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?

Recent Posts