From January, 2010
Torquay United 1 Bradford City 2 At Plainmoor in League Two, 2009/2010
As the sun shone into the breakfast room, all you could see outside was the sort of transparent and uniformly bright blue sky that you never spot on an away trip to Morecambe. It was only at the other side of the building, where the light dusting of snow was still frozen to the parked cars, that there was a clue as to just how cold it had been overnight, even in Torquay.
A walk down to the marina showed that the temperature was rising, without quite reaching Riviera standards. It had been much warmer in Bournemouth last March and we know how that game went. City were woeful and, as those of us at the game learnt much later, Stuart McCall’s post-match interview had included a promise to resign if City did not finish in the top seven.
But Torquay in January was different – and it wasn’t just the physical temperature that was lower. Everything was lower, not least City’s league position and all the reputations that hang on such matters. This time round, the question of how much longer the City manager might remain the City manager looked increasingly out of his control.
One of the great beauties of going to these ‘smaller’ grounds is that the stewards will generally talk with you, rather than at you. You get bits of information, tips about who to watch out for and even a tale that, when last Saturday’s game went from a 2-0 home lead to a 3-2 away win, the stewards had to prepare themselves for a possible pitch invasion as a protest against the manager. Hm. Sounded a bit like two of them on a knife edge, then.
The man to look out for, according to the friendly steward, was the midfielder who could be mistaken for the mascot – his words, not mine. Danny Stevens is 5’ 10”, according to the club website. Club websites, unlike BfB, are not to be relied upon. He must be nearer to 4’ 10”. And he is so fresh faced that I bet he isn’t allowed to play in night games. But he certainly played in the bright spells of this game.
City started with the eleven that finished at Lincoln. Bateson, Rehman and Evans all started on the bench, alongside the returning Thorne and O’Leary. The second half display at Sincil Bank had clearly convinced the manager that this was his best ‘formation’. By half time he was equally clearly unconvinced.
I would dearly love to tell those who were not among the 300 or so travelling fans just what the ‘formation’ at kick-off was, but I am struggling. There was an obvious back four, with captain Ramsden returned to right back. Michael Boulding was naturally playing up front, but for much of the first half he might have fallen out with the rest of the team, so rarely did a claret shirt get anywhere near him. Daley and Neilson stayed wide, which brought them near to my seat and thus into my focus. Otherwise the midfield was largely anonymous.
One of the main reasons for that anonymity was the persistent long high ball up the middle to, yes, Michael Boulding. Once again the opposition centre backs must have thought it was their birthdays. Torquay, on the other hand, who must be used to playing on a narrow, but otherwise splendid, surface, kept the ball on that surface much more often, not least when feeding it to the aforementioned Stevens.
If I was a proper sports journalist, I would be able get away with phrases like ‘tormented the City defence’ and ‘ran them ragged’. Instead, I shall just settle for saying that almost every note I made of a Torquay attack in that first half – and there were plenty – featured the number 19. After 15 minutes it was his run and shot that forced Matt Glennon into probably his best save of the game, as he tipped it round his left hand post. Sadly, Glennon was unrewarded. The resulting corner was not dealt with and one huge centre back really did think his birthday had come, when his shot from around the penalty spot went through the crowd of players and low into the net.
One the rare occasions City did keep the ball on the floor, Michael Boulding had a shot that went narrowly over and Chris Brandon also put his one effort some way off target. At half time the sun was beginning to set over Plainmoor.
The City manager, having changed the team at half time at Sincil Bank, went two thirds of the way toward changing it back again at half time at Plainmoor. Off went Williams, on a yellow card and looking like a sending off waiting to happen, and on came the second of City’s captains, Zesh Rehman. Ramsden kept the armband. And Gareth Evans started in place of – oh, yes, that would be Brandon. This time I really can report a 4-4-2. Better still, I can report energy, enthusiasm and, for the first time in this game, a team that looked capable of troubling the home goalkeeper.
A shot from Evans was pushed away by the keeper, before the Torquay leading scorer, Scott Rendell, who had already risen from the dead (or a collision with Matt Clarke) once, had to leave the game with a broken arm. Not that this stopped the home team continuing to pressurise and force City into last second blocks and conceding corners.
And then, with the sun having set over his left shoulder, out of the old wooden stand came the old wooden gunslinger. No, that’s not fair, is it? Far from it. But up stepped captain number three (Ramsden still retaining the armband) Peter Thorne, last seen in a JPT game two centuries ago. And maybe my pre-match chat with the stewards had got back to the Torquay team. ‘If he gets on, he’ll be our best bet for a goal’, I’d said. OK, so you won’t find his name on the score sheet. But you ask their defenders about him. And ask the keeper who had to make two stops from close range within the first few minutes of the poacher’s arrival.
The second of those saves, following an Omar Daley run, brought the corner that was to replicate Torquay’s first half goal. This time it was Gareth Evans who poked it home (sorry, keeper – terrible pun!) through the melee that hadn’t cleared it. Under ten minutes left, but for the first time in years City were back level in the late stages of a game and still had eleven men on the pitch.
Sustained City pressure actually made it look, incredible as it seemed at that moment, as though we could win this one. The home keeper was being reminded by the ref that another exercise in time-wasting would not be tolerated. And then up popped the fourth official’s board with a bright red 4 on it. And then up popped Captain Ramsden, now corner taker extraordinaire. This time it was a curling free kick on to Rehman’s head, down into the same melee and, via Evans’ toe poke (sorry, keeper, done it again!), into the net in front to the ecstatic visiting fans.
Could City hang on for the remaining three minutes of stoppage time? Of course they could! Only some petty argument between Matt Clarke and Elliot Benyon, which brought a pair of yellow cards, would interrupt the oh so smooth progress to three away points.
Over the last umpteen weeks, we have bemoaned our luck. We have pointed to refereeing decisions that have changed the course of the game. We have examined statistics that showed every week how we had more shots at goal, more shots on target, more corners – and fewer goals than the opposition. All of that changed yesterday. City have not come away with a more blatant theft of three points since a Dean Windass belter of a free kick at Yeovil, where even Mr Singh didn’t manage to ruin our day.
Maybe the tide has turned. Maybe Gareth Evans’ confidence will now return. Maybe Peter Thorne’s battered body will hold up for another three months. On such fragile building blocks will the remainder of City’s season rest. Until Thorney’s arrival, it looked remarkably like the sun had set forever. Now the future is that touch brighter. But how dark might it be at Valley Parade next time out?
After a week in which it had been widely expected Stuart McCall would be given the sack, Bradford City travel deepest South with the immediate future continuing to be clouded by doubt.
The City manager remains; but should the Bantams return from the 600-mile round trip to Torquay pointless, it will surely spell the end. Then again it seemed as though defeat to Lincoln would trigger McCall’s dismissal, and before that the loss to Bury, and before that the draw at home to Cheltenham.
Uncertainty prevails. Visits to the Bantams’ official website have become more regular and tense – such is the expectation of been greeted by a statement announcing McCall has gone. Message board rumours emanated by someone who “knows someone who works at the club, his sacking will be announced tomorrow” become more regular and take added credence. A few times earlier this week, the sound of a text message arriving has left me wondering if it’s someone letting me know he’s gone. Whether we want a managerial change or not, we’re all waiting for what seems like the inevitable – but it remains all quiet.
The silence, from the boardroom, is deafening. We’ve been in this situation four years ago with Colin Todd - who’s then-unpopularity still far exceeds the growing levels of discontent towards McCall – where growing pressure to make a change was met with no public comment from the club.
It’s clear that Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes can’t really win if they say something now – as any statement would increase the pressure on McCall regardless of what it contained, even public support would be dubbed the “dreaded vote of confidence”. Yet the lack of comment can also be viewed as a lack of leadership and, with the local media typically falling in line, City supporters remain completely in the dark about the future of the manager.
A defeat on Saturday and it all starts over again. The continued checking of the website, the message board rumours, the bleep bleep of the phone. Perhaps this time it really would be it, but then perhaps McCall will be in the dugout at Valley Parade at least one more time, with Bury at home next. We can say with confidence that Torquay away is a must-win game for City’s already unlikely promotion hopes, but we have little idea if Torquay away is a must-win game for McCall.
Yet the significance of the result at Plainmoor cannot be understated. This week McCall has talked more than once about the importance of winning, no matter how it’s achieved, and the long-awaited delivery of three points would be the perfect tonic for the January blues afflicting everyone connected with City.
A midweek of inaction might have seen the Bantams slip as low as 19th, but instead results elsewhere left the club firmly stuck in 16th. City make their furthest away trip of the campaign with the play offs the longest distance away they’ve been all season, but the 10-point gap isn’t unbridgeable if a revival can begin quickly.
Who will be charged with beginning such an upturn is less clear, after McCall spoke earlier this week about rooting out the faint-hearted and dropping players who couldn’t handle the pressure. If the early substitutions made at Sincil Bank are any indication, that may include Zesh Rehman. The City captain has endured a tough season and may have only retained his place in recent weeks due to the raft of suspensions involving his defensive colleagues. He was badly at fault for both Lincoln goals, in almost exactly the same manner, and, though his half time replacement Steve Williams also looked a bit unsteady, the former hairdresser may take Rehman’s place.
Matt Clarke, left on the sidelines for much of the season, had a very strong second half at Lincoln and is arguably the most in-form of the three natural centre backs. The standout central defensive performance of the season to me remains Simon Ramsden in the JPT at Rochdale, and McCall may consider switching him into the middle and continue playing the promising Jonathan Bateson – subbed at half time too against Lincoln, but more than likely for tactical reasons – at right back. The only certain starter of the back four at Plainmoor will be Luke O’Brien. Matt Glennon keeps goal.
In midfield Omar Daley impressed against Bury and Lincoln and is becoming more effective with each returning game. The Jamaican was used on the right at Sincil Bank, and Chris Brandon may be moved to a more orthodox left wing position to provide balance after a somewhat disastrous first half at Lincoln in the free role. Brandon’s failure to make an impact was the fault of others as much as his, but the slight upwards curve in recent form needs to continue for him to sustain what for him is a regular run in the starting eleven. Scott Neilson is also in contention against opposition he made his City debut against last August.
Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn should take the central midfield spots with Steve O’Leary finally nearing full fitness and expected to be ready to provide competition from the bench. The usually-consistent Bullock was poor last week, while Flynn is struggling to hit the early-season heights. Former Leeds midfielder Bruno Riberio, now 34, has been linked with a move to Valley Parade, due to a long-standing friendship with goalkeeper coach Nigel Martyn.
Up front, Peter Thorne is surprisingly set for a place on the bench after scoring in his return to action for the reserves in midweek. With goals drying up of late, City are desperate for the sort of striking prowess Thorne possesses. Just remember his record at City – 69 starts 32 goals. How different might City’s season have so far been if they could have called upon Thorne more than a mere five times up to now.
Gareth Evans – who looked out-of-sorts at Lincoln and badly needs a rest – will partner Michael Boulding – who has shown decent recent form – in attack. James Hanson – his transfer fee finally agreed – is still injured.
Torquay’s return to the Football League may not be reaching the same heights as their Devon counterparts Exeter last season, but they are reasonably positioned to avoid relegation. Last week they blew a 2-0 home lead to Burton and ended up beaten. On Tuesday Barnet’s Paul Furlong netted for them to earn a 1-1 draw at Underhill. They’ve not won in five games, one less than City’s current dismal run.
Ideal opposition for City to get going again? Nothing is certain with the Bantams right now, although surely City’s winter of discontent and McCall’s reign as manager cannot both continue for much longer.
One has to feel a little sorry for Guiseley after they were given exactly what they did not want from the Football Association tribunal as they set a fee for James Hanson following his Summer move to City at much below the price they wanted.
The Unibond League club had bulked at the Bantams offer of £7,500, a sell-on percentage and a pre-season game between the two clubs next year when City offered it in the summer but as the transfer window began to shut and the non-leaguers pointed out that that had paid twice as much for the player Hanson partnered up front that original deal was exactly what the F.A. gave them.
Rarely have City ever got the benefit of a tribunal decision so one imagines a glass or two will be raised to the man in Manchester who were charged with the judgement of Solomon today.
Guiseley will feel hard done to for sure and probably reflect that they would have been better talking up the Bantams by a couple of thousand rather than aiming high – it is said they wanted in excess of £30,000 but these figures are only rumoured – only to be disappointed. They had no chance of keeping the player and are not hard done to in Hanson’s exit. He was a part-timer working in Idle Co-op when up front for them, a professional for City. No one would deny him the chance of that.
Hanson has been a roaring success since his move and has reportedly attracted the interest of Coventry City in the Championship as well as a good few League One clubs in his first six months which one doubts he would have had he kept banging goals in at Nethermoor. If his time at City proves to be short lived and he exits for bigger things then the slice of that deal they get may prove a bigger reward than they have now.
Les Ferdinand’s 10% sell on from the move that took him from Queen’s Park Rangers to Newcastle United netting Hayes some £600,000 which dwarfed the £30,000 Rangers paid for him up front. So pleased were the non-league side with this that they built a function suite and named it “The Ferdinand Suite” in his honour.
That Hanson is coveted by Coventry – or indeed anyone outside of Bradford City having spotted him and Stuart McCall having seen him as a potential City player – is down not to his performances for Guiseley but rather those for the Bantams and thus is seems right that as his development from talented amateur to proper professional comes and the risk that entails is born at Valley Parade then the tribunal would favour those at Valley Parade.
That City got the player “on the cheap” is true if he is successful – and he seems to be – but many a man has failed to make the grade as a professional and the deal is only inexpensive if a player settles into being a pro. Many have not and it is unfair to those players who plug away working in a shop all week and trying to impress scouts on a weekend to set fees for them so prohibitively high that clubs cannot afford to take the risk that the corn will pop in the pan.
So Guiseley get a raw deal but the alternative would seem to be no deal at all and those at Nethermoor would do well to keep fingers crossed that Hanson gets back in the goals soon and his value – and the value of a sell on clause they now have – increase.
“The James Hanson Suite” would be a just reward.
There are twelve of them. Photographs of men involved in what the Police now euphemistically call “violent scenes” but we used to call football hooliganism. The Police are quick to point out that these are a tiny minority.
At Sincil Bank on Saturday reporters from the Lincolnshire Echo were bedded in with Police, covering the game between Lincoln City and the Bantams.
The fact that the Police are deployed in such huge numbers for lower league games is a matter of some controversy – the majority of the time they are tasked with little more than answering the odd question about which end might be the away end – but on Saturday they had work to do in the away end.
Early on in the game a section of City fans are abusing the linesman and the “banter” started over the top and got worse. I feel culpable – I worry that my criticism of linesman leads to someone else abusing which leads to someone else attacking – but I want no part of the homophobia which is being poured at the official who seems to get his own back keeping a flag down when Omar Daley is fouled and when Gareth Evans is shoved in the back leading to the home side’s first goal.
One wonders where the Police are, where the stewards are, in this situation. Were the abuse racial and not homophobic then without a doubt there would be more of an imperative for them to be involved – when was the last time a club put out a message about kicking homophobia out of football? – and would we want stewards and Police coming over and telling fans what they can and cannot say?
Eventually the stewards come to the men as they advance forward towards the side of the pitch with a message of calming down. The abuse simmers down which perhaps is credit to the softly softly approach of the stewards.
This is put to a test in the second half when a single fan starts an aggressive chant about T&A writer Simon Parker. He is allowed to continue to the bafflement of some and the amusement of others. What Parker must have thought about that one can only guess but for a moment it is worth contemplating that these two individuals – the linesman and the writer – are both the target of abuse that is treated differently in different contexts. Neither seems right, but for different reasons.
A third incident is more testing for the Police and the stewards. A young lad dressed in the traditional Chav uniform of Burberry scarf and cap is on the phone at the front and then ten minutes later is causing problems at the back, shouting at the home fans, turning heads in the crowd. Soon men in florescent jackets are running to the scene.
Incidents like this are difficult to report. Every view has a different take on events. BfB’s Jason McKeown gives one view as he looks down on events and details some, other fans see it and a patchwork of reports give an impression. Sincere apologies if it is factually incorrect, it is the recollections of a number of people.
The lad in Burberry is tackled by a half dozen stewards and is dragged across the front of the away fans – half way up the stand – to be ejected from the ground. Another lad has his legs outstretched and a steward trips over them. There is a flashpoint with the steward thinking he has been tripped and the innocent fan taking what is described as a punch. None of this can be seen by most of the crowd although the spill out afterwards can but before the day is done the version of events which is correlated here has done the rounds of City fan’s mobile phones. It is impossible to say if it is true or not but it is certainly what is being talked about.
The fan is innocent and as a result scuffling has broken out between stewards and supporters. It is a worrying flashpoint with six Stewards having inadvisedly got into the middle of a group of fans and seemingly – probably to regret – gone on the attack. The men at the front have turned attentions away from the lines man and one tugs his scarf over his face to cover his mouth and nose, the disguise favoured by the hooligan of old.
No one seems to know what has happened to the guy with his legs outstretched, or the Chav, but rumours in the following days have it afterwards he went to the Police to report the actions of the steward.
The incident calms down eventually but not before Radio Leeds have mistaken a “You don’t know what your doing” chant aimed at the steward as one aimed at McCall following a substitution. Attention turns back to the pitch and when the game ends and within minutes fans of Lincoln and Bradford City are walking next to each other away from the ground.
Take a look again at the photographs of men in Manchester. Image three, image four, image six, image eleven. Not the faces of young men yet there is a perception that the only problems at football are caused by people under a certain age. That football hooliganism is back in a younger generation having been purged from the old.
The veracity of this I’d question. As with the photographs from Manchester within the Bradford City fans who shouted abuse in these three incidents there is no age barrier in people involved in events that cause interest and perhaps the difference comes how the problems are handled by Police and Stewards.
Perhaps it is a perception that only the younger fans cause trouble worth addressing or perhaps they see it easier for Stewards to tackle young lads than it is people forty plus who are doing the same.
I’ve never written for a website before and I don’t intend to again, but today I’ve got my blood pumping and the reason for this is the phrase I keep hearing “McCall is a legend as a player.”
As a Bradford City player no player has ever equalled what Stuart McCall achieved for this club and probably no one ever will. In saying this I do not include simply his performances as a player in two spells for the club but what he has done as a man. A man of dignity and character.
I have stood next Stuart McCall at Fire Memorial services for the best part of twenty-five years, I’ve had him shake my hand and tell be two decades after when he was a young man as was I that he still feels for my loss and I’ve looked into his eyes as he had said it to me and I have seen an empathy. I’ve talked to him about the pain of his own father’s injuries and shown the same eyes back to him.
This means more to me than promotions and the number of times he kicked a ball for the club and the number of wins and losses under his stewardship.
This is what legends are made of.
I read this phrase “Legend as a player” and it makes me sick to the pit of my stomach. It makes me more sick than a thousand defeats ever will.
I talk to my friends who rationalise with me saying that people do not have my experiences and that people only mean that they respect him as a player, but not as a manager and I take a drink and hear what they say but I do not agree.
What does that mean anyway? That they support Stuart McCall when he is a player who they can cheer in the best of times but when he is a manager and things are going badly they do not consider him worth cheering? Worse that they consider him worth abusing?
They talk as if McCall himself will shake them by the hand and take a drink with them saying “Thanks for your support when we were going up and I fully understand why you had to treat me like garbage as a manager later on because I was not pleasing you.”
There is no player, there is no manager. There is just a man.
A young man who supported us at the worst time in our lives and gets everything he has done for us sliced into pieces on the basis of how much glory some “fans” think they can get out of it and how much glory they can feel reflected from it. As if the balance of a man’s legend could be weighed up by how much success he brought to you. What is this phrase “Legend” that gets thrown around these days anyway? It is one of those modern society words that means “How much I can get out of it” and “How good is it for me.”
People tell me that we can’t keep a manager on sentiment and I tell them that I’m not talking about a manager or result, I’m talking about a man and the decent treatment of a man. A man who deserves so much more than a set of brackets that say which parts of his life you like and which you don’t.
A good man, and for what he has done for this football club, a legend.
Lincoln City 2 Bradford City 1 At Sincil Bank in League Two, 2009/2010
On arriving at a club we often hear how a new manager has made five or six changes from the previous gaffer’s last team and on watching Stuart McCall’s side of players rag-tagly out of positioned for the first half of a a sixth winless match on the trot at Lincoln City’s Sincil Bank one could not be struck by the notion that should the Bantams have a change in the big chair sooner rather than later then his first job would be to put players back into position.
Simon Ramsden moved into midfield, Omar Daley up front, Chris Brandon wandering around in “the hole” and after the two goals that proved decisive Michael Flynn in the forward line. Players out of position seem to be the precursor of manager removal.
That City boss Stuart McCall got his first half team so wrong caused an unsolvable problem for the Bantams which could not be fixed after forty-five minutes. The second goal saw Brian Gilmour slice through the centre of the same flat footed, square defence that was exposed at Notts County on the opening day of the season.
The pairing of Zesh Rehman and Matthew Clarke is chalk and chalk. Two players who can clear the ball out without the pace to clean up behind them and they were exposed by Gilmour to get the second. The first goal came from Brian Gilmour setting up Chris Held for a close finish and came as City’s heads were down following more linesman “fun”.
That the official had been subject to some vile abuse from three or four City fans at the front of the away end may have played on his mind when Omar Daley rounded Steve Watts to burst towards the penalty area only to being sent sprawling – Decision: Free Kick to Lincoln – is little excuse for a wretched afternoon of poor decisions. His role in the first, match swinging goal came from keeping his flag down as Gareth Evans felt the force of both Watts’s hands in his back.
He was a poor linesman – perhaps making errors, perhaps seeking redress – but no one deserved the level of homophobic abuse hurled at him by a shameful handful of City fans who tellingly pulled scarves over their faces when later a scuffle broke out when another supporter was ejected.
Horribly City’s players put heads down after the foul on Daley was not given and after dominating for the opening half an hour and having a great run by Luke O’Brien well saved and a Gareth Evans shot eke wide found themselves quickly two goals behind. Problems were evident, City had crumbled like ageing marble statues.
The problems – however annoying the re-occurrence of them was – were addressed at half time in the dressing room and City came out with Ramsden back at right back, Rehman off and Steve Williams on and Michael Boulding adding to the forward line. Cue a forty five minutes of near constant Bradford City pressure.
That that pressure resulted in only a single goal when Michael Boulding finishing smartly after good work by Luke O’Brien who – as with Matthew Clarke – had as good a second half as he did a poor first was partly the goalkeeping of Rob Burch but mostly City’s difficulties in breaking down a backs to the wall second half from the home side which one rarely sees from a side on their home turf but won them the three points.
(A note here on recent weeks: Lincoln, unlike Bury and Cheltenham, did not feel the need to cheat and the game was all the better for it.)
The Bantams tried, tried, tired to breakdown the home side who were playing like an away side but it was to no avail. At one point Matt Glennon was in the forward line and even the BBC called the Bantams unlucky but ultimately McCall had made a big mistake with his team selection but had seen the problem and fixed it. In the end it was too late, but it was not mistaken by those who saw it for too little.
These people – the six hundred or so who travelled to Lincoln – came not to bury Caesar, but to to praise him. There were the odd pocket of people voicing anti-McCall sentiment but on the whole as the Visigoth sacked the streets a single word rang out from the Bradford City support not too a man but to a point.
“Stuart, Stuart, Stuart.”
The most damning jibe between modern football fans comes when one declares that having assessed the situation that passed between two once competing clubs that the former now no longer considers the latter a rival.
This happened first at Old Trafford who sneered across to Moss Side at City saying that United’s main rivals were now the likes of Real Madrid and AC Milan and not the Blue half of the City at all. This week might have given cause for redress on that but the insult rankled with those at Maine Road.
Indeed the same was said in the direction of Elland Road a few years later. Manchester United were concerned with putting one over Barca and not with Leeds United the supporters of whom took some delight in mocking this attitude in the recent FA Cup win. Goes the song: “1-0, but it’s only Leeds.”
Sympathy for Leeds in this situation dries up when one recalls how the Whites apply the same thinking to Bradford City – and Huddersfield Town, who join the Bantams in considering Leeds and not each other their closet rivals – with one interesting debate on the subject on a Leeds website featuring our much missed writer Roland Harris in which our boy tried to explain that the reason why City disliked Leeds more than Leeds disliked City was down to the fact the Leeds were simply more obnoxious. Paraphrasing here but Roland’s argument went along the lines that if you go around cutting people up on the motorway then the offended parties will feel more negative to you than you do to them.
Nevertheless the rivalry turn off is the brickbat of the modern game and is liberally thrown around as clubs look to establish a local dominance in what is increasingly a centralised game.
All this said, I don’t consider Lincoln City to be a rival.
It is not because we have outgrown them or gone past them (only to return) or any of those freely and liberally thrown around comments but rather because never in my life have I considered the two clubs to be rivals in any way and considering our shared tragedy in the fire of 1985 I had thought we were – well – friends.
theimp.tk‘s Nathan Jackson would seem to think differently saying to highlight a common theme on his site of antagonism between the Imps and the Bantams
As much as I’d love to beat Bradford at Sincil Bank, I can’t really picture a maximum haul against a side who are fairly decent travellers.
Jackson’s optimism about City’s form is welcome but his distaste is simply curious and goes beyond my comprehension. Answers on a postcard please, for I am none the wiser.
Wisdom, or the lack of it, seemed to be in short supply at Sincil Bank earlier in the season when Peter Jackson was fired seemingly for the crime of not having The Imps competing for the play-offs. The Sincil Bank board had a plan: they were going to hold interviews and ask anyone who came if they had a plan and someone did in the form of one time best pal of Lee Power Chris Sutton who took the management position and within a couple of months was declaring the Lincoln were in a relegation fight.
The stunning thing about this turn around from promotion contenders to best best in a relegation dog fight was the way the degradation has been readily accepted. Sutton’s press is good on the whole – the popular media love a face they recognise from nights at Wembley watching England – but as his team struggle one has ton wonder how a spotlight has not been put on those who made and influenced the decision to remove Jackson from the big seat and replace him with such massive uncertainty which would seem to have the club sailing much closer to the relegation winds than one would have thought possible at the start of the season.
Or, as one Lincoln fan put it recently:
Who’s bright idea was this? And where is that person now to explain just what Jackson was doing wrong that Sutton is doing right?
Naturally the person – and I have no idea who he is – probably heard and used the word “gamble” which is cropping up more often at City than it should do for a club that last gambled on six week of spending in the Premiership and lost the ground as a result. When Jackson was fired there was calls for the same to happen to his former City team mate and current Bantams boss Stuart McCall and naturally the fear for those who nail colours to a mast against such a move is that the Bantams would follow Lincoln’s slump. None of which is to say that Sutton is or will do a poor job, just that those people who suggested that a new man couldn’t do any worse than Jackson seem to have been proved wrong.
As City enter the second half of the season which – should Stuart McCall’s predictions of it all resting on the next four weeks be accurate and should the next four games go the same way as the last four – looks increasingly like resulting in a lack of result then one suspects that the Bantams and the manager might be set for a summer parting of the ways which were it not for the squabbling and back-biting from the terraces could have been dignified. No such luck.
A summer revolution leaving the likes of Coventry City target James Hanson, Scott Neilson and Steve Williams in place presents an attractive proposition for a new gaffer (if we must, I’d rather not but that is another story) but one wonders what the reaction would be if a similar downturn that followed Jackson’s exit came with a new City manager. If within a few months of the mob getting what they want the new manager is – like Sutton – talking about winning a relegation fight.
Do not worry, dear reader, for I’m sure at that point public apologies and remortage funded player investment will follow from people who promise that improvement will follow with come forthwith.
On the pitch City spent so much time off that frankly at BfB we forgot who the players were in some cases and why they might not be playing in others. Who is suspended, who is injured, who has roast beef, who has none. We fail to recall these things with a reliable level of accuracy.
City should start with Matt Glennon in goal following his début at Bury and Glennon will have the reformed back four of Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien ahead of him following Ramsden’s midfield sojourn at Bury. Ramsden’s return is brought about by the return from injury of Lee Bullock to start another round of being book for having two legs while Michael Flynn partners him in player of the season form. Stuart McCall’s usual 433 vs 442 question arises and in a three one could expect Chris Brandon to play in a forward laying position while in a four Brandon may be left and Omar Daley make a start on the right.
James Hanson – who has not a yellow card to his name this season – may recover from injury to return up front as Gareth Evans struggle for form with one or the other set to partner Michael Boulding.
Jason McKeown’s match report following the game at Bury has once more raised the issue of cheating in sport. Or, to use an expression taken directly from the Laws of the Game, unsporting behaviour.
I watch far too much football. Not only did I see exactly what Jason saw at Gigg Lane, but I also watched quite a lot of football on television over the last weekend, in a sad attempt to make up for the loss of a live match to attend on Saturday.
At Gigg Lane I get one chance in real time from one angle and a distance of thirty metres to make up my mind about whether that was a dive or a penalty. I am also biased in favour of my team. I might get the chance in a day or so’s time to see it again from the point of view of a camera, even further away from the action than I was and with a different, but probably less good, angle.
In the comfort of my own armchair, those fine people at Sky let me see almost instant replays from three different views at two different speeds. They include, as near as they can, the view the ref had of Lucas and Higginbotham coming together at Stoke.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to become a supporter of referees. I’m certainly not about to become a supporter of Lee Mason. I just happen to think that, perhaps more by luck than management, he got this one right, both in the instant and in the wider context. I’d better explain myself before I come back to Gigg Lane.
The Stoke replay showed clearly that Lucas began to go down before there was any contact. There was absolutely no reason for him to begin has fall at that moment, other than the desire to persuade the referee that it was a penalty. Thereafter, Higginbotham committed a foul in the penalty area.
However, as we all know, once a foul (unsporting behaviour) has been committed, the ball is dead and a second foul, although punishable by a booking or sending off, cannot result in a free kick or penalty. If it were otherwise, all those shirt-pulls while waiting for a corner would be fouls.
So, as the replays showed, Lucas committed the first foul, for which Mr Mason quite correctly booked him, and the second ‘foul’ did not result in a penalty, because the first offence took precedence.
OK. OK. So I’m being kind to the ref and I’m being legalistic. But let’s just compare Mr Mason’s decision (right or wrong) with Mr Mathieson’s (right or wrong) at Gigg Lane in the wider context of cheating. (I would have to ask any Bury fan reading this to try to put aside the natural bias towards one’s own team. But, if there is a Bury fan reading this, BfB would welcome a comment on the concept of cheating.)
Cheating is becoming more prevalent. Does anyone want to disagree? I suspect not. Cheating, at least from one’s own team, is close to becoming more acceptable and once again we see the description ‘professionalism’. We used to have the ‘professional foul’, but we all knew it was still a foul. We now have the ‘professional fall’, but it’s still a fall.
Would Lucas have been brought down by Higginbotham if he hadn’t fallen first? Of course he would. If he’d behaved like a man, stood up and taken the tackle, he’d have got the penalty. Would Dawson have been brought down by Glennon if he hadn’t fallen? I doubt it very much. My City eyes saw no contact at all. Even if they deceived me and there was some contact, it was, as they say, minimal and certainly insufficient to bring him down so dramatically.
And therein lies the problem. We now have a generation of professionals who know that any contact at all can get them a free kick. We even talk about players ‘winning’ free kicks and penalties, like they were a prize in a raffle. The whole notion of ‘sporting behaviour’ is secondary to the ‘winning mentality’. (I apologise to Paulo Di Canio, who should forever be remembered for catching the ball when the opposition keeper was down injured.)
And ‘being down injured’ brings me to another aspect of cheating and refereeing. At Gigg Lane one of the Bury players clearly pulled at Daley’s shirt (there had to be some advantage in wearing those bright white shirts and clearly seeing them pulled back was about the only one) and then, when the pull failed to stop Daley, went down ‘injured’ and presumably in the hope that the referee would stop the game and the resulting attack. When the referee didn’t stop the game, the player decided he didn’t need treatment after all and performed a miraculous recovery. (I’ve just realised – that was practically a word of praise for the ref!)
And while we’re on shirt-pulling, I can’t resist going back to my hopeless addiction to TV football. When Micah Richards pulled, more than once, at Louis Saha’s shirt on Saturday, the referee’s assistant (and how rarely do they genuinely assist?) flagged for the foul (shirt-pulling still being a foul, I thought, as opposed to the ‘accepted’ practice I’m sure I heard it described as by one former referee) and the resulting penalty. It’s almost worth a small word of praise for Saha that he didn’t throw himself to the ground – almost, but not quite, since that would give non-cheating a status it hardly deserves. Shirt-pulling is just another form of cheating, hoping the referee and his assistants either won’t notice it or won’t do anything about it – because so many don’t.
I don’t want to pay £18 to watch who can cheat better. I could stay warm and dry at home and watch some fake ‘wrestling’ for less. I want a competition between two football teams, to be decided by their relevant footballing skills. I want more Mr Mason’s and fewer Mr Mathieson’s. I want more honest players and fewer cheats. And I want cheats defined in such a way that the word ‘winning’ can no longer sensibly be placed before ‘penalty’. And I want ‘professional’ to mean what it used to mean before the invention of the ‘professional foul’.
Am I asking for too much? If I am, would the authorities tell me, so that I can give up all hope now and decide whether to stop watching or to reconcile myself to watching something horrible and nasty? But if I’m not asking for too much, would the same authorities allow the referees to say ‘I’d have given you that if you hadn’t thrown yourself to the floor’, thereby dealing with the cheats and bringing back something closer to The Beautiful Game?
Bury 2 Bradford City 1 At Gigg Lane in League Two, 2009/2010
Supporting Bradford City has become miserable, gloomy and demoralising – and this feeling just isn’t going away.
Defeat at Bury this evening means it’s one win, one draw and five defeats since the start of December. We can officially decree that we’re undergoing a disastrous winter – with a run of form to match the Spring of 2008/2009 collapse and the Autumn of 2007/2008 calamity. Thank goodness we don’t play during the Summer. We’re desperate for an end to the despair, for now just the short term fix of three points will do to raise spirits.
But top of the ever-growing list of worries is the long-term effect of this disastrous run.
Tonight’s game followed a well-worn and familiar script. City were far from out-played by in-form opposition and yet again the evidence suggested the gap in quality between the Bantams and the majority of the League Two promotions is minimal. As per usual, City deserved more than they earned. Chances, possession and territorial advantage seem to be areas they win every week. Goals for verus against, a battle won less often.
And just like the last few weeks, it was a refereeing decision which ultimately cost the team. With the score 1-1 and half an hour on the clock, Stephen Dawson had charged into the area with just Matt Glennon to beat. The debut keeper rushed out to reach the ball, but pulled away from making a challenge after Dawson tapped it past him. The Shakers’ midfielder then hurled himself, untouched, to the floor and the referee Scott Mathieson – the man who awarded Rochdale two hotly disputed penalties when City were beaten 3-0 at Spotland last season – pointed to the spot.
It can perhaps be argued that, by initially attempting to make a challenge before pulling out, Glennon invited Dawson to make the tumble and ensured it looked a penalty to Mathieson and his linesman, both a fair distance away. Yet the lack of contact and obvious intent of Dawson to win a spot kick rather than go for goal cannot be considered anything but cheating.
Ryan Lowe converted the penalty and, as he wheeled off in celebration, began shouting towards the livid City fans behind the goal who’d reacted angrily to the penalty decision. It was as though Lowe was upset that supporters could have the temerity to question his team’s honesty. Well Ryan, I had a perfect view of the incident and your mate dived.
That moment was ultimately to prove decisive. Bury had taken the lead when Mike Jones was able to tap the ball home after Glennon had saved an initial effort. City levelled quickly when a scramble in the box lead to Efe Sodje scoring an own goal, and though Bury often threatened a nervous back four, the visitors - forced to play in old Bury white shirts due to a kit clash - gave as good as they got with Chris Brandon and Scott Neilson causing problems out wide.
But the penalty set back momentum and confidence, it wasn’t until the second half that signs of fight from the temporary whites returned. Numerous chances were created, the best a Brandon effort from a tight angle which smacked the outside of the post. Tellingly though, home keeper Wayne Brown was barely tested with efforts on target too straight and often tame.
Omar Daley came on and provided some spark, Rory Boulding was introduced later and looked anonymous. His older brother battled hard but his towering marker Ben Futcher was always going to have the beating of him in the air – how James Hanson was missed. Gareth Evans again disappointed, Simon Ramsden and Michael Flynn had some decent spells on top but at other times were outgunned. The possibility of a deserved equaliser remained up until an uneventful four minutes of stoppage time.
But deep down, you never really believed it would come. The players can put together some good moves, but confidence and composure is draining with each recent setback and it leads to possession too often been surrendered. The spirit and determination to get hold of the ball and charge forward was still there, but somehow it doesn’t quite seem as strong as it once was. Because of all these reasons and more, the Bantams look a team short on quality right now.
But the downbeat mood is not just evident on the pitch, within the away end there was a strange subdued mood to the evening. At times strong vocal support was offered to the players, at others there was an eeire silence and resignation. City supporters are split about the reasons for the season’s nosedive and, specifically, over Stuart McCall, and this seemed to manifest itself into a lack of atmosphere so unlike typically following City on the road.
We’re all just miserable. We can’t agree on what the cause of the latest run of failure is, we certainly can’t agree on the solution. The mood seemed dark, the belief had slipped. Why are we here tonight? Because we want to be, or because we feel we should be? Suddenly watching City is becoming a chore rather than a pleasure.
So at Gigg Lane we sat in muted disunity. We were freezing cold with a ghastly wind further lowering the temperature at regular intervals. We watched our struggling team beaten by opposition which had cheated us to prosper. We’re fed up of this dismal predictability and, with failure such a typical feature over the last 10 years, we’re almost bored.
Of course this can’t go on forever and, when the pain of tonight dies down, those of us who were at Gigg Lane will be able to take comfort from how well the Bantams played in the second half. City will eventually win again and we’ll all be able to start feeling better.
But the longer this run of poor form goes on, the greater the long-term damage is likely to prove.
In footballing circles the closer you get to the Arctic Circle there is talk of a Winter break which would allow the players a mid-season rest while conditions are too bad to play and supporters would appreciate the chance to stay at home in the warmth.
This last month the Bantams have had something similar, and it has not been enjoyable.
The one game in four weeks has been a shock to the system. An unwelcome cold summer holiday leaving one at a loose end on a Saturday afternoon and – snow covering being what it was – robbing the opportunity to keep snug in the snug of The Fighting Cock.
A week of perpetration, the increasingly heard comment to wives and girlfriends of “I’m looking forward to some football this weekend”, the thought about how and who and where City will play and then, nothing.
So a return to football on a Tuesday night in Bury is timely, the winter break having gone on far too long.
This game was due to be played on Boxing Day but failed owing to the snow. The Shakers used the generally static division to move the leagues resting in sixth after Saturday’s win over AFC Bournemouth.
The Bantams return to action with one addition in the form of Matt Glennon who has been signed on a six month deal following the exit of Simon Eastwood. Lee Clark has spoken highly of Eastwood suggesting he is ready to take over from Alex Smithes should that player leave as he expected to do so although having watched Eastwood for five months it is hard to share his opinion.
At times excellent, at times calamitous Eastwood lacks a steadying influence which was the hallmark of – in my humble opinion – the best goalkeeper City have ever fielded Gary Walsh. Eastwood is an fine athlete but has yards to go to become as good a footballer.
At 31 Glennon has been around the leagues and the hope is that that experience will settle a City back line which has better footballers in it than it gets results. Glennon sits behind full backs Simon Ramsden and Luke O’Brien and central pairing Zesh Rehman and Matthew Clarke who replaces the suspended Steve Williams.
Omar Daley returned to the City squad not match fit a month ago but one can imagine no player in the division is up to speed at the moment following the flurry of cancellations so the winger may get the nod to restarts. Stuart McCall is expected to form a 442 with Daley on the right hand side and James O’Brien on the left around the middle pair of Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn although Stephen O’Leary is expected to be back in contention and should McCall favour a 433 which he seems to be moving away from then he or Chris Brandon may feature.
Should that happen Daley may be pressed into service as one of the two supporting forwards to James Hanson alongside Gareth Evans – who struggled for form before this break – or Michael Boulding.
James Hanson – who it is said is prompting interest from higher up the leagues following his first five months in professional football – is expected to complete the team.
Bradford City director Roger Owen is not a happy man. The man who was rumoured to be the target of Stuart McCall’s We All Stand Together comments has reacted with some anger to criticism which suggested that the recent call off against Notts County was as much down to a fall in standards at Valley Parade as it was falling snow.
Owen – who has a rising profile at Valley Parade – addressed City fans saying
I have been prompted to speak in light of some really quite hurtful comments … relating to the capabilities of those at the Club who worked so hard to get Saturday’s game on.
His further comments make fascinating reading. City tried to get the game on because Notts County were in financial trouble but not because they thought the Meadow Lane club could do with the money but rather because should they get it – they might have signed someone by the time the reply is staged. One might have suspected that such unsporting – if as Owen says valid – reasons are applied to the staging of games but perhaps one would not have expected those things to be verbalised in a public forum and doing so seems a little crass.
The comment which have sparked Owen’s ire come from – of course – the club’s Official Message Board and Owen joins Mark Lawn in demanding a removal of anonymity from that place as a way to make people more accountable for what they say. One has to wonder who these calls are aimed at? When a decision was made to stop fake name and anonymous positing on this website we wrote some rules and got about our business. Lawn’s prompts came about a month ago and one wonders why they are no further toward fruition.
One also wonders what the effects of removing anonymity from the Official Message Board would be on those who would happily have their comments attributed to their correct name. If BantamHead89 writes something offensive or insulting about the manager, the players or the groundsmen what of the is the come back that he should expect if the club know that BantamHead89 is Jimmy Smith from Terrace Street in Idle? Would he be banned for matches? Have his season ticket removed? Will Jimmy face a visit from Matthew Clarke and James Hanson on a dark evening to “discuss his views.”
While one ponders that question is it worth considering the background of the problems the club has with the supporters it interfaces with through the Official Message Board which has always been troubled but never more or less so than any other club. When Lincoln City sacked Peter Jackson and his assistant
Keith Alexander Iffy Onoura the number two used his FourFourTwo column to discuss how after returning home from a 14 hour day he had put in on behalf of the Imps he had read on a web forum how he “did nothing.”
The Bantams OMB says similar things about Wayne Jacobs and does so under the heading of the word “Official” and were that all there was to say about the web forum which once again is dragged into the fore of the conversation of Bradford City then it would be easy to say that the whole thing should be shut down. It is not.
Spin back six years and the OMB was the lifeblood of Bradford City as the club headed to oblivion of a second administration. The community around it was a significant factor is raising what was at the time the largest amount of money put together by football fans in defence of their club’s future. Community – with almost no exception – is a good thing and the community which has emerged around the Bradford City OMB is no different.
That that community comes under the banner of “Official” is a problem for the club – many have asked what any person would do were they to read that their own employer carried negative commentary about them – and one which Lawn is right to try address but his carrot and stick approach of removing the anonymity in exchanged for continued use addresses some of the problems the OMB might have in terms of the level of debate being brought down by brickbat attacks from faceless people but does not capitalise on what the OMB could be.
The OMB is a community – like it or not – and it is probably the biggest community of Bradford City fans assembled outside of VP on a match day. It puts City Gent and BfB into the shade in terms of numbers and impact. City are forever answering issues that arise from comments on the Official Message Board be it a negative as it was today or responding to questions obliquely asked on that forum but they have never commented on an article on this site, or on the other non-official sites.
As a community the OMB is significant but Bradford City do not get the most from that community – not by a long way – and they are not alone in that. Having played a significant role on projects for Premier League clubs trying to address the question of how best to leverage the community around the club into a workable web presence I would suggest that there is not a football club in this country that “get” the web and what to do with it.
Owen and Lawn are right to try remove anonymity from the Official Message Board – the instinct of having supporter be accountable for what they say is a good one – but the OMB is a problem for this club and other clubs on the whole because football clubs still have not decided what to do with the Internet and how they best can use it to further the idea of a football support for all that carries on all week long.
There were plenty of notable results across England’s four professional divisions on Saturday – emphatic victories for Chelsea and Norwich, surprise defeats for Man City and Leeds – but while events at Saltergate provide an interesting talking point for Bradford City supporters, they should not come as a shock.
Barry Conlon, signed by Chesterfield on a month’s loan only that morning, marked his debut by netting the winning goal over Torquay United. The crisp strike from the edge of the area was typical of the Irishman – in the sense of starting well at a new club. It is the 14th transfer the Irishman has been the subject of, it is the 13th year of the 31-year-old’s playing career. There’s a reason he doesn’t stay anywhere long.
For Conlon has proved himself to be an effective short-term impact player. His one and three-quarter seasons at Valley Parade characterised by short spells on the sidelines and short spells in the team. It can be argued he wasn’t given a fair run of games in the team, it can be argued he made it impossible for manager Stuart McCall to give him that run.
I was always a fan of Barry, but it was Bury away almost a year ago that my tolerance of his short-comings vastly-reduced. Three days earlier at Luton, he’d come on a sub and made a decent impact in a second half the Bantams dominated. At Gigg Lane he partnered Steve Jones up front, and though the on-loan Burnley was unhelpful in his positioning and link up play, Conlon’s anonymous performance and miss of a sitter in the final stages of the 1-0 defeat summed up his lack of reliability.
It left me looking back over his City career up to then and realising just how inconsistent he generally was. It seemed to be a never-ending cycle. Brought into the team to give it a boost, he would make a good impact and often score. The next game he’d be a definite starter and usually carry on where he left off. But then the week after less effective, then the week after even less so. The hauling off as sub wasn’t far away, the bench his home again the following week. Then the odd cameo appearance before the cycle started all over again.
A perfect example was in late October 2008. Conlon came on as sub in a battling home game with Bury and scored a late winner. The following Saturday against Barnet, he started the game and scored two excellent goals. Then his performances began to drop off in away games at MK Dons and Wycombe. He was then dropped against Rotherham, before returning in the home game against Chesterfield, playing well and scoring from the spot.
When on form it wasn’t just Conlon’s work rate which impressed, he was very effective at holding up the ball and enabling others to get forward. He was had a great shot on him (often unlucky with some great efforts hitting the woodwork) and he showed intelligence in his passing and positioning. His poorer performances were notable in that the work rate was clearly missing. He wouldn’t chase causes as vigorously, he’d try illogical passes to others when he needed to show more endevour in trying the harder things, he’d fluff his lines in front of goal.
It was as if he only played well when he was under pressure or had something to prove – such as why he should be in the starting eleven.
Of course that point to prove led to him becoming a hero when he moved to Grimsby Town on loan towards the end of the season. Scoring in each of his first three appearances, he pulled a struggling outfit away from the relegation trap door.
In doing so, he also made life that bit more uncomfortable for McCall. Having allowed him to leave with rumours of off-the-field indiscipline circulating, Conlon’s on-loan like-for-like replacement Paul Mullin failed to work out. As Barry made the headlines in Cleethorpes, Mullin struggled to make any impact and City’s season continued to implode. Promotion hopes were as good as ended by a 3-0 defeat at Dagenham where Mullin looked dis-interested. At the exact same time, Conlon was smashing home a double which almost virtually sealed the Mariners’ survival.
But this was a few games, not a season. Whether he’d have made a difference to City’s collapse is highly doubtful. Since that double-strike against Barnet on November 1, he’d only managed one goal from open play during his final four months at Valley Parade.
Conlon’s ability to make a short-term impact was only re-affirmed. His capability of doing it long-term a remaining question.
And one still unanswered, for despite a bright start at Grimsby this season after making his move permanent, Conlon’s form faded badly and with the club struggling more than ever, this time he couldn’t be counted on when the chips were down. Two sendings off, more rumours of off-the-field misbehaviour, only one goal – a penalty – since October. When we went to Blundell Park in November, City were up against a mere shadow of the player Conlon could be. The work rate was nil, the passing poor, the finishing hilariously bad.
His manager has put him on the transfer list, with the excellent Cod Almighty stating, “Conlon is a player who might have been genuinely useful to the Mariners had his head been right but has looked less and less interested as Town have sunk deeper into the mire – so fair play to the manager for deciding to get shot.”
So Conlon is on the move again and, with Grimsby drawing 0-0 at home to Cheltenham on the same afternoon Conlon was a goal-scoring hero on his Chesterfield debut, it’s the turn of Mariners manager Neil Woods to feel uncomfortable.
Chesterfield have signed him on loan with a view to making it permanent for the rest of the season. McCall and Woods – not to mention the many other previous managers Conlon has exasperated – would probably advise John Sheridan to reserve judgement for a few weeks.
Remember when we used to go and watch City on a Saturday afternoon? Saturday’s game with Notts County has been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch leaving the Bantams’ stop-start season stopping again.
With the game still to be redated, it looks like it will be another three weeks before City are in action at Valley Parade again, when Bury come to town. There might have been a temptaton to reschedule the game for a week on Tuesday, in between the away trips to Lincoln and Torquay, although the lack of notice for the West Yorkshire police means it’s more likely to be staged in February, perhaps in between the Bury and Grimsby home games.
Ah well, there’s housework to be done. Match of the Day and the Football League Show on the TV tonight. At least we don’t have to get cold and wet…
See you at Gigg Lane Tuesday, although let’s not hold our breath.
The snowy weather continues to make life stop-start. It has caused disruption to Bradford City’s season, it has caused misery around the country.
Hours of media attention has contributed to making snow the number one topic of conversation. A Channel 4 News reporter spent a great deal of time interviewing a weather expert in the middle of a wintry Manchester last week. When asked how recent conditions contrasted to the famous big freezes of decades ago, the expert began replying that it’s nothing in comparison to how bad it was then. The interviewer hurriedly cut him off by asking a different question, thereby unintentionally revealing personal aspirations that what he was reporting on was something more historically significant than merely a spot of bad weather.
The here and now is dreadful, who needs the perspective that others had it worse than us in the past? Certainly not the Channel 4 viewers, watching at home on widescreen TVs and keeping warm through central heating.
Perspective is not always welcomed and, as City’s season looks set to unpause again with the visit of Notts County, the opportunity arises to move away from the depressing mood which has engulfed the club since Rochdale waltzed around Valley Parade at the beginning of December. There has only been five games since, despite the seven weeks which have passed. With even the only win of that period widely derided rather than celebrated, a miserable outlook concerning the state of the Bantams has been as difficult to shift as any deep snow.
Has it ever been worse for City then it is now? Perspective might be found from recalling the scary moments when the club almost imploded through administration, from the misery of relegations even from a higher league, or from the fact that City’s history is not without its basement league periods. But the present occupation of League Two midtable below the likes of Morecambe, Accrington and Aldershot is an unhappy one. Many are sharing the outlook of that Channel 4 news reporter – we’ve never had it so bad.
Which, looking from an even wider perspective, offers an interesting clattering of outlooks with Notts County. With this being City’s fourth occasion locking horns with the Magpies this season, the wide range of emotions which has fuelled their season has largely glimpsed through Bantams’ eyes.
The halcyon-dreams of domination prompted by the 5-0 opening day massacre at Meadow Lane. The losing faith in Ian McParland which saw the under-pressure manager dance down the Valley Parade touchline when it looked as though his team had won the JPT tie late on in October, only for a late City equaliser to contribute to his sacking five days later. There was the short-lived reign of McParland’s replacement, Hans Backe, who enjoyed his first win in charge by defeating City in the FA Cup during November.
Backe has gone, incredibly the mysterious richer backers Munto Group have already gone. Suddenly a club with seemingly realistic dreams of climbing all the way to the top is saddled with a level of expenditure and wage bill an average Championship club would struggle to cope with. Reports suggest that, if Executive Chairman Peter Trembling can’t find replacement backers with rich pockets, the club will fold in two months. From the bright days of August, the dark throes of winter see County crawl into Valley Parade with its very future in doubt.
Of course the here and now for County is a respectable fifth-place position and seven point-lead over the Bantams. But as many green-filled eyes from BD8 looked on at Meadow Lane this summer and wondered out loud why it wasn’t us been taken over by rich backers, the uncertainty at County offers plenty of reasons to breath sighs of relief that mysterious folk with questionable motives targeted someone else.
Just like driving cautiously in the snow and passing a BMW driver who’s veered off the road, on Saturday should we look over at the away fans and feel smug or sorry about their misfortune?
So City’s season starts up again with the gap to a play off spot a-still-bridgeable six points away. For how poor recent form has been, the distance has only grown by two points since City drew 2-2 at Northampton at the beginning of October. The most pressing concern is to reverse the shocking home form which threatens to undermine efforts on the road to reduce that gap.
The statistic of a paltry three wins from 11 Valley Parade has been oft-quoted over the past fortnight. Perhaps the clearest indication of the damage can be found in the fact that, since the last home win against Hereford in October, six of City’s nine league games have been at Valley Parade. Seven points have been taken from those three away games, with just three acquired on home soil. The pressure for a maximum home haul is mounting.
Matt Glennon has been signed up to provide greater reassurance to an oft-nervous backline. Ultimately replacing his former team-mate Simon Eastwood, City’s as yet squad number-less first choice stopper arrives with plenty of experience but question marks over rustiness following a lack of senior football. I saw him earlier this season play for Huddersfield reserves at Valley Parade, and what stood out was the volume and regularity of his booming voice ordering around his young back four. While Eastwood improved over time, his rawness still caused him to concede soft goals. The number one quality sought in Glennon is reliability.
The other big player news of the week concerned Michael Flynn’s public rejecting of transfer speculation of a switch to League One. Flynn’s commitment to the cause, even when not playing at his best, is one to build a team around, especially as the 29-year-old has many years of good service in him. He’s also rejected more vicious suggestions of unhappiness at not being captain. The perpetrators of this rumour seem to have a dubious agenda against the awarding of the armband to Zesh Rehman, for what they consider questionable grounds. Let’s just say they probably read the Daily Mail.
Zesh will continue to lead out the team and partners the returning Matt Clarke at the back with Steve Williams taking a turn for suspension. The ever-reliable Simon Ramsden will take up right back with Luke O’Brien on the left side. It remains a personal frustration towards some supporters this season that many are out to deride O’Brien and continually label him not good enough. Last season, Luke seemingly couldn’t put a foot wrong in many fans’ eyes despite obvious rough edges, now he’s playing better and taking on more responsibility and people are seemingly out to slate him.
A few fans have called for his dropping to be replaced by the “hungry young Louis Horne”. At what point did Luke lose his hunger? Perhaps OB can take consolation from the fact the last OB was widely derided by some during the early part of his career – and he’s not done bad since.
In midfield alongside Flynn will be regular partner Lee Bullock and then the still unanswered dilemma of whether to play 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. In the last home game Chris Brandon spearheaded a diamond formation and was subsequently keen to point out a lack of chances so far this season. This formation seems to suit him best, but arguably doesn’t suit City.
James O’Brien – goalscorer last time out – is also in contention alongside Scott Neilson and Omar Daley. Recently watching last season’s goals of the season DVD – with the delights of the always-brilliant Keith Coates commentating – I was pleasantly surprised to recall just how well Daley played up until his injury against Darlington. He scored a number of fantastic goals, created plenty of others too. At full pace and with only the resistance of an opposition full back, he made things happen and his improving fitness offers expectation he can make things happen for City this season.
Up front, Michael Boulding should be fit and may take the place of Gareth Evans, who’s confidence has been dented in recent weeks, partnering top-scorer and rumoured-Huddersfield target James Hanson. City’s chance-to-conversion-ratio is poor and the return of Peter Thorne is anxiously awaited.
Notts County’s last VP visit saw a slightly weakened team and tomorrow we should have the dubious pleasure of watching then-rested Lee Hughes partner Ade Akinbiyi or Luke Rodgers in attack. Graeme Lee will hope for a happier return than his sending off for persistent kicking of Boulding in October. Kasper Schmeichel should be kept away from the corner flags.
Dave Kevan is the caretaker in the dugout. Sven may watch on from the directors box – though it’s rumoured patience has reached its limited and this might be his final game.
Sven probably really has never had it so bad.
The scarcity of football in these snow bound weeks seems to have set the fan’s mind set into watching pretty much anything as so after the delight of the improvised Portsmouth squad beating Coventry on Tuesday night came the supposedly wondrous triumph of Reading at Anfield where Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool side were knocked out of the FA Cup.
Benitez cut Shakespearianly tragic figure on the side lines as he watched his team capitulate to a Reading side that showed all the Hallmarks of the Royal’s great sides: They cheated a bit, moaned a lot and – for some unfathomable reason probably connected to the fact that they are the club in closest proximity to your average tabloid newspaperman’s house just outside London – they were lavished with praise for their effort.
How Benitez – mic under nose and awkward questions to answer about his future – must have longed to grab the TV crew and march it to the Referee, to Brian McDermott, to Shaun Long and demand a reason why the 93rd minute penalty that levelled things for Reading was given considering the fairly obvious nature of the dive. No penalty, no extra time, no news story from this Third Round FA Cup game.
Nevertheless Benitez is “in trouble” now and many are calling for him to be fired from his job. Unless he is stealing for the Anfield stationary cupboard, using their computers to write his CV or as in the case of one former Anfield player turned sacked manager at another club running up £44,000 work of sex line bills on the club’s phone then sacking is not an option.
The word sack is thrown around liberally in football and is misnomic. When a centre-forward plays badly he is dropped and someone else plays the position for a time while the player himself is paid to sit on his backside or play in the stiffs.
We would never say that Jim Jefferies “sacked” Benito Carbone by paying him to not do anything yet we use it all the time for the process of taking the roles and responsibilities away from managers but continuing paying them. Sven Goran Eriksson’s time out of football after England finished almost to the day that The FA stopped paying him after his “sacking” by England ad some say that we paid Sven more to sit on his backside for a year than we did Steve MacLaren to work as manager for two.
Of course a manager without any management probably starts looking for another job and might get one soon taking away the contract from the previous club just as a player in the reserves might move on to a new team but there is no onus on either to do so while they are being paid as City found out with Carbone back in 2001.
So rather than Liverpool sack Benitez – or any club sack any manager – it would probably be more accurate to suggest that the Reds might drop him and if they can stomach the idea of paying £4m a year to someone who they don’t use in the company – and a further £4m to his replacement no doubt – then they could do just that but the club would end up in a situation where it is paying £8m a year for the managerial position to be filled and – and England’s experience suggest that this could be the case – not even getting half the value of that back.
All of which concerns Bradford City only slightly and this slight way is this. In a post game discussion with a Liverpool website (us football site webmasters have a secret club – seriously) I suggested that Martin O’Neill would be the only choice for the job to which I was told my man on Merseyside has discovered that a similar thought had passed around Anfield to a point where though back door channels O’Neill had been sounded out and had said that he was not about to break his contract with Aston Villa – he had refused to do the same with Leicester City preventing him from taking up the Leeds United job once – and so either a deal had to be worked out with Randy Learner at Villa Park or Liverpool would have to wait.
So wait they do, because while they take no joy in Third Round exits they have a plan for replacing Rafa that involves bringing in a man they feel will do better rather than throwing a wide net open after getting rid of the incumbent and seeing what they find. If they are not able to get the man they want then they will stick with what they have.
Such thinking is thin on the ground at most clubs in and out of the boardroom where little attention is paid to the person following the current, to be dropped, incumbent of the manager’s position, much less to the idea that the exiting man might be falling below whatever standard is drawn for a reason which is not solved by replacing him.
John Sheridan – manager of Oldham Athletic – was fired about a year ago and replaced with Joe Royle who allowed the teams faltering play-off push to fizzle out entirely. Royle was replaced with Dave Penney who has taken the Latics to 19th in League One hovering over the relegation places and one must wonder who pitched the idea of sacking of Sheridan and if they are considering the same with his replacement. Certainly whatever the problem was that saw Sheridan relieved of duties does not seem to have been solved by his exit.
If Benitez was to be paid by Liverpool to stay at home one could argue that the next manager would not lose FA Cup games to weaker opposition but few could make a case that suggests another manager would definitely perform better in the League than Benitez. Two years ago the Red got 76 points from 38 games making a perfect average of two points per match but still finished fourth. It is not performance but rather of over performance that is the expectation.
All of which seems a million miles away from Bradford City at present save the commonality that surrounds a section of the supporters of both clubs (and many other clubs it has to be said) who look at sacking the wrong way and talk much about removing and little about replacing and certainly do not consider the financial pitfalls of paying two people to do the same job.
Care should be taken around the opinions of these people who are so ready to spend other people’s money.
Scotching rumours of his leaving Valley Parade Michael Flynn has confirmed that while he has an exit clause in his one year deal he does not intend to use it.
Speaking after rumours of a move to Brighton the City number four said
Everything is right about this club – they’re a good set of lads and management team, the chairmen have got their heads screwed on and the fans have been good to me, even when we are losing. Of course, there is a sense of frustration around the club and I feel that as much as anyone but I haven’t once been looking to get out of the door.
The midfield signing from Hudderfield Town has won hearts and minds in his brief City career so far and his commitment to applauding supporters following every game is noted and admirable while his combative midfield style with the ability to link defence to attack is very much what was lacking from the Bantams last year.
Meanwhile another signing from Huddersfield Town could be made as keeper Matt Glennon starts talks with City about a loan move to the Bantams.
For eight years former Bradford City Premiership boss Jim Jefferies has been in charge at Kilmarnock before his – and of course his number two Billy Brown’s – exit early today in a storm of reports about directors talking to captains about tactics following a summer of arguing with the board about offering a job to the one time City midfelder Gary Locke a job.
Jefferies – who was overlooked for the Scotland job despite strong favour in some sections of the country – had a decent record at Rugby Park taking them to numerous top six finishes but never getting close to the top two. Not dissimilar to his record with Hearts before he arrived at Valley Parade to replace Chris Hutchings in 2000.
Hutchings had struggled to win points with most talented team assembled in Bradford City’s history in the top flight that season and Jefferies – on arrival – was trumpeted as one of the top ten coaches in the UK. On his second day he had rubbed chairman Geoffrey Richmond up the wrong way with the head honcho deciding after 48 hour that he was not able to work with the new man and a look back at the Bantams shows that the club had been in a slide caused by Richmond’s six weeks of madness.
Isn’t it time we looked back at what we perceive as a failure for Jim Jefferies and re-evaluate his time at Bradford City? Like Hell it is.
Jefferies arrived at Valley Parade proudly waving a white flag above his head saying that relegation – with over half the season left – was a near certainty and Richmond’s instinct to sack the Scot on his second day in the job was spot on (What would have been the worst that happened had he done so? Jefferies and Brown could have been added to the list of creditors?)
Not content with waving that white flag Jefferies proceeded to cherry pick a few players from the first team – the likes of Benito Carbone and Stan Collymore – and give them a few months in the reserves no doubt to encourage them out of the door for the wage bill but effectively making his relegation prediction more likely.
Jefferies attitude to the Bradford City dressing room seemed to read good spirit and strength as disruption and a divide of his power and set about slicing it in half. Out went club legend Peter Beagrie – woefully minimised with his swansong being a later dance around defender at home to Coventry City showing what the Bantams were missing – and in came the likes of Eoin Jess and the aforementioned Locke. Kevin Kyle – the captain who had seen the fall out at Killie – was linked to City during this time and after a year in the job the manager brought in the ineffectual Juan José Carricondo. Jim Jefferies called the players by their nicknames – Juanjo, Lockey, erm, Jessie – but only those players he has brought into Valley Parade.
Thus Jefferies is summed up. A manager who made the critical error of judgement that a player who could turn a few tricks for Hearts in the SPL could replace one for one a player who could do the same in the Premiership. In the annals of Bradford City not enough is spoken of the waste of time, effort and money which was paying Juanjo after having Benito Carbone in the second eleven.
Chris Hutchings suffered injures to David Wetherall and Andrew O’Brien and lost Lee Mills to alcohol problems but while Hutchings struggled to keep his players in the squad Jefferies frittered them away on what in retrospect seemed to be one man’s experiment to discover what anyone could have told him before he started: that an average player in Scottish top flight football is a long way inferior to his counterpart in the English top flight.
The most irritating thing about Jefferies – who once again leaves a club complaining about interference from above as if his time at Valley Parade should not have warned chairmen about giving him a free hand – is that Wigan Athletic kindly provided a second take on the Paul Jewell leaves and is replaced by a short time by Hutchings story and their ended happily under Steve Bruce who came not with the Jefferies surrender but with spirit and fight that kept them in the top flight.
I would not have considered Bruce one of the top ten managers in the country before then, his achievements at Wigan probably changed my mind on that.
One is tempted to ask how different would Bradford – City and the City – be had that appointment been made differently. Kevin Keegan and Glenn Hoddle were reported to be talked to and Prof Rhodes confirmed that Berti Vogts has applied for the job but instead – and with a flourish from the media who sang his praises dubbing him one of the best managers in the country – we got Jim Jefferies, and shafted.
However if the appointment was a mistake then that mistake was compounded and doubled by Jefferies attitude at the club. What was good at the club – and administration came as a result of overspending but relegation did not – was broken. We went into the season watching Peter Beagrie watching Eoin Jess but having haemorrhaged the biggest gold rush in the club’s history in the process and while others can take some blame for that the wages and free transfers given to players ousted from the club simply cause the manager didn’t like their faces was a not insignificant factor.
The football Jefferies side’s played was not entertaining and often characterless – massively so in comparison to the teams Paul Jewell had played six months before – and the celebrated coach flitted from a 433 to a 442 bringing back players he had cast away only moths before as if to confirm that his experiments had failed. It was football management as a tepid passionless process in which our club was the subject of experimental and non-committal whims. He left and not long after there were pieces that we are still picking up now. It would be wrong and foolish to blame him for all of these but he certainly did nothing to help and plenty to hinder.
Put simply Jim Jefferies could not have cared less Bradford City or Bradford City supporters and his level of attention to the club following his departure – none – speaks volumes.
Revisionism comes often in football and is cyclic. What was the solution to yesterdays woes is often brought back as tomorrow’s solution to today’s problems and tonight Jim Jefferies and Burnley were mentioned in the same breath.
One hopes that Burnley can learn the lessons from our mistakes, one hopes that we can learn too.
It was optimistic to hope that the Aldershot game at the EEB Stadium might go ahead and sure enough the match – which if cruel rumours are to be believed could be Michael Flynn’s final for the club – has been called off for a second time owing to snow.
Favourite BfB snow tune: Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels) by Arcade Fire
Singing in support of your team has been a traditionally accepted role for all football fans but at City, with the exception of a small but thankfully vociferous and melodious minority, we seem to struggle to fulfil this aspect of our allegiance.
So why don’t we all sing?
Well, to use the musical taunt, it’s a lot easier to “sing when you’re winning” and that is something we haven’t done enough at home this season. But that in itself is nothing like the full story.
Football singing is a community activity but evidence seems to suggest that, despite thousands being there under the banner of “supporter”, the City fan base is a divided community.
For the “critics” having paid the ticket price is support enough and unless success is achieved (instantly?) then booing is the only thing that unites them vocally .It’s the old story of “I’ve paid, it’s my right” and you can’t deny that but calling it support is stretching the interpretation of the word.
The “stoics” are a significant section, maybe even a majority, of City’s support. They applaud effort as well as achievement but try not to get too visibly emotionally involved – disappointments of the past still hurt. Words of encouragement are freely given if occasionally tempered with cries of frustration as the reality of lower league football is accepted for another game/season. Highlights are rare and do elicit vocal, even musical, responses but comments tend to be made in conversation rather than in song.
The main vocal support comes from the “young guns” and thank goodness it comes from somewhere! Without their contribution the place would be eerie indeed. They carry the silent majority in a way that is appreciated by travelling fans far more than the crowds at home.
Each of these groups is full of supporters who would all claim a commitment to the City cause but there is no coordination especially when things aren’t going so well. So why don’t we all sing?
Well, daft as it sounds we need something to sing – not something to sing about, just something to sing. Cast your mind back and see how many of “City’s Greatest Hits” you can recall. What did we sing at Wembley? What did we sing in the Premiership? If it’s not the level of success that raises the level of song then what is it?
My answer may not be scientifically accurate but I believe it lies in the chant “Who are yer!”
For what seemed so long the City squad suffered from rotation. Not the tactical rotation beloved of the rich Premiership managers but the rotation brought about by short term stays and /or commitment of so many players. It is hard to chant a player’s name when he is only with the club on a few months loan. The affinity built up with players such as Michael Proctor and, more recently, Dean Furman, is all too soon broken, often for reasons beyond our control. (The “Deano” chant still rings in my ears.)
The cult (correct spelling) that was Barry Conlon was another case in point and whilst some of the chanting was ironic it did at least unite many fans.
Of the present City staff who among them has their name ringing round the ground? Not one player and yet this team has showed itself more worthy of vocal support than any for a long time. The manager then? Well yes but as debates on this site and vitriol elsewhere have shown for every one chanting “Stuart, Stuart” there seems to be an equivalent number of critics thinking if not calling, “Out,Out”. We are not all together!
So who will take the initiative? Stuart himself has been criticised on this site for using players’ nicknames. Oh for that level of familiarity in the stands! Who then will unite us in vocal support? Who will be our heroes on the pitch and how will we show our appreciation?
Would James Hanson appreciate “Jimmy, Jimmy” as much as Jimmy Quinn? Is there a prospect of “The Mighty Flynn”? Would Luke and James welcome a revival of “O.B., O.B.” ringing round the ground? Would Gareth Evans respond to “EVO, EVO” in a similar way to Deano? Can we as supporters boost the morale and maybe the performances of Zesh, Rambo, Bully and the rest simply by chanting. Whether it’s nicknames, real names, initials it’s worth a try. We need to get behind players as individuals well as the team. If there are no natural “characters” in our side we need to create them. We need to turn youngsters into legends not through irony but through genuine encouragement – dare I say affection!
As a “stoic” I want to sing, I join in chants but they seem to fade before they are established where I sit. I am not interested in abusing the opposing fans – they have their job to do. I am tired of berating referees – it does no good as far as our results go. I want to do my bit for the team.
As for real singing, we don’t need to borrow “HI, HO [insert club name] from Jeff Beck and many other clubs, when we already play “I love the City tonight”. Why not bring it forward. Playing it as the players walk off is too late. Give us the chance to make it work for us not accompany our exit (well the exit of those that have stayed to applaud the players off).If we get it going now Snow Patrol can contribute to our City long after the white stuff has gone.
All together now.
Arresting oratory rarely comes from the most lucid speakers. Churchill’s finest hours came not from his desire to play with words but the bluntness of his statements. “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat” may flow off the tongue well but more importantly, it is guttural, basic.
As one decade ticks over to another there is a tendency to look back to the last and encapsulate and in doing some one piece of oratory sticks out above others. A couple of years from the start of the decade then manager Nicky Law delivered this damning pronouncement:
At some grounds the crowd are like a goal for the home team, here (at Valley Parade) they are like one for the opposition.
It is blunt to the point of offence and hastened Law’s exit from the position he had at the club but remains – despite two administrations and three relegations – the outstanding comment of the ten years perhaps because of the bluntness. It was the manager of the club at the end of his tether and is perhaps made more significant by the slide that followed Law’s exit. The gaffer – love him or loathe him – was issuing a warning to supporters. He was not the first.
Ten years before IPC Magazines – those people behind Roy of the Rovers and NME – had asked all 92 clubs what music they ran on to the pitch to. This was before the Sunderland’s use of Republica’s Ready To Go updated run-on music and years before Burnley perfected it with Arcade Fire’s Wake Up (Coyle, leaving that, you must be mad) amid the usual Z-Cars of Everton and Newcastle’s Local Hero came not the name of a song but an anonymous comment from Valley Parade.
We usually run out to total silence
Both phrases talk in terms of warnings and strike hard against the memories of Valley Parade after Gordon Watson’s goals against Barnsley, against Liverpool in 2000, against Blackpool in 2003 but anyone who has followed City – especially those who follow City on the road and have heard the contrast between VP and away grounds – knows that for the talk of “best fans” which is heard from all clubs the Bantams backing at Valley Parade is almost always underwhelming.
The City Gent‘s Dave Pendleton talking about the rising Ultras movement in English lower league football commented on how fifty Accrington Stanley fans were able to out-sing 11,000 Bantams in Valley Parade. There are many reasons for this – the movement from standing to all seats, the breaking up of singing groups in the stadium, offish stewarding and so on – but Pendleton’s reflections are not isolated incidents.
At the time Law’s comments seemed to be petty, small-minded and ungenerous – the last actions of an Emporer before the fall of his Rome – but in retrospect they read as as stark a warning every issued to a footballing community. “Care for you club” – they seem to say – “because no one else will and you will suffer the consequences.”
The comments point to a helplessness – a desperation – of manager Law at the time. Some took his comments as a direct criticism of all but from the distance of years they strike one more as a man saying that he can only do so much. “I’m doing what I can,” they float, “how about a bit of help from the supporters?”
Within a couple of years a dozen people were sitting about the Goldsborough in Bradford trying to tie two ends of the club together, trying to riase enough money that City were not be put into liquidation rather than continuing administration, and no one had time to consider Law’s words but they rang around the chasm between the pub and Valley Parade with a mocking resonance.
Reconciling the two positions is difficult. Twice in the last decade Bradford City supporters showed summers of endless depths of passion, of stoicism and of belief to keep the club in business and able to play football through winters in which often the converse was true. Impatience was common, spinelessness frequent and, sadly, distaste poured forth. I heard it said by one of the dozen people who spent a summer raising the money to keep City going that the club was not just saved to give some people a place to moan every two weeks.
This decade was not a week old when Stuart McCall delivered a comment which to many echoed Law’s words and while they were less blunt than the previous manager’s they – for some – contained the same meaning.
If anyone wants to pack up and clear off, then I don’t want them here. That goes for anybody connected with the club.
Rumours following the comments – which the T&A’s Simon Parker attributed to being about the supporters rather than McCall pointed at – were that the manager was upset at the attitude of some of the directors perhaps specifically Roger Owen although one was also reminded of the infamous Brian Clough story which has the great man sacking three tea ladies he discovered sniggering at a Derby County loss. Negativity – Clough believed – undermined everything.
Certainly McCall was quick to point out that he was not criticising the supporters talking about the great backing they have had from the fans 6,000 of whom have signed up for Season Tickets for next season but as with Law’s comments some see this as McCall’s attack on the fan and want a similar response with the manager being stripped of his responsibilities.
Regardless of his intended target McCall’s comments apply equally to supporters as they do to the boardroom, the dressing room or elsewhere at Valley Parade. Clough and Law shared the belief that negativity aided the opposition and it seems that McCall has come to the same conclusion.
One has to wonder what Bradford City 2010 have been like were the reaction to Law’s comments not a ire that he should dare speak against Bradford City supporters but as a motivation to resolve to make what difference a full throated support can for a club? Poor atmosphere is common in football home ends up and down the country but it need not be the case and if atmosphere has a purpose in victories in football then the Bantams support could resolve to be the team that uber-supports rather than just another ground where nothing is ever as good as it could be.
Would we have seen Bryan Robson’s side slide away? Would we have seen the lifeless surrender of League One status at Huddersfield and at home to Leyton Orient? Would we have seen the wilting away of last season’s promotion push? Would any of these things been avoided had Law’s comments rung true and the type of support which often is only witness in away ends could be heard in the home sections of VP.
Certainly at the club the idea that there is a negativity at Bradford City has been noted. Mark Lawn has talked about the message board and making posters responsible for what is said in the hope that it would alter the tone while the moving of away fans to create a noisy Bradford End has been a qualified success with the atmosphere created by some way the most positive in the stadium, and the noisiest.
This website stand accused – from time to time – of “having a go at the fans” which is sometimes true but in this case is not. (Incidentally for my part I have no qualms about saying that on occasion I feel the need to point out unjustified negativity of a section of City fans and for those fans to bleat about being “attacked” or being the subject of having BfB “having a go” is an hypocrisy. If – in one example – a person is man enough to stand up in front of the fans around him – including a good few twelve year old kids – and call Joe Colbeck “a c*nt” then he is man enough to take any criticism aimed at him.)
This is an article about a nameless source at Valley Parade in the 90s, a manager in the form of Nicky Law in the last decade, The City Gent’s Dave Pendleton and another manager Stuart McCall in this one and it is about putting aside a pompous pride and thinking about what is best considered for the wider Bradford City community.
I’m a guy with an opinion, Some bloke at VP is just some bloke, Law was a jobbing manager, Pendleton is just a guy who writes a fanzine, McCall is a club legend and they all speak to the same conclusion about the effects of support and the detriments of negativity. What voice are we not going to ignore before this issue is addressed?
Note on comments An interesting debate on Stuart McCall is taking place elsewhere on this website which need not be duplicated here. Instead – and this is a departure from the usual track of comments – suggestions on ways to improve the mood, the atmosphere, the tone of the club are would be appreciated below.
Snow in Stoke has brought an early calling off of City’s game with Pot Vale on Saturday leaving the Bantams with a third away match to be rescheduled following call offs for the Aldershot and Bury games in December.
The Aldershot game was rearranged for next Tuesday evening but a glance at the forecast for the area shows that the temperature is not expected to go above freezing before the match is to be played and further snow showers are expected leading one to question that rearranged date.
The Bantams have a single home game of January left – Notts County on the 16th – and six away trip scheduled of which Port Vale is already gone and Aldershot may follow.
Stuart McCall once stated he’d rather be a lucky manager than a good one. With dismal recent form threatening to prematurely terminate Bradford City’s promotion chances, a debate is in full swing over which of these two adjectives he is not.
From a largely encouraging first quarter to the season which saw only 6 defeats from 23, a run of just one win, one draw and four defeats has seen cup interest ended and the distance from the play offs increase, with heavy traffic in-between. With each disappointing result, the pressure is growing on McCall. Five of City’s next six games are on the road, January may prove the month which defines the Bantams season and their manager.
It’s hardly new territory for City to be in a position of contemplating a managerial change. In recent times we’ve been here before with Nicky Law and Colin Todd teetering on the edge before the axe finally fell. What’s always curious is the silence in some quarters.
You won’t find the local media – print or radio – mentioning the manager might be under pressure, save for reading out supporters’ texts on air or allowing supporters’ comments underneath articles.
You won’t find public comment from the Board. Speculation continues to rage over one of the joint Chairmen wanting to issue Stuart his p45 and the other disagreeing; from neither has there been public support for the manager, either.
Yet amongst supporters, there’s barely any other topic of conversation.
Just like with Law and Todd, there’s a split of opinion and a disunity amongst City’s fanbase which will only be repaired by an upturn of results or the pull of the trigger. Typically those who want to see a change are shouting the loudest, on the message boards and, increasingly, at games. Short of risking getting into an ugly fight by registering disagreement, it’s more difficult for those who still support McCall to make their views known as loudly. It makes estimations over percentages for and against his continuing employment near-impossible to make.
The arguments for a change of manager largely focus on the lack of progress McCall has delivered since taking charge two and a half years ago. Admitting he’d consider himself a failure if he didn’t deliver instant promotion before a ball had even been kicked in June 2007, the season after that first failed promotion attempt he vowed to quit if a play off spot wasn’t achieved. It wasn’t, but after many supporters begged him to stay he remained anyway.
To some fans, this is now looked back on as him breaking his own promises and almost considered an act of selfishness. The supporters who had persuaded him to stay, be it through writing to him or holding up an SOS sign during the home game with Rotherham last April, have been regularly attacked online too.
But if most fans forgave the failings of his first two seasons, that this year progress on the field has been limited is causing some to lose faith in McCall’s ability. While the last six results have been disappointing, the frustration was growing in the preceding weeks as City’s 10 game unbeaten run of early autumn gave way to a succession of draws.
The improved home form of last season has disappeared and City are winless at Valley Parade since October 24. Even on the road since impressively beating Shrewsbury in early September, the only two victories have come at the division’s bottom two clubs.
The stats simply do not look good.
Yet coherent calls and sensible arguments for managerial change have largely been lost in a sea of over-the-top criticism which has got nasty, ugly and personal. Many have chosen to go beyond reasonableness in the arguments put forward, in doing so exposing a blinkered view that everything will be okay once McCall has been sacked.
It’s a style and tone of criticism striking similar to what Law and Todd endured. For both it was unfair and wrong, for a City playing legend to be targeted so loathsomely is disgusting and undermines the credibility of the protagonists.
The stats simply do not look good – so why the need to embellish them by expressing half-truths, cooking up improbable analysis, uttering spiteful comments and offering no balance?
In recent weeks results have been influenced by some atrocious refereeing decisions, the squad has been disrupted by injuries and suspensions, while some players have shown poor application over a full 90 minutes – yet rather than acknowledge any lack of fortune, these contributory factors are dismissed as McCall “excuses”. Some fans are more sensible in their reasons for wanting change, but the anger of others is threatening to drown them and everybody else out.
Clearly, there remains a proportion of City supporters who believe in sticking by McCall. While no one could qualify his reign as successful so far, there are nevertheless signs that under Stuart the club is being rebuilt in the right way. Off the field much has improved in recent years and much of this – for example youth set up – can be attributed to the rookie manager, who clearly doesn’t view managing City as just managing any old club.
On the pitch, perhaps belatedly, the balance is finally there. From lack of knowledge of the division undermining McCall’s first season – despite successfully turning round a difficult start – through to bringing in players too good for this level but with not enough heart, it finally seems that McCall is setting out to do what he first promised at the time he declared he’d consider himself a failure if City weren’t promoted at the first attempt. That is to bring in players who would have long term careers at the club, rather than be here for one/two years and then be replaced by another short term player.
Are Gareth Evans, James Hanson, Scott Neilson, Steve Williams, Jonathan Bateson, James O’Brien and Luke O’Brien the finished article which we should get rid of in May? For me they are players of great potential who I look forward to seeing the majority of developing at Valley Parade over subsequent weeks, months and years, with other new additions to add to the squad along the way.
This is the path Stuart has now gone down, but it is not a path of instant success. Julian Rhodes recently stated he considered this year’s squad to be better than last year, but he won’t find many regular City watchers who’d agree. However, in time, he might be proven right. Apart from the defeat to Lincoln in August, City’s defeats have all been to teams who it can be reasonably argued have better squads. Last season’s squad was careless in how often it lost winnable games, this one is short of experience but not effort.
The irony of McCall’s reign at City is the longer-term strategy has started up so late, meaning the patience to be allowed to carry it out has worn thin in many fans’ eyes. But it doesn’t make abandoning it the right thing to do. Of course the idea of being stuck in this division another year or worse is one to cause dismay, but change means starting all over again and hoping the rate of progression is then faster. Hoping being the key word.
For as often as we read or hear fans urging the board to sack McCall, ideas about what should happen next are in short supply. Appeals for an answer to the valid question of how sacking a manager improves the club fall on deaf ears.
There’s seems to be a belief that sacking McCall will make all the difficulties which influence the club disappear, that it will instantly herald the long-awaited upturn.
It is a belief that the success and failure of a football is entirely down to the man in the dug out. It is a belief that a manager who succeeded elsewhere will guarantee the same results in a completely different environment – remember that last season a number of fans wanted Dave Penny to replace McCall, he’s hardly pulling up trees at Oldham. It is a belief that placing faith in leaping into the unknown will eventually be rewarded if you keep trying it.
And it is these beliefs which stop me, and others, from supporting the idea of dismissing McCall. As Michael eloquently put it a few years ago when Todd was under similarly fierce pressure, hand me the ‘McCall out’ banner as I want to believe his removal would send the club soaring back up the leagues. You, me, Mark, Julian and everyone else is sick of City failing and hurt by the recent results, so if Stuart leaving guarantees the pain will be over – let’s do it.
The problem is that his removal guarantees nothing. It just seems like the only thing which can be done. It is the only immediate and obvious remedy.
But what’s the subsequent tactics? Sit back and wait for a pile of managerial CVs to fly through the letter box, pick the best interviewee and hope they can bring instant success? What happens if they don’t, go through the whole CV-picking process again?
It is through this strategy that the club’s success and failure becomes utterly dependent on the manager. It is through this strategy that a revolving door will be needed for all the players coming and going. It is through this strategy that the structure of the club will ultimately suffer because no one is around long enough to give a damn.
Which is not to say City should stick with McCall come what may, but to at least ensure there is that much-fabled ‘Plan B’ in place. In the 90s City adopted a strategy of recruiting internally and grooming the next person, which worked fantastically with Chris Kamara and Paul Jewell before being abandoned after 12 Chris Hutchings games. It provided continuity during a period of rapid change, it ensured that the club was always bigger than any manager.
Maybe right now, an internal replacement for McCall isn’t ready, but maybe right now the change isn’t needed. Maybe just as history shows clubs such as Liverpool, Man United and Nottingham Forest moved upwards because of periods of building under the long term influence of sticking by a manager, City can one day enjoy relative success by allowing McCall time to do the same.
I still believe that he should get to stay in charge until at least the end of the season, I’d ideally like it if he was able to at least finish his two-year contract. For that to happen progress must be made and recent results increase the urgency for improvement.
If the overwhelming feeling is a change must be made, I and others will have to accept it. But if change is only made because a few loudmouths got more say than others as usual, it’s not a well-rounded decision and it becomes an even riskier gamble. For those who didn’t want to come to such a decision, the strong relationship many of us have with City will be weakened because of the usual suspects getting their way, yet again.
Because whether McCall is a bad or unlucky manager, we can all be sure who’ll be the first people calling for the head of his replacement.
Bradford City 1 Cheltenham 1 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2009/2010
There was a temptation to simply link to the previous four match reports this website has offered and invite you – dear reader – to mentally flip a few names to make your own Cheltenham report.
It is easily done. A referee who once again begged the question “bent or bloody rubbish?” A City defender sent off for two yellow card offences that even after the argument as to if either offence was actually a foul – today for Steve Williams one was, one was not – were offences repeated across the field without punishment being given (Append:) although whatever one things about the challenge Williams certainly did not foul Richards in the penalty area.
Penalties feature heavily of course. Williams was sent off for a dive which frankly was better than Stephen Leslie’s dive Shrewsbury but was still a dive. Justin Richards – today’s woeful sprawler – is a cheat but at least he is better at it than Leslie is, in that he dive looked more convincing.
Once you have mentally created the match report add the odd comment to the bottom. Add one that blames the Bantams for the run of refereeing decisions and another that manages to aim that blame squarely at manager Stuart McCall. It is the masochist opinion but one that is often heard.
Nevertheless long after I had accepted the machinations of another official who was either unfit to Referee or had decided he wanted a specific result (I know what I think) the Bradford City players – told to spend more time playing and less time sulking about the string of corrupt/useless that blights their games by manager McCall – turned in a performance of credit. Down to ten men with a sending off which was at best a mistake/came courtesy of a bottle of whiskey in the referee’s room the players turned in a performance that took control of of the match.
Indeed the first half lead given by James O’Brien’s tidy finish after visiting keeper Brown had flapped at a corner was the least that City deserved and a chunk of luck for Michael Flynn when he drove from long range or James Hanson when he got into the box after a smart move through a packed midfield would have resulted in a more healthy scoreline.
That that midfield was packed caused problems for the game. With Simon Whaley return to Norwich the previous day and Omar Daley not yet fit enough to start a diamond midfield with Lee Bullock at the base – Bullock pretty much neutered the visitor’s midfield single handedly – Flynn and James O’Brien in the middle and Chris Brandon at the tip. It was a tight middle and robbed of flank players compressed the game into what was often a frustrating to watch mass of football.
Nevertheless the protection to the back four – and latterly back three – offered by the midfield snuffed out the Cheltenham threat comprehensively and the single goal should have been enough to win the game but Referee Craig Pawson and his intervention in the game that was oh too familiar. The game was perverted and rendered – well – boring as Pawson like the previous four officials at Bradford City matches decided he and his decisions would be centre sage. It is football pantomime, and everyone grows out of pantomime.
What does the club do from now? Stuart McCall told his players to focus more on the game and less on the Referee and so they did but the focus of the game – the reason for the result – was another inept/biased performance by an official. Should the club kick up a stink about the way that the last five games have been tipped in one direction or another by this brand of officiating then it seems to exasperate the problem but saying nothing is unnatural and goes against our need to protect our club.
The Bantams plod on though doing enough to win games but having them turned away from victory and as people turned away from Valley Parade trudging home in the snow on Saturday evening there was not a criticism or players or manager but a silence.
Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on your point of view – I know I saw it in a movie this Christmas – and so as City trundle into 2010 at home to Cheltenham one is given cause to reflect on the utterances that come from Valley Parade and the relationship they have with that most precious of things: The truth.
Lee Clark – manager of Huddersfield Town – has made it clear that he has recalled goalkeeper Simon Eastwood from his time at Valley Parade after what is charitably described as “an up and down” time at City while Stuart McCall suggests that City let the shot stopper go in favour of bringing in a more experienced man. That one club did not want him to stay and the other wanted him to go seems to say enough about the keeper’s time as VP shot stopper.
Eastwood will be replaced in goal – in all likelihood – by Jon McLaughlin who is not the experienced man McCall is seeking but is well fancied by many fans the majority of whom have not seen him play. Blind faith in City players always heartening though and the months put into Eastwood’s development which could have gone into McLaughlin seem to have been waste but sometimes a gamble pays off and other times it does not and Eastwood is set against the success of three other rookies in Scott Neilson, James Hanson and Steve Williams.
Which manager is telling the truth? Perhaps both are, perhaps both are not. Probably both tell half of it. McCall was unsure about keeping Eastwood until he had someone else lined up, Clark wanted him back for fear for his development which is stunted. The truth depends greatly on your point of view it seems.
Stuart McCall’s point of view after the Shrewsbury Town game last week was that it was referee Peter Quinn who won the game for the visitors and not the side from Shropshire. Certainly the vocal comment on Quinn’s performance would suggest that there was a broad agreement with the City boss although other demanded McCall stop using “excuses”
As a position to be in McCall stood on invidious ground. He faced criticism that had City not missed early chances – Simon Whaley’s pinging a shot off the bar being judged in the same way as Gareth Evans’s fluff – then the Referee’s interjections would have been irrelevant (or so the logic goes) and thus McCall is excuse mongering.
How the City gaffer does not point out that appeasing an official for making two such massive errors – errors unsupported by his non-flagging linesman in the most serious case – on the basis that one of the teams had not already scored is avoidance of a much higher order I do not know. When it comes to excuses the “he got two decisions wrong but it was our fault for not having scored” borders on the masochistic.
McCall was not able to be honest after the game – although he tried with his “Shrewsbury have not won that” comment – and nor were BfB our Rochdale honed sense of what will get us sued preventing us from writing the original article that said “Player X and Player Y are cheats, plain and simple.”
I have sympathy for Peter Quinn for that reason. Some of the Shrewsbury Town players were far better at cheating than they were at football and if someone needs to be giving out excuses it should be Paul Simpson for playing those players at all. An honest man would not. To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand – or so Dr Who says.
Simon Ramsden is expected to return for City at right back displacing Jonathan Bateson – who had his best game in a City shirt against Shrewsbury – with Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams being reunited as Matthew Clarke starts his suspension. Luke O’Brien continues to play the season red cardless one of which will be high on the impressive Louis Horne’s new year wish list.
Omar Daley is expected to be kept on the bench once more as he returns to fitness with a stacked January of rearranged away trips in mind – Daley’s pace is incredibly effective on the road – giving Scott Neilson the right wing place opposite Simon Whaley who also impressed against Shrewsbury. Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn continue in the middle.
James Hanson and Gareth Evans continue up front with Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding injured. Hanson continues to win admirers while Evans struggles to impress all. Personally I can forgive Evans the fluff against Shrewsbury – I recall Benito Carbone doing the same against Southampton – because of the striker’s reaction.
Head up, on to the next chance, honest.