From September, 2011
Bradford City play Burton Albion At Pirelli Stadium in League Two, 2011/2012
Taking his Bradford City team to Burton Albion in search of his first win as City boss Phil Parkinson talks like a man who can see the turn of the tide.
We have worked hard again in training this week, we’ve brought another player into the football club – the squad’s evolving (Adam Reed) – I feel it’s getting better all the time. The positions that we are filling now are the key positions that I felt needed addressing when I sat down with the chairmen at the very beginning.
Reed’s arrival at Sunderland to join the central midfielders adds to Andrew Davies’ joining from Stoke City, and Craig Fagan and Kyel Reid’s signings, in a Bantams team that starts to be shaped in the manager’s image.
The frustration of the AFC Wimbledon game was clear for all to see with too little decisiveness and responsibility taken and too few links between the midfield and the forward line leaving James Hanson once again isolated up front and four players attempting to make the connection between the lines and none quiet able to get it right against a five man defence which enjoyed sitting deep.
Away from home – and with less onus to attack – Parkinson’s team are perhaps better suited at this stage as they look to build confidence. Parkinson has a plethora of options available but has he calls on those he looks to do so in a way that blends a change in attitude on the field. The losing culture talked about in the week seems to have been obvious to the manager, as to managers before him.
That culture has proved near impossible to turn around and Bradford City is like a large ship struggling to alter course. Parkinson has identified the problem quickly in his time at City, which is a step in the right direction. Previous managers have not found a way to deal with it.
Sitting ninth Burton Albion come into the game with suspensions to Aaron Webster and Ryan Austin following the 3-1 defeat to Gillingham.
Sunderland midfielder Adam Reed has joined the Bantams on a one month youth loan deal and goes straight into the squad for Saturday’s game with Burton Albion.
Reed, 20, has previous been on loan at Brentford where he caught Phil Parkinsons’ eye with the City manager saying
I thought he did well at Brentford and I liked the hunger and desire that he showed there.
Reed can play central midfield or on the right hand side. 18 year old right flank midfielder Dominic Rowe has joined Barrow on a month’s loan.
For those outside the metropolitan area – and a good few inside it who might have missed the news – today is Positive Bradford day in the City.
Positive Bradford day being defined as a single day of the year where the inhabitants of the City are invite to recognise and forget the ills that have befallen Bradford and instead just think of all the good things.
One can hear the voices of decent but – in keeping with the day – those voices are ignored as a part of the ills and the positive is accentuated. It is a noble aim but very much a first step in mental civic rehabilitation. Still, as my Nan used to say “Them that don’t do nowt, don’t do nowt” and more power to the elbow of anyone who is involving themselves in Positive Bradford day.
Perhaps though the football club could take a leaf from the City in how to change that mood. Of course there is the idea that we could have a Positive Bradford City day at Valley Parade – imagine watching a game where all criticism was outlawed, how curious that would be – but for real examples on how to improve Bradford City one suspects the club need to look further afield.
To Germany and to St Pauli to be exact. The story of St Pauli is an interesting one and one which City could learn from. Not the pole dancing and pirates side of the club or necessarily the punk ethos and freebooters of the league tag but rather at the way that St Pauli turned their club around emerging from the darkest time for football in Germany with something rather enjoyable.
Which is underline the fact that St Pauli are not the most successful club in Germany and probably never will be, but they are enjoyable and passionate in a way which most supporters – especially Bradford City fans – are not.
Boiling the St Pauli experience down to the basics the German club were in a similar situation to the City of Bradford. They looked at the negative things around their club and area and worried they were insurmountable. The ground was in a bad part of town, the club had few fans, the tradition was not much to speak of.
Each negative was reassessed. How could it be flipped around, be a positive. Other people tell the story much better than I but a ground in a poor part of town gave rise to the Pirates of Football approach, the lack of supporters saw the club actively pursue new fans who were not commonly football supporters in the left wing punk scene of the City, the lack of tradition gave a blank slate for the club to be rewritten on. Everything that was a strike against became a strike for.
Which is not to say that City could enact the same solution just that the same method of positive thinking could be applied to Bradford City. Flip the things which the club think hold City back and there are opportunities.
One is keen to avoid enumerating those problems and giving potential solutions for fear of setting the debate too rigidly. More, on this Positive Bradford day it is worth musing not on the things we do not have at Bradford City but those we do, and how we can maximise them.
Last Saturday’s game against AFC Wimbledon was my first since returning from a September holiday abroad. I mention this not to gloat over those unable to take advantage of low season holiday prices but to create a context for the thoughts in this piece. Whilst away I like to be truly away – no papers, TV, internet, radio, little contact with others from my home country and no mention of football.
But just before I left there was a crisis at the club (again) – a manager had “left”, a caretaker had taken over and another manager hastily appointed. Right up until I packed my case I had been content to allow new and young players time to gel and despite results I had a sense of optimism that, with patience and structure, the club was at last moving in the right direction. The prospect of fame for “Jackson’s Juniors” had been appealing to say the least. But in the end I left the country with a sense of uncertainty that had nothing to do with fear of flying but fear for football at Bradford City.
On my return to these shores the BfB website was switched on almost as soon as the kettle and, lo and behold, the crisis had deepened. The club lay desperately close to the non-league drop zone and a sense of despair permeated the articles and comments as I struggled to catch up with events that I had missed.
By the time I got down to the pub the following evening I was suffering, not from jetlag but from déjà-vu – new backroom staff, old boy signings but very few points to show for all the changes. Fortunately my friends reassured me that things were not as bad as they seemed, that this was not Taylor Mark II and the potential was there. All we needed was some luck. With their confident claims ringing in my ears I joined them in looking forward to Saturday’s game and, when the day arrived, set off in high hopes.
The rest, as they say, is history. I watched a match that, whilst entertaining in the first half at least, had many of the hall marks of last season. Younger and new players that I had been ready to give a chance to, had been discarded, a captain dropped and even newer players who seemed little better if not worse than those they replaced had been brought in. There was effort but no cohesion. A midfield woefully uncertain as to where they should be were all too easily drawn into a back 7 (or 8/9), a striker given no real service and a strike partner (?) playing as near to him as a batting partner in cricket. A fortunate but deserved lead – a rare thing at V.P. – was allowed to slip away but at half time there was hope that the new manager (new to me at least) would see the problems we all could see and address them. Sadly there was yet more déjà-vu. No change in the system, no leader on the field, a player having a nightmare game not replaced and substitutions that were too late and only disrupted the play even more leaving young Liam Moore to battle three Wimbledon players to try and deliver some sort of cross – no support just leave him to it.
I stayed until the end, many didn’t. I applauded the efforts of the players, many didn’t. I did not boo, many of those who had stayed did. And I left without any of the sense of positivism that I had felt when approaching the ground.
Now there are many on this site and elsewhere that would criticise my negativity and encourage me to remain positive. After all it is still September, there are good signs and it’s too early to be so despondent. Yet I look at the league table as well as the calendar and realize that whilst it may still be September almost a quarter of the season has gone. Our position gives genuine cause for concern and is made even more worrying by the fact that a win next Saturday, however welcome, would make no difference to our league position. The gap is already open and it looks like getting bigger before it narrows.
So am I guilty of negativity? Despite my outward signs of support and encouragement for my team my thinking is downbeat, the concern is worrying and am I somehow transmitting these feelings to the team? No matter how positive I try to be I get the feeling that my individual contribution to City’s performances is about as much use as my holiday contribution was to the Greek economy.
There is a big problem at Bradford City. There may well be several problems on and off the field that combine to make it so as articles on this site have suggested. Much has been said by those in charge of the team and the club but I believe more has been left unsaid and this leads to the different levels of dissatisfaction in our supporters.
All those involved with Bradford City, fans and staff, have an opinion as to what is needed to bring about a change in our fortunes. I have deliberately made no attempt in this piece to put forward my own views because, in the end, my views, and yours, count for nothing. But when pleasure in following your team is deprived, when optimism seems more and more unfounded, what should be a mutually satisfying relationship between club and fans is fractured. Rows increase and an eventual break-up seems inevitable. So however much I/we may dislike it we should not blame fans(?) who berate their chosen targets. It does not help but it is an understandable release of frustration built up over the years and yet most have managed to stay in the relationship.
I, like many others, have taken the disappointments my team have given me and yet I start each season and, hopefully, each match in a positive frame of mind. It’s the time between games that I struggle with. I suppose I am lucky, I can put post match disappointments to one side or ameliorate them with pieces such as this but at times I feel embarrassed even guilty about the way things are at V.P. and my contribution to them.
So please, can I have something tangibly positive from the club to satisfy my need to feel good about my team. Because right now I can’t get no satisfaction – and I’ve tried and I’ve tried and I’ve tried, tried, tried.
Phil Parkinson’s post-Wimbledon defeat comments about a losing mentality at Bradford City may be entirely accurate, but it remains curious where this mindset has originated from and how it can be addressed.
After the Bantams third successive defeat, Parkinson declared: “In the second half after we conceded their second goal I thought there was just too much acceptance that it wasn’t going to be our day… The club is fragile in terms of getting beaten too often and I’ve got to change that mentality around.”
It might seem an obvious statement to make that a club which has endured such a dismal 11 years has a losing mentality, yet a look at the starting eleven on Saturday suggests it’s worrying if this is the case. Seven had either joined the club during the summer or within the past month. Of the other four, only Michael Flynn and James Hanson were at Valley Parade just two short years ago. If it’s all about mentality, how does it spread so quickly to relatively new faces and what is causing it?
On a day where we celebrated our 125-year-old home, it was the long-standing problem of a poor Valley Parade record which again came into focus. Since returning to the Football League in 2001, City have won 85, drawn 62 and lost 88 matches at home – a weak platform which has hindered attempts to halt the slide down the divisions. Only once over the previous 10 seasons – the 2008/09 promotion failure – have the Bantams not lost at least a quarter of their home games. The rate of player turnover has been relentless over that time, but it seems the problem cannot be solved.
What is it about our own turf that opposition players find so welcoming and our own so daunting? Perhaps the lack of width – Valley Parade is one of the narrowest pitches in the country – is a hindrance. On Saturday Wimbledon lined up in a 5-3-2 formation which made it very difficult for City to get in behind, especially on the flanks. Looking at many of the teams who have triumphed over the years, a defensive focus is a common feature in how they line up. Either flood the midfield or keep numbers at the back, and City struggle to find the space to play in the opposition half. Other clubs with wider pitches don’t seem to have this same issue.
At a considerable cost, the pitch could be widened by getting rid of the first few rows on the Main Stand and Midland Road sides, although the disabled facilities in the latter are hugely important and would need to be adequately replaced. All of which is perhaps unrealistic and it’s worth noting that Peter Beagrie had few problems with the pitch; but as Kyel Reid struggled to get past his full back all afternoon on Saturday and attracted a barrage of abuse from fans, you couldn’t help but feel he would have benefited from a bit more space to utilise.
As for that barrage of abuse, it remains a bone of contention just how well we as supporters get behind the team at times. Earlier on in the season the atmosphere was much improved and the standing ovation the players received when trailing 1-0 to Bristol Rovers two weeks ago undoubtedly had an influence in the second half recovery. As the half time whistle was blown on Saturday and with City having played okay but not fantastic, a fan nearby kept his arms folded before breaking out into a smug grin and telling his friend “I’m not applauding that”.
Fine, not exactly the finest 45 minutes we’ve seen, but surely missing the point of what been a football fan is supposed to be about?
Too often people seem to have this viewpoint that they are not on the same side at the team. If the players don’t do the business, it becomes their job to tell them by booing and swearing and moaning and a variety of other negative reactions. We undoubtedly have the most fans in League Two, but no one can tell me that we have the most supporters. I genuinely don’t understand this refusal to get behind the players when they struggle, and instead opt to be personally outraged.
Of course such attitudes prevail at football grounds up and down the country and so can hardly be used as an excuse for repeated failure. Deep down, I think, we all know that being positive and cheering for the players would make some difference, but we each have our reasons for choosing to behave the way we do. Perhaps, for the seven players which started on Saturday who are new to the club, coping with the obstacle of fan abuse is something they simply have to get past and they will become better players for it.
Looking beyond the mentality issue and for other reasons for the backwards steps in form recently, the early days of Parkinson in the Valley Parade dug out deserve some consideration. Two weeks ago it seemed the unexpected transition from Peter Jackson to Parkinson had gone remarkably smoothly, but now the disruption in line ups and strategy is becoming clear.
Parkinson hasn’t changed a great deal in truth, replacing two loanees from the previous starting line up with permanent players and strengthening the attack and defence. The victims of these changes – Oscar Jansson, Jack Compton, Mark Stewart and Guy Branston – can certainly feel hard down by, but the potential shown by Reid, Jamie Devitt, Craig Fagan and Andrew Davies suggests the squad is stronger as a result of these arrivals. Just as the season started with Jackson’s team struggling to find its rhythm; it is now taking time for the new-look team to come together.
Time being a key word when looking at the job Parkinson performed at other clubs. He has never been an instant impact type of manager that Ron Atkinson was famous for in the 1990s. The promotion achieved at Colchester took four seasons of building work; he was sacked by Hull before been given time to turn a poor start around; and he was relegated as Charlton boss in his first season before developing them into play off semi finalists the year after.
His methods appear to be proven in the long-term, but short-term pain has to be lived through first.
Indeed his first 10 games at his three previous clubs show an interesting pattern for two at least. At Colchester he made a great start, taking 19 points from a possible 30 – though the team had already been in good form before he took over under caretaker boss Geraint Williams. At Hull, his first 10 league games saw only one win and a total of five points acquired. At Charlton he lost six of the first 10 league games, picking up only six points. The two points from a possible 15 achieved at City so far are very much along these slow-burner lines.
All of which fits in with the club’s abandonment of short-term thinking which has occurred so often in the past. Parkinson has delivered clear improvement over time at Colchester and Charlton (at Hull we’ll never know), but it wasn’t a speedy journey. Even before we get depressed about the League Two table after 10 games, we can probably predict with confidence that Parkinson will not deliver promotion during his first season at Valley Parade. For him to succeed, patience will be required.
If a losing mentality really does exist at the club, it’s been proven in the past that drastic changes are not the answer. Defeats like Saturday hurt a lot, but as fans it often seems like the lows are more severe than the highs. It’s almost as though we’re collectively nursing an open wound that isn’t allowed any time to heal, causing every subsequent bump to seem even more painful.
There is – perfectly understandably – a losing mentality amongst us supporters in that we are far too quick to allow the gloom to descend; indirectly forcing the recent past to weigh heavily on the shoulders of everyone connected with the club. We have to find a way of coping with defeat better; we have to find a way of not allowing the most recent 90 minutes of football to dictate our mood for the next seven days; we have to change this scapegoat culture and learn to better support our players in good and bad times.
The only constant of the past decade is our narrow Valley Parade pitch and us supporters. The misery we’ve endured over that time certainly isn’t our fault, but we can all play a role in turning around the club’s fortunes by challenging the mindset that this constant failure has inflicted upon us.
- Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Andrew Davies, Robbie Threlfall | Chris Mitchell, Richie Jones, Michael Flynn, Kyel Reid | James Hanson, Jamie Devitt | Ross Hannah, Craig Fagan
Bradford City 1 AFC Wimbledon 2 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2011/2012
Framing City at the moment seems to be the question “What to do about players playing badly?”
Guy Branston was playing badly – or so it was argued by some – and Phil Parkinson seemed to agree dropping his captain for new signing Andrew Davies who put in an impressive début despite the scoreline not differing over much from that of recent weeks. Parkinson made a big decision dropping Peter Jackson’s captain and a brave one but when AFC Wimbledon’s Christian Jolley hit a ball from outside that box that looped over Matt Duke in the City goal then the City manager must have wondered how that decision seemed to result in so much of the same.
Jolley’s goal gave the Dons an unexpected win a game where they were distinctly second best in all but the most important part of football – turning possession into attacking chances – where they were very much better. Set up in a 532 Terry Brown’s side sat deep but came forward with an imagination which seemed lacking from a stolid Bantams side. The Dons did not attack in numbers, but they were direct and most importantly available for each other.
Which was not the case with the Bantams. After Midson’s equaliser mid-way through the first half – a result of the Dons’ striker speedily moving into the gap that Luke Oliver left after an impressive headed clearance and and Christian Jolley being able to play an over the shoulder flick under little pressure from Liam Moore – it was noticeable how the two sides attacking play differed. Wimbledon’s attacks were more random, less considered and as a result more direct.
City’s work in the middle of the pitch was very good. Richie Jones put in a performance which deserved to be a part of a win and with Michael Flynn alongside him the pair were in control of the middle of the pitch but when coming forward they lacked options as a result of their play. Jamie Devitt dropped off the forward line to take the ball but in doing so seemed to duplicate the midfield play rather than adding to the attacking options. Devitt’s dropping off allowed him space but with the back five of the Dons it meant that when he received the ball he was looking forward at too few options.
Chris Mitchell put in a good shift on the right but Kyel Reid will probably not suffer a worse afternoon in his entire career. Pushed wide by a full back and with cover for that full back in the occasions in which he beat his man Reid was far too often on the wrong side of the defender when Jones or Flynn was looking for an outlet. At half time Reid had put in a wretched first half and what does one do with a player who has put in a wretched first half? Reid can and has played better, keep faith with him and he might. In retrospect Parkinson should have taken Reid off, but many player has been given a half time rocket and turned in a performance in the second half.
That was not the case and so with Reid not as an option, with Mitchell quiet (but never a player to get around the back of a five) then City fed everything through Devitt and were rewarded with the first half penalty for a foul on the striker – dispatched by Flynn – but suffered from a predictability.
Devitt is a curious player. Excellent control, able on the ball, and looking dangerous when he touches it he puts one in mind of Chris Waddle or Benito Carbone because for all those abilities and skills – for all the good things he does – he seems to add a weight on the side that causes a sort of wind resistance. Like Waddle Devitt sets a pace and patten of play but – like Waddle – the City team he is in look limited when they play the ball through him.
Everything is predictable when it all comes through Devitt who slows the play down and while he looks good doing it he seemed to slow the attacking pace down. He and James Hanson attempted combination flicks, attempted, link ups, but in the end City’s best chances were a good delivery from the flank that Hanson headed and Seb Brown saved superbly holding well and Hanson’s hitting the post when charging down a Brown clearance.
The challenge for Parkinson is how to make the decisions on the distinction between the players who need to be replaced, the players who need to be backed to play better, and the players who need to play better in the team. Time for the manager to earn his money and make those decisions.
If he can do that – with Jones and Flynn purring away looking for passes, outlets and ways to attack – City could go far. As it is without a way of going forward on the field City under Phil Parkinson are stuck in neutral.
- Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Andrew Davies, Robbie Threlfall | Chris Mitchell, Richie Jones, Michael Flynn, Kyel Reid | James Hanson, Jamie Devitt | Ross Hannah, Craig Fagan
26 year old Stoke City defender Andrew Davies has joined Bradford City on loan for three months as the club look to address the defensive problems which have seen goals shipped.
Davies, one time of Middlesborough and Southampton, is six foot three and has experience at England u21 level. His first team chance have been limited at Stoke but as a senior professional his dropping down some four divisions to join City represents something of a coup for the club.
His arrival is expected to bring about a resuffle in the Bantam’s backline with one of skipper Guy Branston or Luke Oliver stepping down for the AFC Wimbledon game and the other perhaps following when Steve Williams regains match fitness having returned to training yesterday.
Davies is expected to make his debut tomorrow.
Bradford City play AFC Wimbledon At Valley Parade in League Two, 2011/2012
When the history of early 21st century football is written, the emergence of clubs with AFC prefixes will surely loom large. Whether they will be portrayed as grassroots revolutions or romantic daydreams only time will tell. At present their impact on the greater game is limited. They are a curiosity more than a threat to the established structure of the game. However, if AFC Wimbledon progress further up the divisions their ethos and ownership structure has the potential to reverberate throughout the professional game. The watershed moment would surely arrive if AFC Wimbledon overhauled the MK Dons.
However, we would do well not to over romanticise AFC Wimbldeon. Multiple promotions, and even a debt controversy, suggest that they are not FC United-esque mid-life crisis, revolutionaries. AFC Wimbledon are a limited company, albeit one dominated by the shareholding of their Supporters’ Trust.
Interestingly they also have an Independent Supporters’ Association, which suggests, in parallel with revolutions everywhere, Lincoln City for example, that factionalism is a fact of football life. So, is Saturday’s match at Valley Parade an encounter between two former Premier League clubs, or a vivid example of how a well organised grassroots football club can rise through the leagues to meet a former Premier League club which has spent a decade fighting crisis after crisis?
All that will fade into insignificance once the whistle is blown at three o’clock. The Dons arrive at Valley Parade off the back of an impressive 4-1 victory over Cheltenham. However, their form, like many in the division, is erratic. It has included a four goal thumping at Macclesfield. Are we in for another high scoring encounter? Few City fans would put money on their defence keeping a clean sheet, so it is probably a question of outscoring the visitors.
City have injury doubts over Kyel Reid, Michael Flynn, Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall. Phil Parkinson has shown a reluctance to change the starting eleven during his short stint at the helm. However, perhaps the injuries and the poor second half performance at Crawley will force his hand?
Fortunately, he has options, although it appears that the most popular change among some supporters, Luke O’Brien for Robbie Threlfall, is the most unlikely to happen with the former Liverpool player seemingly the most likely to recover. Undoubtedly the defence requires work. The return of Steve Williams in a couple of weeks appears to be a formality. For Saturday Parkinson’s options are limited. Whilst he has wingers to spare, the back four is highly likely to remain in situ. We can only hope that the defence, and the captain’s Twitter account, have a quiet weekend.
The Dons game is beginning to take on some significance. Despite the team receiving praise for their free flowing football, and pledges that the fans would be content to have attacking football this season, some are beginning to nervously glance at the table. However, a similar glance at the calendar will reveal that it is still September. We have a new manager and a restructured team. Patience is a dirty word at Valley Parade, but show me the options?
Bradford City play AFC Wimbledon At Valley Parade in League Two, 2011/12
Relegation is bad enough, but allowing those ageing, clog wearing, whippet racing, Rugby League watching simpletons Bradford to stay up is truly disgusting.” The now-defunct Wimbledon website BigTissue.com, May 14 2000
These words, relayed via David Pendleton in the City Gent back in August 2000 as part of a look back at the emotions Bradford City and Wimbledon supporters went through in the 1999-2000 battle to stay in the Premier League, have always stuck in my mind as an insight into the hatred Dons fans felt towards us when we stayed up at their expense.
Meanwhile as Valley Parade literally rocked up and down during the closing minutes of the Bantams’ 1-0 victory over Liverpool that confirmed our survival, the Sky TV cameras cut to a banner in the Kop that displayed the message “Bye Bye Wombles”.
For a short time at least, Bradford City and Wimbledon were bitter rivals.
Such is the competitive nature of football that, from time-to-time, an opposition club previously off the radar suddenly becomes an enemy in a promotion or relegation battle; with their results mattering greatly. That Wimbledon team had two weeks earlier self-destructed in front of our eyes, going down to a 3-0 defeat with John Hartson stupidly sent off. Away fans had reason to be aggrieved by questionable refereeing that day, and that ill feeling showcased by BigTissue.com was carried on for a few years later when City were relegated to a Division One that Wimbledon were unable to earn promotion from.
Indeed fast forward to February 2003, where BfB writer Roland Harris managed to upset numerous supporters for airing views on the protest movement in operation against moving the club to Milton Keynes. With Dons fans boycotting matches and ultimately forming AFC Wimbledon, opposition supporters were urged not to travel to Selhurst Park when their team were away to Wimbledon. Roland argued why he would be going to watch the Bantams draw 2-2, because he went to away games to watch City not the opposition.
A strong backlash towards this site from both Wimbledon and City fans followed, a moment editor Michael Wood still refers to as “one of our biggest fall outs.”
By the time City were next due to play Wimbledon away, they had moved to Milton Keynes and a season later they became the MK Dons. Meanwhile the real Wimbledon were embarking on a fast-paced journey back into the Football League. The ‘rivalry’ consigned to the past as fans around the world including City deeply admired what Wimbledon fans were doing; but when a year ago I wrote an article for TwoHundredPercent about City’s 10-year decline, a couple of Wimbledon fans posted reader comments expressing no sympathy for our suffering. Understandable, because what they had gone through was far worse; but also a sign that past clashes were not forgotten.
The point of recalling these incidents is not to stoke up ill-feeling between two sets of supporters properly meeting this Saturday for the first time at Valley Parade since a 3-3 draw in October 2001. But the fact there is a ‘history’ between the two clubs is worth recalling in order to provide Wimbledon supporters with the respect they deserve.
Respect for what they have achieved since reforming at the bottom is widespread and well documented of course. There is huge inspiration to be taken from the way they sought to preserve the heart and soul of their football club, when disgraceful actions were undertaken by people who were supposed to share their best interests. The meteoric rise is arguably the football success story of the past decade, and like everyone else one hopes the day is coming when they overtake the Buckinghamshire club who stole their identity.
Yet there’s only so much patting on the back before we cross over into patronising. And though we can buy their fans a drink before kick off, and smile warmly for them as their players walk out into a stadium which had so much significance in their demise 11 years ago, the fact is they are now a rival in our division and deserve to be treated as such.
For if there is a lesson to be learned from reading opposition fans write your achievements off as “whippet racing, Rugby League watching simpletons” it is the dangers of underestimating the club you are facing.
When Wimbledon came to Valley Parade towards the end of that Premier League relegation battle, Hartson was infamously said to have sought advice from Dons hero Vinnie Jones that intimidating City’s “hard man” (Stuart McCall) in the tunnel before kick off would cause the Bantams to crumble. He tried, he failed.
As events turned against them on the field the players reacted dismally, displaying a childish “it’s not fair” attitude reflected in the BigTissue.com. It was clear that the pain of relegation weighted heavily, but the fact little old City had stayed up at their expense was considered something of an injustice.
The modern day Wimbledon don’t deserve to be treated as beneath us, as much as they shouldn’t be treated as beneath Macclesfield, Plymouth or any other League Two side. Their merited position was always among the 92, and now they truly are here on merit. A club to be inspired by, but now also one to fear.
The heroics of Wimbledon fans will never be forgotten but are now a thing of the past, for they are back where they belong. “Who are ya? Who are ya?”
Former Mansfield and Rochdale manager Steve Parkin has joined Bradford City as Phil Parkinson’s number two replacing Colin Cooper.
Parkin has managed Mansfield Town, Rochdale, Barnsley and been first team coach under Parkinson at Hull City having had a playing career with Stoke and West Brom as well as the Stags.
The forty-five year old leaves Scunthorpe United to join the Bantams.
The round trip to Crawley Town was a long and tedious 496 miles in total, but by the time City’s players alighted from the bus back at Valley Parade the mood of the season had quickly turned as dark as the Bradford night they walked into.
By all accounts, the team was poor in losing to Crawley – surrendering a 1-0 half time lead to concede three goals in dismal fashion. The result kept the Bantams third bottom of the entire Football League, with a gap to the clubs above beginning to emerge. Small wonder then, that many of us supporters are feeling so despondent.
Yet at the same time, the outcries of anguish and the anger which has been directed at individuals who represent the club has been difficult to observe this week. The criticisms have been loud and far reaching, and suddenly the outlook of how the season is going appears to have been altered. The likes of Guy Branston and James Hanson are singled out unfairly; Phil Parkinson’s signings are retrospectively criticised; while a sinister and unhelpful vendetta from some towards Archie Christie continues.
One can understand the concern over City only winning one of their opening eight league matches, but less so the need to be so negative and to panic.
Weeks like this – coping with a Bantams defeat – have become such a regular occurrence in recent years that it’s all depressingly familiar. And as a result the only option to avoid having to feel miserable and upse is to switch off as much as possible and try to focus on other things in life until Saturday. But it’s always there, at the back of your mind – worrying and fretting about your club. And as much as you want to ignore people on message boards and on Twitter attacking the players, there’s an overriding worry that others will be listening and acting upon this vitriol.
Is it justified to suddenly allow a glass half empty outlook to dictate the overall mood of us supporters? Perhaps in the past yes, but on this occasion I strongly believe it isn’t. Crawley sounded bad for sure, but only four days earlier I and some 300 other City fans had watched the players put in a strong performance against Port Vale, where they were very unfortunate to lose. The last time the team played at Valley Parade, they produced an eye-catching display that included a first half performance as good as anything we’ve seen for years.
Looking at the season as a whole, the effort levels and standard of performances have also been encouraging. To date I have seen every game but Accrington, Dagenham and Crawley. Each time the workrate and determination of the team has been commendably high – and I understand this was the case against Accrington and Dagenham too. Application-wise there is room for improvement, but it seems Crawley was the first occasion this season where we can agree the players really let us down.
So why be so quick to jump upon them and write them off? Branston was in the PFA League Two team of the season last year, has he become a bad player overnight or is it a question of him finding better form and confidence? Hanson is picked upon time and time again, yet so often this season the team has not played to his strengths making it very difficult for him. Chris Mitchell is viewed as slow and lightweight, rather than us focusing on his on-the-ball qualities. Matt Duke is clearly lacking match sharpness, but some have seemingly written him off.
The strategy adopted by the club this summer should not need repeating, yet it is now criticised in retrospect by some in the laziest of ways. If Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes had ignored the idea of the Development Squad and once again thrown money at the first team this summer, I personally fail to see how we’d be any better off save for a few more points at this stage. The club has lacked a sufficient infrastructure off the field for a number of years and progress is too much at the whim of how big the playing budget is for a particular season. This long-term approach is just that, long-term. We should not be writing it off after just eight league games.
There has been talk that the emphasis of the club has changed from a “building season” to “promotion or bust”, because of the signings Parkinson has been allowed to make – but when viewed closely the facts don’t support this theory. The new boss has sought to make changes to the two positions in the team covered by loanees – wide left and goalkeeper – by bringing in players on permanent contracts. Surely this is in support of a longer-term focus?
Craig Fagan has arrived too, but we know from Peter Jackson’s final days that a need for a striker had been identified and he was actively searching. Fagan is a notable signing and it’s been suggested won’t have come cheap. Perhaps but, given the former Hull striker had missed a year’s football through a broken leg and was struggling to find a club, it seems more likely he is here on low wages with an eye on impressing enough to ultimately attract interest from higher up the leagues (or even a better contract with City next summer).
This is similar to Lee Hendrie last season, who had a decent short-term impact. We can question the wisdom of signing Fagan and where this leaves the promising Mark Stewart, but that doesn’t mean the club has abandoned the strategy agreed in the summer. The problem with suggesting it is now “promotion or bust” is that the expectation bar is suddenley raised and City’s performance seems all the poorer as a result.
In many ways, weeks like this one show a lack of perspective to our judgements and emotions. Losing to Crawley is upsetting, looking at the league table is painful – yet with rationale thinking and remembering the bigger picture, the level of doom and gloom should have its limits. If you’ve sent Branston a nasty tweet this week – as many did – shame on you, because you are not in any way helping the club progress. If you attack players and management on message boards, at least throw up constructive solutions to the problems you deride.
Football supporting seems to allow us to be childish and moody in how we behave – especially in defeat – when in every other walk of life we would never dream of acting in the same way. It’s time to take a step back more often, appreciate the difficulties the club faces rather than jumping in with anger and blame. Passion is a good thing, but directing it in a destructive way does little to help and this seems to be all that some can do.
Bradford City is a club that has to welcome and be grateful for every supporter it can get, but it needs to be remembered that it is our choice to support them and this sense of personal injustice we throw back at them when they struggle isn’t always their fault.
The actions taken this summer mean that this season we have the chance to help create something special. A team we can be truly proud of, because they care deeply about our club and understand what makes us special. Parkinson is trying to implement an attacking, passing style of game that is a welcome relief from the direct football we’ve endured so often in recent years. The Development Squad offers the promise of providing a handful of players good enough to make the first team in time. Scott Brown looks amazing, and he can play soon.
We are not that far off from been a good side, already too much hard work has been completed to throw it all away. So please, let’s not go to the Wimbledon game on Saturday with arms folded waiting for an opportunity to act indignant; let’s do our bit and prove to the team and to each other what being a football supporter is really all about.
Wayne Jacobs and David Wetherall will return to Valley Parade on Thursday 22nd September at 20:00 as the Friends of Bradford City host a forum with the former players and coaches of the club.
Both Wetherall and Jacobs put in sterling service for Bradford City with the pair of them clocking up around thirty years combined service. For Jacobs the service was on the way up the leagues starting as a free transfer from Rotherham United recovering from a season long injury and going on to be a Premier League player. For Wetherall – who scored the famous headed goal which kept City in the top flight – the only way was down and as City slipped down the leagues the former captain’s contribution was to slow that decline.
Jacobs put in 318 games for City, Wetherall 304 which dwarfs anyone in the current set up and leads one to wonder who – in ten years time – will be being invited back for functions such as this? Who are are heroes of the future when the current player with most appearances for the club – Luke O’Brien – is persona non grata at Valley Parade. Injury to Robbie Threlfall (21 apps) may see O’Brien add to his 122 appearances for City this weekend.
O’Brien and Lee Bullock (120 apps) are the only players at the club in triple figures – a long way behind Ces Podd‘s 502 – but neither seem to be set to add many to that list. Bullock was unwanted by Mark Lawn but kept by Peter Jackson while O’Brien is frozen out of the first team for reasons unknown, or at least unsaid.
Not that O’Brien has ever enjoyed great popularity at Valley Parade. As a player he is better regarded on the bench than he is on the pitch. On the bench he is the world beating Roberto Carlos ready to turn things around but, when on the field, one might wonder if one were hearing the same crowd describe the player where his efforts are met with grumbles and only quiet support.
Often the same can be said for third on the list James Hanson (79 appearances, 21 goals) who proves that he can score when given service but is subject to a level of criticism which would suggest he had picked selected members of the support and punched their dogs.
Hanson’s return is under a goal every 3.76 games – around the same strike rate as Robbie Blake (153, 40) – which puts him above a good few well respected Bantams of the past. Joe Cooke (3.99) played 271 time and scored 68 although he played central defence at times. Ask men of a certain age about Don Hutchins and they go weak at the knee and his return of a goal every 5.5 games (286 appearances, 52 goals) was a good return and secondary to his overall contribution. The lauded Paul Jewell (269 appearances, 56 goals) banged in one every 4.8 games although most of them were before Christmas.
To paraphrase the problem is not in the stars but with ourselves. A mentality has grasped most of football – having taken hold a good many years ago – which suggests that supporters are blissfully happy to be unaware of what they have until it is gone. Sean McCarthy banged in a goal every two games for City – more or less – but was nicknamed “Scud” as a reference to his perceived inaccuracy.
McCarthy won the hearts of City fans when he exited Valley Parade for Oldham on deadline day and turned up wearing a ludicrously high squad number on Match of the Day a few days later playing at Old Trafford. Players who leave the club are well regarded. Wetherall and Jacobs’ defensive team mate Andrew O’Brien was – according to one voice in earshot – “On his way to Halifax Town, if they will have him” following City’s promotion. Two years later and he was “being sold too cheap.”
An exit infers a kind of status on a player, a respect because someone else has recognised the ability, and without that status our own players are generally disregarded. No player racks up hundreds of appearances because they either are snapped up by someone higher or they are slapped down and leave of their own volition.
A Catch 22 situation then. If a player never leave it is – in the eyes of some – because he is not good enough for anyone including City so should not be suffered to be in the side. It is no coincidence that the greats of Bradford City history: Stuart McCall, Bobby Campbell, Peter Beagrie; left the club before coming back.
Not Jacobs or Wetherall though. Both stayed with the club as players and became part of the coaching set up at later Valley Parade. Wetherall left for a development job with the Football League while Jacobs was unceremoniously launched from the club after Peter Taylor’s sacking. There was a verbalised question mark over Jacobs coaching ability and the former number two probably has too much class to point at the current state at the club – the so called “worst team in Bradford City history” – and ask how his departure improved things at Valley Parade.
One wonders if Wetherall and Jacobs are a rare thing. Only fourteen players who topped three hundred games for City and to add to that list Luke O’Brien would have to play pretty much every game for the next four season for a club where he is the only player who has been here for more than four seasons.
Rare things, and worth see. The forum is free to Friends of Bradford City members or a single shiny pound for non-members.
When Bradford City meet AFC Wimbledon at Valley Parade in a League Two match on Saturday 24 September it will mark the 125th anniversary of the first use of the Bantams’ home ground as a sports stadium. A birthday party will be held in the club’s bantamspast museum at 1.30pm – Admission free.
Bradford City’s midfielder David Syers will cut a specially designed birthday cake at 1.45pm to formally celebrate the famous ground’s anniversary. Images and film of Valley Parade will be shown on the museum’s big screen. David Pendleton, the co-curator of the bantamspast museum, will speak about his forthcoming book Paraders, the 125 year history of Valley Parade, which will be published in November.
Valley Parade opened in September 1886. The ground was developed by Bradford City’s predecessors Manningham Rugby Club when they were forced to vacate their former ground at Carlisle Road to allow for the construction of Drummond Road School. Manningham were the Rugby League’s first ever champions in 1896. However, a downturn in fortunes saw the club switch to football and become Bradford City in 1903. Eight years later they had established themselves as one of the top five clubs in the country and Valley Parade was extensively rebuilt. In 1911 their FA Cup winning team were photographed in front of the elegant Midland Road stand.
The ground that was rebuilt for Bradford City’s promotion to the First Division in 1908 remained largely unaltered until the tragic fire of 1985. In the wake of the Second World War the Bantams were firmly rooted in the lower divisions. Limited funds for ground maintenance, weak regulation and the steep topography of Valley Parade combined to turn a discarded cigarette into one of the worst tragedies in the history of British football. Few need reminding of the events of 11 May 1985 when 56 supporters were killed and hundreds more injured.
It seemed that Valley Parade had hosted its last football match. The Bantams were in exile at Odsal Stadium, which had been rebuilt in order to stage the 1985 World Speedway Final, but a vigorous campaign by City supporters, and a fortunate injection of cash from the disbanded West Yorkshire County Council, saw the club return to a rebuilt stadium in December 1986. Bradford City defeated the England national side in an emotional reopening game. In recent years the ground has been reconstructed on two occasions, the most recent came when Valley Parade hosted Premier League football between 1999-2001.
Valley Parade, situated on its steep hillside and with its connections to triumph and tragedy, the ground is a central part of the club’s identity. Bradford City without Valley Parade is almost as unthinkable as abandoning the club’s famous claret and amber stripes.
Bradford City suffered a second defeat in a week going down 3-1 at Crawley Town after taking a first half lead though Kyel Ried. Two second half goals from Tyrone Barnett and one from Andy Drury ends a spell of defeats for the home side and leaves City 22nd with the visit from AFC Wimbledon next week.
Our able BfB match reporter spent the game on the hard shoulder of some motorway and so – unless you, dear reader, step into the gap – we shall present:
Bradford City play Crawley Town At Broadwood Stadium in League Two, 2011/12
The Manchester City defender Wayne Bridge will always hold a special place in Bradford City’s history – for it was his free kick goal for Southampton vs Wimbledon in 2000 that indirectly helped the Bantams avoid relegation from the Premier League. But in the wider football world, it seems unlikely he will be remembered beyond once refusing a handshake.
Bridge has recently been in the spotlight after turning down numerous offers of first team football away from Eastlands, in preference for stagnating in the reserves and training alone.
He has not started a Premier League match for Man City since last October. And though he may shortly be persuaded into joining a Championship club on loan, the £90,000-a-week left back apparently seems more concerned with living the footballers’ lifestyle than playing football itself.
The deep pockets approach to building a team
It didn’t have to be like this, and Bridge can hardly argue he wasn’t warned. He left Southampton to join Chelsea’s sudden Roman Abramovich revolution in 2003 – a star signing for the club at the time – but as the Blues progressed and could attract a better calibre of player, Ashley Cole arrived and took his place.
So when Man City, suddenly flush with money, came knocking in 2009, one might have thought he’d realise what would eventually happen and say no. Perhaps, with The Guardian quoting a Man City insider declaring Bridge has become “more interested in what he’s doing on his Saturday nights rather than Saturday afternoons”, he was happy to fulfil his fate.
Nevertheless Bridge has been both the beneficiary and victim of two of the highest profile team building strategies of recent years. Considered a key arrival for both Chelsea and Man City at one stage; each club’s speed of progress then left him no longer good enough for its ambitions.
Yet for both Chelsea and Man City this left a difficult problem. Huge wages were committed on signing the likes of Bridge, Hernando Crespo and Adrian Mutu at Chelsea, and Bridge, Emmanuel Adebayor and Craig Bellamy at City – and with even bigger wages then needed to bring in the ‘next level’ players, a very expensive and unneeded reserve team was a legacy and a headache.
Man City might have bottomless pockets for the moment, but most other clubs do not. And so the folly of splashing out heavily on players, who can only take you some of the way towards your intended destination before you need to replace them, becomes clear in time.
2008/09 revisited – the flaw in the plan
At Bradford City, and on an altogether different scale of budget, such an approach was tried in the summer of 2008 when then-manager Stuart McCall was handed a budget of £1.9 million and joint-Chairman Julian Rhodes spoke publically of aiming for back-to-back promotions.
That money largely went on the wages of Chris Brandon, Paul McLaren, Graeme Lee and Michael Boulding. Let’s ignore for one moment the fact this strategy failed on account of the Bantams failing to go up, and pretend the season hadn’t collapsed with 11 games to go.
Had City crossed the promotion line, would these four players have been good enough to lead the Bantams straight through League One and into the Championship the following season? Or would they be near the top of a list of players needing selling, as McCall would have looked to spend money securing the on-loan season stars Dean Furman, Nicky Law and Steve Jones – on top of targeting other new signings?
And herein perhaps would have lied a significant problem. For the wages of Brandon, McLaren, Lee and Boulding would have proved too high to allow them to sit on the sidelines, and efforts to move them on would have been just as troublesome as they were when McCall had to try to get rid of them because the promotion effort had failed. Meanwhile to get Furman and co, plus others, would have needed the Chairmen to dig deeper once again. The path of progression would have come at a much higher cost, and may not have been sustainable.
£100,000 a year to sit on Crawley’s bench
Crawley Town arrive to Valley Parade tomorrow with very real concerns of this type. Benefiting from sizeable investment which is dubious in its origin, the Red Devils spent some £600k on transfer fees alone last season and were rewarded with a stroll to the Conference title. Having again been heavy spenders this summer, they began as pre-season favourites for promotion and have gone into their first ever Football League campaign with the pressure and expectation they will sail straight into League One.
Yet recent results are not good. Having not lost a league game since October 2010, they have been defeated in three of their last four games. Add in cup matches, and it’s five defeats from six. Last Saturday they were thrashed 6-0 at Morecambe, on Tuesday they were beaten 3-0 at home to Swindon. Not exactly the form of would-be champions.
And for the dislikeable Steve Evans and his wealthy benefactors, a new and perhaps unexpected problem is emerging. All that money has only got them so far, and to fulfil their ambitions it looks like they will need to spend a great deal more. Some of the players who may no longer be good enough are reportedly earning £100,000 a year – who else would be willing to match that and take these unwanted players off their hands? Last season Crawley were nicknamed the ‘Man City of non-league’. It looks like they could soon have a few Wayne Bridges of their own.
Work in progress
The contrast in the Bantams’ new approach is stark. So much has been talked about this building for the future outlook that it is getting repetitive, but with City electing to buy potential rather than buy expensive a more sustainable approach is developing. Relatively speaking most of the summer signings came cheap, and if they don’t prove good enough or can’t match the progress of the club they will not be expensive to move on. On the other side of the coin they may also become valuable assets if they develop strongly, potentially providing decent transfer fees.
If this strategy and this team can take City upwards, there would be a less likelihood of a nosebleed halfway on route to the top and fear that vast money must be found to sustain improvement. The speed of progress may be slower, but perhaps along the journey we’ll skip past a few clubs who had apparently spent their way to success, but are finding it a struggle to maintain momentum.
The midweek defeat to Port Vale emphasised that this is a slow burner approach. Eight games in and City have produced some wonderful football and the team is developing into one many of us have fallen in love with, because of their high work rate and commitment. Yet only one win has been recorded and four defeats have already been chalked up. As the league table begins to carry meaning, 22nd-placed City are one point worse off compared to last season’s dreadful start.
Promising displays are not yet turning into results. No one is panicking, but for now an uneasy feeling is difficult to avoid.
Bouncing back from a first defeat in five
Despite Crawley’s recent results, tomorrow is a tough test for a City side looking for an immediate response to Tuesday’s set back. Matt Duke is top of the list aiming for redemption after his howler for Vale’s second goal raised questions about his match sharpness. At the moment he is averaging two goals conceded per game; and while some of those were unstoppable strikes, we’ve not yet seen him make too many noteworthy saves to prevent opposition attacks.
The back four may be shaken up or Parkinson – who at half time at Vale Park told his defence not to sit so deep, which brought about an improvement – may be tweaking other areas of the set up to provide greater defensive protection. Liam Moore got through a tough first half to again impress, and his long throws are a useful weapon. Robbie Threlfall did okay, but the more attack-minded Luke O’Brien could flourish in this team. Guy Branston had a tough evening at Vale Park and – if Steve Williams is back soon – could be favourite for a breather with Luke Oliver showing better form.
The midfield four often becomes a five when Jamie Devitt floats deeper, and is impressing greatly when City have the ball but are a concern when they don’t. Michael Flynn has received some criticism for his performances this season, but to me it seems he is playing a deeper role than he used to which might be confusing some. Just like Lee Bullock two years ago, it seems Flynn is being asked to perform in a way that better conserves his ageing energy levels while still contributing positively. Ritchie Jones will play alongside him, with Chris Mitchell wide right and Kyel Reid wide left.
Mitchell is another with his critics in the stands. I had the misfortune of sitting next to a no-doubt-committed-but-ridiculously-negative supporter in the first half on Tuesday, who commented that Mitchell reminds him of Gary Locke because “he was half a yard off the pace too.” Mitchell is the kind of non-tackler, methodical player many fans always seem to hate, but continues to be quietly effective in his positioning and passing ability. The direct-minded Reid gets better every game – he is Omar Daley v2.
Up front Parkinson’s search for a striker concluded with the signing of Craig Fagan but the former Hull City man has not played much in over a year so will be lacking match fitness so expect James Hanson to partner Devitt. Hanson’s time in the first eleven is probably coming to an end for now, but in away games his value in holding up the ball to relieve the pressure on the rest of the team is especially invaluable and he emerged from Vale Park with plenty of credit. Ross Hannah bangs loudly on the door but the excellent Concentrate on the League website argues why he should be super sub for now. Nahki Wells has also moved up the pecking order; worrying times for Mark Stewart.
Undoubtedly the pressure tomorrow is on the home side. Defeat for Crawley and who knows what ambitious owners would do about Steve Evans. A loss for City would spell greater relegation fears but, as Micky Adams declared in midweek, this team has the potential to challenge at the top.
Crawley climbed to the summit much faster, but may increasingly become envious of the Bantams and their plan.
Signing for Bradford City today Craig Fagan joins up with Bantams boss Phil Parkinson for the third time looking to restart a career which has been lashed down by injury.
Fagan joins the Bantams having not played much in the last year of his contract with Hull City although he did play for the Tigers in the Premier League scoring for them in the infamous half time on pitch team talk game. He had previously played under Parkinson at Colchester United.
Able to play up front or as a winger Fagan goes into the squad for City’s trip to Crawley at the weekend.
- Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Guy Branston, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | Chris Mitchell, Ritchie Jones, Michael Flynn, Kyel Reid | Jamie Devitt, James Hanson | Jack Compton, Nahki Wells
Port Vale 3 Bradford City 2 At Vale Park in League Two, 2011/12
Suddenly the weekend bitterness of Bristol Rovers’ Paul Buckle seems more understandable. The pain of conceding a last minute goal never gets more bearable, no matter how many times you endure it. And so the temptation for Buckle-style bluster and to argue the opposition are unjust in scoring can feel overwhelming.
Three minutes of injury time were almost over at Vale Park, when substitute Doug Loft found himself with plenty of time and space on the edge of the area and swung in a superb cross. There at the back post was Tom Pope – twice a scorer against City in this fixture last season, and who has only scored two goals since – to head the ball past Matt Duke. The paltry 4,000 home attendance roars loudly in delight, and as you slump back in your uncomfortable plastic seat there’s a realisation that the pain now engulfing you won’t completely go away for days yet.
Just like Morecambe and Bristol Rovers found against the Bantams in the previous two games, there simply wasn’t any time for the players to make up for conceding so late. The referee blew the final whistle within seconds, the Port Vale fans cheered enthusiastically again.
Outside the ground one Valiants supporter stopped me and my friend to commiserate and bluntly sum up our misery: “You must feel like you’ve been punched in the stomach.” His kindness was a comfort of sorts, perhaps because it revealed even the opposition knew their late joy was not merited. As we had began to file out of the away end seconds earlier, City’s players had received a great reception for their efforts. As though we were all conscious not to let them think we we’re going to turn on them.
And why would we; for this was an evening featuring lots of positives, which now must be built upon rather than hastily written off. On the back of such a promising attacking performance at the weekend, City continued to look dangerous in the final third and are genuinely threatening to flourish over the coming weeks from their new, quick-fire passing approach.
Carrying on where they left off, Phil Parkinson’s two outfield signings Kyel Reid and Jamie Devitt again impressed greatly. The former enjoyed comfortably his best performance in a Bantams shirt to date and was behind so much of his team’s best moves, even working hard defending too. Devitt once more looked a player far above the level he is playing at – and the only negative from enjoying his elegant approach work and deft touches is knowing there is no way he will remain at Valley Parade for too long.
With Michael Flynn and Ritchie Jones linking up effectively in the centre of midfield and James Hanson showing greater work-rate and aggression than on Saturday, City were a joy to watch and had Vale on the ropes at times in the second half. We can only hope such eye-catching tactics prove more successful quickly, before they are compromised for something less appealing.
Because there is no doubt there are also some sizable problems for Parkinson to tackle. It took barely a minute for Port Vale to get in behind City’s backline, with Ben Williamson firing a one-on-one opportunity wide of the post. Soon after the home side took the lead with an outstanding long-distance strike from left back Rob Taylor, yet the time and space he’d been afforded to run at the back four and take aim was hugely worrying.
The opening weeks of the season are seeing City concede far too many soft goals. Opposition teams are not having to work nearly as hard to find the back of the net than they should. In each of the eight league games to date, City have gone 1-0 down. No matter how much good attacking play we see at the other end and whoever Parkinson eventually brings in as an extra striker option, without a solid defensive platform points will continue to be dropped.
It seemed as though City were getting better defensively with the second half display against Barnet, and draws with Sheffield Wednesday and Morecambe. Yet on Saturday and even more so tonight, leaks have sprung again. When Pope headed a sitter wide on seven minutes he should have been putting his side 3-0 up. During the first 45 minutes especially the entire back four looked panicky and unsure every time Vale attacked.
Not that this is an issue that should be blamed fully on the defence. Parkinson’s more expansive style of play is bringing out the best in Flynn and Jones going forwards; but not enough protection is being afforded to the back four, which the opposition are exploiting. Vale’s opener tonight was similar to Bristol Rovers’ second on Saturday in the fact no one was tracking deep runners in possession. Both also featured Flynn and Guy Branston arguing over who was to blame. The problem of how the midfield is set up when they don’t have the ball should be high on Parkinson’s radar.
At least City found their feet eventually; and with Reid causing havoc on both wings, chances began to occur at the other end. On 24 minutes Devitt struck an equally spectacular goal to Taylor’s, following a brilliant run by Reid which opened up the space. Branston’s header from Chris Mitchell’s corner was tipped onto the bar soon after, and a first away win of the campaign seemed more probable.
Yet momentum and spark was ruined by a howler from Duke just before half time. A corner into the box had initially been punched clear by the former Hull stopper, but Taylor’s attempt to float the ball back into the danger area ended up slowly looping in the air before dropping under the crossbar. Realising too late, Duke’s attempt to claw the ball away only speeded up its arrival in the back of the net.
Duke received some disappointingly venomous abuse from some City fans in the immediate aftermath. To date it had been a low-key start to his Bantams career, but although he enjoyed a more solid second half that included been targeted physically by Vale with high balls towards him in the box, this mistake now leaves him under greater scrutiny. Two weeks ago this evening, on-loan Oscar Jansson was performing penalty heroics for City before been sent back to Spurs early. Duke has it all to do, though the thinking behind Parkinson’s decision to swap a loanee for a permanent keeper is laudable.
In difficult conditions, home keeper Chris Martin didn’t enjoy a perfect night either. Five minutes into the second half, he might have done better in his attempt to keep out Jones’ low shot which nestled in the corner, following an excellent burst forward by Devitt. At 2-2 the game was end-to-end with City’s backline looking more solid and their fluent approach play cutting Vale open regularly. Devitt, Flynn and substitute Jack Compton all came close, while Duke made a couple of decent saves.
A draw seemed a fair result. But as the game headed towards stoppage time and City won a series of corners and throw in chances for Liam Moore, we were greedy for more. Instead, then came Pope’s punch in the stomach.
Much work needed defensively, and in the longer-term the increasing reliance on Reid and Devitt could prove a problem too. Both continue to struggle for match fitness and the threat from the visitors reduced considerably after Parkinson subbed them, with no one else in the team able to offer such pace. City’s style of play requires speed of thought in passing but also speed in movement, and while Devitt is able to offer that until at least the end of November there remains a troubling question of what happens next. Build the team around him now and worry about what to do after he leaves? A question for another time, perhaps.
Ultimately City left Vale Park as they arrived it – a work in progress. But while efforts to bolster the forward line are a visible priority for Parkinson, it may be the other end of the pitch where the most pressing work is required.
- Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Guy Branston, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | Chris Mitchell, Ritchie Jones, Michael Flynn, Kyel Reid | Jamie Devitt, James Hanson | Jack Compton, Nahki Wells
Revisiting the Sheffield United moment as Bradford City look to maintain upwards improvement at Port Vale
Bradford City play Port Vale At Vale Park in League Two, 2011/12
13 years ago yesterday, a struggling Bradford City side drew 2-2 with Sheffield United while offering the first genuine evidence that they could go onto enjoy a glorious season. The goals from Lee Mills and Robbie Blake that September 1998 afternoon sparked the beginning of an eight-match unbeaten run that laid the foundations for the Bantams’ promotion to the Premier League, which was joyfully confirmed against Wolves at Molineux the following May.
We didn’t believe such a feat could have been achieved during a dismal start to the season, at least not until we witnessed that attacking display against the Blades.
Back in the present day, City’s 2-2 draw with Bristol Rovers bore many similarities to that tussle with Sheffield United in more than just scoreline. On both occasions more was deserved from a display of attacking dynamism that repeatedly came close to ripping apart the opposition, but at the other end defensive frailties were ruthlessly punished to deny City the rightful three points. Whether history repeats itself in what happens next is highly questionable, but suddenly that prospect is not as far-fetched as it might have appeared a few weeks back.
So far, no one is really talking about our promotion hopes this campaign. The “building season” mantra declared by joint-Chairman Mark Lawn has been widely adopted and in general expectation is little above hoping for a top half finish. But after City produced their best attacking performance of the season on Saturday and continue to improve game-on-game, the question of how strong our promotion hopes are is one that could be pondered louder over the coming weeks.
The team is developing nicely, even though calls for a striker have got louder in the aftermath of the Bristol Rovers match. Defensively City are still shipping poor goals but are becoming more solid, in midfield there is great strength in depth – especially when injured players return – and even without this much coveted experienced forward there are plenty of options in attack. Does this squad compare favourably to the top teams in this division? Probably not right now. But with the emphasis on improvement and nurturing players, there is plenty of reasons to believe it could be amongst the strongest in a few months time.
The 1998/99 promotion was famous for the season’s poor start. Mills struggling to make his presence felt; Darren Moore not always taking the right option; Gareth Whalley needing time to settle in; Peter Beagrie trying to beat the same man too often. But with each game – just like this season – progression could be seen. Gradually it began to click, particularly when Robbie Blake was brought back in from the cold. Results suddenly took off and the team looked fantastic, especially after the confidence boost of the Sheffield United performance.
We’ve had too many false dawns since to get carried away with the potential shown by the present day City. But if not this season, promotion in the next one with this squad seems to be a realistic objective. That doesn’t mean a top seven place shouldn’t be targeted between now and May, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if it wasn’t achieved. The rate of progress may encounter some bumps and at times be less speedy than we’d hope, but early indicators are that it’s a path well worth sticking too.
Perhaps one day the Bristol Rovers performance will be looked back upon in a similar manner to the Sheffield United moment. It was certainly a notable step up from what has been seen to date, and for Phil Parkinson – who arrived at Valley Parade with a reputation for dour football which cast an image of Peter Taylor in all our minds – it was an interesting statement of intent.
His two outfield player signings to date have added flair and invention to the squad, rather than ordinary conventionality. As City passed the ball around so attractively on Saturday, you could see why Parkinson was coveted by Arsene Wenger.
Style is important, but results ultimately matter and City head to the Potteries and a game with Port Vale this evening for what should promise a useful yardstick of how far they are off the better teams. Vale currently lie in the play offs after a decent start, but more importantly and – in spite of huge upheaval off the field over the past 12 months – they are a relatively settled team used to winning more often than losing and well versed in challenging for the top seven. Micky Adams, who a year ago was Valiants manager before an unsuccessful spell at Sheffield United, is back at Vale Park and boosts a decent promotion record.
Perhaps more so than early season pace setters Morecambe and last year’s play off finalists Accrington, this is City’s first genuine away test against a promotion challenger.
With another tricky game to come against big-spending Crawley Town on Saturday, the option to chop and change players to maintain fitness is one Parkinson might choose to take this evening. Jamie Devitt had an effective game in a free role behind James Hanson up front on Saturday and may get the nod again, though he does seem short of fitness and may either be left on the bench or taken off during the second half, so he can also figure in Saturday’s plans.
Hanson, who had an average game on Saturday, performs a target man role that could become redundant in Parkinson’s new-look approach, but for now you feel he will probably remain in the first eleven. It’s clearly a challenging period in Hanson’s career, as criticism from supporters appears to intensify and his new manager talks repeatedly of signing another forward. Mark Stewart and Ross Hannah sit impatiently on the bench.
In midfield Kyel Reid – who went off with cramp on Saturday – will probably be benched and Jack Compton recalled. Chris Mitchell is proving very effective on the right but does appear to be slightly Whalley-esqe in the fact he will seemingly always be sacrificed when the team is losing and needs to go more direct. Ritchie Jones and Michael Flynn are building a strong partnership in the centre.
The back five will remain unchanged, though competition may become fiercer. Luke O’Brien continues to sit on the sidelines but you fancy he will get a chance at some point; Lewis Hunt is an injury to either Liam Moore, Luke Oliver or Guy Branston away from the chance to reignite his Bantams career. Steve Williams is approaching full fitness but will find Oliver and Branston tough to budge when he does. Simon Ramsden’s future looks bleak but shouldn’t be written off.
Matt Duke keeps goal with Jon McLaughlin under Parkinson’s orders to challenge him. To date Duke has had little to do but has conceded three times in two games.
The two away games that followed City’s 2-2 draw with Sheffield United 13 years ago featured a surprise victory in the Midlands (West Brom) and credible draw against the pre-season promotion favourites (Sunderland). Were this piece of history to repeat itself this week, the prospects for the season ahead will appear even more exciting.
18 days on from a rather unpleasant-looking storm brewing over Valley Parade, it’s hard to imagine how the past two weeks could have gone any better for the Bradford City Board. When Peter Jackson resigned as manager on Thursday 25th August, the lack of explanation initially offered left Joint Chairman Mark Lawn on the receiving end of some truly venomous criticism. Yet just like the summer interest from Steve Parkin in taking over the club, Lawn has avoided any serious blows and emerged in a stronger position.
Sometimes you just can’t win and, having dallied for a long time appointing a replacement for Peter Taylor last season, the speed at which Lawn and Julian Rhodes recruited Phil Parkinson following Jackson’s walk out was viewed by some as too hasty. Yet a period that could have been so disruptive and difficult has proven to be a relatively smooth affair.
Michael Flynn’s last-minute penalty on Saturday means the team still hasn’t lost since Jackson departed – a notable statistic given four of the five previous games had ended in defeat. Parkinson has made three exciting signings that have undoubtedly improved the squad, while at the same time not dismantling the team building that had taken place before him. City have being drawn to play rivals Huddersfield Town in round two of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Colin Cooper’s decision to quit the club last week is the only genuine negative moment in two weeks of good news.
When the storm clouds gathered, Lawn was typically not shy in sharing his views. But while he may not be blameless for Jackson’s departure it’s hard to dispute that – fronting up to a potential crisis – he has shown strong leadership that has made a positive difference. It could easily have gone much worse this last fortnight, and Lawn could have justifiably pointed the blame at others for that happening. But while most managerial changes in recent years have seen this club go backwards, the early signs are that we are still moving forwards.
Lawn probably won’t get it from some quarters, but he deserves credit for this and for maintaining the long-term approach that it appears he and Rhodes chose to instigate this summer. Since the end of last season the pair have secured the club’s immediate future at Valley Parade by pouring more of their own money in, addressed the long-standing training ground problems and revamped the way young players are recruited and nurtured. They could have just as easily told Jackson to make do with Appleby Bridge – it’s not as if he was complaining – and thrown all the money into a playing budget and make it a ‘promotion or bust’ season yet again. Instead they have focused on a new vision to improve the club.
Jackson’s departure was the first test of this strategy, but instead of being tempted to tear it up they sought to take decisions that ensured its continuation. If the rift between chief scout Archie Christie and Jackson was as bad as some say they could have handled that very differently, such as by sacking the former Dagenham scout. We don’t know the ins and outs of what really happened, but it’s clear the pair retained support for Christie and backed him to continue the job he has started.
Time will tell how successful Christie’s development squad will prove. A sad fallout from the whole Jackson saga is that a number of supporters now view Christie in a negative light and seem less willing to support the development squad idea. But in making this appointment during the summer it’s clear Lawn and Rhodes sought to find a football man to instigate a strategy they are not qualified to manage (and – not that BfB believes Lawn cares what we think – we did tell him). That’s not to say Christie is some form of genuis (his role at Dagenham may have been slightly overplayed), but clearly he has strong contacts and has brought in some talented players from Scotland and England.
It appears getting rid of him – if that ever was a consideration – would have left a bigger hole than Jackson did.
Lawn appeared to handle the criticism he received remarkably well. It seemed he accepted why he was targeted and didn’t seek to make it worse by arguing back. He didn’t challenge his critics to a fight, and he didn’t label those who questioned him ‘morons’. Instead he concentrated on getting City back on track. It’s too early to judge whether appointing Parkinson is a great decision, but initial signs look very promising.
Lawn will probably never be widely popular among City supporters. But the fading levels of criticism towards him probably illustrate just what a good job he and Julian Rhodes have done in guiding the club over this unexpected bump in the road.
- Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Guy Branston, Robbie Threlfall | Chris Mitchell, Ritchie Jones, Michael Flynn, Kyel Reid | Jamie Devitt, James Hanson | Ross Hannah, Jack Compton, Mark Stewart
Bradford City 2 Bristol Rovers 2 At Valley Parade in League Two, 2011/12
To an outsider at least, Bradford City’s start to the season must appear to be on the brink of being labelled catastrophic. Yet within the four sides of Valley Parade this afternoon and over the past few weeks, it’s hard to recall the last time we felt so giddy with excitement.
Michael Flynn’s successful stoppage time penalty means City have struck a late equaliser two weeks running and stretches the unbeaten run to four games, though only once in this season’s nine league and cup matches to date have the Bantams won outright over the 90 minutes. Yet while in the past such form would prompt moaning, instead there is optimism. We’re not looking at the future with glass-half-empty despair, but with relish. No panic, just patience.
When at half time the players trooped back to the dressing room a goal down to a decent Bristol Rovers side they did so with the boost of a standing ovation from just under 10,000 home supporters. How many times has this scenario happened over the past decade? Typically when losing at the break, the only question is how loud in volume the boos would be; yet today there was a defiant and powerful message delivered to players – we’re genuinely right behind you.
And how richly deserved that standing ovation was. Lining up in a 4-4-1-1 formation which allowed loan signing Jamie Devitt to operate in a free role behind James Hanson, City dictated the tempo right from kick off and produced a display of attacking, passing football that was remarkable to watch. The ball was passed back and forth with great accuracy and some dazzling attacking moves were only thwarted by a strong visiting defence or eventual slight inaccuracy in possession.
For the last four seasons in League Two, we’ve largely become used to a more direct style of football which has proved effective at times but at others was dismal to watch. Today City looked as if they’d spent the week watching DVDs of Arsenal and – dare I say it – Barcelona. Quick fire, one-touch football with the ball knocked across from wing to wing and ending up in the penalty area having remained on the turf on route, rather than hit high. On another day and against weaker opposition City could easily have been three or four goals up.
Devitt is skilful in possession and proved hugely effective in his free role, while fellow home debutant Kyel Reid looked a constant menace on the left wing and regularly had the beating of Pirates’ right back Adam Virgo. With Chris Mitchell again providing that mixture of width and central support alongside the again impressive Ritchie Jones and Flynn, the Bantams dominated the first half through their stylish approach.
Goalscoring opportunities were less frequent, though Devitt was unfortunate to see an overhead kick attempt sail over, Flynn could have gone better with an effort from the edge of the area and Devitt again came close with an excellent run but weak shot. The best opportunity of all fell to Jones, whose late charge into the box saw him meet Reid’s superb cross brilliantly with head and the gangling Scott Bevan pulled off a world class tip over. Aside from a moment of confusion where Bristol Rovers thought they had scored – only for the dismal referee Nigel Miller to eventually realise his linesman had flagged for a foul rather than goal – it was one-way traffic.
So when Matt Harrold got free of Luke Oliver to send a looping header over Matt Duke and into the net, following a superb pass from Stuart Campbell, there was no justice at all. City continued to press, but the downside of Phil Parkinson’s formation – which had been hinted before the goal – came into focus when two brilliant crosses into the box were missed by home players. There just weren’t enough people getting into the box and, as wonderful as the build up in the final third was at times, City lacked options when it came to finishing them.
Hanson bore the brunt of this frustration from supporters. Understandable at times as his work rate seemed to be lacking his usual high standards, but once again it seems a question of feeding him the ball in areas where he can hurt the opposition. Perhaps this new style of play means selecting a target man like Hanson isn’t going to be the most effective approach. But equally more runs into the box from midfield are needed to support him or whoever is selected up front instead, and as the half came to an end with that uplifting standing ovation the question to ponder was whether we are lacking a striker or just missing David Syers.
The quality of City’s play wasn’t as exceptional in the second half – partly because of Rovers’ manager Paul Buckle’s decision to place a deep-sitting midfielder right in front of his back four in an effort to curb Devitt’s influence – but enough of a head of steam was built up to find an equaliser on the hour.
Hanson’s header from a corner struck the post and Devitt’s rebound attempt was blocked by a defender, but as the Hull City youngster looked set to hit another shot at goal he was hauled down for a penalty. Flynn – second-choice penalty taker behind the benched Jack Compton – side footed it casually into the right corner and the strong backing from fans increased further in volume as substitute Ross Hannah forced Bevan into another outstanding save.
Disappointingly the Bantams sat back and Bristol Rovers re-took the lead when Eliot Richards was allowed too much space to send a powerful shot past Duke. It is a source of worry that a back four which looks solid for the most part of games can then switch off and is so often punished for doing so. Guy Branston, Oliver, Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall couldn’t be faulted during the match, but Parkinson needs to find a way of tightening them up further.
City pressed hard in the closing stages, but just like last week you couldn’t see an equaliser occurring. But then, half way through the four minutes of injury time, a great piece of skill by Devitt lead to him being tripped in the box for another penalty. Compton – who again impressed when coming on – pressed his claim to take the spot kick, but Flynn was given the responsibility a second time, firing into the opposite corner despite Bevan’s best attempts to keep it out.
Another draw doesn’t do much for City’s league position, but there’s no doubt an upwards direction is being taken. From being unlucky to lose games at the start of the season, the Bantams are now somewhat unfortunate to be drawing matches. Parkinson’s ongoing search for a striker might prove to be the final piece in the jigsaw, but if the current standards of performance are maintained the victories will surely come.
And when they do, the joy is everyone’s to share. The atmosphere inside Valley Parade today was superb and while it might not intimidate the opposition it certainly makes a difference to our players. Everyone can see how much they care and are trying for this club, and only an incredibly heartless person wouldn’t appreciate their commitment.
Peter Jackson, Colin Cooper, Archie Christie and Parkinson have or are building a team that we can truly feel proud of, and the half time standing ovation proved how much we care about – and feel inspired by – our players.
- Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Guy Branston, Robbie Threlfall | Chris Mitchell, Ritchie Jones, Michael Flynn, Kyel Reid | Jamie Devitt, James Hanson | Ross Hannah, Jack Compton, Mark Stewart
Bradford City play Bristol Rovers At Valley Parade in League Two, 2011/2012
Welshman John Hartson likes a good rant. When his Wimbledon team conceded a goal at Valley Parade in 2000 he ranted his way to a red card after reportedly nearly ranting his way to one in the tunnel before this game. Something in the last eleven years has convinced the good people at ITV that he should be given the microphone in support of the England vs Wales game in the week and so his rants moved into my front room.
Moving aside from the curiousness of his statements on the English having an Italian manager Hartson declared himself excited by the young Welsh team which claimed a gallant defeat at Wembley casting a critical eye on Fabio Capello’s England who had ended the game as victors, a draw off winning the group and qualifying for the European Championships.
Hartson’s excitement is justified – Wales look like they might have a team capable of undoing the wrongs committed against the country by John Toshack and getting back to the Mark Hughes side of 2004 where they nearly qualified for a major competition – but as a practical concern it misses the rather obvious point that what he is getting excited about has become tedious for the team he criticises.
No matter what one thinks of England’s performance there has become a kind of metronomic precision to the national team’s progression to World Cup’s and European Championships. Since the early 1980s England have missed three summers of what will be sixteen times of asking. While Hartson may be excited about the chance to be a part of one of those tournaments the reality of football is that England will be.
Which is because – as has been proved over the last two games, and the previous World Cup qualifying under Fabio Capello – England are good at winning games and getting results to get to the sort of tournaments which their group opposition aspire to.
Being good at getting results is not always something to get excited about but the last minute conversion of Jack Compton’s cross by Ross Hannah at Morecambe last week has pulses racing. City’s game plan seemed to have been blown away in the blustery coastal winds but Phil Parkinson’s new team showed a character to keep going and a resolve to nick a goal which turned a defeat into a good result.
Again a reality of football is that at all levels an away draw is always a good result and if a team wins home matches, draws away amassing two points a game then it will probably end up promoted. Parkinson is looking to build on that result with his first home game.
Parkinson inherited a City team which seemed to be growing in belief. The 4-2 win over Barnet showed what could happen if the young team got the ball down and passed it. In the league, since Peter Jackson left, City have a home win and an away draw.
Another former England manager – Sir Bobby Robson – said that a team needed a player who scored one in two and another who scored one in three and then it would do well. Up front James Hanson has three in six games and he may be partnered with Ross Hannah who has two in six. Mark Stewart would be unlucky to step down after some very good performances but Hannah has knocked firmly on the door. Nakhi Wells is back from international duty while Nialle Rodney is injured.
The midfield two of Richie Jones and Michael Flynn is growing in effectiveness. It is curious that Welshman Flynn – obviously a player capable enough to be in the side – was being cast aside by Jackson with no more explanation than the idea that the manager “didn’t fancy him” as if that were a reason to lose a good and useful player. Chris Mitchell will hope that his last league performance at Valley Parade has not been forgotten and Jack Compton will hope his pinpoint cross to Hannah wins him a place in the side but Kyel Reid and – especially – Jamie Devitt will be hoping to get places on the wing.
Matt Duke will keep goal behind an increasingly settled back four of Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Guy Branston and Robbie Threlfall.
The Bantams face a Bristol Rovers team who are sitting in mid-table as they recover from relegation and are smarting from a 4-1 defeat by City’s opposition next week Crawley Town. Rovers have not won since the 16th of August and when a team is not winning then there is always a worry. As City found before Jackson’s surprise exit losing can be softened by an exciting, young team.
How long exciting losing under Jackson could have been tolerated we will never know, but perhaps John Hartson will tell us.
Comments off. Michael Wood is on holiday.
The truth about Luke O’Brien’s absence from the City squad under Peter Jackson, that was the promise. The left back went from sure starter to not being able to get on the bench and now Simon Parker would lift the lid in the Telegraph and Argus.
I simply wasn’t in (Peter) Jackson’s plans. End of story – Luke O’Brien
And there it was. The end of Parker’s story and nothing else with it. No investigation as to why O’Brien might have fallen from those plans in the space of a few weeks and – in the article at least – no attempt to question O’Brien for that piece of information.
Likewise during his time at the club there was no question poised to Jackson about O’Brien and why one of the club’s players had been frozen out – or if there was it was not answered – but after Jackson’s exit there was this article saying that O’Brien was “(shooting) down the conspiracy theories regarding his lack of action for City.”
Let me say at this point that I’ve no ace to grind with Simon Parker or anyone else who writes about City. Jason, myself and the other writers of BfB pretty much write when it occurs to us rather than having to hit a deadline and are not bound by the need to maintain relations with the club. Parker does a tough job and he does it under pressure from his employers and (indirectly) the club on one side and a demanding readership on the other. I’ve no axe to grind with Parker or anyone else who covers City.
However the reporting on the club seems to slip into condescension far too often. If a person covering City is not able to get to the truth of a situation then I’d rather that they did not present a half truth, and present it in such a dismissive manner.
We have no idea of the truth of O’Brien’s absence before or after Parker’s article and the reaction to being told that he was not in Jackson’s plans is to find out why. If that is not possible then do not write a story which talks about “conspiracy theories” that you are not able to cast any light on.
Likewise when BfB found out that Omar Daley had been offered a new two year deal at Bradford City within an hour Derm Tanner had tweeted that there was no truth in the story. Three weeks ago we found out that Daley was heading for Motherwell, Daley headed for Motherwell two weeks later. The information came from the same place. Tanner might have been right to say that Jackson did not believe there was any truth in it, but simply repeating what he was told is hardly the stuff of investigative reporting.
Again, this is not to criticise Tanner, but rather to point to the idea that if the people who cover the football club are not able to investigate stories beyond asking a single person and dragging very little out of them then I would rather that they did not present their version as “the truth” especially if it is so obviously limited. If it is not possible to do more than asking O’Brien and print the words “end of” then it might be best to change the tone of articles.
Of course this is not important. In the end getting to the truth of why Luke O’Brien did not play or even why Omar Daley said he was getting a deal and Peter Jackson said he did not really do not matter in the scheme of things but for he people who report on the club to be in the habit of not asking questions, or not attempting to dig into stories, of not looking any deeper than the first thing they are presented with is not a good position for the club to be in.
After all if the history of this club’ boardroom tells us one thing it is the supports are not always presented with an accurate version of events. At the moment Bradford City may be being run superbly, as well as possible, but that has not always been the case and the current board would appreciate the fact from the situation they inherited and the reasons for that.
If the reporters who cover City are not able to question the official line it would be good if they did not present that as truth.
There are no comments on this article, Michael is on holiday.
Colin Cooper today departed Bradford City having built up a standing most unusual in recent years – he was a popular assistant manager.
For sometime now it has felt like, whoever was the Bantams’ number two, he has been responsible for the much of the continuing failings on the field – despite the absence of any evidence. Wayne Jacobs, Junior Lewis (a coach rather than number two, but high up on the ladder under Peter Taylor nonetheless), Bobby Davidson, Ian Banks, Billy Brown, Malcolm Shotton – all criticised either instead of or alongside their gaffer.
It is a high profile role, undertaken in a very low profile manner. We see them often on the touchline, but no one really knows what they are supposed to be doing.
Cooper arrived at Valley Parade in February shortly after Peter Jackson became interim manager – with Jacobs and Lewis having been placed on gardening leave by the Board the day after Taylor bid farewell. For a while you could hear the standard jibes at games – “how come we can’t defend when Cooper is assistant manager?” – but in the end his decision to head back to Middlesbrough to coach the under 18s is one met with widespread sadness.
Perhaps also some confusion. True, Cooper has strong ties with the North East club which he was born close by to and begun and ended his playing career at. He was also assistant manager under Gareth Southgate as Boro slid out of the Premier League. Yet having placed himself in the shop window when thrust into temporary command of City – performing impressively – going on to coach a youth team appears to be a step down, when managing a Football League club would appear to be an achievable ambition better met by remaining a number two for now.
It is slightly foolish to judge Cooper on two matches as caretaker, but the way he guided the young City team through the difficult period of Jackson’s shock exit and helped bed in new manager Phil Parkinson was highly impressive. In charge against Barnet two weeks ago, a passing, attacking style of play was great to watch and led to the club’s only league win to date. He followed that up by leading City to a JPT cup win on penalties, and there were plenty of people wishing he could be given a longer spell in charge of the team.
It appeared Cooper was happy to take a step back and carry on in the previous role of assistant manager, but this attractive offer from Middlesbrough proved tempting.
Like any assistant coach, the legacy he leaves behind isn’t obvious. But the likes of Nahki Wells declaring Cooper was the best coach he’d ever worked with suggested he was popular with the players. We can also, realistically, attribute the improvement in defensive performances at least partly to his tutelage. Luke Oliver is the main case in point – looking average at best under Taylor and surely on his way out, his performances towards the end of last season and this have been outstanding. It will be interesting to see if the giant defender can maintain his form now Cooper has left.
Who Parkinson turns to now as assistant is unclear. Mark Kinsella performed the role for him at Charlton but is currently manager of Southern League Division One Central side Daventry Town. Preston boss Phil Brown was Parkinson’s first team coach at Hull City and Geraint Williams his assistant at Colchester. Interestingly both Kinsella and Williams were internal appointments rather than being brought in by Parkinson. If he goes down this route again, perhaps Wayne Allison is a contender for a promotion?
Whoever gets the role, it may well prove the case that Cooper’s name is not far off our radar. The best manager in the history of Bradford City could be looked back upon as an ‘if only’ moment, especially if Parkinson fails to be successful. Years of failure at Valley Parade leave us regularly second guessing the worst case scenario; and if the pressure builds on Parkinson you can already here the complaints of “why didn’t Lawn give Cooper chance instead of rushing to appoint Parkinson?”
Perhaps Lawn – who it is rumoured was witness to a less than impressive side of Cooper’s attitude than his glowing reputation would suggest, during Jackson’s final days – was in a position to know much better. That’s the frustration with assistant managers, we never truly know how good or bad they really are – not that it stops many of us from forming an opinion anyway.
As Bradford City faced up to a defeat going into the closing stages of Saturday’s game with Morecambe, a heavy sense of disappointment hung in the drizzly sea air. Yet with plenty of time to contemplate matters while the home team time-wasted in vain, a thought crossed my mind over how much this apparently inevitable loss actually mattered.
Of course any defeat is disappointing and the fact it would have left the Bantams 91st in the English football pyramid would have been tough to stomach. With no midweek game, there would have been far too much time to brood before Bristol Rovers next Saturday offered an opportunity to get the despair out of our system. But in the wider scheme of the next nine months of the season and our expectations, it appeared little would have been lost from Hannah’s exhilarating equaliser never occurring.
Because this season’s primary objective – unlike the past four – is not promotion. Sure, we’d all love it to happen and a morale-sapping loss to Morecambe would have pushed that dream further away. Yet for the first time there is already a soft cushion to break our fall if and when the reality of promotion hopes looking hopeless occurs. There will be no scratching head of moment and wondering what to do next; no significant misery when thinking that “we’ve got to go to bloody Macclesfield again” next season; no angry demands for key personnel to get out of our club; and no need to rip everything up and start again.
New boss Phil Parkinson talks Alan Partridge-esqe of evolution not revolution in his plans since taking over from Peter Jackson – and expectations towards what he can and should achieve are unaltered. This is a ‘building season’. A term some can argue lacks ambition but others would point out has heart-warming connotations. Building means get better. To improve. Succeed with this approach and, at the end of this season, we’ll be stronger than when we began it – how often has that proved the case over the past few years?
And what makes that not just bearable but downright exciting is the positive attitude this outlook engulfs in almost everyone. Jackson and Archie Christie did not spend this summer recruiting apparently proven players with the objective of them being instantly successful, but people with the potential to develop and grow with the Bantams. We have players who genuinely want to be here, and are telling anyone and everyone who listens that this is the case. Get on Twitter and read the lovely things our players have to say about the club and about us fans. Watch them perform with 100% commitment every time they take to the field – as they have in every game so far. They are here to further their careers – not by putting themselves in the shop window, but because they consider this to be the place to do it.
Something special is fostering within this club, and it has the potential to be a fantastic journey.
Parkinson arrives very much the outsider. Clearly on board with the philosophy, but having not been around to instigate it. He will go on and do it his own way for sure, but there is no need to stamp his own authority on the squad or to adopt a different path in some ill-judged attempt to justify his worth.
Just read what he told the Telegraph and Argus after the Morecambe draw:
I have found so many good people at this club this week. So many are prepared to give everything they’ve got for the cause of Bradford City on and off the pitch. There are a lot of people pulling in the right direction. I just hope we give it time and supporters will see a gradual improvement.”
In the cold light of the League Two table not much is different. City are only two points better off and one place higher up than they were exactly a year ago – and we all remember how badly that campaign turned out. Yet even without Hannah’s intervention at the Globe Arena, the mood this week would not be one of fear and panic, with early calls for the manager to be sacked and to take his star player with him. That was the case 12 months ago this week after a 2-0 home loss to Port Vale which saw Tommy Doherty booed.
While no two supporters will ever hold exactly the same view, in general there is a groundswell of approval towards the new-look Bradford City squad and great affection towards the players. If Doherty was last year’s headline-grabbing signing, this summer’s was Guy Branston. Some idiots started to boo him against Barnet last Saturday, but despite a slow start to the season his passion and work rate for the club means he is very popular. On Saturday he was awarded with his first chant.
Look through the team and the outlook is the same. Mark Stewart is yet to score, but gets his name chanted when subbed. Jack Compton lacks a bit of pace, but everyone’s on their feet when he picks the ball up out wide. Liam Moore is quickly becoming a favourite, even if the Nathan Doyle comparisons are far-fetched. Heck even Luke Oliver’s performances are rightly winning approval.
Sure James Hanson and Michael Flynn are attracting some criticism, but neither are short of fans willing to fight their corner either. The standards of work rate and application have been set high and everyone coming into the team has to live up to them. Mistakes will be made, games will be lost and the need for improvement won’t diminish – but in general it seems we fans are desperate to stick with the players rather than turn on them.
Back at Southend on April 15 2011, the smattering of loyal City fans present for a feeble 4-0 defeat famously chanted “We love the club, hate the team.” The ill-feeling towards that group of players was at times slightly over the top, but the contrast in the attitude of this year’s team is stark. That does not mean they will prove any more successful in carrying City towards the upper echelons of this division, but it seems we will be more forgiving of them if they aren’t.
Of course it would have mattered a lot if City had lost to Morecambe on Saturday. But the pain would be shared between the team and supporters rather than the latter group slating the former. There’s a feeling we are in this together, battling for the same cause and as desperate as each other to achieve it. So it mattered that Hannah scored to reward that collective spirit and enable it to grow even more.
As supporters we always want to win, otherwise why bother wasting time and money following City? But more than ever this season it seems we want to win because we have fallen back in love with our football team and feel proud to be a City fan again.
Maintain that feeling until May; and this season will have been a success regardless of what the league table states.
- Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Guy Branston, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | Chris Mitchell, Ritchie Jones, Michael Flynn, Kyel Reid | James Hanson, Mark Stewart | Jamie Devitt, Ross Hannah, Jack Compton
Morecambe 1 Bradford City 1 At The Globe Arena in League Two, 2011/12
Sometimes a game of football doesn’t make much sense. It wasn’t that Morecambe and Bradford City’s trading of a goal led to an unfair result this afternoon, but there was a strong argument to be made that each side was undeserved in the timing of its reward.
Having possessed a greater measure of assurance in the first half and begun the second placing heavy pressure on the home team, the 57th minute goal the Bantams conceded to Izek Reid of Morecambe was harsh. But after spending the final half hour abandoning everything good about their play and appearing to get worse with each passing minute, super-sub Ross Hannah’s dramatic 93rd equaliser felt like a badly-behaved kid receiving an underserved prize.
Not that any one of us 1,639 supporters – City’s largest League Two away support since Peter Taylor’s first match as manager in February 2010 – were complaining too much, as wild celebrations spilled out onto Morecambe’s pitch, mind.
It had been a frustrating second half, where confidence and belief seemed to be wilting away from City’s players and in the stands. And while no one will get carried away with the exhilarating ending, there was relief that a morale-denting defeat was avoided. Without Hannah’s timely intervention, the Bantams would now appear second bottom of the early league table.
And more importantly, without Hannah’s goal the undoubted positives that were evidenced from Phil Parkinson’s first official game would have been washed away in the dreary September rain that refused to let up over the Globe Arena. Reid’s goal for Morecambe means City have still yet to keep a clean sheet in the league since Macclesfield last April – 14 games ago – but the improvement in the back four during the last eight days alone is commendable. In midfield Ritchie Jones and Michael Flynn are blossoming as a partnership, with the former having his best game so far for the club. In attack James Hanson and Mark Stewart are forging a good understanding and providing opposition teams with a tough time.
For the first hour of this game, it seemed this collective team ethic could lay on the platform for a first away win of the season. During a far-from-thrilling first half not aided by a fussy referee, Hanson, Stewart, Chris Mitchell and Robbie Threlfall came close with efforts that landed over or wide of the post. At the other end debutant Bantams keeper Matt Duke had little to do but watch long-range efforts fly out of the Globe Arena, though Phil Jevons should have scored for Morecambe when he blasted over inside the area.
The transition period from Peter Jackson to Parkinson has seen City start to adopt a deeper backline that is making them far more solid. Following the Sheffield Wednesday win, Guy Branston and Luke Oliver were again outstanding at the back dealing expertly with high balls and looking comfortable in possession on the deck. Oliver’s recent performances in particular are stunning. Everyone expected him to follow Taylor through the same exit door last season, yet – under Jackson in the final few games and since being restored to the team this season at Oxford – he has produced his best form since joining the club.
When City had the ball it was largely passed attractively back and forth. Another new signing, Kyel Reid, caught the eye with some fast-paced runs and Mitchell provided width on the right. Flynn and Jones looked as in control as any midfielders of League Two standard can be, and City began the second half in the ascendency with Branston, Oliver and Reid coming close.
Suddenly Morecambe scored after an almightily scramble in the box, which had begun with Laurence Wilson’s long range shot hitting the bar, two more pokes at goal being blocked and then Reid smashing the ball past Duke. And then it all unravelled very quickly, with the added concern that Parkinson might be adding to the problems rather than solving them. He made a substitution just two minutes later, with Mitchell taken off for third debutant Jamie Devitt and City apparently set up more gung ho.
Fear, panic and desperation sank in far too early. The players stopped doing the things that had led to them shading the match – and that, with patience, could have led to an equaliser and perhaps even a winner.
Instead of passing the ball on the ground, it was launched long to Hanson. Instead of relying on Jones and Flynn’s influence, the pair regularly saw the ball launched over their heads and became spectators. Instead of methodical build up, players resorted to overly ambitious passes down the channels rather than to a team mate.
Hanson battled hard, but the three sections of the team were becoming too isolated from each other and possession was too often weakly surrendered. A lot of throw ins from dangerous areas, a lot of balls into the box looking for City heads; but the quality was declining rapidly.
The highly impressive Devitt forced Barry Roche into a decent save from a direct free kick, Hanson was denied by the Morecambe keeper a minute later with a downwards header from a Threlfall set piece. Another home scramble in the box almost resulted in a second goal. Hannah and Jack Compton came on, but the likelihood of a strong fightback lessened with heads dropping at each poor pass or comfortable home clearance. Duke made a good save late on, which would soon be looked back upon as vital.
Three of the four minutes of stoppage time were up when Hannah unleashing a stunning half-volley into the bottom corner, to equalise. It came just seconds after City had a strong penalty appeal rejected, which they reacted to in a manner they’d failed to achieve during the 33 minutes they’d trailed – quickly. As we screamed abuse at the referee for failing to consider a handball to be a handball, possession was worked to Compton in space out wide to set up Hannah’s goal.
A good moment for Compton, who’d been harshly dropped from the starting eleven. An even better moment for Hannah, who matched City fans in the level of excitement of his celebration. A bad moment for former loanee Kevin Ellison, who lay on the ground dubiously claiming he’d been fouled in the build up. An even worse moment for his team-mate Roche, whose frustrating time-wasting antics during the final 30 minutes of the game contributed to the length of injury time he conceded in.
Parkinson urged the players over to thank City’s supporters at the final whistle, but one hopes he was not too happy with the way his team lost confidence so quickly after conceding and that he will not be implementing such a direct style of play in future. It makes sense to adopt a more desperate game plan in the final 10 minutes when losing, but in the last two games this team has shown a watching Parkinson it has much more to offer. His substitutions proved effective, but to me the switchover in tactics came too soon.
In the end that team got its reward; but it was hard to escape the conclusion that it did so in spite of – rather than because of – the way they played.
If that makes any sense.
- Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Guy Branston, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | Chris Mitchell, Ritchie Jones, Michael Flynn, Kyel Reid | James Hanson, Mark Stewart | Jamie Devitt, Ross Hannah, Jack Compton
Bradford City play Morecambe At The Globe Arena in League Two, 2011/2012
Peter Jackson’s finest hour was away at Morcambe. The then City manager put together a midfield of Jon Worthington and Michael Flynn which was resilient enough to battle in a tough game which was settled by the odd goal – a header from James Hanson.
City had some to spare too. Gareth Evans missed a penalty in the last minute and that should have been the conclusion of the afternoon but it was not. There was a moment, a moment when Jackson’s large black coat shifted and he turned with his fist raised uppercutting the sky in triumph.
Peter Jackson had arrived.
Stuart McCall was sick, literally sick, on the coach on the way back from Morecambe. He had seen his team take the lead through a scrambled goal by Matt Clarke and Peter Thorne had converted from short range but the Referee seemed to miss the ball crossing the line and it was cleared. Rene Howe gave the home side the winner, he was offside when he received the ball. Standing less than six foot from the linesman we saw the official’s flag raise and then fall indecisively. When the information got back to McCall he replied “I wish you had not told me that.”
City’s play-off push faltered at Morecambe although one might not have known that from the nonchalance hat players like Keith Gillespie, Paul McLaren and Chris Brandon showed. As McCall’s nerves brought their own gastric assault the players seemed to barely break sweat. They would not bust a gut for a manager who emptied his own.
His end came ten months later, that that was the start of the end for Stuart McCall.
Phil Parkinson starts his time as Bradford City manager in Morecambe. The new City boss was appointed on Monday but let Colin Cooper take charge of the win over Sheffield Wednesday. Cooper’s reward was – despite a rumour that said that he had become persona non grata at Valley Parade – to be told he would retain the position of assistant manager to Parkinson as he had been to Jackson.
It is heartening that Parkinson values the continuity that Cooper represents. A good manager values that. A good manager is also flexible. Parkinson is known for his tactics which Colin Todd called the death of football but he was also Arsene Wenger’s choice for assistant manager should Pat Rice have left. One might think that the Gooners can play a different way to Colchester United and that Parkinson would be adaptable enough to see that.
Certainly Peter Taylor did not have that adaptability. He arrived at Valley Parade with a team which tried a passing game and dismantled it as quickly as he could. Watching the last two Bradford games and it became clear that when the ball is on the grass City can play a bit. Morecambe will start to tell us if for Phil Parkinson the tactics define the team or the team the tactics.
Parkinson got to work at City quickly bringing in experienced keeper Matt Duke. Parkinson made it clear that he does not think a club can do much with an on loan goalkeeper and wants his own senior man between the sticks. There are few examples of a team doing well with an on loan keeper – although City’s history offers Jon Gould at Wembley – and Parkinson’s first decision could be his wisest. Duke is expected to come straight into the side, Oscar Jansson to return to Spurs soon.
Liam Moore is not returning to Leicester City any time soon having signed an extension for his contract until the start of 2012 – perhaps Simon Ramsden will be fit then – which is a good reward for a player doing well. Also doing well after a shaky start is Guy Branston who has had his form pick up and – with Luke Oliver – is building an understanding. Steve Williams is hoping to be fit soon but both players deserves to keep their places. Robbie Threlfall will continue at left back although it was good to see Luke O’Brien back on Tuesday night.
The midfield has two new faces with Kyel Reid and Jamie Devitt both coming in. The pair are both wingers and seem to have ended Michael Bryan’s time at Valley Parade – the Watford winger has made little impact since he arrived from Vicarage Road – and but one hopes not Jack Compton who has done well in his first month at Valley Parade.
Compton is expected to take a place on the left with Devitt hoping to get a chance on the right – Reid has missed out on pre-season and is not at match fitness – although Chris Mitchell’s display against Barnet would justify his selection. Richie Jones and Michael Flynn are expected to continue in the middle.
Paul Benson moved nowhere in the transfer window with Parkinson saying that the player wanted more than his club – and it seems AFC Bournemouth – were prepared to pay and I cannot say that this worries me. James Hanson proved against Barnet that if there is supply for him then he will score and not only that but that he can make the most of different types of supply. Hanson’s converting of the low cross, rising at the far stick, whellying from the edge of the box shows a player of some variety. I’d rather have him than Paul Benson.
I would rather have Mark Stewart too who is the only centreforward who I have seen be given two standing ovations without scoring. Stewart’s running, his intelligence, his interplay with the midfield are a big factor in the season turnaround. Ross Hannah cools his heels waiting.
Parkinson waits too. What will his Morecambe be? The gut-wrenching down of Stuart McCall, the high water mark of Jackson. Time will tell, managers are not made at Morecambe.
The shock resignation of Peter Jackson so close to last Saturday’s home game with Barnet meant parts of the matchday programme had become out of date – but somewhat by accident, director Roger Owen’s Boardroom notes appeared to be perfectly timed.
Owen began his column criticising the manner in which some supporters on Bradford City’s Official Message Board (OMB) had been attacking the club. This was connected with the Bantams’ slow start to the season but – with the OMB going into overdrive during the 48 hours before the Barnet game and many users queuing up to attack Mark Lawn over Jackson’s departure – Owen’s views seemed even more applicable. He said:
The inane and ill in formed (sic) comment s (sic) of a few on the Club’s message board do you no favours whatsoever and my clear advice to those who specialise in this type of comment is quite simply ‘find something better to do with your time’.
Everyone is entitled to pay their money and voice their opinion, but wild speculation, often attributed to ‘someone close to the club’ is wrong. If you have anything to say put your own name to it.
The fall out over Jackson almost deserved for the OMB to carry a parental warning, given how strong and nasty some of the personal attacks were towards Lawn especially. Without any explanation at that point offered by the Board or Jackson as to why the latter handed in his resignation, many quickly jumped to conclusions and instigated criticism. A week later and we still do not know the facts of that meeting. Any conclusions had to be half baked, and were often over-the-top.
While the Board could have been quicker in communicating and perhaps been more open and honest – and while Lawn probably shouldn’t be free of some blame for the situation – that so many were so quick to judge and spout anger without facts did not reflect brilliantly on City supporters.
Yet that’s life – and that’s the instant communication, social media-driven world that we live in today. The club cannot stop criticism and, in such a unusual situation as Jackson’s walk out, they cannot avoid having to face some difficult questions.
What the club thinks of the OMB
As Lawn was openly attacked on the club’s own website last week, a reoccurring question once again came up – why does the club bother to have the OMB? Are the benefits it provides City – for example potential advertising revenue – an acceptable trade off for providing a platform for supporters to regularly criticise its own employees?
Because part of the programme article included an open invitation for supporters to email Owen, I contacted him to find out.
“The OMB is something Mark Lawn very much wanted to encourage and did so before my time on the Board which started in July 2009,” explained Owen. “The OMB was seen as a means of transparency for the fans in order that dealings could be made clear and I think in that respect Mark’s ambitions have been met. Since the OMB came into being and gained popularity, however, it was obvious that the club could not respond to each and every point and we have always said that if fans were to contact us individually, we would respond. My (programme) article confirms this point.
“Sadly, the OMB has been somewhat hijacked by posters not putting their own names to points they make and by threads almost instantly wandering off the original point into meaningless chat and personal fights between posters. This leads to irrelevant drivel often being the outcome. So when I suggested that if posters could not be better than inane, they should find something better to do with their time, that is what my comment was centred on.
“Despite all this, I do feel there are two benefits to the club. First, there is a conduit for feelings and opinion. I read the OMB most days as does David Baldwin and Alan Biggin. Julian Rhodes and Mark read it periodically, as does Graham Jones and Steve Longbottom and we do discuss the OMB at Board Meetings, from time to time. There are some sensible posters and being in the game of serving the public we should listen and take note and act where sensible things are raised, I spent most of my career doing the same at Morrisons.
“As far as revenue from the OMB is concerned, this is not our main or prime motivation. All revenue from all websites goes to a central pot for re-distribution. We do get a financial benefit but the drop in traffic at Valley Parade and elsewhere does underline the fact that our main and lasting reason for the continuance of the OMB is for you, the fans. I just wish that there was more sensible discussion.”
The insatiable appetite for all things Bradford City
All of which is fair comment and does show an understanding of the modern world and the challenges football clubs face in engaging their own fans.
Football support simply doesn’t begin and end on a Saturday afternoon when the team are in action. For most of us, the only thing preventing every one of the week’s 168 hours including thoughts about City is the need to sleep. From the minute we wake to the moment we go to bed, football and Bradford City is commonly on our minds and a topic of conversation. You just don’t switch off.
The world wide web offers numerous ways of feeding that habit. News websites like the Telegraph & Argus, BBC and City’s own provide updates on what’s happening at the club; the likes of BfB and other fans sites offer comment and in-depth analysis; while Facebook, Twitter and message boards enable greater interaction.
This interaction wouldn’t be stopped by removing the OMB – users would simply congregate elsewhere. So, as Owen states, the club acts as a willing host for sharing views, gossip and to debate – while at the same time having an invaluable way of tapping into the mood of fans and then responding to queries. Yet apart from appointing a handful of moderators, City have no control over the manner and tone users adopt to express themselves.
The appeal of the OMB
The OMB is not the only such place City fans can interact with each other in this manner – with the Claret and Banter website and the truly dreadful Telegraph & Argus message boards, which upset even the paper’s employees – yet it is clearly the most popular. Between midnight at the end of Tuesday and 5pm Wednesday, no less than 46 different topic threads had been commented on. There are 7,646 registered users, with many having posted comments thousands of times.
One such regular user is Steve Dresser – known as ‘Robert Robertson’. He kindly talked to BfB about the appeal of the OMB.
“We’ve had plenty of good things on the OMB; there is a FIFA league, Burns Unit bets and the like and a few of the lads know each other offline,” explained Steve. “The moderation is better now but still needs perfecting, there is a need for any libel to disappear overnight but some of the threads that were negative were deleted without explanation which riles users even more.
“Where there is a large group of people, a cloak of anonymity you will get idiots. Look at Tesco’s Facebook page, the place is full of idiots asking ridiculous questions but they get a polite answer or just batted off, you get that anywhere and football fans (some of us) are hardly known for being brains of Britain.
“You can’t police debate and it’s difficult to keep that on track, some people are blatantly unable to have a debate, recent criticism of Hanson was met with a comment to me that ‘you couldn’t do any better’. I mean where do you start with that? I doubt I could but the whole point of the argument was that we were trying to ascertain whether our striker was doing his bit.
“Whilst I’ve been a bit critical of Lawn, you can’t doubt his heart is in the right place and he’s a big fan of the OMB which is a reason we still see it today. It’s all about what they want from it, intellectual debate? There are pockets of it and overall you start to know who is worth listening to.
“I think criticism is a good thing, some are too sensitive but if we all want ego massaging then it won’t happen – I’d like to think the club were big enough to listen to areas of concern and not just dismiss it as ‘moaning’ or ‘negativity’ as it’s very easy to do so.
“It’s a lot better since we were moderated as libel and needless abuse now is dealt with and users banned who cause trouble – but it a very fine line between encouraging and facilitating debate and policing opinions.”
That said Steve believes that recent events show City could be much more proactive in using the OMB to engage with fans. “The Jackson story caught us all by surprise and there are bound to be conspiracy allegations and yet again the absence of a satisfactory statement to actually explain what went on meant the rumours gathered pace – another PR disaster by the club,” he argued. “Seemingly any PR foul up is the blame of the OMB rather than the club.”
“There’s a definite gap in communication since Jon Pollard (former club secretary) left; he always needed some help moderating but we don’t have ‘ask the club’ or indeed anyone providing an official line, just the moderators who are only fans themselves and can’t answer intricate questions about ticketing or whatever, more and more companies are becoming switched on to social media and City are missing out big style. Often rumours and the like could be nipped in the bud with an official line or a sticky post at the top regarding issues, but they miss that opportunity.”
The other side of the coin
If a message board is like going to a pub, the OMB can often seem to be like a decaying back street boozer with a loyal but seemingly declining clientele, glaring unwelcomingly at outsiders and angrily fighting each other. There is appeal to the OMB and I like a good read of it myself, but the gloomy negative outlook and way some people can dominate the conversation means numerous other City fans detest and have long since given up on it.
BfB spoke to a handful of supporters who don’t use the OMB, in order to understand what puts them off. Steve Baker declared, “I get nothing out of it. It serves no purpose whatsoever other than adding ridiculous rumours and commenting negatively on the players and whole club structure. I used to use it as thought it would give me an inside track as to whats going on at City but it does nothing of the sort.”
Leon Carroll added, “I find it to be everything I dislike about modern football, second only to the ‘comments’ on the T&A website. I rarely go on it other than when I wanted to find news about new kits each summer. Everything else is coloured by opinions I don’t care to read. It always feels very immature and I feel a bit old when I’m on there – I’ve never registered.”
Frank Wood concluded, “I no longer use it because I find it difficult to sign onto; find the layout and navigation slow and unhelpful; am fed up of some regular users slagging off players and management; and find it something of a closed shop, with newcomers not made particularly welcome.”
Such negative viewpoints represent a challenge of sorts to the club. If they want to maintain an environment where fans are encouraged to share their views so the Board can view opinions, what can they do to attract the people who refuse to go near it? Without them they are lacking the full picture of fans views which – if decisions are based upon – can lead to even more frustration.
In Stuart McCall’s final days as manager, for example, the OMB was awash with comments for him to go. Yet once he quit a sizeable angry backlash from other supporters was visible elsewhere whose views had never appeared on the OMB. Every fan has an equal right to have their view heard by the club, but right now a sizeable proportion do not feel welcomed in doing so.
Removing the anonymity?
The problems with the OMB are numerous, but perhaps all stem from the negative outlook that prevails on it. The level of usage is much lower when City win compared to when they lose, meaning a balanced picture of fans views is impossible to gauge. The user name approach – rather than using real names – provides users a mask to hide behind when attacking the Board, management and players. As Owen says, if different users disagree a constructive debate rarely occurs – instead it’s typically throwing insults and name calling back and forth.
Steve Dresser, however, disagrees that removing user names would make any difference. “Why the constant obsession with putting names to post?” he queried. “Should we expect the illumini coated gestapo to arrive at your seat to escort you to the lair on a matchday if you did tell them? I don’t see what knowing people’s names achieves, what does it matter?
“Surely if something is being said is worth a debate then whoever posted it has achieved their aim. Their name doesn’t come into it.”
“If they want to go down that route and add to the moderation (which was implemented haphazardly) and ironically saw us lose some of the really good balanced posters we had due to the tactics employed. Then they should do what a popular forum does and ask for work/uni/college email addresses if they want to police it properly – but is it down to policing or rather – a bit of mind control and shutting up those asking difficult questions?”
What next for the OMB?
If the club values the OMB as much as Owen claims, one hopes they are considering how they can make it more appealing to more fans without alienating those who currently enjoy using it. If they are fed up of users personally attacking them and spouting claims without facts, they need to find a way of enforcing greater responsibility (getting rid of user names is an obvious first step). Criticism towards the club and its employees can be healthy and shouldn’t be prevented, but there are much more constructive and inviting ways it could be expressed.
It is laudable the Board wants to continue offering fans this platform to engage with others about Bradford City away from matches. But right now too many people feel negatively towards it – at times this includes the club itself – and efforts surely need to be taken towards addressing the issues in order for the OMB to be more widely viewed as welcoming and worthwhile.
With special thanks to Roger Owen, Steve Dresser, Steve Baker, Leon Carroll and Frank Wood.