Issue #62 How far can Phil Parkinson take Bradford City as his old team come to Valley Parade

As told by Michael Wood

Phil Parkinson’s time at Colchester United intersected at Valley Parade when Colin Todd dubbed him “the enemy of football” for the negative tactics which Parkinson used then, and uses now, to get success.

At Charlton Athletic Parkinson inherited a team from Alan Pardew which ended up being relegated but reached the play-offs places before his exit with one fan summing up the manager as offering nothing more than long ball to (Paul) Benson.

When Parkinson took over at Bradford City he was dubbed by some “Peter Taylor Two” so well known was the manager’s faith in a brand of football which few would describe as expansive and Coventry City manager Steven Pressley called “dark ages football”.

Few in The Shed at Stamford Bridge felt the lack of light.

The debate now over

For Parkinson the discussion on tactics has ended – if he ever considered it open – in the years since he took Colchester United to the second tier of the game and exited for Hull City. Parkinson’s teams play a certain way, and they get win, and that is that.

They win against Arsenal and Aston Villa and Chelsea for sure but against Burton and Preston and Rochdale too. They win individual games which get world wide coverage but they pick up a good number league points on their travels in games which are barely reported.

The 1-1 draw between Todd’s Bradford and Parkinson’s Colchester is remembered only for the irony of the manager’s statements when Parkinson arrived at City but it is typical of the type of result that Parkinson gets to trundle his team to improvement.

That improvement is metronomic. It creeps into the team. Three months ago and Filipe Morias was a mystery – to me at least – but Parkinson saw something and Parkinson tweaked something and Parkinson ended up with a player who for all his headline stealing is best because he is so practical. He fits into the hole Parkinson gives him to play in and – that run into the Chelsea midfield on 38 minutes aside – he has bought into Parkinson’s ethic.

Parkinson took a Colchester United side with the division’s lowest attendance – an a small budget – past Todd’s City and into The Championship. He left to join Hull City because of the greater scope that Hull offered with more money and bigger crowds.

The question that poises itself as old plays current at Valley Parade today is what is the scope for Parkinson at Valley Parade? How far, with an eye on realism, can City go under Phil Parkinson.

Mr. Christie

Former Bradford City Chief Scout/Director of Football/Whatever Archie Christie – who had a hand in appointing Parkinson – had his eyes set on the club sitting smack in the middle of the Championship. He thought it would take five years to achieve and that after that he would have no idea of how to progress the club from that.

“I’ll have tea think ov another plan” was his light hearted reply but his attitude is not uncommon in the perceived wisdom in football that has it that most teams if run well, playing well, and possessed of a decent budget will hit a glass ceiling in the middle of the second tier.

From that point one is playing against clubs with budgets that dwarf your own, facilities that are Premier League standard (often because the clubs have recently been in the Premier League) and there will always be enough of these teams outside the top league trying to get back in to make sure you cannot. For all the football you play, the good lads you have, the spirit you create and the Chelsea aways you enjoy the top table will always be denied to you.

I call this the 30-man-top-table theory which suggest that the Premier League is basically too small for all the teams who should be in the Premier League but those teams – the 20 who are in it, and those teams who have been relegated but are still rich – are constantly the sides who will be contesting places in the top division.

That some of them spend some time outside the top division is immaterial. They are a league within themselves and only from their ranks will the next Premier League be formed.

The problem with this theory though is that it is objectively wrong. There are plenty of teams who have put themselves into the Premier League on smaller budgets and maintained that position for sometime. Stoke City are a celebrated example, Hull City too. Likewise there are plenty of one time established teams who having fallen out of the Premier League now are the rank and file of the Football League. Leeds United and Nottingham Forest spring to mind.

AFC Bournemouth and Brentford are both pushing for promotion this season. If the second half at Stamford Bridge tells you anything it is that football is more or a meritocracy than people want to tell you it is.

What does Parkinson need?

What does Phil Parkinson need to move City on?

Time is an obvious factor. That City have not sacked Phil Parkinson is largely because of the bi-annual giant killing fillups. Had City not beaten Arsenal then the middle of League Two position was hardly recommending Parkinson to the board (who, I am told, have had cause to discuss the manager’s position) but after Aston Villa Parkinson’s stock was so high as to render him untouchable but halo glows only last so long.

Likewise when the Reading job came up a few months ago there were pockets of supporters who suggested that Parkinson had taken City as far as he could and it would be best if he did exit. Malcontent malingered and defeats to Rochdale and Yeovil gave it a voice that was silenced seven days ago.

That Parkinson does not come under pressure for his league form (which I believe to be good, but I understand that other do not) is a result of his side’s performances in the cups. The worry is that if Parkinson stopped performing “miracles” in the cups then the good progress he makes in the league would be for nothing.

In the medium term money is an obvious factor too. The higher City rise the more the club gets and needs but in Parkinson City have a manager who understands how to get efficacy of the player market and how a squad of 18 who are bonded can be better than two dozen players some of whom never play. I believe he needs support in this – the higher a club goes the harder the “right” player is to find – but I believe his philosophies are the ones the club should follow.

More than that I believe that the philosophies that Parkinson follows – and that Eddie Howe and Sean Dyche follow at their clubs – will become common at the top level of football. How it happens I could not say but Financial Fair Play will force smaller squads which will play better than larger squads. Parkinson and City are ahead of the curve on this and have a competitive advantage which will not last but can propel the club as it does.

Finally there is the question of City’s support level. It was a happen stance that the proposal for affordable season tickets which have changed the nature of the Bradford City support for the better. Jose Mourinho might have spent the second half watching the City fans and worrying about the noise but pre-Wembley-and-Wembley Roberto Martinez at Wigan Athletic did the same.

Cheaper season tickets had brought younger fans, and a broader fan base, which is a more vibrant fan base. That is what lets BfB sit hear at the rambling esoteric end of the market and Bantams Banter at the ranting, pleasing end and everyone to be happy. Because of the shot in the arm that was affordable season tickets City have a great mix of fans including more younger fans than one sees at most Football League clubs who – when a boy gets to be a man and money is most needed – jack up the prices to unreachable levels.

I’d like City to go further in this but they are unique in football in how far they have gone and while every year we have a debate over if the club can “afford” to keep the tickets I’d suggest we cannot afford not to. We need to keep the fan base energised, and the way to do this is to not exclude anyone with an interest in the club but without the means to buy a season ticket.

This third factor is key to the long term future of the club. The boys who bought a ticket because it was a hundred quid that they could afford at eighteen will bring friends, and eventually children, and I would expect Bradford City to buck the age trend in the Football League. Attendances will dwindle at the clubs that are pricing younger people out of the game and City will have the advantage again.