The game that was never going to be

This is not easy for me to say, but for once I actually support something the Football League have said. Worse still, I have to say that I don’t think that the club I have supported through thick and thin (mainly thin) for the better part of fifty years has given sufficient thought to its fans. I can get out of the second difficulty by blaming the ref. That usually works in any event. But the evidence also points to the club and I can’t ignore it.

Back on 6th January, under a heading ‘It’s Snow Joke for Travelling Fans’, the Football League said ‘It is important that clubs do everything they can to prevent supporters making wasted journeys to postponed fixtures.’ The League’s guidance was perhaps primarily intended to meet the needs of away fans, but even in the fourth division some home supporters travel quite a distance. Especially when your home ground is so near to The Pennines, a club must expect a number of fans to have to encounter steep hills in even local journeys.

The postponement of the Darlington game was announced somewhere after 6.20, less than an hour and a half before kick off. I say ‘announced’ because I saw it on Sky Sports News. Sky, of course, were on the spot, ready for a live broadcast. The club website a few minutes later still said nothing more than a further inspection would be held at 6.00 and that team news would be posted at 7.15.

As it happens, my decision had already been made. Even on a fine midweek evening I have to set off no later than 5.30 for a 7.45 kick off. Kind friends who live much nearer were sending weather updates from early morning. I was checking forecasts on the internet – wonderful tool, isn’t it? – and by 10.30, once I’d read that the club wanted volunteers to shovel snow, I’d sent an e mail to my mates saying this would be wasted effort, since the forecast for Bradford was heavy snow by 6.00 p.m. and for the rest of the night. Whichever site I looked at for the next few hours, I got the same message. I mention that specifically because the Football League guidance does indeed allow for ‘the unpredictability of the British weather’ and the prospect of late postponements.

This weather was entirely predicted. Whichever internet weather forecast you used, they all said the same. City, I gather, have two supporters who are actually weather forecasters for television stations of the terrestrial type. Maybe somebody should have asked them! But, whoever it was the ref consulted, Mr D’Urso explained in a pitch side interview that he had been told there would be a small amount of snow before 6.00 and then nothing until 10.00. With the customary vision some of us expect from referees, I could do a better job from 75 miles away!

What troubles me about the whole business is the lateness of the decision compared with several other matches, not due to be played for a further 24 hours, where postponements were announced hours earlier. None of these other games was due to be televised, but I’m sure that’s purely coincidental. One of my informants tells me that Mark Lawn was heard on local radio as late as 4.35 asking for more volunteers. Was that a live request or a pre-recorded interview that should never have been repeated at that time of day?

The whole affair smacks of insufficient regard for travelling fans. It ignores the fact that those fans have to get back home from a game scheduled to end at 9.40 or so and that, even on the ref’s laughable version of a weather forecast, by that time there would be heavy snow. Or perhaps the Football League’s guidance is meant only to prevent wasted journeys to games and does not take into account return trips. I do hope not. At this time of year it is often the return journey that is the more hazardous.

The Darlington game will have to be re-arranged, of course. It may well be that Sky will try again next time and the income will not be lost to the club. Whether it is or not, if Bradford City really wants to be seen to care about football’s fans, wherever they are travelling from and whichever side they are supporting, they will have the chance to sell tickets at no more than £10 a head to all fans. Those of us with our season tickets will gain nothing personally, but the club will gain the respect of thousands, especially those who do not live within easy travelling distance of Valley Parade.

Lies, damned lies, statistics and Bradford City

Wasn’t it Paul Jewell who said ‘There are lies, damned lies, statistics and Bradford City’? Oh no, it was something else that Jagger said. Back to that in a minute. No, according to Mark Twain it was Benjamin Disraeli who made that comment – or at least he would have done if he had still been alive back in 1903.

But have a look at the official club website and you’ll see some quite alarming statistics from Saturday’s game. They say, for example, that City, starting a home game as second in the league, had just 29% of the possession, had just half of the number of shots on target as the Daggers and won 4 corners as against their opponents’ 13. Those are the kind of statistics that don’t lie.

At least now I know why the manager keeps his hair as long as it always has been. It’s so that nobody realises how much of it he tears out whenever we gave the ball away – which happened roughly every thirty seconds yesterday. He will soon be as follicularly challenged as the rest of us, especially when we concede possession about 25 yards from our own goal.

Personally, I wouldn’t have minded the Daggers’ corner count being 14, if the extra one had been the ball TJ could just have knocked out of play instead of letting it be put back across the face of Evans’ goal, thereby setting up the equalizer. But come on, be fair to Evans. He’d kept us in it and there was very little he could have done to prevent that goal.

Of course, what the statistics don’t tell you is that, for all that City were outplayed up and down the pitch, there was only one team who were ever going to score that opening goal. I don’t suggest it was fated or anything like that. What I mean is that it took a passing team, operating at pace and a real quality goal scorer to create and score a goal like that. We’ve done it before – Rochdale comes to mind – and we’ll do it again this season. There are ways of soaking up pressure and still scoring goals and we seem to have some of the best ways. They’re called Boulding and Thorne.

Even allowing for the justice in the equalizer, City could have lost the point gained. Apart from the referee, who else thought it wasn’t a penalty? And what about the reaction of the Dagenham players? The last time I saw that sort of scrum round the ref was when Andy D’Urso had the temerity to award a penalty against the home team at Old Trafford and Roy Keane’ eyeballs were several inches away from the sockets. Wasn’t that exactly what the Respect campaign was all about? So how come not a single yellow card resulted from the cavalry charge?

Ah yes, that was what Paul Jewell said. After the recent Derby game against Nottingham Forest he gave the referee 100% in his report card, because he wanted to see if anyone actually read the numbers awarded by the managers. That was the game where the ref gave a penalty for a handball that wasn’t, where quite literally a one second pause would have solved everything, that being the time it took for Derby to put the ball in the net. The penalty was saved and even the second time Derby put the ball in the net the ref found a push, although he couldn’t say by which Derby player. Replays showed two or three from Forest, none from Derby.

And why was I reminded of Paul Jewell? Easy really. That Derby ref was none other that Mr Atwell, he of the phantom goal in the Watford and Reading game and he of the non-penalty and no respect at Valley Parade yesterday. (I gather Derm Tanner’s substitute on Bantams World needed the prompting of John Hendrie to point out that this was the phantom goal ref. Still, given that he also insisted that the cross for Boulding’s goal came from Jones, maybe he could give up the day job and become a linesman.)

I just wondered how a Premiership ref couldn’t book anyone for that confrontation. Then I thought of the absolute howlers he’s made already this season, each of which has cost points for different teams and, for Aidy Boothroyd, a slap on the wrist for his reaction. But yesterday there were no TV cameras, save for the highlights package which will never show the incident. Or maybe Mr Atwell finally figured that, when you have just dug that hole a little deeper, there really must come a time to stop digging. I could almost wish for the return of Graham Poll.

Well, almost.

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