Friday 26th February, 20104 years ago, at the end of February

Before Darlington City consider what is a good footballer?

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After last Saturday’s game at Accrington Stanley Bradford City’s players were “simply not good enough” and Peter Taylor had to get rid of them. After the win at Rochdale on Tuesday night they were “brilliant and capable” and had beaten a team five points top of the league.

This weekend the same players face moribund Darlington. So which is the real reflection of the current set of Bradford City players?

The season has seen them wend a way to the lower mid-table for sure but also create a club record of games unbeaten. Rochdale made them looked hapless, they returned the favour and beat them when Dale’s lads were brimming with confidence. How good, or how bad, are the City players?

Certainly following the game Peter Taylor was clear about what he thought had transformed the team saying that the return to a 442 on Tuesday night with Michael Flynn up front alongside James Hanson – a function Taylor credits Wayne Jacobs for passing on to him – and an evening of hard work.

Said Taylor

There were so many good things but most importantly they realised that they got the result through hard work and togetherness.

So if the players are together and work hard then they are “good” divided – as they were following the departure of Stuart McCall and the communal lip out sulk – they are “bad”. So are they good or bad?

Perhaps the question is framed wrong.

The terms of good and bad in football have always been around but have come into a sharper focus in the digital era where games like Championship Manager and FIFA demand that players be rated and assessed. If you, dear reader, ever played one of the LMA series of management games you did so (in some years) with a Bradford City team assessed and rated by yours truly.

I recall opening the spreadsheet and being given a range – Bradford City players could not be rated over 59% or under 44% – and were scored in categories like shooting and passing. I wondered how one rated players like Bobby Petta in those stats. For sure the man could hit a ball, but only when he could be bothered and why award him the higher fifties because he once leathered a ball in against Huddersfield when Steven Schumacher scored more – albeit less impressive – goals?

The question asked in that instance really was one of “good” and “bad” but that is the world of clicks and buttons and the reality of football offers more depth. Robbie Blake – for example – was considered for long periods of his career a player who would be good enough for the Premiership if only he had the pace suggesting that his abilities would be spread between percentages, if they could be encoded at all.

The way that the good people at Codemasters created their game allowed an even spread of abilities up and down the game. There were as many players with the ability levels suited for the Premiership as for the League Two – linear distribution – and as City slipped down the leagues having risen up in double quick time the previous decade it struck me that that notion was wrong.

As the skill level of players at, and visiting, Valley Parade decreased from the days of Paul Scholes volleying in a David Beckham corner it became clear that there was a level of ability which rose and fell up and down the leagues but that as we fell down the leagues this quality did not drop off to the same extent. The difference between the second and third tiers of football were not as great as the drop between the top of the top flight and the clubs at the bottom.

The exponential growth of players able to play at a level as one descends the league means that while only one English footballer might have the abilities of David Beckham and ten are good enough for the Champions but a hundred Englishmen are good enough for the Premiership on the whole and thousand able to play at the next level down which encompasses an area I’d say is roughly the half way down the top of the Championship to the middle of League Two.

It is crude analysis for sure but it explains how a Paul Jewell or a Peter Taylor can take clubs like Wigan and Hull and take them through the leagues to the edge of the Premiership play-offs. The players who were idling either at those clubs or to be bought up from rivals of a similar standing did not improve in natural ability – the did not become “good” having been “bad” but they certainly improved.

Improvement that is put down to coaching and to motivation. The latter being shown in Paul Jewell’s ability to build a mental toughness in his players in which they believed they were capable of beating any team at any level and the former being in team drilling and understanding of the roles and responsibilities on the field and the pattens built up.

The average player in League One when promoted would be expected to get on in the division above, when relegated to be able to play in the one below. The same group of players who seem hopeless at one point can seem brilliant at others when they have the right approach to the game and to each other.

Which brings us back to Bradford City and the difference of three days between Accrington and Rochdale. Assuming the players have not simply “become good” over the space of three days and that Taylor requires more than a couple of sleeps to have the players won over to his tactical approach or his mental position how have the Bantams improved?

Probably the change has much to do with the depressed mood at the club that came as a result of sacking Stuart McCall being superseded as a worry by the idea that if a team cannot complete with Accrington then it is likely that that club would be relegated. The players had a sulk, they were upset, but professional pride – or perhaps the mental toughness they have – kicked in and they raised the game in keeping with the raised noise from the away end.

Add to that Taylor looked at simple basics of the team and noted that – since Paul McLaren left – we have had no quality delivery. That problem has been fixed by loanee Robbie Threlfall. Threlfall’s delivery played a part in all three goals against Rochdale. A small practical fix which allowed Luke O’Brien to move forward to balance the left flank and set City for victory.

Threlfall makes his Valley Parade début against a Darlingtonnnn side managed by Steve Staunton who was himself a Liverpool left back loaned to City and is set to be joined as a temporary transfer at the club by Gillingham’s Mark McCammon,physicalcal striker.

McCammon seems likely to partner James Hanson up front as the club praised The City Gent for raising £5,000 to pay two thirds of the transfer fee for the player. The last two weeks has seen much debate over the club and the owners of that club and acknowledgement is given to the joint chairmen for the investment they have made but The City Gent’s – in effect – buying a player is another of many examples of the supporters of Bradford City funding the business of Bradford City and when calls are made to the joint chairmen for clarity it is done in the knowledge that frankly amazing actions such as Jeremy White’s fund raising is done by people who should be considered more than consumers of the Bradford City product.

The McCammon/Hanson combination sees Peter Taylor go about the business of making the no nonsense attack that his Wycombe side had and will allow Michael Flynn to slot back alongside Lee Bullock in the midfield alongside O’Brien on the left and Gareth Evans on the right although a return for Omar Daley or the inclusion of Scott Neilson is possible, but would be harsh on Evans who is returning to form.

The back four of Simon Ramsden, Matthew Clarke, Steve Williams and Threlfall will continue in front of Matt Glennon.

Good players, to a man.

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6 Comments

  1. Michael Wood says:

    Addition: City have also signed Gavin Grant on a non-contract basis. Grant is a winger who has agreed to play for the club for nothing.

  2. Mick Rogers says:

    You are way off the mark with the club record comment. (Probably) long before your time they embarked on a run of 21 matches undefeated to secure promotion from the old 4th division in 1969. One wonders where a similar run could lead to come May?

    1. Michael Wood says:

      Only just before my time on this Earth and back when my Dad was still following Bradford Park Avenue. Thanks for the heads up and – if you have time – tell us about that run and what it was like to watch a City team that must have seemed unbeatable.

  3. Mick Carroll says:

    ’69 was a vintage year. A great team to watch with some fantastic characters.

    Players that stick out in my memory are Tom Hallett – a great captain, Ian Cooper – the Jakes of his day, John Hall – flying winger, Bruce Stowell and his effective ‘sit down’ tackle and nearly always coming away with the ball (hard to explain – you had to be there!) ‘twinkletoes’ Bruce Bannister – fantastic when he was on his game, penalty king Charlie Rackstraw and goal poacher Bobby Ham.

    Legends every one of ‘em.

    The stand out match in my memory is the match at Valley Parade against Southend United on May 2nd. There were three matches to go and City needed to win to stay in touch with 4th spot and promotion. If my memory serves me right we went behind and as the match was at 2-2 City were piling the pressure on and the 11,000 in the ground were roaring them on, I swear I can see it now – John Hall streaking in from the wing and hitting a belter into the top corner. If the Kop had a roof it would have lifted!

    Ah, great days.

  4. J Billingsley says:

    Hope Gavin Grant isn’t any relation to Gareth. I liked him, but in the categories were players truly can have data recorded he fell way short on the ‘weight’ front. Although on one of the slow news days I remember a lovely back page spread where he talked about having to eat loads to try and gain weight, and sported a photo of him chomping on a burger. Happy days.

    “Mark McCammon,physicalcal striker.” said Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer.

    Re: Mclaren and dead balls. James O’Brien seems to have a decent delivery on him, but agreed, Threlfall’s one shot one goal accuracy was most impressive!

    A lovely, positive article. Thanks

  5. Michael Brett says:

    I do concur with this article. The one player, who I was quite fond of, that illustrates this much of a muchness debate is Tom Penford. Technically looked a fantastic player, had some skill and was a decent passer, but he never got use to the physicalcal side of league football. The contrast was Simon Francis you physically adapted very quickly and has, as a consequence, had a successful career to date with Southend even though technically I think they were quite similar.
    It will be interesting to see if Luke O’Brien, who I think has a great engine and is tenacious, can improve technically(as you identified, his delivery needs to be improved)

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