The spirit of the mid-table finish

I had a good chuckle to myself before our game with Chester on Saturday. The match day programme was making a big deal about Sir Bobby Robson sticking up for manager Mark Wright, while his traditional programme notes were no more than a collection of press quotes sandwiched between over-the-top praise from the editor for his managerial ability. Apparently if he’d been allowed to work his “transfer magic” the Blues would now be 15 points better off.

As the home players came onto the pitch to warm up, the enthusiastic bloke on the microphone urged home supporters to give them a round of applause for earning “a heroic point” at Bury the previous week, to which they obliged. In addition to thanking the match day sponsors at least three times he also kept yelling about “believing” and it would have been interesting to see if the home fans, who must listen to this sort of thing every other week, bothered to listen or were screaming at him to shut up, with their team winless in 17.

But if two sides of the ground were trying to ignore the cheese, the atmosphere in the away stands was chalk in its comparison.

For some 30 minutes before kick off I listened to a group of fans nearby moan long and hard about City’s form, players and management. “We’d better win today, or we have no chance of the play offs.” As the stand filled up I felt as thought all around were either moaners or quiet people, the latter group probably biting their tongue like me. As the game kicked off some chanting began, but it soon fizzled into quietness and, by the second half, groans and moans. All I could hear was people yelling abuse. Every time Matt Clarke came near us he was told to eff off. Zesh Rehman was the subject of largely harmless but still borderline racist jokes as he failed to get the ball forward quickly. Michael Boulding and Steve Jones are lazy bastards, Paul Mullin garbage. With no substitutes in sight the focus quickly turns to Stuart. “He’s not a manager,” it’s said of our manager.

I’m not criticising fellow fans, I happened to be in a bad section of the away support and anyone who travels almost 100 miles to support their team has a right to air their views. City were awful, clueless during the second half especially. The lack of confidence quickly manifested into desperation to rush the ball forwards instead of showing composure. The quality of crosses into the box was pathetic, the invention in the centre of the pack minimal. Stuart should not escape criticism either, the 4-3-1-2 formation employed failed to have an impact on a five man defence, resulting in City playing too narrow and direct. He did not make changes to the team’s shape and the questions Blues winger Richie Partridge posed were not replicated on City’s flanks. The team has played better and been booed off, so such a reaction came as no surprise when the final whistle was blown.

Yet as disappointed as I felt with the performance and game trudging back to the car, it was the boos which remained ringing in my ear. No one would advocate the kind of over-optimistic uncritical approach of Chester and our recent dreadful run of form is testing everyone’s patience, but again we quickly turned on the team, groaned loudly whenever a move broke down and only chanted on a few occasions during the second half. A goal, no matter how undeserved, might have changed the poor atmosphere, but the spirit and togetherness we should have with the team on the road has disappeared.

And if that sounds fanciful, you mustn’t have watched City on the road last season. The atmosphere at away games during our first campaign in the basement league was the best it had been since the first in the Premiership. I still look back fondly at that night at Lincoln, where we didn’t stop chanting for 90 minutes and were rewarded with a thrilling win. I recall the joy at Blundell Park when Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu struck a stoppage time penalty and Stuart had to race over to appeal to those of us in the away stand to calm down, such were the scenes of jubilation which had spilled onto the pitch. I remember the fun we had at Accrington, the second halves at Darlington and Notts County, the Wetherall day at Rotherham, the noise we made at Bury and Rochdale. All of this and the club finished mid-table.

Of course we won more often on our travels than this season, which helped the enthusiasm of support. One of my favourite away trips last year though was Stockport. We were in an uncovered stand, it was raining heavily and we were playing terribly, losing 2-1; yet we didn’t stop singing, even throughout half time. Last season we had chants for almost every player, we would sing the White Stripes song and sometimes even Johnny Cash. After games my lot would drive home with our voices hoarse from making so much noise, but almost always feeling happy for the experience.

This season, for whatever reason it’s just not been the same. Huddersfield and Leeds were fun, but the edgier atmosphere you get in derbies meant it was less comfortable. At Accrington I watched a middle age man push my wife out the way and someone else spit at the home keeper. At Lincoln we witnessed fighting in the high street and then a group of our fans try to kick off with the home fans during the game. At Notts County we quickly dished out the dreaded “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” and told players to ‘eff off at full time.

At Rotherham I was freezing as we sat their quietly and a young lad behind me spent the game slagging off everyone else’s man of the match, Luke O’Brien. My favourite away trips so far are Macclesfield and Luton – the former because we cruised it so could spend the second half having banter with the home side’s struggling strikers, the latter because, after first half adversity, we passionately got behind the team. Bury was good for that, too.

I do wonder if the increased away followings this season have something to with why the atmosphere isn’t quite as good. I don’t mean everyone who’s started coming more regularly this season is a moaner or fails to get behind the team, but more that larger crowds mean the fans who regularly start the chants are more spread out from each other.

This may have nothing to do with the team’s failings on the road this season but, as our players attacked our end of the stadium on Saturday, how much of a difference might it have made if they were loudly roared on, applauded when they did things right and not yelled abuse at when they did things wrong? If a player gives the ball away he hears groans and that doesn’t help him to have the confidence to show more guile the next time he has possession.

There are at least three away games to go and there should be a decent turn out at each. I hope we don’t carry on like the last few away games, making some noise for the first 20 minutes before gradually getting quieter, applauding ourselves later over how we brought such a big crowd and how our team “don’t deserve us”. If it goes quiet at Morecambe next week and the grumbles start to get louder, I hope a few more like me will remember the spirit on the road last season and start singing, “Stuart McCall’s Bratfud Army.”

We supporters might not be able make the players perform better, but maybe like the Chester fans we need to at least try believing.

Rochdale’s chairman gives motivation as the crunch draws in

Rochdale chairman Chris Dunphy

My opinion is that when a club goes into receivership or liquidation, they should lose the golden share and drop out of the league, I think it’s grossly unfair when we go to places like Bradford City, who have wiped off debts of £38m and been bust twice, and the likes of Rotherham, who’ve been bust three times and wiped off their debts. It’s absolutely scandalous.

Promotion is a great motivation for beating Rochdale and a win for the Bantams on Tuesday night will go a long way to establishing City’s position as automatic promotion chasers but to paraphrase Wilde on an occasion such as dealing with Dunphy it becomes more than a footballing imperative to win the game. It becomes a pleasure.

Dunphy’s assessment of City’s financial problems is a distortion of the truth – the Bantams did not write off £38m but rather paid off a significant (in that is was all that could be afforded) chunk of the debts – I know because I was in the room when we did it – and did so in a way that handicapped the club to such an extent that rather than recovering to be reinstalled in the Premiership we end up at Spotland, playing Rochdale, in Division Four.

Dunphy – who tries to take the moral high ground on football finance – is charging £20 per adult during the credit crunch. Dunphy – who prides himself on how he runs Rochdale up to the line but no further but sees fit to criticise Rotherham United who try do the same but for the South Yorkshire flooding which plunged the club into crisis – is prepared to suggest that all as who have had financial problems are guilty by association with administrators.

Good governance in football is more than admirable – it is necessary – but it does not need the kind of advocates who use it exclusively and lash out at the unfortunate who suffer along with the financially undisciplined.

Say what you want about the causes of City’s first administration but do not doubt that the second was caused by a club that spends years to that point and years after struggling to keep head above water and – at the cost of our ground – failing at one point. I was not in the room for that one but I have seen the books and Dunphy’s shoestring which he claims to run Dale on would have been riches to the Bantams.

For Dunphy to use his Guardian interview to talk about writing off debts which are calculated wrongly and to associate the Bantams name with the actions of a Leicester City is reason enough for City to want to repeat the 5-0 stuffing we gave Dale three years ago and the slur on City is enough reason for Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes to refuse the hospitality of Spotland and bunk in with the supporters.

The game begins three on the road for the Bantams and sees City back in good form with Rhys Evans three clean sheets off a new club record for a season and Peter Thorne looking as if he has found the way to the net again.

The back five of Rhys Evans, Paul Arnison, Graeme Lee, Matthew Clarke and Luke O’Brien are looking as solid as they have been save the rather massive wobbles of Barnet and Notts County. Dean Furman and Nicky Law Jnr were imperious in midfield on Saturday but the latter will look to match the former’s ball winning abilities against a side who are strong at home.

Joe Colbeck looks to be returning to the kind of form that saw him cutting through teams at the start of the season and like a pair of jeans bought three years ago that were too big – Steve Jones is increasingly a good fit on the Bantams left filling in for Omar Daley. Chris Brandon’s cameo did not see him kick the ball – at least not in my memory – but his impact as a non-toucher was similar to Jorge Cadete’s legendary attributed goal by Dean Windass seconds after he came on.

Michael Boulding works tirelessly and Peter Thorne has three in two games. Rochdale represent a tough game but not one beyond the Bantams.

The P comes before R

As the weekend’s game between City and Accrington comes closer into focus, a term likely to crop up on several occasions will be revenge.

Revenge for Stanley, who in October suffered from the most painful way of losing after what would have been an excellent victory over the Bantams was snatched from their grasp during the final minutes. Out fought and out thought, City came back from 2-0 down to win improbably after 88th and 89th minute strikes from Barry Conlon and Peter Thorne completed a comeback begun by Michael Boulding. It left home manager John Coleman cancelling a planned anniversary meal out with his wife and keeper Kenny Arthur revealing in a national football magazine earlier this month that it was, “an all-time low, the biggest kick in the teeth ever and I felt for a while I can’t do this anymore.”

Revenge too for City, who the October before went down 3-0 at home to Accrington in arguably the most depressing and dismal defeat of its modern history. It was 1-0 inside two minutes, 2-0 after 30 and 3-0 just past the interval. City were chasing shadows on route to a third loss of a five game sequence. The pain may have been far worse at Morecambe – the fifth defeat – a week later, but been humiliated at home by a team who not long ago were scrapping around in non-league obscurity was something of a fitting way for a club which had recently been part of the Premiership elite to hit rock bottom. Things didn’t get worse, though it’s admittedly difficult to imagine how they could have, but that autumn evening has retained a haunting presence as the club looks to go forward. In it’s own way, it’s a game as unlikely to be forgotten as beating Liverpool 1-0 to stay in the Premiership.

And in many ways that’s for the best. The manner in which the club had slumped since beating the Reds has largely been down to mismanagement of finances and the near-impossible struggle for stability, but its affects have included an ever-quickening decline in standards. Over recent years so many teams who shouldn’t be winning at Valley Parade have done precisely that and any aspirations of reversing the club’s fortunes has been undermined by weak and avoidable defeats. The Accrington embarrassment wasn’t a surprise, it was just another dismal episode for a club which has on occasions hidden behind the excuse of poor finances to deflect underachievement.

The next time City played at Valley Parade they drew 0-0 with Darlington and though there have been some disappointing home defeats since, the path of recovery finally began. Promotion may have proved beyond the club last season but building blocks were put in place. During this campaign we fear visiting teams will keep men behind the ball, time-waste even during the first half and cheer at earning a draw, but only one visiting team has so far executed a game plan which worked well enough to take the three points after 13 home games. Problems remain of course and some opposition sides, such as Barnet and Dagenham, have enjoyed too much of the game; but even when not at their best this City side has on many occasions demonstrated strong character and resilience to dig something from the game – just ask Accrington.

For this and much more manager Stuart McCall deserves credit for he has been able to shrug off the mediocre mentality and drive up standards at the club. A new contract offer is his just reward and though his desire to postpone such talks until later may leave some worried, his desire to put all his available energy into delivering promotion should not. News of Stuart’s new deal has predictably triggered another round of some fans complaining that his coaching staff are too inexperienced. The argument goes along the lines of Stuart needing an experienced number two for the decisions he isn’t strong enough to make, which is not so much naive but idiotic. If Stuart isn’t able to make tough decisions then Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes would be advised to tear up any contract offer they have begun drafting. They won’t need to because it’s not the case of course, just as much as to believe Stuart would tolerate weak coaching staff when so much of his energy and effort is being consumed by the goal of delivering promotion.

A quick glance at City’s starting line up from that October night shows just two are still first team regulars, which gives a strong indication of progress, but it won’t be the R word on Stuart’s mind come Saturday. City could thump Accrington 3-0, they could thump Accrington 10-0 for that matter, but any vengeance would feel hollow and short-lived, and anyway we need the three points to stay in the automatic promotion places and that’s what really matters.

Administration is a genuine punishment

This article is in reply to Football’s Administration Punishments Need To Change To Avoid Uncertain Futures

BfB is nothing if not democratic. In the language of all football fans, it’s a game of opinions. There are some places where there’s only one opinion that counts. Many of us have worked in places like that. But BfB is not that place. So, when Michael Wood posts his piece about how to deal with the ever increasing risk of a club going into administration and one of the other contributors wants to disagree with him, this is the result!

Let me say at the outset how very fortunate I believe my beloved team have been to go into administration at the right times. Not for us the 10 point penalty on either occasion Bradford City went into administration. We got in just in time. It would, of course, have been far preferable not to have got in at all, but there’s no point in rehearsing the reasons behind either of those two periods of financial difficulty.

These days it’s hard to keep up with who is and who isn’t in administration in the lower leagues. Even more difficult to work out is how some of these clubs are coming out of administration. Both are increasingly essential considerations as long as the present system is in place.

Take Luton Town, for instance. They went into administration last season and suffered a 10 point deduction. Those points in themselves cost them nothing. They finished 17 points below the safety mark. The administration and the associated inability to sign new players may well have cost them their League One place – but the deduction didn’t. It was a penalty that imposed no punishment.

Others have achieved the same in recent years. Leeds and Boston both went into administration when the points deduction was irrelevant. They were both already relegated. This brought about a rule change, which would allow such a deduction to be carried forward to the next season, when it might have a true meaning.

Bournemouth’s 10 point loss certainly was a punishment. They finished only two points below the safety line. Rotherham’s 10 point deduction left them 14 points away from the promotion play-offs, but again it could be argued that the fact of going into administration and the surrounding uncertainty knocked all the stuffing out of a very promising season spent, to that point, in or very near the play-offs.

But it is what comes next that matters more. As Leeds found, if you won’t or can’t get out of administration via a CVA, the Football League’s preferred option, you run a risk of a second penalty. Their 15 point penalty, thanks eventually to their Wembley defeat, was a genuine punishment. They will still be playing in League One next season. Without the deduction they would have gained automatic promotion.

All three of the League Two teams who start the new season in administration face the serious prospect of ‘doing a Leeds’. All three may come out of administration by a non-CVA route and, if so, will face the 15 point deduction for 2008-9 after their 10 point deductions for 2007-8. Additionally Luton already face another 10 point penalty for completely different breaches committed by those no longer involved with the club. Luton could start on minus 25 points and, just to avoid relegation to the Conference, they may need to win the number of points that would normally achieve a play-off place.

While all this could give Bradford City a head start on three of our League Two rivals, the bad news is that we did actually come out of administration via a CVA twice. OK, so Leeds United missed out on promotion last season. But this season they start with a clean sheet on and off the field. We all know it has taken City several years to achieve a financial break-even point and the present company still faces annual payments from the CVA that bite into the limited budget.

So the question I want to pose is not, as Michael writes, whether the penalty points system is too harsh on teams in the lower reaches of football and finance, but whether taking the 15 point hit might be seen to be preferable by some directors, providing only that their club can get over the one hurdle of the next season.

We can’t dwell on the Leicester scenario. That couldn’t happen now. Nor would I support Michael’s relegation-and-promotion proof suggestion, mainly because it would have involved two League One teams, Cheltenham and Crewe, being relegated and Luton, 17 points behind Crewe, surviving, when at the start of the season all of them believed that the four teams with the fewest points would go down. Why should Cheltenham and Crewe and their supporters suffer for the financial mishandlings of the boards at Luton and Bournemouth? And how long might it be before some directors decided that it was worth the 15 points, if they were guaranteed not being relegated?

But someone should suffer. A financial penalty is out of the question for a club that is in such debt it cannot continue to trade normally. What other penalty is available? Community service hardly fits the bill! A points deduction is less harsh than relegation, which is about the only alternative.

I believe that the Football League must do two things. The first they are already doing, although perhaps not quite well enough. They must at the start of each season make clear what their financial rules are and what the penalties for breach will be. That puts every club on notice. Go into administration and you know what to expect. Come out without a CVA and, again, you know what’s coming your way.

The second step the League must take is to make the semi-voluntary wages cap part of its own binding financial regulatory scheme. There is already in place a provision aimed at preventing clubs in the bottom two divisions from spending more than 60% of their income on players’ salaries. It was supposed to apply equally to the Championship, but there were too many big clubs there who wouldn’t play. It should be made a requirement of League membership that a club agrees to and complies with a salary cap. There should also be clear penalties for breaches. I would suggest a look at the Rugby League’s sliding scale, where the greater the excess the more points are deducted, would be a suitable guide.

Three final thoughts. I wonder what Julian Rhodes, the one in the middle of two administrations, would do if he were now given the option of the CVA which to this day takes it toll on the club or a clean financial sheet and a 15 point loss, even if that meant certain relegation. And how do the supporters of Halifax Town and Gretna feel? Wouldn’t they have preferred to have been forced to live within their means, even if a points deduction followed? And, last of all, I go back to how lucky City were with their timing and with the man whose offer allowed the CVA to be completed. Neither Bradford City nor any other league club should rely on that sort of luck ever again.

Football’s administration punishments need to change to avoid uncertain futures

Rotherham United are looking at coming out of administration and – as with Luton Town and Bournemouth – they face the same fifteen point penalty that Leeds United suffered last season because for whatever reason the numbers are not adding up and they are not going to be able to exit with agreement from the creditors as City did twice.

I’ve said all I want to say about Leeds United and the way they do business but I’m forced to note that the Football League’s punishments – well meaning as they are – seem to hit the clubs hardest that can ill afford them. Whatever went on at Elland Road the position in the league suggests that the club were able to take the fifteen point deduction in their stride. As Rotherham line up at The Don Valley Stadium with – we understand – a picked over squad then it can hardly be said that they are able to do the same.

Such is the problem with the punishment. Had City been hit with ten and fifteen point deductions as we would have been were those rules in place when we were in administration then the club could have ill afforded the relegations that would have come more quickly. Leicester City – on the other hand – used a CVA to walk away from massive debt and would have had no problem in taking that penalty and still being promoted back to the Premiership.

Some sanction has to be taken to avoid the Leicester City and Leeds United situation of walking away from debt but that sanction has become a harbinger of doom for those who can ill afford it such as Rotherham United.

A solution needs to be found. Administration is a result of a club trying to tilt the balance of a season towards them. We saw this in the Premiership when Geoffrey Richmond attempted to lash out cash and keep City in the top division risking all to do it. Over ambitious chairmen will always gamble the future of the club against short term success and football needs rules to stop this and protect those who have a long term view of the club – the fans.

Rather than docking points and having clubs begin seasons playing catch up the Football League should look at a system that says to clubs who want the protection from creditors that administration provides that they will offer them protection from relegation. Rather than losing ten points a club that goes into administration should not be able to be relegated for 16 months and not allowed to be promoted for a further year.

That is a year of insulation for clubs who hit financial difficulties for them to rebuild themselves without the fear that when they emerge from the blanket of debt they have cascaded down the leagues but the pay off – the way to stop a Leicester or a Leeds – is that they have to agree that they will not be promoted for two years. The period begins a month after administration is entered – that would stop clubs abusing the system to stop relegations – and would mean that should a team finish 24th in the league then the teams 19th to 23rd would be relegated.

Time then to regroup and rebuild a club like Rotherham getting the gates and the games without giving undue advantage but most importantly continuing football which is in danger of dying in Rotherham as – like City did – club’s stumble punch drunk from punishment into uncertain futures.

Why I hope City have not dropped the ball with the 9,000

In February 2008, we were told of the new offer for 2008/2009 season tickets – if 9000 adults or more were to buy a season ticket before 15th June, they’d each receive another, free, season ticket. It’s now less than a week to the deadline and only slightly more than 6000 have been sold – despite selling twice that number last season. Why is this the case?

Are City fans jaded? Perhaps so – last season, for all the signs of recovery and general optimism, was a mid-table finish in the fourth division when all is said and done.

Are City fans lazy? Certainly some are – witness the mad dash for season tickets as the deadline approached last season.

Are City fans fickle? Maybe. It’s fair to say that a good deal of the fans who bought tickets last season were definitely conspicuous by their absence in the years post-Premiership.

Are City fans cheap? Yes.

The fact that we sold more season tickets at a lower level of football just because of the ticket price speaks volumes. I applaud City for lowering the cost, I really do – football has always been too expensive to watch, and to put it in the financial reach of real people is how football should be.

The offer itself is where I think Bradford City have dropped an absolute clanger when it comes to this season’s season ticket sales. It is my belief that the reason that there is a shortfall of 3000 season ticket holders is solely down to the buy one get one free offer – people are waiting to see how many tickets are being sold, before swooping in at the last minute and grabbing two tickets – one for themselves, one for their mate, and paying half each. These will be the same people that then complain that “City have no money again” as they sit there having contributed less than 4p for each minute of league football played that season at home.

I think City’s BOGOF offer is an inspired way of getting more people through the turnstiles, but it has been handled all wrong. The message should have been “Buy One Get One Free – for the first 9000 adult season tickets purchased, if we sell 9000 adult season tickets”. There would then have been a mad scramble at the start of the promotion (although it’s been made unnecessary by allowing renewals to be done online this season) as will inevitably happen at the end of this one, and those that bought after the 9000 mark would still only be paying £150. Even play it a little cloak and dagger, and don’t publicise how many tickets have been sold. Those that were going to split the cost with their mate would still be able to if they get in early enough – and if I’m honest, at least these people might actually attend the games instead of having an extra season ticket to give to someone who more than likely won’t turn up. At this rate, instead of getting 9000+ new supporters (which is the aim), City could be in a position where anywhere between 3000 and 6000 people just don’t bother getting a ticket at all, as they’ll miss the deadline and instead of paying £150 for two tickets, will have to pay £300 for one.

“City Til I Die” is the mantra from the stand – but in reality, it’s more like “City while I can bleed them dry” for most. And that saddens me.

Medley leaves big expectations to someone else

Last season was a particularly great example of it.

Things are going wrong on the field, so in a fit of disgust those supporters determined to find criticism seemingly take a quick scan at the reserves and pluck out one or two names that it is ‘disgraceful’ aren’t in the team. With players underperforming and results not good enough, its easy to look at the unknown and hail them as the saviour to lead City forward from the mess.

Luke Medley was that such saviour last season with the cry of “why isn’t Luke Medley in the team?” usually following each and every defeat. Today’s news that Medley has rejected a new contract offer in order to find a club closer to his native London is another excuse for some to bemoan the young striker’s lack of opportunities last season; apparently the management’s decision to cruelly ‘ignore’ him all season has backfired and someone else will be benefiting from his talents.

The evidence to back up such thoughts centre around that goal against Wrexham last season. As a first touch on your debut, his wonder strike is one it’s unlikely we’ll see emulated for some time. Another promising sub cameo, down at Grimsby in October, underlined his undoubted potential. City were trailing and heading for a sixth defeat in seven when Luke entered the field. His presence and pace helped trigger some late pressure and he won the stoppage time penalty that earned a point. Look at his other appearances though, plus a failed loan spell with Cambridge City, and there’s not a lot to suggest he has yet-developed into a player capable of firing City to a promotion push next season.

Of course the argument goes he wasn’t given an adequate chance to show he could be any more than a player of potential, but it’s one that fails to acknowledge the bigger picture. Luke would have been worth more of a place in the team had those ahead him in the pecking order not been good enough, but were our forwards last season that bad?

Peter Thorne looked a class act at League Two level and certainly not someone to drop; Guylian Ndumbu-Nsungu was inconsistent but for the first three months of his loan spell at City, at least, did well; Willy Topp didn’t quite fulfill his big billing but there clearly must be something more in him to justify City paying a first transfer fee in six years and Barry Conlon, for all the blinkered abuse he got from some supporters who no doubt treated the likes of Lee Mills and Dean Windass with the same contempt, generally performed admirably after Christmas.

Throw in Omar Daley, who enjoyed a handful of excellent games in the strikers berth, and it’s not clear who Luke Medley should have been playing above. For all the problems the team suffered last season, the forward department wasn’t really the source.

And now, with Stuart closing in on Luke Beckett and possibly looking into adding another striker, the competition to play up front next season looks even tougher. All of which Luke will no doubt have noted and, living far away from his home and still only young, few would begrudge him looking elsewhere for a better opportunity. Like any youngster coming through the ranks, Luke has had to impress whenever the opportunity came his way and show he can do it in training and reserve games too. Finishing the reserves’ top scorer and his flashes of brilliance in the first team persuaded Stuart he was worth another deal, but had he stayed it seems unlikely he’d have played a bigger part in next season’s campaign.

So he’ll move on somewhere else where City fans will keep a keen interest and hopefully he’ll build on the success of a promising start to his career. Meanwhile, if and when things go wrong next season, another name will be picked from the reserves by some supporters to replace Luke as our saviour.

Time to deliver on and off the field

One of the great things about emailing people is you can pretend to be sincere.

When I mailed a Leeds-supporting friend if she’d at least enjoyed her day out at Wembley last weekend I was able to do so without the immature smirks and wisecracks Leeds-supporting colleagues who sit near me have had to endure. I was equally glad she wasn’t able to see me shaking my head in despair after receiving her reply.

Yes she’d enjoyed the occasion, but was still carrying a sense of injustice that her beloved whites had lost to Doncaster Rovers. Not because she felt the players deserved more than the 1-0 defeat they suffered, but because the Leeds United supporters had notably outnumbered their South Yorkshire counterparts.

The Doncaster fans were rubbish for the number of empty seats they left she claimed, while ignoring the fact Rovers were forced to suspend ticket sales due to the number of ticketless Leeds fans attempting to buy them. I couldn’t help but feel it was a flawed logic to believe one club deserved to beat another on account of how many supporters they could muster.

Typical Leeds United fans – arrogant and looking down their noses at clubs who are now their equal, perhaps another season in England’s third tier will teach them to be more humble.

But wait. Supporters convinced success is their privilege on the basis of the number of their own, belief that opposition players won’t be able to handle the ‘intimidation’ of your big crowds, the feeling you can sit back and enjoy assured success…it all sounds a bit familiar – like us a year ago?

If there’s one thing the 2007/08 season should have taught us it’s that having more supporters than your rivals is not an advantage on its own. With our crowds averaging 10,000 more than many others, it was easy to get carried away in the belief these small clubs wouldn’t fancy running out at Valley Parade and we’d sweep everyone aside. The reality proved somewhat different as nine defeats contributed to the best supported club in the division managing only the 11th best home record.

Another year on and, despite the lack of success on the pitch, the aim is to dramatically increase crowds once more with a second remarkable season ticket offer. The daily updated figure at the bottom of City’s official website suggests it doesn’t appear to have yet captured the Bradford public’s imagination, but with many likely to be holding out until the last minute the club are still confident that the 9,000 adult applicants needed to trigger everyone getting a free second season ticket will be reached.

The season ticket initiative deserves all the applause it’s getting, but it does throw up plenty of questions for the season ahead. Will everyone who receives a free season ticket find someone to use it and, even then, will they go to every game? Are there enough supporters anxiously waiting until just before the deadline to see if the club are close to the magic 9,000 target, where they can then split the cost with a friend confident of getting that free season ticket?

The number of season ticket holders increased markedly following the £138 offer for 2007-08 season, but many of these were clearly floating supporters lured by the optimism that Stuart McCall’s return generated and novelty of live football. If, after watching a failed campaign of League Two football they renew it’s an achievement of sorts, but do they have other friends they can persuade to join them or will they think £75 a ticket or not bother? And what if 9,000 isn’t reached, what does the club plan to do then?

The growing uncertainty of if the season ticket initiative will succeed is similar to last season, where as City failed dismally to fight against relegation the number of supporters pledging to buy a season ticket was worryingly short of the 10,000 target. Julian Rhodes decided to run the offer anyway and the summer euphoria of Stuart’s return and Mark Lawn’s investment helped the uptake exceed expectations. There will be no such off the field moves this close season and it’s unlikely Stuart will be making the sort of headline signings that would trigger large queues at the ticket office. The next few weeks are going to be very interesting.

The hope is that the offer will succeed for more reasons than for those of us who have bought a season ticket for 2008/09 to get a second free. When Rhodes unveiled the first season ticket offer in February 2007 his motivation was to make the local football team affordable to everyone in the area. Football’s incredible rise in popularity over the last 15 years has sparked unprecedented interest, but seeing it in the flesh has gone beyond the reach of many.

The original season ticket sought to readdress the balance and, after some prodding, captured people’s interest. Other clubs have since replicated what City pioneered and, as the Premier League becomes further grasped from reality, Football League clubs have the chance to re-establish their importance in local communities by being a place young and old can afford to be.

Should the 9,000 be reached, prompting the second free season tickets, more fans will be supporting City next season than during the 1998-99 promotion season exactly 10 years earlier, a fact which underlines the high ambition of the initiative. Clearly it’s going to be touch and go if this is achieved and, even if it does, question marks over the future will remain. What about season ticket prices for 2009-10? What about 2010-11? It’s unclear if Rhodes and Lawn will have such a long term strategy and ultimately it could be out of their hands.

All of which underlines the importance of things going right on the pitch next season. City must mount a stronger promotion push sooner rather than later or the renewed interest in the Bantams will fade for many as quickly as it was rediscovered. There is a hardcore support who will continue to follow City come what may, but no amount of great offers will persuade the more fair-weather supporters to keep coming if we’re going to continue struggling against the likes of Accrington and Barnet. If City can be celebrating promotion the cheap season tickets will remain popular, but it seems unlikely there will be a strong uptake next year if another season of mid-table mediocrity follows.

The statement of ambition from Julian Rhodes this week, while putting pressure on the management team, is welcome. Whether the club should believe they can be in the Championship in two years is debatable, but the old saying of shoot for the moon and, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars could be on the chairmen’s minds. Certainly the immediate aims should centre of promotion from the basement league and provide those of a claret and amber persuasion the first opportunity to celebrate success in nearly a decade.

The pictures of Leeds United supporters crying at Wembley might have give us all a good laugh, but they should also act as a warning that big crowds at Valley Parade next season offer only limited help to achieving the goal of promotion. It’s appears such lessons are being taken on board with the announcement Stuart is to have a larger than anticipated budget to mould a team capable of achieving the dreams of a fickle and impatient Bradford public – before they conclude that even some of the cheapest season tickets in the country aren’t worth it.

Rhodes applies some pressure with a lofty promotions demand

Julian Rhodes arrived at Valley Parade to join a board and a man – Geoffrey Richmond – who fuelled progress with public high ambition and his demand that Stuart McCall try get back to back promotions to The Championship is straight out of the former chairman’s play book.

Rhodes has ratcheted up the pressure on McCall but with that comes an increase in resources at the manager’s disposal recalling Richmond would slip managers the money to make signings while banging the table for promotion. Indeed the current joint chairman joined the club and funded £4.5m spending for Paul Jewell as Richmond backed his manager.

While Richmond seemed to be tub-thumping his analysis of the First Division that year was good. Likewise Rhodes may have looked at League Two which has lost two or three big spending teams and gained through relegation a couple of financially troubled clubs. League Two is weaker this year than it was last and Rhodes has responded.

Looking at the season to follow then one might assume that Leeds will be promoted in May 2009 and Leicester will have followed them. Nottingham Forest and Bristol City have already exited the third tier of English football and – no disrespect – the likes of Scunthorpe have returned to it. League One 2009/2010 promises to be much less strong than the division does this year and like Richmond before him Rhodes has assessed the situation and aims to exploit.

How realistic Rhodes’s stated “realistic aim” is is anyone’s guess. Lennie Lawrence and Jim Jefferies both went into seasons with big resources only to perform averagely and football these days is only three defeats away from a crisis.

Nevertheless everyone at Valley Parade seems to be preparing for bigger things and – as his schooling at the shoulder of Geoffrey Richmond has taught him – Julian Rhodes is applying pressure up front and sliding resources in behind that.

The odds on City

William Hill are offering Bradford City at 10/1 to win League Two next season. After Darlington, perpetual four tier club Rochdale and relegated Gillingham we are the shortest odds in the division as the bookmakers take a look at the Bantams and see potential.

Stuart McCall is – we believe – abut to make Chris Brandon a Bantam at last as he rounds on ten players to increase the quality of the squad at Valley Parade. Brandon might be followed by Luke Beckett of Huddersfield Town, by Alan Marriott of Lincoln City and by Darren Moore of Derby County or all these players may never set foot in BD8 but it would seem that City are making a noise.

Mark Lawn is optimistic that the Bantams will make the 9,000 adult season ticket marker he has set down and should ticket sales be akin to last season then the Bantams would be the 20th best supported club in the Football League.

A further look at those figures tells you that only Leeds United and Nottingham Forest have bigger attendance in the bottom two divisions and that City’s average bums on seats is bigger than at least one club in the Scots, German, French and Italian top divisions.

Add to that the rumoured £250,000 coming City’s way following Dean Windass’s guiding Hull City to the Premiership then it is not hard to see why the bookies are starting to take notice. Lawn, Julian Rhodes and McCall must ensure that the momentum is built on in the coming weeks and month.

Perhaps though we should not pay much attention to bookmakers. Hull City are 5,000/1 to win the Premiership, Stoke 2,000/1. Bono of U2 is 1,000/1 to be the next Pope. These 1,000/1 Papal odds are the same price should one want to bet on Father Dougal Maguire of Father Ted to become the Holy Father.

I’m on my feet cheering Hull City…

I’m on my feet cheering Hull City on a Saturday afternoon and I’ve got two fists in the air and I’m watching the Tigers win promotion and I’m happy.

Hull City really hate Bradford City but I don’t know why and no one I know does. I guess they don’t like the way we went off to the Premiership after nicking their stand that time but whatever it is they hate us and we are a bit confused as to why. I have the same thing with a guy called Tim Johnson and I think me and Tim could get along well if only he got over the wanting to punch my face in thing. We are the same with Hull.

Especially because Hull have got Dean Windass leading them.

I always feel like Dean Windass was robbed from me. I loved having Dean Windass up front for City and from the minute he left for Hull I knew we were in trouble that season. Deano was the only player who had a club where the net was and he worked hard and he was smart as anything on the football field and without any of those things we were never going to win many. It would be like City now letting the goals of Peter Thorne, the work of Barry Conlon and the tricks of Billy Topp go on the same day.

But the worst thing about Deano leaving was that it was a self inflicted wound. Deano left and at the time he was getting death threats from a hand full of idiots who call themselves City fans but are really just sad cases. We ignore them cause they really are a minority.

But these guys were fed by the fact that we never appreciated Deano. All through his City career the boos were not far away. He was booed when we signed him for getting into the team over Robbie Blake and in the Premiership for not being Blake and the people who booed him when he played for us booed him when he came back for other clubs and scored against us.

Then when he returned to City the boos were not far away and some fans were so quick to get on his back. Deano was never perfect and his sending off against Bournemouth was stupid but he played with passion and he won matches for City and he did it time and time again.

But he could do ten things right and one thing wrong and some people would ignore the ten and jump on him for the one. Some people just enjoyed getting on Deano’s back cause they thought that being able to criticise Deano meant they were smarter football fans. It was personal abuse and nothing to do with what Deano did on the field which was head and shoulders above Eddie Johnson, Andy Cooke, Spencer Weir-Daley, Moses Ashikodi, Danny Cadamarteri, Michael Branch or any the other partners Deano had.

So when he had an offer from Hull City on the table alongside the death threats he probably looked at the team he has keeping up on his own and compared them to the club where he is a legend and thought why does he need to play for a team who boo him and moan about him. If he had thought “Lets see what they can do without me” then he would have been right. Letting Dean Windass go got us relegated and the people who made the climate that made him want to leave should know that they are responsible for that.

So I’m cheering Dean Windass’s brilliant twenty yarder at Wembley and thinking how that could have been a goal for us cause Deano would have stuck at VP for the rest of his career had it not been for some so-called fans driving him out. I hope Hull City do ok in the Premiership and I’m not jealous cause they will have thier Rodney Marsh.

But I am jealous of them for having Deano because he should be out player and some of us threw him away.

The man with the knife

South Leeds is the part of the City that fashion has forgotten but it is in this refuge of the non-business man that having walked from work I looked for a haircut and settled onto a barber who had the most important thing one can find in this search – an empty chair.

I got snug and looked around catching a glimpse of the odd United poster – to be expected – before doffing my glasses and waiting for the cut. The rule with barbers is small talk and so we killed time before inevitably getting onto football and the Champions League final on Wednesday.

“Coke vs Pepsi” I offered attempting to close down the conversation. I sensed he wanted more so I continued “But I guess Man United, what with being Northern…”

“I hate Man Yoo,” he replied, “Because I am Leeds.”

He was and in the middle of Leeds he has a right to be. He snipped well and quickly so I tried to press him for more saying “I thought Leeds hated Chelsea too.”

He said that he would rather both teams lost the game – if only that were possible – and that if the fans were all sent to Siberian prisons then he would not be upset. It amused me and I laughed only for his hands to roughly grab me ensuring even sideburns.

“I don’t care.” he declared “I’m going to Wembley and we are going up.” and for a moment a rush of conversation ran though my head. We should be kin – this barber and me – for we have no interest in this Moscow Show and we long for the success of our own clubs.

We are the best of rivals but not enemies. We can agree on this point and build common ground from there. The interests of clubs outside the less than a dozen that make up the haves in football are best served by recognising that Leeds United, Bradford City, Ipswich, Yeovil Town, Exeter and on and on have more in common than we do separating us.

Here in this barbers shop in South Leeds we could join on this point.

“Perhaps a bomb will go off and both Man Yoo and Chelsea will be killed?” he smiled and started to finish my hair with a razor.

His cutthroat razor flicking down the back of my neck.

We are the two of us alone in his shop and bomb idea hanging in a pregnant pause between us. A long, sharp blade flicking my neck as he asks me “Who do you support?”

Well what would you say?

Four five what?

He looked down at the ground. There appeared to be no attempt to pass the blame or even highlight the virtues of the goalkeeper who’d blocked his shot. He should have scored and how he and his side could live to regret that moment.

Barely a minute later he’s celebrating though, two of his team mates had charged forward and ganged up on the exposed full back. They worked the ball effortlessly past him and sent over a low cross that’s tapped home. The villain a minute ago becomes the hero, 35,000 fans watching want to strangle him and many of their neighbours are quietly chortling as a former player of their’s strikes the blow.

Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, former Bantam, has just struck the second goal of Carlisle’s eye brow-raising first leg Play Off victory over Leeds United on Monday. The Cumbrian side were classed as underdogs having only won one of their last eight games, but were now in enviable position with 30 minutes and a home leg to follow. Leeds would pull a goal back right at the end and win impressively at Brunton Park three days later, but the tie had not been as straightforward as the Elland Road club might have assumed.

If the first leg result was unexpected, it was the approach of Carlisle which really surprised. There was no sitting back, concentrating on keeping the game tight and hitting Leeds on the break. They attacked from the first whistle, Bridge-Wilkinson unlucky with a shot clipping the post early on. Knocking the ball around confidently, they looked threatening every time they went forward.

Leeds are a good League One side and had plenty of chances, Carlisle keeper Kieran Westwood was in stunning form, but the Sky Sports stat on the half hour mark that the last five minutes had featured 74% possession to Carlisle showed just who was running the game. They scored soon after and, with Leeds expected to come out firing, seemed to up their efforts even more after the break. Bridge-Wilkinson missed that glorious chance but was soon mobbed by team mates after getting it right soon after.

The formation Carlisle employed for their attacking approach? 4-5-1. It’s something that City manager Stuart McCall, who is said to be taking in most Play Off games with an eye on new signings, will have noted. He came to Valley Parade last summer with fresh ideas, one of which included the aim of City being adaptable enough to play 4-5-1 in difficult looking away games. A decent pre-season draw against Burnley and narrow Carling Cup defeat to Wolves seemed to confirm it was a way his players could play.

Yet to some City supporters, 4-5-1 is a formation to provoke anger. Stuart has tried to play this way in other games during the season, with limited success. The formation is viewed as too negative and it’s argued City are playing for a draw. When Stuart opted for 4-5-1 at bottom club Wrexham in January steam was apparently coming out of people’s ears. The message from these supporters was to stick to 4-4-2 and stop being defensive.

They have a point about not been too cagey, but the success of only playing the traditional 4-4-2 formation in recent years is questionable. Omar Daley, Ben Muirhead and Bobby Petta are just three of the inconsistent wingers who’ve frustrated. 4-4-2 relies on wingers bombing down the flanks and getting in good crosses; but while there’s been several memorable days it’s worked, there’s also been several exasperating occasions where it hasn’t.

The secret behind the way Carlisle and I believe Stuart attempted to play, with 4-5-1, is to get midfielders charging forward from deep and causing the opposition problems in picking them up. The MK Dons played this system at Valley Parade last month and our defence struggled to mark the runners. It also needs a good defensive midfielder who can sit back and allow his four colleagues to take turns at charging forward at will.

The key, which is where Stuart has struggled, is the right personnel. Chris Lumsdon did an outstanding job for Carlisle at Elland Road by sitting back and allowing others to get forward, while Bridge-Wilkinson and Hackney particularly caught the eye with some killer forward runs. These players won’t be arriving at Valley Parade this summer but a Stuart-esqe defensive midfielder and attacking midfielder, or two, hopefully will.

Despite the fantastic opening hour at Elland Road, it all went wrong for Carlisle. For the final 30 minutes they were guilty of sitting too deep and holding out for 2-0, the late goal they conceded shifting the momentum. In the second leg they played 4-5-1 at home but were outclassed by a Leeds side who stuck rigidly to their 4-4-2, without playing any traditional wingers.

On this evidence a defensive formation to protect a lead it is not; but, if Stuart wants to adopt the 4-5-1 attacking principles of the MK Dons and Carlisle in away games next season, I’ll be one supporter at least who won’t be unhappy.

Why I have to hand it to Leeds

After seeing Leeds United win 2-0 to get to the Play Off final I have to hand it to the team from East of Pudsey – they have probably done football a great service and stopped administrations to come.

Before Leeds United 33 other administrations from City’s on the 9th of May 2002 to the start of the season were done in a certain way with clubs cutting themselves to the bone to find out how much money they needed and how much they could afford to pay off creditors.

A club would look at the cost of a thin squad and what they did not need they would make an attempt to put back into the pockets of the local businesses and the St John’s Ambulance who tend to get shafted in these situations. These club hamstring themselves for the future and some are penalised ten points and while no one is saying that wrongs are righted at least an attempt is made to do that.

Then comes Leeds United who look at the size of the debts and the tariff of punishment and decide that the one is worth the other and rather than trying to make amends to the community – and the community of finance, the small businesses who have holes in cash flow thanks to them – they are based in they play administration, the game and take the hit of points while ensuring they have a squad that can overcome the penalty.

So I’m a bank or an investor and a football club come to me know because they need some cash or their overdraft extending and do I agree because I know they run by a set of guidelines designed to protect us both or do I look at Leeds United and step away?

In abusing administration Leeds United will have changed things for all clubs looking for protection from creditors. The next time a club asks for financial help then they will be knocked back by the wiser investors who have seen that the only punishment that is given for taking the money and running is a football one so that football club will have to cut it’s cloth accordingly.

That or they will do as Halifax Town have done and feel the smash of creditors losing faith in their abilities to pay it back.

In that way I have to hand it to Leeds United. They have taken a system designed to protect clubs and investors and tilted it so far in the way of the clubs that the investors will never use it again and suddenly everything in the hand to mouth existence of the lower leagues of English football just got that bit harder.

What We Can Learn as the Dust Settles on the Season

The dust has settled on the season now and Stuart McCall has decided City were not good enough saying we were a four out of ten team.

The dust has settled on the season now and everyone is getting ready to not be interested in the European Championships and Euro 2008 but Stuart McCall is sat behind his desk at VP trying to find out how to make his four our of ten team a nine or tenner. He hasn’t asked me for suggestions but I’m going to give them anyway.

First I’d tell him to have not made as many changes as he has which is not like me at all cause I normally favour throwing out bathwater and babies on the hope that we might get cuter babies but Eddie Johnson, Darren Williams (Who seems to have done nothing wrong except remind people of Holloway) and Tom Penford were used to the way that Stuart got City playing. The big problem this season was that it took City four months to get into the zone and get used to each other so letting go of the players who were used to each other was not a great idea.

Second I’d say that he should look again at that four out of ten. Chop the first four months off the season and take the season half of it and City are a playoff team. A good start to the season and we could end up being the best side from January to January (not that that gets you promoted) which says to me that we need a couple of tweaks and not a load of changes.

The changes we need are about smarts. We need to get smarter and stop giving the ball away so much (getting rid of Paul Evans goes half way to this) especially when we are away from home. At home we just need to make sure we understand that the best way to attack is to get the ball as often as possible so we need a guy in the midfield to win it back and that guy is not Lee Bullock or Kyle Nix. Stuart needs a Stuart and he needs one who can come in on the first day of the season and be good. Everyone in football is looking for one of them.

Third he needs to change the law so Donny Ricketts can come back. Scott Loach did nothing Ricketts couldn’t do and made the same mistakes. People were just less bored of him is all so he didn’t get groaned at. Shame to see Donny go and I don’t think he got enough of a send off.

Lastly Stuart needs to fix his team in his mind before the first day and stop the chopping and changing of forwards. We need partnership and understanding to get out of this league.

Premiership Boring? Ask The Supporters of Halifax Town

Kevin Keegan was wrong to describe the Premiership as boring.

Today Manchester United square up against Chelsea and the winner could be decided by goal difference – the tiny margin between success and failure – and right up to the last kick of the game the season will stay interesting.

All a far cry from Chelsea’s days in the second flight of English football and I remember City would have played off with Chelsea for a place in The First Division back in 1988 had we beaten Middlesbrough.

I also remember Manchester United going to play Halifax Town in a League Cup game at The Shay. United Town took the lead I think but Halifax came back to win and won 2-1. Halifax Town beating Manchester United seems a long time ago today.

Halifax Town are virtually gone from football. A meeting on Friday in Leeds left them with virtually no hope of a CVA or of any sort of a reprieve from the debtors. They are about to go into liquidation very soon and then there will be no more Halifax Town.

Supporters of Town – and there are not many one supposes – will lose the football club they have followed. Football is a strange thing and hard to understand for most. It is a metronome for the supporter’s lives ticking off weeks and years in the same way that any anniversary or regular event does.

I heard once that humans use rituals to mark out time – why celebrate a birthday anyway? – in manageable units and my better half does not really understand how I can recall dates because they fall within certain seasons but I can.

For football supporters that is one of the functions of the game – to allow a common and shared set of events that we use to mark out the paths of our lives. It is not the only one of these things society holds – I remember other things by which albums I was listening to around that time – but they are important and special and for the people of Halifax they are gone.

Today of all days I say this. Today 11th of May 56 people lost their lives watching Bradford City play Lincoln and we mark that tragic anniversary as we mark the joyous, the sad, the silly, the mundane ones around supporting football in a way that weaves into the fabric of our lives.

I doubt that the armchair supporters watching the Premiership “showdown” have even the faintest idea what I mean. I think they think these point of view to be outmoded and old fashioned. I think they look at supporters of clubs like Bradford City and Halifax Town as being part quaint and part dull following the unsuccessful bloody-mindedly as if community and kinship means nothing.

Manchester United vs Chelsea is Coke vs Pepsi. Whichever wins it makes very little to the rest of football which looks to crumbs to live on while at the top table they gorge.

The Premiership – Thatcherism gone to horrific extremes – will be settled today and at some point someone will mention that Chelsea have not scored enough goals despite paying a man £130,000 a week to do that. £130,000 a week as Halifax Town go to the wall.

Kevin Keegan was wrong to describe the Premiership as boring. It is not boring, it is obscene.

Bend It Like Beckett

Observing from a distance, it’s often felt there are two sides to City’s potential new signing Luke Beckett.

On the one part is his undoubted goalscoring ability, which sadly we’ve suffered from too often in the past. 163 goals from 346 career starts (+49 sub) is a phenomenal record and the majority of City fans will be licking their lips at the prospect of a Beckett-Peter Thorne partnership next season.

Yet there’s also an impression that Beckett is a player who struggles to settle anywhere. There are no hints of a disruptive character or stories of any bust ups, indeed some supporters have fought to keep him in the past, but since been released from Barnsley a decade ago Luke has been the subject of eight permanent or loan moves. At most clubs he has flourished, but he doesn’t seem to stick around for too long. The exploits of Dean Windass and Thorne may be helping City build a reputation as a place for ‘mature’ strikers to flourish and, if Beckett can replicate that success, it’s to be hoped he’ll consider Valley Parade more the happy home that he appears to have found elsewhere.

City’s unfortunate habit of conceding goals to Beckett began in March 2002, where his 10th minute strike for Stockport proved enough to inflict one of the most embarrassing defeats in recent history. Three years later the now on-loan Oldham striker struck the decisive goal that kept the Lactics up on the final day of the season, their claret and amber opponents fortunately having nothing to play for. Beckett was back on loan at Oldham the following season, his move to Sheffield United in November 2004 proving a major disappointment, and his temporary employers continued to prove City’s bogey team. 6-2 aggregate home and away victories were recorded – Beckett grabbed three over the two games.

That following summer manager Colin Todd infamously spurned the opportunity to sign Beckett in favour of Eddie Johnson. History could argue it was one of his worst decisions, but while Beckett ended up at Huddersfield he didn’t really set the place alight. Peter Jackson used his entire transfer budget securing Beckett, but his preference of playing 4-5-1 regularly left Beckett on the bench. Town’s number 18 still enjoyed a decent scoring record over his two seasons at the Galpharm, but the club’s progress has stuttered and his third Town manager in that time, Stan Ternent, has allowed him to leave.

The challenge for Stuart McCall, as it is with every player, will be to get the best out of Beckett next season. Their paths have already crossed at Sheffield United, so Stuart already has a good idea of the type of character he is. The season that has just finished felt familiar to recent others in the problems encountered up front. We seem to be able to get one regular goal scorer, but getting two fit and firing together is one reason why City failed to challenge for promotion again. Stuart needs to get the midfield supplying the ball to both strikers in areas they can hurt the opposition and work on discouraging performance levels dropping off.

With Barry Conlon, Willy Topp, Luke Medley and Omar Daley all capable of playing up front, Stuart looks more spoiled, relatively, in this department than any other City boss in years. A scenario similar to how his mentor Neil Warnock managed his strikers, heavy rotation, is easy to imagine. If this works, fine; but it can be a dangerous game and lead to loss of form and confidence.

Disregard an injury-plagued 2003/04 campaign and Beckett’s 12-goal haul this season is the worst of his career. Looking set to drop down a level and with a point to prove, we look set to finally be able to cheer at the sight of the Sheffield-born forward hitting the back of the net.

Where Do The Good Times Start When The Fans Contact The Club Once A Year?

Today I got a message on my Facebook page – yes dear reader even the bloke what does BfB wastes time on Facebook – talking to me about trying to help City reach the 9,000 mark for season ticket sales. Have a visit and think about how City are using modern media to promoted the club which is welcome and a turn away from the face of most football clubs.

On Saturday I stood under canopy at Valley Parade at midday queuing for the single window of the ticket office to renew my season ticket and as each of the six or seven people in front of me were processed slowly. It was not cold and there was no wind whipping past the ticket office. The queue moved slowly but this was understandable because applications that go beyond the simple take time and the one guy processing them was working as fast as he could but in the end he is still one guy.

“I hope this is a simple one,” he commented as I got to the front and it was and I left having queued for a long time that kept within the limited of what could be called acceptable – probably because I was not too cold or too wet – and went on my way and my issue is not that I felt like I had been treated badly just that I did not feel as if I had been treated well.

The largest club superstore is attached to the ticket office. It is big, it is warm, it is empty – more or less – and in my head I picture a sofa with a coffee pot waiting for you as you go through the details of your application opposite the same man who rather than having to shout through a glass wall is opposite with a laptop in front of him entering information. I imagine the kids that were wandering around me outside watching the TV screens of the Manchester United game or browsing for products. I imagine a much more welcoming experience of renewing a season ticket.

For this May ritual of renewal is – for many people – the only contact with the club outside of a match day environment and while it is very typical of the rest of the game it is hardly something that one would relish and perhaps the club that lead the way in season ticket pricing might look at the way that tickets are renewed.

The day of treating all football supporters as if they are potentially violent thugs one must be separated from by sheets of glass are surely behind us and with so much space available to the club and understanding the unique nature of this contact between club and fan could more effort not be made to make a better experience?

A comfy place to sit while you are dealt with and a warm environment around you is going to make for a more pleasant half hour than one current enjoys when making the once yearly contact. The club that led the way on customer pricing can also start to make moves on customer service. I’ve no complaints with how I was treated when getting my season ticket but with some care and attention it could go from necessary evil to a comfortable, rich and enjoyable way of the club saying Hi to its main backers once a year.

BfB’s Top Five Review of 2007/2008

www.boyfrombrazil.co.uk Player of the Season

  1. Peter Thorne
    The If Only… Had Peter Thorne been fit all season and the Bantams been scoring and winning then who knows what the result of Stuart McCall’s first season would have been? He is the predatory poacher we missed without Dean Windass and as soon as he returned to full fitness with his intelligent play and able striking abilities City started to win. More please.
  2. Kyle Nix
    Plucked from the season string at Sheffield United Nix has everything that a young player should have. He plays with equal measures of heart and skill and is a joy to watch with his vivacious and effective style. The finish on the end of Willy Topp’s turn aganist Shrewsbury lives long in the memory.
  3. Joe Colbeck
    To say opinion was divided on Colbeck last season is an understatement with blows almost being exchanged over the winger who after returning from a loan Darlington ripped up League Two. Getting that form out of Joe Colbeck again next season is key to City’s promotion push. Keeping him long term may prove difficult.
  4. Barry Conlon
    How many players turn around the Valley Parade crowd from the angry mob to the appreciative whole who may have debated his abilities but saluted his commitment and effort. If anyone has ever deserved a contract extension it is Barry Conlon.
  5. David Wetherall
    The sentimental vote? Perhaps but David Wetherall organised a back four as well as he ever has done. The legs might have struggled but the brain was in full effect and it is that brain that will be behind the Bantams next year.

BfB poled eight contributors to get these results. The follow top fives are written by (one of) Jason, Roland, Michael, Omar and Paul.

The five best results and performances of the season

  1. City 3 Rotherham 2
    Oh what a Tuesday night. We proved in this game that we can actually play well against a very decent side.
  2. Darlington 1 City 3
    Stunning away victory against a promotion chasing team
  3. City 3 Notts County 0
    One of the most comprehensive victories we have seen in some years.
  4. City 4 Shrewsbury 2
    Another excellent Tuesday night, with Mr Willy Topp annoucing his arrival in Bradford with his first start, and setting up Nixy for the first goal.
  5. Dagenham and Redbridge 1 City 4
    Superb away victory – what a reward for those of us who made the trip down to London down. Nicky Law Jnr made sure of the points with an excellent late brace

Five moments when we thought we might be going up…

  1. Beating high-flying Peterborough at Valley Parade in September to go seventh.
  2. Stoppage time at Bury in January, City are 2-1 up and they have a harmless looking throw in…
  3. Luckily beating Macclesfield when they dominated second half. “Sign of a good team playing rubbish and winning,” we thought. If only…
  4. Billy Topp beautifully setting up Kyle Nix to score, six minutes into his full debut.
  5. When Joe Colbeck broke through to net the third goal at Darlington.

…and five moments when we knew we weren’t.

  1. Watching Accrington play us off the park at Valley Parade in October.
  2. Being the better side at home to Brentford but watching the Bees have two shots and score two goals.
  3. Half time at home to Rochdale, somehow it was 1-1 but the opposition were on another level.
  4. Barry Conlon’s penalty miss against Dagenham.
  5. Must-win game at Rochdale in April, 1-0 down inside 24 seconds.

Top five that the gaffer got in – McCall’s best signings

  1. Barry Conlon
    The example for everyone. Put in effort, get rewarded.
  2. Kyle Nix
    Skillful, talented, young. Fingers crossed we keep hold of him.
  3. Peter Thorne
    Showed class.
  4. Ben Starosta
    Looks like the sort of full back who can defend well and then add to the attack.
  5. Scott Loach
    They say that he will be England keeper one day. A way to go but impressive so far.

No Thanks – Five disappointing signings McCall made

  1. Paul Evans
    What gives Evo?
  2. Alex Rhodes
    Caught in the act of making Omar Daley look like a winger who tracks back.
  3. Willy Topp
    So much fanfare, so much wait ’til next season.
  4. Darren Williams
    Good, but like having Darren Holloway back.
  5. Nathan Joynes
    Barnsley said he was great, he was not.

We will miss you – Five players who impressed but have gone

  1. David Wetherall
    A legend.
  2. Donovan Ricketts
    Capable of making blinding saves.
  3. Tom Penford
    A favourite of this parish
  4. Nicky Law Jnr
    Who looked like a very good player. Better than his Dad for sure.
  5. Eddie Johnson
    Because the lad deserves credit for effort.

That went well – Five great things about 2007/2008

  1. The atmosphere, and home performances, at Valley Parade improved thanks to proper priced tickets.
  2. Stuart McCall back is great. Having him answer critics in the second half of the season is better.
  3. Barry Conlon turned around the fans with some gutsy displays proving that it is possible to turn around the fans with gutsy displays…
  4. …and nowhere was this better seen than Joe Colbeck who tore down the right wing brilliantly for four months.
  5. We broke even for the first time since the Premiership. Now that is progress.

Next year – Five things to get excited about

  1. Stuart McCall is up to speed.
  2. 20,000 supporters in Valley Parade? Would be great if it came off.
  3. Willy Topp is resting in Chile as we speak and raring to go at League Two next season.
  4. Should Joe Colbeck continue his form from the end of this term then expect dewy eyed thirty somethings to compare him to John Hendrie with every other breath.
  5. Promotion. You know its gonna happen someday.

What It All Comes Down To – Wycombe Beat City in the Final Game of the Season

The first thing to say about this game is that it is proof that City should have got out of this league at the first attempt.

Well perhaps not should have but could have. Wycombe Wanderers are in the play offs but they are no one’s idea of a good football team and if they do go through the play offs I wouldn’t expect them to last a season in League One.

If only… is the theme of the day.

If only City had not had had that really poor spell in October. If only Stuart McCall had got to grips with managing earlier. If only Mark Lawn and McCall had been installed before Darlington had signed nine players. If only…

Delroy Facey’s goal in the first five minutes was a big if only. If City are to move on then this venerable naivety needs to be stamped out by McCall. Leon Knight got a second and City were not that the races. A penalty came when Diddy David Brown was thrown to the ground and Luke Medley scored but next season if City don’t want another season of If Onlys then we need to make sure that when we come to places like this that we put up more of a solid defence. Teams that go places don’t concede in the first five minutes.

But this is end of the season and who cares? We have been in preparation for next year for a while now and this was the Bantams more of less on the beach for the summer.

Eddie Johnson already is away somewhere now we have released him. I’m going to miss the idea that Eddie Johnson more than watching him. I always got the feeling watching Eddie that he was at 80% and that he had no idea how to unlock the other 20% and nor did Colin Todd or Stuart McCall. It was probably because he had come through Man United. Had he been Eddie Johnson signed from Farsley he would have been “could be good”.

Next season McCall has to bring in a good quality of player if the likes of Eddie Johnson get turfed out. He needs two new keepers and I liked Scott Loach but I won’t miss him if he goes for good. He flaps at crosses too much and I don’t like loan players. I like Ben Starosta and I hope he can sign for us next year but if he can’t then I don’t see Simon Francis’s name on the team sheet as often at Southend as I should do…

Mark Bower and Matt Clarke at central defense? Ok then. Paul Heckingbottom? Sure. He is good enough if the players around him are good enough and no one ever didn’t go anywhere because of the full backs. Stephen Wright after all.

Joe Colbeck on the right hand side and Lee Bullock in the middle are not a midfield. Stuart needs to pull out some impressive signings here. He needs to find a Peter Beagrie to supply crosses and he needs a Stuart McCall to win the ball and without wanting to put too much stress on the Gaffer that is the most important position on the field. Whoever he get there needs to work out a Hell of a lot better than Paul Evans.

But if McCall can get a McCall and a Beagrie in then the sky is the limit cause City have an attack that no one else in the league can match. Peter Thorne is smart and finishes brilliant, Barry Conlon has the effort, Willy Topp the skills and Omar Daley who is more of a striker than a winger cause strikers should be greedy has the pace to beat anyone in the league. Something to beat any defence in League Two next season.

So it call comes down to if Stuart McCall can find a Stuart McCall…

Good Luck in the Dug-Out David Wetherall

When David Wetherall plays his last game for Bradford City at Wycombe, professional football will lose one of the few honourable men left in the game.

Throughout his long career, Sheffield-born Wethers has always played for Yorkshire clubs. Although he never broke through into the first team as a trainee at Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds United paid £125,000 for him in 1991. He went on to make over 200 appearances in the Premier League and European games for Leeds, captaining the side under George Graham.

A change of manager persuaded him it was time to move on and, in the summer of 1999, he joined the Premiership new boys, Bradford City. Little could he have known about what he was letting himself in for!

In that 1999-2000 season, when all the pundits, most famously one Rodney Marsh, gave City no chance of staying up, it was Wethers who scored the only goal of the game on the last day of the season against Liverpool. Bradford City stayed up; Leeds United beat Liverpool to a Champions League place; Wethers was a true Yorkshire football hero. Or was everything that followed all his fault for scoring that goal?

From then on Wethers could be forgiven for thinking he was jinxed. A groin injury kept him out of action for almost half the next season and without him City dropped to the foot of the table. Relegation – and a lot worse – was to follow. Having never played below the top league, Wethers could have commanded a substantial fee and salary at any of the Premiership clubs who expressed interest in him. Instead he dropped down with City, a mark of loyalty that was to be often repeated.

Injury struck again and he missed large parts of each of the next two seasons. Following the departure of Stuart McCall to Bramall Lane in 2002, Wethers was appointed as club captain – just in time to be made redundant! Bradford City were placed in administration and it was Wethers, as captain and PFA representative, who led the way in agreeing a deferment of wages that helped keep the club afloat.

A further relegation in 2004 was followed by a second administration. Having turned down a chance to move to Coventry City, Wethers once more helped out his employers. He extended his contract for no extra money, effectively offering to play for lower wages each season. How many top players can lay claim to that sort of deal?

When Bradford City came back for the 2004-5 season with just a handful of first-team players, it was left to the ‘Skip’ to lead the way. He played every game but one that season and didn’t miss a game the next season. He almost certainly wouldn’t have missed a game in 2006-7 either, but for yet another change of manager at Valley Parade. This time the new manager dropped him from the team. That new manager, albeit on a caretaker basis, was none other than David Wetherall.

It was all too late to save City and a third relegation followed. But Wethers played on, creating record after record. He is one of only six players to have played for the same team in all four divisions. When he plays at Wycombe, he will have played in every match in each of three different leagues for Bradford City and his last game will see him complete over 300 first team games for the Bantams before he becomes first team coach next season.

But all that is only a small part of why Wethers should be remembered by football fans up and down the county. When the back pages are full of stories of players cheating and arguing with referees, Wethers is still first to the scene of any possible set-to on the pitch, placing himself between potentially warring players, calming things down and ushering his own team away. Maybe it’s all the practice he had captaining a different type of Yorkshireman, a certain Dean Windass!

When allegedly top players declare their allegiance to the pay packet rather than their club and its supporters, no better example of club loyalty exists in modern times than that set by David Wetherall. But the man who never mentions his first class honours degree from Sheffield University always was going to be that much more thoughtful than those who admit to making a habit of kicking out at a solid wall in frustration at losing.

The word ‘legend’ is used far too freely these days. For Bradford City there is the legend that is Stuart McCall; there is the legend that comes in the form of Bobby Campbell; there is the legend that comes in the form of Ces Podd; and now there is the one more name to add to that short list of Bradford City legends. Thanks for everything, Wethers, and good luck in the dug-out.

The three wise men

A year ago they could be described as little more than supporters. One of course was a club legend, but employed elsewhere he could do no more than watch, with concern, from afar. The other two viewed matters more closer but could only squirm with the rest of us as Bradford City completed the collapse of Premiership to the bottom league in six miserable years.

Less than 12 months on and, if the reverse in decline hasn’t quite begun just yet, Stuart McCall, Mark Lawn and David Baldwin are heavily influencing the rebuilding of a club which had gone past falling to its knees. On Tuesday evening they met with supporters inside the Valley Parade suite that bears the name of the club legend to share views on what progress has been made and what the future holds.

The questions from the semi-packed floor were mainly for Stuart McCall. Coming up to one year in the job, it’s undoubtedly been a tough baptism for the rookie manager. He’d probably endured one of his most difficult days yet having earlier broken the news to 13 players that they weren’t going to be kept on.

Stuart spent the opening half hour of the session going through each squad member to explain those tough decisions. Darren Williams, Eddie Johnson and Tom Penford were probably the biggest surprises of those being released. With Williams and Johnson, it’s a matter of looking for more from these areas of the team than either have been able to show. Williams has been a solid defender, but hasn’t the legs to get forward and overlap the winger in the way Stuart has often observed from opposition full backs.

Johnson was prepared to take a drastic pay cut to remain and while his release has probably sparked the biggest debate among fans, it’s a clear message that doing ‘okay’ is not good enough for next season, particularly if you’re a high earner. Stuart’s view was the former Manchester United trainee enjoyed a decent first half to the season, but didn’t kick on in the second after returning from injury.

That Tom Penford is looking for another club this summer should be considered a positive of sorts, after Stuart revealed the young midfielder came close to packing in the game last Christmas. Regular chats with club chaplain and trained sports psychologist Andy Bowerman helped Penford rediscover confidence and he enjoyed a few good games in early Spring, before dropping off again. Stuart could have kept him on, but felt he could end up a squad player yet again which is not a good situation for a 24 year old who has played less than 40 senior career games.

There were few surprises over Alex Rhodes (“a good substitute, but didn’t show enough when starting”), Paul Evans, Scott Phelan and David Brown. Barry Conlon has been offered a new deal, but with it the forewarning that four goals from open play all season isn’t enough and another striker will also be sought during the summer. Kyle Nix is also chewing over a new contract offer but there are rumours of interest from other clubs. As yet there are no definite new signings and hopes of a certain former City favourite returning this summer look slim.

For next season Stuart aims to bring in two goalkeepers, one possibly on a season long loan; a right back, centre back, central midfielder and striker. He was challenged by one supporter as to why he plays Omar Daley on the left instead of the right (because of his tendency to cut inside rather than charge to the by-line) and revealed he had big hopes for Wily Topp next season, who he compared to Robbie Blake.

Joint Chairman Mark Lawn took some time to explain the club finances, with the gloomy assertion the club is paying out over £1 million in costs from the current set up of Valley Parade. Discussions have taken place to buy back the stadium, with Lawn hinting he’d be able to borrow the money to do so, but former Chairman Gordon Gibb is not interested in giving up ownership and the £300k+ annual rent he receives from it.

The issue of season ticket sales was also raised with the latest uptake figure around 3,000, but the club are not worried and are ready to implement a full marketing campaign in the close season which they feel will bring in the numbers. The impressive David Baldwin, Head of Operations, went onto explain some of the initiatives they’re ready to launch, which includes local radio advertising and posters in local pubs.

Lawn was asked the biggest disappointment of the last 12 months, which he revealed to be the failure to mount a promotion push that he believes Stuart can deliver next season. He said he had never failed in any of his other businesses and is determined to take City, “back to where we belong.”

The summer arrival of the three may not have heralded instant success this season, but the obvious determination and commitment to get things right, and evidence the club is moving in the right direction off the field, suggest it may not be too long. Each bring new skills, new ideas and new acumen and if the dream of celebrating promotion this season in front of 14,000+ crowds may not have materialised, through their hard work it could prove reality in 12 months with 20,000+ people there to celebrate it.

There’s a feeling this club may be on the verge of something special and such optimism is arguably more realistic than it was 12 months earlier. Next season promises to be an exciting ride, it will hopefully prove less bumpy than in recent years.

The Confession

I have a confession to make. It’s probably going to lead to ridicule from some, while others will question my sanity; but it’s been bothering me for some time and I think I’ll at least feel better for saying it.

I’ve really enjoyed this season.

There, I’ve admitted it. Chuckles from some, accusations I’m some sort of clap-happy supporter willing to embrace mediocrity from others; but I’ll go even further and say I’ve not enjoyed a season this much since the first Premiership campaign eight years ago.

I know that many people, not least Stuart McCall, continue to refer to this season as ‘disappointing’ and finishing 9th or 10th after such high pre-season promotion expectations isn’t good enough. I accept the team have ultimately failed and that another year in the basement league is a sad state of affairs. I understand all of this, yet I can’t bring myself to feel as miserable about it as others appear to be.

So what have I enjoyed? Well certainly not the numerous disappointing home defeats. The Mansfield debacle can be summed up by the pathetic winning goal conceded, the Bury performance was that of a team over-confident from a six game unbeaten run and watching Rochdale run rings around us for the opening 45 minutes left me embarrassed to celebrate Peter Thorne’s underserved equaliser. Since relegation from the Premiership we’ve seen so many lame home defeats which, while the opposition has consistently changed, have felt remarkably similar.

I’ve not enjoyed it that we couldn’t make a better fist of challenging for promotion. Many have pointed out that Stuart had the fourth biggest wage budget at the start of the season and should have done more with it, but it’s obvious his lack of knowledge of League Two when taking over set us back. Having only six senior professionals on the books to start with meant a lot of strengthening was required, but it’s a situation that shouldn’t be repeated this summer.

Of course the biggest reason City haven’t mounted a meaningful promotion challenge was that woeful eight game winless run in autumn. With the pain of the previous season’s relegation not fully healed, it was particularly depressing to see City struggle so badly. This run of form included the 3-0 Accrington shocker and the memory of Eddie Johnson carelessly giving the ball to a blue shirt to score inside two minutes that evening is still vivid.

For real heartbreak though, the 2-1 defeat at Morecambe a week later takes some beating. We should have won, but the careless efforts of certain players that night cost us with the Morecambe winner coming in injury time. Five defeats in a row, the journey home that night was almost unbearable and is undoubtedly one of the most painful moments of my time supporting Bradford City.

But for all those disappointing moments, the number of brilliant ones has been greater for me. From the moment Stuart walked to the Valley Parade dug out for the first time, on the opening day of the season, to a rapturous reception against Macclesfield, you felt we were in for a special season. It may not have worked out that way but, the huge crowd that day, repeated at the other 22 home games, has been. One day I’ll stop staring at the Kop to my right, when at games, and not be thrilled by how full it looks. If next year’s season ticket offer comes off and it’s even fuller, it’ll be a nice sight to get used to.

The largest crowds in the division haven’t always resulted in a good atmosphere, but there have still been some hairs-on-the-back-of-neck moments. Apart from the Barnet game a few weeks ago, the Tuesday night kick offs have all felt special. The superb atmosphere in the Kop while City surrendered to Accrington should have brought shame on the players, and the atmosphere for the midweek wins over Chester, Shrewsbury and Rotherham was also fantastic. It was great to end the home season against the MK Dons, with plenty of noise emanating from both ends.

And it’s the atmosphere on the road which is ultimately why I’ve enjoyed this season so much, with performances undoubtedly better than at home. It’s been great fun travelling the country to visit the various League Two grounds and the chanting from our fans during the games has often been non-stop, from the moment the players came out to warm up until the final whistle, regardless of the result. If the evidence of visiting supporters to Valley Parade is anything to go by, our fanatical away support must stand out compared to most other League Two clubs.

This has helped produce many special moments, such as the second half at Darlington where City played their promotion-chasing opponents off the park and we celebrated each goal wildly; chanting non-stop through the half time break at Stockport, despite being fully exposed to the strong wind and rain; Scott Loach’s miraculous double block from a penalty against Macclesfield; the comeback at Notts County; Wetherall Day at Rotherham. I’m sure those who were there won’t forget Guylian Ndumbu-Nsungu’s 95th minute penalty equaliser at Grimsby, which prompted manic celebrations that spilled onto the pitch and saw Stuart run over to us and appeal for calm. It was one of those moments supporting your team where you completely lose it and temporarily forget where you are.

Quality football might not have been in as regular supply as we’d have liked, but there have been some great moments to enjoy. Luke Medley’s first touch in professional football; Omar Daley’s performance at Accrington; Willy Topp’s promising debut against Shrewsbury; the transformation of Joe Colbeck; Peter Thorne’s hat trick at Notts County and brilliant goal in the Meadow Lane meeting; Barry Conlon’s penalties (until he missed); the emergence of Matt Clarke into a solid defender; the superb second half of season form from David Wetherall that leaves you wondering why he is calling it a day.

My ultimate highlights of the season both centre around Lincoln City though. The Boxing Day Valley Parade game was an emotional afternoon carried out superbly by both clubs and sets of supporters. Barry Conlon’s late winner may have been comical, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who went crazy when I realised the keeper had improbably allowed it in. Emotions also ran high at the Sincil Bank meeting in September and the atmosphere in the away stand that evening makes it one of my all-time favourite away games. The singing was non-stop, so passionate and so enthusiastic. It might have become the norm since, but that evening was particularly special.

The 2-1 victory that night lifted City to 9th at the time and the final league table will suggest little progress has since been made; yet the potential of what City can achieve remains and there will be strong optimism it can followed through next season. It often appears to be the case we spend the summer believing it’s going to be our year, but in Stuart we can be confident we have a manager quickly learning and with a huge passion to lead this club to glory in 12 months time.

A better season hopefully awaits, but I hope I’m not the only supporter who’ll take fond memories from this one.

Not fit to referee

I shall be clear, dear reader, from the offset.

Joe Colbeck deserved the red card after 37 minutes for a violent tackle on Dean Lewington which saw the 2-0 down City’s performance against the Champions of League Two but aside from ordering the Bantams player of the season off the field Karl Evans put in a shameful, disgraceful, unfit for purpose refereeing display.

All of which stops the match report I would like to have written about City’s man of the hour and about the prospects for next season and forces me to write once more about the appalling state of officials.

First things first though this afternoon – the final home game of the season – saw David Wetherall’s last match at Valley Parade and the penultimate of his career. Wetherall led City’s players in the minute’s silence in memory of the victims of the fire of 1985 and as he did my mind drifted back to May 2000 when Wetherall’s header kept City in the top flight and relegated our opponents the Dons. I recall that on that day the Liverpool supporters observed the silence with not a decibel before joining the Bantams fans in roaring through a pulsating game of football. The visitors today paid similar respects and held a banner to commemorate. They are much criticised – these Milton Keynes Dons – but as supporters they did themselves credit today.

Paul Ince’s team deserve some credit too and obviously can play a bit. They go up as champions largely on the strength of the away form that make this the eighteenth win on the road of the season but the Dons win at all costs attitude is best summed up with a casual phrase thrown around in the second half. “Paul Ince will make a good Arsenal manager one day.”

The Dons took a lead early on with after City had started the brighter and Barry Conlon should have given City the lead but Willy Gurrett loomed large the in the goal after good work had put the Irishman through and Conlon hit the ball wide. The Dons lead came from a ball crossed from the left – Darren Williams did not have a good game and left Colbeck out wide to cope with Lloyd Dyer – which travelled too far untouched by Bantams to be not considered a mistake by the back four when Jude Stirling headed home. Ince fielded a 352 which was effective while the Bantams soft pedalled.

Dyer scored the Dons second after powerfully converting a long throw which bounced over Wetherall’s head and it would be tempted to chalk that goal off as being a mistake by the man who is a little too long in the tooth but Williams once again allowed Dyer free reign to come in from the flank and Eddie Johnson simply watched the winger run past him to score. Johnson seems set to be a good twelfth man for the Bantams should he stay but one suspects that promotions are not made of displays as he puts in all too often. His inclusion at the expense of Tom Penford seemed unjust and up until the sending of off Colbeck which was to follow Johnson did not show enough desire. Not enough by half and he was not alone in that.

Colbeck’s sending off on 37 minutes was just. He trolled into Lewington who he had tormented with his pace earlier in the game as he steamed in anger. That Colbeck’s fury was caused by Dons skipper Keith Andrews elbowing him in the face in the pattern of play that preceded it is no excuse just as those managers who moaned that Dean Windass had squeezed testicles or niggled their players before retaliation had followed. The likes of Cheltenham’s John Finnegan painted themselves as wronged heroes following retaliation against Windass and were allowed to do but to be they were over angry and needed to allow the referee to take control rather than giving out what justice they saw fit as should Colbeck. That Karl Evans was a pathetic referee is not a reason why you should be allowed to take your anger out on another player so violently and Colbeck blotted and impressive copybook.

Nevertheless a strange fury surrounded the deserved red card and City to a man increased the levels of performance. Wronged – supposedly – the Bantams roared into the Dons and began to create sustained spells of pressure with Kyle Nix prompting in the midfield and Barry Conlon making himself a nuisance up front. Omar Daley’s dazzling run and left footed finish gave City a glimmer of hope at half time and the half ended in farce. A visitors corner ended up in disgusting two footed smash tackle on Kyle Nix by Jordan Hadfield which was much worse than the attack that had seen Colbeck sent off and went unpunished as Evans called a halt to the first half with former Bantam Aaron Wilbraham holding Scott Loach in a headlock and trying to shake him to retrieve the ball.

Colbeck deserved sending off. Football has no room for retribution being taken out in that way but it has no room for players grabbing each other in headlocks – the thin end of a wedge that ends with violence – and it certainly has no room for the type of two footed lunge that sent Nix spinning from Hadfield. The Bantams went in at half time 2-1 down to a chorus of boos for Referee Evans who would come out to perform so much worse in the second half with the words “You’re not fit to referee” ringing in his ears and such a phrase is true. Referees have a duty of care to the players written into the rules of the game in in ducking the decision to punish Hadfield or Wilbraham Evans hid from that responsibility. I would not like to have been a player on the field in such a lawless environment.

Evans made a litter of mistakes small and large in the second half missing the most obvious corner seen in football, allowing a waist high wrestling move on Darren Williams when he came through, giving a random set of decisions against Barry Conlon and Dons man Danny Swailes as the tussled all afternoon and at one point allowing Wilbraham to sneak back onto the field of play after going behind the touchline and rob Loach of the ball which he pinged off the bar of an open goal.

Your average football fan can be forgiven for not knowing that player who leave the field – go over the white line – have to ask permission to come back onto the field and that it is only a convince to allow them not to return to the pitch at the halfway line (as substitutes do) but Karl Evans is paid to know the rules of football and rather than stopping play and booked Wilbraham he allowed play to continue. It is Law 12.6 if you want to grab your copy of the rules and check it out and it is right above the rule that he used to send Colbeck off.

What can you say about a situation where the Referee knows or applies on the rules he decides at that time? I hope he is just a pathetic referee rather than a bent one but I can not accept that he is neither.

The frustration with Evans’s display was matched by that of City’s knocking on but never breaking through the MK Dons defence – David Wetherall’s header wide went in in a more romantic world – and in the end a ten man Bradford City were better than the eleven of the champions. Paul Ince had four months at StockportMacclesfield (an impressive five months) before he started at the Dons and one cannot help but wonder if after four months of learning at City Stuart McCall had have been able to start the season at the beginning of January would the Bantams be in the position that Ince’s men are?

McCall has got a City team that try play a bit, that can play a bit, that are naive in places but very exciting to watch. The team needs a tweak here and there but not wholesale change and one hopes that Colbeck will have put off potential suitors today and that should he start for the year long loan that seems to hang on Watford getting promoted then Scott Loach does not have to many games as he did today but the Bantams should be considered serious promotion contender next season.

This season though is full of what ifs. What if Peter Thorne had been fit at the start of the season? What if Joe Colbeck had found such scintillating form earlier? What if that run of not winning all through Autumn had not come? What if? The Dons take the championship but one cannot help but be reminded and paraphase of the famed comment of John Bradford – there, but for the grace of God, goes Bradford City.

The grace of God and a better referees maybe.

The Warm Up

This week Bradford City released details of next season’s friendlies, though for the past month it’s felt as though pre-season for the 2008-09 campaign has already begun.

With little to play for but pride, recent games have lacked intensity and significance, tempo has slowed and goals haven’t been cheered quite as feverishly. The management’s focus is more on which areas of the team require strengthening and players are campaigning to be part of those plans. The ambition when we line up against Guiseley and Burnley in July will be similar to Saturday, it’s now all about the big kick off in August.

That the season petered into little more is down to the failings of the current crop of players, many of whom are still battling to convince manager Stuart McCall they shouldn’t be shown the door in two weeks time. Since the Mansfield debacle in March there’s been a notable improvement in effort and attitude, but it’s the consistency question mark which remains. Seven of the 14 players involved in Saturday’s come back win over Grimsby, the third home success in four, are still waiting to hear about their immediate future and a further five will feel they still have to convince that they should be regulars next year.

The first half performance will have done them few favours. A bright start soon turned into a poor one as the visitors, also lacking in promotion or relegation concerns, took an early lead. There was little on when the recalled Omar Daley knocked the ball back to Darren Williams, but the right back was quickly closed down by Nathan Jarman and lost possession. Ciran Toner was then able to charge towards the area and cross low for Peter Till to tap home.

In reaching the ball first, the Grimsby midfielder injured himself by colliding with Luke O’Brien and departed on a stretcher as Daley and Williams argued over who was to blame for conceding the soft goal. Daley’s pass hadn’t been the wisest choice, but Williams had time to clear and will be hoping Stuart doesn’t decide his future on this performance.

The goal knocked City’s confidence and Grimsby began passing the ball around confidently. Very little happened though, in truth, and City’s disjointed efforts were just as threatening as the more cohesive Mariners. Midfield was the area where City struggled with Tom Penford particularly disappointing. Penford is arguably the best passer at the club but was too often guilty of looking for the killer pass which would often be too optimistic and be cut out by blue shirts. This was typical of the whole team who seemed desperate to get a shot on goal after a few passes, when patiently playing simple passes and waiting for openings would have been more effective.

Eddie Johnson was back up front and showed some nice touches, but lacks the physical presence Peter Thorne needs in a strike partner. Daley and Joe Colbeck both had their moments while Kyle Nix was heavily involved in play, with things not always going right. The visible frustration the young midfielder displayed in front of the Kop after a Daley shot flew wide showed just how desperate to remain at City he appears to be.

There could and should have been more goals in the first half. A Grimsby defender handled the ball just inside the area from one attack, which triggered the linesman to raise his flag for a penalty then quickly change his mind. Nick Hegarty looked to have added a second when his low shot creeped towards the bottom corner, but Ryan Bennett’s decision to make sure it did meant the goal was ruled out for offside. Daley also charged through on goal, only for the flag to go up late. City improved in the final 10 minutes but couldn’t find the breakthrough, the half time boos felt a little harsh.

The second half saw progressive improvement as City laboured and finally drew level. Thorne had headed a chance just wide but soon grabbed his 15th goal of the season after latching onto a weak backpass and taking the ball round keeper Phil Barnes, before firing home the equaliser past the defender on the line. Stuart, who after the game praised Colbeck for pressurising the defender into making the poor backpass, should be keeping Thorne in bubble wrap during the close season so the 35-year-old is fit and firing from day one.

Stuart had been about to introduce Conlon for the struggling Penford, but delayed the change a few minutes as the initiative became firmly with City. Conlon made a big difference when he did come on, as did moving Johnson back into midfield. Stuart’s decision to try Johnson up front during the last few games has prompted much debate over his best position but he continues to look far more effective in the centre than battling up front. Meanwhile Conlon became much more involved than Johnson had been and his presence triggered more regular attacks.

The real star of the show was Nix though. It seemed everything good about the second half involved the Australian-born midfielder, who showed great energy levels. For every corner and free kick he was straight to the ball to get City going and also set up plenty of attacking moves that he would later get involved in again as the ball was knocked around. Nix has his faults, notably lack of pace, but has looked very impressive since switching to the centre. Whether he would be a regular next season is still uncertain but his fantastic dribble from deep and delicate chip attempt at Barnes, which the Grimsby keeper just tipped over, was a convincing case. He will surely be rewarded with a new deal.

Something which looks less likely for the two other subs Alex Rhodes and Luke Medley. The latter made a bigger impact after coming on for Thorne with seven minutes to go and played a part in the defining moment of the game. Half way through injury time, his pass into the area was chested down by Johnson and left for the on rushing Colbeck, who unleashed a superb powerful drive that flew past Barnes. The young winger has enjoyed a strong second half to the season which has featured a handful of goals; finally he’s now scored one at Valley Parade.

The half time boos were replaced by warm applause at the end, and while myself and the wife’s experience of a group of aggressive Grimsby supporters walking back to the car suggests they considered themselves unfortunate to have lost, the reality is that Scott Loach, rumoured to be staying at City on a season-long loan, had little to do in the second half.

If this run of one defeat from eight can be stretched a further two games it will have been an excellent end to the campaign. The Champions-elect, MK Dons, come to Valley Parade next Saturday and will offer a clear marker of how far the current squad are from the best at this level than the league table, distorted by that wretched autumn form, appears to show. In reality for City though, it’s just another warm up game for the next campaign.

Deal or no deal

They’re clearly not everyone’s cup of tea, but I do enjoy listening to football phone in shows on the radio. There’s usually an entertaining array of views which build a picture of the current moods of various clubs and, while often the caller will be talking a load of rubbish, there’s a sense of satisfaction that at least they’re not spouting nonsense views about your own club.

One such emerging viewpoint which I don’t understand though is from those who want to see their manager sacked so badly they admit to wanting their team to lose. While often having good reasons for demanding a managerial change, hoping your team loses just so there’s a better chance of your wish being granted is a blinkered view.

Chelsea supporters have been the worst offenders with many of their followers recently blighting the airwaves to tell the world they want their side to lose, to hasten the departure of Avram Grant. One can understand their frustration at seeing the popular and successful Jose Mourinho given the chop to make way for the Israeli, who has done little to improve the dour style of football which is said to have cost ‘The Special One’ his job, but this season could yet go down as their most successful ever and no desire to see Grant booted out of Stamford Bridge should come before that.

Closer to home, similar thoughts of wanting City to fail have been raised by some supporters. Following the pathetic 2-1 reverse to Mansfield a month ago it seemed as though there’d be a large queue of players exiting the club this summer. With play off hopes all but over, some fans aired the viewpoint that they didn’t want City to enjoy a decent finish to the campaign in case Stuart McCall was fooled into offering any of the out of contract and underperforming players fresh deals. Such fears maybe realised because, after a month where City’s performances have greatly improved, deal or no deal decisions will be tougher to make for Stuart.

Is this a bad thing? There’s no disputing this season has failed to live up to expectations, but the picture isn’t as straight forward as it would seem. The old saying “the league table never lies” remains true, but the dreadful run of form last autumn, where City collected two out of a possible 24 points, has partially masked the improvement from the team since. By my rough calculations, City would currently be sitting in seventh, ahead of Wycombe on goal difference, had the season begun on November 6th. 29 games on from beating Chester that evening, City have lost only eight games. It leaves the question for Stuart to chew over, is the present squad as bad as it seems?

In the wake of the Mansfield defeat Stuart said he couldn’t wait for the season to finish. Clearly he felt let down by the players but they have responded brilliantly. Three wins, three draws and one unfortunate defeat may not be spectacular form, but the performances have been largely good. Some players like Barry Conlon, Tom Penford, Kyle Nix and Eddie Johnson must have feared their days were numbered; now it’s less certain. No one would argue significant strengthening is required to mount a stronger promotion challenge next season, but the near-total revamp of the squad some were hoping and demanding does not appear necessary.

The end of a season is a time where individual mistakes are less likely to be hammered by supporters and ambitions are lowered, unless you’re in for an exciting or worrying finale. It can be argued that those players who have impressed lately are only doing so with nothing at stake and that, when it really mattered, they choked; a couple of good games now does not mean they can do it for a season. This is where Stuart’s judgement will be so important in the coming weeks.

The question posed to the players after Mansfield was did they want to continue playing for this club, and at the very least their response should be applauded. There may be no prizes at stake, but their livelihood is and that undoubtedly leaves pressure on their shoulders in each remaining game. Everyone released will find a new club, albeit for some it will be in division below, but whoever among them is searching for new employment this summer, there’s little chance they’ll end up playing in front of bigger crowds or for someone with higher ambitions than The Bantams next season.

I’m not one who likes booing and was disappointed with the reaction of some fans at the Mansfield game, but if those players on the receiving end still want to play for this club we can only hope they learnt a valuable lesson that day in terms of the standards we expect them to maintain at this club and the consequences of dipping below it. If any of the players desperate for a new deal this summer are playing a big part in a promotion push this time next year, such booing will have been justified.

Before then an intriguing summer of deal or no deal will commence and no doubt a range of views will be expressed after decisions are made. Thank goodness there won’t be a special radio phone-in show about it.

A Grand Day Out

Clutching a bag filled with food and drink and a copy of a decent newspaper, I stood on the train platform waiting in anticipation for a train to take me to London. I’d been looking forward to our game at Brentford for a few months now, since we decided to visit Griffin Park and had booked our train tickets. The train duly arrived on time and I was greeted by my brother who had already travelled south from Saltaire. It had been a few years since I’d been to a City away game using public transport but the thought of a stress free train journey was appealing. Unfortunately another friend had to forfeit their train ticket as their girlfriend had arrived home that morning following an operation in BRI.

The train was busy but the journey was enjoyable. Time spent reading a decent newspaper (which doesn’t occur often due to time constraints) was interrupted by the munching of food and chat about how today’s game might pan out and how our season had been inconsistent in terms of results. As we approached Kings Cross my brother’s phone was buzzing with a text message from a work colleague who was at the Leeds-Carlisle game which was kicking off at 12.15pm.

We’d arrived safely in London and I was walking along the platform where I’d been only 48 hours earlier for a work meeting. My brother and I were greeted by John, one of my brother’s friends, who had given up their Spurs season ticket to come to see our game. (Incidentally, the Spurs-Middlesbrough game finished 1-1.) Armed with our 1-day travelcards we headed for the Piccadilly line and our destination of South Ealing tube station. Just as we were about to step on to the escalator we bumped into Paul, a southern based City supporter who sits with us at Valley Parade when he ventures north. We knew that Paul was flying out to Amsterdam that evening for a works do, but he’d decided to come to the game and leave slightly early in the hope of there been no goals in the last 15 minutes.

Arriving at South Ealing tube station, we were then met by Liam, another of my brother’s friends who lives down south. He’d driven across from Kent to meet up with us. The five of us walked towards Griffin Park and were greeted with plenty of pubs to obtain a pint from. We decided upon The New Inn where the atmosphere was friendly. Punters were watching history in the making as Queen of the South had beaten Aberdeen 4-3 to reach their first ever Scottish Cup Final. This is what makes football special when the underdog triumphs over the favourite. A decent pint of Directors Courage was sunk and not even a shower of rain could dampen our spirits as we walked to the away end. Griffin Park may not be the biggest ground in England but it has plenty of charm as it’s crammed in on all sides by housing.

We decided to enter the turnstile for standing as it’s not often that you can stand at football games these days. Considering our league position and the distance from West Yorkshire, there was a reasonable following of City supporters; several hundred in good voice. McCall and Jacobs had decided to play young Luke O’Brien at left back and overall he had a decent game with his most important contribution been a headed clearance off the line in the first half. City found themselves 1-0 down early on after we conceded possession in our half and Glenn Poole stroked a fine shot across Loach and into the bottom right hand corner of our goal. City seemed to be a bit sluggish but we equalised with our first effort on target as Thorne hit a half volley to score his 14th goal of the season. However, two minutes later and there were wild celebrations in the away end as Nix found a bit of space on the left hand side and unleashed an unstoppable shot past Brown to put City 2-1 up.

Eddie Johnson was playing up front again after his previous two games had yielded two goals. He found himself in the clear with glorious opportunity to make it 3-1 to City but unfortunately he seemed to scuff his shot and Brown saved with relative ease. City were made to pay for this miss as we failed to clear the ball on several occasions following a Brentford free kick from the right hand side and defender Bennett hit a super shot which beat Loach and went in off the underside of the cross bar. Half an hour had elapsed and already we’d seen four fine goals. Half time arrived with the teams locked at 2-2.

My eagle eyed brother had spotted a guy in the away end who he used to go to school with, Ben, and his elder brother Nigel was with him. I’d been in the same school year as Nigel and at one point we’d played in the same school football team. As the second half commenced a voice said to me “Hello Richard”. It was another guy, Graham, who was with Nigel who I also went to school with. I chatted with Nigel and Graham during the second half and discussed who we had stayed in touch with since leaving school nearly twenty years ago. One person who I mentioned was Andrew, who was meant to be with us at the game but due to his daughter being ill, he had been unable to make the trip south. As the clock ticked on, Craig Bentham replaced Tom Penford. Would this be the last time we would see Bentham in a City shirt following his recent three month loan spell at Farsley Celtic? Paul exited for his flight to Amsterdam but he was okay as there were no more goals. Although City did have a decent shout for a penalty as Wetherall was obviously fouled in the Brentford 18 yard box. However, referee Armstrong waved play on and left the City supporters bemused. Omar Daley had replaced the hard working Nix and should he have chosen to pass to the on rushing Thorne instead of deciding to shoot himself to loose possession, City could have snatched a late winner. But it wasn’t to be.

I said my goodbyes to Nigel and Graham then my brother waved Liam off to Kent. This left the three of us (my brother, John and me) to walk back to South Ealing tube station. We arrived at Kings Cross in time for a pint of good Yorkshire ale in the form of Black Sheep then my brother and I headed north on the train. A grand day out and not a sighting of Wallace or Gromit!

I Feel Sorry for That Referee

I often wonder what makes someone become a Referee.

Is it a desire to ruin Saturday afternoons on a massive scale? Is it the need to control grown men using only a bit of metal, a pea and two bits or card? Is it a self flagination that sees them rewarded with mass loathing? Long time readers will know – I just do not understand those guys.

Sure enough I have no more understanding as to why the Referee against Morecambe ignored a blatant backpass as I do why the man in the middle against Barnet allowed play to continue with Mark Bower down injured in our own box in a way that precluded a shot at goal from the visitors. I do not know why Referee’s do what they did against Hereford this year – I have an idea or two – but I understand enough to comment and criticise and do in great measure.

Tonight though I had that worst thing one can get for Referees – I have sympathy.

Eddie Ilderton was a rubbish Referee but then again he is doing his job in League Two on a Tuesday night in a meaningless game so perhaps one should expect nothing less than the litter of bad offside calls for both sides and the generally random nature of the decisions but my sympathy comes from his having to deal with the likes of Barnet FC.

How does Ilderton deal with players who rather than put a ball out of play when an opposition player is on the floor in the six yard box? He knows that should a shot at goal be taken – and it was – that he has a duty of care written into rules that means he has to blow the whistle and stop the game lest Bower – for it was he – gets beaned by the ball or by Scott Loach diving. For sure the Referee fumbled his decision but Barnet’s players intercepted a clearance that would have taken the ball out of play and built and attack. How does the Referee deal with such a lack of sportsmanship?

This paled in the last minutes of the game when after Eddie Johnson was caught in a clash of heads Ilderton gave a drop ball which he – one assumes – asked the City player Kyle Nix if he would allow the drop ball to be uncontested to allow Barnet to belt the ball back to City’s keeper but rather than that Neal Bishop hit the ball for a throw in near the corner flag and Barnet contested the throw in.

What does a Referee do in the face of such an appalling lack of sportsmanship where a player makes an agreement and then breaks it seconds later? “If they don’t challenge will you kick this back to their keeper?”, “Yes Ref.” He does opposite. How does one deal with that short of Ilderton pointing at Bishop and saying what must have been going through his head – that Bishop is a bit of a sh*t.

I have sympathy because my comments on Referees normally are based on the idea that they have a job of making sure that things are done evenly and that they should be able to do that but that job is made impossible when players act like Barnet’s players did.

Of course having broken the agreement Ilderton could have blown his whistle and booked Bishop for ungentlemanly conduct giving a free kick to City but he did not – because he was a rubbish Referee – but I felt sorry for him nevertheless.

A Time for Reflection

This game was never going to get the pulse racing. Evidently, It was a fixture that failed to inspire a large number of City season ticket holders – with Liverpool playing Chelsea in the Champions League viewed from a warm living room sofa the choice made by many.

With both sides safe from the perils of the relegation zone, and no chance of getting into the playoffs, City and Barnet predictably played out a 1-1 stalemate.

Barnet in truth were the better side and carved out the better chances, three of which brought the best out of Scott Loach. They took the lead in the first half when a thunderous effort from Barnet midfielder Thomas smacked off the crossbar. The rebound fell to the lively Birchall who reacted first to the rebound before beating Loach at his near post. Later in the half, Barnet should have doubled their lead, but Loach stood up brilliantly to block a one on one effort.

Whilst City did command much of the possession, not much of it was put to good use. The game took on the role of being an exhibition type match as the players went through the motions. Nevertheless, it was still a relief when Eddie Johnson nodded down Joe Colbeck’s accurate corner to grab us a point in the second half.

The main purpose of this game was most certainly to be to run the rule over those players “fighting” for a new contract at Bradford. With midtable obscurity the destination for both sides, it did seem like a good night to reflect on the current squad. It was time to reflect. Whatever happens between now and the end of the season, you can be sure we will see plenty of new faces arrive at the club before August. My views on our current crop of players might not be shared by all, but having seen a large percentage games home and away I felt the need to want to share these with fellow BfB readers:

1 Scott Loach (Goalkeeper)
His form for us has raised eyebrows in the Premiership. Whilst there is no doubt Loach is an accomplished keeper, he is still someway off being a Premiership regular, but is no doubt one with a bright future in the game

2008/2009 City prospects
We would love to see him back next season, but seeing him back here next season is highly unlikely to say the least. We will have to go shopping in the summer to purchase a reliable, experienced new No 1.

2 Darren Williams (Right Back)
Williams has not done a lot wrong this season. He has generally been quite solid defensively, and will feel slightly aggrieved to have lost his place in the starting line up to Ben Starosta. Stuart feel’s that Starosta offers more attacking options down the right than the more defensive minded Williams.

2008/2009 City prospects
Williams only has a one year deal, but I feel he is worth another one for his defensive capabilities. McCall may decide to sign another right back permanently to provide competition again in this position.

3 Paul Heckingbottom (Left Back)
Heckingbottom’s return to Valley Parade has gone well. He hasn’t had any competition for his place, but luckily he is enough of a professional to not get complacent and let his performances drop. He has been excellent defensively and is always fully committed to the cause. A model professional.

2008/2009 City prospects
More of the same. He is a good left back at this level.

4 Paul Evans (Central Midfield)
Evans’ return to the club has certainly not gone as planned. After an ok start, he has turned in some quite awful performances in recent months and is surely going to be given his P45 in the summer. His usually reliable passing game has gone to pot, seemingly he is now better at passing to the opposition than to his team mates.

2008/2009 City prospects
Free Transfer

5 David Wetherall (Central Defender)
It pains me to say that I am actually relieved that big Dave wont be part of our back four next year. There is no doubt his loyalty to this club is commendable, but too many painful memories of our badly organized defense since the turn of the century have overshadowed our towering defender’s ability. He has always been dominant aerially – but this season his decision making, for once, has been called into question, as well as his lace of pace becoming more of an issue as the seasons have gone on.

2008/2009 City prospects
Another fans favourite taking up a coaching position within the club.

6 Mark Bower (Central Defender)
Well its been over 10 years now and Mark is still with us. He is a much better player than he was when he was signed up back in 1998, and his consistent displays have earned him respect. He was dropped for Matt Clarke earlier in the season, but overall I think Bower has had an average campaign. He really needs to push on next season to ensure our defense doesn’t leak those extremely costly late goals.

2008/2009 City prospects
A regular at the back , but really needs to step up to the plate in Wetherall’s absence, lead and organize.

7 Omar Daley (Right Winger/Forward)
Very much a footballing enigma, Omar Daley still has a lot to prove. Signing him up long term earlier in the season is very much a protection on our asset who possesses the highly desirable attribute in the modern game – blistering pace. However, Omar very frequently flatters to deceive. Either by making the wrong decision in the final third, or lacking the ability to finish a flowing burst forward with a deadly finish. I remember when I first saw Omar Daley play – back in 2003 when we visited Reading and he lined up for the opposition. His skill was there for all to see, but his finishing and decision making was abysmal, and he was substituted by their manager at the time Alan Pardew. And now, in 2008, he almost seems like the same player. There is no doubting however, that on his day, he can win us matches in this division. Lets hope he can finally have the season of his career next time round.

2008/2009 City prospects
Daley will continue to delight us, and make us cry. Some finishing practice in the summer would be advised if he has ambitions of being our number one threat next season.

8 Eddie Johnson (Central Midfield/Forward)
Johnson may well have done enough in the last month to earn himself a new contract. I don’t think he is good enough as a midfielder to command a regular first team spot as he quite often drifts out of games without you even knowing he is on the pitch.

2008/2009 City prospects
Will probably get a new one year deal. Should be used as a utility squad player.

9 Barry Conlon (Striker)
Conlon has divided opinion amongst fans from Barnsley to Plymouth. He is like marmite – you either love him or hate him. Whilst I appreciate the effort he occasionally puts in to the cause, the guy cannot finish. We have a number 9 who cant finish. Some of his finishing is so woeful it would make Ade Akinibiyi wince. Yet I have the feeling that somehow Stuart rates this guy and will hand him a new deal. I , for one, am praying that wont happen.

2008/2009 City prospects
Offer of a contract is 50/50. I wouldn’t offer him anything more than a lift to the nearest airport.

10 Peter Thorne (Striker)
Thoroughly deserved his new deal. The class act of the side. He looks after himself, is intelligent and a keen eye for goal. His goal record speaks for itself. His all round play is also admirable and shows why has managed to play at a higher level for so long.

2008/2009 City prospects
If we can keep him fit, look for 20 league goals from Thorne next season.

11 Alex Rhodes (Winger)
Rhodes has showed glimpses of good form this season, but I fear his inconsistency will prove to be too costly.

2008/2009 City prospects
No contract offered

12 Matthew Clarke (Central Defender)
Excellent form at times this season. Makes the occasional rash decision, and thus needs to work on refining his approach slightly. Will really look for him to sharpen up his act next year and dominant League Two strikers next season.

2008/2009 City prospects
A regular at the back

15 Joe Colbeck (Winger/Midfielder)
It quite often crossed my mind in the first half of this season that Colbeck would never make it at City. Yet, he has surprised me. I used to hate him. Absolutely hate him. I thought he would go the way of Danny Forrest and Joe Brown. But his loan spell at Darlo did him the world of good. He is now performing more consistently (especially away from home!). He battles. He whips in a good cross. Add more consistency and more of a footballing brain to his play and he can really help us next year.

2008/2009 City prospects
Expect some good things from Colbeck next year – he needs to prove that he can perform in front of the Valley Parade crowd.

18 Tom Penford (Midfielder)
I feel he has done enough to earn a contract. If he can be a bit more attacking minded he will have the makings of a good player.

2008/2009 City prospects
Will get a contract. Needs to stamp his authority on the team next year and chip in with some more goals.

20 Scott Pheland (Midfielder)
Not good enough. Not strong enough for this league (or any other)

2008/2009 City prospects
Free transfer

22 Kyle Nix (Midfielder)
Decent player. Needs to figure out his best position, stick to it and make it his own or he will only be a bit part player. Always battles for the cause.

2008/2009 City prospects
Worth a one year deal. He will hope to nail down a regular spot in the team next year, but may have his work cut out if Stuart brings in alternatives.

23 Willy Topp (Striker)
We certainly haven’t seen the best of him yet. I fear he may not be the right kind of player for this division. Shows some nice touches and skill but not shown us an end product yet.

2008/2009 City prospects
Make or break season for our 35k investment. He has had time now to settle in.

25 Luke Medley (Striker)
His wonder strike against Wrexham gave us hope. But he has something very much “non-league” about his play. His failure to make it at Cambridge City speaks volumes. The occasionally glimpse of desire, ala Grimsby away, isn’t good enough of the course of a whole season

2008/2009 City prospects
No contract offered.

32 Lee Bullock (Midfielder)
Solid defensive midfielder. Decent player in this league.

2008/2009 City prospects
Should nail down a regular place in the centre of the park

36 David Brown (Striker)
Predators goal against Macclesfield. His ability on the training ground will determine whether Stuart wants to keep this youngster.

2008/2009 City prospects
50/50 on a new contract, but I would probably release him due to his lack of physical presence.

There. Now For Back Again

There was a nervousness – a sense of being on edge – in the last five minutes of this one goal victory over a Morecambe side who’s defeat at Christie Park represented a nadir of City’s season which was entire out of keeping with the comprehensive nature of the win and left a sense of what could have been for the Bantams after another promotion contender was moved aside with relative ease.

Those who witnessed the gutless display away in the North West came back with a worry about City’s ability to turn around the slide and the season but as a confident Bantams recorded the sort of 1-0 win which left a questions as to how the home side did not score more the answer seemed to lay in the vigour, zest and belief which characterised the display.

Nowhere is that belief better shown than in Joe Colbeck. Joe Colbeck – a player who this time last year was said to “divide fans” between those who thought he would never amount to a professional footballer and those who thought he deserved a chance. Very few would have said that this time next season he would strut across the field prompting moves, making play, setting up goal as a part of the best passing move of this and many seasons for the Bantams.

Nevertheless Colbeck’s intelligent running and low cross from the inside left gave Eddie Johnson the chance to score a scruffy but well deserved goal. After the game Stuart McCall would comment that Johnson had been forced to play out of position as a midfielder signalling that Eddie was to be consider a spare Peter Thorne for next term. Johnson took the injured Thorne’s place in the forward line with Barry Conlon playing just behind him and the pair toiled all afternoon calming the single strike but being unlucky not to get more. Conlon headed against the bar in the first half only to see Omar Daley flick the rebound over – Thorne’s miss against Rotherham has a rival now – and at that time as the Bantams waited for the inevitable goal in what was a one sided there were nerves which Johnson would ease.

Indeed it says much about the team’s display that on the whole Scott Loach was a spectator during his first game against a former club and when called into action he barely had to stretch himself. One doubts he will be at Valley Parade next season and with Donovan Ricketts not getting past Heathrow – or perhaps being lost in a bag in Terminal Five – City and McCall are looking for a new shot stopper at a time when the team is benefiting most from the build up of relationships and partnerships.

The longer Tom Penford gets in the side the more useful he looks and he and Kyle Nix did enough to stop any threat coming through the middle for the Shrimps. Injury to Garry Thompson – a thorn in City’s side back in October and subject of a Bantams bid – robbed the visitors of their main thrust of creativity and aside from a smattering of attacks forwards the end that seemed more nervous in the crowd than they did on the field they offered very little. Indeed had it not been for the customary cacophony of Mavis Riley’s as the final whistle drew near with only a single goal advantage then this game would have been stress free.

This too can be credited to the display of an inspired Mark Bower – skipper for the day on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of his debut – who’s performance alongside David Wetherall sapped hope from the visitors.

So it seems the more that Stuart McCall and his team stay together and play together the better they are getting and the season is ending a month too soon for a play off push. Much is hoped for next season by all and perhaps rightly so. I hear that this has been a transitional season for the Bantams – Julian Rhodes reported the superb news that City had broken even for the first time since Bower was a teenager – and one that sets up the promotion push for next year but for me there has been a real achievement in 2007/2008.

For the first time since that day in May 1999 a negativity seems to have started to shift from the club. The Premiership years were characterised not – as the history books are written – but pure glory then pure failure but by the constant sense of impending doom and the years after were a decline but if that decline reached a pit then it was in the last minute goal at Christie Park that mean that the Bantams lost to a team who were in the Unibond when we were in the Premiership leaving us looking at Farsley Celtic as a rival the season after rather than Leeds United and the reality check, the wake up calls, the smell of the coffee afterwards has been realised and is manifested here and now by McCall’s team as the signalled not a revenge but a renewal in this win.

The Bantams have been at bottom, now for the way up. And they say Stuart McCall has not done anything in his first season as a manager…

Le Foiled

So that’s it, thank you very much, goodnight. After this reverse there will be no more debate about where City will be playing next season.

When Rochdale sub Adam Le Fondre struck a late winner at Valley Parade six weeks ago it was seen by many City fans as the end to any Play Off chances. The more optimistic, or foolish, amongst us have kept some hope, borne from some subsequent excellent wins, but Le Fondre’s latest substitute cameo has ensured a City top seven finish is as likely as a relaxed passport official at Heathrow Airport.

As the final whistle was blown on the game and on City’s frail promotion hopes last night, the players received warm applause from the away fans as they accepted their team’s fate. It was an unfortunate defeat in many ways and worth noting it is only the second on the road in 2008. It may have been the night where lingering dreams were put to bed, but it was in costly home defeats to the likes of Mansfield, Dagenham and Bury that such ambitions were truly thwarted.

For the home side they can still dream of only the second promotion in their 100-year history. Needing the win just as badly but with more credible chances, Rochdale got off to a flyer by taking the lead inside 30 seconds. Eddie Johnson tried to keep hold of the ball for too long on the edge of the area and was robbed by David Perkin, the man who ran the show in the February Valley Parade meeting, who then charged through and scored with a low finish. As the home players celebrated several City players angrily confronted the linesman, though it wasn’t obvious what they were complaining about. It would not be the last argument between some very poor officials and those in Claret and Amber during the game.

Stunned by such a bad start, it took a while for City to get going as Rochdale passed the ball around well and created a few half chances. At Valley Parade they surprised with their all out attacking way of playing, which saw them dominate large periods, and they again proceeded to play with a high defensive line last night. Barry Conlon and Peter Thorne were both caught offside on numerous occasions. Johnson and Penford worked hard in midfield but lacked the presence and authority to truly win control over Rochdale’s. It was a night where the continuing absence of Lee Bullock was particularly felt.

A cleverly worked free kick saw Johnson hit the post after Paul Heckingbottom chipped the ball into his path and Penford also went close but, just like the first half at Darlington on Saturday, the home side enjoyed more possession and looked the bigger threat. Ben Muirhead, curiously booed by some City fans, almost struck a second but his low shot from distance fizzled wide. Yet for all the chances Rochdale created, just like at Valley Parade, you sensed they were lacking a decent striker to put them away and truly make them a force.

Someone like Thorne perhaps. As the ink dries on a newly signed contract, City’s top scorer added a 13th goal of the season on the hour by equalising from the spot. A good pass picked out Joe Colbeck, starved of the ball all evening and not the threat he can be, who ran into the area only to be bundled over. This was the first time since his penalty miss against Dagenham that Conlon has been on the pitch when City have won a spot kick, but the Irish striker would have been a brave man to try and take the ball off Thorne who dispatched the penalty confidently.

On Saturday City’s equaliser inspired the team onto better things, but it was Rochdale who roared back strongly. While this writer has yet to see the MK Dons this season and only saw Peterborough defeated at Valley Parade when they were yet to hit the subsequent heights they’ve achieved, the Dale have been the most impressive League Two opposition so far. With Perkin at the hub of everything, they continued to pass the ball around well and created some good chances. It was a night City’s defence needed to play well and there were some good performances from David Wetherall, Mark Bower and Heckingbottom. Recalled at right back, Ben Starosta struggled all evening and Rochdale particularly threatened down his side.

Alex Rhodes and Luke Medley came on as sub in an effort to turn the tide, but City were their own worst enemies by frequently giving the ball away whenever they won it back. What was needed was some calm and to play a few passes around to take the sting out of the game and control the tempo, instead efforts were blighted by hurried passes and stupidly ambitious balls out wide which just saw the pressure straight back on the defence. Clearances were often wayward; particularly Loach’s kicking which was woeful. Rochdale continued to create chances with Perkin almost netting from a spectacular strike, City were hanging on.

Which they failed to manage as substitute Le Fondre once again struck with a well placed low shot from just inside the penalty area, with just three minutes to go. There were groans from some City fans as TJ Moncur was thrown on to play up front, but his presence almost helped City to snatch an equaliser as Rochdale became nervous. Bower and Conlon both saw efforts come back off the bar and Penford’s stab attempt at goal was cleared off the line. On another night one of these chances would have gone in and City left the field at the end rueing their luck.

Such was the unlikeliness of the Play Offs, even if City had won, that the disappointment of being ruled out does not feel so bad at the moment. In many people’s eyes, this season will go down as a disappointment and this is understandable if not entirely accurate. When considering where City were five months ago and how much ground needed to be made up following the dreadful first third to the season, it was always going to be a tall order. 2008 has largely being good and, while there has been some poor performances, they have been outnumbered by some decent ones.

We may not be visiting Spotland next year as Rochdale look a good bet to finish and go up through the Play Offs, but City will be back next season a much wiser, smarter and hopefully better team. There’s now six games left to enjoy and a busy summer of ins and outs to follow. The makings of a decent side are here and there should be confidence in the management team that the summer strengthening can turn us into a stronger force next season.

Hopes of promotion over, but it won’t be long until we’re dreaming again.

Bazilliant

So this is where City need to be.

A trip to fourth placed Darlington, who harbour strong ambitions of automatic promotion, was an excellent opportunity for manager Stuart McCall to measure how much work is needed to improve his existing squad with the aim of being up there next year. At 3.45pm it looked as though City were someway off as they went in at half time fortunate to only be a goal behind, yet an hour later those players were heading to the changing rooms as deserved victors following an enthralling second half turnaround. It will have left Stuart with some unexpected questions to chew over, not least why aren’t City in Darlington’s position?

The closing stages of this superb win saw away fans chanting songs about going to Wembley. For the first time since September City are in the top half of the table and, with two games in hand on seventh placed Chesterfield, there’s suddenly renewed hope of making the Play Offs. This was City’s first league visit to Darlington’s impressive new stadium and the three points they’ve taken home from it mean there remains a slight chance we could be returning to it in May as part of an extended end to the season.

Not that this looked remotely possible at half time. Trailing automatic promotion rivals Hereford United, who weren’t playing this weekend, by a point; this was an important game for the home side who started the game brightly and took a tenth minute lead. A corner was swung into the City box and the ball seemed to strike Barry Conlon’s arm which prompted referee Darren Drysdale, he of chatting to Dean Windass in the car park fame, to point to the spot.

It appeared as though the Irish striker, recalled in place of Billy Topp who curiously didn’t even make the bench, had his arms by his side and contact seemed accidental at best. Clark Keltie sent Scott Loach the wrong way with the penalty to put Darlington into a lead that, against the best home record in the division, would be difficult for the visitors to turn around.

Conlon could feel hard done by but it didn’t stop a lot of City fans singing some less than complementary songs about him. For the rest of the half little went right for him as City struggled to forge any meaningful efforts on goal other than a bad miss from David Wetherall. The home side were in control and passed the ball around well on an awful playing surface. City largely defended reasonably and Loach saw most efforts on goal go wide of his post, although the on-loan keeper has begun displaying worryingly Donovan Ricketts-esqe difficulties with crosses which won’t impress the many rumoured Premiership scouts watching his every move.

Half time was a welcome relief and, after such a disappointing first half display, the future of many out of contract City players was looking more bleak. With a small minority of City fans seemingly having already written off Stuart’s abilities as a manager, no doubt there were mutterings of discontent around the watching City cyberworld and in the huge half time pie queue. Let’s give him credit where it’s due though, whatever he said to the players at half time to inspire such a turnaround must have being masterful.

City started the second half with much more urgency and began knocking the ball around better. Kyle Nix and Tom Penford, who both particularly struggled during the first half, began to have more of an influence. I discovered shortly after half time that Nix’s sister was apparently sat just behind me and I can only hope she didn’t hear my quiet mutterings of discontent regarding his first half efforts. I certainly enjoyed hearing her scream hysterically whenever Nix got a sight on goal!

The equaliser came within four minutes of the restart. A long ball was launched towards Conlon, who displayed some superb close control to bring the ball down and play it into the path of Peter Thorne on the edge of the box. City’s top scorer took it to the byline before crossing for Penford to coolly finish for his first ever City goal. Just eight days ago Penford’s name was surely pencilled in on the list of players to be released this summer; now, after three brilliant performances, Stuart will be reaching for the eraser and sanctioning a new contract.

The initiative was now with City and Thorne should have scored when presented with a one-on-one chance against home keeper David Stockdale, who saved well with his knees. It could have proved a costly miss, but soon after a deserved second goal followed. A free kick was floated into the box and Conlon rose at the back post to send a powerful looping header into the far corner. This was Conlon’s seventh goal of the season and he’s now scored more goals from open play than penalties. His detractors have so far being able to point to poor goalkeeping and a lack of the offside flag for his previous goals, but there should be no attempts to belittle this brilliant header. Chants aimed at Conlon continued, but they were now much more positive.

It must have been especially hard to take for the home fans to see their former player strike such a potent blow to their promotion prospects. What they needed was a strong response and manager Dave Penney brought on Michael Cummins who inspired a fight back. City were forced under some heavy pressure and Loach made a couple of decent saves. The most miraculous escape came when Penford sliced a clearance against the City bar.

There were over 10 minutes left to hold out so the delirium of another City goal eased the pressure. Conlon again played a significant role after another ball was launched up to him and his hold up play caused panic in the home defence. The loose ball fell to Joe Colbeck who ran through and coolly slotted home.

The young City winger spent six weeks on loan at Darlington earlier in the season, of course, and his spell away from the glare of Valley Parade was clearly beneficial. He’s returned a more confident and effective player but, back at the club who did so much for his career, the fear was the still relatively inexperienced winger might try too hard to impress and make bad decisions in possession. There was nothing to worry about as the 21-year-old performed with great composure; something lacking in Darlington striker Richie Foran when he produced a ridiculous two-footed lunge on him. A red card was the only option and the game was won.

Realistically City will need to win almost all seven remaining games if they are to gatecrash the Play Offs. Given we’ve so far failed to win more than two league games on the bounce it may prove beyond this current squad, but any player with ambitions to still be around next season should now view this as a great opportunity to show they can produce consistent, promotion standard form between now and the final game at Wycombe. If the team can keep up their recent improved efforts, who knows what it could lead to?

Tuesday night’s trip to Spotland certainly looks very interesting. Rochdale also have games in hand and look a better bet for the Play Offs. It’s another opportunity to measure where City need to be.

Who Will Have Roast Beef?

The phrase on everyone’s lips tells of Peter Thorne – who impressively headed home a Ben Starosta cross to claim his 12 goal of the season after 14 minutes of this game which had little distinction – and how had he been fit then the Bantams would with ease swap with Chesterfield and be pushing for the play off places.

To suggest that Chesterfield looked lifeless is to denigrate zombies. Without Jack Lester and Jamie Ward the visitors on the whole looked as threatening as the Bantams did during the seven game run without wins that has coloured the season at Valley Parade and represents this Thorne-less time.

Thorne’s goal came from an impressively direct run from Joe Colbeck who flushed in on the promise he showed and justifies now the backing he got from those who did not barrack. Colbeck got on the end of a nice bit of scrapping by Tom Penford in the midfield and ran down the throat of the Chesterfield back line drawing the left back before releasing the ball to Starosta who’s cross found Thorne who found the only goal of the game. Stuart McCall starts talking to Peter Thorne about a new contract this morning but looking at how the vistors failed to mount a serious response to the 34 year old striker’s goal in the first seventy minutes of the game the City gaffer would do well to look at making sure he has more strikers than he needs.

Willy Topp looks promising with his deft touch but he play is over engineered and he needs the pre-season to get to grips with the English game and his team mates. David Brown – who replaced Topp after an hour – is impossibly small and needs to learn what his skills are on a field. Twice he turned the Chesterfield back line and would have been away were it not for crude trips but both those times came when he had the ball fed into him to allow him to spin off defenders. We will not go anywhere good next season if we repeat the sight of Diddy David trying to out jump defenders.

Thorne, Topp and Brown though should all be in the squad for next season as McCall starts to look at contracts for next time. Kyle Nix impresses some but not all but as a convert I’m hoping that he can be tied down longer term and this writer’s appreciation of the skills of Tom Penford are well known but increasingly shared. Penford was edged out for the man of the match by Colbeck yesterday but the oft around Midfielder’s display deserved plaudits as he moved the ball well and anchored a midfield along with Nix. One worried that Chesterfield hardly pressed on the Bantams central area but in the spirit of only being able to beat the teams one is put up against Penford and Nix can be very pleased with their afternoon.

In many ways Penford plays the type of game that Paul Evans should be doing week in week out closing down men when needed and moving the ball on efficiently but as Penford plays solidly and without thrills Evans never settled into a groove of performance and just as missing Peter Thorne all season has hamstrung the Bantams so the inability to have Evans play as Evans can left a hole in the side. Penford filled that hole effectively yesterday and a midfield pairing of Tom and Lee Bullock is not unimpressive.

Unimpressive but having claimed a clean sheet were the old double act of David Wetherall and Mark Bower – they just about held out – and Scott Loach will be at St James’s next season making saves and having a questionable command of his box. It will be like Shay Given never went away.

Praise too as McCall starts to look at whom can be leveraged out of clubs for Ben Starosta who impressed in many ways yesterday and would be a cracking player for League Two next year should be he lifted from Bramall Lane. Paul Heckingbottom improved yesterday and looked good.

And looking good was the aim of the game with Chesterfield either not playing well or not allowed to play well the Bantams took plaudits and points and deservedly so despite a couple of raps on the door after seventy minutes which can be chalked off against Thorne’s controlled shot which should have had his second and David Brown’s spurning of a chance to give Colbeck a richly deserved goal.

Make Sure You Talk To The Referee

Omar Daley must have been mystified about his red card against Rotherham that saw him putting hands on the Referee following a clash with the home side’s defender. Of course Omar will know if he did kick out at the defender and of course he will know how deliberate that is but what will mystify the City winger is just how as the spotlight turns onto Respecting The Referee the man in the middle Mike Thorpe is allowed to wade in between him and a member of the opposition side and start physically pushing the two apart.

At Old Trafford Javier Mascherano is sent off for dissent which seems to consist of questioning a referee’s decision. Mascherano faces a five game ban for this “crime” if one could call a grown man talking to another in what no one has suggested is anything other than a civil tongue.

During his City Dean Windass was banned for five games for – as a Referee attests to – swearing at him in the car park and against Wrexham he was famously sent off for effing andjeffing at the man in black. Windass is out of line we are told – although I’m not sure about making rules to govern the language of players and think it has worrying overtones about the class of those allowed to play the game – but surely Mascherano is not unless we are in a situation where it has become impossible to even speak with a Referee during a game.

Is the Refereeing authority of a football game so weak – so feeble – that we cannot even allow a single question to be asked? Are they that incapable of justifying their decisions that they are to be shrouded totally from question in all circumstances?

Referees in March 2008 seem convinced that they should take the form of Headmasters with an iron rule of pupils they have no reason to answer to rather than facilitators of a game between adults. Rather than hiding from public comment why not give Referee’s the right – or perhaps the requirement – to talk in public about their decisions? Why not have referee’s reports posted online for paying supporters and players alike to get clarity on why decisions were made?

Create a culture of openness and the referee – stripped of their aloofness – might start to earn respect for honest endeavor rather than trying to create rules to enforce respect. Where in history has respect even been handed down by rule anyway?

Referees who want respect should earn it with honesty as everyone else has to and who knows with openness there may come a day where the men in the middle are able to say after a game that they have made a mistake or missed an incident rather than maintaining the current high handed approach to talking to the people who pay their wages.

And while we are in discussion on this subject should we as supporters not demand transparency from Referees. These guys are demanding respect but it is not two years since the biggest officials in Italian football were found to be on the take? Justice must not only be done but it must be seen to be done.

However we carry on down a route where the Referee is beyond question and above even talking to the players and if that is the case then he has no right putting hands on them as Thorpe did Daley. How can Referee’s – how can anyone – get respected when they will not talk to you but will push you around?

Soon to be someone else’s day

As he walked off the Millmoor pitch at the final whistle with away fans loudly chanting his name, David Wetherall could be forgiven if it began to hit home.

With a backdrop of appreciative supporters using the day to pay tribute to City’s retiring skipper, this derby draw may have all but ensured there will only be nine games left of his distinguished career. He applauded fans back while trooping off, visibly touched by the fantastic reception, but probably also feeling a tinge of sadness from knowing his days as leader on the pitch are almost over. Soon he’ll be helping shape City’s future in a different way as a member of the coaching team.

That the final furlong of Wetherall’s career is taking place with apparently little to play for is a source of much debate. No one would want to swap places with Rotherham at the moment, but it must be nice to be in a position to have 10 points deducted and still be in with a good shout of promotion. While the points penalty the Millers have suffered from returning into administration may have improved City’s remote play off hopes, there is little evidence to suggest the sort of run that could end in a top seven position is achievable from the current squad. The majority soon to be out of contract, the biggest remaining question is how big the summer rebuilding job will need to be.

On Saturday’s evidence City aren’t as far off as was feared in the wake of the previous week’s Mansfield debacle. Up against a decent outfit determined not to let off the field worries affect their game, the Bantams put in as good a 90-minute away performance as they have managed all season. Omar Daley was recalled to partner Barry Conlon, presumably with the view that two games in three days would be asking too much of the benched Peter Thorne. Tom Penford and Kyle Nix were also brought in and made a huge difference to a midfield which had been badly out fought against Mansfield. With Eddie Johnson enjoying one of his better days, City pressed from kick off and played some decent football.

They should have been in front during the first 45 minutes. From a dangerous free kick, Johnson was left with a free header but could only manage a tame effort which was comfortably saved. Soon after a scramble in the penalty area left Conlon one on one with Andy Warrington, yet incredibly he hit the ball straight at the Millers keeper with the goal gaping. Rotherham also had their chances with Chris O’Grady having a goal disallowed and a decent penalty shout turned away, but on possession and chances City should have gone in leading at the break.

Fortunately they put that right within three minutes of the restart. Joe Colbeck, once again in impressive form, charged at the full back before playing a ball into Penford, who cleverly returned it into the young winger’s path to fire home via the post. There have been calls for Stuart to start putting kids in the team with an eye for next season and seeing two of the more ‘mature’ youngsters combine brilliantly for the goal should act as inspiration to any young Bantams who get their opportunity before the season ends. City continued to attack with purpose and Nix missed a glorious chance to add a second. Daley’s run and low cross left the Australian-born winger with a seemingly empty net to slide the ball into, but somehow he only diverted it into Warrington’s arms.

Rotherham pressed, but City largely looked comfortable and it came as a surprise when O’Grady headed the equaliser from a free kick. It was a bad moment for Mark Bower, making his first start since before Christmas, who hesitated when it appeared he could have headed the ball clear before it reached O’Grady, though he might have expected Scott Loach to come out and catch it. It was the only blot of an otherwise solid return for the club’s longest serving player. Clearly it’s been a disappointing season for Bower, who lost his place due to poor form last November, but his days at Valley Parade are far from numbered and, with his senior partner hanging up the boots, it seems likely he will become a more regular part of next year’s backline.

The goal didn’t appear to upset City’s approach and Nix wasted another glorious chance, shooting over when cleverly put through. Then, with 20 minutes to go, the initiative was handed to Rotherham as City were reduced to ten men. Daley went in for a challenge with Graham Coughlan before appearing to kick out at the home defender. It was difficult to see from the away end, but the Jamaican also seemed to push the referee just before he was shown the red card and left the pitch to a mixture of chanting and boos from City fans. Daley had enjoyed a reasonably effective game back in the striker’s role, often stretching the home defence superbly by drifting out wide, but his actions left his team with little option but to hang on for a point.

It meant the outcome rested on City’s defence who worked hard in withstanding frequent home pressure. Loach was the busier keeper but only had a few comfortable saves and catches to make as the Millers were frustrated. Thorne replaced Conlon but the rest of the team were unable to support him adequately. The final whistle came as a relief.

A draw does little to help either team’s play off chances, even if City’s remain decidedly distant. On their day this team has shown it’s as good as most in this division, but stronger leadership and better consistency is required to get City truly among the front runners in 2008-09. As next season’s squad is built from retained players and new signings, it will need to include a replacement for the one player who has embodied both these qualities more than anyone in recent years.

Something which Wetherall will no doubt be influencing in his new role. Until then, he’ll be one player at least making the most of the nine remaining games. He’s being part of City’s backline for so long and we’ll miss him performing on the field. So to, I’m sure, will he.

The pressure cooker

It had been a dreadful first half performance, of that no one could argue.

Trailing 1-0, poor in possession, uncertain at the back and limited going forward, City didn’t appear to have the desire of a Mansfield team fighting for their lives. Perhaps most worrying, some players appeared to be hiding; giving the ball to others when they could have taken the initiative and hoping someone else would get City back in the game. Then just as the game moved into injury time Paul Heckingbottom fired over a free kick and Barry Conlon headed home the equaliser.

To the players it must have been a great relief; they’d failed to do themselves justice but could now put it right having got back level. It’s often said the best time to score is just before half time and how those visiting players’ fragile confidence must be rocking at seeing their good work undone. Roll on the second half, our players must have been thinking.

Then the half time whistle blew and boos rang out from the three home stands. Whatever psychological advantage City held was gone. Instead of going in on a high they were bluntly reminded of their failings. If Mansfield players had begun fearing the worst they were given a loud reminder of just how well they’d done. Instead of looking forward to coming out for the second half and putting right their wrongs, home players probably feared leaving the warmer confines of the dressing room. Soon after half time City fall behind and ultimately the game is lost.

We can criticise the players and consider it shameful they’re underperforming, but their League Two counterparts don’t have to face such a level of hostile abuse from their own crowd and it’s painfully obvious our players are, at best, average players for this level.

I wouldn’t disagree that the players deserved to be booed off at half time, but I don’t understand how anyone thinks it helps them. There was a lot wrong with City’s first half display and the players must have realised that, but there was no doubt Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs would be telling them so. We all wanted City to win but, while the players let the club down, wouldn’t warm applause and cries of “come on City” have being a better confidence boost as they trudged off for the interval, rather than loud boos ringing in their ears?

The booing culture is nothing new at Valley Parade of course and the dismal football we’ve largely endured in recent years has understandably resulted in low patience, but as City enjoy the biggest crowds in this division you wonder what sort of advantage it really gives us. It must be fantastic playing in front of a five figure crowd when they’re right behind you, but when things go wrong and the booing starts it must be very difficult. We can criticise the players and consider it shameful they’re underperforming, but their League Two counterparts don’t have to face such a level of hostile abuse from their own crowd and it’s painfully obvious our players are, at best, average players for this level.

Are our players scared to play at Valley Parade? Four defeats in the last five home games suggest that’s the case. During that same period there have been three wins from four on the road. Our midweek kick offs have seen some superb atmospheres but on Saturday afternoons the place can be too quiet with the opposition fans making all the noise. Just at the players are guilty of failing to set their own tempo, surely we supporters should be getting behind the players better?

When I look back on the home games this season the Peterborough win in September really sticks out. Not because Mark Bower’s second half header helped City climb to a season-best seventh position, but the fact the players were booed off at half time that afternoon. The score was 0-0 and, while Peterborough had dominated possession, they’d barely created a chance. I was stunned at the booing and looking at where Peterborough are now makes it even more incredible. Peterborough were a good side, but we weren’t playing that badly and went on to win the game. The reaction of the fans in booing the team off at the interval that day probably epitomises the pressure those wearing Claret and Amber have had to cope with all season.

But what’s the solution? Next season we’re dreaming of 20,000+ attendences, which some Premiership and Championship clubs can’t even manage. Yet we won’t be signing many players used to playing in front of such large crowds and we can only hope they can cope much better with the expectations and pressure than this season’s lot have managed.

I’d love to think that we fans could better our attitude and make the huge crowds more of an advantage, but the fall out and huge level of criticism over the last couple of days shows it’s unlikely. We now have a small percentage of fans who would actually be happy if Stuart was sacked tomorrow. That won’t happen and he will get the opportunity to build a better team for next season, but what happens if we then experience another slow start? The pressure and level of booing is probably only going to get worse. True it might be directed more at the management than the new players, but what will they think if they hear their manager, a supposed legend at this club, barracked by fans who claim to worship him?

In some ways it’s good there was little riding on the Mansfield defeat and I’d like to think such a reaction wouldn’t have occurred if City were in contention for promotion and struggling during a home game, though I’m not so sure.

For another year

Bradford City 1 Mansfield Town 2 – League Two

Mansfield Town’s players punched the air in delight after beating Bradford City 2-1 at Valley Parade. They out fought the Bantams – the second consecutive match at Valley Parade where the home side were found wanting for effort – and they deserved the win that moves them closer towards escape from the relegation zone of League Two.

I suspect that we will see the Stags at Valley Parade next season with the Bantams play off hopes rising and falling with the all too common away wins of this division. With ten games left the consensus has been reached that Stuart McCall’s side are gong nowhere. McCall seemed to have come to this conclusion some time ago and continues to experiment with players while the squad has a generally low level of engagement. Mansfield, like Stockport and Dagenham & Redbridge, wanted to win more because they needed to win more and so City rumble out the last third of the season in trying style.

For forty-five minutes the Bantams were lifeless – flaccid even – as a series of getting by performances saw little in the way of forward motion. Indeed from the first half only Joe Colbeck – reliable in his effort – and Barry Conlon could claim to be have been in first gear. Conlon went close to scoring with a dipping drive from outside the box and nodded his third goal from open play just before half time but by then City trailed to a goal by Nathan Arnold which took a large deflection from David Wetherall’s arms and represented the visitor’s old shot on target of the half assuming that the arms of Wetherall did not prevent it being blazed wide.

Such is the painfulness of defeat. Mansfield were worthy winners – they got a second though one time Nicky Law target Michael Boulding after half time following a Bantams rally – with Arnold impressive throughout but anything other than a first gear performance would have seen the Bantams win with some ease. The Stags managed two shots on target all game. They came for a point and ended up with three and are probably amazed at how they managed it considering that from the point of view of creative chance making rather than passion and effort they were bad.

Not that City were better but one got the feeling that City are multiples better than this performance it was Mansfield at full tilt. Indeed the whole of City’s season can be summed up in today’s performance by Paul Evans. Some people said nice things about BfB this week and included was a quote about Evans being the best player in League Two which I stick to and stand by. His can pass superbly, he has a great engine, he tackles, shoots, heads and he can bend a free kick to boot. He can do all these things but he does not.

Today he blasted the ball too far rather than playing simple passes, he had no coordination with Eddie Johnson his midfield partner and he did nothing other than his base role of protecting the back four. A very talented player doing very little with his talent with the challenge for Stuart McCall to make Evans play like Evans does when Evans plays well because application is all that is missing from this side and it is McCall’s job to add it.

McCall’s job was murmured on the way out of the ground and someone swore on their first born that the next manager would be better except of course they did not and all talk of McCall’s position should be given short shrift unless someone can come up with a statement as to why the club was improved by sacking any of the last four managers. For a change the handful murmuring against McCall were not the greatest abominations of football support today with the racist chanting from the Mansfield end taking that honour. One can only hope that Nathan Arnold heard it and gets on his way.

As for City changes are afoot and McCall is to make them. The likes of Alex Rhodes, Tom Penford, Eddie Johnson, Darren Williams and Evans all will be the subject of decisions on the futures soon and next season’s team will look different to this one. One hopes that with ten games to go next season things will not be – as they are now – over for another year

Start Making Sense

My Mum used to say to me that there was nothing worse than a bad loser and Stuart McCall proves her right.

Stuart McCall is a bad loser. He doesn’t get all childish though which is pretty much what Mrs Harris was on about but watching him react as City beat Chester 1-0 in some horrible conditions at The Deva Stadium you can see that the City boss does not want to get good at going home with no points.

He probably doesn’t want to get used to finding out that some morons (and I mean morons cause whatever it says next to the word moron in a dictionary it should not just say “person that wants your Legend manager sacked after five months for nothing”) are saying that he should be sacked. I’d love to say to everyone of those people that they should say the same to McCall’s face but I doubt they really care about City that much to back up their words with anything. I wouldn’t much care if those people took their £150 a year and did something else on a Saturday if that is what they call getting behind the boys.

There were not many to get behind the boys at Chester and it was not surprising considering the foul weather and some foul displays recently but those who did make up the City mob in this tiny crowd of a thousand and a half did us proud.

And so did the players.

Chester had lost seven home games on the bounce and Stuart saw this is a chance to bin the 451 formation we saw at Stockport on Saturday and go back for a 442. Joe Colbeck gets better and better on the right wing and the combination of Paul Evans and Eddie Johnson worked hard in the middle despite the sort of conditions that make football impossible. The wind took any ball over knee height and fired it around the grass that was skiddy and muddy. Kyle Nix controlled the ball well and that set the scene for the rest of the Bantams play. There was not a whole lot of football played but the best stuff came from the Bantams.

City took control of the game early on and a few times Peter Thorne was caught off side when a sharper eye on the defensive line could have had him adding to his goal tally. Barry Conlon never looks morelikely to score than Thorne but did eventually when Colbeck put the ball over to him for him to finish off well.

From then on City were defending but not defending much. Kevin Ellison looks like a player who deserves better than Chester and his chance five minutes from the end would have gone in if it were not for Scott Loach who was being watched by scouts from Liverpool FC tonight. Looks like we might need a new keeper next term.

Will we need new strikers? We all want Peter Thorne to stay and Barry has a lot of fans because he tries so hard. He could have had a second when he did some kind of windswept overhead kick that hit the bar but the one goal was enough to win.

And winning seemed good for Stuart. He punched the air with two fists and you could see his smile. Lets hope he never gets used to losing and lets hope that the proper Bradford City fans who think about the club rather than just like the sound of their own voices never get listened to when they talk such rubbish as they have this week.

Customer Disservice

I guess that it can be difficult to adjust to life in the fourth division when your team has had a brief spell, two seasons around the turn of the millennium, in the Premiership. The eight consecutive seasons spent in the top two divisions saw so many changes to Bradford City’s stadium in particular and professional football in general that for those who had become supporters only after the promotion of 1996 the surroundings of League Two must be quite a shock.

Some of us, of course, had spent most of our lives watching third and fourth division football at Valley Parade and at away grounds of similar standard. The 1985 fire may well have brought about the biggest structural changes to the old ground, but there have been plenty more since. When we had played for so very many years in a ground with only 4,000 wooden seats and plenty of vast open terracing, the development of an all-seater, 25,000 capacity stadium with modern facilities suggested to the old hands that football really was changing for the better.

For those of us who watched our football back in the sixties at decrepit grounds, where toilets were, shall we say, basic and corporate boxes were about as real as the Tardis, the changes throughout the eighties and nineties seemed to befit the new era. We wanted to be treated as ‘customers’, not just as turnstile fodder. We wanted to bring our children along, knowing that they would be safe and comfortable. The nostalgic days when the youngest spectators were lifted over the heads of the almost exclusively male adult fans, so that they could sit at the edge of the pitch and see what was going on, were dead long before Mr Justice Popplewell and Lord Taylor were publishing their reports into safety at football grounds.

Those of us who had been young supporters in the sixties and seventies had lived through the escalating violence at and around football. If we had thought so far ahead as to wonder whether we would allow our own children to come with us to games, we would surely have shuddered at the prospect of bringing them into such an atmosphere. Much as we wanted to encourage them to be the next generation of supporters for our local team, we could not have risked bringing them to Valley Parade or any other ground.

I hope my fellow-survivors of the fire will forgive me for saying that perhaps we were fortunate to be Bradford City supporters from the late eighties onwards. We had already paid in advance a very high price for the progress that came in the next twenty years and are still paying a rather different, purely financial price for the promotions of the nineties. Victories on the field were watched from ever-improving stands; from more and more seats; and even after three-course lunches from in-house caterers.

The outsider would probably argue that the lurch back to the bottom division was attributable to the way the club was managed after the Premiership years, to the previous chairman’s ‘six weeks of madness’, to the two spells in administration and, generally, to that familiar malaise of modern football, overspending. We deserved what we got and shouldn’t complain about watching fourth division football.

Most of us don’t complain, although we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t compare the facilities at Valley Parade with those at grounds we haven’t visited for a few years. Not all lower league grounds are still rooted in the 1980’s. Some clubs have excellent modern stadiums, even though their teams are playing in Leagues One and Two. Others have at least a partial excuse for poorer facilities, having just come up from The Conference and with very limited finances to develop their grounds.

But it’s not just about seats and prawn sandwiches. What has really changed for the better in professional football is the attitude towards spectators. Directors have realised that they have to run their clubs on commercial lines. They have to treat their supporters more as customers. Safety is still an issue, so visiting fans are kept apart from home supporters. Stewards are not there just to show people to the right seat. It isn’t quite like working in a theatre. But then the Romeo supporters at the Old Vic don’t hurl insults at the Juliet fans, do they?

Bradford City supporters should be the last people to argue that other clubs should spend more on improving their grounds. Those who live in glass stadiums, etc. But attitude costs very little. I was quite getting the hang of being a ‘customer’. Some of the grounds where I have been spending my money of late have not had the facilities I had been accustomed to. But the clubs in question usually had genuine explanations and almost always gave advance warning. If I hadn’t been prepared to risk the uncovered terracing at Accrington, I needn’t have gone. They told us in advance, our club printed that warning in the programme and I went with my eyes open.

Other clubs have given me a choice of standing in the open or sitting under cover. Macclesfield, for example, told us in advance that there would be a limited number of seats available, so we got there in good time to make sure we were not left out in the open. They realise that not all visiting fans want to stand outside. Some do, but we less young ones have become accustomed to covered seating. So, within their understandably limited resources, well done to Macclesfield for giving us a choice.

And so it was that my travels around the fourth division had persuaded me that even the lower league teams had accepted the need to look after the fans, as far as finances permitted, and that they didn’t assume we were all teenage hooligans. But all that confidence in the better, more customer-friendly game came to an abrupt end at Edgeley Park, the home of Stockport County.

I’d been there as an away fan not that long ago. Three years back, on an early season sunny Saturday, we had had the ‘Macclesfield’ choice, except that the open area was seating, because Stockport had spent some time in what was then called the First Division, where all-seater stadiums were compulsory. This time around it was early March and the weather forecast was for strong winds and driving rain. So, once again I wanted to make sure I got a seat in the covered area. There’s nothing quite as bad as sitting in the pouring rain. If you are uncovered, somehow it feels better to stand up and get wet.

What a disappointment, then, to discover that, contrary to previous recent experience and in the absence of any pre-match advice, we were not allowed into the covered seats. They were to be kept empty. There wasn’t even the old explanation about keeping the fans apart. As I said, three seasons back we could sit in there, with the home fans much further down the touchline and well away from the visitors. But this time those covered seats were just empty, as if to taunt those of the visiting fans who really would have liked the opportunity to sit under cover.

A few tried to shelter from the driving rain by walking to the corner nearest to the empty seats, where the stand provided some protection from the strong wind and rain. The reports of the stewards’ reaction to that harmless and understandable movement do not make happy reading in the context of customer care. The situation was exacerbated for me by the news from a friend that he had been to the same ground earlier in the season and seen visiting supporters, admittedly in much lower numbers, in those same empty seats.

I thought all of football had long since cottoned on to the notion that for every young lad who was prepared to stand in the pouring rain with his shirt off there were three or four couples who wanted to bring their children into a comfortable environment. It’s called customer choice and, while football cannot safely give the fullest range of such choice, in most cases it costs very little and in all cases it encourages the very supporters professional sport needs to attract.

At the start of the week when 700 Bradford City fans turned up at Edgeley Park their club had just won a Football League award for a revolutionary ticket pricing scheme aimed entirely at making football affordable in one of the best appointed grounds in the lower leagues. Maybe we have got too accustomed to safety, comfort and affordability, all in one package. I know that if I’d been seeking to make a good impression and achieve a higher income for Stockport County, I would have taken heed of that weather forecast and given the visiting fans the option of paying the same price the Stockport fans paid at Valley Parade to sit in covered seats. Maybe the Football League could think about how it wants its clubs to treat their fans and advise on minimum standards (finance permitting) of customer care.

The tiresome sound of a stick in a bucket

Nine years and change ago I started this here boyfrombrazil.co.uk website about a club that was aspiring to be in the Premiership. It was lead by a dogmatic, bluff chairman and had a team of exciting players under the eye of new, young manager Paul Jewell and while everything around the club is utterly different there is one constant in the fact that from that day to this there has been a rumbling underbelly of a concept that Bradford City would be improved by a new manager.

The history books of this club never include the talk against Paul Jewell – he is airbrushed to perfection – but at the time there were plenty of voices suggesting that if City wanted to be a serious contender for a Premiership club the season after the anticipated play-off failure of 1998/1999 then they would have to appoint a “proper” manager. During his time in the Premiership Jewell did not enjoy the universal support he is credited with now.

Chris Hutchings enjoyed no support and a change of manager from him to anyone would be an improvement except – of course – it was not and Jim Jefferies quickly had the same murmurings which became a cacophony and on and on through Nicky Law who must be sacked or we would be relegated but Bryan Robson got us relegated and on to Colin Todd who would take us down so had to go but of course we went down…

At the moment there are people talking about the qualities of Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs. People saying “I know he is a legend but…” and drifting off into some discussion of if the gaffer “knows what he is doing” as if football management were a map and a route could be planned through it.

There is a definition of insanity that has it that repeating the same action and expecting different results is the mark of that condition. Honestly – after trying a rookie, an experienced manager, a young guy who had done well in the lower leagues, an England captain, an jobbing football man – does anyone still believe that the solution to all City’s problems is in sacking the manager and appointing the best CV that comes along? That train of logic is so feeble as to question the capabilities of anyone who would suggest it.

Experience of following this club has told us that the next manager is never the answer.

Move back to the days of Paul Jewell and Chris Kamara and we see a club strong on infrastructure and leadership with continuity at the heart of it. This is not to suggest that Geoffrey Richmond had everything or anything right just that when he did things well the club did well and when he started to misstep badly the management changes helped not one jot.

City’s next manager after McCall will be no better. Jose Mourinho is not waiting to take over and if he was – as Avram Grant shows – management changes are the stuff of tweaks and not sea change.

All of which gives unnecessary oxygen to the idea that McCall is somehow an inferior manager to those around him in the division or other managers who currently have the job at 91 other clubs. He is young and learning and he makes mistakes but he also has triumphs. Criticism of the manager is plentiful but for every mistake there is a credit unsaid. Stuart McCall brought in Peter Thorne, Kyle Nix, Scott Loach just as much as he signed up Alex Rhodes.

For every curious set of displays by Paul Heckingbottom – he has struggled since signing full time – there is a success story like McCall’s handling of Joe Colbeck who is started to show real quality and consistency.

Likewise understanding the season was dead sometime ago McCall allows Rhodes the chance to show what he can do – not much in this writer’s opinion – as he looks to offer contracts out for next season. To sack a manager at this point is like sacking him for losing pre-season friendlies.

Sacking managers is just a bad idea – experience shows us that – sacking this manager goes past bordering on ludicrous and calling for him to be sacked is akin to vandalism of this football club.

As with Kevin Keegan at Newcastle it seems that being a legend is not what it used to be and Keegan and McCall get a couple more games before the firing squads are assembled. Legend is a fan applied title and the respect they given is the behest of supporters. What does it say about our supporters as some try chop away the legs of our “legend” as he takes his first steps in management?

What would it say about the supporters if we let the louder agitators in our community be heard louder than any other voice? This is especially the case when that voice makes all the sense of a stick being hammered around an empty bucket of swill and is just as sensible. A case could have been made for sacking some of the managers of the last nine years but the majority of dismissals are mistakes compounding mistakes.

All the voices who called for Nicky Law to be sacked never comment on Bryan Robson’s failure to turn the club around. The people who said Colin Todd should go do not accept the blame for the relegation to League Two.

Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs should be in charge at this club. End of story.

Back the ginger two – you bet I do!

Back in November 2003 I made the trip to the Britannia Stadium to watch City’s away game with Stoke City. Coming just after Nicky Law had been sacked and with Bryan Robson about to be confirmed new manager, it was an interesting period. Arriving late at the ground, I missed the teams been announced and only noticed, five minutes in, that Dean Windass wasn’t on the pitch. No sooner had I uttered “Where’s Deano?” when I spotted him. Not sat among the substitutes, but three rows in front of me in the away end.

Assuming he was injured, it wasn’t until reading media reports of the 1-0 defeat that I discovered Windass has been dropped because it was felt he had “lost his focus” in the build up. Whether leaving out our best striker was a wise choice, though the public way he sulked among the away fans suggested it may have been, it was a brave decision by the caretaker manager. Who was in charge that day? Wayne Jacobs.

Back in the present day, Jacobs is assistant to Stuart McCall in a disappointing season which hasn’t gone to plan. Four defeats in six have punctured the growing optimism that the previous good form had generated. Saturday’s defeat at Stockport ruefully showed that, while inconsistency might be why we’re only in the bottom half of the table, we’re equally not good enough to be in the top seven. The pre-season hopes of promotion are not going to materialise and we’ll be playing League Two football next year.

It’s disappointing of course. We had such high expectations last summer and our new management team did nothing but encourage us further in believing this could be our year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a slight feeling on unrest amongst fans about whether Stuart and Wayne are good enough to move this club back up the leagues. There were mutterings of discontent as we filed out of Edgeley Park following one of the most disappointing performances of the season. All over the various City-related websites there are fans informing others of supposed managerial shortcomings.

Looking at the wider picture, there are many reasons why Stuart and Wayne have not been able to deliver the promotion challenge widely expected. Having been Assistant Manager at Sheffield United for three seasons and enjoying a 20+ year playing career before that, Stuart had never found the time to become too acquainted with League Two. He largely signed players based on recommendations last summer and too many have not proved good enough to take City forward. There are a handful of players who should be kept on for next season, but no one is in any doubt changes will be made.

Then there was the start to the season, or more specifically the dreadful run of form in early autumn. It left City lying in 21st place, or fourth bottom of the entire professional football pyramid, at the beginning of November. To be in such a poor position with a third of the season gone left City playing constant catch up. Thankfully we recovered and have had some decent runs of form. There may have been some careless defeats recently, but if City had been higher up the league with a better chance of promotion would as many have occurred?

The pressure on the team has also been a higher than it should because of chasing the rest. When City drew at Wrexham in January there was a hefty amount of criticism that wouldn’t have occurred had we not been so far from the play offs. Every point counted but there’s been too much to ground to make up.

Even in this age of message board culture, there are very few supporters stating they believe Stuart should now be sacked. Bizarrely, Jacobs is coming in for criticism from some fans, though reasonable arguments for why City’s failings are the Assistant Manager’s fault have yet to be aired. These people are calling for a more experienced assistant to be brought in. This is Jacobs’ third season as an assistant and the previous two at Halifax were certainly eventful, what level of experience are these people suggesting is acceptable? Perhaps we should bring back the ‘experienced’ Frank Barlow or Bobby Davidson?

One saying in football is the managers’ most important signing is his assistant and it’s surely about who Stuart feels most comfortable working with which matters. Let’s remember the efforts, and fee, the club put in to bring Jacobs back last summer. The episode at the Britannia Stadium four and a half years ago also showed Jakes is anything but a soft touch.

For how disappointed we supporters feel about the way this season has gone, we can be confident Stuart and Wayne feel just as horrible. In some ways the fact Stuart is a City legend counts against him when you hear fans criticise. Some claim that any other manager would have been sacked last November, untrue in my opinion, and that Stuart is receiving special treatment. I’ve heard the phrase “he might be a legend, but…” many times at recent games.

In many ways the summer can’t come soon enough now. One year on and a stronger and wiser Stuart will already have a good idea of who he needs to bring to Valley Parade next season. If rumours are to be believed at least one player has been signed (will be interesting to see if he lines up against us for his current club later this season) and no doubt other negotiations are in the pipeline. The likely disappearance to League One of MK Dons, Darlington and Peterborough will leave a more level playing field in terms of finances and, with the potential of playing in front of 20,000 crowds this season, Valley Parade will be an attractive proposition for any of Stuart’s targets.

And then, as Stuart honestly admits, is the time to judge him. Clearly some of us are losing their faith that he can succeed, but the majority still retain their backing of Stuart. Sure, a lot of this belief is due to the fact Stuart is a legend, but what’s wrong with that? Who will ever forget Stuart the player and what he did at this club? He was, and still is, a hero to us.

Not just because of his ability and commitment on the field, but the fact he cared so passionately for this club. I can’t think of another person I’d want to succeed as City manager more than him and, while the first season hasn’t worked out as we’d all hoped, he certainly warrants more time to get it right.

And get it right I believe he will. For the first time in years, City are on a steady financial footing and can afford to plan for the future with ambition. This club is no longer sinking and, wherever we finish this season, there’s a good chance it’ll be the lowest we’ll fall. We need to build up a club from this stability and scrapping the foundations at the first sign of difficulty is unlikely to be the answer. There’s every reason to remain optimistic in believing this management team will lead us to success.

It’s understandable we all feel hurt and disappointed right now, but we can be confident Stuart and Wayne can also see the current problems and have the ability to put things right next season. Who knows, in the short term they may even banish a few current players to join us in the stands. “Sorry, someone’s sitting there Omar.”

Just not good enough

This weekend was the first anniversary of one of the more painful moments in Bradford City’s recent history. It was this time last year that nearly 4,000 of us travelled to the Galpharm Stadium for an incredibly important local derby against Huddersfield Town. With the battle against relegation becoming increasingly desperate, a good result was vital.

We were ‘rewarded’ with a feeble and pathetic performance, going down 2-0 to a mediocre Town side. Falling behind inside two minutes, there was just one woeful effort from Steven Schumacher which could be counted as a City shot on goal. The players showed a shocking lack of commitment and, considering it was a derby and we were fighting for our lives, it was unforgiveable.

12 months on and, while the bigger picture has undoubtedly got worse, thankfully we’ve not seen a performance as poor from City since. There will no chewing of the nails and worrying about relegation during the final 12 matches of this campaign, although Saturday’s defeat to Stockport has ensured we won’t be feeling any butterflies at the prospect of promotion either. And as the season drifts away it might be worth showing the current players the video nasty of that Town defeat to help them contemplate whether they’re currently doing enough to remain a City player beyond this summer.

If the players were to look in the mirror and ask that question following the Edgeley Park defeat, the majority of responses are unlikely to be positive. Yes Stockport showed they were a decent side and the conditions were difficult to play in; but with 700 or so City fans singing non-stop to spur you on, even through the half time break, and the knowledge that a new contract this summer is far from certain for many of them, you’d expect them to show a lot more than this. Stockport now lie sixth in the division, a place where we’d expect City to at least be this time next year. It was an opportunity for the players to demonstrate they are good enough to reach this standard by competing against a side with a decent chance of playing League One football next season. Sadly too many fell short.

Omar Daley and Kyle Nix were punished for bad performances the previous week by losing their spots to Eddie Johnson and Paul Evans as Stuart lined City up in the 4-5-1 formation which has caused heated debate amongst supporters this season. Whilst criticisms about its negativity may be valid, this tactic relies on runners from midfield supporting lone striker Peter Thorne. Unfortunately City failed to find any rhythm going forward and, considering we had five in midfield, it was concerning how easy Stockport passed the ball through us as they enjoyed territorial advantage.

Joe Colbeck and Alex Rhodes were too isolated, though at least Colbeck showed willingness to come central for the ball and worked hard defending. The same can’t be said of Rhodes, one player desperate for a new deal this summer. Rhodes recently returned to the side with two impressive performances against Notts County and Rotherham, but we need more than two good games followed by two below average efforts and Rhodes has a lot to do in the final weeks to convince he should be part of next season’s plans.

Stockport, with Shaleum Logan and Liam Dickinson looking lively, dominated the first half and only Scott Loach prevented them going in front with a string of impressive saves. Defensively City played reasonably well with Darren Williams, recalled after Ben Starosta was ruled out through illness, looking solid on his return. There were some impressive blocks and defensive headers which showed commitment was not a quality lacking at the back at least. A couple of wild shots from distance were the only attacking response from City and the half time whistle was a relief.

Many of City’s away games this season have featured dull first halves, so it wasn’t a complete surprise when we took the lead seven minutes into the second. A long ball forward was cleverly controlled by Thorne, who then did well to lay it into the path of Colbeck. The in-form winger charged into the area before been tripped by County keeper John Ruddy, leaving the referee with no choice but to award a penalty. With Barry Conlon on the bench and most City fans desperate for Thorne to take over duties, City’s top scorer looked nervous as he placed the ball on the spot. He duly despatched his 11th goal of the season to set up the platform for a fortuitous win.

Yet City still couldn’t get going and continued to invite County to apply heavy pressure. Loach made a string of impressive saves and Stuart brought on Daley for the ineffective Rhodes. The Jamaican has previously shown he’s a useful player to give the ball to when City are in a narrow winning position and the opposition are throwing players forward, unfortunately the defensive side to his game is still inadequate. Daley half-heartedly tracked back but failed to deny Logan space and his low cross was fired home by Anthony Dickinson.

Ten minutes later County edged in front through Michael Rose’s superb free kick from the edge of the box. It was rough on Loach, who seconds earlier had made his best save of the afternoon by denying Dickinson when through one-on-one, yet no more than his team mates deserved. Surely City now had to start forcing some pressure to get back into the game? Yet attacks in the final stages remained sporadic. Colbeck, who put in another decent performance, sent over a superb cross after Daley’s charged down shot had fallen to him and David Wetherall, thrown up front in desperation, had a free header and the whole goal to aim at. Incredibly he put it wide.

As we trooped out of the ground while listening to the odd City fan muttering that Stuart “hasn’t got a clue”, I couldn’t help but feel jealous of County. The final whistle was greeted with huge cheers from home fans and their players and manager Jim Gannon savoured the moment by staying on the pitch for a few minutes to soak up the applause of an important win. I wasn’t just envious that they can still dream of an extended end to the season, but of the spirit around the place which was evident. They had some decent players and their determination in battling on even after they had fallen behind impressed. They kept playing the right way and were ultimately rewarded. It’s a spirit which is sadly missing with City at the moment.

It’s easy and predictable to blame all of this on Stuart, but where’s the personal responsibility from those paid to play for Bradford City? The reality is that Stuart is stuck with this bunch of players until the summer, only then can he bring in better players. Sounding characteristically downbeat in defeat, an honest Stuart took responsibility for the tactical switch of bringing on Daley which failed to work. It’s another hard lesson to take on board; but if Stuart is going to make mistakes he’d be as well to do so now and learn from them for next season, which is surely the time to judge him. The manager left no doubt he will be making changes for next season and those players who wish to remain part of his plans will need to prove themselves in these final 12 games.

Not just prove they are committed, but that they have the ability to take this club forward. As Barry Conlon came on with ten minutes remaining to be met with a chorus of boos from some fans in the away end, there was a timely reminder that 100% commitment, woefully missing a year ago at the Galpharm, is only the minimum requirement. There are big question marks hanging over whether a number of current players are good enough to help City to a better shot at promotion next year, they’d be advised not to start dreaming of their summer holidays yet.

Seething and Learning

The question before us, Dear Reader, is one of motivation as Bradford City lost 2-0 at Valley Parade to Dag and Red after a week of two impressive wins seemed to set up the play off charge for the Bantams.

80 minutes gone when Ben Strevens finished off a tidy move for the visitors taking advantage of Stuart McCall’s laudable efforts to play a fullbackless 3412 to try get back on level terms those play off ambitions seemed lost. In fact they probably were before kick off but confidence after wins and good performances can be as much an enemy at the start of a football match as the habitual losing pattern McCall found his team in earlier in the season.

With two fine wins this week on the back of a run stretching back to Boxing Day which has seem good results and good performances Valley Parade turned up expecting and hands were sat on – football supporters have this way of flipping between an attitude of dark pessimism and massive expectation at the recording of two wins – but more crucially the equivalent performances were put in on the field.

Bradford City emerged from the dressing room in the mistaken believe that the win would flow in following previous results and that – in essence – they did not have to put in the effort to claim victory. This game was lost in the dressing room at 14:59.

Bill Shankly would tell all is Liverpool sides of the 1970s were first tasked in a season with avoiding relegation understanding that every game in football had to be won over the course of 90 minutes and that domination in football comes from an ability to not assume those victories against any opposition.

There is a line between confident and arrogant; between thinking and expecting; and City were too far the wrong side of that line. Alex Rhodes is an easy to pick out offender as he hung on the last man waiting for the perfect pass that would free him for attacking play rather than playing with the endeavour that saw him achieve in recent games. Omar Daley showed the same entirely forgetting that it was his harrying and chasing that brought about his goal against Rotherham last week. Joe Colbeck could hold his head up and say that he put in the same effort to try get this win as he did previous but no doubts anyone else could.

The same cannot be said for Dag & Red who at one point had Scott Griffiths block three shots in a minute – one with his face – and showed the sort of work rate that deserved a victory. It is simple to say but very true: They wanted it more.

All of which sounds damning and the margin of error today was slight – Barry Conlon’s missed penalty at 1-0 could have seen City back in the game and go on to win – but this ability to keep a team focused while winning is one of the most difficult things in football and something that even the best managers the game has seen have to learn and get wrong.

The balance McCall must build is on the one hand he must let confidence grow and let his players think they are winning games because of their excellence and on the other hand he must break them down and remind them that they cannot expect to beat anyone without putting in the effort. It is a conversation that goes “You are the best footballers in the world and can beat anyone but if you don’t run yourselves around then you can’t beat anyone” and if I knew a good way of putting that to a bunch of men then I would be doing it and not writing about doing it.

So McCall faces the inconstancy of over confidence and looks to learn what he can as he did that caused by the lack of confidence earlier in the season. One thing that his rookie year in League Two will have done is provide a lot of learning experiences for the ginger one but it should be noted at this point with a quarter of the season to go that League Two in 2007/2008 is freakish.

Today of the twelve games played five were home wins and five away victories which continues that balance as being seventeen more away wins than home wins this season. It is a season in which – for whatever reason – it is more common that the away side picks up the victory than the home side does. To put that in context in the 120 years of English League Football over all divisions ever run it has never been the case that a season has finished with more away wins than home. Never happened before.

City and McCall’s problems are far more common. Over confidence, players putting in 75% thinking they can stroll to wins, feet off the ground and people not thinking that winning game three on a run requires less effort than winning game one did. Something to work on before any side is able to mount a promotion campaign.

The Permanent Revolution

On Saturday Stuart McCall’s team will try record a third win on the bounce and continue a run of good form that started on Boxing Day and has given rise to some optimism at Valley Parade. The 14,000 odd at Valley Parade have reason to be happy with the way that the team is going and Julian Rhodes should be given an award for that.

Rhodes – along with Mark Lawn – will probably pick up the Football League award for the Perform Best Fan Marketing campaign after going down a division but doubling the attendance. They are planning on getting 20,000 into Valley Parade next season through similarly impressive decision making but even if they do one doubts it will make as much difference as dropping season ticket prices last season has.

Back in October, 2005 – Friday 7th to be exact – I wrote the article A rough sketch of a business plan for the future of Bradford City in which I said

A permanent revolution in pricing is needed. City need to set the cost of going to Valley Parade around the level of a trip to the cinema in order that is represent something approaching value. A cursory glance around VP will tell you that the £15 plus price has put off a generation of supporters with older faces outnumbering the young considerably.

After a half season of what in the history of modern football is by far the closest thing to the permanent revolution in pricing those words are starting to bring fruit.

While the atmosphere at Valley Parade has been up and down all season the weight of a support behind Stuart McCall’s side when they capture imagination is impressive. Not only impressive but it seems to be working. I have gone on record as saying I’d like to have the cacophony behind the Bantams at all times but we cannot have everything we want and until City fans get the unfettered support that really would be a permanent revolution then I’m happy that 14,000 people can chant “Barry, Barry, Barry” when the man trundles onto the field. It is the sort of support that builds atmosphere.

And atmosphere – for want of a better phrase – begets enjoyment and enjoyment brings return visits. Just like the kid-a-quid scheme of Geoffrey Richmond the work being put in now is building a generation of supporters for the future. One could only estimate how many City fans would be retained next season should prices have been returned to former levels for 2008/2009 but one can be sure that that number is greater than it would have been in the season following our relegation last term.

So Rhodes and Lawn push on with the two-for-one offer which hopes to bring 20,000 to Valley Parade for League Two football – or perhaps better fingers, toes, eyes crossed – and they deserve credit for not resting on their laurels.

More than credit though they deserve recognition that what Bradford City have done this season is special, should be copied and in a very significant way is giving football back to the supporters.

A shiny trophy is the least they deserve.

Exhilarating

Bradford’s exhilarating first half attacking display was enough to see off Rotherham in this Yorkshire derby clash at Valley Parade.

In one of the most entertaining game seen at home for some years, Rotherham proved to be more than capable opponents as they threatened regularly in the first half. But it was City who got the early breakthrough.

Omar Daley’s persistence in pressurizing Rotherham right back Dale Tonge paid off as he robbed him and found space down the left channel. With a clear break, Peter Thorne was screaming for it at the back stick, but Daley continued to dribble into the box, beat another man, before planting a strike into the bottom corner. It looked like Daley was going to overcook and waste the move, but his determination was rewarded with the opening goal.

Before we had time to recover from the jubilation of getting our noses in front, City doubled their lead with some incisive attacking play.

Joe Colbeck burst down the right and whipped in a fantastic cross which Alex Rhodes got on the end of and side footed in City’s second. Rhodes was alert to the situation as soon as Colbeck regained Bradford possession and sprinted into the box to make sure he got there to finish off the move.

At 2-0, all seemed well, but Rotherham had always threatened, and were always going to score in this game. Early on one of their front men hit the inside of the post before the ball somehow bounced out past the back of Scott Loach and miraculously out for a goal kick.

And it was no surprise when they got back into the game on the half hour, with a long ball played up to Taylor, who controlled well in the box, and slipped the ball under Loach to fire up the contest again.

With the half drawing to a close, City brilliantly regained their two goal cushion. Joe Colbeck was once again the architect, whipping in a superb looping cross which Lee Bullock headed home for his first goal for the club.

And Bradford came out in the second half with a good attitude – to protect the lead and hit Rotherham on the break once they came out to try and come back into the game. And the players seemed to possess a steely determination to not relinquish the lead, and for the most part were quite comfortable.

This determination was opitimised by Colbeck, who seemed to have endless energy, and tracked back to do his defensive work admirably. In fact it was the best game I have ever seen Colbeck play – he produced quality when it mattered, and battled it out until the final whistle. I have been one of his fiercest critics every since he made his first team debut at the club – but this type of performance on a consistent basis is sure to win me over for good.

The second half was a lot less exciting. Rotherham continued to threaten, but never looked overly confident of completing a miraculous turnaround. The onloan Moncur produced a particularly good display and showed he has an eye for a good long accurate pass to feet. Wetherall coped with absolutely everything aerially, as ever.

But inevitably, as with is to often with City these days, the Millers scored a late goal with five minutes remaining which ensured a very nervy finish to the game. Those nerves would have been avoided had the in-form Peter Thorne stuck away the most simple of chances.

Colbeck had beaten the last line of defense and rolled a fantastic ball square across the byline that landed at the feet of Thorne. From 4 yards out, the veteran hitman blasted over when it looked harder to miss than score.

But Thorne’s blushes and miss did not prove to be critical – as the City defense held firm for the full four minutes of injury time – which I have no idea how the officials came to decide on that number of minutes.

This victory was a real triumph. We had beaten one of the best teams in the division, and furthermore we had done it in style. With the new season ticket offer being rolled out, if any further proof was needed that Stuart McCall’s team are headed in the right direction, tonight was the night.

We may have missed the playoff boat now (the optimists among us still believe) , but this display really showed what we are capable of when we get out act together. We have proved we can get decent results away from home – and next season home displays like this will surely give us enough points to mount a serious promotion challenge next season.

More revs on the road

Not for the first time since its redevelopment, it would appear the better moments of a City season are taking place away from Valley Parade.

While the two recent last gasp defeats to Bury and Rochdale empathically demonstrated that the traditional home woes are far from resolved, away from home it’s been a different story during the last five months. Although suffering a poor start to the season on the road, since the cruel last gasp defeat at Morecambe during the middle of October only one home team’s supporters, Peterborough, have been able to celebrate maximum points when Bradford City are in town.

There are no obvious reasons why City are finding the consistency on their travels that is lacking at home. The team for Saturday, while altered with TJ Moncur making his debut in place of the injured Matt Clarke and Joe Colbeck in for Kyle Nix, wasn’t any different to what Stuart McCall would have picked for a home match. City play in a similar manner of knocking the ball on the ground and, frustratingly, long that little bit too often. Performances aren’t particularly better and first half’s have been largely non-events, with chances and flowing football at a premium.

City created the three best chances during the first period at Meadow Lane with Willy Topp (twice) and Eddie Johnson going close, but County forced a lot of pressure through aerial bombardment and good wing play which tested the defence. City’s passing was often ineffective and, while Topp had a disappointing game suggesting he may not yet be suited to away games, you can only despair for him as long balls are sent in his direction which just isn’t his game to make something of.

During home games we often only back the team when they’re performing well, away from home the backing was there despite the average performance.

As the whistle was blown on an incident-less half one of the reasons for why City may be performing better away from home became clear. Any one of the other 940 visiting supporters will no doubt agree; this sort of first half showing would have been met with a chorus of boos had it occurred at Valley Parade. There probably isn’t a club in the country who wouldn’t say their supporters get behind the team better in away games, but the more positive mentality of fans at Meadow Lane compared to those around me last Saturday was a refreshing change.

Two minutes into the game a chorus of ‘Stuart, Stuart’ was sung. It isn’t that we don’t sing Stuart’s name during home games, but it’s usually only after City have taken the lead in a match and this is the difference. During home games we often only back the team when they’re performing well, away from home the backing was there despite the average performance.

That support made a notable difference in the second half at Meadow Lane. County came out with their tails up and Scott Loach made a superb save to keep the scores level. The pressure was building but, rather than complain, the level of chanting in our end increased. You could see the impact it had on the players, who began to plan better and attack with purpose. It therefore was a surprise when Ryan Jarvis suddenly put County in front following a mistake by the other impressive Moncur.

Did the booing start? The positive support continued while, on the touchline, Stuart made an inspired tactical switch by bringing on Alex Rhodes for Topp and moving Omar Daley up front with Peter Thorne. Rhodes suffered a bad injury before Christmas and has since found his path to the first team blocked by in-form players, so the winger was keen to make up for lost time and began to stretch County and charge at the fullback. The tide was turning.

Within four minutes of going behind City were level, once again through Throne. Ironically it was Moncur, with a long pass, who set up the chance. Thorne beautifully controlled the ball before unleashing a fierce drive into the bottom corner of the goal. That’s eight goals in ten games for Thorne. Like his predecessor of the number 10 shirt, Thorne’s goals have been occurring more at home than away; but give him a decent chance and the odds are the in-form striker will take it. At this level Thorne, now free from those niggling injuries, is a class act. His deal expires in the summer and hopefully talks will soon be held regarding a new one, before somebody else snaps him up.

Soon after Thorne’s effort, City were celebrating again as Colbeck latched onto a loose ball rolling across the penalty area and expertly fired it home, though this was only half the story of his contribution. A few seconds earlier a City corner had sailed over everyone and was heading to the far corner where the County full back had time to clear, but Colbeck’s quick thinking in closing him down forced a weak clearance to fall straight to Daley. The Jamaican sprayed a great ball over to Rhodes, who charged to the byline before been tackled, forcing the ball into Colbeck’s path.

This was Colbeck’s fourth career goal for City and it’s notable they have all come away from Valley Parade. During home games Colbeck is often a victim of crowd abuse which notably gets to him, but some of his away performances have been brilliant and he was probably City’s man of the match at Meadow Lane.

With City now in front, it was the home player’s whose heads were dropping. There were no chants from the County fans willing their team onto a fight back, showing our problems at Valley Parade are far from unique, and a third quickly followed after Daley played Rhodes through to notch his first City goal with a low finish.

There could have been more; Daley’s superb curling shot from distance was tipped wide by Russell Hoult and Colbeck superbly won possession and laid on a chance for Thorne, only for Hoult to just reach the ball first. Loach was also forced into another spectacular late double save and it was nice, after the previous two games, for there to be no late drama going against City. By the end City were well in control and special mentions must be made for Eddie Johnson and Lee Bullock, who both did really well in winning the midfield battle and setting up chances, and David Wetherall who was back on form.

Just like Nicky Law and Colin Todd before him, it appears as though Stuart is getting an improvement from City on their travels before getting the home form right. With two games at Valley Parade this coming week, the hope is this win will be the perfect platform which City can build on. Neither Rotherham or Dagenham are going to be pushovers, but the aim has to be for City to be sitting in the top half of the table by 5pm Saturday.

There are no guarantees the backing from fans will be positive if things start off badly, so the players need to demonstrate they have the mental ability to handle the pressure of playing for the best supported club in the division and carry on where they left off at Meadow Lane.

City seem able to through the gears and rev it up on the road, let’s hope the engine’s still purring when it’s back at home.

The worst move for Wetherall

I’ll admit it. When David Wetherall signed for Paul Jewell’s Bradford City in 1999 for £1.5m I was dead against it.

I wanted Darren Moore at the heart of my Bantams Premiership back four and thought that Wetherall was too slight a guy for the job of trying to keep Bradford City in the top flight. Not only that – I thought – but he was too slight a man and paled next to the leadership of Stuart McCall or the increasing feisty influence of Dean Windass.

Wetherall was not the man.

I was wrong – obviously – and on the day that David decides that at the end of the season he will hang up his boots it is worth reflecting on his time at City.

His first season – playing an unbeatable every minute of the 1999/2000 Premiership season – was famed for culminating in the headed goal against Liverpool that kept the Bantams up. The next day Julian Rhodes was holding court in a restaurant describing Wetherall as the reason that City stayed up and it was hard to argue that thought his honest endeavour and not unskilful defending he had move into the pantheon of players.

Wetherall was missing for much of the season we were relegated and struggled with injuries for years. He could have left the club for Southampton, Manchester City or Coventry but stayed loan to the club that showed little loyalty to him. He blasted the club after he was made redundant in 2001’s administration and took the players on strike rather than let them risk injury in a friendly over at Hull City which could have cost careers considering the precarious position we were in at the time.

As much as any incident in his career this was Wetherall’s steel showing through. No endless love for the Bantams gripped Wetherall’s heart but rather a calculation of the effort that went into saving the club – twice – which he would not turn his back on.

He then turned his hand – to management on two occasion’s caretaking after the sackings of Nicky Law and of Colin Todd the latter of which resulted in relegation showing the biggest problem for Wetherall the manager was replacing Wetherall the player. A problem not lost on Stuart McCall.

McCall invites Wetherall to join the coaching staff – Wetherall’s contract allows him the job until 2010 – and rightly so. His calm defending and his attitude to the game are perfect.

They would have been perfect for any club. Indeed was one recalls the great times and great performances of David Wetherall – and while both may wane of late they are more than just memories – one is forced to wonder how much the man himself regrets coming to Valley Parade back in June 1999.

In many ways after the first season it could not have gone much worse for the man who has been City skipper for years. He has suffered three relegations and two administrations – hardly the route he planned for his career following the ill advised exit from Elland Road.

Wetherall wears such pains well. Any plaudits that come his way are deserved.

Who to blame?

Like 13,197 other City fans I left Valley Parade in a bad mood on Saturday. I spent the journey back to the car complaining with my friend Steve about certain aspects of City’s display and our mutterings were in unison over the tactical changes which appeared to work against the team. “That’s the play offs ruled out,” I hastily concluded, thinking back to only a couple of hours ago where, walking from the pub down Manningham Lane to the ground we half-joked about going to the Mexican restaurant we always pass to celebrate after we got back from Wembley in May, having witnessed City go up. How stupid did we now feel even to kid about it?

We listened to Stuart McCall’s interview on the radio as we drove back, faintly satisfied, at least, to hear that Billy Topp had been taken off due to flagging fitness. I wanted Stuart to be asked why he took off Peter Thorne, our best player, and replaced him with the lightweight and ineffective David Brown, who barely touched the ball. Or why, despite playing below standards and suffering some utterly abysmal abuse from so-called supporters, Omar Daley was hauled off when he at least looked as though he could do something, which couldn’t be said of Kyle Nix on the opposite side. The calm and honest words of Stuart at least made me feel better and, while I wasn’t impressed with his changes, I felt confident they were mistakes the manager will learn from going forward.

So gradually I calmed down, watched a bit of the Man U v Arsenal game with a beer at home. Seeing the own goal again on The Championship the following morning was difficult viewing but, sharing opinions with other City fans I bumped into that day calmed me down further and, while I was still in a bad mood back at work Monday morning, I began to look forward to the trip to Notts County on Saturday which I hope can only be better.

I appreciate it’s not the same for everyone and that anger over the two recent performances is still high, but I’ve found some of the opinions posted on various City-related websites difficult to read calmly. It appears we’re back to the blame game, where some folk seem determined to pick on players and declare everything the club is doing is wrong. Just over a week ago we were excitedly talking up the play offs with our chances looking increasingly better, now we’re back to describing the season as dreadful.

There are the usual targets for criticism when it all goes wrong. When Wayne Jacobs returned to the club during the summer I remember thinking he might be the easy target for some. 12 years service as a player, but he was never universally popular. Now a very slim minority have decided the last two defeats are entirely down to our assistant manager. When I read these views I struggle to find the reasons for why it’s Jacobs fault, probably because those making such comments don’t know either.

Then there’s our training which is prehistoric, dated and nothing like as good as Rochdale’s, a small insignificant club we should be thrashing. I’m not sure if the people criticising City’s training methods have actually witnessed them to know they are bad as they make out, and I’m even less certain they will have seen Rochdale’s to compare.

Of course it’s down to Stuart’s failure to pick certain players which is to blame. Have a quick scan through our reserves team, choose a couple of names who are been ‘disgracefully’ ignored, Alex Rhodes and, of course, Luke Medley on this occasion, and tell the world they should be playing. It doesn’t matter that the players keeping them out of the side have recently gone on a six match unbeaten run – that was two weeks ago, why haven’t they been sacked yet?!

Last but not least, after every player, member of management team and coaching method has been blamed; let’s have a go at the Chairmen for not backing the manager and hoarding all the cash. What a joke of a football club we really are, from top to bottom.

Among the message board comments and views added below T&A website stories, there is a lot of sense spoken. It’s just unfortunate that a lot of it is diluted by the strange and nonsense views of others. They who should loudest are usually heard, but that doesn’t mean their views make any sense.

The reality of the situation is that, after showing some real promise in recent weeks, we’ve suffered a set back. There are things that need to be improved about the team clearly; the first half against Rochdale was embarrassingly one-sided. Yet after grabbing an underserved equaliser the team improved considerably in the second. For all the feelings of disgust we all had about the performance Saturday night, we nearly won the game. When Peter Thorne cracked the outside of the post with that long range effort with five minutes to go it wasn’t only nearly a winner for us, with the beautiful way Barry Conlon back-heeled the ball into Joe Colbeck’s path and marvellous through ball to set up Thorne’s volley, we were agonisingly close to witnessing one of the best Valley Parade goals seen in years. Rochdale won it through our mistake, but for how bad that left us feeling we could easily have been celebrating a win.

And now, rather than carve the team up and start everything again, we face three presentable-looking games in a week where a decent points haul is achievable. Stuart will have seen a lot of things he didn’t like during the performance and certain players have some making up to do, but while changes will be made the progress from the team since the turn of the year should not be forgotten.

The players and management made mistakes on Saturday, but anyone among the 13,198 City fans that witnessed them who says they have never made mistakes in their career and life is lying. The key is to accept and learn from mistakes, so that you move on and develop. No football manager gets their tactics correct all the time. We, as fans, now need to forgive and hope Stuart never forgets.

As for our own contribution, well it was hardly great was it? 10 minutes to go, an enthralling end to end game that is clearly a battle; where are we making noise and backing the players? We’re sat glumly in our seats groaning everytime something goes wrong and hammering on individuals’ mistakes. We have the biggest crowds in the division, but where’s the advantage we give to the team from it?

But we move on, get over these defeats and back the players for the next three important games. We probably won’t win them all and we almost definitely won’t make a late play off surge now, but there has been some progress made this season which we all hope will be more visible next season.

Me and Steve might not get chance to enjoy that Mexican after Wembley, but we might just go for it anyway on the journey back from Wycombe May 3. If you can see the positives and don’t believe everything should be considered a failure just because we’re unlikely to bounce straight back up this season, I invite you to join us for a Corona or five. The rest may as well get off home and inflict their usual moaning all over our City cyber world.

A Series of Own Goals

It was a nothing bit of play on the Rochdale left wing but probably it was relief for the visitors who has been under the cosh for the opening fifteen minutes of their visit to Valley Parade and as they wandered forward with the ball one doubts they expected much.

When Adam Le Fondre placed a long range shot past Scott Loach in the third minute of injury time to give Rochdale a 2-1 victory Stuart McCall must have looked at his Bradford City team and thought that rather than being beaten by a good display by the side from Spotland the Bantams had beaten themselves.

Give credit to Keith Hill’s side they put up a good away display at Valley Parade but even as Le Fondre wheeled away in celebration the visitors must have been pinching themselves that they had not so much robbed the points and been allowed to pick them up so unguarded were they.

For most things that should have been good about the Bantams was not. Most things that a team needs to do to take advantage of the typical home game the Bantams were off the mark on.

So when the ball came towards the right hand side it was a bit curious when Ben Starosta seemed panicky but in front of him he could probably see the bald figure of Lee Thorpe rushing forward and were Starosta the type who made a mental note of these things he might wonder why Rochdale players outnumbered Bradford City players in the crucial area of the field.

This was a defeat of self inflicted wounds. The Bantams had enough of the ball in the first twenty minutes to have created the chance to win this game but rather than building those chances into the kind of opportunities that have been winning games in recent months the ball was rushed, hurried, snatched towards goal too soon.

Instead of assurance at the back the Bantams slipped into a habit of assumption. Instead of working at winning the ball back to often were players looking at team mates and waiting for possession to be returned to them.

No where was this more prevalent than in the midfield of Eddie Johnson and Lee Bullock who should have been the fulcrum but turned themselves into spectators.

Starosta probably wondered where Lee Bullock was and why he was not tracking Thorpe back and he is right to do so. Thorpe and Bullock are no threat at all. Thorpe on his own charging towards the penalty area is cause for concern as the ball is motivated in from the left.

Both are able players but as the Bantams enjoyed the best of the opening exchange Bullock took it as his role to be moving in between Peter Thorne and Willy Topp – both of whom performed well – and adding to an attack that in the end would need more ball and not more men. Eddie Johnson, on the other hand, works hard but played badly failing to take up positions, failing to use the ball well when he had it, failing to win the ball back. As a central midfielder he made a substandard drifting forward.

So once again Stuart McCall’s City were left lacking a Stuart McCall to put the foot in, to stay back, to protect the back four and to be able to use the ball. I’m told by many and would judge by body size that Tom Penford can not do this role yet watching him last week against Bury and comparing his willingness to hold and his ability to play the ball simply I’m amazed he was excluded for the honest endeavour but little else of Johnson.

I know too that Paul Evans can play this role. I know Craig Bentham can. I know Stuart McCall knows how important it is because he played the position for twenty years.

Scott Loach probably shouted something to Matthew Clarke as the not at all threatening ball came in low from the left hand side of the box but whatever it was Clarke didn’t hear it or he misunderstood it because as the keeper – impressive thus far in his stay at Valley Parade – too up a position to take the weakly moving ball Clarke made a sudden, jerking movement back towards his own goal and in the yards in front of the penalty spot his leg made a connection with the ball.

When Rochdale scored a fortuitous first via a Matthew Clarke own goal this became more of a problem as Bullock and Johnson abandoned all sense of getting goal side of the ball in search of a equaliser which eventually came through Peter Thorne following a deflection and while McCall tried to solve the problems at half time he failed and so did City.

Problems were compounded when – as City lacked attacking threats – a series of curious substitutions hamstrung the Bantams. Omar Daley and Willy Topp provided an attacking thrust to the side and while both could have mistakes pointed out to them City looked much less likely to score in their absence.

Should that be true of Topp and Daley then it is triply so for Thorne who was replaced at exactly the wrong time by David Brown who’s inability to hold the ball caused a pinging back and put the Bantams on the back foot. Thorne’s volley that faded wide of the post could have got the win but in the last ten minutes after the 34 year old strikers leaving the field.

Slowly the ball spun away from Loach who was left flat footed and to the disbelief of all it began to creep towards the goal. So slowly it moved. So slowly.

De-toothed in the last time minutes that would define City’s attempts at a promotion push the win became a defeat and now City look to getting points in an effort to make sure that the end of the season is not in any way troubling.

McCall on the other hand is left looking at his team and wondering how to maintain the kind of momentum that saw us unbeaten for so long this year. His team today resembles the one Chris Kamara left Paul Jewell. It is a mish-mash and not a unit. One wonders how the players still on salaries from higher divisions are viewed in the dressing room as the formation of the team changes. One wonders who the players look to on the field for inspiration.

The ball in the back of the goal a noise came from the visiting end of the ground as they reacted to seeing their players celebrating the goal or perhaps they noticed the looks between Clarke and Loach and the way David Wetherall tried to gee them up following the error. Loach had his say and Clarke accepted the blame as well he might because it seemed that ostensibly it was entirely his fault.

McCall needs a McCall. Every team needs a McCall but Stuart McCall’s Bradford City team needs one and one would expect the man himself to be able to see that. One hopes he can and certainly when he comments after this defeat about his players that “(Those players) already here have to show me they are good enough if they want to stay” then he throws down a gauntlet to the squad to get into the team and make positions their own.

Constancy of selection is important to Bradford City but more so the team needs players ready to take responsibly and on Saturday that was lacking in key areas.

Matthew Clarke, who’s inclusion the Bradford City team had done so much to turn the side from habitual losers into a team harbouring play off aspirations which had all but vanished with his lunge, put his hands on his knees and caught a breath knowing the scope and scale of his mistake. Out of mind of his contribution and hearing the low mumblings of discontent around him.

A Tale Of Two Halves

City were made to pay for a lethargic second half performance by an Andy Bishop double, that inflicted our first defeat of 2008.

All seemed well in the first period, especially when Peter Thorne nodded home a brilliant left side cross from Tom Penford to give City the lead on 23.

But, in truth , somewhat surprisingly , Bury quite often looked like a threat – even more so than when they played City in their home game a couple of weeks ago. This threat was highlighted in the first half, when Wetherall was forced to head against his own post in the early exchanges, as Bury forced a few corners and put the City defense under some pressure which we never looked too convincing dealing with.

When Thorne opened the scoring, the odds would seem to favour City finishing the game with the 3 points and climbing into the top half of the table in good form.

However, then came the first of three key incidents that shaped this game. On the stroke of halftime, City attacked down the right with a through ball that looked certain to catch Bury out, after some smart play by Omar Daley. The through ball played looked to have City with 4 attackers facing just two Bury defenders, and with all the City attackers appearing yards onside (as was clearly viewable from all sections of the Midland Road stand) – the linesman flagged, seemingly for offside.

This decision incensed the home fans and particularly Stuart McCall, who was enraged at this appalling decision. A goal at that key point would have surely settled this contest, and a chorus of boo’s rang out around Valley Parade, not due to the performance, but more due to the poor officiating once again.

But as the home fans tucked into their half time Steak and Kidney, there weren’t many who would have predicted an unlikely second half comeback from lowly Bury.

City came out in the second half without any conviction whatsoever. Stuart’s halftime team talk seemed to have a completely adverse affect on the attitude of the players in this game. Omar Daley was hardly in the match, Eddie Johnson did not stamp his authority on the game whatsoever, and Willy Topp flattered to deceive before being substituted for last weeks match winner David Brown (who shocked the home fans with his infantile like appearance!) on 65.

Early in the second half David Wetherall was adjudged to have pulled Andy Bishop to the ground in the area and the referee swiftly pointed to the spot. The decision seemed slightly harsh and soft – but Wetherall was guilty of the exact same offense at the end of last year away at Mansfield, when the referee also pointed to the spot. On both occasions, Wetherall definitely did tug the shirt of the opposition player, and you would think that a player of David’s experience would have understood that you simply cannot get away with that in the modern game – even in League Two. Any contact in the penalty area or shirt tugging almost always results in a penalty.

Bishop stepped up and smashed in the equalizer from the spot.

And so the game continued, with City never really testing the Bury defense. Any saves were having to be made at the other end, from the on-loan Scott Loach in the City goal.

Then came another shocking decision. Statrosa was adjusted to have fouled just on the edge of our own area – a decision which beggared belief. What followed was a moment of class from stiker Andy Bishop – who is, by far, the best player I have seen play in this league. A smart free kick routine ended with Bishop curling the ball into the top corner which left City distraught and Bury heading across the M62 with all three points.

This was an expected defeat which left a sour taste in the mouth after the horrendous officiating display. But nevertheless, the players need to take responsibility for this one. The second half display was truly appalling and certainly was not one worthy of picking up three points. Having been on such a good run recently, why was the desire not there to finish off one of the bottom teams in the league at home?

Next week Rochdale will certainly not be any easier an opponent, but lets hope our game gets raised accordingly and keep the belief alive. The playoffs are not out of reach, but any more reversals like this at home will see us finish in mid table obscurity come May.

My Dyson Exposed Me To Blockheads

Amazing Paranoid Fantasy Column: #3

During half time of the England 2 Switzerland 1 game last night my Dyson coughed and spluttered and broken and this was a very bad thing.

I need my Dyson, my blender, my copy of The Magnetic Fields’ Distortion to blank out the sound of punditry and as I dug into the easily disassembled – and fortunately re-assembled – workings of Sir James‘s first brainchild I was forced to listen to the ramblings of a BBC studio.

No let me clarify this point. I’m not anti-opinion per se – I have no axe to grind in general terms with anyone who puts up new thought to be debated and applaud them for doing it – but the three not at all wise men of English football coverage – Alan Hansen, Alan Shearer and Ian Wright – make me wonder why anyone pays them for their comments and considering the licence fee means that I pay them for their comments I’ve got a right to wonder.

It is not Shearer’s statements of the bleeding obvious or Hansen’s dour delivery – the man could tell you that Scarlett Johansson was keen, eager even, to meet you for a “casual thing” and you would be depressed by his monotones – although neither fill me with joy but it is the blindingly inappropriate presence of Wright in recent years that tipped me over and set me to hoovering.

It seems to strike no one as wrong that Wright – a man with little or no TV craft – is allowed to pass comment on the performance of the Davids Beckham and Bentley regardless of the fact that when they perform they keep his son out of the team.

It has all the sophistication and balance of one of those mascot children at Valley Parade who when asked the score of the impending game state that it will probably be fourteen nil to City with Omar Daley getting nine of them. Only on television and passed off as intelligent, balanced comment.

On a more serious note whatever Wright’s railing against Sven Goran Eriksson did to effect the hearts and minds of a public who now – on seeing his superb performance with Manchester City are really rather wishing we had not allowed how much sex the gaffer has to effect his fitness for England’s top job – seemed to come entirely from his frustrations that eager young Shaun could never get in the side over the most gifted footballer of his generation and was then ignored again when some bloke from Leeds who offered similar skills got the nod. Worth thinking about if you believe that ridding ourselves of Sven in exchange for Steve is why we are sitting on our hands next summer.

It is doublethink and it is uncommented on perhaps because it is nothing next to the confusing ramblings of Mark Lawrenson who last night waxed lyrical about David Bentley’s ability to play a pass of vintage Beckham ability. Beckham vintage 2007 that it. Oh those halcyon days when Beckham could float the ball around the field all of – what is it, eleven weeks ago?

I mused on how the coverage of the game assumed the Swiss were walkovers while gleefully pointing out that we had not qualified and they had and did rather well in the last World Cup. As the hoover spluttered back to life my mind crystallised the thought that Orwell would be amazed by his foresight should he have watched coverage of an England match and that Dyson could have the strapline “Our vacuum cleaners drown out even the biggest blockheads.

Fancy a Flutter with Stuart and Wayne?

It is now nearly four years since Bradford City went into administration for the second time in two years. Who could forget the turbulent times facing our football club during the summer of 2004? Supporters rallied round to help raise £250,000 to save the club by eating maggots, participating in sponsored walks, hopping between football grounds and children wearing their City shirts with pride at school. This excellent work was, in part, co-ordinated by Bradford City Supporters’ Trust (BCST).

BCST is still going strong after being formed in 2002 following our first period in administration. Indeed, they have recently been awarded a grant of £5,000 from the Co-operative Group following a successful application with Ian Ormondroyd’s Football in the Community.

This money is to be split equally in support of two projects: the annual Community Week held at Bradford City in May and the work of the Positive Lifestyle Centre at Valley Parade. This tremendous effort by BCST indicates that they still have a strong desire to help support both Bradford City and raise the club’s profile within the district of Bradford, despite the fact that City is supposedly now in a stable condition financially following Mark Lawn’s injection of money into the football club.

If you would like to do your bit to support the club, why not come to the John Hendrie suite at Valley Parade on Friday 15th February at 19:00 where BCST has organised a racing night with City Gent editor Mike Harrison will be presenting eight video races with eight horses in each race on which you can place your bets. This is going to be a great, fun evening, hosted by BBC Radio Leeds match commentator Derm Tanner, with guest appearances from Stuart McCall, Wayne Jacobs, John Hendrie, Ces Podd, Dean Richards and Des Hamilton. Admission is £5.

Remember it wasn’t too long ago that a collective effort by supporters helped to save our beloved football club. Although the club is now in a lot healthier position, there is still plenty of progress to make so why not have a flutter at the racing night? You never know, you might enjoy yourself and you might win a bob or two!

Avoiding the Brown Stuff

On occasions this season, it’s been difficult not to arrogantly believe that we’re better than this.

I refer not only to playing in the basic surroundings of opponents like Macclesfield Town, who’s tiny and unremarkable stadium is a different league to our Valley Parade home, but of the quality and manner of football we play. It’s not that we don’t produce pleasing on-the-eye passing that belongs in a higher level than League Two, the first half of the midweek Shrewsbury home win a perfect illustration, but on other occasions we can be reduced to playing the limited kick and rush style that England’s bottom professional division is reputed for.

Saturday’s fortuitous victory over Macclesfield was certainly a performance more about hope than confidence, haste rather than control, fluster rather than fluency. It‘s very easy to be critical of so many elements of the performance and most things Stuart will have learned from a cold February afternoon will probably be negatives.

Had City lost, and they could so easily have, the journey home for us 900 away fans would have been largely spent complaining and telling each other how the season is over. Yet for all the criticism City’s performance might justifiably warrant, the fact is we won. As the final whistle blew the players were warmly applauded from the pitch and I couldn’t help but have a mischievous grin thinking of how the victory had been earned.

How many times in recent years, particularly last season, have away teams rolled up to Valley Parade and undeservedly won? As our season went so badly wrong this time last year, I would often read through the Monday’s Telegraph and Argus match reports and look at the stats. City would invariably have had more shots and corners and I knew we had deserved to win, but the only statistic that would alter the league table was the final score. We can acknowledge some familiarity in thinking how Macclesfield fans would have gone home cursing their side’s luck and bemoaning the lack of firepower.

On Saturday that lack of firepower could be squarely blamed on former City striker Michael Symes. The on-loan Shrewsbury man would have been keen to show us the talent we rarely glimpsed during his two year Valley Parade stay, yet the hat trick of chances he squandered in quick succession midway through the second half could all be characterised by the weakness of the attempt on goal. Each time Symes had the time and space to do better and each time Scott Loach was able to make a comfortable save. When Symes burst through again and sent over a low cross that should have been a tap in, he misjudged the situation and the ball rolled harmlessly across the goal.

But if one keeper’s bad mistake handed the win on a plate, it was the other keeper who sealed it. Loach earned many admirers following his midweek debut but his performance at Moss Rose was something else.

All this came during a strong period of home dominance following an uninspiring first 60 minutes from both sides. City never seemed to be able to get going and force a spell of pressure, other than the occasional flurry of corners. Macclesfield played a high defensive line which largely succeeded in stopping City getting forward. When we would win the ball and attack, too often we would lose the ball just inside the Macclesfield half.

Part of this was down to the unnecessary level of urgency when we have possession which is regularly seen away from home. It’s as if we must be on the attack instantly as long passes are launched forward hopefully or balls released for our wingers that they have little chance of reaching. We usually seem to be able to play in a much calmer way at home and you wish City would try to execute their tempo on the match. Surely it’s better for us to be passing the ball around in our own half, rather than letting the opposition do so?

A lack of a target man also didn’t help. We badly needed the ball to stick when our forwards received it but this is less Peter Thorne’s and certainly Willy Topp’s game. The latter produced some good touches and looked a threat, but ultimately we’ll need more from him as he learns the English game. In hindsight Barry Conlon might have been a better option to start the game.

Without a target man, we could still have succeeded with wingers stretching the game and running at the home defenders so they drop back. Joe Colbeck’s display, easily his worst in recent weeks, ensured that the suspended Omar Daley was missed. It’s not Kyle Nix’s game to beat opposition full backs for pace and it all meant that City’s attacks were sporadic and limited. Topp had the best chance when he forced a mistake and had a run on goal, only to be crudely chopped down on the edge of the area. A couple of headers from corners were cleared off the line but the first two thirds of the game had 0-0 written all over it.

Cue Macclesfield’s sudden onslaught which left City hanging on and pushing their luck. Remarkably, in the middle of this heavy period of pressure it was the Bantams who scored. Again it was a long hopeful ball up the field which substitute David Brown, on for Topp, willingly chased. Macclesfield keeper Jonny Brain ran out to clear but complexly missed the ball, leaving a grateful Brown to fire it into the open net. It might not quite have been the way he dreamt it last night, but new signing Brown could not have asked for a better start from his first six minutes of professional football. The young striker impressed with his pace and was a nuisance to the opposition. He’s certainly a small lad and won’t win many headers; watching him play alongside fellow substitute Conlon looked the ultimate little and large partnership.

But if one keeper’s bad mistake handed the win on a plate, it was the other keeper who sealed it. Loach earned many admirers following his midweek debut but his performance at Moss Rose was something else. Macclesfield continue to apply heavy pressure after the goal and Matt Clarke, who’s not looked as solid the last four games, got away with a bad miskick in front of goal. From another attack Loach produced a superb reaction block from a low shot only for Macclesfield to be given the ultimate opportunity to score after Colbeck fouled Danny Thomas in the area as the ball ran loose.

Loach might have only been playing his fifth ever senior game, but he’d been here before saving a penalty at Macclesfield while on loan at Morecambe. He made history repeat itself by getting down low to push away Canadian midfielder Terry Dunfield’s penalty and, even more impressively, reacted to block Neil Ashton’s powerful rebound attempt. Cue wild celebrations on the terrace behind and City players rushing over to congratulate their new team mate. A week ago none of us had heard of Loach, but after another good save we were chanting his name.

Those saves spelled the end to heavy pressure and, despite one late scare where City scrambled the ball off the line, we held out with David Wetherall once again outstanding. Conlon and Colbeck, who curiously improved after giving away the penalty, both went close to adding a second. A lucky win no doubt, which ended with Loach hugging fans at the front of the stand, but it was a game that City would probably have lost earlier in the season and this alone can be judged as progress.

Suddenly the table makes far better reading; City are 10 points from the play offs and still have a couple of games in hand over most teams, there was even an optimistic chant about City going up this season. Recent form has been excellent and, with four of the next five games at home, sandwiched between a trip to struggling Notts County, there’s a great opportunity to push on.

So I now look forward to reading Monday’s Telegraph and Argus match report and noting that the shot count will not be in our favour, but that the scoreline appearing at the top of the page is all that matters. We’ll need to be better than our efforts at Moss Rose but, if we’re celebrating any achievements come May, it’s winning games like this which will have provided the platform.

Finger off the Pulse

There are several things I’m looking forward to about my trip to Moss Rose for the Macclesfield game on Saturday. A visit to a ground I’ve never been before, the hope that the pub where we enjoy our pre-match pint will be as good as the one at Accrington, hopefully City will play well and grab three much-needed points and, while the away stand is apparently roofless leaving me anxious about the weather, there’s a chance to have a good sing song.

Another part I’m looking forward to is not following the match from home like I had to for the Wrexham game. Of course it’s not the same when you’re not there, but it can be deeply frustrating relying on the media to let you know what’s happening. Listening on the radio, every opposition attack sounds dangerous and the roar when the home side score reaches you before the words of the commentator describing the bad news. Even when we score, excitedly jumping around the room isn’t the same on your own.

And it’s the negative approach of one local radio station that especially leaves me wishing I could afford every away trip. It’s only over the last couple of years that I’ve bothered to tune into The Pulse for commentaries as Radio Leeds, with three teams to cover, can’t be relied on to feature every City game. The first time I listened to their commentary team, Tim Thornton and Ian Ormondroyd, I thought City must be playing abysmally given how much they slated the performance. I was therefore very confused when the draw received a more favourable write up in media reports elsewhere.

Since then I’ve listened to commentaries on a handful of occasions and learned that Tim and Stix’s negative attitude is no better than some of our more miserable fans watching in the stands. Everything we do is rubbish, our tactics are clueless and our players are hopeless. Switch between coverage on The Pulse and Radio Leeds and you would think you’re listening to a different game.

Last season Tim Thornton’s post match interview with Colin Todd after the Cheltenham home draw was considered so unfair on the under pressure City manager that it led to him boycotting radio interviews for a month and BCST’s Phill Marshall taking the unusual step of blasting Thornton in the matchday programme. I had the misfortune of listening to The Pulse’s commentary of Todd’s last game at Gillingham, where they complained and ripped apart everything City did. If Julian Rhodes had also been listening, it was no wonder he sacked Todd the following Monday.

A year on and, despite a new man being in the hot seat, the familiar moans and criticisms fill the airwaves. I understand Thornton is a passionate City fan of many years so fair to play to him, he is certainly no worse than some of the resident moaners who attend Valley Parade every fortnight singling out home players for abuse. For Ormondroyd I find his opinions slightly embarrassing. He is a supposed to be a good friend of Stuart McCall’s, so to hear him slate the City manager’s tactics is disappointing. Of course he’s paid to give his views and no one expects him to say false nice things, but surely a more balanced perspective isn’t too much to ask for?

It’s also worth noting that Ormondroyd’s day job is Football in the Community Officer for City. I’m not sure if he is directly paid by City or the organisation for this work, but it seems wrong to have a person who represents Bradford City in the community to be publicly questioning another most weekends. I wonder what Stuart would think if he knew what Ormondroyd was saying behind his back?

I’ve heard some City fans stick up for The Pulse commentary team because they “tell it like it really is”. Their outlook may appeal to a section of supporters unhappy about the way this season has gone, but it’s contradictory to that of a side unbeaten in five.

The draw at Wrexham produced some very mixed reactions from fans and those particularly upset with the result kept using the argument “they are bottom of the league.” I think it would be a useful exercise to revisit this draw at the end of February and see how City and Wrexham have done since then. That ‘disgraceful’ draw may look like a decent result, or it may not, but with Wrexham improving it was never going to be the easy game some imagined.

Personally, if City dismiss Stuart anytime soon I would like to see Ormondroyd given the manager’s job so that I can take text The Pulse to slate his tactics. Until then I’ll continue to attend as many City away games as possible, where I can make my own mind up at to whether things are as bad as The Pulse would have us believe.

Probably Something Like Big Willy Style

He is a stocky character – this Barry Conlon – and his has broad shoulders.

Those broad shoulders carried a lot of weight after his signing from Mansfield at the start of this City’s supposed promotion season and when his “fight in an empty room” style of bustling forward play lacked it’s foil in the then injured Peter Thorne he needed those shoulders to carry the criticism he was loaded with.

He worked hard – this Barry Conlon – after missing a penalty on his debut and his reward is ours. His name is sung loud after he – this Barry Conlon – shoulders the responsibility of a penalty that made sure a game that should have been sure five minutes from time.

This Barry Conlon chips low his penalty given after Darren Kempson had stopped David Wetherall scoring and the win is as sealed as it is deserved. This Barry Conlon hears his name sung loud.

That Conlon’s spot kick had to make the game sure was a criminal offence of a decision by the latest in a long line of appalling officials with a linesman allowing a goal for Marc Pugh after his headed was rather randomly powered into the hands of City’s latest on loan goalkeeper Scott Loach but Paul Heckingbottom. The ball was nothing less than a foot on the right side of the line and moving forward.

That the appalling and newest “worst decision ever” was made pulled the blinkers over an excellent save from Loach who has joined from Watford to replace QPR bound Donovan Ricketts. Loach performed well in goal for sure but his mouth open fearless style that saw the 19 year old shouting the sort of instructions that mad Gary Walsh a better keeper than Matt Clarke was more noticeable. He signed as many autographs as he could after the game too. Good kid.

Ricketts is no doubt getting his feet under the table in West London – good luck and thanks for the memories to him – although had he been at Valley Parade he might have wondered how the Referee could see troublesome striker Guy Madjo “make a gesture” to the home supporters and not be called to book on it. Ricketts might have wondered why he was sent off for such an offence at Southend and Madjo was not. He might wonder if Madjo had the same provocation. He might wonder many things and he will probably hope that at his new club the rules are applied more even handily.

In the end that is all I, dear reader, want from officials. Evenhandedness.

Peter Thorne played for QPR – they paid £2,990,000 for for him than they have Ricketts – and it is not hard to see why people thought highly of the striker who from the tail end of his career looks like he should have made more of himself. Sharp, he was, as he finished off a deflection following a pacey run up the field from Omar Daley as City pushed out from a corner which came too soon after a former Bantam Dave Hibbert’s header that put the visitors back into the game after half time.

Hibbert took his header well looping it past Loach but Matthew Clarke will hope to make his aerial clearances more decisive in future. City’s upturn in performances – all but undefeated since Christmas – coincides with Clarke displacing Mark Bower in the side. In the last month City have grown in confidence and now the side can assimilate changes and maintain direction. Tom Penford arrived in the place of Paul Evans in McCall’s holding role and performed well all evening.

City’s upturn also has much to do with Stuart McCall getting the best out of Omar Daley who has moved from central figure to a more suitability less involved player in the Bantams side. McCall has given Daley a remit of using pace and sticking to the flank and then the solo Reggae boy cut past the left back and across the box firing a shot that took a huge deflection to go in from it struck one that Omar is play finisher and not playmaker.

Playmaker.

Let the word float in the air. Think about what it means. Savour it like wine around the mouth. The playmaker.

Seven minutes in and it is the strength of the man, the turn that left three – four maybe – blue shirted defenders chasing shadows. Willy Topp skipped to the box and found Kyle Nix to allow the Aussie to finish superbly and while Nix deserves every plaudit thrown his way it was Topp’s show.

This Willy Topp – who played 55 minutes before being replaced by Barry Conlon as the Chilean builds match fitness – has a clutch of attributes that picked him out at this level. His touch is superb giving him time and space which he uses well so far and his strength is impressive. This Willy Topp knows how to use his body to keep the ball and when he has it he knows what to do with the ball.

And he wants to make play and he has he scope to be the most exciting player at Valley Parade since Benito Carbone and he can go far – further probably than Bradford City and he can hear his name sung loud as long as he follows the example of the balding Irishman with the broad shoulders.

Where The Embarrassment Lies

Garth Crooks was getting excited. He cheered as Havant & Waterlooville scored their second goal at Anfield after dubbed Liverpool’s concession of a single goal at home to the non-leaguers as acutely embarrassing. It is comments like this that show why in the case of football management those who can do and those who can’t become pundits.

Havant & Waterlooville’s success – limited by the fact that in the end they did get beaten – is being celebrated as a glorification of the FA Cup and the way it levels the mighty and the minnows and of course in headline terms that is a nice way of selling the story but there was no magic about the non-leaguer’s performance at the Premiership side and very little to do with the big hearts and bold spirits that are being talked about.

In fact Havant & Waterlooville were – on the whole – a triumph of head over heart and of smart over spirit. They arrived at Anfield with a determination to stick to a well drilled game plan and rather than roaring into the game as mice against lions they took the approach that Liverpool were no different a proposition than Braintree Town or Bromley and should be met in the same way.

Back fours flat and well marshalled they went out at Anfield. Fullbacks supported by wingers coming back and midfielders protecting the back four they got the reward for an understanding that while they could do little to match the skill and fitness of Liverpool the majority of the battle of a football match is in approach and team discipline.

Who knows how manager Shaun Gale stopped his players from being phased but somehow he put them on the pitch drilled into a formation and with the belief that while Liverpool might – and did – possess the fitness and odd bit of skill to beat them if they could match the twice in three years European Champions League finalists for effort and keep to the tactics then they would make an account of themselves.

This is far from embarrassing for Liverpool – at least in the sense that Crooks intended – and such comments come from a gross misunderstanding of the nature of the game. The belief that being a “better” player in a “better” team means that you can utterly nullify the opposition is country to the experience of watching football week in week out and far too close to the increasing Pro Evo/FIFA inspired view of football that seems to have gripped terraces to the detriment of the game.

Teams that keep to a disciplined formation and have self belief will always play well and likewise very skilful footballers will – when regiments are forgotten – look disjointed and ramblous. Be it Havant & Waterlooville or Manchester United the embarrassing thing for Liverpool – if such a term should exist in top class football – is that the non-league team were for much of the game more committed to a tactic and an ethic of belief than the Premiership side.

Season buried?

The wife is unlikely to agree, but I can be something of a romantic. Nothing to do with possessing the thoughtfulness to buy flowers or watch Hugh Grant films without complaining; but some events do tug at the heart strings, such as the re-crowning of Kevin Keegan as King of the Toon Army.

Keegan’s return to manage Newcastle United is a great story that may inject some much needed interest into an increasingly tedious Premier League. He brings back memories of a more golden period of English football in the 1990s where his attacking principles, as enthralling to watch as they were naive, almost saw Newcastle crowned Champions of England. Compared to the style of football some of the top teams now bore us with, take a bow Chelsea and Liverpool, it’s no wonder this attack-minded philosopher’s return has prompted jubilant scenes on Tyneside.

At City, we can understand how those Newcastle United fans are feeling after our own hero returned to Valley Parade. The fact that Stuart McCall’s appointment came during the summer meant our celebrations were more muted, but no less ecstatic. Compared to the situation a year ago at the end of Colin Todd’s reign, we fans are largely united in our support of Stuart and any future success will taste all the sweeter with him leading us.

Whatever the outcome of this season, and on the evidence at Gigg Lane on Tuesday it’s less likely to feature a trip to Wembley, there will be some success to build on. The level of support this season has been astounding at times. The season ticket initiative has seen huge crowds at every home game and we are on course for our highest season average attendance since the days when the term ‘administration’ held little meaning. Away from home the support has been equally notable and on a cold, wet January night we took 1,056 supporters to Bury – who would have expected that a year ago?

The disappointment of two points dropped meant that, not for the first time, the atmosphere in the away end was the highlight of the evening.

All of which is leading to a special atmosphere around the club and, while the support at Gigg Lane was outstanding, it’s become the norm on the road this season as we fans travel in large numbers to back our team. On the field, things are also slowly improving and there are signs that things might belatedly be coming together.

Not the team assembled can quite match the support just yet. There were some positives to take from the draw with Bury; we’ve heard plenty recently about the need to become a more physical side and Bury, enjoying the rejuvenation that sacking a manager can bring, offered a stern test. In difficult conditions tackles were flying in and long balls booted into our box. City struggled at times to clear some dangerous deliveries, but largely stood strong with David Wetherall particularly outstanding.

Going forward we didn’t quite enjoy the same fluidity as the previous two games but, in Omar Daley and Joe Colbeck, possess a pair of in-form wingers. The ink drying on a newly signed contract, this was the sort of evening where Daley might previously have disappeared. Not everything he tried came off, as ever, and his defensive abilities still need some work, but his pace and dribbling skills frightened the home defence and he was always the likeliest City player to break the deadlock. Keegan would surely approve.

Up front Barry Conlon toiled hard again and was wholly effective at holding up the ball. He was exactly the type of player needed in such a physical encounter and his goal, widely appreciated by his growing fan club, appeared to lead us on the path to victory. City were far from their best though and Bury came back strongly. It was unfortunate that Matt Clarke’s error allowed the home side back into it, though it’s testament to the outstanding recent form of our centre back that his mistake came as such a shock.

It was left to City to find the initiative again and, while our attacks often had more purpose than the struggling Shakers, the familiar frustrations of poor use of the ball were evident again. If only our players would be prepared to take their time and work the ball around, instead of feeling the need to punt the ball into the box following a few passes. The quality we do possess was evidenced by Kyle Nix’s brilliantly taken goal 12 minutes from time, superbly set up by Daley, but Bury deserved the draw which was earned by Dale Stephen’s screamer three minutes from time.

It was frustrating that City couldn’t hang on and we were never able to gain a grip in the centre of the park. Fingers are firmly pointed at Paul Evans as the Welsh midfielder is suffering a disappointing run of form.

My memories of Evans’ first spell at City are of a player who would have one brilliant game followed by a succession of average performances. Once again we’re looking for consistency from the 33-year-old. We know he is capable of delivering a match winning pass, but we also need to him to play the simple ball when appropriate and stamp his authority on a game. Eddie Johnson’s presence on the bench, returning from a long lay off, was welcome. Stuart must be considering his inclusion into the first eleven at Evans’ expense. Alongside Evans, Lee Bullock quietly impresses. Hopefully, with Hartlepool announcing he can leave, a deal can be agreed for a player out of contract in the summer.

The disappointment of two points dropped meant that, not for the first time, the atmosphere in the away end was the highlight of the evening. The last time we played at Gigg lane, on route to the Premiership in 1999, we had more fans than Bury and it wasn’t far off again last night. The sheer numbers and passionate singing around me left a tingle down my spine. The standard of football isn’t the best, but our stature and size has made our first season back in League Two a memorable one.

At the time Keegan was on the brink of bringing the title to Tyneside before imploding in 1996, City were embarking on a superb late run of form that lifted us from mid table to promotion via Wembley. Newcastle won’t go 12 points clear this season, but history could yet repeat itself for City. For that to happen the passion and enthusiasm City fans are displaying home and away will play its part.

A quote from a Newcastle supporter during the Tyneside hysteria last week should also ring true for City fans, “The louder we scream, the faster we’ll go.” Us City fans are certainly screaming loudly on our tour of League Two and, despite dropping points at Bury, now’s not the time to quieten. Our noise cannot be matched in this division and may yet inspire an unlikely play off push between now and May.

And I would just love it if that happened, love it.

Pegged Back At Bury

Despite leading twice, City were pegged back by a late equaliser that denied them a third straight win.

City started the game much the brighter, forcing numerous early corners and creating a couple of half chances. Barry Conlon had an excellent first half – really rising to the challenge of this game in testing conditions. He held the ball up brilliantly and was a real presence up front.

Neither team really stamped their authority on the game until a key moment late in the first half. Omar Daley picked up possession on the right, darted forward, and whipped in an extremely dangerous ball, which looked destined to pick out Peter Thorne at the far post – but it was stopped from reaching its target by a blatant handball by a Bury defender inside the penalty area.

The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. There seemed to be some debate about who was going to take the penalty, with Thorne and Conlon both eyeing it up. But it was Conlon who stepped up and drilled the ball straight down the middle, and whilst the keeper got a touch with his legs, it wasn’t enough to stop it nesting into the back of the net, much to the jubilation of the City fans behind the goal.

The second half got underway with City looking comfortable. The pressure was very much on Bury to come out and start showing the form that they did last week in beating Championship side Norwich.

There were no real signs of being City’s lead being under threat, until a shocking mistake by Matt Clarke. He released a kamikaze backpass that immediately forced Wetherall and himself to backtrack rapidly, but Bury striker Andy Bishop capitalized by outpacing them both and slotting the ball past Donavan Ricketts. This type of mistake from Clarke was so uncharacteristic of his recent City form, and it was clear to see he was devastated in the immediate aftermath of Bury scoring.

Unfortunately for Clarke, that goal really changed the game, as City went from being comfortable, to having to really pull out all the stops in an effort to grab the three points.

The game faded away midway through the second half. Both teams showed no real signs of having enough to grab a late winner.

But on 80 minutes, City broke with Colbeck feeding Daley, who seemed to hesitate, before releasing a brilliant pass that picked out substitute Kyle Nix. Nix took a touch, which seemed to have taken him too far wide, but he unleashed a deadly low strike with his left foot which he planted at the keepers far post. Celebrations in the away end were euphoric as it seemed certain that we could hang on to pick up a precious three points.

A special mention needs to be made for Omar Daley’s contribution tonight. He was my man of the match with his assists for both goals and whilst he wasn’t always at his scintillating best, he backtracked and helped out the defense on numerous occasions. His workrate was a breath of fresh air. There was one instance (halfway through the second half) where he had just ran half the pitch during a run on the attack on the left wing, and when Bury broke on the counter attack, he cover the full length of the pitch to come back to help Heckingbottom defensively. Maybe with his new contract, this is hopefully a sign of things to come?

But an away victory tonight wasn’t to be. City never looked convincing or confident enough in the last 10 minutes to see the game through. And when 18 year old midfielder Dale Stephens unleashed a stunning strike from 25 yards that gave Ricketts no chance, the game seemed destined to finish as a draw.

And in typical City fashion, after Bury equalized, we had to endure more nervy defending and it even looked like Bury could snatch a late winner, as they finished the stronger.

But the referee blew his whistle with honours even. And once again, City succumbed to a late goal. Its seems to be a trend this season that the team don’t quite have enough conviction to “ shut up shop” with 10, 15 or even 20 minutes to go. We can think back to Barnet away (conceded a late winner that cost us a point) , Morecambe away ( a point thrown away, that should have been 3) , MK Dons away ( 2 late goals conceded) , Stockport at home ( late goal that cost us a win). This type of play is especially hard to accept given the number of experienced campaigners in the team – but I don’t necessarily think they are 100% to blame. It is more of a team mentality , that we sit back and invite pressure, and away from home teams come at us, and we don’t know how to cope without panicking.

We have a good enough footbaling side in this division to have to talent to play the ball to feet to get ourselves out of trouble when we are under pressure. But too often this season, we have resorted to playing it “long”, Wimbledon style. And that doesn’t just apply to defending, we often attack in the same way. And how often to these high balls up the pitch result in success? Hardly ever. Yet, the management team insist on playing this way. Most probably because they think that it could be the only way that we can play to get out of this division.

But I personally, wholeheartedly disagree. We have enough players that are decent with ball to feet, running a passing game, that would surely be more effective, as playing flowing football generates confidence and allows us to confidently pass our selves out of trouble when pressure mounts on us – especially away from home.

Changes In Institutional Memory

The optimistic nature of the football fan should never be forgotten and – in the case of Stuart McCall as he ends his first six months in charge at Bradford City – is a powerful agent in making the more important shifts in the culture that when crafted can generate success.

The recently deceased John Harvey Jones specialised in turning around companies but even he would be impressed with the way McCall’s men have gone from eight defects to play off dreams since Boxing Day.

It is business turn around at the speed of light and it works. Most clubs in football struggle not for the want of ability but rather organisation and motivation. A bit of positive thinking can do a power of good.

Take Newcastle United as a prime example. The Magpies are blessed with players as talented as any in the Premier League – Owen, Duff, Smith, Martins and Geremi would not be out of place in any squad in the top flight – but they flounder because as ill fated Big Sam found they are gripped by a culture of defeat.

Indeed so gripped is St James Park in the notion that the club will always under achieve that they see no irony in describing the big chair there as a poison chalice. Recast as ‘a job at a team that could compete’ – and there are precious few of those – then the role may be more appealing.

Appealing or not the problem Sam was beaten by at Newcastle and McCall addresses at City is one of institutional memory. Put simply just as a player learns patterns to be repeated in muscle memory so a club retains habits good and – in the majority of cases – bad.

At Bradford City since the fall from the Premier League defeat has become the default setting and while players, managers, chairmen and almost everything has changed the institutional memory clings onto the negative culture.

Ask one of the tea bar staff if City will win and they will say probably not. When new people come into the club at any level they are tacitly invited to join this way of thinking.

Shifting from negative to something more bright is difficult but not impossible and Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes are attempting manfully. The most significant move was bringing in The Legend McCall whose presence has been the most significant change in the culture of the club in recent years. His presence alone has stopped much of the negative thinking.

Indeed should Newcastle United be looking for a sign of the effects of having an Alan Shearer or a Kevin Keegan at the helm then they would do well to look at Valley Parade and McCall. It is not just the patience with which the Bantams fans stuck with the manager through that long period of defeats but the ease in which the mood of the ground was turned around.

Put simply with the club’s legend at the helm the supporters want to believe. That is a significant shift at Valley Parade.

Persistent change in institutional memory – to get a club to forget the (footballing) past and look forward – is a more difficult thing to master but Stuart is doing better than anyone at City in the last ten years. He is the shock to the system to change the memory.

Bantams In Partnerships

Football teams play good football when partnerships work together. Teams may be made up of individuals but that’s no good if they’re not working together. In the past we have had the SAS (Sutton and Shearer), Cole and Yorke, Bruce and Pallister etc. These have all been great partnerships – and all for successful teams.

Even at City we have known a few good ones. Mills and Blake and Jacobs and Beagrie are ones that stand out for myself. We’ve had the odd great individual, such as Windass and Carbone but, without a partner for them, the team suffered. And this is what gives me great optimism for the current City side.

Watching us play this season has been frustrating. We have the players who have the ability to do well, they just haven’t delivered on the pitch. There are many reasons being given as to why, but I think the most obvious reason is “lack of partnerships”, and especially ones that work. Watching the City side on Saturday against a poor Notts County I saw a side that was littered with partnerships.

First of all, at the back you have the captain Wetherall and Matt Clarke. Wethers looked rusty at the beginning of the season and Clarke wasn’t even in the side, but now, Wethers is back to his best and Clarke has become one of the vital members of the side – who can imagine the defence without him? They are solid.

On the left side you have Heckingbottom and Daley. Heckingbottom has been on and off this season, although mainly on, and the last few matches have seen good performances from him. Daley is you’re Marmite – you either love him or hate him. He frustrates at times, but against County got forward, got back and the inter-play between the two was good.

On the right it’s much the same story. Colbeck, having come back from Darlington, looks like the player from two seasons ago. Things may not go right all the time, but some great runs and crosses have seen him become the right winger for us. Backing him up is Williams. A bit like Wethers he started slowly, but is getting better all the time. His link up play with Colbeck is good and gets forward to support Colbeck, just as Heckingbottom does with Daley.

Up front, after nearly 30 games, Stuart seems to have stumbled on what most fans have wanted to try for a while – Conlon and Thorne. Fans favourite Conlon may not be scoring, but does the “donkey” work to great effect. Make no mistake though, Conlon is no donkey. He has a great touch, good vision and puts 100% effort in. Just a bit more composure in front of the net and goals will come. Composure is something his strike partner Thorne has in abundance. Injury has meant a delayed start to his City career but, now he’s with someone who can hold the ball and take the hits, Thorne is reaping the rewards. His hat-trick on Saturday showed that if you set him up, he’ll take the chances. Together they are making defending hard work for the opposition.

You may now expect me to go on about the partnership in the middle, however, as we’re 17th in the league everything cannot be rosy and this is the case in the middle. Although the Bullock/Evans partnership is in its infancy (like the Thorne/Conlon), it hasn’t been as effective. Bullock comes across as a decent player. On Saturday he didn’t seem to be involved much, but when he was he did everything well – certainly good to have in the side and a much needed spoil for his partner in midfield. Evans, however, has a question mark over him. Yes, we all know he does have a good touch, good passing ability and a great shot – but that’s not much good if it isn’t working. If Evans can get it right then the partnership in midfield could prove to be the best of the lot. If it doesn’t, Kyle Nix – my favourite of the season so far – stands on the sidelines waiting. He may be a left winger, but has shown can cut it in midfield and is dangerous going forward.

So, all in all, the City side is nearly there. We have a great square of partnerships around the pitch, we just need the centre one. If that can be built on, then 2008 could be more than we hoped for than at the beginning of December.

Pistol Pete Shoots Down County

City continued their great start to 2008 with this convincing victory against lowly Notts County.

This was a home team display that has been unseen by the Valley Parade crowd in many, many years, but this performance aspires confidence that City are on the right track.

Matt Clarke was once again in dominant form, putting opposing striker Hector Sam in his pocket from first minute to last. This type of performance has been typical of the lanky defender in recent months – indeed he is fast becoming City’s best, and most consistent player – nothing less than he deserves after waiting patiently for an extended run in the side.

Bradford started the game in a confident mood, winning numerous corners and threatening the County goal. There were one or two edgy moments in the first half defensively, but it quickly became apparent that County did not offer much going forward.

When City got their noses in front midway through the first half, the result was never really in much doubt. David Wetherall and Lee Bullock both did brilliantly to keep the ball alive from a set play, and Peter Thorne was on hand to tap in from 8 yards in predatory fashion. City have had a tendancy to not make territorial advantage convert to goals at home this season, ala Darlington and Wycombe, and there was a really sense of relief that Thorne had broken the deadline before half time with his close range finish.

The first ten minutes of the second half were slightly edgy, as County offered a few more ideas in attack, and City stood off. But that pressure was certainly not typical of the rest of the match, as County seemed to massively lack confidence that they could score, and they most certainly lacked ability throughout the side.

When Thorne crashed home a sweet second from an Evans corner on the volley, the game was over.

And the script was written for Thorne to round off his excellent display by finishing off his hattrick with aplomb. He was played in on the break by Colbeck on the right, and Thorne confidently buried the ball in the bottom corner of the keepers near post. It was a fitting end to the game for Thorne – who is most certainly showing signs of the form he promised, and his ability being a cut and class above this level. We have seen him excellently hold the ball up, and play some nice passes in bringing others into play with his back to goal, and now he is delivering the goals to go with his excellent all round play.

And Thorne’s excellent display was mirrored by the rest of the team. Omar Daley showed some exciting bursts forward and crucially battled away defensively in a way that was reminiscent of Jamie Lawrence in his Valley Parade heyday. Darren Williams is looking assured at right back, and veteran’s Wetherall and Heckingbottom seem to be delivering performances of late that represent a solid defensive unit.

Barry Conlon’s performances create much debate within the City support and it is clear to see why. He is absolutely woeful in front of goal – to non league standards, and that form continued in this game. But, he does bring something to the team, and seems to compliment Thorne quite well, as he can control the ball when it is played up to him. His willingness to battle has endeared him to some of the City support, but surely a striker that finishes as poorly as Conlon cannot be part of a successful team? That aspect is for Mr McCall to debate. I ,for one, would have been interested to see Willy Topp partnered with Thorne up front for the last 20 minutes against County, with the game all but won.

And so, to the rest of the season. Team displays like this create confidence. And now that we seem to have settled into this division, the length of a run we can go on between now and the end of the season will determine whether we can challenge or not. Our early season woes may have cost us, but collecting a number of wins on the bounce will certainly give us a chance – and more importantly, hope , that the season may not be over for us just yet.

The future is Ginger, Claret and Amber

Lied to us, smokescreen, disgraceful – some of the more polite terms used by a minority of City fans in the build up to Saturday’s game with Notts County. The reasons for their anger include an apparent lack of transfer activity in the January window and a belief that City have given up on the season already.

There’s a long way to go, both for the current transfer window and the season, but already some of our more excitable supporters are calling for heads to roll. Apparently Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn are lying to us supporters and Stuart isn’t much better. There are demands from some supporters for a fans forum so these people can express their anger face to face.

All of this was before City demolished a poor Notts County team to record their biggest home win since April 2005. There’s a feeling of frustration from a section of support about the way this season is turning out, but you wish that those who complain so quickly and readily would think a bit more before directing their abuse at individuals who deserve better. After all, are things really that bad at Valley Parade at the moment?

For the first time in years we are debt free and this means there is some money to spend on new players, although who we need to bring in is a matter of debate. Expectations have been raised following comments made by Mark Lawn on 23 October about bringing in players who have been at City before and proved popular with fans. Crucially he said that he wanted to bring these players in, rather than saying deals were already lined up. Yet over the last few months these comments have been exaggerated so that they now look like broken promises.

Whether any former City players do arrive before the window shuts remains to be seen, but it hasn’t stopped some fans already slagging off our joint-chairman. Who these former players are and whether Stuart wants them is another question. Some fans are calling for Nathan Doyle to return, for example, but with Darren Williams enjoying a good season and a limited budget available, is a right back a priority?

It may only be one game, but looking at the team that comprehensively demolished Notts County on Saturday left me wondering just how desperate we are for new signings. All over the pitch City were too good against an admittedly weak side, perhaps the worst team to play at Valley Parade so far this season. Right from kick off we took the game to the visitors and carved out some decent opportunities. Omar Daley might have had a hat trick inside the opening half hour with only the heroics of County goalkeeper Kevin Pilkington keeping the score level.

The breakthrough arrived 10 minutes before half time from a scrambled corner. Matt Clarke headed Paul Evans’ delivery goalwards only for it to be cleared off the line. Lee Bullock, making his home debut, headed the ball back into the danger area and Peter Thorne tapped home. Barry Conlon, impressing alongside Thorne up front, might have got a second when put through on goal just before the break, but a combination of a weak effort and good goalkeeping denied the Irish striker. A standing ovation was the least the players deserved at the break.

A second goal was always going to be enough to kill off the game and duly arrived early in the second half. Again Paul Evans was behind the goal with a clever corner move. His low cross was met by Thorne just inside the area and his low shot flew into the bottom far corner. Joe Colbeck, Evans and Conlon had other opportunities before Thorne hit a sweet third from the edge of the box after been cleverly set up by Colbeck.

That was how the win came about, but the efforts of all the players involved deserve huge credit. Defensively we were strong and are reaping the benefits from a settled defensive line. In Clarke and Wetherall have two strong competitors in the centre. Clarke was probably my man of the match and, apart from one mistake just after half time, he won everything against a tricky opponent in Hector Sam. His performance brought back memories of Darren Moore for me and Stuart would be well advised to offer him a new contract before it runs out in the summer.

Up front Conlon and Thorne are showing signs of forging a fruitful partnership. Conlon is capable of being terrific and woeful, usually within the space of a few seconds! Yet his hold up play and battling qualities are making a real difference and winning over supporters. Barry needs to continue showing this consistency over a number of games. He’s never going to score a hatful and his finishing can be woeful. I do fear he will one day miss a really easy chance in a crucial game for us, but for now Conlon is a worthy name on the teamsheet.

Now fully fit and enjoying a run of games, Thorne is looking an excellent player at this level. A hat trick certainly won’t harm his confidence and he is on track to be the first City player, other than Dean Windass, to reach double figures in a season since Andy Gray and Claus Jorgenson in 2002/03. With Willy Topp an unused substitute and Stuart believing Daley’s best position to be striker, another forward is unlikely to be on Stuart’s January shopping list.

Midfield was perhaps not at its best, though recent signing Bullock is a decent addition if not quite hitting the heights of his performance at Accrington. Evans received plenty of criticism and his passing was at times awry. Yet he had a hand in all three goals and his quality, when he gets it right, is invaluable. Eddie Johnson will soon be available again leaving Stuart with plenty of choice in the middle. The two wingers, Colbeck and Daley, were quiet on occasions, but both contributed to the easy win.

And that’s the encouraging thing at this moment. For all the talk of needing new faces, the efforts of the current players is very high. There’s no slackers and under achievers, currently in the team anyway. Listening to the comments of Thorne on the radio after the game, and January signings Bullock and Paul Heckingbottom, reveal there is a strong desire for our squad of players to perform and be successful for this club. There may be failings at times, but effort is not among them. Daley spent the first half of the season thinking he was above tracking back and defending, but now works as hard as anyone.

Had the season begun on November 6 City would currently be 11th in the division, four points off the play offs with two games in hand. It shows that the efforts of the players since that important win over Chester have been much improved and what possibilities there could be for City had they not underperformed so badly in September/October.

Things may now be slowly coming together for City and, while a couple of new signings would be nice before the window shuts, there is no need to consider the current situation a disgrace and demand changes at the top. With 12,500 season ticket holders, the end to bad debts and return of Stuart, something very special began during the summer. Belatedly, it now looks as though it’s beginning to extend onto the pitch.

League Two (since 6.11.07)
(P GD PTS)
1 MK Dons 12 13 28
2 Rotherham 11 12 25
3 Morecambe 11 7 24
4 Stockport 12 9 23
5 Hereford 10 5 21
6 Wycombe 12 3 21
7 Grimsby Town 12 2 22
8 Rochdale 10 6 20
9 Darlington 9 17 19
10 Chesterfield 11 4 19
11 Bradford City 10 7 18
12 Shrewsbury 12 6 18
13 Peterborough 11 3 18
14 Brentford 12 -6 16
15 Accrington 12 -8 14
16 Lincoln City 12 -5 13
17 Macclesfield 12 -7 12
18 Barnet 12 -9 9
19 Chester City 11 -8 8
20 Dagenham & Red 11 -9 8
21 Mansfield Town 10 -8 7
22 Notts County 11 -8 6
23 Wrexham 12 -13 6
24 Bury 10 -9 4

The Cash, And How To Spend It

Mark Lawn is not happy with Sammy McIlroy after the Morecambe gaffer knocked back City’s offer of £10,000 for right winger Garry Thompson throwing about words like ludicrous. McIlroy says it is not enough for a player of “Garry’s experience and potential” which hitherto had been considered separate quantities. Steve Claridge was trumped for his experience, Issy Rankin for his potential. Seldom is a player considered to have both.

Semantics aside Lawn showed a traditionally Bradfordian approach to the Ulsterman’s comments stating that City made a bid, that bid was turned down and that could have been the end of the story. Indeed had McIlroy not made the offer public it probably would have been and with Thompson having less than six months left on his deal and the ability to sign for whomever he chooses without giving a fee to the Seaside club then one cannot help but think that it is in the best interest of the Christie Park side that his potential availability becomes more widely known.

Get someone to double the offer today rather than let the player walk away for nothing in six months and McIlroy has done a good bit of business and Lawn – and City – can be excused for feeling a little used and Lawn – a recent convert to the world of football directorship – will have to get used to having the sort of sums of money that would be a welcome lottery win being dismissed as peanuts. Stuart McCall speaks well on the dismissed offer – “We know where our club has been for the last few years and we don’t want to go back there.” A manager who is not prepared to mortgage the future of his club to further his career is a rare thing.

McCall has been shopping as he shapes a Bradford City team through evolution. Paul Heckingbottom joined yesterday and Swansea midfielder Ian Craney was tracked until Accrington Stanley paid £85,000 for him. Players at this level who have that sort of value to a club are few and far between and McCall would do well to stay out of the market that starts to spiral. £85,000 would have paid Dean Windass’s wage for another season and costs of employment are a much better use of resources in a saturated footballer market like League Two than recruitment costs.

Heck Of A Good Signing

Paul Heckingbottom is a Bradford City player again, again and I couldn’t be happier.

Heckingbottom is exactly the sort of player I want City to have. For a start he is took good for this division even if he isn’t good enough for The Championship and I’m not sure that he isn’t to be honest. Second he fits right in at City being from near enough to almost be a home grown lad (Even his name conjures up Bantams of old – Ed.) and third he is the sort of honest footballer I love to watch.

I’ve never seen Hecky do anything other than put in 100% for City. I’ve never seen him drop to his knees to dive or point at team mates when he makes a mistake or any of that rubbish that you see all the time in football these days. I’ve never once looked at the left back this season and not thought that we had a guy who will give us everything.

Maybe it is the Wayne Jacobs effect because him and Heckingbottom are peas in a pod when it comes to attitude and credit goes to Stuart and Wayne for signing him up.

At this level footballers get lazy. It is dead easy for a player to decide that the other ten guys are the reason things aren’t going so good in League Two and it is dead easy for players to stroll out the end of contracts blaming everyone else for failing to get to the play-offs. Paul Heckingbottom would not do that.

He is not the first piece but he is an important on into a team that can go places.

Transfer Widow

My girlfriend probably things I am having an affair. Every morning I furtively close my hands around the screen of my trusted N95 and sneak a peek at some covert information, these modern days such actions are tantamount to having lipstick on one’s collar in the list of telltale signs of infidelity.

Every morning I gaze longingly at every loving word crafted to speak of outlandish possibility and I know that such things will never come to pass but we can all dream. Every morning I covertly check out the BBC’s transfer gossip and rumours page.

Sitting all year round the scrapings of tabloid and broadsheet fantasy goes into a kind of meltdown every January when the transfer window opens and a parade of names are stapled to clubs in a cavalcade of would be transfer.

Most concern players few – if any – have heard of joining clubs that simply do not need them. Today we learn with lusty glory that Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is set to spend £7m on Slovakia international defender Martin Skrtel. – or so the Beeb tells us that the Telegraph tells us – and we raise an eyebrow and ponder if the Anfield club’s failure to mount a serious challenge for the title is really for the want of a player who costs less than Newcastle United paid for Jean-Alan Boumsong.

“Failure to mount a serious challenge” is a phrase that haunts Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool side troublingly. Clearly The Reds are not winning the thing this year but to suggest that they have not mount a challenge is akin to suggesting that Scott and Oates were just having a wander in the snow just because they were beaten to the Pole.

The vowel light Skrtel may be Kendal Mint Cake to Benitez and our job is in the observation. In likelihood Skrtel will not be heard of again being swooped to play for Bryern Munich, Rapid Vienna or Fulham’s Reserves but for a day we can all imagine him wandering down the wing in Red. It is the pornography of the Subutteo generation.

Of course the Mighty Bradford City have not featured in this procession of names and clubs for sometime but this is no bad thing and not something one would complain about although Big Sam will save his job by pairing Michael Owen with Bradford’s Barry Conlon is probably as realistic to us Skrtel’s move to Anfield is to supporters of his – nameless – club.

Realism is not the point. Distraction is.

Football – as previously mentioned once or twice – had gone to Hell in a handcart at anything other than the top level and like the trappings of the French Lord’s of old the purpose of the big name club transfer gossip is to distraction joyless citizenry from the dullness of their every day existence. Never mind the fact your club cannot afford to have the stadium roof fixed – Manchester United are thinking of buying a Belgian who’s agent will take a cut the size of Luton Town’s much talked about debt.

It is football supporting as Hello Magazine reading – a glimpse at how some live with the far flung hope that you might one day move there yourself. Queens Park Rangers suggest that one day it will I guess, and I suppose one day we did too.

So furtively I look at my mobile phone to read this list of pipe dreams and I should be as offended as I am when I see those documentaries on the lavish fineries of Royalty I pay for but have no access to but for some reason I’m not.

So rest assured should you be worried Ria it is not an affair but with lusty eyes trained on what I want but can’t have it is – at least – flirting.

New Year, same old City

Being of a more cynical nature, I find the hopes and promises made which coincide with the turn of the year bemusing. Vowing to stop smoking or start exercising is commendable, but expecting things to suddenly change just because we start using a new calendar is unrealistic. It’s traditional for the last City matchday programme of the year to be filled with contributions about how we should hope that the year ahead will be better for City and, of course, that the home form will improve; but not everyone’s life can change for better or worse on the same day. It may happen at any point during the year ahead, but January 1 and what this signifies isn’t on January 1 for all of us.

For City, New Years Day was really Saturday 11 August and events since will dictate what sort of year 2008 will be. According to an ever honest Stuart McCall after Saturday’s defeat to Hereford, it’s unlikely to include a trip to Wembley. This is due to the efforts of the first half of the campaign, or since City’s New Years Day. Results over the last couple of months have been largely decent, but it’s the infamous five successive defeats of September/October that have cost us and may predetermine what sort of a year 2008 is for City.

In my heart, I’m quite angry at hearing Stuart effectively write off the season with five months to go. Stuart’s post match interviews are notoriously honest but, when I think back to Stuart the player performing heroics, I don’t recall him ever giving up. In my head though, I grudgingly know that Stuart is correct in stating it’s highly unlikely City can make the play offs and is looking to the future. After years of treading water, City have the stability to build again and we need to be patient. Stuart the player had a brilliant football brain and it is his judgement that we now trust in carrying out that rebuilding.

As if to emphasise that the turn of the year doesn’t instantly herald change, City’s opening 45 minutes of 2008, at Accrington, were as average and frustrating as ever. We have the basis of a decent side, particularly at the back, but going forward we often fail to attack with purpose and provide our forwards with decent service.

Midway through the half City worked the ball into the penalty area but the home defence cleared. We picked up the loose ball and worked it back to Darren Williams, who then booted the ball aimlessly up the pitch and through to the keeper. Why is it that, the further we go up the pitch, the more the ball is treated like a hot potato? It’s as if the players are wary that, after stringing together four passes, they must be looking to test the keeper. Donovan Ricketts made a couple of easy saves in the mud, Peter Thorne and Paul Evans went close, the referee Barry Knight went off injured and that was the first half.

Straight after the break City took the lead. If the scorer was notable, Matt Clarke’s first in a City shirt, so to was how it came about. All season our set plays have been shocking but, when Stanley keeper Ian Dubavin weakly punched Evan’s corner kick, Joe Colbeck cleverly lobbed the ball back and David Wetherall headed it into Clarke’s path to stab home.

The goal lifted everyone’s spirits and from there City took control. With new signing Lee Bullock adding much-needed presence in the middle and catching the eye with some decent passes, City pressed forward at will. Two decent penalty appeals were rejected while Omar Daley should have done better after a brilliant mazy dribble left him with just the keeper to beat. Daley tried to be too clever and only succeeded blasting over. Barry Conlon, who received brilliant Andy Cooke-esqe backing from us fans all game, was played through one on one with the keeper and produced the tamest of shots which was easily blocked. As Accrington pushed forward towards the end, the fear was that City would pay for their wastefulness.

Then in the second minute of injury time, Daley broke away after City cleared an Accrington corner. With everyone in the City half, Daley was left with just the keeper to beat, he tried to take it around only for Dubavin to block, but Colbeck was on hand to gather up the loose ball and coolly slot the ball home. Cue wild celebrations behind the goal.

Colbeck walked off the pitch at full time still receiving congratulatory hugs from team mates and had City fans chanting his name. Since returning from the loan spell at Darlington he is looking a much more confident player. He was excellent all afternoon and his crossing caught the eye. In this sort of form Colbeck can have a big future at City and Stuart will no doubt be telling him to keep it up and not to get carried away.

City’s star performer was on the opposite wing though. Daley has begun performing much more effectively in recent weeks and he was in scintillating form against Accrington. I don’t get to every game, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play so well for City. He terrorised the Stanley full back and, crucially, is aware of what’s going on around him and doesn’t just run the ball down blind alleys. His work rate was equally outstanding and he helped the defence out on numerous occasions. I think we are belatedly seeing what a good player the Jamaican international is.

Indeed the second half performance left me thinking we’re a decent side at this level. There are areas to improve on, but the main failing in general this season is lack of consistency. If City could play like they did in the second half every week the play offs would still be a possibility. The problem is they probably won’t; I think well enough to enjoy a better second half of the season but, as Stuart said, the teams currently in the play offs are a long way ahead in terms of points.

In the programme, Accrington manager John Colman wrote that he thinks Stanley can make the play offs this season, so to see City easily beat such a poor side who believe they can go up is frustrating. If only City could have started the season better we could now be looking forward to 2008 with more relish. Instead the rest of the season will seemingly be about building for the next one and ensuring that, for City’s next New Year’s Day in August, we hit the ground running.

The Resolution

I have on a scrap of paper a list of things I want to achieve for 2008 – as close as I get to writing a list of resolutions – which tells about wallpapering back bedrooms and fixing bathroom leaks. About going to more gigs and about creating different websites. It is the things I’m doing next year.

When I was a teenager I used to make new year’s list that would include the phrase “Go to 20 away games.” Not anymore and this 3-1 defeat to Hereford United is a blinding example of why.

This is the build up part of the match report. After the details of the game I’m going to tell a truth as I believe it and you can believe it or not. Here is the build up.

Having let GNN leave and shifted Omar Daley up field Stuart McCall put out a raw midfield that included Scott Phelan and Tom Penford with Kyle Nix – so impressive a player Nix – and Joe Colbeck wide and the young four – five following Alex Rhodes’s entry replacing an injured Penford – performed well against a much fancied Hereford side that arrived and exited Valley Parade second in League Two.

Indeed on the field there was very little to separate the Bantams from the Bulls but the 3-1 win for the visitors was entirely down to Referee Graham Laws and his two assistants. The opening goal came when Theo Robinson was allowed to handle down a free kick and lash home and by free kick I count the most curious award when Omar Daley was pushed to the ground in the rain and penalised. In driving rain and on a pitch that bordered on unplayable any team would want free kicks given on the flanks to be hoisted into the area and poked home.

Second goal and Trevor Benjamin held Donovan Rickets around the waist as Dean Beckwith headed in. For a minute before I watched Benjamin, Matthew Clarke and Ricketts jostle. I watched Benjamin put his arms around Ricketts and I watched the ball headed in.

Stop. Let us step back to May 1981 and my first ever football game – Bradford City vs Hereford United. We lost 1-0 that day but I was hooked. 26 years on and had I seen this game I would never have stepped in a football stadium again so unjust was the game.

Back to the future and I can not believe that the second goal was given but I doubted the first one would be. After David Wetherall had followed in a rebound to get one back for City Hereford “regained” the two goal lead when they tonked another curious flank free kick in to three offside players in the eight yeads in front of Ricketts goal. When the rules of football were modified to include the concept of interfering with play it was never supposed to be that players would be allowed free reign to wander offside in the six yard box in front of the goalkeeper.

I assume this because if this is the plan then the game is really, really in trouble.

Second half and City introduce Billy Topp who looks good but in this pantomime the game is behind him. The rain stops but the game was over a long time before.

So to the chase rather than the build up. Referee Graham Laws took charge of this game in a biased way understanding that the word bias means “A particular tendency or inclination” which was most obviously seen in the giving of bookings – a yellow card for Paul Heckingbottom’s first and minor offence while Ben Smith was visibly told that his third offence had gathered him his caution – and then seen in the blind eye turned to offside players at one end while Matthew Clarke’s attempt to covert a corner which saw Benjamin push him to the ground did not garner the obvious penalty. It was one set of rules for one team and another set of rules for the other.

At this point I should bring forward my oft given comment that either the referee was so bad that he randomly gave a set of bad decisions which totally perverted the game because he was having “a bad day” rather than anything more sinister or that he had somehow created the result himself because he had been bought or betting or something of that ilk.

After that I would say that I was not sure which of the two options I would prefer and muse on either the idea that I would rather they be bought than the officials be that inept or I would wax lyrical about Juventus and the idea that if corruption can exist in the highest level of European football isn’t it a given that it could in League Two in England?

I’d say that in both of these scenarios the Football Authorities are ready to turn a blind eye. They brush off the idea that bad officials are ruining games and refuse to make public referee’s post-game reports that would at least tell supporters. We are the guys who pay the wages after all. The Authorities of the game mount a bizarre high horse to the idea of corruption in the English game and will reply with angry to the suggestion that there should be so much as an investigation into bent officials and bought wins. From the top of my head I can think of Lou Macari and his betting on his own Swindon team to lose, of Tony Kaye and the 1966 match fixing scandal of Aldelecht being found guilty of bribing Referees to beat Nottingham Forest in the European Cup in 1981, of the Italian titles won by Juventus which appear on the CV of the man that the Football Association have made England Manager.

I could rant about all these things but I’ve done so too many times now and write up my new year’s list without the ambition to go to as many Bradford City games as I can because – simply – as a fan I can’t trust the result of a game like Bradford City 1 Hereford United 3.

I believe that for whatever reason Graeme Laws wanted a two goal win for Hereford United and made sure he got one. Perhaps he had money on it? Perhaps he had been paid to get it? Perhaps he just wanted to see if he could make a result? I’d love an investigation into this game, into the Joe Ross game at Luton three years ago, into last year’s defeat to Blackpool at Valley Parade but I will never get one and while I make no suggestion as to why Laws created a result I do believe he did.

So without a sense of clarity and justice in the game I drift and I drift away. Many things can be done on a Saturday that are not watching perverted football games and often I do them and I doubt I’m alone – 13,000 at Valley Parade and about 2,500 when we go away from home – not because of a lapse in love for the club but for the game that reveals in turning a blind eye.

26 years ago I watched Bradford City lose to Hereford United and fell in love with the game, now I am very much out of love with football but as a man who has given a quarter of a century to the game I believe I – we – deserve a game which is clean and is seen to be clean and we deserve officials who can be trusted to be honest and not inept and until we get those things interest in football at this level will wane.

Hereford United’s supporters at Valley Parade wandererd away singing that they were going up – they are if they get Graeme Laws every week and they may make sure they do – but there is a hollowness to football when trust – as it was today – is missing. it was today – is missing.

In the Nix of time

For as long as I have been going to watch Bradford City, there have been two basic types of player adorning Claret and Amber.

The first type is the hard working and committed footballer. Always giving 100% to the cause and battling to the end. They may not be the most talented often possessing limited skill, but when the chips are down they can always be counted on to give their all.

Then there’s the second, more skilful type of player. On their day they have the ability to decide a match with the quality to do things that others cannot. They can have you on the edge of your seat, but unfortunately are invariably less consistent and liable to underperform in some games. They frustrate as often as they excite and can’t be trusted to always try their hardest. Are they as committed to the cause as the other type of player? And why do they seem to think they’re above tracking back?

The fortuitous Boxing Day win over Lincoln was ground out by a mixture of both types of players and showed that, as much as most of would prefer to have 11 players sweating Claret and Amber blood to the cause, not selecting players who can produce those moments of brilliance will only get us so far.

Omar Daley is undoubtedly the second type of Valley Parade player. It’s just short of a year since he joined from Charleston Battery and received the huge build up before his debut, but the Jamaican winger has so far flattered to deceive. We know he has the ability to be a match winner for us, but it’s not seen often enough. Daley was largely disappointing during the second half of last season and his miss in that vital game against Leyton Orient still makes me feel angry. He has improved this season, particularly of late, but his inconsistency leaves some fans wishing we could replace him with someone who will always give their all.

Against Lincoln Daley was both typically brilliant and typically terrible. Not everything he tries is going to work and it is frustrating when he loses the ball, but he’s often behind our best attacking moves. He stretched the Lincoln defence and regularly beat defenders; but also largely knew when to pass the ball and bring others into play, even if the ball doesn’t always reach its target.

Midway through the second half Daley had a fantastic opportunity when he broke clear and had two players to square the ball to in the penalty area, but his pass found neither player and the ball was cleared. Then as the match moved to injury time, Daley had an opportunity to charge forward again after been brilliantly found by Joe Colbeck. Again he was running at a back peddling defence and again there were City players rushing to get into the area. On this occasion Daley took his time, slowed down the ball before beating and twisting the defender one way and then the other. With others now in better positions, he delivered an excellent ball across the area which substitute Barry Conlon was able to bundle home at the far post.

It was this piece of brilliance that made the difference and earned City the unlikely win. On an afternoon of high emotion which saw unforgettable scenes before kick off, it was a fantastic way to end the day. Over the last few weeks results and performances have improved, but there have been too many draws and progress up the league table has been slow. Once again it seemed that City’s huff and puff wasn’t going to be enough after Lincoln’s Lenell John-Lewis had cancelled out Peter Thorne’s early opener. Passing moves broke down too easily and corners and free kicks were wasted, service to the front two was again not great and a winning goal seemed beyond City. Cue the moment of brilliance.

More of the hard working but limited players are Joe Colbeck and Kyle Nix, who also both played equally significant roles in earning the victory. Making his first Valley Parade start for three months, Joe got off to a flyer wonderfully setting up Peter Thorne to fire home the opening goal in less than a minute. Ask supporters around the stadium for their views on Joe and you’re likely to receive largely negative responses. Joe is certainly a confidence player and has struggled in front of the Valley Parade glare in the last 18 months, but I don’t think he can ever be criticised for effort.

Joe began this game in flying form although predictably struggled with his final ball. Watching him perform by the Midland Road stand during the second half, it was noticeable how aware Joe seems to be of the crowd. You can seem him glance up when he’s receiving criticism and it seems to affect his game. I believe Joe can become a very good footballer for this club, but he needs to find that mental steel to block out the reaction of the crowd.

Joe’s return to the team has enabled Nix to move into the centre of midfield where he looks a better player. The former Sheffield United midfielder is not the quickest and struggles to beat full backs for pace when whipping in crosses on the wing, but his work rate and ball winning ability is admirable. Moved into the centre, his battling abilities were hugely effective and his passing also really caught the eye. Nix will soon be out of contract at City but there seems to be no question he will earn a more permanent deal. The centre of midfield has been a problem area all season but Nix’s recent performances mean Stuart might prefer to concentrate on improving other areas of the team when he can make new signings in January.

City’s flying start to the game allowed some comfort against an industrious Lincoln side who performed much worse than the Sincil Bank meeting earlier in the season. They did put some pressure on City and forced Donovan Ricketts into two fantastic saves, but City could and should have grabbed a second with only the final ball or weak finishing spoiling some decent moves. It was no surprise that Lincoln came out strongly in the second half but, disappointingly, we conceded a soft equaliser within five minutes, although otherwise our defence was excellent with Matt Clarke comfortably slotting back.

City struggled to pass with any fluidity and lacked quality in the final third, Guylian Ndumbu-Nsungu was hugely disappointing and it wasn’t until he went off and Daley moved up front that we can began to threaten again. Thorne was then replaced with Conlon and, with the 11 players left on the field having managed just six goals between them all season, a winner looked improbable. At least until Daley set up Conlon.

There’s no prizes for guessing which type of player Conlon is considered and it was fantastic for the hard working striker to finally net a goal for City from open play, but it was the delivery of a skilful but not always fully committed player that made it happen. If only Daley could produce like this more often because he is the type of player who makes the difference, but I know that in a few weeks time he will be causing me to tear out my hair in frustration as he disappoints once more. On those occasions it will be down to ever dependable players such as Nix to help City earn something. We certainly can’t manage without this type of player, but also need match winners like Daley to deliver.

Ultimately; the more good days than bad he enjoys, the higher up the league City will climb.

The longer route to success

Last week the FA chose Fabio Capello as the man who they believe can lift the English national team to future glory. After the failure of Steve McClaren to lead England to next summer’s European Championships, there’s been a lot of pressure heaped upon the FA to get the appointment right and Capello’s record at various top clubs suggests that success for England will quickly follow. Yet while Steve McClaren was judged by some as a safety first appointment, Capello is surely much more so.

There’s been the usual howls of discontent about going for a foreign coach from the usual suspects and I find myself feeling sympathy for them. True, there aren’t really any outstanding English managers who were in the frame, but perhaps the FA could have seen beyond this and truly looked to the future, like so many were howling at them to do in the wake of McClaren’s dismissal.

The England team are always under heavy pressure from the media and fans, but now could have been the time for appointing a bright young coach like Aidy Boothroyd and opting to build both the national team and the set up that surrounds it, while giving them time to develop in the role and implement their ideas and beliefs.

With a reasonably easy looking World Cup qualifying group (though we’ve heard that before) there’s three years of building before England will presumably compete in the 2010 South Africa tournament. Capello will be just short of retirement age by then and hardly likely to still be in the England hot seat four years after.

I might be wrong, but I don’t see Capello worrying himself with the development of young talent in England and busting a gut to go and watch the various England youth teams. Understandably, his priority is delivering immediate success with the senior side. He is also bringing in fellow Italian countrymen to act as backroom staff and run the team. It will be interesting to see what sort of relationship these people have with the England youth coaches.

I don’t think you can blame the FA for going for the quick fix. They’re under pressure themselves and any failure in the near future will see calls for them, alongside the manager, to go. But what about the England team in five years, or ten, or twenty? The FA are paying Capello a reported £6 million a year. There’s plenty of people raising their voices about the failings with youth development in England, what could an extra £5 million a year do to aid that?

I watched some of the TV footage of Capello’s press conference on Monday and found it bewildering. As a caption appeared on the TV screen translating into English Capello’s comments it was hard to believe I was watching the England manager speak. Typically it seemed he was only asked tedious questions about John Terry and David Beckham. Over the last month various journalists have written opinionated columns about the failings of English football in the wake of the McClaren era. They might as well save these pieces on their lap tops; in two years time they could be writing more or less the same thing again.

Closer to home, the latest choice of manager at Valley Parade was a very different decision. Stuart McCall’s appointment might have been universally popular among City fans, but the Board knew that they were also appointing someone with limited experience. There was certainly nothing ‘safety first’ about choosing to bring Stuart back. We could have gone for someone like Peter Jackson and have been confident he could have taken us forward quickly; though it’s questionable how far he could ultimately have taken us, just like Capello and England.

By selecting Stuart I believe that we have selected a longer term approach. In his first position as number one, mistakes will undoubtedly be made. No one, in any walk of life, gets things right all the time and with each day in charge his experience will grow. Judgement of players, man management of different personalities and changing the course of games looking lost – all necessary abilities of any successful manager, though not learnt over night. Will success be as instant with Stuart than it would have been with someone like Peter Jackson? Probably not, but who would leave the club in the best of health?

And let’s face it; Bradford City is a club that has been failing on and off the pitch for a few years. We badly needed to change the way we do things, because the results speak for themselves. Of course there are good reasons for our failure, the financial strife caused by over stretching ourselves in the Premiership have taken years to sort out. This summer Mark Lawn has come in and wiped out those remaining debts. We can look forward to the future with much more optimism, but as we do so we find ourselves stuck in the bottom division.

Speaking about the up coming January transfer window, Stuart made some very interesting points. Of course, with the season not going as well as hoped, he is looking to bring in new players to improve results and, like his predecessors, the budget available will mean only loan signings are likely to made. Yet even with this short term issue Stuart says he is aiming to bring in temporary players who potentially may become permanent signings in the summer. It would be reasonably easy to bring in reserve players at Championship and League One clubs who are too good for this level, but just bringing in people whose aim is to impress enough to win a place at their parent club or earn a transfer elsewhere will only benefit us in the short term. Instead Stuart is hoping to bring in loan players who we might later sign permanently and play a significant role in future seasons.

Surely this kind of approach, looking at City’s future in years rather than months, is more preferable. Previous managers have had little choice due to the finances, but the last few years we have experienced a high turnover of players with dire consequences. This week I’ve been enjoying old videos of City’s 1998/99 promotion season and recalled the fantastic contributions of so many former City greats. A team that had Walsh, Bruno, Tumble, OB, Whalley, Beagrie, Blake, Lawrence, Mills, Flash and of course Stuart and Jakes – so many heroes! There have been very few players in recent years whose efforts for the club would see them described in such a way, but it would be nice to think we could have players in the near future who could reach such a status amongst us.

During his first interview after been appointed as manager, Stuart also spoke of wanting to bring in players who would be with City for years. I felt at the time that part of his view was formed by the career that he himself enjoyed with City. He, and so many of his team mates, gave so much to City and are rightly held in high regard for this. Being part of successful Bradford City teams will help him to understand what he needs from players now.

The fact that he has also come through the youth ranks with us will also mean he will understand the importance of this side of Bradford City. There were murmurings that some previous City managers didn’t pay enough attention to this area, perhaps unfair given the steady stream of youngsters who have been given a first team chance. If we’re going to produce talented youngsters who can really take this club forward, I would suggest having a manager who has come through those same youth ranks can only aid the club’s ability and understanding to do so.

All of which links back to Capello. What does the man charged with lifting English football know about it? What idea of our history and tradition does he have? It can be argued that this is irrelevant if he wins matches, which he surely will, but what’s the long term aim? Surely the English national team should stretch beyond the 11 players.

I’m comparing the situations of the national team and Bradford City because they have both hit their respective low points recently. Our relegation to League Two is probably the equivalent to England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008 and our dismal 3-0 loss at Chesterfield last April was as passionless and clueless as that of England’s Croatia Wembley defeat. Both City and England have been in the situation of needing to rebuild. England have gone for the quick fix in Capello and are likely to enjoy immediate better times, but the long term ratifications for English football in employing an Italian concerned only with delivering immediate success remains to be seen. City have gone for the untested and inexperienced Stuart, but a man who understands our great club and who, for the first time in years, has the stability to restore it’s pride. I’ve heard some fans criticise Stuart and that’s fair enough, we’re all allowed our opinion. But anyone who has watched Stuart play for us can’t forget the way he performed and how much he gave to this club. He might get things wrong as manager, but his effort and motives cannot be questioned.

Capello’s experience and greater resources will mean his success will come easier, who will ultimately leave the biggest mark in their respective jobs remains to be seen.

Todd’s Danish Wanderings Show A Path Forward For Many

Colin Todd went from Bradford City to manage Randers FC and complains about clubs – all keen to unearth the new Paul Jewell – go for younger managers rather than bringing in experienced gaffers.

Todd’s time at Bradford City is not well viewed but the former City boss would point to the club’s slump to League Two on his exit as proof of what a good job he was doing rather than a suggestion that he had been underachieving.

Indeed it would be hard to argue that City are a better team post-Todd although very few are not much more happy to see Stuart McCall in the dug out rather than Todd.

In a week where English managers have been founding wanting by the FA Todd’s example of going aboard to further his career is a revealing one. After his team’s 2-0 defeat by Everton yesterday Alan Curbishley bemoaned the inability for an English manager to get a job at a club that can offer Champions League experience.

Curbishley jumped ship from Charlton and ended up at West Ham just as Sam Allardyce went to Newcastle United with the idea that excelling there could get the fourth place in the Premiership that while previously a could do better season is now bigger than the FA Cup.

There managers could take a look at Todd’s example and set there sights away from these shores. Should Curbs set his sights further than the other side of that London and looked at jobs in places like Denmark, Portugal or France or even the Charltons of Italy and Spain then he and his peers could have returned to England a few years down the line with more varied experience than a decade at a sturdy, steady football league club.

Take a manager like Sven-Göran Eriksson who moved from Sweden after winning a double with IFK Göteborg onto a more respected league Portugal – and taking another double with Benfica before heading off to Italy and picking up another double and an armful of other titles and then – eventually – the England job, Jingoism aside it is no wonder that overseas managers are getting the better jobs in British football – they are prepared to take a few risks to further their career rather than sitting at The Reebok or The Valley until the blindingly obvious becomes apparent. Paul Jewell and Martin O’Niell take career risks for progression but even they do not think that the way to get a job at one of the clubs that plays European football is to manage a continental European club.

With risks comes failure – take a look at the Chris Hutchings style sackings on Rafa Beneitz’s CV before he got it right and got rewarded – but setting off the risk is the rewards of success.

Colin Todd will probably not be offered the England job but a good display with Randers could see him move about the Danish league and further around Europe augmenting his CV much more than a few more years battling the reducing budget at Valley Parade ever did.

Paul Jewell has ended up at Derby. Lens, Auxerre, PSG and Metz are four of the bottom five of the French league and a survival great escape in that League would be much more of a feather in the cap than even doing the same at Pride Park.

It would seem that in being banish to Denmark Colin Todd has fallen on a way to push his career back on track far better than jobbing around the lower leagues of English football.

Billy, Willy, Beni and Juanjo

Stuart McCall tells us not to get too excited at the prospect of Willy Topp coming to Bradford City – like his insistence that the Chilean be called Billy not Willy one can expect his words to fall on deaf ears.

Topp is expected to feature on the bench for the League Two game with Rotherham United – the very typification of a dour would be derby game – and for the time he cools his heels to the second he strikes in anger in claret and amber the thoughts of all will be on this latests great white hope.

Topp follows a path along the decline of this club that started with Benito Carbone who promised the abilities that club needed – in the case of Topp and Staurt McCall’s Bradford City those abilities are obviously needed – but for a multitude of reasons were not delivered upon. Topp would do well to follow Carbone’s example – the little Italian gave his all for City every game – rather than the path of Juanjo.

For Topp and Juanjo – Jim Jefferies perfect playmaker – are aligned. Both come into teams that lack inspiration and both are looked on to turn around the fortunes of the club. Such big aspirations on small shoulders Topp – like Juanjo – cannot make a team no matter how well he plays.

And it is oft forgot that for every wretched performance the Spaniard put in his offered moments of impressiveness – his debut winning goal springs to mind – that showed that when he wanted to, he could.

Had he wanted to for Nicky Law then Juanjo could have changed the path of Bradford City. Law’s meat and spuds variety of football was always going to isolate the tricky former Hearts man but more dedication could have seen him win over supporters and managers and – assuming his flashes could be turned into performances – provide the excitement that was lacking from that City team.

Topp comes into the same situation. City are trundling along and one can imagine that the 12,000 on the trundle are waiting for something to make noise about, something to get excited about. Topp – regardless of McCall’s insistence – carries that weight.

One hopes he carries it well, or at least better than others have.

Splash

It rained at Chesterfield and then it rained some more and without a doubt the pitch was unplayable but this is League Two and no one really cares about anything except the blood and the thunder and City set out with Paul Evans in the midfield alongside Nicky Law so we were always going to get some of that but for all the fight in the middle pair the home side had the ball for most of the game or what we could see of the ball that was a brown lump of mud being thudded from one side of the pitch to another and it lacked class but I discovered that Lee Richardson the gaffer of the team that put us down last year was gutted to not win the game but admitted they didn’t deserve to and that is true cause the Bantams are starting to build stern stuff with Joe Colbeck back and running down the right and Omar Daley up front so everything as more secure but I’m never sure why Stuart McCall puts a fast lad up front and I can’t remember us ever out pacing a defence but there is no defence for Kevin Gray today because I still remember the fury and the violence of that tackle he did on Gordon Watson and for a bit my mind wanders back to that day and how exciting Chris Kamara’s Bradford City were before McCall arrived and turned passion into pride and steeled the team for promotion which looked unlikely today when Chesterfield got away at first and scored but the Bantams slogged through mud and Kyle Nix came good in the second half and that was that and both these teams are said to lack consistency but like the rattling prose of this page the only thing constant today was the driving, smacking, wetness of the rain.

Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Shouted At Me

I had a dream last night that Paul Jewell was really upset about losing to Huddersfield and QPR back in the promotion year and so he decided to drop Stuart McCall and put Paul Bolland in the team. No it wasn’t a dream. It was away at Mansfield without Paul Evans and Peter Thorne.

Now don’t get me wrong I’m not saying that City should have undroppable players in the team and I’m not saying that everything is right when you put these guys in the team but as Macca comes out saying that the team lacks a cutting edge you can’t help but think that that was cause he spent most of the night sitting next to the cannier players we have not only cannier but one’s who give more of a toss.

Omar Daley started really well at Field Mill and could have scored with a shot that pinged the post but he didn’t and in typical Omar Daley fashion his head went down. I don’t believe that a player like Omar should be motivating himself and geeing himself up – that is not his job in the team – but he needs a Stuart McCall alongside him to put rockets up his arse when he does sag.

The same is true of Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu. As a loan player who coudl be out of work in six months at another club how do we expect him to play his guts out for City. The playing the guts out and making sure everyone else plays guts out has to be someone else’s job and the problem is that someone else is Paul Evans.

To be honest it is a few people who the club don’t have and we need some players with character and a bit of spirit. I have a mental picture of Dean Windass shouting at half the squad and getting them to put in the effort but he has gone now and I’m told even tonight when we are a division below where we were when some Muppets took against the striker that his leaving was for the best.

City are a closed mouth team save Evans who enters late and is no match changer anyway unlike Willy Topp who we are promised soon and while we did not deserve the win we certainly did nothing to deserve getting beaten. Donny Ricketts saved a penalty in the first half from one time target Michael Boulding that David Wetherall gave away by standing too near someone else and the zip zip with the bottom team said it all.

It seems to be believed that the club lacks a bit of dazzle and Stuart McCall talks about opening up defences but for me we lack the graft that will get us out of this league. We need eleven men who will give everything or more likely one man who will force the other eleven to give their all and the really strange thing is that that was Stuart’s job for City.

Had Paul Jewell decided that the problems with City were not that Issy Rankin could not finish a bowl of cornflakes and that Robbie Blake should be brought in off the right wing then where would City be now? If he had decided that the solution was dropping the senior players who tried hardest what would Stuart McCall have thought?

Looking for Effort from Stuart McCall

At 3-0 down and on the way out of the FA Cup nothing seems good.

Stuart McCall had seen his Bradford City team come second best in almost every department to a Tranmere Rovers side managed by Ronnie Moore – a man who further from McCall in the affections of City fans it is hard to imagine – and doing well in the division above.

That thought is mulled around the mind for a while. The visitors are a good distance apart in the league table than City for a reason and those reasons are easily apparent and not only in moments when the loathsome Chris Greenacre is isolated with David Wetherall and exposes the older man’s lack of pace cruelly.

For it is not just the physical aspects of the game in which Rovers obviously superior – and more handsomely rewarded – squad best City in.

Moore’s team is drilled on hard work, learned in the fussless big man/small man pairing up front and in Ian Goodison have a rock of a defender cleaning out all with efficiency.

Contrast this with fellow Jamaican Omar Daley who madly tries to run the ball away from goal at forty yards only to be – once again – easily robbed. Within seconds and without attention from City’s right winger who believes winning the ball is something that the other players do Tranmere had fired into a lead that while threatened by Wetherall hitting the bar and Peter Thorne having a shot cleaned off the line was never overhauled.

Hard to imagine what Moore would make of a player like Daley who seems wear lack of effort like a badge. Hard to imagine what Paul Jewell would make of him but fairly easy to picture the reaction of Jewell’s skipper at City. Why, one is forced to wonder, does McCall allow just a lack of effort to become endemic in his own team? The apathy of Daley is mirrored in GNN and results in heads sinking down and only a handful of players worthy of a place in a ten next to Stuart let alone picked by him.

Stuart has let the bar go so low for effort in his Bradford City team that anyone with the bit between their teeth or the whips of a forceful manager at their backs will who with ease.

Give me the effort of Joe Colbeck, Barry Conlon, and Craig Bentham et al any day for it is not the battles we lose that are a problem at Bradford City – Tranmere deserved the win on their own merits – it is the inability to suit up for the good fight.

Watching the effort put in by Paul Evans go unrewarded as games are lost to malaise as typified by Daley’s could not care less performance, by GNN’s comments about wanting to sign for the club because his own contract at Gillingham is finishing rather than for our club’s benefit, by the sudden increase in minor injuries and illness at the club.

I think of Stuart McCall the player and doubt he would stand alongside it, I look to Stuart McCall the manager and hope that he does not stand for it.

Media review

Until this season, I held the misguided and naive belief that the proportion of media coverage each football team received was related to their standing on the league ladder. Back in those heady Premiership days, it was not unusual for news of City to feature prominently in national newspapers. Remember when a Stan Collymore dressing room prank ended up on the front page of the Sun? As City have fallen down the leagues, national newspaper coverage has inevitably dipped. These days, were lucky to receive a 50 word match report in the Sunday tabloid papers.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule of how much media coverage a team receives in respect to the division they are in, such as big clubs falling on hard times. Nottingham Forest’s bumbling attempts to get out League One have filled many column inches while Man City’s slump to the old Division Two nine years ago could not be ignored. But it’s the coverage of another big club’s demise to the third tier of English football that is bothering me.

Of course the summer events at Elland Road meant that media coverage of Leeds United was higher than usual. Whether the 15 point deduction they were handed was fair is a matter of opinion, but their response so far this season has been extraordinary. Yet the amount of coverage their efforts are receiving is starting to annoy me, especially locally.

Covering the whole region, the Yorkshire Post has a lot of football teams to report on. Inevitably the Yorkshire teams in the Championship are awarded the most column inches, but matching and often beating them is the coverage awarded to Leeds. The editor and journalists seem to have ignored that Dennis Wise’s team are in the bottom two divisions and give major coverage to everything they do. With only a handful of sports journalists, the paper relies on the Press Association for a lot of its weekend match reports and sends their reporters to selected games. They nearly always have a reporter at the Leeds match; no other local League One team receives such attention.

Last week was a good example. In Tuesday’s edition there was a lengthy story about Leeds’ decision to loan out midfielder Shaun Derry – I don’t remember Lee Crooks’ loan from City to Notts County a couple of seasons ago receiving such attention. On Wednesday there was a large match report on Leeds’ FA Cup defeat to Hereford the night before. Fair enough with little else going on, yet on Thursday there was another lengthy piece about why Leeds’ shock exit was a good thing and Dennis Wise was upbeat about it. Why are the Elland Road outfit awarded this degree of coverage? There was no story in Thursday’s edition about Rotherham’s more shocking FA Cup exit.

Undoubtedly what’s happened to Leeds has made an interesting story (and quite an amusing one at times to us City fans) but I believe the Yorkshire Post’s fixation with everything going on at Elland Road, while ignoring most other local clubs, is down to ensuring they don’t upset their readership. Clearly there are a lot more Leeds fans than any other club in the region and so are buying their paper, but surely there should be a little more balance?

BBC Radio Leeds has taken a similar stance. For years they have split their coverage of the West Yorkshire clubs over two frequencies – FM for Leeds United and MW for everyone else. In the past this can always be justified by Leeds being in a higher division than the rest, but this season they are at the same level as Huddersfield and the station has continued as they were. It would be interesting to see what they would do should Town go up, Leeds stay down and City go up this season. Though I get the feeling nothing would change.

With the excellent Derm Tanner, Radio Leeds’ coverage of City is still largely good (providing you have a digital radio) but there is no doubt the station suffers from not having a regular co-commentator for every City game. John Hendrie is there for home games and he is very interesting to listen too, away from home Derm is often on his own which must be hard work and isn’t as interesting. In this respect, Pulse Gold Sport are ahead with Ian Ormondroyd assisting Tim Thornton with commentary, although I find them frustrating to listen too as they can be extremely critical of City’s performances. They remind too much of other fans I sit around at VP, who moan at everything and look for fault. I listened to Tim interview Stuart McCall after the Chester league win and he was bursting with pride for Stuart getting the win, obviously no runs in as yet a-la Todd last season!

In my view, local football has suffered from ITV’s questionable decision to reduce the budget for regional coverage in the last few years. In the past we had the excellent Goals on Sunday with highlights of a local game every week, plus Football league Extra in the early hours of Monday. The Sunday morning Championship programme is fantastic and, like it’s predecessor Football League Extra, is the best produced ITV football show, but the loss of ‘Goals on Sunday’ still feels sad.

Instead we now have the Thursday evening half hour programme Soccer Night. I’m left confused and angry as to why, every year, the new series of this begins months into the football season. This year it returned at the beginning of November. I look forward to this show every week as it’s an all too rare opportunity to watch local football, though I stupidly always forget how bad it’s going to be.

Presented by Andy Townsend, a massively underemployed ITV pundit with no relevance to Yorkshire football whatsoever, the show usually devotes little air time to the region’s teams. Last Thursday’s edition began with a ten minute chat about England’s Euro 2008 qualifying defeat the night before. Yes this is interesting, but it was receiving huge coverage every where else. This slot is supposed to be for local football!

Not for the first time they had invited a guy called Mike (a TalkSport presenter) as a guest. He seems to go out of his way to offer ‘controversial’ opinions. Townsend asked him what he thought of Leeds being 4th in the league, Mike replied that it was disgraceful that they and Forest were in League One and declared that a new rule should be brought in where, if a big club finishes in the drop zone, their relegation is cancelled if the club due to take their place has a smaller fan base. Ignoring the sheer idiocy of such a view, didn’t anyone on the programme consider how offensive this might be to supporters of other clubs watching? What about Scunthorpe United fans, whose team replaced Leeds United in the Championship this season? Townsend just nodded along as though he agreed!

Also sitting on the Soccer Night sofa each week is Peter Beagrie. Much as I love our former hero, he seems to be one of a new generation of football pundits who look comfortable on camera but say nothing of value. On Thursday, Townsend asked Beags about City’s season so far. After stating he thought his mate Stuart had been mad to take the City job, he explained that he hoped City would get some investment next season as ‘not a lot of people know that Julian Rhodes is keeping the club going on his own’. He then ‘revealed’ City have one of the smallest squads in the division! At this point I was searching around my room for something to throw at Beags, for talking garbage on my TV.

If Beags had done his homework, or talked to his mate, he would know that City now have investment from Mark Lawn, a guy who recently stated that City need to trim their squad as it’s too big! I find it really frustrating that this half hour weekly slot to cover local football is wasted by this awful programme. The views expressed lack any research or thought.

Although at least they ignore Leeds United as much as the rest of the region’s teams.

McCall or McClaren?

Our home game verses Stockport County came at the end of a footballing week that most England supporters will want to forget. If you are reading this piece of editorial and you don’t know that England lost to Croatia by 3 goals to 2, you must have been on the moon for the past week. England’s failure to qualify for the Euro 2008 finals has got football supporters up and down the land contemplating what went wrong for Steve McClaren and the England football team. Whilst I am disappointed that England haven’t qualified for next years finals, I was more concerned about the outcome of Bradford City’s home game verses Stockport County. Prior to kick off we were sitting in 18th position in Division 4 with 18 points; only 8 points above the trap door to non league obscurity. Yes, we went into the Stockport game having won our previous 3 games but we should remember that there is still a long way to go until the end of the season and we could still get dragged into a relegation scrap.

McCall made one change to the team which won 4-1 at Dagenham and Redbridge last Saturday by recalling Ndumbu-Nsungu following his one match suspension and placing Daley on the substitutes bench after his goal scoring appearance for Jamaica against Guatemala in mid week. The first half was a tight affair, but neither side created a goal scoring opportunity. There were no corners in the first half which indicates that the first 45 minutes were rather void of goal mouth action. Indeed, the pre-match talk in the Bantams Past museum outlining Bradford City’s triumphant 1911 FA Cup story in the presence of Jimmy Spiers great grandson was far more incident packed as Dave Pendleton and John Ashton decided to re-start their interesting presentation owing to Spiers great grandson and family’s delayed appearance.

Surely the second half would be more incident packed. I had queued during half time for a cup of tea and actually missed the first couple of minutes action of the second half but was informed by Messer’s Ashcroft and Onions that I’d only missed a good save by Ricketts. City started to pass the ball a bit more which is always good to see and this was partly due to the fact that we had more width with Daley replacing Phelan at half time. However, for the second consecutive home game we had a man sent off for a second yellow card; this time it was Heckingbottom early into the second half. Could City hold out like they did verses Chester City in the FA Cup? McCall decided to employ the hard working Nix at left back and kept two up front with Thorne and Ndumbu-Nsungu. As the clock ticked away the City supporters found their voices more and we played better with only 10 men. Evans was effective in midfield whilst Clarke continued to improve alongside Wetherall.

With only 20 minutes remaining, Evans played a neat pass into Ndumbu-Nsungu, who strongly held off a couple of challenges before unleashing a low right foot drive past Logan in the Stockport County goal. City continued to play the better football although Ricketts did make one excellent finger tip save. With time running out, the 4th official displayed 5 minutes of injury time. Grumbles from within the home sections of supporters could be heard and as the ball bobbled around in the City box, Poole stroked the ball past Ricketts for a late equaliser.

Talk at the final whistle centred around the fact that City had annoyingly conceded a late equaliser whilst others stated that they would have accepted a point when Heckingbottom was dismissed. As I walked away from Valley Parade I kept thinking about Nicky Law’s response when asked who should be the next England manager? His answer to the Radio Leeds presenter the day before the Stockport County game was Stuart McCall. Now then, which team would you rather follow; one managed by McCall or one by McClaren?

Twenty-Twenty Vision

I watch a lot of football, live and on television. On Saturday I was at Valley Parade for the cup game and by Monday evening I was in front of the TV watching Coventry v West Brom. In little over 48 hours I saw the arguments for and against referees being assisted by technology – or at least by each other.

Let’s start with G’s sending-off. I was in the Midland Road, Block B, near the back. The sending off was for an ‘offence’ near the Main Stand touchline, about a third of the way into the other half of the pitch from my seat. I was, thus, the best part of 70 or 80 yards away. The referee, Mr Salisbury, was probably 15 or so yards away and his assistant not much more than 10 yards distant, with nothing between him and the incident. The fourth official was along the same touchline and perhaps 20 yards off.

The referee – and perhaps only the referee, for we will never know – decided almost instantly that whatever he thought G did amounted to a bookable offence, with the inevitable consequence for a player he had booked a few minutes earlier. The assistant, according to reports, and perhaps even the fourth official, didn’t think so. Indeed, even from the other side of the ground the first thing to be seen was City players and officials going to the assistant, clearly imploring him to speak to the referee and say what he saw. As far as I could tell, he stayed motionless and mute. By then, he must have thought, it was too late, such was the speed with which Mr Salisbury produced the card.

Next day, with the aid of those clever people who invented the Sky+ box, I saw the incident again, first in real time, then slowed down and several times over. The cameraman, at the back of the Midland Road stand and on the half-way line, did a good job and produced a reasonably close picture of the incident. I saw nothing to support the referee’s hastily-formed view and everything to support the equally quick opinion of Wayne Jacobs and others. Not for the first time, then, an injustice appears to have been done and one that cannot be challenged on appeal.

Move forward now to Monday evening. The referee was Mr Dowd, a Premiership official. (I hope he won’t take offence if I suggest he would look fitter with less round the middle.) A Coventry player, Michael Mifsud, ran toward a long, high, diagonal pass at the same time as a West Brom defender, Carl Hoefkens, came from a different direction. Because it was a long ball, the ref was never going to be on the spot and was probably 30 yards away when the two players came together in mid-air. He did, however, have an unobstructed view and blew immediately for a foul by Mifsud.

The foul took place some thirty yards into the half Coventry were attacking and near their left wing. The assistant on that touchline was on the other side of the half-way line, so further away than Mr Dowd. The assistant in that half of the pitch was inevitably on the opposite touchline, much further away than Mr Dowd. The fourth official, Mr Hall, (seen to do a good job at Valley Parade as recently as a Tuesday of the previous week) was also on the opposite side of the pitch and again much further away then the referee.

Mr Dowd did not reach for his pocket. A few West Brom players made their anger toward Mifsud fairly plain, suggesting that he had led with his elbow. Still Mr Dowd was not going to his pocket. Instead he was putting his hand to his ear. At this level the officials can all communicate with each other through earpieces and someone was clearly trying to communicate with Mr Dowd. He began a curious process of backing away from the incident and toward the fourth official. He continued this journey for most of the width of the pitch before he began checking his pockets. It was plain that he was making sure which card was in which pocket. He called Mifsud over to him and finally produced a red card.

I watched that incident a few times, as well. Mr Dowd’s decision was absolutely spot-on. Mifsud did indeed lead with his elbow and wasn’t even looking at the ball. If Mifsud had been Hoefken’s size (he’s about a foot shorter), there was a broken cheekbone waiting to happen. So, well done Mr Dowd and, perhaps, well done Mr Hall and/or one of the assistants.

Questions were asked in the half-time studio chat, not least about whether Mr Hall could have seen the Sky pictures – there was a screen not far from his position, but it seemed unlikely that he would have gone to it, given its particular location. The real question for the pundits, however, was what had happened to persuade Mr Dowd, after such a long pause and backward trot, that the correct decision was a red card. Somebody, somewhere had clearly been talking into his earpiece. Maybe he would have sent off Mifsud anyway. We shall never know.

Maybe, if he’d had some communication in his ear from either his assistant or the fourth official, Mr Salisbury wouldn’t have given G that second booking. He might even, as Mr Hall had done in the previous game and as Stuart McCall is now doing, have questioned whether a Chester player was being entirely honest. But maybe no amount of communication would have changed anything. Maybe Mr Salisbury was right all along – or at least believes that to be the case.

But this isn’t about good and bad refereeing decisions. If it was, picking one from your own team’s match would be a poor decision in itself. No, this is about how refereeing decisions are made. If, for example, Mr Dowd had had four assistants, one would have been very close to the Mifsud incident, almost as close as Mr Salisbury’s assistant was to the G incident. If Mr Salisbury had had Mr Dowd’s communication system (am I right in thinking that at our level some referees do have this system and others don’t?), might there have been a word in his ear or might it simply have been too late anyway?

Try to put to one side the actual circumstances from Saturday, especially that it was a City player involved. Then ask yourself as a football fan, which would you rather have – that the referee makes quick and sometimes wrong decisions that might change the course of the game; or that the referee takes a little time, gets better information and makes more correct decisions, using whatever technology is available.

I have a friend who works in Dutch television. Just a year ago I was with him in the press seats at the Amsterdam ArenA (and that really is the way to spell it) watching England play Holland. I saw how quickly the replays can be shown. Neither Saturday’s game nor Monday evening’s would have been slowed down in any way by resorting to a replay, if the screen had been made available to the fourth official. Of course, there are some cases where there should be enough eyes sufficiently near the incident to make any replay redundant. But that requires that referees don’t reach hasty conclusions, that their assistants really are allowed to assist, rather than just follow in silence, and that the fourth official, himself a qualified referee, does more than hold up the board for substitutions and stoppage time. It also requires that a referee is prepared to accept that he may not always be right, which in some cases may be a problem.

Well done, Mr Dowd, I say. And you can work out for yourself what advice I might give to Mr Salisbury.

View from the dugout

Cup football presents certain opportunities. A chance to see the Bantams face someone different from usual (although for City that’s largely not been the case recently), reading a match day programme filled with contributors’ sentiments of how “it’s about time City went on a good cup run” and, largely unnoticed, the prospect on an entertaining cup tie. The Tranmere 1st Round FA Cup tie two seasons ago was one of the better games of that season while the 4-0 thrashing of Crewe, which took place exactly a year ago, was probably City’s best performance of a forgettable campaign.

It’s also an opportunity to be there when so many others fail to bother and bask in the smug satisfaction of labelling yourself a ‘loyal supporter’ when the pitiful attendance, in this case less than 4,000 City fans, is announced. With even more empty seats than usual, there’s also an opportunity to watch the game from a different place.

If you include the live beamback of the Newcastle United FA Cup tie in 1999, I’ve watched City play from each side of Valley Parade. There’s one view point I’ve been especially interested in watching a game from and, with all seating up for grabs, I took the opportunity on Saturday. I wanted to watch the game from how the dug out sees it.

Arriving half hour before kick off, we made our way to the front row of the Main Stand and took a seat just behind the home dug out so that we could see and hear how Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs behave during matches – something I couldn’t possibly tell from where I usually sit, on the opposite side of the pitch.

Wayne reacted to Thorne’s goal by running towards Stuart for another hug, but the City boss rejected his advances. Perhaps fearing he might have hurt his assistant’s feelings, Stuart then stuck out his hand so that the two could enjoy a more reserved, gentlemanly handshake.

We were also able to witness a hilarious argument with Bobby Williamson and supporters. During the week the Chester manager had somewhat bizarrely made public comments that Bradford City don’t have any outstanding players, a view that surely fired up people in the home dressing room. As Williamson came to the away dugout, one supporter stood and began angrily barracking him for his comments. Williamson responded by turning away and laughing. The fan continued shouting, prompting a member of the Chester backroom team to tell him to shut up. Another City fan then shouted at this Chester coaching member, who replied by inviting the City fan to ‘take this outside’!

Attention soon turned to Stuart and Wayne walking down the touchline, both of whom received a round of applause from fans nearby. The game kicked off and both spent the whole 90 minutes stood on the touchline barking encouragement. It’s a cliché but true, they really did appear to kick every ball.

Both Stuart and Wayne were continuously giving instructions and demanding more from certain players. In particular they were shouting at Eddie Johnson and Omar Daley. They had clear ideas of where on the pitch they wanted Daley to be, going forward and defending. Eddie was called over to the bench for instructions on several occasions. At times Eddie’s face was that of someone fed up of being told what to do, but he always appeared to take on board the instructions and enjoyed another decent game in the hub of midfield.

He missed City’s best chance in the opening stages when he failed to connect to Paul Evans’ brilliant free kick. Soon after City were in front with an excellently worked goal. Daley was ordered to take up a good position from a throw in and he and Darren Williams worked the ball along to give Evans a chance to cross. His delivery was perfect for Peter Thorne who headed the ball into the far corner for his first City goal.

Viewers of Thursday’s Yorkshire TV Soccer Night will have seen a clip of Stuart and Wayne hugging when City’s second goal on Tuesday had gone in, a celebration perhaps wilder than usual. Wayne reacted to Thorne’s goal by running towards Stuart for another hug, but the City boss rejected his advances. Perhaps fearing he might have hurt his assistant’s feelings, Stuart then stuck out his hand so that the two could enjoy a more reserved, gentlemanly handshake.

Joy soon turned to anger at the referee’s inept performance. Just before half time Guylian Ndumbu-Nsungu challenged for a loose ball which he appeared to win. At worst, he slightly tapped Chester’s Laurence Wilson in the process, but the full back collapsed as though he had been shot. The referee sent G off for two yellows. It was a moment strikingly similar to Steve Schumacher’s incorrect dismissal against Blackpool last season. Naturally Stuart was livid and ran over to the linesman and referee to tell them so. He later revealed, on radio, that the linesman had agreed with Stuart that it was wrong to send G off.

In the second half it was backs to the wall again as City sought to hang on. Like on Tuesday, Chester piled on the pressure forcing City deep but again the home side largely defended well. The substitutions, who I enjoyed getting to know about before everyone else by being able to hear Stuart tell them they were coming on, were also highly effective. Scott Phelan should be feeling especially pleased. He’s become somewhat forgotten since the Accrington debacle but he has some promise about him.

For all their pressure, Chester had only one real chance with Donovan Ricketts saving well. At one stage Ricketts’ came rushing out of his goal for no reason. Hearing Stuart mutter “what’s he doing now?” made me smile – proof that Stuart is thinking the same as the rest of us! It’s been a great week for our recalled keeper and a second clean sheet of the season will only increase his confidence.

At the final whistle Bobby Williamson turned to clap the fans in the main stand with a curious smile. You get the feeling he had enjoyed the banter he had experienced with City fans, but will probably be glad he doesn’t have to visit us again this season. I wonder if he still thinks we have no outstanding players?

As for Stuart and Wayne, it was hugely enjoyable to observe them from close quarters. Both spent the match barking instructions and Stuart clearly has belief in his assistant Wayne to allow him to shout out his own views. Occasionally they chatted to each other, but both seemed happy to watch and talk to the players on their own initiative. Stuart is clearly his own boss and he has already perfected those bizarre managerial finger movements and hand signals which don’t appear to mean anything.

It was also quite bemusing, midway through the second half with the game stopped due to injury, to observe Wayne call Paul Heckingbottom over and give him instructions for a few minutes. During his first spell at the club Heckingbottom won the left back spot over Jacobs. Clearly no lack of respect from Hecky, as he took the advice of a bloke he used to keep out of the team!

In the pub before the match I was asked that, if a non-legend had been in charge, do I think he would have been sacked for the results so far this season? If some people really believe that’s the case it shows what’s wrong with fans expectations sometimes. Legend or not, should any new manager be dismissed so quickly? It’s still very early days in Stuart’s managerial career and some of the criticism he has received in recent weeks has been undeserved. It’s going to take time to turn around a club which has been falling for so long. Hopefully these two victories over Chester point to an improvement which will continue.

As for the dug out view, it would be wrong for me to write that Stuart and Wayne showed themselves to be a great management team. I don’t know what’s good touchline behaviour, or what’s bad. What I did see and hear was how they wanted City to play and what certain players should be doing. I also saw a decent performance – not as good as elements of Tuesday’s, but also not as bad – where everyone in Claret and Amber contributed. I will return to my usual seat in the Midland Road stand for the Stockport game in two weeks continuing my backing for a management team who, legend or not, I believe can eventually turn round the flagging fortunes of this club.

The Dogs of Winter

Managers should know their own position – at least that is the theory – and for sure Stuart McCall seems to have started to learn a lesson about his position holding the Bradford City midfield together.

As he wakes this morning McCall has his first win as Bradford City manager in eight games – a 2-1 victory over Chester City – and when pieces fall together one hopes the correlation between the return of Paul Evans and his pairing with the industrious Eddie Johnson and the spirited Nicky Law will not be lost. McCall put out a midfield with a remit to work hard and keep the ball and the desire to do both seldom flagged.

It is impossible to under estimate the impact that the return of Evans has had on the side. As an engine in the midfield he equals McCall in spirit if not ability and as an exemplar to the rest of the Bantams he should be lauded from the rooftops of Manningham. If every player in the side showed the effort that Evans puts in – playing every ball as if it were his last kick in the profession – then we would see more performances like Omar Daley’s best of the season last night.

With engines engaged the likes of Daley – shifted to a forward role for long periods last night to allow a tight midfield four of Johnson, Evans, Law and Nix to control the game – improved immeasurably. Daley’s opening goal – a screamer from distance – had been coming for some time and arrived with an implicit challenge for McCall to raise the levels of the winger’s performance that high on a weekly basis.

Confidence is the key – it normally is – and City seemed to bloom with the confidence of having the ball courtesy of the ball winning midfield. With some control of the game and the returning Peter Thorne intelligently holding the line confidence started to flow through the team. Passing movements – lost in recent months returned – and Paul Heckingbottom and Kyle Nix began to craft chances on the flank which built to a corner which resulted in a clumsy tackle by Mark Hughes on Eddie Johnson after the City man had stepped around him and a penalty that – curiously – Young Nicky Law decided to take and took weakly for keeper John Danby to save. I always admire a player who has the cahoonas to take a penalty but like David Batty circa 98 before him I’ll never understand why non-goal getting midfielders take the job on.

Law’s weak attempt was but a memory after Omar Daley gave City the lead that first half deserved – and let us not forget the context of the 19 of 21 points Chester City had picked up on the road – and even a curiously given second half penalty against Matthew Clarke for fouling Kevin Ellison on the edge of the box could not dent City’s gathering of a win.

The foul seemed a mirror of a free kick given against Chester for a foul on Thorne in the first half and one supposes the Ref Andy Hall saw a significant difference in the two but the sense that justice was done when Donovan Ricketts saved the spot kick was clear. Ricketts deserved it on his return.

A mention also for Matthew Clarke for whom Mark Bower was dropped and who provided the pace and power that allowed a more able display from David Wetherall with the older man’s pace problems less readily exposed and the younger man’s presence working well.

Nevertheless despite increasing second half pressure and a rather bizarre switch of Law and Johnson which seemed to nullify both Wetherall and Clarke will have more busy evenings.

Alex Rhodes made the result sure with a run that probably included a bit of the stands as well as the left wing so far out it seemed but that did not seem to matter when Rhodes finished off the move with a smart finish. Two minutes later Kevin Ellison made it interesting with a diving header that seemed a good way offside – League Two Referees have a way of levelling things out – but the final whistle came and McCall had that much awaited win.

From the win though come the lessons. The passion that Paul Evans brought to the team raised the games of many around him – as McCall did for City – and as with the ginger midfielder’s ball winning of old the more that the Bantams had the ball the more chances came. Perhaps the real lesson is that while Stuart could perform the role solo it takes two men to replace him.

To Live And Die With Stuart

After Saturday’s game, I distinctly remembered a comment from a friend that was made before a ball had been kicked this season, which I took as a joke at the time. “How long or how bad a run would it take for City fans to start calling for Stuart’s head?”.

Well now, after six defeats in eight, and lying forth bottom in League Two at the start of November, the fingers are already pointing – and yes, our Stuart is not even exempt from being blamed by some supporters.

It has widely been discussed that we have tried all kinds of managers with different attributes and reputations since it was apparent that we were about to fall out of the Premiership in early 2001. All have resoundingly failed and the task of getting City back on track was handed to one of our heroes this summer amidst widespread euphoria within the club.

In his playing career, everywhere that Stuart went, success came instantly, and many thought that this trend would continue managing his beloved hometown club. But the story so far this season has been difficult to say the least.

Perhaps Stuart set expectations too high when he was appointed. But I was absolutely delighted to hear the optimism of “If we don’t bounce back into League One straight away, I will view myself as a failure”. Getting spirits, expectations and morale up within a football is essential if you want to become a winning team – and more than 12,000 people put their hands in their pockets to see if Stuart could come up with a winning formula and create a team capable of challenging this season.

But the reality has been hard to bear so far. Our dreadful home form has continued in the same vain as in recent years, and when we do play well, we can’t finish teams off and/or put the ball in the back of the net. A glance at the League table makes worrying reading indeed and after Saturday’s performance most fans feel like we don’t have a chance of being at the business end of the league this season and that we should concentrate on avoiding relegation.

So, who is to blame for our start to the season? To be honest with you, I would hesitate to single out even one person. Everything at the club seems to be set for a successful season. The support at all matches is there without question. Yes, on Saturday, supporters were not behind the team as much as they should have been, but I view that very much as a one off.

Stuart was everyone’s first choice as manager, and supporters questioning his appointment or ability as a manager are nothing short of foolish. He wants to bring success to this club so badly and I am sure he will have turned down more money offered by other clubs during the summer to come “home”. His signings have been positive. Thorne was his big signing, and there is still hope he will come good. Conlon scored 12 goals in this league last season ( so his credentials appeared to check out, despite his poor performances that he has gone on to have), Heckingbottom and Evans were welcomed back, and Alex Rhodes and Kyle Nix look decent players.

We must not forget that this is Stuart’s first shot at management. He does need time to work out how to get promoted out of this league, as he has never been involved in lower league football before. He needs time to work out his best formation and style of play. He needs to work out every single strength and weakness of all his players. All these things cannot just magically happen when you come into a club that has been in free fall in the last seven years.

I believe that we need to stick with Stuart for literally as long as it takes for him to get it right. For all we know, we still might have a shot at the playoffs this season ( which is getting less and less likely the more games we see this year!). But even if it takes years to get this club up the leagues, Stuart is the man for this job. He wears his heart on his sleeve and will never quit until he gets success. That has what he has done throughout his career and it is what you are guaranteed with Stuart McCall.

There may come a time in the future where Stuart has taken us as far as he can, or as a result of his success, he gets poached by another club. But as we stand today, let’s unite behind our all time favourite player. He will turn our fortunes around sooner or later, and the more we support him, the more determined he will be to get us back on track. Negativity is bound to go hand in hand with bad results, but we have 32 games left to play this season and the teams in this league are nothing to worry about if we get our form sorted out.

Lets support Stuart and the team tomorrow night like I know we can. Lets get them believing in themselves again. If we turn against our messier, like some supporters have been doing, we will never get this club back to where we should/want to be. If we continue with negative attitudes, those demons will shoot us down until Bradford City FC is no more.

Rubbish

If you want to read about which players were to blame for yesterday’s defeat and who we should ‘get rid’, you’d be better advised reading the numerous City message boards instead of this. Most of these will be filled with views of who is the biggest disgrace, which players aren’t fit to wear the shirt and how it’s also Stuart and the Board’s fault. A lot of these opinions will be hysterical rubbish, but are likely to satisfy the need of the many fans who consider everything disgusting.

They’re right of course; Saturday was indeed disgusting. I left Valley Parade feeling appalled and pessimistic about the future. However, it wasn’t the performance and attitude of the players that left me feeling angry – it was those in the stands.

What happened? To date the efforts of supporters has been largely fantastic, but on Saturday I felt it was us who didn’t turn up. From the moment the teams came onto the field and Donovan Ricketts, back in the team after his four game ‘rest’, failed to receive a good reception, the atmosphere felt odd. The game kicked off but there was no chanting, no cheering and little support offered towards the players. The place felt flat and at one stage I could hear the players shouting at each other on the pitch – I sit close to the back of the Midland Road stand and I’m half deaf! In a ground with 13,000+ supporters that simply isn’t good enough.

I’m sure you’re backing will be fantastic again. I can’t ask for any more than that – Stuart McCall’s programme notes

The fans in the Kop have been fantastic this season, but only seem to find their voice when the players kick off towards them in the second half. Why don’t you start chanting from kick off? The support in the Midland Road stand was even more pathetic, save for a handful of fans in C block attempting to start chants. As fans, we expect the players to show 100% effort and commitment for the cause – yet we can’t even be bothered to sing a few chants.

No one was getting behind the team, who after a slow start began to get on top and created some decent chances. Everyone appeared more happy to moan and find fault with the team’s efforts, no matter how tedious their complaints were. After a few good passing moves into the Brentford area didn’t quite result in a goal, City played a long ball which went through to the Brentford keeper. “You see!” said one fan a few rows in front of me, “all we do is launch long balls up, we’re so predictable!” Yes, of course that’s all we do.

I wouldn’t argue City were fantastic in the first half, but we were the better side and desperately unlucky not to take the lead. Then Brentford scored with a wonder strike. At half time the boos came down from all three stands, undeserved in my view. Walking around the concourse with steam coming out of my ears, one fan decided to helpfully tell me that City were going to be relegated this season. Thanks for this insightful knowledge, now I know not to bother with the rest of the season. Maybe we should tell the players and management this so they can give up on the season as well?

In the second half City came out all guns blazing and fans finally started getting behind the team. Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu hit the bar with a header and Barry Conlon wasted the rebound. When Conlon missed another easy chance minutes later, the boos started again. At one stage there was the ridiculous situation of Conlon being booed while in possession, as it appeared he was about to lose it. The Irish striker then did well to keep the ball and play it to another City player, the silence from these fans was deafening! Where’s the “good play Conlon, come on City!”?

They were soon booing him again when he was subbed though, which I thought was completely unfair. Conlon was guilty of missing some excellent chances and didn’t play well, but he gave everything and hardly meant to miss.

After Brentford scored the second, again against the run of play which most fans chose to ignore, we had more boos and anger. A friend in the main stand told me that a couple of fans in the Kop threw their season tickets onto the pitch in disgust. At the final whistle, despite City almost coming back after Mark Bower scored, there were more boos from the fans who hadn’t already left. Some stayed back to wait until the players had shaken hands with the Brentford players and began walking over to applaud the fans, so they could boo the team again. The players just turned away and walked off and who can blame them?

Let’s put this into perspective. I think City were very unfortunate to lose this game. It wasn’t a great performance, but they were on top for large spells and created some excellent chances. The ball just wouldn’t go in, while Brentford created two chances and scored them both. The only time I thought the players were poor was in their response to going 2-0 behind. Their heads dropped and they looked beaten, despite there been 30 minutes still to play. But as supporters had given up – on both the game and the season – who can blame them?

I’ve seen worse performances from City this season and to receive such a high level of abuse was unjustified. We’re on a really poor run of form and confidence is low. Understandably we’re all really frustrated, we expected to be around 4th in the league – not 4th bottom! But for how bad our recent form is I really don’t believe we should write off the season like this. There’s a long way to go and I still think we can sneak a play off spot this season.

Fans demanding we get rid of certain players are being simplistic. Should City really throw money away cancelling contracts of players not performing? Where do they think this money will come from? More than likely it would be from whatever transfer budget Stuart has for improving the ability of the playing squad. We can demand some of the younger players come in, but would they have the mental strength to cope with the boos from 13,000 people? It could destroy them.

I continue to be both astounded and humbled by the level of support both at home and away and I can only hope your patience is rewarded eventually – Julian Rhodes’ programme notes.

The simple fact is that, until January, we have to persist with the playing squad we have. Of course changes have to be made for Tuesday and Stuart will do so – a recall for Paul Evans is surely a must. This current squad can do much better than present form and we should get behind them in attempting to do so. There’s no magic wand to make it all better, they need to keep working hard and give their all and eventually our luck will turn.

As fans, we have a huge role to play. I really think that the reaction and atmosphere on Saturday harmed the team far greater than Conlon’s misses. It felt like the day the fans wrote off for the season but this shouldn’t be the case. On Tuesday we should be getting behind the players from the first whistle to the last. Players will make mistakes and there are times we all groan but, if we stick with them and save the moaning until half time or the pub after, our support can make the difference.

We’re all sick of losing and being where we are in the league, but everyone needs to take responsibility in turning the situation around. That especially includes us supporters.

Something to cheer

Football, least we forget, is all about goals.

A miserable afternoon of failed effort and frustration can be wiped away by the sight of the ball crossing the white line. The result that appears in the following day’s newspaper is all that matters and all of us would gladly swap a good performance for a good result.

So when City equalised with the final kick of the ball at Blundell Park on Saturday, the disappointment of what had gone on before was eclipsed by wild celebrations and a pitch invasion so enthusiastic City manager Stuart McCall had to run over to the away stand and appeal for calm.

Were such celebrations justified? The build up to this fixture included whispers of ‘six pointer’ and ‘must win’ for two sides desperately short on form. Imagining the game would end as 1-1 draw before kick off would have certainly felt disappointing to the 1,000+ City fans who journeyed to Cleethorpes. On Saturday evening I met with friends, plus received text messages from others, who supported different teams and all seemed to be of the opinion that ‘only’ drawing with Grimsby was a poor result. “Can Bradford sink any lower?” was one text message I received. Well yes and no was my reply. Of course it can get worse than this, but it probably won’t.

From the moment former City striker Isaiah Rankin’s outstretched foot collided into City goalkeeper Rhys Evans’ shoulder, as the two players contested a low cross, it was easy to imagine a sixth defeat in seven was on the cards. Evans was left in a lot of pain and, although he tried to play on, had to come off shortly afterwards. With Donovan Ricketts sat in the stands rather than sat on the bench, City had to see out the remaining 70 minutes without a recognised goalkeeper.

Mark Bower was elected back up keeper and swapped centre back duties with Matt Clarke, who made an impressive first league appearance of the season, replacing the injured Evans. It was easy to be fearful of conceding every time Grimsby poured forward but, curiously, City actually began defending better, as though they knew they had to protect Mark Bower’s goal at all costs.

The half time mutterings from some fans were of disapproval at Stuart’s decision not to include a keeper on the bench, although no one knew at the time that Ricketts was in fact injured, which was why Stuart didn’t include him in the 16. To be fair to Bower, he didn’t put a foot wrong in goal and even produced an excellent tip over from a second half free kick.

The goal that he did concede was easily preventable though. Matt Clarke picked up a loose ball in the area and appeared to ignore the calls of Bower charging up behind to leave it for him to collect. Even then this would have been okay had Clarke’s clearance not been so woeful. The ball went straight to Grimsby’s Shaleum Logan and the on-loan Man City full back produced a delicate lob over the back peddling Bower which flew into the net.

The dreaded moment had happened, although in some ways it felt like a positive. I’d personally felt sick to the stomach every time Grimsby poured forward for fear of our non-keeper conceding a soft goal. Now that had happened and it was up to City to come back.

The next fifteen minutes saw heavy pressure from City with Guylian Ndumbu-Nsungu looking a real threat and twice going close. Kyle Nix and Paul Heckingbottom also had chances, before City seemed to run out of ideas and Grimsby got on top again. It appeared as though the game was lost with City’s season-long difficulty of finding the back of the net continuing.

Two substitutions changed that tide with Alex Rhodes impressing after replacing Nix. He whipped in some of the best crosses of the game, although no one was able to get on the end. Barry Conlon, with two previous brilliant performances, was a major disappointment. He failed to hold up the ball adequately and couldn’t seem to get in the game. Conlon was hauled off to a mixture of jeers from some fans and cheers from others. Supporters’ views of our big number nine clearly remain mixed and those who don’t rate him were given more ammunition after this performance. It’s becoming clear that Conlon’s biggest failing is his lack of consistency.

Conlon was replaced with Luke Medley who, like Clarke and Rhodes, proved an effective substitute. He was a handful and soon had the ball in the back of the net after a Grimsby defender and goalkeeper Barnes collision left him with a tap in, only for the referee Dave Foster to controversially rule it out. It was the latest in a string of decisions City failed to get from Foster but then, perhaps conscious he was wrong to disallow the goal; he appeared to start favouring City.

As the game moved towards stoppage time and City looked beaten Medley chased a through ball which Barnes came out to collect in his hands, but just stepped over the penalty box line in doing so. A free kick and, after a pause, a red card; neither team were going to end the day with the keeper they started with.

The free kick was well saved by sub keeper Gary Montgomery before Wetherall headed the rebound over and it appeared the game was lost. Then Medley chased another lost cause, managed to win the ball and ran through to the penalty area. He was blocked by Justin Whittle and the referee blew for a penalty. Fans were already running on the pitch in celebration. The tension was huge, but Ndumbu-Nsungu kept his cool to fire home the spot and cue the wild celebrations which again spilled onto the pitch.

Unlike others I didn’t really believe this game to be a six pointer. City might be low down the league at present, but I believe we’ll soon be climbing up regardless of if we had have lost on Saturday. With the backdrop of no goalkeeper, a point was something we would all have probably settled for after 25 minutes and it was just a relief to see that the efforts of the players, most of who played below their best, was rewarded with something. Defeat would have left us back to square one after the promising Darlington draw last week.

So while wild celebrations for a point at Grimsby might seem unusual to some, it was perfectly understandable to every one of us present who had suffered a tortuous 92 minutes where every time the home side came forward you felt they would score, where you wished Ricketts had been available, where it looked like City were going to fall short yet again and where we were facing a long journey home debating and pondering what’s gone wrong.

Before that, six games of nothing to cheer. The performance against Darlington felt good, but it wasn’t a cause for celebration. The only thing good since Bower’s winner against Peterborough, our last win, was when Bower again scored against Morecambe and we thought we were heading for a win. That feeling lasted less than half an hour and soon after we were feeling even more pain.

So while I can’t speak for everyone there, I personally celebrated wildly because every time I’ve been to watch City lately there’s been little to cheer and I was at last able to let out some of that frustration. This was for getting stuffed by Accrington, for losing late on against MK Dons and Morecambe, for watching City slump from play offs to relegation candidates and, in the process, become something of a laughing stock.

This season has seen a magnificent level of support from City fans and the huge numbers at Valley Parade and on the road is far more deserving of the performances and results we’ve been watching of late. We’ve been desperate for something to cheer and we deserve something to cheer.

Football is about goals and, while a 93rd minute equaliser against Grimsby Town might not sound much, it felt fantastic just to be celebrating something.

The Colbeck Factor

Ask any Bradford City fan what they want in a player and they will say the word “Passion” pretty soon.

Our hero is Stuart McCall – a man for whom every kick was done with passion – and our greatest teams are known for the hard working ethic they portrayed. Peter Beagrie is known as an idol at Valley Parade and a malingerer at Manchester City because he discovered this passion late on in his career – and cause for all his World Cup Winners medal Alan Ball was a tenth of the manager Paul Jewell is.

Passion is what got Bobby Campbell out of the pub and got us into the pubs of Bradford to raise the money to keep the club going twice the last five years. We love passion.

Joe Colbeck on the other hand is unloved by man.

Colbeck – who has joined Darlington on loan – has split opinion at Valley Parade for some time and for sure much of the debate centres on his abilities rather than his attitude. For what it is worth I believe that Colbeck can cross a ball better than most and with the right motivation and coaching he could be a valuable asset and a very good player. The fact that he is joining a rival League Two club having already been sniffed at by Derby County at one point suggestions that I’m not alone in rating the home grown winger.

Debate over ability aside what is uncontested is that Colbeck shows passion. The ginger winger will and does run up and down the right wing for every minute of every game he wears claret and amber and provides a stark contrast to his competitor on the right wing Omar Daley.

Daley is an impressive player running with the ball but we have all seen his head sink down when backs are to the wall and for all the excitement of him running at a full back one could never describe him as showing the desire to win for Bradford City which we would suggest he rate so highly.

It would seem that City can have one or the other – attempts to field right wingers on the left almost always fail – but not both in the starting eleven and Colbeck’s exit shows which one Stuart McCall has selected but one worries about the signifier which allowing a player who’s passion puts many to shame to leave on loan has. Play hard for this club, the move suggests, and it will mean nothing compared to the odd flash off skill

Colbeck – and for that matter the likes of Craig Bentham now and Danny Forrest before him – have a purpose in a squad of keeping the rest of the players honest. Having Joe Colbeck at the club should have showed Omar Daley that the minimum required for the right wing slot was to match the effort of the other player in his position.

One hopes that Colbeck’s exit does not tell all that putting in all the effort – all the passion – that one can muster is not the minimum required to be in Stuart McCall’s team.

Point Made

It was not feeling miserable when leaving, that was the best part about Saturday.

After four weekends where City have lost, not to mention the midweek Accrington debacle, that empty feeling that stays with you most of the week and leaves you not wanting to think about football had become all too familiar. I walked down Midland Road after the game feeling a little disappointed that City had failed to turn their superiority into a win and felt worried about the lack of goals and decent service running through the team, but I also left feeling much more positive about City’s prospects for the season and had renewed belief that happier times were not that far around the corner.

A lot of people came out of Saturday with credit. Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs have clearly worked hard on the training ground at lifting sagging spirits and raising confidence. Stuart has recently commented that it’s going to take a while to build a team that he is happy with, but the one assembled so far competed much better to belatedly demonstrate that fourth bottom of the entire Football League was a false position.

There wasn’t much different about the way the team lined up against Darlington than in previous games and Stuart resisted the urge to make wholesome changes. He was rewarded by those he kept faith with and seems to have a clear vision of how he wants his team to play. The sight of a second place team clearly time wasting and settling for a draw in the closing stages showed just how effective that play had been.

Credit also to the supporters who got behind the team. I was partly dreading Saturday’s game for fear of another defeat, I also feared the reaction of supporters to another loss. After the first 20 minutes there was barely a moan to be heard among supporters, apart from at the officials anyway, as everyone seemed to recognise that the 11 in claret and amber shirts were giving their all. The atmosphere felt a bit flat in the first half, but those in the Kop again got suitably behind the players as they attacked towards them in the second.

Having the biggest crowds in the division can be an effective weapon, but it can also be a hindrance. 12,000 moaning and complaining is a lot louder than 7,000 and we’ve already seen certain players disappear into their shells when the grumbles get louder. It’s hard to stay positive at times, but it was heartening that the crowd really got behind the players and encouraged them to keep going forward. It’s extremely rare for a 0-0 draw to be recognised with a standing ovation and it seemed clear the players really appreciated the support, by the way they held back to applaud the three stands. I don’t think they could have got off the pitch quicker at the final whistle against Accrington!

But credit most of all should go to the players. Their performances and general attitude have been openly questioned in recent weeks and deservedly so. We all know they can do better than five defeats in a row, but the criticism must have hurt. Only a year ago a couple of defeats became a crisis and performances got worse, as those paid to represent City struggled and failed to handle the pressure. Stuart spoke before the Darlo match of expecting no one to hide and every player responded well. It was hard to find fault with anyone’s performance, if only one of the numerous chances created could have been put away.

I arrived at Valley Parade expecting little, I certainly didn’t imagine I would witness City’s best home performance of the season so far. To an uninformed observer, it would have been easy to be confused over which team sat second in the league and which was near the bottom. The quality of the final ball still leaves a lot to be desired and I can’t remember a City side who have ever put in so many awful corners, but we weren’t far away from giving Darlo a real spanking.

Perhaps the most heartening thing about the display was the work rate from everyone, something lacking in recent weeks. Omar Daley has excited and then frustrated all too often, but has barely tracked back into his own half during the last few defeats. On Saturday he was helping his defence and getting up and down the pitch really well. We know he has plenty of skill and pace, but it’s the end product and desire to work hard when City don’t have the ball that’s been lacking.

Omar was often back in the City penalty area on Saturday helping out Darren Williams, who was outstanding, while he also looked a threat going forward. On the other winger Kyle Nix looks a really impressive player and a winger who can also tackle. He’s not the quickest, especially compared to Daley, but his dribbling is excellent and he showed a cool head to work the ball into good positions and find a team mate.

Up front, Barry Conlon has looked a different player the last two games. Yes he should have scored at least twice and he does seem to hesitate when a chance comes his way, but as a target man holding up the ball he was phenomenal. Players could clear the ball up to him, when under pressure, and the ball would stick there. He helped lay on some excellent chances and also has a reasonable first touch.

It’s hard to imagine Conlon reaching double figures for us this season, but if he can get a goal from open play his confidence will surely go up another notch. The challenge for Conlon is to maintain and perhaps better his last two performances. Should he keep it up, he will be a regular name on the team sheet regardless of how often he finds the net.

Defensively City were much better and, while Mark Bower and David Wetherall have performed much better the last three games, the protection the whole midfield gave them also helped. Watching recent games, to me it has felt too many forward players were expecting the defence to win the ball back and waited up field for a pass. Against Morecambe we often appeared outnumbered when the home side attacked so it was good to see Nicky Law and Eddie Johnson working hard in both boxes. Paul Heckingbottom also bounced back well after a series of poor displays.

Ultimately it’s down to the players to turn around the slump and get City into winning ways. Saturday was a great start and hopefully confidence and belief will have returned. The performance was heartening and we should have won, but it’s important the result becomes something to build on rather than a high point. It’s worth noting that Saturday’s failure to find the breakthrough means it’s over 300 minutes since City last scored at Valley Parade.

On Saturday City travel to face a Grimsby side which has lost four on the bounce and so won’t be feeling too confident themselves. It’s important City stand up to the challenge and come away with something. After our own dismal run it’s fair to say that our players will know how Grimsby will be feeling right now – and also know why we shouldn’t underestimate them. Hopefully Darlo will be the turning point but, for how well City’s players performed against the high flying Quakers, it’s a level of performance and effort required every week.

So we left Valley Parade much happier than we arrived, with more confidence about our season and the hope that the slide has been arrested. After four Saturday’s in a row feeling miserable, let’s hope we’ve had our quota for a while and can enjoy the rest of our weekend once more. Surely it’s time the footballing gods started sharing out the misery, starting with that lot t’other side of Pudsey.

Frustrating Revelations

Despite dominating the game and play for the most part, City were forced to settle for a point in this frustrating encounter at Valley Parade.

A point against a team placed second at the start of play today looks like a half decent result – But the overwhelming feeling of the home support walking away from the ground was a feeling of two points dropped rather than one gained.

That said , many positives have come out of today’s game. City looked very assured and comfortable in defence for the first time since the Peterborough game, with Mark Bower particularly outstanding in a whole hearted performance. Rhys Evans, on his home debut, looked commanding from set pieces and corners but was never properly tested by a very disappointing Darlington side.

A revelation today was young Nicky Law. He gave an accomplished performance throughout – doing the simple things well, getting stuck in and hardly misplacing one pass throughout the 90 minutes. He was tenacious defensively and was clearly thinking through every attacking move he initiated – reading the game brilliantly.

If Darlington are a benchmark in this division, then City must think they have a chance of getting into the playoffs despite recent turbulent results. They offered hardly a scare going forward, whereas City carved out numerous very presentable opportunities. The best of which fell to Barry Conlon in the first half, when Kyle’s Nixs’ clever cross floated across to the big Irishman who was totally unmarked on the right hand side of the box, but he drifted his header wide of the target.

Conlon did not do anything in this match to persuade his growing army of critics at Bradford that he can do a job at the club. He shows some OK basic control when the ball is played up to him, but he wins hardly anything in the air (despite his large presence) and never seems to have the cutting edge in front of goal.

Prowess in front of goal was the key missing link in this performance and highlighted City’s lack of a regular goalscorer. Pre season hopes of a 20 goal a season striker in this league were pinned on Peter Thorne, who is yet to find the mark or his form, and we must be concerned about his proneness to injury given his history over the last two years. And with the Willy Topp deal appearing to have gone sour, a City striker needs to step up their game and become a consistent goal scorer week in week out, or any playoff hopes this season will certainly be banished. Ndumbu-Nsungu is an exciting front man, with bags of ability when he gets the ball to feet, but it was fully evident against Darlington that he needs a strike partner who is going to smash away the goals consistently so the pressure is taken off of him, allowing him to create and put in all the effort that is guaranteed with him chasing down channels and putting defenders under pressure.

In the final stages of the game, City nearly won the match with a freak goal, when a routine, wayward cross from the left was astonishingly dropped by the Darlington keeper, and just as it looked it was certain that the ball would drop in, it drifted wide and out for a corner. Such is our luck at the moment – had we been on a winning streak, it would have been the goal that won it for us 1-0.

But the attitude and commitment from all the players in this game was something to be proud of, and the appreciation for the players was shown by the home crowd after the final whistle. The performance was excellent, and a neutral watching the game would have been shocked to learn of our lowly position in the table compared to Darlington.

The next three games are huge for us. All very winnable, and the most optimistic fan will hope for 9 points out of the games which will really get us back on track. Losing five in a row really hurt (especially the Accrington game) but this performance has given us renewed hope.

A regular goal scorer in this team will get us shooting up the table and I really do not believe we need to worry about any other teams in this league. Macclesfield, Wrexham, Wycombe, Peterborough and Darlington have all come to Valley Parade and looked nothing short of poor. Sorting out our home form, and winning every match where the opposition has nothing to offer will turn the table on its head so that we are looking up from the right end of League Two.

The pain goes on

I’m seriously considering returning my Morecambe ticket to the Shrimpers’ ticket office and making a formal complaint. The stub included details of what stand I would be in and which turnstile to go through, but it should also have included the word ‘WARNING’ in big red letters followed by a disclaimer about the risk of extreme stress I could suffer by entering their ground.

If I’d have been warned of the impending misery I would experience at Christie Park last Friday I might have thought twice before purchasing our tickets before the Accrington game. Last minute defeats are surely the cruellest and most painful. Suddenly an hour and a half journey home felt long and daunting. Christie Park is set up so that we had to walk around the whole stadium to get back to our car, so we had to wade our way through a sea of happy home supporters enjoying another great moment in their rise to professional football. And as we drove home through the Lancaster traffic, it was impossible to think of anything other than the failings of our players.

Five defeats in a row; less than a month after City defeated much fancied Peterborough, who saw that coming? An encouraging start to the season has turned into a complete nightmare as the Bantams sink to new depths. It seems ludicrous to think that City might be battling against relegation to non-league obscurity this season, but it feels more of a possibility with each passing defeat. The pressure is building and already some of our more impatient fans are openly questioning Stuart McCall. I want to believe that City are better than this and that promotion this season is not a forlorn hope, but at the moment all I have to go on is blind faith.

The return of Stuart to City as manager seemed to herald a change in fortune…yet so far it hasn’t happened and Stuart is probably still realising the size of the task he has in turning this club around.

The doom and gloom most of us seem to be feeling right now is partly contributed by recent history. Personally I’m sick of it, absolutely sick of City losing all of the time. Last season we saw City plummet from early play off contenders to relegation and there was just a handful of wins to celebrate during that period. We’ve watched City get relegated three times in seven years – and every other season has involved some, albeit often brief, relegation concerns.

Part of the pain with Morecambe’s last minute winner was the familiarity of the feeling that engulfed me. I’ve seen City concede late winners too often during the last few years. As soon as the ball crossed the line I knew that the feeling of misery inside would rise and quickly get worse within the next few minutes, and then stay with me all night.

I dreaded waking up the following morning and feeling the pain all over again when I remembered the match. I also knew that the gloom wouldn’t go away until well into the week and, when it did, it would be replaced by foolish optimism that City would win next weekend and we would all be celebrating again. Yet again my weekend will be ruined by raised hopes being crushed.

The stress and misery is part of being a football fan and I accept that, but why can’t we have a season where we win more than we lose? Why can’t we have players who do their job properly and excite us with brilliant football? I occasionally fantasise about a safe, boring midtable season with little stress. The night before travelling to Morecambe I met up with a Burnley supporting friend who ridiculed me mercilessly about City’s recent efforts. How I wish we could be Burnley, always finishing mid table with no promotion or relegation concerns. Great, now I’m jealous of a Dingles fan!

Our party travelling to Morecambe was unexpectedly boosted by two extra people, one who stopped going to watch City during the Todd reign and another who had not been since the Premiership adventure. As we drove home I thought about what they had both missed since giving up on City. What truly great moments has there been? The occasional memorable victory, but that’s it. No promotion challenges, no cup runs; continuing survival has been the only thing we’ve been able to get excited about.

The return of Stuart to City as manager seemed to herald a change in fortune, especially with new investment and phenomenal season ticket sales quickly following. Yet so far it hasn’t happened and Stuart is probably still realising the size of the task he has in turning this club around.

With just six senior players when he took over, Stuart had to bring in a near full squad of new players. It’s becoming painfully clear that certain members of the existing squad aren’t good enough to challenge for promotion or play for the best supported club in the division; whether it be for their ability or attitude. Stuart has spoken of bringing in new blood but, while there is some money to spend, it will need to be loan players until January. By and large, we’re stuck with the present lot until then.

The biggest disappointment of the Morecambe defeat was the lack of passion shown from some players. The home side chased and harried every ball and won nearly all the 50/50s. Their players gave everything to the cause and dominated the second half. In contrast some of our players seemed to believe they didn’t need to work hard as others in the team would win the ball back and do the ugly bits. Both Alex Rhodes and Omar Daley were guilty of failing to track back and help the defence, which was badly under the cosh for long spells in the second half. They also failed to adequately support Eddie Johnson and Nicky Law as City weakly lost the midfield battle.

Debates about midfield balances take place at all levels, look at England, but City’s felt wrong against Morecambe without a ball winner included. Both Law and Johnson appear more comfortable going forward rather than tackling. Paul Evans is badly missing and Scott Phelan has struggled to date. Craig Bentham has yet to be given a chance and, in hindsight, Stuart must have wished he’d included a more defensive Phelan or Bentham in his team at Christie Park. I’ve heard a few City fans say, “We need a team of Stuarts.” Well just one against Morecambe would have been nice!

Playing two wingers away from home can be a risk, especially when they defend like Daley and Rhodes. Neither were much better going forward either and I felt sorry for Barry Conlon and Guylian Nsumbu-Nsungu. Both got into good positions but were often ignored by Daley in particular, who usually elected to shoot instead. City improved when Kyle Nix came on, but the winger situation must be causing Stuart to tear his hair out. Daley has moved from been the big hope last year to key player this season, but his performances haven’t really improved.

The lack of pace in the defence is a concern and led to Morecambe’s winner, our strikers aren’t getting great service and the right formula for our midfield has yet to be found. With second place Darlington due at Valley Parade on Saturday it may get worse before it gets better. It’s still early days in the season and too soon to write off City completely, but things can’t go on as they are and we can only trust Stuart and Wayne to get it right.

Hopefully better days are around the corner. Hopefully the pain and misery which has become too familiar for us City supporters will be less frequent. Hopefully I will soon be able to bring myself to look at the league table for more than five seconds, because City will have climbed it. Hopefully when I go to buy my Grimsby tickets they will have thought to remember the appropriate health warning.

The long road back

This was how it all started for Donovan Ricketts with Bradford City.

After been signed by Colin Todd in July 2004, a wait for a work permit meant his place in the team was initially taken by trialist Paul Henderson. Ricketts was consigned to a near full season playing for City’s reserves before finally earning his chance when Henderson rejected a longer contract.

Through everything that has happened to the Jamaican international in recent weeks, that original determination and patience to wait for a chance with City should not be forgotten. As Ricketts lined up for City reserves against Nottingham Forest on Tuesday night in front of the very goal where a week earlier he made a mistake too many which cost him his place, there’s a sense that the Jamaican goalkeeper won’t be pushing to exit the Valley Parade door just yet.

The long road back from zero to hero in City fans eyes began with a decent clean sheet against Forest’s second string, with The Don putting in an encouraging display and making three excellent saves. With just a smattering of fans present to analyse his every move, Ricketts’ confidence will have improved a notch as he successfully dealt with everything Forest presented him with. He was even able to loudly berate others for not doing their jobs so well.

Another of City’s recent villains was also in action for the second string. Last Saturday’s substitute cameo against the MK Dons saw Joe Colbeck claim two unwanted assists as 70 minutes of good work by the team was thrown away by some kamikaze defending. Joe to probably benefited from playing away from the glare of a growing army of critics and looked lively once again, if lacking an end product. Defending is clearly a weak part of his game and twice he switched off to allow Forest to roam forward, fortunately without the same consequences as Saturday.

As with any City team on a bad run over the years, supporters start chucking in the names of players not featuring and demand to know why they aren’t been given a go. Of those in the second string available right now, Craig Bentham gave a confident and assured display in the middle of the park to suggest he could do a job. His route to the first team is currently blocked by several others, but against Forest Bentham bossed the middle of the park. He got his foot in, can pass the ball and did the simple things really well. Given the captain’s armband, he dictated the play and was at the heart of City’s best efforts.

As for a striker coming in to score the goals lacking, supporters shouldn’t be expected too much from those not in the team. Nathan Joynes held the ball up well but didn’t seem to take up many threatening positions. Luke Medley came on as a second half substitute and, while his touch was fantastic at times, his attitude didn’t seem quite there. Luke appeared to be playing for himself and on a few occasions good moves were broken down by Luke’s desire to do bits of skill that made himself look good, rather than play the ball to others in good positions. He has some talent, but his performance made it understandable why Stuart isn’t throwing him into first team duties just yet.

The Chilean striker Willy Topp did play and showed some excellent touches. He clearly has some talent on the ball and produced a couple of exciting twisting runs while beating defenders for skill. He also seems to have a good first touch, although it might take him a little longer to adapt before he’s ready to make an impact in the first team.

Other youngsters showed some promise on the night as City should probably have won the game. They created the better chances in the second half, although were grateful for a blinding Ricketts’ save in the final minute.

If those on reserve duty can maintain their decent performances, keep improving and show patience; their chances of a first team spot will surely come around. If they need any inspiration they need only ask Donovan Ricketts.

Rock bottom?

During City’s post millennium slump from the riches of the Premier League to the slums of League Two, the club have always retained that special capacity to prove us wrong. Just when we don’t think they could possibly sink any lower, they go and surprise us yet again.

Ever since Southampton recorded a 1-0 Premiership win at Valley Parade in September 2000, we’ve had matches described as the ‘worst ever’ with increasing regularity. The worst City performance ever has since become an annual event – Southampton was followed by Stockport, then there was Sheffield United, Sunderland, Wimbledon, MK Dons, Oldham, Huddersfield and Chesterfield. All moments in recent times when it was felt, performance wise at least, that City had hit rock bottom.

On Tuesday the latest rock bottom moment occurred but the fall out and awful taste in mouth that this defeat left will take some time to forget. It’s all very well getting stuffed by Sheffield United or Sunderland – but Accrington Stanley? Let’s be honest, they played us off the park and the 3-0 scoreline probably flattered us. But with the greatest of respects we were playing Accrington Stanley, not a team of world beaters. And while the current crop of players wearing Claret and Amber wouldn’t get near those who lost to Southampton seven years ago, they should be far better than the school boy efforts they provided us on Tuesday.

There’s no where to hide, the pressure and expectation is not going to go away. The players need to learn to deal with all of this and will hopefully emerge from the Accrington debacle much stronger characters.

Defensively we were a complete mess. Only two-and-a-half weeks ago City earned a clean sheet and defensive plaudits after a hard thought win over much fancied Peterborough. Since then eight goals have been conceded in just three games. Donovan Ricketts has taken most of the blame and our Jamaican keeper’s Valley Parade days appear numbered with Stuart McCall announcing a new keeper is being sought urgently.

Ricketts was undoubtedly at fault for the second goal when he came out and allowed a five foot striker to out jump him and head the ball into an empty net, but his back four must shoulder much of the blame too. Paul Heckingbottom was looking an assured player up until Hereford and his performance on Tuesday was dreadful. Time and time again he was caught out of position, continually beaten by wingers and cheaply giving the ball away. His free kicks were awful and, on one occasion during the second half, his feeble free kick effort almost turned a chance for City into a goal for Accrington.

In the centre the lack of pace was badly exposed. David Wetherall, the only survivor from that Southampton defeat, will always be loved by City fans, but doubts about his ability have been surfacing for a while. He is ageing fast and is simply not the force he was even two years ago. A tough decision over the captain’s place in the team may have to be made by Stuart and Jakes.

Wetherall has seen the whole sorry slump over the last seven years first hand. As he kicked the ball up pitch in frustration when the second goal was scored, I wondered how many times he has watched opposition put the ball into that net over the years and whether the psychological affect of been part of such an underperforming club has taken away some of his dogged determination. Mark Bower also had a poor night and some fans are calling for both to be dropped now, although I still believe that our longest serving player deserves a chance to redeem himself.

Midfield? What midfield? Eddie Johnson’s careless back pass that allowed Stanley to score after 90 seconds was the worst moment of a forgettable night from those in the middle of the park. Eddie continues to split opinion among fans with some believing he simply isn’t a midfielder. Scott Phelan has followed the Steven Schumacher path to City but has failed to make the immediate impact his predecessor managed. Some times Phelan has been excellent, but he too set the tone for an awful night by giving away a free kick five seconds into the game. To say we missed the injured Paul Evans is an understatement.

Omar Daley was awarded ‘Man of the Match’ by the sponsors. What game were they watching? The one I witnessed included a City number 7 who put in minimal effort and was wholly ineffective. No tracking back to help the often outnumbered defence, dribbles that led no where and no awareness or thought to pass the ball to a team mate. On the few occasions that he did look to pass, he played balls so ridiculously ambitious and risky that attack was turned into defence. I don’t know where Daley thought he was playing but his first half performance in particular was nothing short of disgraceful. Alex Rhodes at least started brightly but the front two were both starved of service all evening.

Ultimately, too many had an off night. What we were left was a displayed blighted by defensive howlers, woeful passing and players with heads down. Free kicks, corners and crosses were truly appalling. On a night full of frustration, the six minutes of first half stoppage time and final 20 minutes were perhaps the most telling. During these periods, the players had clearly given up, were shying away from touching the ball and were just waiting for the referee to blow his whistle. As supporters we can forgive players having an off night, they’re only human. But when we see players clearly not trying and giving up so feebly, it really hurts.

As for where it leaves the rest of the season, Stuart has plenty of work to do. A trip to the league leaders is arguably the last place we want to be heading and we travel to the MK Dons on Saturday as genuine underdogs for the first time this season. A fourth defeat in a row seems unthinkable but highly plausible. Yet perhaps facing opposition that has played such a significant part in City’s darker days (both as Wimbledon and MK Dons) can be the launch pad for brighter moments.

The players ears will have recovered from the boos, the anger of Stuart and Wayne will have had some form of impact. The players will surely have realised they have let a lot of people down. Through all the misery of such a horrible evening, the fantastic backing that many fans (Kop especially) still gave the team should act as a spur to get their act together. This level of support only reinforces the belief that Bradford City are too big for League Two. That doesn’t guarantee us promotion and it certainly doesn’t guarantee wins over Accrington, but playing for this club comes with responsibility that those in the dressing room need to face up to. There’s no where to hide, the pressure and expectation is not going to go away. The players need to learn to deal with all of this and will hopefully emerge from the Accrington debacle much stronger characters.

Is promotion a forlorn hope? Not yet. City may be 19th as it stands, but are only four points off the play offs. Now is the time for those being paid good money to represent Bradford City to show their mettle and prove their worth. Speaking on the radio after the match, Stuart sounded as devastated and miserable as the rest of us who suffered such a wretched display. He can drop half the time and try to bring in new faces, he can shout and rant that they are disgrace and haul them in for extra training. Ultimately it’s down to those players who continue to represent us to ensure that they don’t let down their club and its supporters down so badly again.

So surely this is what rock bottom feels like and hopefully this is the last time City prove us wrong. I don’t want to find out how we can possibly sink any lower.

Boo

Two things. Thing number one: Very little could not have been better about Bradford City’s 1-0 defeat at home to Wycombe Wanderers.

The refereeing was appalling – if the standard set with Omar Daley’s fifth minute booking had held through the game then the match would have ended with eighteen players on the field – as was City’s defending for the goal of the game although anyone looking to blame Donovan Ricketts is very generous to the back four that dropped so far back into the six yard box that the keeper was amongst them rather than behind them.

Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu’s header in the opening minutes from Tom Harban’s cross should have been better executed – free headers in the six yard box are not to be wasted – as should Omar Daley’s dribble and shot although Stuart McCall was rightly incensed by the Referee’s refusal to give a corner as the man in black seemed set to give Daley nothing all day long.

The creativity City showed was poor. If City have played well then Eddie Johnson has completed many passes. If we have been bad then Johnson gets the ball in midfield and the likes of Daley, Ndumbu-Nsungu, Peter Thorne and Kyle Nix are all hidden or have run off behind defenders as if the ball cold be spirited to them rather than passed over a short distance well. If Johnson is looking to make killer balls to find a man – and he was forced to – then the forward players are not making themselves targets well enough.

City failed to test the Wycombe keeper seriously until a Paul Heckingbottom free kick late on although two or three good shouts for penalties were obviously turned down cause – well – they always are aren’t they? Searching for penalties is always the sign of a bad display.

It was a bad display. Very little that could not have been improved on in some way.

Thing two: Very little that would not be better without the stream of barracking and booing that has plagued City for years and still does. Half time and the Bantams are booed and those who do applaud effort are barracked, Donovan Ricketts is ironically cheered for fielding the ball, Barry Conlon is booed when he comes on although why I have no idea, full time and City are booed once more and while the performance was not good it is hard to see that being rectified with jeering.

It is just this simple. This is the last chance for Bradford City. Mark Lawn, Stuart McCall et al. Last chance. If we do not make a go of this then the club – which having seen the books myself I can guarantee you has been dangerously close to closing about a half dozen times in the last three or four years – will go out of existence.

Atmosphere? Getting behind the team? Trying to raise the players? These are not options any more if we want a club. Everyone has a right to an opinion I’m told as a justification for the kind of barracking that has plagued City for years now and if that is true then this is mine. This club is on it’s knees and rather than trying to help us get back up there is a not insignificant section of the Valley Parade “support” who want to hack those knees away.

Very little at Valley Parade would not be improved if those people found something else to do with their Saturdays.

The Consistency

Preview: Bradford City vs Wycombe Wanderers

When asked what the problem with his light blub was Thomas Edison remarked that after some use the Damn thing stopped working but he was sure that American ingenuity would fix that some day. In the years since the everlasting light bulb has yet to be invented.

Likewise ask any football fan what the problem with their team is and the majority would say the word “Consistency”.

Consistency is craved by football fans – consist winning that is – and with City losing 4-2 at Hereford last week and failing to get three wins on the trot Stuart McCall’s Bantams stand accused of lacking it. Indeed no manager ever got a sideways glance for suggesting consistency was required.

Considering the average number of points for a club that finishes top of a league is two a game pointing to a win one, draw one pattern through the season. Dipping down any league shows that most of the time clubs take about one and a half points a game. Inconsistency – I would suggest – is the nature of the beast and the beast is rarely tamed. Ask any man (or his dog) the problem with Liverpool over the last few years and the will say the C word but the 1.65 points a game suggest that they win more than they lose. Even Manchester United’s title romp last season was done with over 25% of games not being wins.

Like Edison one is sure that at some point the perfectly consistent football team will be made but until them we all just pick up the points where we can.

City have two home games in four days with Wycombe wandering into Valley Parade on Saturday and Accrington Stanley coming on Tuesday night. Stuart McCall has already showed his hand backing his defence despite last week’s blundering and one hopes that confidence boost from that may help fix any holes although Darren Williams’s not featuring in the reserves 2-1 defeat to Huddersfield in the week suggests that he may replace Tom Harban at right back alongside David Wetherall, Mark Bower and Paul Heckingbottom in front of Donovan Ricketts. Paul Evans sits in front alongside Eddie Johnson who continues to impress in midfield. One of Omar Daley and Joe Colbeck faces the chop to allow Alex Rhodes back into the side and Kyle Nix is unlucky to not be featuring. Daley gave away goals last week but offers more going forward than Colbeck who frustrates but less that Daley who can beat a man better than Colbeck who can cross a ball and sometimes passes unlike Daley and so on…

Peter Thorne and Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu start up front with Barry Conlon on the bench – Conlon seems to attract a lot of attention for a guy who is not what one would call a first teamer. BfB understands that there is a chance that Willy Topp will be offered a contract and recruited at some point this weekend and should he then he will no doubt feature on the bench.

The X-Factor

My concern this season is as to Stuart McCall’s men and if they have the X-Factor.

I’m no Simon Cowell, but I’m sure that the majority of the long suffering City fans will back me up when I say that no manager or a complete team, since Jewell and his men, have had the X-Factor.

Many men have tried: Chris Hutchings, Jim Jeffries, Nicky Law, Bryan Robson and Colin Todd but all have failed to come close to the bar that Jewell raised at Valley Parade.

Now that finances have improved and there’s even talk of paying a transfer fee – a novelty for BCFC fans – this is surely the best chance to the good times back to Valley Parade.

When Colin Todd was sacked – I wanted McCall appointed. When I heard that the Ginger Messiah was to return I was ecstatic.

Following his return everything coming out of the club was positive and when McCall said “non Promotion season is failure” I was filled with optimism. However, I think that Stuart should have kept his ambitions to himself until he had his squad together. Stuart didn’t think about anything other than winning as a player and he takes the same ideas into management.

However good a manager he may become the most important part of his masterplan is his squad. Some of the signings over the summer have been good captures and excited many fans. The return of Paul Heckingbottom and Paul Evans have, in my opinion, been vital in adding quality to a side that McCall hopes will climb to league one this season. Signings that have added much needed youth and desire to the squad, are that of Kyle Nix, Alex Rhodes and Scott Phelan who McCall will want to mirror the desire of our savior.

The most talked about signing was obviously the addition of Peter Thorne on a free transfer. Everyone realised that if Thorne could capture the goal scoring form he once showed, then this could be a vital part of the “Bradford City Promotion team” jigsaw which McCall and sidekick Wayne Jacobs are trying to put together. While concerns were cast over the fitness of a player who has only played two games in as many years, judgment is yet be made over Thorne as he has only made a couple of starts. Let’s hope he can impress the judges. The one player that has had no trouble winning over the fans is Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu, also known as Dave or “G”.

A much traveled player that is causing the opposite reaction is the Irishman Barry Conlon. Now, I can see why Stuart has made this signing but I don’t see this as the best of the lot. Yes, he is experienced, yes he can hold the ball up and yes he can occasionally bring players into a move but he is being paid to score goals and as of yet he hasn’t earn’t his pay cheque.

It is still early days but when the aim is to build a promotion winning side, I’m not sure Conlon is a striker that is going to have a big impact on results. Time will tell but I don’t think the auditions have gone well.

Generally the start to the season has been OK – could be better – could be worse but the problem is a lack of consistency. One week we are traveling back from Barnet after a poor result but the next few we have two wins on the bounce against a consistent play off finishing team and one of the most fancied in the league. Things start looking good and we hope the team has fully jelled but then we head to Hereford and all is out of tune. Individual errors and a poor performance- from apparently our strongest unit- the defense, bring down the confidence and optimism once again as City crash to defeat at Edgar Street.

In my opinion the X-Factor includes: Desire, Passion, ability, strong heads, quality and consistency.

Desire and passion are there and expected under McCall. Ability is at a good standard. Strong heads were evident against Peterborough, quality is there or there abouts but the consistency is the key and as of yet the team are not showing this.

It’s only early days and let’s hope Stuart and his team can show League Two what the X-Factor is.

The Cost of Doing Bad Business

Facts of football. You don’t go away from home and let in three soft goals and win. It is just that easy and everyone who saw City 3, City 2, Hereford 1 at Edger Street this weekend knows that the Bantams beat themselves and if they can get over that habit then this division will be over with soon.

Hereford are second in the table after this win and that says everything you need to know about League Two. Not tat they are not a decent side but that is all they are. Decent. Not good and not great and not stunning and they are considered to be some good and if City can stop the silly goals then games like this will be good away wins.

Which all comes down to Stuart McCall stopping the silly goals of course. McCall knows this too and barks it from the side of the pitch and every time Donnie Ricketts, Omar Daley or very oddly Paul Heckingbottom did a wobble then McCall would throw his arms away and turn to Wayne Jacobs as if to say “Didn’t we just sort that out during the week?”

Up front Peter Thorne and Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu are showing signs of a good partnership. Thorne is a class above the League and when he gets a goal loads more will follow and Ndumbu-Nsungu grabbed two today that should have been enough to win the match and would have been if it was not for some rubbish defending.

It was Omar Daley fannying around with the ball in his own penalty area, when does Joe Colbeck cost goals? that cost City the first and then it was Ricketts pushing the ball into his own goal for a second. Ricketts is a great keeper having a bad time of it and the bad time is cause by the chaos that erupts in front of him too often.

Heckingbottom pulled down someone in the box after Gee had pulled one back and at the end Theo Robinson got a goal that Hereford deserved to give the two goal lead back after a bit of a good goal by Gee but by then the trip back was looking long and not too bright.

Following City is normally great fun and has been for a good few fruitless years but when the lads could win but throw it away it gets annoying. This is not being outplayed by better sides it is shooting ourselves in the foot and it needs to stop if we are going to go forward.

Back to back homers against Wycombe and Accrington give Stuart the chance to get six more points and things back on track. Keep the faith but work on this Macca.

You mark Bower

Not an easy name to forget – Claude Gnakpa – but it was that Peterborough defender’s absent mindedness that gave Bradford City a tough and morale enhancing in at Valley Parade as two of the more fancied teams in the division battered about a game which may prove significant at the end of the season.

£600,000 has been spent at London Road by Darren Ferguson building a team up for the physical demands of League Two and possessing some – it not much – skill. At Valley Parade cash flows less easily but enough recruitment has been made to give Stuart McCall a team capable of winning this game.

McCall and Ferguson have much in common. Both are sons of footballers, both have played at higher levels and both are being watched as the progress in management. Ferguson will have been pleased with the early play in this meeting of managers as his Posh team – playing with the grace of a pub side – began to pummel City’s midfield. With Eddie Johnson once again up for the cut and thrust away from Carrington and in proper football City had a chance but injured Paul Evans – on the bench with a plaster the size of his head on top – being replaced by a lightweight Scott Phelan the Bantams risked being overrun.

Phelan had a game to forget but forget it he should. He is a good player and this tussle came too soon for him. First half he struggled to a point where City’s Donovan Ricketts was pressed into action – although not that often with midfields being the war here – and should both rookie managers need a definition of how football games are won then it would come in the difference between The Posh’s inability to put ball in net and City’s sneaking of a chance when it came.

Nevertheless that chance was hard fought. McCall is crafting a City team that obsesses on numbers in attack and while Peter Thorne – on his home debut – looks a cut above GNN, Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley lack cohesive ideas on patterns of play and reply on exciting but often fruitless dribbling to move the ball forward. One recalls Peter Beagrie, Lee Mills and Robbie Blake and the telepathy that went between them. One hopes that this City team can built the same. At present attacking is a random process – exciting but often frustrating.

Such frustrations are uncorked and freed when Thorne won a free kick to be delivered by an increasingly excellent Paul Heckingbottom which Mark Bower stole in between defenders to head home freely for the decisive goal of the game.

Step back to the free kick that Heckingbottom delivered. The ball arcs over from his left foot and Gnakpa and Craig Morgan both fix eyes on David Wetherall leaving Bower unmarked. After the goal Gnakpa argues furiously with Morgan who in two simple arm movements explains the defending structure of a mortified Gnakpa. “I mark him, You mark Bower” it screams and Gnakpa stand with his finger tips pressed along the sides of his head in full knowledge that the ten other players in blue are blaming him for the absent minded slip that was his fault and cost the fruits of a good away performance.

Gnakpa wanders back to continue the game the loneliest man on Earth. He is removed in a few minutes and watches the rest of the game knowing that he has – for his second long slip up – cost the game.

Such are the fine lines that football can operate within. Your heart goes out to Claude Gnakpa but three points goes to Mark Bower’s winning goal and Bradford City who move to seventh – a play off position – and march on.

The Posh vs Peterborough United

Bradford City vs Peterborough United at Valley Parade

At Lincoln – and perhaps fittingly so – Bradford City seemed to come to a realisation.

When Bradford City sat at the top table of English football we were poor relations – described as the unacceptable face of the Premiership by a Daily newspaper one recalls – and spent a season and a half waiting for a supposedly deserved comeuppance which eventually come but seems only curiously merited. Yes, Geoffrey Richmond but history points us down the road East of Pudsey for the bigger crimes and how we remember the plaudits that the same press that damned us offered them.

For the years in between there seemed to be a facet of City that suggested that while we were shunned at the top we were too good for below. Jim Jefferies and Nicky Law shared a season where the Bantams strolled through a season which could have been promotion but ended up in nervous final days and even Law’s more meat and gravy approach to the game could not stop the general feeling that so close to facing Manchester United the Bantams would only have to turn up to beat Stockport County.

Move forward to now and heads have been knocked together. Over at Lincoln Bradford City dug in – perhaps out of respect – and earned a win which had been suggested all season. The first day draw with Macclesfield, the defeat at Barnet, all games where the Bantams with luck – which is to say luck as defined by Gary Player as getting more of it the more you practice and put in application – would have taken three points.

Effort – typified by Emile Heskey and Gareth Barry brings about reward and City – too long holding onto ideas above their station and finally showing a grounding at ground level – seem to have realised that.

We play a Peterborough United managed by Darren Ferguson – no jokes please – who are impressing early season but would be overhauled by the Bantams should City win at Valley Parade. Peterborough have spent freely for this division but Ferguson worries about the lapses his two central defenders are prone to. Peter Thorne is due to start his first home game for City leading the line alongside GNN with Barry Conlon eventually paying the price for his lack of goals – worryingly Emile Heskey is remembered once more.

Paul Evans – headless two weeks ago – hopes to return to the fight in the midfield with Eddie Johnson grafting alongside him. Joe Colbeck returns to the bench with Omar Daley taking the right hand role and Kyle Nix on the left. Most games are won and lost by the battles of midfield graft and this one will be no different.

Darren Williams returns at right back following injury and slots into the David Wetherall, Mark Bower and Paul Heckingbottom sitting in front of Donovan Ricketts set up of City.

Strength on the road

Stuart McCall unleashed his secret weapon on Lincoln City last night – and it wasn’t the belated debut of an injury-plagued number 10.

1,064 members of his barmy army had made the 90 mile trip to Lincolnshire and provided a 90 minute non-stop performance of passionate noise to help City come from behind and earn their first away win of the season. Our contribution in the away section might not have been as significant as the fantastic run and pass of Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu that set up Joe Colbeck’s winner, but it was no less meaningful on an evening that offered the strongest evidence yet that City can challenge for an immediate return to League One this season.

Much has been made about the huge home crowds City will be enjoying this season, but less has been mentioned about the power of our away support. It’s hard to imagine another League Two side bringing as many supporters and making as much noise at Sincil Bank all season – and that includes their local rivals Grimsby and Mansfield. This will be the same at so many other grounds and this level of support can make a huge difference in where City end up come May.

It was a certainly a large factor in this deserved win as City fans out-sung and humiliated their Lincoln counterparts. As balloons, beach bags and mini footballs were tossed in the air among City supporters before kick off, you sensed it could be a special night. An emotional tribute to the events of 22 years ago was impeccably observed before the action began. The chanting continued from the start and didn’t even let up when Lincoln took the lead, although the fact it was in controversial circumstances undoubtedly helped keep up the wall of noise.

The home side started the match much brighter, a decent save from an Eddie Johnson shot aside, and created several good chances. In defence, City looked strong with our back four reacting well to the busy night that lay in front of them. “Don-don-don-don-don-don-don-don-don-don-Donovan Ricketts!” (to the tune of No Limits’) made two smart stops but then City fell behind from a corner. Ricketts made a great save from a header but the ball was still scrambling around in the area. Louis Dodds stabbed the loose ball goalwards only for Ricketts to make another brilliant block on the goalline. Yet incredibly, as the ball was finally cleared, the linesman put up his flag to signify the ball had crossed the line.

The goal was awarded and City’s protests were waved away. It looked like a very poor decision but, thankfully, City didn’t let the injustice affect them as they clawed their way back into the game. With Eddie Johnson and Scott Phelan beginning to control things in the middle of the park, City got back on level terms after some great work from Omar Daley.

Since signing in January, we’ve been waiting for Daley to hit his best form and in the opening 35 minutes he continued to frustrate with his tendency to always cut inside rather than stretch the opposition by running down the channels. On this attack he finally did stay out wide, knocking the ball past a defender and then showed his incredible pace to reach the ball before another defender. Now level with the penalty area, he cut inside and continued his run into the box before squaring the ball for Ndumbu-Nsungu to fire home.

“1-0 to the Bradford Boys” we sang matter-of-factly. Daley’s reward for his assist was taking a knock from the challenging defender which threatened to end his evening and rule him out of international duty. Thankfully he was able to carry on and his subsequent performance was that of a player who had reached a new notch in self confidence. Daley continued to look a threat everytime he got the ball and trigged some of City’s best moves.

In the second half the level of noise in the away section was kept up with our versions of White Stripes, Beatles and Johnny Cash songs, and City began to get on top. Eddie Johnson went close with a brilliant free kick that was tipped away by Alan Marriott, Peter Thorne linked up well with G on his debut and the defence continued to keep Lincoln’s increasingly sporadic attacks at bay. The Imps did come close to retaking the lead when a long range shot rattled the post. Given how many times City have struck the woodwork in the opening six games, it was somewhat satisfying to watch another team rue their luck.

It looked like a winner might allude City but they finally made the break through 12 minutes from time. Lincoln were on the attack when City cleared the ball up to G on the half way line. The Congo striker produced a devastating first touch to lift the ball past a defender and then had the speed to charge forward. Two defenders chased him, blocking his route to goal. But no one picked up Colbeck racing clear in the middle. G’s through ball was inch perfect and Colbeck charged forward and beat the advancing Marriott with a low shot that rolled slowly into the corner. Cue pandemonium in the away section.

It was fair to say that the recalled Colbeck did not enjoy the best of nights and he consistently struggled to beat his full back, either by running at him or whipping in early crosses. But his goal was reward at least for his undoubted level of effort and may just give him that added belief to perform better. Joe can often look tentative and unsure of himself, although the subtle, unnoticed stamp he executed on the full back while he was on the ground showed that he isn’t intimidated by the opposition.

Apart from a couple of late scares, City stood firm to claim the three points and end a difficult week on a high. Lincoln might not have made the best of starts themselves, but they’re a wise outfit who know what it takes to be successful at this level. They certainly gave City a tough game, making this result and performance even more impressive.

“You’ve only come cos it’s Bradford!” we chanted at the home fans. Probably not true but, as Stuart’s Bradford Army marched into an away ground and made sure they were noticed by everyone, you suspected it was an evening that won’t be quickly forgotten by either side. The high number of away fans for a Friday night fixture was impressive and, temporarily we hope, it feels quite nice being the big fish in a small pond.

On a personal level, the non-stop chanting and stunning atmosphere, plus the result, contributed to one of the most enjoyable City games I have been too in years. The evening felt special and I left proud to be a City fan and being one of some of the best fans in the country (best in League Two without doubt!). The strength and enthusiasm among fans can be partly attributed to Stuart and Wayne’s return, but ultimately it’s about a passionate bunch of people finally able to dream of better things. Something feels special about supporting City right now and hopefully its going to lead to big celebrations come May.

Stuart’s Bradford Army makes trips to Hereford, MK Dons, Morecambe and Grimsby in the next two months. If we fans can maintain the high standards of this away performance we should help City become stronger on the road.

Although the level of noise we’re making means that Stuart’s secret weapon will not be staying secret much longer.

What Can You Say?

There really is nothing much to say about the 5-1 defeat to Doncaster Rovers in the Johnson’s Paint Trophy. City fielded a team of reserves on the whole and got pretty much what a team deserves when it puts out kids against a team in a higher divison. Doncaster are not the lights of football but then again who is? Certainly not City and it is high time we realised that defeats like this one sap the confidence out of the club and the fans. Cheap tickets are great but we need players with a bit of a buzz about them and you don’t get that by being out of two cups a month after the season started.

There is always Kyle Nix though. Nix is a class act and as a bright light for City tonight. He scored a free kick after the defence was ripped up. Ben Saynor’s debut showed that keeping is about shouting as much as saving and his back four and him didn’t seem to know who each other was. Matt Clarke, Simon Ainge, Paul Heckingbottom, Luke O’Brien and Tom Harban will all have better nights than this and it is not about pointing to players and saying that they have played badly or even looking at the gaffer and asking why he picked this team.

It is about mangaing the fall out from hammerings. Three points from Lincoln on Friday and this result won’t matter.

The Thorney issue

A few years ago, a City supporter submitted an article on this website stating that Andy Gray’s ability level was that of a pub footballer. This view came during a period when Gray was struggling to recapture his previous season’s form for City where, converted from a winger to a striker, he had managed a career-changing 15 goals that would belatedly signal the end to the dreaded tag of unfulfilled potential. As part of a City side speedily hurtling towards the relegation trap door in 2003-04, he was unable to match his previous season’s exploits managing just six goals.

Very shortly after this article appeared, Gray was sold to Sheffield United and his career continued to head upwards with a £1 million move to Premiership Sunderland a year after. This proved a step up too far but Gray has since re-established himself as a decent Championship striker with Burnley. Last Saturday he scored twice as Burnley won 3-2 at Colchester. Layer Road is hardly one of British football’s most beautiful stadiums, but it’s still a better level than the local park behind The Queen’s Head.

It’s this sort of striker debate which has been typical with Bradford City in recent years. Finding a pair of decent goalscoring forwards has proved difficult and is ultimately why the Bantams have been unable to climb back towards Championship level. Those that have toiled up front since have nearly all split opinion among supporters. Some arguably should have had more of a chance, others undoubtedly gave everything but came up short, too many rarely looked like scoring and just one player has managed double figures in a season since Gray departed.

Not since the legendary Mills and Blake partnership in 1998/99 have City been fortunate enough to possess two regular goalscorers at the same time. Only Dean Windass has consistently done the business, yet finding a suitable strike partner was a problem never solved while he was banging in all those goals during his second spell at the club. This over dependence meant that City were never able to lift themselves above midtable and, when Deano departed last January, no one was able to fill his void with dire consequences.

Different division, different management, different bunch of players and many more supporters; but so far the familiar problem has remained. In the five games to date, five goals have been scored. Not the worst of records but, when analysing the performances and number of chances the team has created to date, this figure should be at least double. In the home games at least, City have been largely dominant and created a host of chances. Unfortunatley, the strikers in the middle haven’t been able to convert them and, with each miss, have split supporters’ views once again. Perhaps the biggest question hanging over Stuart’s squad as we enter the second month of the season is if there is sufficient firepower to enable City to push for promotion.

Dividing views more than most is Barry Conlon. He arrived at Valley Parade during the summer with a reputation as a decent goalscorer at this level, but with a disconcertingly high number of former clubs. Conlon has so far looked very much your average target man, but unfortunately a little too average. He holds the ball up well and has good awareness at bringing others into play, but he seems to lack the goalscoring prowess and his efforts on goal have been generally tame. Confidence is a big part of this and his previous record suggests he usually manages double figures each season. Yet without a goal so far he looks more likely to match Andy Cooke and Danny Cadamarteri in the regularity of his City goals.

Unsurprisingly he has attracted a lot of criticism. Although, just like Andy Cooke, there seems to be a section of supporters who appreciate the undoubted effort he puts in. One thing is for sure, he’s going to need to improve his performances. With his height and physical ability he should be capable of giving opposition defenders a really hard time and his hold up play should at least allow others to come forward. On occasions Conlon has looked isolated and received the ball too deep. Hopefully as the whole team get to know each other better this will improve and Conlon will receive the ball where he can hurt people.

Very much vying for cult status, Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu has made a decent impression so far. He has a really good touch and is also strong holding the ball up. He has more pace than Conlon and has shown the odd burst of acceleration that’s put the opposition on the back foot. However, just like Conlon, he hasn’t really got into enough good positions to shoot on goal. How many goals he will score, at least until his loan move ends in January, remains questionable. In many ways Guylain and Conlon are very similar players but hopefully they will play together more effectively as they become more familiar with each other’s runs. Hopefully G (or Dave depending on your nickname preference, personally I like Dave!) can add that little bit missing and score a few goals for us.

So far, Nathan Joynes and Luke Medley have played the back up role. Joynes started against Shrewsbury but was unable to make an impression. Meanwhile Luke couldn’t have made a bigger impact with his first touch! The youngster’s wonder strike against Wrexham has made everyone sit up and take notice. There will inevitably be a lot of expectation on the striker’s shoulders, remember Gareth Grant, Danny Forrest, Kevin Sanasy and Joe Brown? Hopefully Luke can build on his superb start and fulfil his potential. While technically not our youth player, its still been a long time since City had a young striker who became a first team regular and scored lots of goals.

At Barnet, Stuart played Omar Daley up front in the second half and the Jamaican international will barely believe he has yet to score this season after hitting the post three times so far. After his much trumpeted arrival in January, Omar has yet to really find his form and, while he was very impressive in pre-season, we all hope he can do better than his displays so far this season. The hope is that Daley can nail that right wing position and consistently deliver there. He has looked reasonably effective when thrown up front, but is arguably needed more out wide. It’s both nice but a little unusual to think Eddie Johnson is our top scorer so far. Despite a slow start, Eddie is looking comfortable in midfield and it would appear that he has waved goodbye to a career as a centre forward.

Which just leaves one more forward on City’s books and one who has yet to play. Peter Thorne’s summer signing felt like a huge coup but it’s been hugely frustrating waiting for him to recover from injury. After suffering two years at Norwich that were dogged by injury, there are some fears over how much we will see him wear Claret and Amber and some of our more lunatic fans are calling for City to get rid of him already. Given the injury problems he has endured, it would seem City are being sensible in not rushing him into first team action.

When he is ready though, he may find expectations are pinned firmly upon him. The more our other strikers fire blanks in front of goal and points are lost as a result, the greater the pressure on Thorne to deliver. It may take him a while to get fully fit, but the signs during his brief reserve and friendly appearances are encouraging and his past goalscoring record suggests he knows where the goal is.

It seems likely that Thorne will figure at some point this week against either Doncaster or Lincoln. As City’s slow start continues, everyone will be keeping fingers crossed he can deliver. Although at the same time we need at least one from Conlon, Dave, Joynes and Medley to be able to consistently deliver alongside him if we’re going to start climbing the table and threaten at the right end.

Otherwise, with a certain East Yorkshire club splashing out £1million on a striker last week, how long will it be before rumours of a former regular City goalscorer returning on loan start up?

Sucker Puncheon

The home fans had given up on this one. City rattled the Barnet posts and 1-1 was going to be 2-1 to the visitors unless the Referee stopped the game and in injury time it looked like The Bantams would be going north with a point at the very least. Up stepped Jason Puncheon to put in the sort of free kick we thought only Paul Evans could take.

Paul Evans and Puncheon had met after ten minutes of the game and City’s tank like midfielder came off worst and then came off to be replaced by Scott Phelan who seems to be ready to play Evans’s part kicking everything in midfield but The Bantams missed the tank in the middle and came under pressure.

Pressure that all centred around Puncheon who was a thorn in the side of City all afternoon. We were promised a debut from Peter Thorne for the Bantams after his scoring in a reserve win during the week but the hit man did not show and City were slow to convert chances into goals. Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu looks the part some of the time and runs the channels well and Barry Conlon holds the ball up well but neither look like being the goal threat that can turn possession into goals. Luke Medley came on and didn’t score! First time for everything I guess.

Eddie Johnson scored – twice. EJ banged one in either end slicing a Puncheon free kick into his own net in the first half and replying by banging a left footed shot from a good distance in the second. Someone pipes up that with two in two Johnson could shove our goal scoring problems and then everyone remembers that he is a forward after all and chins get stroked.

Is Omar Daley a forward? Who knows? He moves up front and hits the post twice and City look the team most likely but pace aside Daley looks like his leg would snap if he were to give the ball a good League Two leathering and that is what this team needs. Stuart McCall has got the lads into a shoot on sight policy that rains shots at goal but a smarter striker who can take up positions to get onto Barry Conlon’s hard work or the wing play of Kyle Nix and Daley or Joe Colbeck might solve a few problems.

Not that there are that many problems for City. The free kick at the end was a bit of a fluke (Do that again Punchy – go on! I dare you) and the own goal self-inflicted. But for all the time when the Bantams put in 90 minutes of match winning work and lose then confidence is going to suffer.

The Medley Moment

The days have past since the blast of Luke Medley’s left foot that change the course of City’s 2-1 win over Wrexham – probably more when all is told – and allowed Stuart McCall to taste victory at Valley Parade as a manager for the first time but the taste in the air is just as sweet.

Medley has been talking about his first kick – nice to have your first kick be one of the best goals at Valley Parade in years – and McCall has been speaking of relief now the pressure of hunting the first win is over and everyone else has fallen into line, rightly so. Like the first springs of love if you can not enjoy an eighteen year old lashing in a debut goal with his first kick then you can not enjoy anything.

Medley’s goal came from an impressive pass down the left flank by Kyle Nix whose contribution to the first win of the season can not be under-estimated. Pulled from Sheffield United by McCall Nix lost the headlines but did much to convince of his worth coming in on the left flank and getting to grips with the lack of width at Valley Parade to use the ball well pushing inside to the hardworking midfield of Eddie Johnson and Paul Evans. Evans was once again Imperious. The best player in League Two wears Bradford City’s number four shirt.

Nix’s ready supply of creative movement balanced out Eddie Johnson’s hard working but ultimately unprobing midfield work that is a worry. Johnson’s graft deserved a reward and as Nix tried to beat one too many bodies on the edge of the Wrexham box at the start of a second half that followed the Bantams best of the first twenty then even run of the last forty-five Johnson snapped onto the lose ball and hit hard and definitely into the lower left hand corner of the keeper’s goal. Johnson – like Andrew Cooke before him – had his goals celebrated for the obvious effort he puts in. Any player who works that hard deserves a reward.

Conversely what is to be said of Omar Daley the most enjoyable dribbler one could hope to see but often found wanting when pointing in the opposite direction. McCall obviously wants Daley’s attacking flair and more often than not – although not always – Daley does enough coming back to merit his inclusion but rather unfortunately for all when the winger is required to track back he is rather ineffectual in his efforts. Exhibit A is the noodle limbed wafted at a ball crossed by former Bantam Michael Proctor to another Neil Roberts who headed an equaliser. There is a call to be made on Daley and one suspects that McCall might accept his deficiencies at the back for his forward play and – for once – I’m not sure that is entirely the wrong idea should Daley maintain a level of effort.

Defensively City worried over Darren Williams – who will miss four weeks injured after falling in the first half – but a shorn Simon Ainge looks to be made of the right stuff for the step up and impressed at right back. The back five look anything but uncrackable and one hopes that long term unification could bring more solidity. Perhaps one is worrying over nothing, Donovan Ricketts was rarely troubled.

McCall will be troubled by the ratio of chances to goals – Barry Conlon works very hard but never looks like finding the goal – but will hope that the likes of Medley can make do until a rhythm is found and his team looks on the brink comes of age.

The Wheels

Also: Wolves 2 Bradford City 1 – League Cup First Round 2007/2008

Those that saw it said it was typically City to battle with Championship side Wolves head to head for the lion’s share of the game but then give up the chance of a lead with two goals in four minutes at the start of the second half that cut the chance of turning the toughest of away fixtures this first round could throw up into a victory to next to nothing and while Kyle Nix and Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu did their chances of long term deals the power of good by combining for the last goal the Bantams day was done.

Those who saw it gave the Bantams credit but Stuart McCall’s first game from distance read like a worrying City display. Barry Conlon’s spurned header in the second half against Macclesfield Town has set his image in the mind as a target man who does not know where the net it. Those that saw it will tell you that without Conlon City struggle to keep the ball and that his profligacy compared to hold up play is the reason he is not playing at a level higher but the removal after an hour and subsequent benching for Saturday speak much from distance.

Worryingly the speak whispers about McCall too and one hopes he does not fall into Colin Todd’s most annoying feature. Even the former gaffer’s advocates were irritated by Todd’s inability to stick with a forward partnership. As City were going down at Wolves Andy Cooke was getting the injury that would keep him out of the weekend Shrewsbury game against the Bantams. Cooke’s work rate was never questioned and he could have hoped for more of a chance from Todd rather than the constant flux of forwards. On Saturday Nathan Joynes would be partnering Ndumbu-Nsungu.

To McCall’s credit he has already worked out that the best back fours are constantly selected and Donovan Ricketts behind Darren Williams, David Wetherall, Mark Bower and Paul Heckingbottom with Paul Evans sitting on top is as good a back six as will be found in League Two. Wolves was always going to be tough but Williams’s 8th minute foul on Marc Pugh aside – one sometimes worries about Williams’s pace – City did enough to suggest that conceding goals in open play lacks inevitability.

Indeed McCall’s midfield of Evans behind the hardworking Eddie Johnson – hardworking being employed as a term to ignore a worrying lack of creativity from him which Nix seems able to remedy without the graft of the former Manchester United striker – with two wide men seem able to create chances for the forward pairing but worryingly those chances occur too far down field for the liking of those who saw them.

Everything in snapped at because the ball is not delivered into killer areas often enough. City need the constancy of delivery that a Nicky Summerbee gave Dean Windass or a Peter Beagrie gave Lee Mills to build a twenty goal haul for a striker on. Omar Daley is a frustrating joy, Alex Rhodes looks capable, Joe Colbeck gives everything and often deserves more than he gets but none have the repetition of crossing accuracy that builds confidence for strikers and so McCall and Wayne Jacobs must go to the drawing board and behind to look for a way to shift City’s final ball ten yards further forward. Daley’s twenty-five yarders are speculative – his fifteen yarders would weigh in with ten goals a season. Sometime the gap between success and failure is an inch, sometimes it is ten yards and McCall must work at going that distance. He tried by pushing Joynes behind GNN but the Barnsley loanee was starved of the ball leaving the jury out as to his suitability for such a position.

As it was City had enough to take something from the game that was settled by David Hibbert – a cameo player for the Bantams last term – scoring a penalty. Paul Evans had a keeper’s amazing save to curse once again and Paul Heckingbottom struck a post. Nothing that three points against Wrexham in front of a crowded Valley Parade will not cure from a morale point of view and – perhaps – Peter Thorne from a striking berth as the experienced hitman looks to get back to fitness.


With the aid of Roland Harris

Welcome To The Wild, Wild West

After eight minutes Francis Green of Macclesfield – obviously not having been shoved a copy of the mythic script that goes with events such as Stuart McCall’s first game as Bradford City boss – screwed a long range low drive past Donovan Ricketts for the opening goal of the season at Valley Parade which would ultimately end in the Bantams 14th – but least disheartening – consecutive home game without a win.

That the Bantams rarely looked like conceding to a Macclesfield Town side that opened with first day endeavour and ended with the kind of two lines of four and willingness to shed blood for the cause – not their blood of course but blood nevertheless – said much about City’s task this season. A lesson in what is in front of the Bantams in more says that one.

City had the lion’s share of the ball, the game and the chance. Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu – GNN if you will – equalised for McCall’s side after Barry Conlon had seen his penalty saved just before the half time whistle blew. GNN was booked for his shirt off celebrations following his rebound pounce which – while technically correct – baffled many including no doubt Carl Regan who had given away said penalty for a two footed tackle on GNN eight yards from goal when the Congolese player had nothing but the keeper to beat. Regan got the ball but the two footed lunge has long been outlawed in football in the same way that the head tackle – while a very effective way of making sure man and ball are separated in Rugby League – is strictly forbidden.

Eight yards out, GNN clean through. The rules of football make it very clear that just as GNN must be booked for removing shirt in celebration Regan must be sent off. Welcome – one and all – to League Two: The Wild West of football.

Remember the John Ford movies where Sheriff Gary Cooper or John Wayne on a better day would dish out justice not on the basis of law and what was written as write and wrong but more on the grounds of what would keep the peace of the town. Referee Graham Horwood wore no star badge but as with officials at this level behaved in the same way. Luke Dimech handled clearly in the penalty area before the goal but he probably didn’t mean it so play was waved on. Gareth Evans and Terry Dunfield spent much of the second half trying to break Donovan Ricketts in half but this is League Two yeah? The peace was kept with smatterings of yellow cards but consistency was never considered above the dramatic flourish for effect no matter how many times David “Premiership” Wetherall bounced a ball off a visitor who on refusing to retreat or standing over a free kick is mandated for a booking Horwood was having none of it because this is League Two and we have our own way of doing things down here.

Green’s goal aside City have a way of doing things which was mostly pleasing. McCall is building a team with a directness about it and that team plays off the excellence of is avatar Paul Evans who was everything that the number four shirt at Bradford City should be today: Passionate and able to raise his team mates around him, skilful and able to play a generous ball, strong on pitch and on the ball. Evans is this team’s Stuart McCall with bending free kicks two of which came out of the locker today and both could have resulted in goals and it is a pleasure to watch him play once more.

City’s thirteen today featured not one bad performance. Barry Conlon holds a ball up with power and while he looked less likely to trouble the net that Lee Mills a player in his style has been missing for sometime. Alex Rhodes on the left wing is still getting up to speed – or so we are told – but is a great find thus far with a less speedy more skilful display. He is more Beagrie than Muirhead and all the better for it. Omar Daley tried – nice work their Stuart – and Eddie Johnson received a half time rocket and got more involved after the break. The back four were not at fault all day and Donovan Ricketts had little to do which was a good job considering the ear snappingly horrible sound of him falling and needing his foot strapping up – an injury rather shamefully exploited by some nasty tackling by Macclesfield player. Invaliding goalkeepers out of the game should not be a part of football at any level but Ricketts continued with few tests on his agility.

All that was lacking was the second goal for the Bantams despite Conlon’s smart play feeding Daley who dragged his shot wide. More clear cut chances would have sealed a win no doubt but such things will come and on the day when the Bantams walked into what was in many ways the last chance saloon – this McCall/Cheap Season Tickets/Mark Lawn thing has to work or what it the future for the club – they emerged on the road to gold.

The path to that gold may depend rather too much on the random peace keeping of the Sheriffs.

Graduation Day

I think I remember how this works. Many things happen during a Summer and this Summer was more eventful than most but on a weekend in August everything that is shaken up returns into place and – on a sun soaked afternoon as the clock ticks over to three – football in all its would be egalitarian glory returns.

For minutes everyone is equal – nice to see the Premiership kick off on the same day once more – and until the first goal is scored in the country no one is ahead and no one is behind. Except for Leeds United. My Nan Margaret Gunn used to say that one should be nice to people on the way up because one would meet them on the way down. That is pretty much all one can say about Leeds.

Within minutes some unlucky group of supporters are going to watching their custodian pulling the ball out of the back of the net. Within forty five and when the expectant 12,000 at Valley Parade are looking for probably rare pies someone will be three down and they will be beginning a bad season. With hope that will not be Bradford City.

Football is watching Bradford City this season. The £138 season ticket and return of Stuart McCall has suggested a new paradigm in football. Give them something to watch and do not stop them from coming to watch it. In a very real way a small revolution is happening at Valley Parade tomorrow and who knows where it will end? Football pricing in line with a trip to the cinema. Mr Rhodes, you deserve the best of things.

One suspects though that Mr Rhodes and his new partner Mark Lawn would settle for a win – any win – but if the footballing Gods smile then a good win. Stuart McCall’s return is invigorating and both he and Wayne Jacobs have proved something at assistant level. It is graduation day.

McCall’s first team for his first game in the big chair at home to Macclesfield Town will feature the heart of the defence of last season. Donovan Ricketts behind David Wetherall and Mark Bower could be the best three in the league. Paul Heckingbottom makes his second debut at left back and Darren Williams plays on the right. A defence that picks itself week in week out is the basis of the best teams.

Paul Evans – still without contract – is expected to be signed up in time to take the number four shirt and the McCall position breaking up play and moving the ball on. Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley scrap over the right wing – what the former lacks in class the latter lacks in effort – and Alex Rhodes is expected to make a debut on the left not long after signing from Brentford as McCall opts for a 442. A host of players would partner Evans in the middle but expect Eddie Johnson to get the nod.

Barry Colon takes one slot up front but Peter Thorne’s injury prevents McCall from giving a first outing to his pairing. Gillingham’s Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu – signed on loan yesterday – is expected to add pace and power to the forward line.

Three o’clock. Turn up, cheer, see a win. I’m not sure is how it has been working for a good few years now but this is graduation day and things can change.

A New Season And Reason To Be Optimistic

Well, it’s that time of year again when all supporters up and down the country start to talk about their team’s chances for the forthcoming season (except in Scotland where the season has already started). It has certainly been an interesting close season this summer with football authorities shirking their responsibilities with both the on-going Tevez affair and the recent announcement of the 15 point deduction for Leeds United. (At this point, I must add the City supporters should have some sympathy for Leeds United supporters after ourselves going through two separate administration periods. We, the City supporter, should understand how it feels when your club is in serious financial difficulties. City supporters laughing at Leeds’ current position have short memories and deep down would you really want to see our rivals disappear from the footballing map?)

Following our third relegation since the 2000/2001 season in May of this year, you would have thought that going into this new season, City supporters would be full of pessimism. Far from it if you gage supporters views on messageboards, in newspapers and from general discussion. The main reason for this new found optimism is the return of a true hero, Stuart McCall, as our new manager. Julian Rhodes should take alot of credit for securing McCall’s employment as he stuck to his task of obtaining the legend after the sacking of Colin Todd back in February. Indeed, when Neil Warnock was relieved of his duties at Bramell Lane, many people thought that we had no chance of obtaining Stuart as our new manager.

Stuart now has the enormous challenge of getting us promoted during his first season in charge. Well, this is what most supporters are demanding before a football has even been kicked. Stuart has made some interesting signings since he took over at the helm and along with the players who remain from last season, I believe that Stuart will have done well to have secured a play-off position come May 2008. It will be interesting to see how the likes of Penford, Bentham, Colbeck and Ainge perform this season. Much has been written about home grown players in the past and supporters all have their own views on the four players that I’ve just mentioned. For me, City looked like a more balanced side when Bentham was playing in central midfield last season and it will be interesting to see how Eddie Johnson performs in his new midfield role this season. Penford was down the pecking order when Bridge-Wilkinson and Schumacher were at the club. They have now both departed but McCall has signed Scott Phelan (another midfielder from Everton) and he looked useful against Farsley in pre-season. Ainge could have a promising future as he looked composed on the ball when he was given his chance in the first team last season. Of the home grown players, Colbeck played the most first team games last season and much has been written about him. Supporters need to give this young lad time to progress. At Farsley, supporters were barracking him if a pass went astray but then he played a neat pass to trialist Simon Johnson who set up Peter Thorne’s goal. All of a sudden, Colbeck’s not such a bad player. Talk about supporters blowing hot and cold with their opinions.

Another reason for renewed optimism is the fact that the club has told over 12,000 season tickets. Again, credit to Mr Rhodes for sticking to his guns when others thought that his superb idea of reasonably priced football was set to fail. If Stuart hadn’t taken up the managerial reins, the number of season tickets that would have been sold is debatable. However, we don’t have to worry about that and we should have the biggest home attendances in Division 4 this coming season. We will be the big fish in a small pond. Other teams will come to Valley Parade and will feel inspired to play well in front of a large crowd and a fantastic stadium. As we know from the past, this could have a detrimental effect on our performances. Hopefully, our new look team will feel the need to perform well in front of their own supporters. We shouldn’t however have this big club mentality and should keep our feet firmly on the ground. As I mentioned earlier, many supporters are demanding promotion this season and I’ve even heard people say that if we don’t gain automatic promotion they will be disappointed. After seeing us in freefall for the past few seasons, it would be nice if we can have a good season but we must remember that we don’t have a divine right to promotion just because of out stadium and the size of our attendances.

However, we have a good platform from which we can build a club that we can be proud of again; a legend as manager, a great club servant as assistant manager, a Chairman who supports the club (I use the word support in relation to passion and not in terms of financial support), a solid supporter base in terms of number of season tickets sold and no large debts hanging around the club’s neck thanks to our new Co-Chairman.

If, and it’s a big if, we are promoted at the end of the season I would be absolutely delighted for two people more than any others; firstly Julian Rhodes for supporting the club in times of crisis and for David Wetherall who has stuck with us despite 3 relegations.

Bring on the new season!

The price is right

Mark Lawn should be more careful about his publicity stunts. As City’s new joint-owner cooked up a tasty fare of barbecue food to people queuing up for season tickets on Sunday, he might be finding his special talents are needed again in a fortnight. Given the impressive uptake of City’s bargain bucket season tickets, far beyond expectations, you wonder if City will be able to cope with the higher than expected crowds this season. Hey Mark the half time queues for food are huge, your cookery skills are needed on the Kop concourse…

The season ticket offer ends on Tuesday and, six months after the idea was originally announced, Lawn’s new sidekick should be feeling especially pleased with himself. When Julian Rhodes launched the scheme last February, he was greeted with a degree of indifference and an apparent reality of how much the district of Bradford was bothered about having a football team.

City are leading the way with making football affordable to everyone and, if our biggest crowds for years are celebrating promotion come May, it will surely become an initiative copied elsewhere.

People were asked to ‘pledge’ to buy a ticket and the numbers who did so were not enough. Given City failed to win a single home match and their feeble attempt to avoid relegation during this period, it’s perhaps to be expected the T&A post bag wasn’t exactly bulging. Nevertheless, the lack of response to the cheapest season tickets in English professional football felt both demoralising and embarrassing.

So what’s changed? Why are we now about to kick off the new season with just under 12,000 season ticket holders? A third relegation in six years occurred, yet the optimism among supporters for the season ahead is probably the highest it has been since promotion to the Premiership. It appears that the summer arrivals account for the late surge of interest in watching City’s first bottom division campaign in two decades.

Yet Mark Lawn’s investment in the club, while crucial and welcomed by every City supporter, would surely not be of enough significance to suddenly make lapsed supporters return. It’s the arrival of one of City’s sporting icons who must surely take credit for that.

It’s worth noting just how powerful the Stuart McCall factor is. Cheap season tickets or not, it appears several thousands are returning to watch Bradford City on the strength of his appointment. This shows the depth of feeling people have for our ginger hero. Stuart has been at the forefront of some of City’s more recent prominent moments, both happy and tragic. He has proved himself to be the ultimate hero and one that, crucially, is easy for everyone to identify with. He is loved by so many, including those who gave up watching City years ago.

After the previously poor response to the season ticket offer, few would have blamed Rhodes if he had abandoned the initiative last spring. He kept going, partly helped by behind the scenes support from Lawn. His long term aim was to get Stuart in, although this also looked unlikely for a time. With the offer not going well, Stuart remaining tight-lipped about his future and City heading for relegation; many supporters decided to vocally criticise our owner and the ‘get rid of’ brigade began calling for him to step down. Rhodes even briefly contemplated giving those people what they wanted, but thankfully decided to stay on.

His plan might not have looked successful for a time and his determination to wait for Stuart clearly cost City their League One status last term, but luck changed and the snowball effect of good news stories continues at a fast pace. Now Rhodes can hopefully sit back as the season kicks off with his efforts paying off. It won’t happen but, after Stuart gets his great reception from fans as he walks to the dugout against Macclesfield, it would be wonderful if a chant of ‘there’s only one Julian Rhodes’ rang out from all three home stands.

The season ticket offer is wonderful. I’ve written a few bfb articles calling for reduced ticket prices in the past. As someone who hasn’t been financially well off for a couple of years, I was acutely aware how expensive it was to watch City and I’ve had to miss some matches before finally been able to afford a season ticket again last season. I think it’s wonderful that, as ticket prices continue to rise nationally and the Premiership becomes more and more removed from reality, my club has taken this fantastic lead in making the game more affordable for ordinary folk.

Bradford City have been criticised in the past for not doing enough in the community, but this move is a significant step towards integrating the club as an important part of local people’s lives. Now around 11,500 of us will be visiting Valley Parade every fortnight and the new season promises to be exciting, carrying with it the promise of a promotion push.

It won’t be easy, Stuart doesn’t have a huge transfer budget and undoubtedly not all of his summer signings will prove successful. The loan system is being heavily utilised and some fans are already needlessly panicking because City have lost a couple of friendlies. The new investment from Lawn gives City a chance to push forward, but it doesn’t mean City have bucket loads of cash to spend. The problems of recent years are probably best illustrated by the return of Paul Heckingbottom on loan. It’s three years since he departed; yet he still remains the last left back City signed on a permanent basis.

Promotion this season would make for a wonderfully happy story; not just to a club that has forgotten what success is like, but for football fans everywhere. City are leading the way with making football affordable to everyone and, if our biggest crowds for years are celebrating promotion come May, it will surely become an initiative copied elsewhere.

If the fairytale ending of promotion does occur, Rhodes can be even prouder than he must feel right now. As fans criticised him last spring, many seemingly dismissed the fact he and his family had twice saved the club as a minor irrelevance. While this is ludicrous and sadly typical of some of our fans, Rhodes’ vision could be about to create a legacy no one could shrug off. It’s unfortunate that history will so far record Rhodes tenure as a time linked with failure and financial strife. With his wonderful offer, new investment on board and a City legend as manager; Rhodes’ plan is coming together and it’s to be hoped all of this hardwork will pay off.

If anyone deserves to succeed with City, it is surely Rhodes. Hopefully this season he can sit back and enjoy some success. It’s sure to taste even better than a Mark Lawn burger.

Beaten City Looking At The Pereinial Problem

A 1-0 defeat at York City gave Stuart McCall of a first taste in management of the pereinial Bradford City problem of mistaken identity. City turned up against Burnley winning plaudits for a draw with the Championship side but soft pedaled against the non-league Minstermen and were beaten.

This kind of attitude has seen the Bantams able to turn up against the best sides but get beaten by the weaker ones across all four divisions in the last decade be they a 1-0 defeat at Watford contrasted with beating Liverpool or home thumpings by Stockport County against wins over teams that would get promoted McCall needs his City side to address this before progress can be made.

City lost needlessly getting little out of a game where Chris Beardsley tapped in a rebound from a Craig Farrell shot and the Bantams – albeit with a share of trailists – never looked like replying. Fast forward this to the league and three points against anyone is three points and were the previous two games in a season then City would have one point and not the three that the positions suggest we should.

McCall is taking an extended look at trialist Kyle Nix – he has a month contract to prove his worth – and hopes to firm up a contract with Paul Evans this week.

The Anointed One

First things first. Bradford City took honours against Burnley in the one all draw at Valley Parade against a strong Burnley side in what was the best pre-season test at Valley Parade since Sam Allardyce stormed out of VP following Wayne Jacobs testimonial with a face on him that said “That mattered”.

Tonight Burnley tried, City tried and City edged it.

Burnley, however, had more class. The gap between the two divisions was there for all to see as Burnley pushed the ball around and controlled it with the kind of ease that City once did but what the Bantams lacked in class they made up in the kind of passionate play that manager Stuart McCall – in charge of his first City game at Valley Parade for seven and a half years – typified.

If not first to the ball then City snapped around the feet McCall is building a team in his own image and at the hub of that McCall seems to have found his number four in the shape of tank like midfielder Paul Evans.

At times Evans is McCall’s McCall to a tee. He harries at everything then tackles hard but fair – most of the time – and like McCall he can move the ball. More short ten yarders in future maybe but with City playing a 433 with Omar Daley and Joe Colbeck on a remit to get down the channels beyond the increasingly impressive Barry Conlon Evans played quarterback hitting balls that will rip apart League Two defences. Evans is not essential for City or for McCall – Craig Bentham can do his job – but with the Welshman having other offers but preferring City one gets the feeling that he could make much more of an impact on results in his second coming than he did in his first.

One hopes McCall gets his man.

Also worth getting would seem to be Australian born midfielder Kyle Nix who buzzed around the midfield of the field next to Evans and Eddie Johnson with a classy touch and an eagerness to impress his former Sheffield United reserve manager McCall. Nix almost won the game for City with a free kick late on that pyjamaed goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly saved impressively in an impressive midfield three which saw Eddie Johnson continue his transformation to a man of the middle with a long channel ball to Joe Colbeck which the winger took in stride and pulled back for Evans to slam in from the right hand side of the box. Two passes over sixty yards and more impressive play from Colbeck that will no doubt be ignored by his detractors.

Not to be ignored was the train sized gap which saw Burnley’s Michael Duff thread a ball behind Mark Bower and in front of Donovan Ricketts for Ade Akinbiyi to turn in for the opener. Defensive communication is the heart of all winning teams and should McCall’s men be celebrating on May this will have been either sorted out on the training ground or no one in League Two will be capable of playing that sort of pass.

The back two of David Wetherall and Mark Bower seemed at home with Paul Heckingbottom’s gradual return at left back and new signing Darren Williams slotting in to the right back role and showing ability to support the forward play coupled with strength at the back and seeming to be a very useful player.

From the bench Tom Harban impressed at right back and striker Luke Medley looked huge but lacked the experience to fill Conlon’s vital role in the set-up McCall is building but most vital in that seems to be a McCall of a player to fill the manager’s shoes. Contract for Paul Evans? Very much so.

Inking In

Farsley Celtic are the success story of West Yorkshire football. Standing in their cobbled together ground seeing a club punching over its weight going for it against a twenty-two man Bradford City team one cannot helped but be impressed with what is going on at City’s new nearest neighbour. If Bradford City or Leeds United punched this high then Championships would be won.

Farsley mean business and were in race trim. Gareth Grant had something to prove against City and roasted Luke O’Brien at left back and City’s first half middle which included Everton trialist Scott Phelan whent from control of the game to a worrying back foot. Simon Johnson up front was fed by Joe Colbeck and slid over a ball for Peter Thorne to get a debut equaliser but Damien Dunne gave the home side a decisive lead.

Four days later and Colbeck – persistant target of both critisism and plaudit even amoust the thousand who travel to pre-season – impressed in a 2-0 win over North Ferriby United ripping into the home side’s full back and firing over a string of excellent crosses. Joe Colbeck with end product is almost everything. The rest comes from Peter Thorne and Barry Conlon who both look like the burley sort of striker that City will need in League Two. Thorne got his second – adding to an opener by Omar Daley – and City had both good win and good workout.

Wins and workouts aside the modern friendly is about squad shaping. Conlon and Thorne are Bantams and they will surely be joined soon by a return of Paul Evans who slotted back into Bradford City colours aptly. Evans taking a free kick blasted at goal is a sight one thought one would never see again and one is so glad that the midfield engine seems set to return.

Joining City seem to be Nathan Joynes and Thomas Harban on long-term loans from Barnsley. Harban looks an interesting player with decent ball skills. Joynes – a forward – is superb until the finish which “lacks polish” to say the least. Simon Johnson moves on to Hereford having not impressed McCall. Joynes seems to offer the same. One wonders if the fear of a two year contract should City win promotion is behind that one.

Former Hartlepool United and Sunderland right back Darren Williams has been offered a contract. He is not Darren Holloway. Repeat it softly to yourself before you go to sleep dear reader.

Kyle Nix is to be told on Monday what his future is. It is six to half a dozen if he will stay. McCall seems to want Scott Phelan and Phelan – a full back at Goodison moving into midfield – looks worth a punt. As with Nix he finds out today as McCall – two wins and a defeat into his City career – inks in names to his team sheet.

Football is back

Midway through the first half of City’s friendly at Wetherby Road, a Harrogate Town midfielder hit a long ball that rolled straight through to Donovan Ricketts. With the striker still chasing through, Ricketts sold him a dummy and dribbled the ball around him before clearing up field. Football, at least as we know it, is back.

Barely two months since the disappointing 2006/07 season ended with a 2-2 draw against Millwall, unfamiliar faces lined up with familiar as the Stuart McCall reign began with a 1-0 win. The goal came after 14 minutes from the head of the ever reliable captain David Wetherall. Some can point to irony that it was the previous manager who scored the goal to mark the start of the new boss’ time in charge. Stuart will have seen it as a clear signal that his captain will be one of his most reliable players in the coming months.

No disrespect to Harrogate Town, but I do enjoy these trips to non-league grounds. It’s great to see the enthusiasm and hard work from the people who run the club, but there is often an air of comedy about the whole experience. Whether it’s paying for three people at the turnstiles with a £20 and £5 note (tickets £8 each) and been told they didn’t have any change (I was owed a £1) – so instead the gateman only charged us £20, there seems to be a great collection of characters around the ground.

Making our way to the main stand for a seat (a wise decision given the torrential second half downpour) we were stopped by an elderly gentleman who asked us for an extra £1 each to sit here. For a minute I wondered whether he was on the con, but handed over our extra £1s anyway. I guess that made up for being undercharged at the turnstile!

The crackling tannoy system played ‘Life is a rollercoaster’ by Ronan Keating prematch and we soon realised, as the next record kicked in, that they were in fact playing the Irish singer’s full album (not that pre-match music at Valley Parade is usually any better). We were then treated to a display from a local group of young cheerleaders who sang about how they rule this town and only seemed to know four songs/routines. They were happy to repeat their four dances again and again like a CD stuck on repeat.

Meanwhile the front row of the stand was filled with excitable parents capturing the whole performance on camera. They were the only ones to join in the audience participation moments and you got the impression they were not regulars down at Wetherby Road. Another elderly gentleman walked to the front and seemed full of pride as he watched and applauded the cheerleaders. He looked like he might be Bill Fotherby, the former Leeds Chairman now in charge at Harrogate. He turned to us under whelmed supporters in the stand and, in a Brian Potter-esque way, excitedly exclaimed how he had never heard so much noise in his whole life.

Fortunately the game soon started. City’s first half team came out on the pitch quickly followed by Stuart and Wayne Jacobs, who both naturally received a great reception from the large contingent of City fans. Being half deaf, I stood little chance of hearing the tannoy announcing the City team so struggled to work out who some of our trialists were. One familiar face was Paul Evans, who fired over the free kick that Wetherall scored from to put us in the lead. A bloke a few rows in front stood up shortly after and started loudly cheering for Town, before just as suddenly stopping and sitting back down.

“How old is the number 9?” asked the wife referring to new signing Barry Conlon. “28 I think.” “No he is not, he looks 52!” Soon after Conlon was presented with an excellent chance after a cross was floated towards his ageing forehead. His header ended up going well wide, almost threatening the corner flag. “Look’s like we’ve signed another three goals a season forward.”

Among the first half trialists was Simon Johnson, who showed some skill but was easily knocked off the ball. Number Two Darren Williams looked useful, although the last right back we had called ‘Darren’, who also used to play for Sunderland, still prompts horror flashbacks. The number 8, who I later find out is Scott Phelan, could be worth a contract. The half closed with Harrogate putting in plenty of effort and The Don looking much calmer than towards the end of last season.

Queuing up for an ice cream at half time, a clap of thunder boomed over and it began to rain. Someone joked about dropping ice cream on the blue Bentley parked by the Ice-cream van, until someone else pointed out that it belonged to Mark Lawn. Now what was the name of the last City owner who drove a Bentley? We paused to watch Jacobs bark instructions at the subs warming up before another clap of thunder hurried our retreat back to the sheltered stand.

As we walked back, I realised that former City players Mark Prudhoe and Chris Wilder (now Halifax manager) were walking past the opposite way. Just as I tried to pluck up the courage to ask Mark what he is up to these days, my friend accidentally backed into our former keeper almost knocking his coffee all over him. As he looked slightly menacingly at my clumsy friend, I realised the moment had passed.

With the exception of Ricketts, a completely different team kicked off the second half. These included more trialists and another returning former player, Paul Heckingbottom. The second half team have to endure a torrential downpour that at one stage put the match into doubt. I was left wondering when, if ever, was the last time that City had played a pre-season friendly that was abandoned through bad weather.

Adapting to the conditions better than most was Omar Daley, who showed off his electric pace and went on a couple of mazy dribbles. Daley carried on where he left against Millwall last May, playing up front to decent effect. Eddie Johnson was also back in midfield, suggesting his temporary switch there last season could become a permanent one. City knocked the ball around well at times with some promising moves breaking down. This will only improve with each game.

Harrogate, whose players were clearly up for putting one over their more famous neighbours, pressed hard but second half defenders Mark Bower and Simon Ainge impressed. As the match wore on, some of the Harrogate tackles got harder and the game ended with Craig Bentham squaring up to one player after been unhappy at the strength of one challenge.

It wasn’t a great performance, there is clearly work to be done and tough decisions to be made over which trialists to offer deals. But, as the rain eased off and we disappeared into the Harrogate night, I was left with a satisfied feeling about the ten months ahead for City.

Football is back.

The Result Is All That Matters

Harrogate Town 0 Bradford City 1 – Friendly Game 2007/2008

David Wetherall got back to playing matters as Bradford City bested Harrogate Town 1-0 at Wetherby Road in the opening friendly of the 2007/2008 and with the Bantams using twenty two players during the game one found it hard to read much into the result or the performance save the idea that everyone is a half a game fitter.

Wetherall headed in Paul Evans free kick – how good it is to have Evans back – in the first half and trial kid from Everton Scott Phelan looked good. Nothing else much to note and most – despite the assurance that the result does not matter – will look at the score line and think not of the heavy rain but of the limber new progress of the McCall regime.

Confidence comes from this.

Our Time Starts Now

Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs will stand next to a football field taking charge of their first Bradford City game tonight as the Bantams campaign for League Two and beyond begins at Harrogate Town on this sunny Monday night.

McCall has been squad crafting and like the managers before him at Valley Parade has scrambled for signings. Chris Brandon is a no-no as Huddersfield want money for him – the T&A read this as a confirmation that “Internet rumours” linking City to the Tong born midfielder were wide of the mark – as so it is for the new City manager picking up players where he can.

Two strikers have joined the Bantams – Barry Conlon and Peter Thorne – and Paul Heckingbottom joins Paul Evans as a returner from the teams of before. One time BfB player of the season Heckingbottom has signed on loan from Barnsley until 2008 and shows the priorities that the new City gaffer has filling shirts with trusted character rather than potential flair. Do not expect Robert Wolleaston to be given a call any time soon.

A host of other trialists will feature for forty five as City get going and Tom Penford and Craig Bentham are expected to be given a chance to play together in the middle as McCall looks for a partnership. Evans – keen to impress on his return – will make a case for his inclusion as well in Harrogate on Monday, Farsley on Wednesday and North Ferriby at the weekend.

Good character is what is required. McCall looks for it not for a successful League Two campaign but beyond. The club so often peopled by Bobby Pettas and not run by the man who epitomises the opposite is looking for now looking for the impossible dream – a team of Stuart McCalls.

Unfamiliar fixtures, unfamiliar optimism

The Bradford City official website referred to the new fixture list as ‘intriguing’. That’s one way of describing a league programme that brings Macclesfield Town to Valley Parade for the season’s opener, is followed by early season trips to Shrewsbury, Barnet and Hereford and ends with the delights of a visit to Wycombe.

The reality of life in League Two was always going to set in once the plans for the next nine months could begin, and while the clubs rolling up at Valley Parade between August and May will seem largely unfamiliar, it is hoped that the majority of them won’t be back again anytime in the near future.

It’s certainly a contrast looking at next year’s fixture list compared to others we have first read in previous years. I remember spending hours studying the release of our first ever Premiership fixtures. I’ve read this season’s a couple of times, but it doesn’t exactly fill me with great excitement. Of course we go to watch City and the opposition is secondary, but it’s hard to not to feel envious of Huddersfield Town’s Easter Monday trip to Elland Road. Our local derbies this year will be Rochdale, Accrington, Lincoln and Rotherham.

I always find the release of the fixture list to be a mixed blessing. It’s certainly an exciting moment in a Bradford City free summer, but sharply brings into focus that the new season is not long off and usually makes me long for the opening game to come around.

If the club is also looking some way off being ready for the campaign ahead, it can also seem a bit disconcerting. The weeks are flying by, but there are still no new faces to pose in a City kit for the local media and talk about their aims to take the club forward. Meanwhile many of our rivals seem to be snapping up decent players with disturbing regularity.

Chesterfield in particular have brought in a few new faces that we would have been happy to see join this club. There are still plenty of players are available, but with so many new faces needed to be brought in before the Macclesfield game it would be nice to welcome the first batch sooner rather than later.

New signings will soon arrive, pre-season friendlies begin in just over three weeks and we all soon be settling down for another campaign of highs and lows. With City apparently having one of the largest playing budgets in the division, it is to be hoped promise will be fulfilled and the highs will for once outweigh the lows. The fixture may prompt a range of emotions; fear is certainly not among them. Being the first visitors to Shrewsbury’s new stadium might be tricky, but there are no games that leave you feeling less than comfortable about City’s chances.

The fixture list feels unfamiliar, but hopefully it won’t be a novelty that we have to get used to.

The Exciting Macc Lads

It hit home at ten. The Macc Lads will be coming to Valley Parade for Stuart McCall’s first game in charge of City. Macclesfield Town. No name to conjure with but the reality of City’s situation and a sobering thought for those still remembering the day in August 1999 when City wandered into the meliu of the Premiership.

Macclesfield at home is a respectable first game for McCall and shows the scope of his task. They will come to Valley Parade looking to start the season well – who doesn’t – and make it tough for the Bantams to get anything, a microcosm of the season for the new boss who is promising promotion in his first season. Trip to Shrewsbury follows that. City go to the seaside for a first league game with Morecambe on the 13 October – too late for summer sun – and Boxing Day sends us the somber thought of Lincoln City’s first league game at Valley Parade since 11th of May, 1985.

We close on the 3rd of May at Wycombe having rounded up at home the week before when Milton Keynes Dons visit VP.

What of McCall’s promotion hopes? They are realistic – last season’s top four in League Two were the bottom four of League One from the season before – and the three promotion spots allows for breathing room.

One worries that the Bantams squad needs building but Mark Lawn has made sure that resources are there to build with. The atmosphere problem at Valley Parade has been combated with the innovations over season tickets and for the first time since Barnsley opened the season at VP in 2001 there is reason for optimism for progress rather than the relief of continued existence.

In this way Macclesfield is as exciting, as joyous, as worth looking forward to as Middlesbrough was.

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