Strikers / Trajectory

There are many reasons, dear reader, as to why Bradford City are struggling to sign a striker following a two goalless draws one of which resulted in a penalty shoot out defeat to Accrington Stanley and what I am going to do is add a reason to the list.

Understand that I’m suggesting that this is a part of a nexus of a causal events that are conspiring to bring about an outcome and not the single and sole reason for Stuart McCall’s struggle to get a number nine who can put the ball in the onion bag.

It has to do with Japan, Andy Cooke, and West Bromwich in Birmingham.

1996

There is a temptation for anyone recalling the past to see it as halcyon. I am forty three years old next week and that means I’m old enough – just about – to remember that twenty years ago people were saying that things where better twenty years ago and to have lived through both time periods.

But I do recall that the character of football in 1996 differed from the current game in many ways but specifically in this one: Player used to decline.

Which is to say that one could watch a player on Match of the Day in the First Division for a few years of his career and when he lost a yard of pace or a touch of sharpness one could be sure that one would be seeing him at a lower league ground soon.

It was the natural order of things. Bradford City – like many clubs – number some players who declined from the top league to the grace of a good career lower down amongst their iconic figures. The top flight was done with Peter Beagrie when he came to Valley Parade, it was done with Trevor Cherry, it was done with Roy McFarland.

There was a steady stream of players who would have had a good career at the top level and would take a few stop offs down the leagues before they went to the job as a landlord/raconteur at some local boozer back near the ground where they were most fondly remembered.

2007

When Andy Cooke signed for Bradford City under Colin Todd he joined the club for a Korean side having had a few months in the Far East and got home sick. Cooke was a decent enough worker although he would not have been an answer to anyone’s goalscoring problems but he did show an interesting route a football could take.

Way batter yourself around Bristol Rover and Burton when Busan I’Cons will give you a year living somewhere exotic. Cooke was last seen playing for Market Drayton Town and one wonders if he might have thought that Busan to Bradford was not the best move he ever made.

Jay Bothroyd came through the Arsenal youth system and played for Coventry City in the top division and as he declined it became clear his career was a slow decline. Bothroyd handled that decline differently to most and cut a path that is increasingly common.

When QPR had done with him and the contracts on the table would have seen him schlepping around League One and Two he upped sticks and moved on to Thailand and Muangthong United and then to Júbilo Iwata in J2. He was J2 top scorer and got a promotion to J1.

Rather than opting to struggle in League One and Two Bothroyd went to someone else’s top flight. A modern football does not need the last pay day as was the mark of many a footballer. They can go where they going is good?

Or not.

2014

Rickie Lambert got his dream move to his boyhood club Liverpool and he got to play for England in what was an unexpected Indian Summer to his career aged 32. Liverpool moved him on to West Brom a year later and if Lambert was not already set up for life following his Bristol Rovers and Southampton career he was after a year going into an out of Anfield.

Lambert is currently at West Brom but played only eighteen games last season scoring once. I’d suggest that he is the type of player who twenty years ago would have been keen to not run down his contract at The Hawthornes and see what happened after knowing he had the comfort of a near limitless financial cushion but would have been telling his manager today that he wanted to find a club lower down to give him a three year deal to secure him a decent future.

Lambert is atypical in the Premier League in having played in the lower divisions of English football. I do not wish to cast aspersions on Lambert’s Baggy team mate José Salomón Rondón but there seems to be no future in which Rondón joined Walsall after four good years at Albion but accepting his yard of pace has gone.

Indeed it seems that when a Premier League player begins to decline rather than accepting a deterioration in contract terms lower down the league they head for the money of China, or Dubai, or somewhere else that allows you to fail upwards.

2016

It is not the sole reason that Stuart McCall struggles to find a striker but football – at the moment – has a supply problem. Players do not have the career trajectories they once had and do not end up coming to a Valley Parade aged thirty plus looking for a solid three year deal to secure their futures.

The scarcity of that sort of player makes other good strikers – the Rickie Lamberts on the way up – harder to come by and McCall, like many managers, is looking for scraps.

One Michael Symes

It was in an 8-1 win where I became unimpressed with Michael Symes.

The forward – who returns to Valley Parade on Saturday and has talked about the frustrations he felt at City under Colin Todd who “messed with his head” – was paired in the forward line with Dean Windass in the opening match of pre-season at Farsley Celtic.

Symes scored one, Liam Flynn scored one, Windass got six.

That was impressive about Windass’s doubt hat-trick was the simplicity of the goals he scored. Each one he controlled the ball taking a touch to give him time, aimed for an area of the goal where the keeper was not and placed the ball. He did the same in the Premiership against David Seaman once. Dean was impressive like that.

Symes – on the other hand – fumbled and flustered during the game scrambling home his goal not never showing the composure that hinted he would be the partner for Windass we sought so badly. It is interesting to note that any number of players claim that Colin Todd should have partnered them with Windass during their times at City – Steve Claridge was very vocal on the subject – but for all the talk of Symes, Claridge, Joe Brown who was preferred to Symes at times it was Andy Cooke who did the most to earn the chance.

One wonders what Cooke – who retired in 2008 – thinks of the players so ready to suggest that they deserved his place in the side. Cooke work rate was there for all to see at Valley Parade and his rare goals were celebrated with an added gusto. Symes, on the other hand, was taken off in a game on New Years Day after 38 minutes once cause – well – he just did not look sufficiently interested.

Symes wanted to start games – who wouldn’t? – but as with the talk of Rory Boulding this week did he do enough to merit the chance over Brown or Cooke?

None of which is to suggest that the Stanley man – who the fans rate so high as to suggest he will be sold in the transfer window to balance the books – has not learnt from his experiences at Valley Parade or that his insights are not relevant and interesting just that as City slid down the leagues we left behind us a trail of players who are all too ready to suggest that if things had been done differently – normally including them – that slide could have been halted. This attitude reached its apotheosis at the end of last season when quality players spend three months looking at year other with blame rather than take on responsibility.

Responsibility for performance being one of the key parts of the current City team which while it idles in mid-table is considerably more enjoyable to watch than the teams that Symes featured in.

It is a difference worth appreciating.

Where were you when the lights came on?

I love a good goal and Andrew Cooke’s 89th minute strike was certainly that.

Not the goal itself – although anyone man who hits a two yarder that hard is getting something out of his system – but the timing of it which was so apt coming as it did seconds after the words “We could play all day and never score” floated from forward right of me at Valley Parade.

Up to Cooke’s goal it was a traditional Saturday afternoon at the moaning and abuse factory and no one was spared the verbal barbs until the moment Windass rounded Tony Bullock and Cooke Ahabed it into the goal.

Then – and for a moment – the lights lit at Valley Parade in recognition for a player who has put in a few months of hard work with no reward. The uncorking of frustration sent a bolt of energy raising the support to it’s feet and for a moment everyone in Valley Parade – those from Kent excluded – experienced the same emotion.

And there was a real unity which I had forgotten the taste of.

If that moment could be distilled – could be bottled and brought out for a pre-game sup – then who knows what could happen on the field. For sure the atmosphere would improve at Valley Parade and we might get some of those needed thousands to avoid the third and final administration through the turnstiles.

The kids started up a round of appreciation for Cooke – “when he gets the ball he scores a goal” – and the moaners were silenced. Mr. “Never-score-if-we-played-all-day” immediately got onto his mobile to ring The Times to take out a full page advertisement apologising for his doom ladden and incorrect statements and committing himself to the power of positive thinking.

Perhaps not. One wonders what someone who dooms says for ninety minutes a week feels at such a moment? Do they crave validity so much they regret it’s happening? One wonders what if the erstwhile moaner feels excluded from the celebrations.

Of course they have the right – they love to tell us that they have the right – to say what they want and they will say it as loud as they like but the words can jam in their throats and they can be sure that those who kept the faith – a side in sixth place in the league has good reason to have faith – enjoyed Cooke’s goal a good deal more.

They have the right to say what they want but – when the lights come on as they did at 16:44 at Valley Parade – others have the right to thumb their noses in delight and so they did.

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