From December, 2009
Played 495, won 150, drawn 124, lost 221, scored 604 goals and conceded 728. As a decade, the noughties have been long and largely miserable for Bradford City.
It began with the Bantams scrapping for their lives in the Premier League under Paul Jewell, it has ended four divisions below and with typical pessimism over the immediate prospects of beginning the ascent back. Dashed hopes, repeated agony, fruitless endeavour. Even though the club’s history is littered with underachievement, the last 10 years have set some new standards.
In fact, looking around at others, it would not be an exaggeration to label Bradford City English professional football’s most unsuccessful club of the 00′s.
It hasn’t all been doom and gloom – five months into the new millennium was that never-to-be-forgotten afternoon City defeated England’s most successful club to seal Premier League survival. It prompted scenes of delirium as the final whistle was greeted by fans swarming onto the pitch to mob their heroic players and join in singing You’ll Never Walk Alone with the gracious Liverpool supporters. The bars in Bradford were heaving that night and we supporters dreamt of a future of top flight football as the mid-90′s momentum that had seen City climb from England’s third tier saw few signs of slowing. A fantastic day, but what’s next?
With each passing year of disappointment, that victory over Liverpool has given rise to another debate about whether it would have been better City had lost and been relegated instead. If City’s first top flight campaign in 77 years ended in heroic failure rather than plain heroic, City might have rebuilt more sensibly in the Football League; perhaps bouncing up and down like Birmingham. More likely, City might now be muddling along like a Barnsley or Ipswich; still having undergone some financial difficulties – for then-Chairman Geoffrey Richmond would have still spent relatively significant money and the 7.5 million pound new stand would have been built anyway – but strong enough to be a firm fixture in the Championship, a place we now aspire to be.
Instead David Wetherall’s headed winner paved the way for those six weeks of madness and almost complete financial meltdown two years later, with debts of over 35 million. The financial strife was self-inflicted and the damage is still endured now. Every subsequent failure since Dermot Gallagher blew for full time against Liverpool can ultimately be traced back to those six weeks.
The question of whether we’d use a time machine to fly back to May 2000 and warn a Liverpool defender to mark Wetherall in the 12th minute is one we’d all answer differently. Me, I’d like to think that one day the financial ball and chain will be removed and when it is the memories of that warm May afternoon will still feel as joyful as it continues to do now. Liverpool at home is a life moment I’ll always be grateful to have experienced, and I hope one day to be truly able to say it was worth it.
As for other great moments of the decade, City’s continuing existence will go down as the biggest achievement. It’s often a point of criticism from other fans that supporters who still talk of their gratitude for still having a club to support are excusing subsequent underachievement and need to move on. I agree to a point, but the lessons learned in 2002 and 2004 are ones which cannot be forgotten.
It’s commonplace for lower league clubs to hit financial troubles and, as Watford, Southend, Accrington and Stockport take the national media’s sympathy spot this season, it’s always tempting to shrug the shoulders and mutter “so what?’. Like a typical Richard Curtis film we all know there will be a happy ending, don’t we?
In both of City’s spells in administration the prospect of the club’s termination was very real and very scary. That July morning in 2004 when it looked all over and fans stood outside Valley Parade, ready to mourn as the noon deadline for the end approached, was a day I was flying from the UK to the States, agonisingly stuck on an eight hour flight then a two-hour car drive before I could access any information about whether I still had a club to support.
The joy each time when at the last minute the club was saved and the relief as the players ran out onto the Valley Parade pitch for the first time since a few weeks later. It was easy to take it all for granted before, but the traumatic summers of 2002 and 2004 taught us to be thankful of this special relationship in our lives, which can cause us frustration and pain but that we cannot cope without.
Post-administration on both occasions, it was clear the immediate future was one of tredding water rather than a time to draw up blue sky five-year plans. Unfortunately relegation was not too far away both times – the common thread being the enforced lack of investment in the playing squad having disastrous results. City’s 2003/04 centenary celebrations were hollow as a squad of Premier League cast offs struggled dismally, setting a new Football League record for most single goal defeats in a season. In 2006/07 the squad depended on loan signings – those who did well quickly disappeared and those who remained failed to possess enough fight to rescue their temporary employers from the League Two abyss.
At other times, seasons often began with seemingly reasonable expectations of challenging for the play offs, but as the nights drew darker in winter early season promise drifted to usual mediocrity. The only season where promotion hopes remained in tact with less than a quarter of it remaining was last year, but then a talented squad’s form collapsed bringing with it that distressingly familiar feeling of despair.
There’s been little cup cheer as a distraction either, save for this season’s run in the JPT and the Intertoto adventure back in 2000.
Underpinning much of the decline has been musical chairs in the managerial seat. Jewell was controversially gone in the summer of 2000. His replacement Chris Hutchings exited 12 Premier League games later. The no-nonsense Jim Jefferies quickly waved the white flag on City’s Premiership survival hopes. He departed the following Christmas Eve with his rebuilding job struggling to get going.
The pace of change at least slowed then, with Nicky Law, Colin Todd and now Stuart McCall afforded more time to get things right. Bryan Robson did have a short spell after Law was sacked in 2003, but Captain Marvel talked a better game off the field than his charges did on it.
All since Jewell have been branded failures at City, but the hiring and firing policy has also played its part in the fall to League Two. If Richmond’s big mistake was to go mad for a month and a half, Julian Rhodes’ decision to sack Todd in February 2007 – with City three points clear of the relegation zone and displaying midtable form – is one to regret. Todd was ready to leave at the end of the season and, despite the handicap of losing his three best players, the chances of survival were far greater with the experienced hand rather than under the rookie tutelage of caretaker Wetherall, who’s concentration would have been better served on just leading the team as captain.
Todd was sacked for frustration at City being stuck in the mid-table of League One, now McCall is under pressure for so far failing to reverse the damage from becoming unstuck.
Not that Rhodes’ influence over the past decade should be dismissed by that one action. After Richmond’s borrow-heavily-self-reward-through-dividends-a-plenty policy failed disastrously in 2002, the Rhodes family – also recipients of those controversial dividend payments – did everything they could financially to maintain the club’s existence. A fortune built up through the success of their Filtronics company has declined through their obvious love of the Bantams, and though for a time they were helped by Gordon Gibb the Rhodeses were once again the only saviours around in 2004, alongside supporters who did everything they could to raise money to keep the club going over that summer.
One can only admire the Rhodes family’s resolve in attempting to put the club on an even keel again. There was hope in 2006 that then-commercial manager Peter Etherington was to ease that load and inject much needed capital, but in the end it proved a false dawn. At least Julian now has the added support of Mark Lawn since 2007. Rhodes has made it known he is less comfortable in the spotlight, and Lawn has over the last three years become the public front of house.
It’s to be hoped that, ultimately, Rhodes’ legacy will not just be saving the club twice, but to have made professional football affordable in a part of the country that is far from affluent. City’s demise to League Two should have seemed a catastrophe, but with Rhodes’ cheap season ticket initiative taking off and McCall appointed manager it was a club reborn.
The offer has so far being repeated three times and there is every indication it will continue for sometime. In League One, the lower crowds City attracted affected the atmosphere with the limited noise rattling around a two-thirds empty stadium. There are still plenty of unsold seats on matchdays, but the atmosphere is undoubtedly better for the season ticket offer bringing in 10,000+ supporters.
Though as Rhodes will have learned many years ago, success on the field is an outcome almost impossible for the board to determine. There has been a high turnover of players at Valley Parade ever since Jefferies told Richmond the flair players he inherited had to go. A cycle of underperforming players being replaced by poorer ones has continued through to League Two. When it’s a few players not up to the job it has hampered progress – much was expected of the likes of Dan Petrescu, Ashley Ward, Jason Gavin, Bobby Petta, Owen Morrison and Paul McLaren, but they and many others regularly failed to make the right impact – when it is almost a whole team relegation has followed.
Plenty of wretched team performances along the way – Stockport ’01, Wimbledon ’02, Sunderland ’03, Forest ’05, Oldham ’06, Huddersfield ’07, Accrington ’07, Notts County ’09 and Rochdale ’09. Though on other occasions the 11 players (or nine) have got it right and prompted giddy celebrations; defeating Chelsea in ’00, a Benito Carbone-inspired Gillingham thrashing in ’01, the last minute Michael Proctor equaliser against Burnley in ’02, Bryan Robson’s managerial debut where City came from 2-0 down to win 3-2 in the last minute in ’03, the five wins in a row of ’04, completing the double over Huddersfield in ’05, Joe Brown’s late winner against Blackpool in ’06, Lincoln away ’07 and Accrington away last season.
10 years is a long time, and for each of us watching in the stands it will have been a decade of personal change too. My perceptions and outlook on City has altered; I’m now older than many of the players and the obvious decline in quality of the playing staff since the Premiership means I’m more likely to admire players – Donovan Ricketts, Nathan Doyle, Andy Gray, Simon Francis, Dean Windass, Dean Furman and Carbone – rather than treat them as heroes.
This Christmas a thoughtful relative got me an Edinho t-shirt which I love but it also hit home that, over the past decade, there’s been few players who can come close to matching the feelings I had for our Brazilian striker. Of course we also live in a time of message board users ripping apart everyone connected with the club which makes hero status harder to achieve, and though this type of criticism existed in 2000 I was unaware of it – and much happier for that.
There’s still no better feeling than the joy of the ball flying into the back of the net and celebrating wildly.
I’m always thrilled by the experience of a feisty game where City are on top and all four sides of the ground are backing the players positively, urging them forward to score. All negative moaners are drowned out, all problems the club has to meet are suspended. The noise carries over the thousands of empty seats so they don’t matter, everything else in our lives has been left at the turnstile door for later.
This was the decade we nearly lost all of this. It may go down as one of most unsuccessful periods in the club’s history, but the noughties have been unforgettable.
City’s central defender Matthew Clarke has branded Steven Leslie a cheat after the Shrewsbury Town midfielder “fell to his knees” to have a penalty awarded in the game with City yesterday.
The first [booking] for the penalty was the most blatant dive I’ve ever seen. He just collapsed to his knees and I thought he was the one getting booked for diving.
Watching from the Kop stand in line with the incident one could only concur with Clarke’s view. The distance between Clarke and Leslie could be measured in feet, not inches, and many shared the City man’s assumption that the player was booked for a simulated fall.
That the Referee Peter Quinn sent him off Clarke continued
I’m absolutely disgusted. I’ve been sent off before with two yellows and felt that only one was justified but I’ve never been 100 per cent cheated like this.
Clarke talked of the second booking saying
I don’t think the referee even saw the other incident. Hibbert just touched me, clipped his own ankle and fell to the floor.
Even should one assume that Clarke fouled “diving” Leslie and later “falling” Hibbert then examples of both offences went unpunished with card or word later in the game leaving Clarke to conclude that Quinn simply cheated him – and by extension the club and the supporters – to give more harsh punishments against him than other players received.
It is hard to argue with Clarke’s opinions. That one player is booked for his every transgressions while a player such as Drew Broughton can be given one yellow card for four elbowing offences boggles the mind and asks serious questions about referees and the motivation of referees in giving their decisions but while Clarke lambastes Quinn I have to admit a level of sympathy for the diminutive official.
Quinn’s job is not made easier by one player who – in the words of Clarke – cheats by blatantly diving – and another who – Clarke’s words again – “falls over his own feet” to get another player sent off. That Quinn is not able to correctly see these ruses for what they are – cheating – does not excuse Steven Leslie and Dave Hibbert for (in the opinion of Clarke) acting in such a way in the first place.
Perhaps Clarke would join in a commonly heard statement on the way out of the game yesterday that if Rochdale were good at football then Shrewsbury Town are good at cheating and that players who behave in the way that Clarke describes are shoddy disgraces to football.
Clarke feels as if he has been cheated. One suspects that were he not wary of an FA charge he could easily name the three people who have cheated him – and by extension – us.
Simon Eastwood will return to Hudderfield Town following a curious loan deal at Valley Parade that saw the shot stopper both hero and villain and enhance and tarnish his reputation as a potential replacement for Stoke or Everton bound Alex Smithes in the Terriers goal.
Eastwood’s start and lowest ebb at Valley Parade came in the 5-0 defeat to Notts County while his brightest day was against the same club in the penalty shoot out saves he made to knock the then big spending club out of the JPT.
He has at times been described as a liability but has also kept the scoreline in some games respectable with impressive goalkeeping that points to the reason why Bradford City scouts would have been impressed with him in the first place.
Eastwood – like so many young players – is good at playing football but not yet a good footballer. In the last month of his stay at Valley Parade he was noticeably more vocal than he was in his opening weeks showing that the keeper was learning the necessary skills to go from being good at diving and jumping to being able to command a defence.
In thinking of Eastwood I recall the two goalkeepers who wowed for City in the Premiership. Matt Clarke was like Eastwood – full of springs and leaps – while Gary Walsh commanded a defence and had superior positioning that meant he had no need to dive headlong to palm a ball away, he was standing where it would be and could calmly claim it.
Eastwood is a Matt Clarke goalkeeper but to get on the game one needs to be a Gary Walsh. Managers need reliability from their keepers and Eastwood’s errors robbed McCall of that. His wanderings as the ball came over undermined the confidence of the defence and did nothing to help build the understanding that the triangle between centrebacks and keeper needs. One only find this out with regular week-to-week football and the ability Eastwood has to make some impressive saves justified the risk.
Eastwood has much work to do in the next few years improving the mental side of his game if he is ever going to be more than a goalkeeping acrobat.
Considering the limp that Eastwood continued with following an unnecessary and rather violent challenge from Dave Hibbert towards the end of the last match perhaps a replacement for Eastwood would have been needed anyway. City perhaps continue with Jon McLaughlin in goal or perhaps go into the loan market for another custodian – an experienced man in goal could do much to settle a defence which has talent but not organisation – and should the choice be the latter have only a couple of days to replace Eastwood before Saturday’s game with Cheltenham.
Bradford City 1 Shrewsbury Town 3 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2009/2010
Injury time in the first half and Stuart McCall was furious after Matthew Clarke – who a minute earlier seemed to give away a penalty without making any contact with Steven Leslie the Shrewsbury Town play – was sent off after Dave Hibbert had fallen under no challenge and the defender was given a second yellow card.
I wanted Stuart McCall to take the City team off and damn the consequences.
I’m tired of seeing pathetic Referees and I’m tired of trying to tax my brain on the whole idea of trying to decide if they are bent or bloody rubbish. I’m tired of seeing players cheat and have guileless Referees help them in that with bizarre decisions.
I wanted McCall to say that this game was no longer that. It was a laughable excuse of a football match, not the beautiful game but a runt cousin where the pattern of play and abilities on the field were divorced from one another. Certainly the correlation between City’s performances and the results of games is nowhere near as strong as the correlation between Stuart McCall complaining about the Rotherham referee Lee Probert and red cards and “mistake” decisions that follow from Referees.
I wanted Stuart McCall to take the players off and make a huge stink saying that this will not do. Everyone watching the game has been short changed by poor Refereeing and some players who would rather cheat that try play the game – and it is a game and not a war, winning is not at all costs.
I wanted Stuart to say that enough is enough to bring attention to the disgrace that passes for football and fairness in League Two. I want to write a different match report than this – I have – but there is no way legal action would not follow as a result despite my being utterly convinced of its veracity.
I want someone in football to give a Damn about what is going on in the game but they don’t. Pay your money and shut up is the attitude.
The game is not important. Once again the result did not reflect the match and the scoreline was a reflection of the Referee and how he was able to cope with the attitude to fair play that the teams showed. I wanted Stuart McCall to take the team off to draw a line and say that enough is enough.
It didn’t happen.
28th of December, 1999 and Bradford City are nursing a 4-0 hangover from Old Trafford and take on Everton at Valley Parade. The game finishes 0-0 and is one of the many odd points that Paul Jewell’s side picked up on the road to a halcyon day in May that saw the Bantams retain top flight status and – it is said by many – bring about the ruination of the club.
A home game with Shrewsbury Town represents a ten years of football which few would have predicted and many who are in control of the game would do well to reflect upon. Football in 1999 was on the crest of a wave with a rich bounty to spend. Since then forty-seven of the clubs one hundred and three who have competed in the four football league in the last decade have had to seek the protection of administration while the top division spends over a billion pounds on wages.
The fall of Bradford City represents – in the opinion of this observer – a mix of poor timing and poor management. The Bantams crime in the Premiership is well know – Six Weeks of Madness – but the punishment of being cast down to the lower reaches is perhaps disproportionate. Leeds United – who also benefited from City’s best day in May 2000 were punished massively for trying to take a step up the footballing ladder.
One could argue all day about Richmond and Risdale and how they went about their respective jobs but when the dust settled many would agree that the fact that those two chairmen, a good number of the forty-five other head honchos and the odd other former Bantams chairman/landlord should have been more rigidly governed when they were in charge of the civic institutions. Yes, if businesses then not just businesses, we have learnt that from the last ten years.
In ten years time will we be reflecting on a revolution in football that has seen what could be considered the souls of clubs protected from those who would exploit them so that the events of the previous decade can not occur? Probably not. If we are still playing at Valley Parade on 28th December 2019 then a victory will have been won to reclaim our ground from the hands of Gordon Gibb who managed to slip it away from us.
In the snowy Bradford that still threatens this game Stuart McCall has recalled a time when City planned a training facility with the riches of the Premiership which never materialised. The story is common throughout the game when clubs spent money on players in an attempt to top the sun from setting rather than reaping the harvest when it shined.
City close off this decade at home to a Shrewsbury team who under the guidance of Paul Simpson – his Uncle John used to teach at St Bedes, you know – managed to spend “huge” resource and not be promoted in the same way that Stuart McCall and the Bantams are oft accused proving perhaps that it takes more than a big pile of money to make a winning team.
Both McCall and Simpson are rejecting calls for them to leave from some elements of the support which are argued with by other elements. The arguments are similar at both clubs despite the Bantams drastic decline. Shrewsbury Town have had six managers in the last ten years, City have had eight, and some fans at The New Gay Meadow think that that is more of a problem than the sale of Grant Holt which mirrored the departures of Graeme Lee and Paul McLaren at the end of last season.
The Bantams go into the game having not played in the league since 12 December 2009 against Rotherham United having gone out of the JPT at Carlisle United three days later. Simon Ramsden – sent off in that defeat – is still waiting to serve a suspension which he should do against the Shrews on the 28th.
Ramsden will be replaced by Jonathan Bateson in a back four that sees Steve Williams fit to return and gives Stuart McCall the chance to pick a pairing from Williams, Zesh Rehman and the resurgent Matthew Clarke. Luke O’Brien plays left back and Simon Eastwood continues in goal with a question over his future as he comes to the end of his loan spell at Valley Parade.
McCall attempts to reformat his side to a 442 as Omar Daley prepares for a return – he lacks match fitness despite playing in the last fifteen minutes of the last game but so do the rest of the squad sat idle – and the Jamaican winger might be featuring on the left hand side with Scott Neilson on the right and Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock in the middle. If Daley is not ready James O’Brien or Chris Brandon may get called into action or McCall may play Simon Whaley although it seems that the loan signing I was excited about seeing will make a brief stay at Valley Parade.
Gareth Evans and James Hanson are guaranteed places up front in either a 442 or a 433 as Michael Boulding continues to recover from hack in the back by Pablo Mills. Neither will hope to match one Gary Shaw’s striking efforts in this tie when the former Villa man scored a hat-trick in two and a half minutes.
That game was two decades ago, the Everton match was one. Today we start more unpredictability.
The Bantams game with Bury has been called off owing to the snow that blankets the North of England meaning that the match preview I have just sat down to write is – well – not worth writing.
Simon Ramsden – who has been waiting to serve a suspension – will miss the Shrewsbury Town home game while Omar Daley and Michael Boulding have more chance of being fit for a rearranged game. City’s match with Aldershot – called off last week – has been moved to the 12th of January 2010 and Bury is likely to be played on Tuesday, 19 January 2010.
I’m becoming increasingly fed up with paying my money to watch games refereed by officials so one-sided you have to wonder whether they are cheating.
There is a problem in football and Andy Utley’s comment on the BfB report on the Rotherham United game sums it up. Tired from asking the question “bias or bloody rubbish?” supporters such as Andy – and myself – are frustrated at the inaction of the game’s authorities to these Bad Ref Afternoons are voting with their wallets.
Andy’s comments about contacting the Football League about a Referee’s performance are far from unique in the BfB post bag and a good few City fans after the Oldham/Blackpool/Southend/Shrewsbury games a few years ago wrote to the football authorities to complain about what they saw as bias in the officials and all got the same response of “say what you like about the Refs but never say they are cheating.”
Not that Andy’s comments – or my thoughts on the subject – are the only voice to be heard. Chris Barlow on BfB – late on an evening – added
To talk of conspiracy between referees against BCFC due to SM’s attitude even defies my current drunken state.
Chris has a valid point too and one which Tony Pulis the Stoke manager would agree with – he would not see Referees as against City but rather suggest that Lee Probert is just not giving the right decisions. The flaw in the idea that Referees are blighted by a bias against Bradford City is that they have seemingly been for Bradford City and while aspersion are not to be cast our chairmen are no whiter than any others.
This is countered by the idea that it is rare for a team who wins a game to have a lasting memory of any referee. Think back now to the last time City got what you could call a favour from an official. It is a much harder task than recalling the last time you stomped away in anger.
There is an attitude in football that any cheating in the game is always detected and thus the suggestion of cheating is always wrong. This is often and obviously untrue. In League Two Accrington players have been banned for betting on their own team to lose while at the other end of professional football the likes of Juventus were relegated for fixing matches.
We see that cheating is commonplace – certainly more commonplace than the Football League’s terse replies to genuine concerns suggest – with the Italian example being a very high profile collection of games in which teams had favourable Referees. One wonders if any Inter supporter trooping away from a game with Juve, AC Milan et al complaining about the offside goal that the Ref “just got wrong” was told that “referee’s don’t cheat.”
The word “cheat” has a strange set of connotations in football. It is a given that players cheat all the time – when Thierry Henry did it in the World Cup play-offs the reaction was a condemnation not for the player for blatantly abusing the rules but for the officials for not spotting the abuse – and in some cases plaudits are expected when players show any honesty at all. I recall being invited to admire Cristiano Ronaldo by a work mate because he had “cut diving out of his game” as if the fact that he no longer cheated was something to be celebrated rather than the fact he had condemned.
Managers tend to avoid the “cheat” word for fear of the FA sanction it brings although Stockport County’s Jim Gannon feared it not – and fell foul of it not – when he stated that he believed that having kicked up a fuss over one Referee’s poor performance officials were penalising County as a result. Gannon was never charged by the FA and the comments fizzled out after his move to Motherwell. He was last seen in colourful debate with Hugh Dallas about the standard of Scots officials.
The manager’s secret language though contains a number of phrases the heart of which is the asserting that the Referees have shown a bias. From “FIFA will be pleased” to “You don’t get those decisions at Old Trafford” they say meaning that bias has been shown against their side but stopping short of airing the words. Stuart McCall employed some Referee code saying that a recent official would find the decision embarrassing meaning simply that the man in the middle was wrong. As a result the people of Carlisle grew angry suggesting once again that anyone who questions the officials should be made to shut up.
McCall’s comments after the Carlisle United game echoed Andy’s as the City manager added that he felt sorry for Bantams supporters who had paid to come North on a Tuesday night only to see a game ruined by an official and his decision making. Tellingly in the spat between McCall, his old mate Greg Abbott and the local Carlisle newspaper the referee of the day – Tony Bates – kept his mouth shut.
Therein is the problem – and perhaps the solution – in Refereeing. For ninety minutes a week officials issue edicts to players which ripple through to managers and to supporters but once that ninety minutes is up they walk away from the ground never to utter a word about the game again (stopping only, perhaps, to summarily judge that someone has sworn at them in the car park).
Managers talk about games, players talk about games, fans talk about games but referees will not. Indeed it is in the Laws of the Game that officials are not to use body language as signals inform supporters of the reasons for decisions so the generous Ref who points to his palm to signal handball is risking the wrath of his superiors who would have him make, but never explain, decisions.
With that in mind Bates could not mime a second tug to show all why Simon Ramsden was sent off at Carlisle and Lee Probert could not make the dive motion he obviously though the Bantams defenders were doing when the Rotherham’s Broughton’s elbows were flying around. Perhaps this is for the best. Referees already seem to be falling into Pantomime, we do not want it to be mime.
Referee do make a detailed report for the FA after every game but trying to get a look at that report is out of the question. A polite mail to the authorities, a raging demand as a consumer of the football product, a pleasing begging letter. No matter what you are not seeing why the man who ruined your trip to Cumbria did what he did. It is a policy which is supercilious to the point of an insult.
Supercilious and utterly unnecessary. It is well within possibilities that a referee could fill in his report online with the ability to add a note on every yellow card or goal given, to make general comments on the game and give reasons that on a Monday morning every fan who had spent good money going to a match could log on and read.
So if Lee Probert had made a couple of notes on his match report: “44 mins – I felt that Ramsden was injured not the contact from the player and not by an elbow” and “3-2 Rotherham – I thought the Free Kick was taken from within an acceptable area of the offence penalised” then at least supporters would have a reason for the decisions. Communication is important in increasing respect and trust. It is good to talk, I know I heard it on an advert.
Sadly though the line from officials is not that they want respect – as the campaign is titled – but rather fealty and this is a problem for football. Supporters have past being tired with this position and have moved into an action of inaction.
Me, Andy and many others are fed up with paying money (and spending a day of the weekend) watching referees that behave in the way we so often see and knowing genuine worries will be summarily dismissed out of hand by the FL simply which only serves to thumb the nose of the footballing authorities at the supporters. The outcome seems to be that more and more supporters decide against a trip to Barnet or Exeter because of the risk of one of these “bad ref afternoons”.
There are other reasons why football trips are less enjoyable now that they were ten or fifteen years ago but no matter what list one draws up the quality of refereeing is a significant reason why a fan can’t justify spending the thick end of £50 on an away trip.
The culture of secrecy that officials live under not only leaves supporters asking the “bent or bloody rubbish” question but also creates a set of conditions in which cheating referees would be allowed to prosper. Start to address the issue with refereeing by creating a feedback loop in which fans can at least find out why decisions are made and one shines a cleansing light into the world of officials.
Failure to address this issue and the game carries on turning off supporters by tiny, significant and avoidable increments.
McCall is choosing the lazy route of attacking officialdom when he would be wiser to deal with the indiscipline of his own players.
In the wake of Bradford City’s 3-0 defeat to Carlisle United in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy earlier this week, Carlisle’s local paper, Times & Star, has run a sports opinion piece calling for Bantams boss Stuart McCall to be fined for his post-match comments that the decision to send off his full back Simon Ramsden was an “embarrassing” one.
Stuart was upset with referee Tony Bates after a second yellow card was issued to Ramsden on the stroke of half time for tugging on the shirt of home winger Matty Robson. With the game evenly poised at 0-0, it was clearly the decisive point of the evening and one would assume it was fair both managers were allowed to pass their judgement on it, yet with McCall disputing it and home manager Greg Abbott arguing it was a just sending off, it seems the paper has ruled one opinion is correct and one opinion is wrong – so Stuart should be fined and censured.
It’s become an increasingly frustrating aspect that, at lower league level, managers so often disagree on the way key decisions go and the local media falls in line with sticking up for their own. Within the Times & Star piece it even admits it is “easier to throw flames at an opposition manager rather than the blokes we speak to every week.” Imagine if the boot was on the other foot and it had been a Carlisle player controversially sent off, would the Times & Star be calling for their manager to be fined if he’d labelled the decision “embarrassing”, or would they be issuing opinion pieces calling for video technology to overturn travesties of justice?
The sad fact is that a discussion about the rights and wrongs of Ramsden’s dismissal becomes almost impossible as both sides feverishly stick up for their team. Looking at the moment on TV again, it’s clear Ramsden holds back Robson as he tries to run forward. Yet crucially, Carlisle don’t have the ball after Scott Neilson, a few yards away from Ramsden and Robson, fairly wins possession and is running the other direction as Ramsden grabs the shirt. It is therefore not clear if it really was a free kick, and it certainly isn’t clear if a yellow card is deserved. This is a highly subjective decision, so how anyone from Carlisle can rule it cut and dry and attack anyone who questions it is beyond me.
It’s also worth pointing out the backdrop of poor refereeing McCall went into the game still seething from. Imagine if Bates had been in charge for City’s game against Rotherham three days earlier? Lee Probert decided to allow Millers striker Drew Braughton and defender Pablo Mills off the hook for a series of crude and highly physical challenges that left home defenders lying on the floor in a daze and Michael Boulding on crutches for the Christmas period. Rotherham got away with it and won the game, then in the next game McCall sees one of his players sent off for something minor in comparison.
In the Times & Star piece it is ludicrously argued “Mr Bates was doing the game a service by dismissing Ramsden, not ruining it.” Perhaps McCall should post them a DVD copy of the Rotherham game to find out their opinions on elbows. Funnily enough the Rotherham Advertiser didn’t feel it fit to mention their team’s questionable methods.
Which sums up the sheer hypocrisy of local papers. The Times & Star can climb on its high horse and write that, “Stuart McCall should know that “embarrassment” is what the rest of us feel when managers swap decency for unjustified venom”, but soon after they’ll be devoting column inches to their grumbles of their own manager – as they have before. Local papers are, to be fair, only replicating the behaviour of their manager, but they are writing for an audience of their own supporters and trying to stay on friendly terms with the boss so they can keep selling papers in their area, the moral high ground is not theirs to claim.
Ultimately, it’s time their was more honesty in the lower reaches of the game. Why managers can’t admit to have benefited from unjust decisions is a question officials should be pondering, why local newspaper hacks can’t form their own opinions instead of what the manager says is another readers might want to bring up.
The Times & Star accuses McCall of “laziness”, the Bradford City manager would be within his rights to throw such an accusation firmly back at the finger pointer.
The reception was mostly mixed. The retort mainly indignant. The point largely missed.
Ahead of City’s home defeat to Rochdale a week ago, Joint-Chairman Mark Lawn used the match day programme to announce Bradford City is considering revamping its website’s official message board so users can only post comments after registering their full name and address, rather than hiding behind the anonymity of a username.
It is an acknowledgment of concern over the current status quo of the content on the board which the whole world can see, and Lawn’s attempt to impart greater responsibility so that, “those supporters who are intent on using them as a means to abuse players or generally use foul and abusive language can no longer hide behind their ‘computer names’.”
On the official message board, this unsurprisingly provoked plenty of comment, with some claiming the club is attempting to silence a growing debate about the reasons behind the Bantams perceived underachievement. Many have argued that they will still be happy to express their dissatisfaction at management and players regardless of if the club knows who they are. A fair point, but one which misses what Lawn is suggesting; in fact rather than look at Bradford City as Big Brother, these proposed new measures may allow users more voice than they currently enjoy.
Often a read of the official message board can be dispiriting and angering. When things are going well on the pitch, it can be a quiet place of limited debate. When things are going wrong, its popularity goes through the roof. Many register users clearly use it only as a place to unleash their anger, rather than treat it a place for balanced debate. This in turn prompts fury for others and very often the discussion is reduced to people insulting each other and their views.
Quite simply it can look embarrassing and for the club to house it is by association a perceived endorsement. The dilemma is the message board will be the most popular section of the website, bringing in web traffic and, as a result, more advertising revenue. Yet the club cannot sit back and allow people to use their site to heap abuse on their employees, at least not without good reason.
All over the world wide web, such types of debates are now the norm. Every newspaper allows their readers to submit comments on its site, but more often than not they just attract the same dismal level of debate as any of City-related sites. Indeed Private Eye magazine now has a regular section entitled “From the message boards”, mocking the more ludicrous comments left on various websites by people hiding behind usernames.
These new sites are fueled by the dumbed down level of debate, with some people posting ill-thought out or deliberately fury-provoking comments that attract others to angrily log in and hastily have a go back – all the while advertising revenue increases. It shouldn’t be like this and often the people sharing their views are intelligent people capable of expressing themselves more coherently, but something about the hiding behind a username encourages them to lose a degree of sanity.
Perhaps a fair comparison is our attitude when driving. I like to think of myself as well-mannered, calm and collected person. Behind a wheel I’m an angry lunatic ready to swear irrationally at any other the motorist who has the nerve to drive badly or get in my way. I can see other drivers get mad at me when I have done nothing wrong (hey I’m a perfect driver who never makes mistakes!) and we all shake our fists and blast our horns if someone dares to cut us off.
In the real world, walking down the street, we would never dream of being so aggressive towards other people, even if they got in our way (compare walking behind a slow old man who you can’t get past to driving behind a tractor). Inside the metal box of our car, we are protected and allowed to act like an arsehole to others because no one can properly confront us and only the police are allowed to stop us and demand to know our address. Online usernames seem to have a similar affect.
At present it’s not clear if the club want to get rid of the public usernames as well as require addresses, I personally believe they should go the whole hog and make John Smith’s comment appear alongside the name John Smith rather than Bantam_57. It won’t stop users calling Stuart a rubbish manager, because if they really have conviction in their own beliefs it would be insulting to dismiss their views on the basis they have done so from behind a username. But what forcing people to express their views with their own name does is encourage them to better argue their reasons.
It would also allow more decorum. Right now, Stuart is receiving strong criticism and ridicule which is expressed in the most disgraceful of manners. Whatever his strengths and weaknesses, he simply does not deserve to receive abuse for the unquestionably high effort he puts in and the years of service he has given this club. By all means tell the rest of us why you think he is a bad manager, but that does not excuse cowardly attacking him a person.
Equally, the response to other people will be more favourable in tone. At the pub before games, in the ground and among City fans I know, there are some views I don’t agree with and dislike hearing, but I would never respond to them face-to-face by labelling the perpetrator a clueless muppet. If I was responding online to views published by someone using their real name, I would not get abusive towards them either.
But what’s in it for those who revel in calling Wayne Jacobs a clap-happy fool? What about those who are angered by the way the club is being run and are frustrated their voice isn’t heard? Well I personally believe that, if these new changes come into effect, the club then has a duty to publicly pay attention to the message board output.
Right now it’s easy for them to be dismissive of it, but they can use it to more confidently gauge opinion and even engage with supporters by asking for feedback on various matters. Suddenly there can be a more clear and obvious platform for fans to have a say in how the club is run, because the message board has greater credibility. It doesn’t mean the general view is always acted upon – there are often good reasons behind what appear to be “mystifying actions” and the message board will never be representative of all City supporters – but it does bring the club and its supporters closer together.
For the Bantams, in a business sense, are in a highly enviable position which organisations of other industries would love to be in. They have a fiercely loyal following. One that isn’t just willing to turn up every other week no matter how bad things are, but whom a proportion of happily spend the rest of the week talking about the club and sharing their views on it.
Other organisations spend millions a year trying to understand their own customers feedback and put products and services to market which fail because they didn’t fully understand their customers’ needs. Bradford City is different in that success and failure is determining by 11 men on a pitch, but greater consultation with supporters can make a difference to the all important revenues.
For this level of engagement could be used to shape future direction and help the club stay in tune with what their customers want – what people think of the matchday programme, the most popular type of pre-match entertainment, who pre-season friendlies should be against, what next season’s strip should be like and, of course, how popular the manager is.
Right now, this vision can’t be realised with anonymous user names arguing back and forth over who is this biggest muppet, with the club not knowing who the people uttering them really are. Raise the standard of debate, make people accountable for their own views and then listen to them – the club which pioneered making professional football affordable could break the mould again from getting control of the public discussion it facilitates and using it to make a difference.
BfB note: As ever comments are welcome. We always require people to submit their real name and email address and would like to think the standard of debate we house is all the better for it.
City’s game with Aldershot Town on Saturday has been called off owing to a frozen Hampshire with the southern club taking an early decision to postpone the game to avoid the Bantams travelling down.
The weather forecast for the day in the town is sunny but “Heavy snow and freezing conditions have plagued the Hampshire region in the past couple of days, leaving the playing surface at the EBB Stadium unsafe.” Source.
Teams like Aldershot Town provide a stark contrast for Bradford City supporters. Aldershot – as with the Accrington Stanley fans who out sung the 10,000 Bantams fans at Valley Parade – have struggled seen their club cast out of football and brought it back from the bottom. City, on the other hand, have fallen from the top.
The Shots were thrown out of the league Mid-season in the early 1990s following a series of chairman abuses but returned to the league in the last few years having shown the kind of spirit to rebuild the club that City fans did to raise the £250,000 to keep the club in business in its centenary year. In the words of Lester Bangs “Everyone meets again on the way back to the middle.”
Aldershot sit a place behind the play-off positions but are nursing heads from a 6-1 thrashing by Burton Albion last time out. City struggle for results but have shown admirable hearts in the two defeats last week to Rotherham and Carlisle. It is thought that the Bantams are entering a crucial time in the season and a crucial period for manager Stuart McCall but honestly – when is it not a crucial time?
McCall goes into the game without Simon Ramsden – sent off the first half of the Carlisle defeat – but will slot Jonathan Bateson in at right back alongside Zesh Rehman and Matthew Clarke should Steve Williams not be fit to return in the place of the latter. Luke O’Brien and Simon Eastwood continue at left back and in goal respectively.
The Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock midfield is starting to resemble the pairing of Dean Furman and Nicky Law last season in that all agree with it, all think it is good, but it seems to be the middle of a team which loses too often. Both Flynn and Bullock work hard – certainly they bossed Law’s midfield last week – and offer the best option for the positions.
James O’Brien had a cameo in the JPT game before being taken off as a result of the red card – many feel that without him City lack set piece delivery – but with Simon Whaley having struggled to live up to early form culminating in his annoyingly slow run off in the Rotherham game and Chris Brandon seemingly prepared to meander through a season has highest paid player for his home town club O’Brien could be the best option.
Adding James O’Brien to the left and creating a tight three with a right winger able to provide a link to the forward line which is very much what Scott Neilson has been doing all season from the attacking coming back but with the last sixteen minutes of Carlisle returning Omar Daley to the fold there is a chase the Bantams could field both Daley and Neilson in a pair of attacking widemen.
Gareth Evans and James Hanson carry on up front.
Carlisle United 3 Bradford City 0 At Brunton Park in The Johnstone's Paint Trophy, 2009/2010
Bradford City’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy interest ended at Carlisle tonight and I’m gutted. I’m gutted about the manner of the defeat, and I’m gutted about the agony of coming so close to a mouth-watering two-legged semi final with Leeds United.
But I’m also grateful for the adventure.
Progressing four rounds in a lower league knockout competition might not seem much to shout about, but against a backdrop of years of Bantams cup feebleness this season’s JPT run has been a memorable experience. Each encounter along the way to last night has been laced with drama and ultimate jubilation, with the prospect of City standing in the Wembley Royal Box lifting a trophy seemingly far from fanciful.
It certainly beats year-on-year hoping for progression to the FA Cup 3rd Round and the prospect of a glamour defeat to a Premier League reserve team.
The dream died at Brunton Park tonight, where once again the Bantams were left questioning the officials. Long-serving referee Anthony Bates decided to issue a second yellow card to City’s Simon Ramsden after the defender got into an argument with a home player which seemed to spur on the home fans nearby into screaming for action. It was one where, viewing from across the opposite side of the pitch, it was difficult to see if Ramsden had provided ample cause to trigger an early bath, but it tipped an evenly-matched encounter in favour of the team from a division higher.
City tried to hold out until half time, bringing on Jonathan Bateson for the unfortunate to be sacrificed James O’Brien, but the deadlock was broken with even more controversy as the impressive Vincent Pericard clearly handled the ball in the area, unspotted, and fired a low shot which Simon Eastwood did well to palm away only for Richard Keogh, looking very offside, to fire the rebound home. City behind, and with a mountain to climb.
Falling behind was a regular feature of City’s JPT run. At Rochdale in the first round, highly-rated home defender Craig Dawson hooked the ball into the net after picking up a stray clearance from a free kick. We slumped back in our seats a bit, groaning at the prospect of another defeat at Spotland and another fourth consecutive JPT first round exit, with weary resignation.
But City, recovering from that poor start to the season, didn’t throw in the towel and soon after Michael Flynn belted in a screamer of a free kick and Scott Neilson’s impressive full debut was capped off by a thrilling run and deflected shot which looped over the back peddling Kenny Arthur and into the net. There were only 315 of us City fans their that night, had Wembley being reached this season we should have been awarded our own little royal box. There was a small slice of fortune in the win, with City’s equaliser coming from an attack where Rochdale should have had a free kick, but from that stroke of luck a great win was achieved.
At Brunton Park we spend half time once again bemoaning our lack of luck. The number of decisions to go against City in recent weeks is startling and is playing a far greater impact on the club’s fortunes than any season I can remember. Everyone has a theory so here’s mine, after much bellyaching about Stuart Attwell following the inexperienced official’s decision to dismiss Gareth Evans at Morecambe, the failure to follow up those complaints by appealing the red card may have backfired. Perhaps other referees have interpreted Stuart McCall’s outburst but lack of action as that of a manager too eager to pass the blame for failings elsewhere. I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but the standard of refereeing City have since received suggests officials are taking charge of Bantams games with certain pre-judgements.
Still hope remained tonight, despite the 1-0 half time scoreline. City had played some good stuff in the first half. Neilson, James O’Brien and Ramsden had all gone close and though the Cambrians had dominated possession Eastwood was no more busy than home keeper Lenny Pidgley. One scare had seen City twice clear the ball off the line after Eastwood misjudged a corner, but despite Matt Clarke and Zesh Rehman struggling with their distribution City remained solid. So even with 10 men and a goal deficit to overcome, the glamour tie with Leeds still seemed a realistic prospect.
There was a touch of glamour in the air for the second round encounter at home to Notts County. Despite only being a fifth full, the queue to get inside Valley Parade prior to kick off snaked around the corner as heavy rain flung down. Finding a seat in the packed Main Stand was a challenge, but we were quite grateful to have sat at the back when at half time we realised Sven Goran Eriksson was sat a few rows behind us in one of the exec seats.
By that point each team had traded a goal with the early threat of another Notts County thrashing receding after Michael Boulding’s well-placed low finish from Flynn’s glorious through ball cancelled out their lead. It seemed to take an age to roll in after it had passed Kasper Schemiecal’s outstretched arm, the second of three goals in a week for the inconsistent forward.
Boulding is now injured for a month, and with 10 men City looked especially short in the final third as the second half resumes at Carlisle, with James Hanson deployed on his own and Neilson and Gareth Evans eager support workers when claret shirts have the ball. Just like on Saturday, McCall’s half time words clearly inspired the team and for 20 minutes it was all City. An almighty scramble from a corner sees Carlisle players clear the ball off the line three times. Soon after, Evans’ shot was parried by Pidgley and Hanson rushes in to attempt to head the ball into the net. Pidgley gets back onto his feet in time to claw it out, Hanson has another go and when it’s blocked again it was Evans’ turn to strike the ball goalwards, but a blue shirt just manages to get in the way. The pressure continued to grow, City are impressing,
Sven didn’t look impressed when Graeme Lee was sent off for one too many hacks at Boulding back in the second round, his thoughts were probably occupied by questioning the judgment of his then-manager Ian McParland ,who had signed the defender been given the run around by former team mates. Yet with 10 men County grew strong and re-took the lead with five minutes to go. We’re out, what a shame but hey it’s only the JPT.
But then City get second wind and Chris Brandon equalised from a corner in stoppage time. It was one of those moments where it’s at the other end to where you’re sat so you wait for reaction of fans around you to judge if it has gone in, but this rare time I’m the first one to cheer and a split second later everyone around me follows. Time for penalties.
We’d certainly settled for penalties again back at Brunton Park with City pressing hard, but then completely against the run of play substitute Scott Dobie scores Carlisle’s second. There is again a hint of offside, but the fact Lee Bullock had cheaply coughed up possession in his own final third to set up the chance to play Dobie through is the most damaging. It will now take a miracle for City to stay in the competition, but hey City did go 2-0 down and recover in a previous round.
A penalty shootout against County, a penny for Sven’s thoughts. The stakes are hardly the same as Portugal ’04 or Germany ’06, but the memories must stir. Sven is stood up talking to an elderly City fan in the row in front while the players get ready; it’s the type of story oft-reported around League Two that, as ridiculous it is he is with us, Sven is at least making an effort everywhere he goes.
The penalties look like going County’s way when Kasper saves from Peter Thorne and the visitors are 2-0 ahead, but City dig in and start finding the net and Eastwood starts saving. The game is decided by Kasper lining up against Easty and the sometimes-City hero prevails, sparking a somewhat over the top pitch invasion and Kasper to smash a hole in the dressing room wall. Sven looks unmoved. What a night.
If there are any fairytales at Carlisle tonight they would surely involve Omar Daley, who makes the long-awaited return to first team action by coming on as a substitute with 18 minutes to go. His name is sung excitedly and nearby team mates run over to shake his hand. It’s a special Bradford City moment on a night looking increasingly forgettable, it could prove a significant moment if his gradual return to fitness heralds an improvement in Bantams league form.
Daley soon gets his first chance to run at a full back, playing a quick one-two before his cross is put behind for a corner. Daley takes it himself, but it barely reaches the near post and is cleared towards Matty Robson. Despite two defenders staying back he has all the time in the world to charge towards Eastwood and slot the ball into the corner. It truly is good night now.
It was Port Vale in round three, 999 visiting fans and the lower tier of the Kop closed to deter pitch invasions. We went into the top tier this time and chanted like we haven’t chanted at a home game for years. 1-0 down yet again, but coming back strongly in the second half with Flynn and Hanson scoring. Me and my friend start talking about the next round draw but then Vale equalised. Penalties again, does lightning strike twice?
The sense of disappointment at Brunton Park is nearly added to after a defensive slip up allows Dobie in, but Eastwood makes a good save. There is still a spirit to City’s efforts, but this is a beaten side. How we’d love a consolation, something to cheer on a cold night, some reward for the endeavour shown on the pitch. Hanson and Flynn don’t come far away, but the only cheering comes from the Carlisle supporters as they mock.
The penalties against Port Vale lasted forever. Score, score, miss, miss, miss, miss, score, score, score, score. Every adequate-looking City penalty taker has gone and what’s left are defenders who struggle to direct their clearances as intended never mind smashing home a penalty. Oh god Luke O’Brien, he’s going to miss…phew. Clarke? Deary me…phew. Then Eastwood saves a third penalty on the night and the winner is scored by the unlikely figure of Steve Williams. We go mental, we’re through to the quarter finals, bring on the draw and lets make it another home one.
And as the game at Brunton Park comes to an end it is the one factor of luck we could do nothing about which sees the JPT run end unsatisfactorily here. If only the luck of the draw had seen City at home to Accrington, or even at home to Carlisle. If this was to be the round progress was to be halted, it would have been nice, if painful. to have gone out to Leeds and at least have enjoyed the occasion and boasted the club’s finances. Instead it’s all over, and the final whistle brings Stuart McCall over to us to applaud. Not a cross word has been uttered about the possibly-under-pressure manager tonight, and while that doesn’t mean no one here doesn’t want him replaced this was not the occasion to air it.
That’s been a difference with the JPT run; because as memorable as it has been to some supporters like me, the majority of fans who turn up to league home games have not witnessed a single minute of this adventure. Low away following at Rochdale, low home turnouts against Notts County and Port Vale. And while this doesn’t make those of us who have attended better supporters than those who have not, the atmosphere each time has been a refreshing change from the usual afternoons of little but singling out players for criticism, moaning about when subs should be made and booing. The JPT adventure has been positive, we’ve all strongly got behind the team and whatever the failings along the way they have not been made too much of in the heat of the battle, as this can so often be to the detriment of the team.
What a shame it can’t always be like this, but despite the crushing disappointment of tonight I’m sure I’m not the only supporter looking forward to starting it all over again next September.
City are three steps away from a day out at Wembley.
Carlisle United stand in the way of the Bantams reaching a Northern Final of the Associate Members’ Cup against either Leeds United or Accrington Stanley and while “form” – i.e. the fact that League One clubs take on League Two clubs – suggest that the Uniteds will meet last season’s winners finished bottom of the whole football league beating a team that is now in the Championship in the final event.
Carlisle United have four times been for the big day out at the end of this competition losing three but holding the trophy in 1997 while the Bantams have never performed better than we currently are doing in this cup competition.
Bradford City and cup competitions have long since fallen out with memories of a cup run dim in the mind so this endeavour – the result of two 2-2 games in which Simon Eastwood saved penalties to win the ties and a 2-1 win over Real Rochdale – has warmed the heart on poorly attended Tuesday nights.
A point on those two games which are listed in City’s history as “draws” or “wins on penalties” yet reading The Observer a week ago it turns out that England crashed out on penalties in the last two world cups. City won both shoot outs by a single penalty kick – the same margin that England crashed to – which would seem to suggest that the Bantams pasted Notts County and blitzed Port Vale… on penalties. Now that is spin for you.
Not that one could expect a home and away tie with Leeds United to be poorly attended for either of these clubs and that two legged affair – more than the final – represents a pot of gold although if one were an Accrington Stanley fan one might suggest that if Kettering Town can play Leeds to a stand still then the Lancashire side can too.
Never one to standstill Omar Daley returns for City after ten months having his leg sown back on following a “perfectly fair and legal” (or so the Referee thought) tackle left him out of the game for almost year while Michael Boulding starts a month on the sidelines after being chunked in the air by Pablo Probert (sorry, Mills) on Saturday.
Daley’s return was eagerly anticipated and if one player can raise spirits of a City community rendered flat after a Referee who provoked comments that ranged from “bloody awful” to “awfully biased” and a series of home results that sees the Bantams without a victory at Valley Parade in some time. On the road the Bantams have more success winning the last two keeping clean sheets in the process.
Much of this is – as always – put down to the ability to be more defensive away from home and with Stuart McCall’s side facing a club 11th in the division above few will complain if the Bantams boss employs his 442 once more.
Simon Eastwood keeps goal again – he is made of this competition – with injuries to Steve Williams and – probably – Zesh Rehman allowing Matthew Clarke and Simon Ramsden to pair at the back once more. Jonathan Bateson thus continues at right back with Luke O’Brien on the left.
The four in the middle see Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock continue – Bullock must be suspended again soon considering he is booked whenever he sneezes – but Simon Whaley misses having played for Norwich in a previous round giving Chris Brandon the chance to start on the left opposite Scott Neilson (Scott Neilson/Olly Murs, separated at birth) who will start the game by may come off to allow Omar a run in the team and at the left back.
James Hanson and Gareth Evans continue up front with Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne both injured.
After the score went to 2-3 yesterday I was disappointed, at 2-4 I felt an emotion I have experienced several times during my active period of support for city. This disappointment and anger was not directed at the team or Stuart, they showed commitment and effort. Rather it was directed at the sizeable proportion of “fans” around me in the Midland Road stand who suddenly remembered that they had something really pressing and important to do and needed to leave the stadium immediately.
What I witnessed at Valley Parade was a game that could have gone either way, it was exciting, tense stuff that did not justify a walk out. It seems to me that a section of our fans don’t really want to support our team. What they want is to sit there comfortably and watch a score board showing the ”right” result.
I am not talking here about blind faith. I have sometimes felt that the team have not given their all and consequently did not deserve to win. This wasn’t the case against Rotherham, they fought and they wanted to achieve.
In conclusion I would like to ask that fans stay until the end of the game and support their team, If they can’t do that then stay away and do their washing, shopping or other essential Saturday afternoon task. I’ve mentioned support a couple of times, that’s what supporters do.
Bradford City 2 Rotherham United 4 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2009/2010
I’ve got a bad throat. That means I can’t shout at the referee, which would normally take all the fun out of going to a football match. But there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
In a game where six goals were scored by five different players, it may seem churlish to spend much time discussing one man, even when that one man comes straight to Valley Parade from the Premier League. So, for a while I shall leave all mention of the referee. But you have been warned.
City were forced into one change from last week, with Steve Williams failing a fitness test, Simon Ramsden moving to centre back and Jonathan Bateson coming in at right back. What looked like a fairly predictable 4-4-2 showed rather more fluidity than might have been expected, albeit frequently at the cost of depriving the team of any width.
Simon Eastwood had a mixed game. As early as the fifth minute he was saving with his legs to send a shot over the bar and two or three other excellent first half stops kept City in touch. The benefit of one of those saves was, however, very short-lived once Kevin Ellison put home the rebound for Rotherham’s equaliser. Lee Bullock had reacted first to an earlier rebound off a Simon Whaley free kick – of which more in a moment – to give City an early lead. But another Ellison goal following some neat, but defendable, build-up play saw the visitors go in at half-time with a 2-1 lead.
Whatever the team talk had been, Luke O’Brien’s surging run and Michael Flynn’s crashing shot in the first minute of the second half looked to have set up an exhilarating pre-Christmas cracker. Andy Warrington in the visitors’ goal (who is nowhere near the superannuable age he may seem) had had little to trouble him in the first half. Now he had to make one save at the foot of his near post to beat out an Evans pile driver; another to tip over Bullock’s shot after an Evans run and cross; and a third, toward the latter stages, when a 30 yard thunderbolt from James O’Brien looked a certain goal.
Meanwhile, at the other end, the now largely unemployed Simon Eastwood was tasked by nothing worse than the occasional back pass to his left foot. That is until the 78th minute when he was beaten by a quickly taken Roberts free kick from just over the half-way line. The lob went over him as he scrambled back to his line, entering the net via the cross bar to put the visitors 3-2 in front. Their fourth goal, two minutes from the end, was a tap in for Drewe Broughton, which brings me back to the start of the game and all the bits I’ve so far missed out – each and every one of them featuring Lee Probert, our star visitor from the Premier League.
Only a few weeks ago everyone at Valley Parade was bemoaning the woeful performance of the referee against Accrington, one Mr Cook. Bad as his display was, City still had only themselves to blame for not sending Stanley home empty handed. Mr Probert showed how it should be done. He’s a Premier League ref and they do things a little differently. They’re on first name or even nickname terms with the players; they know who has a reputation for diving and who pulls shirts all the time; and they are more likely to play the advantage rule, as Mr P did, to his credit, several times.
However, they also like to talk – and talk and talk and talk. Mr Probert illustrated this perfectly in the first five minutes. He adjudged, quite correctly that the aforementioned Drewe Broughton had struck Simon Ramsden with his elbow. Broughton must have considered himself well and truly told off, judging by the length of the lecture. The rest of us judged him extremely fortune not to be shown a card of either colour, despite the early stage of the game. (What difference, by the way, does it make if you commit a bookable offence five or thirty-five minutes into a game? I bet Mr Probert can answer that one.)
Broughton, however, had clearly not been sufficiently well told off, because in the ninth minute he swapped defenders and Matt Clarke felt the power of his elbow. This time even Mr Probert had to produce a yellow card and leave us wondering what might have happened if he had done the job right four minutes earlier. Playing with ten men after nine minutes tends to have its effect on the game.
But within four more minutes Mr Probert set an entirely different standard for what constitutes a bookable offence. Lee Bullock hung a leg out just outside the centre circle. It wasn’t a dangerous tackle and it was his first foul. Perhaps 13 minutes into a game is acceptable for a yellow card to be produced for an innocuous offence. Bullock shrugged his shoulders at the waving referee, while others tried in vain to point to the disparity with the much more serious and dangerous offence which had previously resulted in a telling off.
But, having set the 13 minute standard for innocuous fouls in midfield, Mr P had changed his mind by the 17th minute. Michael Boulding, with his back to goal and the ball at his feet, attempted to turn Pablo Mills. Mr Mills is not noted for his gentility, as the City physio will be able to confirm when Boulding’s injury has been fully assessed. For hacking Boulding to the floor from behind, a few yards outside his own penalty area, Mills’ punishment was a free kick. Not a card; not a lecture of even the shortest duration; not even a firm stare from the ref. It could, in fact, be argued that Mills won his side a distinct advantage for the rest of the game, given that Boulding remained on the pitch for just three more minutes. The standard had changed back again. The only justice was that this free kick gave City the lead.
Lectures, bookings, goals and other stoppages produced just two minutes of added time, but that was enough to see Simon Ramsden flattened again after yet another leap from Broughton. Neither Mr Probert nor his fourth official, who must have been within a very few yards of the incident, saw anything wrong and play was restarted with a throw in, but only after Stuart McCall came on to the pitch and Ronnie Moore troubled the referee with a few words of his own.
Just five minutes into the second half, Gareth Evans was away down the right flank, outpacing Pablo Mills with some ease until, just in front of the assistant referee, Mills took both his legs, ensuring that the threatening run came to an abrupt and illegal end. So, for his second blatant offence of the afternoon, each depriving a striker of a run on goal, Mills had to be punished. And aren’t Mr Probert’s talking-to’s severe? You just ask Mills, because that’s exactly what he got. In another part of the pitch Lee Bullock must surely have been wondering what he had done wrong.
Within five minutes of that Mills lecture, Michael Flynn was late with a sliding tackle and there was a holding of breath from the City faithful. Anything might be about to happen to Flynny, but the actual result, a yellow card, while entirely correct, came as a great relief.
Which brings us back to that third goal from half-way and another difference between League Two and Premier League officials. We are used to ‘the correct blade of grass’ syndrome with our refs; perhaps we should watch more TV to spot how far away from the foul you can take the free kick if you have a Premier League ref. This one was so far away that it brought Stuart McCall on to the pitch again, this time without the excuse of an injured player.
A pretty obvious hand ball, so clear that even the handler, Nicky Law, almost gave himself up, produced nothing and Michael Flynn being pulled back brought only a theatrical wave of the arms from Mr P. Two very decent penalty claims, either of which could have changed the course of the game, were not seen. The additional five minutes, which became six, brought another booking. Matt Clarke must have spoken out of turn, unless, of course, Mr Probert had by now reverted to the Lee Bullock standard for yellow cards.
The game ended in stunned silence from the home crowd. City had not deserved to lose and this time the standard of refereeing really had had a major impact, many times over, on the outcome of the game. I almost (but not quite) could wish for the return of Mr Singh.
But I should end on a positive. There were some splendid displays in claret, with Bullock, Flynn and Ramsden to the fore, but none more so than the man who never missed a header all day and made sure his clearances were definitively cleared. He has his detractors and is not the most cultured of players, but Matt Clarke deserved any Man of the Match award. Not that I heard who was actually given it, so furious was I with our visitor from on high.
Five months of working in Sheffield does things to a man, brings revelations if you will, brings considerations.
Rotherham has become a suburb of a bigger City – or so it is commonly held down Sheffield way – but the people of the Steel City do not consider themselves to have swallowed up their neighbour but rather that it has been swallowed. “Rotherham: Suburb of Meadowhall.”
The middle of Rotherham is empty, the civic pride drained and the area that once was to be proud, all far too familiar.
The Millers address that pride in some ways – under Mark Robins at the start of this season and continuing under perennial Bradford City ire target Ronnie Moore – the battle for promotion from League Two. How much this pride can be felt by people in the Town who lost money in the administrations the club have twice suffered is debatable. People who lost out when the Bantams twice sailed the to the edge of bankruptcy have not had to watch the club celebrate big money signings the season after having a begging bowl pushed under their noses and being told that debts must be written off.
Adam Le Fondre – formerly of Rochdale – cost a record fee for the Millers while both Nicky Law Jnr this season and Eugene Bopp and Paul Shaw last were taken out of the clutches of the Bantams after we offered all we could and Rotherham trumped that offer. The increasingly iconic Woman with a B&B in Darlington would find such a sudden surge in cash hard to swallow and considering Moore previous position on clubs in administration but perhaps we underestimate the Millers boss who may flog Le Fondre in the transfer window and go around the area repaying those people who lost money. Probably not.
If Rotherham are defined by Meadowhall then they are certainly not to be viewed as a shop struggling in the credit crunch but are more like those chains that live in constant closing down sales presenting the financial face they feel most beneficial. They are able to flash the cash to land Le Fondre and Law but when the Football League ask about their plans to move back to the location they take the name from they talk about financial pressures that forced them out of Millmoor. The Football League have asked for answers from the Millers and given them a deadline for moving back to Rotherham but at present talks are ongoing about such a move and work is not due to begin until “2010/2011″ and a site has yet to be found for such a development.
In the meantime the club play at The Don Valley Stadium, a stone’s throw from Meadowhall.
None of which is presented as schadenfreude nor indeed is hard to sympathise with. If Rotherham’s decline is the story of one shopping centre then Bradford’s is another – the much trumpeted Westfield development which sits as a large hole in the middle of the City Centre that begs for regeneration.
Despite much talk from City Hall and various development agencies the regeneration of Bradford City Centre remains a series of big promises with little or no delivery and the Westfield hole being a cautionary tale told by the people who want to save the Odeon building: “Let them rip this down will you? And replace it with more hollow promises that come to nothing!” would sum up their position.
Off the cuff it has been remarked that the hole should be filled with the very sort of joint community stadium which Rotherham limply seek but such thoughts are never turned to football at City Hall, a curious point because one might suspect that those regenerationists might find some like minds at Valley Parade.
At Valley Parade we have our own section who make vague and hollow promises about things improving in the future if only they can knock something down. The debate on sacking Stuart McCall is active and rich but in reading it one is reminded about the promises of the developers who knocked down Forster Square and before that The Swan Arcade which turned out to be utterly hollow.
In this metaphor Stuart McCall is the Odeon Building and his critics promise that regeneration will start following removal, Colin Todd is the Forster Square site and the big hole in the middle of Bradford is where those fans who promised that getting rid of Todd/Square would benefit us in the long run have left us.
Personally I’m not inclined to believe the promises of those who talk about sacking Stuart McCall and would put the promise they intrinsically make that the next manager will get the club rising up the leagues again alongside those of the people who brought us the hole in the middle of Bradford. They are hollow promises, and following them has led both the City and t’ City to this point.
When these clubs go shopping they test the resources that have previously taken one into the Premiership and the other half way up the league below. City’s marshalling of resources is done with a prudence – what was spent is within what can be afforded – while Rotherham seem either unbridled by such a need to trim that spending or do not believe it will be a problem for them in the future.
Assuming that Rotherham are not robbing both Peter and Paul to pay Adam then their ability to exit Millmoor is perhaps another difference between the clubs. While Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes keep within a budget that includes the price of paying former chairman Gordon Gibb to stay at Valley Parade The Millers fair thumb their noses at the former chairman turned landlord and have opted out of their home City precisely because of the cost of staying.
Imagine City leaving Valley Parade to go play at Farsley Celtic to get around paying expensive Gibb’s rent, or, if you want, imagine Wimbledon deciding they do no want the costs and effects of staying in London and so relocating to Milton Keynes. Trying to think of an FL/FA rule that allows one and not the other is a brain pickler.
Ultimately comparisons between City and Rotherham are enough to pickle the mind too. City fans consider us a far bigger team but men over fifty not connected to either club would probably say both of us are perennial lower leaguers. Rotherham have either survived two administrations and losing their ground in much ruder health than City. They did – of course – exit without a CVA the second time which in 2004 when the Bantams were preparing a second escape was penalised not by a 17 point penalty but by being thrown out of the Football League and being forced to start at the foot of the football pyramid. No two administrations are alike.
The Miller’s start to the season attracted the attentions of Barnsley to manager Mark Robins and so the investment in the likes of Le Fondre and Nicky Law Jnr paid off for him. Stuart McCall spent the summer moving players on missing out on the likes of Steve Jones because of an unwillingness to extend the wage bill without an assurance it would covered by a player exit.
Robins looked impressive to Barnsley and Moore may end up taking his team up. All at City talk about an unwillingness to risk the future of the club. In spending money to out bid us on players while under a Football League Sword of Damocles concerning moving back to their home town which they could do but do not what to it seems fair to say that the same is not true for them.
So Stuart McCall – two wins in three – faces Ronnie Moore – two administrations and a clutch of expensive players the year after – and City face Rotherham United at Valley Parade with the Bantams chasing points and the Millers promotion. Moore’s arrival replacing Mark Robbins saw the Millers stutter but since they have regained footing and sit third having drawn 2-2 with Burton last week after losing to Shrewsbury the game before. Nursing a 3-0 FA Cup drubbing (3-0 defeats now officially being considered drubbings) by Luton Town lats game one must go back to the 24th of November and a 2-0 win over model of managerial change Lincoln City for the visitor’s last win, that game seeing Adam Le Fondre score twice has he has a habit of doing. An intelligent player Le Fondre – like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before – is a reader of the game finding and exploiting weaknesses in defences.
City’s defence go into the game on the back of a clean sheet earnt with Matthew Clarke in the side filling in for the injured Zesh Rehman. Rehman is expected back and Clarke’s reward for his performance at Darlington will probably be the bench – few tears drop at Valley Parade because Clarke does not play – with Steve Williams partnering the returning City skipper. Simon Ramsden and Luke O’Brien take full back roles. Criticism of Luke O’Brien this year baffles me, I think he is performing better now than when he was player of the season and as pointed out he is doing so in the difficult environs of a 433. Simon Eastwood – who looks like he will not be given the goalkeeper gloves at Huddersfield after Christmas with Alex Smithes seemingly set to sign for fun loving Stoke then be loaned back to Legoland – will keep goal.
The 442 deployed at Darlington weighed up against the 433 Stuart McCall normally plays shows the problems City have this year. Not scoring enough goals in a 422 forces the more attacking formation of 433 which ships concessions at the back forcing us to the 442. It loops around and is only broken by players practicing, getting patterns and the continued building a team ethos which was sadly lacking last season. The 433 – which Rochdale dispensed with – will no doubt get a run out against Rotherham and perhaps the decision between which approach to take could win or lose the game in the dressing room.
Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock take two of the places and in the event of a four Scott Neilson and Simon Whaley will take the flanks. In a three James O’Brien could come back in. Stephen O’Leary and Omar Daley are some way off match fitness it is said. Stuart McCall talked up visiting midfielder Nicky Law Jnr who played for the Bantams last term. I do hope that Law shows the same commitment to getting behind the ball as he did at Valley Parade because should he then the Bantams could enjoy an afternoon of midfield freedom.
The three/four in midfield denotes a two/three up front with James Hanson a regular and Michael Boulding failing to impress since his return to the fold culminating in his storm down the tunnel on Saturday. A note here about Dave Pendleton’s excellent article in the current and always grand City Gent about Boulding and the thunderous criticism of him. Excellent points are made about both players and fans.
Gareth Evans is in line for a recall alongside Hanson in either line up. Neilson or Whaley would join in a three.
While League Two trundles along this season with Rochdale at the top, Grimsby at the bottom and a bunch of clubs nestling in the middle most of the attention from a media point of view has been given to the curious wanderings of Notts County who were put up for sale by The Munto Group this morning.
County’s summer sale to people of the Middle East – or was that Pakistan – to build a team to start challenging for promotion immediately and the Premiership in half a decade has been well documented with the saga of Sven, Sol, Schmeichel and Lee Hughes being something of a running soap opera. This latest twist contains the idea that Sven and Peter Trembling – the mouth piece of the Munto Group so far who told us of the irritation the owners had at having to reveal their identities to anyone – staging a management buy out.
All of which seems unlikely – as City fans we can attest to the commonly held thought in football club sales that the ratio of realistic buyers x to people who use the sale as a chance to get on TV, big themselves up or otherwise fail to materialise into genuine bids y tends to be x:y – and with the amounts of money being paid out to a squad of talented players one has to wonder if it is feasible that anyone will be able to take the club on.
There is not much money in League Two football – even at £20 an away fan – and if the club is for sale and “investment” needed to cover weekly wages is not being put in (and some would say that that investment is smoke and mirrors in the first place) then the wages of a Hughes, a Ravenhill or a Lee will soon drain any profit the club makes.
One might suggest that if The Munto Group have no will to fund the team they seek to sell for another six months then should a buyer not emerge within the three weeks before the transfer window then we may see a significant group of player exits from Meadow Lane. If there is no buyer by the start of February then Munto face the bill for paying the likes of Lee Hughes for another six months.
All of which assumes that there is the money to make those payments there in the first place which David Conn of The Guardian suggests that there might not be and that club might be owned in a pyramid of debts that ultimately lead to an empty bank account.
If that turns out to be the case then it is hard to see a future for the Oldest League Football Club at all. If no buyer who can meet the bills can be found then those bills even be so huge – this is a club which agreed to pay Sol Campbell £50,000 for five years – that even administration is not an option. If a judge does not feel that the creditors will get more from a CVA than they would through selling the assets then he is entitled to deny an appeal for the protection from creditors that administration offers.
At this assumes a worse case scenario but as the media attention at Meadow Lane attests to the dreams of the summer have started to become nightmares. The proud club owned by their supporters in the summer are the butt of jokes over the Campbell affair and are failing to see the (ludicrously high levels of) promised performances on the field.
County are today being sold as used goods – The Munto Group like Mark Lawn last season have found that it takes more than money to walk this division – and in a sense damaged goods. There is little reason for anyone who has the money to buy into a club that agree to pay the likes of Hughes a weekly wage would favour purchasing County from The Munto Group. Buy Rochdale and improve Spotland, buy Bournemouth and clear the debts.
The next few weeks will determine a future for County that is highly unlikely to be those dreams the supporters who owned the club bought into last Summer.
League Two carried on regardless but if the worst fears of the situation are realised and County cannot be sold or even cannot complete season then there are serious questions to be answered by the Football League about how they have allowed this situation to develop.
The 5-0 of the first day seemed to represent a new dawn for County but if a buyer can’t be found then that game may not even remain in the football history books leaving County fans with a long time in front of them to ponder the thought that one should be careful what one wishes for, in case one gets it.
“Everybody knows the dice are loaded, everybody rolls with their fingers crossed.” Leonard Cohen
As predictable as the boos circling around Valley Parade at the final whistle against Rochdale, was the resulting strong wave of criticism emanating from Bradford City supporters in the days following the 3-0 humbling.
In contrast to the relative quiet satisfaction following the success at Grimsby, the City cyber-world went into overdrive as complaints and criticisms were boisterously aired. BBC Radio Leeds listeners learned of a publicity-seeking Bantams fan from Accrington, who texted in straight after the match to absurdly label the performance the worst of his 15 years as fan, and to reveal he’d ripped up his season ticket renewal form and Darlington match tickets. Ah well, he didn’t miss much in terms of the latter.
The main thrust of the displeasure was once again regarding the capabilities of manager Stuart McCall, with the returning of cries for him to be sacked which were last aired in August. Often such arguments are defined by the short and long term viewpoint, with the pro-manager supporters arguing for the long term and dismissing the opposing views as short term-ism. On this occasion, fans calling for McCall to be sacked notably adopted a more durable stance themselves; arguing that, after two-and-a-half years at the helm, the former Scottish international has had long enough to deliver a promotion-winning team.
But ultimately, it remains a short term viewpoint, for question marks over McCall’s future would not have been raised had City beaten Rochdale or at least not been so badly embarrassed by the leaders. Equally, the opinion he should be handed a P45 would have more weight were it not only uttered when City have a bad result. Sacking a manager should be a decision made on a bigger picture than merely the form guide, sadly in football that is all too rarely the case.
And the problem, rarely considered it seems, is what happens after the sacking. It’s apparently accepted practice within football that no thought is paid to a successor before the dismissal, often triggering a period of uncertainty while the position is advertised. Sometimes results improve under the caretaker, in other situations the damage gets worse. If things are so bad a club must sack its manager, why is it so often done with little preparation for the immediate aftermath?
When the new manager is finally installed, the prospects of an immediate revolution usually fail to materialise. Approximately 20 of the 92 English professional clubs have already dismissed their manager this season, but few are betteroff for it. In the Championship, the promotion prospects for Middlesbrough have hardly improved by sacking Gareth Southgate. On his dismissal Boro were a point away from the leaders, now the best they can hope for is a play off spot.
Meanwhile in League One Wycombe remain near the bottom, despite allowing Peter Taylor to leave, where they currently sit level with Tranmere Rovers, who sacked John Barnes. In fact Tranmere are perhaps the strongest example of the perils of readily changing managers; inexplicably sacking Ronnie Moore during the summer despite Rovers just missing out on the play offs, they now look set to exit the division the wrong way.
Throw in bottom-placed Stockport and Brighton and Oldham just above, and League One’s current bottom five clubs have all failed to benefit from swapping managers during 2009. In League Two, the bottom three teams have also fired their managers this season.
Perhaps this argument is flawed by the fact clubs near the foot of leagues are naturally more likely to want to make a change; but that Lincoln manager Chris Sutton this week declared his third-bottom side were in a relegation battle can’t have been great news to Imps supporters, who called for then-manager Peter Jackson to be sacked for losing three early season games on the basis the club had to be challenging for the play offs.
Indeed Sutton’s downbeat outlook is a complete contrast to Jackson, who at the beginning of the 2008/2009 season boldly predicted Lincoln would end it as Champions. A similarly statement of foolishness to McCall’s “I’ll consider myself a failure if we don’t go up” of 2007 perhaps, but the chalk of Sutton to Jackson’s cheese is hardly a statement of progression. At least Barnsley and Norwich fans can argue their teams have been boosted by making a change, but the success ratio across the country is hardly inspiring.
Nor is City’s recent history of giving bosses the boot. If two managers – Chris Kamara and Paul Jewell – were responsible for lifting City two divisions, the subsequent six have all played their part in City’s fall to League Two. Appointing Chris Hutchings may have been a mistake, but dismissing him after 12 games hardly made much difference given replacement Jim Jefferies told Geoffrey Richmond City were doomed just eight further league games later.
At least Jefferies was then afforded time to reshape the squad, but his departure just before he was pushed mid-way through the first season back in the Football league did not lead to the promotion which had been targeted at the beginning of it.
Nicky Law’s sacking was a watershed moment for me. I was undecided over whether he should be dismissed in the autumn of 2003 as City lay in the relegation zone, but despite replacing him with Bryan Robson the Bantams still ended the season in the same position they were the day Law was sacked. Despite the ongoing financial difficulties which saw Colin Todd lose his best three players, sacking him with City in 16th place proved a mistake as the season ended with relegation under caretaker David Wetherall.
The same criticisms aimed at Hutchings, Jefferies, Law and Todd are repeated towards McCall. Yet the proven failure of sacking City managers mid-season seems to be forgotten. Perhaps by firing McCall now we’ll get a fantastic replacement who ends up leading City up the steps of the Wembley Royal Box next May to lift the League Two play off trophy. Against the evidence of recent City history and how other teams have fared from recently making a change, you wouldn’t exactly bet on it.
Of course this doesn’t necessarily mean City should stick with McCall if he’s not meeting expectations. In the cold light of day the last two seasons were failures, as McCall himself admitted, but the signs since agreeing to remain as manager last May offer renewed encouragement. The summer signings have all largely been young players with something to prove. There’s a clear determination to self-improve and every indication the squad sees playing for Bradford City as a privilege.
Were the end of the season now, how many of this present squad would McCall and supporters want to release? The total would be low, certainly compared to recent summers. No matter how this campaign ends, if McCall is allowed to remain in charge the focus will be on building on it rather than starting all over again.
If McCall had only just taken over this summer, this policy would be universally accepted. That he has the baggage of two years failure counts against him, but if the ethos of what he is now trying to achieve is one which can be agreed is a good thing, shouldn’t it be pursued anyway?
Because ultimately the lesson to be taken from sacking a manager is that the problems inflicting the club rarely disappear as quickly. Maybe by sacking McCall now we’d find our own Jim Gannon, John Still, Keith Hill or Andy Scott instead, or maybe by sacking McCall now we’d find our own Egil Olsen, David Platt, Glen Roeder or Carlton Palmer. Maybe by sacking McCall we’d discover he was holding us back, or maybe by sacking McCall we’d discover he was moving us forwards.
At best it would be a gamble, a roll of the dice which might land a six but could just as easily come to a one. Until the summer at least, it would best to leave the dice for someone else to roll.
Darlington 0 Bradford City 1 At Darlington Arena in League Two, 2009/2010
From a fixture Stuart McCall couldn’t feasibly win, at least the Bradford City manager was able to enjoy the satisfaction of three points.
Against an already doomed home team which has lost its last two games 4-0, only a similarly convincing scoreline for the Bantams would ensure victory would truly be considered a victory. That Steve Williams’ 23rd-minute strike was the sole occasion the ball found the back of the net will have done little to ease the darkened mood triggered by the midweek Rochdale humbling. Indeed the sight of City players’ blatant attempts to time waste long before the final whistle was due offered a clear indication that, while the win ultimately reduces the gap to the play offs, a vast improvement is needed for the season to conclude with a top seven place.
Not that Stuart seemed to be overly-perturbed after the final whistle. A victory is a victory and the points reward for winning 1-0 is the same as winning 4-0. Darlington showed a degree of spirit in the second half – on the evidence of this and City’s recent trip to Blundell Park, there is more hope to be taken from the Quakers’ efforts even if the League Two table makes it implausible to argue they can avoid relegation – and with City wasteful in front of goal for the game’s first two-thirds, the home side might have snatched a late point due to endeavor if not ability. In the end it was an afternoon for getting the three points, climbing back on the coach and moving on.
A more convincing victory still appeared on after a first half easily controlled by the visitors. Back to playing 4-4-2, Matt Clarke took the place of the injured Zesh Rehman, and a more solid performance from the former Darlington centre back alongside Williams was the platform for a 45 minute period where possession was dominated by claret and reasonable chances were readily created.
James Hanson came close early on with a shot deflected over, Simon Whaley almost scored direct from a corner, the recalled and impressive Scott Neilson might have done better after charging into the penalty area and seeing his low drive blocked by home keeper Nick Leversidge.
Lee Bullock, Hanson and Williams continued to go close and soon after Williams was rewarded after popping up at the back post to head home Neilson’s corner. It was a good moment for the former non-league defender after the difficult evening he’d endured midweek, it was also the third away league game in a row he’d netted. City continued to press and Hanson headed just wide.
At the other end Darlington’s efforts to pass the ball around on the deck were admirable but largely impotent. That the half chances they created almost all came on the counter attack said much about their lack of authority on the game.
But it was during the second half where the promotion credentials of the Bantams could again be doubted. City have held a 1-0 lead at half time in eight of their 20 league games this season, but the dilemma of whether to continue in the attacking manner which had earned that advantage or sit back and protect it is one which is leading to uncertainty and awkwardness.
Initially City’s intent was to get that second goal with Hanson again twice going close, but slowly the team began to drop back and ambition became limited. Stuart attempted to encourage fresh impetuous by introducing the dropped Gareth Evans from the bench for Michael Boulding, but the former Macclesfield striker’s confidence has clearly taken a dip of late, and he did little to reignite purpose to the attack.
Though questions must again be pointed at Boulding, who was well shackled all afternoon by former City defender and Quakers captain, Mark Bower. His introduction from the bench against Accrington helped City to pile on late pressure and he almost won the game late on with a shot that hit the post. Boulding can consider himself unfortunate not to have started the next game against Grimsby, but having got his chance at the Darlington Arena his failure to again take it was mystifying.
Often Boulding is excused for anonymity by relative poor service, and while he was provided few sights of goal, he must surely be prepared to work harder. Boulding looked unhappy to be subbed and went straight down the tunnel, where he was followed a few minutes later by Stuart for what may have been a tongue-lashing.
James O’Brien was shortly after brought on for Whaley – the on-loan Norwich midfielder again looking the best player on the park in terms of ability, but often failing to make the most of many opportunities to cross the ball with some poor deliveries. As the home side finally starting to exert some pressure, Simon Eastwood had to tip one effort round the post and blocked a shot from further out which was straight at him. By then the visitors’ time-wasting got too much for referee Neil Swarbrick, who booked Neilson for unsubtly kicking the ball away. City’s ball retention was poor and will not go unpunished if it continues during the next four league fixtures, all against promotion rivals.
When the final whistle was blown it was met by a faint smattering of boos in the away end, but the overall cheering and chanting of Stuart’s name suggested the general mood was that, while dissatisfied with the performance, at least a difficult week had ended in a positive way.
There are still plenty of issues for Stuart to ponder – the return to playing 4-4-2 may have made City look more solid, but the high work rate the 4-3-3 formation has been built around was curiously lacking. Little confidence can have been taken from the second half display, though the clean sheet is not to be sniffed at.
So a muted victory, and one which may be best judged retrospectively in a few weeks. The hope for Stuart must be that this the game acts as the springboard for a run of good form going into the second half of the season, rather than proving a blip which had more to do with the Darlington formbook. Perhaps, in a week where we at BfB have looked back to the last promotion season and how the team ultimately benefited from losing 3-0 at home to QPR late-autumn, this win will have provided the tweak which makes the difference.
The tweak being the change back to 4-4-2 and return of Clarke, who has surely earned the right to now keep his first team spot. It wasn’t spectacular, but the first game after the tweak in the 1998/99 season, a 1-0 success at struggling Oxford thanks to a header from a set piece in the 23rd minute, offered few clues of what was to come then.
Anything similar this time around, and this will be later judged a fixture Stuart won in more ways than one.
There was a depressing predictability about the reaction to the defeat to Rochdale this week which saw the Bantams beaten 3-0 by a League Two team that played a slick, flowing, football beyond their status. For some Rochdale were not given credit for a performance which made them near unplayable while others rubbed eyes with an amazement and wistfully asked when City would play like that.
Perhaps the answer to that goes back a decade to the team that was promoted to the Premiership who played with the same bottomless confidence and belief in each other that Rochdale showed. At one point – and without looking – one Dale defender headed out from a corner to the release valve man who trotted the ball up field for another attack.
It was akin to Peter Beagrie turning a right back and putting the ball to the far post because he knew – he had the confidence that – Lee Mills would be under it to head in and from the stands it looks like telepathy. Perhaps 3-0 Bradford 2009 will be to Spotland what Chelsea 2-0 2000 is to City fan – a high watermark in performance.
City’s job following on – and specifically Stuart McCall’s job – is to minimise the result and move on from it learning what can be taken from the game and rebuilding the confidence of a side who were found to be second best. This season started in this manner with the 5-0 defeat at Notts County requiring a mental rebuild as well as a team reshaping.
Options for moving players around are available but more importantly players like Steve Williams, James O’Brien and James Hanson have had their first taste of that flavour of bitter defeat and McCall needs to work with those players. Part of building a squad based around young players gives these problems of inconsistency perhaps by virtue of the unexpected. Steve Williams will have never played against an attacking line which moved around as much as the Rochdale one did. He can learn from that.
As the dust settles from the Rochdale game the Bantams sit nine points off the automatic promotion places – the same distance as on Tuesday afternoon – but four off the play-offs. Bottom place Darlington represent a chance to close that gap.
Darlington are a club cursed by a stadium far too big for their needs an inability to get the local public interested in filling it. As a club they bought into the dreams of the last decade and a half’s promise of big football and like City they have struggled to make that a sustainable proposition. In the summer they employed Colin Todd and Dean Windass to hammer together a squad from spare parts – including former Bantams Mark Bower and Paul Arnison – and the did a manful job before departing to leave Steve Staunton – a fifth former Bantam in the sentence – who struggles against situations such as his inability to play the excellent Steve Foster again for fear of triggering the offer of a new contract the club can ill afford.
Darlington lived beyond there means – Rochdale’s Chris Dunphy would have them out of the league no doubt – and as usual the supporters are left to pick up the pieces left behind when businessmen/safe crackers have moved on.
The cost of administration and football failure is never better illustrated than the woman in Darlington who saw her B&B business in trouble after the club defaulted on the debt it had run up housing a loanee signed to sit on the bench when the clubs met at Valley Parade back in February chasing promotion in a way they could not afford.
That night Darlington played what could be called “a hard game” and one Kevin Austin challenge on Omar Daley snapped the midfielders leg in half (Hey – I’m no Doctor) and stopped the player form kicking a ball in anger until this week taking the Bantams promotion campaign with it.
Daley’s return for the reserves is a hint at things to come rather than a burst back into the side. Omar played 45 minutes but will be taking the long road back and it seems that Simon Whaley will be filling in for him until his return, perhaps exiting when he is fit.
Whaley and fellow support striker Gareth Evans were neutralised by a canny Rochdale side leaving Stuart McCall with a tactical head swim. The 433 took care of Grimsby – the team one place above Darlington – but was ineffective against Rochdale and the manager must decide which of these two games is reflective of his formation’s effects.
Simon Eastwood will keep the gloves after an athletic display on Tuesday blotted by having the ball placed through his legs for the first goal. The defensive four will probably remain as it was – or at least it would if I were manager – but some would switch Simon Ramdsen into the middle with Steve Williams and put Jonathan Bateson in at right back while others favour Ramsden and Rehman rather than Williams. O’Brien is unchallenged at left back save other young players but has put in a good level of performance this year and certainly is forgiven Tuesday night.
Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock emerged from the mid-week game without criticism – indeed perhaps it is tribute to their strengths that Rochdale played the game on the flanks rather than through the middle – and will keep the middle of field although that could be with one of James O’Brien/Chris Brandon in a three of with Scott Neilson and Whaley/Brandon on the flanks in a four.
Neilson looked lively coming on on Tuesday night – an admirable attitude that deserved more than an ironic cheer for his header at goal in the last minute – but will probably be restricted to the bench. James Hanson will almost certainly start and will match himself against Mark Bower and – as Foster cannot play and Ian Miller is injured – someone from the Quakers youth side. Knowing what we do about Mark Bower one might expect McCall to keep Gareth Evans alongside Hanson – Bower struggled with powerful players – and leave Michael Boulding on the bench. A three would have Whaley/Hanson/Evans along the front.
Darlington – despite the trails – represent a tough game approach the match with nothing to lose and written off before kick off. City start rebuilding confidence once more – stuck in a kind of loop between bad results leading to unbeaten periods interrupted by bad results. It is midtable form and needs a kick start to move it onto being play-off contenders.
Darlington – who attempted a kick start last season living beyond their means – offer a start warning about trying to break that loop.
“After a 3-0 drubbing at Valley Parade even the most ardent, optimistic Bradford City supporter would have to write off the club’s chances of automatic promotion.” (para)
Losing at home is never a pleasant experience but it becomes more unsettling when it lacks frequency. The 3-0 home defeat to Rochdale is not City’s first reversal at Valley Parade this year but this type of home reversal was more common four or five years ago than it is now.
The opening paragraph – an assessment of the Bantam’s chances following defeat – was ultimately untrue. A paraphrase from about this time of year eleven years ago when City trooped off the field from a game with Queens Park Rangers having been on the wrong end of three goals.
That team – managed by Paul Jewell and featuring current City boss Stuart McCall in midfield – was of course promoted in May the following year and the QPR match remains a curious footnote noted as the final game on the “old kop” at Valley Parade but saw what ultimately became a pivotal change in the Bantams season.
City had gone into that game off the back of an unbelievable 2-1 defeat by Huddersfield in which the Bantams squandered chance after chance and then saw Town switch to a 433 and end the game victorious. For the QPR game the Bantams midfield of Peter Beagrie wide left, McCall and Gareth Whalley in the middle and Robbie Blake on the right wing behind Isaiah Rankin and Lee Mills.
Rankin – who Jim Jefferies described as “Not being able to finish a bowl of cornflakes” – was profligacy personified squandering enough chances to win a month of matches in the two games but at the time no doubt I would have recalled the words of Brain Clough: He got into the positions to miss them.
Jewell did not subscribe to that point of view – or if he did he had gone past a point where he no longer had faith that the chances would find the net – and following that match with QPR the £1.4m striker Rankin’s days were numbered.
City were written off in terms of automatic promotion and there were calls for a revolution in the side just as there is in the wake of the Rochdale defeat – one recalls that one solution was to follow Town into the 433 while another was to add Paul Bolland to the side – but rather than look at drastic solutions Paul Jewell made a tweak.
A tweak to his side that went on to claim promotion. Rankin went out, Blake moved forward and Jamie Lawrence came into midfield. The team held the ball more and spent less time watching a forward’s heels has he sprinted away and the rest truly is history.
Jewell’s choice to resist revolution in the light of defeat turned out to be correct. This was not unique for Jewell – his reaction to a 3-0 defeat in the Premiership to West Ham United was similar – nor is he alone. When Sir Alex Ferguson watched his Manchester United team beaten 4-1 by Liverpool last season – kamikaze defending which links Vidic to Williams and all – his reaction was to do very little in the face of calls to change and sure enough another Premier League title arrived in due course.
McCall looks at his side and had two options for changing: Personnel and Formation.
Looking around the City side there were plenty of players who could have had fingers pointed at them be they the likes of Luke O’Brien and Gareth Evans who after great seasons so far were made to look hapless, the likes of James O’Brien and Steve Williams who are young and struggle for consistency or the James Hanson and Michael Flynns of the side who struggled against a side who impressed.
On the bench wait Peter Thorne, Chris Brandon, Michael Boulding, Matthew Clarke et al. These players were the problem three months ago solved by the younger team who were beaten by Rochdale. One might question if they offer a solution now. Likewise younger replacements like Jon McLaughlin, Rory Boulding, Luke Sharry or Jonathan Bateson could be deployed but in doing so the Bantams would replace like with like and that is certainly no guarantee of massive alterations.
From a formation point of view McCall’s 433 is a relatively new addition to the Bantams arsenal and the City boss played a 442 for the first two years at Valley Parade. Switching from the one to the other did not provide a great return against Accrington Stanley two weeks ago.
The grace of 442 is that it is the most adaptable formation available to a manager having a limitation or two but no weaknesses as 433 has on the flanks which was so exposed by Rochdale. Fluidity between positions, six second counter attacks and flooding areas with possession favoured by Jose’s old Chelsea can be the beating of 442 but how many League Two teams are able to do that?
That said two teams playing 442 make for a much less interesting game and earlier in the season there was a thrill of the Bantams playing such adventurous, attacking football. I have a theory that since Ramsey’s Wingless Wonders English teams veer back to the 442 formation eventually and that sooner or later McCall will bite the bullet and sacrifice a strikers for a midfielder.
Which is perhaps where the tweak is.
Moving to a four in the middle with Scott Neilson next to Michael Flynn/Lee Bullock and a wide midfielder on the left supporting James Hanson and Gareth Evans gives the Bantams a more robust layout and as this article is published in a field in Oldham Omar Daley returns to reserve team action suggesting himself in the wide midfielder role.
Daley’s return in a 433 would see him alongside James Hanson and Gareth Evans which would offer little other than Simon Whaley did in the Grimsby and Rochdale matches – strength one week, weakness the next – but perhaps there is an irony that the opposite of the tweak that was a solution to Jewell’s problems – removing the speedy player up front – could be solution to McCall’s.
McCall though is charged with the same choices as Jewell had at Valley Parade. QPR were better on the day than the Bantams and won the battle, but in the end the Bantams won the war and did so by standing steady behind his tweaked team. Had Jewell panicked and broken up that side would City have been successful?
How to move forward retaining what was good on Tuesday afternoon but learning from the evening. That is McCall’s charge now.
Bradford City 0 Rochdale 3 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2009/2010
Defeats are always worse in the cold.
A miserable night and a miserable result for Bradford City going down 3-0 at home to a Rochdale side that – in a League Two context – redefined ebullience.
As the bitter winter drew into Valley Parade the Bantams were beaten by what was probably the best team to come to the stadium in the two and a half years since relegation.
All had started bright enough for Stuart McCall’s side when the early exchanges saw City pinging a cross over that James Hanson turned just wide of the post and the 433 formation that saw James O’Brien return to a midfield alongside Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock and Gareth Evans and new boy Simon Whaley flank Hanson up front seemed to pile pressure onto the side which had ambitions for the top of the division.
Ambitions they would realise by the end of the evening and with no little help from City – Steve Williams’s attempt to clear a ball and his inability to step up after he had given that ball away saw a ball ended up being fired under Simon Eastwood for Dale’s first goal scored by Chris Dagnall.
The visitors played like a team brimful of confidence and as drilled as any who have been to VP for years with every man pressing at City. The full backs added to the wide men to force City’s two wide strikers to come back and be employed as weak midfielders – almost wing backs at times – resulting in a poor first home start for Whaley and Evans’s worst game since he signed for City.
The two wide played stolen away James Hanson cut a lonely and easily policed figure up front while James O’Brien struggled to get a grip in the midfield – the problem with 19 year old players is that they are, by nature, inconstant and hindsight says that McCall would have been better with the more experianced head of Chris Brandon, not that I would have made that decision at 19:45.
Luke O’Brien and Simon Ramsden – who later switched inside to cover (one assumes) an injured Zesh Rehman leaving Jonathan Bateson on the flank – were exposed by Whaley and Evans’s inability to perform both jobs adequately and the ball inside Ramsden ten scattered minutes after the first goal was centred by 39 minute City loanee Chris O’Grady for Dagnall’s second.
The Bantams players got heads up after but the support on the whole rounded on the players with not one player saved a lashing of tongue (and often worse than lashing, but let us concentrate on the main thrust) and a suggestion of their inability. All teams who are not winning at half time are booed of these days, but is there not a distinction to be made between a team playing badly and another team playing well and – if that is a distinction – was it the case on this evening?
Rochdale played as well as any side who have come to Valley Parade in this league have done and showed signs of belief in each other that the Bantams aim towards. One could spend fifteen minutes at half time reviewing every City player to find a problem in his performance but ultimately the main problem the Bantams had tonight was that they were playing against a side that played brilliantly. Swapping out any of the City squad, switching formations, changing personnel: none of those things would have altered that.
Last season’s 3-0 reversal at Spotland saw Paul Arnison hung out to dry for not being able to cope with Will Atkinson who presented a myriad of problems for Simon Ramsden tonight. When does it stop being the fault of our right back that a cross has come over and start being the credit of their left winger? Did right backs up and down the First Division lose their jobs the week after Peter Beagrie ripped them to shreds in 1999?
The build up of understanding between Dale’s pairings – the two at the back, the midfield pair, wide payers, the forwards who caused problems all night with a running off the ball and movement that border on zealous – was honed and the strength of will in the squad was evident and there as an example – no, as something to aim for – to City and to all sides in League Two and beyond. Well drilled, confident teams will always do well, they should always do well.
Rochdale got a third – O’Grady scoring after some more defensive hi-jinx – but any bad luck the Bantams had in the odd run of the ball was made up by two or three great saves which earned him a man of the match award in a match that City could hardly get into. Scott Neilson arrived late and nudged a headed chance at goal but the result was a long time decided at that point.
Ultimately while supporters will no doubt go into a catatonia of debate over the reasons and machinations behind tonight’s result – and while everyone will have a different take on those elements – it will be Stuart McCall’s decision as to sift out what he considers to be issues which can be addressed and those which came around as the result of an excellent performance by the visitors.
I have said many times in the past that the key to dealing with results good and bad is to minimise and move on and that is McCall’s task now. To isolate the problems which can be addressed and to address them, then ignore the others and not let the fact that another team has played well force his thinking away from the idea that the side – the young side – is learning and improving. Tonight was a lesson, and a spanking, but it is something which is learnt from.
The Rochdale fans asked if they could play City every week – considering the one win each of the season then we might take them up on that – but in all likelihood should they maintain that level of performance it would have to be in a division above. The last time Rochdale were promoted The Beatles were number one (with Get Back, which, oh irony, they did) and Keith Hill’s side have managed to escape promotion twice over the last two years.
City on the other hand take stock, sift the good from the bad and move onto Darlington on Saturday. Seasons are made up of cold winter nights like this and how they are reacted too.
This could be a pivotal week in Bradford City’s season.
A win against Rochdale this evening would place the Bantams on the cusp of the play offs, follow that up with a win at bottom-placed Darlington on Saturday and the talk may even be of automatic. A defeat against Rochdale this evening would keep City wedged amongst the midtable traffic, follow that up with anything less than a win at bottom-placed Darlington on Saturday and the talk may even be of manager Stuart McCall’s future.
A couple of weeks ago Joint-Chairmen Mark Lawn likened City’s campaign to a pot of stew – “all the ingredients are in and we are simmering away. But now is the time we have to look to turn up the gas and bring it to the boil.” The temperature began to increase with the 3-0 success at Grimsby a week ago, a further two victories this week would see the vapour begin to rise. After Darlington, City have a week without a game before a busy Christmas period featuring six matches in three weeks. Often a critical phase of a campaign, this week’s target is to go into it in a strong position.
For now though the focus is firmly on Rochdale, who arrive at Valley Parade second in the league and with a string of impressive recent results. Keith Hill’s side has won 4-0 at leaders Bournemouth and triumphed 2-1 at fourth-placed Dagenham, who previously were unbeaten at home. They have defeated current play off occupants Bury and, last time out, Notts County at Spotland. They could go top with a victory tonight and, after two successive play off failures, look a strong bet to make it third time lucky and seal a first promotion since 1969.
As the likes of Accrington, Cheltenham, Burton and in the fact the Bantams can testify, the Dale are from invincible. But the impressive side built by Hill is well respected among City supporters for the attractive style of high tempo football and ability to mix it up with crafty counter attacking when required. Chris Dagnall already has 10 goals, Tom Kennedy is a classy attack-minded full back, Will Buckley a determined winger who tore Paul Arnison to pieces so badly last season the now-Darlington right back’s summer departure became inevitable.
Rochdale’s promise and fact it has wrecked City’s own promotion chances for two seasons in a row – plus the fact Dale’s manager, chairman and supporters appear to dislike the Bantams - give this encounter the level of anticipation no other League Two club coming to Valley Parade can generate. How good is this Bradford City side? Tonight arguably offers the biggest indicator of the season’s prospects so far.
The line up to undertake the challenge is likely to unchanged side from the one which largely impressed at Blundell Park a week ago. Simon Eastwood’s rehabilitation continues in goal in front of a back four that will feature ex-Rochdale full back Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien. Consistency of selection in defence has been a characteristic of Stuart’s managerial reign, for better or worse, and the fact the present incumbents collectively improved enough to keep a clean sheet at Grimsby will ensure Matt Clarke and Jon Bateson remain on the sidelines for now.
The midfield three will be Lee Bullock, Michael Flynn and James O’Brien. The latter’s return at Grimsby made a clear difference and his corner deliveries have improved throughout the season, with the Irishman setting up a number of goals in recent weeks. Chris Brandon and Scott Nielson will be back up, but how we long for the sight of Omar Daley taking a place on the bench. The Jamaican was due to play in the reserves last week before the game was called off, the next second string fixture is later this week. Stuart will be grateful the number of other injuries has reduced, thereby lessening the urgency of Daley’s long-awaited return.
The front three will probably be James Hanson, Gareth Evans and Simon Whaley. Michael Boulding is pushing hard for a start and the close-to-returning Peter Thorne still has a significant part to play, making the competition for striker positions fiercely competitive. Hanson’s strike record of seven goals from 18 starts is highly impressive. Evans is not far behind on five goals from 17, and will hope to rediscover his scoring touch after some recent bad misses. Whaley struck a memorable goal on his debut and, up against a side he was playing for just 17 days ago, has plenty of incentive to build on an impressive start.
As will a certain Rochdale forward. For the third game in a row City are lining up against a former striker and for the third game in a row that former striker has a point to prove. Chris O’Grady’s brief loan spell at Valley Parade last January was a curious one given many City supporters were so quick to turn on him and criticise Stuart for signing him. Many of those same supporters were, around the same time, demanding Stuart bring in a fourth striker to compete with Thorne, Boulding and Barry Conlon.
O’Grady’s scoring record before was impressive, and while he undoubtedly struggled to make an impact in the two sub appearances he made (he was recovering from an injury), I’ve never seen a player given so little time before being universally slagged off. Should O’Grady start and complete the game tonight, he will have more than doubled the time he spent on Valley Parade pitch than when he wore Claret and Amber – a whopping 39 minutes.
No doubt O’Grady will be booed by some, but such is the regularity of former players lining up against the Bantams this season the fear is not so much the law of the ex, but the law of averages which dictates whether he will have the level of influence on the outcome Steve Schumacher and Michael Symes have previously enjoyed, or what Barry Conlon and Graeme Lee endured.
But as Stuart will be telling his players in the dressing room prior to kick off, it’s what City do which counts. Tonight is a tremendous chance to take a step forward from constrained to capable, this week is a tremendous chance to upgrade the season’s hopes from reasonable to realistic.
In other words, it’s time for Stuart to serve up his stew.