Issue Fans at the top risk belittling the ‘other’ Bradford City legend

As told by Jason Mckeown

So after months or rumours and speculation we now know. The Telegraph & Argus has said it, Stuart McCall tellingly said nothing; but the truth is out that the former manager and joint-chairmen Mark Lawn’s relationship was strained to the point they had “barely communicated in months”.

It seems incredible that a professional football club could operate with two key figures working on such fractured terms. It also raises legitimate concerns over the state of the partnership between Lawn and co-chairman Julian Rhodes, and the damage a clear difference of opinion might have caused in both the short and long term.

Rhodes and Gordon Gibb were widely-stated to have begun their painful fallout because of the decision to sack Nicky Law in 2003, will recent debates over the future of McCall cause history to repeat itself? It’s claimed Rhodes owns 51% of the club to Lawn’s 49%, was the latter willing to accept the former’s wishes to persist with McCall?

McCall’s lack of comment on Lawn, choosing instead only to praise Rhodes as he departed, speaks volumes. Lawn’s weekend quote on McCall’s expected departure that, “Obviously I’ve only heard this through the grapevine. Stuart hasn’t spoken to me,” does him no favours. The last few days has demonstrated just how many supporters still wanted McCall to be manager and, as they come to terms with the departure of a legend, Lawn is becoming an increasingly obvious target for their anger.

Lawn was probably not the only Board member keen for a change. I missed the Christmas games against Shrewsbury and Cheltenham so didn’t get to buy my usual copy of the matchday programme. When in the days after the Cheltenham game McCall publicly declared, “If anyone wants to pack up and clear off, then I don’t want them here. That goes for anybody connected with the club,” the target of the attack was unclear. The City Gent’s John Watmough, via the Official Message Board, suggested Stuart’s anger was aimed at director Roger Owen for comments in the Cheltenham programme. Intrigued, I had a look at the article when visiting the club shop on Saturday, and was as stunned as John by Owen’s words.

Talking about the JPT 3-0 defeat to League One Carlisle, he seemingly dismissed the sending off of Simon Ramsden as having no bearing on the game before bemoaning the so-called gulf in class which showed how far behind City are from their intended target of League One football. City were very unlucky to lose the game, giving everything with 10 men and coming very close to pulling back the tie at 1-0, so it’s understandable if McCall was fuming at reading these criticisms from a member of the Board. It was unfair for any manager to have his team so publicly attacked internally; it also suggests lifelong fan Owen sees things from Lawn’s point of view.

Perhaps this is the downside of the much trumpeted ‘fans running the club’ idea of a couple of seasons ago. No one doubts the huge work rate and commitment of those responsible for running the club, but come 3pm on a Saturday afternoon it seems they are no different to the rest of us in becoming fans, with conflicting views and ideals to others.

With access to bending the manager’s ear and a financial interest in how the club is run, they have greater opportunity to share those views, such as perhaps suggesting a lack of firepower could be rectified by some Chilean flair. But ultimately their views as fans are no more or less insightful than the rest of us, and were probably sometimes unwelcomed by a single-minded manager.

I can’t help but feel Lawn and Owen, like other fans, were of the opinion that the removal of the manager is all that is needed to catapult City up the leagues. A friend of mine used to work under Lawn many years ago, at his driver hire company, and regularly told me how his boss had a box at City and complained all the time about how bad we were. As a supporter, perhaps Lawn has allowed himself to take a regular fan’s view of blaming all faults on the manager, when it’s partly his job to help them find positive solutions.

There’s a sense of irony that, after so many fans moaned McCall had no plan B, we find that, after allowing him to leave, the City board don’t have one either.

But it is Telegraph & Argus’ reporting of the cause of the fall out between McCall and Lawn which troubles me the most – that of the apparent lack of experience in the coaching staff. It’s a well run and frankly boring debate which has been raging amongst City fans ever since Stuart appointed Wayne Jacobs as his assistant. That Jacobs had a few years experience as assistant at Halifax Town seemed to be ignored.

The whole thing never made sense to me, it was as if fans didn’t believe McCall knew what to do so had to have someone older telling him. Surely if people really believed he needed an assistant to make the decisions, he shouldn’t be the manager in the first place?

But it’s really more to do with the fact it’s Jacobs. He spent some 10 years as a player with City, raising from Division Two to the Premiership with the Bantams, yet for almost his whole Bantams career we had to endure supporters at games loudly screaming abuse at him.

Jacobs was the soft target to pick on, the obvious choice for those who like to inflict their football knowledge onto other people to highlight as the cause of all problems. How these people became excited when other left backs were signed to replace Jakes, how disappointed they were after he fought challengers off to keep his place. Jacobs, the worst left back in Division Two back in 1996, marking David Beckham in the Premier League in 2000 – how did that happen?

And as Lawn apparently argued with McCall that he should ditch his ginger friend and bring in someone like Terry Dolan, fairly or unfairly I can’t help but picture Lawn sat a few seats along from me at various games over the years, ready to jump on his feet and scream at Jacobs when he next lost the ball. The fans who were doing this were probably the same ones who shamefully tried to pin the blame for two-and-a-half years of League Two failure on Jacobs, and on McCall for employing him.

And if you believed McCall should have appointed a more experienced number two, but you say it’s nothing personal against Jacobs, please answer me this honestly – would you have been demanding a more experienced number two if McCall had instead recruited Peter Beagrie?

As we say goodbye to McCall, it seems the lesser celebrated legend that is Jacobs will also soon be departing. He seems to have no chance of earning the managers job, those who ridiculed him as assistant are already informing the rest of us on the message boards that they would hurl their season tickets on the floor in disgust if he were appointed.

Personally I think this is really sad, because there’s merit in enabling Stuart’s building work to be continued in the same manner Paul Jewell once continued Chris Kamara’s, rather than ripping everything up. Yet losing a manager is always coupled with an abandoning of the policy which led to their appointment. If Colin Todd was the cheese to the chalk of McCall, it’s likely his ultimate replacement will be the type of experienced man Lawn and others were apparently craving to be his assistant.

So unless the new guy has a need for Jacobs, he will be gone too. Ridiculed by fans and indirectly insulted by the Board, hopefully he’ll at least get to be in charge for Saturday’s game with Grimsby.

If that is the last time he’s employed by Bradford City, let’s make sure he too gets the reception he deserves.