There is relief, the season’s over

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Lewis Hunt, Luke Oliver, Lee Bullock, Robbie Threlfall | Dominic Rowe, Jon Worthington, David Syers, Omar Daley | James Hanson, Jake Speight | Alex Flett, Luke O'Brien

There is so much to trouble the mind and soul related to Bradford City at the moment, but at 3pm Saturday there was a reminder – however unwelcome – of what’s really important.

There is a football match taking place at Valley Parade. Not the most noteworthy game occurring around the country today, but between 3 and 5pm it is the be all and end all for us. Fretting about winning, fretting about the players’ effort levels, fretting about a horrendous scoreline and performance. Today is not a good day, but the weekly soap opera of trying to win football matches is everything that matters. Our purpose. The other stuff just gets in the way.

There is what could be the last ever football match taking place at Valley Parade. It feels strange walking up to and entering the ground, trying to mentally train yourself to appreciate what could be your last proper visit to your second home. Your last time through the turnstiles? Possibly. Your last time walking to your seat? Possibly. If this later proves to be it, maybe not knowing now is for the best. It would be so emotional to be here realising it definitely was for the final time; we would hardly be able to bring ourselves to leave.

There is perspective offered to the current worries by a minute’s silence to remember the Valley Parade fire of 26 years ago, just before kick off. Fitting that the 56 people are remembered if this is the final ever game at Valley Parade, but also a reminder of how reluctant we should be to leave the scene of such tragedy. I was only four years old – and living in Wales – when the fire occurred, so it’s not something I feel I have the right to write about. But as people argue City shouldn’t allow those terrible events to prevent us from moving, it strikes me that – having been so determined to rebuild and return to Valley Parade in the wake of 1985, with such strong emotion involved – giving up our home now because of a squabble with the landlord seems somewhat ill-fitting to the memories of the 56.

There is moaning 11 seconds into the game – surely a new record, even after this last decade. The kick off is messed up by the players, and the outrage at their efforts and level of ability begins in earnest. Still it’s normal, and while not to mine and other’s tastes a reassuring kind of normal. Debating the merits of Jake Speight up front, questioning the suitability of Lee Bullock as centre back. Normal. The kind of discussions and reactions taking place in football grounds up and down the country. As we look set to spend the next few weeks fretting about financial matters, moaning about Omar Daley’s effort levels is a welcome relief.

There is a goal to Crewe inside 12 minutes. City had started the game okay, but then give the ball away in a bad position and Shaun Miller races clean through on goal and past the recalled Jon McLaughlin, before tapping into the net. Crewe, like City, have nothing to play for aside from ensuring departing striker Clayton Donaldson ends the season with the League Two Golden Boot trophy. As the players celebrate, Donaldson – who had already tried a couple of shots from ridiculous angles – looks upset and one of his team-mates has a word. Miller had done the work, but Donaldson, it seemed, wanted his strike partner to allow him to slot the ball home. Great team player.

There is some resistance from City, initially at least. Speight has a drive at goal parried by Rhys Taylor, and a struggling-for-form James Hanson can only fire the loose ball against the angle of post and crossbar. Minutes later Hanson passes up another chance, and his growing army of critics in the stands are fearful in their abuse. “Get back to the Co-op” they yell at last season’s player of the year. Last season’s David Syers, if you will. Once looked upon as a solution, Hanson is now apparently part of the problem.

There is the occasional positive from this dreadful season. Syers harries for possession and plays Speight through on goal. Just as he’s about to pull the trigger he is pushed over by a Crewe defender for a penalty he then converts. The last ever Valley Parade goal by a City player? Possibly. Three goals in five games for Speight now, a decent end to the season. But the real hero was Syers, a player to build next season’s team around.

There is applause at regular intervals. Applause for McLaughlin when he tips over a long-range piledriver. Applause for full debutant Dominic Rowe after cutting inside and hitting a low shot that has to be palmed out by Taylor. Then applause for Crewe’s lethal counter attack from the resultant City corner, which sees Bryon Moore race down the flank and play Miller in to score. Whatever your views on the way we City fans get behind our own, that sporting nature within us to applaud wonderful opposition goals and pieces of play is something we should be proud of. I guess you could say we get plenty of practice.

There is a brilliance about the visitors and how they pass the ball around. Since attending the 2-1 loss at Gresty Road last January, I’ve retained a view that Crewe – on their day – are the best team in League Two. They should have done better than the 10th place they finish, as they rip City apart time and time again. No one is picking up Moore, who is running the game and laying on numerous chances for the dangerous Miller and Donaldson. 90 seconds after going 2-1 up, Donaldson gets that goal he wanted so badly – sealing the Golden Boot. A Bradford lad of course, but this is one piece of sporting excellence we all struggle to share pride in. His 28 goals are one more than City have managed in total at home all season. If only he hadn’t left City at 15. If only.

There is a growing sense of embarrassment. Danny Shelly has a goal ruled out for handball, but then scores legally right on half time with a shot McLaughlin should save. At half time – the last ever half time at Valley Parade? Possibly – the boos ring out and the reception from fans in the Bradford End in particular looks nasty. Part outclassed, part lacking in effort – the players looked beleaguered. They’re not bad people, but as a team too many individuals are unwilling to truly put their bodies on the line and the rest are letting them get away with it.

There is a white flag waved from the home dugout. Peter Jackson addresses the issue of his midfield being overrun by hauling off Hanson and Daley and pushing Alex Flett and Luke O’Brien into midfield, but it’s a negative move aimed only at limiting the damage. City know they are beaten and go through the motions. Only Rowe offers us something to cheer with a series of promising runs at defenders which hint at self-confidence soaring. Flett works hard too, and City become better at retaining the ball. Still, with 45 minutes to go we’re just playing out time.

There is only one more goal, a second for Shelly following a scramble and initial save from McLaughlin. The ball somehow bounces through a crowd of bodies and into the bottom corner. The last ever goal at Valley Parade? Possibly. It’s hardly a moment of beauty, but one that arguably best reflects the 108 years of struggle and under-achievement that Valley Parade has been home to.

There is a mass exodus of people from the ground once the fifth goes in, despite 23 minutes to play. The last 23 minutes of football ever at Valley Parade? Possibly. Anger has been replaced by resignation and black humour, with sarcastic cheers for successful passes and, when City cross the half way line, cries of “shoot”. O’Brien eventually obliges with a shot from the edge of the box; it’s tame and easily held. Someone else gets up to leave, joking to us all “see you at Odsal”. No one laughs.

There is a mixture of almighty groans and laughter when Rowe’s low cross into the box looks perfect for Speight to tap home, only for him to miss the ball and fall over. Before Speight’s backside has smacked the grass, the usually patient family who sit in front of me head for the exit. A odd way for the 2010/11 season to end for them really, watching our £25k striker fall on his arse. You can imagine spending the summer playing it over and over again in your mind. It probably sums up the entire campaign.

There is no pitch invasion at the end, as an army of stewards block every route from the stands to the turf. Even allowing for the pointlessness of previous seasons pitch invasions, it would have been ridiculous for anyone to have wanted to bother. The Crewe players are given a standing ovation by City fans. The ground empties quickly, and a few hundred of us stay for the players’ lap of appreciation. All week on message boards, people like me – who like to clap the players at the end of the season regardless – have been slagged off for being willing to applaud failure. But it’s our choice, and you don’t have to stay. A fear of a protest booing against the players grows as we wait for them to come out, but in the end it seems those sufficiently outraged are already on their way home.

There is a quietness to the lap of appreciation. The players look a little embarrassed, with good reason of course. But the outfits most are wearing offer some symbolism over the failings of others. They’re wearing suits, those damn suits that at the start of the season City were proudly declaring on their own website were a wonderful thing, “In order not to let down Peter (Taylor’s) required standards.” Quick fixes, gimmicky ideas, yesterday’s answers.

Lap of appreciation

Smartly dressed players on their lap of appreciation

There is a dignity to Jackson all afternoon. This is not his team, but they might just have cost him the manager’s job for next season. He is emotional during his two local radio interviews, but passionate about staying. Possibly shown up tactically today, I nevertheless hope he gets the job because he deserves the opportunity to show what he could really do.

There is a relief the season is over. As the players head to the dressing room we take a long lingering look around Valley Parade – our last ever glimpse of this view? Possibly – before heading out into the summer’s night observing City fans shaking hands with Crewe supporters and congratulating them for their brilliant team. Before getting into the car and switching between BBC Radio Leeds and the Pulse talking about the rent problem. Before spending the next few weeks and months anxiously checking for news on City’s future. Before eventually, hopefully, being able to look forward to next season with genuine hope rather than fear.

There is so much we don’t know, but there is one thing I can be sure of. I’m City till I die.

How Peter Taylor turned around Bradford City’s season

The contrast could not have been greater. A month to the day since Bradford City departed the field to yet more angry boos in the wake of a dispiriting home loss to Morecambe, jubilant scenes greeted the final whistle at Gigg Lane as the Bantams recorded a fourth win from five. The immediate future looked bleak on October 2, now it appears hugely exciting.

Midway through the second half at Bury, a massive argument between the two benches over a strong home challenge prompted a boisterous chorus of ‘Peter Taylor’s Bradford Army’ from the large travelling support. Compare that to the scenes at full time against Morecambe – part of which were captured live on the excellent Bantams Banter podcast that week, where in the words of Tom or Dom: “Taylor’s being booed, he’s just walked onto the pitch and is being absolutely annihilated.” – and for the City manager to still be employed is an achievement in itself.

After the Morecambe loss City had slumped to 23rd – or a ranking of 91st out of 92 professional teams who play in England. It was a new low point of a 10-year slump which has featured numerous “it can’t get any worse than this” moments. But 31 days later the Bantams have climbed to 10th position – a remarkable recovery after it had appeared the only way we’d be exiting League Two would be via the relegation trapdoor.

And for that Taylor deserves a huge amount of credit. In the wake of the Morecambe loss, tabloid speculation took hold that he had to win the next game or would be dismissed. Taylor and City pulled back from the brink, winning 2-0 at Barnet in a thrilling manner. But even then it seemed Taylor’s future remained right on the knife edge and, as Cheltenham took an early lead at Valley Parade the following Saturday, the end appeared close.

City recovered to win while producing their finest display of the season so far; and though a 3-0 setback at Burton once again raised question marks, victories over Oxford and Bury have firmly pushed away the pressure of the sack. Now to keep going.

Above all else the turnaround has been achieved by placing a greater emphasis on the quality Taylor has available. The less-than-inspiring end of September/early October, which featured defender Luke Oliver up front and seven hours without a goal, saw City play some quite dreadful long ball football. It was back-to-basics, desperate tactics seemingly aimed at grinding out results. It was also horrendous to watch.

At Barnet Taylor went back to 4-4-2 and employed Tom Adeyemi alongside Tommy Doherty, to provide the cultured midfielder with greater support – and City struck two quality goals in the second half to win the game.

Doherty’s early games were relative quiet and unassuming, with the summer signing attracting the kind of criticism gifted players like Nicky Summerbee and Gareth Whalley received for their shortcomings. He looked quality from day one, but struggled to get team mates on the same wavelength and to make the sort of clever off-the-ball running he has the ability to ping a pass to.

In recent weeks it has been a privilege to watch someone of such talent making a big impression, and his performances against Cheltenham and Oxford have drawn comparisons to Whalley. I feel we are very lucky to have such a superb player for this level; he is pivotal to Taylor’s side.

Now that he has settled in and built up fitness, Lee Hendrie is also making a huge difference to City. He scored the crucial second goal against Cheltenham in what was his best all-round performance for City. Hendrie clearly has a clever football brain and the vision to spot things others don’t see. Here until January at least, with each excellent performance the likelihood of another team coming in is growing.

But for now he is not only helping Doherty increase his influence, but setting a superb example to others in helping Taylor evolve the team’s shape. Hendrie is not an out-and-out winger, but a wide midfielder able to tuck inside and help central team mates. His good habits appear to have been taken on board by Leon Osborne, who is growing into his right midfield role, and the shape of the team looks more solid, particuarly when City don’t have the ball.

The third creative player who’s authority has grown is Omar Daley. Deployed up front alongside James Hanson or Jason Price, Daley has revelled in the trust his manager has placed in him and is causing all kinds of problems in a free role. He regularly pops up all over the final third of the park, and this is proving difficult for defenders to pick up.

Balancing out this trio’s flair is the ball winning and athleticism of David Syers or Tom Adeyemi, who carry greater defensive responsibilities. Syers has looked strong going forwards in games, but Taylor is clearly looking for more positional discipline and the more withdrawn style he displayed at Gigg Lane on Tuesday is likely to be more the norm than the attacking midfielder who has already scored four times this season.

With the defence continued to look solid, in keeping with the start to the season where goals against wasn’t a huge problem, City are looking tougher to beat and capable of scoring regularly – particuarly with full backs encouraged to carry the ball forwards. The balance has been achieved, enabling the flair we were beginning to fear would never be a feature of Taylor’s management to become the telling factor.

So City march on; and though there is no guarantee the upturn inform will continue, the manner of recent displays suggests Taylor has found most of the answers to the strong questions been asked of him a few weeks ago, and that he can continue building from here.

Now who thought that would be the case a month ago?

The end of the beginning, or still something much worse?

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Zesh Rehman, Shane Duff, Steve Williams, Luke O'Brien | Lee Bullock, Tom Doherty, Tom Adeyemi | Gareth Evans, Omar Daley, Luke Oliver | Jake Speight, Lee Hendrie

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. The bubble of optimism that was growing after the Gillingham win had been painfully burst at Northampton three days ago. And a trip to a third-placed Rotherham side who had scored 12 goals in their previous four home games suggested only one outcome – a heavy defeat. Yet Bradford City put in a performance far beyond expectations to earn a draw that could easily have been more.

For the second Bantams visit to the Don Valley Stadium in a row, home keeper Andy Warrington was named the sponsors’ man of the match. This said much about the quality of the visitors’ display. It was no backs to the wall defensive job, with Warrington making stunning saves to deny Omar Daley, Tom Adeyemi (twice) and Steve Williams from snatching a priceless winner. City were comfortably the better side, and despite having to settle for a point will have returned back up the M1 with renewed confidence.

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. Following the Northampton defeat, word reached BfB that an unhappy City Board had told Peter Taylor anything less than four points from the next two games will see him sacked. Another source claimed the manager has been given a month to turn it around. Whether either rumour is true, the fear is that this situation can’t go on much longer without someone deciding on drastic action.

This could have been Taylor’s last game in charge, but if any of the Board were at the Don Valley tonight they would surely have taken great heart from the way the team performed which should carry beyond whatever happens on Saturday. City began on the front foot, with the returning Daley causing problems down the left flank and the midfield trio of Lee Bullock, Tommy Doherty and Adeyemi quickly getting on top.

Daley was one of the chief scapegoats for the Southend debacle almost exactly a month ago; and although he has been away with Jamaica for a short period, he has found himself shunned from any first team action. Yet if City are going to climb up the table they must surely utilise their better-quality players. And whatever is said about Daley, when on form he is just that.

As ever, tonight we saw a mixed bag from Omar and his decision making was familiarly poor at times. But he provided a spark that helped the team claim greater territorial advantage than we’ve managed on the road all season, and the first half ended with his fizzing shot from an angle forcing the best out of Warrington.

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. If Taylor was dismissed, where exactly would that leave the rest of the season? Sure we might bring in someone who can turn our under-achievers into world-beaters and climb the league, but City’s recent history shows such hopes are highly fanciful and never realised. Too often the answer to the problems has apparently lied in appointing another new manager, yet still the club’s decline continues.

More likely there would be a short-term boost from a new man, but in the longer-run the problems currently afflicting Taylor would remain. And as well as the cost of sacking a manager, there’d be a need to fund his replacement’s demands in the transfer market. All in all it’s a risk that could see the season written off with over three quarters of it to go. Is that really the best route to take?

But until tonight at least, there’s been a conflict of emotions inside pretty much every City supporter. Sure it’s a daft idea to sack a manager after 10 games…but what has Taylor done this season to deserve our support? There’s been very little for us to be impressed by regarding his performance since the season kicked off, and we’ve probably all scratched our heads wondering why the great things he was doing towards the end of last season suddenly aren’t coming off.

Tonight though Taylor got it right. Aside from a 20-minute spell before half time, Rotherham were completely neutralised by the 4-3-3 formation and strong levels of effort running throughout the team. At the back Steve Williams and Shane Duff were simply outstanding – the former so able in winning the ball from a forward’s feet, the latter never missing anything in the air.

On either side of them, Zesh Rehman and Luke O’Brien were contributing at both ends of the pitch. O’Brien in particular having a storming game which included recovering from a slightly rocky five-minute period where he’d made one mistake. What a talent Luke has become.

A perfect display? Not by a long shot. In the final third City continue to struggle to find the fluency levels that Taylor’s side were able to regularly achieve last season. Luke Oliver again gave his all as an emergency striker and had more joy winning flick ons in the second half, but the sooner James Hanson returns or a target man is signed on loan the better City’s ‘goals for’ column will look. Gareth Evans still appears short of confidence and high on indecision, but we should not forget what a good player he can be if he can recapture his form.

Early in the second half, City really got on top and were seemingly camped out in the Rotherham half. Warrington made his collection of breathtaking saves and other efforts were blocked or flew narrowly over. Several corners were won and the backing from the 605 Bantams fans was impressive.

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. On the message boards so many fans were saying they weren’t going to attend and, as me and my friend supped pints in a sparsely-populated empty away fans bar inside the ground with less than half an hour to kick off, it seemed as though we’d be short of company outside in the stand. Yet there was a good following in the end, and the noise levels were impressive too.

Midway through the first half a chant of Peter Taylor’s Bradford Army thundered across the empty Don Valley bowl. When Daley was subbed, which appeared unfair on the winger, there were no boos like in previous games. At Northampton there’d been reports of ‘Taylor out’ chants, but tonight not one word of dissent was aired his way – at least within my ear shot.

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. That it’d be a heavy defeat; that would then cause another managerial change, that would then split supporters, that would then end the season prematurely, that would then lead to falling attendances, that would then lead to the club’s downward spiral continuing, that would then lead to oblivion.

Even by recent standards it’s been such a dark time for every Bradford City supporter, and we’ve had little cause to believe we should expect to feel anything but miserable.

But the worst didn’t happen. And although a home defeat to Morecambe on Saturday might bring about all that we fear, perhaps we should begin to believe the corner is being slowly turned. It’s now one defeat from four, and the Northampton debacle aside there has been a steady improvement to performances. The poor start has been a colossal under-achievement, but that huge capacity to do much better means it’s not yet time to give up – on the players, on Taylor, on that promotion dream.

The season is still only at the beginning, but now we’re praying for that beginning to end.

Taking the next steps

As Peter Taylor substituted Louis Moult to widespread boos and groans two-thirds of the way into Bradford City’s eventual win over Gillingham last week, it was tempting to ponder just how long the City manager will be around to make such unpopular decisions.

This was the second home game in a row a substitution by Taylor was booed by some fans; and in the other two league home games there was the half time chant directed at him to “sort it out” against Southend, and booing the team off in victory against Stevenage.

Unlike his predecessor, Stuart McCall, Taylor is clearly not someone readily prepared to blame himself and believe those questioning him are right to do so, and one can speculate whether the reason his assistant Wayne Jacobs was sent out to face the media after the game was due to anger at having his decisions questioned once more.

A frosty relationship between manager and many supporters is beginning to develop.

The frustration last Saturday stemmed from the fact it was Moult rather than Luke Oliver taken off by Taylor. After a fairly anonymous start to his six-month loan stint at Valley Parade, the Stoke striker was finally beginning to show glimpses of his potential and was one of a handful of influential players helping City to get on top in the second half. Oliver meanwhile looked clumsy and awkward, the wrong man in the right place of City’s increasingly-frequent attacks. The sight of Gareth Evans ready to come on told us the hook was coming, but in many fans eyes Taylor was taking off the wrong man.

Football coaches often talk about the importance of going back-to-basics when things go wrong. If, for example, a midfielder produces a poor pass, he is encouraged to make sure he tries something much simpler the next time he receives possession, so he can quickly build up confidence again. When a team is on a run like City have been, it’s understandable Taylor would want to take a back-to-basics approach to selection and tactics. Start getting points on the board, then build up again from there.

Taylor’s approach against Gillingham strongly suggested going back-to-basics. Without James Hanson and after a loan striker turned down a move, the deployment of Oliver up front was all about better-retaining possession in the final third so the team as a whole could gain greater territorial advantage. Oliver was instructed to win and hold up the ball, thus bringing others into the game. Not fantastic to watch maybe, but effective. Basic you might say.

I personally believe Taylor got a better performance from his players than he’d dared hoped, particularly in the second half when Lee Hendrie’s introduction sparked more attacking impetuous and saw City gain a lot more joy from passing it through – rather than over – the visitors.

But this improvement suddenly made the tactic of Oliver up front far less effective, and what City really needed was a forward more comfortable in possession and who could make intelligent runs. The moment where Hendrie dribbled past a couple of players and produced a perfectly weighted through ball for Oliver, only for the tall defender to fail to control it with just the keeper to beat, summed up the sudden problem.

So like others I was willing Taylor to take off Oliver. And although I did not boo, I did groan and feel deflated when Moult was hauled off instead. This was surely a moment where Taylor could have been braver, shown more belief in the way his team was playing. But in the back of his mind perhaps was the risk of Gillingham scoring and City needed to go long ball in the final 10 minutes, where Oliver would have been needed.

But after so many times a City manager has been unjustly slated for his tactics when City have lost a game, Taylor ultimately deserves a lot of credit for the fact his tactics and substitutions ultimately delivered three valuable points.

As City head to Northampton this weekend, it will be interesting to see how much Taylor changes things around to build on the basics which have slowly started to come together since the season’s low point of the 2-0 loss to Southend. Both Hanson and Michael Flynn – another target man option – are not expected to be fit in time, so the chances of Oliver continuing up front would appear high.

But it should be recalled that arguably the best football City have played under Taylor so far, the final five games of last season, saw a 4-3-3 formation employed without a target man. This worked well because of the running and link up of Leon Osborne, Gareth Evans and Gavin Grant. It is that level of football City now aspire to reach again, and to which Taylor could consider evolving the back-to-basics approach from and look to employ at Sixfields.

Oliver’s move up the pitch enabled Steve Williams to return to the central defence against Gillingham, and the impressive display he and the fast-improving Shane Duff produced would suggest Oliver may have to join Zesh Rehman on the bench at some point in the near future. With Jon McLaughlin also looking more composed during the last two games, Taylor is moving closer towards a solid defence which has acted as the bedrock of his previous promotion-winning teams

At full backs, however, there are plenty of unresolved issues. Lewis Hunt and Robbie Threlfall have both attracted a lot of criticism for their efforts this season, but in many ways they are in excellent company as I struggle to recall many City full backs over the years who were not slated at some point.

In terms of Hunt, the criticism he’s receiving has to be balanced by the fact he is a second choice right back at a fourth division club. The wage allocated for this role isn’t going to be high, and so Taylor is limited in the options and ability he could bring in. Meanwhile Threlfall had a shocker at Shrewsbury on the opening day, and hasn’t recovered.

Luke O’Brien, who’s had his own dips of form, is arguably playing his best football of his career so far. The Gillingham half time switch around that saw Threlfall replaced and O’Brien moved to left back is surely likely to be continued while Threlfall rebuilds his confidence. But let’s not forget it is his form, rather than ability, which is the problem.

In midfield there are suddenly stronger options when a fortnight ago it looked a major problem area. Lee Bullock picked up the sponsors man of the match last week and his return to form benefited Tommy Doherty; while the arrival of Hendrie further brought the best out of both. For now Hendrie will probably remain on the bench, or start the game and be taken off, as he builds fitness. David Syers is beginning to look the part and should be fit to start; Omar Daley has been an unused sub for the last two games, and the Jamaican’s future is beginning to look bleak.

Up front there remains a troubling lack of goals, and the poor form of Evans and tentativeness of Moult leaves Taylor with some difficult decisions. Osborne’s first meaningful appearance of the season last week attracted derision, but his form at the end of last season showed promise and it would be worth getting behind the player – who has emerged through the ranks, remember – rather than writing him off so prematurely. For now at least Oliver classes as a forward option.

Northampton are fresh from incredible cup exploits over Liverpool, but in every other way will hopefully be stale. Taylor had joked about asking Liverpool assistant manager Sammy Lee to make sure the game went to extra time, and the fact Clobbers’ players were on the floor with cramp towards the end of their penalty shoot out win would suggest the Bantams will carry a fitness advantage from no midweek action.

City have so far lost two and drawn one on their travels, and though it is still early days the points return from the trips to Northampton on Saturday and Rotherham on Tuesday will say a lot about the team prospects for the rest of the season. A four-point haul would set City up nicely for upcoming easier-looking games and a climb up the table during autumn.

Achieve that and, come winter, it’s hoped the only frost we’ll be talking about is the stuff which forms on the ground, rather than the nature of the feelings heading towards and from the Valley Parade dugout.

When there’s no end in sight…

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Lewis Hunt, Shane Duff, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | David Syers, Tom Adeyemi, Tommy Doherty, Luke O'Brien | Jake Speight, Gareth Evans | Louis Moult (for Adeyemi), Leon Osborne (for O'Brien)

Part unfortunate, part self-inflicted. Bradford City’s fourth consecutive defeat carried greater meaning and misery than a mere glance at the fledgling League Two table.

Commentating on The Pulse, Michael Flynn – oh how he is missed on the field – perceptively summed up the home crowd’s inevitable discontent at 2-0 down as more than just unrest over a fourth league defeat in five, but because it caused further prodding of the open scar that is ten years of dismal failure. A decade ago City were facing Manchester United and Arsenal in the space of a week; no one needs reminding of the subsequent bumpy fall, and there’s a lot of baggage that will only be released when overdue success eventually occurs.

But until then, that baggage weighs heavy on this current crop of players.

This was a much improved display by City, easily their best performance in the league to date. Yet the confident visitors ultimately deserved the three points after narrowly holding the edge in most areas of the pitch. Those who write off Port Vale as an average side arguably miss the point of what it takes to succeed at this level.

Sure they were ungainly and a succession of physical challenges perhaps deserved greater punishment – both Marc and Justin Richards deserved second yellow cards – but those who succeed in escaping this division upwards are invariably as good at battling as they are putting the ball in the net. Four years on from Stuart McCall noting City needed bigger players to better compete, the Bantams are still some way off possessing the resilience that grinds out regular victories.

Back in a traditional 4-4-2 formation, City made an excellent start and for once managed to set the tempo of the game; but the narrow way the midfield was lined up and lack of pace in the wide areas limited creativity. Peter Taylor does not seem to favour out and out wingers and, although left midfielder Luke O’Brien and right midfielder David Syers acquitted themselves well, no one seemed able or willing to run at people.

It was all a bit predictable.

The main battle was fought between the two Richards and Luke Oliver and Shane Duff. City’s centre backs stood up to the physical challenge for much of the game, but criminally the whole team switched off from a Port Vale corner on the half hour and Marc powerfully headed home to give Vale a crucial lead in a game where the first goal felt so vital.

City argued strongly that the corner shouldn’t have been awarded following a Vale handball in the box during the previous attack, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of marking. And the decision was evened out minutes later when O’Brien appeared to haul down Gary Roberts inside the area, only for a free kick on the edge of the box to be awarded. Referee David Coote and his assistants gave bizarre decisions against both sides all afternoon. This was his Football League debut and one questions whether appointing him to officiate in front of such a large crowd at this stage of his career was a sensible one.

Although Vale’s goal rocked City for a five-minute period, they regained composure and were unfortunate not to equalise before the break. Jake Speight, making his full debut, continued to impress and one jinxing run from the corner flag to penalty area saw home defender Gareth Owen hit his own bar. Seconds later Speight missed an open goal when he unnecessarily handled trying to control the ball – he just needed to poke it home. Any half time boos were drowned out by supportive applause from other fans for the effort.

But while the atmosphere was much improved following Southend, limited patience meant in the second half the crowd again turned on the team when it needed to stay positive. Listen to opposition managers talk before they bring their team to Valley Parade and without fail they mention City’s crowd. All appear to use it as part of their tactics – how can we get them to turn on their own players? We supporters are being used against our own, and it’s time we wised up to it. As attacks broke down, the groans got louder and when Taylor made a double substitution he was booed for taking O’Brien off.

It can’t be a coincidence that, having got the visitors on the back foot and unable to get out of their own half for a spell, the sloppiness and uncertainty to City’s play returned when frustration from the stands was allowed to fill the air. Though there was no excuse for the craziness of the second goal which killed the game and could have a major effect on City’s season.

It was a comedy of errors. All afternoon Jon McLaughlin and his centre backs had attempted to play the ball out from the back, but the high pressing of the Richards’ usually saw it abandoned. This time the keeper rolled it out and a risky ball was worked up to Doherty, who was quickly closed down. The cultured midfielder attempted a woeful chipped backpass that McLaughlin failed to control under pressure, presenting Justin with a tap in.

The boos understandably rang out, but as the game kicked off and Doherty’s every touch was also greeted with boos a line had been crossed. I’ve no time for people who think it was right to boo City’s number 8, no matter how heat of the moment it was. It was disgusting, it was moronic and frankly it’s time such people found something else to do on a Saturday afternoon.

We cannot allow a culture where mistakes are booed, because every player will simply retreat into their shell and only play safe passes – and City will not prosper.

As I walked back to the car at the end I had a lively debate with a guy I know from the pub who reckoned Taylor should be sacked and Doherty is a waste of space. The Doherty-bashing is growing and I don’t understand it. Our problem is not that we have a player like Doherty in the side – but that we don’t have enough players as good as him.

Some of his passing during the game was stunning, he picked out balls that no one was capable of spotting or producing so accurately. He misplaced some passes and his mistake for the goal – which McLaughlin was hardly blamelessly for -was bad, but City need to build the team around him rather than get rid.

And that’s where the main problem left over from the Southend defeat remained. If 4-4-2 is to be used, a ball winner has to be deployed in the middle of the park so Doherty can do what he does best. But his partner Tom Adeyemi is, at this moment, badly struggling to adapt to this level. He looked poor in possession and incapable of winning the ball back. Dropping Lee Bullock was highly questionable and, until Flynn is fit, he or the impressive Syers should be starting alongside Doherty as they can do the defensive work that then frees Doherty to hurt the opposition with his obvious ability.

City battled to the end, but over the course of the 90 minutes the amount of decent chances on goal was worryingly low. Omar Daley, away on international duty, was badly missed and Taylor must contemplate signing a winger this week to replace Neilson. Gareth Evans struggled to make an impact and James Hanson – officially, at least, injured. Though there’s a whisper his off-the-field behaviour has angered Taylor – was missed. If 4-4-2 is continued, a Hanson-Speight partnership looks the best option.

And as the final whistle blew and an impressive Vale following loudly celebrating a win that keeps them fourth – but only seven points above City – it was the greater team ethic that had won the game, and which City must replicate.  The uncompromising Jon McCombe and Owen at the back, the close tie up of full backs and wingers and the clever inter-change between the two Richards up front – Port Vale were a team of intuitive relationships, which City are not yet close to matching.

Right now the players look too unsure of what each other will do, and only when they begin to feel and look like a team will fortunes improve. It will take time.

But in the midst of louder calls for Taylor to go and criticism towards Chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn – the latter the subject of worrying rumours that he’s fallen out with Taylor, which he would be wise to publicly address this week – it has to be remembered this was an improvement. Good enough? No. But something to build on and take into next week’s game at Stockport.

The doom and gloom descends again, the pain of the last 10 years remains at the forefront of the mind. But the calmest people at Bradford City right now need to be Taylor, Rhodes and Lawn. As for us supporters, an atmosphere akin to Rochdale away last season has to be produced at Edgeley Park. It’s not just on the field where City need to become more of a team.

Pre-season takes shape

While Bradford City has been keen to offer us a blow-by-blow account of the exciting pitch renovation, the club has yet to reveal any details of pre-season friendlies next month. Some of City’s opponents have been more forthcoming with the information, so here is what we know so far.

Tuesday 13 July – just 48 hours after the World Cup Final, City kick off pre-season at Guiseley. This game was arranged as part of James Hanson’s transfer to Valley Parade.

Saturday 17 July – City travel down the M62 to play North Ferriby United. A regular stop off point this; with the club first making visits to the Hull-based club when Dean Windass was a Bantam, as he begun his career here.

Thursday 22 July – A mini-tour of the South is clearly taking place, as the Bantams travel to ex-City legend Jamie Lawrence’s Ashford Town.

Saturday 24 July – City face Chelmsford City two days later. As part of the Scott Neilson transfer from Cambridge City, a friendly was agreed but the date has yet to be announced. Expect it to be a couple of days after this.

Saturday 31 July – a home game will apparently be played on this date, most probably against League One opposition.

There’s also likely to be the traditional friendly at Bradford (Park Avenue) at some stage.

Doherty’s arrival reveals Taylor’s intentions

Every summer, I do my best to avoid getting sucked into the hype of the up-coming season. But like almost every other Bradford City supporter, the news Tommy Doherty has signed for the Bantams has increased my optimism and anticipation towards attempt four of escaping League Two.

It’s too early to be making any credible predictions of lifting the League Two title or finishing in the top seven, but Doherty’s arrival does offer strong indications of what we can expect to be viewing come August, and the type of entertainment that it will provide us.

Peter Taylor arrived at Valley Parade last February with perhaps more pre-conceptions formed than any other in-coming City manager in modern history. Sacked by Wycombe Wanderers the previous October to complaints of playing boring football, a widespread view was quickly formed that, under Taylor’s interim reign at City, we’d see regimented, organised football that would get results, if not get us onto the edge of our seats.

The first few games quickly backed up this theory; as although City began to put more wins on the board, it didn’t make as thrilling a watch as predecessor Stuart McCall’s 4-3-3 approach that had made enjoyable viewing until it lost its way in November. But then, at the mid-point of Taylor’s trial, we saw a different approach that relied too much on the in-form James Hanson and barely involved the centre of midfield.

City became a long ball team, and though there are merits to such an approach at League Two level, it was dispiriting to watch the back four repeatedly launch the ball long to Hanson’s head. Short, incisive passing had become other teams’ preserve.

And for me it hit rock bottom when Hanson’s season was ended by injury at Bournemouth and, for a game-and-a-half, we had the sight of giant on-loan defender Luke Oliver up front, with the same long-ball approach. The games against Macclesfield and Burton made depressing viewing, and the suspicion was growing that City would become all about tall strikers and winning percentages the following season.  Was this really Taylor’s way?

Thankfully the final five games – after Oliver had been recalled by parent club Wycombe – saw a revised 4-3-3 formation which relied upon the front three’s on-and-off the ball movement and the midfield three passing the ball around intelligently. The five games ended unbeaten, with the wins over Morecambe and Northampton among the best performances of the whole season. Once again, confidence in what Taylor was trying to implement could be felt.

And though the news of Oliver’s permanent arrival earlier this week left me uneasy, the capture of his former team mate Doherty has lifted spirits because it is a statement of intent of how Taylor sees City lining up next season.

Put it another way – he hasn’t signed Doherty with the aim of the defence bypassing midfield in favour of Hanson’s forehead.

It now looks increasingly probable that City will become a passing side next season. Taylor is keen to re-sign out-of-contract Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn, and the likelihood of the pair lining up with Doherty gives City – relatively speaking – the most capable collection of midfield passers in years. Already it looks as though the 4-3-3 Taylor ended the season using will be continued – a formation which also quickly becomes 4-5-1 when required.

It suggests Bullock continuing to play the holding role, or moving forwards alongside Flynn so Doherty can perform it and three needing to strike up an understanding. Despite rumours of a new striker arriving, Taylor might already have designs on selecting Omar Daley and Gareth Evans as wide forwards, with Hanson in the middle. Both Daley and Evans can drop back to midfield if need be, in the same impressive style Taylor lined up Wycombe at Valley Parade – with Doherty at the heart of attacks and off the ball running a key factor – in February 2009.

Such an approach excites me. Winning regularly is of course the most important factor to any choice of tactics, and we City fans could arguably put up with long ball football if it got City into League One next season. Yet there is something to be said about trying to do things the right way, and the idea of City becoming a passing side, playing in a style pleasing on the eye, is one which could pave a route back up English football’s pyramid.

We go to watch City because we want them to win, but being entertained along the way would be widely-welcomed too. And the idea of City passing the ball around the pitch, finding and exploiting gaps through clever running and patience, would be appreciated by many supporters. Throw in Taylor’s strong emphasis for organisation, and the template of City’s last successful promotion attempt wouldn’t look too much different to Bradford City 2010.

Since Paul Jewell oversaw that triumph, a number of managers have generally tried to deliver success through the traditional 4-4-2, with little success. Jim Jefferies’ sides were too overloaded with attacking intent; Nicky Law’s attempts to play passing football limited by such thinbare resources and questionable selection in the middle; Bryan Robson’s deviation to 4-3-3 more about not getting beat; Colin Todd’s return to 4-4-2 strong defensively but let down by over-reliance on inconsistent wingers.

We saw McCall adopt many different approaches during his two-and-a-half-year reign, but failure to adapt to visitors’ defensive intentions and lack of confidence to keep faith in tactics and players when a losing run began undermined his work, especially when he really had the personnel in 2008/09.

There are no guarantees Doherty can be the catalyst to making Taylor’s suggested approach a success in the same way McCall was for Jewell – look at the excitement Paul McLaren’s arrival triggered and subsequent disappointment over his performances. There are also big question marks about whether the traditionally impatient Valley Parade crowd would tolerate patient football, with the spectre of it falling down under a torrent of boos and screams of “forward!” easy to imagine. But if things slot into place, Taylor’s likely approach could deliver success and leave us immensely proud of how we did it.

The Barcelona/Spain of League Two – why not? Doherty’s arrival doesn’t guarantee glory, but it at least allows us to dream of an exciting – and very watchable – future.

Believing in evolution as Taylor gets to work on next season’s squad

The back end of May has become a disengaging time to be a Bradford City supporter.  The season has just ended, and it’s way too soon to be looking ahead to the next one. But then the inevitable disappointment of the campaign just gone means few want to spend much time reflecting on its ups and downs.

Meanwhile the play offs are in full flow and there’s a tinge of jealousy towards the clubs who beat us to earning an extended end to the season. Next year will be the Bantams 10th consecutive Football League campaign – pretty much all of them began with perceived realistic expectations of earning at least a play off spot. Each ended in relative disappointment, leading us to watch others enjoy the experience on TV, while at-the-time City managers – Stuart McCall last May and Peter Taylor this time – are often employed as pundits for Sky.

If only, we whisper quietly. Maybe next time, we hope.

But as Taylor surveyed Dagenham’s 6-0 annihilation of Morecambe on Sunday for Sky, his real job has to remain at the forefront of his mind. He, like the rest of us, will enjoy a holiday at some point, but putting together a squad good enough to at least be appearing on Sky at the back end of May 2011 is an objective for which the hard work has already begun.

There’s a notable change of direction to the recruitment plan this summer, and it’s not just because a new manager is having  a go. The back end of May is traditionally a time where a large number of players from the season just past are beginning their search for new employment, as they are released, with the summer then about recruiting better alternatives. It’s an approach that inevitably produces mixed results, but this time the focus is on building rather than replacing.

For besides the questionable departures of Matt Clarke and Jonathan Bateson, almost everyone who could be released is being offered a new deal. It means there won’t be such a huge influx of new signings and trialists, as is often witnessed during pre-season friendlies. Try to form a team of City players who will be at the club next season, and for once you can already name a full XI.

Taylor’s decision to keep faith with most of the existing squad shows that the past season hasn’t been a complete waste of time. A number of players were given their debuts by McCall and allowed to develop, often at the detriment of results.  The rewards are the basis of a squad which Taylor can spend the summer strengthening, rather than the oft-seen approach of starting from scratch.

Evolution, rather than revolution, is in the air. Sure we saw some poor individual and team performances from those who’ll led the club to a dismal league finish and who will be back in June, but the high turnover of players approach of recent years has hardly led to success. The opportunity is there for every player staying to firmly write themselves into Bradford City’s modern history and be loved by supporters years after they leave, rather than appear as a footnote alongside a large number of quickly-forgotten Bantams.

The first priority for Taylor this summer will be to ensure everyone he wants to stay sign new deals – far from a given in some cases. Will the players be offered the same terms to what they are on now, or will they be asked to take pay cuts? Did some sign on relatively low wages and now be expecting a decent rise for decent performances last season? Will other clubs show interest and make better offers?

Keeping hold of Michael Flynn is a must. The Welsh midfielder quickly established himself as the heartbeat of the team in his first season and many supporters would like to see him made captain. Lee Bullock also impressed in the new role of defensive midfielder, even some of his biggest critics in the stands saw fit to recognise his improved performances by laying off.

Leon Osborne took a late season opportunity to avoid the released list; following the example of Jon McLaughlin, who is in pole position to become number one keeper. Next year will be make or break for both, as impressing in a few end of season games is a lot different to doing it for a full campaign.

Steve Williams and Simon Ramsden are signed up for next season, but what of the other out-of-contract defender, Luke O’Brien? Last summer he rejected a long-term contract from City, apparently choosing a one-year deal so he could negotiate improved terms this summer. It was a risky move; although the home-grown youngster had built on a solid first season to take on more team responsibility, many supporters were critical of his performances.

More crucially are the views of Taylor, one look at him as left back at Accrington and O’Brien never got to play in his position again. He was switched to left winger, before moving out of the starting line-up completely for the last six games. This was partly down to Taylor feeling he needed a rest; but with on-loan Robbie Threlfall impressing at left back and apparently set to be offered a contract, O’Brien may need reassurances of his own future before signing a new deal – one which is unlikely to be especially improved on the past season’s either.

Once the existing players are either signed up or departed, Taylor’s initial summer signings are likely to be the loanees he brought in during the final few weeks. As well as Threlfall, Luke Oliver – released by Wycombe – is very probable to return. He impressed as centre back, but the sight of him as emergency forward in April was a grim one that hopefully will only be repeated when City are trailing in a game and time is running out.

Like Threlfall, Adam Bolder will probably have other offers to weigh up, but appeared to enjoy his stay and may be enticed by the prospect of regular football. Ryan Kendall looked an accomplished finisher but offered little more; a competent back-up striker he could prove and he will probably jump at the chance of that, as he isn’t likely to make it at Hull – despite Flynn talking up his potential in their local paper.

With Gavin Grant also set to stay, Taylor should already have a large squad before even beginning to approach players with no previous City connections.  Zesh Rehman, Omar Daley Gareth Evans, James Hanson, James O’Brien and Scott Neilson already had contracts running into at least next season, though whether Taylor would have chosen to retain them all and where they fit in with his plans is questionable. Neilson has barely had a look in while James O’Brien struggled to hit the heights he enjoyed in the first half of the season, under McCall, on his return from a lengthy injury.

There is also the option to sell any of them. Rumours have already started up that Hanson is attracting interest from Championship clubs. If founded, it presents a difficult dilemma for the City manager. Cash in to have more transfer funds to develop the squad, or believe a suitable replacement wouldn’t be available so keep the young forward?

On Hanson’s part, the lure of a move to a higher club and better wages must be balanced with the likelihood of regular football and whether it is better to continue developing at the club which plucked him from non-league. It is quite a dilemma, though it’s rumoured on the message boards that an improved contract has been agreed in recent days.

But whether one or two leave, the sorting out of the futures of out-of-contract players and loanees wanted permanently should then leave Taylor with a clear idea of what is missing. Aside from the odd back up player – McLaughlin and Ramsden will need cover – Taylor’s focus will be on improving what he has – a clear head start on previous City managers who spent the summer desperately filling holes.It will be about evolving a decent but limited squad into one capable of challenging for promotion.

This time, the disengaging back end of May is about ensuring the foundations for next season are more solid than usual.

Taylor, Rhodes and Lawn discuss a new deal and a lasting legacy

The end to another English football season is approaching, and it promises to be a very exciting period.

Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal are battling fiercely for the Premier League title, the race for the final Champions League is as un-tedious as it’s ever been, the battle to stay in the top flight is thrilling. In the Football League, the fights for automatic promotion, the play offs and to avoid relegation are still largely wide open. With the conclusions of the Champions League and FA Cup and the lottery of the play offs to look forward to, many fantastic stories are waiting to be written ahead of a World Cup summer.

The English football season is set for an exciting conclusion, but few people beyond Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore are still oblivious to its long term problems. Debts continue to rise throughout the leagues, many supporters are waking up and protesting at the way their club is being run.

Manchester United may celebrate a fourth successive league title in a few weeks, but the heavy debts are going to remain a burden long after the problem of replacing Sir Alex Ferguson becomes a headache. As well as a season of great entertainment in the Premier League, it was also the first time a current member, Portsmouth, has fallen into administration. Points deductions are now par for the cause in any Football League campaign and it’s a question of who – rather than if anyone – will follow Southend and Crystal Palace’s woes next season.

The UK recession has so far largely unaffected the football industry, but the signs suggest it could be the next victim. In a period where the top clubs have been able to generate billions of pounds, it seems criminal there is so little to show for it with almost all of it been thrown on players’ wages. Despite so many clubs badly hurt by over-ambition, others continue to believe it’s clever to live the dream.

Away from the excitement elsewhere, Bradford City’s season is understatedly coming to a forgettable conclusion and the focus is already shifting to the next one. Manager Peter Taylor’s contract talks appear to be progressing positively, and it now seems a formality that he will become the permanent Bantams manager. Yet the sticking points to solve are apparently not weekly wages or the size of the transfer budget, but the facilities to prepare.

Joint Chairmen Mark Lawn has revealed the club is in talks about renting new training facilities in order to meet the demands of Taylor, an unusual and unexpected occurrence from a man who it might have been considered wouldn’t be too concerned with the long-term interests of the club. Yet Taylor is prioritising a problem so many others have either not been allowed to address, or not been bothered about.

As I understand the training situation, and please correct me if wrong, City’s players are currently required to drive to Valley Parade for training, where they use the changing rooms to get ready before having to drive to and from Appleby Bridge in their training gear. It seems a somewhat amateurish way for a professional football club to operate, yet this arrangement dates back before even the Premier League years.

Some players from that time, notably Stan Collymore and Lee Sharpe, have used their autobiographies to bemoan these facilities when they were at the club, and it seems incredible City were spending big money bringing such exotic names as Benito Carbone and Dan Petrescu, and expecting them to train in this way. Sharpe claimed the squad of the time labelled our beloved club “the Dog and Duck” for being so poorly-run.

And the subsequent managers have made do too. Perhaps Stuart McCall, a player who got used to these facilities, considered it unimportant towards building the club when he took over, and was too inexperienced to question such matters. Colin Todd took over in 2004 with the club in dire straits, so stood no chance of arguing for better facilities. It’s unknown if the likes of Bryan Robson, Nicky Law and Jim Jefferies found it frustrating, or even cared.

But Taylor does, and so would appear to be happy with resources diverted away from signing players in order to develop a better workplace. With his trial having gone well and with City in a position where they need him more than he needs the club, Taylor is perhaps in the strongest of bargaining positions of any manager in modern times. He can make such demands, and the club is willing to meet them. It’s a long way from the situation McCall found himself in a year ago, where a promotion failure led to his coaching staff having to take a 20% pay cut and the playing budget slashed by a third.

Taylor is in a position to do more in his time as manager than just battle for a promotion; his methodical approach has the potential to leave a lasting legacy off the field, which his successors can also benefit from. It also has the potential to attract later criticism – a couple of early season home defeats next year, and expect message board users to be ridiculing the wasting of money on training facilities that are “making no difference”, which could have been used to sign a couple more players. Few of us will ever see the new training ground, only the fruits of hours of labour during the week on a Saturday afternoon.

Compare Taylor’s potential promotion challenge with McCall’s attempt last season – and if Taylor’s McLaren doesn’t work out he probably won’t have the spare money to sign a Dean Furman and Nicky Law on loan instead. It’s a long term approach, not putting all the eggs into a playing budget basket; long-term is usually only tolerated by City fans if the progress is visible on the field.

Put it another way – Taylor has not made next season promotion or bust, but expectations elsewhere may not quite fall the same way. 

And as Lawn excitedly talks about the new training facilities, he has also revealed he and the Rhodes family will be investing more money into the club for next season. It’s been a difficult period for Lawn, with a huge amount of criticism aimed at him in the light of how McCall’s exit was managed, but he has shown broad shoulders to largely accept it without going to war. City remain fortunate to have Lawn and the Rhodeses willing to fund the club, but the question of the terms of this additional investment is worth pondering.

Most investors expect a return, particularly in football. Is this new investment adding to the loans which the two parties have already provided to the club, or is it money that they don’t expect to recuperate? They certainly have every right to get it back, but if so when? Would it be due back in a year or two? Or is it just added to the tab to be returned at a later point?

For the reality of these loans is they are debts City will one day repay, and though it’s not on the same scale as almost every Premier League club at the moment, another round of strong criticism towards either Rhodes or Lawn could push patience to the limit and cause those debts to be more hurriedly demanded back. City have plenty of other bills to pay, which appears to discourage potential other investors. So the Bantams need Lawn and Rhodes, but they also need to be self-sufficient in their development.

The 2008-09 promotion bid was a gamble that failed, and City had to cut their cloth accordingly this season which has led to steps been taken backwards on the pitch and the challenge of getting out of this division seemingly more difficult than ever. Increased investment next season can also be considered a gamble, and it’s to be hoped lessons are learned so it doesn’t cause subsequent difficulties if it fails.

Away from the excitement of an English football season coming to a conclusion, City are quietly drawing up plans towards being involved in a nerve-wracking end to the next one. Taylor is charged with getting it right on the field, the Chairmen are providing him the tools off it. It all looks sensible, so long as it’s not based on the kind of madness that has taken hold elsewhere.

A bad time to change

Stuart McCall has to stay on for another season as manager, simple as that

It’s got nothing to do with whether you’re pro or anti McCall. Before some of you begin bellowing at your monitors, let me explain by outlining the alternative scenario and it’s timeline.

At 5-00pm on the 2nd of May Stuart seeks out Julian Rhodes amd Mark Lawn to confirm his resignation. the season’s just ended and we’re now managerless. Now I’ll make only one assumption that neither Wayne Jacobs nor David Wetherall is going to get the job. So we’re looking for a new man.

With any luck the chairmen already have someone in mind so an appointment is confirmed by mid May. If not, with newspaper adverts followed by sifting through replies and organising interviews, City would be lucky to have someone in place by the end of May.

Either way, we’re into the close season and the playing staff are on their (undeserved) holidays.

So the new manager is faced with a choice…bring in players “blind” or keep on most of the existing playing staff. Hardly an appealing choice.

Any experienced manager will tell you that the only time the boss begins to know what he has (or hasn’t) got at his disposal is when he sees actual competitive matches… at least
3 but preferably more. I agree. as a fan who’s watched countless pre-season friendlies over too many years, I know what they tell you which is nowt! We’ve had great friendlies followed by terrible seasons and vice versa.

Competitive matches only begin 2nd week in August. by the time three or four are played and the manager has some idea of the team’s needs we’re almost at the close of the signing window and looking
at the dreaded loan signings to make up the numbers till the turn of the year and the re-opening of the signing window. By then we’re all in “hoping” mode. hoping that what we want is available.

We could, if they’re not, be looking at another season of marking time and planning for 2010/2011.

Now football success is a young man’s pastime and I’m not getting any younger. I do not want another wasted season marking time.

Bradford City and financial reality

Commercial reality works two ways in football. The fans and the directors may look at money matters from different perspectives, but the club is still there in the middle. David Baldwin and Mark Lawn have both been telling the media in the last few days how they see that reality at Bradford City. Fans trying to come to terms with short-time working or no work at all can hardly be expected to forget about four consecutive defeats before the deadline for the cheapest tickets passes.

Bradford City are victims of their own publicity in two respects. At the start of last season the manager said that anything less than promotion would be a failure. So, by those standards, a failure it was. This season it was the board’s turn to explain on more than one occasion how they had put together a budget that they expected to produce a £600,000 loss, which would be justified by the much hoped for promotion.

In this respect City are not alone. Brentford, for example, are apparently aiming to wipe out the best part of a £10 million debt by getting themselves promoted. Just how the prospect of League One football produces anything like that amount of extra income may baffle some of us, but Brentford’s board are best placed to decide these things. And we won’t even begin to consider how Darlington’s business plan for the season depended on gates of almost double their actual attendances.

But by far the best piece of publicity City have achieved in recent years, even bringing them a trip to the House of Commons (I wonder what the second prize might have been!), was the cheap season ticket deal from two years ago. In those days when Julian Rhodes was the only chairman we had, he made it plain that the offer would only be taken up by the club if 10,000 or more supporters signed up for the deal. You do not need to be Einstein to work out the sums. Then along came Mark Lawn and his money, which allowed a little bit of juggling to extend the deadline for those 10,000 and eventually, including the free tickets for under elevens, over 12,000 were on the list.

The disappointment of a mid-table finish reduced that number by 1,000 or so for this season, but the excitement of automatic promotion prospects kept the idea very much alive for next season. The cheapest tickets (£99 in the Bradford End, but generally £150 for an adult) had to be bought by the end of December and then the £175 ticket deadline was the end of this month. The December sales went well, not least because on deadline day the team was just goal difference away from an automatic promotion spot. The later sales, we now know, have gone less well and it isn’t difficult to see why.

The problem, however, is that within two years the fans have come to regard a revolutionary idea as something perfectly normal. Those running the money side of the club are desperate to point out the huge price differences between City season’s tickets and those at virtually every other club in this league. It is, in my view, unfair to single out any individual club for comparison, such are the vast differences between the have-nots and the have-even-lesses of the fourth division. But, if you take the average price of season tickets in this league, City’s prices will be as far below as our average gates are above those of our rivals.

A few things clearly need spelling out. The first is that the prices for 2009-10 are fixed, no matter how many people take up the offers available before or after the end of March. Any scrapping of the cheap ticket scheme will not be before 2010-11.

Whatever income the club gets from its season tickets goes a very long way toward fixing the players’ budget. Match by match income is unpredictable and guesswork is no way of running a business that has, to say the least, had its recent financial problems. So every season ticket that isn’t sold is that much less to spend during the summer on players’ contracts.

Of course fans are currently very disappointed about recent form, none more so than those who have spent money, which brings no benefit to our club, in watching defeat after defeat away from home. That disappointment will only grow if promotion by one means or another is not achieved. Such are the expectations which nobody has seriously tried to dampen. Nor should anyone be anything other than positive.

But football fans generally concentrate on matters on the field of play, sometimes paying insufficient regard to matters behind the scenes. Whether it be £175 this month or £250 next, a Bradford City season ticket is great value in the fourth division, even if the product may not do exactly what it said on the tin, and excellent value in the third. For some fans, the state of their finances will have deteriorated since they bought this year’s season ticket. No football club can ignore that, but, equally, no club can lower their prices to the extent that would help those on a vastly reduced income.

The question that the rest of the fans have to face is whether they are prepared to pay £175, £250 or the instalments plan of £200 to give Bradford City the best chance of having a strong squad in 2009-10, regardless of which division they are playing in. The alternatives – a weaker squad and/or paying £20 a game and presumably not getting to as many, if any, matches – are just about all there is to consider. This is the financial reality of being a Bradford City supporter.

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