From June, 2011
In hindsight the transfer rumour must have been complete rubbish; but when my friend told me that Everton were lining up a £1.9 million move to sign Edinho, I was happy to report it to anyone and everyone who would listen as conclusive proof of the Bradford City striker’s brilliance.
Edinho rocked up at Valley Parade at a time where foreign imports in England were still relatively new, and the rarity of a Brazilian especially caught the attention of football followers beyond City supporters. I wanted my new found hero to be considered as worthy as the Premier League strikers of teams my school friends supported. Shearer, Cole, Hasselbaink, Edinho. He must belong in the same bracket, if Everton want to sign him.
Not that I wanted him to leave City for Goodison of course. Edinho had an effect on me that no footballer ever has or will again in that my love and adulation for him almost matched the affection I had for the club. Forget the merits of form and ability – when it came to team selection, if Edinho was left on the bench I felt disappointed. Back then if I could select someone to score the winning goal on Saturday it would have been Edinho, and when he did find the net I was even more ecstatic about a City goal than usual.
Edinho’s exoticness blew my impressionable teenage mind. At a time when the Brazilian Ronaldo was the world’s best player, the shaven-headed Edinho was a passable imitation of the gap-toothed genius. His silky skills, his dribbling ability, his fancy flicks – I lapped it all up.
The hero-worshipping would include turning up early to every home game so I could get him to autograph my programme at the front of the Kop while he warmed up. Home game after home game, his signature appears on the covers of my programme collection. I’d like to think that in time he grew to recognise me, though in truth I was just one of hundreds of young fans who queued up for his squiggle every other week.
In return for the support we and other fans provided, Edinho embraced the move to England and Valley Parade in a manner that many better paid and more talented players since would have done well to emulate. He clearly loved playing for City and there were numerous stories – many hilarious – about how he and his family adapted to Yorkshire life. The enthusiasm on the pitch was infectious, best exemplified by the weird and wonderful range of goal celebrations he performed which ensured his goals felt extra special. His nickname would surely make a great name for a website.
The move to Everton never happened – if it was ever a remote possibility – and in time the progress of Bradford City passed Edinho by. The promotion season of 1998-99 began with a home defeat to Stockport and Edinho in the team, but big spending on strikers Lee Mills and Isaiah Rankin saw him relegated to the bench and soon enough stuck in the reserves. It took me a while to warm to Rankin, knowing the pacy youngster was taking Edinho’s starting place. But soon enough Rankin himself was being overtaken by Gordon Watson and Robbie Blake in manager Paul Jewell’s plans; it was a long way back for Edinho.
Winning each week, playing the most enthralling football I’ve seen from City before or since, softened the blow; but I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness that Edinho was missing out. I remember his last appearance – sub at home to Bury in a 3-0 win – and feeling desperate for him to score. He barely got a touch of the ball, and soon after was loaned to Dunfermline before returning to the stiffs and then leaving forever to Portugal.
But I got to have one last moment with him: Norwich home in March, a 4-1 thrashing where Jamie Lawrence scored that memorable solo goal. After the game me and my friends found our way to the door of the home dressing room and collected the autographs of every member of the squad – a thrilling occasion. After having a chat with Mills and Jewell about the game, we noticed some reserves having a kick about on the pitch – among them Edinho. I shouted out his name and then waved as he looked over, he responded with that iconic thumbs up he gave on the pitch at times, usually when struggling to understand instructions from the City bench. See, he does know who I am…honest.
Beyond the good and sad times, the romanticising of Edinho largely comes from the fact his time at City occurred before the cynicism that weighs down football supporting these days became so widespread. The internet was around back then, but not as commonly available as it is today and not to the point where the message board culture of slating players had developed. Sure, grumbles about players’ weaknesses and booing of underachievers occurred, but the network of supporter opinion that is so easy to tap into these days was more fragmented and concealed.
I heard complaints of Edinho from others; I wasn’t blind to his shortcomings myself. But the negative undercurrent that comes with football supporting today was less noticeable and this meant people preferred to be positive about Edinho and even – shock horror – accept his game had weaknesses. Much of the reason for that was Edinho’s positive persona; it’s why he captured a permanent place in the heart of myself and countless others, and it’s why his ultimately unremarkable contribution to the club will never be forgotten.
Everton’s loss if you ask me.
Readers of long-time Bradford City fan John Watmough’s outstanding Counsel and Criticism column for the City Gent will be only too aware of the number of occasions a new Bantams manager has complained about the fitness of the players. And, as the players returned for pre-season today, at improved training facilities, latest manager Peter Jackson has taken his turn in bemoaning the condition of the squad he inherited.
So often has the Telegraph & Argus relayed such sentiments from City gaffers that one can’t resist feeling as weary and cynical as John when reading them. If every new manager really had gone onto improve the players’ fitness when they arrived, City should be putting people forward for the Olympics. It comes across as a cheap shot, a chance to talk down the past and propose that behind-the-scenes training exercises they have instigated – which we’d otherwise never notice the fruits of – will make a positive difference.
Though Jackson has at least has gone further than some of his predecessors in his plan to address the supposed problem – with the appointment of Nick Allamby as fitness coach. Allamby, former head of fitness at Middlesbrough where he worked with City assistant manager Colin Cooper, will help the players through pre-season and then two days a week once the campaign gets underway. His arrival is the latest dot in a more joined-up thinking strategy that seems to involve finding experts and letting them run their own areas of the club, rather than the manager controlling and taking responsibility for all.
After all, what does a football manager know about fitness? As a player they would have been required to follow exercises set out by their club’s coaching staff and their own focus would have been on building and maintaining their own. When undertaking the necessary coaching badges that all managers have to complete these days, learning about fitness and how to build it in players would have undoubtedly figured on the courses. But that hardly makes them an expert in an area that almost every City manager seems to take pleasure in deriding their predecessor for.
At lower league level and City in particular, fitness experts are rare if ever used. When taking over as caretaker manager in 2007 David Wetherall did employ the outside help of Sports Scientist Ed Baranowski to improve the players’ fitness levels, but the results of Wetherall’s attempts to implement a high tempo playing style were poor. With managers before and after, the fitness side of matters has apparently been down to the manager and coaching staff to implement. There’s probably little wrong with this if all of City’s rivals are doing the same; but in a league where the tiniest of percentages can make a huge difference, Jackson and Cooper’s move to bring in Allamby could make a tangible difference.
Allamby’s arrival follows Archie Christie’s appointment as Chief Scout, with his very own budget to work with and objectives to achieve. And suddenly Bradford City’s future does not quite seem solely the responsibility of the manager, but a number of different experts working towards a universal goal. A well qualified person to pick the first team on a Saturday, a specialist scout to unearth hidden gem players that can form part of that selection, and a skilled fitness coach to ensure each and every player is at their physical peak. Other key figures at the club such as Peter Horne will also have a big role.
Perhaps most encouraging of all is that it is difficult to place the credit for this developing off-the-field strategy on one person. Cooper has brought in Allamby with Jackson’s approval, while it appears Christie’s arrival is more the work of the joint Chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes. There is apparently some like-minded thinking in Lawn, Rhodes and Jackson’s vision for next season, and hopefully with it will be a better chance of achieving those goals.
A year ago it seemed Peter Taylor was the only person with a plan, with Lawn and Rhodes bending over backwards to help put it into action. Taylor’s superb track record meant this was understandable, but the fact he didn’t see out his one-year contract left the club struggling for direction when he departed. Perhaps the pair have learned from this experience and are consciously doing things different now instead of devoting almost every penny to signing players – the new training facilities, after all, were their initiative.
This time around, it can be argued the buck for failure won’t rest solely with the manager. Those who have access to the bigger picture will be able to look at every area and assess where it might be falling down. That way the long-term planning doesn’t need to end when the manager departs.
Wishful thinking maybe, but if and when Jackson is relieved of his duties in the dugout it would be nice not to have to read other staff being placed on gardening leave and for everything to be torn up yet again.
There is a moment etched into the collective memories of Bradford City supporters of a certain age in which City rake a long, high ball forward for a flick on and then for Mark Leonard to out jump his defender and loop a header into the goal. If you were at that game already you have conjured the moment in your mind.
The ball lofted forward was by Peter Jackson – putting a lie to the idea that he did nothing on his return – and Ian Ormondroyd’s flick on to Leonard would be repeated when Sticks headed down at Wembley eight years later. The Everton side featured a recently transferred Stuart McCall on his return to Valley Parade and the goal loops over Neville Southall – at the time considered the best goalkeeper in the country if not the World – who would finish his long, illustrious and brilliant career in that very goalmouth aged 41.
Watching the goal again does not dim the memory although things jar: The bars fencing in supporters for another, The way that Southall picks up and rolls out a back pass, The physical size of the players who to a man are seemingly a stone heavier than their modern day counterparts;
On that night Leonard shone as bright as any player might. Against the league champions, and uncharacteristically for a team starting to decline, that was Mark Leonard’s night.
The story wrote itself of course. Leonard had broken his leg having been hit by a car on the way to sign for Everton and this was his “unfinished business”. He had joined City from Stockport County with a good scoring record at the lower levels but had not been able to fill the not inconsiderable boots of Bobby Campbell competing for a place in City’s forward line with Ron Futcher in the season the Bantams made the Division One play-offs. Leonard scored 29 goals in 157 appearances for City, none of them recalled with the glee of the evening against Everton.
Leonard did not score a goal every other game, his knowledge of the offside law – or his ability to put that knowledge into practice – was massively limited and seldom has a City striker strayed beyond the back line to invite the flag more. His nickname – Zico – was ironic. For all his hard work, honest endeavour and tireless efforts the only flash of brilliance Leonard showed was that header.
Which damns the man with feint praise. Leonard worked hard as a player and that was appreciated by City supporters. Zico was ironic but affectionate. The mood might have wished for Leonard to be putting the goals at the rate that Mark Bright and Ian Wright – Crystal Palace’s deadly strikers that season who were first and second in the top scorers list – but the fact he did not was not for the want of effort. Leonard was one of football’s triers. Everton was his moment in the sun, but he never let anyone down in his years in the shade.
Indeed for a time he played at centreback before his unwept at exit from Valley Parade in 1992. He went on to win a promotion to the Football League for Chester City playing for Preston North End and Rochdale but never moving above City. When he left football became a top class crown green bowler ranking in England’s top ten. Perhaps he really was Zico when aiming at a Jack.
When thinking about Mark Leonard – Lenny to some, Zico to others – I wonder how he would be received by the modern Bradford City. Perhaps he would be a Gareth Evans of a player with as many critics as he had people in his corner, perhaps he would be a Jake Speight with his hard work ignored and eyes fixated on his goal tally, perhaps he would be a Barry Conlon.
Looking at Leonard’s goal scoring record one is struck by how the higher up the divisions he went, the lower his return. Like Chesterfield’s Jack Lester who seemed to work out after his spells at Nottingham Forest that he was more effective the lower down the leagues he was and one might have forgiven Leonard for staying low and being a good scorer in the bottom two divisions. As a rule though footballers though are built from ambition always want the bigger prize, and to play at the highest level, to forgo a good career in the shadows for some time in the light.
And for one night, Mark Leonard achieved that.
Some 500,000 new businesses are launched in the UK every year, but the recently-formed Bradford City Limited is one to prick the ears of everyone with claret and amber matters close to their heart.
Bradford City Limited was registered with Companies House on Wednesday 8 June 2011 – six days before businessman Steve Parkin told the Yorkshire Post his desire to purchase Bradford City Football Club from current joint owners Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn. The publically available documents list Marc Feldman as the new company’s only director and his own company, Harkers Associates Limited, owning 100% shareholdings.
Previously, the club’s company name was Bradford City Football Club Limited. Following the agreement to buy the Valley Parade offices, ownership of the club was transferred to a newly formed company, BC Bantams Limited.
There is no stated link whatsoever between Feldman and Parkin, or the club’s current Board members, but the timing of this new company’s registration and choice of name would hint of some relationship between Feldman and the prospective investor.
Which would be hugely worrying if so. Newspaper reports from August 2010 reveal that Feldman received a 12-month jail sentence – suspended for two years – for a £159,000 fraud, with health and family problems saving him and his business partner from serving time. Information on Harkers Associates Limited is slim to non-existent.
Is there any reason to be concerned? Probably not, after all the words ‘Bradford’ and ‘City’ are hardly exlusive to the football club. One might like to think that Feldman’s actions in setting up Bradford City Limited are something Parkin, Lawn and Rhodes would be unaware of or – if they are – do not see as a concern. But recent amendments to laws on similar company names (made April 2011) do suggest that Bradford City Limited would require permission from the football club in order to use it.
According to Chapter 8 of Companies House’s guidelines – Objections to Company Names:
You could be required to change your company name after incorporation if: the name is ‘too like’ an existing name on the index…In general a name is ‘too like’ an existing name if: the differences are so trivial the public are likely to be confused by the simultaneous appearance of both names on the index; and/or the names look and sound the same.”
There is an exception to the rule:
The ‘same as’ rule will not be applied in the following circumstances: that the proposed company will be part of the same group as an existing company; the existing company consents to the registration of the proposed name; the application to register includes a letter/statement from the existing company which confirms its consent to the incorporation of the new company name and that it will form part of the same group.”
Of interest to this situation is ‘opportunistic registration’:
Opportunistic registration is the term applied to a company or LLP which registers a similar name to one in which another person has goodwill. There is no restriction on who can complain.”
So City’s Board and/or Parkin could have cause to complain about this new company, or there could be some connection with the increased likelihood that the club ownership will be altered soon – either with Parkin joining Lawn and Rhodes or buying City outright. BfB has no reason to believe the latter is true, and would not claim otherwise.
If Feldman has no connection with this football club – at present or at any time in the future – let us consider this article to be a load of gibberish from a handful of over-concerned supporters. If, however, a convicted fraudster has some interest in the Bantams, let those who he has conversed with speak up to explain what is going on.
BfB would prefer to look foolish in raising these concerns than to have cause to feel genuinely concerned.
Rochdale midfielder Gary Jones and Millwall striker Ashley Grimes have both eluded Peter Jackson’s attempts to bring them to Valley Parade next season.
33 year old Jones was Jackson’s choice for central midfield, not a position City are light on with David Syers, Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock available, while young Grimes would join the forward line where City have James Hanson, Ross Hannah and perhaps Michael Stewart.
Being heartened with the capture of Guy Branston Jackson will turn his attention to other targets but with Clayton Donaldson escaping his attentions the City boss seems to be moving onto his Plan B list.
Some players are predicted to do better than others. Whether it be the club they came from, the price tag they carried, the league position City finished in last season, or even their mere physical presence – the simple fact is that the weight of expectation lays heavier on the shoulders of some players than others.
When Shaun Murray, who could generously be described as “diminutive” signed for an undisclosed (read: pennies) fee from Scarborough in the pre-season of 1994/95 (after the 6,000 or so that regularly turned up to VP had witnessed a finish three points outside the play-offs in the Third Division the previous term), it is fair to say that he was not viewed as a key signing.
True, the maiden season for Murray was not a good one for the side: Lennie Lawrence steered the club to a mid-table finish, and left by November of 95/96. And, yes, some would cite his unwillingness to shoot and, true, it could be said that he’d have added to his tally of goals had he attempted to do more than pass it into the net once he’d reached the target. But, man, the route he took in reaching that target.
Murray possessed a relentlessness rarely seen before or since at VP when it came to getting the ball into the box. The only difference between his brand of route one and the route one of The Doc was that with Murray, the ball was stuck to his feet – and that’s not to say he was a greedy player: far from it. Murray wouldn’t stick to the wing and run, like, say, Daley. He would be in the middle, at full-back, seemingly devoid of the concept of energy conservation. Every passing triangle there was, Murray formed part of it.
You can imagine the opposition right-back turning up and stifling a snigger as they saw the tiny wee Geordie standing opposite them. By the end of the match, that smirk was well and truly wiped off their faces, as Murray would meander past them with guile and trickery that belied everything he should have been like.
After the 1994/95 season, and being the player of the season by quite some shout (at least in my own personal recollection of events), and the club pushing closer and closer (before making good on the threat) of making the play-offs, new manager Chris Kamara seemed to stop looking at what the player was like, and started to look at what he thought the player should be like. By Wembley in 1996, Murray was not in the team. He was not even on the bench.
In the season afterwards, we had the fun of Chris Waddle and that goal against Everton in the cup. We also had a very close scrape with relegation that was very much staring us in the face as the inevitable, not a mere threat. When Waddle left, the fans were crestfallen – the talisman had gone, and we were going to get relegated. Only João Pinto’s brother could save us now – except that the man from Portugal was finding that Bradford in March was not quite as alluring as his native Porto and, out of options, Murray found himself back in the side. Again, there was no expectation. We were going down, already – what would it matter that we played a bit-part player, most of the time playing on his wrong side?
Again, expectations were wrong.
In the end, City did stay up (on the final day), and Murray excelled in making the unthinkable achievable, again by bucking the trend of expectation. He had another season with City before the class of 1999 who took City up to the Premiership, but, make no bones about it, without Shaun Murray, Bradford City would not have been a Premiership club.
And who could have ever expected that?
Before they started sleeping in a comedy bed as manager and chairman at Sunderland Niall Quinn had made an erudite and unequivocal damnation of Roy Keane following the midfielder’s walk out of the 2002 World Cup.
Paraphrasing Quinn he poised the question as to how professionalism was judged in football. Quinn’s contention was that it was not in the medals won or the bowls of pasta eaten – a culinary metaphor to match Keane’s prawn sandwich brigade – but how the footballer dealt with less than ideal circumstances. In 2002 Keane – it seemed – had fallen short of Quinn’s judgement.
Keane’s path crossed with David Wetherall – who announced he was leaving Bradford City after 12 years – on the pitch at Elland Road. Keane wanted to end Wetherall’s career in the same way he maimed Alfe Inge Haarland but never got the chance. Perhaps Keane looked at the decline that Wetherall’s career took as a kind of justice. I do not like Roy Keane’s way of thinking about football, or life.
David Wetherall is taking up a job at the Football League as Director of Youth Development having had a behind the scene’s role at Valley Parade for the three years since he retired. Think of David Wetherall and Bradford City and one thought comes to mind.
Go on, watch it on YouTube, we will still be here when you come back.
14th of May 2000 and David Wetherall scores the goal which kept Bradford City in the Premier League. It capped a season to saviour, his first year for the Bantams, and Wetherall lists that and his goal against Manchester United in a 1-0 win for Leeds United as the greatest moments in his career. They were golden days for the two clubs who – it might be nice – could invite him along to the League Cup First Round so that both sets of fans can celebrate that rarest of thing – pan-West Yorkshire hero.
Wetherall’s highlights are impressive but – to me – the are not the measure of his professionalism. A glorious season with Bradford City in the Premier League was the end of the good days for Wetherall in his career. From then on it was years of decline for him and for us.
Season on season of decline – every year finishing lower than previously – but a decline which Wetherall did all he could to arrest. His guidance of Mark Bower made a good player out of a player on his way to the non-league, his displays showed a level of performance which proved and example to his team mates, his leadership of the side was constant. None of it seemed to turn around the slump. He was inducted into the Show Racism The Red Card Hall of Fame for his work against racism.
He was called on to manage the side, we were relegated.
The measure of his professionalism was not in that one afternoon in May 2000, it was in his efforts after which might not have reached the same heights but showed a player ready to fight for the cause. Dealt with less than ideal circumstances, not medals and bowls of pasta.
I struggle to think of a better man to develop young players for the Football League, and am proud to have had him on our side.
Steve Parkin looks set to join the Bradford City board have tried – and seemingly failed – to buy the club from Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes.
Lawn and Rhodes had stated that they would walk away from the club without making a penny profit should someone come along who could take City to the next level (and probably levels above that) and seemingly Parkin did not fulfil that criteria and so rather than being welcomed with open arms as the white knight he has just been allowed to saddle his horse next to Lawn and Rhodes.
So in that context Parkin is welcomed to the club. His investment is welcome and any management knowledge and experience he can bring is useful too although one cannot help but worry about the practical application of having – ostensibly – three chairmen at a football club.
Geoffrey Richmond used to say that a business needed only one boss and he did not mean Shaun Harvey when he made that pronouncement. Richmond’s time at City failed for the lack of checks and balances on his omnipotence so perhaps having chairmen two and three to keep an eye on chairman one is no bad thing.
However the principal of having a single boss – honorifics aside – is a good one and while Mark Lawn has been the front of City and Julian Rhodes behind the scenes (although, I understand, very much active) the club has lacked direction for sometime now. Stuart McCall filled the gap at the club in his time, Peter Taylor in his, but one doubts Richmond would let a mere manager be the face of the club.
Richmond knew the benefit of broad shouldered leadership. Larger than life Richmond appointing his managers and took the criticism when they did not work out. His’s massive persona took the pressure off the rest of the club. “This is the direction,” it seemed to say “and if we are going the wrong way, blame me.”
Contrast that with the last few years.
So of the three – if Parkin’s moves come to fruition – it seems a good idea for City to pick a one. A one to set the direction of the club and to lead it off the field with the other two keeping an eye on that one – a better eye than Rhodes was able to do on Richmond at least.
One boss to set the direction and in doing so to protect his appointments, and the players, allowing the likes of Peter Jackson, Peter Horne and Archie Christie to get on with their jobs with a defined remit and knowing who they answer to.
Speaking in a refreshingly frank way City’s new chief scout Archie Christie spoke about Falkirk pair Chris Mitchell and Mark Stewart in his update to the club website.
On the one hand Christie denied that Mitchell had signed for the club – BfB was told he had – and on the other he confirmed the club’s interest in striker Stewart. Christie said
We hope to be in a position to announce the signing of Chris Mitchell (Falkirk utility player) soon enough. Chris is someone I have admired for a number of seasons. The quality of his delivery is second to none and his ability to play in a number of positions will also be a valuable asset to the team. The rumour mill has also been working overtime in regards Mitchell’s team-mate Mark Stewart. I won’t lie – he is also a target for Bradford City. Mark has made his intentions clear that he would like to join Bradford, so watch this space on that one as well.
Christie also confirmed three younger players had joined the development squad and provided a route for supporters to contact him leaving BfB – once again – to praise Christie’s style and openness. More power to his elbow.
There is no footage of Andre Villas-Boas playing football.
The new Chelsea boss did not light up the International stage for Portugal, nor did he play for his favoured club FC Porto. He did not achieve minor success in the shadows of the bigger clubs. Andre Villas-Boas, 33 and the youngest Premier League manager since Paul Jewell, did not play football at all.
That is probably not correct. As one reads the story of the rise of Villas-Boas one doubts that he has never booted a ball in earnest but unlike Arsene Wenger, Sven Goran Eriksson and perhaps Jewell who had minor careers Villas-Boas has no clubs on his CV. He is – for all intents – a football manager who has never played football.
He has some good company too. Carlos Alberto Parreria won the World Cup with Brazil in ’94 but never played the game while Arrigo Sacchi, in the other dug out when Parreria’s side claimed the lump of gold, also never played having come into football via a career selling shoes but on the whole even – if like Monsieur Wenger – the most one amounted to was a few lower league games the vast majority of football managers have played football.
But need they have? Is having played football a requirement for a manager not only at the top level, but at any level?
Villas-Boas has a few Portuguese leagues and a Europa Cup to suggest his name to Stamford Bridge and while his appointment will raise eyebrows he is proven. One wonder what the reaction should a League Two club plump to give their big chair to a man who has never got his boots muddy.
There is precedent. Cambridge United once appointed – in a caretaker role – their marketing manager as gaffer but it seems that either my memory or a gentle airbrushing of history has forgotten his name since the early 1990s. Current Tranmere Rovers manager Les Parry made the increasingly popular move from Magic Sponge man to Manager having never played the game.
The track record is hardly inspiring though and in the annual Bradford City March Manager recruitment no name of non-footballers seem to emerge prompting the question would we accept a Bantams Boss who has never played not just for us, but for anyone?
The key, perhaps, is in the skills each person believes the football manager must have. None of them are exclusive to former players but most of them are best tested within the arena of playing the game. The ability to know a player who will do “the business” for you as a gaffer is helped – perhaps – by twenty years lining up next to ten other case studies while the domain knowledge which comes from 500 games of being the subject to different tactics must help when one starts to form them. While these things come best from a life in football as a player the story of Villas-Boas suggests that immersion in football can come in other forms than just pulling on the shirt.
Chief amongst the issues for the manager who has never played would seem to be commanding the respect of the players and it is oft said that when a manager has “done it all” the players will look up to him. Glenn Hoddle – who became frustrated when his players could not pass as he could – provides the counterpoint but like his colleague with dirty boots the never a footballer manager draws his respect from winning things. The one thing which unites Villas-Boas the never played, Arsene Wenger the might as well not have bothered playing, the decent enough like Sir Alex Ferguson, and Kenny Dalglish the highly decorated player is that they are employed on the basis of what they have won now, not what they did kicking a ball.
Dalglish though was given Liverpool aged 36, Ferguson got to Aberdeen in his early 40s, Wenger took longer still. It seems the better the playing career, the easier the foot in the door. The never playing manager puts his CV on a pile with former internationals, club legends and experienced gaffers. There is little to suggest his name.
Perhaps Villas-Boas, Sacchi, Parreria and in his own way Les Parry show that the manager who can get past that rigour might have something extra to offer. Perhaps if you can outshine names which inspire awe in football boardrooms then you have that extra something which makes a – if one pardons the phrase -a special one.
However Villas-Boas begs an obvious question. If having played football is not needed to be a football manager could any of us be potentially successful? Could the person shouting from the stand behind Peter Jackson be a better choice for Peter Jackson’s job than the manager himself? Could you pull a better football manager out of the crowd?
Two years ago Stuart McCall was debating whether Bradford City could offer James Hanson enough of a weekly wage to improve on his combined income from Guiseley and the Idle Co-op. Fifty years earlier Bradford City were saved from an identical dilemma when Bruce Stowell, who had initially signed as an amateur, turned professional. But Stowell was from another era.
When I was a lad, there were two certainties at Valley Parade – three, if you count the occasionally threatened prospect of Fourth Division football. One was that City would play in amber shirts with claret pinstripes, the sort you could see from the Kop, not the 2011 version. The other was that Bruce Stowell would always be in the team, usually wearing a number 4 shirt. Neither was quite as certain as a young fan might have liked, but Stowell saw me through my youth and left only when I was 21.
Bradford born and leaving school at 15, Stowell followed so many of his generation into the mills. He was still working there when he signed professional terms at the end of 1958 and he stayed in the mill until 1967. For the best part of a decade one of City’s most consistent performers played part-time and did a proper job the rest of the week. And, to borrow the old cliché, I bet he did come to games on the bus.
When Stowell won a regular first team place, he was a wing half. Only when Alf Ramsey’s wingless wonders won the World Cup did Stowell become a midfield player. He was maybe more of a defensive minded player than another number 4 who followed him, via the same brief and mistaken route as a Leeds United schoolboy. But Bruce had played for Bradford Boys and would become, to all intents and purposes, a one club man.
As soon as he became a full time professional, he was the obvious choice to captain the team. In his first two seasons as a full time player he hardly missed a game. At the end of the second season, 1968-9, City secured their first promotion for exactly forty years. The captain, still with the same hair cut that he had sported as a mill hand, led the way. However deep the Valley Parade mud became, Stowell covered every inch of the pitch game after game after game. He tackled, he passed and he cajoled the younger players in a team where the Bradford accent predominated. Ian Cooper, Bruce Bannister and Bobby Ham were all regulars in that promoted side and maybe we could forgive John Hall for being born just over the boundary in Bramley.
The record books will tell you that Stowell’s most significant game was played in October 1970. It was his 344th league game for City and it broke the club appearance record. There is a nice mathematical symmetry about that game. The new record holder was wearing his familiar shirt. The number three shirt that day was Ian Cooper’s and in the number two shirt it just had to be Ces Podd. Each in turn would hold that appearance record. Bruce went on to play 437 games in a variety of claret and amber strips, scoring 18 goals.
So much for the record books. But those of us who saw him play on 3rd January 1970 witnessed his finest hour. The match was in the third round of the F.A. Cup and the opponents were Tottenham Hotspur. Jimmy Greaves had whacked the ball against the post after four seconds. Pat Liney never even saw the rebound. The usual Valley Parade mud had iced over. The Southern Softies clearly didn’t fancy it. (OK, so not all of them were southerners. Out of interest, the starting eleven were: Jennings, Kinnear, Knowles, Mullery, England, Beal, Johnson, Greaves, Gilzean, Perryman, Morgan. Not a bad side, I suppose.) But the Bradford lads (with Denis Atkins at right back, five Bradford born players faced Spurs) were proper footballers, who played in all weathers for their team. One of those 18 career goals from Bruce Stowell secured a 2-2 draw against the super stars and cup specialists.
In 1972 he left Valley Parade and played just 16 games for Rotherham before emigrating to Australia. There he continued to play for another three seasons before embarking on a coaching career in Queensland and Malaysia.
Maybe Bruce Stowell really was just one of those players ‘from another era’. But maybe that
‘other era’ is not too distant after all. Bruce played in City teams that struggled to keep their League status. He knew how lucky he was to make a living out of the game. And he gave his all every week. Not quite a fully fledged hero, but Bruce Stowell and what he brought to the teams of my youth deserves to be fondly remembered and, by someone at least, to be imitated.
Warning: this article features bad language, please look away now if offended or too young to read such horrible words.
Tommy Doherty is not the first player to depart Bradford City with grievances – but with the advent of Twitter and the growing popularity of footballers to use social networking to share their views, the bitterness which the midfield playmaker feels towards our beloved club is there for all to see.
Much has already been made of his bizarre and at times abusive behaviour, but despite signing for Blue Square Premier side Newport County a week ago, the tweets of anger continue. After Lenny Pidgley read an interview with new Bantams Chief Scout Archie Christie, the former City keeper had tweeted: “just seen on bbc sport bradfords new scout thinks the club will be in the championship in 4 years, #bcfc what u think of that???” to which the Doc replied:
ill suck your dick if they are pal
Quite why any footballer in the public spotlight would think such phrasing and use of language is appropriate to air publically, given the responsibilities they carry, is one the FA and their new social networking policy might want to consider. But even ignoring the coarseness of the tweet, just what is the chip on his shoulder that is causing him to act in a petty manner towards his former employees? And what of the respect shown to us supporters who paid good money that went towards paying his wages?
In response to City fans on Twitter having a go at his views, they were treated to tweets back such as “well who is the mug there then, whilst you work I play golf or sleep or do whatever the f**k I like clownboy”. These kind of abusive comments – which it has to be said were triggered by some City fans, who should also know better, slating him by sending some nasty tweets – have been directed at fans for weeks now, and some of the words he’s used are disgusting for someone in his position to use. Take this one – which I’ve censored: “you pathetic pr**k uglymangotnolife now f**k off u mug.”
His attitude unmasks an extremely low opinion of football and City supporters. Of course he has the right to reply to criticism, but in the style he has chosen.
Clearly things didn’t work out for Doherty during his time at Valley Parade, and while we don’t know what went on behind the scenes the fact that Doherty returned to fitness from a long-term injury – playing a reserve game – but was then never selected by manager Peter Jackson suggests the relationship was not good. Were we to hear Doherty’s side of the story we might even have some sympathy for him. But instead we watch him publically slag off the football club and swear at our fellow supporters; the latter for no obvious reason other than getting a kick out of winding people up.
Back at Newport, Doherty has already contributed something that he never delivered at Valley Parade – an interview with the local media. Reference to his time at City are brief, but his unhappiness is still made clear:
I’ll be able to live with my family in Bristol after travelling up to four hours to Bradford last season. That will be a big plus. I wasn’t happy up there. It was a bad move for me and I didn’t play much because of injuries. Now I’m looking forward to concentrating on my football again and enjoying the game.
One can understand the unhappiness working so far from your family and, with almost all of Doherty’s career prior to joining City playing for Southern-based clubs, this was perhaps the first time he’d experienced such difficulties (not withstanding the four-month spell playing in Hungary prior to moving to Valley Parade). But that doesn’t mean the club and us supporters should be blamed or viewed at bitterly in the manner Doherty is acting.
I did have some sympathy for Doherty last season. I don’t believe he under-performed to the extent others have claimed, and I do feel that – as a player of such obvious talent – the management and team-mates were guilty of not utilising him as effectively as they could have done. At times he was asked to do too much, at others he was required to play far too deep. Nevertheless when on his game and the rest of the team on theirs he was a joy to watch stroking the ball around.
But having watched his behaviour on Twitter since departing the club, I feel compelled to apologise to people I’ve argued with, regarding him, over the past year and to readers of this site who have read my articles defending him. Whatever the rights and wrongs of how Jackson and the club treated him after his beloved Peter Taylor left, there is no excuse for publically slagging off the club and for showing such lack of respect to Bradford City supporters as he continues to demonstrate.
The guy doesn’t care – and if that was his attitude when he pulled on our colours it is no wonder last season went so badly. So I’m sorry for wasting my breath trying to stick up for him, and I’m glad that he has moved on to a place where he can be happier.
And whatever happens to Bradford City over the next four years, we stand a better chance of progressing forwards without paying someone as arrogant, petty-minded and spiteful as Doherty a large weekly wage to play in our midfield.
The draw for the 1st Round of the Carling Cup has seen Bradford City handed a mouth-watering derby against some team who play in a nearby city 10 miles away – which will probably see some 5,000+ Bantams fans crossing the Pudsey border to roar on their team.
The game, to be played w/c 8 August and very possibly one selected for live Sky coverage, is one City manager Peter Jackson will especially relish given his time playing for the club in West Yorkshire derbies during the 1980s. The manager of the other lot, Simon Grayson, will probably also enjoy facing a team he played on loan for a decade ago. Living in the next village from me, near Skipton, Grayson will no doubt get a strong flavour of what the game means to some people in the build up to the tie.
Much has been said of the rivalry between the two sets of supporters – indeed, if I may, I will refer you to my article and reader comments last November, which talked about how both sides view the other. It is a rivalry sadly devoid of humour on both sides and the prospect of trouble is high, but it will still be a great experience to be part of a huge travelling support and to be cheering on our players as underdogs.
What else is there to say right now? I can’t wait.
At the back end of 93/94 season my dad won a raffle at work and he, I, and a couple of his mates got the Samaritan’s sponsors’ tickets for a home tie against Stockport. All this really meant was that we swapped our tickets in the kop for entry to a directors’ box, two minutes grinning like idiots on the pitch before kick-off, and some pretty naff seats at the back of the stand.
The game was awful, the pitch a sand pit and the result a defeat. But that’s not why I remember the game. Sitting on my chest of drawers at home is a framed picture of me receiving a signed ball from Gavin Oliver. In reality the task of meeting match sponsors must be a chore undertaken by those on the fringes of the squad, but the injured Gavin Oliver didn’t show any signs of tedium as he chatted, asked about my favourite players and whether I played football myself.
I was made up. I’d met Gavin Oliver. I remember Oliver having a bit of a reputation for scoring own goals and was not seen as the most cultured of centre backs, but he was there week-in-week-out as I was growing up and his was the name that my mum ironed on to the back of my claret and amber, Freemans sponsored, diamond patterned city shirt.
My Dad couldn’t understand why I had Oliver on the back of the shirt given that we had Dean Richards at the time and, quite frankly, Gav, while held in fond affection, was not necessarily revered for his footballing ability. But I was ten and at that age it was the little things that mattered. While I have been reliable informed that my first ever game was a cup tie against Everton in 1987, being three I can’t remember it. I know I had been to games and seen goals before, but the first one that sticks in my memory was scored by Gavin Oliver.
A trawl of football stats websites informs that this was one of only nine goals in just over three hundred appearances, so it sticking in my memory is perhaps all the more impressive. Again my Dad plays an important role, taking me out of school to visit the dentist, or so I thought. Unbeknownst to me and with the consent of my football-mad head teacher Mr Tony Cryer, I was going to my first ever away game – Tottenham Hotspurs in the Rumbellows’ Cup. We actually got there a couple of minutes late and had only really settled when Gav met a corner with a towering header and put us one up. He went on to have a good game at centre half and I came away knowing that if I wanted to be a footballer, he was who I had to emulate.
Getting into football at that time – after the almost glory days of the Dolan era and with the gift of hindsight, just before the glory days of Chris Kamara and then Paul Jewell – was not necessarily the most rewarding of endeavours for City fans. In the dark days of the John Docherty reign, the Spurs game was perhaps the only truly high point, a noble defeat. But Gavin Oliver was steadfast throughout, with City finishing in eighth, scoring more than they conceded.
Others, perhaps those a little older will have different memories of Gavin Oliver. It is clear he was seen as a bit of a comic figure at times. A copy of ‘Bernard of the Bantams’ from 1988, which I unearthed while trying to write this piece, suggests that the perfect Christmas gift for Gav would be a new pair of underpants given that he “soils his on every occasion an opponent runs at him”.
On perhaps the night of his finest moment (to my mind at least), the official Spurs match programme offers this pen picture of Gavin Oliver:
Gavin Oliver (Defender).
Born in Newcastle, Brian started his career as an apprentice with Newcastle United. He signed professional forms for the Magpies and made 32 league appearances for the club, before signing for Bradford City in March, 1989.
For me this unintentional error is telling. Like his unarguably more cultured centre-half partner Dean Richards, Oliver didn’t shout about himself and not being as gifted, often went unnoticed. However, he always tried to let let his football do the talking and while it wasn’t perhaps as fluent or eloquent as others, you always got the gist of what he was trying to say. For eight years he played pretty much week-in-week-out and never once did he shirk a challenge or pull his head away from danger. When he wore the armband, you could see him stand taller than his five foot eleven frame. Of course all young lads should aspire to be a Richards, McCall, or Hendrie, but being a Gavin Oliver isn’t half bad.
I think this is a nice way to finish, taken from an online Millwall fanzine:
All afternoon Tony Cascarino had trouble escaping the attentions of Gavin Oliver and Teddy Sheringham had one of those afternoons when nothing went right.
Cascarino went on to play at the 1990 World Cup and Sheringham didn’t turn out half bad either.
Mitchell – who can play right back or midfield – has seven Scottish u21 caps and has played 39 times for the Falkirk. He is aged 22. His signing is up down to the appointment of Archie Christie and Dag & Red were interested in the player.
Striker Mark Stewart is also said to be thinking over a move to City although a fee would be due should Stewart join Mitchell at VP.
Mitchell’s signing creates a City squad of:
- Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin
- Defenders: Simon Ramsden, Lewis Hunt, Adam Robinson, Guy Branston, Luke Oliver, Steve Williams, Luke O’Brien, Robbie Threlfall,
- Midfielders: Chris Mitchell, Michael Flynn, Luke Dean, Lee Bullock, Dave Syers, Alex Flett, Dominic Rowe, Leon Osborne
- Forwards: James Hanson, Ross Hannah, Darren Stephenson
If you have heard of Christie, well done, because the majority of City fans will read his credits as being Dagenham & Redbridge scout, of finding the odd player for them, of earning a bit of cash and will be only slightly impressed. Christie comes without the promise that he will be unearthing gems.
However his appointment does point to an increasing sense at Valley Parade that four years into the job of chairman for Mark Lawn and more for Julian Rhodes that the pair have started to work on augmenting the club off the field.
A new pitch – Peter Taylor took credit for that – came in last season and during this close season David Balwin was able to announce that the club had secured new facilities for training. Small steps for sure but more and more City are taking in the trappings of clubs that do well. Christie’s appointment is another step forward.
He may – or may not – do a wonderful job as head of the team of scouts he is assembling but perhaps more important is the fact that the club have addressed the need to make recruitment less about the contacts of the current manager and more about a long term process of finding players.
Stuart McCall brought in the likes of Nicky Law Jnr, Ben Starosta and Kyle Nix from Sheffield United, Peter Taylor brought in players from Wycombe Wanderers, Peter Jackson dragged in Jon Worthington. When Christie’s team is up and running then there will be a further source of talent.
This ties the future of the club less to the whim of managerial hiring and firing and more to the work of a team which – one hopes – will be permanently in place no matter who is picking the team. Christie’s go towards promising stability.
Which perhaps is why Steve Parkin’s approach is not being welcomed with open arms – an approach denied by Peter Hood of the Bradford Bulls. The after four years of frantic chasing success on the field Mark Lawn et al seem to have started doing things right.
There was a plan to build a bridge from Midland Road over Canal Road, and across the Valley to link Valley Parade with the other side of the City.
The plan – which was talked of much but I confess I have no idea how seriously it was took being but eight at the time – was supposedly the brain child of then chairman Bob Martin and would fund the clubs rise from the foot of football. By bridging the valley Valley Parade would be fuller, so more people would mean more money and more money would lead to an improvement of the club.
Not long later and Bradford City had called in the official receiver – administration in old money – to be bought back and re-established by Stafford Heginbotham and Jack Tordoff. On the plan to build the viaduct across the Valley which Martin had said would bring in the missing people to Bradford City Heginbotham said only that the club had to be based in the real world and not in cloudcookooland.
Steve Parkin’s bid for Bradford City may – or may not – include a significant bridging project across the Valley that divides Bradford but probably does not. Despite talking to the Yorkshire Post about his bid for the club and for our egg chasing neighbours at Odsal the Bradford Bulls Parkin has done little to outline his plan for progressing both clubs.
His stated aim is to share facilities – a good idea for sure if one considers the costs of running two ticket offices and extrapolates – but such vision hardly requires a change of ownership to achieve. Parkin talks about being the man who can stop the Rugby club and Football club distrusting each other. Perhaps Martin’s bridge idea was realistic in comparison.
Moreover though Parkin has a plan for both clubs to share a single ground – the most cost effective one – which would be Valley Parade. A summer of trying to get out of the deal with Gordon Gibb to rent Valley Parade had proved that it is not cost effective to escape that deal contract leading one to conclude that Parkin has a plan to divest the Bulls of Odsal and move them to Manningham.
Parkin’s plans expand to creating a new stadium for both clubs to share but there is no indication as to when such a project would be undertaken. The ramifications of recession should make construction costs cheaper so a plan that includes waiting for an upturn to provide the funds for a new ground would seem flawed. Parkin is not oblivious to this suggesting that he could pick up another club for nothing which had an asset of a ground. He is not incorrect, after all Gordon Gibb did the same to City.
Parkin’s offer to Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes compensates them £750,000 each for the club and pays back Mark Lawn’s loan over 18 months with and extra £750,000 based on performances and such a deal would leave the current owners out of pocket. Lawn and the Rhodes’ family recently bought the business block next to Valley Parade and while different people will give different figures for how much the chairman have invested and how much the club is worth there is no onus on them to sell for a price they do find acceptable.
One might argue that the pair promised to leave the club if someone came along with an offer which did not leave them out of pocket but that has not occurred in this case with Parkin’s offer failing short of that mark. Lawn and Rhodes have another promise to balance – that they would only sell the club to someone who could improve Bradford City – and thus far there is nothing in Parkin’s bid that guarantees he would do that.
Were Parkin looking to invest Jack Walker money into the club then there would be a pressure for the current chairmen to exit but he does not. He talks of the same kind of effects which the current board are tying to achieve and there is very little reason to believe that he would enjoy the success that eludes Lawn and Rhodes.
Parkin wants the club and he wants it for a price that is not as attractive to the current owners but if he has a masterplan which makes him a better option – which suggests that Lawn and Rhodes are standing in the way of the club’s progress – then he has yet to reveal it. Recalling Bob Martin’s bridge plans one might worry that without sight of those plans, they could be anything.
Perhaps Parkin’s plan is summed up with his phrase “I want to invest as much money in the team as possible as that is the most important part of any football club.”
Mark Lawn says the exact same thing.
One can only hope that Parkin has to offer something other than simply being someone else to impress the supporters of Bradford City as he – ostensibly, and through the press – attempts to use them as a crowbar for leverage in his attempts to get the current owners to accept his offer.
There are two huge considerations for joint Chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes when deciding on Steve Parkin’s offer to buy Bradford City – one of which people expect them to act in a certain way upon simply because they are City fans, the other of which demands greater attention in their capacity as supporters.
With Parkin having laid out his terms in a plain but somewhat biased way via the Yorkshire Post, Rhodes and Lawn have been backed into a corner with some directing their anger at the pair for rejecting an initial bid. The first of those considerations – whether to accept the offer on the table – is one easy for others to make, but few people in their shoes would be willing to write off so much money no matter how much claret and amber blood runs through their veins.
The offer to Lawn of repaying him his latest £1 million loan – overlooking the fact he has invested some £3 million in total since joining the Board in 2007 – plus pay the pair around £375,000 each would appear derisory. Quite how much Rhodes and his family have ploughed in over the years must be considerably more, and Julian disclosed to the club that the Board has collectively invested £5.5 million into the club.
Parkin has offered the Board the potential to receive further returns dependent on the club’s performance, the precise details of which have not been disclosed. But even taking this into consideration, Lawn, Rhodes and other Board members are being asked to sell the club for a fraction of the amount of money they have pumped into it. That doesn’t seem fair in anyone’s book, and one can understand Rhodes’ response in the Telegraph & Argus that they believe the club has been undervalued.
The popularity of Lawn and Rhodes waned badly in the wake of the Valley Parade rental negotiations, but whatever your view on the way they have operated the club it seems unfair to criticise them for rejecting an offer given how much money they would surely lose. Yes they are City fans, but they have family and their long-term future to consider. They have both put money into City when others have not – and in Rhodes’ case, saving the club from going out of existence. They have both already showed they are true City fans for these past actions, and so it seems unfair to criticise them for not simply stepping aside minus the wealth they have kindly shared with us.
If we were in their shoes, would we really be prepared to act any differently?
Beyond that though, the pair have a huge responsibility towards the second important consideration – the suitability of Parkin owning our football club. The club have stressed that they are yet to receive full details of Parkin’s plan, and if and when they do get to view it they can evaluate whether it really is in the club’s best interests to potentially join forces with Bradford Bulls.
On the face of it there are plenty of potential pitfalls. A few years, Huddersfield Town supporters complained loudly about the club being owned by the same people as Huddersfield Giants, with accusations the Rugby League outfit got favourable treatment and greater investment. Similar frustrations have been heard from Wycombe and their sharing with London Wasps.
The principle that both City and the Bulls would get equal treatment might sound fair, but is it viable in practice? Let’s say City are doing well but the Bulls are struggling, would money be directed towards the Rugby club to ensure they can improve – potentially slowing City’s progress? And what would the overall objective of the Bradford Sporting Club be? Right now, the two outfits are more competitors than colleagues.
A hole in Parkin’s proposals today came from Bulls chairman Peter Hood, who declared that they have had no contact from Parkin, despite the millionaire stating to the Yorkshire Post they are in favour of the Sporting Club proposal. Indeed the whole Yorkshire Post article was so focused on City and not the Bulls that one has to wonder just how serious Parkin’s Sporting Club intentions are. But also what happens if City accept Parkin’s offer but the Bulls reject, would the deal to buy City be put in jeopardy?
Then there’s the stadium situation. Parkin has talked of building a new stadium for both clubs – though whether this is at a new venue or rebuilding Valley Parade or Odsal is unclear. Parkin or Rhodes and Lawn in charge, the Gordon Gibb lease situation would be the same and City are tied to their home by a contract which to break could involve administration.
Do we want to move anyway? Parkin talks of the Bantams easily being able to become a Championship club again, and if that was to happen we would already have a perfectly suitable stadium to play in. What on earth is the point in building a completely new football stadium, aside from the lease problem? Surely it would cost a lot more money to buy land and build a new ground, than to purchase Valley Parade from Gibb?
Those are the main talking points so far, but the motives for Parkin purchasing City are also very unclear. With no previous connections to the club, Parkin will be looking to make money from his investment and that is understandable. But that isn’t necessarily the same motives and interests of us supporters. Would we see steep season ticket price rises, for example? No one looking to make money from football would see the current strategy as the best way forward to achieve this objective.
It is the responsibility of Lawn and Rhodes to fully evaluate the proposals Parkin puts forward, not simply for the terms of the sale – but the suitability of him as the owner of Bradford City. A comparison can be drawn with Liverpool and the farce over George Gillet and Tom Hicks owning the club, with how previous owner David Moores – a true Liverpool fan – sold up without undertaking the necessary due diligence over the suitability of the Americans. He was heavily criticised in hindsight, later responding via a letter to the Times about his actions.
If Parkin took over the club and it didn’t go well, for whatever reason, Rhodes and Lawn would share the responsibility too. They are the custodians of this 108-year-old club, and it’s their duty to pass it onto the right people in time. It would be foolish to sell it onto the first person flashing a wad of cash, just because they make big promises about spending money on new players. If Parkin is the best man to take the club forward, the pair have a duty to act accordingly – but first of all they need to take proper time to establish whether this is the case.
Two huge considerations – tough decisions that few of us would ultimately want to swap places with them for, no matter how easy it is for us to demand what Lawn and Rhodes should do next.
The Yorkshire Post has this morning revealed that millionaire Steve Parkin – Chief Executive of the company Clipper Group – is looking to buy both Bradford City and the Bradford Bulls to form a joint sporting club.
An initial offer has been rejected by the Bantams, but Julian Rhodes has disclosed that talks are ongoing. Parkin’s plan would eventually include building a new stadium for both clubs, though in the shorter-term both would share one venue – either Valley Parade or Odsal.
Parkin also told the Yorkshire Post:
Under the plans, the day-to-day running of both Bradford City and Bradford Bulls would be done by two hand-picked management teams. They would be run independently but both be divisions of Bradford Sporting Club.
“People have tried to do this in the past but because of the individuals concerned it has never got off the ground. It is almost as if neither side trusts the other sufficiently to believe their own club won’t lose out.
“I believe it would take someone like myself to make it happen.”
On buying City specifically Parkin added:
I was approached on behalf of Bradford City quite a while ago to see if I would be interested in investing. I was, basically, offered a third of the club. That is not how I work, I instead prefer to be in overall control.
“Despite that, I did have a couple of conversations and then looked at the books. I thought things were going swimmingly and a week last Friday I believed the deal would go ahead. But then Julian and Mark came back to say ‘no’.
“My offer to buy Bradford City involved me raising around £3m. As part of that, Mark would be paid back a £1m loan he has in the club over 18 months. I was also willing to pay £750,000 for the shares owned by Mark and Julian with a possible further £750,000 based on performance.
On the talks with Rhodes and Mark Lawn, Parkin disclosed:
I wanted to set up a capital structure, whereby existing shareholders would retain 25 per cent of the shares in the football division of Bradford Sporting Club but have no voting rights. Any dividends would then be paid if the club was making a profit. That way, they would be paid on a performance-related basis. The same would apply to the Bulls with existing shareholders having 25 per cent of the shares in the rugby league side.
“Unfortunately, Julian and Mark didn’t want that. They wanted it to be guaranteed. I can’t accept that. There is no point me raising £3m and handing over £2.5m for Bradford City, which is basically not worth a lot in the open market.
“I have looked at a few football clubs and there are a lot who can be picked up for nothing. And they have assets, such as owning their own ground. That is not the case with Valley Parade.
In response, Rhodes told the Yorkshire Post:
Discussions are ongoing and we appreciate Steve’s interest. His accountants were impressed with what they saw.“We will always do what is in the best interests of Bradford City and, in that respect, we are still waiting to see Steve’s business plan.”
All of which is fascinating stuff and the next steps will be very interesting. BfB has recently heard of interest from another investor too, so although Parkin’s proposals are worthy of consideration it may not be the best deal on the table.
Parkin, who tried to buy Leeds United in 2004, is currently on the Board of Guiseley AFC and earlier this year was in discussions with Wakefield Wildcats about purchasing the Rugby League club. Instant comparisons can be drawn with Geoffrey Richmond and Gordon Gibb in Parkin being a well-made businessman keen to make further money from investing in sporting clubs.
Whether City’s Board will welcome this public announcement is unlikely. It will surely increase the pressure on them to sell the club – and the terms that Parkin has revealed, which they have rejected, will led to fierce criticism from some. But while the lure of more transfer funds and even moving to a new stadium with lower costs is appealing to some, it’s important this offer is fully consdered and the longer-term interests of this football club stay in mind.
Is Parkin the best person to own our football club? Time will tell, but without the full facts ourselves we have to rely on Rhodes and Lawn to make the best judgement for all our best interests.
On the surface at least, the arrival of Guy Branston to Valley Parade would go against Peter Jackson’s end-of-season aim to bring in players who truly care about Bradford City.
32-year-old Branston has played for 17 different clubs , and it’s difficult to avoid the term ‘journeyman’ when describing the distinctive-looking defender’s 400+ game career. It is exactly this profile of player – seemingly happy to play for any club and with no particular affection for the Bantams – that Jackson has talked of getting rid of. All of this is not a criticism of the manager or of this particular signing, but more a reflection of the realities that exist beyond nicely put sentiments.
As joint-Chairman Mark Lawn told the Telegraph & Argus in a somewhat duplicitous manner, City are not considered among the favourites for promotion next season – further pushing them down the pecking order when attempting to attract players. With finances also tighter than the previous season, the prospects of becoming wealthier would also appear lower at City compared to other clubs. Still a big club for sure, among the highest crowds in the division yes; but City are not necessarily so special when viewed externally through transfer targets’ eyes.
So as laudable as the principle of only bringing in players who are desperate to play for this club is, it’s not a strategy that will see the better available players appear on the Valley Parade pitch holding up a claret and amber scarf this summer. A big part of Jackson’s role is to sell the club to the players he wants, and to find common ground in the player and club’s ambition that can be realised by getting together. The signing of Ross Hannah is a good example of this. He had more attractive offers elsewhere, but the greater chance of first team football probably influenced his decision.
One wonders if the two-year contract Branston has received helped to sway him too. With his career almost over, the greater security a deal until 2013 offers is one few other clubs who might have been interested in his signature would have been prepared to offer. Despite talking up his Yorkshire background and desire to play for Jackson, uprooting from Torquay is a big deal and would undoubtedly been less appealing if there was a chance he’d be out of work a year from now.
Both the signings of Hannah and Branston represent an element of risk for different reasons. Hannah is unproven at this level, and the fact he will probably be looked upon as a key player next season could hinder the club’s efforts if he fails to make an impact. Just like a year ago with Peter Taylor, in Branston Jackson has signed a player on a longer contract than his own. As much as he complained about the squad he is stuck with from Taylor, it’s not hard to envisage a successor a year from now grumbling about Jackson’s players in a similar manner.
The reality of the situation – especially bearing in mind the tighter resources – is that Jackson will be like every other City manager in that some of his summer signings will be good and some will prove disappointing. The ratio of good to bad is likely to define how well the season goes, just as the summer recruitment efforts of Taylor last year proved.
So we welcome Branston to the club knowing that he is not some world-beater who will dramatically improve the club, but a lower league player with different strengths and weaknesses that we’ll get to know over the coming months. At some clubs, such as Torquay last season, he has done very well. At others, such as at his previous club Burton, he was less popular among supporters. His previous spell at Sheffield Wednesday will have provided him experience of dealing with the expectations of a big crowd, something which Lawn has identified as a key quality needed in players next season.
Such ordinariness though is a fact of City’s circumstances, and is not something to feel negative about. In recent years so many new signings have come with great expectations and failed to deliver that the idea of believing Branston is anything but a human being with some flaws seems foolish (yet in the past we’ve all been guilty of overlooking this fact in new arrivals). On paper he looks an ideal signing for a club looking to improve on its lowest league position for 40 years, and his imperfections have to be accepted and worked around because recruiting such a type of player is our place in English football.
An ordinary Guy, for an ordinary football club.
Jamie Lawrence is approximately 60 metres away from me when he picks up possession inside his own half 67 minutes into an FA Cup tie with Grimsby. 10 seconds later, and I and dozens of people around me are hugging the Jamaican international following a sensational weaving run past numerous blue shirts than ended with the ball passed crisply into the back of the net.
It is a glorious solo goal and – in the days before football was breached by health & safety guidelines and players weren’t sent off for celebrating with fans – Jamie has chosen to run to the part of the Kop where I stand to celebrate with us supporters his special moment.
Lawrence only ever scored 14 times in his 170 appearances for the club, so this strike – which ultimately proves the winner in one of the last genuinely exciting FA Cup matches before the magic of the cup began to wane at all levels – can be viewed as a peak moment in his Bantams career. Certainly Jamie is fondly remembered for the occasional brilliant goal, such as against Norwich that same season, and West Ham and Tottenham in the Premiership a year later, but it wouldn’t be his first quality to come to our minds when we recall the Londoner’s time at Valley Parade.
Jamie was a battler, with a commendable work ethic that stood out even in a team featuring the likes of Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs. He would give everything he had to the cause, running up and down the right flank defending as equally effectively as he attacked. Most of us fans lapped it up – a rare real life example of the myth that we’ll always get behind a player who might not be the best, so long as they put 110% effort.
Not everyone agreed though, and in some ways there was almost a snobbish attitude displayed by Lawrence’s dissenters. Jamie was a poor player with limited ability, they argued, but he gets away with not being given a hard time because he hides behind his work rate. In the days when Peter Beagrie struggled to win over the crowd and was at one stage packed off on loan to Everton, some argued Lawrence should be criticised as widely too.
Yet Lawrence’s work rate and application levels stood out to me as inspiration rather than a disguise. Sure he wasn’t the greatest player in the world, but without working so hard on his game and displaying such passion, those skilful qualities he did possess would never have been seen either. Lawrence grafted to win our trust and respect, and once we supporters, team mates and management built up our faith in him we were rewarded by ever-improving levels of performances. While other members of the 1997-98 mid-table first division squad were left behind by the bar been risen the following season, Lawrence kept pace and became a key figure in the club’s promotion to the Premier League and successful survival in the top flight the year after.
The lessons we can take remain as relevant today as they were then. Without working hard, mastering the basics and showing the right attitude – none of us would progress so well in our own careers and even in life. I’ve personally learned from Jamie that demonstrating an aptitude for hard work can get you a long way in winning over people; and the greater responsibility and promotions you crave – offering you the chance to really show your worth – are the rewards. In contrast I’ve seen other friends go into a job believing they are above it and then failing to put in the effort or focus on improving, leading them to fall at the first hurdle.
Not all footballers can be as good at taking on players as Lawrence (I remember him selling Steven Gerrard a dummy once), nor are they capable of curling the ball into the top corner from 30 yards like he did at West Ham in 2000. But there’s no reason why any player can’t look to emulate him in the effort levels they put in on the pitch and at the training ground.
Sadly, players that came close to matching Lawrence’s work rate have been few and far between in recent years.
So I loved the fact I got to hug Lawrence at the front of the Kop that day. Because his stella goal was the result of him trying and succeeding to overcome personal failings and win over doubters; of recognising the need to improve and taking responsibility to do so; of building up confidence in yourself and in other people’s minds.
And of how anyone – if they work hard enough – can surprise themselves and those around them in what they are truly capable of.
Stuart McCall, Bobby Campbell, Ces Podd, Peter Beagrie, John Hendrie, Benito Carbone…
Bradford City’s all-time greatest and best players are widely known and rightly celebrated for the contributions they provided to our history. We can read about them in books, learn about them at the excellent Bantams Past and relive their stories through talking to our friends.
But beyond the obvious and the renowned, there are numerous Bantams heroes over the years who might not quite deserve the title of ‘Legend’ and who are not recalled as often; but who, nevertheless, gave us some great moments when they wore claret and amber. And whose mention of their name can stir happy memories.
BfB will pay tribute to these less illustrious greats who served Bradford City well for a time. We will remember players who may not grace many supporters’ all-time City XI, but who still retain our affection.
The writers of BfB will be queuing up to share their secondary heroes, and if you’d like to get
involved in writing about your less obvious favourite City player we’d love to include it within our series too. We’re not necessarily looking for you to retell the history of the player – most of us will know their story – but more your personal thoughts on what they meant to you, the impact they had on the club (short or long-term) and your favourite moments they delivered. Drop us a line.
On the day he signed for Newport County Tommy Doherty might have had pause for thought as to how he managed to go from the top of a football league to being a non-league player in the space of twelve months and wonder how well the risk he took stepping down to Bradford City worked out.
City picked up Doherty from Ferencváros almost entirely because of the midfielder’s close relationship with former manager Peter Taylor and excitement for his signing was massive. Doherty played at a higher level and – when he had been seen in League Two for Wycombe Wanderers previously – looked at a higher level.
Twelve months on and Doherty’s season at City peter out into a free transfer before the final game of the season and a series of spats with supporters in which the midfielder proved a more inventive wit than he did a player during the season.
Which is not to say that Doherty is, was, or will be a poor player just that he had a poor season, incapable of making the impact he would have wanted in the team, and held responsible for the lack of impact of the team.
And while City fans might debate that Doherty was a bad player or one which was too good for the division managers of League One (and League Two) clubs seem to have given their opinion and their opinion is that Newport County can claim the player.
Such is the risk of dropping down divisions for players, and the problem that Doherty has. If a player has a poor season for a League Two club – no matter how above them he might feel – then he is most often considered “not good enough” for League Two.
In football we cherish an idea – a false one in my estimation – that there are obvious gradation levels between the Leagues. That a League One player is better than a League Two player but worse than a Championship one. Players like Grant Holt who was playing in League Two for Shrewsbury Town three years ago and will be in the Premier League for Norwich next season make a lie of that.
It is my belief that most of the League One players – if they play well – could trouble the Premier League but if they play badly will end up in League Two or – in the case of Doherty – out of it. Has Doherty become a significantly worse player in the 18 months since he signed for the legendary Hungarian side? I would doubt it but which manager looks for the 32 year olds who has had a poor season in League Two as a potential new signing?
Footballers tend to be as good or as bad as their last season and that is often unfair but that is the risk that a player takes when moving down the divisions. That rather than stand above their team mates they will sink in to the sand.
Jake Speight is expected to sign for Dean Saunders’ Wrexham today completing a single season at Valley Parade and allowing Peter Jackson to continue building a new squad.
Speight signed for Peter Taylor’s Bantam for the princely sum of £25,000 but soon after was convicted of an assault charge he had not informed the club about.
This infraction set Speight’s career at the club off negatively and from that, for some supporters, he never recovered. The lack of goals – and chances – through the side also weighed on the player although one might point to his willingness to work hard and cover ground on the field as a mitigation of those problems.
Whatever the failings of Bradford City last season they were not owing to a lack of effort from Jake Speight.
Speight drops down a division to join former City striker Saunders’ side for an undisclosed fee. Ross Hannah takes Speight’s place in the hopes of City fans that the next strikers will be the right striker.
Wes Thomas’ 18 goals for League Two Cheltenham Town last season understandably made him a man in demand. But rather than moving up the football pyramid, the 24-year-old has joined the league’s newest and most inexperienced club.
Crawley Town, promoted from the Blue Square Premier last season, have beaten off interest from other clubs – not to mention Cheltenham’s own hopes of retaining a striker they had rescued from non-league after a less than impressive time at Dagenham – to land Thomas. And while this may be largely considered unremarkable, the comments from Cheltenham chairman Paul Baker should be of concern to the other 22 clubs in next season’s League Two:
I’ve heard the package he’s on and he wouldn’t get that at a lot of clubs in League One, it’s staggering. It shows the money someone is putting in at Crawley to sustain the wage bill. They’re not doing it on gates.”
The rise of Crawley was well publicised last season during their extraordinary FA Cup run which was only ended in the fifth round, following a commendable performance in losing 1-0 at Manchester United. They earned promotion with a stunning 105 points – only losing three games all season, the last of which was on the 16th October 2010 – and in the FA Cup defeated League One Swindon, Championship Derby and League Two Torquay on route to Old Trafford.
More notable, however, is their financial strength that led to such remarkable results. Some £600k was apparently spent on transfer fees alone last season – astonishing for the Conference, and last season was a higher spend than all of the League Two clubs combined – while the aftermath of Derby’s 2-1 FA Cup defeat saw Rams manager Nigel Clough reveal some of his players were on lower wages than some of the Crawley players. True, Derby’s efforts to trim their sizeable wage bill will have caused them to pay very low wages for new signings, but it is still a startling fact that a club then-three divisions lower had greater financial capability.
For next season’s League Two campaign, the consequences of Crawley’s continuing high spending are becoming clear. Crawley are not just widely considered favourites for promotion, but in one bookie’s eyes ODDS ON favourites to climb straight into League One. Over the last few years, recently promoted teams into the Football League – with nothing like the resources Crawley enjoy – have had little trouble ascending into England’s third tier. It would seem the type of forwards momentum exhibited by the likes of Exeter and Stevenage will be replicated at the Broadfield Stadium next season.
The big question is how fair that is on the rest of League Two – just as whether Crawley’s spending was fair on Conference clubs last season. As Cheltenham’s Baker said, it’s not being achieved on their gates (average 2,535 last season, while the Robins’ – who couldn’t match the wages Town offered for Thomas – averaged 2,980).
The actual source of Crawley’s financial support has not been disclosed to date, with the financial backers brought to the club by late chairman Bruce Winfield wishing to remain anonymous. Before these backers arrived Crawley, who had suffered significant financial problems for many seasons, were said to be losing £400,000 a year. To go from this to suddenly spending £600k on players such as City’s Scott Neilson – not to mention the wages being paid for persuading talented players like Sergio Torres to step down to non-league – should be considered troubling.
Crawley’s owners may have perfectly good reasons for remaining anonymous, and there is no evidence to suggest the club or their backers are acting illegally, but the mystery surrounding the ownership issue is not good for the wider game.
And it makes for an interesting test for the Football League. The comparisons between Crawley’s financial might next season and Notts County in 2009/10 are obvious. County, bought by the enigmatic Munto Finance, spent unprecedented sums of money at this level to build a squad that eventually won the division at a canter. In County’s case, however, it was all part of an epic swindle that almost ended with the club collapsing.
The validity of the promotion they achieved is still hugely questionable, and for the rest of League Two the distorting affects it had on that season are still felt today. Fourth-placed Morecambe, for example, might feel a sense of injustice that they missed out on promotion to a club who were bending the rules. The 5-0 defeat City suffered on the opening day immediately put Stuart McCall under pressure and set the mood for a difficult season.
Yet the Football League failed to get to grips with County at all. The fit and proper rules in place were easily bypassed by County’s owners, and their inaction almost saw the world’s oldest professional football club go out of business. Like with Crawley, the FA claimed they had seen the necessary documents from Notts County that apparently proved the fit and propeness of Munto. Equally poor has been the Football League’s failure to establish the true owners of Leeds United, and the situation was only cleared up when the Elland Road club looked to be on the brink of the Premier League but were warned they might not be allowed in it if the ownership matter remained unresolved.
As a supporter of a club entering League Two next season I want to know that there is a level playing field. After Notts County, the Football Authorities have lost the trust that they can be left to ensure that publicly hidden ownership is for the good of the game. Fair play must not only be the case, it must be seen to be the case.
There is nothing to suggest the owners of Crawley Town are as crooked as Munto Finance or acting as dubiously as Leeds chairman Ken Bates, but in the interests of fair and honest competition they surely cannot be allowed to remain annoymous while the rest of the Football League must follow the rules. If Crawley’s owners are whiter than white – and let’s hope they are – they should have nothing to fear in revealing themselves to the authorities and their own supporters.
But beyond that, this ongoing situation of football clubs living beyond their means is not one to be encouraged. Crawley, like many other clubs in England, most notably Chelsea, apparently do not operate in a self-sustainable way; meaning they are at the whims of the investors and will be left in an almighty mess should they withdraw their backing. If it is wrong to compare Crawley to Notts County, the lessons of Gretna’s rise up the Scottish leagues and subsequent demise should be noted by all.
Crawley’s summer spending isn’t going to end with Thomas, and come August it looks likely they will have built a squad good enough to romp League Two. It doesn’t seem fair and, as long as the sources of their financial capabilities remains anonymous, there will be those crying foul over their approach and many others hoping it all comes tumbling down for probably the least welcome Football League newcomers of all time.
“I’ve got nothing to prove to Liverpool” said young midfielder Jim Magilton when he went back to Anfield as an Southampton player for a Division One game at the start of the Nineties.
Magilton had spent his youth career at the Reds but never made a first team appearance. He went to Oxford United and made 150 appearances, then on to Southampton where his full circle moment happened. After that he ended up at Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich where he was coverted by Paul Jewell’s City but ended his career at Portman Road. A good career no doubt but at no time did he ever eclipse the midfielders who replaced him at Anfield.
He had nothing to prove to those at Liverpool and in a way he proved nothing to them. He did not play at a higher level, he did not end up with a Champions medal, and whoever decided he was not the “good enough” was proved right.
There was a way to mark the progress of Bradford City which worked in the same way. Players come and go from clubs and City were forced to let a number of players go because of financial reasons and watched those players carry on good careers. Robbie Blake, for example, won promotions post-City and played in the Premier League.
Other players though were “got rid of” – to use the vulgarism – by the choice of the club because the club thought that it could do better. Players like Paul Bolland and Scott Kerr were young lads at the Bantams who were released and went on to good careers in the lower leagues but never rose higher than the club. The decision to allow those players – like Magilton – was never questioned.
One could add a whole host of players who the Bantams have disposed of (indeed that most clubs dispose of) who never troubled professional football again. The decision to allow Wayne Benn, Tom Penford, Danny Forrest, Joe Brown, Robert Morgan, Craig Bentham et al has never been questioned because those players have never turned up at a higher level than City.
I should qualify this with the idea that there is an impact in releasing a player on his career. Being released can be the making of a player’s career seeing him buck up his ideas but most often it kills a that career as real life problems and jobs take over.
In the last few years watching events at VP though there has been an increase in the players who were decided to not be able to cut the mustard who not only got their careers back on track but started to do well, better than the Bantams.
Michael Symes represents the best example of this. The Bantams were not impressed (nor was I especially) but turfing up at Accrington Stanley he ended up doing enough to earn a move to AFC Bournemouth where he plays his football a division above the Bantams. Perhaps one could put that down to the startling effect of being released, and perhaps one might conclude that he is only the player he is now because of our releasing him, but it is hard not to wonder why the Bantams were not able to unlock his potential.
Symes was a far more popular player than Gareth Edds who was jeered away from Valley Parade but Edds won promotion (after switching to a holding midfield role) with MK Dons and moved onto another League One club Tranmere Rovers as City idled in League Two. Not only are the players we cannot afford playing at a higher level but the ones we did not think were good enough are now too. Jake Wright’s red card at when Oxford United came to Valley Parade might have been an amusing moment in the season but the fact his current team ended the season a half dozen places over his previous one gave him the last laugh.
Gareth Evans – a part of the so called “worst team ever” – exited Valley Parade in the summer with the club deciding that they could do better. Evans rocked up at Rotherham United who finished higher than the Bantams and are preparing for another promotion push. Evans’ play in the last month of the season suggested that – perhaps – he knew he had something to go to next term but the spin from Valley Parade was most definitely that Evans was out because the club was going to improve.
I would underline that I believe that there are many players who left City and were never heard of again – one of them did the electrics for my boiler – who had the club given them the first team slot rather than someone like Luke Cornwall or Robert Wolleaston then they could have achieved something but when dealing with the likes of Symes, Edds, (perhaps) Evans and a number of others it seems that the club’s judgement on players in the longer term has become questionable. That players who we would like to have we are getting rid of.
The rapid turn around, the one year contract, the often changing manager, the levels of patience in the stands, the comparative quality of facilities here and elsewhere. All these things have contributed to the club which is letting players go who could do a job. We end up with this “worst team ever” but some of the off cuts of it are doing well for themselves.
James Hanson is being linked to Crewe, Omar Daley has gone from the club, Gareth Evans will come back wearing Rotherham United red. I’m not sure if the losing culture needs to be broken so much as a consistent plan to improve the squad is required.
The Bradford City joint-chairman Mark Lawn is rarely shy in expressing his opinion, but in the two weeks following the club’s announcement it was staying at Valley Parade next season the 50-year-old has become especially vocal in his views. Some of the opinions expressed disagreeable perhaps, but much of it has been worthy of note.
Lawn’s latest comment, that he believes there is a “losing culture” surrounding the club, certainly offers an interesting talking point. Talking to the Telegraph & Argus, Lawn revealed his determination to instil a winning mentality that has even included him talking to youth team coaches Peter Horne and David Wetherall to ensure it’s adopted at all levels.
All laudable in principle, but what exactly is a “losing culture” in the first place? And how do you ingrain a winning ethos into the fabric of the club? A losing culture would allude to issues over mentality and the habitual or characteristic mental attitude in responding to situations. Psychological issues, in other words. Culture, however, suggests it is more to do with the working environment rather than problems with individuals (and years of changing personnel, with no tangible difference, backs this up). So how can that be reversed?
Lawn also commented about his losing culture view: “I said that to one manager here and he hit the roof.” This reaction – either from Stuart McCall or Peter Taylor – would appear understandable given it is was their job to build the right atmosphere for players to give their best, so it would seem like a personal criticism over their ability and attempts to do so. Peter Jackson has previously made similar statements about a losing culture existing at Valley Parade, but this is easier for him to say when he was trying to secure the manager position and present himself as the solution.
Now he has to cross the line to being on the side of the players, and in time may find others declaring he is part of the problem.
And by then the viewpoint will probably be very different for Jackson. From inside the confines of the dressing room he leads, next season he will have a much greater appreciation over the level of pressure he and his players will be under to deliver results from those outside of it. Supporters who will cheer when things are going well, but who are very quick to hammer players when they are struggling rather than offer encouragement. The losing culture on the field is heavily contributed to by those in the stands.
Then there’s the boardroom. McCall will be able to tell Jackson only too well about the weight of demands City’s Board are capable of placing upon the team and manager. Roger Owen’s attacks on McCall in December 2009 were said to have led to the City legend angrily confronting Owen; while Lawn’s own relationship with McCall, a long-time friend, had become so strained they were no longer talking. Over the last few weeks Lawn has publicly criticised Taylor’s style of management too. McCall and Taylor were once looked upon so favourably, but when the chips were down both can argue they were not supported as adequately as they believe they should.
At Bradford City we supporters and Board members have become used to seeing the team fail to match our expectations and so possess a mentality of quickly turning on them when they do. People justify booing and screaming abuse on the basis that – if they didn’t – the players would think they can get away with under-performing and so, because of the boos, they will try harder in future. Those who try to go against this grain by offering encouragement can find they are criticised too. Last season, for example, I was shot down at one game for trying to be supportive of Luke O’Brien.
We fail to achieve our goals year on year, and the frustration builds. Come the next season optimism is allowed to flourish and the atmosphere improves for a time; but as soon as things start to go wrong criticism is quickly aired with the weight and baggage of the past decade of failure. Too many people are quiet and shy in praise when the team actually is succeeding, but are ready to jump down their throats when they start to fail.
That’s a lot of responsibility for the players to have to bear, and it could be argued that Taylor especially could have done things differently to ease that pressure. In the home dressing room last season, he put up special signs for every year the club had achieved “nothing” in a season, going back to 2000-1, as a way of motivating them. The thinking, presumably, was to get the players to contemplate how much success would be cheered if they could deliver it to the club, but you could argue this history became a burden. Certainly the players didn’t respond in the way Taylor would have intended.
So much of the expectation on the club is out of the control of the players and management, and so it has become a problem they alone cannot fix. Already Lawn has talked optimistically about City’s playing budget next season, and come August many of us will be joining him in building up the club’s chances of promotion. It’s good to be confident of course, but expecting too much seems to set us up for disappointment and leads to negativity and anger towards the players.
Success in football so often goes to those who react best in defeat; but when the boos and grumbles are so loud, the pressure for the next game grows so large and reminders of recent failed history are so regular it hinders the team’s ability to produce that perfect reaction. If only we could stay on their side in the bad times as well as good, they would surely be more likely to look forwards with determination rather than dread.
This losing culture runs through the whole club and, as interesting as it is to talk about tackling it, perhaps the only way we’ll ever build a winning mentality is when we truly recognise that we all have a major role to play in making it happen.