The re-shifting of the goal posts

“It’s great to see someone with passion on the touchline”, “You can see how much the club means to him”, “Thank goodness we’re playing attacking 4-4-2 again”. A paraphrasing of the recent sentiments Bradford City supporters have bestowed upon interim manager Peter Jackson, but there’s something very familiar about it all.

For this nature of praise was considered to be negative just 13 months ago. As Stuart McCall was driven out the club following intense Boardroom and supporter pressure, his commitment and passion for the Bantams were argued as not being valid reasons to back him as manager. His attacking brand of football was considered naive. We needed someone with a proven track record, who knew how to get out of this division and who wouldn’t let emotion cloud his judgement. We didn’t need a club legend and we shouldn’t be allowing sentiment to determine who is in charge.

How times change. Or to put it another way, we’ve now seemingly gone back to the future.

Jackson is now talked up as the ideal candidate to revive City, and though he has greater experience than McCall it is still much of the qualities he shares with the now-Motherwell manager which are currying favour. Compare Jackson with another rumoured candidate for the job, Phil Parkinson. Like Jackson he has enjoyed some success as manager – Colchester’s promotion from League One in 2005/06 was an unexpectedly glorious achievement, he also took Charlton to the play offs last season. Like Jackson, he has endured failures as manager. Yet no one is flying the flag for Parkinson to take over, a man who has no previous connections with the club.

The passion for City that Jackson has is a hugely desirable quality, just like McCall’s love for City was considered to be when he first took charge.

Events over the last year have undoubtedly started to reverse the belief that McCall’s loyalty was more a hindrance than a benefit. With greater resources than McCall, Peter Taylor has taken City in a backwards direction. The style of football under Taylor, held up as what was needed a year ago when McCall’s attacking philosophy led to a poor run of form, was widely-derided. Meanwhile the “clueless” McCall has found employment in the top flight of Scottish football, and is so far doing a decent job.

A year or so ago we at BfB were heavily slated by many people for backing McCall. We’re big boys and we can take it, and we’re also above making attempts to state “we told you so” now. Nevertheless this reverting in attitude needs to be acknowledged and minds need to be made up – otherwise a year down the line the passion of Jackson could be considered a bad thing all over again.

Mark Lawn told us that McCall was an ill man when he left the club, and so the parting of ways in February last year was probably the right thing to happen and we shouldn’t be harking back to argue it was a mistake. However, the fact Stuart was so unwell can be partly attributed to the pressure he was placed under by disgruntled supporters and his employees. Instead of receiving support during a difficult time, he had to endure one of City’s directors publically slagging off his efforts and many fans calling for him to be sacked.

Poor results tend to cause that with any manager, but in McCall’s final few weeks so many matches went against City due to inept refereeing; a year on Jackson’s City have won two games with the help of some questionable officiating. A fine line between heroic and hopelessness.

McCall was unlucky at City. Sure he made many mistakes and he was guilty of raising expectations to a level he couldn’t meet; but so much about supporting Bradford City felt good knowing a club legend was at the helm who cared as much as we did, and the amount of goodwill afforded to him to succeed was such a positive force. The way he was driven away left many of us supporters with some emotional scars that have been difficult to heal. Whether you agreed or disagreed he had to go, the way he left was not our finest hour.

The anger wasn’t just directed at McCall, but at many of us supporters who had backed him and tried to have their say. “You know who I blame for the mess the club is in?,” a person who sat near me repeatedly said during McCall’s final weeks. “All those idiot supporters who held up those SOS signs that convinced him into staying (in April 2009).” Well I was one of those idiots, and I don’t think my opinion should have been any less valid than anyone else’s. Oddly this person has been very quiet all season.

Many others uttered similar sentiments in attacking fellow fans. Yet in April 2009 a democratic majority had appealed for McCall to stay on as manager and the fact others were so quick to undermine that verdict and ridicule their fellow supportersĀ  broke down a community which has remained fractious since. As fans we were rarely united under Taylor, but oddly almost everyone agreed he was the right man for the job. The new arguments raged about how some of us – BfB included – were allegedly not backing Taylor positively enough. And then how quick some people were to turn on him.

We’ll never all agree on everything of course, but it is only now after Taylor has departed and McCall’s standing among fans is being restored (history is starting to show that while he may not have done a brilliant job, he didn’t do a bad one either) that the feel-good factor is truly returning.

The point of raking up old ground is not to start another debate about McCall’s departure, nor is there even the slightest intention to argue I and others were perhaps proved right all along. But if those negatives which were directed at McCall are now considered the right qualities in recruiting Bradford City’s next manager, let’s at least have the decency to stick by them if the going gets tough under Jackson.

McCall’s passion for the club was in time viewed as a negative, so – and assuming he gets the job, which appears inevitable – will the same fate befall Jackson in a year’s time? We cannot keep changing the goal posts on what are the right and wrong qualities for the City manager, otherwise we are destined to believe we’ve always made the wrong choice and go for the opposite the next time.

If we are to agree again now that a passion for Bradford City – while not a pre-requisite for any future vacancy – is a desirable and positive trait to look for in a managerial candidate, we shouldn’t go back on this and throw it in Jackson’s face if appointing him on that basis doesn’t go to plan. Whatever the future under Jackson would hold, he will be entitled to expect support from those who are so vociferously calling for him to get the job now.

Above all let’s just start treating our managers better, especially those who genuinely do care as much as we do.

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