Issue Stand by your man(ager)

As told by Jason Mckeown

With an international weekend that didn’t even feature England until Tuesday, it became one of the big media stories of the week.

Struggling, free-falling, inept Bradford City had gone from the Premier League to one place off the bottom of the Football League in 10 years – and Peter Taylor was football’s next managerial sacking. Compare the national media attention before City’s trip to Barnet with the low-key post-match coverage of the 2-0 success, and it was clear the press hadn’t got their story.   

But as the journalists switch attention back to Fabio Capello, the immediate future of Bradford City remains decidedly unclear. How true were those various media reports that the Board were going to sack Taylor if he couldn’t pull off victory at Underhill? And what happens if City lose to Cheltenham on Saturday? Or win that, but lose at Burton the Saturday after?

Such thoughts have clearly also been occupying the mind of Taylor, who via the Telegraph & Argus today has called for his joint Chairmen to publicly clarify his position. It is unclear what dialogue has been taking place behind the scenes prior to last Saturday – or what will be said inside the Valley Parade corridors following today’s news reports. But the ball is firmly in the Board’s court to speak or let their continuing silence appear deafening.

No subsequent comment, and the pressure will only build up as the 3pm kick off against Cheltenham approaches. It’s hard to believe Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes will publicly declare that Taylor must win on Saturday or he’ll be sacked – if that’s their intention – but they have now effectively been backed into a corner where it will be easy to assume that’s the case unless they come out and deny it. If this was a game of chess, Taylor would now be saying “Check” to the joint owners. 

So what if the press had made the whole thing up to grab attention during a quiet period? The strength of feeling against Taylor from a significant amount of City supporters means public denial of the rumours from Lawn and Rhodes will be heavily criticised by this group.

And let’s not forget that both Taylor’s predecessors, Colin Todd and Stuart McCall, were only occasionally the subject of public comment over their futures despite been under similarly heavy pressure for months. In January 2007, after 18 months of Todd been under pressure from fans, Rhodes finally told the media he might be sacked in the near future (and Rhodes’ dismissed him a month later). McCall was on the receiving end of public criticism from City Director Roger Owen a month before he eventually quit. Meanwhile Lawn had not only stopped speaking to McCall, he refused to speak about his manager’s future publicly.

But that doesn’t make it okay to sit in silence now. Taylor has every right to feel frustrated that he alone is left to carry the can for City’s poor start to the season. At the best of times, managing a football club is a stressful experience which carries a high degree of pressure. For all of the ill-feeling over poor results to rest upon only his shoulders is a huge burden, and he is entitled to believe his employers should be willing to support him through a tough period.

Public backing can ease some of that pressure, enabling Taylor to continue working with greater confidence. Surely this would help him to do a better job, and surely he deserves every ounce of help he can get to turn around this disappointing start.

Some fans have already argued he doesn’t deserve any support, but how would each of us feel in our own lives if you heard a rumour you might be sacked at work this week, and your boss refused to comment? Would that help us to keep our mind on the job? Would it encourage us to offer the same level of commitment we would if we felt settled and happy? Would our performance improve or get worse? Would the whispers of others bother us? It’s a vicious circle, and the current situation appears to have influenced some of Taylor’s decisions.

But above all else, sitting back and saying nothing while Taylor feels the heat is poor leadership and is absolving responsibility. Everyone employed by the football club – not to mention us supporters – should be doing everything they can to haul the club out of this slide. Whether doing everything they can for the Chairmen includes sacking Taylor is another question, but if they continue to employ him they should be supporting him and making sure he has the best available tools and resources to do the best job possible.

And if Taylor is ultimately to be told “Checkmate”, a huge degree of ownership falls onto Rhodes and Lawn’s shoulders too. It was the City Board who decided to appoint Taylor – after sifting through a number of applications and sitting through a series of interviews with the best candidates. It was the City Board who opted to offer Taylor a new contract last April, following a successful trial. It may be the City Board who determine Taylor should be sacked just 12 games into the season.

If Taylor is to blame for the current problems – and that, dear reader, is a matter for debate entirely – then surely they are to blame for appointing him in the first place. So if Rhodes and Lawn still believe they made the right decisions last February and April, the least they can do is call up Simon Parker right now and make it clear they are behind their choice of manager.