So now then

When last we convened for serious business, dear reader, Peter Taylor’s Bradford City had gone a half dozen games wining four and drawing two guiding the club away from the lowest finish since 1966 towards a middle of the league end point.

As we saw in the summer, a lot has changed since 1966.

These four wins: Crewe away and Northampton Town, Barnet and Morecambe at home; form the basis for the optimism with which City come into the season. In the match before the six game run – a 2-1 home defeat to Macclesfield Townthe situation was described thus: “PT seems to be doing at the moment is losing the confidence of the paying customer and relying purely on a reputation.”

Taylor was – it was said – “achieving (results) with Stuart’s squad not his own” and some four months on little in the personnel has changed but one doubts that when Taylor saw the squad he thought there was a problem with the ability of the side and recalling the Bury games before he arrived one would agree.

Nevertheless the attitude at and around the club has changed. Optimism – however founded – is in the core of beliefs on which performance is based and Taylor’s robust team is built on the idea of a long term belief in the success of the season rather than an obsession on individual games. Taylor – as with Paul Jewell – is keen for his side to shake off the hangovers or elation which rolled over from McCall’s side’s games.

So on opening day of the season as City go to Shrewsbury Town Taylor will be thinking not of the discreet entity but rather the forty six game whole.

Jon McLaughlin – who did not play a part against Bradford (Park Avenue) in the week – is expected to start the season as number one keeper. One hopes the young custodian makes no mistakes all season but should he – and one remembers the World Cup again – then one has to wonder if the clamour for his understudy to be given a chance will be as vocal as it was when McLaughlin played second fiddle to a faltering Simon Eastwood.

Should McLaughlin not play then Lloyd Saxton stands by but one doubts he will enjoy the same pressure for his inclusion as McLaughlin enjoyed twelve months ago. Junior Chris Elliott is the Bantams’ first choice.

Simon Eastwood Ramsden is captain and comes into the season as right back with Zesh Rehman and Lewis Hunt available as cover for the position, and for central defensive roles. Similarly Robbie Threlfall is left back elect with Luke O’Brien – his cover – considered by Taylor as much as a midfielder as a full back the very capable young Louis Horne also serves a left back cover.

Many may debate who is expected to start in the middle of the back four. Steve Williams is thought to be highly thought of by Taylor while new arrival Shaun Duff probably has not moved after a decade at Cheltenham to sit on the bench but Duff’s decade in the lower leagues does not suggest that pedigree of Zesh Rehman while Luke Oliver is – well – really big.

If Taylor has a job this season then it is to get the best out of a player like Zesh Rehman who no few people will tell you is a poor footballer – a concept alien to me – but has obvious talents which were the cornerstone of the six game run at the end of last term which the confidence for this year is built from. Likewise Steve Williams’s abilities are not to be squandered although were I to be a betting man I would suspect that the former barber will not be making the cut and Duff will make his City debut alongside Rehman.

You, dear reader, may have different views.

The midfield three picks itself when fit – or so we expect – with Lee Bullock, Tommy Doherty and Michael Flynn presenting an impressive engine room but Doherty is not expected to make the game with Tom Adeyemi filling in in that way that might prove hard to dislodge. Michael Flynn is hopeful of playing but Luke O’Brien stands by to fill in for the Welshman. Ryan Harrison and Luke Dean enjoyed wretched pre-seasons with Dean breaking a leg and Harrison struggling to partake in the robust midfield battle.

Gareth Evans is likely to be leading the line in the absence of James Hanson who is suffering a back problem that will most likely restrict him to the bench keeping the former Manchester United and Macclesfield man out of a chance of playing in one of the wide berths. Louis Moult has not looked the same kind of battering ram as Hanson but could be used in the middle striker’s role to hang off the shoulder of a high defence.

It is hard to understand the significance of the two wider roles in Peter Taylor’s mind this season. 433 is a notoriously hard to play formation with a requirement for these two wide players to be able to either track back with on coming full backs or fall into the midfield to create a five while always being aware that should they fall too deep, not break quick enough, and isolate the central striker the formation becomes not only defensive but also utterly ineffectual.

Away from Valley Parade Taylor will no doubt hope to create a bolstered midfield and his selections in these two positions can flex to accommodate that.

Taylor is without the injured Leon Osborne and the suspended Omar Daley for this game but does have Jake Speight, Scott Neilson and Moult. Taylor has seen more of Moult than most others and will know how well equipped the Stoke striker who scored two in his first two pre-season games is to the wide role. Should the gaffer believe Moult can play a wide left role then it seems that he will most likely get that role with Neilson on the right otherwise Speight will make a debut.

As with Taylor bringing an optimistic side into this season there was a time when that looked highly unlikely.

Taylor looks for his Windass in Jon Macken

As Peter Taylor bemoaned the fact that the national media are making his job harder by saying he has more resources at his disposal that he does the City boss talked about how his side is complete but for one man: Dean Windass.

Not that Taylor is thinking of getting the 42 year old back – although he would by no means be the oldest player in League Two – but rather as Taylor said

Maybe there’s not a centre forward there who’s been around, like Dean Windass was for Bradford, and maybe we’ll need that for a successful season but maybe we won’t. Hopefully, I’m wrong there.

As Taylor mused news emerged of former Barnsley man Jon Macken’s deal at Hartlepool United for next season falling through with our old friend Ronnie Moore saying

He was going to Hartlepool, but the deal fell through. So, now (Rotherham United) have put an offer in. He has a good goal ratio of one in four and at this level will get goals. But Bradford City are also interested in him.

Moore’s comment – “But Bradford City are interested” – seems to indicate that the silver haired man of Millmoor considers any chance in which the Bantams become involved to be over before it has begun. City snatched Mark McCammon from Moore’s reach last season, a few years before the Bantams missed out on Paul Shaw to South Yorkshire.

Nevertheless it seems that Taylor has targeted the former Manchester United, Preston North End, Manchester City, Crystal Palace and Derby County striker as being his smart centre forward and in doing so he is not the first. Kevin Keegan paid £5m to take the player to Maine Road where his time in the ascendancy – which included an impressive display at VP – was hampered by injury.

Moore’s assessment of Macken as a goal in four games man is accurate and his style of play – as cunning as it could be said to be clinical – would certainly mark him in that Windass role.

Macken is 32 and left Barnsley in the summer. He has a single Republic of Ireland cap.

The gradient becomes steeper

On The 2010/2011 Season

Mark Lawn’s first-ever Football League meeting saw the Joint-Chairman loudly question why the Football League TV deal left his club so disadvantaged. He was told it was because of a rule which had been implemented by a then-Bradford City chairman.

The split of TV revenue is weighed heavily in favour of clubs in the Championship, and it’s a thinking which has been replicated in other important money matters. The Premier League’s solidarity payments subsequently introduced that summer – loose change from the billions England’s top flight generates and keeps for themselves, after voting to break away from the Football League in 1991 – saw each Championship club receive £830,000 per season. Meanwhile League One and Two clubs – arguably most in need of any hardship fund going – received £103,000 and £69,000 per season respectively.

A welcome gift, but one which will did little to bridge the gap between rich and poor.

And this heavily-biased split of the leagues was the work of Geoffrey Richmond, who two years after making a speech on the Valley Parade pitch that his Premiership-bound Bantams would “never forget their lower league friends” marked City’s return to the Football League in 2001 by ensuring clubs in England’s second tier received the greater benefits of any pots of money coming all three divisions’ way. Who cared about clubs in England’s bottom tier then?

Lawn, faced with this unexpected further revelation of Richmond’s legacy at the Football League meeting in 2007, didn’t have a leg to stand on.

Fast forward to the present day, and the landscape will begin to further shift from this season. A “take it or leave it” revised solidarity payments offer from the Premier League last April was initially rejected by clubs in League One and Two; but faced with no choice, they ultimately had to accept. The £20m a year donation by the elite has tripled to £60m from this season (cuts to community funding will pay for the Premier League’s generosity), but the disparities in who is entitled to how much have remained, further increasing the gaps.

So from this season, the majority of Championship clubs will each receive £2.2m per year from the Premier League. For League One clubs, the payment has increased to £335,000 and for League Two clubs £220,000. In addition, relegated Premier League clubs will now receive £48m worth of parachute payments over four seasons – £16m in each of the first two years.

A near quarter of a million guaranteed revenue for City is certainly not something to be sniffed at; but whereas the Bantams were previously receiving £761,000 less per year than their Championship counterparts, the gap will now be over £2m every season. And that’s before we consider the present three-year TV deal, collectively worth £264m.

Let’s remember where City want to ultimately aspire to return to – last July, the vision unfurled by Lawn was for City to reach the Championship in five years time. It could prove increasingly difficult to scale those heights – and much more challenging to stay there.

With so many Football League clubs struggling to stay in business, any help that the Premier League is willing to provide has to be grudgingly accepted. But there are genuine long-term concerns about what this new deal will do to the competitive nature of the Football League. In the Championship, clubs relegated from the Premier League will have such a huge advantage in terms of the money they have, compared to their rivals, that bouncing back within a couple of seasons should be much more of a regular occurrence than it currently is. And for clubs climbing into the Championship from Leagues One and Two, the inequality of solidarity payments will make it more difficult to catch up as time goes by.

The gulf between Premier League and Championship has been huge for years, and a similar type of chasm could be about to emerge between tiers two and three.

Which makes the need for City to start climbing the leagues all the more urgent. That £2.2m per year Championship clubs will start receiving is hardly going to be used to make ticket prices more affordable or to increase presence in the community; it will likely be extra money for the transfer budget and extra money for the wage bill. And with each passing season of getting £2.2m richer, the size of the wage bills will get larger and more difficult for newly-promoted clubs to compete with.

So while getting into the Championship can still be considered a realistic objective for all the 48 teams in England’s bottom two tiers, with the difference in solidarity payments between Leagues One and Two relatively low, competing against teams with increasingly larger resources will become increasingly difficult. It’s hard to imagine many more instances of a Wigan, Stoke or Fulham rising through the divisions like we’ve seen over the last decade. And the sport will be less magical for losing that.

But while we can curse Richmond yet again for instigating a situation that penalises our club, the reasoning of why he did it is one difficult to avoid talking hypocritically about. I bet not many of the 24 Championship clubs supported their lesser peers in initially rejecting the Premier League’s offer last April – despite the very real possibility that they one day could be relegated and suffer the consequences. And I bet that if they were on the Championship side of the fence, few League One and Two Chairman would have been principled enough to reject the offer either.

It’s all about looking after your own interests, and believing the changes you vote for will only aid your cause – rather than later tripping you up. Least we forget, then top-flight members Oldham and Sheffield United voted for the breakaway of the Premier League.

And if City can fulfill the vision of making it back to the Championship, would we care too much about the plight of present-day rivals? If there’s a big pot of money that we’re entitled to take a greater share of, would we vote to give more of it to others?

Which is perhaps the greatest irony. Over the last two decades, Premier League and Championship clubs have voted to make changes which boost their individual prospects and increase their own chances of enjoying success – at the expense of others. That natural competitive nature to maximise every advantage and be damned with morals and ethics may in fact be leading to our national game become less and less competitive.

The door is beginning to close. City need to get their foot in.

To illustrate Bradford City

On The 2010/2011 Season

Bradford City League Performance to August 2010

Peter Taylor is charged with taking Bradford City to promotion which has happened but eight times in the ninety-seven seasons Bradford City have played in. Relegation has happened in ten seasons three of which were within the last decade.

The number of blank squares above shows the scarcity of promotion in the clubs history. The club have never had consecutive promotions – an aim of Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes three seasons ago – nor have City ever been promoted the season after being relegated. Only once has the club been promoted within four seasons of being relegated which is the task presented to manager Taylor.

None to which is to say that City are wrong to have the aims they do but it does illustrates – perhaps – the folly of planning on the basis of achieving what is infrequent in the club’s history.

Bradford City Transfer Fees to August 2010

There is much talk about resources at Bradford City and many ways to measure the club’s resources. The above shows the record transfer fees the club has paid – largely around a decade ago – and contrasts them with the four members of the squad transfer fees can be found for. This is presented to illustrate the scare of the diminished scale of the club’s resources.

Bradford City Appearances to August 2010

The above shows the more senior players in the current Bradford City squad in the context of the most appearances any player has made for the club. It is presented to illustrate two points. Firstly current squad’s newness which shows a transience which is common in football and at Bradford City. Secondly it illustrates the short term nature of the players at the club. Gareth Evans signed for the club last season and is the fifth most appeared player.

Bradford City Top Scorers to August 2010

As with the number of appearances the goals scored by the current Bantams players when compared with the club’s historic goalscorers. It illustrates both the distances the current players have to match those who have gone before and the excellent starts that both Evans and Hanson have made in that although noting that it will take another four or five seasons at the current rate for either to add themselves to the list.

The Bradford City Squad International Affiliation in August 2010

A final table to show the international representation in the Bradford City squad which illustrates very little aside, but looks nice.

Who isn’t optimistic at the start of every season?

On The 2010/2011 Season

Who isn’t optimistic at the start of every season? I am always optimistic but this season I sense a certain difference around VP. Perhaps because, and this is in no way having a go at Stuart, City have a manager now who has got clubs out of this division before. I know that’s no guarantee but it’s not a bad thing to have in your corner.

I was at Bradford City this week and people who are normally quite cynical were openly saying that they feel this is the club’s year. You can see why they feel this.

Peter Taylor has kept the logical strong choices from Stuart’s squad and let others leave. Taylor has also brought in some exciting talent. There’s a Norwich City fan in our office and he is raving about what a good loan signing Adeyemi is.

Also when you look at what else is around, Notts County and Rochdale no longer provide competition and those sides coming down to League 2 are not in the best of health.

Are there enough goals in the team? I think there are if Moult is as good as people are saying he is. With him you have Hanson, Evans, Doherty, Flynn and Adeyemi…that should give you 70 goals at least. Then there’s a fully fit Omar hopefully and the defenders chipping in with a few.

One thing is for certain, Bradford City have got to stop being a big fish in a small pond. They need promotion to help them get back to the Championship – their natural home in my view.

It’s getting harder for the club to flog even cheap season tickets and failure again this term would only make that tougher still.

But let’s not end on a negative, because that’s honestly not how I feel. City will challenge for the top spots and they have the squad to get them across the line. I was there for the last promotion, I want to be there for the next…this season.

Note: Derm Tanner the BBC Radio Leeds Commentator/Presenter will be covering the Bantams on t’ wireless this season.

Another season of despair

On The 2010/2011 Season

I met a traveller from an antique land.

The modern history of Bradford City – which is to say the everything from the return to Valley Parade onwards – shifts on a fulcrum moment which happened ten years ago this month that City kick of a fourth consecutive season in the bottom tier of English professional football.

August ten years ago and – with bare faced cheek and a brassneck – I went to my boss and asked him if I could leave half way through the day because I wanted to go to the press conference that unveiled Benito Carbone as a Bradford City player. Carbone – at a cost of just under £55,000 a week – was the pinnacle of something that rose at The Bantams and – in the last ten years – fell.

Much has happened in that last ten years – two administrations, three promotions, BfB has had 112 more writers doing about 3,500 articles, the hole in the ground, a riots, the boss in question now is chairman of Bradford Bulls – but nothing has matched that moment. Geoffrey Richmond sitting at the head of a room of supporters and journalist proudly proclaiming the promise that his new recruit represented.

Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert.

Valley Parade played host to former tenants Bradford Park Avenue and – soberingly and as a result of that time ten years ago – its current tenant Bradford City and is a transformed arena. The main stand rises high and is most often half empty or half full (your point of view on that) ready to host Premier League football which is a distant memory now.

Rippling away from Valley Parade the effects of City’s rise and fall fade. Peter Taylor tried to prepare for this season in different training facilities but that proved impossible – for now at least – and Apperley Bridge continues to be the host for the club’s day to day activities. Carbone said of City on his arrival that “nothing resembled a football club” including Apperley Bridge in his swathe of comment.

Players have come and gone most notably Dean Windass who partnered Carbone up front in the Italians first game. Windass returned but left the club after death threats following a sending off.

Managers have come and gone most notably Stuart McCall who was the captain and assistant manager when Carbone was signed. He, along with other players of the day Wayne Jacobs and David Wetherall have reputations tarnished not by the continued involvement with the club but by the club’s decline from that day onwards.

In the wider football world though that day – and Bradford City in the Premiership – is a footnote. The other team in Paul Scholes’s wonder goal, the prototype for the likes of Hull City and Blackpool and a step on the evolutionary ladder from Barnsley’s single season in the top flight. Not forgotten but hardly remembered and remembered as one of many teams who tried and failed.

An ebullient Geoffrey Richmond stood on the field – a dozen City fans around him – in a blazing eyeball to eyeball argument with a Daily Express journalist who questioned his motives and motivations. It was a rare sight. The Empire builder questioned, raging against the coming tide which he would not be able to keep back.

He resurfaced briefly at Notts County and Leeds United, and then he was gone.

And on the pedestal these words appear: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

So ten years on Bradford City under Peter Taylor prepare for the new season and it is hard to imagine being further from that August press conference. The pitch – sun drenched on that day – has been improved at last but little else can be said to have.

Pre-season was low key to a point of hardly being considered during the tour of Essex which saw four games in seven days. The jailing of one former striker and one new one provided the news and perhaps there was a sense that nothing else from the club would match that so – other than the progress of the new grass – little emerged from the club. There is no good news, so there is no news.

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.

The best which can be said about Peter Taylor is that he has augmented what he found on arrival at the club rather than trying to rebuild salvaging some of the last two and a half years of work that Stuart McCall had put in. A look at Taylor’s assumed first eleven shows that the keeper Jon McLauglin, defender Steve Williams and striker James Hanson were all plucked from nowhere to be key members of this season’s side.

Indeed it is to Taylor’s great credit that one can skip through the team: Right back Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman at centreback, left back Robbie Threlfall was a target of McCall and co at left back, Lee Bullock was converted to a deep role by McCall, midfielder Michael Flynn and striker Gareth Evans brought in by the previous manager. Taylor has recruited Tommy Doherty for his three in midfield while Omar Daley – with 97 appearances for City – pre-dated the previous manager.

Rather than start again Taylor has taken what he found and added to it giving City a rare route to having some stability at the club. That he has only a one year contract is a matter of great worry – for every prediction which tells you City will be promoted you can find one which says we will end in mid-table which would result in the board not offering a new deal to the manager – with City highly unlikely to find as good a replacement for this manager as was found for the last.

His football is pragmatic to a point of unattractiveness at times but Taylor is perhaps the only reason for optimism at the club this season. A man who appreciates the value of building while standing in the bare, lone and level sands.

Who do you think will be City’s most important player this season

On The 2010/2011 Season

Football is about players – or so The Great Man once said – and with Bradford City’s squad more tweaked than overhauled City fans will be able to see the movement and – one hopes – progress of various players this term and it is in this spirit The Barry Articles ask:

“Who do you think will be City’s most important player this season?”

Steve Baker Stalwart City fan and Bantams Bar regular

I think the most important player for City this season will be Robbie Threlfall. Taylor has assembled a squad of 6ft somethings, so is clearly playing for tactics that allow the team to make the most from set pieces. Threlfall’s delivery from set pieces for much of last season was excellent and led to many goals. If City are to mount a promotion challenge, then we need to make the most of set pieces. Gone hopefully are the days of the “Schumacher” free kick, where the ball was played short with the recipient panicking and not knowing what to do with the ball next.

Assuming Threlfall is the number 1 choice left back, he surely will be tasked with free kicks and corners. His performances dropped at the end of the season – maybe due to fitness and maybe due to not knowing where he would be playing his trade next season. His ability to get the ball in the box from wide areas quickly and with pace are something a lot of our players could take note of. If he has a good season and delivers like he did at the start of his loan spell, I expect City to do well. Taylor has bolstered the attack after Thorne and Boulding left, and he seems to have allowed Michael Flynn to have licence to push on, with Bullock and The Doc protecting the Welshmans roams forward.

Having said all this, I hope that we do unearth a gem from somewhere and they come along and have an outstanding season and play a major part in a promotion push. If you discount the astute loan signings of Adeyami and Moult, look for Scotty Nielson to make the impact he promised last season, and for young Ryan Harrison to make his mark on the first team fringes.

Patrick Dowson City fan and Musician

So many options, and on the face of it Gareth Evans‘ name may not be the first to spring to mind. I almost went for McLaughlin, and I am looking forward to seeing his development. But whilst we seem spoiled for choice in central Midfield and Defence, it is where the goals are coming from that most concerns me.

Hanson should kick on and continue to be the imperious aerial presence we know and revere. But with Speight and Moult as unknown – albeit promising – quantities, we need to look to our number 9 to develop into the player that we saw scoring two of the best Bradford City goals of recent years in one glorious game. It’s impossible not to be impressed by his work rate, but inconsistency in front of goal and loss of confidence blighted his season and he needs to improve his 1 in 4 goal ratio if he is to succeed. If he can continually reach the form that he started and finished last term with, and avoid the slump that came between we could have a real player on our hands.

Taylor may play him on the wing or down the middle – and the debate is still open as to what his best position is – but with his enthusiasm and versatility, I would expect his name to be on the starting line-up more often than not. Especially since last season’s renaissance coincided with the appointment of Taylor.

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