Clarke / Post Hoc / Life

When thirty four year old Billy Clarke signed for Bradford City over the summer there was some upset at the club’s perceived inability to find new targets.

New targets were to follow in the personage of Elliot Watt and Levi Sutton but by the time they did a narrative was set that for the want of a recruitment network City were scruffing around to bring in the manager’s mates ahead of what would be a terrible season.

Clarke

No club will look back on football in lockdown with less fondness than Brentford who seemed to have three gilt edged chances for promotion to the Premier League and missed them all. For them the time will come and perhaps they appreciate the distance they have travelled in the past ten years.

In April 2009 Brentford turned up at Valley Parade £10m in debt but spending freely as they tried – and succeeded – in beating Stuart McCall’s Bradford City to promotion. There is a celebrated match report on this very website one can read about it from back when I was good.

Amidst the three entwined narratives of Stuart McCall’s time at Bradford City is the peripheral figure who is on loan to, should be sent off for, and scores for Brentford: Billy Clarke.

Jacko

There is story about Peter Jackson saving Bradford City from relegation from League Two which is rarely heard and lacks any real veracity.

Jackson took over a team destined for a reversion to the mean and a mid-table finish, performed significantly worse, and managed to make a last minute goal from Ross Hannah at Morecambe into a showpiece triumph.

Jackson lasted less than a half dozen games as permanent manager of Bradford City and left among acrimony. Like Billy Clarke poking the ball away for Brentford he is a part of someone else’s history as the manager before Phil Parkinson took over.

Five

“Jon McLaughlin’s fifty yard run and punch on a Crawley Town player is – to me – the moment when Bradford City’s fortunes turned.

The brawl that saw five players sent off was the moment when Phil Parkinson’s team coalesced into being the team which would go onto Wembley twice and Chelsea 4-2.

Had Johnny Mac walked slowly to the dressing room after the dour defeat none of that would have happened.”

Life

In 1970 John Horton Conway devised a Mathematical simulation known as Game of Life in which cells were placed on a grid and be dent of their having or not having the correct number of neighbours they would thrive or not.

Cells follow rules and from that the interactions happen. When I was around eight or nine years old I was entranced watching Life creating stories of villages smashing together, narrating the rise and fall of these areas of blocks, enforcing a story onto what was entirely deterministic.

In Life one created a starting situation, and followed a predetermined set of rules, and the complexity which followed was not in any way random but seemed that way because of the massive compounding of simple factors into something which while deterministic seemed to be utterly random.

Looking at it long enough, focusing on it long enough, staring at it long enough, a story started to emerge.

2021

Bradford City may have a terrible 2020/2021 season or it may be glorious but probably it will be neither.

A lot of teams in League Two have had to lose a lot of players and bring in mostly new squads and one suspects that the League will be decided by how quickly and well those players mesh into a team rather than how good they are.

One thing that Bradford City have going for them is that Stuart McCall – left a half dozen players by Phil Parkinson when he last returned to the club – has some experience melding squads together.

Foucault

All of which presents something of a difficulty for the modernist grand narratives which the match report for the Brentford game, the footnote of Peter Jackson, the friends of friends recruitment of 2020, or the McLaughlan Brawl and how it led to Chelsea are trying to present.

The Parkinson era did not end with the departures of Phil Parkinson or owners Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes but continued for another year or so with McCall’s side being an offside call from Promotion. Likewise the Rahic era did not end when Rahic and Julian Rhodes returned.

The narratives we attempt to use to analyse football as it happens are anticipations of post-hoc appreciations of events which will be given context in relation to other events.

Right now we look at events as they unfold and we decide variously if we think that it is smart recruitment or it is wrong headed and we decide what that will mean for events to come writing a future history as we do that. Looking at events and unfolding information and trying to craft them into the story of the future of Bradford City.

Clarke (Again)

All these events are Billy Clarke appearing dotted through history with significance assigned arbitrarily.

Clarke is just the manager’s mate, unless the group coalesces into a team and wins promotion in which case he is a great senior pro.

We construct overarching narratives to explain events dotted through the past excluding what does not fit our narrative and we do the same for a future we know will only be contextualised by the playing out of those events.

We are all watching John Horton Conway’s Game of Life and assigning meaning to what we see hoping to make sense of seemingly random patterns.

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