The obvious quality of Phil Parkinson and how he could be the decisive factor in 2015/16 Promotion

The season starts and one thing is obvious: Bradford City will be promoted.

That is obvious. It is obvious because I’ve read it in FourFourTwo and it is obvious because Bradford City beat Champions Chelsea last season and that must mean that Bradford City can win League One.

It is obvious because City have brought in some real quality in the form of Paul Anderson and Mark Marshy Marshall, and while seeing Andrew Davies go is hard seeing Mark Yeates and Andy Halliday go is not.

And it is obvious because City finished a place off the play offs last season, and every season Phil Parkinson has improved Bradford City’s league finish, and as we all know no one ever gets in the play offs and does not win.

It is obvious and because of that it is a thought that has passed the mind of even the most negative Bradford City supporter.

No matter how many layers of cynicism a person might surround themselves with one cannot escape that feeling on a sunning Tuesday morning that this year is the year that City return to the top two divisions for the first time since May 2004.

But wait…

A Barnsley website who had, one assumed, lost Jason McKeown’s email address asked me to preview the coming season. They asked what my realistic view on the Bradford City season was. I chewed my pen (metaphorically speaking) and considered beating Arsenal, beating Aston Villa, late serge and beating Burton, Wembley again, beating Chelsea, getting to Wembley for a major Cup Final.

It struck me that at Valley Parade of late realism is in short supply.

And perhaps in that context it is excusable if all of us go on a little fantasy safari when considering the prospects for the season that starts at Swindon on Saturday.

The counter to those thoughts are the huge gulf that was obvious between Bradford City and Bristol City in the mauling of last season and the general lack of character in the team around that time. Reality comes in wondering if the Bantams have a Marlon Pack/Luke Freeman pairing as Bristol City had or a back line as strong as the one that took Preston North End up? Or a 25 goals a year striker?

At that point obvious stops being the operative word.

The multi-polar world

The temptation is, of course, to take the team one follows in isolation and to consider that if your team has done well in recruitment, or preparation, then it will improve in absolute terms in League One. League structures are always relative.

You can be better than last year (or worse) but your position will on the whole be decided by the strength of the other teams in the League. Was the Benito Carbone team in the second year of the Premier League worse than the one which finished 17th the year before?

It certainly was at the end of the season but after the other win over Chelsea in August 2000 was the team worse or was the problem that there were no Watford, Wednesday and a woeful Wimbledon dropping like a stone to finish beneath them?

Football is a multi-polar world. Your league achievements are necessarily measured against the other teams around you. It might be obvious that City have improved (or not) but have they improved more than the teams around them in League One?

Looking at the teams in League One this season first day opposition Swindon Town lost in the play off final last season which normally denotes a challenger but they seem to have lost a lot of players and are blooding a new team.

Relegated clubs can be strong but few will fear Millwall considering how easily the were brushed aside eight months ago at Valley Parade. Wigan Athletic have a lot to do to end a losing mentality which has come into the club since it got to an FA Cup final three years ago. As for Blackpool it is very possible they will carry on where they left off last season and finish bottom.

The likes of Peterborough United, Doncaster Rovers, and Barnsley would all argue that they have as much of a right to be considered promotion contenders as anyone. Scunthorpe United, Bury and Fleetwood Town have spent money to get where they are but not Bristol City levels of money and even if they had sometimes when you spend money you get Aaron McLean.

I have a belief that Burton Albion are worth considering as having an interest in the play off places. They are a club that seem able to transcend managerial changes and maintain steady progress. Coventry City have potential and in Tony Mowbray they have a pragmatic manager.

All of which leaves Sheffield United as being everyone’s favourite for promotion. They reach semi-finals, they bubble under in League One, they have a strong fan base and get great noisy crowds. They seem to have everything that a club that is trying to get out of League One wants.

Except for the manager.

They have their second choice as manager.

Nigel Atkins manages Sheffield United now but they wanted to take Phil Parkinson to South Yorkshire. It seems that the Blades boardroom came to the same conclusion that echoes around the City manager.

Parkinson: Special One

If all league football is relative then perhaps management is absolute.

Perhaps a manager who improves a team always improves a team. Perhaps when Parkinson is given the chance to manage – a chance Hull City did not give him in his brief time at that club but did at Colchester United – he will always improve a club as he has Bradford City.

It is hard to draw a conclusion but Parkinson’s admirers are many and growing with every achievement.

From the outside when looking at the twenty four teams lining up in League One some teams have spent more, and some teams have more season ticket holders than others, but no team has a better manager in a better position to manage his club than Phil Parkinson at Bradford City.

Parkinson has carved a space out for himself. He arrived at a club where Mark Lawn was accusing the players of not passing to a prospective signing, that had had a manager who (reportedly) felt bullied out of the club, and where the dysfunctions at the club had become endemic.

The success Parkinson earned on the field gave him the scope to create the role he wants off it. Parkinson is as powerful a manager as Bradford City have had but still had challenges to his role. One could worry about how success would be maintained should he exit if one wanted but more important would be ensuring that he is allowed to do his job and shapes the club around that.

We are, perhaps, lucky that the Sheffield United approach and the moment Parkinson had to bend the knee to the boardroom were separated by six months. Imagine starting this season without Parkinson. Where would thoughts of promotion be then?

When looking at which teams will be promoted what is most often the decisive factor? It is not in the quality of players but rather the quality of manager. The thing that unites the clubs that went up was that they had experienced managers who are spoken of in terms of their quality.

What Steve Cotterill, Karl Robinson and Simon Grayson offered last season is the thing that Phil Parkinson offers this. Likewise when José Mourinho got over his defeat at City by winning the Premier League it was – we are told – because he was the best manager. Success – the theory goes – goes to the best manager.

That, at least, is obvious.

The number of psychopaths watching Bradford City and the impact that has on football supporting

150 psychopaths

If I told you that somewhere in Bradford 150 psychopaths would be getting together you’d probably only want to know where that get together was so you could avoid going at all cost but I am going to tell you that and you are going to go to that get together.

Medulla Oblongata

The word “psychopath” has been mangled by popular culture.

When we use the word we mean a kind of a mad axe-murder set apart from society. Alfred Hitchcock, Thomas Harris, and Bret Easton Ellis have given us the timid psychopath, the charming psychopath and the slick psychopath underlining the fact that psychopaths can come in many forms but the word is always linked in our minds to murder.

This is a problem for people who study “psychopathy” because the personality disorder itself was not medically defined as being linked to violence. Some psychopathy researchers used the term “sociopath” to try get around the horrific connotations. In the precise world of medical research licence is given for the terms to be used interchangeably.

It is thought that psychopathy is caused by a misfiring in the brain so the unconditioned fear stimulus in the medulla oblongata does not work in some people as it does in what we call “normal” people.

Because of this they lack the ability to comprehend how other people have fear, and so in some cases they think that other people’s emotional states are a facade. They cannot feel what it is like to be someone else, because they cannot feel or at least a large amount of feeling is not open to them.

Most people do not understand the ramifications of that (including myself) until they are spelled out.

A psychopath has no empathy. They don’t feel bad about bad things they do.

How to find out if you are a psychopath?

According to author and Harvard lecturer Martha Stout you are not a psychopath if you have enough sense of your feelings to ask if you are one.

So worry not, dear reader.

Stout’s book The Sociopath Next Door postulates that one in a hundred of the general population is a sociopath and that the condition is much more common than we give it credit for.

Stout’s research presents us with the sociopath as a mimic and as a Little Hitler. They try to copy other people’s emotions to fit in with society not because of a need to join society but to try exploit society to control their part of it.

If by now you are thinking that you know a half a dozen psychopaths then you are not alone and owe it to yourself to read Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test. Ronson learns how to spot psychopaths from the man who wrote the checklist that defines what psychopathy is: Robert Hare. The list is the PCL-R and when answering the twenty questions on it one can spot a psychopath.

And when Bradford City play Shrewsbury in the first game of next season we can expect a crowd of around fifteen thousand people you will have plenty of practice because – as I promised and as Stout suggests – you will willingly get together with around 150 psychopaths.

Why Mark Lawn is not a psychopath

The ability to empathise is what stops people from doing all manner of things.

It is what stops you cutting queues in traffic understanding how angry people cutting queues in traffics makes you. Its what stops you from cutting the throat of someone who does cut a queue because not only can you imagine how horrible murder is, you always imagine how bad the family would feel, and how bad prison would feel for you, and you going to prison would effect for your family.

Of course if you do not feel empathy you might cut the queue. In fact having no empathy allows you to cut all sorts of things. Like jobs. Being good in business is about making hard decisions – or so the cliche goes – but decisions like who to put out of work are far easier if the person making the decision does not think about the emotional effects on the person out of work, on their family, on their community.

In fact a lot of the business cliches are about removing emotion from the world of work. “Leave it at home”, “Don’t bring it to the Office” and so on. You can hear phrases like this banded about every office and not by the percentage of people who are psychopaths but by many people. The workplace in this sense he been shaped to lack empathy by people who have no empathy.

Stout and her peers suggest that the business world has been remodelled around the most successful people in the business world and that the most successful people in the business world are psychopaths.

The higher up in business one gets – Stout et al say – the more instances of sociopathic behaviour one finds. At higher levels rather than one in a hundred people being a psychopath, one in twenty-five are.

This is not, oh cynical reader, building up to a claim that Mark Lawn is a psychopath.

In fact his obvious emotional outpourings on TV and in interview, his emotional attachment to the club which struggles for most of his life, and many, many other things would see him score low on the PCL-R.

I’m not entirely sure that the same could be said for everyone who has been in the Bradford City boardroom though and Stout’s findings would suggest that it is absolutely not the case and that at some point presently, or past, on of the people inserting a control on Bradford City is a psychopath.

The same is true about Prime Ministers and Presidents. The higher up you go the more the prevalence of psychopaths. Obviously some have held the top jobs. Christopher Hitchens stated that Henry Kissinger – who he charged with responsibility for the massively destructive Vietnam war – had “the mind and record of a psychopath.”

Robert Hare and others are of the belief – and I paraphrase – that psychopathy is what makes the world go round.

Deep breath, and back to football

Football is a microcosm of the world. If it happens in the world it happens in football and so if we are prepared to consider the suggestion that psychopathy is the driving force in the world it stands that we should consider if it is the driving force in football, and, in football support.

The game itself is governed by a set of practical laws and punishments. The reason to not handle a ball is not because it will make the other team feel bad, it is because the punishment will follow in short order. I’m sure that there is something to be said for the role of psychopathy in creating determination in players but it is beyond my (limited) understandings.

Off the field though what are we to make of football’s level of empathy? Very obviously not much. The FA accuse FIFA of acting badly while in turn being accused of only acting for The Premier League who propose ideas which seem massively out of step with the Football League and on and on downwards.

But Hare et al have an approach which says that structures like these are shaped by people – the people in them – and as such a question like “Are Manchester City a psychopath?” is wrongly phrased.

I think that a lot of – but not all – people at boardroom level are exonerated too. I am certain that there are people working at and owing football clubs who would score highly on the PCL-R but only because they are the product of a merger between the corporate world and the world of football support. So perhaps it is worth looking at the world of football support to see how it is shaped by psychopathy.

Where is the psychopathy in football?

The first thing to point out is that the PCL-R is a nuanced tool and that it is not applicable to entire subcultures in any other way than to look at specific people within that subculture. I’m not about to declare that football support is a psychopath.

What I wonder though is is football support (inside and outside of the structures of the game) shaped by psychopathy in the way that Stout et al suggests business is? If we look at the PCL-R do we recognise the traits we see in football supporters beyond the 150 psychopaths at a Bradford City game.

Some of the traits on the list we strike off immediately as not being knowable: Sexual promiscuity (point eleven) and the tendency to many short-term marital relationships (point thirteen) for example.

Others leap from the page at us. Who could not say of the modern football supporter that they do not display a need for stimulation. This is the third point on Hare’s PCL-R and one only need to think about the 24 Hour Sky Sports News or the relentless monitoring of players on Twitter to underline how football support seems to need that constant stimulation.

Points two and thirteen on the list are “grandiose estimation of self” and “lack of realistic long-term goals” which are a given in football. It is rare that there is not a football supporter who genuinely believes that his club is different and by different we mean better than others and often the thing that stops that being better is that the people running the club are seem to be holding it back and if only they would do differently then the long term future would be glorious.

Others one may make a case for. Over a third of football clubs have been in some form of administration over the last twenty years but rare is the supporter who takes responsibility for their role (often a minor one as a supporter) in cheering the signing of a Benito Carbone or a Seth Johnson which led to financial problems. This could be point sixteen: failure to accept responsibility for own actions if one wanted to make the case.

I could carry on mapping on the traits the PCL-R covers to the world of football but to do so would be to labour the point, and to take empathisis away from the disproprtionality that psychopaths represent.

Me. I like a laugh, me

Last season, after the Doncaster Rovers defeat, Oli McBurnie and Aaron McLean shared a joke on Twitter. If you missed this moment do not be surprised. Of the things that matter most it could hardly be more remote but it was the cause for some complaints. The two players, strikers for a team which was then struggling, should have been focusing more on scoring and less on joking was the inference as if the one took away from the other.

It is asinine even to mention it were it not for the reaction. Most ignored the joke and the follow up, other responded with utter indifference if they did note it, but a few felt it worthy of their input (point three, need for stimulation) and decided to challenge the players (point fourteen, impulsivity. Point ten, poor behavioral controls.) because they should not be larking around (point eight, lack of empathy) when something so important as a defeat had occurred (point two, grandiose estimation of self).

The thousands of people who did nothing, or did not care, or did care but did nothing are not noticed next to very few (two or three) who did showing the traits. So these traits, these traits that are part of psychopathy, frame our the world of football supporting.

As football supporters we are always being defined by the combination of psychopathic traits because they are present in a few of us but not in all of us. And of course it is dangerous to sit with a checklist like the PCL-R and looking at isolated actions declare that they are the actions of psychopaths. Ronson details how becoming a Psychopath spotter power crazes him and he is right. Once you start studying the PCL-R you start seeing psychopaths everywhere.

Aaron McLean and Oli McBurnie might seem like a storm in a teacup but nothing in the the psychopathic tendency talks about the size and impact of the actions. I’m not saying that anyone involved in that is (or is not) the sort of person who would score high on the PSL-R but many people might conclude that – for example – the people who tell Jessica Ennis they hope she is raped would score highly.

Abuse on Twitter stops players communicating through Twitter. Racist chanting by a hundred people can have a whole stadium closed down. One person can throw something in a town centre on a Saturday and we are all branded hooligans. When we are branded hooligans we are policed accordingly by a Police Force which – logically – is run by a number of people who are psychopaths.

This might sound needlessly pessimistic but I went to football in the 1980s and I stood behind fences, and I was pushed into pens, and I was marched through streets by armoured Police. The people who decided that that was the way to treat a teenage boy who had not committed, nor wanted to commit, an offence seem to convict themselves of lacking empathy and you only need to look at the massive high level cover up that followed the result of that style of Policing at Hillsborough to see lack of remorse or guilt, and the Failure to accept responsibility for own actions.

Let me be clear what I’m not saying here. I am not saying that Hillsborough was caused by mass-murdering psychopaths. I am saying that it was caused (and covered up) by institutions like South Yorkshire Police, The Sun Newspaper and the Thatcher Government which had been in turn shaped by people who would have scored high on the PCL-R.

This is hard for people to accept or understand – and of course it is a contention rather than a statement – but that is because if you are part of the 99% who have empathy you assume that everyone else has it and when you assume that you assume everyone else has the same operational controls as you.

Hare’s work suggests they do not.

So now then

What is to be done? Football is a part of a world and the world is shaped by the traits of psychopathy.

As the Internet opened up communication channels a number of maxims started to fall away from media industries. It was said in newspapers previously that one letter represented a hundred dissatisfied readers but now all hundred readers can tweet furiously and so it has become safer to suggest that one unhappy person represents one person.

Perhaps even that is inadequate. Perhaps knowing the destructive nature of psychopathy we should seek to make sure it is under represented? That we should try exclude the voice from discussion because the voice is in its nature destructive. All domains of expertise exclude destructive voices. Is the psychopaths insight into the community of football support any more valid than his input into any other part of society?

I have trouble with that path of reason and where it ends up but I have similar trouble with how any of the communities I am in is defined by its extreme and destructive elements just as we all have trouble with the idea of those 150 psychopaths at Bradford City vs Shrewsbury Town.

Another week passes and there is another story of how football supporters have behaved in a way that I do not feel reflects football supporters as I know them and this story repeated in an echo chamber by media which has a section which is determined to misrepresent what has happened leading to attacks by politicians who seem to lack empathy and are playing to a different constituency and all the time this is exploited for sales by businesses who only can look at their bottom line.

I end up remembering John Yossarian‘s comment in Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 when asked what would happen if everyone felt like him and did not want to fly bombing runs just because the enemy he had never met wanted to kill him, and so did not want to fight in the war.

“Well I’d certainly be a damn fool to think any other way wouldn’t I?”


I heartily recommend reading Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test.

Aaron McLean and the middle of an Era

There is an overuse to the term “End of an Era” which has rendered the words almost meaningless.

Steven Gerrard leaving Anfield after nearly two decades, Sir Alex Ferguson leaving Manchester United after nearly three deserve the grand description. Most player comings and goings – and for that matter must manager changes – do not. The previous City managers before Phil Parkinson lasted about seven and eleven months each. No one’s idea of an era.

(This morning I heard that Steve in Accounts is moving to a different floor and thus no longer making the Friday butty run, and that this was the end of an era.)

And do the exit today of Aaron McLean from Bradford City is not the end of the McLean era.

No sun sets as the striker who’s body language seemed to perfectly betray his ambivalence for the club he had joined in January 2014 cancels the last year of his deal. McLean showed the occasional flash of why Phil Parkinson bought him but – more often – why Phil Parkinson should have stayed away from the forward.

For the City manager it was a rare example of confirmation bias. McLean at his best darted around the penalty area beating defenders and finishing with a touch, or moving slick off the ball, or he was a power house on the ball and impossible to knock off, and thinking about him one might remember that more than one remembered his meandering away from play, or his tendency to be static unless the game panned out exactly how he had thought.

If one thought on his signing – and perhaps think now – that McLean was right for City one remembers the good parts of his time in claret and amber and throws away the bad. We all have a tendency to be biased towards the facts which confirm what we want to be the case, rather than what is.

Too often not useful on the field and too often a square peg in a hole that his predecessor fit so roundly in one need to waste too much time on the reasons why Aaron McLean’s attitude did not find a place in Bradford City dressing room other than to suggest that the tight team spirit which pervades the club under Phil Parkinson could have been a hindrance to him.

The day after Nahki Wells left for Huddersfield Town he was playing golf with his former Bradford City team-mates (“Troublemaker” anyone?) who are clearly a close knit group of men. The players who fit in are improved by this – Filipe Morais springs to mind – but those who do not seem to be isolated figures.

Of course this team ethic does more help than harm and one can only feel sorry for a player like McLean if he has arrived to find himself a square peg off the field as well as on it, but not too sorry when one thinks of the wages freed up by his departure. Wages which Phil Parkinson is expected to spend on bringing Jon Stead to the club on a permanent basis.

A high profile signing such as McLean who has not worked out has ended many manager’s careers at clubs and there is a strong argument one could make that had 2015 not opened with Parkinson’s side beating Millwall and Chelsea then McLean’s failure could have had more serious ramifications for the City boss.

That it did not tells us something about where Bradford City are in the maturing middle of the Phil Parkinson era at Bradford City. The manager has had his beginning, and now has made mistakes and is allowed to learn from them rather than be punished for them.

McLean thus is Parkinson’s difficult second album. Learn from it, move on, but come back with something better next time.

Bradford City vs Gillingham being settled by threefold repetition

In the game of Chess there are five ways to draw. Most of them involve no move being playable within the rules but there is a method called “threefold repetition” in which a draw is called should the same position occur for a third time in a game.

The purpose of this rule is to avoid a situation in which the two players go into a stalemate situation. It is rare in the world of perfect objectivity which is Chess. Not so much a rule to say that a draw has happened, but one which pre-empts the draw.

Even before Gillingham substitute Antonio German scrambled a stoppage-time equaliser to give his side a 1-1 draw at Bradford City a threefold repetition could have been called on the game such seemed like the inevitability of the result.

Inevitable in that watching Peter Taylor’s teams for his brief time in charge of Bradford City – especially the way he set up his teams to play away from home – was seeing a manager comfortable with a point.

Inevitable in that Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City teams hold close to the believe that games are on gradually rather than but great pushes and even when an own goal by Leon Legge following great work by Andy Halliday on the flank the Bantams did not commit to getting a second goal.

Inevitable that Gillingham keeper Stuart Nelson made two saves which turned goal-bound shots onto the post one in the first half from Billy Knott and a second from James Hanson in the second. With goal efforts at a premium Nelson’s reactions were as valuable for the visitors as Jordan Pickford’s were at Preston last weekend.

That City had the better of the chances seemed to suit their being the home side but as both teams were comfortable with a point a draw was the result.

Which returns to the the threefold repetition rule and its place at Bradford City. The rule is in place to stop games in which no progress is being made and on a cold November afternoon turned evening it seemed that no progress was manifested on the field.

All animals are equal, but some…

This week there had been talk from the Inner Party of the Bradford City Supporters Board that the club were aiming to be in the Championship by 2017. It was not clear why exiting administrator David Baldwin had made this claim to the selective group without adding any detail as to how they would be achieved – it would seem that the feedback from this curious organisation is a one way process – but make it (it seems) he did.

What is the plan for that? And why is there an assumption that everything tends to improvement. City seem to sit at a crossroads in the club recent history. There is the will to improve the clubs and many paths to take to do it. The management of the club is in a good position – Parkinson gets a lot out of his players – but there are questions about recruitment that were highlighted by Aaron McLean’s exit this week.

Likewise there are questions about the structure of the club the exit of David Baldwin – a man rated above his abilities in my opinion – and how to craft the business as it tries to grow. Further there are questions as to how those improvements would be translated into success. Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski’s contention in Why England Lose is that the only real guide to one’s place in the pecking order in football is turnover and that increasing turnover moves a team up the divisions.

Aside from wanting it to be so, and hoping that the statistically improbable falls in a way that benefits, what right have Bradford City got to expect that next season will be better than this? If Andrew Davies were to leave when out of contract in the summer why would we expect someone better to replace him? Why is there an expectation that Gary Liddle – excellent today – should be better than Gary Jones?

These are points which need to be addressed before the club start talking about 2017 in the Championship.

So now then

Phil Parkinson’s side could have been accused of not being committed to trying to win the game but Parkinson was no more going to send his team to be gung-ho than Peter Taylor’s were of doing anything other than defend.

Two teams cancelling each other out and neither looking in a position to make progress. Phil Parkinson is a good manager doing a good job at Valley Parade but one wonder what he is up against week-in week-out and how the teams who do progress support managers?

This is an open question. I am not suggesting a plan to be followed but what I am wondering is who at Valley Parade had the domain knowledge that would be helpful to Parkinson? In a week where City have agreed to pay 75% of the wages of a player in a side chasing promotion I think we all have to admit that there is scope for improvement.

On the field some games are won, some are lost, and like today some are drawn and that is how it will stay unless for outrageous fortune one way or another. That or the intervention of the boardroom at the club who – at the moment – seem to have aims without plans.

Peter Taylor, a miserable night and a miserable football match, that all reminded me of what happens when the board have aims without plans.

Why you cannot fit a system around Aaron McLean

Aaron McLean has joined Peterborough on loan for ten weeks – although one suspects that he will not play for Bradford City under Phil Parkinson again – and so a tedious post-mortem on his time at the club begins.

Did the board panic by McLean? Not really. Was he Parkinson’s signing? Seemingly so. What does that say about Parkinson? Nothing good. Will McLean be a great success “home” at London Road? Seemingly inevitably.

McLean’s parting shot was gentle enough. He suggested that the move was the best for both him and City because he did not fit into the system that Parkinson played. As has been debated much this season Phil Parkinson has tried very hard to change his system from a 442 with James Hanson leading the line to a 4312 centred around Mark Yeates.

The transition has proved difficult and but McLean has not suffered any more or less with the change from playing off James Hanson in a target man system to the Mark Yeates playmaking system that City started the season with. It would be fair to say that he has not done well under either of the two different approaches to the game.

System that McLean did not fit into

With the Hanson system McLean’s role would be to get close and look to be found, or find, head downs and flicks on or defensive clearances. In this the second striker role McLean would have been tested on his speed of reaction and his ability to read the game.

If the target man wins the ball and heads it on the second striker has to be first to set off – the first yards are in the head – using his anticipation and reactions. If the defender wins the ball but does not clear well, or a mistake is made, then the second striker must read the game well enough to be in the position to benefit.

Wayne Gretzky – who some call the greatest Hockey player of all time – was the master of this type of game reading. He would seem to skate in the opposite direction of play and almost by magic the puck would end up at his skates.

It seemed like an innate ability but, as with most innate abilities, it was the result of a significant effort on Gretzky’s part and Gretzky’s father who schooled him in the game from an early age. Gretzky was not big, so he had to be there first, and to be there first he had to know where the puck would go.

This is pattern matching in sport and in the case of the great man Gretzky it came from a dedication to study the game and break it into patterns the outcome of which were predictable. The puck would come out in that position this time, because it most often did.

Dean Windass was very good at this game reading too and a lot of his goals came from him “being there” as if through blind luck. One doubts Dean thinks too much about how that happened.

Aaron McLean showed no real capacity to pattern match especially well. McLean was not “there”, nor was his first off the mark as Nahki Wells had so often been. It is easy to say that McLean did not fit into that system because he was not Wells but its accurate to say that he did not because he did not have Wells’ characteristics as a player.

System that McLean fit into

The Yeates playmaking system required the striker to move around more and create space for other players to fill, and to move into space in dangerous areas in anticipation of the playmaker either passing to that space, or to someone who moves the ball into space.

When playing with a target man a striker reacts, the strikers in a playmaking system have to be proactive. They have to either create a target or play a part in someone else being a target. The onus on the striker is to work hard without prompting and often without reward.

Every run a striker makes probably is not picked up on by teammates and much of the time the striker seems to not be effecting the game. The reward is that when the run is picked up then the position that the striker finds himself in is – on the whole – a better chance.

Aaron McLean – a strong player with a powerful shot – always showed that when in those position he was able to control the movement of the defender near him and, when called upon, shooting accurately and with power.

Off the ball McLean could find pockets of space – his typical goal is to cut across a defender and use his power to keep the defender where he wants while he finishes – but he did that infrequently.

McLean’s strength, technique or movement was not a significant problem but his motivation to keep on making those runs that the playmaker system requires was. For whatever reason McLean was not doing what he needed to be doing.

We could probably wrap this up into the cliche of “losing confidence” and not be paying anyone a disservice but I expect it is deeper than the term often connotes.

Why Parkinson lost patience

With McLean in the side Bradford City played – broadly speaking – two systems. One of which did not suit him that Phil Parkinson moved away from it. One which did suit him but he lost confidence in it.

It is no wonder Parkinson sounds terse when talking about the striker whose exit will be “better for both sides”. He gave the chance to Mark Yeates to be playmaker and Yeates responded. He gave Aaron McLean the chance to be a powerful striker and McLean beat a path to the door.

And Parkinson is not alone. McLean came from Hull with warm regards for his effort but a recognition that he “was not suited to the right wing” or “was playing out of position” and one wonders how much of that masked the same problem of struggling to find a system to fit McLean into with managers finding out as Parkinson has that when you do fit him into a system he does not deliver what the manager wants.

Now City have reverted to playing off a target man – be it Jon Stead or Hanson – McLean does not fit into the system and moves onto Peterborough where Darren Ferguson will try do what managers at Hull City, Ipswich Town, Birmingham City, and Bradford City have failed to do and find a way of getting enough out of Aaron McLean to justify fitting a system around him.

Aaron McLean and the heroes of failure

The collective view of history

There is a view of history which holds that if there had never been a Genghis Khan, a Joseph Stalin, a Pol Pot, then the course of the world would have been drastically different. No Mongol hordes, no Cold War, no pogrom.

This is the individual view of history.

There is a competing view that suggests that those three people, indeed any person of history, is only of history because of the rising and falling of collective events. That if it had not been Genghis Khan then someone else would have been credited for leading the hordes, and history would have remember their name instead. That large groups rather than an individual caused the world to turn.

This is the collective view of history. It is less exciting, but probably more accurate.

From Pol Pot to Pulis

Stoke City’s rise to the place of mid-table in the Premier League is largely down to former manager Tony Pulis, and Pulis puts any success he has had down to a recruitment policy based on character.

When speaking about Ryan Shawcross Pulis commended the defender’s character – which is to say his desire to win football matches – saying that a team was built on players such as Shawcross.

“You can have other players who don’t have that (character),” Pulis added, “but only for eighteen months and then you have to move them on.”

The heroes of failure

Why do Bradford City supporters not curse the name Benito Carbone? Why is Ashley Ward’s time at the club given a light disregard when the memory of Mike Duxbury can cause grown men to froth at the mouth? What is it about Darren Morgan that has some City fans reserving a place in the inner circle of failure which even Aaron McLean – seemingly leaving City this week – need not fear reaching?

And what is this word scapegoat which is applied in defence of McLean? Has his treatment been unfair? What are the mechanics of failure at a club like Bradford City that can lionise one player and condemn another.

And let me start by saying…

When Aaron McLean leaves Bradford City, few will be upset. McLean has done well in the past proving his ability but did not do well at Bradford City. The sort of ability McLean is credited with is rare for Bradford City players over the last decade. Few players have been criticised for want of motivation rather than ability.

More common in the last decade have been the players who have shown a level of effort that defined their abilities. The words “give everything” are used about James Hanson, Gary Jones, and Andrew Davies. Players like Barry Conlon, Matthew Clarke and Lee Crooks were never said to be shirking, just that they were poor footballers.

McLean gets to nestle his name alongside Ashley Ward, Nicky Summerbee and Bobby Petta in the players who idled away their talents rather than had no talent to begin with.

In the worst possible way

Aaron McLean arrived to replace Nahki Wells. Wells enjoyed a meteoric rise at Bradford City. His speed and eye for goal were impressive and he played a role in taking City to Wembley twice in three months. After an early exchange of distaste for his choice of clubs following City it seems that Wells has settled back into his place in the hearts of City fans.

One might speculate that the fact that Wells has joined a Huddersfield side in the year they have achieved next to nothing is his saving grace for City fans. Were Town in the play-offs and Wells the architect of that, then things may be different.

But Wells is not an architect. The type of player he is – they are called “finishers” for a reason – puts him at the necessary end point rather than the engine room of a team. Wells was the end of a team of Gary Jones, Rory McArdle, James Hanson et al. Those players were the big characters who pushed the team. Wells, Nathan Doyle, Will Atkinson, Carl McHugh were (seemingly, and by virtue of their exit) the “eighteen monthers” that Pulis talks about.

Being Phil Parkinson

Losing Gary Jones was inevitable. Phil Parkinson probably joins with the rest of City fans who watch the skipper playing for Notts County and wonders if there was another year in the now 37-year old midfielder, but giving him that extra year is a delay of the inevitable need to replace him.

Losing a player like Gary Jones from your team – be it from age or transfer – matters more than losing a player like Wells because of the type of strong character he is. Bringing in or building a replacement takes time and may not be achieved. Those old enough may remember the attempt to replace the massive presence of Stuart McCall with Iain Banks and wince at the memory. If you are younger, read “Gary Locke” for Banks.

It is Parkinson’s hardest job and while developing Billy Knott may be a long term solution, one suspects the City manager has concluded that he needs to bring a character into the side and is working to that end. At the moment though Parkinson puts out the team he has and that team has some qualities, although is lacking in others.

Who does not love Xaviar Barrau?

Who was the scapegoat in David Wetherall’s relegation side which was the worst team Bradford City have fielded in my lifetime? Who carries the can for those feeble months? Not Wetherall, and not his players. Spencer Weir-Daley’s many misses against Leyton Orient and Omar Daley’s giving up of the ball on the wing are critical memories but on the whole the players are not criticised. Kelly Youga (injured during his time at the club) is fondly remembered. Who does not a place in his heart for Xaviar Barrau?

Wetherall’s side were simply too poor for scapegoats. To single out one player is to allow a club and a culture at a club to be freed from blame. No one points the finger because no one has enough fingers to point.

Likewise relegation from the Premier League is never assigned to a group of players, and the likes of Benito Carbone are heroes of the club. Circumstances dictate that a scapegoat will not be found, at least not on the field.

Parkinson’s team are not so outgunned as those two examples. The are far better than Wetherall’s side for sure, and the rest of League One is – in relative terms to City – not as good as the rest of the Premiership was in 2000.

Phil Parkinson’s team are closer to success. Indeed at the moment City win and lose on the basis (seemingly, but probably not in the opinion of the management) of individual actions. Billy Clarke puts the ball an inch lower and Oldham away is a good point; Christopher Routis heads a ball into the stands against Sheffield United then City get a battling point with ten men and so on.

Just as two years ago Rory McArdle’s determination was the difference between winning and losing against Aston Villa in the League Cup semi-final. When the difference between success and failure is small there is a temptation to assign it to individuals and individual actions.

Stevie Gee

Importantly though one can only justify assigning success to individuals when margins are small. A scapegoat is the player who did not apply the marginal difference. The opposite – a player who applied the individual difference between success and failure – is what he call in football a hero

Watching the career of Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard is watching that that theory in action. In European Cup and FA Cup finals (both of which ended 3-3) he has been heroic because he has been the individual difference between success and failure.

Last season his defensive slip against Chelsea – an individual mistake – seemed to cost his team the Premier League title. “If he had not slipped” is said with a misty eye by many, but few ask what would have happened if (now Liverpool’s) Dejan Lovren foul on Daniel Sturridge in November 2013 in a Southampton 1-0 win at Anfield had been given as a penalty.

Scapegoating is arbitrary.

Had Aaron set off in time

Aaron McLean’s first game at Sheffield United for City – a 2-2 draw – had the striker almost score the goal which almost built his confidence and almost put him on a run of goalscoring, and so on.

McLean is in poor form, and plays like a player in poor form, and many people (not me) consider that the problem City face at the moment is the need for a finisher. The logic follows easily that McLean, a finisher, could be difference between wins and defeats.

My view of football is increasingly more inline with Pulis, and it is more inline with the collective view of history. When Nahki Wells was scoring for City it was not because of his abilities so much as because of the team’s abilities (which he was a part of) and had you dropped Aaron McLean in then, McLean would be the “Goal Machine” his name so cruelly rhymes with. If you put Wells into the current City team, he would struggle.

The team struggles because of the recrafting job that is needed on its core following Jones’ departure. and the wider break up of the “History Makers” team that Phil Parkinson built. The eighteen months were up, and now Parkinson starts again. The manager is not back at square one, and the fact that the gap between success and failure seems bridgeable is a frustration, and causes this illusion.

Nahki Wells was a hero of Bradford City’s success.

Aaron McLean, because of his place in our history, is a hero of failure.

How we let a good season become bad and what we can do about it

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, Adam Drury | Garry Thompson, Nathan Doyle, Gary Jones, Mark Yeates | Aaron McLean, Jon Stead | Raffaele De Vita, James Meredith, Kyle Bennett

The 2-1 result against Tranmere Rovers that saw the Birkenhead team relegated to League Two meant more to the home side than it did to us.

The less said about Tranmere Rovers this season the better. A manager sacked for gambling on his own club and players deliberately sent off probably including a time at Valley Parade when Ian Goodison hit Kyel Reid.

Thinking back over the season that Sunday afternoon – it was moved for a EDL protest back before all their voters jumped ship to UKIP – saw the end of City’s promotion push this term. Matthew Bates made a debut but proved to not be Andrew Davies and when Ryan Lowe scored the only goal of the game there was a start of the end of the form that had taken us to Wembley twice.

We came into this division on a high and started very well. That start faded away as did Nahki Wells who joined Huddersfield Town and so City started a slow climb to a performance target which was easily reached.

“Easily reached” being my opinion, but also the opinion of the Tranmere Rovers supporters who would no doubt have looked curiously at you if you had told them that this both our teams had battled relegation.

If you had been following Bradford City this season then you might have been excused in thinking that the season had been a lot more difficult than it has. In fact depending on which part of the chorus of Bradford City supporters you were closest to you might have thought that City had a terrible season.

Not for those lads and lasses at the back of the Kop who make such an impressive noise. They are this season’s poster people for backing a club through thick and thin. At their lowest ebb – Walsall at home – they still made a better noise than Valley Parade heard during our last season at this level.

If you listened to the majority of City fans who mainly did not allow the Bantams to occupy their minds then the club did “ok”. By virtue of the fact that you are the sort of person who is reading this article you may not appreciate just what a small part the club can play in the lives of some people who are proud to self-identify as Bradford City fans.

Mark Neale – he of The Friends of Bradford City and many other Bradford City supporters associations – is convinced that the club has around 2,000 supporters who get involved in the club between games (apologies to Mark if that figure is not accurate, I’m pretty sure the spirit is)

And while that figure might go up or down in small movements over years it is importantly not a percentage of the attendance. If 10,000 turned up they would be 20%, if 3,000 turned up they would be 66%. They are constant.

Which means that this season eight or nine thousand people have been coming to Valley Parade this season having read a bit about City, and talked a bit about City, and largely taking a lead from the two thousand who involve themselves in City between the games.

Which is becoming a problem.

If you are in that two thousand you probably know #bcafc, and Width of a Post, and Claret and Banter, and even the quangoesque Bradford City Supporters Board. If you do know these things, and pay attention to them, you’d think that Bradford City had had a terrible season.

Which is not to say that all of of this coverage have been negative or has all been suggesting that we have been terrible. Far from it. You can find Bradford City supporters who are pathologically positive and can find silver linings on the biggest clouds but when one attests that one is 100% in one’s support for Phil Parkinson one is being drawn into a conversation about a lack of support for Phil Parkinson.

And that has been the conversation this season for the two thousand. That Parkinson should be sacked (or that he should not), or that some (or all) players are not good enough (or that they are), or that City are battling relegation (or that they will win that battle)

Which would make sense if one were in the opposite end of Prenton Park watching our team be relegated but we are not.

At the end of March City dipped to 15th place for a week in a league of 24 teams but for the majority of the season City have nestled in mid-table.

(You can, if you want to be as asinine as it is possible to be, suggest that this is mid-table mediocrity but when Jon Stead and Aaron McLean scored in the last ten minutes left to ensure Tranmere Rovers would be relegated the idea that it is the Bantams who can be termed “mediocre” would not have been well received by the home supporters.)

So why has this season of an expected return – a newly promoted club should plan for retaining their position in their new league – become characterised as being one where City struggled against relegation? When City were in either the top third at the start, or the middle third for the balance, why has the context been that City have been in the bottom third?

Let me draw a line here between the context of this season and the idea of being negative. The problem this season has not been that people have looked at the events and looking at them concluded a negative view. It is that they have looked at them and, ignoring the facts, created a worst view of the status of the club.

You and I, dear reader, can draw a positive or negative view of a season after which City finished in 11th position with 59 points but saying the season was worse than that is just lying. And that is what the conversation has been around all season.

The conversation has been a lie.

It has been that Bradford City are doing worse than they were, and that Parkinson was performing poorly when he was not, and that the players at the start of the season were not good enough when objectively, as a group, they were.

And this has caused a problem because as the two thousand argue a false premise the eight thousand have their support framed in that context. That the people who “know more” than them are telling them that (either) things are terrible (or that things are not as terrible as other people think they are).

This sets a mood. You can have your own view on if the mood around the club and its fans affects the players on the field but I’ve observed that that relationship is symbiotic. Indeed if one were to believe Messers Lawn and Rhodes (and there is no reason why one should not) then they are supporters of the club in the boardroom and thus the fans are the player’s bosses.

Defender Shane Duff – one time Bantam – made it very clear that the mood of one of the chairmen used to directly affect the players in his time at the club.

Mr Lawn sat in with the Bradford City supporters today signing autographs for other supporters and it is hard not to wonder where the chairman – who during the two trips to Wembley could not have been more visible – had been all season? His warm and friendly face has been noticeable by it’s absence since the sale of Wells in January and during the time. When the context of the season needed to be stated he and his partner Mr Rhodes were not to be seen. Not that Mr Rhodes ever is but if there was a benefit to the team of Mr Lawn’s appearances around Wembley then surely there would have been a benefit of the club’s boardroom firmly stating that Phil Parkinson’s team were performing well, despite poor form, and that this season was on track.

Is not the prevailing view in the higher echelons of Valley Parade? If it is why not say it? I worry that it is because of this false premise being argued by the two thousand and the belief that appearing to be on the wrong side of that conversation would not be desirable.

Perhaps it is additional credit to Phil Parkinson that not only has he taken Bradford City to promotion, and then attained a very good 11th placed finish, carrying the mantle of leadership of the club alone and without public support from his employers especially if that support could have addressed the two thousand and challenged the false premise?

One wonders though where City – and specific the two thousand – go from this season? This was a good season but the discussions between the core of two thousand have contextualised it as a poor one. I believe that that has been a part of a feedback loop which has fed the eight thousand which has got to the pitch and by affecting the players made the season worse.

What is more I would suggest that this is a problem for much of modern football where the reality is that 80-odd teams at the end of every season will not have any silverware to celebrate with. That the majority of supporters are suffering this problem of their own two thousand being dragged into conversations based on false premises by sections of that support.

If next season takes the pattern of this then will we see a repeat of this year? If so what can be done about it? Does anything need to be done about it or are we, as a community, happy with the way this season has been discussed?

Those questions need to be considered by football supporters up and down the country, but at Bradford City we have the backwash of two trips to Wembley and what good what good will remains from that. We could use that to try form a community which better understands how a good season has been made bad by a small percentage of a small percentage who really should have been told they were wrong sooner.

Letter to a person who did not like Garry Thompson

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, Adam Drury | Rafa De Vita, Nathan Doyle, Gary Jones, Mark Yeates | Aaron McLean, Jon Stead | Carl McHugh, Garry Thompson, Kyle Bennett

To the person who did not like Garry Thompson,

You and I share a football club and I am sure we share the same ambitions for that club. Probably, if we talked, we would quickly find common ground but that agreement would end on the subject of Garry Thompson.

I’m sure you clapped when Garry Thompson scored the winning goal at the end of a lackluster with Crawley Town that had seen both teams go in scoreless after a flat first half and Aaron McLean give City a lead after he finished a divine long pass by Nathan Doyle. We might have had the same reaction to Carl McHugh failing to follow a pass out of defence by Kyle McFadzean allowing Jamie Proctor to equalise.

I’m sure you clapped that just as you and I will have cheered Thompson’s goal against Arsenal, or the one against Burton Albion when all seemed lost, or his work in the goals against Northampton at Wembley and I’m sure that as I iterated through those goals you started to form an idea that those goals do not constituent a defence of a player who you believe is not good enough for League One.

Because that is what you have been saying about Garry Thompson this season: that he is not good enough; and while I’d hope your opinions did not effect Phil Parkinson’s decision to bring in the Kyle Bennett to take the right wing I am forced to wonder if you have been forced to consider your opinion of Thompson after seeing such an inadequate replacement.

When I watch Garry Thompson I wonder what you want from him other than what he shows? I watch him and see a player who puts everything into his performances and takes responsibility for those performances. I see a player with enough skill to take the ball past a player some of the time, good enough crosses to pick out a striker some of the time, who fires the ball in some of the time.

And I see a player who when he does get it wrong beats himself up about it.

When you watched Jon Stead being given a pass by Mark Yeates to leave him on his own in the Crawley half this afternoon and watched Stead fudge the chance and end up with nothing did you feel as I did that that failure should have hurt Stead more?

It can be hard to tell how players feel from the stands but having watched Thompson for long enough I like the fact that his mistakes are not shrugged off. I see a player who holds himself to a high standard.

I wonder what you see. I can probably understand how you are able to rationalise away the good things but I can not understand how you can see a player who embodies the effort that has seen the City team go from the arse end of League Two to secure in League One via a League Cup final in two years.

Perhaps you look at players like Paul McLaren or Tommy Doherty and thought they were better players because of abilities with a dead ball in the former case or the latter’s occasionally masterful displays but what those players were lacking was what to me is obvious from watching Thompson. Both lacked Thompson’s work ethic. Every time he has been asked Thompson has done everything he could for our team. The same could not be said of those other players mentioned.

And if you do not value that work ethic then you do not understand what is good in football, and it is wasted on you. You talk about Thompson as if his presence (and goals) in the key games of the last few years were an accident, and perhaps those games were wasted on you too.

All season you have mumbled and grumbled about Garry Thompson. Sometimes you went so far as to abuse him and I wonder how that will have impacted his confidence. He lost his place in the side and as he led the lap around Valley Parade at the end of the game probably having played his last game for City his contract is up and you are probably happy about that.

On that all I can say is that to replace Garry Thompson is about more than getting a better right foot in. It is about a player and a team ethic which was prepared to be held to a high standard and about understanding that it is that high standard which has driven the team in the last few years.

You do not put enough value on Garry Thompson, you never did, and because of that I feel sorry for you because I bloody loved watching him play.

Yours,
Michael

A win over Peterborough United has City looking at the costs of survival

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, Adam Drury | Rafa De Vita, Nathan Doyle, Gary Jones, Adam Reach | James Hanson, Jon Stead | Aaron McLean, Kyle Bennett

If the adage holds true that football matches are won by the team which needs to win most then Bradford City can feel some pride in besting a Peterborough United who needed to win far more than the Bantams did.

This time last season City were not far from the position which Darren Ferguson’s side occupy in League One. The last play off place and looking over the shoulder at those who would take it. And just as City battled at Chesterfield last term on Good Friday for a 2-2 draw so The Posh put up a fight against Phil Parkinson’s side who nearly mathematically assured survival in League One.

It is a survival that has come at some cost. At the end of last season Parkinson was unimpeachable in his position as Bradford City manager having taken the club to Wembley twice. This term there has been a misguided but concerted effort to unseat him from some people who follow the club.

The inerudite attack on Parkinson is that he has “no tactics” which is to say that he favours a 442 and often is over concerned to ensuring the opposition do not progress rather than that his team does. The manager favoured a 4312 with Adam Reach playing behind Jon Stead and James Hanson and added Raffaele De Vita to the right side of a middle three alongside Gary Jones and the also returning Nathan Doyle.

Parkinson’s midfield offered a survival chance for Jones and Doyle who have not shirked from responsibility this season but have struggled. Reach ahead of the midfield give Jones a smaller zone to play in and allows him to focus his energy. Doyle too, dipped back into a ball winning midfield zone, had perhaps his best game of the season. Add to that a De Vita looking more comfortable and a shape for next season that ensures that two of the players who excelled in 2013 might feature in 2015.

All of which comes from the failure for Kyel Reid to survive. As Adam Reach dropped between the lines in Parkinson’s 4312 City forwent wingers and so the team finally found a way to cope without the pacy wideman who – it is worried and it seems – will not play for City again. Perhaps while Parkinson watched a fluidity to the first half of the Bantams performance which had been missing since sometime before the turn of the year he may be convinced that the 442 with wingers would not survive either.

Reach was impressive in the playmaking role behind the front too. His runs invited fouls and from one by Jack Payne the on loan Middlesbrough player lofted a fine free kick over the wall and into Joe Day’s goal. From another Sean Brisley earned his second yellow card in two minutes.

Brisley had been booked for pulling down Stead on 38 minutes, Reach on 40, and while from a Bantams point of view Reach’s sliding interception was impressive Peterborough fans might have been surprised by the high line the visitors played for the first half. In the second, with ten on the field, things were different.

The play off chasing side had to drop back and pull back players from the forward line and worked hard in doing that. Their second half display was a model of football efficiency rarely wasting the ball but the Bantams backline covered the attacks well with pressure put on the ball in the Peterborough half and cover in the City half very secure.

Four of the back five of 2014’s play off final have survived and while Adam Drury is an able deputy it seems sure that James Meredith will return to make the five. Parkinson has a decision to make on if he has faith with the five assuming he can keep all at the club. It has seemed apparent that Parkinson believes that should his side take the lead then Jon McLaughlin behind Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies and James Meredith are solid enough to see a game out. Parkinson’s case is made by City’s defence having conceded fewer goals than Peterborough’s this season.

Which suggests the problem – if retaining a place in League One could ever be said to be a problem – is at the other end of the field. While Peterborough attacked in the second half the Bantams took a step back and were balanced towards defending. One can hardly expect Parkinson to change in his next season and so if James Hanson and Aaron McLean – a second half substitute who came on to applause from both sets of fans – are to improve on this season’s returns then they either need to become more efficient in front of goal or they need to get more chances.

Which points to the decision Parkinson has to make in the close season. If he is to carry on with a 4312 – which has yet to last a full game – then he needs to find someone to play in the role Adam Reach took today. If he is to use the 442 then he needs to find a more apt set of widemen.

He should though get to make those decisions. After months without a win, after losing his centreforward, after losing Reid, after the chairman who could not keep his face off television last season going entirely silent on him, it seems that Parkinson has survived too.

Suddenly it all seemed simple

When Phil Parkinson got ready to go in at half time at Brisbane Road to give his team talk to a City side that were beating Leyton Orient 1-0 he must have been thinking about how simple this game of football really is.

At a corner the ball was delivered deep to Aaron McLean who spun off his man and ended up at the back post on his own. One touch and City never really looked back all afternoon against a Leyton Orient team who are much vaunted in third place but never really looked capable of breaking down the Bantams defence.

And while City had choked badly on Tuesday night against Walsall there was an ease to the play in a game in which the Bantams were not asked to make the attacking running. The same problems were obvious but they mattered less once McLean had got his second goal in City colours.

While a goal ahead and with the ability to sit deep and try use the power of McLean and Jon Stead up front or the pace of Adam Reach or Kyle Bennett to get behind a team which needed to win Parkinson could watch the second half confident that his team would win.

Sit deep, make possession difficult for the opposition, hit from set plays. It worked against Leyton Orient, it worked against Arsenal. Wry smiles all round.

But smiles from afar form Parkinson who was sent from the stand after a scuffle in the Orient tunnel following a handball by Andrew Davies which occurred after the half time whistle. It was Clive Thomas refereeing but it was as much as City had to cope with.

Stead’s arrival to cover the injured James Hanson and Andy Gray who – while also injured – did nothing to impress on Tuesday night gave Parkinson the luxury of an effective target man on Saturday without the worry of not having one for Tuesday night’s trip to Coventry City.

City go to Coventry City and both teams are on 48 points which would – last season – have ensured League One survival. One point is probably enough to rubber stamp survival for both and is perhaps the simplest outcome of the game. That The Sky Blues have achieved this from administration and The Bantams have done it from 7th in League Two will give both managers a chance to have something to smile about.

Not that they will smile at each other. Coventry City boss Steven Pressley called Phil Parkinson’s tactics after the 3-3 draw at Valley Parade earlier this season “dark ages football.”

The enlightenment of football probably eludes both these teams but neither have done as well as the slick passing of Leyton Orient who tried pass and move and ended up as thin waves ebbing away from a solid Bantams defence and beaten by a set play.

Pressley’s point is not lost but it assumes much. It assumes that Parkinson – a football manager given to elements of coaching modernity – has not looked at the way the game is played in League One and concluded that the most simple way of playing football is the most effective. That the enlightenment of football analysis tells him that dark ages football works.

On afternoons like Leyton Orient away it is worth reflecting that the simplest answer is often the best.

Parkinson, Taylor and the case of the low standard

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, Adam Drury | Kyle Bennett, Matthew Dolan, Nathan Doyle, Adam Reach | Aaron McLean, James Hanson | Gary Thompson

Gillingham boss Peter Taylor was kind enough to raise an arm to greet the Bradford City supporters who for a brief time watched him manage the side and for a time he must have wondered how the noise from the Bantams stands had changed.

Taylor once heard his own team booed off after winning a match, and his leader Tommy Doherty was booed on the field, to a point where the then City boss suggested that if the fans thought jeering was so beneficial he should work it into training.

When he watched Aaron McLean sprint into the box as a James Hanson header was fed out wide to Adam Reach and probably feared that the once feared hit man would dart past the defender and do what he had not done in eight weeks as a Bradford City player and score. He did.

McLean’s relief was obvious after his goal as was the affection for him from the Bradford City supporters. Such a drastic change since Doherty being booed, Taylor must of thought, and as City pressed on his Gillingham side in a tide which should have washed the Kent side away how right he was in his criticism of the booing supporters.

McLean has been nursed through every game by fans willing him to be all he could be. It warms the heart to watch.

But little else did as City squandered near total domination over Gillingham and ended up with a draw which it might be said both managers will be happy with but that Phil Parkinson should take no delight in at all.

Gillingham’s open midfield in the first half left an area between the back four and the midfield which City were able to exploit and did so. Adam Reach and Kyle Bennett started to show an understanding as if linked by sixty yards of elastic one showing one side when then other came in for the ball. Matthew Dolan moved forwards well and City had a chance to expand on the one goal lead but that chance – or those chances – were squander.

Amine Linganzi moved into the gap in the second half and Adebayo Akinfenwa came on and City would soon be looking at an equaliser by Cody McDonald and an afternoon where standards were lowered.

A word on Akinfenwa. He is often a joke of a player massive as he is but today Referee Michael Bull, and a good few of the City players, were taken in by that joke. Akinfenwa played by his own set of rules about the physical game and Bull allowed him to do so. It was like watching a kid at school who was rubbish so he was allowed to be offside to even things up.

But Akinfenwa is not rubbish, he is over weight, and he is allowed to throw that weight around with far less intervention from the Referee than other players on the field suffer. It is as tedious as it is disappointing and Andrew Davies must have wondered why Akinfenwa was allowed to spend fifteen minutes at the start of the second half jumping at him rather than with him (including in the build up to the goal) without a free kick being given.

But had Davies played with the spirit that saw him not even give Akinfenwa a kick at Wembley last May then City would have won and that leads us to the lowering of standards which was in evidence especially in the second half.

City have started to accept less than they should and this Parkinson should be worried about this.

First let me draw a distinction here between the idea that fans deserve more – a phrase I hate – or that players should always score with every shot or never make mistakes or other things which go under the idea of not accepting less and focus on this very specific issue of the lowering of standards.

Take Matthew Dolan on seventy minutes when the ball came to him thirty five yards out and when falling he lashed a ball which would not trouble the goalkeeper even slightly. Take Nathan Doyle putting in a half challenge in midfield and complaining that he has fouled. Take Kyle Bennett being challenged in his own half and unlike Adam Reach’s Elvis hips shimmy into the box in the first half falling and darting eyes to the Referee.

Parkinson needs to set a higher standard than this. He needs to underline to the players what playing well looks like and not accept that the players had a jolly good try at doing something else. Players need to play with their heads and with the trust in their teammates, and they need to play in a way that understands that they have teammates and that much of the time their jobs are to serve those teammates.

There was a moment in the game when Kyle Bennett, furthest forward, chased a ball and on catching it hooked it to the goalkeeper tamely. It was not understanding where your teammates are, it was not playing intelligently, and it was the sign of a standard slipped that Parkinson has to address.

Players are playing for contracts – they always are – and Parkinson will look at Adam Reach and feel that he has found a player who can raise the level of the team but many of the other players who may not be at Valley Parade next season are playing under a standard which they need to be to worth keeping at the club.

And again I underline the difference between holding a high standard and highlighting mistakes. It is not that players are pilloried for mistakes it is that some of the players will have left the field today feeling the did “alright” in a “decent result” and I believe that that is not the right attitude for a team looking to progress.

Today City needed to play to a higher standard and did not. Parkinson’s reaction to that – if he thinks that the way Matthew Dolan played today will replace Gary Jones (eventually) or the way Kyle Bennett played will be a substitute for how Kyel Reid played – will define next season.

Bradford City, Brentford away and conformational bias

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Carl McHugh, Matthew Bates | Kyle Bennett, Gary Jones, Chris Parkinson, Nathan Doyle, Adam Reach | Aaron McLean | Gary Thompson, Andy Gray, Adam Drury

The words we are looking for are “conformational bias”.

You know how when you look at your watch and it is always 11:11 except it is not always 11:11, it’s just that you only remember the times you look at your watch (well, phone) is when it reads 11:11 and you forget all the other times you look at your watch (well, phone). That is conformational bias. We remember the times that support our hypothesis and forget the ones which do not.

(By the way Uri Geller believes that it is always 11:11 and has lots of very curious ideas on the subject which prove nothing at all and are basically confirmations of conformational bias)

Being a Bradford City supporter at the moment is to be judging between (at least) two different conformational bias. Phil Parkinson’s team are not performing as well this season as they did last season and a 2-0 defeat at Brentford is seen as confirmation that Parkinson is not good enough or it is not because a team in City’s position would not expect to go to a promotion chaser and win is seen as contradicting that and is thus ignored.

Likewise the two wins in a week were confirmation that Parkinson was “the man for the job.”

A lifeless first half in which neither side threatened goal much was a confirmation of how canny Parkinson was to keep things tight and try steal a point from a team which ends the day third but the fact that City were unable to do that because of second half goals from the generally annoying Clayton Donaldson and George Saville shows how limited Parkinson’s plan is.

Without James Hanson up front and Andrew Davies at the back against a team in good form the afternoon always seemed beyond the visitors and again one is stuck between scenarios as to why. Parkinson gave up the game and rested his two players because even his full strength side would struggle on the one hand and that is the smart thing to do on the one hand. On the other Parkinson’s side’s failings are his failings and depth of squad is squarely amongst those failing.

It does seem like the team that finished seventh last season/the team that went to Wembley twice – pick your own description to continue the theme of this article – have reached a plateau. While Brentford trooped off at half time unimpressive it never looked like the area between Carl McHugh and Matthew Bates would not afford Donaldson a chance during the afternoon and so it did when Donaldson drove in low. Only his proficiency stopping him adding another later but Saville gave the scoreline a perhaps undeserved polish. The Londoners edged most things on the day – but not by much – although Will Grigg and Adam Forshaw provided everything a League One midfield needed to go twenty two games with only a single defeat or twenty three games with two, if you are that way inclined.

City’s midfield is the start of the limits that Parkinson faces by by no means the end of the. Gary Jones has made a virtue out of the level of dedication he puts into all things and he will know more than anyone that the number of games he has at League One level is limited but – in my never humble opinion – he remains value for his place on his performance and the energy he puts into it which one only wishes was matched by Nathan Doyle. Doyle displays last year were excellent but that has been the exception in a career which has seen him more often than not fall below the standards he reaches on his better days on too many of his days. Doyle can play better, and has often, and to be a reliable part of Parkinson’s team next season he has to.

Kyle Bennett remains a mystery to me, Adam Reach continues to let how impressive he is one moment stop him impressing the next. Aaron McLean works hard and for that he will remain in Parkinson’s side because Parkinson prizes that above all else.

And if one agrees with that philosophy then a defeat like today is just a part of the grind. The fact that the club will shake itself off and go to the more winnable game at Colchester with more fit players is confirmation that the manager knows what he is doing. Looking at the table City have twelve games left to play and need as many points to reach fifty three which would guarantee safety. That simply requires Parkinson’s side to score points at the same rate that it has all season.

If one does agree with the hard working philosophy (or perhaps does not agree with something else that sets one to suggest that Parkinson is doing something wrong) then it is unacceptable not because it is a defeat but because all defeats highlight problems because it offers confirmation that there is a problem.

So one is left to decide if retaining a place in League One for next season represents progress or a problem.

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