Issue Losing the losing culture

As told by Jason Mckeown

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.