Incommensurable / McCall

Officially announced new Bradford City manager Stuart McCall needs no introduction at Valley Parade and so let us not waste words with them.

And let us waste no time heaping praise on his playing career at City, at the FA Cup Final, at the World Cup, at Rangers. We know it was good, and he knows that we know it was good. We’ve been here before. Stuart McCall does not start his time at Bradford City ab ovo.

By appointing McCall Edin Rahic has joined a story en media res. The new City manager is the old City manager and in some ways he begins exactly at the point where he left the field having lost 1-0 to Bury in February 2010. The League Cup final, promotion at Wembley, Chelsea, Sunderland et al become a separate timeline that ended at Millwall and Phil Parkinson’s last game.

Rather than nothing being known about the new manager, everything is, and that brings with it a collection of nervousness about known quantities. Uwe Rösler would have brought with him questions, not so McCall.

With McCall we have answers on past behaviour, or at least we think we do, and the gnarling feeling in one’s stomach is the acceptance of that. It is the feeling of knowing what your birthday presents are.

McCall has been at Rangers, has been at Motherwell, and has been at Scotland and those qualifications need to disavow the most embarrassing of the criticism of him in the past – that he was “not a proper manager” – but from those experiences McCall needs to have learnt much to correct that course that he was on when he walked off the pitch after the Bury game five years ago.

Things that went wrong have to be put right in order that McCall be successful and some successful things need to be retained.

Ethic

McCall’s predecessor Phil Parkinson created teams which – through a peerless team ethic – dragged out results playing a direct game centred around not conceding goals. McCall’s Bradford City teams were in many ways the opposite of that. His teams worst characteristic was (and I exaggerate for effect) their ability to turn a poor decision about a throw in into a eight game winless run.

This is the greatest difference between the two managers. Parkinson build his team with an internal belief based on a spirit within the dressing room. There were times when this did not work and it was obvious that this did not work and times when it spectacularly did. It is impossible to imagine the McCall’s teams of 2007-2010 slowly grinding themselves back into a game at Chelsea when 2-0 down.

McCall’s teams, when they worked, were belief bubbles that players floated on. Remembering perhaps McCall’s best game – the 4-1 win over Exeter City – it was a projection of what Joe Colbeck could be to Colbeck and to the rest of the team that spurred the performance. This approach was not open to Parkinson who told the players that their achievements are the sum of their inputs rather than the fulfilment of their buoyancy.

Likewise ten minutes after Barry Conlon came on 2-0 down at Accrington Stanley the game was won 3-2 after the Irish striker caused mayhem in the penalty area. McCall cast the game plan at The Crown Ground aside in a way that Parkinson never did. When 2-0 at Chelsea (admittedly a different proposition) Parkinson’s team did not change how it played other than to play better. McCall’s ability to add a randomness to proceedings is a strength at times but was a weakness too.

Not only a weakness but a cause of weakness. When the belief is not in the dressing room and the player’s belief in each other’s abilities it is always subject to being assailed by external pressures. When Parkinson’s teams lost they looked at themselves and saw how they were good, and that how they would come good over time, but when McCall’s teams lost the looked at themselves to see all the ways they were bad.

Needless to say one hopes that the lessons McCall has learnt include an understanding of this and built it into his management philosophy.

Hope

Which leads onto a worry about losing the capacity that Bradford City under Parkinson had of being able to maintain a position within games. The term “game management” has become overused to the point of de-definition but recalling McCall’s celebrated 3-2 win at Accrington is to forget the times when games went beyond his side and they had little character to bring them back.

This is not uncommon but was uncommon under Parkinson who only rarely saw his City team more than a goal down. The ability to keep a game with grasp, even if it could not be grasped, is something that encouraged belief in the dressing room. City under Parkinson never lacked hope.

Yet so much of McCall’s managerial style was based around hopefulness (which is to say that his teams were never to be described as negative) that the nature of defeats like the 3-0 reversals to Rochdale and Accrington at Valley Parade came at a huge cost. To chase games at 1-0 down defensive responsibilities would be abandoned which would bring defeat, not victory, closer.

Those games were painful to watch in the stands and did damage to the squad. They were the counter to the sensational comeback but seemed to do more damage than those comebacks did good.

Another term used to the extent of de-defined is “stability”. It is not just manager retention, or squad retention, it is an environment in which lessons taught are understood and worked on, and improved, rather than one where behaviour patterns are random or seem to be random. McCall needs to have understood how to take the lessons from defeat but to not dwell on defeat and he needs to ensure that practise continues at City.

McCall the coach wins the praise of players for his ability to work with them but what is the point of having a coach to improve players if – as was the case – every twelve months the squad is changed drastically? Edin Rahic’s hopes of bringing in post-Academy players from top clubs seems to tie in with McCall’s skills but it will only work if there is a lengthy commitment to a stable development environment.

McCall can do this – arguably he can do it better than Parkinson – but the whole club has to be aware of the necessity of stability beyond the idea of just having the same manager standing in the middle of chaos.

Environment

Chaos perhaps being an apt description of 2007-2010 at times.

Stuart McCall created three teams at Bradford City and they can be summerised thus: The first one, the one that had a load of money thrown at it, the one that had a load of money ripped out of it; One might want to pretend against evidence that money is the governing factor in football but experience tells us otherwise.

It is rare that one finds a disharmony and successful football club. There are exceptions to this rule but more often it is accurate as it seemed to be in McCall’s first period as manager of the club.

Because there is a telling of history that is entirely manager-centric that is applied to Bradford City over the last decade. That Phil Parkinson arrived and – by virtue of his being a better manager than all who proceeded him – the club turned around.

This empowerment of the manager to the auteur of success is very common in football as it is “>in history. It speaks to something romantic in us all – that a single person can create wonders – and that romance is the hope that one such person might come and turn the fortunes around.

And the counter to that is that anyone who is a manager at a club that does not succeed has failed, rather than the failure being common or shared, as seems most often to be the case.

The reason Liverpool have not won the league since Kenny Dalglish left is because Kenny Dalglish Great Man theory says obviously untrue.

There is another view of history which would have it that Bradford City in Stuart McCall’s first time at the club was – to be frank – a mess.

This is an unpopular view and one that people are criticised for voicing. The perceived wisdom is that the club was making purposeful and direct steps back to the rude health as early as 2007 and that left it in good condition when Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp bought it. That wisdom does not correlate with what we know of the times.

You can pick your own example of this. What was going at Valley Parade when a deal was done with Royal Montegnée that brought Willy Topp to City as the first in a partnership? Did McCall want (W/B)illy and if not why did he get him? What was going on when Phil Parkinson – in the glow of the greatest FA Cup shock of all time – was seemingly forced to onto bended knee to apologise to two directors for pointing out the obvious problem with the pitch at Valley Parade?

What happened to the link up with RIASA? Was it a success or not? Why did the club employ Archie Christie to do one job and the manager Peter Jackson to do another when it would be generous to say that the two men did not work well together? Who wanted Christie at the club? Who didn’t? Why was Paddy Lacey signed on sixteen times the wage of Nahki Wells? Why did City end up paying £250,000 for a player that no one seemed to want at the club? Why was one of the chairmen serving up a spiteful fish course?

Only the most fanciful retrofit of history can call this a club pulling in the same direction.

Return, mentally, to the idea of the Bradford City squad being called in on a Sunday to play a game for a South African player that Mark Lawn had “discovered” and then having the game called off half way though and to be accused – according to then manager Peter Jackson – that they would not pass to the new “star player”.

That Jackson even let it happen, that Rhodes let it happen, that the architect of it Lawn let it happen, says so much about the state of the club at the time.

It all changed – for regrettable reasons – when Lawn took a step back and Phil Parkinson was able to take a team to Wembley. This consolidated Parkinson’s power at the club and all other directions were ignored, and retroactive considered ignored, because the idea of upsetting Parky by making him bring his team in to try out the South African lad risked too much.

And so the club had a single direction and benefited from it.

Which is what Stuart McCall needs to have learnt from his first stay at Valley Parade. When he was given a budget that required one squad to be ripped up and another build McCall should have said “no, that is not what I’m doing here. It will not bring us closer to what we want.”

If McCall is a different manager now this is how he needs to be different. He is a “legend” but that is an honourific afforded by the supporters and not the boardroom. He needs to use his legend status rightly rather than have it used to mask any number of curious goings on.

Fr example When one of the chairmen stopped talking to Stuart McCall in 2009 he should have asked supporters – publicly if he had to – just how the eight month sulk helped move Bradford City in the direction they wanted?

If a legend is not on the side of the fans he is not a legend.

A football club needs to have a single direction and everyone is adjunct to that. If the direction comes from the manager – as it did under Parkinson – then everyone at the club needs to stand behind him and anyone who does not needs to get out of the way.

If the direction comes from Edin Rahic then McCall needs to either understand that and be able to agree and support Rahic’s direction or he needed to have not taken the job.

But he has taken the job and while at the moment it is unclear as to what the shape of this new era Bradford City will be McCall, Rahic, Rupp et al need to be of one mind in this.

There is a view of the history of Stuart McCall as Bradford City manager that paints him as a capable manager in what was an increasingly dysfunctional situation. It is a view that writing BfB during the course of the years, and talking to the people involved, I subscribe to.

His capabilities are shown at Motherwell getting them into the Champions League qualifiers, the dysfunction at City was seen by Peter Taylor, and by Peter Jackson, and all the many messes which made the rise under Phil Parkinson so remarkable.

It is hard to say if that is the case and if McCall was a good manager in a bad situation, or if McCall is the failure in the Great Man theory that some say, or if it is some other history as yet untold about to shape the course of our club.

As Stuart McCall is welcomed back to Bradford City for a fourth coming we might be about to find out.

Selection / Manager

First this then what? While the history of BfB remains unwritten if I were to follow our friends at A Post in doing so there would be a large chunk of that about the process of recruiting managers.

Because while Bradford City have not had to appoint a replacement manager for some five years in the five years before the practice was becoming so common as to have started to be tedious.

The transition from Peter Jackson to Parkinson was something of a disorganised fumble with the candidates being interviewed not understanding the remit of the role they were applying for. Colin Cooper is believed to have told Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes that were he to get the job he would sack Chief Scout Archie Christie and Rhodes reply – as reported by Christie – was that Christie’s input on the manager would weigh heavily on the process.

At the time Rhodes and Lawn had wanted John Still the then Dagenham and Redbridge manager (who is now manager of Dagenham and Redbridge again) to take the position but were turned towards Parkinson as a better option.

Jackson’s appointment was a Sunday afternoon nonsense where it seemed that the club had decided that as a former player Jackson could skip an interview process for who would replace Peter Taylor and go straight to the manager’s chair,

Jackson had been working in a care home when he got the call to become a football manager once more. In my view he was barely adequate in his performance and the problems of his appointment were those of his departure. No matter how Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp go about recruiting the new manager for Bradford City one doubts it can be worse than that period of the club’s history.

Peter Taylor had been an outstanding appointment to replace Stuart McCall bringing to the table a seniority which McCall lacked and a proven track record of success. Taylor’s time at the club is rightly not fondly remembered but it is his professionalism rather than the lack of material which stopped him from sticking a few boots in on the way out.

The Shane Duff fish story speaks volumes.

Taylor’s appointment is perhaps the model that Rahic and Rupp – and any other chairman looking – would best follow when looking for a new manager. Selecting a candidate who had achieved success is important but much more important are multiple successes across different situations.

This adaptability is probably what attracted Bolton to Parkinson. Parkinson has worked on a budget at City at first, and at Colchester United, and he has shown an ability to take on big occasions at Chelsea, Arsenal et al.

There is an element of confirmation bias in Parkinson’s appointment.

The news that Chief Scout Tim Breacker is leaving with Parkinson comes as music to the ears as the club badly need to readdress that area. Parkinson’s recruitment was becoming an problem at Bradford City. Of the players he was happy with Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, James Meredith and Kyel Reid were all picked up a long time ago and if there was a faultline between Rahic and Parkinson along the idea of recruitment then one would struggle to suggest that the manager should have been allowed to carry on doing things the same way.

Likewise following the defeat to Millwall I expressed a concern that Parkinson had created a kind of Oakland Athletics in League One (The Oakland A’s being the subject of the book Moneyball) which was able win in the grind of week to week football but were found wanting at the sharp end of the season.

That concern was just that – a minor concern, rather than a fully stated question – and of course is denied by memories of Aston Villa away and Stamford Bridge but while the strength of Parkinson was his team’s ability to grind out results and sneak 1-0 wins that was a weakness when overplayed.

One should never be critical the the days of milk and honey ended but Millwall game illustrates this concern. In one of the forty five minute periods – the first – the Londoners dominated City and in the others the Bantams were arguably the better team but did not repair the damage done.

Perhaps more significantly to the concern is that in those three forty-five minute periods that followed Parkinson’s side did not seem as if it could repair the damage of being 3-1 down. Keeping game’s tight and nicking goals works over a longer period, less so in a two legged tie.

But would overplays this at one’s peril. Parkinson was an exceptional Bradford City manager and as Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp look for his replacement they must hope to keep the best of Parkinson.

Parkinson’s teams were seldom out of games. Rarely were the side over a goal down and always did it look capable of getting something out of an encounter. One of the more compelling reasons to follow Parkinson’s City on the road was the fullness of the ninety minutes of football. Never being out of a game was a watchword of the previous manager, and hopefully will be one of the next.

This was in no small part down to the spirit Parkinson’s side had which was second to none seen at Valley Parade. One could write books about how the players aided each other through bad moments that stopped bad games and probably still not understand exactly how that team spirit worked. Suffice to say whatever it is needs to remain, as to Stephen Darby and Rory McArdle the chief proponents of it.

Finally Parkinson’s pragmatism needs to be a factor in the new manager especially when confronted with the stated iconoclasm of Rahic and Rupp who have a clear idea of how they want the Bantams to play (“High pressing, exciting”) but may have to accept as Parkinson had that tactics are created to suit players and situations. Parkinson’s final season at City was defensive by necessity. The new manager, whomsoever he may be, should hope to make sure that he understands this.

Bradford City vs Manchester United vs Rangers vs Everton in the Summer of 2012 Four Team Tournament that never happened

Fargo

This is a true story about a four team football tournament that never happened but was going to happen at Valley Parade in the Summer of 2012 at Valley Parade, Bradford.

The tournament would be hosted by Bradford City and feature three of the biggest names in British football: Rangers, Everton and Manchester United.

It is a strange story and one which seems out of keeping with the profile of the club at the moment but take my word for it, it did happen.

Some of the names have been left out to avoid embarrassment for the people involved who did embarrassing things.

This does not include David Moyes who, if he reads this, may feel embarrassed.

Sorry David.

Flashback episode

Jason McKeown and myself, when we talk, invariable talk about the day we spent with the Chief Scout and would-have-been Director of Football at Bradford City Archie Christie. At the time we talked about the day as like being on Jim’ll Fix It but now we don’t.

The day had an unreal air about it. The aim for Christie – the 49 year old Scot who had recently arrived at Bradford City – was to show what he did in a day and how what he did did not conflict with manager Phil Parkinson but rather augmented Parkinson but thinking back I believe there was something else behind our invitation.

Christie lived in London but worked out of the a Bradford hotel most of the time. The conflict between Christie and the people he worked with like Mark Lawn, Roger Owen, and Peter Jackson I could – and perhaps will – write a book about but suffice to say that at the end of long, hard days of work the gregarious Christie went back to The Cedar Court hotel at the top of the M606, and was alone.

I imagine that Christie thought when he took the job that he would have more to do with the people around Bradford City. I imagine he thought that he would be part of a group of people, a gang, and that he would trade stories about his adventures in football and about the club he had joined but instead was spending a lot of time in a featureless Bradford hotel.

I think he probably wanted someone to talk to about Bradford City, and I think that someone was me.

Everton Part 1: Tom Cleverley

Tom Cleverley signed for Everton under freedom of contract and for no transfer fee this week leaving Bradford City without a percentage payment on the deal which took the England international – then a twelve year old child – to England’s biggest football club Manchester United.

Bradford City co-chairmen Mark Lawn is honest about how much the club were expecting that one day Cleverley would leave United and sign for someone in a deal which activated City’s sell on clause but that will not happen now and so City were – in his reading of the situation – out of pocket.

The detail of the transfer that took the twelve year old Tom Cleverley from Bradford City’s to Manchester United included a percentage of any transfer fee paid for the player, and it included a payment for each Football League/Premier League appearance the player made and – I believe – ended up netting City about £75,000*.

At Bradford City it was thought that that £75,000 was dependent on Cleverley playing for Manchester United. It was also thought that the “sell on clause” percentage applied to full transfers, and not loan deals.

However in the Autumn of 2011 Christie he drove over to Old Trafford with a copy of the transfer deal in hand and demanded the money be paid for the games played for Leicester City, Watford and Wigan on loan, and a cut of any loan fees that United were paid for Cleverley.

Christie’s point was that the transfer deal didn’t specify that the games Cleverley played had to be for Manchester United – they could be for anyone – and did specify that City were entitled to any transfer fee which included temporary transfers. The Scot was prepared to sit in the reception area until someone would deal with him, and agree with him.

He camped out for a few hours in Manchester before returning back to Valley Parade with a cheque from United for the amount which went straight into manager Peter Jackson’s budget.

The fact the money arrived for Peter Jackson to spend rather than over the following years may, or may not, been significant but what was useful was the conversation which that Christie had started with one of the biggest clubs in the World.

Christie used the opportunity to create a relationship with people in the system of Old Trafford. The terms of the relationship seemed to be that Christie would keep Manchester United informed of developments at Bradford City, and in his newly set up Development Squad and Manchester United would compensate his Development Squad Fund for that to the tune of £45,000 over a period of time*.

Money, and The Development Squad Fund

The Development Squad Fund is always a source of some confusion. It confused me and I had a good look through the spreadsheet. I knew how much the young player who Christie had offered the chance to turn their careers around at Bradford City were being paid and let me tell you they were not millionaire footballers.

Players were on around £100 a week. Christie believe that that would root out players who wanted the lifestyle of a footballer rather than to be a footballer. To live on £100 a week in Bradford you had to really want it*.

As with all clubs The Football League give money to Bradford City to be spent on for youth development some of which created a part of the fund as was appropriate because it featured some of the youth side.

The fund was augmented by other money that Christie could generate from the squad itself. This might include the Development Squad being paid to play closed-doors friendly matches at other clubs, or it might include anything raised by loaning out Development Squad players*.

This money then went into a separate pot to the manager’s budget and could not be used by the manager because it was – in part – made of Football League grants and could not be spent on transfer fees or first team players.

Christie controlled that separate pot and used for his Development Squad. From this pot players like Scott Brown, Dean Overson, Dominic Rowe, and Nahki Wells were paid, although they were not very much.

Some of the players who joined the Development Squad from other clubs were given a simple proposition by Christie. “You’ve failed as footballers to this point, your previous club does not want you, and you are going to have to get a real job now but we at Bradford City will give you a last chance. Impress us and we will put you in our first team and you do not have to go work in a Supermarket.”

Nahki Wells’ name stands out on the list because he embodied that proposition whereas the rest have had more modest careers as footballers, or no careers at all.

Wells’ name seems to justify a project like a Development Squad for clubs like City – who benefited from his transfer to Huddersfield Town for £1.25m – and justify too Premier League clubs like Manchester United investing in what are ostensibly rivals to make sure that any gems they – or their rivals – accidentally let go can be polished up and returned to the crown.

Wells has not gone to the Premier League football but Cleverley did, and so did Fabian Delph. Delph and Cleverley were both spirited away from City very young and coincidentally both played in last week’s FA Cup Final. They made the big time.

Of the tens of thousands of eleven and twelve year olds kicking a ball every weekend how did Delph and Cleverley ended up becoming the subject of real football transfers. How do clubs like Manchester United or Leeds United (who bought Delph from Bradford City) even find out that if they watch that specific game of the thousands they could watch in a weekend then they will see a future England International?

The answer seems to be from relationships such as the one which existed between Bradford City and Manchester United as a result of Archie Christie’s involvement in making Manchester United pay for Tom Cleverley.

A Person with a Black Book

In the World of Advertising Agencies (in which I have worked) there is always a New Business department and within that department there is always a Person with a Black Book.

In that book is a list of names and the names are the Person’s Contacts and those Contacts work for potential Clients. Probably the Person has got his or her job because of the names in that book and the prospect of linking Agency up with Client that Contacts represent.

After a while the Person moves on to another agency and takes the book with them. At the new Agency the Person start getting in touch with Contacts who by that time have moved to different Clients and work is done. Even though the Agency and the Client are different the Person and the Contact are the same, and that is how the business works.

What is important though is that the relationship between Agency and Client is actually a relationship between Person with a Black Book and Contact.

I’ve worked in an Agency where the Person with a Black Book has been fired on a Monday and on the Tuesday the Contact has taken the Client’s business away. This is how I am used to business working.

Advertising is a strange business like football is. It seems in both that the people have all the control they need but they do not. No matter how much work you put into a Pepsi campaign if Coca-Cola do a better campaign you lose, and no much how much work you put in in a football match if the other team do it better you lose.

In this world without control people are loyal to people.

Whatever relationship there was between Bradford City and Manchester United was really a relationship between Christie and someone at Old Trafford who was taking an interest in making sure that the Red Devils knew what was going on in the youth set-up of various clubs to make sure that they would be on hand when the next Cleverley, Delph, or Andre Wisdom or (in 2011) George Green emerged.

Whoever that was at Old Trafford – and I have no idea who it was – would probably be highly sought after for the contact book he had and likewise the contacts Christie made at Bradford City would stay with him wherever he would go after.

The cost of being Manchester United

All this might seem odd but think that Manchester United spent £59m in a transfer fee on a single player last season, and paid that player Angel Di Maria a further £280,000 a week in wages. It is estimated that Di Maria will cost United £70m over the course of five years.

By way of contrast in 2014 players who were signed young at United were often paid much less than those bought in for large transfer fees. Juan Mata was paid £140,000 a week, Shinji Kagawa £80,000 while Danny Welbeck got £75,000 and Cleverley got £40,000.

This means it would probably cost United a six times more over five years to employ of Angel Di Maria rather than Tom Cleverley.

In that context it is not hard to see why a club like United will have relationships with teams like City. To bring in a serviceable first team player when young represents a massive saving for a club even at Manchester United’s level.

Team #2: Manchester United

So it was that Manchester United agreed to take part in a four team tournament at Valley Parade in the summer of 2012 along with Bradford City which was of course an agreement between Archie Christie and someone at Old Trafford. City would be playing their full team and United would not which is how – one suspects – the agreement could be made.

The tournament was designed to fill a part of Phil Parkinson’s pre-season plans on the one hand and to showcase Bradford City on the other.

It was something Christie would have liked to do when he was working in his previous role at Dagenham and Redbridge before joining City but the poor facilities at that club prevented that.

Dag&Red is no place for entertaining the glitterati of British football but Valley Parade – a Premier League standard ground – is. Christie was a place where football people could be networked and the club could re-build relationships within the game.

“He runs up and down and kicks people”

At the start of 2011 Liverpool signed Jordan Henderson for £15m from Sunderland and some four years later that would seem to have been a good investment. Henderson has blossomed into a very good player.

At the time though Henderson was considered a curious signing by Reds boss Kenny Dalglish and was the poster boy for the idea that football’s valuations of transfer fees had lost touch with reality.

It was probably that reality which had prompted the Bradford City’s board to be somewhat amused by Archie Christie’s statement that he could get over a million pounds for fifteen year old junior player George Green. At the time Green was unknown even in Bradford City circles.

Christie had told me that the other co-chairman Julian Rhodes told him how much City were hoping to get for Cleverley and that he would be impressed if Christie could get more for Green.

Christie did. Everton paid £2m for the youngster in October 2011.

I once asked Archie Christie if he thought George Green was worth that much money and he shrugged his shoulders and indicated that most players values had little to do with their abilities and much to do with how many people wanted to buy them.

With George Green the value was set by a bidding war which was started out by Spurs following a game Green played on trial for Alex Ingerthorpe junior side (Ingerthorpe is now at Liverpool, and a great example of a person who has taken his contact book with him to another club) and the bid went to a number of clubs before eventually settling on Everton.

One of the suitors was Glasgow Rangers.

Christie’s relationship with Rangers had started long before I crossed paths with him and would carry on after. Christie involved himself in one of the many takeover bids for the club he supported and would have – when asked – call Rangers his dream job.

Christie saw Rangers as the perfect club for Bradford City to sell George Green to explaining that he wanted the youngster go to a club who would then sell him after he had progressed as a player and so City’s sell on percentage clause value would be maximised.

I believe* that Rangers put a bid in for Green and that bid included City getting their choice of the Rangers youth ranks to take on loan to Valley Parade. I was asked who I would take and joked “John Fleck“, to which Christie indicated that not only did he agree but that that would be the deal.

Fleck turns up at Valley Parade as an impressive Coventry City player now and again but at the time signing him seemed unrealistic.

Negotiations with Rangers seemed to have produced an offer and part of the negotiations included Christie telling his opposite number at Rangers that Green would eventually be a better player than Henderson who “runs up and down and kicks people”

Rangers agreed – or rather someone at Rangers agreed – to join in the four team tournament in 2012 and like Manchester United they would be sending a young side. They may have had a similar agreement in place about the Development Squad or being kept informed but not long after they were thrown out of the Scottish League structure after spending more than they could afford and many of the staff left the club, including Fleck.

I asked Christie what he really thought of Henderson and he said he thought he was a good player. I asked him how Green was worth £2m and sighted an example of another player who had sold for less and his reply stays with me now for its oddness: “I’ve Spice Girlsed this.**”

That Championship Manager problem again

We are a generation of football fans schooled on the computer game Championship Manager.

In Championship Manager every player has a value set by the game as a function of his abilities as represented by statistics. The higher the stats the more a player is worth, and the stats are (mostly) visible to all.

This is how we got to understand transfers as we grew up to a football world increasingly interested in money. We understood that within football there was a way of looking at a player and – with an experienced eye – knowing what his true value was.

Of course there is not. Not in reality.

We also know the economist credo that something is worth what a purchaser will pay for it. That proposition does not help us in trying to find how much a footballer is worth in the absence of anyone attempting to purchase him, or anyone making a bid.

City had had a single bid for Tom Cleverley and so Tom Cleverley was worth £75,000*.

With George Green bidders were set against bidders and the price escalated until a fifteen year old who only played his first League Two games this season (on loan at Tranmere Rovers) sold for more money than City would end up receiving for top scorer Nahki Wells when he left for Huddersfield Town three years, forty two goals and two appearances at Wembley later.

Nahki Wells was not Spice Girlsed.

Everton Part 2: “I was pissing by the door”

Tottenham Hotspur had put in a transfer offer for Green. This transfer offer was for £1.5m is unique in the entire history of professional football.

It is the only one which I have held in my hand.

I walked to the printer, I picked up the five copies, and I read one. It was six or seven bullet points detailing when City would get various payments for Green’s services and it was signed at the bottom by Daniel Levy, the Spurs chairman.

None of the points were that Spurs would take part in the pre-season tournament at Valley Parade but Christie told Jason and myself that the North London team would be sending a side as he headed to a board meeting, transfer offer in hand.

Again the relationship seemed to exist between Christie and someone at Spurs, rather than Spurs themselves.

Eventually Everton made the deal and agreed to take Spurs’ part in the four team tournament. We’ve talked about this before, dear reader, but there was a curious aside and an interesting finish.

Christie was rarely in London but late one night – I was surprised by how late football does its business – during the bidding for Green I was on a call with Christie on his house phone when his mobile, paced within earshot of the landline, rang.

“Its Davie Moyes” Christie said excitedly before asking me to go along with anything he said to Moyes in the next five minutes. I caught my breath.

Sure enough the familiar tones Moyes could be heard from one phone to another and I heard Christie informed the then Everton manager that he could not take the his call because he was on the other line but rather than saying it was a conversation with me, he said he was talking to Bayern Munich General Manager Uli Hoeness.

Moyes did not believe Christie at first and so Christie offered to allow Moyes the chance to talk on the phone with his German rival. This inspired no little panic on my part as I imagined my inability to convincingly impersonate Hoeness.

I know no German at all and my accent is very much Bradford. I thought of the television programme ‘Allo ‘Allo and uttered the word “Ja” softly but audibly in practice. No one heard I assume.

I need not have worried. Moyes was convinced of Hoeness’ presence and hastened off the other line.

It struck me as embarrassing that Moyes should believe such a fanciful story as Germany’s leading football club trying to buy a young English player that no one had ever heard of but it turns out that at the time Bayern Munich were doing just that.

They were indeed one of the many clubs to express some kind of vague interest in George Green and later they signed Dale Jennings from Tranmere Rovers. They had set up a scouting network in the English lower leagues under the belief that English Premier League clubs might be ignoring the talent that was under their noses in favour of buying in players.

Munich may still believe that but the only player they signed from English lower league football was Jennings and he left for Barnsley after a few years. The English are notoriously bad settlers and this may put Bayern off but it is true that Bayern Munich have scouts watching English League Two football. Perhaps they are the only European club who do or perhaps not.

Maybe City games are occasionally attended by the Barcelona and Real Madrid, Juventus and AC Milan scouts all searching for the next big thing and fearing that if they do not over turn every stone in that search then their rivals will.

After our crossing of sorts I followed Hoeness’ career. He was jailed in 2013 for evading 30m Euro in tax and resigned from Bayern Munich. I tracked down a recording of him speaking about his case.

He sounded very German.

Team #4: Tottenham Hotspur Everton

The deal was done at £2m for George Green to join Everton.

Christie sealed it with a handshake and drove away only for – and this is how Christie related it – Spurs to get back in touch and Harry Redknapp himself to up his offer over Everton’s £2m to £2.4m.

The new Spurs bid was turned down because a deal had been agreed but not before Moyes had “become aware” of it and had sought assurances that he would not be gazumped.

It was important that Christie show that when a deal was made with Moyes all football knew it could not be broken. It was important in re-establishing Bradford City’s credentials in football as a club you could do business with.

Re-establishing because in 2011 City had twice been in administration in the previous ten years and that means twice evaded debts they should have paid. This could make people nervous around deals with City and so it was important to Christie that the club start a rehabilitation of their reputation as a club of good standing.

The handshake sealed the contract and this impressed Moyes who had already agreed to send an Everton side to Valley Parade for the Summer of 2012 Four Team Tournament and now agreed to send his first team as a show of gratitude.

That Moyes would send a strong Everton side was a mark of respect but it was the respect which would prove most valuable in the long term. I was started to see the point of the Summer of 2012 Four Team Tournament that Christie was planning was far beyond good matches and bums on seats.

I had thought that football was an imperfect meritocracy before but now I was beginning to see where those imperfections were. Of course a lack of money holds you back in football but it seemed that a lack of respect was a problem too. If you are not taken seriously as a club then serious clubs will exploit you.

This could have been what happened with Tom Cleverley, Fabian Delph and Andrew Wisdom who joined Liverpool when young all for small fees – I could not say – but I’ve been watching Bradford City for over thirty years and have always noticed that our best players leave us for relatively small amounts.

City’s 1980s heroes Stuart McCall and John Hendrie were good value for the teams that picked them up. Nahki Wells was good value for Huddersfield too when he joined them. The only time I can recall City selling a player and seeming to have got the better side of lopsided deal is Des Hamilton‘s exit to Newcastle United in 1998.

Then City were run by Geoffrey Richmond. He was a serious man indeed.

By assembling a group of big name sides to stand next to City Archie Christie believed that City would start to build networks, to get respect by association, and to become a serious club in the business of football.

The business of football was not unlike other businesses and was built on personal relationships and on being well thought of in the football community as being capable or at least that is what Christie seemed to think.

In writing this I read back this comment from Mark Lawn about the Cleverley deal which seems unlike anything else the co-chairman has ever said in its tone and content.

We’re currently in discussions with (Manchester) United. They are a professional and sensible club so I don’t see a problem.

That sounds like Christie’s words and not Lawn’s who is lauded for being the plain speaking Yorkshire man on Match of the Day. I mention this not to suggest Lawn did not say them but to show how the club was operating in those days.

The highest complement that City could pay the highest team in the land in negotiations – some carefully chosen words – was that they were professional and sensible. City – via Lawn – bestowed upon Manchester United the traits they were so keen to claim back for themselves.

Christie had been offered the Director of Football job at Valley Parade. He had a letter making the offer which he had – for reasons which would become clear – not replied to despite his having a plan in place for the Summer of 2012.

Before that though he would host a collection of influential football scouts and agents to watch a game at City as part of his building of City’s reputation.

It was relationship building but Christie told me he had seventeen people who could help him help Phil Parkinson get together squad he wanted. It was Archie’s way of announcing that City were a serious and credible football club that football could do business with again.

The game was Marine at home in the Second Round of the FA Youth Cup.

So now then

The Summer of 2012 Four Team Tournament never happened of course.

I have no idea how close it came to being scheduled or even if it been talked about at any level with anyone else at Valley Parade but Christie left Bradford City.

It would not surprise me at all if the people at the various clubs had – like Christie – moved on and that little is remembered about sketched plans to take teams to pre-season games.

David Moyes may recall agreeing to bring his Everton side but he has – famously – left Everton since for Manchester United and then Real Sociadad.

The person was at Rangers is almost certainly not at Rangers anymore and who knows who was in the depths of Old Trafford agreeing to bring whatever team to Valley Parade but one can imagine that that person makes it their business to make many of those deals every season.

I would not like to say if what Christie was planning at Valley Parade was unique but I doubt it was. I suspect football is littered with the plans of the ambitious. Not remembered as the agenda moves on, and perhaps not worth remembering to some.

I remember though. I remember because it was such an education into how football worked beyond how we – the supporters – assume it does.

It was arbitrary in a way that exceeded anything I could have imagined even after covering City for the ten years previous and it was more personal than anyone would think.

That is what makes football like any other business. It is not because of the money involved but because like any other business people want to do business with people they like, and respect, and believe can do a good job.

And while those relationships are crucial to a club they are not tied to the clubs but rather to the individual people at the club.

Epilogue: The Archie Christie Memorial Trophy

Summer 2012 in Winter 2013.

A Saturday of semi-finals and then a third place and a final on the Sunday. It was the Olympic Summer and I remember heat of the end of July but it was a cold Winter eighteen months later and I had not much to do.

  1. Bradford City
  2. Manchester United (II/u18)
  3. Glasgow Rangers II
  4. Everton

I played out the games using Championship Manager (FM2013) assuming that City would play Manchester United in the semi – City lost – and Everton would beat Rangers leaving a full strength Everton side to play a Sunday final against Manchester United.

Everton won. Moyes beat Manchester United.

So David did get something out of it whole thing, in a way, but I don’t think anyone else really did.


Notes

* These figures and deals are from memory rather than recordings, and could be inaccurate because of that, but they are to the best of my memory.

** Archie Christie died in 2014 and much of this article is made up of conversations only some of which were recorded so I have attempted to avoid verbatim quotes through out. Some stick in the mind though.

My friend Archie who died last night

My friend Archie Christie died on the 30th of January 2014. Archie – one time Bradford City Chief Scout, Director of Football and the man offered the post of Chief Executive which he turned down as he left the club – will be sorely missed.

It is hard to countenance the impact that Archie had on my life and my thinking about football, about the business of football, and about how football should be played but I’m in his debt for what he did teach me. He is the only man I have spent significant time with who I felt knew more about football than I did.

His legacy for Bradford City may be debated. Colin Cooper – caretaker manager of the club following Peter Jackson’s resignation – said he would get rid of Christie to which Julian Rhodes is said to have replied “Well, he is making the decision…”

There is much talk and one hates to say where verbatim is in the mythos but the impression I found when close to the club in that period of time is that Rhodes had asked Christie who he thought should be the next manager of Bradford City and Christie had said Phil Parkinson.

And that all worked out pretty well.

But what he did or did not do for the club is not what I will miss about him. I will miss the calls at the end of his days – his days ended at eleven or twelve – when he just seemed want to talk about the game. He was working with John Still at Luton Town and only last week I had heard him put off his boss so he could carry on chewing the fat with me about Rhys Murphy.

“Had I seen this player? What did I think of that player? Did I know this about that player?” The man’s appetite for football was immense and his thoughts on it incisive and accurate.

Talking to people who knew him today there was a feeling that if every club had an Archie Christie to manage the business side of their dealings then there would be less debt in the game.

As a man he was as straight shooting as they came and had the rare trait in life of being able to face up squarely to unpleasant realities. I hope to take that from him.

And he was funny too. Buy me a beer and I’ll tell you how he got me to pretend to be the Bayern Munich manager to pull the wool over the eyes of a Premier League gaffer.

It worked.

His love of soul music, his pride in the young players he helped on their way, his commitment and love for his family. Those are my memories of my friend. Funny, warm, and with a knowledge of football which was easily the sum of every pundit and back page column writer and ex professional looking to make a quick buck.

I will miss Archie Christie very much.


Archie and I by Jason McKeown

This briefing against people who leave City has to stop

It did not take long when Nahki Wells left Bradford City for Huddersfield Town that the subject of our neighbours from the West’s predilection to interfere with dogs (In which way? The worst possible way) started to be talked about. Nahki shoots, Nahki scores, Nahki and your Labrador. You know the sort of thing.

The humour might not be to everyone’s taste and the aggression between the two teams is often troubling but the claim is so absurd as to be the laughable subject of a joke. It might not be to me or you (or it may be) but a comment like that made about our former player is a joke.

There is something less funny though about a tenancy that has come into the narrative when someone leaves Bradford City. There is something sinister.

Take, for example, former manager Stuart McCall who Mark Lawn told myself and Width of a Post‘s Jason McKeown was ill when he left Bradford City to the point where Lawn worried that he would no longer be able to carry out his duties. No matter what one thinks of McCall’s abilities as a football manager the man was at City for another six months and has had three years at Motherwell without being unable to do his job because of ill health. In fact here he is fronting a Scots anti-smoking for better health campaign.

And while one would not doubt the stress that McCall was under at City the last few years have not painted a picture of a man too ill to work. Nevertheless that was the discussion when McCall left the club.

Tom Doherty – we heard – had let Peter Taylor down rather than the manager failing in some way. Shane Duff was “just a van driver now”. Even Reece Brown was “somebody’s brother” on exit. I’m not going to get into talking about Archie Christie but I witnessed first hand the man changed from being considered as having a word unimpeachable at Valley Parade to being spoken about – again from people at the club – as being untruthful. The “ill health” you heard of has not prevented Mr Christie from carrying on his career.

Again take your own view on what is accurate but be aware of the change which happened over the course of a few days.

Then onto Nahki Wells. Disruptive Nahki who if left unsold would destroy the morale of the squad which he has been a happy part for two and a half years or so the counterpoint to questions as to why he needed to move on so quickly went.

Now it may be true that Wells is all those things – I never recall the rest of the squad refusing to celebrate with him and they seemed to get along well – but if he is then this tendency was only brought to life after he left and was far from apparently in his character over the course of the two trips to Wembley. Did that look like a squad with poison running through it? I shall say that it did not to me.

But it seems that like the joke about Nahki Wells and the dogs there seems to be a reaction to changes at the club from people who carry enough influence to effect the conversation in the Bradford City community that (to borrow a Malcolm Tucker term) briefs against he who has left.

The community end up with a piece of information which seems to come from a source with authority what cuts against the grain to suggest that an exit decision was the right decision.

This has to stop. It is poisonous itself to the ability for the club to learn from is history. Every decision – in the light of briefing – is rendered so obviously correct and no question as to if it has worked is ever asked.

This has to stop. Its undignified, it lacks the character that our community should demand, and it impedes our progress as a club.

Lawn: The Development Squad will continue

Speaking to the T&A Mark Lawn has confirmed that Bradford City will continue with the Development Squad following Archie Christie’s departure from the club.

To confirming the club’s intentions to retain the DS Mark Lawn said:

We’d like to thank Archie for all the good work he has done with bringing players in and putting the development squad in place. That will still continue.

BfB understands that Peter Horne will take control of the Development Squad.

I have in my hand a piece of paper…

…or rather a collection of a pieces of paper stapled together in the top left corner. It was passed to me by Archie Christie – it has his first name under the staple – as part of the day we spent with him as an illustration of the work that get done at City.

I’m not going to tell you what is in the papers for reasons which will become clear, dear reader, but I can tell you what it says on the front. Under a large Bantams’ Badge reads the words “Bradford City Match Assessment” and under that – written in pen (although this is a photocopy) read the names “Macclesfield T” and “Northampton T”.

The date reads “17th of September” which was – according to the inscriptions – a dry and windy day.

For years, decades, I’ve heard about football clubs who “do their homework” on the opposition, who “have them watched” and for the first time I have the information (or a part of it) which Phil Parkinson and Steve Parkin will be looking over to plan City’s team.

It is a coincidence that paper I got was between is City’s next two opponents but probably not that scout Nigel Brown who authored the document – it carries his name – took in the match. Nigel Brown and Archie Christie talked about arriving at City and finding a filing cabinet marked scouting reports which had sub-divisions for each league and each letter in that league but absolutely nothing in them. If someone had been doing the homework at Bradford City before Christie and Brown then the dog had almost certainly eaten it.

It struck me in the weeks after embedding with him that Christie’s role at the club split down three lines none of which were having that much attention paid to them before his arrival. The first and most obvious was the player recruitment and development side which is an all encompassing one taking in watching players as well as the activities with the Development Squad. Then, most celebrated, is his deal making as seen in George Green’s move to Everton. Potentially Green’s move is the largest transfer between the fourth tier and the top tier of English football ever. Finally there is the homework side and preparing information for the first team’s manager.

Christie started the operation from an empty cabinet and was taking in a game at Halifax Town when he bumped into Brown – Brown told us that most Scouts know each other – and Christie invited him to come in and help with the network. The pair of them assembled a team of around a half dozen scouts up and down the country. There is a private scouting network which clubs can subscribe to which provides information on any team for a fee which might account for where Peter Taylor was getting his information on visiting teams but Brown is sceptical about the merits of that. It struck me that if the aim of scouting teams is to find weaknesses then a report that is freely purchased by anyone will detail faults that a manager would be a fool not to fix. Christie and Brown’s scouting – if it contains a note on how a team can be got at – is known only to City.

The scouts (including Christie and Brown) go watch League Two games, non-league games, reserve games and fill in the type of form which sits in front of me today. The approach is detailed. Reserve games are important in case of suspensions forcing a change to the starting eleven while non-league games (and higher reserve games) allow information about players who may end up being recruited by the opposition. Christie tells a story of Dagenham being undone by a player who had not featured in the first team but cropped up on a Tuesday night on the south coast to frustrate the Daggers.

There was an obvious question about what Christie’s scouting network had thought about the City teams he had faced. Christie did not say anything against anyone who had stalked the halls of Valley Parade before him but the impression I got was that at Dagenham City’s team under Stuart McCall was considered to be nice to look at but soft in the centre and easy to get at, easy to beat. I loved watching Stuart’s side’s play expansive football but I’d have to agree with that analysis.

The empty cabinet is an interesting idea but we know that in the past managers at City have talked about watching clubs – Stuart McCall’s post-game interviews would often include a reference to having seen the team before – but the image remains. John Hendrie once talked about how City would often see unknown faces around the training ground who turned out to be the opposition scouts finding out the team for Saturday.

So one assumes that there must have been paper in this cabinet at some point, files on teams and players filled by McCall (who took a scouting role for Norwich after he left City), Colin Todd or whoever, but the open space tells a story of its own.

That story involves the recruitment of a scouting network to watch teams 70% of which are based in the South. It involves a network of contacts built up who fulfil Brown demanding criteria. Brown worked with Kenny Dalglish at Blackburn Rovers having a hand in the signing of Alan Shearer for £3.5m and the sale of him for “£16.75m” (which is not the figure widely circulated, but the one Brown told us) after “getting the best years out of him.” After working with Dalglish – “He never watched games, loved his videos” – Brown moved onto Wigan Athletic as Dave Whelan started building his tier three club built to compete at the top level from the ground up. Brown is the sort of man you hope a scout is, quietly spoken but deeply knowledgeable and with a steel in his eye for a player. While Christie believes that desire is the thing to look for in a player Brown wants acceleration over five yards. The two are a great combination – Christie calls Brown “Nigel Green” and Brown smiles back. “I can’t do the negotiations like Archie can” he went on to say.

The scouts who Brown and Christie got to join City were tasked with watching City too – the City they watched being the one which Mark Lawn commented on last week – and gave their opinions. Perhaps these informed Lawn’s comments and Parkinson’s changes since he took over. Certainly there were recurrent themes in the reports which Christie and Brown got back and it seems to me that those have been addressed, or have been attempted to be addressed.

The aim of the opposition scouting networking is to provide the manager with everything he could want. It is then up to the manager and his coaching staff to decide how much notice he wants to take of that information. Not all managers are interested but what I have in front of me makes fascinating reading and I could see no reason why a manager would not welcome this with arms open. The Damned Utd (not an historical source but a cracking read) has Brian Clough refuse to look at Don’s Dodgy Dossiers on the opposition, real life tells us he had Peter Taylor watching every inch of opponents.

Without showing the report it is hard to illustrate what it has in it but the circulated version of a report on Newcastle United written by Andre Villas-Boas when he was scout at Chelsea offers similar (although City use numbers and not pictures of shirts) and is indicative of the level of research which goes into preparing for a game.

There is no Bradford City Official Secrets Act (aside from Christie tell us not to go showing the report around, it has not left my office physically or virtually since) but I think it is best if what we know about them stays under wraps for now but I recall watching City over the past thirty years and seeing the odd event that would have been captured in this document and would not have poised a problem. The Paul Merson/Benito Carbone short corner that unlocked City in the Premier League, the wall of tiny Wigan players who created themselves in front of City’s wall at a free kick in the late eighties only to break off and leave many bemused and little else, Peter Jackson and Chris Branston’s antics from a corner at the McAlpine in the mid part of the decade.

Simple things like the fact that a number three might play in central midfield and not left back to more technical and detailed lore. The experience of watching City play Northampton Town at Valley Parade will, for me, come with a crib sheet and I wonder how that will change the way I see the game. When he was Coventry City manager Gordon Strachan was fond of appearing on Match of the Day saying how he and his players had worked all week on doing one thing and – for reasons of their own – the players had decided to do something else. I wonder if I will see the same.

Northampton Town arrive at Valley Parade on the back of a 3-0 defeat by Port Vale which saw questions asked but in generally rude form. They are seventeenth in the table.

City go into the game on the back of a disappointing result at Hereford United and have before them a familiar set of criticisms. Matt Duke is criticised because he could have been better positioned for the goals that Hereford scored (or so it is said) although the best position is always “in the way” and “not in the way” seldom has any merits. Duke’s single clean sheet was last time out at Valley Parade against Torquay United.

Luke Oliver and Marcel Seip are expected to retain the central defensive positions although Steve Williams is returning to the reckoning. Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall will be full backs although looking at the report I might be… No, best not.

Michael Flynn’s two game suspension sees him sit out the match and allows Adam Reed and Richie Jones to take the middle positions with Kyel Reid wide left. Phil Parkinson could be tempted to drop Jamie Devitt to wide right, recall Mark Stewart for that position or give Chris Mitchell his place in the side back. City have missed Mitchell’s delivery in recent weeks. David Syers’ injury and Flynn’s suspension open the possibility of Scott Brown getting a place on the bench.

Craig Fagan is starting to be cemented into the forward line up in James Hanson’s absence though injury. Hanson may return and take a place in the starting line up although if he is not fit Parkinson may continue with his policy of having a man lead the line and another feeding off him and deploy Devitt or Stewart behind Fagan. All link men – the position in question – are judged by a standard of Peter Beardsley and Stewart seems most able to find space and move the ball on then make for an attacking position but Devitt’s game could be tweaked to do the same.

Such talk is the talk of scribbles on paper though – attacking diagrams done on beer mats – and football is played on grass and not paper. Some pieces of paper, however, certainly are worth a read before the boot sets foot on turf.

The ‘worst squad in the league’, and where the priorities should be

Saturday’s dispiriting defeat to Hereford once again provides cue for a discussion that is, over the last few weeks, increasingly being aired in the national media – could Bradford City become the first former Premier League club to be relegated into non-league?

The current league table certainly suggests that could be the case. With over a quarter of the season played, the lack of points on the board is starting to go beyond being labelled “poor start”. The undoubted potential which has been regularly witnessed is so far going unfulfilled. There had been signs of improvement in the previous three games prior to the loss to Hereford; but unless City quickly recover from this latest set back, uncomfortable fears about the possibility of falling out of the Football League will be difficult to shake off.

Adding fuel to that fire – and with some pretty poor timing in hindsight – were Joint Chairman Mark Lawn’s pre-Hereford comments on BBC Radio Leeds that he thought the squad Peter Jackson had built during the summer was “the worst in the league”. That squad has since been added to by Jackson’s replacement, Phil Parkinson; but still, what sort of a message is Lawn trying to convey with this statement?

For although Guy Branston has been moved out on loan to Rotherham and it’s rumoured Jack Compton’s loan deal is going to be terminated this week, by and large the group of players Lawn called the weakest in the division are still at the club. The comments may or may not be personal to individuals, but it seems harsh and unfair to be so critical of a group of players who are battling hard to gain or keep a place in the team.

Rash judgement

Nor does it seem particularly well-thought out. The team Jackson built during the summer may well have proven to be the worst in the league, but only four league games of football were played before he walked away. Is it really fair to have made a judgement on the squad so soon? And how can anyone at that stage have realistically evaluated the 23 other new-look squads and concluded they were all better than City’s?

No one could of course, and so one is left considering Lawn’s statement as being a veiled attack rather than something he realistically believes. We can reasonably assume that Lawn was criticising Jackson directly – the person handed a transfer budget this summer and who ultimately made the decision on every player it was used to bring in. But there were other people involved in those choices, too.

So some people can view Lawn’s criticism as a partial attack on Archie Christie, the newly-appointed Chief Scout and Head of Football Development who was tasked with finding suitable players for Jackson to consider. It can be judged to be criticism of Colin Cooper, assistant to Jackson – but who well-placed sources suggest had a much more hands-on role in the summer recruiting, team selection and tactics than an assistant manager might usually enjoy. Lawn probably only means to single out Jackson, but Christie, Cooper and a host of players brought in this summer might also have caused to feel miffed upon hearing his viewpoint.

But the poor start to the season was not just about people. When City played Aldershot in the opening game of the season they did so with hardly any knowledge of who the visitors would be. The  empty filing cabinet inherited by the new scouting set up could only be filled by watching matches (a friendly game offering a limited source of information) – and on opening day that cabinet was more or less empty.

If you give any value to the work that Christie and Nigel Brown are doing in filling that filing cabinet at the club – and if you do not you should – then you have to conclude that Jackson’s squad was playing in the dark.

A false start

There is no doubt that Parkinson has sought to do things differently to Jackson. He has strong ideas on the kind of players needed and wasted no time in bringing those in. Parkinson spent his time out of football scouting, Jackson – and this is meant in the nicest possible way – worked in a care home. Jackson wanted to sign Gary Jones on large wages and had never seen of Richie Jones. His contact book was out of date and some of his signings showed that. Nevertheless those brought in who have lost their place under Parkinson can, with some justification, feel aggrieved by the lack of opportunities they have received over recent weeks – sadly for them, that’s football.

When they have been called upon by Parkinson, the players Lawn’s criticism can be viewed to include have let no one down. At Huddersfield, Mark Stewart, Compton and Chris Mitchell made positive contributions. Stewart has started every game that City have won (if you include the two penalty shoot out wins). Nialle Rodney showed his potential against Huddersfield and Torquay. Ross Hannah has scored two important goals from the bench. Branston stepped in for Andrew Davies impressively last week.

City’s captain may have gone for now, and in time some of the other summer signings will exit the club too. But that doesn’t mean they are all bad players and it doesn’t mean that – had Jackson being prepared to show more fight in the job – they wouldn’t have performed well in time. The point of a manager – and the point of setting a plan of progression – is that things improve over time and not that they are good within four games (and this is before we recall the start made in the promotion season of 1998/99, which at the time was a huge lesson for us all).

Jackson’s squad in those opening games of the season featured faces from the Development Squad and in that one must take a cue from the name: Development. There was a decision taken at the start of the season to fund a development project and to stop looking at the first team as the be all and end all of the football club in the way, for example, Peter Taylor had.

When Jackson left the club the Development Squad numbered four or five players and a number of the youth team – and cost less per week than the lowest paid member of the first team squad. It is not that the Development Squad had sucked up resources from the first team, but that the first team was to develop with the addition – in time – of the Development Squad.

Had Jackson not taken bat and ball home then – in a month’s time and just like Parkinson – he would be taking delivery of Terry Dixon (“Championship player in a non-league body”) and have Scott Brown to call on to replace Michael Flynn, or Andrew Burns to bridge any gap between Liam Moore after he returns and Simon Ramsden before he does.

One might – in time – ask questions about how good the players who come out of the Development Squad are, but the policy at the start of the season supported a squad which was designed to improve and not just over the course of this season, but over the next one too.

The plan for promotion is a two-year one. The results four games – or even twelve games – into that, when the onus is on the club to perform in games 47 to 92 of those two years are hardly worth commenting on when the plan is to spend 1 to 46 improving. It is like criticising the kid on his first day of school for not knowing the things he has come to school to be taught.

Re-visiting pre-season’s objectives

City began this season with everyone talking of it being a building one. A sensible strategy, considering how far from the goal of promotion the Bantams had been in the previous two campaigns. It was also a strategy that allowed Jackson to sign players with the potential to grow with the club, it enabled Christie to launch the Development Squad initiative without the pressure that it would be binned nine months later if it hadn’t produced enough first team players.

Most importantly it suggested an end to the season-after-season-cycle of signing a load of players and releasing a host of others, which has meant such a constant high turnover. The club has a four-year plan of getting into the Championship, and one assumes budgets and transfer policies have been agreed on the basis that no promotion this season would not be a disaster and will not spell cut backs.

As City sit third from bottom of the Football League, a revisit of these pre-season aims is more timely than ever. Promotion would be welcomed this season – but not expected or demanded. Therefore the objectives are surely to shape a squad of players who can be good enough for at least a top seven finish at the end of the 2012/13 season.

There is no reason to believe these aims have changed by appointing Parkinson – in fact it would be ludicrous, given the fact he wasn’t around to build in the close summer, to demand more of the City manager than was expected of Jackson. When BfB spoke to Parkinson at the training ground last month we asked what his aims for the season are and he replied that the initial one is “to be in the top half of the table around Christmas”. A reasonable objective and one that deserves questioning at that point if it is not achieved.

In the meantime, more short-term pain might be unavoidable as he tries to find the right team. In the wake of the Hereford defeat, the usual hysterical message board reaction occurred with anyone and everyone blamed. There will be further murmurings from people outside the club that a relegation battle is on the cards. This is unavoidable of course, but the club itself has to rise above it and present a calm, rationale and positive front. Lawn himself probably knows this better than anyone, but his radio comments help no one and undermine those efforts.

That said though when Lawn talks on the radio he speaks his mind as any fan does (as if he to prove this, he also commented that he was about to become a granddad again but had travelled to Hereford because he is a fan). Perhaps that is the difference unperceived in this radio interview and previous ones. When Lawn ran the club seemingly from top to bottom these were the thoughts of the Chairman. Now the chairman has more help around him then he is more of the fan than he has been allowed to be. His exasperation is matched by many supporters, because it is spoken as a supporter.

Beating the drop

Ultimately, the first objective for this season has to be to avoid relegation. It may be lacking ambition to say that and it certainly feels like setting the bar low; but the idea of it actually occurring is difficult to contemplate. We need to get to around 45 points as soon as possible. And, if and when we do, we can then talk about revised targets for however many games are left.

The club badly needs a season of stability, so that the squad can be developed in a way that can spark momentum needed to succeed in realising Christie’s vision of Championship football by August 2015. Jackson’s departure was a dreadful start in that respect, but the future is more important than raking over the past.

Time is more important than timing. The league table looks bad now for sure, but the true importance of this season is not how we begin it but the shape the squad and club when it ends it.

Archie Christie Day: Part 3/3

Continuing from Archie Christie Day Part 2 and started in Archie Christie Day Part 1. See also Remember the name: George Green.


The stereo remains off on the journey from Woodhouse Grove to Valley Parade, enabling us further opportunities to ask Archie Christie more about why he is here at all, given he is unpaid. “Julian Rhodes said last night ‘if nothing else, just get things done for the club’,” revealed Christie. “I can make money off the back of the club but I don’t make a penny. And the club know that and they like that.”

We talk about a description of Christie that has been repeated by almost everyone we’ve spoken to that day – he gets things done. “That’s what I do well. I get things done,” he nods. “I get the preparations done, I get the opposition done, I get the budgets done and I get the deals done. I get things done. I don’t have any arrogance and I don’t have any ego, I don’t take the criticism so I don’t take the praise. The plaudits are for the players and the manager. I just get things done for the club.”

But why this club, and what possesses him to take on such a massive challenge? “I want to do it because I want to turn Bradford City into a giant. At Dagenham we went from the bottom of the conference into League One. We beat Charlton, Sheffield Wednesday and Colchester. Bradford City can go to the Championship, and we can compete with Leeds. And on an equal footing. Not as second term neighbours, but as equals. Our 20,000 against their 20,000. Our 11 versus their 11. That’s what I want and believe.”

The conversation turns to young players at the club that he rates, and how far they can go at City and beyond. For someone who has been at City for such a short time, his level of knowledge of all the players – from first team to junior – is impressive, and one wonders whether previous first team managers would have such a detailed overview of the club. As we tell him the stories of Geoffrey Richmond and the excesses of that era, he is interested but unsurprised having already been filled in by Julian Rhodes.

“If we got back to the Championship I would then come up with a new strategy,” he comments as we pull into the Valley Parade car park. “So that we never have to worry about the bad times ever again.”

A first Bradford pint

The 1911 Club inside the Main Stand is marketed as a venue for business lunches during the week, but today (1pm) the beautifully decorated restaurant is empty of customers. Julian Rhodes is talking to the Yorkshire Post’s Richard Sutcliffe, with the pair about to head off somewhere so the Chairman can be interviewed. Julian is warm and welcoming to us both, trendily dressed while sporting a pair of beach sandals. “I’ve never seen him without sandals,” quips Christie.

In the corner sat reading the paper is another director, Graham Jones; a kind and softly-spoken man who is very friendly as we chat to him for two minutes. There’s a Board meeting at Valley Parade due to start in half an hour, which Christie has to attend. We don’t have much time left with him, so we follow him as he takes us outside into the padded seats that provide a terrific view of Valley Parade.

“I’ve not had a beer in Bradford up to now” Christie reveals, as he hands us each a pint that he’s just bought for us from the bar and begins to sip his own. The sun is beating down and the view feels familiar yet always engaging. We talk about recent games and about the potential crowds we could enjoy if the club was to climb back into the Championship. The here and now – getting some results quickly – is clearly vital, but Christie’s ideas and plans are more focused on further down the line.

“We’re starting to put together an infrastructure and mechanism into place that will stand this club in good stead for years to come,” Christie explains. Do you feel like when you joined you had a blank canvas? “Totally. Before I joined I wrote the Chairmen a 16-page report, on ‘if we want to change this is how we have to change’. Doing the same things and expecting different results, that’s a sign of madness, someone once said. We have to change, and this is how we change.”

Selling young players is clearly going to be a vital part of that strategy, but Christie doesn’t believe it should detract from the bigger picture. “Dagenham sold three players this year for one million and fifty thousand pounds,” he points out. “Who did we sell?

“We need to bring in boys that we can sell on and sell on at the right price. Along the way we have to sell some of our kids to generate revenue, in order to get to the Championship. By putting mechanisms in place, we can build sustainable income for when we are in the Championship.”

Of all the things we’ve seen and heard, the fact Christie joined a club with no scouting structure remains the most shocking. “Every Saturday we’re now watching games, and then two or three nights a week. We’ve got scouts covering the whole UK now. We’ve even had a fan from Romania who wants to set up a scouting network for me in Romania. A fan! We’ve got a proper scouting network now.”

And suddenly he jumps to his feet and leads us back into the 1911 Club, where he’s arranged lunch. It’s a good job we can eat fast, because in no time at all he’s back to work.

“I look like a fat Fabio Capello!”

Past the club shop and beyond the ticket office booths, a small door take us into the Bantams Business Centre where the offices of the joint Chairmen, youth development, finance and other admin staff are based. On the opposite side of the long and narrow corridor are small businesses that are providing vital rental revenue to help the club, and you get the impression City’s own staff will be moved to alternative rooms inside the stadium itself as and when demand for their small-but-homely offices increases.

Archie’s office is at the end of the corridor, and around five other staff members share it including the club’s press officer, Mark Harrison. Christie’s desk seems small and humble – amongst the other staff, rather than hidden away on his own in plusher surroundings. He clearly gets on well with everyone as they swap catch up stories, while he logs into his computer to check emails. These emails include a written transfer bid for George Green from a major Premier League club which he needs to print out and take to the Board meeting. He’d quickly spoken to Julian Rhodes about this offer – which had been made on the phone earlier – back in the 1911 club. We were witness to the surprise in Julian’s eyes regarding the bid’s size.

The sheer number of letters, emails and DVDs Christie receives from footballers looking for a trial at Bradford City is mind-boggling. CVs run for three or four pages each, coming from players stuck in reserve teams at other League Two clubs to kids knowing they are on their way out of a big Premier League club and in need of a break. And those are just the applications from players in this country. There are others from as far away as Australia.

Kath Brown, the club secretary, pops in to finalise the Dominic Rowe paperwork and discuss a range of different queries for Christie to sort out. “When are you back in?” she asks. “Not until next week” is the answer, as he lists the range of tasks he’ll be undertaking around the country on behalf of the club (mostly related to Green and securing the best possible deal for the club in view of the number of clubs chasing him). It seems he does not do days off.

Julian calls him twice. The Board meeting has started, where are you? He’s heading to the door with various bits of paperwork to show them, but all the while having banter with staff, who seem to enjoy his company and are giving some back. A fresh-faced work experience kid is helping Mark Harrison with content for the official website. “Please do me a new stock image to appear on the website, will you?” orders Christie. “The one you use at the moment, I look like a fat Fabio Capello.”

“This is my Manchester City”

We walk out with him as he heads to the Board meeting back inside the stadium, and we head home feeling utterly exhausted. Christie thanks for us for coming, and hopes we’ve got plenty to write about. Hopes that fans will have the chance to appreciate what he actually does. Hopes the criticism will recede. “People keep saying I’m just waiting to move to Man City. I’m not, this is my Man City.”

He starts to walk off, before turning back to us and pointing upwards at the giant Main Stand that towers high into the blue Bradford sky. “This place is a cathedral. I want to turn it into a fortress.”

And then his phone rings yet again.

In conclusion

It was 11:30pm on a Wednesday evening two weeks ago when I – Michael Wood – first talked to Archie Christie about myself and Jason spending a day with him. I was watching some a really bad movie on ITV4, he was still working. That is the first recurrent theme you pick up when dealing with Archie.

He works hard – to a level I’ve never seen before in any of the businesses I’ve worked with or for – and he is entirely focused on Bradford City. Only once during the entire day did Christie involve himself in something other than Bradford City – a thirty second call about a problem at his home – and unless directly asked he would not talk about anything other than Bradford City, his plans for the club, and how he intends to achieve those plans.

It was startlingly single-minded and it was exactly what I want at Valley Parade.

Hard work is a virtue of course but it would be wrong to let you, dear reader, go away with the idea that Christie brings only effort to the club – although do not doubt that he brings that and in abundance. There is an efficacy to Christie’s efforts and an aim to everything he does. During the day we were able to see deals (and other structures) put in place which will help City for years to come and I can put hand on heart and say that without Christie some of those deals – and one especially – would not have happened. Or had it done, would not have happened in the massive way it has.

All these deals will come out in time. Scott Brown will play for the club, as will Terry Dixon and Andrew Burns, and other people at Bradford City will have taken a share in those achievements, but from what I have seen, and who I have talked to, Christie is the start of those things. General George Marshall once said “There is no limit to the good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Christie would appreciate that point. BfB has talked in the past about the need for Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes to bring a football expert to the club and so – as our day wound down – I asked Christie if he would consider himself that football expert. He flatly rejected the term. “I bring business planning to football, that’s all.”

Football businessmen – which is to say people in the boardroom of clubs – have a reputation for not being the sharpest you will meet, but talking to Christie he shows an intelligence at odds with the profession he is in. When speaking about the criticism and abuse he has had from a section of the City “supporters” (quotes mine) he offers us the explanation “I am Jean Valjean.”

Christie speaks five languages, and has fluency in four of them. “English is the one I’m not fluent in” he jokes in a gnarled Scots brogue. He has built up and sold his own business – retiring at forty – and been a part of £800m deals to sell one company. His last board meeting, before joining City, was with NCP before that multi-million pound sale.

At some point one’s cynicism has to admit defeat.

Archie Christie does not need Bradford City as much as – and I mean this most sincerely based on ten years of decline and having seen plans coming to fruition in the course the day – Bradford City needs Archie Christie.

Which begs the question as to why is he involving himself at all? He could have been a Premier League scout – “I’d be bored” – so he is not looking at moving on. He seems financially well enough off to not need money from the club and does not get any anyway working for expenses as he does. He confirmed that he does not get a commission for selling players, be they Development Squad, youth or first team. When his achievements bubble to the surface – and they have so far – they often do with someone else’s name attached.

How to get to the core of a man’s motivations? Why does Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan own Manchester City? What does Abramovich get out of Chelsea? Neither make a profit. Why does Sir Alex Ferguson carry on at Manchester United having already done everything he could ever hope to?

Why etch your name in stone? The restoration of Bradford City offer someone a great work to carry out which is beyond the scope of what could be offered as a cog in the machine of a Premier League club. No other club in football can match City’s potential while being so obviously in need of new ideas. After watching fifty years of football perhaps Christie just thinks he can do football better. I know I would do it.

Swimming lengths and treading water in the shallow end at half seven in the morning we talked to Christie about Carlos Tevez who had refused to play for Manchester City in the week – he was none too complimentary – and later at breakfast in front of the gathering of young players he looked with disdain at the headlines about Titus Bramble.

Looking out over Valley Parade later in the day he talked about moral absolutes. His most offended moment is when he talks about having read that following Craig Thompson’s suspension for Hearts for sex offences against children that City would soon see Christie draping a City shirt over him and announcing him as a new signing. “I have daughters,” he says, “why would someone say that?”

There is a morality to the man but it is not worn falsely. After talking about Marlon King we ask him about Jake Speight who was jailed after signing for the club for assaulting his former girlfriend and who was not in Jackson’s plans. Christie sold Speight on his first day at Valley Parade after the club had had no interest in him previously and got back what Peter Taylor had paid for him. We asked him how he did it and his answer is matter of fact. “I knew Dean Saunders needed a striker.”

Another player – signed to the Development Squad and talked about by Christie when he arrived – was sacked on his first day having been arrested for an assault, and lying about that assault on a woman. Christie checked out the situation and tore up the contract just signed. “A seven stone lassie,” Christie says, “but the fans don’t see that. They say ‘He promised us this player.'”

Perhaps that is why he is involved at City. Essentially a blank slate on his arrival, Bradford City offers a chance for someone to build a club almost from new, and to do so in a way which does things the right way.

“Spend a day with me…”

Archie Christie made us a promise before we started this endeavour. “Spend a day with me and if at the end you don’t think that I’m the hardest working man, working so hard, for the good of Bradford City then I’ll walk away.”

He is that hardest working man. But it is not just an appreciation of the effort which one takes from a day next to Archie Christie – it is the purposefulness of that work, and how utterly convinced we were that what he is doing is absolutely what needs to be done at Bradford City if the club is ever to turn around.

The things which I (Michael) have been talking about for the twelve years I’ve been writing this website Christie is doing. Everyone involved with Bradford City since Geoffrey Richmond has talked about wanting to get promotions, wanting to turn the club around, but until Christie none have ever had the objectives to go with those aims. No one has ever convinced me that they know how to do what they are setting out. Until now.

It is a great credit to Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes that they saw Christie and recognised that he could bring to the club what had been lacking in the past decade (and no slight on them) and we applaud them for taking his advice.

If, reading this, you are thinking that the acclamation is coming a little too thick, we would appreciate that – without experiencing the day we have – it is not easy to see just how hard working, and smart working, Christie is. You will just have to take our word for it. If you have been waiting for Bradford City to return to direction of the mid-to-late-1990s then the wait is over, or at least I am convinced it is.

If you seek to criticise Archie Christie then we’d wonder what you want from a person involved in Bradford City? The man works very hard and – on the basis of what we saw – gets a very good return on that work which without him we would simply not have. And he does it for expenses only, while generating the club in his first three months (by rough maths) enough to pay for the Development Squad five or six times over. Any idea that Christie and his Development Squad cost the club money is a lie. Any idea that Christie had Peter Jackson sacked is a lie. Any idea that Christie is taking money out of the club is a lie.

Christie’s origins before Bradford City have an element of mystery in them. There is talk about how much he actually did for Dagenham following some clarifications the Essex club issued, but their manager John Still talked on the phone to us about the long standing relationship the two have had and he was not alone in his admiration for Christie. From City’s young players to our manager to the manager of a top Premier League club to that manager’s chairman. The meshing together of the day told its own story.

We could understand people saying that Christie could be difficult to work with by virtue of the fact that in the late afternoon we were shattered and knew that he was carrying on working for another half a dozen hours or more. He demands commitment from the people around him but we have no problem with that, and in fact we’re glad that someone who will not put in that effort finds it hard to work at Valley Parade.

Conspicuous by its absence during the whole day was the sense that there was any disharmony around Christie’s role at the club. Director Graham Jones – who we bumped into at Valley Parade – could not speak highly enough calling the job that Christie was doing fantastic. The three young players – when talking about Christie – did so with a genuine affection and did not flinch from saying how much Christie had done for them. Scout Nigel Brown and Youth Supremo Peter Horne both talked about how Christie had given them remits to work and – in the case of Horne – that Christie made his job easier by taking some of the tasks he did not feel he was as well suited to on.

We’ve seen with our own eyes what Archie Christie is doing for Bradford City, and in turn for us supporters, and we could not fail to be impressed.

Third bottom of the Football League, no win in six games and we have reason to be optimistic.


With special thanks…

In addition to thanking Archie Christie for being so welcoming and open to Michael and Jason, BfB would also like to thank everyone else who kindly took the time to speak to us over the course of the day. In particular this includes Andrew Burns, Scott Brown, Terry Dixon, Peter Horne, Alex Llevak, Steve Parkin, Phil Parkinson, Nigel Brown, Julian Rhodes, Graham Jones and also the staff who share an office with Archie.

Everyone we talked to we were given the chance to talk to without Archie Christie being present and everyone we talked to was as open as you could hope for. There is a level of privacy which had to be respected but that was not especially stringent or out of keeping with any professional environment.

Archie Christie Day: Part 2/3

Continuing from Archie Christie Day Part 1. See also Remember The Name: George Green.


We have not left the Cedar Court Hotel car park and Archie Christie has taken five calls in fewer minutes.

“I’ve got great taste in music Lads, Sixties soul, all originals, I’ll have ye converted by the end of the day.” Christie had said on his way to the car, but once he settles into the driver’s seat of his Audi the phone starts to ring again and parked up in the hotel car park he takes each call, each call about a deal to be done.

There are deals in the offing but one gets the sense that Christie would not have it any other way. Dominic Rowe is going on loan to Barrow and Christie has all but ironed out the details but wants to make sure the paperwork is being done and so sends instructions to Kath back in the office, covering the details.

In-between he talks to three or four clubs who would both be comfortable in calling themselves in the group of the bigger clubs in Europe. As Christie gets off the phone after his five calls he has eight missed, and a stack of voice mails. They include chairmen of top clubs and internationally known managers leaving chatty voice mails. That manager who you have heard on Match of the Day a hundred times is calling him “Arch” and shooting the breeze.

The effect is surreal, and Christie cuts the calls before anything sensitive can be said. Over the course of the day he is as open as he can be with us, but canny enough to respect the privacy of other people in the game and asks that we do the same.

There is an intoxication to it all – Christie seldom takes a breath between dealing with City staff, other managers, his players – and questions fall out thick and fast. Already we are impressed with the shear amount of work which Christie has got through since we were talking about Carlos Tevez and doing lengths of the pool. Why did he come to Bradford from Dagenham?

“I never worked for Dagenham, I worked for John Still,” Christie explained. “Me and John go back years. We were at Barnet. I’ll let him tell it.” The phone is out, John Still is on speakerphone in seconds telling the story of the time he went to Portugal leaving Christie instructions to get rid of a young lad they had at Underhill. By the time he came back Christie had sold that player – Marlon King – for £550,000 and Still was happy to see both the back of the player and get more money than he hoped for.

“Archie gets things done.”

It is not the first time the phrase has been said about the man in the day, nor will it be the last. Talking to football agent Alex Llevak in the morning, he was unequivocal about Christie’s “knack of getting things done”.

Llevak was a part of the deal which took Paul Benson from Dagenham to Phil Parkinson’s Charlton Athletic and the negotiations which would have brought Benson to City. The deal broke down because of how the London club wanted the deal structuring and City walked away from it. Christie’s watchwords – “I’ll only do what is best for the club” – come back to mind.

Softly spoken Llevak is far apart from the burly Scot but believes that Christie’s great strength is his forthright communication. He says what he is going to do, Llevak adds, and then he does it.

Llevak cannot speak highly enough of Christie and his ability to take players who have lost their way and turn them around. “He has an eye,” Llevak says, “for talent and a knowledge of how to make a minor adjustment to get to that talent. A tweak here, a nudge there. Archie knows what to do.”

Doing A Deal

Back in the car and Christie explains “John would ask me to go look at a player, so I would, and I’d tell him what I think.” Dagenham’s success in moving from a self styled “pub team from Essex” at the bottom of the Conference to overtake City and reach League One speaks for itself. Names like Craig Mackail-Smith, Benson and Roman Vincelot were a part of that rise. Christie beams with pride when he talks about Mackail-Smith – a pride he showed in the trio of Dixon, Brown and Burns and in other players throughout the day – who Dagenham signed from Arlesey Town having been released by St Albans City. The Daggers sold him on to Peterborough who sold him on to Brighton in the summer, the London club having a 15% cut which will see them pocket £375,000 and could still see them get more.

Christie is keen to get those sort of deals done for City. “See Tom Cleverley, I looked at his contract and I went over to Manchester United and told them they owed me money.” The story is in the national record – City’s successful attempt to get what was owed from Manchester United for Cleverley – and that was Christie’s doing taking the contract out of the filing cabinet where it was gathering dust and finding the fine print to exploit. He tells us the figure that he prised out of Old Trafford. It is more than the annual cost of the running the development squad by some way.

“Manchester United said to me, and they said to Julian (Rhodes), we like doing business with you.” Christie’s straight forward approach validated.

There are more calls than there is time to answer them. For every Premier League person calling there is a local team’s manager touching base. Key to Christie’s development plan is his ability to loan lads out to the local sides, his aim being to build closer relations with the teams in the area. “The chairman of (club) one minute, the manager of Harrogate Town the next. That is my day.”

Sixties soul turned up and there is a break from discussions. Christie navigates his way from the hotel towards Woodhouse Grove. “This is my five minutes,” he says with a smile.

Already it would be hard to write a job description for Christie. Having got back from deal doing at one the previous evening he was up five thirty to take another meeting with a Premier League manager before we met him. City boss Phil Parkinson says that every club has a guy doing Archie Christie’s job – getting deals done, managing the details – and in a conversation about Liverpool loanee goalkeeper Martin Hansen, Christie talks about dealing with Anfield’s Director of Football Damien Comolli rather than manager Kenny Dalglish. He agrees with the idea that Comolli is his opposite number at the Merseyside club.

On the Hansen deal Christie confirms that he was guaranteed to play as a part of his signing pointing out that when City send a player out to a team below them then he insists on the same stipulation. When Comolli decided – after the deal was done – that Liverpool did not want their man cup tying in the League Cup or the Associate Members Cup (just in case Liverpool fancy a pop at the JPT one supposes) then Christie got on the phone to Harry Redknapp who quickly dispatched Oscar Jansson on a train to Bradford.

“Did Harry do that to earn a favour?” Michael asked, “No, he did it because he is a Gentleman, a real Gent” came the reply.

If it is hard to create a job description for Archie Christie it is even harder to nail down a title for him. He is nominally Chief Scout and Head of Football Development and could probably be titled Director of Football. When Frank Arnesen joined Spurs with such a title there was confusion about his role at the club which was summed up in the idea that when Frank Arnesen rings the head of AC Milan, he gets an answer.

Perhaps Christie is the same. When City’s staff approached Spurs about Jansson they were not successful, when Archie called Harry something was done. Talking about the deals being done during the day it becomes obvious that Christie is a man football people take notice of. “I’ve got one for you, and when I’ve got one, they know I’ve got one, ’cause I don’t do it often.”

Driving through Bradford the mellowed out sound of Sixies Soul plays on and Christie nods towards the CD player, “Trust me, I’ll convert ye.”

Archie’s Boys

We are at Apperley Bridge and Archie Christie cannot spot Chris Mitchell.

Driving into the training ground, parking up and looking out over the squad, the development squad and the youth team is the kind of feeling that you could happily get used to – but to wander up to a pitch and see players you normally only see in the thick of action running defensive drills is strangely unnerving. Today Phil Parkinson has the first team – including new recruit Adam Reed – lined up against the Youth Team who are trying to play like Burton Albion.

Talking to the head of Christie’s scouting network Nigel Brown reveals a story hard to fathom. On arriving at Valley Parade Christie – who had been doing opposition scouting for John Still at Dagenham – found what could best be described as four empty draws in a filing cabinet marked “Opposition.”

Not much is made of this but thinking back to the first day of the season and talking on the walk away from the ground about how the opposition had done their homework better than we had the idea strikes that we had not been doing our homework at all, or if we had that homework had been somehow removed from Valley Parade, or as good as. Perhaps it is this kind of blank slate that the club represents which attracted Christie and he seems to have relished constructing a network of scouts.

“Nigel is my right hand man,” he says introducing the one time retired scout who encountered Christie at a Halifax Town game and was pressed back into service. Nigel explains the meticulous preparation which goes into every game, how every opposition side is scouted three times including once home and once away, and how the reserves are watched to pick up on any players who might be drafted in. We cast our eyes over copies of the latest opposition reports, “detailed” would be a good summation, “very detailed” a better one. “I look at weather reports, get us prepared for that. It is business planning, only in football.”

And so briefed in are the youth team by Phil Parkinson and Steve Parkin – new assistant manager who is impressed with the City facilities – on the basis of the details on Burton, they are playing as Paul Pechisolido’s men might against City’s starting eleven for the game.

“Good work James!” Christie bellows in the direction of five foot seven midfielder James Nanje Ngoe who piles into a tackle with Kyel Reid and come away with the ball. Christie has already told us the story of taking the Development Squad along with eight of the Youth team to Rotherham with people telling him that the Millers were fielding a strong team that would trash his young charges. Nanje Ngoe was one of a pair of midfielders who hunted in a pack in a game won 2-1. “He was one of my Xavi and Iniesta,” Christie explains, his face a picture of pride.

Here though Christie is but an interested spectator watching Nanje Ngoe – and the rest of the squad – but not involving himself. Here he is most like a supporter. When Scott Brown picks up the ball in the would be Burton midfield Christie’s eyes flick around looking for options and a small smile creeps across his lips as the youngster picks the right one. “Six foot one, sixteen, what a player.”

As the training game progresses we talk to Christie about some of the players he has helped to bring in. Chris Mitchell he likens to Phil Neville. “As Alex Ferguson told me, Phil Neville wins you trophies. You play him right back, left back, centre mid, right mid, left mind. They’re worth their weight in gold. They are not spectacular but they win you trophies and if Ferguson says you need a Chris Mitchell, you need a Chris Mitchell.”

Mitchell is an example of the value which Christie has brought to the club. Signed for substantially less than players that then manager Peter Jackson was targeting Mitchell offers quality without expense. Tommy Miller is discussed and later Rochdale’s Gary Jones is mentioned – and the figures that are talked about are substantial for a League Two club.

“How much does the Development squad cost?” we ask, “£145 a day” comes the quick answer. “Including all the salaries, all the expenses, accommodation, everything.”

There is an explanation about how Christie gets his budget provided by the club, how he has a role in generating revenue on things like the Cleverley deal and other deals which are buzzing around and will come to fruition, but in cold figures the Development Squad of a half dozen players including the likes of Brown, Burns and Nakhi Wells costs about the same as a middle weight League Two professional might make and – if you believed the rumours which were heard at the time – about a third of what Tommy Doherty was paid.

“I said to (the chairmen) ‘Take my wage and put it in the development squad’. I don’t get a commission but come to work with me and you’ll see I’m the hardest working person putting it all in for City. This is what I do every day, and I said I’d get it done, because I can.”

Wandering around the pitch towards the Development Squad game we see Mitchell wandering towards us kicking a ball. Archie offers a consoling word for the down looking player – obviously not going to be in the starting XI on Saturday – on a roasting hot day, something about keeping on trying, and that is all. His concern is almost paternal, and there is no suggestion that Christie could do anything to push Mitchell into the side.

The First Team

One thing lacking from our day with Christie is conversation about the first team, and its current struggles. When asked about Luke O’Brien and how he had played all pre-season but not started the year Christie replies that it was all and only ever Peter Jackson’s decision. Phil Parkinson, who has left the squad to watch the Development Game as we do, is the manager and Christie’s thoughts are middle to long term. They are about providing players for the squad at Christmas maybe, next season probably, a fact underlined by Terry Dixon rounding the the goalkeeper in the Development Squad game to put the ball in. “A Championship player in a non-league body, at the moment” says Parkinson.

Phil Parkinson chats to us for 15 minutes and comes over as a thoughtful man. He does not swear – a contrast to the sounds coming from a few of the players on the training pitch – and speaks softly. Christie was involved in his appointment and the two seem in tune with each other. “Phil wants a player, I get the deal over the line,” explained Christie “1,000,000% he decides (on players to sign). That is the way it should be, and I’m happy with that.”

When asked if he had vetoed any of Peter Jackson’s attempts at signing players Christie clearly states that he never has, and never would have, saying that his role is to provide players for the manager to consider that are good and cost effective be that through the Development Squad or the scouting network.

Richie Jones, toiling away on the pitch in the baking sun, is an example of this. Jackson’s attempts to sign midfield players having failed, Christie found Jones who wanted to join City to the extent that Christie tested his conviction by offering him less than he was previously on to drop down a league. Christie is pure fan talking about Jones. “He has had no pre-season, cause he got injured, but when he gets up to speed…”

Parkinson is casting his eye over players on trial in the Development Squad game and likes the idea of it. He explains about how players released from clubs get forgotten about and for the cost of running the squad it is worth offering that chance. “If out of ten, we get two, then it is money well spent.”

The new City boss is still settling into Valley Parade. As Christie’s phone buzzes again in the background and he continues dealing, Parkinson talks about how long it takes to put together a deal in football and how he would not have the time to do that in addition to his first team duties, outlining the need to have people at the club with connections into agents and players. The manager and Christie pass a story between them about a senior pro from Parkinson’s days as a junior, who Archie has encountered and passes on his regards. Parkinson puts a lot of success in football down to having good senior professionals who can set a tone and a culture at a club. On the pitch in front of us Andrew Burns puts in tackle after tackle after tackle claiming everything around him. Later Christie will smile as he recalls this.

Scout Nigel Brown has been brought in after decades of experience with the likes of Blackburn Rovers, Wigan Athletic and Coventry City. He is a part of the network which Christie has assembled to scout “everything” to have it at the fingers of the manager, whoever that manager may be.

Brown is steeped in football talking about things to look for, about his times at Blackburn under Jack Walker. It is not hard to see why Christie has appointed Brown who is rigorous in his approach and with the scouts he employs. He talks about the need for thoroughness and how he demands it.

When talking about player recruitment Brown wants pace. “You can’t teach it,” he says, and Christie has a similar approach, stating, “I watch a player five or six times, I’m looking for one thing: Desire. Just the desire to want to go do it. No one can coach that into you. You just need it.” Christie sees his role as finding players with that desire and teaching them. “You can see how well we (Christie and the Development Squad players) get on, we have a great time but I’m tough. I treat this like a University, they are here to learn. I am tough, but they respond to that very well.”

Brown is unequivocal about Christie saying he an asset to the club, a great wheeler and dealer, and it strikes us that in the hours at Woodhouse Grove alongside Archie Christie meeting Phil Parkinson, Steve Parkin, Peter Horne and Nigel Brown that we’ve found complementary skills rather than competition. Christie speaks highly of his people, who speak highly of him, and each relies on the other to augment the club.

Walking off the training pitches Christie walks past all four of the club’s goalkeepers: Big Man, Jon, Callum, Stuart; and chats to each in turn offering encouragement, enquiry, advice and motivation respectively.

When discussing John Still, Christie mentions how when talking to Julian Rhodes Still had sung his praises but doubted he would come to City having knocked back two Premier League scouting offers. Christie talks in terms of plans that last four years, nothing beyond that, and certainly nothing less than that steadfastly refuting any idea of using the club as a stepping stone. Perhaps it was something about the blank slate that he saw when looking at City that attracted him? Perhaps something about the potential of a club which was in the Premier League a decade ago and has a stadium to show for it? Perhaps it is just his own bloody minded determination to get things done?

As we drive back to Valley Parade it seems like a good time to ask him.


Concluded tomorrow in Archie Christie Day: Part 3.

Remember the name: George Green – Archie Christie Day: Part 1.5/3

This story works well when read with Archie Christie Day: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.


If you have never heard of George Green before today you are not alone. The fifteen year old who joined Everton for a fee which would rise to in excess of £1.75m is a virtual unknown yet in a list of the most expensive sales in the club’s history Green would rank in the top three. Dean Richards cost a fee up to £2.135m to Wolves, Andrew O’Brien cost up to £2m, then comes Green.

How is it that this kid from Batley Carr that no one has heard of is a part of this deal which could pay for City’s future?

Pull up a chair, dear reader, because the deal was being done on the day BfB spent with Archie Christie and now it is public we can fill in a few details.

Before we arrived for our early morning swim Archie Christie had been meeting David Moyes (the time to allow the manager get to training) to talk about Green but by the time we ended the day we had held in our hand a bid for the player from another Premier League Club.

The deal had been in the offing for sometime although it was coincidence that we got exposed to it (the day of the interview was enforced by mine & Jason’s work commitments, Christie took the first day we offered some eight days in advance of the interview) although in setting up there was a time when I was on Christie’s house phone and David Moyes was the mobile being told that he would be called back.

It is probably not fair to say who the other Premier League team was it was but you might notice that Everton are replacing Tottenham Hotspur in the four team tournament next summer. Spurs are pivotal in the story of Green’s rise. It was on the training pitches of Tottenham Hotspur that Christie showed off his young player’s talent. “He is Rooney,” Christie told us he had told Premier League managers, “the best in the country.”

They agreed. Green played for one of Spurs’ youth teams against Aston Villa and turned in a match winning performance in front of the the massed ranks of scouts. By the end of the game those scouts were literally chasing Christie to find out about the kid.

27 clubs – including top clubs from Germany and Scotland as well as the Premier League – registered an interest in George Green. Christie proudly showed us the DVD of the game in which Green scored a hat-trick. Fifteen in a game of lads older than he Green stood out, and two of the three goals he scored were superb. A mazy dribble with sublime finish and a first time curled goal that did recall Rooney were impressive enough to enchant youth scouts, Premier League managers, Chairmen, Directors of Football recruitment.

Christie had built up Green’s confidence – a confidence he showed on the field against Aston Villa’s kids who had a pair of central defenders rated as the best young pairing in England – by giving him a place in the Development Squad. Green is proof of concept for the idea of having a way to graduate players from the kids but not to the first team. Green could not have played in the first two months of City’s season and even if he had the realities of League Two football probably would not have helped the player’s development.

But playing in the middle area that Christie’s Development Squad provided a place for City to build Green, and be sure of him. While in the Development Squad Christie and the coaches moved Green’s play forward on the field, putting him into a more attacking role. One of the skills Christie is credited as bringing to his role (See Archie Christie Day: Part 2) is the ability to tweak a players game to develop it. In this case he nudged Green forward up the field and the results are there for all to see.

When I asked him how he could attract the attention of top clubs when parading Green Archie Christie said it was because he so rarely did promote a player, and when he did that player was worth promoting. Said Christie “This is one of the highest deals ever for a 15-year-old from a League Two club. But George is the best I’ve seen in his position at his age. He could become another Wayne Rooney or Paul Gascoigne.”

However Christie would not take all the credit for George Green and Peter Horne – and his team of coaches – have once again found a player and brought him to City who has provoked interest from the top division. The difference between Green and Tom Cleverly is not in the finding but the export. As I understand the deal for Green City have got more up front than the stand to make from the full Cleverly deal, sell on clauses aside.

One can hardly blame the club or the board for that. If you or I – well versed in watching football as we are, dear reader – watched a young player impressing in a youth team game would we know at what level he could go on to play at? Would we know if the player was England material or just someone who might play 150 lower league games? If some club offered lower six figures we might take that because we knew not what the player was worth and how the market worked.

It was obvious watching him work that Christie knew that market. He told the board that he would get over a £1m George Green, they were sceptical – I’m sure that many reading this article are sceptical about someone being able to pull a kid from the youth set up and sell him for more than Andrew O’Brien – but Christie has made good on his promise. Not only that but he had looked at a player and recognised what is rare talent (how many other 15 year olds get sold for £2m?) which might indicate that the man knows a thing or two about spotting players.

In the morning we spent with Christie the deal on the table had a limit to a buy out clause, and a few other points that at the end of the day had been changed. That was on Thursday and a different club so I would not be able to say what the final details were but I’m pretty sure that that deal will be superb for City.

It would have been great to watch George Green break into the first team, to cut a dash in claret and amber, and it is sad in a way that that will not happen but that income can pay for City’s progress. The Development Squad is paid for and so are a good few first team players. Christie’s hope is that with deal like Green City will be paying for the wages of three or four League One players in years to come.

(As a side note, and the complexities are detailed and I may have misunderstood them, but when a player reaches sixteen the FIFA rules on transfers change to mean that rather than being able to get a transfer fee clubs can sign players paying compensation on the basis of a mechanic rather than as the selling club dictating the terms. Had we kept hold of Green with the aim of putting him in the first team there is a risk that he would have left after any professional contract he signed expired – typically the deals offered to sixteen year olds are two years, the deal with Brown differs because it has been subject to a transfer already – and that City would have been paid only “training compensation”. That compensation which would have been much less than the fee Everton have eventually paid.)

The Green deal is a massive success for Bradford City and hopefully a massive one for Everton too – they have developed a few decent young lads in their time – and one which starts to move the club out of the era of relying on cash input from the chairmen and into a time when the club begins to not only pay for the year on year football but also for its own improvement.

I recall watching Dean Richards’ last game for Bradford City and when he left for a deal which could have snuck over £2m with clauses that City could have got more. When Andrew O’Brien joined Newcastle for only £1.5m plus a bit I remember thinking that we should probably view his sale as being aggregate of the fee for Des Hamilton. Dean Windass for the £1m we paid for him, Robbie Blake for half of what we had valued him at. I’ve always thought that City’s players leave cheap. I’ve seen that changing now.

George Green: Remember the name not because he is going to be the greatest player in the future of Bradford City but because his move could pay for the future of Bradford City and rather than being a product of blind luck this boon is brought about by a hard working youth development squad delivering players to a development environment and having a business environment which was able to maximise the opportunity.


This story works well when read with Archie Christie Day: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Archie Christie Day: Part 1/3

Early risers

7.15am on Thursday 29 September. The reception of the Cedar Court Hotel – just at the end of the M606 at the top of Bradford – is quiet and largely deserted, with a small smattering of smartly dressed guests peacefully reading newspapers or checking emails on their lap tops.

The tranquillity is interrupted by the booming voice of Archie Christie, Bradford City Football Club’s Chief Scout and Head of Football Development, as he enters the reception and welcomes BfB’s Michael Wood and Jason McKeown.

Christie shakes our hands warmly and hands us each a towel, before walking to a side door and bellowing “follow me.” We have no idea where we are going or what we’re doing; only that Archie told us we had to wear shorts today.

“It’s a deal-breaker.”

How did we get here?

With the season starting slowly for the Bantams and the fallout over Peter Jackson’s sudden walkout still fresh, summer arrival Christie has become the subject of much criticism from a small but vocal section of City supporters.

It was rumoured he wouldn’t let Jackson manage the club; it has been argued the summer signings who have not yet set the world alight are down to his poor judgement; even Christie’s role at Dagenham has been questioned in terms of how much value he actually brought to the Essex club. Throw in complaints that money is being wasted on the Development Squad when it should be channelled to the first team, and Christie it seems is an unwelcome outsider.

Christie appears to have very broad shoulders, but the criticism has clearly hurt a little. Early attempts to engage with fans by writing a blog were abandoned due to some fans emailing to say they didn’t care about his opinions. Some message board grumblings have seemingly been relayed back to him. Worst of all, two supporters managed to get hold of his mobile number and left some rather disturbing voicemails, demanding the Scotsman leaves the club.

So having become a reader of BfB, Archie contacted us out of the blue with an invitation to spend a day shadowing him as he goes about his job, so we can see and report on what he does for Bradford City. It is his way, we feel, of setting the record straight about how he operates – and the potential value it brings.

Many aspects of what we were to see on the day have to be confidential, though over the coming weeks BfB may be in a position to report on some of them. That said, Christie was true to his initial promise in that we were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime ‘access all areas’ type of day.

There was so much we took from the seven hours we spent with him; so we’re going to run a three-part special of what we experienced (parts two and three will follow Monday and Tuesday).

Along the way we interviewed Development Squad players, Peter Horne, Phil Parkinson, an agent and his head scout – their views will appear over this series. We were able to witness up close the first team players in action, meet the staff who work under Archie back at Valley Parade, and receive a friendly hello from Julian Rhodes. We got a fantastic appreciation of the hard work that is taking place behind the scenes – unseen normally by us regular supporters.

Although none of this would have been possible if we’d forgotten to turn up with our shorts.

Making an early splash

As it was the shorts were needed for joining him for a morning swim at the Hotel’s facilities, which he stays at regularly during the week. So we got changed and jumped into the indoor pool – with water colder than it looked – in order to embark on a few laps with him.

Appearances can be deceptive. This is no life of leisure for Christie – while we showed up bleary-eyed at being out and about so early, he’s been awake since 5.30am having telephone meetings with important people at two different Premier League clubs (one of which was a manager). This is therefore a well-earned mid-morning break, before Christie gets back to his phone that seems to ring twenty times per hour.

As we relax in the pool, football is naturally the main topic of conversation. Carlos Tevez is still in the news after refusing to play for Man City in midweek, and Christie is scathing in his views of the £200k per week striker.

Closer to home, he’s understandably feeling excited at having just secured a pre-season friendly tournament at Valley Parade next summer that will include Glasgow Rangers and Tottenham. The fourth club for this line up is not 100% confirmed yet, so Archie asked us not to disclose it to you – but if it comes off, it is a name that will overshadow the other two in interest it would prompt. Don’t bother booking a holiday for next July just yet.

Christie is full of enthusiasm for the Development Squad players he has signed. With great feeling he describes taking his Development Squad and eight youth team players to fulfil the reserves’ opening fixture at Rotherham – where others told him he was mad and that the team would be heavily thrashed by a strong Millers’ team – and they won 2-1.

After the previously injury-plagued Terry Dixon came off the bench for his first game in two years and scored the winner, Christie declared it was “the proudest moment of my career”. This from someone highly regarded within The Game for his achievements (he turned down scouting positions at Premier League clubs this summer to come here, has an impressive array of contacts and even once sat in the dugout with a country’s coaching staff at a World Cup Finals match).

In addition we talked about some of the criticism he’s been getting and about those shocking voicemails (we won’t repeat the language the ‘fans’ used here). He seems surprised to have received such a hostile welcome to Bradford, but is undeterred by it. It seems a natural time to bring up Peter Jackson and any role that he may have had in the former manager’s sudden departure. Archie talks of how much he respects Jackson as a person, and re-affirms it was a matter of resignation. Maybe one day Peter Jackson’s reasons for quitting will be made public, but that is down to Peter Jackson.

Archie is excited about the four year plan he is implementing, that is aimed at City returning to the Championship. He talked of how much passion he has for the club, how much sorrow he felt about the Valley Parade fire – looking in from the outside – and his despair about the last seven years of under-performance in the bottom two divisions. We’ll come back to this and more later on; when we we’re in a position to record his views.

A successful businessman in a position to retire at 40 – thus moving into football – Christie is not here for the money. He only receives expenses for the work he undertakes, and his only objective is to reignite a football club which has become directionless and desperate.

Fresh fruit and beans on toast

By the time we’re changed again, Development Squad players Andrew Burns and Scott Brown have arrived at the hotel for breakfast. Terry Dixon joins us soon after, while first team players such as Liam Moore, Kyel Reid and new signing Adam Reed mill about.

The Development Squad has been one of the major talking points among City supporters since it was introduced during the summer. So we had asked Christie if we could meet some of these players, to learn more about how they are finding the experience of joining the club. All three players are polite and softly-spoken. Perhaps curious as to what we are doing here, but certainly unfazed. Brown (still only 16) and Burns (18) are living in one of the Chairman’s houses (the Chairman not there), while Dixon (21) has been ordered by Christie to live with him at all times, so he can monitor the youngster’s battle to regain fitness.

“I’ve had a few injuries – dislocating my knee twice and having cartilage problems from the age of 14,” explained former Tottenham and West Ham striker Dixon when we asked him how he joined the club. “I’ve fully recovered from that now, it doesn’t swell up anymore. My agent got in touch with Archie and he said come down and see how you go. It’s going alright at the moment.”

For Brown, who signed from Scottish club Clyde, moving to City was a fulfilment of a dream. He said, “I’ve always wanted to play in England. I think it suits my game more. So when Archie came in for me I was never going to say no. I didn’t know what it was going to be, whether I would be joining the first team or the Development Squad. Turns out it was for the Development Squad, although I’m training with the first team now.”

Burns’ route to Valley Parade seems the most ordinary of the three, having been released by Bolton during the summer he was given a second chance by Christie. “I hadn’t been any where else previously after leaving Bolton, though I had a couple of trials set up,” he revealed. “But after speaking to Archie, then once I had been here a few days, I knew it was a good place to be.

“A lot of people have said to me, dropping down from Premiership to League Two, there must be poor facilities and everything. But for a League Two club it’s brilliant here. It’s a club in the wrong league, definitely. Hopefully it will start turning soon and we will get up there where we should be.”

With numerous players having been signed by Phil Parkinson since he joined a month ago, it would appear that the first team chances for the trio are limited. Yet in actual fact Christie is expecting them to make their debuts this season – an aim that Parkinson reaffirms later. With Dixon it’s a question of getting fully fit and he is currently on loan at Halifax, but soon he should be pushing for a starting place; while Brown almost made his debut against Wimbledon recently.

“Scott was four minutes away from starting on Saturday,” revealed Archie. “Flynn was struggling so Scott was starting.” In Christie’s view, Burns is about six months away from the first team and two years away from being the club captain. “Don’t be fooled by Andrew’s baby-face,” he chuckles. “In the Development Squad he’s my captain and he’s a proper captain. He’s big in the middle, he’ll be saying to others to keep going.”

On his potential debut at just 16, Brown seemed unfazed. “It would have been brilliant, but these things (Flynn’s recovery from injury) happen so you just need to get on with it, keep working hard, training hard and pushing for a place in the first team.”

“At Bolton I didn’t really feel like I was going to get that first team chance,” admitted Burns. “Here training with the first team and impressing the manager, you feel like you have a chance. Obviously Archie says I may not be ready just yet, for another couple of months.”

Dixon added, “Archie told me to be a part of the Development Squad for a couple of months to get my fitness and then push on for the first team. (Being at Halifax on loan) has been alright to be fair. Good set of lads there. Nice pitch as well. I’m getting game time and I haven’t had games in a while.”

We were curious at to the role Christie played with the management of the Development Squad. Did he take the training? “Never. never ever, ever. I only do contracts, development, strategy. Never take training. I have nothing to do with technical aspects whatsoever. That’s what I hire coaches for. Wayne Allison is the current Development Squad coach.

“I help the Development Squad by offering advice on all sorts. If they want to get a mortgage, if they want to get a car, if they want to get a driving licence – that’s what I’m here for.”

Yet talking to the three players alone as Christie ducks out to take yet another phone call, it’s clear they hold him in much higher regard than his own modest claims. Christie regularly drops round to the house Brown and Burns share to check “they’re not getting into mischief”, while he asks all three about their families as we scoffed down breakfast – all three taking the healthy options.

“If we’ve got a problem on the training pitch we go to our coaches, if it’s anything else we go to Archie,” explained Brown. Have you had an Archie figure in your careers before? Neither Scott nor Andrew had, and all three agreed that they viewed him as a surrogate dad. “Any problems you go to him and he’ll sort it for you,” added Andrew.

Terry laughed, “He’s completely mad!”

Aside from Archie, it was clear that the players also receive strong support from Parkinson, Steve Parkin and senior players; with Michael Flynn praised by Brown in particular. On his first game for City at Silsden in July, “It was a great experience, especially playing alongside Flynn. He has a lot of experience and he helped me out a lot during that game.”

As the players say their goodbyes and head off for training, we can’t help but feel impressed by their quiet but strong determination to build successful careers at this club. It seems all three are closer to the first team than we supporters might expect, and are excited rather than apprehensive at that prospect.

The young(er) ones

As the players depart Peter Horne arrives to kindly have a chat with us; more tea and coffee is poured.

Promoted by Christie to Head of Youth Development during the summer, Horne has almost become a permanent fixture behind the scenes – how many other Bradford City employees, if any, have been here since 1998, when he joined? “I’m a Bradford lad. Born in Bradford, lived in Bradford all my life,” he explains when we ask him about his ongoing loyalty. He’s turned down opportunities elsewhere in the past, but has probably never been considered more vital by the club than he is now.

Christie, who made a point of praising Horne when he joined, explained: “It was the first thing I did when I started, sign Peter on a four year deal. When I met the Chairmen I said ‘we need to sign Peter on a long-term deal’ I’d not even met Peter at that point, but I knew from his track record that we needed to sign him on a longer deal. I said ‘find him, get him in front of me and let’s get it done’.

“Players aren’t the most important thing at this club. It’s about the bricks and mortar and foundations we can build the club upon. That’s why Peter was my first signing.”

This promotion was great reward for the job Horne has done, largely behind the scenes, nurturing young players and generating sizable revenue through player sales over the years. He oversaw the negotiations for transferring for large fees the likes of Fabian Delph, Tom Cleverly and Andre Wisdom; often in difficult circumstances, such as the club been in administration and a weak position when clubs came knocking. Without disclosing names and potential figures, Horne and Christie are confident of securing more sales of the best young players to big clubs in future.

Christie said: “Looking forwards we’ve got to change the previous policy. We don’t want our best youth players to go to Liverpool, we want them to go somewhere where Liverpool will buy them (and City would benefit from a sell on clause). We’d rather they go to Glasgow Rangers or Southampton, play there for two or three years and get to 20 and then a big Premiership club comes in.

“You saw Jordan Henderson go for £20 million – that’s ultimately what we want. That sell on would enable us to sustain in the Championship for three years, just that one sell on. Or it would guarantee us promotion from League One, because we could buy three or four players for that.”

“A lot of supporters don’t see that,” adds Horne. “I get a lot of comments along the lines of ‘why aren’t we seeing any young players coming through?’ But it isn’t just about that. Our youth department is working in a different way. Yes we produce some players for the first team, but we’re helping to sustain things for the club.”

So what has changed this summer since Christie’s arrival and Horne’s promotion? Horne stated, “I’ve signed a four-year deal at the start of this year. And with David Wetherall leaving I had to restructure it all, I don’t do as much coaching now but I’ve brought in Steve Thornber from Rotherham who I’ve known for nine years. And we’ve restructured everything.

“I leave some jobs to Archie and the Chairman, and I just oversee the youth development. I promoted Alan Nevison into Centre of Excellence; he’s been working here for a long time. And so far it’s all working alright. Touch wood, it’s working alright.

“I don’t think I’d have the confidence with this whole restructure thing if it wasn’t for having in Archie – a father figure who has a different style. If me and Archie were the same it wouldn’t work.” Christie added: “We’re the opposite. He tells me how it is even if I don’t agree. We speak every day and have meetings three or four times a week. We plan the strategy from the ground up.”

Clearly Archie thinks a great deal of Horne, and the respect is mutual. “There are too many people that waffle and go around corners and round the houses, Archie just gets it done,” Horne said. “If it needs doing he just gets it done. We’ve never had that at Bradford City. It’s a great asset I think, what he does for the club – for example the Development Squad is something I think that we need. Not everyone in the Development Squad will get into the first team, but if we get a decent percentage of them in and considering how low it’s costing – it’s happy days all round isn’t it?

“The best thing that’s happened for our youth department is the Development Squad. Because now when the older youth players get to a certain age, we can offer one a pro and put others in the Development Squad and give them another six months to see if they develop anymore. So it’s fantastic really.

“If Archie wasn’t here, I’ve got to be honest with you I think that I would feel isolated. That’s what his role is, to link the set ups. But you know, if people don’t fit they’re not here are they?”

At which point Christie added, “Yeah if people don’t fit they’re not here. Unfortunately. That’s not arrogance, that’s just a fact of life. We’re club first, Peter and I. I phone him up asking ‘who are you going to watch tonight?’ and we’re both always going to games. Other people were at home with their families. Well their families aren’t more important to them than our families are to us. But we put the club first. Those people who don’t put the club first can fuck off. And you can quote me on that. That’s how I feel.”

With Phil Parkinson’s post-Wimbledon comments about a “losing mentality” at the club still fresh in our thoughts, we ask Horne how important a winning ethos is for the various youth teams. “It needs to be instilled at all levels,” he declared. “I’ve told the youth team that this year I’m not accepting anything but a winning mentality. Winning is really important and you’ve got to have it in at youth team level.”

In no time at all it’s time to end the conversation and prepare to drive with Christie to the training ground.

Talking to Horne is a hugely refreshing experience. As supporters we can often be guilty of only thinking about the youth team when the first team has lost and we’re sulkily wondering “where’s the young talent coming through?” But while Bradford City has had to sell its best youngsters before they were old enough for the first team, there’s little doubt the money this generated has been vital for the club and the likely continuation of this route will see those revenues continue. In future Christie will manage the negotiations of any such transfers with Horne’s support, and both agree this likely to result in securing even larger transfer fees.


Continued in Archie Christie Day: Part 2.

The week we lost our faith

The round trip to Crawley Town was a long and tedious 496 miles in total, but by the time City’s players alighted from the bus back at Valley Parade the mood of the season had quickly turned as dark as the Bradford night they walked into.

By all accounts, the team was poor in losing to Crawley – surrendering a 1-0 half time lead to concede three goals in dismal fashion. The result kept the Bantams third bottom of the entire Football League, with a gap to the clubs above beginning to emerge. Small wonder then, that many of us supporters are feeling so despondent.

Yet at the same time, the outcries of anguish and the anger which has been directed at individuals who represent the club has been difficult to observe this week. The criticisms have been loud and far reaching, and suddenly the outlook of how the season is going appears to have been altered. The likes of Guy Branston and James Hanson are singled out unfairly; Phil Parkinson’s signings are retrospectively criticised; while a sinister and unhelpful vendetta from some towards Archie Christie continues.

One can understand the concern over City only winning one of their opening eight league matches, but less so the need to be so negative and to panic.

Weeks like this – coping with a Bantams defeat – have become such a regular occurrence in recent years that it’s all depressingly familiar. And as a result the only option to avoid having to feel miserable and upse  is to switch off as much as possible and try to focus on other things in life until Saturday. But it’s always there, at the back of your mind – worrying and fretting about your club. And as much as you want to ignore people on message boards and on Twitter attacking the players, there’s an overriding worry that others will be listening and acting upon this vitriol.

Is it justified to suddenly allow a glass half empty outlook to dictate the overall mood of us supporters? Perhaps in the past yes, but on this occasion I strongly believe it isn’t. Crawley sounded bad for sure, but only four days earlier I and some 300 other City fans had watched the players put in a strong performance against Port Vale, where they were very unfortunate to lose. The last time the team played at Valley Parade, they produced an eye-catching display that included a first half performance as good as anything we’ve seen for years.

Looking at the season as a whole, the effort levels and standard of performances have also been encouraging. To date I have seen every game but Accrington, Dagenham and Crawley. Each time the workrate and determination of the team has been commendably high – and I understand this was the case against Accrington and Dagenham too. Application-wise there is room for improvement, but it seems Crawley was the first occasion this season where we can agree the players really let us down.

So why be so quick to jump upon them and write them off? Branston was in the PFA League Two team of the season last year, has he become a bad player overnight or is it a question of him finding better form and confidence? Hanson is picked upon time and time again, yet so often this season the team has not played to his strengths making it very difficult for him. Chris Mitchell is viewed as slow and lightweight, rather than us focusing on his on-the-ball qualities. Matt Duke is clearly lacking match sharpness, but some have seemingly written him off.

The strategy adopted by the club this summer should not need repeating, yet it is now criticised in retrospect by some in the laziest of ways. If Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes had ignored the idea of the Development Squad and once again thrown money at the first team this summer, I personally fail to see how we’d be any better off save for a few more points at this stage. The club has lacked a sufficient infrastructure off the field for a number of years and progress is too much at the whim of how big the playing budget is for a particular season. This long-term approach is just that, long-term. We should not be writing it off after just eight league games.

There has been talk that the emphasis of the club has changed from a “building season” to “promotion or bust”, because of the signings Parkinson has been allowed to make – but when viewed closely the facts don’t support this theory. The new boss has sought to make changes to the two positions in the team covered by loanees – wide left and goalkeeper – by bringing in players on permanent contracts. Surely this is in support of a longer-term focus?

Craig Fagan has arrived too, but we know from Peter Jackson’s final days that a need for a striker had been identified and he was actively searching. Fagan is a notable signing and it’s been suggested won’t have come cheap. Perhaps but, given the former Hull striker had missed a year’s football through a broken leg and was struggling to find a club, it seems more likely he is here on low wages with an eye on impressing enough to ultimately attract interest from higher up the leagues (or even a better contract with City next summer).

This is similar to Lee Hendrie last season, who had a decent short-term impact. We can question the wisdom of signing Fagan and where this leaves the promising Mark Stewart, but that doesn’t mean the club has abandoned the strategy agreed in the summer. The problem with suggesting it is now “promotion or bust” is that the expectation bar is suddenley raised and City’s performance seems all the poorer as a result.

In many ways, weeks like this one show a lack of perspective to our judgements and emotions. Losing to Crawley is upsetting, looking at the league table is painful – yet with rationale thinking and remembering the bigger picture, the level of doom and gloom should have its limits. If you’ve sent Branston a nasty tweet this week – as many did – shame on you, because you are not in any way helping the club progress. If you attack players and management on message boards, at least throw up constructive solutions to the problems you deride.

Football supporting seems to allow us to be childish and moody in how we behave – especially in defeat – when in every other walk of life we would never dream of acting in the same way. It’s time to take a step back more often, appreciate the difficulties the club faces rather than jumping in with anger and blame. Passion is a good thing, but directing it in a destructive way does little to help and this seems to be all that some can do.

Bradford City is a club that has to welcome and be grateful for every supporter it can get, but it needs to be remembered that it is our choice to support them and this sense of personal injustice we throw back at them when they struggle isn’t always their fault.

The actions taken this summer mean that this season we have the chance to help create something special. A team we can be truly proud of, because they care deeply about our club and understand what makes us special. Parkinson is trying to implement an attacking, passing style of game that is a welcome relief from the direct football we’ve endured so often in recent years. The Development Squad offers the promise of providing a handful of players good enough to make the first team in time. Scott Brown looks amazing, and he can play soon.

We are not that far off from been a good side, already too much hard work has been completed to throw it all away. So please, let’s not go to the Wimbledon game on Saturday with arms folded waiting for an opportunity to act indignant; let’s do our bit and prove to the team and to each other what being a football supporter is really all about.

A surprisingly good fortnight for Mark Lawn

18 days on from a rather unpleasant-looking storm brewing over Valley Parade, it’s hard to imagine how the past two weeks could have gone any better for the Bradford City Board. When Peter Jackson resigned as manager on Thursday 25th August, the lack of explanation initially offered left Joint Chairman Mark Lawn on the receiving end of some truly venomous criticism. Yet just like the summer interest from Steve Parkin in taking over the club, Lawn has avoided any serious blows and emerged in a stronger position.

Sometimes you just can’t win and, having dallied for a long time appointing a replacement for Peter Taylor last season, the speed at which Lawn and Julian Rhodes recruited Phil Parkinson following Jackson’s walk out was viewed by some as too hasty. Yet a period that could have been so disruptive and difficult has proven to be a relatively smooth affair.

Michael Flynn’s last-minute penalty on Saturday means the team still hasn’t lost since Jackson departed – a notable statistic given four of the five previous games had ended in defeat. Parkinson has made three exciting signings that have undoubtedly improved the squad, while at the same time not dismantling the team building that had taken place before him. City have being drawn to play rivals Huddersfield Town in round two of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Colin Cooper’s decision to quit the club last week is the only genuine negative moment in two weeks of good news.

When the storm clouds gathered, Lawn was typically not shy in sharing his views. But while he may not be blameless for Jackson’s departure it’s hard to dispute that – fronting up to a potential crisis – he has shown strong leadership that has made a positive difference. It could easily have gone much worse this last fortnight, and Lawn could have justifiably pointed the blame at others for that happening. But while most managerial changes in recent years have seen this club go backwards, the early signs are that we are still moving forwards.

Lawn probably won’t get it from some quarters, but he deserves credit for this and for maintaining the long-term approach that it appears he and Rhodes chose to instigate this summer. Since the end of last season the pair have secured the club’s immediate future at Valley Parade by pouring more of their own money in, addressed the long-standing training ground problems and revamped the way young players are recruited and nurtured. They could have just as easily told Jackson to make do with Appleby Bridge – it’s not as if he was complaining – and thrown all the money into a playing budget and make it a ‘promotion or bust’ season yet again. Instead they have focused on a new vision to improve the club.

Jackson’s departure was the first test of this strategy, but instead of being tempted to tear it up they sought to take decisions that ensured its continuation. If the rift between chief scout Archie Christie and Jackson was as bad as some say they could have handled that very differently, such as by sacking the former Dagenham scout. We don’t know the ins and outs of what really happened, but it’s clear the pair retained support for Christie and backed him to continue the job he has started.

Time will tell how successful Christie’s development squad will prove. A sad fallout from the whole Jackson saga is that a number of supporters now view Christie in a negative light and seem less willing to support the development squad idea. But in making this appointment during the summer it’s clear Lawn and Rhodes sought to find a football man to instigate a strategy they are not qualified to manage (and – not that BfB believes Lawn cares what we think – we did tell him). That’s not to say Christie is some form of genuis (his role at Dagenham may have been slightly overplayed), but clearly he has strong contacts and has brought in some talented players from Scotland and England.

It appears getting rid of him – if that ever was a consideration – would have left a bigger hole than Jackson did.

Lawn appeared to handle the criticism he received remarkably well. It seemed he accepted why he was targeted and didn’t seek to make it worse by arguing back. He didn’t challenge his critics to a fight, and he didn’t label those who questioned him ‘morons’. Instead he concentrated on getting City back on track. It’s too early to judge whether appointing Parkinson is a great decision, but initial signs look very promising.

Lawn will probably never be widely popular among City supporters. But the fading levels of criticism towards him probably illustrate just what a good job he and Julian Rhodes have done in guiding the club over this unexpected bump in the road.

Candidate Three: John Still, a manager with proven success in a less desirable style

Had Gordon Gibb’s Family Pension Fund been more obliging when Bradford City approached them in their hour of need, it is entirely plausible that John Still would have been installed as Bantams manager during this summer.

The battle to ultimately succeed Peter Taylor had become a straight fight between Still and Peter Jackson. Having achieved five promotions in an 18-year career as manager – including taking Dagenham & Redbridge into League One in 2010 – Still was a strong candidate who ticked many of the right boxes for Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn. His great skill had been in unearthing hidden talent in non-leagues and selling them on for profit – while the Daggers prospered on the field.

Perhaps City’s Board would have gone on to choose Jackson over Still, but when the Londoner ruled himself out of the reckoning on account of the uncertainty over City’s future at Valley Parade, the options were suddenly reduced.

Five games into this season, would Still be willing to change his mind? As Lawn today revealed that City’s three-person shortlist includes a candidate already managing a club, it appears highly likely the Dagenham boss remains strongly in the Joint Chairmen’s thoughts. The fact his more street-wise side were able to win at Valley Parade less than a week ago may have further strengthened his appeal – particularly as the Board can be confident he would get on well with the other key appointment they made last summer.

As the debate and gossip over Jackson’s shock departure rages on, extremely credible claims that he did not get on with chief scout Archie Christie continue to surface (though it should be noted other equally reliable sources have provided other reasons for Jackson’s departure). It’s speculated bad blood between the pair had influenced Jackson’s team selection, while Christie is said to have been critical of the tactics employed by the first team manager. Christie, of course, rocked up at Valley Parade this summer after moving from Dagenham. It is said he and Still were interviewed for the City job together, presented as a team; and – although Still ruled himself out of the running – Christie was snatched to revamp the scouting network and implement the Development Squad initiative.

Quite who appointed Christie is unclear, with sources close to the club claiming it was Jackson’s decision to select him. Certainly Jackson was responsible for the other coaching staff who were brought in this summer – including Wayne Allison, who has a key role with Christie’s Development Squad. Many of the summer signings were presented as influenced by Christie, but with Jackson having the final decision.

It’s clear that, for the Development Squad idea to work, the first team manager and Christie need to be working closely together. Both have differing goals, but are working for the same cause. Whether Lawn and Rhodes decide to appoint Phil Parkinson, Dean Windass, Still or someone else, the relationship with Christie is going to be a crucial consideration. In this area at least, Still is the frontrunner.

Beyond that, is Still the right man for City? His track record of buying cheap and improving players is one that will be welcomed at Valley Parade with money likely to remain tight for the rest of this season and next. The fact he has proven he can get a club promoted from this league is an achievement that commands great respect. However the success he has delivered didn’t happen over night – and the instability of the City hotseat may prove extremely off-putting.

Still took over Dagenham in April 2004 and in his first two seasons the club finished mid-table, but he was afforded time to get it right. To put that time into perspective, Bryan Robson was City’s manager when Still took over and five gaffers have followed him in and out of the Bantams. Jackson was only offered a one-year contract at City – just like his predecessor Taylor – Still is unlikely to accept such a short-term deal in return for giving up what’s he built.

Then there’s the style of play Still has instilled at Dagenham. While some criticised the direct football employed by Jackson and Taylor, Still takes it to another level. I still recall – with shivers – the physical, long-ball style Still had his side following in a 1-1 draw with City back in December 2008. Other visits to Valley Parade saw similar crude football. Far be it from me to cast an opinion on the reasons behind Dagenham’s relegation from League One last season, but the direct football Still coaches is clearly limited and will only get any club so far.

Still can bring peace and harmony behind the scenes at City; he can coach current players to produce far better than they have offered to date. Yet with the club’s long-term focus firmly in Lawn and Rhodes’ minds – on BBC Radio Leeds today Lawn reiterated the aim vocalised by Christie in the summer that the club aim to be in the Championship in five years – there must be serious doubts over how capable Still would be at fulfilling that journey.

Another search for a manager begins

Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes will be used to looking for a new manager and – after three appointments two of which lasted less than a year and a bit – they show no signs of having a grasp of the right criteria to make those appointments.

When Stuart McCall “resigned” from the club the question we asked was what the plan was for the recruitment of his replacement was. A lot of these questions have been answered with the move to new facilities at Woodhouse Grove and the appointment of Archie Christie as Chief Scout and Director of Football Development.

There is a plan at the club which Christie was brought in to implement to develop players for the first team – and to provide more players for the manager with a more extensive scouting network – which aims to take some of the onus of recruitment from the manager and have a retention of knowledge beyond the man in the dug out. Unlike the situation where Peter Taylor left and his backroom staff were sent away with him Jackson having left yesterday the players have familiar faces around them.

It is this type of system which saw an end to Kevin Keegan’s second spell at Newcastle United and – in a way – Alan Curbishley at West Ham but is increasingly common in football. Indeed on Jackson’s last day at Valley Parade Michael Flynn told Radio Leeds that Colin Cooper took the players through their paces while the manager spent the morning on the phone to football managers trying to find a striker on loan. The team and manager lunched and went over the plan for the Barnet game, then resigned.

(It should be noted, and as an aside, that Keegan’s contracted stated that he would have the final say over players brought into the club and when the club’s Director of Football Recruitment Dennis Wise signed Xisco – the issue which Keegan resigned over – Newcastle United were in breach of that contract and while Keegan resigned he later successfully sued the club for constructive dismissal. One wonders what the detail of Jackson’s contract was.)

The manager’s remit is the first team and the requirement is not for an holistic club builder but rather for a game winner, and someone who with coaching and deployment can edge a performance an inch or two better. There is a list of managers who were considered to replace Stuart McCall (now Motherwell): Peter Taylor (now Bahrain), Steve Cotterill (now Portsmouth), Russell Slade (now Leyton Orient), Peter Jackson, Lawrie Sanchez (now Barnet), Jim Magilton (now caretaker assistant manager Shamrock Rovers), Dean Windass (working for BSKYB), John Coleman (still Accrington), Iain Dowie (no club), Martin Allen (now Notts County) and Wayne Jacobs. Six months ago John Hughes (no club) declared an interest in joining City and John Still (still Dagenham) interviewed for the position.

How many of these fulfil the remit which Jackson was being asked to work within? Certainly John Still – the victorious Dagenham manager of last week – would do having worked with Christie before but one has to wonder how much of an appreciation of what skills the next manager needs to have, and how those skills are distinct from those which were required when looking for McCall or Taylor.

Having appointed a big personality in Jackson – and perhaps had personality clashes – Lawn and Rhodes may be tempted to opt to bring in a younger manager who is more malleable, less set in his ways of how to run a club, and able to work within the current structure. They would do well to avoid “Yes” men.

The aim of the club is to have an appointment before next week’s trip to Morecambe which suggests that there is someone in mind – probably someone who has talked to the club six or eighteen months ago – but that Lawn and Rhodes do not have the clarity to bring someone in immediately. Were John Still to be the choice then one imagines a call would be made, a resignation drafted, and the new man revealed on Monday. The fact that there is a week until appointment suggests that there are discussions to be had and a choice to be made. There is a suggestion that three interviews will be held this week. One has to wonder what Lawn and Rhodes think they will hear in those interviews which they had not heard in the last two rounds, and how they will be able to sift the answers to get the right man. We are to assume that Jackson and Taylor were both the most impressive people in interview.

The early runners

The link to John Still – who talked about how he would have joined City were it not for the uncertainty over the future of Valley Parade – is a strong one with the Dagenham manager being in the final two of the club’s thoughts when Jackson was appointed. The club would – not doubt – have to pay Dagenham to free Still from his contract.

Impressive in the last round of interviews was former Hibs and Falkirk manager John Hughes who is out of work at the moment and could come in without any compensation payable. Hughes is a strong candidate for the job but one might expect him to be appointed this morning rather than next week if he is the chosen one.

Former players Peter Beagrie and Dean Windass have their name’s mentioned often in connection with the job. Beagrie has shown no interest in moving into management thus far but Windass has made his desire to take over the club known – Terry Dolan as his assistant – and could fit in as the type of rookie manager who may appeal to the board who have had problems dealing with experienced number ones.

Former Barnsley manager and City man of the 1980s John Hendrie is also an option although one might wonder how many conversations Hendrie has had with Stuart McCall about the board at Bradford City and how that would colour his view of the job were it offered.

City have always been fond a bit of fashionability and so perhaps Jim Magilton – who is working as caretaker assistant at Shamrock Rovers who qualified for the Europa League with this superb strike last night may be an outside bet having talked to the club previously.

Other names work mentioning include Colin Cooper the current caretaker manager and former player and Farsley manager Lee Sinnott. Paul Ince has been mentioned – his promotion with MK Dons would impress the board almost as much as his collection of shiny medals but his track record is patchy.

Finally John Coleman has interested City in the past.

The week we lost patience

It was always coming – the loss of patience that has fractured Valley Parade this week – but the surprise was not that it has arrived in such a short space of time but that the harbinger of trouble came from a sight thought consigned to City’s history. Luke Oliver in attack.

Oliver lumbered into the forward line and five days later Peter Jackson – the man who called the job as Bradford City his dream come true – was walking out of the club leaving a stunned playing squad and a lot of questions.

Questions that everyone – including Jackson – will struggle to find answer to. As he woke up this morning the former Huddersfield Town, Lincoln City and Bradford City manager is no longer a football manager. The Bantams pulled Jackson out of retirement – he was literally in a nursing home – and gave him one of 92 jobs in professional football.

And, Jackson said, the job he really wanted over all others. Think about that for a moment. Right up until – as Michael Flynn testified to – Jackson put on his suit and headed to the board meeting at Valley Parade Jackson was a man (according to himself) doing the job he had always wanted. Two hours later he became a former professional football manager now. Before City no one wanted him, and his experience of the last six months will do nothing to add to his employability.

What could have happened in that boardroom which would make a man inflict such a destiny on himself?

Retracing the steps following the defeat to Dagenham and Redbridge on Saturday it is hard to say. During the week Peter Jackson went back on his ideas of building a squada squad we are told has been bolstered by additional funding – after a game which had seen his side booed off.

Jackson talked about how great the supporters had been to him, how they had stuck by the team, and in doing so drew a line between the malcontent and those who did get behind his side. There are people who use Valley Parade as a place to vent their spleens and I have made my thoughts on those people known but there are more people who have turned up to Valley Parade regularly over the past decade through some pretty thin thin. Ten years without much manifest progress.

Those people – who Jackson credited as sticking by his team – are wondering what must have happened in that two hour board meeting that means that Jackson lasts only six months compared to the years they put in.

The Daggers game saw patience levels tested. It was the second home defeat of the season in only two games which levelled the number of home defeats which Stuart McCall’s side suffered in the 2008/2009 season, the point being illustrated not being about managers but rather about promotion prospects. For those who – with levels of optimism unjustified – thought that City were in the title hunt this season that was enough to see them lose patience. Perhaps Jackson – or members of the board – were amongst them.

It is said that in one board meeting former manager McCall threw a DVD of a game at a board member after a badgering session. Perhaps there was nothing for Jackson to throw. McCall carried on that season until he felt that promotion could not be achieved, Jackson had 42 games left but – we are told – believed that the club could do better with someone else at the helm.

For Peter Jackson it seemed that his patience with his four strikers was at an end and he declared that he would be bringing in an experienced striker. Jackson’s decision had some logic to it – a team that is not winning because it is not scoring will do no good to the education of any of the squad – but even were one to accept Jackson’s analysis that the problem City are facing is to do with not having enough smarts in the forward line his solution was by no means foolproof.

Recall – if you will – Peter Taylor’s signing of Jason Price – a player who has since moved on to today’s opposition Barnet – who was very much the type of experienced striker that Jackson talked about bringing in. The thirty year old Price looked good at Valley Parade but his presence did not spark a turn around in Taylor’s side’s fortunes and on his exit we were left with the same squad of players we had before his signing, although their noses had been put slightly more out of joint by having someone brought in over their heads.

If Jackson was under pressure to sign a player and did not want to – and there is no indication that he was not keen on bringing someone in or that he had not attempted to do so – then he certainly toed the party line. If Jackson did try a quarter of the managers in football to try find a new player and drew a blank then the suggestion he resigned on a point of principal of the club recommending via Archie Christie a new forward would paint the City boss in the most churlish light. If you have spent all morning being knocked back for players, why get upset when someone else has helped you out? Upset to the point of leaving your dream job.

Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

It was a chilling sight when all six foot seven of Luke Oliver lumbered into the attack for the end of the defeat to Dagenham. Not that Oliver cannot be trusted to do whatever job he is given as well as he can but that the situation in which – James Hanson having been removed – there was the requirement for a target man seemed to suggest that having taken off Hanson Jackson had – in effect – changed his mind.

Four games into the league season and it seemed that Peter Jackson was flailing. Pre-season was spent with the players playing a tight passing game which lasted but a half against Aldershot Town. Since then there has been a commitment to putting foot through the ball and trying to win anything from James Hanson’s head. Players like Mark Stewart – signed with one way of playing in mind – are decided to be too lightweight for the hustle of League Two football.

There is an irony in League Two football. The teams in the middle of the division play a big man, hit-and-hope type of game splitting the teams in the league who try to play the game on the ground. Those who play a passing game well are able to beat the lump up merchants and so rise to the top while the bottom of the league is full of teams who get muscled out, fail to press their passing game, and suffer under the strength of players in the division.

The best and the worst teams play football in League Two. Playing a physical, hit-and-hope game practically guarantees a place in the division next season. Get a couple of big lads and ping the ball at them and – like Peter Taylor’s team – you will still be in League Two at the end of the season.

Which sounds a good prospect after four games and one point but – in two years time – when City feel they have developed the development squad to such a degree where a promotion push is needed then a new way of playing the game is needed to get above the morass.

City’s best performance of the season to date – the game with Leeds United – was based around the kind of passing game which Jackson did not deploy against League Two teams for fear that his players will be muscled off the ball.

Looking at City’s four goals in five games this season three of them have come from what could be classed as passing football, the other being a set play flicked on by Luke Oliver at Oxford. Jackson needed to have more faith in the players he had brought to the club – and in his own judgement that he could bring them in and put them into a starting eleven which could work in League Two – and perhaps it was the thought of retrofitting muscle into his side which played on Jackson’s mind during that board meeting.

One wonders what was said and between whom. For sure in the days and weeks to come both the departing manager and the joint-chairman Mark Lawn will speak about their versions of events and probably reality will sit between them.

In the back of a Ford

City face a Barnet side who seemingly had no chance of being in League Two this season. Adrift at the bottom of League Two they looked to be relegated but for a late season push which saw Lincoln City cast out of football once more.

Having had a trip to Burnley in the League Cup in the week Barnet arrive at Valley Parade without a win since the opening day and on the back of two 2-2 draws. They are managed by Lawrie Sanchez who twice wanted the Bradford City job and have the aforementioned Price, Steve Kabba and Izale McLeod as a potent strike force.

With Colin Cooper expected to be put in charge of the team it is hard to say what the side would be. Martin Hansen has returned to Liverpool after a loan spell which – if anything – should teach him of the need to shout more. Jon McLaughlin would hope to return having played in a Reserve game at Rotherham in the week but Jackson did indicate that Oscar Jansson will start and that the club want him to sign for a longer loan deal.

Steve Williams was in line to return to the back four and – on form – Guy Branston would have had to be man to step down for him with Luke Oliver putting in excellent displays however news of Williams’ set back in training questions that. Robbie Threlfall and Liam Moore are expected to continue at full back.

Jack Compton will be wide on the left. Michael Bryan has yet to flatter and at the moment he – like most loan players – stands accused of using up a shirt that one of our squad could have. Not to put too fine a point on it but it is hard to see how picking Dominic Rowe in the three games Bryan has been at the club would have seen things pan out differently and Rowe would have been three games wiser.

None of which is to criticise Bryan just the wisdom of bringing him to the club given the long term aims that Archie Christie’s development project has outlined. Far be it from me to side with Mark Lawn but given a choice between what Christie talks of and the reality of signing more Michael Bryans, Ryan Kendals, or Louis Moults I’d side with the man who said that we should take a longer term view. Chris Mitchell could come in on the right.

Richie Jones and Michael Flynn – when they were not watching the ball sail over their heads – put in a good display against Dagenham and Redbridge. Dagenham, home of Ford, prompts a motor metaphor in most men and in this case it is that the pair represent an engine running away without the driveshafts and gears that connect it to the wheels. With Jackson’s 442 having been so static there was power generated but that goes to waste for the want of connections to the extremities.

Which returns us to the subject of Mark Stewart and how he would provide that connection dropping between the lines and allowing for some interplay between midfield and attack but – in a game of hoof ball – his skills are negated. Ross Hannah probably did enough to secure himself a starting place in the side next to James Hanson in the starting line up although Nialle Rodney might get a chance. All four of the strikers would – in my opinion – do well with good service.

Which is why the sight of a long ball being pumped to Luke Oliver is a good reason to lose one’s patience but probably not the reason that Jackson’s patience for the machinations of working at Valley Parade ran out.

There is a rumour that Peter Jackson wanted to bring in Danny Cadamarteri from Huddersfield for a second spell at City and that Mark Lawn blocked that on the grounds that having seen Cadamarteri he was unimpressed. This lacks the validity of being a good enough reason to quit your dream job, and again what could one say about a manager who thought Cadamarteri was the answer the City’s goalscoring problems?

Perhaps the biggest question of Jackson’s departure is how well he would have done in the fullness of time. He leaves an unimpressive record behind him of four wins, four draws in eighteen. There was a sense though that Jackson was just getting started and that things would improve. Would they have improved on the basis that Danny Cadamarteri was coming in to point us in the right direction? We shall never know.

Mark Lawn is expected to make a statement today about yesterday which was a remarkable day in Bradford City’s history and Peter Jackson is never shy of the media so will be getting his version out. Both will tell a story and it will probably involve an argument which got out of hand and a number of men who would not back down.

Patience, it seems, was in short supply.

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.

The work in progress

48 hours on from the red hot away atmosphere at Elland Road on a sunny Yorkshire evening, the quaint surroundings of Steeton AFC’s Summerhill Lane ground and a heavy downpour formed the more grounded backdrop to the Bradford City Development Squad’s place of work.

They were here for a friendly against their West Riding County Amateur Football League counterparts – a derby with none of the intensity of Tuesday but with plenty of meaning for all on the pitch. The serious stuff has got going for City’s first teamers, but for almost everyone wearing the lovely pink kit this evening it was an opportunity to prove they are capable, one day, of promotion to the senior squad.

City's Development Squad in development

City's Development Squad in development

Much has been said over the summer about the Archie Christie-led initiative of tutoring a group of younger players, so they can potentially be good enough for first team action over the next few years. But as the football season gets into full swing, it’s likely the Development Squad will become largely forgotten. Indeed some of the usual message board trouble makers have already attempted to criticise City devoting a budget to Christie, while hinting at a rift between him and first team manager Peter Jackson.

But if Jackson really doesn’t care for all of this, he must be desperately short of things to do in an evening. Tonight he, joint-Chairmen Mark Lawn and Head of Youth Operations Peter Horne watched from next to the City dugout while Wayne Allison – surely a Jackson appointment – barked instructions at the team alongside a near-silent Christie. Interest within the club for the Development Squad is clearly strong.

The treacherous downpour and lack of team sheet meant this writer struggled through his rain-soaked glasses to identify everyone who was playing for City this evening. From the first team squad there was Jon McLaughlin in goal for the 90 minutes, Leon Osborne leading the attack and – yes, he is still alive – Lewis Hunt at centre back. Meanwhile new loan signing Michael Bryan lined up on the right flank and enjoyed an encouraging evening.

An up-for-it Steeton made the sure game was competitive, but as City got into their passing stride they were clearly a cut above. Scott Brown, who isn’t allowed to play for the first team until he turns 17 in November, was once again utterly masterful in the centre of the park. The Scottish teenager effortlessly sprayed the ball around with great accuracy and confidence, spotting things others don’t see. He is Bradford City’s secret weapon for either later this season or next, and the potential is huge.

Dominic Rowe took a spot on the right wing and drove the team forward well, though his positional awareness still needs some work. Adam Robinson looks a great prospect at centre back, while the number three (who’s name I wasn’t sure of, sadly) was terrific getting up and down as left back. Up front Osborne showed a much greater level of maturity compared to his petulant display at Silsden a month back, and it was great to hear him offering rookie partner Darren Stephenson advice and encouragement throughout.

It was Osborne who put City in front after he was played through on goal and rounded the keeper. Soon after Stephenson – who earlier had missed an open goal, albeit from a tight angle – struck a second from inside the box. The rain was incessant in the first half and my lack of coat or hat soon had me shivering. Suddenly a comforting arm was placed around my shoulder, before I turned round to see who it was and to accept their offer of a handshake. It was Jackson,  walking around supporters saying hello. The personable style of this man is hugely impressive, I think I’m developing a man-crush for him.

Shortly after a half time interval made entertaining by ear-wigging Allison’s team talk on the pitch, it was 3-0 when a young substitute – who I believe to be Kieran Djilali, on trial from Crystal Palace and very sharp –  finished emphatically from just inside the box, and the rest of the game seemed like a typical second half pre-season friendly where little happens. The cross bar was struck towards the end by City and Steeton’s players looked increasingly agitated with each other; Luke Dean was assured in a less familiar right back position.

A decent evening’s work, though the quality of opposition and basicness of Steeton’s ground symbolised how there is some way to go for the Development Squad strategy to achieve its objectives. This is no overnight route to success, and in things don’t go well on the pitch this season the conviction in maintaining this long-term approach may be tested by some.

But if, as per usual, the first team fails to live up to expectations this campaign, there’s great comfort to be had from knowing that a Plan B is already in operation.

Too much pre-season

Pre-season rumbles too a close.

The defeat to Hull City was remarkable only because City wore a superb looking pink strip and Peter Jackson was not that pleased with the performance talking about some players having done well, others not so much.

New keeper Martin Hansen was a positive. The Liverpool keeper swatted a few away despite picked the ball out of his net three times. Nialle Rodney could have probably won himself a starting position had he scored, but he did not and Mark Stewart did giving the Scot the box seat come Aldershot.

This weekend’s two games represent the end of what seems to have been a long pre-season. The squad assembled for Silsden has pretty much stayed as it was throughout the games which have contained little of note with the Bantams beating teams below them and losing to teams above them.

So far, so dull really and there is a sense that most people can not wait to be done with the friendlies and onto the proper games. Twenty years ago the regular fan would rock up on day one and find a clutch of new faces, with rumours of pre-season but never having seen them or at least that is what it seemed like. Perhaps it was the day Carlos Valderrama rocked up for Real Valladolid and did midfield battle against a City team who fielded Paul Jewell at right back that pre-season became something I watched rather than something I heard about.

Pre-season seems to go on for more then the month it shows in the calendar and at this level it is unfulfilling. The game with Carlisle United represents a team close to City in the structure of football and perhaps the best chance of a decent game but with City’s squad – or squads – well defined at this stage the players seem to be keeping away from injury with a decent knowledge of who will be in the sixteen on opening day.

Indeed the back five of Hansen, Simon Ramsden, Steve Williams, Guy Branston and Luke O’Brien seems inked in and Stewart has added his name to James Hanson up front. The midfield has some movement but seems to have Dominic Rowe on the right, Michael Flynn in the middle and one of David Syers, Chris Mitchell and Richie Jones in there too. Jamie Green is trying to play for a contract but should he sign one then the left wing is his with only former Carlisle man Nakhi Wells seemingly offering another option.

The day previous to that match at Valley Parade a minor event occurs as City return to Horsfall Stadium as Archie Christie’s development squad take on Albion Sports in the Bantams’ first game against the former Sunday league club formed in 1974 and recently turned Saturday.

There is a family link for me – Uncle Bill used to manage them – but Albion Sports also provided the kit for my team at University. At the time it was the same kit which Bradford Park Avenue were wearing.

That Albion Sports – formed by two men named Singh just after Park Avenue went out of business – have move into sharing the stadium with the Stans perhaps has a significance beyond this game in the shifting patterns of local football.

Christie’s Development team is likely to feature a mixed bag of players with the likes of Luke Oliver keeping fit, Darren Stephenson trying to get back in from the cold and no doubt whichever trialists the former Dag & Red man scout has found.

Some do not care for the idea that Christie does more than scouting at City – why he should not considering his title is Head of Football Development one has to wonder – but there seems to be a benefit for a team which so freely hires and fires managers in taking the responsibility for passing players from the youth levels to the first team away from the temporary position of “manager”.

When Jackson leaves – and let us face it the only certainty about any manager in City is at some point his critics will outnumber his advocates and drum him out – then it is a good thing that young players like Scott Brown or Patrick Lacey do not have their development interrupted by the new broom of a new gaffer.

Christie’s role is to bring the manager – whoever it is – new players who are good enough to be given a first team role. He can do this though scouting and signing or he can do it through picking up young players and filing off the rough edges to make them good enough. If he can grab a player from a local league and give him a six months in the Development squad getting him ready to hand on to the manager then that is a way to improve the club other than just the hiring and firing of men in the big chair marked boss.

So plenty to play for at Horsfall Stadium, perhaps for both sets of players, but at Valley Parade there is a water treading and a waiting for the pre-season to be over and for football to begin.

Knocking back the Bantams

Another day, another rejection for Peter Jackson as he tries to bring in an experienced midfielder to join the Bantams. Today Gavin Skelton let it be known that Barrow rather than Bradford was his destination of choice.

Skelton is a product of Archie Christie’s scouting – Dagenham were in for him as well – having done wonderful things with Gretna in his time and his choice seems to be to not go further from home rather than further his career.

Such is the problem that City have operating at League Two Level. Offer Benito Carbone £45,000 a week and one would expect him to move from anywhere to Bradford, offer Skelton less a year to join and he thinks twice about uprooting his family, taking his kids out of School, re-mortgaging his house of whatever else footballers do when the work on the same economies that the rest of us have to. Some readers would uproot for £40,000 for a year, others would not, and footballers are in the same position.

Is the club best served by making it worth the while for people like Skelton, Tommy Miller, or whomever to move? If they are not – as we understand Guy Branston was – gripped by the idea of playing for Bradford City do we want them if they get gripped by the thought of another £10,000 a year. Recent history says no.

The likes of Paul McLaren and Michael Boulding had their heads turned to play at a lower level than they could have by the thought of more money and the results – while not massively poor – were not what the club wanted. Indeed McLaren ended up losing his place to two young loanees.

The poster boy for not wanting to join a club but having a dumper truck of money driven up to your house is – of course – Ashley Ward who did all he could to resist the Bantams until such a time when he was offered a life changing amount. Ward’s contribution always looked reticent, and probably was. You can not buy passion.

What you can buy though is a mystery. Peter Jackson needs more bodies in his squad – or believes he does – and his targets elude him for whatever reason.

Perhaps the question is though not if the player who does put pen to paper is fifth or sixth choice but rather is he the right choice, and has be made that choice for the right reasons.

Years of refusal

A midfielder has refused to have a medical with Bradford City today seemingly ending the chances of his joining the club next season.

You can make your own mind up which of the players linked to the club is likely to be the man who has knocked back Peter Jackson in his chase for an experienced middle man. Gary Jones previous turned down City’s overtures, there is speculation that today’s refusal is Tommy Miller formerly of Hartlepool United. City seem to be finding that having finished a half dozen places above the bottom of the football league most players are finding that there are better offers, and plenty of them.

Jackson’s ambition in highlighting good players to bring in causes some consternation – the club missing out on targets in public is never good for morale – but there were few rivals for the signatures of Luke Cornwall or Robert Wolleaston and there was a reason for that. If you aim high, you get frustrated more often, but sometimes you get your man. After all it was Newcastle United who got the first bid accepted for Wayne Rooney from Everton, and the same logic won them the signature of Michael Owen.

Not all plans work out as you would want them to.

Jackson moves onto a another target and while some might worry about this one struggles to recall much of a difference in the success rate for players signed earlier to later in the close season. Ashley Ward was signed the day before City went to Liverpool for the opening day of the second Premiership season and turned out to be not much more use than a plank of wood, Dan Petrescu was signed in ample time and arguably performed worse.

There are – for sure – a group of players who you would like to snap up sooner rather than later like Brentford bound Clayton Donaldson but the idea of making all your recruitment before mid-July even when you have missed out on your top targets seems flawed. The fact that Jackson and City have tried to bring in unreachable players just underlines the need for Archie Christie and his scouting network to identify the right targets.

If City are serious about building a future rather than going gung-ho for promotion again then sixteen year old Scott Brown is a better choice than whomever can be scrambled in after all the players we want have knocked us back.

Jackson is understood to be switching attentions to Oxford United’s Simon Heslop or Anthony Grant of Southend United but that is just rumours and gossip. If only there was a way to get to Peter Jackson’s phone messages.

For Miller – if it is he – one cannot wonder if he had been signed by the club “subject to a medical” and has had second thoughts – or a better offer – which he wants to explore. The vast majority of people in the real world who accept a position at a company have a wait for contract to arrive through the post and before it goes back with a John Hancock on it are able to look for a better offer.

In the time after talking to City and agreeing the deal should the agent picks up the phone to some League One club who have shown an mild interest and tell them that his lad has a contract for Bradford City signed seal and delivered but can get out of it if that extra £200 a week they talked about might be found…

If the mystery midfielder turns up at Huddersfield Town or similar next week then City have been played for sure, but it is hard to see how one avoids that apart from going for players that no one else wants, and where is the good in that?

Post script Peter Jackson confirmed that Tommy Miller was the player in question, but denied that Miller had refused to take a medical.

The development squad and a plan to improve the club

Blame it on Silvio Berlusconi. Back in the early 1990s the man who would bring the term bunga bunga into common usage was the flamboyant chairman of an AC Milan team which sported Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard as the allowed three non-Italian players.

UEFA and Serie A rules mandated that a club could only have three non-Italians and so the practice was that the Lira went to a chosen trio of outsiders. Clubs were defined by the foreign players they had and Milan were the Dutchmen, across the City Inter were German with Jürgen Klinsmann, Lothar Matthäus and Andreas Brehme. It was a simpler time to watch football, and to be Silvio Berlusconi.

The future Italian PM announced though that Milan would be signing three more World Class non-Italians and – starting with the unfortunate Gianluigi Lentini – eight more Italians to create a second team which would play in European competition in the week. The one would be fresh for the weekend, the other fresh for midweek, and players would swap between the two teams.

And so modern squad football was born.

Bradford City’s own Phil Babb was a part of the emergence of the squad in the English game. in 1994 Babb and John Scales joined a Liverpool side managed by Roy Evans who already had the beloved Neil Ruddock at the heart of the back four and the maths did not match. Was Ruddock for the chop? Would Babb be out at left back (or up front, as he was at City)? What was Evans doing signing more than two top quality central defenders?

“Moving to a back three and wing backs” turned out to be the answer to the question poised by the question itself was illustrative. Growing up in the eighties my brother and myself could name the one to eleven of every team in Division One and that one to eleven was set in stone, seemingly unaffected as today’s line ups are by loss of form, injury and failing super-injunctions.

A team like Liverpool seemingly had no need for a spare defender – one sub, four four two and all – but soon the idea verbalised by Berlusconi would make the sort of questions that Evans face irrelevant. Within two years and in the run up to Euro ’96 Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United were signing Tino Asprilla when they already had Les Ferdinand, Andy Cole, Peter Beardsley, Alan Shearer, Super Mac, Wor Jackie Milburn et al.

In 1981 Aston Villa won the League using only fourteen players all season. The modern football squad demands eighteen per match and a host of others to insure that even the League Two player is not required to take the field with the sort of injury which was played through in earlier eras after which players retired at thirty, and could not walk.

So we have a situation where Manchester City have over forty players in their first team squad as an extreme example and most teams could put out something approaching Berlusconi’s two teams a week. If you are on the edges of one of those huge squad – and Bradford City’s is 21 strong at current assessment – then you seem a long way from the first team. Unless you get to do something special from the bench you are a long way from the first team.

So while the dozen and some who regularly feature in the first team focus on getting from game to game the players on the edges – especially the younger ones – should be focusing on improvement. Enter the development squad.

It seems to have come from Archie Christie who came to Bradford with John Still when the Bantams interviewed the entire Dagenham and Redbridge backroom staff for roles at Valley Parade. Something had powered the Essex club’s rise from non-league compound to League One club and it seems that Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes believe that Christie is it.

Chief scout and he brings in some young lads from Falkirk which seems a sensible move but not an unexpected one but as Head of Football Development Christie’s Development Squad offers something new.

Wayne Allison approves and has been recruited to coach “The Developments” as they shall be hamfistedly dubbed with his aim on taking players who have signed professional contracts after their two year apprenticeships but are not in the first team picture week in week out, or who are falling in the limbo between young player and first teamer, and concentrate on improving them as players over getting them ready for matches as the first team squad do.

Squad sizes have increased massively in the last fifteen years, but the focus of training is on preparing a group of players for the next game leaving those who play ready, and those who do not having wasted that time. The Development Squad offers a chance to make better use of those players allowing the first team to focus on preparation, and the fringe on improvement.

Of course the idea could be a failure. Dag & Red’s success might be down to something else entirely, Christie’s ideas might not be relocatable, it all just might not work but for once Bradford City have come up with a plan to improve the quality of the footballers at the club rather than trying the tried and failed method of trying to buy in promotions or assemble squads on a season by season basis.

A plan on improving footballers is a plan to improve the football club and, in effect, the first time since the Premier League that Bradford City have had a plan to improve the club that might work.

Scottish duo sign for Bradford City; more backroom additions

Their contracts North of the Border having expired yesterday Bradford City have completed the double signing of Falkirk’s Mark Stewart and Chris Mitchell, with the Scottish pair doubling manager Peter Jackson’s total number of summer signings to date.

23-year-old Stewart – a striker who can also play wide midfield, similar to Gareth Evans – has scored 23 league and cup goals from 48 starts (and 42 sub appearances) since emerging through Falkirk’s youth ranks to make his debut in August 2006. Between 2008-2010 Falkirk and Stewart were playing in the Scottish Premier. Last season in Division One, Stewart netted 17 times.

The versatile Mitchell, a year younger than Stewart, is chiefly a midfielder but can also play out wide and in either full back position. Capped by Scotland Under 21s, Mitchell had started only 20 games from Falkirk, coming off the bench a further 23 times.

The pair arrive at Valley Parade as part of new chief scout Archie Christie’s brief of bringing in young players and grooming them so they hopefully become good enough for a first team place. Initially it would appear they won’t necessarily form part of Jackson’s first eleven plans – though a good pre-season is an incentive for every player looking to begin the season in the team – and be looked upon to come in as the season progresses.

Meanwhile City’s backroom restructuring has been continued with the arrival of Matt Alexander – son of the late Macclesfield manager Keith – joining as a scout and Wayne Allison arriving as coach. As a player Allison was infamously a target of Geoffrey Richmond in October 1997, when City were on the hunt for a striker. Then-manager Chris Kamara – unhappy at his Chairman’s interference and keen to retain his pride – insisted he’d prefer John McGinlay. So ‘Supa John’ signed and proved dismal, while Allison moved to Jackson’s Huddersfield and became a cult hero.

For once, the fitness question has a different answer

Readers of long-time Bradford City fan John Watmough’s outstanding Counsel and Criticism column for the City Gent will be only too aware of the number of occasions a new Bantams manager has complained about the fitness of the players. And, as the players returned for pre-season today, at improved training facilities, latest manager Peter Jackson has taken his turn in bemoaning  the condition of the squad he inherited.

So often has the Telegraph & Argus relayed such sentiments from City gaffers that one can’t resist feeling as weary and cynical as John when reading them. If every new manager really had gone onto improve the players’ fitness when they arrived, City should be putting people forward for the Olympics. It comes across as a cheap shot, a chance to talk down the past and propose that behind-the-scenes training exercises they have instigated – which we’d otherwise never notice the fruits of – will make a positive difference.

Though Jackson has at least has gone further than some of his predecessors in his plan to address the supposed problem – with the appointment of Nick Allamby as fitness coach. Allamby, former head of fitness at Middlesbrough where he worked with City assistant manager Colin Cooper, will help the players through pre-season and then two days a week once the campaign gets underway. His arrival is the latest dot in a more joined-up thinking strategy that seems to involve finding experts and letting them run their own areas of the club, rather than the manager controlling and taking responsibility for all.

After all, what does a football manager know about fitness? As a player they would have been required to follow exercises set out by their club’s coaching staff and their own focus would have been on building and maintaining their own. When undertaking the necessary coaching badges that all managers have to complete these days, learning about fitness and how to build it in players would have undoubtedly figured on the courses. But that hardly makes them an expert in an area that almost every City manager seems to take pleasure in deriding their predecessor for.

At lower league level and City in particular, fitness experts are rare if ever used. When taking over as caretaker manager in 2007 David Wetherall did employ the outside help of Sports Scientist Ed Baranowski to improve the players’ fitness levels, but the results of Wetherall’s attempts to implement a high tempo playing style were poor. With managers before and after, the fitness side of matters has apparently been down to the manager and coaching staff to implement. There’s probably little wrong with this if all of City’s rivals are doing the same; but in a league where the tiniest of percentages can make a huge difference, Jackson and Cooper’s move to bring in Allamby could make a tangible difference.

Allamby’s arrival follows Archie Christie’s appointment as Chief Scout, with his very own budget to work with and objectives to achieve. And suddenly Bradford City’s future does not quite seem solely the responsibility of the manager, but a number of different experts working towards a universal goal. A well qualified person to pick the first team on a Saturday, a specialist scout to unearth hidden gem players that can form part of that selection, and a skilled fitness coach to ensure each and every player is at their physical peak. Other key figures at the club such as Peter Horne will also have a big role.

Perhaps most encouraging of all is that it is difficult to place the credit for this developing off-the-field strategy on one person. Cooper has brought in Allamby with Jackson’s approval, while it appears Christie’s arrival is more the work of the joint Chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes. There is apparently some like-minded thinking in Lawn, Rhodes and Jackson’s vision for next season, and hopefully with it will be a better chance of achieving those goals.

A year ago it seemed Peter Taylor was the only person with a plan, with Lawn and Rhodes bending over backwards to help put it into action. Taylor’s superb track record meant this was understandable, but the fact he didn’t see out his one-year contract left the club struggling for direction when he departed. Perhaps the pair have learned from this experience and are consciously doing things different now instead of devoting almost every penny to signing players – the new training facilities, after all, were their initiative.

This time around, it can be argued the buck for failure won’t rest solely with the manager. Those who have access to the bigger picture will be able to look at every area and assess where it might be falling down. That way the long-term planning doesn’t need to end when the manager departs.

Wishful thinking maybe, but if and when Jackson is relieved of his duties in the dugout it would be nice not to have to read other staff being placed on gardening leave and for everything to be torn up yet again.

Three wheels: Steve Parkin, Julian Rhodes, and Mark Lawn

Steve Parkin looks set to join the Bradford City board have tried – and seemingly failed – to buy the club from Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes.

Lawn and Rhodes had stated that they would walk away from the club without making a penny profit should someone come along who could take City to the next level (and probably levels above that) and seemingly Parkin did not fulfil that criteria and so rather than being welcomed with open arms as the white knight he has just been allowed to saddle his horse next to Lawn and Rhodes.

So in that context Parkin is welcomed to the club. His investment is welcome and any management knowledge and experience he can bring is useful too although one cannot help but worry about the practical application of having – ostensibly – three chairmen at a football club.

Geoffrey Richmond used to say that a business needed only one boss and he did not mean Shaun Harvey when he made that pronouncement. Richmond’s time at City failed for the lack of checks and balances on his omnipotence so perhaps having chairmen two and three to keep an eye on chairman one is no bad thing.

However the principal of having a single boss – honorifics aside – is a good one and while Mark Lawn has been the front of City and Julian Rhodes behind the scenes (although, I understand, very much active) the club has lacked direction for sometime now. Stuart McCall filled the gap at the club in his time, Peter Taylor in his, but one doubts Richmond would let a mere manager be the face of the club.

Richmond knew the benefit of broad shouldered leadership. Larger than life Richmond appointing his managers and took the criticism when they did not work out. His’s massive persona took the pressure off the rest of the club. “This is the direction,” it seemed to say “and if we are going the wrong way, blame me.”

Contrast that with the last few years.

So of the three – if Parkin’s moves come to fruition – it seems a good idea for City to pick a one. A one to set the direction of the club and to lead it off the field with the other two keeping an eye on that one – a better eye than Rhodes was able to do on Richmond at least.

One boss to set the direction and in doing so to protect his appointments, and the players, allowing the likes of Peter Jackson, Peter Horne and Archie Christie to get on with their jobs with a defined remit and knowing who they answer to.

Mark Stewart “wants to join Bradford”

Speaking in a refreshingly frank way City’s new chief scout Archie Christie spoke about Falkirk pair Chris Mitchell and Mark Stewart in his update to the club website.

On the one hand Christie denied that Mitchell had signed for the club – BfB was told he had – and on the other he confirmed the club’s interest in striker Stewart. Christie said

We hope to be in a position to announce the signing of Chris Mitchell (Falkirk utility player) soon enough. Chris is someone I have admired for a number of seasons. The quality of his delivery is second to none and his ability to play in a number of positions will also be a valuable asset to the team. The rumour mill has also been working overtime in regards Mitchell’s team-mate Mark Stewart. I won’t lie – he is also a target for Bradford City. Mark has made his intentions clear that he would like to join Bradford, so watch this space on that one as well.

Christie also confirmed three younger players had joined the development squad and provided a route for supporters to contact him leaving BfB – once again – to praise Christie’s style and openness. More power to his elbow.

Chris Mitchell signs for City, Stewart may follow

Bradford City will complete the signing of Falkirk’s midfielder Chris Mitchell on a two-year deal.

Mitchell – who can play right back or midfield – has seven Scottish u21 caps and has played 39 times for the Falkirk. He is aged 22. His signing is up down to the appointment of Archie Christie and Dag & Red were interested in the player.

Striker Mark Stewart is also said to be thinking over a move to City although a fee would be due should Stewart join Mitchell at VP.

Mitchell’s signing creates a City squad of:

  • Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin
  • Defenders: Simon Ramsden, Lewis Hunt, Adam Robinson, Guy Branston, Luke Oliver, Steve Williams, Luke O’Brien, Robbie Threlfall,
  • Midfielders: Chris Mitchell, Michael Flynn, Luke Dean, Lee Bullock, Dave Syers, Alex Flett, Dominic Rowe, Leon Osborne
  • Forwards: James Hanson, Ross Hannah, Darren Stephenson

Christie joins the slow climb

The day after attempts to wrestle control of Bradford City away from Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes began City appointed a man called Archie Christie as Chief Scout and Head of Football Development.

If you have heard of Christie, well done, because the majority of City fans will read his credits as being Dagenham & Redbridge scout, of finding the odd player for them, of earning a bit of cash and will be only slightly impressed. Christie comes without the promise that he will be unearthing gems.

However his appointment does point to an increasing sense at Valley Parade that four years into the job of chairman for Mark Lawn and more for Julian Rhodes that the pair have started to work on augmenting the club off the field.

A new pitch – Peter Taylor took credit for that – came in last season and during this close season David Balwin was able to announce that the club had secured new facilities for training. Small steps for sure but more and more City are taking in the trappings of clubs that do well. Christie’s appointment is another step forward.

He may – or may not – do a wonderful job as head of the team of scouts he is assembling but perhaps more important is the fact that the club have addressed the need to make recruitment less about the contacts of the current manager and more about a long term process of finding players.

Stuart McCall brought in the likes of Nicky Law Jnr, Ben Starosta and Kyle Nix from Sheffield United, Peter Taylor brought in players from Wycombe Wanderers, Peter Jackson dragged in Jon Worthington. When Christie’s team is up and running then there will be a further source of talent.

This ties the future of the club less to the whim of managerial hiring and firing and more to the work of a team which – one hopes – will be permanently in place no matter who is picking the team. Christie’s go towards promising stability.

Which perhaps is why Steve Parkin’s approach is not being welcomed with open arms – an approach denied by Peter Hood of the Bradford Bulls. The after four years of frantic chasing success on the field Mark Lawn et al seem to have started doing things right.

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