Issue The expectation levels as Aldershot travel to Valley Parade

As told by Jason Mckeown

So here we go again then. The start of a new season, the recommencement of our weekend moods being dictated by people we have no control over, the beginning of another ten months worth of cheering, anguishing, yelling, swearing and singing in support of our team.

Only this time, more than ever over the last few years, we seem to have little idea what else to expect from a new Bradford City campaign. The last four years have seen lofty expectations of promotion go unfulfilled; and – as a result of so much focus going into this singular aim – the club has often been left much weaker than it was. Although the strategies in place this summer aren’t necessarily perfect, there’s a feeling we are not just entering a new season but beginning a programme of more considered, if slower, building.

Listening to the BBC Radio Leeds fans forum midweek, the buzz phrase appeared to be “quiet revolution” when reflecting on the close season. A new approach to the way we sign players, more resources channelled into the training facilities that are so important in preparing them, and a more subtle build up to the big kick off lacking the usual bluster and hype. Unlike the last few seasons, the prospect of failing to get into League One next May doesn’t feel like such a potential disaster.

That said, tomorrow’s opener against Aldershot is the first real test of this new way of thinking which appears to be widely embraced – from the chairmen to supporters. It’s easy to pretend promotion isn’t the be all and end all when there’s no league table to look at, but another story if and when things aren’t going as well on the field. As supporters we are well versed in finding scapegoats for failure, and without much trouble we can already picture the fall out if this season doesn’t go as well as we hope.

Because let’s face it, every single one of us wants City to get promoted. That doesn’t mean we will be intolerant of once again coming up short, but equally the longer-term philosophy adopted now won’t spare the players from half time boos or manager Peter Jackson from message board demands for his removal. The path ahead is not likely to be smooth, and strong leadership is needed at all levels – the boardroom, the management team, the players and supporters – to retain convictions and to see strategies through.

Jackson has been effectively told he does not have to deliver promotion this year; Archie Christie is not expected to have produced 11 undroppable first team players by May; Ross Hannah will not be judged a failure if he doesn’t score 20 goals. From the outside, the plan is all about careful improvement and – as unappealing as the word is in football – it feels like this will be a transitional season.

Aldershot up first represents a useful barometer of City’s prospects. Beaten in the play off semi finals two years ago, the Shots’ 14th place finish last term was the embodiment of a mid-table team. This will be their fourth campaign back in the Football League, and their previous three have included defeats at Valley Parade. It is a game City will be expected to win, offering the new players in particular a first test for how they perform in front of an easily-irritated crowd.

After last Saturday’s 4-3-3 formation struggled against higher league opposition, a 4-4-2 set up is more likely tomorrow with James Hanson leading the line alongside Mark Stewart. Both have enjoyed promising pre-seasons where they have linked up well, and though it is too early to make rash proclamations there is a Lee Mills-Robbie Blake feel to the way they partner up.  Nialle Rodney is probably third choice striker and – with the Football League returning to five subs instead of seven – Hannah may start the season on the sidelines.

In midfield one of pre-season’s more fascinating subplots was the rehabilitation of Michael Flynn. Appearing alongside Robbie Threlfall and Luke Oliver in a Bradford City XI at Silsden a month ago, the Telegraph & Argus speculated that it could be the end for his time at City. That evening he was heads and shoulders the best player on the park, and his subsequent performances have seemingly changed Jackson’s mind about him. Now it seems a matter of who partners him in the centre.

David Syers will probably get the nod initially, depending on where Chris Mitchell is deployed. On the flanks Jack Compton should make a debut on the left and the opposite flank will either by occupied by 17-year-old prospect Dominic Rowe or – if Ritchie Jones is fit and starts alongside Flynn – Syers. Nahki Wells is another option, as is Luke O’Brien over Compton if Threlfall is preferred at left back. On Saturday Threlfall told Twitter followers he was staying at City, but Jackson appears to disagree. Scott Brown, who has impressed greatly in pre-season, is not eligible to play for the first team until his 17th birthday in November.

At the back the far-from-shy Guy Branston and Steve Williams should the central places, though the latter is struggling with an injury and may make way for Luke Oliver.  The right and left back slots are a choice between Mitchell/new loan signing Liam Moore and Threlfall/O’Brien respectively. Simon Ramsden is out injured yet again, and Jackson’s downbeat midweek comments about him on BBC Radio Leeds suggest there are doubts over his ability to ever fully regain fitness.

Martin Hansen will start in goal, with Jackson revealing he believes Jon McLaughlin is struggling for confidence and so likely to be on the sidelines for a while. At the moment Liverpool won’t allow Hansen to play in the Carling Cup tie at Leeds on Tuesday, which may mean a third keeper is brought in on loan over McLaughlin.

That will be the usual mixture of new and familiar faces to place our season’s hopes and dreams upon then – though if things go to plan there will hopefully be fewer changes to the squad next summer.

In a season of lowered expectations, perhaps there is one main aim that we can all agree on and which we should all strive to achieve – enjoying ourselves. I love Bradford City so much. Important people in life come and go and there are loved ones who will always mean the world, but apart from that latter group nothing else ever comes close to the passion I feel for the club and the time and energy I put in to following them.

It wasn’t a case of that interest waning, but last season was a hugely depressing and disengaging experience that tested our faith. Losing so often wasn’t nice, but the style of football even when winning was so dismal that attending games felt more of a chore than the usual highlight of the week.

So this season I want to have fun. I want to be part of brilliantly positive atmospheres and non-stop chanting in support of the players. I want to be enthralled by more stylish football and to be on the edge of my seat when City attack. I want to be cheering great goals and going home happy more often, because I’d either seen a great win or a great performance attempting to win.

I want to feel proud to support Bradford City Football Club again. That has nothing to do with winning promotions – glory is usually someone else’s preserve – but it has everything to do with being part of a community that recognises effort and which feels proud of who we are.

I just hope such expectations aren’t too much to ask.