Blackburn Rovers are stopping supporters from displaying banners which call for manager Steve Kean to be sacked. Rovers have taken this action in the name of health and safety.
Honesty in football is a strange thing. It helps football and footballers that lies exist. In his excellent book Bounce Matthew Syed argues that the very core of a champion sportsperson is the ability to hold the view that they are the best at their sport in the world and thus unbeatable while at the same time knowing that they need to look around them and learn from what they can see.
The Liverpool Boot Room used to invite opposition managers in for a quick ale after every game with the other gaffer being awestruck to be in the inner-sanctum of the greatest club in the world not realising that he was being pumped for information as he sipped a bottle of beer with Bob Paisley. Liverpool stayed on top by learning from those underneath them, but maintained the front of needing nothing.
It is not honest, but it is football and it is successful.
Every club in football talks about having great fans, special fans, and it is obviously not always true and rarely honestly said. Steve Kean talks about a minority of the great Ewood Park crowd being against him perhaps in the hope that he will create a loop of belief. He believes them, they believe him.
Not that that would worry the Blackburn Rovers fans who talk about Steve Kean – or any City fans who are against our managers (and there have been a few) – because without the success then the belief that you are unbeatable is hard to maintain. Football is a game played largely in the space between the ears and convincing the players that they are able to win is most of the battle. Give the players an excuse to lose and they will take it, as the Blackburn players often seem to do.
Counter-intuitively though giving the players a reason they lost can often improve performance. It is trick that Sir Alex Ferguson perfected in his first decade at Old Trafford. Manchester United lost because of The Ref, because of England injuring Bryan Robson, because the people on Match of the Day supported Liverpool and so on. The players built up a siege mentality with Ferguson making them believe that everyone else was at the root of their failings. They bought it too, and the rest is history.
Blackburn supporters may think that there is an honesty to their protests and may indeed be aware that that honesty is counter-productive and believe that what they are doing is for the benefit of the club in the longer term. Kean counters with his talk of minorities.
Once I would like a manager to reply in honest kind. To take the microphone and tell these who criticise him that he will be in work at some early hour working hard to try put right what is wrong while they are still in bed. That the failure that they feel on a Saturday or a Tuesday is the all consuming force in his mind. That they support the club a few days a week and he works every day, constantly, trying to improve the club.
And then the other truths. That the next manager that they want to replace him with will only be able to offer the same thing: hard work, a few ideas, a few contacts; and that really all that anyone can offer at a club.
Managers though are trapped in the need to believe that they can make a difference so Kean carries responsibility for the slump on honest shoulders, or as honest as football can bring itself to be.
Having been a Bradford City fan for the last 20 years it is safe to say that I hold a ‘football supporters’ CV that possesses, more ups and downs than the average football fan.
I have spent many a Saturday afternoon stood on the Kop watching claret and amber clad footballers run up and down the hallowed turf. Or, during away games, sat at home, with the radio pressed to my ear, attempting to pick up the coverage from hosts such as Chris Cooper, Tim and Stix and the legend that is Mr Derm Tanner; as they attempt to paint a picture of the events of the game into the listeners’ ear (some better than others in my personal opinion).
I have witnessed chairmen come and go, managers change in the blink of an eye only for the new one themselves to fall victim to the rotating door that is Valley Parade. The stadium itself has changed over the time I’ve held my season ticket. Stands have grown, changed, lost their roofs, gained a corner, been opened by the Queen and graced by fans throughout the football league ladder.
So why now have I have decided to type (or attempt to type) an article/rant/opinion or even a question…
I have become, like many other City fans, upset, disillusioned and almost embarrassed at times in the last few years with life down at Valley Parade. But being a fan for 20 years, I don’t see this as something that is out of the ordinary for the everyday City fan. However, it does seem that for an alarming number of ‘City fans’ this discontentment must be voiced at every opportunity wherever and whenever possible.
I don’t know whether this negativity is something that has always murmured and occasionally rumbled throughout the terraces, and that I have been naive enough to think that it didn’t; or whether it is indeed it is something like Town – unfortunately on the rise. Don’t get me wrong, I have had my moments as an adolescent and as twenty plus year old man screaming at players and managers alike. I have spent many a Saturday, after a horrendous display, complaining to mates over a pint or on the bus home about certain players’ performance and worth in the team. I have even been known to, on rare occasions I can honestly say, call for a manager or chairman to resign or be sacked.
However I do not understand those ‘fans’ who seem to want to pick fault with everything that is Bradford City Association Football Club, in particular, and ironically do so via the club’s official message board.
Rant part over – the question I would like to raise to these people is simply, “What is the point?” Yes, we know that City are not having the best time of it at the moment; yes, we know that sometimes the manager’s tactics may not always match those of our own expectations; and yes we know that those higher up have made decisions that have sat like a bad curry.
But what do these people expect? I am not for one minute suggesting that voicing an opinion is wrong or unhealthy, but what I am saying is that those who voice opinions that do not seem based on fact or reasonable argument can only further disrupt or upset those involved with the club at whatever level. I am not trying to point the finger, as I truly believe that those City fans that have been with the club through thick and thin will share my feelings and know who I am talking about.
A case example can easily be found during, I hasten to add, City’s game against Swindon. As mentioned, I am a huge fan of Derm Tanner and believe he paints as honest a picture of the game as he can, for which I have no doubt he is respected by a vast majority of City fans. It therefore baffled me that no sooner had Andrew Davies been dismissed for reasons unknown to Derm and Mike Harrison, that messages began to appear calling for not only Davies’ head but also that of Parkinson’s. What further baffled me was that it seemed as though those who had found this information out had simply been watching the very brilliant ‘panto’ that is Soccer Saturday, and had not actually been listening to or been present at the game!
Unfortunately these incidents are not a rare occurrence and other forms of social networking seem to be a good place for these people to berate players both past and present as well as fellow supporters, even on a personal level.
I’m sure and hope I have opened a can of worms surrounding this subject and hopefully spoken on behalf of a number of City fans. I could go on further but I shall leave that to someone else. Hopefully I’ve started the ball rolling that will begin to squash theses ‘so-called’ fans and help give the club I love a push in the right direction.
The Elite Player Performance plan which was voted for by the Football League has been called football’s moment when the turkeys voted for Christmas and it seems that all is lost for lower league football as a result.
The Elite Performance plan guarantee’s a club who develops a young player a certain amount should that player leave the club. That figure is lower than most believe it should be, but is in keeping with the growing pressure on football authorities to ensure that the trade in young players is not supported. The figures are on a sliding scale but on the whole they seem designed to ensure that young players are not viewed as assets or commodities.
Which is no surprise. It is nearly two decades since Jean-Marc Bosman started the ball rolling on the idea that football clubs should not be considered the owners of players. The the post-Bosman ruling world clubs retain the services of a player for the length of his contract, and EPPP seems to start to move that towards young players.
That it might not be advantageous, that it might damage clubs, is bad for Bradford City and many of our peers but the move towards EPPP has been coming for over a decade and while the ramifications of it are being played out one can imagine that the smart club is one who is planning for the newly shaped world.
And what is that world? Is there a benefit for a team like Bradford City in developing young players or does EPPP ensure that bringing through the kids is an activity for the Premier League?
Let us take the example of Terry Dixon. A sixteen year old superstar who has had a development blighted by injury while at West Ham United Dixon was being paid multiple thousands of pounds a week at the Hammers, enough to pay for three or four of the Bradford City squad at the time.
Post-injury Dixon arrives at Valley Parade looking to rebuild his career (and by all accounts is doing a great job of that) being paid a fraction of what he was on in London. No way City could have afforded to pay Dixon the 16 year old to develop, every way that City can pay him now to rehabilitate and see if he can press into the first team.
The impact of EPPP would seem to be reflected in Terry Dixon’s example, albeit less extreme. Players who come out of the academies of the Premier League can be caught and turned around. City are not the only club who have realised this but realise it they have. Every year hundreds of players are evicted from the top of football. Filtering and good selection could find players with the right attitude who have been discarded. There is a plethora of refined materials being made available, and the smart clubs are taking those and shaping them into players.
Does EPPP mean that football clubs at Bradford City’s level should stop youth football development and recruitment as Hereford United have done? Most certainly not but – and perhaps this has not been considered at Edgar Street – EPPP should signal a return to football clubs doing what they were established for.
Rather than being about developing footballers football clubs need to be about developing football teams.
It sounds like it should be a given but it is far from it. There is an obsession in the football media and in football in concentrating on the individual rather than the team. Crewe Alexandra are known for a production line of talent but rarely for the achievements of that talent. What division where they in when Danny Murphy played for them? David Platt? Robbie Savage? No one really recalls but they are all known as former Crewe players.
The great success of Dario Gradi at Gresty Road was not in creating players – although he deserves credit for that – but rather building them into teams. The Crewe that were in the second tier were not their because they had produced good players it was because they had a produced a good team.
The aim of football clubs at all levels should be the same. To develop a group of players who perform well in unison. A team that is more the sum of its parts rather than – as has happened at City under Peter Taylor and in Stuart McCall’s second season – one which is less than those parts. That comes from developing players in a way which empathises their collective rather than individual talents.
As such there is a requirement to link the youth team to the first team to ensure a transport of that collectivity up through the club. The world has been talking about David Beckham for the best part of two decades but Beckham was never better than he was when he was a part of the team of Paul Scholes, Gary Neville et al that he had developed alongside.
City are trying to make this transition using the Development Squad that attempts to create a collective unison around a group of players who previously would have just been the old kids or the young professionals. There are other ways to achieve the same – the FA Premier League Youth set up would be another – but they amount to the same idea.
Football clubs which produce football teams, as opposed to football players, and the best at it will be those who benefit the most.
“Come and visit Bar 71 lads”, said the Swindon Town steward who had appeared from nowhere after we had queued up at the County Ground away ticket office for tickets to Saturday’s game. “It’s for away supporters only, and we’ve put Bradford City photos up to make you feel at home. There’s even one charting how far you’ve travelled today, which I researched myself.”
So we did visit Bar 71, located directly underneath the away section of the County Ground. And though the posters looked a bit naff (see photo below) and the beer hardly cheap, it was nevertheless a pleasant experience with plenty of room and big screen coverage of the Chelsea v Arsenal game. And though we were the only people there for half an hour, by the time Robin van Persie was completing his hat trick, Bar 71 was packed out with City fans. And suddenly in from the pitch outside burst a jokingly annoyed Lennie the City Gent, wondering why no one was sat in the stand watching his routines. “Never mind the beer,” he ordered “get out there.”
There has been much comment made of Swindon’s decision to charge us £25 to watch a League Two match and rightly so. Times are tough and all that – football, at this level especially, should be an affordable activity not a luxury expense. A week earlier I’d attended the Blackburn Rovers v Tottenham Premier League fixture and paid just £17 for the privilege. When you consider the petrol expense of travelling 200+ miles to Wiltshire, Saturday was a costly day out.
Yet after getting past the monetary concerns, it was also a hugely enjoyable experience. Bar 71 might be little more than a glorified Working Mens Club, but it was a nice touch by Swindon to lay on facilities for away supporters. Financially profitable for them, of course; somewhere nearby, there will have been a local pub or two missing out on revenue we would have otherwise provided them. But the Robins were also making an effort to ensure our matchday experience was a good one, rather than rely on others to do so.
It may have cost £25 a ticket, but if we’re in the same division next season I personally will favour a trip to the County Ground over some League Two away games (like, for example, Port Vale – £20.50 ticket, not allowed in their supporters bar).
And that’s a point that few football clubs – Bradford City included – appear to be aware of. Away support is an important financial consideration, and there is much they can do to make sure a visit to your stadium is an attractive proposition beyond providing away fans with a decent view of the match.
Perhaps Brighton deserve the status of pioneers in this respect. As part of the development of their brand new Amex Stadium, they built an away stand where they can make bespoke changes to the facilities. Visiting supporters to Brighton this season have arrived into an away concourse in the colours of their team, with posters of their present and past heroes on the wall. Inside the ground, the away seats are cushioned. Martin Perry, Brighton Chief Executive, explained the reasoning to the BBC during the summer: “Why not be welcoming to your visiting club? Why not make it a fantastic experience for them? Because actually what happens is, they look for the Brighton fixture and they say “I’m going to that one” and we get a full house.”
Swindon’s Bar 71 was a low rent equivalent. Bespoke posters on the wall, a chance to socialise before the match and then a 5-second walk to the away turnstiles once everyone in your group had supped up. Certainly profitable for Swindon in terms of the bar and food takings; but potentially even more rewarding for the club when it comes to the number of fans who attend their club’s fixture at the County Ground the following season.
Not that it’s solely a football club’s responsibility to ensure away fans have an enjoyable experience. My favourite away trip of the season so far was Oxford in August. A few hundred yards from the stadium was a pub which put on outdoor seating, a special beer tent and a DJ playing indie classics. We were warmly welcomed to join the large group of home supporters, and we spent a good hour chatting to a number of friendly Oxford fans. A great experience which they do for every game, apparently; and because of it we’ll be travelling to Oxford the next time that City play them.
At Morecambe, Bradford City supporter Dan Thornton – who’s caravan park is based opposite the Globe Arena – has for the last two seasons put on special events before Morecambe-Bradford matches for City fans only. Although the racist stand up comedian was not to my taste and so I won’t be going again, other City fans were not bothered by it and will go in the same high numbers next time.
Whoever instigates them, the efforts of Brighton, Swindon, Oxford and Dan add something extra to the day which makes them more rewarding. When the most important factor – the match itself – is beyond our control and more often than not disappointing, it’s nice to return home from a day out with something positive to look back on from it.
Which brings us to the obvious question of what – if anything – Bradford City and us supporters are doing for visitors to our own city? As much as we can complain about Swindon’s £25 entry, the fact we charge away fans £20 to see their team at Valley Parade makes our moral high ground position rather dubious. The facilities in the Midland Road stand are okay but nothing special, while there is no Bar 71 equivalent (or a realistic location to open one) to offer visitors.
Sadly, there are no decent pubs in the immediate vicinity of Valley Parade and – without doing some research first – few away fans would have a clue where to find one. The excellent Haigy’s is hidden away, and the City Centre pubs aren’t especially football-focused. The Sparrow Cafe on North Parade, for the moment, remains a hidden gem that only a handful of City fans are aware of (well worth seeking out if you’ve not been, mine’s a pint of Bernard Unfiltered if you’re buying). That and a good curry after the match aside, it’s hard to know what would make a trip to Bradford especially more attractive for an opposition supporter.
Does it matter? When opposition away followings at Valley Parade are sometimes dipping below 100 and rarely top 500 I think it does. Consider that – to a Southern-based opposition fan – a trip to Bradford is similar in distance and effort to Accrington, Morecambe and Rotherham, which would you favour if money and a social life meant you had to pick and choose?
In early 2012 City will face away trips to London borough clubs Barnet, Wimbledon and Dagenham – a fair equivalent to the above for us. Some fans will go to all three of these; me I will probably go to two of them. Wimbledon I’ve not been too before so that will be included, and my other choice would probably be Barnet on the basis I had much more fun travelling down to North London last season compared to going to Dagenham the year before.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Perhaps we shouldn’t give a toss what away fans think of Bradford and the fact they will rock up on Manningham Lane at 1pm looking for a pint and can find only sex shops. But when experiencing the difference in visiting a club who were genuinely welcoming to me and who had clearly made an effort to ensure I enjoyed my time, I feel sad and wonder if we lose out financially from the fact ‘Bradford City away’ is unlikely to be any opposition fans’ highlight of the season.
Lewis Hunt has left Valley Parade with the contract extension activated at the end of last season being paid off while Dominic Rowe has signed a new two year deal after impressing all during his loan deal at Barrow.
Eighteen year old Rowe sign a two year professional contract at Valley Parade and celebrated it by watching City’s Development Squad beating Conference side Barrow 5-2 today, Rowe playing for neither side.
Rowe has played six games at the Cumbrian club scoring once. Rowe is the fourth player at the club before the summer who has joined the Development Squad following Darren Stephenson, Adam Baker and Adam Robinson.
It was Robinson who Peter Jackson overlooked when giving Hunt his contract extension at the end of last season which has cost City a sum of money to terminate. Hunt was right to take the stand that he was entitled to the contract he signed being honoured but Jackson’s use of the player rather than Robinson has proved expensive.
Jackson is credited by Mark Lawn as saving City from relegation getting fifteen points in fourteen games (That is 1.07 a game, stats fans) compared to Taylor’s 37 points from 32 games during the season (that is 1.16) and to his fourteen points in his last fourteen games (1.0, of course) which is the only statistic that seems to emerge that supports the idea that Jackson did turn the season around.
The turning around – which was true over the twenty eight games, but not over the full season – won Jackson the job having used all the resources at his disposal including activating Hunt’s contract. You will judge for yourself – dear reader – if Hunt represents 0.07 a game improvement.
Nevertheless Hunt did well in what proved to be his final games of the season letting no one down. City – signing up a young player two for a fraction of what has spent to get Hunt’s contribution – are left to consider the use of resources at the end of last season and plan to not be in the situation again.
Two months on from his shock resignation as Bradford City manager, Peter Jackson has yet to utter one word in public regarding his reasons for departing, other than apparently telling a group of Huddersfield supporters that “two people at City are going to kill the club” for the way they are running it. When the day comes he sees it fit to explain himself, it’s hoped whoever is holding the microphone in front of him asks what his thought process was towards his left backs.
Back in those care-free days of pre-season, a flattering 4-1 win for Premier League Bolton over the Bantams was followed by Jackson revealing he’d told full backs Robbie Threlfall and Lewis Hunt, “they can go if they find a club”. For Hunt – only still at the club because a desperation for a right back forced City to offer him a new contract – being told he could leave was understandable and he’s only featured once this campaign. Yet as Threlfall made his 18th start of the season in the home win over Northampton – enjoying arguably his finest game to date in a City shirt – a question popped into my head concerning why three months ago he was told he had no future at all.
I’ll admit I’m a big Luke O’Brien fan. When it comes to selecting who plays left back between Threlfall and O’Brien, I would always – and still would do – favour Luke because of the greater attacking threat he provides. When Jackson rarely picked Threlfall in pre-season and then made his revelation post-Bolton, I was pleased that O’Brien has apparently won his battle to be first choice.
What happened next – and where Jackson’s honest opinion would be welcomed – was baffling. The final pre-season friendly against Carlisle saw Threlfall brought in from the cold and then starting the season’s opener against Aldershot with O’Brien not even on the bench. An unfortunate own goal wasn’t the greatest of starts, but Threlfall’s superb assist for Michael Flynn’s goal at Leeds will live as long in the memory as the Welshman’s terrific strike.
Yet still, we waited for O’Brien to reclaim his place in view of Jackson’s earlier declaration; and as City made a slow start and Threlfall looked fairly average in those early games, bewilderment grew. When O’Brien was brought on as sub in the Johnstones Paint Trophy win over Sheffield Wednesday – a week after Jackson’s exit – there was a chant of “hallelujah” in support of the Halifax-born player. But neither caretaker Colin Cooper nor new manager Phil Parkinson took Threlfall out of the team.
Which would have been harsh – because with each passing week, Threlfall has quietly gone about his business looking more effective than the last game. Having originally being signed by Peter Taylor in February 2010 and much made of his set pieces during his initial loan spell, he’s again making his mark in this area too. Most notably setting up City’s opening goal at Huddersfield in the superb JPT victory.
O’Brien played that night too, and to date all of his appearances have been as a winger rather than his natural full back role. With his greater dribbling ability and willingness to take people on, O’Brien could make a good career out of this position. Particularly because – unlike your bog-standard League Two winger – he has a much greater awareness of his defensive responsibilities and will regularly help out his full back. In the last two home games Parkinson has started with two out and out wingers and then brought on O’Brien when needing to protect a lead. On each occasion he made a decent impact.
So having apparently won the full back war only to lose the battle quite badly, O’Brien’s City future now appears to hinge on his willingness and adaptability to become a winger. Competition is strong in this area of the team too, but with Michael Bryan and Jack Compton only here on loan for now O’Brien’s aim must be to prove to Parkinson these temporary players are not needed long-term. New rivals, but the same kind of challenge he has been used to at left back.
Meanwhile Threlfall has surely become one of the first names on the team sheet. He was outstanding against Northampton, time and time again successfully tackling his winger and providing good cover for Luke Oliver and Marcel Siep, while showing great positioning. Meanwhile in the less-celebrated side of his game – going forwards – he put in a strong display, linking up well with Kyel Reid. He doesn’t take people on like O’Brien, but his greater passing ability means he is starting attacking moves and then joining in further down the line by charging down the flank. With Chris Mitchell struggling to get back into the starting eleven, Threlfall has taken on the greater responsibility regarding set pieces.
All credit to Threlfall for his attitude. There are more celebrated and eye catching members of the team, but his determination to re-discover his form – after a disappointing 2010/11 campaign – and battle for his future at the club is a shining example of what City are trying to achieve this season.
Improvement in individuals, improvement as a team. Threlfall was supposed to be consigned to the scrap heap, but too often City have given up on players and released them rather than develop them. Told to get lost by Jackson, he has come back stronger than ever. Threlfall’s first team spot is his to lose – and on current form I can’t see that happening anytime soon.