott Neilson on the right hand side providing an interesting pointer to the longed for day that sees Omar Daley back in claret and (reduced amounts of) amber.
Michael Flynn put in an outstanding performance on Tuesday as he continues to be the ball winning and passing midfielder of our dreams while James O’Brien is starting to look equally impressive. Lee Bullock will return pushing Chris Brandon back to the bench.
Jonathan Bateson is unlucky to have to step down following two good displays and a switch for Simon Ramsden to the middle is not out of the question but Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams are likely to return at the expense of Bateson and Matt Clarke.
Luke O’Brien has been a joy to watch of late and one recalls the Crewe idea that a team might rise and fall on the strength of it’s young players.
If Huddersfield Town rise on the back of goalkeeper Simon Eastwood then it is because of Tuesday night’s two penalty saves which galvanize a player who was mobbed coming off the field.
Mobbed with the rest of the players. Slowly building, improving, not losing. Dario would be proud.
Bradford City 2 Notts County 2 (Bradford City win 3-2 on penalties) At Valley Parade in Johnstone's Paint Trophy Second Game, 2009/2010
The summer that seems so long ago on rain soaked Tuesday night which are made for warming the soul through football was marked by a discussion on Bradford City manager Stuart McCall and the ethos of “Continuity” which his remaining manager represented.
The reasons for that continuity – and for McCall carrying on for a third season and on – was grandly illustrated as The Bantams gained a modicum of payback for the opening day defeat by big spending Notts County.
County fielded a team with a few changes from what would be considered their full strength side as did the Bantams and it was in those changes that the strength of what McCall has built at City was in evidence.
Matthew Clarke stepped in, Leon Osbourne stepped in, Michael Boulding remained in and scored and Simon Ramsden stepped into another position moving from holding midfield to central defence and despite all these stepping City retained a shape, a pattern and a way of playing. That is the continuity City have been crying out for for years.
Not that this progression to the third game of the Northern section of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy was any way easier than the scoreline – 2-2 and a victory on penalties – suggests with County’s less than full strength side showing more than enough to suggest the could have won the game clattering the crossbar in the final minute of the game with a pile driver that could have given them a 3-2 success.
That County were not victorious can be attributed to a never say die spirit in City – Chris Brandon stooped in at the start of second half injury time to head an equaliser which the pattern of the previous half hour had scant deserved – but the visitors will be upset that a corner was allowed to travel so far in their box with Kasper Schmeichel getting booked for complaining to anyone who would listen about the last minute aberration that saw the game go straight to penalties.
Five minutes before Delroy Facey had barrelled in front of Clarke to give the Magpies a lead which looked to be conclusive finishing off good work by bar pinger Ricky Ravenhill. County had controlled the game for the twenty minutes following the not at all undeserved sending off of former City skipper Graeme Lee.
Lee’s red card came after perhaps two of the most illustrative tackles Valley Parade had ever seen. Whatever Michael Boulding had done to Lee last season Lee decided to extract his revenge with two blond side hacks at the City forward the first – which came midway through the opening half – could have been excused as clumsy on the slippy pitch but the second just saw Lee hoof Boulding high in the air.
God knows what Lee’s antics tonight say about the dressing room at the end of last season – or about Lee’s professionalism – for there was no turn back, no apology, no remorse from Lee and Sven Goran Eriksson sitting a few rows behind BfB’s Jason Mckeown wore a face of thunder as a result.
Not that Sven had cause to be upset. The shift to ten men and keep ball for County and the Bantams misfiring attempts to make the extra man pay by both Brandon and Osbourne trying to be the one over tore a hole in those pattens that City had built this run of nine games without defeat on and rather than eleven vs ten the game switched to ten vs nine and two wandering about.
The swing to County was as marked as City resurgence that saw Boulding slip onto a finely weighted ball from Michael Flynn over the County central defenders on the twenty minute mark to slip though the visiting keeper’s legs and could have been marked with more as Osbourne – perhaps enjoying his best game for City – and Scott Neilson went close for City while Luke O’Brien continues to look the part on the left hand side. That the Bantams were behind was down to a mistake by Simon Ramsden allowing a ball to run to Simon Eastwood and failing to take into account the decelerating effect of the puddles of rain on the ball.
Eastwood could only grasp at the ball which Craig Westcarr put past him.
Two hours later and Eastwood dove headlong to his right getting two fists onto a Delroy Facey penalty giving City parity in the shoot out that had seen Michael Boulding have his shot saved by Schmeichel and County take a 2-0 lead before sub Peter Thorne slipped a low shot just under the keeper.
Simon Ramsden strode confidently to level the scores at 2-2 with three each taken. Neil Bishop blasted wide, James O’Brien netted, Eastwood went low from keeper Schmeichel’s final kick and a minute later he was mobbed by team mates, then by supporters.
“The long hard slog against relegation” predicted after the 5-0 defeat at Notts County at the start of the season does not seem to be happening as City continue merrily along a middling path in League Two eight games without defeat performing but three points worse than the big spending visitors.
Not that would have been surprising after twenty five minutes of the first day of the season when the Bantams and County traded blows – an hour later the idea that ten games on and the difference between the sides would have been that opening day win would have been more surprising but League Two football is full of contradictions such as the fact that a former barber from Bamber Bridge makes a better signing than Sol Campbell.
City’s unbeaten run goes back eight games and includes the opening match in this the oft renamed Associate Members Trophy against Rochdale and will continue regardless of the result at Valley Parade where a defeat would simply see that game at Spotland expunged from what would be a seven game winning league stint. That is the context the game is set in.
So as Ian McPartland reads in the national papers that David Platt is about to take his job – Platt is a friend of Sven but a former Forest boss and one wonders how well that would go down with the locals who seem to matter not one bit in the saga of football’s tedious rich – while Stuart McCall reads little about his position making a welcome change from the last eight months.
Not that one should suggest that McCall has proved his critics wrong – one doubts that will ever happen with every football manager from Sir Alex down having a steady stream of criticism as background noise – but that he has crafted a team which he seems to enjoy managing as much as the supporters seem to enjoy watching them.
The City manager has undergone something of a change over the last three months having ended last season a near broken man scampering around the touchline kicking every ball to his more passive approach now where he seems to trust his young, eager charges to kick some of the balls themselves. Win or lose, perhaps he thinks, at least I can enjoy watching them without the feeling that some of them want to be somewhere else.
As was said last week by Scott Neilson it takes only one bad apple to spoil the mood of the dressing room barrel and we look West and think how it is not going great at Tranmere Rovers at the moment.
City go into the game carry suspensions and nursing illness and injury that robs the team of strikers and midfielders who pretend to be strikers. Lee Bullock will rest a bad toe following his hard working turn as target man replacing the suspended Gareth Evans and the poorly James Hanson who could return but with the rest of Bradford sniffing and sneezing for a week each one suspects he might be on his sick bed a while longer.
Michael Boulding – who scored on Saturday – is perhaps at his most useful in a game against a team like County who are expected to attack and will not sit deep allowing the striker’s pace to count. Boulding reunites with Peter Thorne – back from injury – for the first time since the opening day.
The midfield will see Scott Neilson out wide with Michael Flynn, James O’Brien and Simon Ramsden continuing although the competition being what it is – and his last appearance at Valley Parade being promising – Luke Sharry might get a call to play. Likewise at the back Lewis Horne is knocking on the door of place in the side and keeping Luke O’Brien’s form up. Only two of the back four of the opening day of the season remain in place with Steve Williams having replaced Matthew Clarke alongside Zesh Rehman and Jonathan Bateson being in the right back slot. Simon Eastwood continues in goal although of course changes could be made.
For County one wonders which team they will field. They have a plethora of players of high ability and low morals. One can read this article and compare and contrast with the revolting Lee Hughes but also spare a different type of disdain for Luke Rodgers who seems to want to carve out a niche as League Two’s Didier Drogba combining ability with an utter disregard for the rules and a willingness to dive at any opportunity. One wonders why if County are as good as they can be – and make no mistake they can play with Ricky Ravenhill and Ben Davies a fine midfield – then why do they have to cheat so much? Even the opening day of the season saw Rodgers throw himself to the ground to “win” a penalty.
The Bantams go into the game looking for a kind of revenge for the opening day defeat but in the eight games in which County fans have seen Sol Campbell’s arrival and departure and results which do not match up to the thirteen men of AFC Bournemouth despite the one week of Sol costing more than the entire Cherries team. As City fans saw last year such a team can do as expected, they can be efficient, they can bring satisfaction but enjoyment is harder to muster.
Since that week in Nottingham the Bantams have been – well – fun to watch with men honest and true putting in hard work. I for one will take happiness over revenge any day.
Northampton Town 2 Bradford City 2 At Sixfields Stadium in League Two, 2009/2010
At 2-0 ahead and with only 15 minutes to see out, Bradford City’s players might have been forgiven for considering the hard work to be complete and that their smooth climbing up of the gears to control the game boded well for the season’s journey ahead. But if the cruise control option was slipped into, a late Northampton bump punctured any daydreaming and saw three points demoted to one.
A point which at least stretches City’s unbeaten run to nine – the last time such a feat was achieved came when Lee Mills and Robbie Blake shared 15 goals during the December and January spell of 1998/99 promotion season – but the missed opportunity leaves an increasingly-meaningful early season League Table still displaying City behind the early-season pace setters. Those nine games now include four draws – three of which saw City advantages succumbed after the clock passed the 70-minute mark. But for dropping those six points, the Bantams would be sitting joint second. The conundrum of having enough in the tank to last the distance during matches needs solving, so early season form can advance into promotion-challenging.
It should have been a heartening afternoon’s work for City. Robbed of the services of Gareth Evans, James Hanson and Peter Thorne, manager Stuart McCall was left pushing square pegs into round holes in order to keep faith with the 4-3-3/4-5-1 system which is serving his side well on its travels. Lee Bullock was moved into the unfamiliar role of target man, with right back Simon Ramsden taking his holding midfield slot. The opening 15 minutes offered largely negative indications to the yet unanswered question over the squad’s strength in depth, with Northampton forcing pressure and only failing to open the scoring due to lack of composure. But gradually City’s players found their feet and took more of a command as a dull first half came to its conclusion.
Bullock in particular came out with plenty of credit for the level of competence he displayed in holding up the ball and winning knock downs. Of course it wasn’t the same as having Hanson’s extra running all over the final third and greater willingness to track back, but the discipline of holding position in a crucial area, which Bullock does so well in maintaining when undertaking his regular deep midfield role, was something other players could utilise, firing balls towards the part of the pitch they had confidence he would be in. Either side of him were Michael Boulding and Scott Neilsen who both worked hard tracking back and making darting runs down the flanks. Boulding has arguably not contributed such a level of effort for the team during his previous 40 Bantams career starts.
Ramsden too looked solid protecting the back four and marked his return from injury by opening the scoring five minutes after the interval when his shot from the edge of the area was deflected over Cobbler’s keeper Chris Dunn’s outstretched hand. The goal was part of a more purposeful start to the half by the visitors, which continued four minutes later after a free kick was aimed at Bullock to knock down into the path of Boulding, who brilliantly volleyed home. The subsequent celebrations seemed to involve every outfield City player and the obvious happiness they possessed towards Boulding for netting his first goal of the season suggests the strong team spirit on evidence in recent weeks stretches beyond the regular starting eleven. Boulding continued to play in a manner which makes it impossible for Stuart to drop him when others return – now he needs to maintain it.
Further goals might have followed for City, most notably when Boulding was denied a second by a superb low save from Dunn, after his view of the shot from a fair distance had been obscured until the last second. Northampton continued to show spirit, almost getting a goal back after the referee David Phillips bizarrely ruled a sliced clearance by Jonathan Bateson caught by Simon Eastwood was a handled backpass. Awarding Northampton an indirect on the six-yard box line, the 11-man City wall was able to scramble it away. Eastwood also made two brilliant saves to add to his growing collection of notable stops, but continues to look weak when dealing with crosses. Despite some questionable decisions by Phillips, the game was petering out.
Which is when cruise control may have been adopted and when Northampton unexpectedly came back, netting first through substitute Alex Dyer when his effort from the edge of the area flew past Eastwood; then equalising with a minute to play after a hotly disputed free kick was crossed into the box for the oddly-named John Johnson to fire home. As City’s players came over to applaud supporters at the final whistle, the looks of dejection were clear.
A lesson of sorts had been issued to the players. The incredible level of hard work and dedication they exhibit is something which must be maintained throughout because, as Northampton proved, there are other teams who can muster similar levels of determination to challenge them back. And though Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams, Luke O’Brien and Bateson all enjoyed outstanding games at the back and Michael Flynn was as inspirational as ever, the spine of City’s team still needs to get stronger in order for these nine unbeaten games to prove the start, rather than the peak, of something.
Achieve that and City really can put the foot down and accelerate into the distance.
Belief is a funny thing.
When I was a kid it was my belief that Northampton and Southampton was a local derby in the same way that Manchester City vs Chester City or West Ham vs West Brom was.
It is a curious view point but looking at how this ethereal thing that is belief rules footballers lives it is probably not hard how one could convince himself that what he decides is, is. The Bradford City team that lost 5-0 to Notts County trudged off the pitch believing they were going to struggle – one suspects they did – but that was the last home league reversal because the belief that courses through the veins has come from seven games without defeat.
The belief is now that Bradford City can go to somewhere like Northampton – as we do on Saturday – and win the match. Belief that is distinct from expectation levels. The players believe they are a good team, a team who deserved to win in the week against Morecambe in the week, thus they are a good team.
That is belief in football.
Disbelief in football was Tuesday night’s sending off of Gareth Evans which goes down as one of the poorest decisions in a Bradford City game ever. There are so many reasons why Stuart Attwell got the decisions wrong that to enumerate them is almost cruel – like pointing out the poor quality of a child’s painting compared to Mona Lisa – but while Attwell continues to foul up football matches his misunderstandings rather than his mistakes should be highlighted.
It is not that Attwell just saw the wrong thing – we could argue about what did or did not happen for eon – but it what he choice to do with the offence he perceived. Evans and Morecambe goalkeeper Barry Roche both contested a ball outside the penalty area. When dealing with goalkeepers the rules of football are based around exceptions so they do not state “A goalkeeper can handle the ball in the box” but rather “no player can handle the ball aside from the goalkeeper in the box”.
They are written this way to ensure that the goalkeeper – once he leaves his box – is not treated any differently from any other player. Watch the Evans/Roche again and imagine the Morecambe player is not a goalkeeper and try picture a situation where it would be a red card.
Evans goes in to the challenge from the front and with a single foot sliding along the floor. It is not violent conduct for sure – that covers punching and headbutting – and it is almost impossible to interpret it as serious foul play which covers things such as two footed tackles. Once again imagine the tackle between outfield players.
So either Stuart Attwell thinks that Evans’s slide was some serious foul play – and if he did then he missed many similar red cards in the game – or he saw that a goalkeeper was involved and decided to ignore the rules of football he is there to apply. Or he did it for some other reason tied into the fact that he is the sort of Referee that gives goals when the ball does not go in the net but he has a belief it did.
The Attwell’s rubbish – which is what the red card incident should be known as – means that Gareth Evans will not be eligible to play against Northampton, Notts County in the Cup or Crewe at home on the following Saturday and frankly the only reason I can see what the club is not screaming to the rafters to have the decision overturned is out of a fear of a Red Riding style corruption that haunts Refereeing.
Jim Gannon said that because his Stockport County side showed up a Referee they were victimised and City’s dealings with Joe Ross seemed to start a good few years of frankly bizarre Refereeing that included a five match ban for Dean Windass for being cheeky. Indeed The Owl and The Badger of the corrupt West Yorkshire Police of Peace’s novels would find it hard to justify that incident where accused was not allowed to speak in his defence and the only witness was the case for the prosecution.
I digress. Maybe appealing is City not making waves and maybe in the long run that is the right thing to do. Certainly I would not trust the FA, the Referees or the appeal process. That is my belief.
I have another belief though which may not be given much regard by most but as Evans sits out and Michael Boulding returns to the side I utter my belief that Boulding is – well – not that useful.
We are told he works tirelessly but Evans and Hanson’s graft put the signing from Mansfield Town to shame. We are told he is a goalscorer but the evidence of last season suggests that Boulding’s big goal tally for Mansfield came from attacking on the break which City seldom get to do with deep sitting defences. If the Bantams play a certain way Boulding will bang them in – or so I’m told – but players who force a single way of playing from the ten men around them always make me think of Ashley Ward and that is never a good thing.
None of which to say that Boulding is not a good player just that he is not as useful as Evans is and as he is paired with James Hanson in the forward line City lose the strength and effort they would have had and gain a forward who occasionally does something superb but often, well, does not. The current Bantams squad is made of consistent performers of which Evans is a leading light.
Also leading is Michael Flynn who with Lee Bullock and James O’Brien form a midfield that protects the defensive line which has not conceded in 180 minutes and as Scott Neilson beds into the side there is a bursting power out of the middle.
The backline sees Jonathan Bateson continue to deputise for Simon Ramsden – no goal past the defence in the 180 minutes Bateson has started says much about the unit Stuart McCall has assembled – while Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien seem to be shaping into the best Bantams defence in ten years.
Goalkeeper Simon Eastwood is improving too. That is belief again.
Compare the mood prior to Saturday’s trip to Northampton with that ahead of the visit to nearby Gloucestershire, seven short weeks ago.
Bradford City headed to Cheltenham Town with a record of three defeats, one draw and zero goals scored. Numerous rumours were flying around that a defeat would see manager Stuart McCall dismissed, with the feeling the squad he had assembled was wholly inadequate to meet the season’s expectations. One 5-4 victory and a subsequent seven further unbeaten games later, the contrast could not be greater.
As distant as it now feels, it’s worth reflecting back on the atmosphere during those opening three weeks of the season. Stuart was on the receiving end of bucket loads of criticism from supporters, not helped by the unhealed scars from the previous campaign’s late collapse. Yet despite admitting the pressure was on, Stuart kept a clear head and a stronger sense of perspective compared to how he’d often reacted to set backs during his first two years in charge.
After the opening day hiding at Notts County, Stuart spoke as a manager who was in it with his team, holding back from slamming the players whose confidence he now had to repair. “It’s how we react in the short term to this defeat. Individually and collectively we’ve got to show some courage and determination to make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” he stated. The use of the word “we” may seem minor, but is significant.
For Stuart and Wayne Jacobs kept faith in their players and began to slowly rebuild shattered confidence. Whatever was said in the dressing room and on the training pitch remained private. Matt Clarke had been hauled off on the hour mark and has yet to play again this season, but Stuart has deliberately held back from publicly slating the centre back.
A couple of weeks later Lincoln were enjoying a fortuitous win at Valley Parade and the criticisms from fans turned to the fact Stuart was apparently too close to his players, too desperate to remain one of the lads. The Official Message Board ran a poll questioning whether he should stop wearing his regular tracksuit top and shorts in the dugout, and turn out in a suit. But as the players struggled to overturn Lincoln’s lead and the abuse reigned down on them, Stuart’s bare legs could be symbolically viewed as him showing his team that he was with them, one team, Team Bradford.
And the eventual rewards is a strong team spirit and astonishing level of work rate which puts numerous recent City players – many with unquestioned higher ability – to shame. After the draw with Morecambe Stuart spoke of the joy he felt watching his team play the football they do – and he was speaking for us supporters too. That spirit is not something that can be easily manufactured, as we’ve seen in past seasons, but it’s worth wondering how big a factor going through such a difficult start to the season was on how well Team Bradford are now doing.
Compare and contrast with another City, Hull. This time last year, manager Phil Brown was considered the best thing since sliced bread. Hull were beating the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham in their own backyard, taking a place in the top four of the Premier League. Brown was rightly receiving the plaudits, but while most managers would keep their feet on the ground he appeared to let it all go to his head. Article after article praising Hull appeared in the media, almost always including a quote from the Geordie. Going a little too far, he even decided to publicly reveal he had once been turned down for the Bournemouth job. Given the Cherries were, at the time, struggling near the foot of League Two, it seemed unnecessary to kick a club heading down. It also seemed to escape Brown’s attention that Bournemouth’s plight was down to disastrous finances rather than some apparent foolishness in rejecting his application. Brown had done brilliantly to get Hull to the top flight, but he’d had the luxury of sizeable transfer funds along the way, too.
And when things began to go wrong, Brown apparently was more pre-occupied with making sure he passed on the blame than keeping the spirit high amongst his players. The now infamous half time telling off of his players on the Man City pitch was at the time widely viewed as a managerial masterstroke, showing he won’t tolerate the poor standards that had seen the Tigers 4-0 down. Yet at the time it was only their second defeat in seven games, and the public dressing down is now widely looked on as Brown making sure his players copped the blame, removing himself of responsibility to the Hull supporters and watching world.
The poor form got worse and Hull only survived relegation by the default of the season running out just in time, but even then he couldn’t resist stealing the limelight by getting on the KC stadium microphone to serenade the Hull fans. The message was clear, “Look at me, I’m the man who kept us up.”
Hull’s form has continued into this season, but it’s in Brown’s post match comments that suggest he’s only making the damaged team spirit worse among his players. Unlike Stuart in the same situation, it’s not a case of “we defended poorly today”, but “I was disgusted with some of the defending, individually and collectively. For me it was demoralising and I hope it was for the players as well.” Every week he seems to be lambasting his players via the media, and every week they seem to lose.
Which may have nothing to do with Stuart, but does demonstrate two different styles of management which, for the time being, are delivering different results. City head to Northampton with plenty of confidence and with only one enforced change needed after the encouraging draw at Morecambe. Gareth Evans’ red card has not been appealed – a curious decision from City which it’s strongly hinted is down to the cost of appealing and lack of faith the TV pictures and opposition of an arrogant referee would clear the former Macclesfield striker. An unsuccessful appeal risks an extension to the three-match ban, which suggests the FA’s system is flawed and unfair on lower league clubs who don’t enjoy the benefit of their matches being covered by 50+ TV cameras. If a club appeals a sending off that was clearly a sending off, they deserve to pay the costs and have an extra game ban be slapped on. If it’s more borderline, and at worst City’s appeal would be considered that, there should not be such ramifications.
Evans’ absence affords Michael Boulding three games to stake a regular claim for his place. There remains a nagging doubt City’s squad will not prove sufficiently strong enough for the demands of a full season, but there is currently plenty of quality on the sidelines at the moment. Having taken a pay cut during the summer, Boulding can only be considered as positively contributing to the team spirit, though his work rate will need to increase from some laboured early season outings. His ability is not in doubt, but his desire to match the effort of Evans is. Boulding will only have himself to blame if his spell in the starting eleven is short lived.
James Hanson will take the central striker role next to Boulding with Peter Thorne – back in action for the reserves midweek – likely to take a place on the bench. This time last year Boulding and Thorne had netted 11 goals between them – four fewer than City’s total goals this season – and still have much to offer. Scott Neilsen seems to be getting better each game and will continue in the other wide striker role in Stuart’s 4-3-3 formation of choice.
In midfield, James O’Brien quietly impresses while the influence Michael Flynn is having on performances has not been seen from a City Number 4 since his manager. Lee Bullock plays the holding midfield role with increasing assurance. Simon Ramsden is hoping to be fit enough to take Jonathan Bateson’s slot at right back with Steve Williams, Zesh Rehman and Luke O’Brien completing the back four in front of Simon Eastwood.
Whether a ninth unbeaten game can be achieved against opposition which has just tasted its first victory in six and have a caretaker manager in Ian Simpson taking his last chance to stake a claim the permanent position remains to be see. Whatever the outcome, the journey back North will be undertaken by the same Team Bradford which set off to Cheltenham winless but still together seven weeks previous.