What to do about the Bradford City Official Message Board?

The shock resignation of Peter Jackson so close to last Saturday’s home game with Barnet meant parts of the matchday programme had become out of date – but somewhat by accident, director Roger Owen’s Boardroom notes appeared to be perfectly timed.

Owen began his column criticising the manner in which some supporters on Bradford City’s Official Message Board (OMB) had been attacking the club. This was connected with the Bantams’ slow start to the season but – with the OMB going into overdrive during the 48 hours before the Barnet game and many users queuing up to attack Mark Lawn over Jackson’s departure – Owen’s views seemed even more applicable. He said:

The inane and ill in formed (sic) comment s (sic) of a few on the Club’s message board do you no favours whatsoever and my clear advice to those who specialise in this type of comment is quite simply ‘find something better to do with your time’.

Everyone is entitled to pay their money and voice their opinion, but wild speculation, often attributed to ‘someone close to the club’ is wrong. If you have anything to say put your own name to it.

The fall out over Jackson almost deserved for the OMB to carry a parental warning, given how strong and nasty some of the personal attacks were towards Lawn especially. Without any explanation at that point offered by the Board or Jackson as to why the latter handed in his resignation, many quickly jumped to conclusions and instigated criticism. A week later and we still do not know the facts of that meeting. Any conclusions had to be half baked, and were often over-the-top.

While the Board could have been quicker in communicating and perhaps been more open and honest – and while Lawn probably shouldn’t be free of some blame for the situation – that so many were so quick to judge and spout anger without facts did not reflect brilliantly on City supporters.

Yet that’s life – and that’s the instant communication, social media-driven world that we live in today.  The club cannot stop criticism and, in such a unusual situation as Jackson’s walk out, they cannot avoid having to face some difficult questions.

What the club thinks of the OMB

As Lawn was openly attacked on the club’s own website last week, a reoccurring question once again came up – why does the club bother to have the OMB? Are the benefits it provides City – for example potential advertising revenue – an acceptable trade off for providing a platform for supporters to regularly criticise its own employees?

Because part of the programme article included an open invitation for supporters to email Owen, I contacted him to find out.

“The OMB is something Mark Lawn very much wanted to encourage and did so before my time on the Board which started in July 2009,” explained Owen. “The OMB was seen as a means of transparency for the fans in order that dealings could be made clear and I think in that respect Mark’s ambitions have been met. Since the OMB came into being and gained popularity, however, it was obvious that the club could not respond to each and every point and we have always said that if fans were to contact us individually, we would respond. My (programme) article confirms this point.

“Sadly, the OMB has been somewhat hijacked by posters not putting their own names to points they make and by threads almost instantly wandering off the original point into meaningless chat and personal fights between posters. This leads to irrelevant drivel often being the outcome. So when I suggested that if posters could not be better than inane, they should find something better to do with their time, that is what my comment was centred on.

“Despite all this, I do feel there are two benefits to the club. First, there is a conduit for feelings and opinion. I read the OMB most days as does David Baldwin and Alan Biggin. Julian Rhodes and Mark read it periodically, as does Graham Jones and Steve Longbottom and we do discuss the OMB at Board Meetings, from time to time. There are some sensible posters and being in the game of serving the public we should listen and take note and act where sensible things are raised, I spent most of my career doing the same at Morrisons.

“As far as revenue from the OMB is concerned, this is not our main or prime motivation. All revenue from all websites goes to a central pot for re-distribution. We do get a financial benefit but the drop in traffic at Valley Parade and elsewhere does underline the fact that our main and lasting reason for the continuance of the OMB is for you, the fans. I just wish that there was more sensible discussion.”

The insatiable appetite for all things Bradford City

All of which is fair comment and does show an understanding of the modern world and the challenges football clubs face in engaging their own fans.

Football support simply doesn’t begin and end on a Saturday afternoon when the team are in action. For most of us, the only thing preventing every one of the week’s 168 hours including thoughts about City is the need to sleep. From the minute we wake to the moment we go to bed, football and Bradford City is commonly on our minds and a topic of conversation. You just don’t switch off.

The world wide web offers numerous ways of feeding that habit. News websites like the Telegraph & Argus, BBC and City’s own provide updates on what’s happening at the club; the likes of BfB and other fans sites offer comment and in-depth analysis; while Facebook, Twitter and message boards enable greater interaction.

This interaction wouldn’t be stopped by removing the OMB – users would simply congregate elsewhere. So, as Owen states, the club acts as a willing host for sharing views, gossip and to debate – while at the same time having an invaluable way of tapping into the mood of fans and then responding to queries. Yet apart from appointing a handful of moderators, City have no control over the manner and tone users adopt to express themselves.

The appeal of the OMB

The OMB is not the only such place City fans can interact with each other in this manner – with the Claret and Banter website and the truly dreadful Telegraph & Argus message boards, which upset even the paper’s employees – yet it is clearly the most popular. Between midnight at the end of Tuesday and 5pm Wednesday, no less than 46 different topic threads had been commented on. There are 7,646 registered users, with many having posted comments thousands of times.

One such regular user is Steve Dresser – known as ‘Robert Robertson’. He kindly talked to BfB about the appeal of the OMB.

“We’ve had plenty of good things on the OMB; there is a FIFA league, Burns Unit bets and the like and a few of the lads know each other offline,” explained Steve. “The moderation is better now but still needs perfecting, there is a need for any libel to disappear overnight but some of the threads that were negative were deleted without explanation which riles users even more.

“Where there is a large group of people, a cloak of anonymity you will get idiots. Look at Tesco’s Facebook page, the place is full of idiots asking ridiculous questions but they get a polite answer or just batted off, you get that anywhere and football fans (some of us) are hardly known for being brains of Britain.

“You can’t police debate and it’s difficult to keep that on track, some people are blatantly unable to have a debate, recent criticism of Hanson was met with a comment to me that ‘you couldn’t do any better’. I mean where do you start with that? I doubt I could but the whole point of the argument was that we were trying to ascertain whether our striker was doing his bit.

“Whilst I’ve been a bit critical of Lawn, you can’t doubt his heart is in the right place and he’s a big fan of the OMB which is a reason we still see it today. It’s all about what they want from it, intellectual debate? There are pockets of it and overall you start to know who is worth listening to.

“I think criticism is a good thing, some are too sensitive but if we all want ego massaging then it won’t happen – I’d like to think the club were big enough to listen to areas of concern and not just dismiss it as ‘moaning’ or ‘negativity’ as it’s very easy to do so.

“It’s a lot better since we were moderated as libel and needless abuse now is dealt with and users banned who cause trouble – but it a very fine line between encouraging and facilitating debate and policing opinions.”

That said Steve believes that recent events show City could be much more proactive in using the OMB to engage with fans. “The Jackson story caught us all by surprise and there are bound to be conspiracy allegations and yet again the absence of a satisfactory statement to actually explain what went on meant the rumours gathered pace – another PR disaster by the club,” he argued. “Seemingly any PR foul up is the blame of the OMB rather than the club.”

“There’s a definite gap in communication since Jon Pollard (former club secretary) left; he always needed some help moderating but we don’t have ‘ask the club’ or indeed anyone providing an official line, just the moderators who are only fans themselves and can’t answer intricate questions about ticketing or whatever, more and more companies are becoming switched on to social media and City are missing out big style. Often rumours and the like could be nipped in the bud with an official line or a sticky post at the top regarding issues, but they miss that opportunity.”

The other side of the coin

If a message board is like going to a pub, the OMB can often seem to be like a decaying back street boozer with a loyal but seemingly declining clientele, glaring unwelcomingly at outsiders and angrily fighting each other. There is appeal to the OMB and I like a good read of it myself, but the gloomy negative outlook and way some people can dominate the conversation means numerous other City fans detest and have long since given up on it.

BfB spoke to a handful of supporters who don’t use the OMB, in order to understand what puts them off. Steve Baker declared, “I get nothing out of it. It serves no purpose whatsoever other than adding ridiculous rumours and commenting negatively on the players and whole club structure. I used to use it as thought it would give me an inside track as to whats going on at City but it does nothing of the sort.”

Leon Carroll added, “I find it to be everything I dislike about modern football, second only to the ‘comments’ on the T&A website. I rarely go on it other than when I wanted to find news about new kits each summer. Everything else is coloured by opinions I don’t care to read. It always feels very immature and I feel a bit old when I’m on there – I’ve never registered.”

Frank Wood concluded, “I no longer use it because I find it difficult to sign onto; find the layout and navigation slow and unhelpful; am fed up of some regular users slagging off players and management; and find it something of a closed shop, with newcomers not made particularly welcome.”

Such negative viewpoints represent a challenge of sorts to the club. If they want to maintain an environment where fans are encouraged to share their views so the Board can view opinions, what can they do to attract the people who refuse to go near it? Without them they are lacking the full picture of fans views which – if decisions are based upon – can lead to even more frustration.

In Stuart McCall’s final days as manager, for example, the OMB was awash with comments for him to go. Yet once he quit a sizeable angry backlash from other supporters was visible elsewhere whose views had never appeared on the OMB. Every fan has an equal right to have their view heard by the club, but right now a sizeable proportion do not feel welcomed in doing so.

Removing the anonymity?

The problems with the OMB are numerous, but perhaps all stem from the negative outlook that prevails on it. The level of usage is much lower when City win compared to when they lose, meaning a balanced picture of fans views is impossible to gauge. The user name approach – rather than using real names – provides users a mask to hide behind when attacking the Board, management and players. As Owen says, if different users disagree a constructive debate rarely occurs – instead it’s typically throwing insults and name calling back and forth.

Steve Dresser, however, disagrees that removing user names would make any difference. “Why the constant obsession with putting names to post?” he queried. “Should we expect the illumini coated gestapo to arrive at your seat to escort you to the lair on a matchday if you did tell them? I don’t see what knowing people’s names achieves, what does it matter?

“Surely if something is being said is worth a debate then whoever posted it has achieved their aim. Their name doesn’t come into it.”

“If they want to go down that route and add to the moderation (which was implemented haphazardly) and ironically saw us lose some of the really good balanced posters we had due to the tactics employed. Then they should do what a popular forum does and ask for work/uni/college email addresses if they want to police it properly – but is it down to policing or rather – a bit of mind control and shutting up those asking difficult questions?”

What next for the OMB?

If the club values the OMB as much as Owen claims, one hopes they are considering how they can make it more appealing to more fans without alienating those who currently enjoy using it. If they are fed up of users personally attacking them and spouting claims without facts, they need to find a way of enforcing greater responsibility (getting rid of user names is an obvious first step). Criticism towards the club and its employees can be healthy and shouldn’t be prevented, but there are much more constructive and inviting ways it could be expressed.

It is laudable the Board wants to continue offering fans this platform to engage with others about Bradford City away from matches. But right now too many people feel negatively towards it – at times this includes the club itself – and efforts surely need to be taken towards addressing the issues in order for the OMB to be more widely viewed as welcoming and worthwhile.

With special thanks to Roger Owen, Steve Dresser, Steve Baker, Leon Carroll and Frank Wood.

BfB meets…Bantams Banter

The 2010/11 season may have been one to forget for everyone who cares about Bradford City, but the introduction of a dedicated podcast – Bantams Banter – was a rare bright spot competing against a tide of widespread misery.

Presented and produced by City supporters Tom and Dom, the regular series of downloadable audio shows quickly grew in popularity – as the pair’s comedic style when talking about City became a must-listen for Bantams fans around the world. “Over time, word of mouth has spread about the show and we ended up with a 100,000 downloads last year,” Dom Newton-Collinge told BfB. “We want fans to feel, when they’re listening to it, that they’re getting an honest view on City matters. Like they’re at the game almost, sat next to their mate. We tend to say what we see, which is what all the fans do. And I think that’s why it has been so well received.”

“THEY’VE NEVER TOLD US OFF ONCE. THEY COULD EASILY HAVE DONE.”

There are just under 10 minutes until City’s friendly with Guiseley is about to kick off at Nethermoor Park, and BfB meets up with Dom at the front of the main stand to interview him about the success of Bantams Banter. Sidekick Tom is unable to make it, as his cousin’s band is playing at the 02 Academy in Leeds. Our discussion about finding a suitably quiet place to chat leads to Dom suggesting we gatecrash a part of football stadiums he is very familiar with from his podcast work – the press box.

A quick negotiation with the Telegraph & Argus’ Simon Parker later, and we’re clambering over empty seats to the quiet annoyance of City’s official website editor, Mark Harrison, in order to find an empty spot. On the row in front of us, a few seats to the right, are Mark Lawn and other members of City’s Board. It’s a slightly surreal experience; though for Dom it seems more a case of sitting with good friends like Mark Harrison – oh, and close to the guy who once made him redundant.

“I worked for Bradford City for a few years,” Dom explained when I asked him about his background. “I was the assistant press officer, which included getting to travel with the team to away games. It was the best job in the world: I’ve been a season ticket holder since before I can remember.

“Then when Mark Lawn came in there was massive changes. They thought things would be better when Stuart McCall took over, but it didn’t work out. So I got back from a holiday in New York, where I’d spent every bit of money I had saved up when I was working for City, and Lawn said he was going to have to let me go, and made me redundant. I was absolutely gutted.”

Not that Dom was out of work for long, with BBC Radio Leeds’ Derm Tanner straight on the phone with an offer to work with him. Dom revealed, “He taught me all the ropes – everything I know in radio now I learned from Derm really. I was at the BBC when I got a job offer from Sky, and I ended up working for them doing horse and greyhound racing commentaries. I knew nothing about them at all! I hated the job, they knew I hated it and they laid me off after six months.”

Now working for a local radio station in Bradford with his friend Tom, the pair began to develop the idea of Bantams Banter and a podcast dedicated solely to Bradford City, featuring hard-hitting opinions mixed with humour. They approached the club, who agreed to the idea, and when the show launched in August 2010 it carried the club’s ‘official’ tag.

“Well it was official until they listened to it!” laughed Dom. “Then they said they liked it, but the Football League would have something to say. But even though it’s no longer official, the club are really good about it. They really like it and they try to do everything that can for us, such as meeting the players.

“They’ve never told us off once. They could easily have done. They know we push the limits, but they accept that it’s just honest views.”

“BECAUSE THIS IS OUR OWN THING WE CAN BE MORE RISQUE AND EDGY ABOUT IT.”

As unplanned as this location for our interview was, with the match having now kicked off, it seems like the perfect way to chat to Dom given the format of Bantams Banter. Last season a podcast was produced for every home game, and the majority of the content is recorded while they watch the match live from the Valley Parade press box.

“We put loads of research into it before we launched Bantams Banter, in order to discover what works,” added Dom. “We listened to Chris Evans, BBC Radio 5live. Just trying to gather as much information as we could, and then thought how can we take these shows and make them our own?

“We’re trying to introduce a new way of reporting and new style of media. There’s been a bit of a breakthrough recently where you can be more silly and people like it. We’re trying to introduce that to sport. Soccer AM have done it and stuff, but because this is our own thing we can be more risqué and edgy about it.”

Initially the podcast got a lukewarm response with few downloads, but Tom and Dom stuck at it and, over the course of the season, its popularity grew considerably to around 4,500 downloads per game. “After the first few we thought ‘it is worth it?’ because we were getting about 100-200 downloads. We persisted with it and tried to make it look as professional at it could. It’s worked out now and really taken off.

“To be honest I feel quite shy and embarrassed about the fact I do the show, but I want people to listen to it and I want people to download it. I’m not going to profess that we’re some type of media geniuses or anything, it was just lucky the idea works, and we’ve got the people who download it to thank for that. Because without anyone downloading the podcasts, it would be nothing really.”

“ONE OF THESE DAYS I WILL GET MY HEAD CAVED IN – IT WILL MAKE A GOOD PODCAST!”

That producing the show while a game is underway comes across so natural on the podcasts is testament to the pair’s broadcasting abilities. Trying to record an interview under such circumstances at Guiseley quickly showed me how difficult it must be to remain fully focused on producing the show, though Dom admits the pair quickly forget the fact they’re even recording.

“When you do a podcast of the nature we do you forget that you’re on. That is one of the reasons it works well I think because we don’t have to think about what we’re saying it’s more natural. You can tell it’s not very professional and that we don’t really think about what we’re saying.

“While regular radio commentators just need to focus on that afternoon, we recognise we need to make sure our content carries into the week. Not everyone listens to it straight away, that’s why we try to make it funny if at all possible, because humour keeps something fresh. We try to give listeners something to laugh at. They don’t want to hear us say ‘Hanson has tripped over’ they want to listen to ‘oh bloody hell Hanson’s fallen over, what a donkey!’

“If you listen to our podcasts now from last season, you can still laugh at it. Even though the game’s months old.”

And this approach led to many memorable moments on the show last season. Highlights included the dramatic Stockport home game, where listening back you could vividly relive the pain we all experienced during that nerve-jangling 90 minutes. On another occasion they recorded a podcast from Crewe’s Gresty Road, and found themselves confronted by angry home fans when they cheered a City goal.

Dom recalled, “This big group of people sat in front of us were absolutely going for it – shaking their fists at us, telling us where to go, all sorts. Tom was really nervous. But something happens to me when I step into a football stadium, where I turn into an absolute nutter and I don’t care. One of these days I will get my head caved in – it will make a good podcast!”

“HE SAYS HE’LL ONLY WEAR IT IF WE GIVE HIM PICKLES EVERY WEEK, WHICH WE WON’T!”

In addition to recording the majority of each show live at the game, they carry out interviews with players and management. Manager Peter Jackson is a keen fan and this week invited the pair to view the new training facilities, while even the players are enjoying the extra attention the podcast – and the range of t-shirts – brings.

“Guy Branston loved the t-shirt we’ve done about him, though he did give us a bit of stick – he says he’ll only wear it if we give him pickles every week, which we won’t!” laughed Dom. “He was also telling us that he really likes the idea of the podcast and the t-shirts, because players at this level don’t necessarily get the opportunity to have that sort of attention. So it’s really good for morale. They think ‘oh I must be good because I’ve got a t-shirt’.”

Aside from the recording, production is time consuming. It can take around two days just to edit down the amount of content they have, in order to produce the final version. Fortunately with such a close working relationship, the pair get on really well.

“We’ve had tiffs sometimes when we don’t agree, but we realise the other one is only arguing because the other’s idea isn’t necessarily the best,” explains Dom. “When the show goes to the editing table for instance, there are bits that I cut out because Tom’s said something stupid. And he’s the same with me if he thinks I’ve pushed it too far.

“From start to finish Tom and I do everything. We know there’s a cap on our audience. At the end of the day Bradford City are not like Man United with 300 million fans. We know it’s not going to make us millionaires, but as long as people are enjoying it and it is making a difference – like helping the club out by raising money for the youth team through selling t-shirts – then it’s worth doing.

“Every penny we make goes into the podcast. The equipment isn’t cheap, my lap top broke last year for example. We went through a phase of thinking ‘should we charge for it?’ because many podcasts do. But at the end of the day we thought why should people have to pay for it? We enjoy doing it. We didn’t want to lose listeners because we’ve worked really hard to build a listener base.”

“IT’S THE MOST POSITIVE ATMOSPHERE THAT I’VE EVER SEEN IN A CITY TEAM.”

That said the show doesn’t exactly pay the bills, and the pair are hoping to develop their radio careers. They recently recorded a demo with Derm and are hoping to hear back from BBC Radio Leeds with good news. Not that they’ll be stopping Bantams Banter anytime soon.

“I’d never want a job that would stop us doing Bantams Banter. On Radio Leeds you’ve got to censor yourself more, and that’s not really us. We’d love to do it, because we want to be known and we want to get Bantams Banter more known. We think that if we are working at Radio Leeds, we can also attract more listeners to Bantams Banter.”

Ambitions for the new season including building on the podcast’s success by doubling downloads, while they are currently developing new ideas to gradually bring into the show. “One is try and pop out to an alternative sports clubs in the Bradford area like archery, and try and find out what it’s all about, “ revealed Dom. “It just adds something else. There’s going to be Bradford City fans doing these alternative sports and we want to hear from them.”

With the new season just around the corner, the duo are gearing up for getting back into the Bantams Banter swing of things and will be producing a podcast for the Bolton friendly. As the interview comes to its end and we pay more attention to the players on the pitch at Guiseley, Dom is filled with as much enthusiasm as any City fan about the team’s prospects. And his close access to the players – not to mention his previous employment at the club – make him a useful barometer of the mood around Valley Parade.

He explained, “I like the new morale that’s going on. It’s the most positive atmosphere that I’ve ever seen in a City team. I remember when we got relegated at Chesterfield and being in a changing room with grown men crying, like David Wetherall.

“I’ve got every faith with Peter Jackson. I like the fact he’s willing to take a risk in signing young players. He knows what he’s doing in this league, and he’s a Bradford City hero. He’s been here and done that, and managed throughout the leagues.”

To listen to last season’s Bantams Banter podcasts, click here for the iTunes store. The Bantams Banter website is under construction and will be available soon.

In praise of Bradford City 1998/99

This article first appeared in the excellent football website The Two Unfortunates in February 2011.

The Crumbling Terrace: Pre-amble One
Towards the end of the 2008/9 season

There we are, on the crumbling terrace of Morecambe’s old Christie Park ground,, watching Bradford City and wondering how it all came to this.

It turns out in the game that City will be robbed a winning goal when Peter Thorne bundles in from close range and that a line’s flag twitch – the doubt going to Morecombe’s on loan Rene Howe – will bring defeat and more so bring to an end Stuart McCall’s expensively assembled side’s promotion push. Those things are for the future though because the more pressing problem is that the police are taping up a barrier in front of us telling us that we can’t lean on it because “a bit or pressure and it will be over.”

How did it come to this? Why did it come to this?

The Man Who Would Not Walk Again Takes Flight: Pre-amble Two
Late 1998

Ashley Ward has scored for Barnsley – recently of the Premier League – and they are going to sneak a 1-0 win at Valley Parade despite having only ten men but something in the Bantams psyche seems to struggle. Let us not kid ourselves, we have watched Bradford City team edged out of games, losing 1-0 and being a dash unlucky about it, for decades now.

There is something in Paul Jewell’s side which seems to denounce that idea. Jewell is a rookie, younger than his captain McCall at 32, but he seems to have built a team which has the character and desire that was sadly lacking from the man as a player.

Two goals were scored in injury time, both by Gordon Watson a player who 18 months early had almost lost his leg after a tackle described as “The worst I have ever seen in football” by Chris Waddle. This is his comeback game.

Watson had been taken from the pitch to hospital where he had almost lost his leg to a tackled six minutes into a local derby with Huddersfield Town. Kevin Grey’s “tackle” came when City were already one down and while an equaliser was scored the whole game was overshadowed by an horrific injury. Then manager Chris Kamara had burst onto the field in anger, his face turning sickly on seeing the wound. Everything was overshadowed.

Now he was back and in five minutes Gordon Watson scored two goals and turned a blank return into two points. Moreover though he maintained the belief that seemed to have dripped into the club under Paul Jewell. The manager from nowhere brought a belief from somewhere, and it had changed the club.

Two goals in five minutes. It seemed fated, everything seemed fated.

The Promise

May 1999

On the 9th of May at around 2:17 on a bright May afternoon Bradford City were promoted to the Premier Division of English football as runners up to Sunderland following a season which had threatened nothing at all.

The opening day – a defeat to Stockport – saw returning club legend Stuart McCall injured and was followed by two points in six games and suddenly it seemed that the team that cost a staggering £3.5m to build and included City’s first two £1m plus signings in Issiah Rankin and Lee Mills was going to achieve very little.

Hope came after a 2-2 draw with Sheffield United where the Bantams looked more than capable and belief came from that, or so it seemed, and that belief was cemented by the return of skipper McCall and a gradual climb up the table that included Barnsley, 2-1, and Gordon Watson.

Watson’s story seemed to typify the playing squad who had all come back from some kind of injury or – in the case of McCall – exile. A key figure in the club’s failed push for promotion in 1988 McCall always had “unfinished business” with City and so as he anchored the side using the wealth of experience that comes from an FA Cup final, World Cup goals, multiple titles with Rangers he made good on that promise.

When City were promoted – a 3-2 win at Wolves on the final day of the season securing it – it was very much McCall’s promise manifest. Certainly a season of performances represents something precious to any football supporter. We know, as supporters, that players are more mercenary than we would like to admit and when a player seems to match us for how much he cares we cherish that player.

And that group of players, in this case. Players who seemed invested in the outcome of the season which offered a deliverance for many. Watson from injury and the ghost that haunted him, McCall from the previous failure.

Peter Beargie had arrived a summer before under allegations – and later convictions – to do with a sexual assault while he was at Manchester City. Beagrie faced prison when he arrived in his first, ineffectual, season but the change of manager from Kamara to Jewell seemed to have focused the mind. Everything Beagrie did seemed to have a point to it, every cross made to perfection, hanging impressively for Lee Mills to arrive onto. At the end of the season three quarters of the club’s goals came from Beagrie, Mills or fellow striker Robbie Blake.

If Beagrie had faced prison then fellow winger Jamie Lawrence had been there. A convicted bank robber Lawrence had been something of a novelty on his release signing for Sunderland and then Leicester City but that novelty had faded and Lawrence wound his way to Valley Parade which seemed to be another step in a career of wandering but once again Jewell seemed to focus the mind, tell the player that his achievements were limited only by his belief.

This became Jewell’s hallmark with Bradford City and was a trick he repeated at Wigan Athletic. His ability to take a player and make him perform seemed to border on the magical and no more was this true than with idling forward Robbie Blake.

Blake was a bit part player transfer listed for being pulled over for drink driving in the week Diana died and incapable of nailing down a place in the starting line up despite the odd impressive performance. He was a slow right winger, able to show tricks but without the traction to stick in the team, until Jewell’s intervention.

Jewell got under Blake’s skin – famously they used to have bust ups with Jewell offering him nowhere to hide and dubbing him a “sulker” – but whatever the means the ends were impressive. Direct, skilful and cunning Blake formed a partnership with Lee Mills which tormented the division.

Blake’s anticipation allowed him to feed off the £1m costing target man Mills and grow into the type of player the manager himself felt he could have been had he had the application. The man who used to lay out Kenny Dalglish’s shorts Jewell’s playing career was a cautionary tale used to motivate the strikers he managed.

As a signing Mills – sadly – turned out to be a one season wonder after problems with drink cost him his place in the Premier League but for that season he represented some canny business for the club. Chris Kamara had been keen on Mills while the player was at Port Vale but it took Jewell’s determination to put in the £1m bid and secure the player. Belief, it seemed, was the watchword.

Another player who suggested much for some season and was anointed by Jewell’s belief was midfielder Gareth Whalley. Whalley, a £650,000 recruit from Crewe, became a midfield partner for McCall adding a sly pass to the captains driving heart. Darren Moore seemed too big, too cumbersome, to be a Premiership player but Jewell made him the defensive rock partnering him with one of Jon Dreyer, Andy O’Brien or Ashley Westwood on the basis of the opposition.

Gary Walsh, veteran of the Manchester United bench was as sure as one could imagine between the posts. He had a calm confidence about him that seemed to exude throughout the team. Walsh had left Old Trafford after collecting a lot of medals while hardly getting his kit dirty and ended up at Middlesbrough where he had been a small part of Bryan Robson’s Teeside revolution but in Bradford City he seemed to have found a place where his achievements would be recognised on the merit they had.

As a keeper Walsh was something to behold. Possessed of an unerring sense of positioning Walsh was the type of goalkeeper who seemed to suck the ball into his hands. Not for Walsh the need for acrobatics but rather a calm sense of seeming to play the next few second of an attack out and conclude where the best place to be to gather the ball at the end of it would be. A belief, if you will.

Late on in the season £1m brought Dean Windass to the club – a perfect match or player and team – but Windass’s contribution was minor although not insignificant. One bank holiday Monday at Bury with the team running on empty it was Windass who – like Watson before him – pulled three points out of seemingly nowhere.

Not that every signing Jewell made worked well. Full back Lee Todd was signed to replace club man Wayne Jacobs but Jacobs – as he would do all his career – saw off the challenge to win back his place. More obvious though was the £1.3m spent on Arsenal’s young prospect Issiah Rankin – a player of whom Jim Jefferies remarked “could not finish a bowl of cornflakes”- which proved profligate in excess.

A player with lighting quickness Rankin struggled for goals and after a fruitless pair of games at Huddersfield and at home to QPR was dropped for Blake to shift from the right hand side and Lawrence to join the team. Rankin never looked forward again.

Belief, it seemed, was lacking.

And It Was About Belief, Of Course
May 1999 and onwards

All these things eclipsed: The players, the manager, the belief; and they eclipsed in a game at Wolves that lead to two seasons in the Premiership, Benito Carbone, Stan Collymore and the story which is too often told. The first season in the top flight continued much of what had been good about promotion but the sense of hunger that Jewell used to feed the belief had gone. Within a month Watson was gone, Blake and Moore on the transfer list, and slowly things fell apart.

Those years continue to define the club – the financial fallout ruins the club to this day, we are the footnote in discussions about a Paul Scholes wonder goal – but seldom is the making of those days, how we got to a point where we could throw it all away, considered.

So a crumbling terrace in Morecambe and the failing of a promotion campaign and everything seems so far away now. Much further than the positions in the league and the comparison of Christie Park to Old Trafford or Anfield.

The reality of football is that most Autumns turn into hard Winters and joyless Springs. Most players want to achieve but fall short, most teams lack collective belief. This is not the game’s tragedy, the tragedy are those years having seen such a thing, and the wanderer waiting for its return.

The managerial failure cycle – bad choices or bad strategy?

The recent demoralising defeats to Port Vale and Chesterfield have once again heaped the pressure on Bradford City manager Peter Taylor. This weekend the Bantams face a crucial home game with Stockport that could determine his immediate future, but already it seems implausible to believe Taylor will be employed at Valley Parade beyond the expiration of his contract in May.

It will soon be time to search again for the man to revive this ailing football club but the fact we keep going around this cycle of getting rid of a manager and replacing him with new one – with little success in reversing a slide down the leagues – can already leave us pessimistic that the next manager isn’t going to be any better.

To blame the club’s decline on poor managers would be over-simplistic and, no matter who takes residence in the dug out after Taylor, there will still be all manner of financial issues that hold us back. Yet so much is reliant upon the manager that it is such a key position to get right, and as thoughts soon turn to filling a vacancy it is a process that needs to be reviewed in order to increase the chances of it succeeding. We can’t just keep hiring and firing and hope the law of probabilities means we’ll stumble on the right manager eventually, can we?

Over the last few days Michael has written two excellent articles – here and here – on what the club and supporters might be looking for in the next manager. Too often, it seems, football clubs in general appear to have no thoughts on the right person to take their club forwards beyond sacking the present incumbent and waiting for CVs to file through in the post. It seems a backwards methodology in these days of recruitment specialists and head hunters and, as City apparently keep getting the choice of manager wrong, it’s worth posing the question of whether this is because as employees we keep making bad choices, or because the qualities we are looking for have either not been considered enough or were misguided.

Let’s try and find out…

Chris Hutchings
“Oh Wetherall’s free! Fantastic header!”

Sunday 14 May 2000, and Martin Tyler’s description of David Wetherall’s winner for Bradford City against Liverpool – which confirmed the club’s Premier League survival – is relayed around the world. A pitch invasion follows the final whistle and the celebrations in and around Bradford go on long into the night.

But something’s not right. Rather than looking joyous or even relieved, manager Paul Jewell is sporting a scowling face that radiates the pressure he has been under from media, supporters and his boss. A few weeks later he quits, fed up of the way he has been treated. And the last successful Bradford City manager we’ve had goes onto enjoy a fine career elsewhere.

It is at this point the look behind the strategy should begin; because although the steep decline that followed was more to do with finances than bad management, nothing on the pitch has proved a success since.

I never agreed with the decision to appoint Chris Hutchings as Jewell’s successor, but it’s difficult to dispute the logic that led to Chairman Geoffrey Richmond promoting Jagger’s assistant. Since Lennie Lawrence departed in 1995, Richmond had enjoyed great success promoting from within after both Chris Kamara and Jewell delivered a promotion and survival in the division above the following season. An Anfield-esqe bootroom culture that promoted continuity was a worthy blueprint.

I never agreed, because the circumstances were different. Kamara and Jewell took over a club with the resources and capacity to be better than they were, but City had now climbed to a level they had not previously reached for almost 80 years – and we needed some experience to help us negotiate uncharted territory. Instead Hutchings was entrusted with the biggest transfer budget this club is ever likely to have, and given a remit to improve the style of football and guide City to a mid-table spot.

History shows this was far too ambitious – not to mention damagingly expensive – and, as clubs like Stoke and Wigan continue to battle to preserve their top flight status year-on-year, the idea that City could prosper by turning to flair and playing 4-4-2 at Old Trafford now seems breathtakingly naive. A more experienced manager would surely have known that the strategy was all wrong.

Jim Jefferies
“It is my opinion that he was an undiluted disaster for Bradford City from beginning to end”

With such a talented squad at his disposal, it was no surprise that Hutchings quickly came under pressure as results were poor, and Richmond – to his later regret – failed to back his man and sacked him. What we needed was an experienced man who’ll who whip these under-achievers into shape. A no-nonsense manager.

Such requirements led to Jim Jefferies, a tough-talking Scot who’d enjoyed great success in Scotland, taking charge. Yet within weeks he was telling Richmond that the club was effectively relegated and needed to get rid of the fancy Dans. It was only December.

In the excellent ‘The Pain and the Glory’ book Richmond was scathing of the job Jefferies did, but in some respects ‘the Judge’ did a good job in at least helping the club prepare for tough financial times ahead by getting rid of high-earners and sellable assets before the end of the season. He was given little money to spend on replacements with City now in Division One, and it proved a thankless task trying to take the club forwards when so much quality was being taken out.

Jefferies left the club after 13 months, and with such fiscal times on the horizon, the search for a new manager centered on candidates with experience of finding lower league bargains and happy to manage on a small budget. Peter Jackson turned the position down, so in came the Lawman.

Nicky Law/Bryan Robson
“I’m just hoping we can bring back the 16,000 who were here for the first game.”

As City went through the turmoil of administration and emerged skint and picking up out-of-contract players from Brentford, it was difficult to imagine a better person to have in charge than Nicky Law. He managed the club well through a very difficult 2002/03 season – targeting battlers over flair – but was a victim of rising expectations soon after. The remaining high earners departed in the summer of 2003, and the wage constraints meant that Law struggled to find replacements good enough to keep City in the division.

So Law was sacked after 12 winless games, and with Gordon Gibb now in charge it is interesting to speculate how his approach to recruiting the next manager differed. Gibb had enjoyed success building a theme park with sufficient attractions to keep people visiting, and it was clear that much of the thought behind appointing former England captain Bryan Robson was to increase falling attendances.

It didn’t work, and a deflated Gibb would depart just 8 weeks later with Administration 2 just around the corner. Meanwhile Robson was benefiting from a larger budget than Law and was able to bring in experienced loan players, with a greater focus on skill over graft. Results were improving, and though it would probably have proved too little too late City might have managed to avoid relegation had the administrators not taken over and being forced to sell key players.

Robson was left trying to keep City up with players he’d declared only two months earlier to not be good enough for the club and who were welcome to leave. With the prospect of limited funds in League One, he felt it was a job he could not continue.

Colin Todd
“I honestly think Colin should be right up there for any manager of the season…I see him as the man to take us back up the football pyramid.”

With the club in such dire straits that summer, appointing a new manager was hardly the most important priority. Colin Todd, assistant to Robson having come close to landing the job the November before, was handed the reins. However sour it ended, it proved a good choice as Todd steadied the ship while the club limped on following the narrow survival of administration. An 11th place in the first season was beyond Julian Rhodes’ expectations:

I thought we would be facing a relegation battle. Bearing in mind this season was going to be about coming out of administration, I thought we might well be facing life in League 2 when the rebuilding could really begin.

Todd’s time in charge was categorised by low budgets and limited stability. He put together a decent team that threatened to finish in the play off picture, and though the following season saw little progress (another 11th place) the Bantams still only lost 13 games. Todd, however, was under pressure from a section of supporters.

Some argued the former England international lacked passion for the job, and that defeats didn’t hurt him enough. Some argued we could do better than treading water in mid-table. But when he was eventually sacked midway through his third season, City drowned.

Rhodes, who had previously backed his man strongly even during difficult times, admitted that the pressure of supporters and stalling attendances was a telling factor in booting out Todd, especially now he had just launched an innovative season ticket deal that required thousands of people’s commitment.

When it gets to the stage where they [supporters] stop coming then something has to be done. At the end of the day it’s their club.

He was right, only now it was our League Two club.

Stuart McCall
“I will see myself as a failure if I don’t get the club back up at the first attempt, and I’ve got the strongest desire anyone could possibly have to achieve that.”

So out with Todd’s lack of passion and after David Wetherall’s unsuccessful caretaker stint, the hunt for the next manager did not require an advert in the classifieds. We needed someone who cares, someone who will get the players going and someone who will not tolerate underachievers. We need arguably the greatest achiever of City’s modern history.

In came Stuart McCall, along with the investment of Mark Lawn that allowed the club to hand the manager a relatively strong playing budget for the first time since Chris Hutchings. McCall was the overwhelming choice as next manager from fans because of the passion he’d put in to the job, no one can argue they were disappointed on that front at least.

Unfortunately, no matter how much Stuart cared he was in his first manager role and working in a division he didn’t know, and the inexperience was to show as success continued to allude the club. McCall put his neck on the chopping board straightaway by declaring he’d be a failure if he didn’t guide City to promotion at the first attempt – but he did fail attempt one, and then attempt two, and he was on course to fail attempt three before he eventually quit.

Of course the experiences along the way helped him to become a better manager, and by the end he had enough knowledge of the lower leagues to be able to use a reduced budget to bring in non-league players that could make the step up. Nevertheless, just like with Todd, the lack of speed to the progress left McCall under heavy pressure.

The passion and how much he cared went against him in the end. We didn’t want someone who would be more upset than us if they lost, we needed a wise head who had a track record for success. Passion was good, but the very reasons McCall was brought in were no longer what the club was looking for. This time a job advertisement would be needed.

Peter Taylor
“4-3-3 can be 4-3-3 and not just 4-5-1”

Which brings us back to Taylor, who was appointed on the basis of his outstanding track record in delivering success and high level of experience. However, criticisms over the football Taylor favours have followed him throughout his long managerial career, and he is now heavily slated for style of play City have produced for much of the season. We know Taylor will be gone soon and, when the discussions over the qualities to look for in his replacement begin, it’s likely that style of football will feature strongly on the next list of interview questions.

So there we have it

“There’s only two types of manager. Those who’ve been sacked and those who will be sacked in the future.” (Howard Wilkinson)

Hutchings to Taylor via Jefferies, Law, Todd and McCall. All were branded failures and, with such a cycle of hiring and firing helping the Bantams fall from the Premier League to League Two, one is again left to wonder what could possibly lead us to believe the next guy will prove any more successful?

But is it a matter of changing managers proving futile, or is our ongoing failure to find the right man more to do with the goalposts continually shifting?

Was Nicky Law sacked because the lower league manager route was wrong, or was hiring someone with great experience of handling small budgets actually a sound strategy that should have been continued? Instead of getting some guy who used to play for Man United to pack the stadium out, after Law should we have recruited then-Doncaster manager Dave Penny, for example?

Did Stuart McCall fail because he cared too much, or was the passion we hired him for the right quality required and Dean Windass should have been given the job instead of Taylor? We ask for one quality in a manager, don’t like some of the other characteristics that manager brings and then dismiss that original quality during the next search.

We want a manager who is not the last one, and so we go and get one – and in doing so we always find that the next guy is lacking some things but not the same things. So while we might have thought we’d found the solution, we end up finding a new thing to be the problem.

Circumstances – not least City’s changing financial capabilities – have changed often during the last decade. But as we soon start to prepare to recruit another manager it’s to be hoped the criteria will be more thought out than finding someone “not like the last manager.” Because over much of the past decade, that has often appeared to be the case.

In praise of Luke O’Brien

In the middle of a truly wretched second half performance against Lincoln City last week, came an extraordinarily brilliant Bradford City moment. It involved a young full back charging forwards with the ball and then, superbly, nut-megging two defenders to get past them before racing into the penalty area. He then hit a terrific curling shot that narrowly flew wide of the far post, with the keeper beaten. It wasn’t quite a spectacular goal, but it still took your breath away.

It hasn’t been a season of great individual performances, but Luke O’Brien is enjoying an outstanding campaign that has seen the home-grown left back emerge as the only rival to David Syers for player of the season. And if this award went to the player who’d produced the most consistently-strong performances over the course of the campaign, Luke would probably be set to pick it up for the second time in three seasons.

And who would have thought that a year ago? When Peter Taylor arrived at Valley Parade, O’Brien’s days began to look numbered. Part of a dreadful team display at Accrington in Taylor’s first game in charge, the new manager rushed out and signed Liverpool left back Robbie Threlfall on loan. O’Brien wasn’t dropped out of the team, but moved to a left winger role that lead to up-and-down form for the rest of the campaign. When Luke lost his starting place for the season after the Easter Monday defeat to Macclesfield, and with Threlfall looking un-shiftable at left back, his future looked very uncertain.

Yet even though he began this season in and out of the team, O’Brien rediscovered his best form and regained his left back position from an off-colour Threlfall. Since being unfairly left out of the Morecambe defeat in October – to make way for a loan signing Taylor was forced to play at the first opportunity – O’Brien has started every game for City. Team performances have proved wildly erratic since, but one constant has been the excellence of the former City youth player.

His game has come on significantly, and there’s no doubt Taylor – not to mention assistant manager Wayne Jacobs, who played that position so well for 11 years – have helped him to develop. Luke is not the tallest player, but has gained the confidence to not be bullied by opposition players who have in the past targeted him. He is an excellent tackler who has learned when to stay on his feet and when to make a challenge. He is always willing to get forwards and shows great levels of fitness getting up and down the pitch.

Playing left wing last season was far from O’Brien’s comfort zone, but the improved dribbling ability and confidence going forward he has since demonstrated is evidence to the positive difference it made.

But above all the credit should go to O’Brien himself. Ever since breaking into the first time under Stuart McCall in October 2008, Luke has shown outstanding levels of work-rate and commitment to the cause. He never goes missing in games by shying away from the ball; and he displays a creditable focus on doing the right things for the team and his manager, even if that sometimes goes against the crowd’s wishes. Witnessing the way that the 22-year-old has developed his game and established himself as a key first team player – the Lincoln game was his 100th league start for City – has been one of the few bright spots of City’s time in League Two.

Is he appreciated by fans as much as he should be? Sadly not, and even at the last two games I’ve heard the odd supporter in ear shot complain about his supposed failings. Yet full backs are never the star of the show and are often only truly noted when they are bad; and the fact O’Brien puts in so many excellent performances that can largely go unrecognised is a sign of how consistent he is. If he had a shocker, everyone would suddenly notice.

The constant criticisms aimed at Leon Osborne this season have underlined how, ultimately, being a young player emerging through the ranks doesn’t afford you much leeway with your home crowd. Yet as we grimly wish away a disastrously-bad season and look forward to some less than committed players leaving in future, there is great comfort to be had from having someone like O’Brien on our side. He grew up sat among us, watching City in the Premier League from a seat in the Kop. He is now living our dreams and performing in a way we all would if we could live it too: giving everything we have, to make up for slight deficiencies in ability – because we’d care so much.

He is not here simply to pick up a wage, he gets it.

And in terms of the impact he’s made on the field – and relatively speaking – he is the best young player City have produced since the last O’Brien (Andy). Just like the now-Leeds United centre back, Luke can go much further in the game than Division Four.

Let’s just hope he stays around long enough to take us up there with him.

On Edinho

There was a moment at Valley Parade, well, ten minutes to be exact, when football changed and Bradford City was never the same again. Edinho was at the centre of this moment, a moment which is forever etched into the fabric of the club we follow.

There had been a buzz around Bradford that something was going on at City. We had heard that the club doctor had been called down to do a medical on Friday afternoon with a new signing. Sure enough five minutes before the start of an infamous local derby with Huddersfield we saw the fruits of City’s transfer.

So the tannoy announced:

“Edinho, from Brazil”

Bradford City, the team of affable lumper Bobby Campbell, of Mark Mega Ellis, of Don Hutchins and of Bazza Gazza, had moved on to signing Brazilians. We knew nothing about Edinho, except that the sort balding fella paraded in front of us looked nothing like the Edinho who represented his country in the 1982 World Cup, but we were impressed. We had arrived.

Granted we were struggling at the foot of the division but we had Chris Waddle, we had a new striker signed from Premiership Southampton for £650,000 who looked like the real deal and now we had a man from the cultural home of football. We had our own Boy From Brazil.

Edinho must have taken his seat in the director’s box to watch his new side around the time that Mark Schwartzer flapped at a cross and Town took the lead. If he was not regretting his decision to sign at that point he was three minutes later when Kevin Grey left Gordon Watson, the big man Edinho had been signed to partner, was left in a heap on the floor with a leg break I do not even want to think about.

For the record Chris Waddle equalised as Watson was taken to the BRI and the game finished 1-1. Edinho must have been have wondered what he had let himself in for or perhaps, as we do with philosophical hindsight, he chalked the afternoon up to the fickle fates of football. An afternoon, an Iccarus story of reaching and falling. It is those stories that constitute our experiences as football fans. It is the collections of anecdotes about opportunities taken and missed that is the fibre of what we do on a Saturday afternoon. Hence the name “The Boy From Brazil & Other Stories”.

All of which overlooks a few things about Edinho. He was a fair player. He was something of a Brazilian Bobby Campbell in that he could handle himself and was not afraid to “Get stuck in”, but came preinstalled with a few tricks and step overs. He was a cheeky sort. As other players were getting booked for removing shirts in celebration, Edinho got to have his disrobing glory cause he wore two shirts.

The story of Edinho though, like most things in the fragmented years of Chris Kamara, is best told but snippets, each story told like jigsaw piece to a puzzle that you do not have all the pieces to.

There was the time that Edinho was invited to join a family who had seen the striker dining alone in Fatty Arbuckle’s in Bradford. Edinho was very grateful and picked up the tab of course, although dinner conversation was limited by the that that the Brazilian’s English ran to the pretty expression “Hello”.

Or the time that Edinho and Peter Beagrie combined over at Huddersfield with a sweeping 50 yard move that put City top of the First Division. Personally I had travelled 400 miles to see that game. I wouldn’t have missed that moment for the world.

Charlton and the tiny striker grows and extra foot (or hand) to get a diving header.

Mr and Mrs Edinho wandering through Bradford City centre one Christmas with his young child holding hands between them, City fans applauding, waving and wishing the guy all the best. Bradford folk then not being easily impressed this was the West Yorkshire equivalent of a mobbing.

Edinho coming on, popping the ball at Peter Swan’s head and sparking a 21 man brawl against Bury. He so did not deserve sending off.

Edinho left City after Paul Jewell took over and signed Lee Mills and Isaiah Rankin for the front pairing. Had Robbie Blake not emerged to fill Rankin’s shoes when the £1.3m striker misfired Edinho could have had another chance, but by that time he was away to Dunfermline (and Andy Tod) and then back to Portugal.

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