The horror transfers

Is he worth £35m? To Liverpool, No, to Newcastle he is priceless.

So was the discussion over Andy Carroll’s exit from St James Park to Anfield – one has to wonder if had Peter Taylor joined the Magpies three weeks ago what he would have thought of losing the target man (and if Luke Oliver would have replaced him) – and the impact of the totemic striker’s exit seems set to weigh heavy on the minds of Newcastle United supporters, Liverpool fans having all but forgotten that they have sold their other “World Class Player” to Chelsea this same day.

Until a ball is kicked the winners and losers of transfer deadline day seem to be mostly in the mind and as Geordie supporters beat themselves up over the exit other football supporters with a twinkle of empathy will recognise in their own club’s history when a player exited but seemed to take more with him.

Those are the transfers that hurt. Those are the horror transfers.

As City fans we’ve seen this kind of exit taking emotion a number of times. When Stuart McCall left the club in May 1988 to join Everton it seemed obvious that the years of progress were coming to an end but there was not an unexpected departure. McCall, and team mate John Hendrie, were expected to leave having giving promotion a good try and so when they did there was a grim resignation that the good times – unless the money was reinvested well and it was not – were probably over. They were not horror transfers.

Likewise when dynamite Des Hamilton or Andrew O’Brien left the club to go to St James’ Park few felt the exit in the heart. O’Brien left when City were all but down while Hamilton was iconic for his goal at Wembley but his exit to Newcastle United for £1.5m was considered to be a nice bit of business and – if anything – the Magpies over paid for a young player who had looked good, had potential, but not shown consistency as yet.

The manager who signed him: The same Kenny Dalglish who is spending £35m today.

Those transfers broke banks rather than hearts and for the real horror transfers one must look elsewhere. The exit of the much respected Eddie Youds in 1997 to Charlton Athletic was unfathomable with Chris Kamara obviously still wanting the player but Geoffrey Richmond announcing the that books had to balance. Promotion followed a few years later and so Youds is a footnote rather than a true horror.

A horror transfer leads one to question the direction the club is going and for the answer to echo back: “Nowhere.”

A blow softened by the team reshaping to bigger and better was the double departure of Don Goodman and Martin Singleton to West Brom. Both players had been part of the promotion side of 1985 and their exits seemed to rob City of attacking talent. The arrival of Rocket Ron Futcher with eight goals in ten games healed all wounds.

For the real horror transfers there can be no happy aftermath, no consideration of how the player who has been so cruelly ripped from one’s grasp might have fit into a team that did well, and for that we must go to Christmas 1994.

John Docherty – who seemed to be a football manager so evil as to be picked out of a badly written backstory in Roy of the Rovers – decided that as his team did poorly the entire squad would be put up for sale. Unsurprisingly for a sale entitled “Getting rid players we don’t want” most of the men had few takers however the talented defender Lee Sinnott and heart of the team Lee Duxbury did attract interest, from Huddersfield Town.

Any straw poll of the better member of that squad would have put both players towards the top and a host of lightweights Docherty signed from his previous club towards the bottom yet it seemed – and it came to pass – that the moustached twirling evil Docherty would be selling out players, so he could bring in more of his mates from Millwall.

Both Duxbury and Sinnott ended up celebrating promotion for Huddersfield Town while City simply meandered nowhere robbed of character and watching our players perform for our rivals. The heart sinks to recall it and the money paid – a combined fee of less than was paid for Tony Adcock – was frittered away aimlessly.

Eventually both players came back to Valley Parade, but the horror never faded.

Despair to be consoled by

In the midst of another season of crushed expectations for Bradford City, an unlikely glimmer of hope emerged at the most unexpected of moments – only to be cruelly taken back through a 93rd-minute Chesterfield equaliser.

On the back of four consecutive defeats that have pushed the focus from promotion to relegation, no-one expected anything positive from a trip to the in-form league leaders. Yet when James Hanson rose to head the Bantams into a 2-1 lead eight minutes after half time, aspirations of a glorious end to the campaign could be dreamed of once more. City were holding on – not without a few scares, but still holding on – and a look ahead to a week featuring meetings with strugglers Lincoln and Macclesfield offered renewed optimism regarding the ‘P’ word.

But just as it seemed the season had turned, up popped Chesterfield substitute Jordon Brewery to smash home a loose ball past Jon McLaughlin. And once again we were confronted by harsh reality.

And it hurt. A lot. As home fans began celebrating, for a couple of seconds a part of you refuses to believe it has happened. That life can be so cruel. That City are once again being kicked in the teeth. Of course we never dared believe the three points were in the bag as we lead deep in stoppage time, but we could taste them. And they tasted rather good.

Instead we had to cope with the feeling of defeat that – pre-match – the majority of us had expected to bear and so had prepared our defences for. It was a damage-limitation type of afternoon. One where you expect the worse and anything better is a bonus. If someone had offered us a 2-2 draw beforehand I dare say every one of us would have bitten their hand off. Even though we got just that, we departed the thoroughly-impressive B2Net Stadium in utter despair.

But also consoled. City have not only been moving backwards in recent weeks, but stumbling towards a dangerous trapdoor that could easily leave us kicking off next August with a visit from Kettering Town (or worse still, not kicking off at all because relegation to non-league had killed the club). We needed to arrest the slide before it became serious, and at the very least the rot has now been stopped.

City took on the best in League Two and almost bested them, and while letting two points slip through the fingers at the death further reduces those promotion hopes we held just three weeks ago – the gap to the play offs is now 9 points, in case you’re still interested – the level of performance and commitment displayed strongly indicates City won’t be falling into a relegation fight.

Kicking off with an unchanged line up for the first time all season, manager Peter Taylor had gone some way to addressing the balance issues of Tuesday night by withdrawing Leon Osborne and Gareth Evans into widemen of a five-man midfield, with Hanson a lone striker. This allowed Tom Adeyemi and David Syers to push forwards from more central positions and, with Jon Worthington assuming a deep midfield role that attempted to dictate the tempo, there was no repeat of the midfield being out-gunned.

Nevertheless Chesterfield started well and bossed the opening stages, taking the lead on 11 minutes when Danny Whitaker swept home Jack Lester’s pass – though the true cause of the goal came seconds earlier. Chesterfield had a goal kick, and while normally this is signal for all the outfield players to bunch together on one side of the pitch, Drew Talbot moved to a position on the opposite side to everyone else – leaving him free and in acres of space. Keeper Tommy Lee aimed his kick at Talbot’s balding head; and though Luke O’Brien had reacted and tried to close him down, he was out-jumped and taken out of the game. Chesterfield roared forwards and, with so many City players caught out by this innovative tactic, Whitaker made it 1-0.

Still we expected this. What was less anticipated was a strong response from City which saw Hanson’s long-range shot superbly tipped over by Lee and, after the resultant corner was half-cleared, Syers left unmarked to head home an equaliser from a superb Osborne cross. City would go onto evenly contest the rest of the half and Evans forced another great save from Lee. At the other end Lester was played through on goal, only to be denied by a magnificent last-ditch tackle from Luke Oliver.

Not that Taylor’s 4-5-1 formation was proving a complete success, as the physical Talbot continued to give O’Brien a difficult afternoon with both his ability in the air and with the ball at feet. Part of the problem was inadequate defensive support from Osborne, which allowed others to provide options for Talbot; so Taylor made an early substitution by swapping the young winger – who it was suggested had picked up a knock anyway – with Omar Daley. As much as Daley has a poor reputation defensively, he made a positive difference.

Early in the second half Hanson headed City into the 2-1 lead and sparked scenes of jubilation that arguably made for the highlight of the season. Evans had made the goal with an excellent cross, after retrieving a loose ball that followed Adeyemi breaking into the penalty area.

And suddenly City had Chesterfield where they wanted them, and suddenly the impossible looked on.

The Bantams set themselves up to counter attack, with Daley embarking on some promising runs that were only let down by a poor final ball. Hanson could and perhaps should have made it 3-1 after heading over O’Brien’s cross, but the chances were all at the other end. McLaughlin made a couple of brilliant saves; Craig Davies shot narrowly wide and then headed over a simple chance. City’s backline were much improved, with Oliver enjoying an outstanding performance. Alongside him Duff was displaying the form of earlier in the season, if a little too casual on the ball at times.

And it looked like it would be enough, before that cruel moment at the end.  As the ball flew in there was stunned silence, apart from one guy in front of me who instantly rose to his feet and screamed at Taylor to “f**k off”. On reflection, it was the City boss who was the true loser on the day.

For City had showed that they should be too good to get sucked into a relegation fight, and that a midtable position is the most likely outcome of a disappointing season. But midtable is not going to be enough for Taylor to earn another contract at City, and it is surely now a matter of months before he departs the club.

Taylor badly needed these three points, and he badly needed them to spark an upsurge in form. He too might have taken a point before kick off, but he would certainly not have liked it to be realised in such demoralising circumstances.

Both he and an outstandingly-noisy away following had been offered a glimmer of hope that this story might have had a happy ending after all. Instead all we are left with is the consolation of at least feeling consoled.

Waiting to get lucky, but not the Andy Gray way

If you are planning something for the end of May, dear reader, the time is nigh where that booking can be confirmed.

Not that the optimistic Bradford City fan has given up on the season – not at all – but rather the focus of that optimism has slipped down somewhat from Champions, to automatic promotion, to play offs and now to the hope that the season will not contain a relegation battle.

Such slight returns are the stuff of football supporters. Seasons that start with a club tipped to go down end in the Premier League, seasons that start being about the promotion end with videos released called “The Great Escape.”

Managing the hard way, but not the Andy Gray way

Peter Taylor was appointed because Stuart McCall was not doing well enough and sits in exactly the same position with exactly the level of criticism. It is hard not to look back at this point to twelve months ago when the “not a proper manager” left the club in favour of the “experienced professional” and wonder how the dust settled so quickly that last season’s debates could be so quickly revisited without hint or irony or apology.

How many people were dubbed naive optimists for saying that replacing McCall would not improve the club? How many people promised an improvement under Taylor and are now saying the same about his replacement?

One would have thought that replacing McCall with Taylor to the net effect on movement towards promotion of not very much at all might have convinced one and all that the manager was not the problem but – having talked to Mark Lawn this week – then it seems fair to say that changing the man picking the team is not expected to change performance massively so much as it is an area which can be controlled when most cannot.

One wonders – assuming that Peter Taylor will be leaving City – what the next manager needs do to be more successful? There are hopes of changes in facilities and so on but those hopes are slim – City are not planning a ground switch as Chesterfield did at the start of this successful season for them – and so what is to be done to turn the club around?

The L word, no, not the one Andy Gray would use

Luck, it seems, is what City need.

Luck in a set of players. That when Player A meets Player B they gel, that they like each other on the pitch and off it. They the players become a team and that the team makes the players better.

Luck augmented by a manager for sure but the rapid changing of managers can not be expected to yield results even if we do know the reason for it now.

With luck the team wins early games, confidence grows and the unit is forged. A team like Chesterfield – buoyed by their new surroundings – go from also-rans to promotion probables on the strength of this.

Does luck exist in football? One recalls Golfer Gary Player’s comments on luck: “The more I practised, the luckier I got.”

Who will play, probably not Andy Gray although I doubt he is busy…

So this group of players – ineffectual for four defeats on the bounce games – go to the team chasing the League Two title and are called upon to create luck for themselves.

Jon McLaughlin shows a safe pair of hands, but he could shout more. Richard Eckersley looks good coming forward but he needs to tell the man in front of him that a full back can not defend on his own. Luke O’Brien on the other side is in a similar position. He motors back and forth well but he needs to tell the player who has watched a second man join in a flank attack that he (winger or wide forward) simply has to get back and defend.

The central defenders Luke Oliver and Shane Duff need to be more mouth on too but Oliver has to realise that as the big man at the back it is his job to organise the defensive line into a line and Duff needs to help him by paying more attention. Both do their jobs well individually – Oliver deserved credit for getting head up and sticking with it – but defending is not an individual thing.

If these lessons are not learnt then something of a cavalry arrives with Simon Ramsden, Lewis Hunt and Steve Williams all hoping to return to fitness soon. Ramsden and Hunt are hoping to make the bench.

New recruit Jon Worthington sits on top of a back four well and if he were to look at City and decide that a team which has had a half dozen captains actually needs a leader then he would not be far wrong. David Syers has been brilliant this season, he rarely goes missing, but he needs to realise that he adds more to the attack by arriving late than pressing early. Tom Ademeyi shows a powerful energy at times, but a more solid, constant flow in his game would make him a 90 minute, rather than a fits and starts, performer.

Those three might find the returning Michael Flynn takes back a position in midfield but Flynn is more likely to replace Gareth Evans in the attacking three with Omar Daley on the other side. Evans has shown admirable hard work and effort and that should secure him a place in the side, but seldom does, while Daley is Daley and at times unplayable. He needs to defend when told and he does.

James Hanson leads the line. He does that well and without thanks. He needs to get some thanks.

And he needs to get lucky, but not in the Andy Gray way.

Talking to Mark Lawn: Part Two

Following on from Part One, our interview with Mark Lawn continues as we move onto the relationship with Bradford Council and the training facilities…

And we continue

BfB: How about the council, is there any interest on their part to help out?

I’ve worked very hard to build relationships with this council, and we now have an okay relationship with the council. They don’t do a lot for Bradford City Football Club, we don’t ask a lot out of Bradford City Council.

BfB: Following on from Valley Parade other people see the training ground as a significant problem – back in 2000 we had Benito Carbone, Dan Petrescu and a flooded Apperley Bridge – and Peter Taylor was keen to address this problem.  Again how important do the board of feel the state of the training facilities is? What is being done to address this situation (if considered important)? Can the club’s aims be achieved using Apperley Bridge?

We’re looking at ventures, perhaps with a private company that may want to address Apperley Bridge to improve the facilities down there. But it’s in the very early stages so I can’t discuss who it is and what it is. It’s council-owned land, so we’ve got to talk to the council about it as well, but we are looking to get those facilities down there.

BfB: Are the players still having to get changed at Valley Parade and go down there?

Yeah they are, but under Peter as well they’re using the pitch here (Valley Parade) a lot. The pitch is in better condition now, so it will take it and then we can fix it and get it right (for matchdays). So they tend to use this pitch when it’s bad down there.

BfB: How important do the Board think the training facilities are?

It’s a little bit like a chicken and egg really. I mean you can turn around and say that’s been our training facilities since the 1960s and they got us into the Premier League. I mean the facilities have got to be improved, but they can be used as an excuse I think as well.

If I’d have been here in the Premier League I’d have made sure that we have something like Blackburn Rovers now have without a doubt. I’d have put money back into the club and into facilities like that. But Blackburn Rovers are struggling aren’t they? And then look at Middlesbrough, they are renowned for having the best academy for kids – and they’re dropping down the leagues. And I think that’s the state of the game today, because we have so many foreigners coming in. And Geoffrey had this thing, and maybe he was proven to be right. He turned round to me and said “It’s no use giving me a kid who is going to be good in six years – I need someone to score on Saturday.” And I think that goes right throughout the leagues.

You look at these academies, and the problem is they’re (young players) not coming through are they? I think that is to do with the pressure put on managers to get a result as well. They’re not under pressure to bring a kid through.

I think that Leon Osborne, personally, would be better if he could get a run of six or seven games – but who is going to give him six or seven games if he doesn’t perform after two? Because the manager has got the fans on his back.

BfB: Talking of young players, what did you think of the reception Joe Colbeck received from some fans when he came back recently?

I think they forgot that Joe gave his all when he was here, he might not be the best player in the world but what Joe did give you was 100%. And I’ve always thought that Bradford fans always respected players who gave 100%. I always tell new players who come here that “You can be rubbish, but if you always give 100% these fans won’t slag you off.” So it is a bit disappointing that Joe has come back and got that. We seem to have problems with wingers getting stick don’t we? You go back to Summerbee and things like that.

BfB: If Peter comes up to you and says he wants to bring in a loan player for Saturday, in the back of your mind do you think “Why don’t you just play Leon?” (for example)?

Yeah I’d like that because it saves us all money (laughs), it means the budgets are easier! But if he turns round and wants one that’s his decision. We’re in talks with a loan player now.

(Note: Lawn then discusses negotiations with a loan player but doesn’t reveal who. We later discover, at the game that evening, that it is Jon Worthington).

In terms of negotiations for players, we usually take it in turns and Julian is working on this one. I normally get the awkward ones (laughs). I was the one who had to tell Martin Allen he’d didn’t get the job (laughs).

BfB: And on Martin Allen, how close did he come to getting it?

He was very impressive. His commitment (pauses) and if we’d have wanted a cheaper option – he didn’t want paying!  He’d got a pay off from Cheltenham until October, so he just said I’m already getting paid. So if we’d have wanted a cheaper option we could have taken Martin on.

BfB: Going back to the training facilities, do the club think they’re good enough for our aims of getting back to the Championship?

Well they will have to be, because we ain’t got the money to improve them unless we go into a joint venture with a private company. That’s what we’re trying to do. We might not be able to put up capital, but what we can do is rent the facilities off the company at a guaranteed rent for 10 years – so they’re getting a return on their investment. So that’s what we’re talking about doing and hopefully we can get that cracking.

We’re trying to make the facilities better for everybody, but let’s just turn round and state a few facts. Did you know Blackpool still take their training kit home and wash it? Did you know Rotherham take their training kit home and wash it and they don’t get fed? We’ve got a chef who cooks for them here (Valley Parade). And not only that, some of them have got dietary needs and some want a bit of fish and the chef looks after them. He spoils them!

So, I do expect a bit more out there than what we’re getting – considering what we’re putting in.

BfB: Much has been said about the affordable season tickets which are being offered once again for a fourth year.  Do the board feel that this has been a success? Is that success qualified in any way? Would anything result in the club moving back to the previous pricing policy?

It’s a difficult situation of where you balance it. We could do with more money, and surely the fans have got to realise that we’re doing it for them. What gets me is that (pauses) I mean I don’t read the websites, but people tell me what they’ve read – people saying “we should be charging more money.” So I think “well why doesn’t that person donate another £100?” No one is stopping anyone who is paying £150 from turning round and saying, “It’s too cheap; here you are, here is an extra £100.”  We don’t get any of that. So all those people who are saying we should be charging more, well pay more. We’re not stopping you from paying more.

We looked at this year in particular because of the recession and we thought, it’s going to be a tough year and a troubling year for people – everything’s going up, and people are going to be down. And you know what if you can still get to see a football match, you’ve got your ticket paid? I think that (the season ticket initiative) it’s a great idea.

I don’t think that Bradford City get enough credit from the Football League and the FA. We’re doing it, and no one is praising us. Four years we’ve done this, and not a single bit of praise from anybody. People turned around at first and said “you’ll never be able to keep it going.” Well we have kept it going.

The demographics in Bradford – it’s not the best paid here. So we’ve got to keep it reasonably priced.

BfB: So is the pricing a permanent thing?

As much as anything can be permanent. We’ve got to get prices up, but the Board still want to make football accessible. I think we’re still the only club who do under 11s free – everywhere else it’s under 7. And we don’t get any credit for that. We don’t win Family Club of the Year, Huddersfield do. And when they quote why they won that they say “under 7s go free” – and our under 11s are free. Maybe we don’t shout about it enough.

BfB: From an ethical point of view I believe the pricing policy to be utterly commendable – times are tough and City are helping people out for one, for two why should it cost two and a half times more to go watch football than it does to see a film? – but considering that ethical basis would the club consider extending the offer to include people who pay on the door and to include away supporters? If not, why not?

The away fans is something we’ve not thought of to be fair. They are getting in same price as our fans because of Football League rules. So if we did that we’d have to do walk ups (City fans who pay on the day) at that price as well.

Now to be fair we’ve said if you want to put your money there ahead it’s cheap, if you want to pay game-by-game and choose when you come or not, it’s a little bit more expensive. Because those people are subsidising the people who do buy cheap season tickets.

BfB: Do you get many fans who turn up on a game-by-game basis?

We get about 1,000. 1,000 when we’re not so good (laughs) and you can get 2,000 when we’re doing alright. I think we’ve got a fan-base, realistically in this league, of about 13,000-14,500. I think that would go up by 3 or 4,000 if we went up a league. And for some games, certainly, we’d be filling it if we were in the Championship. We play Leeds United – well they’d want 5,000 for a start.

BfB: Before you joined City, Julian agreed deals with Surridge and EMC to run the club shop and catering facilities respectively, are these deals proving financially-rewarding?

Absolutely brilliant – he stitched them up like a kipper! We’ve never taken as much money as we get from EMC, even when we were in the Premier League. We are having to renegotiate the deal with EMC this season, so they will continue but perhaps not as a good a rate going forward. What people need to realise is that the staffing levels, just to build and maintain facilities like that, is frightening. You can’t just get temporary staff in, you need a fair bit behind you.

BfB: Do you find there is a massive difference between what people perceive the problem is and what the problem actually is?

Well I was the same! Before I came on board, I didn’t realise what was involved with running a football club. It is very difficult, and there’s lots and lots of problems that you’ve got to sort. I used to think “why don’t they do this?” and then you come in and you understand why.

BfB: Any examples of that?

(Thinks for a few seconds). One of them was food for the footballers. I thought “bugger it; I’m a chef I will do that.” But you can’t because you’re too busy doing everything else! So you think there are roles that aren’t necessary, but they are when you get involved. It’s not as simple as you like to think.

BfB: Words like “failure” are banded about for most clubs in football – for Chelsea second in the Premier League is failure, for Aston Villa that would be success – and the term loses its meaning if it is not rigidly defined on a club-by-club basis. So what do the board consider to be a failure for Bradford City at present and what constitutes a success? Is there any middle ground between the two?

Well you have to have bite-sized chunks don’t you? And my first bite-sized chunk is that we’ve got to start finishing in the play offs. That’s got to be the minimum bite-sized chunk. Every season we don’t get into the play offs is, in my view, failure.

BfB: And then, does it get to the point where we finish in the play offs and that becomes acceptable or do we then say that’s not?

Not more than twice! I wouldn’t be happy losing in the play offs more than twice. If I was the Bury chairman, I wouldn’t be happy about losing in the play offs two or three times. I’d be starting to ask questions.

BfB: Which brings us onto the long-term. 18 months ago I was present at the VP Fans Forum where Mark you stated the club’s objective is to be in the Championship in five years. With only three-and-a-half years to go that vision may not occur in this time frame, but do you believe the club can still rise up the divisions in the next few years?

Well 18 months ago I put £1 million in and that was part of the thing that got blown (laughs). So, like with any aspect of business sometimes you’ve got to change your thinking. Look, our business plan is still to get there but our business plan has been curtailed by (pauses); I don’t want to speak ill of people, but we put a lot of money into this club and it didn’t work.

BfB: It’s almost like a snowball effect in that if we got one promotion we’d build momentum…

Yes I think so. If we got one promotion we’d get more fans. I think the base is there to bring more fans in. I think we’ve got a hardcore of around 7,500 fans – real hardcore. I think 7,500 would watch us if we were playing on Peel Park. And then I think we’ve got another 2-2,500 who are dependent on things like where we are in leagues. And I think we’ve probably got another 5,000-10,000 more fans where it depends where are in leagues, how we’re doing and whether they can pick and choose games they want to come to. I might be wrong but that’s where we are abouts.

BfB: Do things like the size of the fan-base come into it when we’re talking to people like Nike and EMC?

Without a doubt. When they see things like our season ticket sales for this year and next, it’s that sort of thing they want to get on board with. They realise that, if we can get up these leagues, they got a base there. You know Bradford City Football Club – and I’m not being derogatory to other football clubs here – Bradford City are a proper football club, that’s been starved of success. You’ve only got to turn around any look at what happened when we went to Wembley. If we could give the Bradford public success, I think they will come out and watch us. And that’s what we’re trying to do.

BfB: Is more outside investment needed to climb the leagues?

It’s a difficult situation that, because you look at other football clubs. Look at MK Dons, they got out of this league by having the biggest budget. I think there budget that year was £2.5 million.

BfB: That’s a lot for this level…

Well we had £1.9 million once, and we didn’t get out of this league. So is it the budget? Then you turn round and see Dagenham get promoted with a £750,000 budget. So is it the budget? I think it’s down to managers, I think you look at managers and it’s getting that right manager.

As for us, I don’t know if we’ve been kicked by Gypsies or something (laughs), whether we are cursed, but you look at what we’ve done. We’ve put in lots of money, we’ve brought in an established manager in Peter Taylor who has been a success at every single level that he’s been at – and certainly this level – and up to now it’s not worked.

I’m still not giving up on this season, there’s still a lot of games to be played. But what we do need to do realistically is go on a run of winning five games. We need 69-72 points by the end of the season, that’s what you need to get in that last play off position.

BfB: So you don’t see that more money is the only thing that will get us success?

Well more money often buys more success whereas more money for us didn’t buy success. It did buy MK Dons, it did buy Peterborough…

BfB: What about the lad Tom Cleverley? If he moves on from Man United do we get a similar kind of pay out to Fabian Delph?

Not quite as good. The one that’s good is if we get the lad from Liverpool (Andre Wisdom) – that’s better than the Delph. Knowing our luck he will probably play for Liverpool for the rest of his bloody life (laughs). Have a great career, and never move on!

BfB: Would we put that money straight into the playing budget?

Yes of course. This club needs to be in the Championship. In the Championship we survive and we survive well. That’s where we need to be. The overheads suddenly don’t become as bad because we need this type of stadium to survive. Everything works in the Championship, once we get into the Championship. So everything needs to be directed on getting players to get us into the Championship. Then when we get there, we can turn around and start looking at buying new facilities, etc.  First of all it’s how can we get out of these leagues?

BfB: What is your view on the way the non-league players have developed at the club? For example some people are calling David Syers player of the season…

Well let’s not call him player of the season because they always go then don’t they? (laughs). I think Syers has a long way to go but he’s got a lot of potential. He’s shown he’s got it if he can keep improving. I think that (James) Hanson needs to keep improving as well, but I think he can go on. I do think Hanson should be playing in the Championship. If he can keep learning from old pros and stuff. That is how to be a centre forward, I’m not talking about his lifestyle, but how to make the right runs, etc. If he can learn that I think he can play in the Championship. I think Steve Williams has also got the potential. There’s not been as much fuss about him like Hanson, but if he can learn as he makes the full transition he can go far.

One thing I would say is that the transition can be a problem, and this is where the PFA should be getting involved and helping. They have to quickly learn to become athletes, because they haven’t been brought up as pros. And perhaps this is a transition that maybe we could help better with – because it’s a big leap for them. It’s not just the training, but a matter of I’ve got to watch what I eat now, I’ve got to watch what I drink now, I’ve got to go to bed early. It’s that sort of thing that, at non-league level, they don’t really need to do. So perhaps we could do a little bit more for them.

BfB: No one doubts how hard you and Julian work and how much you have put into the club; it must be so frustrating for you to see the club continue to fail on the pitch despite your best efforts…

I have a lot of sleepless nights. When I bought into the club Julian shook my hand and said “Welcome to Bradford City, now you become an alcoholic insomniac!” I said to him “I think you’re joking” and then talked about my Driver Hire company which had a turnover of £75 million and 120 franchises – “You don’t think I can run a football club?!”

When we lost to Morecambe in the first season I rang Julian up the next day and said “I’m in the alcoholic-insomniacs club!” And I think it’s been like that ever since (laughs)!

BfB: But you do seem to enjoy it?

I have a passion for the club because I love the club. I’m probably the only Chairman in the Football League that has a tattoo of their football club on their arm. I had an argument with Peter Risdale at one of the Chairmen meetings, because I said “I can’t understand why, if you’re a Leeds fan, you’re at any other football club.” I would never be at any football club but Bradford City. It’s hard work, and I certainly ain’t here for the glory or money. I’m here because I’m a fan, so I didn’t understand him. He took exception to that!

BfB: It’s been really great to talk to you like this and I’m sure our readers will be delighted to have this opportunity to hear your views. As a final question, what are your favourite memories of supporting Bradford City over the years?

(Long pause) Oh the ones I can tell you (laughs). Darlington away (1969), I was nine-years-old. My sister took me on the coach. It was my first success. Then we had the bleak years didn’t we? I think everyone forgets that.

I’ve supported them since 1964, I think. My first game, Southend United I think it was. We won 3-0 and I thought that’s what always happens!

Also, Cambridge away (1984/85). Leaving my coat on the barbed wire so everyone could use it to get over onto the pitch! I ended up kissing John Hendrie, I don’t think he appreciated that! (laughs) I’ve known John and the players from then a while before and those lads aren’t as aloof as they are now. If you could get that spirit now – they used to be singing songs on the bus going home. And they mixed with the fans as they weren’t aloof. Maybe they’re under more pressure these days, I don’t know. Certainly there is more expectation on Bradford City players now than there was then.

But the best day of my life was Wolves (1999). I’ve got four girls and a boy and we took everyone down except for the wife. After the game they all just dived on me and I ended up in tears. The whole family was crying with joy. That’s something my wife is really upset about because she missed that, and it’s something that you can never take away from me. Pure joy between myself and children at that stage.

Wembley was good too, but I spent most of it throwing up in the toilet with nerves. Even though we battered them didn’t we? (Laughs) I didn’t really enjoy that one!

Post-amble

What is the perception of Mark Lawn? That he is a blunt man but a passionate one, perhaps? Perhaps that he is a Bradford City supporter first and a chairman second. Going into – and coming out of – an hour and a half conversation with the man these perceptions seemed confirmed.

He speaks as he sees it for sure and that may or may not be a good thing but few could doubt that his dedication for the club, and for bringing success to it. Talking to the man he seems as desperate and one might not agree with or appreciate way he is taking the club to try achieve that but not his commitment to, and his honesty about, wanting those achievements.

Moreover though talking to Lawn – the first contact that BfB has had with the club – there was a feeling of a man (or a group of men) isolated from a support with both sides entrenched into positions of opposition. There are plenty of brickbats thrown over the walls of Bradford City at Lawn and his fellow directors – we have thrown a few ourselves, and no doubt will again – but for all the things lobbed over the wall it seems that, if you try it, the door is open.

Anyone trying to enter with an idea, an inspiration, even a constructive criticism might be surprised at the welcome they get.

Talking to Mark Lawn: Part One

Mark Lawn sits opposite us and jokes “I’ll tell you what bits you can put in, I’ve worked with media before.

How did we get here?

There are reams of conversation around the people who write for BfB about Mark Lawn, and about Bradford City, but never any contact with the club. It is a kind of house rule going back to the days when Geoffrey Richmond ran the club with something akin to an iron fist and famously dismissed a long set of questions from the Internet Bantams with a series of one word replies.

So many questions too, none of which will be answered but all speculated on ad nauseum. The season stumbles from promotion hunt to relegation battle and the questions continue begging for answers which speculation and rumour will not provide.

Jason McKeown takes the plunge, contacts the club, asks for an hour of the joint chairmen’s time and we sit and wait. The wait goes on and we expect nothing but are wrong and, as the club suffer defeats on the field, an invitation is extended to us to go to Valley Parade Tuesday lunchtime.

Julian Rhodes would be attending but another meeting rules him out – that turns out to be the negotiations for the signing of Jon Worthington, or so we guess – but Mark Lawn is going to answer what we ask.

Overlooking the pitch

So there we are, in a suite overlooking the pitch, with the club chairman that we have criticised any number of times offering a welcome smile as we set about trying to set a few things straight.

Lawn is a funnier man that you expect him to be. He is welcoming although seems a little guarded at first before relaxes and answers all our questions in an honest and occasionally light hearted, occasionally sombre manner. One feels the weight of expectation hanging over the man as he talks, the knowledge that the expectations he has for the club are mirrored and magnified by supporters.

And so to the main event

BfB: What are your views on the season to date?

Not good enough, I would have expected us to be in the play-offs at least although we are not a million miles away but I have to say we have to do a lot better in the second half of the season.

BfB: It’s good to hear what your opinions are, because it seems to us that – over the last 12 months – you and Julian have kept a very low profile and haven’t communicated to supporters or the press as often as you have in the past. Is this a deliberate ploy?

No, no. That is basically because when I have done it, and when I came in I did get involved, and people treated me like garbage, you wonder why you should do it? I was talking to people and they were taking it out of context it. I spoke to Julian and he said “That’s what you get, you try be helpful, you put out and tell people what is happening and you get slagged off.” Eventually it just wears you down. It’s just worn me down.

BfB: Do you see a way that that position would change?

Don’t get me wrong I don’t want people to love me at all, but for people to mis-quote me and to do things like – I’ll give you an example – for people like (City Gent’s) Mike Harrison to slag me off by email saying I’m putting money into a restaurant in Baildon that I own, which I don’t own, I just bought as an investment property to pay rent. (Mike’s email) has been taken as gospel and then the rumour gets taken into all sort of stupid craziness. It frustrates you when people do that.

BfB: Geoffrey Richmond was “mouth on” all the time. Would you be more vocal if success came?

No, I would be if people stopped quoting me out of context when you tell them things that they don’t want to hear such as transfers in January (and the fact that there is no money for them). There are only two people who put the money in and we have done that for the last three years.

I’ve funded Stuart to the tune of £1m. That year (2008/2009) Stuart had the highest budget in the league and I took a gamble – with my money admittedly – I took a gamble and it did not work. So I think that the fact is now that I don’t have any more money to put in and we have to look at other ways to do that.

BfB: It has been rumoured relations with supporters groups – specifically the Bradford City Supporters Trust – are strained right now.

There is no strain with the supporters groups. I think they should be treated equally. The problem with the Bradford City Supporters’ Trust is that they think they should have a priority arrangement. I think you should treat all supporters clubs on a even keel, and they don’t like that.

BfB: What’s your view on the role this organisation – and supporters in general – have to play in the direction of Bradford City FC?

I only look at myself as a custodian of the football club. I’ve been a fan, Julian is a fan, we both look at it like that, just like supporters ourselves. I think supporters groups have as important a role as we do.

I’ve been trying to get Friends of Bradford City for ages, Gladys – everyone knows Gladys if you’ve been around the club for the last thirty years – earned £5,000 a year for the club selling raffle tickets. If you could get ten of them, that is the average wage for a player and we could put that on the pitch.

If I’ve got supporters who want to do that then they can assign it to something like “We want it for this player” – obviously they can’t say who, the manager has the choice on that and even I don’t get the choice on that, I just get a choice on the wages and that is not much of a choice, it is “That’s what you have to pay him if you want him.” I’m willing to do that and I’m quite willing to do that.

We have coming through the gates 9,000/10,000 – that is what “clicks” through – someone could be selling things out there. That would be raising funds for the club and it does make a difference. And you look at Lincoln City and Lincoln City Supporters’ Trust, they raised money to get a stand built.

Our supporters trust seems to be more interested in “Why haven’t we got a black on our kit?” which I don’t understand. To clarify everything there never was and never has been anything on the football kit for the fire. The fact that there was black on was that there was black on it and it was a fishwife’s tale and blah, blah why we did it.

When I came we put the ribbon on and the ribbon is always going to be on the kit, because I believe we should never forget, I was here for the fire and it affected my life. I don’t think we should ever forget it so that is why I wanted to make sure we and the ribbon which is on but the commemorative ribbon has always been claret, never black, because of the club’s colours but sometimes if you have a claret kit you have to (change it).

It depends on the manufacturer. The manufacturer is going to be Nike, I can tell you that because it is launching on Thursday, but with it being Nike we can only do “stock kits”. The fact that we can go on to Nike is because Arsenal have gone onto Nike and now they have the claret, so they can do us claret and amber.

BfB: What happens with the shop?

Nike take over. Well not Nike, Sports For All who are a subsidiary of Nike.

BfB: How do you keep in touch with the mood of supporters. Do you go on the official club message board?

No, I used to but stopped when I read about my family being slagging off. I’m a great believer that if some lawyers want to make some money they really want to chase message boards, and not just football, message boards in general because the libel on there is unbelievable. They would make a fortune.

BfB: There was a time when you stopped, was there an incident that made you do that?

Yes, when they started slagging off my kids, I won’t take that. The incident that upset me more than anything else was the Accrington Stanley one when they attacked my car and then someone started going on “What’s he moaning about, we played crap.” What does it mean? So you can attack a car and you have the right to damage someone’s property? To me they are just vermin, absolute vermin and I don’t care who they are if they want to come get their season ticket money back they can. If anyone thinks that is right, to attack property, well they are not Bradford City fans as far as I can see.

BfB: We have a problem being put in a position where if we disagree with something, and the next person agrees but adds “so I smashed up his car…” then we are put in a difficult position.

The problem you have, running a website, and I’ve had this out with Mike Harrison – and I don’t know if you know but City Gent castigated David Baldwin – who worked for nothing for six months and does not work for a lot now because I don’t pay that well, I concentrate on getting as much money onto the pitch as I can, and they turn around and slag him off. Now editorially he should not have printed that because it’s not right and I told him that David could sue him because it is you, as editor, who would be sued. If it is Punch then it’s not the person who wrote the letter who is sued, its Punch for printing the letter.

(Editor’s Note: this was certainly true in the case of BfB vs Rochdale where the crux of Rochdale FC’s complains were drawn from the comments including our publishing of comments written by Rochdale supporters which we had published)

You need to be careful with your editorial rights as to what you are doing because one of these days someone is going to come and sue. If The City Gent had done that about me I would have taken exception to it. I think it’s a disgrace, people should think about what they are saying.

I’ve not got a problem with anybody taking a contrary point of view. Football is a matter of debate. I think David Syers is great, you might think he is a lump of cheese, that is what happens. You might say “I don’t think they should have set on Peter Taylor”, I might say “I think he is the best thing that has ever happened.” It is contra-point of view is football and that is great but getting down to personally slagging people off and saying they don’t do the work then that is when they have to be held responsible.

BfB: How does the club run on a day to day basis?

The day to day running of the football club is done by myself, Julian (Rhodes) and David (Baldwin) really. Roger (Owen) comes in a couple of days a week to help out and the rest of the board is there to be used as a springboard for ideas and things. None of them live a million miles away and they all come to the games and we talk. We have a board meeting once a month where we go through things as well which is on Thursday.

BfB: It was stated at the beginning of the season that Peter Taylor was operating with an increased playing budget compared to the season before, yet to date City have not been able to improve on last year’s efforts and mount a stronger promotion challenge. What do you put this down to?

Well that’s a good one. Well, it’s the players isn’t it? Does anyone think that the players we did bring in, we should not have brought in? Jake Speight for example. We paid £25,000 for Jake, you look at what he did at Mansfield, you look at his background and you think “What a great player to bring in” and he has not done it for us.

Doherty has done it at every single club he has been at, he’s come in, and he has not done it for us at Bradford City has he? He’s not performed to his best. I’m sure the players would all turnaround and say that. Some of the players we have brought in have not performed to their best and don’t think that they are not capable of it.

You don’t make a bad player overnight, you don’t go to being that. So I think we just have to try to get the best out of them. We look on paper a very good squad but sometimes when we play we don’t look as if we have congealed at all.

BfB: Recent poor results have of course placed Peter Taylor under a lot of pressure from disgruntled supporters. A couple of weeks ago, you were quoted in the Telegraph & Argus stating you believed he was doing a good job and hinted a new contract could be in the pipeline. We appreciate you will be reluctant to talk about Taylor’s future publically, but where does the Board see the managerial situation for the rest of this season and the next?

It depends on where we are at the end of the season.

Peter Taylor knows exactly where we have to be. I’m not going to put that out in public because it would not be fair to Peter Taylor and would not be a professional thing to say but Peter knows exactly what he has to do to get another contract here.

BfB: Is that an automatic thing written into the contract or (is it discretionary)

It’s a year’s contract and before we offer any extension to that things have to be achieved, certain goals have to be achieved. There is nothing written into his contract.

BfB: Before he arrived did you have any thoughts about the style of football he plays?

Yes I did, and out of the whole board I was the last one to make my mind up. I watched the games and – after the Aldershot game which was 1-0, 2-0, and we had beaten them with Stuart (McCall) 5-0, and it was a different type of football but I believed it was a type of football which would get us out of this league.

So far it isn’t working but everyone knew when Peter Taylor was coming that we were not going to get smooth flowing attacking football, that’s not his style. He tends to like his two lines of four and then hit them on the break and it has worked very well for him everywhere he has been. He needs to sort it out here.

BfB: Back in October, before we went to Barnet there was significant national media speculation Taylor had to win or he would be sacked. Was there any truth in these reports, or was it more to do with the press needing a story during a blank weekend for the top flight?

I think you have to look at the whole season on its merits. I can tell you exactly what happened before the Barnet game the Thursday before the game Peter came up to me and said that there were rumours in the press that Barnet was his last game and I turned round to Peter and said “Peter, you will be in charge for Cheltenham. That is definite, you will be in charge.”

So he knew, never mind Barnet you go concentrate on Barnet and Cheltenham so he knew what he was doing.

BfB: Would you ever use an ultimatum as a way to manage in the short term?

We are all looking at a certain standard of where we have to be. Where we are at present is not good enough, Peter knows that, I don’t need to tell him he is an intelligent man.

BfB: How much conversation do you have with Peter on a daily basis? Because he is 58-years-old and perhaps doesn’t need the same hands on the last manager might have?

I think a lot of people have misread how I’ve ran my businesses and it’s come across that I interfere a lot. I expect people to manage and then if it’s going I wrong I’ll sit down with them and discuss it. I don’t interfere with my management structure and I never did with (Lawn’s previous company) Driver Hire.

I put people into manage and, if they weren’t doing their job, then I sit down with them and say “Look, it’s not working. How can we help you and how can we go about getting this right?” I think it’s always better to work with people and try and get them on board, and that’s what we did with Stuart.

We sat down and said “How can we help you Stuart?” We did that with Peter when he was struggling through a period and that’s where the loan signings came in. We let our managers manage. Maybe we shouldn’t after the last four years (laughs).

BfB: That’s certainly very different from Geoffrey (Richmond)…

I don’t think that’s the way to run a football club.

BfB: On Thursday January 8th, 2009 you said in an interview with Radio Leeds: “Bradford City have had enough turmoil and non-stability at this club” yet thirteen months later the club has offered a three month, and a year-long contract which would seem to offer anything but stability.

The club has not changed its position on stability. When Stuart left he was an ill man. But still in my mind he is a legend. It wasn’t nice seeing what Stuart had to go through. And I think if anything Stuart was too near to the job and it hurt him too much, if that’s possible.

The reason that we’ve asked Peter Taylor to do a year is because we can only afford him for a year unless we have success.

BfB: So the club still follows a policy of stability for the long-term?

I’d love to get a Keith Hill. Everyone out there is looking for a (Rochdale manager) Keith Hill. And also, in not so much the same vein, (Bury manager) Alan Knill. People who consistently get into play offs on similar budgets or even smaller budgets. Look at (Dagenham & Redbridge Manager) John Still, when you look at when Dagenham & Redbridge got promoted his budget was only £750,000.

BfB: And how did our budget compare?

Ours was a lot more, certainly over double that.

BfB: How do you feel when you read someone like Paul McLaren saying “I’m a better player than I showed at Bradford”, but not offering to pay any of his wages back? Does that frustrate you?

You’ve got to appreciate that he’s probably said that for the fans. A lot of players, certainly ones who have been around a bit, know how to work the fans. And his comments were perhaps aimed at saying “It’s wonderful at Oxford” and that “it wasn’t wonderful at Bradford” and perhaps that’s a little bit of PR.

BfB: Simon Parker recently hinted that if the club fail to earn promotion this season the wage budget will be trimmed during the summer. Is this likely to be the case and, if so, are we set to see a repeat of two years ago where high earners are shipped out and the manager struggles to afford new players?

The plan for the summer is to stay within budget and do whatever we need to do to stay in budget. I don’t want this football club to go through administration again and that would be the last possible thing. I’m not going to say that will happen again but you never know, and I’ve got to say that, looking at this stadium, how would we afford it if we dropped into non-league?

But what I can say to Bradford City fans is that I will make sure this club always stays alive, and that is one thing that I will always do. But to do that it means I can’t be throwing money around and we’ve got to live within our means.

BfB: Estimated at costing over a million pounds a season before a ball is kicked Valley Parade is seen by some as crippling the club financially and being the most significant block in the way of the club going forward. How important do the board of feel the effect of the cost of Valley Parade is? What is being done to address this situation? (If considered important) To the board believe that City can achieve any of its aims with the current financial drag of renting the ground?

The running costs are about £1.3 million now. But in terms of the future it’s really gone fairly quiet now, because we don’t know what’s happening with Odsal. No one knows what’s happening with Odsal. And even if we did go to Odsal, it’s got to be better fiscally for Bradford City.

And although it’s a big stadium, fiscally sharing the revenue of things like the sponsors names might not be better, so we’ve got to make sure that if we go to Odsal at any stage it would be only because it would be fiscally better.

BfB: What about (Valley Parade Landlord) Gordon Gibb?

He’s overvalued the ground. And right now he’s getting about a 15% return on his investment every year. You tell me where you can get that, with a 25-year guarantee?

BfB: Do you think Gordon Gibb gets away with it in terms of the public attention? I mean Julian Rhodes gets flak for it. You take flak for not being able to do anything about it and Gibb sits there as if he hasn’t bought into a club and taken its biggest asset…

I would say that we have offered Gordon Gibb a fair return to buy it back. If he was a Bradford City fan, he would have let it go at what we’re offering, because he was going to make a good profit on the figures that we offered him. I can’t quote the figures but he wanted nearly double what we offered.

BfB: BfB reader Luke Bottomley recently told the site that he wrote to Gordon Gibb about the VP situation a year ago and was told an independent valuation of the stadium had been carried out (post-recession) and the ground is available at that price and that the City Board had been offered the asset on that basis when they had recently enquired…

Course we would, but practically speaking he wants (figure withheld) for it, not a penny less. How are we going to raise that?

BfB: If we were to move to Odsal, there’s the 25-year VP lease to think about.

We could not afford to break the lease without going into administration, unless we could purchase our way out of the lease. We don’t know what he wants for it (the lease). We’ve not spoken about it. Until we go to Odsal or are going to go to Odsal there’s no point in talking to him about it.

Certainly we would have to dispense with the lease and dispending with the lease means administration, which I wouldn’t like to do. But (pauses) I’m not counting it out, but turning around and buying him out of the lease is an option.

If we went into administration and moved out of here, the rates here are £130,000 a year. So he loses his rent and he’d have to pay the rates. And technically he doesn’t own anything inside the stadium because we own the fixtures.

BfB: Speaking of this and remembering Geoffrey Richmond leasing all the facilities inside Valley Parade. When he was unveiling Carbone at a press conference at the same time, did you trust him?

No! (laughs) Whenever I shook his hand, I always checked how many fingers I had left (laughs). I didn’t buy his 25-year season ticket, but I’ve been a fan for 40 years. I didn’t trust him with that amount of money. No I didn’t trust him. If I ever would have had to come across him in business back then, even a small amount of business, I wouldn’t have trusted him.

BfB: So what’s your opinion on him doing things like leasing back the fixtures and fittings like he did?

I suppose it depends what you do with the money. I wouldn’t say I’d never do it, but if I’d be doing it I’d have invested the money back into the team. But I wasn’t involved at that stage, so I don’t know where the money from the carpets etc went.

BfB: They were strange times to have supported the club through.

I would have thought so too! Because literally, when the club first went into administration they owned nothing. If he (Richmond) could have leased the paint on the wall I think he would have done! There was nothing they owned.

BfB: Strikes us as a very different set up now compared to then, that the club operates at a different level.

Well I’m a Bradford City fan. Geoffrey Richmond was a businessman who had come in to run it as business. I try to run the club as a business so I can make profit which I can put onto the pitch.

BfB: We are now, as we understand it, currently in the black – apart from loans to you?

We have an overdraft, a small overdraft facility.

BfB: Is it still the case that we are in the black?

Yes, but it depends on budgets this year and how it pans out. We struggling to put bums on seats which, you know, the results we’re getting ain’t good. So we need to be putting bums on seats. Now I’m sure you’ll now get comments on your website now saying “Sack Taylor” as though that’s the answer.

But I tell you, I would love for some of the people who say this to come in and run the club for a week to see what it’s like. Because they’d lose more hair than I do! And pay for the privilege of coming in. All that me and Julian get for running this football club is our mobile phones, and we pay the bills on them. We even pay our own petrol money to away games. I don’t get any wages, none of the directors get wages. There’s only David (Baldwin) who gets an income out of it, and it’s not a lot compared to what people in other companies in his place get. And that’s just because he’s got to put bread on table. So you’re quite lucky that you’ve got fans running this club.

BfB: Is there a lack of appreciation of the fact that the board are supporters?

My health has deteriorated since I bought this club. If I wanted to live longer, then I wouldn’t be involved. It is not easy running a football club but I’m not looking for sympathy from anybody, I chose it and I’m here but I look at what I’ve done at this club as failure, so far, and I’ve never failed at any club I’ve been in so I’m going to work harder to make sure this club gets some success, because the only way I know about business is that you work harder. I’ve never known any business when, if it is going wrong, you work less.

End of part one…

Next time, dear reader, Lawn talks about training facilities, season ticket prices, about how Julian Rhodes did running the club and about how much enjoyment he gets out of Bradford City.

The unsolvable conundrum

From the moment the first ball was kicked at Shrewsbury back in August, finding the balance is proving an unsolvable conundrum for Bradford City manager Peter Taylor – and it’s badly unhinging the Bantams’ promotion efforts.

Is it best to take a more attacking approach to matches, committing men forward and asking questions of opposition defences – or should City be more conservative-natured and concentrate on becoming difficult to beat? City are so far proving pretty poor in both areas. Goalscoring has been a problem all season, which suggests they need to be more attack-minded, but defensive instability – just three clean sheets on the road all year – is easily exposed when gaps appear at the back.

Having gained little success from a defensive focus at Oxford and Aldershot, Taylor tonight shifted emphasis back onto attacking by lining up Gareth Evans and Leon Osborne in a three-man forward line with James Hanson. And in the first 10 minutes, where City were on top and attacking the opposition penalty area with a frequency not seen in the previous two games combined, all signs pointed to it proving a success. Crewe looked hemmed in, and Evans and Osborne kept switching flanks and finding joy by running at the opposition full backs.

But it was a false sense of security and, once Crewe settled down and got into their stride, the lack of balance in City’s approach was all too easily exposed. Again.

Crewe took the lead from their first meaningful attack on 15 minutes after Bradford-born Clayton Donaldson got free of his marker and tapped home Shaun Miller’s low cross; but it was the home side’s build up play and comfortableness on and off the ball that was already making a significant impact – and would prove the difference on the night. As promising as City looked going forward initially, the lack of balance it caused elsewhere proved their undoing.

When City had the ball Crewe appeared happy to drop back and wait before exerting pressure on the man in possession. Once City’s over-eagerness to forge a chance saw the move break down – usually through playing the ball to someone not in space – Crewe would pounce and suddenly come alive. The front two of Donaldson and Miller were outstanding in reading each others’ runs and, as red shirts piled forwards, City were easily outnumbered. Evans and Osborne failed or were never asked to track back, and so Crewe always had an extra man in space they could work the ball too. They were exceptional at passing the ball around at varying tempos, and City were chasing shadows.

Jon Worthington, signed on loan earlier the day with Lee Bullock ruled out for the season, looked to pull the strings in the middle and produced some excellent passes at times. But the middle three of he, David Syers and Tom Adeyemi were badly out-gunned. Meanwhile full backs Richard Eckersley and Luke O’Brien were doubled up on and struggled to get forwards when City did have the ball. Numerous chances were created and largely spurned by Crewe – though Jon McLaughlin did make one excellent one-on-one save – and a rout looked possible.

Somewhat surprisingly, City did equalise six minutes before half time after Adeyemi rolled a free kick for O’Brien to cross and Syers to knock across the face of goal, leaving Shane Duff to head home his first goal for City. And though it was undeserved, the fact the Bantams were level offered an opportunity to get something from a difficult night – well, for 30 seconds at least.

Crewe kicked off, City roared forwards but then lost the ball. A long clearance down the pitch should have been cut out by Luke Oliver, but instead he seemed to switch off and suddenly the superb Bryon Moore was clear on goal and finished well past McLaughlin.

Crewe were simply too good for City – the best League Two team this writer has seen so far this season – but the obvious frustration in the visitors almost acted as a leveller before half time. Evans was very late in a challenge, prompting a booking from the referee Kevin Wright and obvious anger from Crewe. Seconds later a strong tackle from Worthington resulted in a flare-up that caused Wright to send off Donaldson for apparently head-butting Syers. No longer could Crewe enjoy the advantage of seemingly having a spare man always available  – City had 45 minutes to make their extra man count.

Although it was almost 10 v 10. As the game recommenced following Donaldson’s exit, O’Brien went in strongly in the tackle prompting further outrage from Crewe. Wright, perhaps lost in the moment, mixed up the blonde-haired full back with Evans and issued a second yellow. Uproar followed and, after realising his error, Wright took back the red for Evans and booked O’Brien. On a day where a media pack was expected at Gresty Road in view of female referee Sian Massey having been scheduled to run the line, it was a major embarrassment for the official. “We want our woman back!” was the chant in the away stand.

City looked more purposeful in the second half. Omar Daley and Jake Speight were introduced from the bench, and with a numerical advantage to attempt to maximize Taylor opted for a bold 4-2-4 formation that saw City enjoy more possession and territorial advantage but, crucially, struggle to create meaningful chances. Indeed home keeper Steve Phillips only had to make one notable save, when the utterly-dreadful Speight suddenly had a clear sight of goal but shot tamely. Syers also had a great opportunity one-on-one, but panicked and sliced wide.

Flynn made his grand return from the bench as City pushed more and more players up the pitch, but the threat of the counter attack remained and Moore almost wrapped up the game after forcing a good save from McLaughlin. A half chance for Flynn saw him volley wide, but this was no night for City fairytales. Twice deep in stoppage time Adeyemi, who had a good game otherwise, blew opportunities to set up chances. City huffed and puffed and can’t be criticised for lack of effort. The boos from some away fans at full time were harsh.

But all is clearly far from well and Crewe’s performance was a stark measurement of just how far from promotion challengers City are. The Bantams tried to do the right things in the second half and worked the ball back and forth, but when not in possession too many players lack the intelligence and awareness to make runs and find space to help team mates. The contrast was so notable when Crewe had the ball, as the movement of home players pulled City apart.

Four straight defeats and the gap to the play offs is now larger than it has been all season. With a trip to leaders Chesterfield on Saturday it looks set to get worse before it gets better. Taylor is back to the drawing board of finding a way for City to be more effective offensively and boost the goals for column – without leaving the huge gaps in midfield that Crewe were able to exploit so effectively. But despite raised hopes along the way it is a problem he appears no nearer to solving than he was when Shrewsbury ripped City apart on day one.

Taylor’s future as Bradford City manager beyond May is in major doubt. At best, he is currently wavering on an ever-thinning tightrope – and, as we’ve seen all season, balance does not seem to be his strong point.

Schrödinger’s 442

The Burton Albion game which did not happen has provided Bradford City supporters with at least as much discussion as they could have hoped for had the match gone ahead.

At five o’clock with the game finished one might have imagined talking about how good it was to get a win, how unsatisfactory a draw was, what to do next in defeat and all those things would have been on the basis of the ninety minutes which proceeded it. The lack of a game and – apart from much talk of why the game did not occur – meant that Peter Taylor’s team could not attempt to break the three game losing streak. With tonight’s trip to Crewe not offering anything like an easy three points and Saturday giving City a trip to league leaders Chesterfield the lack of match today could conceivably see City get zero of fifteen points.

Personal low expectations aside for a moment even a promotion challenger would only expect a return of seven but nothing from nine, and going forward to two tough away trips, reads worse than the season suggests. City have been getting 1.2 points a game – maths would have pointed to City getting something from the Burton match.

Peter Taylor’s future thus becomes a Schrödinger cat of a problem. The manager is – at the moment and for the next few weeks – going to be judged on a recent form that is based largely on away trips and the performance against Burton is not so much a win or a defeat but both these things, or none of them, depending on your thoughts on Objective collapse theories.

It is hard to say if Quantum mechanics will play on the mind of Mark Lawn as he ponders the future of his manager and the club. Certainly if six points could be mustered from these two tough away games then one could expect a play off place to be – once again – talked about and two defeats will have people looking nervously at the bottom of the league table.

Taylor takes something of a level headed view of proceedings as one might expect. When approached by Newcastle United he made it clear that he considered it it a matter of professional pride that he try see through the job he started at Valley Parade showing his commitment to the club and the limits on that. In the opposite dug out to Taylor will be Dario Grady who’s connection with Crewe goes back a quarter of a century, Taylor will probably celebrate a single year at VP.

Jon McLaughlin is expected to keep his place in the side despite Lenny Pidgeley returning to fitness with the back four of Richard Ekersley, Luke Oliver, Shane Duff and Robbie Threlfall set in stone by Steve Williams injury and Rob Kiernan returning to Watford.

The midfield offers more flexibility perhaps with Tommy Doherty ready to play on Saturday despite injury and Michael Flynn reportedly set to come back. Lee Bullock is out and a three of David Syers, one of Flynn or Doherty and Tom Adeyemi seems possible, especially with Luke O’Brien and Gareth Evans on the flanks – Omar Daley stepping down to the bench. James Hanson as the lone forward man.

Or it could all be totally different. That is the thing about Taylor. Considered a better manager than he predecessor by some even now, but considered an enemy of football by others he is both alive and dead. Schrödinger’s football manager.

The late call off, the conspiracy and what it says about Bradford City

“I don’t like that frost,” I remarked on Thursday looking over my garden in Clayton about two miles from Valley Parade. Forty eight hours later when the news came out that City’s game with Burton Albion had been called off the frost was gone but putting foot to turf this bit of suburban Bradford was frozen an inch down.

This is, and always has been, my call off test and grumpily I took off my coat and headed for the sofa and the wisdom of Garth Crooks for an afternoon.

The call off might work out well for City with injury problems having mounted up but sitting eighteenth and with trips to Crewe and Chesterfield in the week City might rock up against Lincoln City in the next home game on the back of four away defeats. Peter Taylor – one doubts – was happy with the call off just as Burton Albion manager Paul Peschisolido was not.

Within minutes off the call off though worries had started. City’s pitch was relaid at some cost in the summer, is it not able to withstand what seemed to be what could hardly be described as extreme weather? Was there not covers and precautions to be taken.

The worries were quickly replaced by an idea that the call off was not motivated by the conditions but rather that is was a part of a plan. The plan changed depending on the telling. Some said it was Taylor trying to get his players fit, others that it was the board making it easier to fire him on the back of (one assumes) worse away results. It was about playing the game when City had made various signings, it was about doing it when City were in better form. It was to do with pressing the books to make it seem like City were earning now and more later.

And so on. Conspiracy theory of course and you, dear reader, will have your own view on what is or is not accurate in those tellings. Me, I don’t find it too great a leap that when I put my foot through an inch of grass onto hard frozen ground that the same might be found at Valley Parade. Willem of Occam agreed with me, but he is not always right.

Conspiracy theory is a stock in trade these days. Student cuts, shootings in America, uprisings in foreign lands, financial collapses. If it has happened then there is probably a guy on the Internet telling you it was caused by the machinations of shadowy people in dimly lit rooms. The rooms are always poorly lit but although, obviously, ave enough brightness enough to cast shadows on the people.

The conspiracy theory is a fascinating insight into the mind of some, but ultimately tiresome and one worries – and to paraphrase Jon Ronson – that the really scary thing is not that someone rules the world but that no one does.

However ignore the conspiracy theory of Bradford City’s call off for now and wonder how we have ended up in the position where there is so much talk and so much suspicion that Bradford City might be putting one over on us.

Are we so ready to believe that the club we support is amongst these “shadowy people”? That they are so untrustworthy that they are conspiring against our interest. Do we really look at Mark Lawn like Alex Jones looks at Obama and Bush?

How did the level of trust between club and supporter rot to this level? What does it say about the relationship between fan and club that these conspiracy theories emerge so quickly?

Burton Albion game off

City’s game with Burton Albion has been called off after the Referee decided the pitch was dangerous following yesterday’s sharp frost and thaw.

The game was called off after one thirty on Saturday leaving Burton Albion fans in Bradford for an afternoon – try the National Media Museum vistors from the Trent – and City facing a blank weekend before the trip to Crewe on Tuesday night and and Saturday at Chesterfield.

City’s next game at Valley Parade will be the home match with Lincoln City on Tuesday, 1 February 2011.

Speaking about the call off BfB reader and professional groundsman of 37 years Tony Kenny remarked

The overnight temperature over the last week was -4 degrees, the covers at Valley Parade should be ok for -7 if there was any danger of problems, yesterday, a local referee should have been brought in give an opinion at 9.00 pm Saturday. Burton travelled, many fans set off and the game was called two hours before the kick off, this is totally unacceptable.

We want football, for now

Before the last game at Valley Parade everything seemed good for Peter Taylor and his Bradford City team.

The team had beaten impressive Bury to record back to back wins and Taylor had turned down an offer from Newcastle United. Indeed at half time in the in the Barnet game few would have predicted what the next two and a half games would bring: Nothing at all. Three straight defeats and barely a shot worthy of the name.

As has been perceptively pointed out there has been a shift in attitudes, where we wanted to win at any cost, now we merely want to be entertained. Not on Brazil 1970 level, but perhaps something better than the Bradford Park Avenue 1970 stuff that is being dished up at the moment. Was the Bury game really only a few weeks ago? At times it appears that we have lost all sense of perspective, but then I remember that prior to the heady days of two wins from two games we were hardly steamrollering League Two.

The odds on a chant of ‘we want football’ echoing around Valley Parade on Saturday are undoubtedly shorter than those available for a convincing home win. However, something really has changed. This is not just the usual knee jerk reaction to a defeat, or rather defeats. This is fundamental stuff and I’m not sure Peter Taylor can come back from it. The usual escape route is via couple of victories. Football being the way it is suddenly Peter Taylor would be carried shoulder high down Manningham Lane. But he wouldn’t. A lot more than three football matches have been lost. Stir in faith, hope and even respect. If this is a troubled marriage, then one of the partners has just woken up and shouted ‘I want more than this’.

The ‘more’ not being merely three scrambled points. We want a bit of football; we want to be mildly entertained. If we can’t manage a bit of football then I’m sure we would accept a bit of blood and thunder commitment. Just a bit. We know we cannot suddenly become the Arsenal of League Two overnight – or even the Crewe of the bottom half of League Two. However, during our plunge from the Premier League to League Two the club had, somehow, managed to retain its self-respect. Under the previous manager, whose name I dare not utter, we had hope (however false) and a commitment to playing attacking football (however vain). With our large crowds and pioneering cheap season ticket deals (now being blamed in some quarters as ‘the problem’) we had a sense of vibrancy and purpose. Moral superiority even over the money obsessed game. Now as we grub around with our joyless style of football we are endanger of losing it all.

Fast forward twelve months. City are playing fast attacking passing football. We are surely happy? That’s what we wanted wasn’t it? Rewind to 1983. Jack Tordoff was being shaken by the hand and thanked for saving the club from closure. We were just happy to have a football club. In 1986 he was the man who oversaw the rebuilding of Valley Parade. Before the same decade was out he stopped taking his children to Valley Parade as he didn’t want them to hear chants of ‘resign you c**t’ booming from the Kop.

So remember as we yearn for just a little football that, as in many other aspects of life, once we have it we will always want for a little more. It’s been said frequently that, in the wake of our financial implosion brought on by appalling judgements taken during our Premier League sojourn, our fans do not want City to be a Premier League club again. The Championship is our ultimate goal. I would give it one season in the Championship before eyes were cast to the glittering cash cow of the Premier League.

I moved from ‘just a little football’ to the Premier League in three sentences. There lies the problem. Football, it does that kind of thing to you.

So to Burton Albion’s visit in which Jon McLaughlin is expected to retain his place in goal, Lenny Pidgeley revealing via Twitter that his absence might have been the result of illness not poor form saying “Head feels like babe ruth has put 1 over my canister, slugged my swede out the park 4 a home run!!!”

The back for of Richard Eckersley, Shane Duff, Luke Oliver and Robbie Threllfall seems set in stone for a time with Taylor pointing out after the Aldershot game that the problem is scoring goals, not defending, and so charged with that James Hanson is expected to be partnered with Gareth Evans in a two or Evans and Omar Daley in a three. The midfield has more problems with Lee Bullock out for a month joining Tommy Doherty in the treatment room. Tom Adeyemi, David Syers and Luke O’Brien could make a three although Taylor has said that Michael Flynn may be considered.

Peter Taylor Nil

M.O.D. Aldershot and this is my closest game so I’ve brought some of the lads and in the first minute I wish I had not. I’m not a football expert but I know that teams have got to play better than this if they are going to win matches and watching the last two games for the Bantams (The other one being the 2-1 defeat at Oxford) I can’t believe what I’m seeing. It is like a City team that don’t want to do anything.

They don’t want to pass the ball, they don’t want to take shots at goal. They don’t want to tackle, they don’t want to get in the way of the ball. They don’t seem to fancy the job of being professional footballers that much. You could pick out the odd good move and nice ball or something but what is the point of that? Tom Ademeyi missed a good chance early on and you knew that there was nothing coming after that. Dave Syers looks good, James Hanson looks good, some player look good but that is not really the point. Jon McLaughlin was back in for Lenny Pidgeley but when was the last time a team turned its fortunes around by changing goaly?

Maybe it is what we do down here but for me football matches are all about the unit, the team, and good and bad doesn’t even really come into it when talking about the players because when the unit fails the individuals fail. End of story.

Likewise a unit makes a solider (or a footballer) better. Leon Osbourne came on after twenty minutes for Lee Bullock and looks like a matchstick man wandering around a field but it is the unit’s fault that they do not cope with the change, and it is the unit’s fault that they do not support the weaker players and pull their level of performance up.

Stuart McCall used to do that as a player. McCall would not let one of his team mates have a bad game, and if he was, Macca would be geeing him up and pulling him through. A real leader which is what that City team lacks, but not that only thing.

With a new manager in Dean Holdsworth Aldershot had a little bit of a buzz about them but they did not lay siege to City’s goal or send waves of attacks at us they just seemed to win the game by default. They turned up, and won, and we did not turn up. Victory was not even difficult for them. Ben Harding looked impressive for them but no more impressive than the odd City player did. The point I’m trying to make is that they were allowed to coast to victory.

Trying to remember the better moments and there is hardly anything to talk of. Robbie Threlfall has a free kick, maybe, but mostly it was City defending and the only goal of the game by Anthony Charles never looked like being clawed back. The players did not want it enough, because they didn’t want to work together. I don’t know what goes on in the dressing room at City but I can’t imagine it is a very happy place because the players have no collective work ethic at all. Osbourne or Daley lose the ball and the rest of the players seem to look at them rather than trying to win it back.

It is eleven footballers and not one unit, and that is the fault of the man in charge, and requires a change in that man in charge regardless of where they train or whatever. A leader’s job, and Peter Taylor is the leader of the unit, is to create a dynamic in which the whole is more than the sum of the parts and in the year he has been in charge I have never seen City play like that.

A view is taken on if the situation will improve without a change, I don’t think it will, and so a change needs to be made either now or in the Summer when Peter Taylor’s contract is up. Mark Lawn will do whatever makes him most popular and so I’d be expecting a change sooner rather than later.

So another very depressing evening watching City. Everyone has their own thing they want from the team. Some people want great players and some want blood and guts. Me, I want to see a team that play as a team and in the last year Taylor’s not been able to do that and as the players wandered off heads down not one of them within five foot of a team mate it showed. There was some footballers on the pitch, but no team.

It was not so much Aldershot 1 City 0 as Aldershot 1 Jon McLaughlin 0 Richard Eckersley 0 Shane Duff 0 Luke Oliver 0 Robbie Threlfall 0 Omar Daley0 Tom Adeyemi 0 Lee Bullock 0 David Syers 0 Luke O’Brien 0 James Hanson 0 Leon Osbourne 0 Gareth Evans 0 Mark Cullen 0.

And Peter Taylor 0.

A Very Bradford Revolt, or searching for the soul of Bradford City

It was a very Bradford revolt. John Docherty had arrived at Valley Parade with an impressive CV. He had taken the deeply unfashionable Millwall to the Premier League and was presented as a pragmatic results man. Apparently, just what Bradford City needed after the flamboyant style of the linkable Terry Yorath. Under the Welshman City were said to be easy on the eye, but were a soft touch, they played too much football. We needed results and Docherty was to be the man to get them.

The City fans, used to flowing football under the likes of McFarland, Cherry, Dolan and Yorath, were deeply unimpressed by Docherty’s long ball tactics. However, at first they were prepared to wait and see. There were many debates about style over substance. Some fans said they would take success at whatever the cost. However, results remained inconsistent and incomprehensible substitutions saw the mood of the fans darken.

Eventually the frustration burst into open revolt. During one match the Main Stand, yes the Main Stand, began a chant of ‘we want football’. The team was even once booed onto the field as the relationship between the fans and manager completely collapsed.

The end of Dark Days

I can still remember exactly where I was when I read the Docherty had left Valley Parade. I was elated. What became known as ‘the dark days of Docherty’ arguably changed the culture of the football club.

The chairman and directors fully understood that the supporters wanted a certain style of football. Yes, we wanted to win, but we wanted to be entertained. We were not willing to accept the joyless win at all costs style of football City employed under Docherty. Perhaps it was a different Bradford City back then? The fire had changed attitudes. The spirit shown in the aftermath of the fire, allied to the sense of ownership we had in the club, made the club feel very different to many of the other clubs in the Football League.

From the financial collapse of 1983 to the fire of 1985 and the agonising near miss of promotion to the top flight in 1988 there was a family feel to Bradford City. The bond between the club, players and fans was a close one. We had shared a lot together. However, although Docherty’s rein probably brought that era to an end, the revolt of the fans ensured that City would play in a certain style for the decade that followed.

The echo and the principles

The echo of those days are still with us. A significant number of City fans are uncomfortable with Peter Taylor’s approach to the game. We have been willing to go along with it so long as it brought success – and how desperate we are for any modicum of success following ten years when we have plummeted from one end of the Football League to the other. However, is there a growing realisation that there is more to this beguiling game than attempting to stumble to single goal victories? Yes, Bradford City has hit rock bottom but that does not mean that we should abandon the principles of the football club.

We should debate once again what we want our football club to be. We should debate a set of principles the club should operate to. Those principles should include: style of football; whether to support an active policy of promoting young players; whether to continue to support the policy of cheap season tickets; the policy of keeping the club on an even financial keel regardless of its impact on results.

I’m sure there are many other principles supporters will want to debate. However, as another season threatens to drift into nothingness it is a debate we must have. We are the soul of Bradford City Football Club. If we lose faith and drift away the club will be worthless.

Let the debate begin.

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