The misery, the ecstacy and the unforgettable goodbye

The Team

Lenny Pidgley | Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver, Luke O'Brien | Tom Adeyemi, Lee Bullock, David Syers, Kevin Ellison | Michael Flynn, James Hanson | Jake Speight, Gareth Evans, Robbie Threlfall

How the hell has it come to this? It is half time at Valley Parade and, with matchday companions visiting the toilet or friends elsewhere in the Midland Road stand, I’m stood alone with my thoughts. And they are becoming ever-darker.

Bradford City are 2-1 down to a Stockport County side that began the day six points below them in the relegation places, and we’re staring directly at the trap-door to non-league. “It’s not good news elsewhere” mutters the always-irritating PA announcer as he reveals League Two’s bottom club, Barnet, are 2-0 ahead in their game. The situation is looking increasingly bad, and City’s recent history of fighting relegation battles offers little comfort towards the likelihood of getting out of this mess.

I just don’t understand how this could be happening. I mean the relegations from the Premier League, Championship and League One made sense – we couldn’t compete on and off the pitch – but this time we really should be too good to even be contemplating going down.

And what happens if we are relegated? Mark Lawn told us a month ago that he doesn’t know how City could afford Valley Parade if they dropped into non-league. I don’t want to support some AFC Bradford City playing on a park pitch in the Evo-Stick First Division North next season, I like the way things are. And why do bad things always happen to us? I mean what exactly did we do to deserve this last decade? My gloomy self-pity continues as the players trot out for the second 45 minutes.

One hour later I’m celebrating more wilder than I can remember in years. Gareth Evans has just drilled an unstoppable shot through a crowd of bodies and into the far corner to improbably win the game four minutes into stoppage time. The level of joy inside is being fuelled by the built-up anguish inflicted upon us over the previous hour and a half. We’ve just gone through 90 minutes of utter torture, all of which can now be forgotten as I jump up and down like a five-year-old, only pausing to hug those around me. The players have chosen to run directly to the front of my block in the Midland Road stand to celebrate their euphoric moment. Eventually the cheering subsides, but I’m feeling so good and shaking all over too much to be able to sit down. In no time at all we’re punching the air as the final whistle is blown.

This is why we love Bradford City. This is what makes all the other crap worthwhile.

That Peter Taylor’s final game in charge could have such a climatic ending is hardly in keeping with the monotonous closing weeks of his reign, but it was nice for the outgoing City manager to part ways with the club in such harmonious circumstances. Whatever the rights and wrongs of his early departure, he at least leaves the club in a much more comfortable league position than it appeared at 3.45pm. There is much work to do still, but seven and nine point cushions over Barnet and Stockport respectively offer Taylor’s successor a sturdier platform to preserve the Bantams’ league status from.

For a time it looked like a comfortable final afternoon for Taylor. Finally ditching the ineffective 4-3-3 formation, City started the game strongly with James Hanson and Michael Flynn leading the line of a 4-4-2 set-up and Steve Williams taking advantage of non-existent marking to head the home side into a 14th minute lead from a free kick.

Hanson had already had a goal ruled out for offside and, though Stockport threatened with the impressive Paul Turnbull shooting just wide and having a goal disallowed themselves, a second City goal would have probably caused them to collapse. But on a dreadful playing surface, the ball-playing nature of Williams was to prove costly after the young defender dallied too long and was pick-pocketed by Turnbull, who charged forwards and finished low past Lenny Pidgley to equalise.

City at least continued to attack and two frantic goalmouth scrambles should have been rewarded by a re-taking of the lead. The first scramble saw a Flynn effort saved, the surprise-returner David Syers hit the bar and Williams fire a third attempt that was blocked on the line. The second occasion included Kevin Ellison’s effort being kept out illegally by Hatters defender Adam Griffin’s arm. A red card and a penalty, which an out-of-sorts Hanson wasted when his casual effort was pushed away by former City keeper Matt Glennon.

And when Stockport took a 2-1 lead six minutes later after Ryan Dobie was played through one-on-one and rounded Pidgely to slot home – despite strong suspicions of offside – that feeling of comfort 20 minutes earlier was replaced with despair that grew bleaker during the interval. In many respects City had been unfortunate, they’d had the majority of chances and forced numerous corners; but the combination of conceding two soft goals and missing a spot kick left you feeling that – once again – they had been architects of their own downfall. Williams had looked shaky, Tom Adeyemi ineffective as a wide player and Lee Bullock off the pace in the centre.

Taylor reacted by making two substitutions, with Adeyemi and Bullock giving way to Evans and Jake Speight in a move which saw Flynn pushed back to midfield alongside Syers. Yet as they struggled to get the ball into Stockport’s penalty area – never mind create a chance – during the first third of the second half, it looked a long way back. The bumper home crowd were on the players’ backs and it took all their bravery to keep going and force the tempo. To their credit they began to perform, and were rewarded by some of the most ferociously-positive support heard at Valley Parade in sometime.

The tide began to turn against Stockport – who’d begun time-wasting from the 46th minute – after Dobie’s flying elbow into Luke Oliver’s face gave an erratic referee no option but to issue a second red card. But as City continued to struggle to break down nine-men it still looked like a morale-crushing defeat was on the cards. This was going to be a dismal send off for Taylor.

One last throw of the dice – Robbie Threlfall for the bloodied Oliver – and never before have City gone so gung ho under Taylor. It appeared the Bantams were playing 3-3-4 – hey, it might even have been 3-2-5. Evans and the outstanding Luke O’Brien were playing as wideman and enjoyed loads of space against an over-loaded Stockport side; Lewis Hunt was also getting forward well. Numerous corners, endless balls pumped into the box, plenty of throw ins too. Speight hit the post, the crowd roared the players on even louder. The clock must have been ticking down ever-slower to the blue shirts.

Finally, salvation. A corner isn’t defended well and Syers does an outstanding job of keeping it in play by heading it across. Williams is at the backpost, his effort at goal hits a Stockport body but crosses the line. Unbridled joy, followed by a huge collective sigh of relief.

The urgency wasn’t as great in the final 15 minutes, but still City continued to press forwards and come agonisingly close through Speight (twice), O’Brien, Ellison and Syers. Five minutes of injury time almost up and, after Ellison appears to be hauled down in the box only for the referee to wave play on, the disappointment of only getting a draw is palpable. But then so is the relief at the fact you are no longer facing up to the despair of loss that was so painfully real 15 minutes ago. This is better than nothing.

And then there’s one last attack. And after superb work again by O’Brien the ball eventually runs free to Evans. And he shoots. And he scores. And for the next few minutes you scream at the top of the voice. And the level of exhilaration causes tingles all over your body. And for the rest of your weekend that feeling will stay inside, causing you to involuntarily smile at regular intervals.

And you can console yourself with the fact that, whatever we did do to deserve this last decade of hardship for Bradford City, it justifies going absolutely mental when celebrating scraping a win against a nine-men team bottom of the entire Football League.

Taylor walks away carrying all the cans

Peter Taylor’s final game as Bradford City manager has just kicked off and after ninety minutes, half time and a couple of stoppage times the 58 year old former England manager walk away from Valley Parade for the final time.

Taylor’s year at Bradford City will be the subject of debate for years to come. Why did the man who gave David Beckham the England captain’s armband flutter the captaincy around no fewer then eight of the Bantams squad? Why was someone who was appointed for his experience found making what seemed to be very basic mistakes so often?

It is damning of Taylor that almost every Bradford City supporter has a list of the mistakes they believe he has made and that often these lists are entirely different. One will complain about his use of loan players producing a gutless team, another about his negative football, a third about his treatment of the players and so on. For a manager who even now as he exits a club in the lower reaches of League Two his CV is still massively impressive and suggestive of a superb manager.

That so many subsets can be made out of the list of mistakes he has made is stunning. Personally I find it easy to ignore the criticism of the manager for making the players wear suits – or indeed the praise for that which now seems very long ago – or for his colourful use of language in the infamous statement on his fortitude against criticism from the terraces. An irony that, in the end he leaves talking about the negativity around him from the supporters and its growing influence. Those bastards did grind him down in the end.

I’d charge him with giving huge responsibility on the field to players who were not ready for that – Tom Ademeyi and David Syers in central midfield against the five of Lincoln is the most obvious example – and as such costing games and taking an unknown chunk out of those player’s confidence. It was – to me – man management at its worse. The management of what you want the man to be, not what he is at the moment, and Taylor carries the can for that.

At 58 and with 26 years of management experience though one can expect Taylor to carry that can and take responsibility for this year. He will write it on his CV alongside his promotions at Hull City and Wycombe Wanderers and admit freely that his methods do not always work, but sometimes they do and that is more than most can say.

And he may mitigate the season with talk of the injury list and the fact he was promised training facilities which did not materialise. One might expect Taylor to feel some justification in that final point. He told the board in May that they needed to address the Apperley Bridge problem in order to create a team which would get promoted. They did not, but still promotion was expected.

So Taylor carries the can for the board of the club who made promises and for whatever reason could not fulfil them. The next manager will no doubt be required to work with what is at the club in terms of facilities and talk of Apperley Bridge not being fit for purpose will be dubbed “an excuse” but nine months ago Bradford City asked a man with five promotion what it would take to make the club upwardly mobile once more and, on hearing the answer, have yet to address the situation.

That is a failure by the club on the whole, and one that Taylor carries the can for as he does the club’s obsession with short term thinking which goes back a decade if not longer.

The belief at the club (in boardroom and in supporters) is that teams can be built in a summer and Taylor carries the can for that assumption which is proved wrong time and time again. Taylor worked with the squad left by Stuart McCall who had three summers and three building jobs to do having inherited a squad of about eight players from David Wetherall’s few months in charge which included the delights of Spencer Weir-Daley, Moses Ashikodi and Xavier Barrau. What price then for the 16 year old who Geoffrey Richmond did not want in five years time because he needed someone on the pitch on Saturday?

Taylor’s contract was set as one three month deal, another for twelve and this was done for very basic financial reasons – it was all the club could afford – but the lesson of the last decade is that without anything to build on the manager is put in a constant cycle of rebuilding.

It is easy to say in retrospect – although one can find many comments at the time worried about the length of Taylor’s contract – but the club should aim to appoint a manager who will be at the club in the long, long term. Someone who can be afforded for five season, not out of price after one, and someone who views the City job as the potential to build the big club they all talk about wanting to manage.

Bradford City are not a towering big club, they are a series of jenga blocks scattered about. The job is building the tower without knocking it over every time you touch it.

As people begin to suggest themselves for the City job: Phil Parkinson, John Hughes, John Coleman, Keith Hill, Alan Knill, Dean Windass and so on; I find myself not really caring what the name on the contract is as much as I care about the number of years.

It is a sad day when any club looks to Newcastle United for advice on how to appoint a manager but Alan Pardew has a five and a half year deal at St James’ Park which says he is staying put (and perhaps being joined by Peter Taylor) and trying to build year on year at that club. We should be doing the same and employing a manager with long term aims that are not tied to short term results.

I want the manager of Bradford City to be in charge of building a club. In charge of making sure there is a through put of young players, in charge of taking the players we have and improving them and getting the best out of them, in charge of making the club better next year than it was last and doing that over the long term rather than simply being about seeing his he can win on Saturday and get promotion at the end of the season. Changing the manager is not as important as changing the manager’s job description.

By the time you read this Taylor will have gone and he will go carrying the can for his own mistakes for sure, but also for any number of assumptions and errors systematically made over the years. Unless there is a reverse in the attitude of the club – including in support as well as the boardroom – then the man who replaces Taylor – unless he gets ludicrously lucky that when he throws the jenga blocks in the air they land as a tower – is just tomorrow’s sacked manager.

Dean Richards dies aged 36

Former Bradford City defender Dean Richards has died this week after a battle with a brain tumour.

Richards, who had to retire from the game at age 31 after suffering dizzy spells that were a precursor to a long, serious illness problem, played for City from 1992. A defender of huge talent and a joy to watch Richards death is utterly saddening and gives context to recent events at Valley Parade.

I cannot imagine what Richards family, friends, colleagues must be feeling today, but my heart goes out to them.

John Hughes declares his interest

Former Hibs manager John Hughes has declared an interest in being City’s next manager.

The 46 year old took Falkirk to promotion to the Scottish Premier League in 2005 and the 2009 Scottish Cup Final and then took over at Hibs taking them into Europe, but left after a poor start to the season.

Hughes has little experience of English football and oddly that experience comes from playing for Welsh side Swansea in the late 1980s, a team he joined from Scots league side Berwick Rangers, of England.

Hughes managed 283 games for Falkirk and 54 for Hibs. He is infamous for streaking on TV during an interview – something that Jim Jefferies described as “The funniest thing I’ve ever seen” which – recalling Jefferies dour demeanour – is hardly pitting the incident against very stiff opposition.

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