Satisfaction (I can’t get no)

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.

Blue Square Shoes

One for the money

Well it is all about money isn’t it? Football clubs have to be run as businesses. Budgets have to be balanced and spending to excess is unsustainable.

Yet at a time when Premier League players are swapped around like Panini stickers (Remember Got, Got, Got, need bad!) and the agents’ fees are enough to ensure the futures of several lower league clubs, it is hard to keep a grasp on financial reality. But money, not silly money just money, seems to be threatening the very existence of our football club once again, but this time in a different way.

No matter what sort of spin is put on it, I really feel that for the want of a relatively small amount of money (in Premier League terms at least) things would be very different right now at Bradford City.

For whatever reason he gives, and that we are asked to accept, Peter Taylor wants to stay at Bradford City. So whilst the club hovers above the extinction that non-league football will bring, we are asked to pin our hopes on a manager who seems unable to convince anyone that he knows what to do and the board – and possibly contributors to this site – are left with the need to make a virtue out of a necessity to maintain financial prudence.

Most of us have any doubt that if Peter Taylor resigned under similar financial circumstances to our previous manager, or, even better, had accepted the offer from Newcastle United at Christmas, then his resignation would have been readily accepted by the board.

If it is a case of professional pride with Peter Taylor then he could go a long way to convince us of his sincerity by foregoing his weekly salary until the club’s League status – forget promotion – is safe. This seems unlikely to say the least so we are left to come to our own conclusions about his reasons for staying here and amateur pride will not replace the professional sort.

So, among the reasons he remains is one for the money.

Two for the show

Much has been said about the dwindling desire of many fans to keep going to watch City this season. Dedicated travellers now pick their matches, some have decided to restrict their support to home fixtures and there is a significant number who have decided that a “no show” is preferable to the anticipated disappointment of home matches.

And the reason for their change of heart is the Taylor style of football.

When even a win can leave you feeling disappointed there is something seriously wrong about what is happening at Valley Parade. It would serve no purpose to re-hash the criticisms of the way the players seem to be at odds with themselves as well as their manager but despite fans’ frustrations, there is still an overriding support for the players – short and long termers – to make something of what they are being asked to do.

That goals are greeted with almost euphoric delight is to be expected but those of us who stayed to applaud the players after the final whistle against Lincoln could see the wretchedness on their faces – they do care and so do we.

Right now we seem willing to accept dull football if it will bring survival. But once safe, and I remain positive despite the tone of this piece, let us hope we never stoop to such spirit-sapping football ever again. On and off the pitch, the show must go on.

Three to get ready

If, as it seems we are, to place our trust in Peter Taylor and his style of play to save our League status, we have to be proactive about the future.

Peter Taylor had an unprecedented induction period as City manager. There was no pressure at the end of last season, a chance to get to know the players, evaluate needs and establish a spirit so that we “hit the ground running” at the start of this season. And yet we just hit the ground! And have struggled ever since.

Now a “meaningless” end to this season is the best we can hope for and League survival has to be Taylor’s final objective before his inevitable departure. But whilst the manager gets on with his job the club’s focus must be on what follows him. Jason has talked of the desirability of a smooth transition however unlikely it seems it will be at the moment given the personal and financial situations at the club. Yet the club does have a valuable opportunity to prepare for next season and it must be taken.

Whatever the business ethics involved, there has to be a way, however untenable to Peter Taylor, in which Bradford City can work around the manager as well as with him.

Now go cat! Go!

Given the number of managerial “lives” Peter Taylor has used up at Bradford City then maybe this should read “Go Pete go”.

Whilst I concur with a lot of what Jason has to say in his piece I don’t agree with his conclusion that there is nothing to be gained by changing the manager now.

Nothing in Peter Taylor’s time as manager has had the mark of continuity so would a change of manager disrupt the already disrupted nature of what we have now?

The reliance of the present manager on his “system”(?) suggests that Peter Taylor is, to borrow a business phrase from Lord Sugar, a “one trick pony” and that trick is clearly not working at City. Changing the manager has obvious and historic risks as Jason has pointed out. But compare these with the inherent risks of not changing a failing organisation and you have a blinkered outlook that relies on hope rather than intervention.

In our current situation is doing something not preferable to doing nothing – or are we constrained by the money after all?

Whatever the outcomes regarding the manager, the message to the board and through them to the players is “Do anything, but stay off of those Blue Square shoes.”

The Last Time

In front of me right now, just waiting to be filled in, is my application form for next season’s ticket. It is a form that, despite the poor taste of its promotional pictures, represents positive forward thinking from the club and excellent value for money for the supporters. And yet I am wondering whether I should bother this time.

Now I am well aware that there are those who would never consider giving up City. Those who sing of their lifelong commitment to the club are to be commended but I for one have never joined in that particular song. Maybe it is superstition, tempting fate or just the reality that advancing years brings that is reflected in my reluctance to participate in claiming such allegiance. Whatever the reasons, whether through choice, fate or necessity I am prepared to accept that there will come a time when I will no longer go to Valley Parade.

I know there are those whose commitment to City goes back a lot further than mine but I count my support in decades rather than seasons so there is no short-termism in the decision to question my renewal. So why think what for many would be the unthinkable?

Well to put it bluntly, I am finding it less and less enjoyable turning up and not recognising so many of “our” team. I am finding it more and more difficult to rationalise the thinking behind the team selection and then the unforced changes within games.

I am at a loss to explain what appears to be favouritism shown to some players and the dismissal of others regardless of their on-field performances. And any justification or explanations that do come from those in charge seem to have a hollow and inconsistent tone.

Now this is nothing unusual in football – we all know you can’t please all the people all the time – but the uncertainty of my renewal is not based on results but on my perceived attitudes of those making crucial decisions. And the trouble is that once you get to feeling this way there seems to be so many more decisions that add to the sense of irritation.

As supporters we all like to feel that we have some kind of ownership through our involvement with the club. Our contributions – both vocal and financial – to what happens at the club are, in principle at least, united in a common cause. But this is becoming more of a delusion that we literally and all too readily buy into and right now I am not sure I want it to continue. So what would it take to get me to sign up for another year?

Well, to put it bluntly once again, it would take something that would make me feel that my support mattered. Rightly or wrongly, I need to identify with the players that make up “my” team as well as the team itself. I find it difficult to do this with the manager’s involvement of so many loan players, especially when it is in preference to fit, contracted players.

If roles were reversed and the players had to sing to us about their commitment to the club then reality says that we wouldn’t expect “City ‘till I die” because players – no matter how popular – move (or are moved) on. Their on field commitment whilst playing for the club that signed them is enough for most of us. But too many of the “City” players of Peter Taylor’s managerial tenure would struggle to sing more than “City ‘till next month” Loan players have their uses but the quality and quantity used by P.T. has not been good for the club. (Is there anyone out there who can tell me exactly how many have been and gone and how long they were with us?) If this is what is felt is needed to bring about “success” I do not share that view.

Commitment whether from supporters, players or managers is a reciprocal thing and the lack of this from those making these decisions is what prompts me to consider my commitment. Questioning these decisions, whether by commentators, writers, supporters and now players is given short shrift. It has the ring of dictatorship rather than discipline, of confrontation rather than cooperation.

I hope I am not alone when I look for a team I can identify with. Right now I feel that as a supporter I am being taken more and more for granted. The management and the supporters need to reconnect and do so round a shared view of progress that makes sense to players and fans alike. Maybe then those that sing of a lifelong commitment will be rewarded and those of us who have kept up our support despite so much disappointment will feel we are getting our team back and will commit once again.

This could be the last time, Maybe the last time, I don’t know.

Let It Be

When an organisation examines itself in search of improvement it is often seen as healthy and valuable introspection. Self-analysis can create benefits that repay any discomforts – real or imagined – providing of course that the process is well-managed and sensitive to the individuals involved.

When an organisation is examined from the outside it is often seen as intrusive inspection and the initial reaction in the vast majority of cases is to see it as a threat. That threat is usually dealt with in one of two ways – a coming together to unite against the perceived threat or a fragmentation of buck passing. The blame culture that sets colleague against colleague virtually guarantees a critical outcome to the examination – a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So when the team you support gets off to such a disappointing start it is right to examine the reasons why. But which model do we follow?

Opinions and perceptions are bound to vary but from where I sit in the Midland Road stand and at my computer, the beneficial model of self-analysis is a non-starter. As a club we seem intent on tearing ourselves apart internally with the only beneficiaries being the opposition.

Fan is set against fan Dave’s summary seems to me a bit extreme but it’s the way he sees it and as far as I am aware he is not one given to knee jerks.

Player is set against player Well I am surely not the only one to notice the reluctance of some players to pass to others who may not be doing well and blazing long-range shots over the bar is hardly a subtle comment to your attacking colleagues.

Fan is set against player Daley does not fit into the City system (whatever it is) but does not deserve the torrent of obscenities and abuse heaped on him from foul mouthed idiots in Block C.

Manager is set against supporter Don’t boo us for winning – even if the performance was poor and the result undeserved. The results are all that matters. It may not be pretty but we are set up to be hard to beat. Are we really?

Fan is set against manager “We need a change” (already?) may not be a universal view but whatever the logic behind Friday’s changes in personnel and pattern the manager’s decisions seemed to satisfy no-one.

Manager is set against player Whilst verbally accepting the blame for some aspects of poor performance, the manager’s actions could easily say the opposite to those players left out and those brought in. One week a player is substituted for being given the run around, next week clearly ineffectual and possibly unfit players have their weaknesses exposed for a full match whilst other apparently inexplicable changes are made. Putting a defender up front on Friday took the eventual man-of –the- match out of much of the subsequent play by resorting to even more long high balls. What messages are these decisions giving the players?

Player is set against fan It may be stretching the point, but the reluctance of all but one of the players to acknowledge those fans that stayed to try and lift them after the final whistle was evident and says a lot.

Negativity rules all round Valley Parade at the moment and attempts to overcome it only seem to add to it despite the best of intentions.

Blame the ticket prices, blame the seating arrangements, blame the younger fans, blame the grumpy old men, blame the Referee, the kit, the pitch even. Perhaps blame my son for forgetting to drink from his City mug on Friday or blame me for not changing my shoes – we never seem to win if I am wearing anything black. Blame anything!

Clearly this urge to pull our team apart in such a Dali-esque manner cannot go on. Whatever the range of opinion it has to be the performance on the pitch that counts. Reality says that those who are paid to do a job should know what it is, be capable of doing it and be given every chance to complete it. Those who pay to watch should not be held responsible for things outside their control – although they are responsible for controlling themselves.

Whatever happens, fans can not effectively change what happens on the pitch however much we believe we can. Playing games behind closed doors, or with piped cheering to cover the lack of the real thing or with any of the other well-intentioned and less extreme suggestions made recently will not get to the root of the problem.

Whilst we may endlessly debate the ways things may change nothing we say will really impact on the situation and very little of what we do will make any difference. Until there is coherence from the professionals we will never be united so why don’t we accept this?

Pessimistic? Probably. Realistic? I believe so. Practical? I doubt it, too many differing points of view.

I may not like what I have seen in the League so far but I know I can’t change it so I let it be and keep my vocal chords for positive appreciation.

I know I don’t like what I’ve heard from some close by me this season but at least I know I can do something about it the next time the torrent of obscene abuse begins – wish me luck.

Until then I’ll keep on chanting “Come on City” but keep thinking “Come on united” – the small “u” is just as important as the capital “C”.

I am the walrus

The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things… – Lewis Carroll

Is it me or are we losing sight of some of the real issues affecting our club?

Whilst Pete Moss’s interesting article prompts debate and reasoned comment about the future use of Valley Parade by the Bulls (or “Odsal Sports Village” by the Bantams) and other sites swap as many insults as arguments, am I the only one who thinks we are adding to something that obscures real concerns.

Of course the future of both clubs is important and needs to be addressed sooner rather than later but right now I feel there are more pressing concerns. Call it paranoia or conspiracy theory but has all this hypothetical discussion – generated in no small way by Mark Lawn – obscured the fact that other items on Mr. Lawn’s desk are dragging on without comment?

Whatever happens in the V.P. v. O.S.V. debate, City (barring extreme financial disasters) will still have a ground on which to play next season but will we still have the manager? Why is there still no resolution to the protracted contractual discussions despite all the right noises being made by both parties?

Almost a year ago I contributed my first posting on this site. Much of what I said in “Anger, Management and Rotherham” concerned the future of a certain Stuart McCall and the need for those running the club to make a clear statement on the manager’s future prior to the end of the season. Now I find that the “will he/wont he doubts that were so divisive at the end of last season are with us once again. The confusion over the future of S.M. is now being repeated with confusion over P.T. – and we are debating hypothetical venues!

How can players commit to a future with a club that has uncertainties with their manager for next season? How can undecided supporters commit to next season’s ticket with so much uncertainty regarding manager and players?

If the board are hoping to generate much-needed extra revenue through further season ticket sales to those fans as yet undecided then they seem to be going about it in the wrong way.

If the number of extra season ticket sales is a factor in Peter Taylor’s decision on his future then the problem is even further compounded by a ground sharing debate that, whilst relevant, is not of immediate concern. It creates doubt rather than commitment.

Surely the priority is to get the manager’s contract sorted out first? Then he can begin negotiations to keep valued players. THEN maybe we can sort out something on the ground sharing. It seems simple, it seems logical, so why isn’t it happening?

If there is another agenda for Peter Taylor, and/or another agenda for Mark Lawn then we are conveniently obscuring it by the ground sharing debates… or is it just me?

If it is me then I’ll put it down to another “senior moment” but if others share my concerns it would be interesting to know. Either way the time has come not to talk of many things, but to clarify a few and, in doing so, bring about commitment – on all sides – and, with it, the much needed extra revenue that commitment – on all sides – would surely create.

Monday, Monday

On Easter Monday evening, BBC 2 showed the whole of “EXTRAS”: Series 1 – fine if you are a fan of Ricky Gervais’ cringingly uncomfortable humour otherwise one to avoid.

Earlier on that same Monday, Bradford City, with its own team of “extras” put on a cringingly uncomfortable performance that brought to mind Ricky’s follow-up and the catchphrase “You havin’ a laugh?” only it wasn’t funny!

In fact Monday’s performance ranked among the worst I have seen this season (fortunately I don’t go to away games) and that was a view echoed by many as I made my way back down Midland Road.

O.K. so the weather and the pitch were poor to say the least and the enforced absence of some of the few remaining crowd “favourites” did nothing to help the situation but none of these excuse such an abject performance.

Now before I go any further I need to say that I have refrained from contributing to BfB since Stuart left – not because I had taken my bat home but to give Peter Taylor a fair chance to make his mark on the side. I had decided that I would follow his lead and wait until the end of the season but yesterday proved too much for me and my resolve failed…. because I care!

Peter Taylor is the best option for Bradford City and its future success I have no doubt about that. But despite all the right noises and some ruthless removal of players, the performance on the pitch is still important to me and Monday was just not good enough.

Much has been said about Taylor’s teams being dour and difficult to beat. Monday’s was dire and too easy to beat. The revolving door policy regarding strikers has proved nothing except that what we have is better than what has been brought in. When the opposition put five in our box for most attacking moves and we are left with Gareth Evans working to almost no avail waiting for support it seems to show that defensive responsibilities are overriding attacks even at home.

The sight of a loan centre half playing as a lone striker proves that none of the “extras” brought in by Taylor can cover for James Hanson in either threat or fitness and, no disrespect to James, but he is an inexperienced player in his first league season. Such a sorry state we find ourselves in.

Do we blame the replacements or is it the style of play that renders them inefficient? Monday’s wind did not help but I lost count of the number of aimless long balls pumped forward with little hope for the front men. This has become increasingly characteristic of Taylor’s teams and goals from open play, whilst spectacular, have been rare.

Without the threat of an outlet player, the all eleven back defensive strategy simply keeps us under threat longer. We don’t look like scoring many and from what I have seen and read on this site the successes we have had are more down to opposition misses rather than defensive strength. (Darlington and Dagenham could so easily have inflicted home upsets if we are being honest.)

Monday’s midfield seemed caught up in the “give it away” panic that permeated the team with only Luke O’Brien showing any vision and perhaps laying down a marker for a more central midfield role next season. We missed him in the second half. At the back we were far too easily outmuscled and mistakes were once again punished in a way we seem unable to replicate when they work in our favour.

As for the despicable treatment of Zesh all I can add is that for once the boo boys were put firmly in their place by those who realise the good he has done in games despite an erratic season.

So if they were bad, it was a meaningless game so why does it matter? Well this week saw the introduction of the second low-rate offer on season tickets – something for which those charged with the running of the club should be given credit. But if the aim is to attract another 5,000 or so to invest in a season ticket then the team should be busting the proverbial gut to demonstrate what such good value they will be getting. How many of the not yet committed would be keen to sign up for another season of what we saw on Monday.

The lack of commitment by some players may well be a valid area of criticism but commitment has to work right through the club and the supporters. Peter Taylor has been accorded the role of manager but to me there is a lot of the “Emperor’s new clothes” about his current situation. Too many seem to feign blindness to the reality of the situation and the way it has been handled. If you want commitment from players and commitment from fans you need commitment from the manager.

Despite all the right noises that commitment is not as yet forthcoming. All the talk about looking at players for next season that has perhaps excused some performances of late that would, under other circumstances, have been loudly derided has a hollow ring to it. Here today, gone tomorrow players have been the norm of the last month or so but we still don’t know if we have a manager for next season. Am I being unduly pessimistic or just realistic? We should soon know but in the meantime it is doing club, players and fans no favours.

As the season struggles to a close we need a lift of some kind to generate the ticket investment for the coming season. If those of us who have already committed feel this way how can we promote the future to those who remain undecided? Much sense has been said on this site about the need for a plan and the need to be open about it.

Tell us the plan, commit to it and just maybe we can forgive last Monday.

19th Nervous Breakdown

Nothing I do don’t seem to work/It only seems to make matters worse

It is almost impossible to explain how I felt as I applauded Stuart McCall’s lap of the Valley Parade pitch yesterday. The air of inevitability that such a walk conveyed left me choked for the man, the team, the club and the end of a dream that I and so many others had shared. It wasn’t supposed to end like this.

The results don’t lie. This was the nineteenth game this season that City had failed to win and it had an air of desperation about it. The players put in all the effort that had made much of this season such a joy to be part of – even when we didn’t win – but everything they tried came to nothing against a Bury side that were solid and focussed. The longer the game went on the worry that this was yet another game we would fail to win grew. And so it was to be.

But why am I even thinking about match analysis? The news that Stuart felt it was time for someone else to try as manager hurts more than any result has done this season. The feelings I have about this particular change of manager are illogical, irrational and ill-suited to a man of my mature years but I just don’t want him to go in this way.

No one person is bigger than a club. Managers have to go at some point. Sentiment is not always good for business. I could carry on trotting out these platitudes for any club in the country – and believe them – but when it comes to Bradford City and Stuart McCall they sound so hollow that they echo. Emotion overrides common sense. But isn’t emotion what supporting a football team is all about? If I (and, it seems, a number of others) feel this way, how must the man himself feel? I can’t begin to imagine but I know I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Those who detected a sense of relief in his statements yesterday may be consoling themselves that it is best all round but I can’t buy that right now.

So illogical and irrational, possibly even selfish feelings cloud my judgement, even having allowed myself a day to reflect, and I find myself clinging to the hope that somehow it won’t happen as it seems set to do. His name has rung round the ground so often before – and I am certain it will do again – it’s just that I can’t believe he won’t be there to hear it.

And what will it all achieve? Mid-table safety seems the best outcome no matter who is in the manager’s chair –caretakers or newcomers are hardly going to have more impact. With the pressure off the current manager, the chance of an improvement in results is just as likely as with someone new. What is to be gained by change now? What would be lost if the change was left until the end of the season? A (The) separation on Monday defeats the efforts of this year so far, defeats the efforts of those who urged Stuart to stay last season and defeats much of the good work done by the club over the last few years. A change at the end of a season allows dignity and respect to triumph over short term wishful thinking. Yes I know all these arguments have been rehearsed before but they are no less valid for that and I make no bones about using them again. My ticket for next season is already paid for and I will be there. But after the emotions of the end of last season, I paid for another season and another chance with Stuart McCall and I am old enough if not wise enough to accept both the good and the bad that any season provides

Maybe next week I will look at what I have written and appreciate just how illogical, irrational and selfish these words are but right now I can’t. Maybe next week I will turn up for the game and appreciate the importance of change but I doubt it. Seven days is not long enough to fill the hole in the dugout let alone the hole in my hopes. Whatever happens, thank you Stuart.

All Together Now

Singing in support of your team has been a traditionally accepted role for all football fans but at City, with the exception of a small but thankfully vociferous and melodious minority, we seem to struggle to fulfil this aspect of our allegiance.

So why don’t we all sing?

Well, to use the musical taunt, it’s a lot easier to “sing when you’re winning” and that is something we haven’t done enough at home this season. But that in itself is nothing like the full story.

Football singing is a community activity but evidence seems to suggest that, despite thousands being there under the banner of “supporter”, the City fan base is a divided community.

For the “critics” having paid the ticket price is support enough and unless success is achieved (instantly?) then booing is the only thing that unites them vocally .It’s the old story of “I’ve paid, it’s my right” and you can’t deny that but calling it support is stretching the interpretation of the word.

The “stoics” are a significant section, maybe even a majority, of City’s support. They applaud effort as well as achievement but try not to get too visibly emotionally involved – disappointments of the past still hurt. Words of encouragement are freely given if occasionally tempered with cries of frustration as the reality of lower league football is accepted for another game/season. Highlights are rare and do elicit vocal, even musical, responses but comments tend to be made in conversation rather than in song.

The main vocal support comes from the “young guns” and thank goodness it comes from somewhere! Without their contribution the place would be eerie indeed. They carry the silent majority in a way that is appreciated by travelling fans far more than the crowds at home.

Each of these groups is full of supporters who would all claim a commitment to the City cause but there is no coordination especially when things aren’t going so well. So why don’t we all sing?

Well, daft as it sounds we need something to sing – not something to sing about, just something to sing. Cast your mind back and see how many of “City’s Greatest Hits” you can recall. What did we sing at Wembley? What did we sing in the Premiership? If it’s not the level of success that raises the level of song then what is it?

My answer may not be scientifically accurate but I believe it lies in the chant “Who are yer!”

For what seemed so long the City squad suffered from rotation. Not the tactical rotation beloved of the rich Premiership managers but the rotation brought about by short term stays and /or commitment of so many players. It is hard to chant a player’s name when he is only with the club on a few months loan. The affinity built up with players such as Michael Proctor and, more recently, Dean Furman, is all too soon broken, often for reasons beyond our control. (The “Deano” chant still rings in my ears.)

The cult (correct spelling) that was Barry Conlon was another case in point and whilst some of the chanting was ironic it did at least unite many fans.

Of the present City staff who among them has their name ringing round the ground? Not one player and yet this team has showed itself more worthy of vocal support than any for a long time. The manager then? Well yes but as debates on this site and vitriol elsewhere have shown for every one chanting “Stuart, Stuart” there seems to be an equivalent number of critics thinking if not calling, “Out,Out”. We are not all together!

So who will take the initiative? Stuart himself has been criticised on this site for using players’ nicknames. Oh for that level of familiarity in the stands! Who then will unite us in vocal support? Who will be our heroes on the pitch and how will we show our appreciation?

Would James Hanson appreciate “Jimmy, Jimmy” as much as Jimmy Quinn? Is there a prospect of “The Mighty Flynn”? Would Luke and James welcome a revival of “O.B., O.B.” ringing round the ground? Would Gareth Evans respond to “EVO, EVO” in a similar way to Deano? Can we as supporters boost the morale and maybe the performances of Zesh, Rambo, Bully and the rest simply by chanting. Whether it’s nicknames, real names, initials it’s worth a try. We need to get behind players as individuals well as the team. If there are no natural “characters” in our side we need to create them. We need to turn youngsters into legends not through irony but through genuine encouragement – dare I say affection!

As a “stoic” I want to sing, I join in chants but they seem to fade before they are established where I sit. I am not interested in abusing the opposing fans – they have their job to do. I am tired of berating referees – it does no good as far as our results go. I want to do my bit for the team.

As for real singing, we don’t need to borrow “HI, HO [insert club name] from Jeff Beck and many other clubs, when we already play “I love the City tonight”. Why not bring it forward. Playing it as the players walk off is too late. Give us the chance to make it work for us not accompany our exit (well the exit of those that have stayed to applaud the players off).If we get it going now Snow Patrol can contribute to our City long after the white stuff has gone.

All together now.

Xanadu (after Coleridge)

As the colourful barge made its stately progress along the dappled waters of the azure canal, sunlight glinted on the gilded decorations that adorned it and the scent of the exotic drifted up from the fertile greenery of the spice trail below. Entering the Citadel through the West gate, I marvelled at the myriad sights and sounds of the great marketplace. Intricately woven fabrics in vibrant colours formed a dazzling backdrop to the stalls offering wares from the four corners of the known world.

Purchases made, I proceeded across the Citadel to the gently eddying shores of the central lake, settled on a sumptuous divan and sipped on a sherbet as the sun played though the fountains forming jewelled rainbows on the sand. Music from a damsel with a dulcimer drifted on the warm breeze that soothed my brow as I waited with others to join the caravan heading for the pleasure dome in the snowy hills…….of Odsal!

A knocking at the door woke me from my reverie and my visitor (not from Porlock) reminded me it was match day. The dream was broken and by the time I could regain my thoughts I feared the vision would be lost.

I needn’t have worried. It seems that the image of the future of the city of Bradford, those computer-generated drawings that promise so much, are safely stored and awaiting the magic moment that will bring them to life. But to some, the future of Bradford City this season also lies in drawing.

Comments overheard on the way out after last Saturday’s game included “That was a must-win game”, “Our season’s over” and “We’re drawing games we should be winning.” Whilst I agree with the final remark, the first two are as way off the mark as some of the plans for the city that remain on the drawing board.

Some games are “must-win”- the Wembley play-off final and David Weatherall’s winner in the end of season game against Liverpool both fall into that category. But to say that our season is over by mid November is pessimism beyond belief..

At this stage we have drawn eight league games but we have only lost * and we remain in contact with the play off spots at least. It’s true that turning our home draws into wins would put right where we want to be, but waht’s done is done and we remain I mid-table. This said, not once in any of the games I have seen – and some that I have heard on the radio – have I felt that City were prepared to settle for drawing. The team is set up to win, creates enough chances to win (and win well in most games) but just haven’t quite made it in the games we have drawn.

The reasons for this include amazingly poor refereeing, an unfortunately long injury list and extremely difficult playing conditions. Some would also say that the manager’s tactics and formations have contributed but, more than ever, this season I feel that Stuart is seeing and making the changes needed as well as coping remarkably well with the changes that a depleted squad has forced upon him.

A point against Bournemouth seemed to satisfy most of the crowd, given the circumstances and the opposition, but could have been all three. A point against Accrington Stanley seemed to satisfy very few, given the circumstances and the opposition, but again could and should have been all three again. But a “must-win game” in mid-November? I don’t think so.

City have “got into the habit” of drawing games. Drawing in Johnstone’s Paint could still bring very interesting outcomes. (Why do I think of Rolf Harris when I write that?) But football matches don’t always have winners. Drawing is an inevitable part of the process. Drawing at home is just as likely as drawing away and in both cases the outcome is just one point.

Now this might seem like stating the blindingly obvious but it’s the reaction to the drawing that puzzles me. Winning, even winning badly if there is such a thing, tends to send people home happy – just ask the French! Losing can still give you a feel good factor as we have seen this season. But drawing seems to bring out the negatives in far too many. Whether it’s a dramatic fight-back to rescue a point or the inability to finish off a team that is hanging on, the eventual reaction is one of two points lost or even thrown away.

Saturday’s inability to accept the gift horse offered should not dampen spirits as much as the weather. Bad days happen. But to say the season is over at this stage is just plain crazy as history has shown us only too well. Drawing may be disappointing but – pardon the pun – it is important to see the bigger picture. The current Bradford City is a work in progress and I firmly believe it will produce a result we will be happy with.

Rolf Harris (that man again) delighted in asking his audiences, “Can you tell what it is yet?” long before the picture became clear. City’s drawing is worthy if the same question. And whilst the outcome may not be as assured as Rolf’s, it is still more enjoyable to watch it develop than to dismiss it before it is finished.

So, as we crawl along Canal Road in the rain, past the Polluted Water signs and the galvanising works, buy sweets from a car boot and take in the scent of burgers and coffee that drift down Midland Road, I accept the reality of the city rather than the computer – drawn dream and I know I will be back at the real pleasure dome… just as long as they don’t move it to Odsal!

As for Coleridge, the images he captured from his interrupted dream became a classic poem – only to be revised almost two hundred years later by that well-known team of architects, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch.

As for me, if the opening references seem somewhat obscure, contrived and more suited to a B.A. than a BfB. I apologise. But for those interested, join me next time when my subject will be “Man of the Match: L.S.Lowry and the early work of Status Quo.”

Enjoy the games – that’s what they’re for.

Changes

In September 1959, thanks to parents who bought me boots (and they were boots!) and to teachers who gave up a Saturday morning, I played my first competitive game of football for the under 11s of Harehills Junior School. I can’t remember the opposition or the result but I do remember pulling on a real football jersey – blue and red quarters. I also remember that after the game we were all given concessionary tickets to watch the rather unfashionable professionals in blue and old gold across the other side of the city. Although I didn’t know it then, I was hooked! Football would remain a constant despite all life’s other changes.

Now, in September2009, I am once again eligible for some concessions yet still watching and still playing –albeit friendly 5-a-side – every Sunday morning.

During the intervening years I have experienced ecstatic highs and depressing lows with the two clubs I have supported at different stages of my life. Success at Wembley with both never tempted me to quit whilst ahead, humiliating defeats with both never led me to give up in despair and regular acquaintances with psychotic full backs never made me want to stop playing. I love the game. I have got so much out of it and in some small way put a little bit back.

For many years I, like so many other teachers, was involved in running school football teams at my south Bradford school. Success in hard fought derbies against the likes of Buttershaw, Priestman and Woodroyd was rewarded by “Champions League” knockout stages that involved travel to such exotic locations as Swain House, Belmont and Thornbury. Finals, if you made it, were held at superstadia such as King George fields, Manningham Mills or even….Valley Parade!

But pressures on management are nothing new. School teams were, by their very nature, made up of those in the school. No oil-rich headteachers could attract stars from other schools with the prospect of higher grades and inflated reports. Agents, sorry, parents, did not tout their offspring around to find the team capable of taking their sons “to the next level.” The only hope of strengthening your squad was if someone moved into the area bringing an addition to the school that filled the gap on the left that had always been a problem – which was where I put a young Ian Ormondroyd when he arrived one term!

However the biggest pressure came through the organisation. Because the teams were age-based it meant a new team every year. Whatever success had been achieved the previous year counted for nothing as players were now ineligible for that league as they were a year older. Achievement fluctuated. Highs and lows were experienced. But few managers were sacked because of bad results and the kids were always keen for the next game. Now school football seems to have gone. Maybe better things such as academies, football in the community and local youth teams have replaced them but for those of a certain age school football will be fondly remembered despite all the changes.

So what has all this to do with Bradford City and BfB? Well a glance at the team sheets for September 08 and September 09 have the marked changes in personnel that school teams would show. The change is almost wholesale. Pay packets, personalities and petulance have combined to rid us of much of last September’s team. Luke O’Brian, last year’s youngster, is now the only regular from the last campaign likely to command a regular spot this season. Replacements are like the new school team, mostly inexperienced at this level. Some have played but for “smaller” sides but few have had the set up that Valley Parade has to offer in terms of both facilities and support. And this is the key to how the season might unfold.

For the first time in a while we have the opportunity afforded to few league clubs – the chance to watch a team grow – and what happens…some “fans” are on their backs already. What do they come to City for? What do they come to football for? Does a T.V. diet of Premiership and European leagues raise expectations to an unrealistic level? Is Flynn expected to be Fabregas, Bullock, Ballack or Neillson, Nani? Even superstars make mistakes but rarely face the vitriol poured out by some of our “fourth division fans” who expect perfect passing and first touch control every time.

Recent postings and comments on this site (my own included) have tried to focus on positive support, vocal encouragement and, when necessary, quiet understanding. The boo boys must not hold sway. Personally I am more interested than ever because of the “new” team. There is a sense of excitement, unpredictability and, dare I whisper it so soon, the faint prospect of success – all the things I come to football for.

There is also the challenge of managing a new team. I really can’t believe the criticism levelled at Stuart McCall at the start of this season. Having written in support of him staying just a few months ago I see no reason to change my mind. What I do see is enthusiasm, cooperation on the field and all round effort. Give the manager credit where it is due. The failings of last season in these areas have been addressed quickly this season. Lessons have been learned. Players’ efforts can easily be seen, manager’s efforts are often harder to spot – especially for those blinkered to them in the first place. But for those prepared to look there is a lot of good to see in what has happened this season – and that was just in August!

So, apologies if I am sentimental, excuse the nostalgia if you will ,but please join me in celebrating my 50 years in football by showing pride in those who wear the current City shirt (jersey?) and giving due credit to all involved in making V.P. the place we want to go to enjoy our football. Here’s to the future!

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