Issue Phil Parkinson looks to address the mentality, but the problems run deep

As told by Jason Mckeown

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.