Our own tinkerman

There was a time, just before Chelsea’s Roman occupation when the blues had one of their Italian managers, this one named Claudio Ranieri.

He came to be called “the tinkerman” due to his habit of constantly changing his first eleven. He used to mystify and exasperate Chelsea fans with these incessant changes simply because they weren’t the result of injuries ore any apparent loss of form of those players who lost their starting berth. Each match there seemed to be at least two (and sometimes more) needless team changes.

During Colin Cooper’s brief spell as caretaker manager the players showed real signs of beginning to play as a team… more than the sum of the individual parts. Fans began looking to and talking of the possibility of a better future just round the corner.

Phil Parkinson came in and with him brought 4 (or was it 5) players who went straight into what had just recently begun to look like a settled eleven.

We were assured that these were “better calibre players” so we trusted the managers judgement. the results didn’t improve as the team seemed to be back at square one… needing to “gel” all over again.

Recently, against Torquay City began to look like a team once again. Playing as a unit with a man short they worked together to get the result.

Now we all appreciate that due to the sending off the manager had to make one change but many fans, myself included were left shaking their heads at the other shuffling of the pack with other needless changes. The question came over and over again “why has he made those changes? Doesn’t he know, from all available players, what his best eleven is. Our worst fears were realised with the poor showing at Hereford. Even with their recently arrived loan signings most fans were looking forward to our first away win or at least another creditable draw.
These seemed like changes just for changes sake.

Please Mr Parkinson, unless you want to become our very own “Tinkerman” give the players a chance to become a team forego the temptation to keep making changes when they’re apparently not really necessary. The eleven lads out on the park will only become more than the sum of a load of individuals by playing together. Instinctively knowing what their teammates are going to do even before they do it. This only comes with time and matches together.

Each time you needlessly tinker with the side, that day is slightly further away.

The simple game?

Who was it said “Football is a simple game complicated by fools?” Never were truer words spoken.

Right now fans are debating whether we need this manager or that manager and they’re beginn ing to talk about relegation.

In an era of 3 points for a win and only one for a draw, the simple fact is that teams that win more games are more successful. Simple.

What does it take to win games – just score one more goal than the opposition. it doesn’t matter whether the game ends 1-0 or 6-5, the result is still 3 points gained.

Therein lies the problem. the same one pretty much for the last ten seasons. however many goals City concede we just don’t score enough. successive managers have all failed to solve this problem.
No lesser person than the late Sir Bobby Robson, when discussing striking partnerships said “If you have a striker who gets you 1 in 2 or better partnered by another who gets you 1 in 3 or better you won’t go far wrong.”

I look at the strikers on City’s books and I see the same problem as in previous seasons. While James Hanson might be the 1 in 3 man alongside another effective striker. The simple fact is inescapable. The rest are pretty poor.

Gareth Evans was brought in as a striker but if he’d cut the mustard he wouldn’t have been moved out wide. He suffers from the “Andy Cooke syndrome” He works really hard but doesn’t score many goals. Speight is pretty much the same.

I’ve never subscribed to the Plan B that says it doesn’t matter if one striker doesn’t score goals, the other players can make up for that.

What that really says is that if one player isn’t really doing his job. A striker not scoring goals, then the midfielders have to do more than their job. Score more goals to make up for his failings. Goals from midfielders should be the icing on the cake. added pressure shouldn’t be put on players like Syers due to the failings of Evans, Speight et al.

Lesser clubs than ours find 2 worthwhile strikers. It’s not impossible at this level but, until some City manager manages to work the oracle for us and produce a team with 2 worthwhile strikers at the same time then we’re going to continue to struggle.

The season ticket struggle

the coming season will be my 30th as a season ticket holder and I can honestly say that never have I been so reluctant to renew. In recent seasons It has been in hope more than expectation but this time even the hope is fading into a sea of despondency.

I’ve finally been to renew. when I got home I asked myself “Why so low this time?”

I wrote a list when I got home of all the “Problems” at my club. it was quite a long list so I crossed out all the minor grumbles and grouses.

I wasn’t entirely in agreement with McCall’s departure but was open to being convinced by his replacement when I heard it was Peter Taylor who is a man with an unblemished record in the lower divisions. Surely such a man could succeed at City?

This man, with his vast experience and respect in the game. Surely, after half a season he should know by now what his best eleven is! Instead the team is chopped and changed every game: win, lose or draw;

The joint chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn. I have sadly concluded that they are unable to bring success to the club. Like surgeons at a hospital who, when faced with a seriously injured patient, don’t know how to heal the man so they have him put on life support where he stays for years while all they can do is hope that something will turn up.

We will always be grateful to Julian that we still have a club, but surely the time is long since past when we should have begun making progress. Unfortunately, in the Rhodes family it’s the father who is the captain of industry. nice guy though he is, it’s not the son! Similarly Mark Lawn, a man who had one good idea that made him a millionaire. After that, the cupboard is bare!

To use modern parlance, neither man seems able to think outside the box. there are no big ideas forthcoming. All we can expect is more of the same!

Now to the club itself. In the past it has been said to me on more than one occasion (admittedly by non City fans) that by comparison with clubs from similar sized cities (Leicester, Hull, Nottingham, Wolverhampton etc.) City’s worst is worse than their worst and lasts much longer. This is hard to refute. in the 80’s Hull, Wolves and Bristol City all plunged to the bottom division while in dire financial straits and with the all too realistic threat of extinction. All 3 stayed only 2 seasons in the basement before starting the long road back. City have done 4 with the 5th already looking a certainty.

So there you have it.

Like a drowning man clinging to a bit of wreckage, the only thing I cling to is the memory of the last time things seemed dire under the Dave Simpson board. Skint with debts piling up. Geoffrey Richmond, the good one before he succumbed to megalomania and his self confessed period of madness, was just around the corner, about to come in and galvanise the club, setting us on the upward path.

Fun with candidates

Looking at the news banded about as City’s managerial candidates I thought – as a bit of fun – I’d try to score them by what success they’d achieved in their careers and how long they’d been at the sharp end as managers.

I started thinking of a way to judge each of the names and to give them points for what they had done. To be fair to those who began at small clubs I also included years in the Football Conference and any success they had there.

This was not a scientific process. I decided that each would get four points for having guided a club to promotion and a single point for having taken someone to the play-offs but not got promotion.

Dean Windass got no points at all because he has never been a manager. Jim Magilton, Ronnie Jepson and Lawrie Sanchez also scored no points having never gained promotion or a play-off berth during their managerial careers. Sanchez once got to an FA Cup semi-final but one doubts that would sate promotion hungry Bantams fans.

The remainder is interesting. I divided the points totals gained for success by their years in management and came up with these scores:

  1. Peter Taylor – 1.666 points
  2. Steve Cotterill – 1.143 points
  3. John Coleman – 0.666 points
  4. Peter Jackson – 0.625 points
  5. Iain Dowie – 0.571 points
  6. Russell Slade – 0.200 points

As I say, it’s just a bit of fun!

Not surprisingly, by my formula Peter Taylor and Steve Cotterill are the two outstanding candidates.

Despite Taylor topping the list personally I would prefer Cotterill. I’ve got two reasons for this. As well as he has done Taylor always seems to have had a bit of money to spend (in fairness, it might not have been a lot) when he’s achieved success. Secondly is the “home counties factor”. The lads born in the home counties always seem ready to go back there at the drop of a hat. It seems to pull them back like a magnet when located elsewhere the always give me the impression of “just passing through”.

Seeking the bald facts of an Odsal move

Recent talk had me thinking about the current situation off and on all day. would it be possible to get to the bald facts on the possible Odsal move without the ever present emotion getting involved as it has had a way of doing so far?

I can but try. Let’s start with each party’s point of view. Why do they want to come to a deal?

Firstly, Bradford Council. Committed to the costly Odsal sports village, part of which involves filling in the existing stadium bowl and building a new ground of only 18,000 capacity (by any yardstick, the smallest new ground envisaged for any major English city) overlooking the site of the original stadium. The scheme is as I’ve said very costly. A look at how the finances might stack up has convinced them that the figures look infinitely better if City can be persuaded on board with the extra income that would generate.

Next Bradford Bulls. Having wanted a new ground for years (some might say decades) they really wished for a rival to the Galpharm at Huddersfield, not only to preserve their super league status but to provide a venue for RL representative matches. This would have involved a new ground capacity of 25,000+.

They will grudgingly accept a 18,000 ground to secure their SL status on the present site and, equally grudgingly, they will accept a ground share with City if it means a lower rent for them at what they will still consider their (new) Odsal home.

Finally, Bradford City. On an ongoing financial knife-edge due to the costs of their Valley Parade home. 1/3 million a year just to play at VP (compare this with Notts County who pay £25,000 a year to play at Meadow lane.) then on top of this City also pay annual rent for the shop/office block. it probably doesn’t all add up to £1million a year but it will still be a crippling total figure.

The benefits? They’re clear enough for the council and Bradford Bulls!

The financial benefit is really the only Pro for City (unless you accept that a ground that is easier for away fans to get to once a year, while at the same time being far more inconvenient for most City fans 23 times at least every year, is a Pro)

There are more Cons for City. the revenue from advertising and the bars and catering franchise would be lost. There would be the major hurdle of negotiating their way out of the existing lease with Mr. Gibb…that won’t come cheap. Over time they would lose support from Baildon, Bingley and up the Aire valley as supporters found it more troublesome and inconvenient to travel to the far side of the city on matchdays. they couldn’t rely on replacing all the lost support from around Odsal for 100 years a rugby stronghold. Even keeping emotion aside, there is also the almost certain outright opposition to the move from fans. Finally there is the capacity. would any club voluntarily move from a 25,000 capacity ground in their major catchment area to a ground of only 18,000 capacity right across the city?

To do this is a tacit admission from the joint chairmen of permanent mediocrity. No more talk of a return to the Premiership ever.

Finally, there are the terms at the new ground. here we have no choice, we are compelled to speculate. Even though City are the bigger professional club, the bulls regard Odsal (even the new ground) as their home. they would not agree a deal which made them 2nd class citizens at Odsal. This being the case, as the bigger club, would City agree a move on terms inferior to the Bulls?

Would City agree to be the junior partners?

The council seems determined not to consider a move the other way…Valley parade could be bought and completed to a capacity of 30,000+….a home for both clubs more in keeping with our big-city status, for far less than the new Odsal stadium outlay and there would indeed be Rugby League representative matches and even the possibility of England under 21 soccer matches at the ground.

Whatever happens It is time their was a City fans forum on this one proposal – the possibility of moving to Odsal. time all the facts were made known by the joint chairmen. Mark Lawn has said that an offer was made to Gordon Gibb to buy back the ground but that he wanted a higher price than City could pay at that time. Let’s have the figures…what did City offer and what did Mr. Gibb want?

There has been too much cloak and dagger already in this whole affair. let the fans have all the facts and the true situation.

Singing for the unsung Lee Bullock

In every football team, particularly those enjoying success, there are the fan’s heroes. In the main these are the eyecatching players, usually strikers because they score the goals. but there are also the unsung heroes who don’t get the recognition they deserve!
 
Stuart McCall is fond of comparing his current team with the side of ’84-’85 which won the old 3rd division championship. Stuart himself and John Hendrie immediately come to mind. But for John Hendrie there was Mark Ellis (who played on the left even though he was right footed) and for Stuart McCall there was Martin Singleton – The unsung heroes of the side.  

Today’s team is no different. the eyecatching players might be Scott Neilson, Gareth Evans and Michael Flynn but for Evans we also have James Hanson and for Flynn we also have Lee Bullock – the current unsung heroes.
 
Now I’m not in the habit of watching particular players but, before Saturday’s win over with Hereford I’d decided to pay particular attention to Lee Bullock to see how he was growing into his more withdrawn midfield role. I watched him for around 80 minutes until his totally unjustified sending off. In that time he regularly won the ball (often breaking up dangerous Hereford attacking moves in the process) and passed it, usually forwards, to a team mate in space.

Now cynics might say he was just doing his job but, it was more than that! He was doing his job well. In the whole 80 minutes I only saw him make one misplaced pass. To my mind Bully epitomises the unsung hero – doing a good job week in and week out but, because he’s not eyecatching, he won’t win many man-of-the-match awards during a season.
 
Bullock fell foul of a Referee who sent him off for a second bookable offence. In a season when we’ve had some shockers (the league seemingly saving their worst for games involving Bradford City) This chap was bad.

Fans don’t ask for much. just impartiality and consistency. OK, this ref was consistent – he got just about everything wrong, awarding free kicks for challenges which weren’t even unfair and waving play-on after late tackles, pushes in the back or deliberate hand balls. 
 
It’s a common lament that things will even out over the season. If this is the case then surely we’re due some first rate referees some time soon.

A bad time to change

Stuart McCall has to stay on for another season as manager, simple as that

It’s got nothing to do with whether you’re pro or anti McCall. Before some of you begin bellowing at your monitors, let me explain by outlining the alternative scenario and it’s timeline.

At 5-00pm on the 2nd of May Stuart seeks out Julian Rhodes amd Mark Lawn to confirm his resignation. the season’s just ended and we’re now managerless. Now I’ll make only one assumption that neither Wayne Jacobs nor David Wetherall is going to get the job. So we’re looking for a new man.

With any luck the chairmen already have someone in mind so an appointment is confirmed by mid May. If not, with newspaper adverts followed by sifting through replies and organising interviews, City would be lucky to have someone in place by the end of May.

Either way, we’re into the close season and the playing staff are on their (undeserved) holidays.

So the new manager is faced with a choice…bring in players “blind” or keep on most of the existing playing staff. Hardly an appealing choice.

Any experienced manager will tell you that the only time the boss begins to know what he has (or hasn’t) got at his disposal is when he sees actual competitive matches… at least
3 but preferably more. I agree. as a fan who’s watched countless pre-season friendlies over too many years, I know what they tell you which is nowt! We’ve had great friendlies followed by terrible seasons and vice versa.

Competitive matches only begin 2nd week in August. by the time three or four are played and the manager has some idea of the team’s needs we’re almost at the close of the signing window and looking
at the dreaded loan signings to make up the numbers till the turn of the year and the re-opening of the signing window. By then we’re all in “hoping” mode. hoping that what we want is available.

We could, if they’re not, be looking at another season of marking time and planning for 2010/2011.

Now football success is a young man’s pastime and I’m not getting any younger. I do not want another wasted season marking time.

Stuart’s striker blind spot

Let me say at the outset that although I am a McCall supporter, when his arrival was first rumoured I though it would be an act of lunacy on his part to take the job at the time he did… bottom division, no money, financial knifedge. All he could do would be to ruin his unique legendary status… as has happened.

I haven’t agreed with all his decisions during the season: team selections, substitution policy etc. What is it with professional football? no matter that tactics/personnel can prove to be wrong early on, they must not be changed in a match till the hour mark whatever happens).

Then again, I didn’t agree with everything Paul Jewell did in ’98-99.

Sadly I’ve come to the conclusion that Stuart has a blind spot which has hampered our progress and it’s to do with strikers!

Before the season began everyone was aware that we would be lucky to get 30 games out of Peter Thorne and that Barry Conlon wasn’t an adequate replacement, for all his effort. True, he’s scored more goals this time but, take out the penalties and he doesn’t look nearly so adequate.

Stuart had another chance to put this right when Topp departed but we got Chris O’Grady. 2 coments on him that I heard were “doesn’t even look like a footballer” and “signed him just ‘cos he played well against us once….bad reason!”

Having now seen Paul Mullin I can only say that he doesn’t seem to have anything that Conlon didn’t have. There was talk at the time of Pawel Abbott instead. I remember thinking that he would have been a better bet for us.

Only time will tell how much this striker shortage has cost us. Right now it looks like there is one remaining playoff berth to be had and that we aren’t favourites to get it!

It can still be done but I’ll stick my neck out and say that if we don’t beat Brentford on Saturday it will be all over for us, a draw won’t be good enough.

Even the Big Issue man had a go at us!

The weekend had begun so well!

A good trip down with few motorway delays, we 4 checked in at the city centre hotel at 7 pm Friday. Just time for a quick shower and a bite to eat before going to sample a few of the Exeter centre hostelries. Then it was back for a quick nightcap before bed and a lovely night’s sleep.

Next morning a full English breakfast was followed by another look around, this time in daylight. The remains of the city wall and a visit to the castle were followed by a coffee in the square overlooking the cathedral. Then it was back to the hotel to meet the last of our 5 (who unlike us had travelled that morning) followed by a walk to the ground back through the city centre.

Just time for a quick pint at a pub in sight of the grounds away end for a bit of football chat with Exeter fans and a few other City fans.

it was when we got into the ground at 2-45 that the disquiet set in. the team selection didn’t meet with our approval! Comments ranged from “that’s not a team to win… it’s a team not to lose.” to “Stuart got the selection wrong at Rochdale… this is even more wrong.”

A couple of us chipped in with “why can’t he decide on his best 11 and let the opposition worry about us, that’s what we did in ’98/99, we all pretty much knew what the starting 11 would be week in week out.”
“Same in ’84/85” an older member of our group added.

After kick off, in the early part of the game our 5 across the middle didn’t particularly dominate the midfield and we persisted in hoofing the ball forward to our lone striker. Michael Boulding got no change against their big men at the back for Exeter.

Their goal was a fluke… simple as that; but, that apart Exeter were an eminently beatable side. City were toiling and the “not to win but not losing” strategy looked increasingly out of place. When the substitutions finally came, sadly there was precious little noticeable improvement. At the final whistle, as we made our way to the exit some City players ran across to the Bradford fans. As they did, from behind us we heard shouts of “F___ off” and “you’re a load of f___ing rubbish”.

I remember thinking “Stuart got a lot of unfair criticism on the message board when we were doing well. He’s gonna get slaughtered for this!”

As we walked back to the cars through the centre of Exeter, optimism was in short supply. After 2 defeats in a week against our nearest rivals, the dreaded play-offs looked to be looming. There was no talk of staying down south for the Bournemouth game.

The question was asked “Will winning our remaining home games be enough to secure a play-off place because, apart from at Chester I can’t see another away win this season if we play like that?”

Just then we reached a road junction between the city centre stores and a chap selling big issue looked at us with ill concealed amusement and said “Bradford? ha ha ha!”

Our misery was now complete!

Flickering faith follows Bury defeat

I am not one of those fans who has pretty much been criticising Stuart McCall all season and becoming more and more vocal and outspoken in recent weeks.

Neither am I writing this because I’ve just seen City undone by yet another sucker goal which could and should have been avoided.

At Bury in the 1-0 defeat however, like a candle when someone opens a nearby door, my confidence flickered briefly. Involuntarily I asked questions of City’s management team! The questions tumbled over each other in my mind.

Apart from the enforced change, why had Stuart changed the starting eleven yet again?

Why, if he was determined to make changes, were Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding warming the bench? Particularly as Barry Conlon and Steve Jones have scored precious few goals from open play (a goal is a goal I know, but, like most supporters I just don’t rate penalties as highly as those from open play or other set pieces). When Thorne and Boulding were fronting the team we were scoring goals (21 between them) and winning matches. Since Peter returned from injury they haven’t play a full match together.

Why, with Conlon being particularly ineffective (as City continued to lump the ball forward into the middle I saw him beat the cental defender and get the ball only twice all match) wasn’t Thorne or Boulding brought on as a direct replacement?

Why, with Lee Bullock still returning to full match fitness and not being at his effective best, wasn’t Dean Furman brought on after the hour?

Why have we stopped playing football? Hoofing the ball into the middle in the hope of Barry getting his head on it is not only terrible to watch, it’s proving to be completely ineffective in matches.

Based on all the chopping and changing in recent matches I do get the distinct impression that Stuart doesn’t know what his best eleven is. Either that or he’s too nice trying to keep everyone happy by giving them all a game or part of one.

The manager has to have a ruthless streak! Deciding on his best starting line up and (injuries and suspensions permitting) sticking to it no matter who in the squad this might upset. Having differing opinions on the best starting line up is a luxury for fans, not for managers!

Stuart, I haven’t lost confidence but, much more baffling team tinkering and performances like last night and this might change. I definitely hope not because if not, that would mean we’d got back to a settled side playing football and winning matches again.

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