From July, 2010
Rochdale 1 Bradford City 1 At Spotland in A pre-season friendly, 2010/2011
Rochdale and Bradford City took to the pitch with the words of The Stone Roses’ “This is the moment I’ve waited for” blasting out of the Spotland PA system. And while we all know that moment is really still another week away, there’s a sense of liberation in reaching this point.
The close season is almost over, another lengthy break from football survived. For the sizeable travelling City support, Saturdays have now returned to being about going to the football. 46 league games to look forward to, three cup competitions to take a curious interest in.
We’ve made it. Now let’s get started.
There’s so much analysis and debate about whether pre-season friendlies really matter, but I think what we all want to gain at this time of year is re-assurance that the players are ready and able for the many battles ahead. And in a decent workout against opponents who begin next week a league above, there was much to feel assured about. City were every bit Rochdale’s equals this afternoon, and that was while missing key players.
A few weeks back, manager Peter Taylor stated this game was ideal preparation for Shrewsbury, and the 4-5-1 formation he employed in the first half offer strong clues to his thinking for the tricky opening day trip to the New Meadow. The sole forward today was the clearly confident Gareth Evans, who has maintained his strong end of season form into pre-season at least. While not best suited to the target man role, Evans was charging all over the final third to make himself available to others, attempting to hold up the ball so midfield runners could get forward and support him.
Apart from a tentative performance from Omar Daley on the left wing, this approach was largely successful with Scott Neilson in excellent form and on-loan Norwich teenager Tom Adeyemi catching the eye with his box-to-box style. Lee Bullock and Luke O’Brien largely held central positions in the middle of the park, and the ball retention from City was particularly impressive. Patience took precedence over urgency, as the ball was methodically worked around the pitch. Robbie Threlfall came closest to scoring during the first half, with a long range drive.
Taylor reverted to 4-4-2 after the break, with new strikers Jake Speight and Louis Moult brought on and O’Brien moved to left wing. Within 10 minutes of his first appearance in claret and amber, Moult latched onto Adeyemi’s through ball and firing a perfect low shot into the bottom corner to put City in front. Taylor had previewed Moult’s arrival on Friday by stating he was signing a striker who offered something different to what he had, and his style of playing on the shoulder of the last man is certainly that.
The lead was short lived as former City loanee Chris O’Grady found space, following a partial clearance, to fire a low shot past Jon McLaughlin; with the City keeper initially unsighted due to the number of players in the box. And when a minute later Lewis Hunt – another half time sub – tripped Jean Louis Akpo-Akpra inside the area, a credible win looked set to turn into defeat.
O’Grady’s run-up for the penalty was similar in length to Blanco’s for Mexico against France at the World Cup. As he got closer, he kept adjusting his pace, while McLaughlin erratically moved left-to-right on his line and feigned to commit himself to going to his left. The mind games were won by City’s new number one, who did actually dive to his left and superbly kept out a decently-struck spot kick. It should be noted McLaughlin’s performance was far from flawless, he looked very tentative from crosses in particular. But as confidence boosts a week before a season go, he couldn’t have asked for a better moment.
City shaded the final 20 minutes, with the much-discussed Speight making more of an impression as the game went on. He is quite small with quick feet, but what really stood out was his strength in holding up the ball. The reaction from supporters near me when he came on suggests he has much convincing to do after what’s gone on, but by the end he’d offered some evidence to justify Taylor’s faith.
Defensively City looked strong all afternoon. Zesh Rehman barely put a foot wrong, Oliver caught the eye with his passing ability. His half time replacement Shane Duff seems to be an excellent acquisition and Hunt, who looks a bit like Richard Edghill, should be adequate back-up for the on-form Simon Ramsden. A big question mark with the 4-5-1 formation, if employed, is the tracking back of the midfield. Certainly Neilson cannot afford to allow opposition full backs to brush past him in the manner Joe Widdowson regularly managed in the first half.
Adeyemi almost snatched a late winner with a superb long-range shot that was tipped over, and when the final whistle was blown seconds later a buzz of satisfaction emanated from City fans as they warmly applauded the players off. The first Saturday back – none of the others are likely to be as relaxing as this.
For as the season kicks off for real at 3pm next Saturday, the expectation levels also return. City are touted as favourites by some bookies, and how that will translate into the weekly battles remains to be seen. What will our reaction be if City lose at Shrewsbury? 45 games still to go, but the pressure will surely increase. And while this workout offered plenty of indications that the players are taking on board Taylor’s instructions, applying it when the grumbles are reigning down from the stands is another matter.
Can the patient passing approach withstand the predictable bellows of “FORWARDS” from some fans?
All we know about this season is that City will win some games and City will also lose some games (the rest will probably be draws), and how the ups and downs are managed will probably determine whether this is the season it finally comes together.
Rochdale may still be a league above us, but that didn’t stop our light-hearted chants about how small and rubbish their set up is compared to ours. We, and others, consider Bradford City “too big for League Two”. But that inevitably creates a level of pressure on the players which their rivals on the pitch simply don’t feel. Whether it lifts or weighs them down cannot be calculated during a relaxing pre-season game, but we’re about to find out whether they have the mental strength to make our dreams come true.
This is the moment, the moment to go back into the pressure cooker.
Bradford City play Rochdale At Spotland in Friendly game, 2010/2011
This season will be fascinating. Every move will be analysed, every game mark a position, ever result considered as a proof of a concept about building slowly and in a determined fashioned. One can only guess at the outcome too – a team that takes change as part of progress, that sees development as a thing done over years, not over a summer.
It will be a very interesting League One season for Rochdale.
After the best part of four decades in the basement division Rochdale have gained an upward mobility which saw them promoted last season despite having sold – to a club who plead poverty for a figure they did not disclose – their best player in Adam Le Fondre but prospered because of the strength of the unit. Defender Craig Dawson is looking to move on this summer with the club waiting for someone to match the £1m valuation they put on him and – once again – Keith Hill will look to his side’s whole being able to withstand the withdrawal of one of the parts.
Rochdale are an object lesson in the idea of retention. Keith Hill has been at the club since his retirement being in charge of the youth side, then the assistant manager and finally as manager. The squad has long service – captain Gary Jones has played 229 games for the club – and with that has come a resilience.
One could take issue with other things about Spotland but on the field there is much to admire about Rochdale and their progress this term represents a test of their ideals.
Bradford City represent something of a contrast being a club that has firm and fast plans off the field which have seen the club be rightfully proud of being one of only two professional football clubs in the black as well as taking firm action against troublemakers. The commercial side of operations at Valley Parade come on a pace we are told and off the field – despite the legacy of huge debts ten years ago – the club are in rude health.
It just goes wrong when kicking a football come into the equation. It would not be true to say City do not have a plan on how to go forward – they have lots of plans – and they change on a regular basis.
Over the summer Peter Taylor has gone about augmenting what he inherited when he moved into Valley Parade while keeping some things in place. Wayne Jacobs, Michael Flynn, James Hanson, Steve Williams and Jon McLaughlin have all benefited from this as the manager recognises that all retention builds institutional knowledge. Nevertheless Hanson and Williams both arrived as part of the club’s plan of harvesting the lower leagues. That came after the club’s plan of spending £600,000 on talent. Remember City’s Mexican academy? City had a plan that included with Royal Racing FC Montegnee and the development of young players? A side note here is that the Bantams Belgian partners picked up Willy Topp on January three years after City took him from them RRFCM’s grasp.
While Rochdale have been pursuing a single approach, City have had many and perhaps they would have all failed in the long term but having not been given that time who could say?
Taylor’s one year contract evidences this – clearly the best man for the job – with the club hedging bets so that another plan can be sprung into place to replace the current one which at the moment is “the right thing.” If you buy enough lottery tickets then one day you will win, maybe.
Taylor has something of an injury crisis on his hands with James Hanson – who is expected to lead the line for the season – struggling to be fit for the first day with Gareth Evans and a new mystery striker who the manager hopes to sign today – replacing him in the forward one of a 433.
Evans would be deployed as a wider player alongside the likes of Scott Neilson, Jake Speight, Leon Osborne who is injured, Omar Daley who is suspended for the opening day of the season and perhaps Ryan Harrison and Norwich loanee Tom Adeyemi who are midfielders who may move forward.
For Speight the chance to play in front of his new fans and start to build bridges after a summer of sentences and suggestions will be welcome. If every a player needed a good start to his City career it is Speight.
City’s idea midfield three are Flynn, Lee Bullock and Tommy Doherty but the bearded maestro is injured suggesting that Adeyemi may be used in the middle although Luke O’Brien may slot onto the left hand side of a three as he did last year. With James O’Brien leaving this week City seem light in the midfield area with those three, the Norwich loan player and youngsters Luke Dean and Ryan Harrison and perhaps Taylor will be looking to replace the exiting Irishman.
At the back the Bantams have some strength and the names write themselves on a team sheet: Simon Ramsden, Steve Williams, new recruit Shaun Duff and Robbie Threlfall; Luke Oliver may yet end up pressed into attack once more – that is a pudding that is only for the eating – and Zesh Rehman would seem to be marked to provide cover for Ramsden and the central players.
If Taylor has one aim this year it should be to get Rehman – who has a pedigree of playing Premiership football – to perform appropriately consistency. Rehman put in a half dozen excellent performances towards the end of the last season under Taylor and if the manager is the manager everyone (seemingly including Fabio Capello) thinks he is then it will be in getting performances out of the likes of Rehman which will evidence that.
In goal Jon McLaughlin is expected to get the number one shirt with Lloyd Saxton to wait for his chance as McLaughlin did.
City face Rochdale and then entertain Bradford Park Avenue at Valley Parade on Tuesday before starting the season on Saturday at Shrewsbury. At least that is the plan.
The final news of the close season before the start of the build up proper tidied up the end of last season and the scenes where some fans ran on the field and taunted the Northampton Town supporters who had taken a part in the clubs 25 year commemoration of the fire of 1985.
There are details aplenty about banning orders and good behaviour bonds but the message from City is that with the forty separate cases dealt with and an upgrade to the club’s CCTV in place that there has been firm action taken.
After a summer of players, prison and pitches it seems that City are to close the close season months with a firm step in the right direction and there is much credit to those at Valley Parade who have put the weight behind these steps.
Mark Lawn and VP safety officer David Dowse deserve a lot of credit. Lawn – fresh from his threat to wind the club up after his car with vandalised – has this time found a proportional response issuing four life bans, some season long suspensions and in doing so underlined the club’s stance on the yobbish element that had started to hang around the Bantams.
For the past four seasons curious stories have been filtering back that a group of City fans have been involved in scrapping – which is a more playful word for violence – but as most of these incidents were away from Valley Parade there was little the club could do other than assist Police and stewarding elsewhere. That and elect to park somewhere less conspicuous.
The first time this problem manifested – rather than hinted at – its presence where City could do something action was through and the club – and the fans who helped and supported – get credit.
Football is – by nature – adversarial and that has a tendency to lead to yobbishness in some and clubs have struggled with attempting to balance allowing the atmosphere of rivalry to survive the restrictions that control aggression.
As a side I enjoyed a summer Saturday in a pub in York – The Maltings if you know it – and was amused by a sign on the wall which detailed the policy on cussing and swearing. In that it was not allowed.
Amused turned to surprise when an especially no nonsense barmaid enforced that rule stridently. Put simply it was a pub which did not want you to swear in it, and so they stopped you and with my advancing years – we are all a summer older – I found that like the ale this was oddly refreshing.
It was a sea-change in atmosphere and one suited to a Saturday afternoon drink but probably something that would be impossible to attempt at football. They say that the family sections – where swearing is supposed to be prohibited – has worse language less often as if the Dad bottle up and then explode with much more vitriol than they would elsewhere.
Nevertheless as I took a beer I mused on how the efforts to tweak that atmosphere at The Maltings had been successful – “Bloody successful” I said testing the depth of the swearing waters and not being pulled up for any offence – and how rare it is for a football club to do the same.
Rare but not unprecedented. A trip to Lincoln City last season saw City fans greeted with messages that effing and jeffing was not on and The Dutch FA sanctioned Referees abandoning games if “personal chanting” were to be heard, a rule that seemed directly aimed at protecting Rafael van der Vaart’s wife Sylvie from abuse.
Elsewhere groups like the Accrington Stanley Ultras try – without the club – to change the atmosphere at their games and were very vocal while at Valley Parade last term.
Bradford City – in taking a stand against the aggressive element who followed City – are trying to change the atmosphere around the club and all credit to them for that. Firm action taken quickly finishes off the summer break on a strong note.
One wonders what else they – or fans – might seek to change if they had the chance.
Were one to be asked the simple question “What colours to Bradford City wear?” one would answer in no time at all that the Bantams wear claret and amber.
Indeed were one to be asked the same question about almost all the clubs in the league then a similar speedy response spring to mind. Arsenal: Red with white sleeves, Newcastle United: Black and white stripes, Tranmere Rovers: White and blue, QPR: Blue and white “super” hoops; My Dad has a recurrent and utterly unfunny joke about what colour Leeds United Third Reserves sock tops in 1977 were and – at this point – I’d like to ask him to stop it.
Nevertheless despite a F’ther’s hilarity there is a clear connection in our heads between the team and their colours and strips they wear.
Be asked a similar question: “What kit do Bradford City play in?” and one might struggle more before recalling the amber and pinstripe shirt with claret shorts. Expand that question to “What kit did Bradford City wear in August 2006?” and most of us would be left struggling to recall the exact details.
“Claret and amber,” we would say adding “Stripes” with some confidence but further than that we would struggle.
Ten years ago when City were in the Premiership David Mellor’s Football Task Force issued its edictful charter which would describe to clubs a few desirable traits on pricing and inclusionism one of which was the recommendation that clubs change the home kit no more than once every two years. The calls – like ideas on pricing which have pretty much been ignored at every club except this one – fell on deaf ears and this season eighteen of the twenty Premiership clubs have new home kits, sixteen of them having changed them at the start of last season.
I shall sidestep now the talk of the merits of buying a replica shirt and the ethos and culture around it. You might not like them, you might think they look rubbish on the portly frame of a gentleman of advancing years but you will appreciate, dear reader, that others have different views. Indeed you may also add – with some zest and gusto being put behind you from this writer – that no one puts a gun to your head and makes you buy a shirt and that should you be parents of children who will raise Holy Hell until they have a garment purchased then the fault is not in the stars but in yourselves.
Yes to all these things but understand that people do buy them – often in great numbers – and that this represents a significant source of income for many clubs or rather it has previously and – and here is the rub – is a well that is starting to dry up.
Fashion has a hand in this – in the 1990s wearing a football shirt attained a level of approval that it simply does not have any more – but increasingly the machinations of clubs to maximise the income from replica shirt sales has started to have an effect. Every change of shirt weakened the effect of that change. There was a time when the last shirt looked hopelessly out of step – like a guy at a Sex Pistols gig wearing bell bottoms – but as the frequency of change increased so they became less tied to a time or a team and became more a generic bit of club related clothing.
Club shops up and down the land sell rugby shirts and tank tops, scarves and huge jackets in the colours of the team and none of these gain the kind of official stamp that used to be given to the replica shirt and now seems to have slipped. While no one would concern themselves that their scarf had gone out of date – indeed I wear an appropriately coloured AS Roma scarf to City in the cold of the winter – so increasingly people are less and less worried that their replica shirt might not be the latest version.
Does it matter which Arsenal shirt you wear? As long as it is red and has white sleeves it is an Arsenal shirt. If it is blue and white hooped it is QPR. If – as my scarf suggests – it is claret and amber stripes it is Bradford City. These things are in the DNA of football supporters and it is not for a club to alter even if they could.
In trying to have more control over football in the money drenched post-Gazza’s tears years clubs as a whole have found themselves less and less able to exert the authority they claim over supporters. For every attempt to create the pre-game venue fans still call into their favourite haunt for a beer. For every attempt to mobilise a fleet of official travel one sees numerous recognisable cars in a convoy on the motorway to away games. For every change in strip one notices that one starts to see more and more of what people might call classic shirts.
One struggles to think of a way that a club has tried to package up and resell football to its supporters that has not – in the longer term – failed. The sight of David Beckham in the green and gold of Newton Heath joining the Manchester United supporters protests about their club’s owners and their attempts to wring every penny out of their loyalty said much. If even the most famously consumerist and notoriously wide-eyed supporters in the game will not accept being told how they should support their club – and how they should think of their club – then no one will.
Newcastle United could no more tell their supporters that the club no longer wore black and white stripes than they could that they were no longer to make a cult hero of Kevin Keegan or that they should like the person in the number five, not the number nine, shirt. Even if the club were to send the team out in some day glow yellow then St James’ Park would still be peopled with black and white stripes and grim resignation of having to put up with the situation until status quo was restored. Wearing any of the Newcastle United Toffs shirts would be just as correct – if not more – and one could argue that anyone who wore this classic 60s City shirt at VP next year would look more like a Bradford City player than the ten on the field.
The more a club attempts to control what the fans do the less the fans seem to want to do it. Spurs have launched six new kits – three designs, two sponsors – for this season but the result seems to have been that supporters would rather distance themselves from the idea of buying a kit at all. Assuming the “glory” of finishing fourth in the Premier League did not cause a spontaneous ripping off to run bare chested down the street of last years then, they seem to be supposing, it will do for next.
Bradford City though – as with a good number of teams – have differed from the traditional kit with last year’s claret shirt and this year’s amber number and while it is confusing for those watching on TV and can be be a tough hard to get used to the club has not effected any permanent alteration of that DNA of football. In short by changing design so frequently – from wholesale changes to the marks and flashes that appear and disappear at will on kits – clubs have lost the control over the football kit just as they lost control of what supporters call the stadium they play in by changing it too often.
Some clubs manage to effect permanent changes: Leeds United and Tranmere Rovers both moved to wear white to ape Real Madrid, John Bond rebranded to Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic as AC Milan, Bill Shankley gave Liverpool red and not white shorts; but on the whole there are things are immutable despite the efforts of those who offer up alternatives.
Bradford City play at Valley Parade, wear claret and amber striped shirts and think that all the best things in football are summed up by Stuart McCall and even when those things are not true at a given time, they will be again in the longer term.
These things are are weaved into football DNA.
There is a level of speculation in the summer months of closed season which borders on the curious and the report that Peter Taylor is being touted as potentially a possible addition to the England coaching line up is perhaps as odd as it has got for Bradford City and the football rumour columns for sometime.
Taylor – who managed the national side in Italy – is said to be Italian Fabio Capello’s choice of an English man to add to his coaching set up nestled somewhere between Stuart Pearce and Franco Baldini on the increasingly lengthy technical areas which International sides have.
The report will probably – in time – be filed amongst the things that did not happen as most of these things are although it is worth pausing for a moment to consider the possibility of the Bradford City boss combining his duties at Valley Parade with those at England. Perhaps he would miss the odd match leaving Wayne Jacobs in charge of the Bantams but running both jobs at once would seem feasible.
Taylor was England u21 manager and Hull City boss at the same time and Kevin Keegan managed both Fulham and England at one point. It is hard to imagine many conflicts of interest. Should Wayne Rooney be moaning to some rag like tabloid that he does not think it is fair that he be dropped just because the coach knows new England striker James Hanson from working together at VP then perhaps a problem will have emerged. Failing that aside from divided attention there are few minuses and – as the England coaches probably have an in with a good few players – considerable pluses.
From City’s point of view should a request come for Taylor and a chance be there to work out some sharing agreement then why not. It would also give the Bantams a chance to give Jacobs a bit of on the job manager’s training, something few number twos ever get.
From England’s point of view though appointing Peter Taylor would – from a public relations point of view – be something of a nightmare.
One can almost read the articles now. “What can you say about the FA that – when faced with the post-South Africa malaise of the game – responds by bringing the manager of that well know success story Bradford City into the set up?” The criticism writes itself. “Taylor – an exciting prospect in FA coaching ten years ago – is a step backwards for the national game.”
It might not be true, but since when have the newspaper ever let the truth stand in the way of a viciously judgemental op-ed?
“What can you say about the FA when their idea of discipline is to employ the man who twice gave a job to footballer turned murder Gavin Grant?” These are the lions that devour the English game and while Taylor is a man of some confidence and standing Bradford City could probably do without its chosen one being mauled for the sake of sating the public’s appetite to read attacks on any and everything connected to the national side?
If Taylor is the outstanding man – the man who can make a difference between the choking of South Africa and the glory of qualification – then what a wonderful thing it would be to share him between our nation and our club.
Unless he does make that seismic difference though the men at Wembley would do him – and us – a better service by give Taylor a wide berth.
There was a public clamour to discover the detail of the crime that saw Jake Speight convicted of assault and so the lower end of the tabloid press responded and laid out in grisliness Kathy Mugglestone’s side of the story.
Read the story if you want. I think – with some personal experience – that stories of domestic assault are are horrible enough without the needless tone of an article like this but obviously The Daily Star’s editors feel that there is a need to egg the pudding describing the victim as “Stunning Kathy Mugglestone, 21″.
If the article changes your level of sympathy or empathy for the victim, if it makes you think more about the need to take action against Speight, then you need to take a long, hard look at yourself.
And the question asks: Does it matter?
The reaction to the article has been a return of the debate between fans as to whether Speight should be sacked with people believing that there should be no place at the club for someone who behaves as the new signing has done and others attesting to the idea that player’s personal lives are away from the game and that in effect aside from missing a week of training his assault simply does not matter.
Does not matter that is as much as his capacity to score goals and be a part of a winning Bradford City side. It is hard not to have some agreement with this point of view when considering the recent history of this football club. If what matters about Bradford City is not the merciless pursuit of wins then why are we four months down the line from firing Stuart McCall as manager? The club was much nicer with our favourite player in charge.
If the aim of Bradford City is to be a collective of people who you are proud to applaud onto the field and think would probably like to share a beer with you then what was the purpose for anyone of removing the most beloved figure in the club’s history? If we want a Bradford City full of nice guys then why is Wayne Jacobs criticised for being “too nice.”
The past six months have seen a definitive statement made by a section of the supporters and by the club itself that winning football matches is more important than almost any other concern. Should Speight start to score goals then – one is forced to assume – he will win around the people who pushed so hard to see McCall ousted from the club because nothing matters more than winning games.
Indeed some would point to Speight – who has been tried and convicted – having a right to carry on his life and career on the basis of his application and ability rather than his past. You can, dear reader, take a view on that but we need not debate it again on these pages.
Why do we think we know footballers?
The counter opinion is that that Speight should not be allowed to wear a Bradford City shirt because he is to be considered unworthy of such distinction brings us to a more uncomfortable truth and one which sits at the heart of football supporting.
As football supporters the common ideal is that – with the odd exception – were we to meet the footballers we cheer on the field we would probably enjoy their company off it, what is more they would enjoy ours.
In the back of his mind the football supporter has a belief that were he to be in a pub on the Saturday night next to the player he watches on a Saturday afternoon then he could share a thought and talk over the game. Confuse this not with sycophancy – this is not about hero worship – but rather the idea that there would be an automatic magnetism between player and supporters because they were concerned with the same passions: Football, and the club.
Not only that but without evidence to the contrary we assume that the footballer is probably a good bloke. We think he will be someone we find likeable because – after all – we like him. We look at how the game is played by the footballers we like and from that infer a set of characteristics which find admirable.
We decide that James Hanson is a solid, hard working lad with Roy of the Rovers dreams in his head and stars in his eyes now he has been given a chance to play in the big leagues. I’ve never met him but he might be an utterly insufferable man bloated with egotism at his own achievements however I’ve seen his play from that feel I have some connection to him. That I somehow know him.
So when it emerges that the footballer is not what we would have thought he would be we are robbed of our disillusion – even if we have rarely given them serious thought or fantasy – and for some people that perceived betrayal is unforgivable. I’ve never met John Terry and I’m not the sort given to indulging the kind of inference of character I talk about above but some people are and those people found the revelations about him to be almost a personal slight.
How well do you know John Terry?
To some people it was as if Terry had put up a front to them, pretending to be an all round nice guy and good bloke, and that because they knew him through his game when he turned out to be a bit of a shit they we outraged by the duplicity of the man. How dare he pretend to be the thing I want him to be only to prove he is not?
All along John Terry has always been John Terry and while he might not want the world to know about it because of the effect on his lucrative sponsorship deals and his personal privacy it is our inference as football supporters watching him play that has afforded him that status. All along he has been a bit of a git but the fact that he kicked a ball around well created – in the mind of fans – the persona of “JT The Great Guy.”
Confuse this not too with the idea of idols and Gods with feet of clay. This is not a situation where we find a hidden truth where previously we had some knowledge but rather one where we find only a truth where before we had assumption.
Smarter footballers are able to manage their public persona in a way that hides any negative traits in the same way that actors such as Leonardo DiCaprio are able to spend years ensuring that they do as little as possible which anyone might find objectionable in order to allow the public to project onto them some positive characteristics. Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise saw their stars dim when the public started to see too much of their own shapes, taking away the forms they were ale to afford them themselves.
The uncomfortable truth at the heart of football supporting is that the chances are that were we to be given the chance to have that drink with a player then we would probably not like them. We would try talk about the club, about the game and they would have different passions, different interests. They might even find us odd. For various reasons few players are as interested in football as supporters are and – like Benoît Assou-Ekotto who plays for Spurs and represented Cameroon in the World Cup – sees the game just as his day job.
When we are presented with a story like Jake Speight’s assault on Kathy Mugglestone then it becomes clear that some footballers might be down right objectionable (or they may not be, again I’ve never met Speight so have only mediated and assumed lore to make a judgement on) then this distance between what we would want a player to be and what they actually are is brought into sharp focus.
And so, to personal matters
Some years ago I was out in Leeds in the aftermath of City’s 3-1 win over Portsmouth in which Lee Sharpe had had a rare great game and bumped into the player in The Courthouse. Without going into details let it be known that Sharpe was not enthusing about football or his performance – not that he should be, it was his night out too – and following that night the BfB policy of trying to avoid matters off the pitch fermented.
In the eight years since I have lost track of the number of emails which I’ve received which detail the transgressions of various players as detailed by City fans the majority of whom were some how disgruntled by an encounter with a player.
Recently and most benignly Barry Conlon was “outed” as liking a drink and not really being that bothered about the club as if the man who had at that point had twelve clubs in ten years should be a teetotal dyed in the wool Bantam. Every year one sees a dozen or so players come or go from Valley Parade and to expect them all to care about the club as deeply as a support does is unrealistic to the point of madness. Opinion was divided on Conlon but – from this corner of the web – it was given on the basis of what he did on the field and not an expectation that he should be as interested in Bradford City as a supporter.
Nicky Summerbee was vilified following an exchange with City fans who thought he should care more – or like Omar Daley appear to care more – but to demand the commitment of fans such from hired hands is setting oneself up for a fall. On Summerbee and Daley and all others who seem to not – and indeed probably don’t – care as much as fans then again one looks at the performance on the field rather than judging them against some perceived idea of the player who cares as much as the fan. This is not the fifties, and there is only one Wor Jackie.
When City signed Gavin Grant mails came in talking about the player and repeating things which have since turned up in court and BfB was once again left with questions as to how to talk about a player who was scary in his deviation from what supporters would want him to be. What can one do in that position when talking about football other than just talk about football?
Supporters have expectations of players and it is not for me to say if the expectation that Jake Speight be an model citizen is appropriate enough on a personal basis is a healthy thing or not but I will say that anyone anyone who expects footballers to be in life what they are in the mental fiction we build around them is going to be disappointed. As my brother is so fond of saying “(I) hate everything about football apart from the football.”
At BfB we try to talks about the club on the basis of what happens on the pitch and – even in a case as trying as Jake Speight – we will continue to try to do so.
Gavin Grant has been convicted of murder and expected to spend over a decade in prison. There is little else to say about the man and his conviction but there is a sense of curiosity as to why Peter Taylor gave the striker three months at City at the end of last season.
Taylor knew Grant from previous clubs and perhaps Grant – who played for free – knew that he had a long time in prison to come and wanted to leave society with something to pleasant remember. Of the players recruited at the end of last term on loan Robbie Threlfall and Luke Oliver signed for City, Adam Bolder ended up at Burton Albion, Mark McGammon made hardly an impression and Grant – well Grant will not be signing for anyone.
You can read about Grant’s conviction here in in Asian Age newspaper or if you prefer you can read the Telegraph and Argus. Both reports are very similar although there is one word missing from our local newspaper.
Bradford City striker found guilty of rival’s murder or Former football star Grant convicted of murder. The difference is obvious. The former is the Telegraph & Argus and why Bradford’s local newspaper feels the need to offer this distortion is probably obvious.
Bradford City striker Gavin Grant was today facing life in prison after being found guilty of murder.
Nowhere in the article will you read that Grant is not in the employ of Bradford City, nor that he has never been paid by Bradford City. The first word of the Asian Age article is “Former”.
The Telegraph and Argus – seemingly – have taken a view that by portraying events as one of the City players having been carted away from training leaving Peter Taylor scratching his head as to how to patch the hole in his squad is more important that conveying the truth of the situation to the people of Bradford.
Yes, he played for Bradford City on the last game of last season but Jake Speight played for Mansfield Town and on his imprisonment two weeks ago he was also a “Bradford City Striker”. Can the T&A have it both ways? Why do they want to?
Why does the Telegraph and Argus want to portray this story – a former City player has been convicted of murder – in a way that paints Bradford City in the worst possible light being prepared to break the standard of two weeks ago in order to ensure the headline reads as badly as possible?
None of which is to avoid the question as to why City gave Grant a chance to prove he was worth a contract he would never be able to take up – I’m prepared to be charitable and suggest that Taylor had the faith in Grant that when he said he was not guilty he was telling the truth and that the player deserved a chance should he not be convicted to carry on his career – but rather to ask why Bradford’s local newspaper has taken to bending the truth in a way that paints the local football club in the worst possible light?
When Jake Speight was sent to prison – the chance of which was not mentioned to the club – the words “a lie of omission” cropped up and people decided they would boo the player for his duplicity. Will the same people look at the T&A and see another lie of omission – the word “former” and a clarity that Gavin Grant is not a Bradford City player – and object in as strong terms about that publication?
It is breathtaking that rather than take an objective view on Grant and Bradford City the Telegraph and Argus – who in a very real sense feed off the club – wish to bite that feeding hand by writing headlines and articles which seek to pain the club in as negative a light as possible.
Consistency is lacking. Speight and Grant can’t both be Bradford City players just because saying so makes a more interesting headline for the local newspaper.
How long have Bradford City been the T&A’s punch bag? Painting the club in the worst light possible, sensationalising headlines to drum up sales. One can only imagine what Mark Lawn thinks about this and – being the man he is – how he will react.
If you missed Bradford City’s 4-0 win over Stambridge United last night then you are not alone. BfB did little to cover it and a straw poll of City fans responding to news of the opening goals on Facebook seemed to show that they knew that some games in Essex were coming, but they did not know when.
City won the game with goals from Leon Osborne, Scott Neilson, Omar Daley and James O’Brien – a second four goal win in as many days following the 5-1 victory over North Ferriby United – and word came from the South that City had been given a good game by the part-timers from Essex although many would debate how much of a game non-league footballers at the level of the club’s City gave played so far can give professionals.
Indeed there is a charge at Peter Taylor’s door that his pre-season preparations are weak and that is is no benefit to the players to have easy victories over poor opposition. Certainly Taylor’s aim is not to create an interesting and exciting set of games but is he creating a useful set?
Sadly – or perhaps not so sadly – no answer can be reached for some time. Since the days of Chris Kamara – if not before – every City manager has looked at pre-season as if it were non-competitive league matches to be treated as significantly as Johnstone’s Paint early rounds or end of season dead rubbers (which is to say as lightly as a professional club every takes a game, but still as if it were a “proper” match) but Taylor seems to take a new approach.
Taylor is doing everything he can to ensure that pre-season matches – at this stage – are not taken seriously by his players and that the games are re-contextualised as a part of training. A means to an end and not an end in itself.
Which is not to say that there is not a seriousness to the training that Taylor, Junior Lewis and Wayne Jacobs put the players through – quiet the opposite – but that Taylor is keen to ensure that his players know the difference between training time and the business time of the season.
Matches kick off at three in the afternoon, seven forty-five in the evening in proper games but Taylor breaks this association moving the kick off around an hour here, two there and ensures that games are presented to players and to fans in a different situation.
Eccleshill United aside the games – up to the race trim of the final week – are all far flung keeping the Bantams away from City fans who season on season extrapolate the entire league’s nine months or play on the basis of the first game they see in July. Rightly or wrongly players are judged in their rawest form. I never – and still don’t – think much of Michael Symes based on watching his first performance for City at Farsley Celtic. The likes of Stambridge might get a few extra people to have a look at the Bantams but in all likelihood two men and a dog will be watching City rather than the backing of an active travelling City support.
These things break the link between what happened at Stambridge and what will happen at Shrewsbury on the first day of the season. Breaking that link says to the players that they are in build up now suggesting that they are preparing for something in August not playing for the tiny glory of winning in a pre-season game.
Not that winning is in question. The teams are a distance below City’s standard but win, lose or draw one doubts Taylor would care any more than he would care if the Red Bibs beat the Yellow Bibs at Apperley Bridge. The aim is not to show how good – or poor – City are by winning games over the best opposition available it is to prepare the players.
Taylor believes this is best done by taking the pressure away from these games, making them more like a practice match than what we now know a pre-season games. It is building relationships between players, patterns of play on the field, understandings and partnerships. In a way Stambridge United, North Ferriby United and Eccleshill United are doing the job of human traffic cones to be trained against but not designed to challenge the City players in any way other than not allowing them to fail.
I mean that with no disrespect. Taylor approach presents City’s players with the opportunity to play against an opposition which as long as they approach the game in the correct way they will benefit from it. City played Didi Harmann and Joey Barton in a Manchester City midfield five years ago in pre-season and Steven Schmacher and Marc Bridge-Wilkinson spent the afternoon having passes picked off which – while purposeful practice – was unrewarding and represents a slight return. If Lee Bullock and James O’Brien play as they can then they spend games in possession, using the ball, building confidence.
The merits of Taylor’s approach will be evidenced in the season itself but – rarely in modern football – City have a manager who wants to approach pre-season as a means to an end rather than an end in itself.
Flicking between channels during The Simpsons advert break one weekday recently, I was shocked to see Valley Parade appear as part of the backdrop behind a BBC national news reporter. The piece actually had nothing to do with Bradford City, it was about how the life expectancy of people living in poorer places like Bradford was a couple of years less than people who lived just a few miles down the road, in nicer areas.
My surprise turned to annoyance. As a Skipton resident, it was great that the reporter was telling me people who lived down the Aire Valley from Bradford are statistically likely to live a bit longer, but why did this national news story have to focus on Bradford at all? It was just another negative media piece about the UK’s sixth largest city, at a time when it seems to be getting especially kicked in the teeth from all sides.
During the recent General Election campaign, the plight of Bradford was highlighted when local resident Emma Heal attacked David Cameron for the way the Conservative Bradford Council had allowed the city to go into decline. She was referring to the embarrassing hole in the city centre where a shopping centre was supposed to have been built long before the term “credit crunch” was heard of by most people.
Then there’s the on-going saga with the Bradford Odeon, an iconic building allowed to rot away through no one having the ambition or vision to do something worthwhile with it. More serious was the recent Bradford murders which generated huge national media coverage, little of which gave a positive impression of the city.
And the negative headlines may not yet be over. Recently Bradford City announced its home game with Southend had been switched from Saturday 28 August to the evening before, without providing any explanation. But it’s recently become clear why, as the English Defence League (EDL) is scheduled to be holding a protest in the city on that day, which has forced the police to ask for the League Two fixture to be moved (the demo is advertised on its website, and there are rumours Bradford businesses will be closing for fear of trouble).
You need only watch footage secretly filmed by the Guardian in May, or check out local media reports of demonstrations the EDL has held in other English towns, to appreciate what might be in store for Bradford that Bank Holiday weekend. One of the organisers told the Guardian reporter, “Bradford will be huge…(it) is a place that has got to be hit.” Memories of the Bradford race riots in 2001 remain fresh, the prospect of similar scenes would have the vast majority of Bradford people despairing, and TV crews charging up the M1.
Far be it from me to influence your political views, but if you are against the EDL’s protest you might wish to visit Centenary Square on Saturday to add your signature to a petition to stop the event.
Regardless of whether or not the demo does go ahead, the problems in Bradford remain. The way the City has been allowed to decline is heart-breaking, and the reputation it has among people who live nearby shows just why it has such a poor national one. So many of my friends talk of going shopping to Leeds or Manchester or Harrogate or anywhere but Bradford, and who can blame them? A few years ago I organised a trip around the pubs of Bradford for my birthday night out. Some friends were genuinely fearful of coming, having pre-conceptions of what the City is like. In the end they were pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable the City Centre pubs were. Not that they’ve been back since, mind.
The City needs shaking up, it needs people with a vision and sense of realism to tackle the issues and give every resident the sort of place to live they deserve. It needs a pro-active commitment that won’t be abandoned when problems arise, it needs more than short-term thinking or a belief that a magic wand can solve everything. It needs help now, but sadly we won’t hold our breath.
And what does this have to do with Bradford City? Not much, but as the new season approaches and we largely remain optimistic about the prospects of glory, perhaps it’s worth reflecting on whether the football club can play a role in lifting some of the gloom.
Of course winning football matches doesn’t remove the problems. We’ve just seen a World Cup held in the World’s poorest continent, which had sparked over-optimism from some people that a football tournament could change these issues. It couldn’t, but it could have helped a little. And even though it’s inevitable that, in years to come, we’ll be treated to media stories about how the World Cup didn’t change Africa and how those lovely stadiums are now under-used, we shouldn’t forget it did some good.
Which Bradford City Football Club could also do locally. For all the negative media stories and problems that affect the City’s image, how good would it be to have Bradford associated with success through reports of the club’s success? “Bradford win again” we might hear every Saturday night on the BBC Football League Show. “Bradford are top of the league” would make a change from hearing about all those league tables the City inevitably appears near the foot of.
In our Bantams bubble we sometimes allow ourselves to believe only those of us inside Valley Parade on a Saturday afternoon care about the team’s fortunes. But who listens to the home radio commentaries BBC Radio Leeds is so jubilant to have agreed again for this coming season? Who else scans the back page of the T&A every day? Who else would join us in Centenary Square to celebrate a promotion? Bradford City does matter to more people than just those of us committed enough to go to the games, and it can do some good in difficult times.
As we prepare for the big kick off, hoping that this time it will finally go in the manner we dream it, it’s worth considering whether who most of all needs Bradford City to get promoted this season is the City of Bradford itself.
Bradford City play North Ferriby United At Grange Road in Friendly game, 2010/2011
At some point after the middle of the 1990s pre-season became a thing of interest.
Perhaps it is the rise of Sky Sports and the need for constant football, perhaps it is the public’s thirst for the close season to end as quickly as possible, perhaps it is clubs trying to spin out two or three extra big money games in a season but whatever has caused it pre-season in modern football has become much more of a big deal.
Looking at the likes of Guiseley who had Bradford City on the pre-season fixture list until recently the games against league opposition offer a chance of a pay day in excess of most league matches. Kendal Town play Blackburn Rovers and Wigan Athletic and walking around the Westmoorland town one would struggle to miss this fact – that and the fact that Chas Hodges is playing in town soon – which is a marked contrast to the games within the regular season which pass without note in that part of the Lake District.
Certainly City’s return to action against Eccleshill United was eagerly anticipated with a good number of Bantams fans looking at pre-season as a welcome return to normality.
Turn on the ubiquitous Sky Sports News today and you will see highlights from pre-season matches up and down the land. Last year when Newcastle United lost 6-1 in pre-season to Leyton Orient then Sky’s talking heads damned the Magpies to a season of struggle in The Championship. They won it.
So in tone and in the minds of supporters and on the balance sheet pre-season seems to be interesting in a way which it was not previously. Pre-season matches happened for sure and occasionally they would be seen in the newspaper (as is my recollection) and talked about in vague terms by very few who seemed to have a mystic view of the new players on the first day of the season.
Steve Gardner turned up as an unknown on the opening day of one year with the words “He looked good in pre-season” offered by a City sage who had seen such things. The sage was considered rare and some what obsessive – like people who go to more than one date on a band’s tour – while extrapolations about Gardner, as with Newcastle, turned out to inaccurate.
At City the change over from a pre-season which was the preserve of the dedicated and the players probably occurred around the time that Chris Kamara was manager and City played Newcastle United in which Peter Beardsley and Tino Asprilla weaved majestically and a high quality Middlesbrough side in a two day period and then went on (again, if I recall) to play Santos of Brazil in a game which saw the only – to date – overhead back heel volley goal.
Compared to that the reality of the season seemed something of a let down. The circus had come to town and then left us with some reality where Norwich and Swindon – not Newcastle and Santos – were the opposition.
Peter Taylor managed Southend at the start of that period and Gillingham around the middle but perhaps it is his experience a England u21 manager which shapes his thoughts on how preparation games should be treated. He talks about how the Bantams could have played some big teams at Valley Parade – Premier League Burnley played at VP last season – but for the newly laid pitch but it is clear that Taylor sees these matches as build up to Shrewsbury Town on the first day, no more or less significant than any other training session and certainly not wasting the fresh grass on for a few extra quid.
So City have no big name on the fixture list – Rochdale are the highest placed side we face – and a swathe of games against low opposition including North Ferriby United who City play at one on Saturday afternoon. Taylor talks about the games in terms of being build up, fitness getters, and while supporters can watch the manager does not see them as being spectacles. His threat to take his team home at half time at Eccleshill says all you need to know about how Taylor prioritises.
Not for him an evening watching Beardsley and Asprilla run rings around his players. Not for him bowing the knee to boys from Brazil.
So a City squad of around twenty-two will be split into two teams of eleven with the aim of fitness not performance. City are without Michael Flynn (Groin), Tommy Doherty (Calf), Luke Dean (Broken leg) and Jake Speight (Broken promises) but Tom Adeyemi will make his debut following his arrival on loan from Norwich City and have Matthew Tipton and Lee Morris looking to earn contracts.
The game kicks off early for those who fancy a trip to Grange Road but one doubts that anyone will be encouraged to slam in an overhead backheel.
New signing Jake Speight will miss the start of City’s season after being sent to prison for three months for assault.
Speight missed the Friday game with Eccleshill United having told Peter Taylor he would be appearing in court and – as a result of that appearance – the player has been imprisoned. Taylor’s fury – a kind of unfocused rage that “someone” should have told him about the possibility of Speight going to jail – is obvious with the manager not only refusing to pay the player until he is released but taking a view that he may not be paid until he is fit enough to play.
Speight’s signing – under the threat of prison – is not unprecedented. When Peter Beagrie signed for the club in 1997 he had a court case to answer and as a result was sentenced but not jailed. Chris Kamara – who was manager at the time – knew of Beagrie’s case and risked his £50,000 signing going to prison. Beagrie’s first season was some way poorer than his later ones and perhaps one might suggest that a lack of pre-season might have been the cause of that.
Another player – Richard Liburd – was jailed while at the Bantams and it was decided that the club would sack him although Geoffrey Richmond had to wait until the player had not turned up to work for two weeks as a result of being inside before he could take action.
Speight is expected to be released around the 22nd of August should he behave well and – considering that we have owned the player for less than a week and in that time he has played no games but been sent to prison without telling anyone once – perhaps we have no guarantee of that.
It is not the pre-season Peter Taylor would want.
Eccleshill United 0 Bradford City 2 At Plumpton Park in Pre-season friendly, 2010/2011
Like the final stages of the return journey from a lengthy holiday, where the streets and surroundings suddenly become recognisable, Bradford City’s opening pre-season friendly at Eccleshill this evening delivered a mixture of joy and surrealism at the familiarity of it all. Life as we know it is just around the corner again, but the freshness of the ordinariness makes it all seem hard to imagine. Soon we’ll be uttering how it feels as though we were never even away.
City were comfortable winners this evening – eventually. A less than steady first half performance had all the hallmarks of that first day back in the office after vacation, where we’re more keen to show off our suntan and share holiday stories than settle back into the humdrum of work . City struggled to pass around the ball on a ridiculously bumpy surface, and found their non-league hosts more eager and focused to make an impression.
Though that thin line between competitive and combative was sadly crossed in the middle of the first half, where an over-the-top challenge by a home player left City youngster Luke Dean laid on the floor for over five minutes – eventually departing on a stretcher and straight to hospital. The half time queue for the Gents included a City director who told us supporters how Dean not long since recovered from a broken leg (the same one now badly injured) and we all hope a promising career has not just come to a premature end.
Fresh from warning friendly opponents to play these warm-up games in the right spirit, a clearly livid Peter Taylor ordered his counter-part Ian Banks to substitute the player who made such a reckless challenge. Those within earshot of the City manager claim he threatened not to bring out a team for the second half if the change wasn’t made.
But there was a lack of justice about withdrawing the player similar to that seen in the Burnley game two years ago. Why are such actions excused on the grounds it’s a friendly when they carry such potentially significant consequences? Despite Eccleshill hosting City’s reserves this season, if Taylor is still City’s manager next summer there will be no pre-season return to Plumpton Park.
But aside from a few other over-eager first half tackles, the game was played in the spirit it should and Eccleshill deserve credit for an industrious first half display which saw Jon McLaughlin much the busier keeper. City’s new number one tipped one long range effort onto the crossbar and palmed away another shot as the midfield badly failed to grasp control. If there was one minor positive of Dean’s withdrawal, it is that his replacement James O’Brien immediately exerted more influence in the middle of the park.
Going forward City struggled to make an impact. Matthew Tipton made his debut up front and within the first two minutes began lecturing Omar Daley about how he expected to be supported, in a manner you wouldn’t assume a guy from Macclesfield hoping to impress would talk to an experienced international. Daley looked tentative and failed to make much impact, a few dribbles ending with the wrong option taken.
The relative quietness that pre-season games are typical of was interrupted at one stage when Tipton unsuccessfully kept in an over-hit pass. In a league game opposition supporters would sarcastically cheer such a moment, so Tipton decided to produce the sound effect himself. A character, as they say.
Gareth Evans put City in front shortly before half time, when he hurriedly closed down a dithering keeper, who’s attempt to clear the ball upfield smacked against City’s number nine and bounced into the net. The keepers’ embarrassment was shared by Evans, who looked uncomfortable celebrating that he’d shown him up. The impressive Luke Oliver almost made it two from a corner, as the second half City team warmed up on some grass behind the goal in preparation to take over.
Only the two O’Briens continued after half time, where a much stronger performance ensued. Michael Flynn took over alongside O’Brien in the centre and the visitors dominated the play. There can be few meaningful lessons to take home tonight, but the first half midfield without Flynn and the second half with the Welshman offered a visible reminder of his importance to the team this season.
The forgotten Scott Neilson also impressed, taking players on for fun and regularly bursting into the box. On the opposite flank the development of Leon Osborne seems to continue as he showed glimpses of his talent. It’s a big season for both players, but the early signs are encouraging. With second half captain James Hanson looking sharp and second trialist Lee Morris showing a few nice touches, the play was almost entirely in Eccleshill’s half. Numerous good chances were created with clever football, the woodwork was called into action twice.
Although not really tested, Shane Duff and Robbie Threlfall both caught the eye at the back, and a clean sheet was never in doubt. With a few minutes left, Hanson latched onto a rebound and powerfully fired the ball into the roof of the goal. Full time whistle blown seconds later, the handshakes between rival players and coaching staff was notably warm given the anger of an hour earlier.
So City up and running, but still with a long way to go. The first friendly is always a novelty which quickly gives way to tedium and anxiousness for time to pass more quicker. But there’s something hugely enjoyable about visiting friendly non-league grounds at this time of year, and the chance to drink beer while watching the game in the evening sunshine was a too-rare opportunity.
Football without the anxiousness, worry and inevitable pain. Joyful and surreal indeed.
Bradford City play Eccleshill United At Plumpton Park in Friendly game, 2010/2011
The World Cup final is two days away as Bradford City start a season in which Peter Taylor is mandated to take his team to promotion.
Starting by taking on Eccleshill United at Plumpton Park City’s manager is has a contract which last until the end of the season with the expectation being that should the Bantams not be starting next year in League One then they will be starting it with a different gaffer.
It is hoped that Taylor has the raw materials in place – he has a new flat pitch, money for overnight stays but crucially not the next training facilities he wanted – and has augmented a squad which last season finished fourteenth in the division.
The hope for Taylor – and all – is that the additions of Jake Speight, Tommy Doherty and Shaun Duff can make a significant difference. Mark Lawn has called Doherty a player good enough to play in the Championship which he may be but he, as with the rest of the squad, line up as League Two players against no doubt another twenty three sides who have squads peopled with players of similar quality.
Everyone has their great hopes at this time of year, everyone has their own ideas of how they are going to be the team that gets promoted.
A view of League Two – a League that Taylor has taken teams up from – tells us that the teams which win promotion are those who have a season marked with resilience. Rochdale recovered from the 3-1 defeat we visited on them at Spotland last season but City did not from the 3-0 defeat at the same ground the season before. The Bantams tendency under Stuart McCall to be able to carry any defeat into the next game as a merciless hangover was a marked characteristic of this.
Mental and physical preparation are key – Taylor’s talk of training facilities is recalled – and as the City manager starts his one chance at this club with these players he does so without the things he asked for. A realistic view of that is that once again the manager is in a position of having to over-perform in order to perform as expected.
Tonight Taylor will play players for forty-five minutes each changing the eleven at half-time but retaining the 433 he is set to play in the season for both halves. Speight, Doherty, Duff and Lloyd Saxton are expected to make débuts while Luke Oliver and Robbie Threlfall will make first appearances as City players proper.
Look out for Omar Daley – his last season ruined by injury this term he starts from a full pre-season – and for James Hanson to see if he and Gareth Evans can continue on the form they showed last term. Steve Williams has competition for his place from Zesh Rehman, Oliver and Duff and it will be interesting to look at the styles of those central defenders although all four are big lads able to clean out the backline.
Taylor has strikers Matthew Tipton and Lee Morris on trail. Morris was linked with City at various times in his younger years. The forward who made his name through his blistering pace is now thirty and has been released by Hereford United while Tipton has been released by Macclesfield the Welshman having had a career around the lower leagues.
The season starts tonight and ends in May 2011 which will be one hundred years since City won the club’s only major honour. Expectations are that we will have something to celebrate then.
Fresh from reading another article about the Glazers, at the weekend I asked a Manchester United-supporting about his views on the American owners who are seemingly taking money out of the club for their personal gain having not contributed a cent of their own money in the first place. His response stunned me – “Who cares? The only thing which matters is that we’re winning trophies.”
My friend’s attitude is far from representative of most United fans. The Glazers have saddled the previously-richest club in the world with eye-watering levels of debt which is beginning to hinder their ability to compete at the top. But worse is their loyal supporters have endured a 50% rise in season ticket prices and the highly controversial (now scrapped) automatic cup ticket scheme, while the Glazer family has legally being able to take part of the profits for personal needs and shows no intention of using their own money to pay back its borrowings to buy the club. It’s not hard to see why the fan protests of last season were so sizeable in number and anger.
But nevertheless does my friend have a point? The Glazers’ arrival prompted thousands to defect from the club and set up their own, FC United, but many thousands more stayed and paid those ticket hikes. Only when United began to struggle by their own high standards did the protests start up, will they continue next season if the likelihood of trophies becomes stronger?
While the rest of football watches closely and wonders how on earth the Glazers can get away with their actions, unless the previously unseen sight of empty seats at Old Trafford for some Premier League games last season continues to grow momentum, the continuing huge levels of revenue generated will protect the Glazers from re-evaluating their business plan. And it’s difficult to expect loyal fans to register their displeasure by depriving themselves of going to watch their own football team, no matter how much it must grate to know the harm it is seemingly doing.
The Glazers must surely be the worst football club owners in England, but they are not unique in putting self interest above the welfare of the club they are custodians of. The Premier League has thrown the door open to outside investors and the returns they can enjoy are clearly highly rewarding. Most supporters will accept this as long as they “put their hand in their pockets” and spend millions buying better players. The odd billionaire with a mountain of cash to offload aside, it’s doubtful how often some owners really do spend their own money to buy these players without eventually making a bigger return. It is at odds with the hopes of supporters, but if the club is performing well it can be largely forgiven.
The ownership model at Valley Parade is very different, for better or worse. Towards the end of last season, and not for the first time, there were rumours of foreign businessmen investing in Bradford City. Predictably nothing materialised, but the thought of a significant cash influx for new players naturally excited many fans who heard the speculation.
If an investor ever does materialise beyond the imagination of a message board rumour-starter and into the Valley Parade reception, questions must surely be first asked about their intentions by both current owners and supporters. Clearly any would-be investor with no previous connections to the club is going to be striving to become richer. This would be largely acceptable if the investment is able to elevate City beyond a level they currently struggle to reach and can be sustained in the long run, but equally it has to be understood that the risk prospective owners take investing their money, with no guarantee of success, deserves that reward in the long run.
At the fans forum a year ago, Mark Lawn was asked why the Munto Finance organisation had invested in Notts County and not Bradford City, with a tinge of jealousy floating around the room. It didn’t take long into the season for all of us to agree it is a good thing they had designs on someone else. Notts County might have gained promotion last season, but the financial mess left behind threatens to catch up with them sooner or later.
Was the Notts County Supporters Trust right to sell the club to Munto last August, given the successful promotion it couldn’t have financed themselves? Was it better for County to continue struggling on in the bottom half of League Two, or to enjoy some success at the potential price of their very existence? We’ll watch closely this season to see, but I know which choice I’d have voted for.
Despite a huge fanbase and relatively small debts in comparison to the traumas of the two administrations, Bradford City is clearly not an attractive proposition for would-be investors. Whether this is due to the high running costs of Valley Parade – has anyone viewed the books? – or the reputation the club and City possess is unclear. But while Liverpool fans curse their previous owner David Moores for selling the club to Americans with no heart and little money, we could easily have ended up in a situation where we regretted Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn selling up.
Though it is worth considering whether City are really in need of investment. Sure, the idea of suddenly having sizable transfer funds to buy the best available players has an appeal, but to succeed the Bantams would still need to ensure all the other factors which they can control without extra investment are still in place – namely solid management, suitable facilities and a collaborative spirit.
The reality is that City have two owners who care deeply about the club and for whom making a profit is on the agenda. No one can deny owning Bradford City has reduced the Rhodes’ family’s wealth, and while Lawn has loaned money to the club which he will eventually receive back, allegedly with interest, he is undoubtedly as passionate about the club as any of us.
Naturally neither are far from perfect. Lawn’s public statements in recent months have often seemed naively blunt, alienating many fans in the process. Rhodes’ more considered views are more enjoyable to hear and read, but his obvious reluctance to take a public profile means leadership is not as visible as we’d all like to see. Although I’ve seen many photos of Rhodes over the years, shamefully I’m not confident I’d recognise him walking around Valley Parade. The number of times I’ve seen Lawn in and around the stadium on match days in comparison suggests I’ve probably walked past Rhodes without realising. He probably likes it that way.
The recent visit of David Baldwin to the Telegraph and Argus’ message board also emphasises another regular failing, namely that the club is too concerned and pays too much attention to those supporters who shout the loudest, regardless of whether they are representative of most supporters views. Whatever the views of Stuart McCall’s departure, the less-than-sensitive way the club handled the situation last February was more in keeping with pleasing those who’d strongly urged the club to get rid, than those who were genuinely upset at the way it ended for a club legend.
It appears too often that the City Board is more reactive than proactive, and that a clear vision of the way the club should be progressing is lacking – with decisions too quickly abandoned and changed. Much of the recent strategy has come from the outside views of Peter Taylor, rather than the bright thinking of the boardroom. There is little Geoffrey Richmond-style innovation or feeling the chairmen are one step ahead of supporters in their thinking, though equally of course there is also no fear of hidden motives and risky gambles which could dramatically backfire.
But I’d love for them both to finally get the rewards their efforts deserve in the shape of a promotion this season. Like my ignorant Manchester United supporter alluded to, it’s success on the field which ultimately matters. Whatever the past mistakes, they both work hard to bring success and without Rhodes, and perhaps even Lawn, there would not be a Bradford City kicking off another pre-season this Friday.
They own the club because they care, not because they want to make money out of our passion. They are striving to make it a self-sustainable business and, while this may have limitations at times, it’s an ownership model that deserves to succeed.
Certainly more so than the get-even-richer-quicker approach of other football club owners like the Glazers. It is truly sad that modern football has become so geared up to making money and that success and failure is not always connected to exploits on the field.
Hopefully this is the year an under-achieving West Yorkshire club can buck the trend – and Julian and Mark can take a deserved spot on the open top bus.
If something happens at Valley Parade at the moment then it is done by Peter Taylor and the calling off of Saturday’s friendly match with Guiseley which was to be part of the payment for James Hanson has been played squared at the manager’s door.
With a summer of fascinating articles detailing grass and the growth of grass City came back to pre-season training with the news that Taylor had decided not to relocate the Bantams from Apperley Bridge to Weetwood. Following on from that – and very clearly laid at his door – comes the Guiseley news.
It seems that Taylor wanted the game played earlier in the day to allow the players to be in bed earlier keeping pre-season plans in place for the next day. Guiseley – who are counting the attendance from the game as a part of the payment for Hanson – objected to that time but the offer from City seems to be that another date needs to be their proposal or another date need be found before the end of the season, like it or lump it.
It is far from harmonious. Guiseley believe that changing the date of the friendly will hit them in the pocket and they are no doubt right. Even at seven in the evening one could expect Bantams fans to not fight traffic on the way to the North of the City, later in the season wedged between League matches the idea of playing another local side is also less appealing and fewer would go, hitting the bottom line.
Quiet why when a player signs for one club from another someone comes up with the idea that the supporters should pay part of the transfer fee is anyone’s guess. One thinks back to the transfer of Graeme Tomlinson to Manchester United where – to thank the Red Devils for taking our good young striker – I was offered the chance to pay £10 towards the fee which was in essence giving Man U money to give City to take our player.
City seldom make friends in the local football community but this action seems to almost pathologically antagonistic and perhaps that is why Taylor is given the credit for the decision rather than the club presenting a united front. Taylor does things his way – the recent talk from Valley Parade alludes to – and we don’t stop him.
So Taylor decides that his players should not be playing on the 13th of July and so they are not and that decision hits Guiseley in the pocket and probably does very little for the reputation of the Bantams but the club – which is to say the chairmen and executives – are possessed of a faith in the manager that sees them leave him to his own devices rightly or wrongly.
Perhaps someone should have told Peter Taylor that they wanted Bradford City to be the sort of team who help out the other local sides but the manager – at the moment – is calling the shots at the Bantams and while that seems to have hit Guiseley I’m not upset at this new order at Valley Parade.
Self flagellation has always been popular in English football and when the national side returned home from a World Cup 4-1.5ing by Germany the press and players had already begun to whip itself in a freeze of internalised loathing showing the defining characteristic of the media approach to the game: That the game is played by England and other sides are the subject of that.
So when England play well – nine out of ten in qualifying – it is because of our abilities and when we lose it is the lack of those which is the problem and credit is never extended to the opposition. Watching Germany ram four past Argentina though could cause cause for a pause. However poor one might feel England were either Argentina (and Australia) were equal to that or – perhaps – there is something worth noticing going on in Joachim Löw’s side.
There has been a consensus that the Germans – who played a central five in the midfield with an average age of just under 23 years old – have stolen a march on the World because of that youth and freshness and there is much to be said for the way that they have blooded their younger players. 25 year old Schweinsteiger is on his second World Cup. So is Wayne Rooney, scratch that idea then.
Much is also made about the formation which Fabio Capello – and Diego Maradona – employed compared to Löw’s Germans and suddenly the word “fourfourtwo” is becoming something of a negative in the English game. One can almost hear now managers up and down the country being charged with the idea that they – like Capello – lack the imagination to play a more exotic tactic and one can expect three months of randomly thrown together formations up and down football.
Freakish results will mark the start of the season as teams who deploy something more “characterful” than the 442 which has fallen from fashion. As Clough said “There is a lot of rubbish talked about tactics by people who would not know how to win a game of Dominoes.”
Not that this will effect Peter Taylor who has signed the players and settled on a 433 at Valley Parade and City can make hay as League Two players are deployed in fanciful ways to little effect. Finding a way of playing and sticking to it is perhaps the most important thing.
On the fourfourtwo one can say that while it may have faults when playing three games every four years in the World Cup in the cut and thrust of two games a week for nine months the simplicity, adaptability and ease of the approach is the reason for its enduring popularity. Week to week football requires not a surgeon’s tool but a Swiss Army Knife, which is what fourfourtwo is.
The German’s 4231 – originally a formation played in Portugal because of the freedom it gives to the kind of attacking midfielder that that nation excels in producing such as Luis Figo, Joao Pinto and his brother Sergio – is nothing especially new.
The lesson of the Germans is not in tactics but in the deployment of players within those formations. The heart of the German side is Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira who play the deep set midfielder role in a revolutionary manner. Popular conception has it that the two in a 4231 should be holding midfielders and ball winners but Löw’s pairing are more box to box players capable of tackling and getting behind the ball for sure but also able to be used as a spring board for attacking play.
For Schweinsteiger and Khedira there is no need to look for a passer after taking the ball – the pair are equipped to play in the three more forward midfielder – increasing the speed of the counter attack and its accuracy. What they loose in not having a Claude Makelele they gain in rapidity of play creating a nod to total football ideology. As Schweinsteiger plays the ball forward so Mesut Özil or Lukas Podolski or Thomas Müller can drop back and tackle.
This is a stark contrast to the approach that many – myself included – have to for example the English midfield which agonises over the choice between attacking players like Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard and ball winners like Gareth Barry. The roles are as split as centre forward and full back but not for Löw’s Germans.
There is a plan for sure and positions – this is not total football Dutch style – but the less rigid assignment of player roles gives a fluidity which England, Australia and Argentina have been incapable of living with. The jobs are done in that German engine room but – crucially – the players who do them have the ability and remit to do each other’s tasks.
Even Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano – as fine a pair of specialised players as one could see – looked old fashioned and stolid in comparison and as Schweinsteiger surged to the left touchline and set up a second goal it seemed obviously that if Germany could prevent Messi emulating that then Mascherano simply would not attempt it.
The granularity of positions – especially in the midfield – has become something of a mantra for modern football and one recalls Lee Crooks and Marc Bridge-Wilkinson but struggles to think of them both as “midfielders” rather one as a holder, the other as an attacker. The same could be said about Dean Furman and Nicky Law although perhaps not about Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock.
Indeed whatever lessons are emanating from the German side at the moment Peter Taylor seems to have adopted. His midfield trio next season are Flynn, Bullock and Tommy Doherty and none of them fit easily into the idea of being players only able to – or only ready to – performing a single role.
It remains to be seen what lessons the game as a whole take from World Cup 2010 and if those lessons create a path to success but City seem to be ahead of a curve that is coming and should that bring the same rewards for the Bantams as it has for the previously unfavoured Germans then next season could be a good year indeed.
As Peter Taylor signed Shane Duff from Cheltenham Town following the Northern Irishman’s ten years of service at the club one could not help but feel that city had some how pilfered the fixtures and fittings at Whaddon Road rather than just sign a player.
Duff – brother of Burnley’s Michael – has spent a decade with the club going from non-league to league to League One and his exit now in the season after his testimonial season. He leaves them with the best wishes of the club and a fulsome endorsement despite his tenth year being ruined by injury in the 5-4 match against the Bantams last year.
A strong central defender Duff thinks City and Peter Taylor can get his career back on track and one hopes he can. In these days of slightly loyalty in football though a player who spends a decade at a club deserves a great deal of credit for his staying power alone.
The 28-year-old has agreed a one-year contract at City with an option of a further year.
New City signing Jake Speight is not best pleased with the comments from Mansfield Town’s chairman Andy Perry which said the player threatened a strike were he not allowed a transfer saying
There are two sides to every story and it’s wrong to say I would have refused to play. If I’d have been offered a two or three-year deal I would have been willing to sign it. The gaffer (David Holdsworth) pushed for it, but the chairman did nothing and then he left me without pay for three months this summer.
The striker continued
I have a mortgage to pay and family to feed. I’m not a Premiership player and I was not being greedy. I was earning half the amount of some strikers in the division anyway.
Speight started pre-season with the Stags at the weekend, he starts it again for Bradford City today.
Jake Speight has played around the non-leagues in the last few years and has probably while at Northwich Victoria or Droylsden had to train on some run down school playing field with shoddy facilities and had to get into his kit somewhere else for the want of a changing block and then get to the pitches by car.
He will be looking forward to leaving those days behind now he at a proper football club. He will be disappointed.
Speight and his new team mates start training at Apperley Bridge today after the club made a decision to abandon the plan to move to Weetwood. Manager Peter Taylor – the driving force behind the desire to move to better facilities – fronted the club’s explanation saying “All the boxes had to be ticked before going to the other place and they weren’t. A couple of things we wanted couldn’t be guaranteed, such as being able to train on certain areas on certain days, and I wasn’t prepared to take that chance if it wasn’t right.”
So the club take another chance, the chance of history not repeating itself. Speight arrives costing money, Tommy Doherty signs, James Hanson has a new four year deal and like Dan Petrescu, Benito Carbone and many, many others they are given training pitches and a way of training which have repeatedly be found wanting.
Found wanting by players. Lee Sharpe revealed that the players affectionately called City “The Dog & Duck” because of the training situation while Benito Carbone described The Bantams has having “nothing that resembled a football club” after his arrival.
Found wanting in the weather. When Bradford City’s second year in the Premier League went to hell it is often forgotten that Jim Jefferies side could not use Apperley Bridge because the rain has caused flooding. This is not uncommon and last season Michael Flynn recalls not being able to do a passing drill on the field because the ball could not be trusted to move or run true on the surface.
Found wanting in practice as for years and years as City have underachieved and while there is a school of thought that places that blame at the feet of Jim Jefferies, Nicky Law, Bryan Robson, Colin Todd, David Wetherall and Stuart McCall as if each manager inherited a discreet event when they arrived but – like Taylor – I would suggest there is a common factor and while one cannot say it is definitely Apperley Bridge it seemed to be identified by the current gaffer as a significant problem.
So the plan to move is off and Taylor tried to look on the bright side saying “To be fair to Apperley Bridge and the groundsman there, they have been terrific for us. I’m really pleased for the groundsman especially because he is a Bradford supporter and he used to work his socks off.”
However one has to wonder how this plan – seen as vital by Taylor not three months ago – has been allowed to fall apart. When a deal with announced why were ends left untied? After the announcement that we were moving to Weetwood – in knowledge that the deal had not been signed – did Mark Lawn, Julian Rhodes et al carry on looking for a facility understanding that the promise they had made to Taylor had not been fulfilled and they had not found him the training facilities he wanted?
The words “Plan B” used to be thrown around at this club on the field in an entire inappropriate way but it is appropriate to ask if Weetwood was Plan A what was City’s Plan B? Is this is?
Players like Robbie Threlfall were brought to the club with the idea that they were swapping Melwood for Weetwood and not on the idea of getting back in the minivan outside Valley Parade and being driven through Bradford traffic before training can begin.
The players arrive back at pre-season today and – after this – the season starts with a slump.