Issue Football in the eye of the beholder

As told by Michael Wood

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.