If Parkinson is the Special One if City only get one point?

The Team

Jordan Pickford | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Gary McKenzie, James Meredith | Andy Halliday, Gary Liddle, Billy Knott, Mark Yeates | Jon Stead, Billy Clarke | Francois Zoko, Alan Sheehan

As time ticked out on Bradford City’s 1-1 draw with Walsall at Valley Parade Andy Halliday – playing right wing – stood defensively containing the visitors left back preventing him from playing the ball forward.

Play the ball forward – or beat Halliday with the ball – and the Saddlers would have a chance to create a chance. And from a chance they could turn the point time would give them into three. And that could not happen.

Likewise had Halliday tried to win the ball then City could have fashioned a chance to do the same but to do so risked losing position on the field.

As it was Halliday kept his man on the flank and the clock ran down.

Is Parkinson a special one?

Have no doubt, dear reader, that Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City side against Walsall will not have returned to the dressing room to an angry manager. Parkinson will not have blistered the walls with shouting nor will he have been furious at chances missed. In fact the 1-1 with Walsall is exactly how Parkinson would want his Bradford City team to play.

Of course he would have wanted more goals to be scored and fewer conceded. He would have wanted Francois Zoko to make more of the chance that fell his way in the second half, would have wanted Billy Knott to have confidence with his right foot when given the option to shoot with that, would have wanted Rory McArdle to not lose his location and head the ball cleanly seven yards the wrong side of the goal post. He would have wanted all those things.

And he would have wanted Billy Clarke to have run back to replace Andy Halliday when Halliday gave the left hand side of the Walsall attack too much space that allowed Anthony Forde to cross and Jordy Hiwula-Mayifuila to head in after slipping away from the otherwise excellent Gary McKenzie on his début. We all wanted those things.

But we have learnt Parkinson’s method over the last 3 years, 177 days of his time at Bradford City and nothing suggests that he would unbalance his team to try take all three points when he had one. The failures that prevented City winning were in execution for Parkinson, but not in the planning.

Which raises an interesting question for City fans to consider.

At 2-1 down to Chelsea Phil Parkinson did not send his Bradford City team to play an all-out attack, nor did he at 1-0 down to Leeds, but those wins came from a combination of maintaining City’s position in the game (which is to say, not conceding more) and taking chances that presented themselves.

One can – and I have – criticise that approach as not doing enough to commit to winning a game against opposition who aimed to draw at Valley Parade but one cannot deny that the overall approach for games does not differ between matches.

Stuart McCall – for example – was fond of changing his team with the ebb and flow of the game. Chris Kamara was too. I would suggest that both McCall and Kamara would have looked at the Walsall equaliser as a signal to make attacking moves, bring on strikers and generally try to create a win.

And I found both managers created very exciting teams to watch. One recalls McCall’s City 2-0 down at Accrington Stanley only to win 3-2 following the introduction of Barry Conlon. Barry came on and caused chaos on the pitch that City benefited from massively.

One recalls the game at Addams Park Wycombe under Kamara were City went two down early on and Kamara brought on Carl Shutt to create a 253 which made for a massively unbalanced game which ended up as a cricket score in favour of Wycombe. At two down, Kamara thought, City were not going to win the game anyway so why not throw in some chaos and see what happens.

Parkinson is not a manager who enjoys adding chaos into games.

McCall or Kamara might have thrown another striker on at Chelsea, or today, and it might have worked. For Parkinson though staying in the game and working hard has worked.

But it has only worked at Bradford City and Colchester United. Supporters of Hull City and Charlton Athletic found Parkinson intractable and unadventurous and were largely glad when he left their clubs because of his tactics and approaches. At Valley Parade today he defended a 1-1 draw, and one doubts he would apologise for it.

If one is happy with Parkinson’s games at Chelsea, and at home to Leeds and Sunderland, then one is happy with the approach that created it then perhaps one just has curse bad luck today and regret that ill-fortune did not favour City today while accepting that other days it does.

Parkinson’s football is the application of pressure towards steady progress. To want him to be different is to want another manager.

Seven

The frustrations of the afternoon were obvious to all. With injuries to James Hanson, Filipe Morais, and Andrew Davies Phil Parkinson reverted to his 442 deploying Halliday on the right, Mark Yeates on the left and Billy Knott with Gary Liddle in midfield behind Jon Stead with Clarke playing removed from the front man. The result was a less pressing midfield that contained the game more.

Indeed Walsall seldom attacked through the middle and Liddle and Knott will reflect on a successful afternoon but Yeates was out of sorts on the flank and not involved enough to pick up the tempo of the game. Halliday was manful on the right. He was seven out of ten. Again.

The result was not so much a lack of creativity – chances came – as it was a misshape on the creativity. Stead held the ball up by fewer players ran past the forward line from midfield than had in previous games leaving him to pop the ball out from between his feet to anyone who might be near.

The supply from the flanks was sporadic. At one point Stephen Darby beat six men on a mazy dribble which was impressive but underlined the problem the players were finding. Without the reliable diagonal ball to to Hanson from McArdle City were less predictable but by virtue of that easier to play against. The paths to goal were improvised and Walsall’s backline stopped what they could. Dean Smith is a good manager and had his side well drilled.

But Smith, like Parkinson, hoped that what was created would tip the game his way but would rather not have lost. Walsall have not lost in eight away games and have their own trip to Wembley to plan for. City take up sixth place in League One.

It should have been a good day all round, but we have got used to better days than this. They are not long the days of milk and honey.

Parkinson has his thoughts on the bread and butter.

Jackson veers between Kamara and Jewell

When the opening weeks of the season were put together by “the fixture computer” – which is to say some ludicrously complex set theory and a few blokes making sure that Hartlepool United get as long a trip away on Boxing day as possible – few people looked at the Bantams’ opening four games with any relish at all.

Aldershot Town looked like they could be tough – they were – and Leeds United away promised little. Following them up with trips on the road to Oxford United and Accrington Stanley and there was a sense that in these opening two weeks it would become apparent if the instant team alchemy which football managers dream of had taken place.

It had not.

Brighton and Hove Albion – now resplendent in a new stadium – and Chesterfield – then resplendent in a new stadium – both seemed to be touched by that alchemy last season with neither favourites for their divisions but both teams clicked quickly and they romped to titles. For everyone else it seemed there was but hard work.

And so there is for Bradford City. As everyone at the club and many in the stands talked about how this season the club would be starting to build long term and to create its own future rather than going all out for promotion. However an unhealthy – but not entirely unforgivable – hope that that future might start with a lightning strike of a team coming together instantly.

The 1-0 reversal at Accrington Stanley confirmed that City have – as was commented within my ear shot on Tuesday night – a long way to go. Having started that “long way” four matches ago that is hardly surprising and is sobering. Those looking at the Stanley team which finished fifth and lost a half dozen players miss the point of what the Bantams – and other clubs – try to build.

A half dozen players leave Stanley but the structures which have had the club progress to the level it enjoys remain, the culture remains, the team spirit remains. In short there is stability which enables Accrington to continue plodding along. This is very much the sort of thing that Bradford City are trying to build.

Bradford City and Archie Christie who arrived at Valley Parade from Dagenham & Redbridge in the Summer as the Bantams interviewed Daggers boss John Still and his backroom team before deciding that Still was the goods in the window and Christie the merchandise out back.

Christie’s plans are the dose of sense which has been missing from Valley Parade for over a decade. The Scot sees City as – perhaps – a better location to repeat what he had done in Dagenham on a bigger scale. The Daggers – fresh from League One – have come far with Still and company at the helm but getting it right at Valley Parade promises more than being a dot on the map of London football.

So Christie builds his development squad with the aim of bringing through three or four players a season who are good enough to press into the City squad. Logic suggests that might have to wait a two or three years to judge such long term plans rather than – as some seem Hell bent on doing – writing them off after that many weeks.

Christie’s work behind the scenes aims to create a stability for City to aid the manager who has struggled in his start to the season. Jackson – the man of Jose Mourinho action at Huddersfield Town – seems a reduced figure in the City dug out at the moment. What – when looking at in the Town dugout – seemed like calculated master strokes (Paul Barnes’ entry in 1998 which turned a 1-0 defeat into a 2-1 jumps to mind) when viewed in the home dug out seem to be random flailings.

Having played a tight passing game in pre-season Jackson’s side too often favour a long punt to James Hanson and while the switches in formation are more noticeable it seems as if Jackson has yet to decide a shape for his midfield.

Consider – if you will – Chris Mitchell who for all the talk of his only being in the team for set plays spend an hour of Tuesday night making sure that when a blue shirt came forward he was standing between ball and goal. He delayed, he stood up, he made sure that Stanley would not get through and all to the tune of people talking about how he should tackle more, even when doing so and failing would have left a bus sized hole in the midfield.

And so it was when Jackson went to a midfield that more evenly distributed the weight between Michael Flynn and Richie Jones rather than had Flynn forward and Mitchell back that Stanley wandered through the middle of the Bantams to get the goal which won the game.

It is hard to find anyone who could say that Mitchell has played well but taking him out of the position he was in brought problems and a pragmatist such as Jewell would see that as justification to have him in the side while the Chris Kamaras – given to flights of fancy – would think that another player who could add more going forward might be trusted to that role on the hope that both could be done. It was such a fancy which Jackson gambled, and lost, on on Tuesday night.

So Jackson flits between: a defensive midfielder behind three more attacking players, a tight three midfield with one winger and the unit of five which worked well at Elland Road; but so far he struggles to maintain a shape in a way which gains the upper hand in games. The first half against Leeds and Jackson had everything going right, when Leeds changed he seemed inactive.

On Tuesday night with scores level Naille Rodney came on for Ross Hannah to play a withdrawn role and the midfield to press on which seemed to leave City with far too many players drifting between the Stanley midfield and defensive lines and no one grabbing the ball. Bit by bit Jackson drifts towards Kamara and his hit and miss deployments of players and tactics and one worries that – like Kamara – it might be possible that Jackson finds the right combination at times and then moves away from it not knowing what is good.

In that one recalls the dogmatic Paul Jewell who stuck with the team he wanted to play after it had returned two points from twenty one in 1998. Jewell had an idea of how he wanted his team to play, and who he wanted in that team, and the same at the moment (and at the time) can not be said about Jackson.

So the City manager goes into the game with injuries ruling out David Syers, Lee Bullock and Simon Ramsden but with pressure to make changes to a team which has but one of the five points Jackson might have targeted.

Jackson is under pressure to drop James Hanson for reasons much discussed but doing so would strike one as popularist rather than practical – especially considering the team’s tendency to hit the ball long. Mark Stewart played no part against Accrington a week after looking superb against Leeds United but Naille Rodney – willing worker – has staked a claim and may get the chance. Ross Hannah was praised for his rewardless efforts on Tuesday but one doubts that he will be selected against Dagenham. Perhaps Jackson will use a 433 having tried it against Carlisle United in pre-season.

The midfield could see Jack Compton on the left and Michael Bryan on the right with Michael Flynn and Chris Mitchell in the middle but Richie Jones looks like a capable player waiting to find a role to fill and should Jackson not want a defensive minded midfielder then he may slot in next to Flynn. Bryan started Accrington well but faded.

At the back Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall are making good at full back – Luke O’Brien’s continued absence is the stuff of conjecture but it seems that Threlfall has made good his chance and is playing well which is more than can be said for Guy Branston who has struggled to put in consistent ninety minute performances since arriving. He is partnered by Luke Oliver who played a superb game at Stanley and if Steve Williams does return to fitness then dropping Oliver would be a very tough decision, although one Jackson would make if he had a clear back two in his mind the excluded the former Wycombe man.

Martin Hansen continues in goal. He shouted on Tuesday night, a couple of times, and that is an improvement and something the keeper can work on. A young lad Hansen has years of improvement in front of him and should not chuck his gloves over just because he has let in a few goals.

Nor should the rest of us.

Managing the Expectation of Progress

The Team

Martin Hansen | Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Guy Branston, Robbie Threlfall | Michael Bryan, Chris Mitchell, Michael Flynn, Jack Compton | James Hanson, Ross Hannah | Naille Rodney, Richie Jones

If the trip over the Peninnes to Accrington was to provide City with the barometer test of their season so far it left a prediction of high pressure and potential storms ahead.

Whilst the pre-season emphasis has been on development, consolidation and forward thinking, the general mood of the City fans stood on the terraces prior to kick-off at the Crown Ground, was that of the familiar expectation of a result from a youthful looking Bantams team that featured Ross Hannah, new winger Michael Bryan and a 442 shape, with Mark Stewart and Ritchie Jones making way.

An undertone of negativity seemed to be present in the away as even before a ball was kicked some ‘supporters’ could be heard slating the likes of James Hanson and Mark Stewart for previous performances deemed ‘not good enough’, citing lack of work ethic and ability as the main downfalls. Hanson in particular seemed to attract particularly virile remarks, which set the tone for a testing night for the Bantams.

Both sides went into the match having collected just one point from their first three games and the slight nerves that come with a slow start to the season were evident in both defences early on.

The first defence to flinch was the home side’s, when in the 2nd minute City were almost allowed to grab the initiative when Stanley keeper Sean Murdoch played a sloppy pass out of defence which James Hanson intercepted and laid off to Hannah who cleverly lofted the ball over the onrushing keeper into the net. Unfortunately for City the linesman had already raised the offside flag against Hannah to save Murdoch’s blushes.

Later in the half it was Guy Branston left feeling fortunate when he switched off to allow Stanley winger, Nat Taylor, to sneak into the box unnoticed, only for Luke Oliver to clear his dangerous cut back.

Oliver’s display was excellent throughout the night, both aerially and on the ground, and the fact that he stood out as City’s man-of-the-match, says much about the midfield and forward threat posed by the Bantams in the match.

The majority of City’s attacks in the first half were to aim for James Hanson and hope that Ross Hannah took advantage of any flick-ons and despite early sharpness from Hannah, his confidence took a knock after being flagged up as offside on several occasions. This lead to the strike force drifting further apart as the half went on, leaving both strikers isolated and in need of support.

With a lack of chances the City fans took their frustration out on the linesman and he received a chorus of boos as the teams walked off at half time and when remerging for the second half.

With the exception of Oliver, both defences experienced a shaky opening 45 minutes and it seemed that a defensive mistake would be the decisive factor in the game in the second half.

A factor that was proved correct when in the 77th minute new Accy loan signing, Wes Fletcher, poked the ball under the onrushing Martin Hansen to trickle home the winning goal for the home side. The mistake in this case was made by Branston, who allowed Stanley sub Ian Craney to turn him too easily and provide the assist.

As the second half progressed the strain on City’s midfield seemed to increase with Scottish recruit Chris Mitchell struggling to have an impact; the play passed him by all too often and left the lively Flynn, who again looked solid, over stretched and in need of support to win the midfield battle.

Even when Ritchie Jones was introduced in the 64th minute and Mitchell pushed out to the right, it seemed that City seemed to lack the energy and industry of David Syers, who will be missed over the next three months.

City went in search of an equaliser and Nialle Rodney looked lively after replacing Hannah, but all too often when the ball was rushed forward a lack of passing composure caused play to break down.

And despite a few promising runs and crosses late on in the game from Jack Compton, City failed to register a single shot on target.

On balance, Accy just about deserved the points and displayed a confidence when passing the ball through the midfield that City seemed to be lacking, choosing instead to rush the ball forward and hoping for the best.

As the players trudged off the pitch following the full-time whistle, the object of pre-match hostility, Hanson, seemed to bear most of the brunt from some fans, but to most it seemed that the expectations were those that Lionel Messi would struggle to fulfil. The perception is that because of Hanson’s size he is expected to chase down and over power all those that stand in his way, even though for the majority of these ‘causes’ Usain Bolt would struggle to catch up with them!

For Hanson his expectations for the season have been set, and as the most experienced striker at the club and at this level, it may be a burden that he will need assistance with from a more experienced forward if we are to see the best of him and City this campaign.

Hanson’s plight seems to reflect that of the club’s in general, we are told that we want to see the development of the team and an improvement on last season would be deemed a success, but the high expectation levels of the past few years seem to be proving a hard habit to kick for some supporters, which only leads to added pressure on inexperienced shoulders.

The success of the season will depend on how Peter Jackson and the club go about managing these expectation levels, and it is hard to predict anything other than stormier times ahead, if the confidence of the Bantam’s fledgling side takes too many more knocks.

Accrington Stanley and the Bar(ry)ometer

For those seeking a barometer on events at Bradford City’s the club’s trips to Accrington Stanley’s Crown Ground provide just that.

The first meeting between the teams in modern times saw Joe Colbeck – fresh from his return from loan at Darlington – the hero as City ran out 2-0 winners and Omar Daley tore the home side in two. The hard work of striker Barry Conlon brought praise that visit and there was a sense that four months into his time at the club it seemed that Stuart McCall was starting to get the basis of team together.

Three years ago City were outplayed for eighty minutes and then Stuart McCall brought on Barry Conlon and one might riot some how managed to be the catalyst for a stunning turn around that saw City leave Stanley boss John Coleman with a ruined wedding anniversary and City fans happy.

Happy for a time though because it was though that – eventually – City could do better than Conlon and his manager Stuart McCall and so the change was made to Peter Taylor who with huge fanfare took his City team for their first game.

You might remember the wet ground, the late arriving and early departing Mark Lawn with a vandalised car, and the performance that set the tone for Taylor time at Valley Parade. There was a sense of optimism in the air that day that – probably because the display was away from home and followed not long after by a great 3-1 win at Rochdale – which went undented. Recall, if you will, the people who said that Taylor was going to sort out the mess that Stuart McCall had caused. Try not to look at the top of the Scottish Premier Division.

The optimism of Taylor’s arrival was in marked contrast to last season’s trip to The Crown Ground where City were so badly second best that manager Peter Jackson could find not an iota of optimism. Having taken up a team of the Disunited from Taylor Jackson – following Accrington – could not see how the club would claim another point in the season. At that point Peter Jackson thought Bradford City would go out of the Football League.

So Bradford City go West for the fifth time with Jackson having nailed together a team he has more faith in and which built around the optimism which was in such short supply in April’s visit. A team for which improvement is the aim and the assumption that enough improvement will drive promotion. Seeking a first win of the season following Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Oxford and on the last of three trips away from home that started at Leeds the tone for the return to Valley Parade for three back to back home games will be taken from this barometer test.

A device to measure pressure City’s barometer readings have been troubling for some years. This summer – for the first time since relegation from the Premier League – there seems to be a realism in the club’s aims and that has brought with it a sense of optimism that the club is going in the right direction.

There is a question as to how long optimism can be maintained without victories and – along with that – the merits of optimism. Paul Jewell’s side famously gathered two points of the first twenty-one and got promotion at Wolves with many expecting them to fall at the last hurdle. Any optimism garnered on the last four trips to Accrington have done nothing to stop the club going backwards, often by a route of its own choice.

As long as there is progress in the players then – perhaps – there should be an optimism to match.

Jackson goes into the game with Martin Hansen in goal – there is a rumour that the Liverpool loanee is undroppable in his time at City although there is always that rumour about loan players. Jon McLaughlin is working his way through his interrupted pre-season and once again is being viewed as an answer to all problems. Never wanting to disrespect a player who I believe is a good and serviceable goalkeeper worthy of his place in the squad and team but never has a player sat on the bench performing so well. On the bench he is the human traffic light always on red, the unbeatable keeper, the greatest custodian in the club has had.

Three of City’s back four have been unchanged all season – the other position has rotated to three different names. Liam Moore, Guy Branston and Robbie Threlfall are constant, Luke Oliver, Steve Williams and Lee Bullock have changed. Oliver is expected to retain his place having played his part in the build up to Ross Hannah’s equaliser on Saturday. There was speculation that Oliver pushed Duberry, or at least that is what Duberry said, or was told to say by someone at the club, and he is sticking to but he is not doing twenty months for that, no way…

The midfield presents Jackson with options having favoured a five at Leeds and Oxford with Chris Mitchell at the base of Michael Flynn and Richie Jones with Mark Stewart and Jack Compton on the flanks but the improvement seen with Michael Bryan and a 442 might prompt a change in shape that sees one of Flynn and Jones benched. Jones brings a hamstring niggle into the game and perhaps that will see him sitting the match out.

Stewart – a player still finding his feet but showing some nice feet when he does – would then press forward alongside James Hanson who once again showed the limits of his abilities as the only player detailed to attack on Saturday. Given the thankless task as the only pink shirt in the other half at the Kassam Stadium Hanson has an unfruitful afternoon and sure enough garnered criticism for his play in isolation. Conlon used to suffer criticism too, but his replacement was Stanley legend Paul Mullin and soon Barry was missed. An object lesson if ever there was one.

All of which is expected to leave Naille Rodney and Ross Hannah on the bench – impact substitutes in a Conloin stylee perhaps – but gives Peter Jackson the sort of selection problems which Taylor could have only dreamed of where his has a choice of players who all seem to be keen to show how they are improving.

To show a twitch on the barometer, and perhaps a reduction in pressure.

2011/2012 IV/IV: The teams

Following last season’s disappointment a new air of optimism currently surrounds the much changed, younger City squad compiled by Peter Jackson, but what can we expect from those who the Bantams will line up against in the new season?

With the loss of Bury, Chesterfield, Stockport and Lincoln from League 2 last time out, the division this year has taken on a very Southern feel with the addition to the League of Plymouth, Bristol Rovers, AFC Wimbledon, Crawley Town, Swindon and Dagenham & Redbridge. It seems that away day dedication will be pushed even further this year, with City set to clock up the miles – where are the Peter Taylor over night stays when you need them!?

The Favourites

For the first time since City were relegated to League 2 they have not been tipped for automatic promotion, that acclaim has gone to the league’s big spending new boys Crawley Town. Following last season’s romp to the Conference title and lucrative FA Cup run, only ended by the champions of England, Crawley have flexed their financial muscles once again signing the likes of Wes Thomas (Cheltenham) and Tyrone Barnett (Macclesfield) on huge salaries. Although popularity amongst other teams and fans will be in short supply, this is unlikely to phase Steve Evans who appears to have unlimited funds to see that the Red Devils make it back to back promotions. And with the likes of Dagenham and Stevenage proving that it is not impossible to make that immediate leap, it is unsurprising that the club have been highly backed at the bookies. Former Bantam Scott Nielson is still on the books and will no doubt be on the end of a ‘warm’ welcome when returning to VP, following comments he made after his City exit.

Hot on the promotional heels of Crawley are fellow league new boys Swindon Town. Over the summer they have introduced some Italian flair on the touchline following the appointment of Paolo Di Canio. Expect much gesticulation and passion when the Bantams meet The Robins in the final game of the season (and that’s just from Jackson!). In the close season Di Canio has signed the relatively unknown Oliver Risser and appointed him the club’s captain as well as several established League 1 players. Also don’t be surprised if a few hot prospects from the Premier League turn up on loan over the coming weeks – I’m sure Paolo will still have Mr. Redknapp’s phone number!

Former Torquay boss Paul Buckle will be hoping that he can use his League 2 experience to guide league newcomers Bristol Rovers back into League 1 at the first attempt. Signing the likes of Chris Zebroski (you may remember him drop kicking Matt Clarke in the face!) and Joe Ayinsah (Charlton), expect attacking football from The Pirates who visit VP in September.

As well as the new boys, League 2’s bridesmaids Shrewsbury Town have also been tipped to go well again this year. Following play-off disappointment for the past three seasons “Salop” will be hoping they can go one better and achieve automatic promotion this year. In the close season Graham Turner has signed proven League 2 players such as: Marvin Morgan (Aldershot); Andy Gornell and Joe Jacobson (Accrington) and will be hoping that these will provide the extra ammunition to get The Shrews over the line.

“Local” Rivals

With the loss of so many Northern teams from the division, local rivalries are few and far between for the Bantams this year. Nearest geographically are Rotherham United, who despite the loss of player maker Nicky Law to McGod’s Motherwell, will be hoping for a strong season under relatively new boss Andy Scott. Scott’s first priority will be to keep hold of the much coveted Adam Le Fondre, whilst quickly hoping he can get the best out of hard-working City reject Gareth Evans (‘The goal is that way Gareth…’). The Millers will be trying to make sure that they don’t fall away as they have in previous years despite promising starts. City host Rotherham in November, with the away leg early in the New Year.

One time City managerial target John Coleman, will be hoping that Accrington Stanley will be able to maintain their strong form of last year despite losing their best players to other teams (Ryan, McConville, Gornell). Coleman will have to manage once again on a shoe-string budget and has so far snapped up the likes of defender Danny Coid (Blackpool) and young striker Kurtis Guthrie, whilst former Bantam Rory Boulding still features in the squad. Expect Stanley to finish mid-table this year as the loss of quality players will surely take its toll.

Morecambe (Bradford-on-sea) are entering the new campaign with a rallying cry in the hope to recapture the ‘fortress’ mentality of Christie Park at their new home ‘The Globe Arena’ (incidentally it’s not an arena, it has 3 sides!). Shrimps boss Jim Bentley will be hoping the combative style of former Bantam loanee Kevin Ellison will help them improve on a disappointing 20th position, achieved last time out. A big City following will once again will flock to Morecambe in early September, with the return fixture at VP in mid-January.

Conference Call

Gary Simpson’s Macclesfield Town have been made favourites for relegation to the Conference this year. Despite a comfortable 15th place finish last season The Silkmen are tipped to struggle, with bookmakers offering them at 2/1 to drop into non-league. The Moss Rose outfit will be hoping that new signings Waide Fairhust (Doncaster), former Bantam Jonathan Bateson (Accrington), along with others like the quick forward Emile Sinclair, will be enough to steer them clear of trouble.

Second favourites to face the drop are Cheltenham Town, following their disappointing second half to last season, which left them with a 17th place finish – one place above the Bantams. This is not a sentiment shared by the Robins new signing Sido Jombati, who claims the club should be aiming for promotion. Cheltenham have invested mainly in non-league players, much the same as City, with the hope of bringing success to Whaddon Road next season.

Once again Barnet have been backed to struggle this term, despite retaining the majority of their top performers from last year. Lawrie Sanchez continues as boss as the Bees aim to gain compensation for the move of last year’s demi-saviour, Martin Allen, to Notts County. With plenty of forward options in the form of Izale McLeod, Sam Deering, Steve Kabba and Mark Marshall (remember him embarrassing City last year?), Barnet will be hoping that they can sort out their defence which saw them leak 77 goals last season.

Hereford United will be hoping to make things a little more comfortable this year following their close shave for survival last season. Former ‘physio’ boss, Jamie Pitman, has signed the likes of Delroy Facey (Lincoln) and Stefan Stam (Yeovil) in the hope of playing attacking, entertaining football next term. The Bantams travel to Edgar Street in late October, with the Bulls coming to VP in February.

League Newcomers

Cash-strapped Plymouth Argyle will face a race against time to assemble a squad before the big kick-off on the 6th of August. With the likely take over by Peter Risdale not yet finalised and the club selling off the ground and its land to a third party: ‘Bishop International’ (sound familiar!?) it will be a success just to put a team out for the Pilgrims next season. Already potential signings have swerved away from the financially stricken club, Antony Elding (Rochdale) opted to sign for non-league Grimsby despite initially agreeing to sign for Plymouth. Survival will have to be their first priority and it is hoped that with the re-signing of influential defender Stephane Zubar, others will follow to sign up for Peter Reid’s cause.

The Crazy Gang return to Valley Parade next season and it is expected that they will bring more than 53 fans when they visit Bradford in late-September. Following five promotions in nine years, since their formation in 2002, AFC Wimbledon will take their place in the football league once again. They will start the campaign without last season’s top goalscorer Danny Kedwell, who has signed for Gillingham, but have retained the services of their player of the season Sam Hatton. Boss Terry Brown has signed up several new recruits: Jack Midson (Oxford); Mat Mitchell-King (Crewe); Chris Bush (Brentford) and Charles Ademeno (Grimsby) in hope of maintaining the club’s position in League 2 next year.

John Still’s Dagenham & Redbridge return to League 2 following only one season in League 1. The one-time City managerial target has managed to maintain the majority of his squad, but has lost key man, and former Bantams’ target, Ramon Vincelot to Championship new-boys Brighton. The Daggers are expected to finish mid-table this time out and will face the Bantams at VP in August, with the return fixture at Victoria Road in March.

Familiar Faces

Burton Albion boss Paul Peschisolido has signed several attacking options over the close season with the intention of pushing the Brewers further up the table than their 19th place finish last season. The Nottinghamshire club will be hoping to avoid the fixture congestion that plagued them last year. New signing Justin Richards (Port Vale) should be the main attacking threat and City play Albion away in October, with the home fixture in January.

Dario Gradi will take charge of Crewe for his 26th season at the helm. With the loss of Clayton Donaldson over the summer, Alex striker Shaun Miller will be hoping to fill the former Bradford youngster’s boots and build on his own 19 goal haul last season. Crewe have been internally backing themselves for promotion this year and will aim to get there playing attractive, technical football, the likes of which the Bantams experienced on the last day of the season.

Gary Johnson’s Northampton Town will once again carry high expectations into the coming season, with their expectant fans insisting that they improve on their disappointing 16th place last season. With a glut of new signings, including big striker Adebayo Akinfenwa, the Cobblers will enter the 2011/2012 season with aspirations of reaching the play-offs. City face Northampton at VP in late October and travel to the Sixfields Stadium in April.

Former City man Chris Wilder will be entering the new season in the hope that his Oxford United team can build on their promising first season back in the football league. Ex-City flop Paul McLaren will take his place for the U’s next season and will hope for more consistency in League 2 this time out. Experience seems to be the order of the day for Wilder who has also recruited former Leeds player Michael Dubbery and ex-Bury goal keeper Wayne Brown.

In a repeat of last season, Micky Adams will lead out Port Vale and will want to finish the job he started before leaving for a forgettable stay at boyhood club Sheffield United. Marc Richards remains the main danger man for the Stoke club and will hope that he can find sufficient support from new signings Gary Roberts (scorer for Rotherham from halfway at VP) and fellow striker Louis Dodds. Vale face the Bantams at Vale Park in September and at VP on Valentine’s day.

On the Buses…(or coaches)

Industrious Aldershot will be hoping to build on their solid 14th place finish last time out. The Bantams play host to the Shots on the opening day and will have to be wary of the goal-threat of defender Antony Charles who had success against the Bantams last year. Dean Holdsworth will be hoping that the recent loan deal for Reading’s attacking midfielder Jake Taylor will help get the Shots off to a flier… obviously after losing to City!

Gillingham have made several signings over the summer and diminutive boss Andy Hessenthaler will be hoping that by signing non-league success stories like Danny Ked well (AFC Wimbledon) will be enough to push the Gills one step further than their play-off spot last year. Hot striking prospect Adam Birchall, signed from Hessenthaler’s former club Dover, is already facing a 6 month lay off with knee ligament damage, which will leave the Priestfield club on the look out for another ‘Cody MacDonald’ type player from the loan market.

Southend will enter the new season hoping to gain the consistency that saw the play-offs elude them last year. Shrimpers boss Paul Sturrock has made several signings to complement last seasons top performers Antony Grant and Barry Corr. City will once again travel to Roots Hall on a Friday night (Decemeber) and will host the Essex club, again on a Friday night, in April.

Torquay boss Martin Ling will want his side to go one better this year to soar into League 1. In order to replace target man Chris Zebroski the Gulls have signed former Morecambe hitman Rene Howe, and have strengthened their midfield with the signing of left-sided trickster Ian Morris (Scunthorpe). City travel to the English Riviera in mid-February (Brrrr…) and host the Gulls at VP in early October.

Why I’m fed up of this player-bashing culture

Like an experienced performer trying to win over a sceptical audience, Peter Jackson seems to appreciate the value of pulling out a crowd pleaser every now and then. And his announcement earlier this week that Bradford City players will next season have to wash their own kit predictably prompted roars of approval from far and wide.

There’s nothing, it seems at the moment, that can prompt wider agreement and glee among Bradford City supporters than the barracking of our useless, under-achieving players.

Talking to the Telegraph & Argus, Jackson played to the gallery with this delightful soundbite: “They have to take more responsibility in themselves and in the club.” Who wouldn’t cheer in agreement at such sentiments? And who, with passionate managers back in vogue following the much-derided impassive style of Peter Taylor, wouldn’t want to hand Jackson the City job for next season?

The T&A has continued that theme this week, somewhat oddly gloating about the fact none of the players (or ‘flops’ as they dubbed them in their headline) available for transfer have yet been the subject of interest from other clubs. Try reading some of the reader comments that appear below the story, if you can stomach it, and feel the vitriol aimed at the players. “I hope most of them end up working in a call centre”, “Would you want any of this shower of sh1te?” and the hilarious “Ive heard the dry cleaners at wibsey are considering signing half of them.” Ouch.

The message is reverberating very loudly: last season’s failings were largely down to the players, collectively they are a disgrace and have brought shame upon the club. “Love the club, hate the team” was sung at Southend just over a month ago, and this sentiment has been continued at subsequent matches, on message boards and via the local media ever since.

But when do we get past this? Don’t get me wrong, I understand the anger and disappointment with the efforts of the players last season. As a group of professionals, they should have delivered a much stronger performance than 18th in League Two. Of the players still contracted to the club – forced to endure this non-stop barracking and taunts from Jackson that “I bet some of them don’t even know how to use a washing machine” – there are a few I’d prefer we got rid of.

Yet unless everyone is miraculously sold, it looks highly likely that the players we continue to bash will be expected to be the cornerstone of next season’s efforts on the pitch. So when do we stop these attacks and start to support them again? And in the long-run, what damage might this climate of hating the team cause?

The washing your own kit idea by Jackson is ultimately pretty silly and as big a gimmick as last season’s talk of Taylor demanding the players wore suits before the match. As Mark Lawn told this site in January, Blackpool players currently wash their own kit. But the implication that Blackpool’s over-performance of the past two seasons is down to their players knowing how to use a washing machine, rather than their abilities and collective team spirit, not to mention the inspirational management of Ian Holloway, makes little sense. Tomorrow Blackpool’s players take their self-washed kits to Old Trafford for the biggest game of their lives, and perhaps their focus will have been better served solely on achieving an improbable victory rather than the additional worry of getting rid of stubborn grass stains.

Back at City though, one is left to query whether the washing own kit punishment is fitting to everyone who will be asked to perform it. Does David Syers deserve to have to wash his own kit? What about Luke O’Brien or other youngsters on the verge of the first team? How about potential summer targets, will they be keen to choose City over other suitors if they hear of a culture where under-performance is rewarded by petty punishments? What has Ross Hannah done to deserve being penalised for other people’s failings?

Personally I don’t think having to wash your own kit will make much difference to the players’ efforts in the same way looking smart before the match had no bearing on the league table last season, but the thinking and reasoning behind it does concern me. Football supporters up and down the country seem keen to treat players like school children, getting upset if they go drinking five days before a match or demanding they are punished with extra training or a placing on the transfer list for poor performance. I don’t know about you, but being treated in this way wouldn’t motivate me to do better.

Instead of building and maintaining a culture of fear of retribution, shouldn’t we try looking at how we can encourage players to perform better in a more positive manner? What is stopping players with proven track records from displaying their ability when they cross the white line at Valley Parade? How can we build their confidence and belief? Instead of wailing about how disgraceful they are when they make mistakes, how can we work as one to achieve our aspirations?

Everyone knows there is a booing culture at Valley Parade. And that fear of failure, that mindset of punishing mistakes – by booing them on Saturday or demanding they wash their own kit during the week – seems to lead to the same result. Players hide away from taking responsibility, hide away from attempting the more difficult things, hide away from the risk of falling into the firing line.

The infamous backpass by Tommy Doherty against Port Vale in September sums up much of the past decade. His team mates were looking to him to take on too much responsibility – he shouldn’t have been passed the ball in such a dangerous area in the first place – and when he made that mistake we booed him. Forget how the Doc felt that day, what were his team mates supposed to think?

It doesn’t have to be this way. Look at Accrington Stanley. Anyone who was there for our 3-0 defeat last month can’t fail to have been impressed by their attractive style of football, and also how the supporters backed them positively throughout. On a number of occasions their passing moves broke down through individual mistakes, or the build up approach seemed very slow. None of the Accrington fans booed mistakes, or screamed “forward” impatiently like we do at Valley Parade. The league table shows what a difference it can make, so why can’t we be more like that?

Above all else, I hope this player bashing culture ends sooner than later. I don’t support Bradford City so I can flaunt my outrage over how players can have the contempt to fail to achieve my expectations. I go to cheer on a group of players who may not be the best in the world but who are our own, playing and trying to succeed for my club. Sure we have duffers and languorous players every now and then, but in general I don’t enjoy hating people and I don’t view the fact I pay good money to cheer on my team as a right to bawl at them if they let me down.

So let’s get behind Jon McLaughlin, Simon Ramsden, Luke O’Brien, Michael Flynn, Luke Oliver, Jake Speight, Steve Williams, Leon Osborne, Lewis Hunt, James Hanson, Luke Dean, Lee Bullock, Robbie Threfall, Syers and Hannah. If they all remain the nucleus of our squad next season, it’s time to stop punishing them for past failures and work with them to put right past wrongs. We all have a role to play in making that happen, instead of keeping up this sulking viewpoint that we have been wronged.

And if these players ever read this, I just about know how to operate a washing machine. So give us a shout if you need a hand.

Travelling more in expectation than hope

The Team

Lenny Pidgeley | Lewis Hunt, Lee Bullock, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | Gareth Evans, David Syers, Jon Worthington, Omar Daley | James Hanson, Jake Speight | Luke O'Brien, Steve Williams, Luke Dean

Thirty years ago if you were a member of St Anthony’s Primary School football team – or the brother of a member who’s Dad drove kids to games – then as a reward for a season of not much return you were given the chance to go watch Bradford City’s last game of the 1980/81 season as the Bantams took on Hereford United.

That was my introduction to Bradford City, and there is a certain symmetry to this afternoon’s entertainment as the Bantams travel to Edgar Street to meet Hereford United. The first game was a scrappy end of season affair – although at the time an impressive watch – where the visitors nicked a 1-0 win. Today a point for both teams would have secured League football for both next season and unsurprisingly a point each was the return.

Unsurprisingly because the home side set out to secure such a return trying to retain possession as far back the field as they could for as long as they could seldom venturing into the Bantams penalty area.

The illusion was a strange one. It seemed like City were penning in Hereford and certainly the Bantams were enjoying playing with a sense of freedom that allowed the likes of David Syers – playing central midfield well – and Gareth Evans to lash at goal following James Hanson’s early attempt which threatened to derail the Bull’s afternoon.

The Bulls afternoon though was taking place miles away at the Crown Ground, Accrington where Barnet played Stanley. The machinations of that game seemed to tilt to this. Barnet level at 1-1 and there was a nervousness in the home side’s play but that nervousness lifted as Accrington took a lead which proved decisive.

That took until the second half and after the first forty five minutes the scorelessness seemed like a fog never to lift. The Bantams were unthreatened – Joe Colbeck was given the reception by the visiting fans one would expect but that seemed to serve to suggest he was more dangerous than he was and while no one especially enjoys hearing themselves abuse the look on Colbeck’s face as he banged a cross into the middle which was attacked by nobody looked more like distraction than upset.

If a winger putting in crosses for no one makes a wonderfully illustrative example of the game then City’s striker with no crosses seems to make another. James Hanson – at times – seems to never lose a ball in the air and one wonders what he could have done with the type of accurate crossing that Colbeck could do, and that the likes of Nick Summerbee and Peter Beagrie did.

Colbeck’s time at City – and his time since he left and the schadenfreude some City fans seemed to follow it with – sends my mind back sprawling to that first game on the 15th of May 1981 and how football has changed since then. Thirty years allows a guy the chance to reflect and that reflection is in the level of hope which used to be the currency and how that has been replaced with an unsavoury expectation.

Reading articles about the Bantams last decade you often read the phrase “ten years of failure” and while this is true from the prevalent point of view that anything other than promotion is failure but watching this last decade they were no different to many of the two which proceeded it.

Consider – if you will – the 1996/97 season of Chris Waddle and Edinho where relegation was avoided on the final day of the season. What we had that year was built on the next. That season of struggle Chris Kamara signed players like Robbie Blake and Jon Dreyer who were on the pitch two years later at Wolves when the Bantams were promoted to the Premiership.

No one ever said that finishing 21st was a roaring success that season but no one ever lambasted all involved as failures either and after that season lessons were learnt that drew a line directly to the successes which followed.

At some point after that failure started to describe anything which not success – this is semantics – and the rhetoric is that the club and supporters demand the best and should have high aims lest they achieve nothing but the practical upshot of throwing the word failure at anything which has not been promotion over the last decade is that Bradford City systematically rip the club apart over the course of every summer, throw things in the air and see where they land.

Failure – finding it wherever it can be hinted at – is the obsession of the current football mindset from top to bottom to such an extent that progress along the path to success is talked of as being it. Those who run football clubs need to be strong and need to stress that if the right things are being done then those things will not be changed because they have not come to fruition yet.

Are Bradford City at present on this path? You will judge for yourself on that, dear reader, just as you will also have a view on the merits and effectiveness of addressing the “failures” of Colin Todd, or Stuart McCall, and how the attempts to deal with those so called “failures” have brought us to the position we are in now.

Would City have been any worse if Colbeck – squarely presented as a problem and the cause of failure – had remained at the club? Would the last few years have been so different had Danny Forrest been up front? Has the season on season change of right backs produced a player more effective than Gareth Edds or has it just given us a series of different players?

Different players who have the same problems and ultimately exit in the same way and we – as a club and as supporters – relinquish our responsibly for the impact of that. The justification for replacing players is that those players seldom go on to a higher level following their time at the club as if the confidence lost, the access to a better standard of coaching lost, the experience of playing league football lost has no impact on the (lack of) progression of those players.

Joe Colbeck wanders up and down the Hereford United wing on one side, Gareth Evans on the City wing on the other, both look like players who seem on the edge of dropping out of professional football not because they are not useful, or skilled, or have potential but just to appease a desire to smash up what is there in the name of not tolerating failure but with the effect of not allowing building.

I think back to Robbie Blake and his goal at Wolves in another final away game of the season and how many times – had the current attitude in football been the way of thinking then – he would have been bounced out of Valley Parade rather than being allowed to be a part of a team which matured.

In thirty years between two games with Hereford United expectation has overcome hope. Everything about Bradford City is about the expectation that better can be demanded. It used to be that better was hoped for, but if that hope failed then it was renewed over the summer. This is only important because in the times of hope, rather than expectations, things improved more often.

What do we have in the summer? Hope or expectation? Or neither?

Peter Jackson took his Bradford City team to Hereford United looking for a point to keep League Two status secure – a modest return – and Hereford’s Jamie Pitman had the same aim which once results started to fall into place bound the teams to a defensive display a little less. Both ended the day safe from relegation with Barnet’s defeat seeing them battle Lincoln City to stay in the division. Stockport County were relegated.

Ultimately – at Edgar Street – James Hanson proved too much of a handful for home defender Stefan Stam and after he was fouled Jake Speight scored a penalty with ten minutes on the clock. Stuart Fleetwood equalised a few minutes later with a great free kick. That shot was the home side’s only attempt on target of the afternoon but it was the draw that everyone seemed happy with.

For the summer though who can tell. Over the last thirty years – and specifically the last decade or so – football’s expectation level has outstripped its ability to bring enjoyment in a great many ways. Supporting was its own reward, but now all rewards are delayed until there is a manifestation of success. Goals are cheered, wins are welcomed, promotions are celebrated but anything other than those things – and including the build up to those things – are drawn out grimly.

Football League safety is assure and the summer yawns out ahead with its own troubles and with that the idea that the unifying mood in August will be one of hope seems very, very far away and utterly old fashioned.

Another chance to end the season that did not start

Watching Nottingham Forest sneak into sixth place in the Championship at the expense of Leeds United it was remarked that one might not have predicted Forest would do so well after their defeat to Bradford City in the second game of the season.

That evening David Syers’ debut goal and an extra time strike from James Hanson gave City a 2-1 win and seemed to kick start a season which promised much. That early indication was as close as the club got to the season starting in earnest and some eight months on as City fans watch a team struggle with relegation one feels a little robbed of a year of football.

Not that we expected much from the season – Mark Lawn and the rest of the Valley Parade board did to such an extent where The City Gent’s Mike Harrison was hauled over the coals for predicting that the Bantams would be finish a place outside the play offs. Mike was – it seems – right that we would not be in the top seven.

One might wonder though what impact the predictions and preferences of supporters have on a football club. There was a school of thought – helped by the financial mechanics of the bookmaking industry – that City would be favourites this season which went alongside the predictions for Harrison (and from myself, for I was no more confident) and all these are set against a near constant stream of negativity which is tied to the club like a stone around the leg of a drowning man.

On that subject one can only look in envy at groups of supporters who realise the impact they can have on their team. City fans – it seems – have long since made a choice that the players are very much on their own and as the Bantams look for three points to end the season without relegation they do so alone.

Luke Oliver – a target for abuse regardless of his performances – sneered at City fans singing to him and his team mates that they were not fit to wear the shirt over at Accrington and will have gone into the dressing room to hear Peter Jackson agreeing but nothing in the club invites Oliver or his team mates passions.

One year contracts that make sure your future and the club’s are not tied together, abuse from supporters on the days you flog your guts out, and talk of the club not even starting next season.

For sure any professional pride you have might mean you want to win, but on the days when your opposition have the same professional pride and a crowd who want them to do well, who encourage them and who try lift them, playing for a manager who lives and breaths the club then one wonders what we want the mercenaries who we gather together every summer to care about?

Assuming the current crop of players – those who are “encouraged on” by being told they represent the worst Bradford City team in forty years – can steal three points in the next three games then the club – assuming that it can struggle into next season without the self inflicted wounds of administration – then let they be the last who are so poorly assembled.

My belief is that players are much of a muchness at this level and that the current set will be replaced by players no better, no worse, but that it is up to a club, a manager and a set of supporters to build those players into a team. The club can offer contracts of a length and a stability that encourage the players to realise that their futures are tied to the team’s performance, the manager can instil belief and desire in those players, and that supporters can – for once – decide to swallow the scream of abuse which vents their own frustration but creates or furthers the cauldron of negativity which Bradford City has become.

Or not, and we can try carry on like this.

Jon McLaughlin seems ready to return for Lenny Pidgeley in goal for the Bantams as we look to record a win over Aldershot which could end relegation fears. A defeat for Barnet at home to Oxford United and a win for the Bantams would see City safe mathematically.

Lewis Hunt will continue at right back with Luke Oliver paired with either Lee Bullock or Steve Williams should Williams have recovered from illness. Luke O’Brien will hope for a recall at left back over Robbie Threlfall.

Tommy Doherty is – we are told – fit to play but not being selected. Mark Lawn spoke about only wanting to sign players who wanted to play for Bradford City and it seems that Doherty was certainly amongst the those covered in that criticism. Not that the criticism is especially valid. Most players we approach would want to play for the club but the trick is making sure that they still want to play for Bradford City after a few months.

Instead Jon Worthington and Michael Flynn make up City’s midfield. Flynn’s efforts are seemingly the target of criticism themselves by some supporters with the idea being that since he has returned from injury he has “struggled for form” or “been rubbish” depending on your vernacular. Dropping the players who put in effort, in an attempt to get more effort, is no solution I could subscribe to.

Kevin Ellison is fit to return but will most likely be kept to the bench as David Syers and Omar Daley take the wings although there is an idea that Peter Jackson will use Daley as a second striker alongside James Hanson with Jake Speight dropping to the bench alongside Gareth Evans.

With undoubted ability – recall Northampton last season – and a willingness to work hard on many, many occasions Gareth Evans cuts a forlorn figure which perfectly represents the Bantams lack progress.

Seldom does one see a football who has so obviously had all the joy of playing football squeezed out of him.

Now we ask players like him to squeeze out just one more win, before sending them away and replacing them with the next set of hopefully to be crushed on the broken wheels that make no progress.

United 3 Disunited 0

The Team

Lenny Pidgley | Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | David Syers, Jon Worthington, Michael Flynn, Omar Daley | Jake Speight, James Hanson | Lee Bullock, Chib Chilaka, Scott Dobie

Viewed through the singular picture of the four league meetings at the Crown Ground between the two clubs since 2007, the rise of Accrington and the demise of Bradford City could not be more evident.

After the Bantams outplayed their hosts in January 2008 to triumph 2-0 and were lucky to grab a memorable 3-2 win in October the next season, Stanley achieved a deserved 2-0 victory in February 2010 and today completely outplayed their West Yorkshire counterparts in delivering a 3-0 scoreline that flattered only the visitors. Most worrying of all is how much further in opposite directions the clubs may yet go: could we end this season two divisions apart?

Towards Accrington there can only be warm appreciation and envy for what they are on the brink of achieving. That cute little club we defeated 2-0 some 39 months ago has slowly grown and grown; moving up 5th place today after crushing the Bantams. They could even yet seal automatic promotion; an incredible achievement for a club which pulls in the second-lowest average attendances in the division.

But then, from the outside, Accrington appears to be so united. As the players walked out onto the field at kick off, the hardcore Stanley Ultra supporters behind the goal unfurled homemade banners with the word ‘Believe’. They provided a passionate level of backing towards their players during the subsequent 90 minutes which – in volume and originality – defied their lowly numbers. The quality of atmosphere deserves to put 99% of fans of professional football clubs in this country – including us – to shame.

The players, superbly drilled and confident, responded to their fans with an energetic display that City simply couldn’t live with. On a dreadful playing surface, they passed the ball around with an urgency and skill that was a joy to watch. Under John Coleman – who in his 12 years in charge has improved Stanley’s league position every season – they are creative but organised. However the most telling difference between the two sides was the reaction to making mistakes.

Accrington ain’t Brazil, and their attempts to pass the ball around quickly on several occasions ended with the ball flying out of play or going to the wrong man. But not once could you hear groans from home fans – just positive support to get going again. Coasting in the second half, a mistake that allowed Omar Daley to shoot wildly wide saw an argument between two Accrington players spill over into the beginnings of a fight that saw others step in to defuse. They were 3-0 up, for goodness sake.

Such levels of passion and determination were woefully lacking in City. Whatever Stanley have been getting right, the Bantams it seems have been getting it wrong. Peter Jackson paused from walking down the touchline just before kick off to hug and shake the hands of City supporters in the main stand; like a politician canvassing for votes, all to aware of the spotlight upon him. While Coleman builds on at Accrington, City’s last three visits to the Crown Ground have seen a different manager in charge.

Who knows what Jackson’s chances are of getting the City job anymore? Results have become worse than they were under Peter Taylor and, as sympathetic as we can be over how difficult the job is with the players he’s inherited, Jackson must assume some responsibility for six defeats in eight.

Not that his players did much to help him. It took nine minutes for Accrington’s promising start to be rewarded by a goal, with Luke Joyce being allowed to run and curl a superb effort into the far corner. Seven minutes later Andrew Proctor was played through on goal and finished emphatically past Lenny Pidgley. While Accrington fans continued their positive chanting, the City following – easily the lowest in numbers of the four trips to the Crown Ground – was turning on their team.

The Bantams did at least begin to put up some fight and threatened to pull a goal back. First James Hanson prodded a tame effort at home keeper Alex Cisak; then a hard-working Omar Daley went on a jinxing run and saw his cross shot beaten out; next Robbie Threlfall free kick went narrowly over and then, after David Syers’ shot was blocked, Lewis Hunt’s long-range volley was well tipped over by Cisak.

Yet every time Accrington went forward they threatened to overrun a City defence which has been woefully inadequate all season. The third goal came after a long throw in was flicked on by Luke Oliver, and Sean McConville got free of his marker to head the ball into an empty net with Pidgely badly positioned. At least the referee put us out of our misery by blowing for half time shortly after, though the ugly barracking the players received as they filed to the dressing room by the away end was as miserable as anything we’d endured on the field.

Behind the back of our stand, an amateur football match was taking place on a different pitch during the first half and many City fans gave up on watching their team to view this one instead. As amusing as it was for a huge cheer to go up when the team in orange scored – their players raced over in celebration and waved at us – the contrast in the nature of support compared to Accrington fans hardly reflected well on us City supporters, no matter how trying the circumstances. The Accrington Ultras, observing our cheers for another match, chanted “S**t support” and it was difficult to argue.

The second half at least saw the damage restricted in scoreline, though it would be beyond even this writer’s optimistic nature to argue a degree of pride was restored. Lee Bullock came on for the ill Steve Williams; later on Chib Chilaka replaced Hanson but failed to make any impact. Daley’s effort that prompted the two Accrington players to fall out aside, there were no serious attempts on goal from City. Accrington had chances to make it four or even five nil and didn’t let up all afternoon.

We could put this debacle down to players not caring about the club. We can bemoan the manager as not being good enough. We can take solace in the fact many of these underachieving professionals won’t be at the club much longer. But in many ways this is failing to grasp hold of the problem and will most likely lead to repeats of these failures.

Sure some of the players were found wanting in their effort levels today, but not all of them. And the fear is that we didn’t just lose 3-0 because our players didn’t match Accrington for effort, but that we lost 3-0 because the ability of our players is that far behind.

Barnet’s surprise win over Gillingham is troubling, and for City the priority is to get that one more victory from the last three games needed to ensure survival. But after the dust settles and thoughts turn to next season it would be nonsense – even before we contemplate potential point deductions – to expect a promotion push.

This club is so far behind where we think we should be, and there will be no quick fixes. Right now it seems there are too many divides between the Board/Management/Players/Supporters and somehow we need to truly pull together and rebuild ourselves into a united club we can be proud of.

Someone like Accrington. Walking back to the car, my friend wearing a City shirt, we received non-stop taunts of 3-0 from young kids, while their parents talked excitedly about the play offs. Meanwhile The Accrington Ultras were still in full voice, marching out the home end playing the drum and chanting about their love for Stanley.

It all looked like a lot of fun. Perhaps one day we can fall back in love with our club too.

Lawn returns to Accrington and revisits the idea of putting Bradford City into administration

The last time Mark Lawn went to Accrington Stanley he left with his car vandalised and spent the weekend threatening to wind Bradford City up by withdrawing the loan he has made to the club. This time as Lawn heads for the Crown Ground he talks about moving City away from Valley Parade.

Speaking to the T&A Lawn confirmed what BfB reported yesterday that the club had opened talks with the Football League about what they were calling a last-ditch scenario of leaving VP to move to Odsal. One would assume that this would mean refusing to pay the Landlords of Valley Parade and the clubs offices and being open to and expecting either to both to pursue the club for being in breach leading to the club seeking a third spell in administration for protection from the creditors.

The phrase “administration as a formality” has been used before at Valley Parade by Julian Rhodes in 2004 as he looked to et the club from Gordon Gibb who voted in the CVA for Bradford City to die rather than end up in the hands of his former boardroom rival. That time City came as close as can be to going out of business as could be imagined – Ashley Ward made the casting vote – so I treat the idea of a strategic administration with scepticism.

As should Julian Rhodes. My understanding of the Football League rules about who can and cannot be involved in running a football club have it that having been involved in “multiple insolvency” evenings he would not be involved in the business of Bradford City 2011 in an official capacity.

He could buy a season ticket though – many of us have – but where that season ticket will see us sit is something which should what Mark Lawn is talking about come about will change. One wonders what consideration has been taken over this from Bradford City. Fans who are happy enough to go to Odsal might not be happy to move from seats they have occupied for over a decade and will but upset but there are supporters who do not want to go to Odsal and will be knocking on the door of Valley Parade demanding their money back.

How many of the Bradford City supporters who have season tickets now will still follow the club to Odsal? We might guess at a percentage and we might curse those who do not want to but unless someone has a figure as to how the impact of moving on supporters then should this move be considered? Has anyone at Valley Parade taken the temperature of supporters about moving from Valley Parade? Does anyone know what the supporters want?

What about the club’s business partners? Our understanding of the deal which sees Nike replace Surridge as the club’s shirt supplier will see Nike take over the club shop which is a part of the offices which City are talking about defaulting on the rent of. How secure is this deal? How transferable? Has the most iconic brand on the planet been told it will be backing a club with a level of support which no one – at the moment – could even have an educated guess at?

What about other businesses which have backed City? Are they going to be left out of pocket again by administration? Have they been warned?

Ross Hannah and Michael Rankine are non-league strikers rumoured to be in talks with City. Back in 2002 Nicky Law had agreed a deal to sign Thomas Hitzlsperger and – from Grimsby – Michael Boulding but those deals died in administration. If Hannah or Rankine were to pick up the T&A today what confidence could they have in those deals coming to fruition (let alone that the man they are talking to at the club will be there next season).

What about Mark Lawn’s loans? If City go into administration and then Lawn becomes a creditor. £2m worth of loans represents a significant vote for whatever is on the table in terms of a CVA but after a CVA has been accepted those loans are gone. Is Lawn prepared to write off the loan he considered withdrawing fifteen months ago as he drove away from Accrington?

One would love to suggest that Lawn is bluffing or that he is firing shots across Gordon Gibb’s bow to try get him to the negotiation table and see City emerge with the best deal but one cannot guarantee that. The club are talking to the Football League about how to make leaving Valley Parade work. It might not be the idea that you or I, dear reader, would have chosen but it seems to the the prevalent idea.

The diary of not watching football

Roger Owen took a break from writing what will no doubt be lengthy programme notes on the Referee who last took charge of a City home game – more on that later – to tell City fans and those who would come up from Hereford for the game at the weekend that the club are doing everything they can to get the game on.

Indeed Owen’s notes to the website are full of the sort of information which pre-empts the demands of football fans after a game is called off. When looking at the clear piece of driveway in BD14 which my car is parked on I could suggest that it should be easy to host a football match and it would, but the approaching roads.

So Owen strikes a note of justified caution, but hopes to get a game on. Back in December 2003 when City’s game with Crystal Palace at Valley Parade was called off the club nearly went out of business not for the want of a long term strategy or plan but for the need of short term cash flow. Julian Rhodes and Gordon Gibb had to find around half a million pounds to pay the wages and it is said by those who say such a thing that the demands one placed on the other was the fracture of that relationship.

Fractured relationships seem to be the order of the day at Valley Parade. Zesh Rehman and Peter Taylor have seen their relationship fractured and it would be remiss of me at this point to not recall a comment made at the start of the season about the pair.

The judgement of Taylor’s job at Bradford City would be in what he could get out Zesh Rehman – so I said – because in the player City have a footballer with enough talent to convince many to sign him (an a talent which has been demonstrated at City any number of times) but and approach and attitude which wavers.

“An inconstant performer” would seem to sum it up and should Taylor get a player like Zesh Rehman playing more good games than bad then – using Rehman as a sample of the squad – City would no doubt be doing very well.

We are not and Taylor seems set to wash his hands of the player seemingly ready to say that he is not able to get the performances out of him which other managers have. That is a disappointment for all, and a worrying thing from a manager.

Taylor’s relationship with Jake Speight – currently on loan at Port Vale – showed signs of cracks when the player went to prison and when he criticised Taylor’s methods for not including enough fitness training.

Speight was not – unlike Rehman – transfer listed for his outburst which seemed more critical than Rehman’s which was questioning. However letting it be known that player who is on loan is not wanted is no way to run a business and perhaps if the veneer of a business front was wiped away the striker would be just as on his way out as the defender.

These thoughts play in the mind in the weeks after abandoned games. City’s trip to Aldershot was shelved and the club had a blank week owing to an early FA Cup exit leaving Accrington Stanley at home as the last time the Bantams took to the field.

BfB has it from “a good source” (which is not Wikileaks, or Wookieeleaks, and is worth trusting) that following that game Referee Tony Bates rang John Coleman that Accrington Stanley manager and apologised for costing his club the game. On an evening of elbows, pitch invasions and an official who could not bring himself to give the decisions laid out in the laws of the game Mr Bates feels that he should talk for sure but not to apologise to us paying supporters who watched him make a mockery or a match but to the manager who (one assumes) was behind that pantomime football.

Which sums the arrogance of Referees up to a tee. Supporters are but cattle, and are treated with a lack of respect which means that we are not even afforded the decency of an apology after the official feels he has put in a poor performance although apologies are offered even if those apologies would provoke incredulity.

Nevertheless Roger Owen is not known to keep his attitudes about officials and Bradford City to himself – we all recall his reaction to the 3-0 defeat at Carlisle United – and so one can assume that he has spent the last three weeks preparing his thoughts. Certainly it would be interesting to know what City think of the fact that had Mr Bates had not felt he erred that night that the Bantams would have lost the game.

Losing games slipped back into City’s habits, especially at home. Peter Taylor’s side have lost four at home which is twice the number Stuart McCall’s side which finished 9th two season ago ended the season on and a look at last year’s table suggests that over a half dozen home defeats is probative to promotion, to say nothing of season ticket sales.

Taylor’s cause is not helped by a significant injury list which the manager hopes will ease when Shane Duff and Lewis Hunt return to fitness for the Christmas period.

Hunty should be joining in at the end of the week. To me, he’s going to be a couple of weeks after that, which is good news.

“Hunty.” One recalls Roger Owen paying for suits and making a big play of increased professionalism at Valley Parade and I’m not sure how that fits in with one playing being transfer listed for saying he thinks he should be in the side over a player that the manager refers to by nickname. “Hunty”, still, could have been worse.

Should the game go ahead then City are expected to field Lenny Pidgeley in goal. Richard Eckersley at right back, Rob Kiernan and Luke Oliver at centreback, Luke O’Brien at left back. Tommy Doherty and David Syers in the midfield with Lee Hendrie on the left and perhaps Leon Osbourne on the right although Omar Daley is at times deployed there. Daley or Jason Price in the forward line with James Hanson.

A good laugh about bad refs

Having watched a Referee try restart a football match unaware that a player was receiving treatment in the penalty area on Tuesday night I had some sympathy for Anthony Bates, the man in black as City played Accrington Stanley on Tuesday night.

Bates might have got some calls wrong on the evening and lacked an authority, but his job was made a much harder by what seemed to be a campaign of gamesmanship by the visiting team. That the Accrington staff were sneaking onto the field to delay the game is something that Bates should have dealt with, but the fault lays more with the Physiotherapist in question then the man who could not curtail his actions. Bates might not have showered himself in glory, but his job was made harder and we should all recognise that.

Nevertheless, and utterly predictably, BfB was contacted by a Referee from Bradford complaining about what he saw as (para) “another one dimensional article having a go at Referees.” And there was me thinking my articles were one dimensional defences of Stuart McCall, another dimension and I might have started looking at things from multiple angles.

(A note here on comments. If a comment starts with the name of the writer and then goes on to talk directly to the writer it is treated as an email and not a comment for the public to read. The writer may choose to reply by mail or may not. Comments for publication need to be relevant to the readers, not just the writer.)

Joking aside the Referee in question got in touch with BfB and gave some “corrections” to my opinions – often dealings with referees send my mind back to being at school – on the basis of the BBC highlights he had seen. Watching the BBC clips made it clear – I was told – that I “haven’t a clue.”

I paused for a moment to consider the idea who would say that having watched a football match live your view on it would be less valid than someone who watched the highlights.

Opinions are great, especially those that come from experts, but frequently the tone of communications from Referees is troublingly authoritarian. The phrase “I’m a Referee and this is what happened…” features often as if those of us who have spent decades watching the game were incapable of making a judgement on incidents. There is a high-handedness in Refereeing which does them, and the rest of football, no favours at all.

Scotland, where the Referees roam wild

This weekend the SPL games are – it is hoped – to be refereed by guest officials from foreign leagues after the home Refs declared a strike in a demand for more respect. The Scots situation is unique in world of football – any other place where such raw religious fundamentalism is allowed to go unchecked is usually associated with a deadly numeric – but as Celtic manager Neil Lennon turned on the officials after the now infamous game with Dundee United he did so in full knowledge that as the manager of one of the teams involved he would not be invited to any sort of dialogue with the man in the middle.

Of course one might wonder how much managers would welcome increased contact with Referees, and how they would respond to it. A Premier League experiment with increasing officials communication back in 2003 reached a point where after a game with Manchester United the then Southampton boss Gordon Strachan accused the Referee of being too scared to show his face.

Strachan’s reach neatly deflected some attention away from his team’s defeat for sure but the damage done in the press seemed to end the experiment. These days referees are making their decision in a sea of analysis and their voice is unrepresented in that conversation.

Respect the rules I lay down, the system say, and question nothing. Default respect without communication is something that some can give and other cannot, I know I am in the latter group.

The structure of football demands respect for the Referee and largely is right to do so but seemingly there is a need for this respect to be granted and never earned. The Referee wants your respect but he will not address you in the same manner.

All of which is a great shame. Referees are experts and they have interesting and fascinating opinions on football and they are people with emotions who want to do a good job. Yet the FA would rather we did not know this. The Referee is famously silent after a game and the report which he submits on that match is not available to the paying public.

Anthony Bates was no doubt not happy with his performance and furious with the gamesmanship which made it harder for him, but having watched the game one would not know it. I would like to read his views on the handball, on the elbow, on the pitch invasions; but in the most autocratic way the game offers I am not able to.

As a supporter I’m expected to pay my money, accept the Refereeing I get and shut up about it. And so are you.

I believe that it would advance the cause of Refereeing to allow the man in black to have his say. To humanise the guy with the whistle who might say after a game that yes, he has seen something again and thinks he got it wrong but he made his decision at the time and while people might not agree then at least they would understand.

We shall not, dear reader, at this point talk about the less then glorious history of bias in refereeing which is proven – only four years ago Juventus were relegated for fixing games using “favourable referees” – and concentrate on the officials trying to do a good job in difficult circumstances. I would love to read Bates’s views on the Accrington antics, but I’m not going to get to, so I give him the benefit of the doubt and say that his job was made harder. For all I know he might have thought that there was nothing going wrong.

The high-handedness though continues.

There was no complaint from the defence and City scored. Move on! I realise that ref baiting is a national if not world sport, but your reports are becoming unnecessarily one dimensional Michael – A Referee Speaks.

Moving aside from the fact that there was complaint from the defence – although that did not show up on the highlights – and to the idea that Referees feel that they are part of a jokey “national sport” as if the mistakes they make are only highlighted as a part of a comedic campaign and because the losing team is upset at the result. It is not the case that the only reason that Sir Bobby Robson’s England were upset about the Maradona handball is because they did not win the game.

It is judged to be a good laugh and “part of football” that the quality of refereeing is often so low that supporters are left complaining about games being ruined is not a reason to continue it.

Over the ten years of BfB the same theme has come from Referees both in my postbag and in the wider press that any complaints are the result of disgruntlement on behalf of fans and that moaning about officials is something which as part of the “fabric of football” is some how enjoyable. It is not, bad refereeing is like a poor pitch, it gets in the way of the game and should be rolled out.

So now then

It is the “Move on!” comment though which strikes me as insidious. Anthony Bates allowed a situation where gamesmanship ruined a football match and rather than recognising that we are to “move on”? Ignore the faults, protect the weak Referees and, in doing so, harm the game.

Protectionism that keeps weak referees close and protects them, stopping them from improving and inflicting them on paying football supporters later is disgraceful and people involved in carrying it on should be ashamed.

There is no good laugh about bad referees.

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