Issue Pressing the Flesh

As told by Dave Pendleton

The players are working ever so hard; the manager wants to build long term success; the fans are great; it’s a wonderful club; there are no problems with the chairman … fans’ forums with the manager follow a certain script. From Paul Jewell to Lennie Lawrence; Terry Yorath to Stuart McCall; the personalities change, but the message remains fairly constant.

However, what I have never seen before was, at the evening’s end, the manager standing at the exit shaking every supporters hand and thanking them for their attendance. Here was the former England international and Premier League manager firmly closing the gap between supporter and manager. As we read this morning of Wayne Rooney’s transfer speculation, and view endless replays of Champions League matches, the contrast with Peter Taylor standing at the door of Bradford’s Irish Club shaking hands with the supporters of his fourth tier club is all the more remarkable.

We will return to this theme, because it emerged as the key moment of the night. However, first let’s cover the usual business discussed when a football manager meets the fans. The Supporters’ Trust organised a fans’ forum to coincide with its AGM (which I will cover in another piece as it deserves a stand alone report). Peter Taylor, Wayne Jacobs and Luke O’Brien (one of the Trust sponsored players) were our panel.

The evening opened with Peter Taylor laughing at the suggestion that he might have been glad that the forum did not take place two weeks ago. He revealed that his daughter had joked that had he been sacked at Barnet at least it was close to his family home. Peter Taylor said there was no real issue with Mark Lawn and that both of them were men who ‘said it like it was’ and that any disagreements were quickly put behind them.

In response to a question about the T&A headline that suggested that Peter Taylor was seeking reassurance from the board about his position, he said he had merely told the paper that if he were the chairman of a football club he would immediately clear the issue up and go public. It wasn’t meant as anything else other than a general observation, but that had been changed into a managerial crisis. He did mention a story that Paul Jewell had relaid to him. When Jewell was under pressure at Wigan Dave Whelan, the chairman, had asked permission to go into the dressing room. When he got here he told the players that Jewell was his manager, he wasn’t going to be sacked and of they didn’t like playing for him they could leave immediately. Decisive action that completely cleared the air.

A question was asked about the inclusion of the Manchester United loan players in the team the lost to Morecambe. Peter Taylor said that at Northampton Hunt was injured, on top of Ramsden’s longer injury, it left him perilously short of cover in defence. He had already been talking to Manchester United and both players were signed on the morning of the Rotherham game. He could not play them at the Don Valley because both had played for United’s reserves the previous evening. Of course, City gained a morale boosting point at Rotherham and kept a clean sheet. However, the loan deal stipulated that both players had to play in their first available match – which was Morecambe – but after that the decision is solely Peter Taylor’s as to whether they play or not.

It was touch and go as to whether they will remain at the club, Manchester United play Wolves in the League Cup and they may be recalled to appear in that match. Peter Taylor said that the loan players were costing the club less than Luke O’Brien’s basic wage and that bringing them to the club had not hit his budget.

Tactics are always an area of discussion, particularly in this era of Championship Manager games where everyone is an instant expert, one fan caused amusement by suggesting a 4-4-3 formation, the manager said yes please if he could get away with it, but the real discussion focused on the merits of 4-4-2 and 4-3-3. Most fans seemed to be supporters of 4-4-2 but as Peter Taylor pointed out we lost using that formation against Southend and had played 4-3-3 in the League Cup matches against Forest and PNE. The manager said that the players should not hide behind a system, it was possible to play well and badly using either formation. He did mention the frustration of opposing teams coming to Valley Parade and playing 4-5-1. A tactic designed to frustrate and get the big crowd on the home players’ backs. Wayne Jacobs mentioned that he had seen one team play two up front at the then divisional leaders Rochdale and then come to Valley Parade and play five in midfield.

We had to have a Luke Oliver question. Peter Taylor said he thought that Oliver had done a great job for the club and he had decided to play him there as the team were short on confidence and, at that time, needed the easy ball for the big target man. He didn’t think that Evans, Moult or Speight had held the ball up well enough (and he had told them as much) and after the Stockport game he decided that it was time for a change.

With James Hanson now fit he didn’t envisage playing Oliver up front again – at least on a regular basis. Luke O’Brien was asked what his favourite position was. He initially gave the party answer of being happy to play anywhere, but did say that he had begun his career as a left winger, he had later modified to left back and that was now his preferred position. Peter Taylor said he thought that OB was a better player than OB thought he was and that he was very effective going forward. He needed more belief in himself when attacking.

On training facilities OB said it was a pain to get changed and travel in their cars to Apperley Bridge, but once there, at least at this time of the year, the pitches were fine. Wayne Jacobs said that the facilities desperately need upgrading, he had been to non-league clubs with better facilities. He said some of the big signings City made in the summer of 2000 could not believe their eyes when they saw Apperley Bridge. Apparently, people from opposition clubs have been known to come and watch City train.

Peter Taylor also appealed for the City fan who had been posting on the internet the formation City had been training with to stop doing so as the only people it aided was the opposition. Dave Baldwin was actively looking for other options and the club may spend some money on new facilities in the future. Of course, City were going to Weetwood, part of Leeds University’s campus, but talks broke down at the eleventh hour when the university revealed that the lady who would have the ultimate say on which part of the facilities City could use was rarely on the campus. Suddenly there was the possibility of restrictions on certain days and even a suggestion that on some days they would not be able to use the goalmouths.

Peter Taylor said he had come to Bradford City because he thought that City were a wonderful football club and one that would be amazing if it was turned around. He said the reaction to Cheltenham’s goal was unbelievable. He did admit that a small section of the support can make it hard for the players, particularly the younger ones. Luke O’Brien reminded us that many of the players were simply not used to the big crowds at Valley Parade. Many of them had signed from the non-league or other lower league clubs where crowds numbered in the hundreds or low thousands. However, following the Cheltenham game the players couldn’t wait for the Oxford game to come around.

Peter Taylor then made probably the most telling intervention of the evening. He said when he first came he thought of the fans ‘crickey these lot are a bit impatient’. But he now understood that a lot of that frustration was born by ten years of decline and possibly the worst home record in the entire Football League over that period. His attitude has changed and he is trying to build a positive relationship between the players and the fans.

He has seen opposition clubs come and use the Valley Parade crowd as a weapon against their own team. He said we all have to change and muck in together. It was the only way forward. He accepted it is difficult at times, but it was vital.  There is still a long way to go this season and with Hanson and Price up front our squad is as strong as anyones.

The panel were unanimous (as you would expect) in their belief that City would be promoted this season despite the poor start. At the conclusion of the evening, Peter Taylor shook hands with each individual, it was evident that the manager had identified one of City’s biggest strengths and weaknesses – its fans. Of course, there may well be an element of self-preservation in this approach, but perhaps when the fans roared their support in the wake of the Cheltenham goal it was the moment Bradford City hit rock bottom and bounced?