Issue McCall echoes Law’s bluntest comments – will we pay attention this time?

As told by Michael Wood

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.