The show of solidarity

To an outsider at least, Bradford City’s start to the season must appear to be on the brink of being labelled catastrophic. Yet within the four sides of Valley Parade this afternoon and over the past few weeks, it’s hard to recall the last time we felt so giddy with excitement.

Michael Flynn’s successful stoppage time penalty means City have struck a late equaliser two weeks running and stretches the unbeaten run to four games, though only once in this season’s nine league and cup matches to date have the Bantams won outright over the 90 minutes. Yet while in the past such form would prompt moaning, instead there is optimism. We’re not looking at the future with glass-half-empty despair, but with relish. No panic, just patience.

When at half time the players trooped back to the dressing room a goal down to a decent Bristol Rovers side they did so with the boost of a standing ovation from just under 10,000 home supporters. How many times has this scenario happened over the past decade? Typically when losing at the break, the only question is how loud in volume the boos would be; yet today there was a defiant and powerful message delivered to players – we’re genuinely right behind you.

And how richly deserved that standing ovation was. Lining up in a 4-4-1-1 formation which allowed loan signing Jamie Devitt to operate in a free role behind James Hanson, City dictated the tempo right from kick off and produced a display of attacking, passing football that was remarkable to watch. The ball was passed back and forth with great accuracy and some dazzling attacking moves were only thwarted by a strong visiting defence or eventual slight inaccuracy in possession.

For the last four seasons in League Two, we’ve largely become used to a more direct style of football which has proved effective at times but at others was dismal to watch. Today City looked as if they’d spent the week watching DVDs of Arsenal and – dare I say it – Barcelona. Quick fire, one-touch football with the ball knocked across from wing to wing and ending up in the penalty area having remained on the turf on route, rather than hit high. On another day and against weaker opposition City could easily have been three or four goals up.

Devitt is skilful in possession and proved hugely effective in his free role, while fellow home debutant Kyel Reid looked a constant menace on the left wing and regularly had the beating of Pirates’ right back Adam Virgo. With Chris Mitchell again providing that mixture of width and central support alongside the again impressive Ritchie Jones and Flynn, the Bantams dominated the first half through their stylish approach.

Goalscoring opportunities were less frequent, though Devitt was unfortunate to see an overhead kick attempt sail over, Flynn could have gone better with an effort from the edge of the area and Devitt again came close with an excellent run but weak shot. The best opportunity of all fell to Jones, whose late charge into the box saw him meet Reid’s superb cross brilliantly with head and the gangling Scott Bevan pulled off a world class tip over. Aside from a moment of confusion where Bristol Rovers thought they had scored – only for the dismal referee Nigel Miller to eventually realise his linesman had flagged for a foul rather than goal – it was one-way traffic.

So when Matt Harrold got free of Luke Oliver to send a looping header over Matt Duke and into the net, following a superb pass from Stuart Campbell, there was no justice at all. City continued to press, but the downside of Phil Parkinson’s formation – which had been hinted before the goal – came into focus when two brilliant crosses into the box were missed by home players. There just weren’t enough people getting into the box and, as wonderful as the build up in the final third was at times, City lacked options when it came to finishing them.

Hanson bore the brunt of this frustration from supporters. Understandable at times as his work rate seemed to be lacking his usual high standards, but once again it seems a question of feeding him the ball in areas where he can hurt the opposition. Perhaps this new style of play means selecting a target man like Hanson isn’t going to be the most effective approach. But equally more runs into the box from midfield are needed to support him or whoever is selected up front instead, and as the half came to an end with that uplifting standing ovation the question to ponder was whether we are lacking a striker or just missing David Syers.

The quality of City’s play wasn’t as exceptional in the second half – partly because of Rovers’ manager Paul Buckle’s decision to place a deep-sitting midfielder right in front of his back four in an effort to curb Devitt’s influence – but enough of a head of steam was built up to find an equaliser on the hour.

Hanson’s header from a corner struck the post and Devitt’s rebound attempt was blocked by a defender, but as the Hull City youngster looked set to hit another shot at goal he was hauled down for a penalty. Flynn – second-choice penalty taker behind the benched Jack Compton – side footed it casually into the right corner and the strong backing from fans increased further in volume as substitute Ross Hannah forced Bevan into another outstanding save.

Disappointingly the Bantams sat back and Bristol Rovers re-took the lead when Eliot Richards was allowed too much space to send a powerful shot past Duke. It is a source of worry that a back four which looks solid for the most part of games can then switch off and is so often punished for doing so. Guy Branston, Oliver, Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall couldn’t be faulted during the match, but Parkinson needs to find a way of tightening them up further.

City pressed hard in the closing stages, but just like last week you couldn’t see an equaliser occurring. But then, half way through the four minutes of injury time, a great piece of skill by Devitt lead to him being tripped in the box for another penalty. Compton – who again impressed when coming on – pressed his claim to take the spot kick, but Flynn was given the responsibility a second time, firing into the opposite corner despite Bevan’s best attempts to keep it out.

Another draw doesn’t do much for City’s league position, but there’s no doubt an upwards direction is being taken. From being unlucky to lose games at the start of the season, the Bantams are now somewhat unfortunate to be drawing matches. Parkinson’s ongoing search for a striker might prove to be the final piece in the jigsaw, but if the current standards of performance are maintained the victories will surely come.

And when they do, the joy is everyone’s to share. The atmosphere inside Valley Parade today was superb and while it might not intimidate the opposition it certainly makes a difference to our players. Everyone can see how much they care and are trying for this club, and only an incredibly heartless person wouldn’t appreciate their commitment.

Peter Jackson, Colin Cooper, Archie Christie and Parkinson have or are building a team that we can truly feel proud of, and the half time standing ovation proved how much we care about – and feel inspired by – our players.

The 2010/11 season reviewed: part two, off the pitch

If there was one chant that must have been music to the ears of Bradford City chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes it will have been the chimes at Southend that rang “Love the club, hate the team.

The team which failed on the field were cast as no hopers who could not care less and the manager who brought them to the club maligned. Regardless of your feelings about both players and manager(s) those in the boardroom must have thought it was just a matter of time until the Valley Parade ire would be turned in their direction.

And, dear reader, you will have your own thoughts on how justified that ire would be.

The season started off with Bradford City’s directors proudly backing Peter Taylor as the new manager although later Mark Lawn would tell us that he had reservations about the appointment having watched Taylor’s style of play. Nevertheless City – according to the directors one of whom had reportedly fallen out with former boss Stuart McCall – had the right manager in place and promotion was on the way.

Mike Harrison of The City Gent disagreed and felt the wrath of Valley Parade being unceremoniously called into the club to explain his prediction of eighth. Come the end of the season the “ludicrously optimistic” jokes wrote themselves but one could share a worry for the Bantams directors had they not handled the situation so poorly. Feedback loops at football clubs and Bradford City have been in a negative loop all season. Taylor’s arrival was an attempt to change that with the hope that positive thinking off the field would be manifest on it. That change of culture – from negative to positive – is important but the way to achieve it is more a matter of winning hearts and minds than applying the strong arm.

The club’s confidence stemmed from Peter Taylor’s appointment and from the traits which Taylor brought which were lacking in the previous manager. One could argue past the return of bovinity about the merits and methods of both but Taylor had been involved in success and knew what that success looked like. When he told the club that the team needed overnight stays, new suits and Tommy Doherty then the directors put hands into pockets and found the money for them, or so it was said.

Doing, and having to do

Savings were made at Valley Parade: A burst pipe fixed here, a new lighting system there; but most impressively Mark Lawn announced that – with some sadness – City were relocating to training facilities in Leeds with Apperley Bridge no longer considered suitable. The day before pre-season and suddenly Apperley Bridge was fine, the training facilities Taylor demanded to join the club were not forthcoming and the mood for the season was set. After the cameo of Lee Hendrie he and his uncle John were at a supporters evening chaired by Lawn who made it clear that despite the urgent need of the summer to replace the facilities they must now be considered good enough. He told BfB that they had to be, because there was no money to change them.

Taylor, in the meantime, had started using the relaid Valley Parade pitch to train on and credit to all that it withstood a bad winter better than many other surfaces. The trapping of success include a good surface and on that City have progressed this year. The supporters – underwhelmed probably – respected it enough to stay off it after the final game of the season.

The winter of bad weather also saw a season ticket promotion which prompted calls of amateurism from the club on the one hand and on the other asked questions about the strategic direction of the club. There is a worry that the club create direction and policy on the hoof and looking at a “cheap and cheerful” promotion which prompted a response of being “cheap and nasty” those thoughts seemed to be confirmed. It was not just the cackhandedness of the advertisement but its inability to communicate the message that City’s season tickets were superb value, a message which was lost in the infamous Santa Dave advert.

All of which led to a comment in The City Gent and threats passing from club to fanzine. Legal action was mentioned and once again the club was at loggerheads with supporters. One has to wonder if – on reflection over the season – these fall outs between the directors and the supporters which increasingly crop up should be approached differently. Mark Lawn’s car is vandalised and he talks about winding the club up. Mike Harrison talks out of turn and there are threats. The City Gent’s John Armitage criticises and there is talk of legal action.

Perhaps it is time to look at a new approach?

2004, and all that

Administration looms large over the summer and it will be said that this is not the time to talk about anything except securing the future of the club but those who battled to put the club in the hands of Julian Rhodes in 2004 for Mark Lawn to join him in 2007 will recall only too well the talk of how supporter would be at the heart of the new Bradford City. The club saved by the fans would not forget the fans. If 2010/2011 tells us anything it is that the supporters of Bradford City are to toe the line.

I speak as someone who has sat with Mark Lawn this season. He is not an unreasonable man and in talking to him one cannot help but be sympathetic to a man who clearly loves the club, clearly is trying his best, and clearly is crying out for assistance. Jason and I heard him talk about how the supporters interact with the club. How the OMB is used in anonymity and how a “Friends of Bradford City” scheme could be used to raise much needed funds and while these things are true the tone of the conversation stands as a stark contrast to 2004’s rhetoric. The club that was saved by the fans putting in a six figure sum is now telling them what to think, or so it might seem.

Lawn cuts an isolated figure at times. He admits to his blustering style but one wonders if it belays a worry that his aims for the club will never be realised. He is at great pains to paint out that his door is always open but one wonders if an open door is enough. Bradford City as a club pledged itself in 2004 to be more about the supporters. Perhaps Lawn and his fellow directors need to engage with supporters in a more active way. Show me a hundred Bradford City fan and I’ll show you a hundred skilled people across many fields. The only time these people ever get asked for help is when there is snow to be cleared from the field on a winter afternoon.

Indications from the club are that there are developments on this and it will be interesting how much the club are prepared to let go in the interests of supporter involvement. The benefits of supporter involvement are all in engagement. At the moment Bradford City is a product consumed by supporters – and in that context the customer complaints procedure is pretty bad – and how long any club should carry on in that way is debatable. In 2004 this was going to be our Bradford City. That spirit needs revisiting especially as we once again skirt the waters of administration if only because the loss of it has contributed to rendering the club in the position it now finds itself in.

Should this not all wait until after Administration?

There seems little doubt that Bradford City are in for a torrid summer and one might think that talk about learning the lessons form 2010/2011 off the field can wait until we know for sure that there will be a 2011/2012. Were you to think that, dear reader, you may be correct.

However our experience after 2004 tells us that things said in the heat of a troubled summer fade in the winters of a season and many of the problems the club finds itself in can be put down to the distance that emerged between supporters and City in the last ten years.

The atmosphere at Valley Parade is atrocious but with supporters set firmly is customers rather than invested parties there is little invitation to do much more than pay up and turn up, little reason for many to treat professional football as a thing they are invested in.

In addition the boardroom is out of touch with supporters. For sure there is a note of websites such as this one, of the Official Message Board, of The T&A comments section, of The City Gent but these are the publication of enthusiasts not the word of the man on the Clayton Omnibus. Small samples taken as representative have informed decisions made with the club.

Geoffrey Richmond would not take a meeting with any supporter’s organisation which numbered fewer than 4,000 members but – in a very real way – handfuls of people on the Internet are setting an agenda which the club respond to and those people are not necessarily representative of the general view of supporters and it is that general view of the people who tossed tenners into buckets in 2004 which the club losing sight of.

Moreover though as the club struggles to survive once more the need for vigilance in the boardroom could not be more clear. Supporters are a constant for the club which is under threat from a boom or bust policy which targets promotion. The spirit of 2004 suggested that involvement from supporters would create guardians for the club within the boardroom to prevent us from reaching this situation again.

Yet here we are.

The lesson of 2010/2011 off the field is a correlation between the deterioration of the relationship between Bradford City’s boardroom and Bradford City’s supporters

The bellowing

Everyone has one near them at Valley Parade. No matter where you are in ground you are not more than a blast of the vocal cords away from someone who can really bellow.

Where I park myself in games we have a number of them – I might even be one myself at times – and each of these bellowers have their own bug bear which brings about the bellow. For some it is the shout of handball whenever the kickeater goes near a shoulder, for other’s it is pointing out the failings of the Referee. On Saturday those people were busy.

Also busy on Saturday was one orator who’s chief comments comes on the occasion of a corner kick which is cleared by a defender. As the ball arcs away one hears the pull in of breath and the exhale “You’ve got to beat the first man City!”

Invariably there is a qualification: “losers” is a favourite at the moment, the odd vulgarity too; but never any sense of a sense of why the move had failed. Of why with the entire field to aim at a player would go for the very place where the opposition are standing.

A corner kick has to beat the first man for sure but if that were the only qualification then could one could punt the ball high and happy over a hundred yards and believe one had done good work? A corner has to beat the first man of course, but not the last City man and as the Bard said “there is the rub.” The first man is only on the field to get between he who has the ball and he who would receive it.

Football is easy to play in the stands and even easier to heckle. A corner kick that beats everyone is as useless as one which is cleared by the first defender but considering the first defender takes a position near to the most dangerous attacking player who is being targeted to head the ball in then it is unsurprising that so often does he get to the ball.

Likewise a direct free kick “has to beat the wall” but if – in doing so – it beats the crossbar it is a chance wasted and so the taker tries to aim at a gap over wall and under bar or rather he has to do that if his aim is to score.

If his aim is to avoid the criticism of the attended masses – the bellowing – then he can just hit a nice shot that raises over the wall and – drat! – clears the bar. No one ever got booed for forcing the keeper to scramble across his line, but such a shot is unlikely to go in.

And no one every got booed for putting a corner deep in the box, and when crossing a free kick no one ever got booed for hitting one towards the edge of the box and not into the danger area where the keeper has to gamble on coming and can be beaten to the ball. Trying to whip a ball in with pace that gives the keeper a decision to make risks putting the ball too near the goalie (he can use his hand, so he gets to more things than the strikers) but it also promises more rewards for the forwards than a punt to the edge of the box.

What is a player to do? He has a choice between the safe thing that offers no risk but little reward and the rewarding route which risks drifting a ball over the bar, to the keeper, at the first man and incurs the ire of the bellow.

This conundrum happens all over the field. Does a player take responsibility for the ball or does he pass it on to a team mate? The one keeps him safe from the bellowing but puts his team mate in trouble, the other and he might be the one who is left with football pie all over his face.

When up front does the player make the run behind the defender knowing he will look a fool but trusting his team mate to try find him or does he stay short and in the defender’s pocket knowing that he will not be the odd one out? That someone else will take the blame.

Wingers who drift as wide as they can on to the touchline looking like they present an attacking option but leaving the battle in the middle unjoined, visually separating themselves from their team mates, hiding in sight. Players who do not meet the captain’s eye as he looks for someone to take a penalty. When one player misses there are ten on the field who “would have scored” but they are no more use than the ten thousand in the stands.

This question defines – for me – what one could call “quality” in footballers. Peter Beagrie was one of the best players I’ve ever seen and his answer to these questions is the I Ching of football. “Real bottle is doing the thing on the twelfth time you know to be right, even if it has gone wrong for the last eleven times.”

“Not trying” in football is only rarely seen in the Alen Boskic walking around the pitch as if out for a summer stroll but is more often seen in the player who does not take responsibility for the collective performance. The player who at the end of the game says that the has done little wrong, but one struggles to recall any time when he could have done anything right either. Not trying is not risking looking a fool, not risking the bellowing.

Not everyone can deliver a ball like Beagrie but everyone can follow his lead. Rather than hiding in the game every player can try play the corner which just drifts over the first man’s head and onto our centre forward who nods home or the cross which leave the keeper in no man’s land and sometimes they will look like a fool for doing so, probably more often than not, but they do it because it is the right thing to do.

Rather than than the meaningless ball, the hidden player, the shy free kick. I can forgive a player his inability to do what is difficult but not his unwillingness to try that for fear of exposing himself to ridicule. Give me the player who will try hit the sweet spot than one who does just enough to make sure he never puts his head over the parapet.

I think about the “first man” guy every time we get a corner and how the difference between the corners he bellows at and those he cheers when they are converted is the matter of an inch or two that goes over that first man’s head and drops for the second – and our – man. The difference which invokes an often vitriolic response is an inch or two in a ball hit over thirty yards.

Rather than an inch or two lower than two feet higher and the corner taker slinking away as his team mates chase ball and get the bellowing for not being “in position”. Rather the players look to do what is best, rather than look to not be considered the guilty party.

When offensiveness becomes an offence

Saturday and Joe Colbeck’s return to Valley Parade in a Hereford United shirt saw abuse to a level of vitriol which was shocking in its ferocity even to seasoned Bradford City supporters.

The debate panned out over that abuse: that it had stopped Colbeck playing well, that is was deserved, that it could never be justified; and each has their own judgement on reasons for and effect of that abuse. Ultimately in most circumstances each will keep his own council and decide for themselves if grown men screaming and swearing at footballers is something they wish to endorse or not but in other circumstances – and in this situation – a personal opinion is secondary to the law of the land.

Offensiveness becomes an offence

On Saturday there was a crime committed at Valley Parade in full knowledge of the entire attendance and that crime went unpunished.

The Public Order Act 1986 sets out the law of the land on this subject (and you will excuse the paraphrasing for length) in that (Section 4a) a person is guilty of intentional harassment, alarm or distress if he uses towards another person threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to cause that person to believe that immediate unlawful violence will be used against him or another by any person, or to provoke the immediate use of unlawful violence by that person or another, or whereby that person is likely to believe that such violence will be used or it is likely that such violence will be provoked.

Colbeck – a veteran of many an abusive Valley Parade crowd – could probably not be said to have felt that he would be the subject of immediate unlawful violence. Section 4a (and Section 4, which governs the fear or provocation of violence) carry prison sentences and seem governed by context. Colbeck only has no reason to fear that being sworn at on the field will lead to violence because he has been the subject to it in the past but, then again, he has also seen the Bradford City crowd lob bottles and other items onto the field and so perhaps we would be wrong to not link the two together.

Nevertheless we can fairly clearly say that Section 5 of The Public Order Act 1986 is relevant: A person is guilty of an offence of harassment, alarm or distress if they use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby. The act details that a person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine….

The act details the laws governing rioting, array when offences are done in collectives of people and creative readings of the Act could very well see them become relevant. It would – however – be impossible to suggest that Section 5 was not broken at Valley Parade on Saturday. There is a distinction for sure between those who boo and jeer and those would would have committed an offence as detailed in this Act and the one group is a subset of the other.

One could seek to dress these offences in any number of ways: using the term football culture would be one, that players are “paid enough”, suggesting that there was a crowd rather than an individual; but as we have seen previously convictions for taking an individual part in a crowd activity have happened at football matches and that with criminal convictions come football banning orders.

Which is not to suggest that I would like to see half the Bradford City crowd on Saturday banned from football and convicted but that they should be, should the law be pursued and applied with vigour. The club have banned supports in the past for racist abuse and brought all the power it could muster down on the pitch invaders after the Northampton Town game at the end of last season. That those people are generally held in low regard and are smaller in number than those who abused Colbeck in a way which broke the law.

Offences were committed but neither the Police or – judging by the speed of their reaction to the Northampton game – the club felt that those offence were worth pursuing legally.

Can football take its own action?

In 2005 a Dutch game between Ajax and ADO Den Haag was halted by the referee. There were no safety problems in the stadium, there was no pitch invasion, there was no dangerous playing conditions but the game shuddered to a halt and the teams were taken from the field as if there were.

The cause was a song, and not a very nice song, about MTV Europe VJ Sylvie Meis. Meis, now better known as Mrs Rafael van der Vaart, was to Dutch football what Victoria Beckham was to British. Well known and well commented on.

But not to be commented on in this way – nor should anyone be – decided the Dutch FA who gave an instruction to officials sometime before that targeted abuse would result in a halt in the game, and then if it continued an abandonment. The instruction was designed to protect officials themselves but deployed to protect the virtues of Ms Meis.

There is a logic to the Dutch FA’s position. Why should a Referee (or the girlfriend of a player) be the subject to a crime on a continued basis. If bottles were flying onto the field or if the players or officials feared a physical assault then the game would be suspended so (and remembering the difference in the laws of the countries) why should they tolerate a sustained verbal abuse? If it is said that players are paid enough money to take in good nature any abuse thrown at them (and I would disagree with that idea) then are Referees? What about other spectators like Sylvie Meis?

The Dutch action is notable for its scarcity. Italian games feature booing of black players – Mario Balotelli was told by banner recently that “an ‘African’ can never be an Italian” – and all will hope that the situation in Russian football improves in the next eight years. England’s players Shaun Wright-Phillips and Ashley Cole were abused in Spain. Sol Campbell -infamously – is the subject to a disgusting song sung from Spurs fans.

One can only imagine the effects of a repeat of the Dutch action would be in those cases and hope that it happens.

The foolishness of crowds

It is preached (although seldom practised) that one should never say behind the back of a person what would would not say to their face and while Joe Colbeck – or Sylvie Meis – could hardly have said that things were not said to their faces but there is a certain cowardliness to the football supporter’s mass abuse.

In fact even in our use of words around the subject we describe a holistic idea of a mass of people making a single statement rather than considering that collective as a group of individuals. Ask some of who swore violently at Joe Colbeck on Saturday and they may tell you that they would be prepared to say word for word what they sang as a part of a crowd directly to the man’s face but should they do that, should anyone shout abuse at you in any situation, then one are afford some protection in law.

The behaviour of crowds is the behaviour of those within them and while a person might be be happy to behave in a given way within that crowd there are rights – rights asserted in Dutch football – which protect the individual from abuse. These were not afforded to Joe Colbeck on Saturday.

Should they have been? Free speech, and the concept of free speech, is a valuable thing but is now and always has been balanced agianst the rights of the individual.

The Referee’s parents were not married, and he enjoys himself on his own a bit too much

The football supporter has long since mastered the art – such as it is – of personal abuse to such an extent that it has become cliché. The Referee’s parents were not married, and he enjoys himself on his own a bit too much or so the songs go and rarely does anyone consider this to be offensive. Indeed to football’s officials this kind of abuse comes over as static. When Wendy Toms, the first female linesman, completed her first Football League game she was asked how the crowd were and replied “The same as always, abusive.” Too much of the criticism of officials is conducted – and thus ignored – in this way.

Some players have played entire careers as the subject of abuse in one way or another. Some thrive on it – Robbie Savage talks about how he is fired up by being fired at – while others shrink under it as some say Colbeck did on Saturday but to allow the individual to ignore an offence – and, dear reader, you are reminded that this article discusses the section five abuse – as it that denies that the offence has taken place is beside the point. That Savage might be man enough to take the stick does not help the other players (and referees) who are not and who have career’s blighted by section five offences (and, in addition, those players in situations such as Balotelli’s). It is a part and parcel of football, it is said, but need it be?

Separating the part from the parcel

Take someone to a football match who has never been before and different things strike them. For me, back in 1981 at my first game, it was the lack of a live commentary track over the public address and I know people who have said that they were shocked by the amount of mucus left on the grass, on the viciousness of every single tackle (“even the soft ones would leave you crying”) and on the suddenness of the action. For my Mum, on taking her to a game in the Premiership years, it was the swearing and the negativity.

We take it as a given that football supporters will be offensive and abusive in the way that twenty years ago it was a given that supporters would be violent and aggressive – indeed it is difficult not to see the verbal abuse heard on Saturday as the last vestiges of the physical violence that marred the game – but it need not be so. Screaming at Joe Colbeck that he is a “wanker” is no more hard coded into the DNA of football supporters than booing black players or throwing seats onto the field was. It is a behaviour and one which – with the right will from the right people – could be removed from that game.

It is far from a desirable element of the football. Footballer supporters are painted by a mass perception that they are vulgar, yobbish and offensive and this makes us easy to ignore. The fact that it is common does not mean that it is set in stone nor does that fact that it might be cathartic or enjoyable.

Indeed the idea that the football supporter cannot help but be abusive – that it is part of our nature – is in itself an insult to everyone of us.

Would anyone’s enjoyment of Saturday afternoon have been ruined without the abuse screamed at Joe Colbeck? If you answer yes, that you revelled in hearing grown men screaming abuse at Colbeck, then I can only hope that you do not sit anywhere near me and certainly would like you not to.

But would we change it?

There were offences caused at Valley Parade but – as Paul Firth the writer and former judge who provided much of the legal research for this article attests to – most of the time the police at the most would slap a £50 ticket on the offender and call it that. The law is not especially interested in actively enforcing this issue for now and nor are football law makers.

Football is sanitised – or so the thought goes – and grounds lack atmosphere with the sad reflection being that often the most notable chants are the negative ones. Sunderland fans who wrote the genuinely charming “Cheer Up Peter Reid” song but were noted on Saturday for singing “One Mike Ashley” to taunt their rivals. If all there is to celebrate is the perceived failure of others then what is there left to support? You do not need to go stand in Valley Parade to giggle every time Leeds United lose.

A person might want to vent their spleen while at the football but surely would have to do so within the law of the land – some people on Saturday did not but there is no will from police, football or Joe Colbeck to go any further with that – but accepting that and extrapolating it forward one has to wonder what sort of football we are creating, and passing on.

We have a football of negativity. Booing is the lingua franca of the game, cheering being punctuation to goals and little more. Away followings are known to offer more volume but not an especially different type of support. Even the modern examples held up of great support like The Accrington Stanley Ultras are as versed in poking at the failures of others than the unfettered support of their own (“Premier League, you flipped it up…”)

Does it matter? Perhaps not. Time will tell and it will tell in twenty five years time when one looks around the grounds and sees if the generation of kids who have more things to do with their time and money than any other chooses to spend that on the game we pass on. I have had wonderful days supporting Bradford City, utterly unforgettable days, but would I tell my son or daughter that they should involve themselves in something as negative as manifest on Saturday?

It is hardly the stuff of an enriched and full life.

So now then

Football’s authorities at almost all levels are prepared to leave atmosphere at football in the lap of the Gods while clubs do what they can to stop racism but feel without a remit to do anything else. The law of the land is happy to ignore the vast majority of offences committed in stadiums up and down the country while FIFA’s attitude towards supporters is curious at best.

Ultimately football is ours and it is ours to change in the way we want it. We – as football supporters – need to decide what sort of football we want today, and to pass on to the future.

The end of the beginning, or still something much worse?

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. The bubble of optimism that was growing after the Gillingham win had been painfully burst at Northampton three days ago. And a trip to a third-placed Rotherham side who had scored 12 goals in their previous four home games suggested only one outcome – a heavy defeat. Yet Bradford City put in a performance far beyond expectations to earn a draw that could easily have been more.

For the second Bantams visit to the Don Valley Stadium in a row, home keeper Andy Warrington was named the sponsors’ man of the match. This said much about the quality of the visitors’ display. It was no backs to the wall defensive job, with Warrington making stunning saves to deny Omar Daley, Tom Adeyemi (twice) and Steve Williams from snatching a priceless winner. City were comfortably the better side, and despite having to settle for a point will have returned back up the M1 with renewed confidence.

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. Following the Northampton defeat, word reached BfB that an unhappy City Board had told Peter Taylor anything less than four points from the next two games will see him sacked. Another source claimed the manager has been given a month to turn it around. Whether either rumour is true, the fear is that this situation can’t go on much longer without someone deciding on drastic action.

This could have been Taylor’s last game in charge, but if any of the Board were at the Don Valley tonight they would surely have taken great heart from the way the team performed which should carry beyond whatever happens on Saturday. City began on the front foot, with the returning Daley causing problems down the left flank and the midfield trio of Lee Bullock, Tommy Doherty and Adeyemi quickly getting on top.

Daley was one of the chief scapegoats for the Southend debacle almost exactly a month ago; and although he has been away with Jamaica for a short period, he has found himself shunned from any first team action. Yet if City are going to climb up the table they must surely utilise their better-quality players. And whatever is said about Daley, when on form he is just that.

As ever, tonight we saw a mixed bag from Omar and his decision making was familiarly poor at times. But he provided a spark that helped the team claim greater territorial advantage than we’ve managed on the road all season, and the first half ended with his fizzing shot from an angle forcing the best out of Warrington.

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. If Taylor was dismissed, where exactly would that leave the rest of the season? Sure we might bring in someone who can turn our under-achievers into world-beaters and climb the league, but City’s recent history shows such hopes are highly fanciful and never realised. Too often the answer to the problems has apparently lied in appointing another new manager, yet still the club’s decline continues.

More likely there would be a short-term boost from a new man, but in the longer-run the problems currently afflicting Taylor would remain. And as well as the cost of sacking a manager, there’d be a need to fund his replacement’s demands in the transfer market. All in all it’s a risk that could see the season written off with over three quarters of it to go. Is that really the best route to take?

But until tonight at least, there’s been a conflict of emotions inside pretty much every City supporter. Sure it’s a daft idea to sack a manager after 10 games…but what has Taylor done this season to deserve our support? There’s been very little for us to be impressed by regarding his performance since the season kicked off, and we’ve probably all scratched our heads wondering why the great things he was doing towards the end of last season suddenly aren’t coming off.

Tonight though Taylor got it right. Aside from a 20-minute spell before half time, Rotherham were completely neutralised by the 4-3-3 formation and strong levels of effort running throughout the team. At the back Steve Williams and Shane Duff were simply outstanding – the former so able in winning the ball from a forward’s feet, the latter never missing anything in the air.

On either side of them, Zesh Rehman and Luke O’Brien were contributing at both ends of the pitch. O’Brien in particular having a storming game which included recovering from a slightly rocky five-minute period where he’d made one mistake. What a talent Luke has become.

A perfect display? Not by a long shot. In the final third City continue to struggle to find the fluency levels that Taylor’s side were able to regularly achieve last season. Luke Oliver again gave his all as an emergency striker and had more joy winning flick ons in the second half, but the sooner James Hanson returns or a target man is signed on loan the better City’s ‘goals for’ column will look. Gareth Evans still appears short of confidence and high on indecision, but we should not forget what a good player he can be if he can recapture his form.

Early in the second half, City really got on top and were seemingly camped out in the Rotherham half. Warrington made his collection of breathtaking saves and other efforts were blocked or flew narrowly over. Several corners were won and the backing from the 605 Bantams fans was impressive.

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. On the message boards so many fans were saying they weren’t going to attend and, as me and my friend supped pints in a sparsely-populated empty away fans bar inside the ground with less than half an hour to kick off, it seemed as though we’d be short of company outside in the stand. Yet there was a good following in the end, and the noise levels were impressive too.

Midway through the first half a chant of Peter Taylor’s Bradford Army thundered across the empty Don Valley bowl. When Daley was subbed, which appeared unfair on the winger, there were no boos like in previous games. At Northampton there’d been reports of ‘Taylor out’ chants, but tonight not one word of dissent was aired his way – at least within my ear shot.

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. That it’d be a heavy defeat; that would then cause another managerial change, that would then split supporters, that would then end the season prematurely, that would then lead to falling attendances, that would then lead to the club’s downward spiral continuing, that would then lead to oblivion.

Even by recent standards it’s been such a dark time for every Bradford City supporter, and we’ve had little cause to believe we should expect to feel anything but miserable.

But the worst didn’t happen. And although a home defeat to Morecambe on Saturday might bring about all that we fear, perhaps we should begin to believe the corner is being slowly turned. It’s now one defeat from four, and the Northampton debacle aside there has been a steady improvement to performances. The poor start has been a colossal under-achievement, but that huge capacity to do much better means it’s not yet time to give up – on the players, on Taylor, on that promotion dream.

The season is still only at the beginning, but now we’re praying for that beginning to end.

Taking the next steps

As Peter Taylor substituted Louis Moult to widespread boos and groans two-thirds of the way into Bradford City’s eventual win over Gillingham last week, it was tempting to ponder just how long the City manager will be around to make such unpopular decisions.

This was the second home game in a row a substitution by Taylor was booed by some fans; and in the other two league home games there was the half time chant directed at him to “sort it out” against Southend, and booing the team off in victory against Stevenage.

Unlike his predecessor, Stuart McCall, Taylor is clearly not someone readily prepared to blame himself and believe those questioning him are right to do so, and one can speculate whether the reason his assistant Wayne Jacobs was sent out to face the media after the game was due to anger at having his decisions questioned once more.

A frosty relationship between manager and many supporters is beginning to develop.

The frustration last Saturday stemmed from the fact it was Moult rather than Luke Oliver taken off by Taylor. After a fairly anonymous start to his six-month loan stint at Valley Parade, the Stoke striker was finally beginning to show glimpses of his potential and was one of a handful of influential players helping City to get on top in the second half. Oliver meanwhile looked clumsy and awkward, the wrong man in the right place of City’s increasingly-frequent attacks. The sight of Gareth Evans ready to come on told us the hook was coming, but in many fans eyes Taylor was taking off the wrong man.

Football coaches often talk about the importance of going back-to-basics when things go wrong. If, for example, a midfielder produces a poor pass, he is encouraged to make sure he tries something much simpler the next time he receives possession, so he can quickly build up confidence again. When a team is on a run like City have been, it’s understandable Taylor would want to take a back-to-basics approach to selection and tactics. Start getting points on the board, then build up again from there.

Taylor’s approach against Gillingham strongly suggested going back-to-basics. Without James Hanson and after a loan striker turned down a move, the deployment of Oliver up front was all about better-retaining possession in the final third so the team as a whole could gain greater territorial advantage. Oliver was instructed to win and hold up the ball, thus bringing others into the game. Not fantastic to watch maybe, but effective. Basic you might say.

I personally believe Taylor got a better performance from his players than he’d dared hoped, particularly in the second half when Lee Hendrie’s introduction sparked more attacking impetuous and saw City gain a lot more joy from passing it through – rather than over – the visitors.

But this improvement suddenly made the tactic of Oliver up front far less effective, and what City really needed was a forward more comfortable in possession and who could make intelligent runs. The moment where Hendrie dribbled past a couple of players and produced a perfectly weighted through ball for Oliver, only for the tall defender to fail to control it with just the keeper to beat, summed up the sudden problem.

So like others I was willing Taylor to take off Oliver. And although I did not boo, I did groan and feel deflated when Moult was hauled off instead. This was surely a moment where Taylor could have been braver, shown more belief in the way his team was playing. But in the back of his mind perhaps was the risk of Gillingham scoring and City needed to go long ball in the final 10 minutes, where Oliver would have been needed.

But after so many times a City manager has been unjustly slated for his tactics when City have lost a game, Taylor ultimately deserves a lot of credit for the fact his tactics and substitutions ultimately delivered three valuable points.

As City head to Northampton this weekend, it will be interesting to see how much Taylor changes things around to build on the basics which have slowly started to come together since the season’s low point of the 2-0 loss to Southend. Both Hanson and Michael Flynn – another target man option – are not expected to be fit in time, so the chances of Oliver continuing up front would appear high.

But it should be recalled that arguably the best football City have played under Taylor so far, the final five games of last season, saw a 4-3-3 formation employed without a target man. This worked well because of the running and link up of Leon Osborne, Gareth Evans and Gavin Grant. It is that level of football City now aspire to reach again, and to which Taylor could consider evolving the back-to-basics approach from and look to employ at Sixfields.

Oliver’s move up the pitch enabled Steve Williams to return to the central defence against Gillingham, and the impressive display he and the fast-improving Shane Duff produced would suggest Oliver may have to join Zesh Rehman on the bench at some point in the near future. With Jon McLaughlin also looking more composed during the last two games, Taylor is moving closer towards a solid defence which has acted as the bedrock of his previous promotion-winning teams

At full backs, however, there are plenty of unresolved issues. Lewis Hunt and Robbie Threlfall have both attracted a lot of criticism for their efforts this season, but in many ways they are in excellent company as I struggle to recall many City full backs over the years who were not slated at some point.

In terms of Hunt, the criticism he’s receiving has to be balanced by the fact he is a second choice right back at a fourth division club. The wage allocated for this role isn’t going to be high, and so Taylor is limited in the options and ability he could bring in. Meanwhile Threlfall had a shocker at Shrewsbury on the opening day, and hasn’t recovered.

Luke O’Brien, who’s had his own dips of form, is arguably playing his best football of his career so far. The Gillingham half time switch around that saw Threlfall replaced and O’Brien moved to left back is surely likely to be continued while Threlfall rebuilds his confidence. But let’s not forget it is his form, rather than ability, which is the problem.

In midfield there are suddenly stronger options when a fortnight ago it looked a major problem area. Lee Bullock picked up the sponsors man of the match last week and his return to form benefited Tommy Doherty; while the arrival of Hendrie further brought the best out of both. For now Hendrie will probably remain on the bench, or start the game and be taken off, as he builds fitness. David Syers is beginning to look the part and should be fit to start; Omar Daley has been an unused sub for the last two games, and the Jamaican’s future is beginning to look bleak.

Up front there remains a troubling lack of goals, and the poor form of Evans and tentativeness of Moult leaves Taylor with some difficult decisions. Osborne’s first meaningful appearance of the season last week attracted derision, but his form at the end of last season showed promise and it would be worth getting behind the player – who has emerged through the ranks, remember – rather than writing him off so prematurely. For now at least Oliver classes as a forward option.

Northampton are fresh from incredible cup exploits over Liverpool, but in every other way will hopefully be stale. Taylor had joked about asking Liverpool assistant manager Sammy Lee to make sure the game went to extra time, and the fact Clobbers’ players were on the floor with cramp towards the end of their penalty shoot out win would suggest the Bantams will carry a fitness advantage from no midweek action.

City have so far lost two and drawn one on their travels, and though it is still early days the points return from the trips to Northampton on Saturday and Rotherham on Tuesday will say a lot about the team prospects for the rest of the season. A four-point haul would set City up nicely for upcoming easier-looking games and a climb up the table during autumn.

Achieve that and, come winter, it’s hoped the only frost we’ll be talking about is the stuff which forms on the ground, rather than the nature of the feelings heading towards and from the Valley Parade dugout.

When there’s no end in sight…

Part unfortunate, part self-inflicted. Bradford City’s fourth consecutive defeat carried greater meaning and misery than a mere glance at the fledgling League Two table.

Commentating on The Pulse, Michael Flynn – oh how he is missed on the field – perceptively summed up the home crowd’s inevitable discontent at 2-0 down as more than just unrest over a fourth league defeat in five, but because it caused further prodding of the open scar that is ten years of dismal failure. A decade ago City were facing Manchester United and Arsenal in the space of a week; no one needs reminding of the subsequent bumpy fall, and there’s a lot of baggage that will only be released when overdue success eventually occurs.

But until then, that baggage weighs heavy on this current crop of players.

This was a much improved display by City, easily their best performance in the league to date. Yet the confident visitors ultimately deserved the three points after narrowly holding the edge in most areas of the pitch. Those who write off Port Vale as an average side arguably miss the point of what it takes to succeed at this level.

Sure they were ungainly and a succession of physical challenges perhaps deserved greater punishment – both Marc and Justin Richards deserved second yellow cards – but those who succeed in escaping this division upwards are invariably as good at battling as they are putting the ball in the net. Four years on from Stuart McCall noting City needed bigger players to better compete, the Bantams are still some way off possessing the resilience that grinds out regular victories.

Back in a traditional 4-4-2 formation, City made an excellent start and for once managed to set the tempo of the game; but the narrow way the midfield was lined up and lack of pace in the wide areas limited creativity. Peter Taylor does not seem to favour out and out wingers and, although left midfielder Luke O’Brien and right midfielder David Syers acquitted themselves well, no one seemed able or willing to run at people.

It was all a bit predictable.

The main battle was fought between the two Richards and Luke Oliver and Shane Duff. City’s centre backs stood up to the physical challenge for much of the game, but criminally the whole team switched off from a Port Vale corner on the half hour and Marc powerfully headed home to give Vale a crucial lead in a game where the first goal felt so vital.

City argued strongly that the corner shouldn’t have been awarded following a Vale handball in the box during the previous attack, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of marking. And the decision was evened out minutes later when O’Brien appeared to haul down Gary Roberts inside the area, only for a free kick on the edge of the box to be awarded. Referee David Coote and his assistants gave bizarre decisions against both sides all afternoon. This was his Football League debut and one questions whether appointing him to officiate in front of such a large crowd at this stage of his career was a sensible one.

Although Vale’s goal rocked City for a five-minute period, they regained composure and were unfortunate not to equalise before the break. Jake Speight, making his full debut, continued to impress and one jinxing run from the corner flag to penalty area saw home defender Gareth Owen hit his own bar. Seconds later Speight missed an open goal when he unnecessarily handled trying to control the ball – he just needed to poke it home. Any half time boos were drowned out by supportive applause from other fans for the effort.

But while the atmosphere was much improved following Southend, limited patience meant in the second half the crowd again turned on the team when it needed to stay positive. Listen to opposition managers talk before they bring their team to Valley Parade and without fail they mention City’s crowd. All appear to use it as part of their tactics – how can we get them to turn on their own players? We supporters are being used against our own, and it’s time we wised up to it. As attacks broke down, the groans got louder and when Taylor made a double substitution he was booed for taking O’Brien off.

It can’t be a coincidence that, having got the visitors on the back foot and unable to get out of their own half for a spell, the sloppiness and uncertainty to City’s play returned when frustration from the stands was allowed to fill the air. Though there was no excuse for the craziness of the second goal which killed the game and could have a major effect on City’s season.

It was a comedy of errors. All afternoon Jon McLaughlin and his centre backs had attempted to play the ball out from the back, but the high pressing of the Richards’ usually saw it abandoned. This time the keeper rolled it out and a risky ball was worked up to Doherty, who was quickly closed down. The cultured midfielder attempted a woeful chipped backpass that McLaughlin failed to control under pressure, presenting Justin with a tap in.

The boos understandably rang out, but as the game kicked off and Doherty’s every touch was also greeted with boos a line had been crossed. I’ve no time for people who think it was right to boo City’s number 8, no matter how heat of the moment it was. It was disgusting, it was moronic and frankly it’s time such people found something else to do on a Saturday afternoon.

We cannot allow a culture where mistakes are booed, because every player will simply retreat into their shell and only play safe passes – and City will not prosper.

As I walked back to the car at the end I had a lively debate with a guy I know from the pub who reckoned Taylor should be sacked and Doherty is a waste of space. The Doherty-bashing is growing and I don’t understand it. Our problem is not that we have a player like Doherty in the side – but that we don’t have enough players as good as him.

Some of his passing during the game was stunning, he picked out balls that no one was capable of spotting or producing so accurately. He misplaced some passes and his mistake for the goal – which McLaughlin was hardly blamelessly for -was bad, but City need to build the team around him rather than get rid.

And that’s where the main problem left over from the Southend defeat remained. If 4-4-2 is to be used, a ball winner has to be deployed in the middle of the park so Doherty can do what he does best. But his partner Tom Adeyemi is, at this moment, badly struggling to adapt to this level. He looked poor in possession and incapable of winning the ball back. Dropping Lee Bullock was highly questionable and, until Flynn is fit, he or the impressive Syers should be starting alongside Doherty as they can do the defensive work that then frees Doherty to hurt the opposition with his obvious ability.

City battled to the end, but over the course of the 90 minutes the amount of decent chances on goal was worryingly low. Omar Daley, away on international duty, was badly missed and Taylor must contemplate signing a winger this week to replace Neilson. Gareth Evans struggled to make an impact and James Hanson – officially, at least, injured. Though there’s a whisper his off-the-field behaviour has angered Taylor – was missed. If 4-4-2 is continued, a Hanson-Speight partnership looks the best option.

And as the final whistle blew and an impressive Vale following loudly celebrating a win that keeps them fourth – but only seven points above City – it was the greater team ethic that had won the game, and which City must replicate.  The uncompromising Jon McCombe and Owen at the back, the close tie up of full backs and wingers and the clever inter-change between the two Richards up front – Port Vale were a team of intuitive relationships, which City are not yet close to matching.

Right now the players look too unsure of what each other will do, and only when they begin to feel and look like a team will fortunes improve. It will take time.

But in the midst of louder calls for Taylor to go and criticism towards Chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn – the latter the subject of worrying rumours that he’s fallen out with Taylor, which he would be wise to publicly address this week – it has to be remembered this was an improvement. Good enough? No. But something to build on and take into next week’s game at Stockport.

The doom and gloom descends again, the pain of the last 10 years remains at the forefront of the mind. But the calmest people at Bradford City right now need to be Taylor, Rhodes and Lawn. As for us supporters, an atmosphere akin to Rochdale away last season has to be produced at Edgeley Park. It’s not just on the field where City need to become more of a team.

Do Bradford City have the worst supporters in football?

Now we can begin to understand why City have such a poor home record? Yes, we have had some awful teams, but the atmosphere they have to play in is cynical and negative. It’s a perfect storm of poor teams with fragile confidence playing in front of the worst fans in the entire Football League. Yes, the worst fans and I mean it with all my heart. We are terrible, we have the numbers, but nothing else: no humour; no passion; no belief.

For a long time Dave Pendleton was the poster boy for Bradford City supporters. Hair thinning and with a twang to his voice that stakes him unmistakeably in the West Riding Dave was the man that was called on when television companies and radio stations requires a City fan. Back in the Premiership days ITV’s On The Ball’s sponsors picked fans to represent clubs and you to go back and watch the video you would see Dave in front of a pub fireplace in his classic 1970s City shirt telling someone off camera to cheer up because this time last year we were at Crewe. He edited the City Gent, got called on to write for The Guardian about the club. If someone from Bradford were to have written Fever Pitch it would have been Dave.

So when Dave Pendleton says that City fans are the worst fans in the entire Football League he is not throwing bricks over the wall at unseen targets. He is talking about his peers, and his peers should take note.

What is the best support?

Dave Pendleton’s comments about City fans being the worst supporters in football provoked an interesting debate and one which – in the days after – caused the long time Bantam fan to muse further. “I would easily be able to find examples of much worse behaviour from supporters of other clubs. The lingering threat of violence, and even seventies style racism, at several well known clubs for example. I made the comment more out of frustration. I want our fans to do better and I know they can be.”

Out of frustration but his comments were certainly recognisable. No matter where one sits at Valley Parade one can hear the sound of negativity most of the time and that negativity is expressed in curious ways. Some time ago I recall hearing an agitated debate between two grown men where one had taken objection to the other launching into vulgarities at City’s then right winger Joe Colbeck. The argument progressed as one might expect it would – one side calling for the other to be less negative or go home, the other defending on his right to have his opinion voiced – but it struck me that very few other places in society would this discussion occur.

Very few other places would a man feel he could stand his ground against someone who had called him for swearing violently at a teenager and almost nowhere else would a foul mouthed tirade be considered in any way supportive. Football supporting – and one uses the phrase loosely – had a different set of considerations. Pendleton pays tribute to the people he worked with on The City Gent, on the work of the Bradford City Supporters Trust, on those who assist in the Bantamspast Museum but – accepting that work – returns to notion “We have an inordinate number of fans who leap rapidly on any error a City player makes. More often than not these same people are the last out of their seats when a goal flies in and almost never urge the team on during a period of City pressure. Sadly, they have become the dominant voice of Valley Parade.”

Many would recognise this characterisation. The experience of watching games at Valley Parade is to be as to enjoy despite the atmosphere and not because of it. Infamously a winning team was booed off the field this season representing a new low in this dominant voice.

Anecdotally this seems to be the core of this growing concept of bad support – the leaping on of errors and reticence to encourage – and from that it may be possible to establish an idea of what might be opposite that. That good support might be a tolerance for failures and a readiness to (vocally) endorse the team with a positivity.

Understand here that we talk not about the individual supporters at Valley Parade – after every game where boos ring out the players wander over to applaud the more favourable fans who have stayed to applaud rather than spitting venom and wandering away – but rather of the idea of a communal voice. The single speaking of a people Legion which, as we will come to in time, may no longer be a relevant consideration.

What’s so bad about feeling good?

Mark Lawn’s car was vandalised leaving the joint Bradford City chairman livid. Over the course of a weekend he mused about how worth it it was keeping the club going with his money and considered withdrawing his loan from the club putting it back into administration.

This story – the threat of administration – is often mentioned by those who criticise Lawn but seldom is the vandalism considered as destructive event as the booing of the team on a Saturday. It has parallels being against those who are part of the club, obviously counter-productive and largely a way for those involved to vent spleen. The difference being that while criticising (and abuse without violence) Lawn is seen as different to the players. Criticising the chairman, the manager, the chief executive of a club is often considered a sign of distinction.

Newcastle United have returned to the Premier League despite a constant criticism of chairman Mike Ashley which is seen as only good sense while Liverpool and Manchester United’s owners are vilified but in all these cases there is a bar (on the whole) in booing the players on match day.

This website does not shy from venturing opinions on the chairmen of the club and considers it very much a part of the remit of the supporter to keep a watchful eye on those who own the club and criticise when called for.

There is distinction drawn between the two strands of criticism. At St James’s Park, Newcastle that distinction is drawn in obvious terms by supporter and writer Andrew Wilkins. “The team are the team and the reason we criticise Ashley is because what he is doing gets in the way of the team doing well. If we were booing that team then we’d be stopping them doing well too.”

Wilkins sees this point that negativity in the stands on match day has a directly negative manifestation on the team as unequivocal. “I take colleagues to St James’ and all they can do is talk about how the fans lift the team. I’ve seen it happen when a player does something and gets encouraged for it and just grows and grows during a game.”

There is little one can do to measure the levels of negativity within various teams and see if those teams correlate with the more successful sides and so one if left with personal experience to inform ones thoughts. The United fan I worked with in Manchester amongst a sea of Blues was so often lampoons as guileless, artificial and almost childish but his team won the league while the City fans floundered around the second tier proclaiming both their affinity to the concept of being “real football fans” and their belief that everything was – pretty much – hopeless at Maine Road .

One has to wonder if the cynicism which is so much a part of the idea of authentic football supporter is not counter-productive in itself and that the wide eyed positive optimism portrayed as plastic consumerist football is not a path to success.

Are there cheerleaders in Soccer? No, unless you count the fans!

The cheerleader is rarely seen at British football although they have appeared. First at Watford in the 1980s – Elton John was credited as getting them in because he had an eye for the ladies which suggests how long ago it was – and then sporadically at almost every club in the game.

They appear – these girls with Pom Poms – and work out a dance or two but somewhere around the onset of the dark nights when Winter starts they seem to disappear never to return. For a while Bradford City’s Bantam Belles started the season well but seemed to fade with the club’s optimism every year.

English football has no love of the Cheerleader (Scottish football has no facility, the weather in Aberdeen not being suited) and their absence is part of a general neglect of anything which could be described as pre-match entertainment. Mascot dramas, Opera singers, player interaction with the crowd; All these things have been tried and sit with the Cheerleader in the part of the history books reserved for the regrettable.

Bradford City is no different to most football clubs in this regard but it does contrast with our neighbours Bradford Bulls. The Bulls transformation from the cloth cap of Northern to the razzmatazz of the Super League was alarming to many but impressively effective and the continued sight of car stickers and t-shirts that testify to the time when the club were the best team in the World having won a pan-Continental challenge as well as four domestic titles.

Pop stars singing on the field, girls with pom poms, Bullman and Bullboy the stories of the atmosphere of Odsal had a near mythic status but those days – like the team’s triumphs in Super League – seem behind them. Bulls fan Phil Parsons sums up the mood saying

“(The Bulls) seemed a bit deflated as of late. Some of this is obviously to do with the results on the pitch but quite a bit of it has been because of things off the pitch as well. A lot of people wanted McNamara to go a lot earlier than he did and this seemed to lead to a lot of discontent among the fans. It was other things as well, for example the pre-match entertainment used to be excellent and a lot of it this year has been pretty poor and it’s just sucked the atmosphere out of Odsal.”

Parsons has signed up for the Bulls Pledge – cheaper season tickets if so many people get on board – but hopes that the club cab use the next season as a new start. “They should make a massive deal of it. Go back to things like having an opera singer singing Nessun Dorma just before kick off, the fireworks and having the teams walk out together, that sort of thing. Odsal used to have the nickname ‘Fortress Odsal’ because it was such an imposing place to come to as an away team and the fans loved it. That’s want I want back from next season.”

The correlation in the minds of both Parsons and Wilkins is clear. Good atmosphere off the field – however it is brought about – brings good results on it or at least contributes. Newcatle United’s players are inspired, Bradford Bull’s opponents are scared but in short that good support brings good football, or at least winning football.

I love a party with a happy atmosphere

If a good atmosphere begets good results then it might be worth considering what good supporters do which aids the players or hinders the opposition. Certainly City’s players and management have talked gravely about the silence of Valley Parade. Nicky Law said the crowd was worth a goal start for the opposition suggesting a reverse of the effect that the Bulls seek while Stuart McCall fumed at the booing of individual players suggesting that it hampered the team as a whole.

Peter Taylor highlighted the effect on the development of the younger players in the team of the players being booed suggesting that they would be less willing to do the things that help them develop into better players for fear of the Valley Parade ire. Joe Colbeck was never the same after he went to Darlington and came back with the confidence of having couple of games of the most purposeful practice without the censure in failure.

So we gather ideas of how good support – which we correlate with the idea that good supporters end up with successful teams – manifests itself. Speaking about match days and about what occurs during match days we emerge with a hypothesis: Good support is the tendency to allow for player’s failure giving those players the scope to both be more adventurous (and responsible) in their play and to learn from that experience (which is especially true for the young players) and to believe that the whole is best served by belief in the collection players.

It is difficult to quantify support outside of the realm of bums on seats and noise generated but anecdotally one finds it hard to recall occasions when the clubs which are known for having better supports who are yoked to success have gone against that hypothesis.

It was rare that Liverpool supporters attacked a player but the treatment of Lucas Leiva in recent seasons strikes a contrast to the story of singing while 3-0 down in Instanbul inspiring the players. The fear in football is that when the fans start to boo a single player that the ten other men worry that after a mistake they will be the next target. Peter Beagrie summed up this feeling in his comment about what constituted genuine courage on the football field – “Doing the same thing the twelfth that has left you on your backside for the last eleven because it is still the right thing to do.”

Manchester United supporters made a fable out of Deigo Forlan’s failure to score allowing the player the room to grow, Newcastle United idolise their number nine in a way that seemed to cause the current incumbent to grow a foot when the shirt went on his back. Even over at Leeds United where they are not know for tolerance they express to their players a belief that the club will do well in any division they are in should they apply themselves correctly.

It might seem trite – almost childish in its simplicity – but the supporters who are best able to suspend any disbelief they have for the duration of a game are those who do best in the longer term. The non-cynical attitude of children is mirrored – at least during games – by the fans of clubs who do well and the problem with children is that they grow up.

So now then

Cynicism is no bad thing and if more of football was cynical then the game would be in better health. If every season a 80 clubs did not plan the season on the idea that they would end up promoted then so many balance sheets would not be bright red.

Cynicism in supporters could can be helpful too. After Bruno Rodriguez, Jorge Cadete and Juanjo it was incredible that the levels of cynicism at Valley Parade allowed for another overseas superstar to have his name plastered on a shirt and anyone who showed cynicism probably saved themselves £40.

However when Topp took to the field the suspension of disbelief – the ability to park cynicism – was noticeable for its scarcity at Valley Parade. Nothing really suggested he would be a good player but we all convinced ourselves he would be Pele and so he enjoyed ample chance. Compare that with Barry Conlon who scored more goals in one game that Topp has got in his career and the problem becomes clearer.

This is mental gymnastics. The ability to double-think away from the cynicism that comes with following a club for seasons in which one learns that success is rare is a tough skill to learn and like any skill it is best reinforced when it comes with a positive result. If the double-think of supporting does not lead to results then people are less likely to do it – as with post-Topp City – but Beagrie would testify that it is still the right thing to do.

The supporters who have had the most experience of this working do it more often – Manchester United, Liverpool, Newcastle United and so on – and one could say that the are the best supporters but one would shy from saying that the opposite are bad fans, or to come full circle “the worst fans in football”.

Just that of all the tools which football fans use to be able to do “good support” City fans use few. Perhaps supporters are not bad just not less good and in a competitive football environment in which all teams compete in the longer term City fans are not worse than many but a few clubs have fans who are better able to use their presence to boost their teams.

To those teams the spoils. The rest of us look disparagingly at the Manchester United supporter and his giddy belief that whichever kid Sir Alex throws in will be the New George Best or the Newcastle United fan who has his team’s number nine tattooed on his thigh they look back at us with sympathy.

For we have more of what they would call cynicism and they have more of what we would call success.

Let It Be

When an organisation examines itself in search of improvement it is often seen as healthy and valuable introspection. Self-analysis can create benefits that repay any discomforts – real or imagined – providing of course that the process is well-managed and sensitive to the individuals involved.

When an organisation is examined from the outside it is often seen as intrusive inspection and the initial reaction in the vast majority of cases is to see it as a threat. That threat is usually dealt with in one of two ways – a coming together to unite against the perceived threat or a fragmentation of buck passing. The blame culture that sets colleague against colleague virtually guarantees a critical outcome to the examination – a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So when the team you support gets off to such a disappointing start it is right to examine the reasons why. But which model do we follow?

Opinions and perceptions are bound to vary but from where I sit in the Midland Road stand and at my computer, the beneficial model of self-analysis is a non-starter. As a club we seem intent on tearing ourselves apart internally with the only beneficiaries being the opposition.

Fan is set against fan Dave’s summary seems to me a bit extreme but it’s the way he sees it and as far as I am aware he is not one given to knee jerks.

Player is set against player Well I am surely not the only one to notice the reluctance of some players to pass to others who may not be doing well and blazing long-range shots over the bar is hardly a subtle comment to your attacking colleagues.

Fan is set against player Daley does not fit into the City system (whatever it is) but does not deserve the torrent of obscenities and abuse heaped on him from foul mouthed idiots in Block C.

Manager is set against supporter Don’t boo us for winning – even if the performance was poor and the result undeserved. The results are all that matters. It may not be pretty but we are set up to be hard to beat. Are we really?

Fan is set against manager “We need a change” (already?) may not be a universal view but whatever the logic behind Friday’s changes in personnel and pattern the manager’s decisions seemed to satisfy no-one.

Manager is set against player Whilst verbally accepting the blame for some aspects of poor performance, the manager’s actions could easily say the opposite to those players left out and those brought in. One week a player is substituted for being given the run around, next week clearly ineffectual and possibly unfit players have their weaknesses exposed for a full match whilst other apparently inexplicable changes are made. Putting a defender up front on Friday took the eventual man-of –the- match out of much of the subsequent play by resorting to even more long high balls. What messages are these decisions giving the players?

Player is set against fan It may be stretching the point, but the reluctance of all but one of the players to acknowledge those fans that stayed to try and lift them after the final whistle was evident and says a lot.

Negativity rules all round Valley Parade at the moment and attempts to overcome it only seem to add to it despite the best of intentions.

Blame the ticket prices, blame the seating arrangements, blame the younger fans, blame the grumpy old men, blame the Referee, the kit, the pitch even. Perhaps blame my son for forgetting to drink from his City mug on Friday or blame me for not changing my shoes – we never seem to win if I am wearing anything black. Blame anything!

Clearly this urge to pull our team apart in such a Dali-esque manner cannot go on. Whatever the range of opinion it has to be the performance on the pitch that counts. Reality says that those who are paid to do a job should know what it is, be capable of doing it and be given every chance to complete it. Those who pay to watch should not be held responsible for things outside their control – although they are responsible for controlling themselves.

Whatever happens, fans can not effectively change what happens on the pitch however much we believe we can. Playing games behind closed doors, or with piped cheering to cover the lack of the real thing or with any of the other well-intentioned and less extreme suggestions made recently will not get to the root of the problem.

Whilst we may endlessly debate the ways things may change nothing we say will really impact on the situation and very little of what we do will make any difference. Until there is coherence from the professionals we will never be united so why don’t we accept this?

Pessimistic? Probably. Realistic? I believe so. Practical? I doubt it, too many differing points of view.

I may not like what I have seen in the League so far but I know I can’t change it so I let it be and keep my vocal chords for positive appreciation.

I know I don’t like what I’ve heard from some close by me this season but at least I know I can do something about it the next time the torrent of obscene abuse begins – wish me luck.

Until then I’ll keep on chanting “Come on City” but keep thinking “Come on united” – the small “u” is just as important as the capital “C”.

Everything looks bad right now

In the immediate minutes that followed Anthony Grant’s second half KO blow for Southend, the overriding mood in the air was not provided by the vocal anger of many apoplectic home fans – but the melancholy of everybody else.

This was all very miserably familiar. A game Bradford City ‘should’ win turning out to be a morale-denting defeat so formulated and repetitive over the past few years that it feels like we’re trapped in our own version of Last of the Summer Wine. Just like the world’s long-running sitcom, it ceased to be even mildly amusing a long, long time ago.

But as many supporters reacted with rage, unleashing levels of vociferous abuse that, even by Valley Parade standards, has not been reached for a good few seasons; it was the silent resignation of others which arguably represents the most concern. Worry not too much of those who text into Radio Leeds and log onto message boards to angrily point the finger, worry about those who may now be questioning their sanity in attending next time.

Prior to kick off I was buying my tickets for Stockport away and found a healthy queue of City fans handing over £20 to watch this evening’s game. With the first two league attendances of the season falling below the 11,000 mark, the hope that the shortfall of season ticket sales would be rectified by pay on the day supporters will be quickly dashed by evenings as wretched as this. Where three seasons ago a similarly woeful defeat to Accrington brought out a defiant spirit amongst supporters, tonight there was not even the slim consolation of an enjoyable atmosphere to keep the floating supporter interested.

Tonight Valley Parade was simply an ugly place to be. The boost of a commendable cup performance against higher division opposition was supposed to be act as the springboard that finally got the season going. When Tommy Doherty superbly played James Hanson through on goal after 10 minutes, we all prepared to celebrate the commencement of a promotion challenge after some false starts. Last season’s top scorer badly screwed his shot wide, and that was as good as it got for City.

Six minutes later Southend grabbed a lead that at the time seemed undeserved and slightly controversial – Barry Corr played through on goal but looking borderline offside, finishing impressively past Jon McLaughlin. But for the remaining 74 minutes the visitors made sure they were full value for the three points.

City’s formation and tactics were hard to fathom, but it appeared Peter Taylor had adopted a 4-2-3-1 formation particularly popular at this year’s World Cup. Lee Bullock and Tommy Doherty sat deep; Gareth Evans, Omar Daley and Louis Moult interchanged positions behind Hanson. But the three attacking midfielders/forwards were highly ineffective and left a hole that saw attacks quickly break down. All three were guilty of failing to utilise space and charging down blind alleys while in possession, when they needed greater awareness of what was around them. The uncompromising Southend defence easily lapped it up.

Home pressure was sporadic and little thought was paid to setting the tempo. Southend chased and harried the ball high up the park and hit City effectively on the counter attack by flooding players into the box. Josh Simpson and Craig Easton both squandered easy chances to double the advantage as a ponderous City defence panicked and continually lost sight of runners. Taylor headed to the dressing room at half time with the Bradford End chanting at him to sort it out.

Yet rather than address the trimmings, he uprooted the foundations. If there weren’t many bright spots to the first half, surely the performances of Doherty and Bullock should have been considered something to build on. While at times forced too deep, both showed composure while others hastily whacked the ball up the pitch. Doherty seemed to benefit from Bullock’s close support and everything good came through them. But the dismal performances of Evans, Daley and Moult just ahead left them hopelessly outnumbered and they needed an extra body to help. How Michael Flynn was missed.

But although Taylor made the right decision to bring on Flynn’s understudy David Syers at half time, he oddly took Bullock off in a straight swap. And while Luke O’Brien brought a bit more balance by being pushed to left midfield, with Robbie Threlfall replacing Louis Moult, the taking off of James Hanson – which may have been due to picking up a knock – for Jake Speight saw the problems largely remain. Speight played well, but he was the only one who could effectively hold up the ball.

City went 4-4-2, and a midfield which had played reasonably well but been outnumbered became even more out-gunned, Doherty struggling to exert any influence. Initially City at least carried more purpose and came close through Speight and Luke Oliver, but on 55 minutes Grant fired home from the edge of the area after a free kick was partially cleared and the mountain became even steeper.

There was an element of misfortune, however, as only seconds before the goal City had been attacking with some purpose. But when Syers’ ball to Doherty hit a bobble just before it reached the midfielder, Southend were able to break up the pitch, force a throw in and score. That’s how bad things went tonight, even that much-trumpeted new playing surface let us down.

The anger poured down from the stands, with Daley the obvious target and bizarrely told to “get off the pitch” by some fans in the Midland Road stand. We’ve used all three subs, so are we supposed to play with ten men? But while you can argue he and the rest deserved it, the fury reigning down does not present a productive atmosphere for the players to perform in. It is no surprise that certain players disappeared into their shells and left others to take responsibility. When O’Brien whacked an improbable crossfield ball over that Daley stood little chance of keeping in, it was the Jamaican and not the young defender who received the torrent of abuse.

With 13 minutes to go hope briefly flickered in the shape of the stupid sending off of right back Sean Clohessy, after he needlessly hacked O’Brien having already been booked for time wasting. But there was no way back despite pushing Oliver up front, with ideas long since run out. An awful evening was summed up by second half captain Steve Williams lashing a shot high into the Kop from a ridiculous distance, for no obvious reason than frustration.

Valley Parade emptied long before the end, sparing the players from volume 11 boos. But most will be back. And if City are to live up to the pre-season expectations there is a battle they must overcome – coping with this pressure. Half the people screaming abuse were livid for City launching long balls at the back, the other half were having a go for passing sideways and not getting it forwards quick enough. The players need to learn to ignore their frustrations and play in the right manner. The only people they need to obey are their team mates and management.

Taylor took full responsibility for the defeat afterwards, admitting his team selection had been wrong. And in this situation City have exactly the right man to cope with the pressure and get the players going again. He needs to find a system that works for the players and he has to stick with it, rather than constantly changing tactics and players. He needs to get the most out of the ability of Doherty by setting up the team so he can dictate the play. He needs to select a regular back four that are familiar with each other’s position on the field rather than having to look over their shoulders. He needs to address the worrying lack of chances and goals the forward line is delivering.

But as the sun went down during the second half, it will rise again on Saturday morning. There are eight days to work on the training ground and 42 games left to fulfill expectations. Paul Jewell was in the commentary box this evening, a reminder that, while everything looks bad now, a bad start to the season needn’t prove the end of it.

How much should we analyse City’s uninspiring win over Stevenage?

Since I have been in football there has been a basic question to face. Are you pretty or are you efficient? It’s as if you’ve got to choose. What is dangerous for football is when people become convinced that you have to play a boring game to win.”

Arsene Wenger, Arsenal manager, May 2004

It was the complete reversal of football’s usual full time etiquette – supporters of the winning team warmly applauding, the losers receiving a mixture of boos and appreciation for at least trying – that encapsulated Saturday’s outcome in all but result.

Bradford City may have won the game 1-0, but we home fans trooped out lacking that warm feeling of satisfaction a win usually generates. Meanwhile the Stevenage fans stayed back to afford their players a standing ovation that lasted beyond the emptying of the rest of the stadium. When they did finally depart, their chanting was kept up on Midland Road outside. Any passer-by could only have concluded, from seeing the glum faces of City fans and the smiles of their Stevenage counterparts, that the Football League newcomers had just won the game.

As the roads around the stadium clogged up from heavy traffic, City manager Peter Taylor admitted live on BBC Radio Leeds that it had been a poor performance from his team, probably caused by tiredness from the midweek extra time heroics against Nottingham Forest. The listening Huddersfield Town summariser Kieran O’Regan quickly and emphatically rejected Taylor’s explanation, claiming it was too early into the season for fatigue to play a part.

And he might be right, perhaps instead Taylor’s squad rotation had more to do with an under-whelming display. There had been seven changes from the team at Shrewsbury to the Forest starting eleven, and a further five changes from that were made for Saturday’s game. Three games in, and already 19 different players have been used. The grumblings that the team played like a bunch of strangers arguably carried some merit.

But while a poor performance should largely be tolerated by City fans if it still achieves the desired result of three points, it was the manner of how City played which prompted the most concern. Once Omar Daley had lifted a shot over the bar early in the second half, Boro keeper Chris Day was not even troubled by so much as a wild long range shot into the Kop. City sat back and defended, many players seemingly fearing to cross over the half way line.

Were they too tired, shy among each other’s company, or was playing so conservatively the result of quite deliberately and effectively-employed tactics from Taylor?

When it became apparent City were just going to defend dourly for the game’s final 30 minutes, restricting visiting attacks to long range efforts, fears began to spread about whether we’d have to become used to this. Ever since he became manager in February, there’s been a Jekyll and Hyde nature to Taylor’s reputation. A strong track record at several clubs provides encouragement he can deliver some belated success to this club, but listen closely to supporters of the teams he’s managed and complaints about boring football are a worrying constant.

During the initial 18-game spell last season, we were treated to some exciting and unpredictable football, but on other occasions City played some unappealing and tedious stuff. The final five games of the campaign saw a 4-3-3 formation used to generally-thrilling effect, and the manner in which City battled back to defeat Forest last Tuesday was anything but boring. So which is the real Bradford City, and which is the real Peter Taylor?

Perhaps it’s best not to over-analyse Saturday’s events, for the time being at least. It went by almost completely unnoticed, but tagging on the results at the end of last season meant this was a fifth straight win at Valley Parade – a feat not bettered since the promotion-winning side of 1998-99. At this level few teams can play consistently well, and with justification we can perhaps view Saturday’s showing as the type of game we’ve regularly lost over recent years.

But Taylor cannot discount the importance of entertaining either. It won’t have escaped Mark Lawn or Julian Rhodes attention that Saturday was – officially at least – City’s lowest league attendance since dropping to League Two level in 2007, and any floating fans present will hardly be rushing back.

Those who were there produced an atmosphere both pitiful and wholly embarrassing. To be completely out-sung by barely 200 opposition supporters is a situation we cannot simply allow to continue in the future battles ahead.

The question is whether it is the team’s responsibility to provide the fans with the spark to sing or the supporters to lift the players is one we’ll never universally agree on. But if the boos that filled the air at full time deservedly gave Taylor food for thought, the continued chanting of opposition fans as we filed out of the ground gave us fans something to reflect on too.

Despite the victory, Valley Parade was not a happy place to be on Saturday. Supporters, management and players all have a responsibility to in future reverse all outcomes but the result.

City act firmly to shape the atmosphere at Valley Parade

The final news of the close season before the start of the build up proper tidied up the end of last season and the scenes where some fans ran on the field and taunted the Northampton Town supporters who had taken a part in the clubs 25 year commemoration of the fire of 1985.

There are details aplenty about banning orders and good behaviour bonds but the message from City is that with the forty separate cases dealt with and an upgrade to the club’s CCTV in place that there has been firm action taken.

After a summer of players, prison and pitches it seems that City are to close the close season months with a firm step in the right direction and there is much credit to those at Valley Parade who have put the weight behind these steps.

Mark Lawn and VP safety officer David Dowse deserve a lot of credit. Lawn – fresh from his threat to wind the club up after his car with vandalised – has this time found a proportional response issuing four life bans, some season long suspensions and in doing so underlined the club’s stance on the yobbish element that had started to hang around the Bantams.

For the past four seasons curious stories have been filtering back that a group of City fans have been involved in scrapping – which is a more playful word for violence – but as most of these incidents were away from Valley Parade there was little the club could do other than assist Police and stewarding elsewhere. That and elect to park somewhere less conspicuous.

The first time this problem manifested – rather than hinted at – its presence where City could do something action was through and the club – and the fans who helped and supported – get credit.

Football is – by nature – adversarial and that has a tendency to lead to yobbishness in some and clubs have struggled with attempting to balance allowing the atmosphere of rivalry to survive the restrictions that control aggression.

As a side I enjoyed a summer Saturday in a pub in York – The Maltings if you know it – and was amused by a sign on the wall which detailed the policy on cussing and swearing. In that it was not allowed.

Amused turned to surprise when an especially no nonsense barmaid enforced that rule stridently. Put simply it was a pub which did not want you to swear in it, and so they stopped you and with my advancing years – we are all a summer older – I found that like the ale this was oddly refreshing.

It was a sea-change in atmosphere and one suited to a Saturday afternoon drink but probably something that would be impossible to attempt at football. They say that the family sections – where swearing is supposed to be prohibited – has worse language less often as if the Dad bottle up and then explode with much more vitriol than they would elsewhere.

Nevertheless as I took a beer I mused on how the efforts to tweak that atmosphere at The Maltings had been successful – “Bloody successful” I said testing the depth of the swearing waters and not being pulled up for any offence – and how rare it is for a football club to do the same.

Rare but not unprecedented. A trip to Lincoln City last season saw City fans greeted with messages that effing and jeffing was not on and The Dutch FA sanctioned Referees abandoning games if “personal chanting” were to be heard, a rule that seemed directly aimed at protecting Rafael van der Vaart’s wife Sylvie from abuse.

Elsewhere groups like the Accrington Stanley Ultras try – without the club – to change the atmosphere at their games and were very vocal while at Valley Parade last term.

Bradford City – in taking a stand against the aggressive element who followed City – are trying to change the atmosphere around the club and all credit to them for that. Firm action taken quickly finishes off the summer break on a strong note.

One wonders what else they – or fans – might seek to change if they had the chance.

Capello contemplates his choice of headlines

If the world laughed at the New York Post’s headline of USA Win 1-1 then one wonders what it will make of the booing, the dressing room invasions and the paraphrasing of Churchill that has come following England’s failure to beat Algeria?

Perhaps it was Wayne Rooney’s questioning of the booing as not being loyal support which has seen the morning newspapers give the nation’s side an easier ride than perhaps expected. A collective breath taken by editors who realise that having spent the best part of two months talking about how committed to the English cause they are Rooney is right to say that turning on the team at this stage is no definition of loyal support.

The agitator-in-chief The Sun opted for a photograph of a few of the players with the the phrase “Never in the field of World Cup conflict has so little been offered to so many” and there is – for once – some merit in the statement. England’s players stand accused of offering little, of performing poorly, of not achieving and while the counter to that – that the support was not up to much either – might be true the inter-relationship between the one and the other mitigates neither.

The French – who lost rather than drew and have not the luxury of a fate in their own hands as England do – woke up to the quote as headline too “Va te faire enculer sale fils de pute” in L’Equipe over a photograph of Raymond Domenech being talked to by Nicolas Anelka which translated includes some of the words that Zidane reacted to so badly in the last World Cup final and serves to put a further nail in the coach’s coffin and see Anelka sent home.

The German Kicker seemed less upset with the 1-0 defeat to the Serbs with the headline Deutschland Katerland which either means Germany Are Tomcats or more likely Germany’s Hangover. Perhaps there is a correlation between strength of the rebuke for the former two nations and the relaxed nature of the third that ties to the carefree opening performance of German and the stolid, disjointed nature of the French and English.

Certainly Capello – not enjoying his 64th birthday over much – is mystified by the way his team fails to mesh suggesting that perhaps the pressure of playing in the World Cup finals gets to his players turning Rooney from the best player in the World to a pedestrian in the side. There is much sports psychology which would agree that the fear of failure is the most significant cause of failure.

Mental problems though are the very stuff of international football management. A dozen sides are equally good enough to win yet only one does and it is a combination of luck and belief which selects that side. Fabio Capello has had none of the former but seems to have built little of the latter although it is worth noting that the two best performances for England came from two players the Italian had publicly thrown full weight behind: Jamie Carragher and David James.

Belief is a problem as are selection and formation. Capello has not addressed the recurrent problem with Frank Lampard’s positioning that sees the Chelsea man undisciplined and too ready to wander away from his duties. Perhaps Lampard has been detailed by the previous three England managers who wander away from his midfield team mate and is simply disciplined to a different role but that role clearly works less well and England are more effective when they have and hold possession in the midfield. Lampard’s arriving late in the box gets in the way of Rooney’s dropping off and there is room for only one in the side.

That Capello has inherited this problem from the timid Steve McLaren and not solved it is surprisingly ineffectual for a manager of his standing in the game and perhaps suggests an issue not with how well Capello knows football – that is not under debate – but how well he knows English football. The England manager is seen at a Premiership game most weekends which compares with Sven-Goran Eriksson who would often watch three matches and then catch some games during the week. Eriksson was brought up on English football, McLaren had played in the league but one has to wonder how well Capello knows his players and the strengths and limitations of them.

The manager has moved from club to club playing his 442 and winning trophies and the English game is built in tribute to that formation. England have the players to play it more effectively in the country and in the squad but to do that Capello must know his squad better and realise – even at this late state – which of them can be used in his desired framework and which cannot be.

This may mean he makes some headlines for dropping the very successful Frank Lampard but the alternative – one fears – is that the headline writers will have something far more damning and far worse to write about when England exit.

Ban the vuvuzelas? Can’t we make them compulsory?

The sound of the World Cup is the sound of the vuvuzela.

The drone of a high pitched, continuous sound trumpeted out from every game in South Africa has been the feature of the tournament so far with everything from the horror of Robert Green’s fumble through the excitement of the spanking of Australia to the dullness of France’s draw with Uruguay. Played out to the sound.

However World Cup chief Danny Jordaan may ban vuvuzelas from inside stadiums after complaints from broadcasters. The viewer at home is suffering and there is a real worry that this will cause a knock on effect on viewers.

Football is an irritant to the Mum of the advertisers 2.4 children family at the best of times but when it comes with the headache inducing sound of the vuvuzela then it becomes a turn off rather than a tolerate.

I’ve watched every game of the World Cup and I’ve had headaches but I’ve been to enough football matches to know that coming home with a headache and annoyed by the noise is far from unusual.

Imagine a vuvuzela at Valley Parade next season? Imagine the upset and distress caused and the complaints to stewards and the club: “He was blowing that thing so loud I could hardly hear the bloke behind me calling Luke O’Brien a twat.”

There is a statement that what is said in the stands comes over to the pitch as a single sound – with the vuvuzela it does nothing else. There is a constancy to the noise which does not rise and fall between goals but far too often in British football that rise post goal comes from an often silent start.

It is a curious atmosphere in the South African stadium – we are told – and certainly when watched at home but take a South African to Valley Parade – or many other grounds – and plonk him down and he may long for the drone of vuvuzelas over the drone of negativity.

Perhaps that neutrality is the saving grace of the vuvuzela. It is a noise neither supportive nor critical, it just makes a noise which is often all that can be said about any given person at Valley Parade with everyone in the ground having heard – and probably at some point said – utterly contrary statements within the space of minutes. We have all wished that people around us could be more supportive That someone would remind the crowd what their mother’s told them about not saying anything at all if they can’t say anything nice.

In the end it all comes out as noise anyway.

Being There

O.K, so the trip to Crewe seems a life time away by now. But, while I was looking forward to a break from the football, I’m ready to get back in there. And, since there’s a competition where every game is live on TV, what better way to meet the need?

Well, lots of better ways, actually. I could take up watching some dry paint get even drier. It’s not just that the games are pretty rotten so far; it’s the atmosphere I miss. Back in the Midland Road, there’s the same voices, the same cheering and the same referee baiting that have been together for years. If the game gets a bit dull (Dull? Bradford City?), we always find something to talk about, even if it is the price of bottled water. And there is a genuine atmosphere a Valley Parade. The volume goes up and down with the ebb and flow of the game. We may not like the booing of our own team – indeed we hate it – but it does at least reflect the ups and downs of the team we support.

Watching the World Cup on the TV is a poor substitute. There’s all that incessant background noise. No, I don’t necessarily mean the vuvuzelas, although they create such a monotone that they are the very antithesis of an atmosphere. I mean the commentators and their sidekicks.

Did I want to be told, as the first game was about to start, that we should all be South Africa supporters now? Why??? Still less was the first goal ‘a goal for the whole of Africa’. You ask the Ghana supporters, the Ivory Coast lads, the Algerians and the rest of the African tribesmen. And who thought it even worth saying, as we watched a village jumping up and down to celebrate the goal scored by their local hero, that ‘football is for people’? There I was thinking it was for sheep.

So far I’ve heard only one decent joke, from Barnsley’s very own Mick McCarthy, and he could have improved on his wit if only he’d said that a Nigerian defender was so bad they named him twice. The defender, by the way, is called Odiah and if you pronounce it as though he were Irish and the ‘i’ was a double ‘e’, then you might see the joke. But we deliver better lines than that in Block B.

Of course, the one time the persistent background noise went away, it took the picture with it, unless you count the advert as being anything worth seeing (which it wasn’t). Only England could be so cruel as to score at that moment. I bet down on the pitch somebody threw up another advert right in front of Rob Green. But did he want to buy a new car? Or perhaps it was an ad for Specsavers. No, too cruel.

Anyway, with the World Cup so far failing to satisfy my need for proper football, I’m not waiting for England’s next game with bated breath. No, before then there is the much more important day when the new fixtures are released. I shall be charging up the sat-nav, digging the road map out of the car boot and getting on to those websites where cheap hotel deals are advertised.

I shall be reminding myself of how to get to the football ground nearest to the River Mersey (useless fact, except for those who thought it was Anfield, Goodison or Prenton Park) and the best M5 junction for Cheltenham. I shall especially look forward to going there, in the hope of meeting the same steward as I met last year and whom I assured, having seen City fail to score all season and then leave both Thorne and Boulding on the bench, that the game had nil-nil written all over it.

Torquay will be a must, no matter what time of year, since it allows us to see friends and family. Hereford’s another good excuse for a weekend away, if you can forget about the inside of Edgar Street.

And this year there are two new grounds. Stevenage (no longer ‘Borough’, apparently) play just down the road from my old mate John. And Oxford might be on the cards, even if the memories it will bring back will mean less to Herself than to me. In truth, any Oxford football memories do not include the Kassam stadium. The few professional games I watched there were at The Manor Ground and included a dodgy encounter one evening with some Millwall fans.

I can still claim one little bit of football history from The Manor with a game a few of us went to only because we knew it was making history. So, for the anoraks, what was (and, with the arrival of penalty shoot outs, will probably forever remain) the longest F A Cup tie on record? Now, do you dare put a comment to this piece, thus revealing yourself as an anorak (join the club)? Or do you just Google it and sit in silence? Or do you hope that our editor rescues you from your dilemma by putting in his own, doubtless correct, answer as soon as he posts this piece?

So, forget about Algeria, Slovenia and the inevitable loss on penalties to the Germans. Concentrate on Thursday morning and work up your plans for being there. Just don’t bring one of those bloody vuvuzelas or any of that lot off the telly!

What one single thing would you change about Bradford City?

As we worry that Bradford City will be heading for the worst finish the club has had in forty-four years drastic measures are being debated for the future of the club with almost nothing having been changed, tweaked or altered in the hypotheticals that Bantams fans are talking in. Flights of fancy or wild notions to serious notion and simple building blocks have been heard and discussed.

And so the fifth of the Barry Article asks…

“What one single thing would you change about Bradford City?”

Jason Mckeown City Gent & BfB Writer

What a question! After another hugely disappointing season, the temptation is to simply say “to have success”. But I believe football clubs go in cycles and the good and bad times can never last forever, so I’d prefer to retain my blind faith that it must be our time again soon and use my wish on something more ever-lasting.

Which means I also wouldn’t want to change chairmen, manager or players; as these things happen over time anyway. Nor strategy, as what seems the obvious one now may not be in two or ten years time. I prefer to trust that those responsible for getting it right will do so eventually. Please.

So having nobly avoided the temptation to wish for a ten-point lead at the top of the Premier League or signing Lionel Messi, I’m going to push my luck and ask for two wishes. The first is for the Kop to go back to terracing. Standing up at football is how it should be and there was nothing wrong with our beloved former terrace.

I miss the days where I stood next to the same group of 20 or so people and the banter we had; when we went all-seater, we suddenly never saw each other. Now I sit behind the same moaning idiots every week, debating moving my season ticket for the next campaign but fearing I’ll just be stuck with different moaners. It was never a problem standing in the Kop, I yearn for that.

And the other thing I’d change is for City to have their own anthem we can all sing before the match. Nothing horrible like what that lot down the road sing; more like other clubs who adopt their own anthem and sing it before every game with such passion and excitement. Sheffield United, Notts Forest and of course Liverpool fans, I’m so jealous of the way you sing your anthems.

If only we could have our own anthem to sing similarly passionately prior to every match, maybe we’d finally get rid of that dodgy home record. Which reminds me, that’s another thing to change. Hmmm, any chance of a third wish?

Dave Pendleton Bantamspast Curator & Former City Gent Editor

A simple question to answer. The ownership of the ground. Without the dead weight of the lease payments City would have, according to David Baldwin, the ability to pay Championship level wages. Of course, whether we would want to pay high wages is another matter, but to have the ability to do so would obviously only benefit the club’s progress.

I would love to see the ground placed in the ownership of a non-profit making co-operative and have the ground set aside for sports use only in perpetuity. Even better a City of Bradford Stadium, with City, and possibly the Bulls, playing at a Valley Parade central to the sports community of the entire City of Bradford. It would once and for all remove the burden of repayments and ground development costs from both clubs and would send a tremendous signal regarding community cohesion. It would take a leap of faith, particularly from a section of the Bulls fans who view visiting Manningham to be akin to signing your own death warrant, and those City fans who resent Zesh Rehman’s presence in the City side, but with open minded optimism we could be on the verge of something special at Valley Parade.

Whether Gordon Gibb fancies being paternalistic towards Bradford, or Bradford Council is brave enough to push through such a scheme, is questionable. However, we have to be optimistic, otherwise we will fall into the same self-fulfilling cynicism that often dominates thinking about Bradford and Bradford City.

Steve Baker Stalwart City fan and Bantams Bar regular

I’d like to see some proper sales and marketing plan. What are we doing to raise funds off the field? I know Roger Owen has been brought in, but I’m yet to see what he has put in place to generate more revenue to the club. I have loads of ideas that would help boost the clubs coffers, but there is no point in suggesting these to the club as it just falls on deaf ears.

If there is more money coming in, it makes everything easier. There are loads of things the club could do – but whether its void of ideas, or just restricted due to lack of staff members. I’m happy to chuck ideas into the pot, but there is no fixed process for this.

When the Peter Etherington saga ended, the club advertised for a new commercial manager. I applied for this post and heard nothing back from the club. Im not saying I was a perfect candidate but I had some good ideas, and definitely have the passion for such a role.

So that’s what I would want to see – a club that offers great value on season tickets, but looks for all available opportunities to expand its money earning potentials. At the moment we are stuck in a rut, one we need to get out of ASAP. The money isn’t the be all and end all, but would Rhodes and Lawn turn down more income?

Paul Firth City fan and Author of Four Minutes To Hell

This would have to be a ‘If I won the rollover lottery’ moment.

I’d buy back the ground from the Gibb pension fund and charge City a nominal rent. I have no complaint with the rent the present landlord charges. I think it probably is a commercial rent. But it is a rent City cannot afford, given their overall finances.

As long as the cheap season tickets continue (and that, hopefully, means for a very long time indeed), the club cannot afford high outgoings on rent and at the same time the wages for the sort of players that our impatient supporters demand. So, if expectation is to be met, the outgoings have to be cut or the ticket sales have to go even further than the extra 5,000 being sought. (OK, or the prices have to go up, but that’s far from a simple equation.)

If I don’t win the lottery, then I would be looking for a kindly benefactor who can afford the price of the freehold and, in the short term, won’t mind getting less than a market return on his money until the club can buy the ground back – which should be feasible in the medium term. Anyone one have Sir Ken’s number?

Finding something to play for

Bradford City lose a game under Peter Taylor – and the general outlook is that the season just needs to be seen out, with the focus quickly moved onto getting it right  for the next one. But then Bradford City win a game under Peter Taylor, and the urge to check the League Two table and remaining fixtures becomes strong enough to leave you wondering whether the club could still make the play offs. Then Bradford City lose a game, then win again, then lose again. A constant swapping of hope and realism that you know will probably result in disappointment but you can’t help but wistfully daydream might still end in glorious celebrations.

The Bantams go into this evening’s home game with Notts County back in downbeat mood; and though Saturday’s defeat at Hereford isn’t the final nail in the promotion bid coffin, there aren’t too many left until its firmly closed. Tonight is City’s game in hand and a victory would push them up to 15th and close the gap to the play offs to nine, with nine games to play – back to looking up those remaining fixtures?

Realistically the ghost has been given up by all but some supporters, but the reluctance to fully let go stems from the alternative monotonous reality of a meaningless end to the season.

We have all summer to feel bored and do other things with our weekends, wishing we could go to Valley Parade. And while City going into the final few weeks with nothing to play is a familiar reality, there’s a growing feeling at this time of year that we have make the most of what’s left of the season. We only get to go to Valley Parade six more times between now and early May. We only get to go to Valley Parade six more times between now and the middle of July.

Which means until it’s no longer mathematically – or at least tediously – possible, our time is wasted contemplating the form guide of League Two’s play off contenders and filling in the excellent BBC predictor as optimistically as possible. If City can win tonight and on Saturday and if Bury can continue to implode and if Northampton collapse and if everyone stops winning and if, if, if.

Stupid. Pointless. But what else is there?

For Taylor at least, making sure the last few games are meaningful is his most realistic goal. Joint-Chairman Mark Lawn has begun initial talks over a longer contract, and the results and performances over the eight games Taylor has been in charge of have provided plenty of reasons to support extending the relationship. After tonight he will be half way through his initial 18-game deal, but with the new contract far from sealed, he can’t allow his players to drop standards in the run-up to the summer break.

Saturday’s defeat has dampened the mood and even lead to a small number of City fans questioning whether another deal should be offered to the interim manager. Every City fan who’s had a go at the BBC predictor over the last few weeks would have calculated a Bantams win from the trip to Hereford. And though the recent defeats at Aldershot and Port Vale could be excused given their higher league positions, losing to a side on a terrible run of form and near the relegation zone is rightly criticised. Just think of Stuart McCall still in charge and imagine the reaction.

A win might have set up a  realistic late promotion push, but instead the changing of a winning side – perhaps motivated by Taylor’s desire to evaluate his players and with a busy week of games in mind – backfired dismally. The likelihood that Hereford’s sinking position meant their players wanted it more must not become regular, with seven of City’s last 10 games against opposition going for promotion or battling to avoid relegation. Taylor has to instill greater desire and work rate; he only has six more games at Valley Parade on his initial deal, he may yet only have six more games at Valley Parade as City manager.

Huge game for visitors Notts County

Notts County certainty rock up to Valley Parade with the kind of butterflies-in-the-stomach and sweating-over-the-league-table outlook absent from City’s run-in. So much has been written about County’s eventful season – on this site and elsewhere – but whatever the rights and mostly wrongs of their approach, the world’s oldest professional football league club have been left with a very capable squad which may end the season lifting the League Two title.

The size of the task for City tonight is huge. County are unbeaten in the league since Tuesday 9 February – eight games ago. Since the JPT penalty shootout defeat at Valley Parade in early October, they have lost only four of the 29 matches they’ve played. If they win their two games in hand they will be within three points of Rochdale, with the Spotland club yet to travel to Meadow Lane. They’ve dominated the headlines, for largely the wrong reasons, all season – but there’s an increasingly strong chance they will attract some positive exposure too, for a short while at least.

For while the outcome of entrusting mysterious owners and their lofty ambitions of Premier League football has so far been self-inflicted damage – the new owners have inherited an initial £6m worth of debts from the publicity-shy Munto Finance and narrowly avoided going into administration last month – if and when those debts do catch up with the club, there will be others angrily demanding justice. Under Munto County signed up a playing squad they couldn’t afford, under new owners County are using a playing squad they can’t afford.

If Notts gain automatic promotion and then fall into administration, how will the club who finishes fourth feel? County are effectively cheating their way to a place in League One and no one in an authoritative position seems to care.

Yet with all this turmoil and high turnover of managers, that County have kept it together on the field is somewhat remarkable. Tonight they are robbed of the services of their top and third highest scorers – lookalikes Lee Hughes and Luke Rodgers – due to suspension. This leaves County relying on strikers Karl Hawley (four goals), Delroy Facey (one goal) and Ade Akinbiyi (no goals) to lead the line, though a potent midfield which includes goalscoring midfielders  Ben Davies (ten goals) and Craig Westcarr (nine goals) carry a clear threat.

Since Steve Cotterill took over as manager, County have five clean sheets from six games and former Bantam captain Graeme Lee has become a key figure of a defence backed up by the reputed £15k-per-week keeper Kasper Schmeichel – rumoured to be entitled to a £200k bonus if Notts are promoted. Kasper is said to have impressed onlookers this season, though his bizarre appeals for a foul when missing a cross that allowed the tiny Chris Brandon to head home an equaliser, smashing up of a corner flag and then punching of a hole in the dressing room wall, during the City-County JPT tie, means few connected with City hold him in such high regard. Expect boos for him tonight.

Bully’s suspension and mis-firing loanees offer Taylor food for thought

Hoping to score past Schmeichel will probably be a strike partnership of James Hanson and Mark McCammon/Ryan Kendall, with midfielder Lee Bullock’s two-game suspension forcing Taylor to contemplate moving Michael Flynn back to the middle of the park alongside Adam Bolder. Another option is the under-used Steve O’Leary or even returning skipper Simon Ramsden in the holding role and Jonathan Bateson continuing at right back.

Robbie Threfall plays at left back after his loan deal was extended, while a weak performance from Luke Oliver at Hereford leaves Taylor with a familiar problem of who to play in the centre of defence. Matt Clarke is quietly winning appreciation from fans. Zesh Rehman is nearing full fitness and might be given another go alongside him, or Steve Williams – star of a two-page article in this month’s Four Four Two magazine – may be recalled.

Out wide Omar Daley was likely left out of the starting line up at Hereford in order to be fresh to start this game in front of the usual mixture of Daley fans and haters arguing it over in the stands. For some reason Daley’s match-winning contribution against Aldershot has attracted a hostile reaction from those who point to his lack of consistency; but, if Taylor can coach higher standards into the Jamaican, City have a superb player who can make a difference. It was sad to see Luke O’Brien dropped at the weekend and he will battle with Gavin Grant and City’s own Dirk Kuyt, Gareth Evans, for the other wide berth. Matt Glennon keeps goal.

Taylor is making City more organised and disciplined, but his reign has so far produced unpredictable results. Tonight should be a great atmosphere as County bring a good following up the M1 in confident and vociferous mood. Tonight City play a team desperate for the three points and uber-confident of getting them. Tonight City’s players have limited motivations and ambitions, and probably could shrug off a defeat as expected.

But tonight should be about those players showing character and demonstrating a willingness to take up the fight of next season leading City towards the type of promotion push County are mounting. Tonight should be about giving everything, because it’s not acceptable to believe there is nothing to play for. And tonight should be about City fans responding to the away atmosphere by outsinging them and supporting their players in winning every tackle and completing every pass.

After all, we’ll be wishing we could do so come the summer.

We’ve gotta fight (fight, fight, fight, fight) fight for this love as Bradford City travel to leaders Rochdale

I always look forward to Rochdale away. In a division largely filled with run-down dumps or B&Q-purchased new flat pack stadiums, the compact and tidy Spotland ground is one of the most charming. Its size is suited for a fanbase lacking in number but not passion. Visiting supporters are allocated a full stand that runs lengthways down the pitch. With a low roof, the acoustics are excellent  for generating a cracking atmosphere. And while you wait for kick off, the PA announcer treats you to an enjoyable trip through recent indie music history, with a distinctive Mad-chester twist.

I’ve always enjoyed Spotland – and I thought, no assumed, that it would be us one day leaving it behind as the reversal back up the leagues finally began. But instead, it is Rochdale set to instigate the goodbyes and leave us. And by us, that’s League Two, which like it or not we are now firmly part of the furniture of.

Dale go into tonight’s fixture top of the league and eight points clear of 4th-placed Chesterfield, with a game in hand. And though the weight of history may yet spark some late-season jitters – Dale have famously being in England’s bottom division since 1974, so no pressure then – it seems highly likely visiting supporters of League One clubs will next season be enjoying Spotland’s delights.

All of which puts the Bantams in the most rarest of positions, at least in our own eyes – second favourites. Since demotion to League Two in 2007, a belief City are too big for this league has been maintained. No matter the respective league position of the opposition, each league fixture has been approached with the supporters’ mindset we should win it, causing more frustration when we don’t.

With recent form so disastrous and Dale’s progress since thrashing City 3-0 at Valley Parade continuing in terms of results if not performances, no City supporter will harbour any expectations of an away win this evening. Cup ties apart, the Bantams have not got into a game with such little hope since the League One trip to second-place Bristol City in March 2007 – a repeat of that night’s scoreline would do nicely.

But the underdogs tag is something which personally excites me rather than has me searching for the nearest cliff or message board to mutter “look how far we’ve fallen.” For the majority of my City-supporting life, we’ve been just that – underdogs. The small team from the big City who battled against larger clubs and often won. As supporters we would get behind the team in a way which has rarely happened at Valley Parade since the turn of the century. We’d understand the difference we could make, and our players’ mistakes would prompt groans but not boos.

Filling out Accrington’s away end may be heart-warming, but I’m not sure I necessarily like us being considered a big club. It brings expectations that the wage and transfer budgets can hardly hope to match. It has lead to delusions of grandeur which see our fantastic stadium no longer as homely and intimidating as it was pre-1998, due to ultimately pointless and financially-suicidal development work. We congratulate ourselves on having the biggest crowds in the League, but we still have thousands of empty seats on match days. Rochdale may be small, but they are comfortable in their own Spotland skin.

It’s not that there’s an identity crisis, but my hope in Bradford City ‘rightfully’ climbing up the leagues is not so we can be big again, but small. I see our natural position at bottom half Championship/top half League One. Should we reach such heights again, no one will go on about us as a big club, no one will rave on about our big gates, no City supporter will think we should win every game. We’ll be more understanding in defeat, and more jubilant in victory.

But such hopes, no matter how seemingly-modest for a club with Premier League history, are far removed from the current, grim reality City find themselves in. The debacle at Accrington on Saturday firmly punctured the mood of optimism triggered by Peter Taylor’s appointment and the pressure is growing on the team to pick up. Taylor could not have had a more dismal start to what may yet be a short time in charge, his most realistic objective tonight is damage limitation.

Changes will be made, particularly to a backline bolstered by the curious loan signing of Robbie Threlfall from Liverpool. While the prospect of the 19-year-old replacing Luke O’Brien will be relished from a section of support who don’t rate last season’s fans player of the season, one might question the long-term value of allowing another team’s youth player to take the place of a City one unless he has a Valley Parade future beyond the one month deal signed.

However, with a lack of wingers at the club, Taylor may have signed up Threlfall with the intention of pushing O’Brien to left winger. Certainly O’Brien has hardly been the main problem of a defence which has wilted too often all season, and it’s unlikely Taylor will view a swap of left backs as the solution.

In the centre Zesh Rehman, hauled off at Accrington for tactical reasons but also because he was simply awful, is likely to be on the bench. Former Dale player Simon Ramsden may be moved over to the centre to partner Matt Clarke with Jonathan Bateson recalled to right back, or the forgotten Steve Williams may get a chance.

Credence to the theory Taylor may push O’Brien into midfield comes from the unconvincing displays from Gareth Evans outwide, who may be pushed up front or start from the bench. Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn impressed Taylor when far from their best, and will continue in the middle despite the competition from Steve O’Leary.

Omar Daley is not expected to be fit so Chris Brandon, Leon Osborne or Scott Neilson will battle for the other spot. The latter’s early season form is increasingly a distant memory – against Notts County in the JPT last October, Neilson impressed Sven Goran Eriksson enough for the Swede to make a serious inquiry about him (see a special edition of City Gent, available on Saturday, for an exclusive interview with Stuart McCall revealing this and more).

There is some confusion over where City played 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 at Accrington, but so isolated was James Hanson it seemed clear to me and everyone near me he was playing a lone striker role. Taylor may choose to go with Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne, or trust the advice of assistant Wayne Jacobs that Hanson is a much better player than Saturday’s tame showing and at least grant him a partner.

Rochdale have survived the January transfer window with most of their stars not snapped up, save for the excellent, Paul Arnison-thrashing Will Buckley, who signed for Watford. This transfer was rumoured to have caused friction between Keith Hill and his chairman Chris Dunphy, but for now the manager remains despite Dunphy fearing he’s already “outgrown” the club.

At Valley Parade they produced a level of performance not witnessed by City fans in our near three-year stay at this level, it would not be an exaggeration to say that, on the night, a Championship club would have struggled to live with them. Despite the pre-season loss of Adam Le Fondre, the two Chris’ partnership of Dagnall and O’Grady has blossomed. In a team of outstanding players for this level, special mention should go to 19-year-old defender Craig Dawson – who has attracted interest from Spurs and Blackburn.

Their team sheet offers City little hope, but cast into the role of second favourites should be a cue to turn up the noise instead of despair. Yet again City are drifting and, as familiarly depressing as this is, now should be the time to do something about it. Those of us going tonight should loudly back the team like we haven’t done all season. We should be chanting at 0-0, 1-0, 2-0, whatever. We should be leading the fight for our cause – even if we’re not sure what the cause is.

This is our football club, and we’re allowing it to fall into further decline by standing their muted at Accrington and booing the players. They didn’t deserve their bus ride home on Saturday, but if someone’s going to inject some passion into their boots and make them remember what an important cause playing for Bradford City is, well it’s got to be us.

So tonight we sing, tonight we support our team in defiance and tonight we hope to begin the path that means we’ll shortly catch up with the tiny Lancashire club which has overtaken us through getting things right on the pitch, instead of bragging about how wonderful they are off it. Tonight we sing about how we’re City till we die, before the club itself really does.

Can’t wait.

The next manager meets his boss

When Stuart McCall left Bradford City in February he walked away with a huge push he was given on his way from some supporters and from within the club. At the end of last season there was a will displayed by a majority of the supporters that McCall be given this season and almost from day one that will has been undermined in the stands and – if rumours are to be believed – within the club.

That is what the thoughts of the majority of the supporters are worth. Football supportting as a community at Bradford City simply does not exist.

Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes move on to looking for the next man and should do so with trepidation. The bar set for the new manager now excludes anything other than constant, unprecedented, relentless success.

Finding someone who can deliver that is impossible and by the yardsticks created in the aggressive pursuit of McCall are unattainable. The list of criticisms that McCall faced as brickbats preclude a manager changing his tactics, although he must have a “Plan B”. He must give players a chance, but should pick a consistent team. He must play attractive football, but results are all important. He will not have patience or time to build a squad, Mark Lawn’s talk of stability turned out to be just talk.

The next man cannot afford to have a season without promotion. Not only that he cannot afford to spend any time where a mass of supporters do not think that promotion can be achieved. Not only that but – as Stuart McCall found – even should the next manager be top of the league then he will still have critics working against him.

These critics may be amassed in the next few days as runners and riders appear for the vacant management chair. The next man will not be a unanimous choice and as a result a section of people who would vocally put forward the opinion that things would be better with someone else will appear.

Every defeat will start to amass critics, any selection decision which is not approved of will too, any transfer whim that is not acted on will be made into a case against. Should the next man take a chance on a player that chance has to work out, or he faces the criticisms McCall did for signing Simon Eastwood.

Some supporters will simply make things up about the next man twisting half truths and telling lies to mount attacks. They will no nothing about what make successful coaching but they will attack his backroom staff for not being good at it.

Stuart McCall was criticised for not trying to sign Lee Hughes at the start of the season and Scott Loach in the middle of it. These may seem flippant but they added to an increasing sound of discontent.

That sound of malcontent will be the metronome of the next man at Bradford City. It will be the creeping end of his time at the club starting from the moment he arrives. It will not be conducted with dignity or as debate. It will be swearing and abuse and it will attack every part of him from what he wears on a match day to where and how he stands near the dug out to the tone of voice he uses in interviews.

You may think that this can be stopped – this scenario of never ending malcontent – by victories and great football but this season saw the best unbeaten run in City’s post-war history and that did nothing to silence the constant grumbling.

You might think that it can be stopped by a gradual improvement but McCall is the first manager to show a season-on-season improvement and his time at the club has been abruptly ended in this swarm of bad feeling which prompted responses such as this.

The next man will not be protected from anyone who has any complaint with his management of the club and mounting a campaign to get rid of him for whatever trumped up, exaggerated reason they decide.

The community which used to hold a consensus at the club is gone, destroyed by those who decided they would ignore that community in order to get what they wanted and unseat McCall. Any influence supporters have on the boardroom for the next man will not come from support in the stands but from the snipe nameless people on message boards gossiping, rumouring, lying, agitating.

These people have what they want now, but the cost will prove too high. Stuart McCall enjoyed a massive respect at the club which allowed him thirty odd months to do his job, the next man will probably not have that and as Colin Todd found out the levels of abuse quickly ramp up to sickening levels.

The club’s voice is no longer that of the stands but the agitators on message boards and texting Lizzie on The Football League show and the club – in accepting McCall’s resignation which some would suggest they have forced the club have bowed to those people. If previous chairman had run the club at the behest of the loudest noise on the terraces the current chairmen do it at the whim of the malcontent and the faceless, nameless reactionary.

That person – the guy who will not say his name but knows all his sign on handles – is the next man’s new boss.

Stuart McCall is gone and when the people who rounded on him want patience for the next man will it be forthcoming? When next there is an appeal to a minority to respect the will of the majority will it be heard? Why should it be? Bradford City are just another club with no idea how to improve itself but dire need to do so.

The next man will be expected to win constantly and when he does not small groups of people will start trying to get him sacked and – eventually – they will succeed.

The emotional freeze

Supporting Bradford City has become miserable, gloomy and demoralising – and this feeling just isn’t going away.

Defeat at Bury this evening means it’s one win, one draw and five defeats since the start of December. We can officially decree that we’re undergoing a disastrous winter – with a run of form to match the Spring of 2008/2009 collapse and the Autumn of 2007/2008 calamity. Thank goodness we don’t play during the Summer. We’re desperate for an end to the despair, for now just the short term fix of three points will do to raise spirits.

But top of the ever-growing list of worries is the long-term effect of this disastrous run.

Tonight’s game followed a well-worn and familiar script. City were far from out-played by in-form opposition and yet again the evidence suggested the gap in quality between the Bantams and the majority of the League Two promotions is minimal. As per usual, City deserved more than they earned. Chances, possession and territorial advantage seem to be areas they win every week. Goals for verus against, a battle won less often.

And just like the last few weeks, it was a refereeing decision which ultimately cost the team. With the score 1-1 and half an hour on the clock, Stephen Dawson had charged into the area with just Matt Glennon to beat. The debut keeper rushed out to reach the ball, but pulled away from making a challenge after Dawson tapped it past him. The Shakers’ midfielder then hurled himself, untouched, to the floor and the referee Scott Mathieson – the man who awarded Rochdale two hotly disputed penalties when City were beaten 3-0 at Spotland last season – pointed to the spot.

It can perhaps be argued that, by initially attempting to make a challenge before pulling out, Glennon invited Dawson to make the tumble and ensured it looked a penalty to Mathieson and his linesman, both a fair distance away. Yet the lack of contact and obvious intent of Dawson to win a spot kick rather than go for goal cannot be considered anything but cheating.

Ryan Lowe converted the penalty and, as he wheeled off in celebration, began shouting towards the livid City fans behind the goal who’d reacted angrily to the penalty decision. It was as though Lowe was upset that supporters could have the temerity to question his team’s honesty. Well Ryan, I had a perfect view of the incident and your mate dived.

That moment was ultimately to prove decisive. Bury had taken the lead when Mike Jones was able to tap the ball home after Glennon had saved an initial effort. City levelled quickly when a scramble in the box lead to Efe Sodje scoring an own goal, and though Bury often threatened a nervous back four, the visitors – forced to play in old Bury white shirts due to a kit clash – gave as good as they got with Chris Brandon and Scott Neilson causing problems out wide.

But the penalty set back momentum and confidence, it wasn’t until the second half that signs of fight from the temporary whites returned. Numerous chances were created, the best a Brandon effort from a tight angle which smacked the outside of the post. Tellingly though, home keeper Wayne Brown was barely tested with efforts on target too straight and often tame.

Omar Daley came on and provided some spark, Rory Boulding was introduced later and looked anonymous. His older brother battled hard but his towering marker Ben Futcher was always going to have the beating of him in the air – how James Hanson was missed. Gareth Evans again disappointed, Simon Ramsden and Michael Flynn had some decent spells on top but at other times were outgunned. The possibility of a deserved equaliser remained up until an uneventful four minutes of stoppage time.

But deep down, you never really believed it would come. The players can put together some good moves, but confidence and composure is draining with each recent setback and it leads to possession too often been surrendered. The spirit and determination to get hold of the ball and charge forward was still there, but somehow it doesn’t quite seem as strong as it once was. Because of all these reasons and more, the Bantams look a team short on quality right now.

But the downbeat mood is not just evident on the pitch, within the away end there was a strange subdued mood to the evening. At times strong vocal support was offered to the players, at others there was an eeire silence and resignation. City supporters are split about the reasons for the season’s nosedive and, specifically, over Stuart McCall, and this seemed to manifest itself into a lack of atmosphere so unlike typically following City on the road.

We’re all just miserable. We can’t agree on what the cause of the latest run of failure is, we certainly can’t agree on the solution. The mood seemed dark, the belief had slipped. Why are we here tonight? Because we want to be, or because we feel we should be? Suddenly watching City is becoming a chore rather than a pleasure.

So at Gigg Lane we sat in muted disunity. We were freezing cold with a ghastly wind further lowering the temperature at regular intervals. We watched our struggling team beaten by opposition which had cheated us to prosper. We’re fed up of this dismal predictability and, with failure such a typical feature over the last 10 years, we’re almost bored.

Of course this can’t go on forever and, when the pain of tonight dies down, those of us who were at Gigg Lane will be able to take comfort from how well the Bantams played in the second half.  City will eventually win again and we’ll all be able to start feeling better.

But the longer this run of poor form goes on, the greater the long-term damage is likely to prove.

All Together Now

Singing in support of your team has been a traditionally accepted role for all football fans but at City, with the exception of a small but thankfully vociferous and melodious minority, we seem to struggle to fulfil this aspect of our allegiance.

So why don’t we all sing?

Well, to use the musical taunt, it’s a lot easier to “sing when you’re winning” and that is something we haven’t done enough at home this season. But that in itself is nothing like the full story.

Football singing is a community activity but evidence seems to suggest that, despite thousands being there under the banner of “supporter”, the City fan base is a divided community.

For the “critics” having paid the ticket price is support enough and unless success is achieved (instantly?) then booing is the only thing that unites them vocally .It’s the old story of “I’ve paid, it’s my right” and you can’t deny that but calling it support is stretching the interpretation of the word.

The “stoics” are a significant section, maybe even a majority, of City’s support. They applaud effort as well as achievement but try not to get too visibly emotionally involved – disappointments of the past still hurt. Words of encouragement are freely given if occasionally tempered with cries of frustration as the reality of lower league football is accepted for another game/season. Highlights are rare and do elicit vocal, even musical, responses but comments tend to be made in conversation rather than in song.

The main vocal support comes from the “young guns” and thank goodness it comes from somewhere! Without their contribution the place would be eerie indeed. They carry the silent majority in a way that is appreciated by travelling fans far more than the crowds at home.

Each of these groups is full of supporters who would all claim a commitment to the City cause but there is no coordination especially when things aren’t going so well. So why don’t we all sing?

Well, daft as it sounds we need something to sing – not something to sing about, just something to sing. Cast your mind back and see how many of “City’s Greatest Hits” you can recall. What did we sing at Wembley? What did we sing in the Premiership? If it’s not the level of success that raises the level of song then what is it?

My answer may not be scientifically accurate but I believe it lies in the chant “Who are yer!”

For what seemed so long the City squad suffered from rotation. Not the tactical rotation beloved of the rich Premiership managers but the rotation brought about by short term stays and /or commitment of so many players. It is hard to chant a player’s name when he is only with the club on a few months loan. The affinity built up with players such as Michael Proctor and, more recently, Dean Furman, is all too soon broken, often for reasons beyond our control. (The “Deano” chant still rings in my ears.)

The cult (correct spelling) that was Barry Conlon was another case in point and whilst some of the chanting was ironic it did at least unite many fans.

Of the present City staff who among them has their name ringing round the ground? Not one player and yet this team has showed itself more worthy of vocal support than any for a long time. The manager then? Well yes but as debates on this site and vitriol elsewhere have shown for every one chanting “Stuart, Stuart” there seems to be an equivalent number of critics thinking if not calling, “Out,Out”. We are not all together!

So who will take the initiative? Stuart himself has been criticised on this site for using players’ nicknames. Oh for that level of familiarity in the stands! Who then will unite us in vocal support? Who will be our heroes on the pitch and how will we show our appreciation?

Would James Hanson appreciate “Jimmy, Jimmy” as much as Jimmy Quinn? Is there a prospect of “The Mighty Flynn”? Would Luke and James welcome a revival of “O.B., O.B.” ringing round the ground? Would Gareth Evans respond to “EVO, EVO” in a similar way to Deano? Can we as supporters boost the morale and maybe the performances of Zesh, Rambo, Bully and the rest simply by chanting. Whether it’s nicknames, real names, initials it’s worth a try. We need to get behind players as individuals well as the team. If there are no natural “characters” in our side we need to create them. We need to turn youngsters into legends not through irony but through genuine encouragement – dare I say affection!

As a “stoic” I want to sing, I join in chants but they seem to fade before they are established where I sit. I am not interested in abusing the opposing fans – they have their job to do. I am tired of berating referees – it does no good as far as our results go. I want to do my bit for the team.

As for real singing, we don’t need to borrow “HI, HO [insert club name] from Jeff Beck and many other clubs, when we already play “I love the City tonight”. Why not bring it forward. Playing it as the players walk off is too late. Give us the chance to make it work for us not accompany our exit (well the exit of those that have stayed to applaud the players off).If we get it going now Snow Patrol can contribute to our City long after the white stuff has gone.

All together now.

McCall echoes Law’s bluntest comments – will we pay attention this time?

Arresting oratory rarely comes from the most lucid speakers. Churchill’s finest hours came not from his desire to play with words but the bluntness of his statements. “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat” may flow off the tongue well but more importantly, it is guttural, basic.

As one decade ticks over to another there is a tendency to look back to the last and encapsulate and in doing some one piece of oratory sticks out above others. A couple of years from the start of the decade then manager Nicky Law delivered this damning pronouncement:

At some grounds the crowd are like a goal for the home team, here (at Valley Parade) they are like one for the opposition.

It is blunt to the point of offence and hastened Law’s exit from the position he had at the club but remains – despite two administrations and three relegations – the outstanding comment of the ten years perhaps because of the bluntness. It was the manager of the club at the end of his tether and is perhaps made more significant by the slide that followed Law’s exit. The gaffer – love him or loathe him – was issuing a warning to supporters. He was not the first.

Ten years before IPC Magazines – those people behind Roy of the Rovers and NME – had asked all 92 clubs what music they ran on to the pitch to. This was before the Sunderland’s use of Republica’s Ready To Go updated run-on music and years before Burnley perfected it with Arcade Fire’s Wake Up (Coyle, leaving that, you must be mad) amid the usual Z-Cars of Everton and Newcastle’s Local Hero came not the name of a song but an anonymous comment from Valley Parade.

We usually run out to total silence

Both phrases talk in terms of warnings and strike hard against the memories of Valley Parade after Gordon Watson’s goals against Barnsley, against Liverpool in 2000, against Blackpool in 2003 but anyone who has followed City – especially those who follow City on the road and have heard the contrast between VP and away grounds – knows that for the talk of “best fans” which is heard from all clubs the Bantams backing at Valley Parade is almost always underwhelming.

The City Gent‘s Dave Pendleton talking about the rising Ultras movement in English lower league football commented on how fifty Accrington Stanley fans were able to out-sing 11,000 Bantams in Valley Parade. There are many reasons for this – the movement from standing to all seats, the breaking up of singing groups in the stadium, offish stewarding and so on – but Pendleton’s reflections are not isolated incidents.

At the time Law’s comments seemed to be petty, small-minded and ungenerous – the last actions of an Emporer before the fall of his Rome – but in retrospect they read as as stark a warning every issued to a footballing community. “Care for you club” – they seem to say – “because no one else will and you will suffer the consequences.”

The comments point to a helplessness – a desperation – of manager Law at the time. Some took his comments as a direct criticism of all but from the distance of years they strike one more as a man saying that he can only do so much. “I’m doing what I can,” they float, “how about a bit of help from the supporters?”

Within a couple of years a dozen people were sitting about the Goldsborough in Bradford trying to tie two ends of the club together, trying to riase enough money that City were not be put into liquidation rather than continuing administration, and no one had time to consider Law’s words but they rang around the chasm between the pub and Valley Parade with a mocking resonance.

Reconciling the two positions is difficult. Twice in the last decade Bradford City supporters showed summers of endless depths of passion, of stoicism and of belief to keep the club in business and able to play football through winters in which often the converse was true. Impatience was common, spinelessness frequent and, sadly, distaste poured forth. I heard it said by one of the dozen people who spent a summer raising the money to keep City going that the club was not just saved to give some people a place to moan every two weeks.

This decade was not a week old when Stuart McCall delivered a comment which to many echoed Law’s words and while they were less blunt than the previous manager’s they – for some – contained the same meaning.

If anyone wants to pack up and clear off, then I don’t want them here. That goes for anybody connected with the club.

Rumours following the comments – which the T&A’s Simon Parker attributed to being about the supporters rather than McCall pointed at – were that the manager was upset at the attitude of some of the directors perhaps specifically Roger Owen although one was also reminded of the infamous Brian Clough story which has the great man sacking three tea ladies he discovered sniggering at a Derby County loss. Negativity – Clough believed – undermined everything.

Certainly McCall was quick to point out that he was not criticising the supporters talking about the great backing they have had from the fans 6,000 of whom have signed up for Season Tickets for next season but as with Law’s comments some see this as McCall’s attack on the fan and want a similar response with the manager being stripped of his responsibilities.

Regardless of his intended target McCall’s comments apply equally to supporters as they do to the boardroom, the dressing room or elsewhere at Valley Parade. Clough and Law shared the belief that negativity aided the opposition and it seems that McCall has come to the same conclusion.

One has to wonder what Bradford City 2010 have been like were the reaction to Law’s comments not a ire that he should dare speak against Bradford City supporters but as a motivation to resolve to make what difference a full throated support can for a club? Poor atmosphere is common in football home ends up and down the country but it need not be the case and if atmosphere has a purpose in victories in football then the Bantams support could resolve to be the team that uber-supports rather than just another ground where nothing is ever as good as it could be.

Would we have seen Bryan Robson’s side slide away? Would we have seen the lifeless surrender of League One status at Huddersfield and at home to Leyton Orient? Would we have seen the wilting away of last season’s promotion push? Would any of these things been avoided had Law’s comments rung true and the type of support which often is only witness in away ends could be heard in the home sections of VP.

Certainly at the club the idea that there is a negativity at Bradford City has been noted. Mark Lawn has talked about the message board and making posters responsible for what is said in the hope that it would alter the tone while the moving of away fans to create a noisy Bradford End has been a qualified success with the atmosphere created by some way the most positive in the stadium, and the noisiest.

This website stand accused – from time to time – of “having a go at the fans” which is sometimes true but in this case is not. (Incidentally for my part I have no qualms about saying that on occasion I feel the need to point out unjustified negativity of a section of City fans and for those fans to bleat about being “attacked” or being the subject of having BfB “having a go” is an hypocrisy. If – in one example – a person is man enough to stand up in front of the fans around him – including a good few twelve year old kids – and call Joe Colbeck “a c*nt” then he is man enough to take any criticism aimed at him.)

This is an article about a nameless source at Valley Parade in the 90s, a manager in the form of Nicky Law in the last decade, The City Gent’s Dave Pendleton and another manager Stuart McCall in this one and it is about putting aside a pompous pride and thinking about what is best considered for the wider Bradford City community.

I’m a guy with an opinion, Some bloke at VP is just some bloke, Law was a jobbing manager, Pendleton is just a guy who writes a fanzine, McCall is a club legend and they all speak to the same conclusion about the effects of support and the detriments of negativity. What voice are we not going to ignore before this issue is addressed?

Note on comments An interesting debate on Stuart McCall is taking place elsewhere on this website which need not be duplicated here. Instead – and this is a departure from the usual track of comments – suggestions on ways to improve the mood, the atmosphere, the tone of the club are would be appreciated below.

Anger

After the score went to 2-3 yesterday I was disappointed, at 2-4 I felt an emotion I have experienced several times during my active period of support for city. This disappointment and anger was not directed at the team or Stuart, they showed commitment and effort. Rather it was directed at the sizeable proportion of “fans” around me in the Midland Road stand who suddenly remembered that they had something really pressing and important to do and needed to leave the stadium immediately.

What I witnessed at Valley Parade was a game that could have gone either way, it was exciting, tense stuff that did not justify a walk out. It seems to me that a section of our fans don’t really want to support our team. What they want is to sit there comfortably and watch a score board showing the ”right” result.

I am not talking here about blind faith. I have sometimes felt that the team have not given their all and consequently did not deserve to win. This wasn’t the case against Rotherham, they fought and they wanted to achieve.

In conclusion I would like to ask that fans stay until the end of the game and support their team, If they can’t do that then stay away and do their washing, shopping or other essential Saturday afternoon task. I’ve mentioned support a couple of times, that’s what supporters do.

The contrast of Colbeck leaves City

Young player leaves for club in higher division who pay money for his services is the Dog Bites Man of lower league football but Joe Colbeck’s exit to join Oldham Athletic on transfer deadline day bring to an end one of the more confusing and complex careers at City that was far from an ordinary story.

To some Colbeck was an exciting right winger who over his five years in the City side had charged at left backs making City play well and being missed chronically when injured. To others he was too be jeered and sworn at in a way that was genuinely shocking. Some said that he would never made a footballer, other than he was the best footballer we had.

Within view of where I sit at Valley Parade I can see one guy who would have JC as the first name on his team sheet coming to blows about his abilities at times and another who considers the Leeds born winger so offensive that he will swear in front of his own children at City’s former number seven.

The background for Colbeck’s duality fades into insignificance as he leaves but it had something to do with a red card against Oldham Athletic for crossing a ball that had gone over the touchline and to down with driving, powerful runs that opened up defences. Colbeck is equally capable of exciting forward play as he is of terrible challenges which were often not just badly timed. His foul on Dean Lewington resulted in a much deserved red card but the season before he was lauded as players of the season.

A contradiction of appreciation then with some upset at his unwillingness to sign a new deal in the summer after a final game of the season where fans were singing “You’re not fit to wear the shirt“. It is not hard to see why he looked for an escape route from Valley Parade especially – as is obvious from the move up a division – he could be considered in the bracket with fellow Oldham man Dean Furman as being “too good for us”.

Even those who were against him should worry about how Colbeck was dogged by a group of fans who created an atmosphere in which the exit of someone who enough people thought was good enough to be player of the season wanted out. Forget one’s personal opinion on Colbeck and ask yourself if it is right that one group of supporters continue a campaign to unsettle a player to a level where they become disproportionately loud so as to no doubt be the dominant memory the player will have of the club? As with the Save Our Stuart McCall debate at the end of last season once the discussion has been had and points made is it not right that players (or managers) are allowed to get on with things?

For my part I shall remember Colbeck for performances like Saturday where he was not massively effectual but he constantly got involved in the game. I’ll save my ire for players who hide from the ball and one could never accuse Colbeck of that. I’ll miss him, I will not miss the divisiveness and I worry that a dangerous precedent is set where those who grumble most are being allowed to set the tone.

Nevertheless Scott Neilson scored one and made the other in City’s first game post-Colbeck and we can all get behind the new right winger. It is just a shame that Valley Parade could not do the same for a player recognised as talented such as Colbeck.

Five Questions About Bradford City in 2009/2010

Five questions about Bradford City in 2009/2010 were asked to a whole bunch of people connected to City from City officials to long time fans, from mascots to midfielders and naturally to BfB writers. Some people replied, others didn’t but these are the questions and then the answers…

  1. What are your hopes?
  2. …and your fears?
  3. What or who will be the most important thing for City this season?
  4. …and what or who will surprise us?
  5. And finally, how do you see next season ending?

Dan Horsfall
New BfB writer

What are your hopes? We are here as a club this time next year, with you asking this very same question. It’s a few years since we dodged that bullet, but I still feel pretty lucky whenever I realise that we, Bradford City, still exist. A shot at the play-offs would be nice as well.

…and your fears? Our big (league 2) club mentality cannot be shaken; ‘small’ clubs still see VP as a place where the bus should be parked (on the edge of the box), our fans still expect promotion and get on the players’ and manager’s backs. Macca leaves after Christmas, season over, tickets for the subsequent year never really take off.

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? Zesh Rehman. Is he the ingredient that will alchemically transform our fortunes? Probably not, but he will be hugely important at the heart of our defence.

…and what or who will surprise us? How hard the division will be. It has been a poor division in the past, but this season you can think of maybe 10 teams who will fancy their chances of promotion. Not just the obvious, but the Rochdales, Daggers, Crewes – there will not be many easy away games. I also think Boulding could put in a decent shift, which would make all the difference.

And finally, how do you see next season ending? Sneak the last play-off place and enter the showdown as a team with confidence.

Jason Mckeown
City Gent and BfB Columnist

What are your hopes? As disappointing as last season turned out, it shouldn’t be forgotten it was the closest City have come to gaining promotion for a decade. But for that end of season collapse, a play off spot at least would have been achieved. Hopefully City can build on the positives from last season and finish in the top seven if not top three.

…and your fears? That a slow start to the season results in too many supporters turning on the team and manager Stuart McCall, feeding the sort of negative atmosphere that has undermined efforts on the field in recent years. Last season supporters were too quick to turn on the team. It was easy to sing and do Mexican waves when City were 5-0 up against Aldershot last March, but where was the backing for the players when Port Vale went 1-0 up two weeks later? Let’s get behind the team in victory and defeat, remembering it’s a long season.

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? The ability to bounce back when things go against the team is vital. During the first half of last season we saw some brilliant fightbacks, for example at Accrington and Luton and at home to Chesterfield. During the second half of the campaign the spirit was lacking and there were too many collapses. When City fall behind, the players need to retain the courage and belief to come back.

…and what or who will surprise us? When reading about a new signing, the words “former Man United trainee” strikes heavy in my heart. I think of Eddie Johnson, Ben Muirhead and Ashley Westwood – all players who looked decent at times but ultimately came up short, appearing to lack something. Gareth Evans arrives this summer with that ex-Man U tag, but I remember been impressed by him when City beat Macclesfield at Valley Parade last season and think he could prove a shrewd signing. Could Evans become the first number 9 widely-liked since Lee Mills? Now that would be a surprise.

And finally, how do you see next season ending? Even though other teams in this division have bigger resources, there’s nothing to fear. A play off spot or even better should be achievable.

Lenny Berry
The City Gent, Mascot Legend

What are your hopes? My hopes are to at least get a play off position this season bit disapointed last year to say the least.

…and your fears? My fears are that we start of not so good and the rot sets in. Its all about getting stuck in.

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? The most important thing I would think is keeping there head above water financially and 2nd promotion. Come on you Arabs we have a great mascot! lol

…and what or who will surprise us? Lot to choose from on that account with so many new players about looking at some of the young lads to give it a go and show the 2nd division its not all about money.

And finally, how do you see next season ending? I think we may end like I said in Q1 think maybe end up in the play offs at least. Looking forward to doing my stuff.

Tony Pasquariello
City Fan

What are your hopes? Today, 3rd August 2009, I have been to pick my season ticket up, and there was an air of optimism around the ground(everyone from the people in the ticket office to the people in the club shop were buzzing about the forthcoming season) Last season was a season of what-if’s. “What if we had done better against this team?, what if we had beaten/drawn against this team?”. In reality, last season we were 2 points, yes 2 points off the play-offs. But that is LAST season, and we need to build on that position.

…and your fears? My fear is that the team seem to be lacking a leader. An actual battler in the centre of midfield. No offence to the midfielders that go out there week in, week out, but someone in the centre to take a game by the scruff of its neck and turn it around. The captains armband has been given to Peter Thorne in recent matches, but realistically, he isn’t going to play every game.

Also, with new signings, a team takes time to gel, to work out how each other plays etc, and if it is not done quickly, this can sometimes prove costly. Pre-Season has gone well, only 1 defeat, but there still doesnt look to be any sort of leadership in the middle of the park.

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? The single most important thing for City this season will be the fans getting behind the team 100%. Win or Lose. On the few occasions I managed to get to VP last season, I actually heard people Booing their own team!!

…and what or who will surprise us? I think that some of the younger players will be featuring in the squad more this season, and I think they will be the ones to look out for. Players such as Luke O’Brien, Rory Boulding, Jon McLaughlin and James Hanson. Players that have been on the fringe of the first team but have not seen regular first team action, I believe that it will be their year to shine.

And finally, how do you see next season ending? I can see this season being the year for us. We need to capitalise on the success we had last year. We are 3rd Favourites for promotion! Come on lads you can do it!!!

Dave Pendleton
From Bantams Past

What are your hopes? We’ll surprise ourselves and do very well.

…and your fears? That the moaners will turn on the young team – in particularly the keepers.

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? Stay positive.

…and what or who will surprise us? If the fans remain positive…

And finally, how do you see next season ending? I can’t shake off the feeling that we’re in for more of the same. However, trying to keep in the positive mood, a late surge grabs us the final promotion place and Valley Parade goes insane!

Luke Lockwood
Young writer

What are your hopes? I hope is that we are competetive in the league and on the last day of the season are still competing for a promotion/play off spot to keep the excitement running until the end. And I also hope we manage to finally end the curse of the cups and manage a little run with a tasty third round away draw against one of the big boys.

…and your fears? My fears are that once again we miss out on even a play off spot, the fans turn their backs on our beloved Stuart and Luke O’brien scurries off on a free transfer with us receiving no more than a small ‘compensation’ fee. Furthermore Omar Daley returns at christmas but has lost his electric pace, without which he would be a very mediocre player, and Peter Thornes ageing limbs stop him from playing regularly or finding the net.

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? Whoever takes the starting berth next to Lee Bullock in midfield. I’m not sure what we need is another Stuart but someone who can weigh in with a few goals. More of a Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, with Bully doing the ugly stuff. (Since writing Flynn has signed which seems to answer Luke’s worries)

…and what or who will surprise us? Mr.Eastwood in goal. I am unfortunate enough to live with a Town fan, who also works at club and from what I have heard Eastwood is regarded highly by our ‘friends’ down the road but they consider Smithies to be the best young keeper in the country and have just given him a 5,000 pound a week contract to fight of interest from Everton. Also Joe Colbeck, once before when everyone doubted him he went on to become player of the season. I expect him to do the same once more unfortunately due to his contract not being renewed it may result in us losing him.

And finally, how do you see next season ending? The league to me is so open this year and impossible to call. I think we will finish in the top 7 though, but miss out on the automatics. A big day out at Wembley to finish with and a sense of deja vu against Notts County!

Tom Warden
Singer/songwriter and freelance writer

What are your hopes? As they have been for the last 3 pre seasons, my hopes are to get out of the basement division, that we can avoid the traditional slump that seems to spoil every season and that we bantams might have something to celebrate after much frustration and disappointment.

…and your fears? I am afraid that we have not, as of yet (Again, Flynn’s signing came after this was written), filled that hole in the centre of midfield. It is an area where last year we were too often bullied out of games and should this happen again confidence may drop and the team may struggle. The defence and forward line look strong but it is someone to get stuck in and do the dirty work that we may be lacking, if only we could clone Stuart in his heyday…

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? First of all, the fans. At too many times over the last few years abuse has been thrown at the players far too readily. We are supposed to be the 12th man, spurring our men on, not hurting their confidence because they put in one bad cross. By no means should we be blinkered but we should not be alienating players who can make a difference by getting on their backs. Shout until you’re hoarse and do your best to inspire, then if it goes wrong you can’t say you didn’t do your part. Secondly, whoever plays in goal. At the time of writing, we are going into the season without a recognised goalkeeper, Eastwood or McLaughlin may well step up but if they dont have what it takes, we are in trouble from the very beginning.

…and what or who will surprise us? I’m going to stick my neck out and say we’ll be surprised by the non-league boys. Hanson and Williams will be relishing the chance to play league football, especially at a club with ambitions of promotion and should be hungry to impress. Hanson’s record especially is impressive and with the improvement in quality at non-league level, making the step up is no longer the daunting prospect it once was. These guys should show the passion that has been missing in recent years.

And finally, how do you see next season ending? I see absolutely no reason why we cannot be looking at a top three finish. Injuries permitting we have a strong XI which is capable of beating any opposition in what I think will be a very open league.

Moans, groans and negativity

It was a warm Tuesday evening in late September 2009 and as the City supporters trudged away from Valley Parade, there was much talk about whether the appointment of Dave Penney in the summer had been the right move by Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn following Stuart McCall’s exit at the end of the 2008/2009 season. City had narrowly missed out of the final play off position after failing to win their final game at Chesterfield and thus as McCall had stated in April he quit the club that he loves as he felt that he had failed owing to the fact that Bradford City were still a Division 4 side. Now that Penney and City had suffered their third consecutive home defeat, this time to league newcomers Burton Albion which left them in the bottom half of Division 4, many City supporters were questioning Penney’s appointment.

Obviously, the above paragraph is made up but a similar scenario could occur later on this calendar year. City fail to make the play-offs, McCall is true to his word and departs from the Valley Parade hot-seat, another manager is appointed and City begin the 2009/2010 season in a poor fashion. What will the so-called City supporters be moaning and groaning about then?

The negativity inside Valley Parade on Easter Monday was disgusting. I’m sure that Joe Colbeck, last season’s Player of the Year, would be the first to admit that he had a shocker and when McCall went to a 4-3-3 formation bringing on Mullen for Boulding, many people near me were shouting “You don’t know what you’re doing” at McCall. Now whilst I’m not the greatest supporter of Mullen (I believe that he looks and plays like Conlon) and I would have kept Boulding on the pitch, I didn’t start hurling abuse at a person who has experienced promotion as a player, scored two goals in an FA Cup final, won numerous trophies with Rangers and scored in the World Cup Finals. I’m not saying that a great player makes a great manager as shown by Bryan Robson (in my eyes a superb player but a poor manager) but McCall is still learning the managerial role.

Calls for Mark Bower to return from his loan spell at Luton could be also heard on a day. This is the same player who has been abused in previous seasons. The negativity inside Valley Parade spreads like a cancer and it makes me sick! I for one kept shouting encouragement at our players and I still believe that we can make the play offs. And if we don’t I’ll be back at Valley Parade next season supporting the men in claret an amber. That’s what the difference is between a supporter and a fan. A supporters offers words of support during the difficult times which is what our team is experiencing at the moment as our winless run continues.

So to all you moaners and groaners out there, if you want to follow a successful club, go to Old Trafford and join the thousands of others who have no connection with Manchester but who want to follow a successful team. Or go to Stamford Bridge and watch loads of foreign players where local home grown talent has very very little chance of making it into the first team.

For me, it’s the delights of Division 4 at the moment, watching the likes of Colbeck and O’Brien, special home grown players. And who knows, it could be Colbeck scoring the winning goal at Chesterfield on 02 May. Now where’s that ticket for Saltergate…

The Most Important Man

Stuart McCall and Peter Jackson – two big figures in the recovery from the fire of 1985 in a game between these two teams – joined the silence honouring the departed.

McCall manages Bradford City taking the opportunity to when offered two years ago while Jackson is in charge of Lincoln City having knocked back the job at Valley Parade on Boxing Day 2001 having agreed to be our on Christmas Day. McCall would spend this anniversary or sorts with boos directed at him by some.

Some would have Jackson as Bradford City manager rather than McCall and others would not. Those in the latter camp could point to McCall’s match changing substitutions which brought about the aforementioned jeers at the time but were vindicated. Are these two thus the most important men?

The jeering for McCall came after substituting Michael Boulding and Joe Colbeck. Boulding had a game not atypical for him running into channels and working hard while never gelling with strike partner Peter Thorne. One could not fault Boulding’s work rate but would could take issue on how much of that hard work goes into the squad and how much goes into making sure that Michael Boulding has a good game? His impressive goal tally for Mansfield Town which made him League Two top scorer last season came when The Stags were relegated.

None of which is to say that Boulding is not a good player but rather than he is not foremost a good team player and – frankly – Bradford City are not foremost a good football team but rather a collection of good footballers. Does this make the job of managing the side into the job of getting Michael Boulding to play in a more knitted up way? Is Michael Boulding the most important man?

That City are good footballers would be debated only by dullards and that Joe Colbeck is a talented footballer would equally only be opposed by those who lacked wits. Colbeck has managed to return to being the target of Valley Parade’s defining characteristic – the vitriol heaped onto individuals – after being last season’s Player of the Season.

I have no respect for someone who will stay silent when a Colbeck is being cheered laying in wait for an opportunity to continue a campaign against him. Colbeck this season has cut defences apart yet he is booed today not for not making effort but for those efforts not having results. There is no doubt in my mind that Colbeck will go on to be a very good player at this level and at levels above but there is significant doubt that he will do that at Valley Parade.

After being player of the season Joe Colbeck is not the most important man.

One would think for all the attention given to Matthew Clarke that he was the most important man – one would think that Peace in the Middle East would emerge on the news he was dropped so dedicated are some against him – but it was telling that as some City fans sung “One Mark Bower” to criticise Clarke following Andrew Hutchinson opener for Lincoln.

Clarke was wrestled by Geoff Horsfield as a nothing ball that was hastily cleared by relieved Imps defenders who had worried that a clip of Boulding’s heels would result in a free kick and near 21 players on the field stopped – indeed when Hutchinson put the ball in it seemed to be more an act of time wasting than goalscoring – but the game continued and the visitors had their goal.

Five minutes into the second half “One Mark Bower” sang some City fans to chastise Clarke. “1-0 to The Referee” retorted the Lincoln fans to make some things clear.

City’s equaliser came when Peter Thorne was able to stand strong in the penalty area and work a ball on to Lee Bullock who finished from close range. Peter Thorne and Lee Bullock could be the most important men. Keeping Thorne fit all season has proved to be impossible and sure enough City have suffered when the switched on striker was not playing but Bullock – my man of the match today – has been a mystery in and out of the team all season and hardly ever allowed to continue the relationship he started with Paul McLaren at the start of the season.

As an engine room Bullock and McLaren are useful only if they have outlets for their possession and too often they do not. Steve Jones had a lively display – especially following McCall’s switch to a 433 which put him in the forward line alongside Paul Mullin who simply never loses an aerial ball – but this team has not been the same since an injury on a Tuesday night two months ago.

Omar Daley – in the stands and out until Christmas – is not the most important man but sometimes when City huff and puff and want for his creativity it is difficult to remember that.

Daley though – like McCall with his substitutions, Colbeck showing the nerve to difficult things even if they might make him look foolish rather than shovelling the ball off sideways and saving any blushes, Clarke in the side to stand up to a Horsfield who would have eaten Mark Bower for breakfast – split opinion with those against jeering.

Perhaps those who jeer are the most important men. They certainly seem to hold the power at Valley Parade grumbling away to get their way they are the exiled Cubans of Bradford City and Mark Lawn needs to convince Stuart McCall, and himself, that their is a future for a club when with twenty minutes left of a game at 1-1 three games off the play-offs which even after this draw there to be scrapped for the loudest sounds at City are the negatives and the jeers.

Which is not to say that they are the only sound, that they are the only fans, that they are people who need to be pleased but the voice that comes from Valley Parade is an overtly negative one and until this issue is tackled and resolved then the club is hobbled.

Certainly that negativity has taken chunks out of the club. Dean Windass – here today to watch the game after reports that he would bend transfer deadlines and return to the field – suffered untold abuse and his exit and the clubs relegation to this level were not unlinked. Windass is at Valley Parade and Paul Jewell has started to crop up in the media more and more.

Maybe they are the next most important men but they are not today.

For today this is League Two football and at the end of the game with three very clear incidents when crosses or shots hit hands of Lincoln City defenders in the penalty area and a goal caused by being the only man in the stadium who did not see the foul of course the most important man was Fred Graham the referee.

Depressingly, in League Two the most important man is always the Referee.

The spirit of the mid-table finish

I had a good chuckle to myself before our game with Chester on Saturday. The match day programme was making a big deal about Sir Bobby Robson sticking up for manager Mark Wright, while his traditional programme notes were no more than a collection of press quotes sandwiched between over-the-top praise from the editor for his managerial ability. Apparently if he’d been allowed to work his “transfer magic” the Blues would now be 15 points better off.

As the home players came onto the pitch to warm up, the enthusiastic bloke on the microphone urged home supporters to give them a round of applause for earning “a heroic point” at Bury the previous week, to which they obliged. In addition to thanking the match day sponsors at least three times he also kept yelling about “believing” and it would have been interesting to see if the home fans, who must listen to this sort of thing every other week, bothered to listen or were screaming at him to shut up, with their team winless in 17.

But if two sides of the ground were trying to ignore the cheese, the atmosphere in the away stands was chalk in its comparison.

For some 30 minutes before kick off I listened to a group of fans nearby moan long and hard about City’s form, players and management. “We’d better win today, or we have no chance of the play offs.” As the stand filled up I felt as thought all around were either moaners or quiet people, the latter group probably biting their tongue like me. As the game kicked off some chanting began, but it soon fizzled into quietness and, by the second half, groans and moans. All I could hear was people yelling abuse. Every time Matt Clarke came near us he was told to eff off. Zesh Rehman was the subject of largely harmless but still borderline racist jokes as he failed to get the ball forward quickly. Michael Boulding and Steve Jones are lazy bastards, Paul Mullin garbage. With no substitutes in sight the focus quickly turns to Stuart. “He’s not a manager,” it’s said of our manager.

I’m not criticising fellow fans, I happened to be in a bad section of the away support and anyone who travels almost 100 miles to support their team has a right to air their views. City were awful, clueless during the second half especially. The lack of confidence quickly manifested into desperation to rush the ball forwards instead of showing composure. The quality of crosses into the box was pathetic, the invention in the centre of the pack minimal. Stuart should not escape criticism either, the 4-3-1-2 formation employed failed to have an impact on a five man defence, resulting in City playing too narrow and direct. He did not make changes to the team’s shape and the questions Blues winger Richie Partridge posed were not replicated on City’s flanks. The team has played better and been booed off, so such a reaction came as no surprise when the final whistle was blown.

Yet as disappointed as I felt with the performance and game trudging back to the car, it was the boos which remained ringing in my ear. No one would advocate the kind of over-optimistic uncritical approach of Chester and our recent dreadful run of form is testing everyone’s patience, but again we quickly turned on the team, groaned loudly whenever a move broke down and only chanted on a few occasions during the second half. A goal, no matter how undeserved, might have changed the poor atmosphere, but the spirit and togetherness we should have with the team on the road has disappeared.

And if that sounds fanciful, you mustn’t have watched City on the road last season. The atmosphere at away games during our first campaign in the basement league was the best it had been since the first in the Premiership. I still look back fondly at that night at Lincoln, where we didn’t stop chanting for 90 minutes and were rewarded with a thrilling win. I recall the joy at Blundell Park when Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu struck a stoppage time penalty and Stuart had to race over to appeal to those of us in the away stand to calm down, such were the scenes of jubilation which had spilled onto the pitch. I remember the fun we had at Accrington, the second halves at Darlington and Notts County, the Wetherall day at Rotherham, the noise we made at Bury and Rochdale. All of this and the club finished mid-table.

Of course we won more often on our travels than this season, which helped the enthusiasm of support. One of my favourite away trips last year though was Stockport. We were in an uncovered stand, it was raining heavily and we were playing terribly, losing 2-1; yet we didn’t stop singing, even throughout half time. Last season we had chants for almost every player, we would sing the White Stripes song and sometimes even Johnny Cash. After games my lot would drive home with our voices hoarse from making so much noise, but almost always feeling happy for the experience.

This season, for whatever reason it’s just not been the same. Huddersfield and Leeds were fun, but the edgier atmosphere you get in derbies meant it was less comfortable. At Accrington I watched a middle age man push my wife out the way and someone else spit at the home keeper. At Lincoln we witnessed fighting in the high street and then a group of our fans try to kick off with the home fans during the game. At Notts County we quickly dished out the dreaded “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” and told players to ‘eff off at full time.

At Rotherham I was freezing as we sat their quietly and a young lad behind me spent the game slagging off everyone else’s man of the match, Luke O’Brien. My favourite away trips so far are Macclesfield and Luton – the former because we cruised it so could spend the second half having banter with the home side’s struggling strikers, the latter because, after first half adversity, we passionately got behind the team. Bury was good for that, too.

I do wonder if the increased away followings this season have something to with why the atmosphere isn’t quite as good. I don’t mean everyone who’s started coming more regularly this season is a moaner or fails to get behind the team, but more that larger crowds mean the fans who regularly start the chants are more spread out from each other.

This may have nothing to do with the team’s failings on the road this season but, as our players attacked our end of the stadium on Saturday, how much of a difference might it have made if they were loudly roared on, applauded when they did things right and not yelled abuse at when they did things wrong? If a player gives the ball away he hears groans and that doesn’t help him to have the confidence to show more guile the next time he has possession.

There are at least three away games to go and there should be a decent turn out at each. I hope we don’t carry on like the last few away games, making some noise for the first 20 minutes before gradually getting quieter, applauding ourselves later over how we brought such a big crowd and how our team “don’t deserve us”. If it goes quiet at Morecambe next week and the grumbles start to get louder, I hope a few more like me will remember the spirit on the road last season and start singing, “Stuart McCall’s Bratfud Army.”

We supporters might not be able make the players perform better, but maybe like the Chester fans we need to at least try believing.

All heart

It’s at moments such as these – with the clock showing 10 minutes to go, with the chant “City till I die’ emanating from all four sides and with those who run the club having put the books to one side to join 12,689 people in watching City ultimately triumph 1-0 over promotion rivals Wycombe – that you wonder why we’re even bothering to consider leaving Valley Parade at all.

This was an afternoon where I hope I wasn’t the only person to feel the hairs on the back of his/her neck stand up through been part of such a superb atmosphere. City have won a corner and I look fondly over to fans in the Kop climb out of their seats to help suck the ball into the net. Behind the opposite goal, supporters in the Bradford End are keeping up their non-stop chanting efforts which began before kick off. The final whistle was met with huge cheers and triumphant home players hugged each other. An important three points, a potentially pivotal moment of the season, another special afternoon in our home.

Sure I’m being sentimental and romantic, but then it is Valentines Day so why not? Of course the fantastic atmosphere could be replicated – who knows even bettered – in another ground a few miles up the hill. But just like our Claret and Amber colours, fanatical supporters who will even come to the game on their wedding day (hope you didn’t miss that at half time!) and players who aren’t the greatest but who we love in our own way – Valley Parade is a much a part of the Bradford City experience. We need to use our heads when considering the potential move, but yesterday we got to follow our hearts.

Heart that was apparent on the pitch too as both City and Wycombe gave their all to produce an absorbing contest. With Brentford, Bury and Rochdale all expected to and managing to win their games, for City this win was for self-preservation purposes in their interest of a top three finish. They started in the same confident manner which has characterised their previous two victories with Omar Daley and Steve Jones stretching Wycombe down the flanks and Dean Furman and Nicky Law again pulling the strings in the middle. Both look too good for this level with Law’s vision and ability to produce killer passes a huge asset and arguably something City have not had in their armoury since the manager himself was out on the pitch.

Wycombe, who lost central defender Mike Williamson to Watford in the transfer window, defended deeply but struggled to deal with crosses from which City came close to scoring a few times. Matt Clarke should have done better with a header from a corner and Peter Thorne – captain for the day – headed wide, Law’s long range shot was deflected wide and a Wycombe defender almost turned one cross into his own net.

Yet the Chairboys, who until Tuesday had led the table since November, got back into the game and showed what a good side they are. Their movement off the ball when on the attack was impressive with players marking late runs from deep and in the centre Tom Docherty was excelling by playing deep and pinging some probing passes forward. Furman excellently cleared off the line from striker Jon-Paul Pittman’s header, Matt Harrold air-kicked a great chance after which Matt Bloomfield wastefully fired wide and Chris Zebroski’s overhead kick attempt sailed narrowly over.

Arguably against the run of play, City struck the all important goal just before half time. It was yet another example of the devastating football this team can produce. First Jones did well to win possession before being tripped after releasing it to Furman. Referee Carl Boyeson allowed advantage and the ball was with Law to charge over half way. His pass to Daley lacked pace, but the Jamaican beat his man and cut inside before squaring to Luke O’Brien. The full back’s cross was intended for Michael Boulding but squirmed through to Thorne who beautifully laid off the ball to Jones to fire home on the half volley.

It continued to be end-to-end stuff in the second half with Wycombe inserting strong pressure in the early stages and Rhys Evans having to make some good saves. The defence in front of him was lacking their usual leader Graeme Lee and Zesh Rehman, switched over from left-back, struggled a little with his ball control though was generally solid. Clarke was outstanding and seemed to revel in the more senior responsibility while Paul Arnison’s performance could be best illustrated by the fact the usual full-back ‘experts’ in the crowd weren’t on his back. The clean sheet they would go onto earn was a seventh in ten games and only Evans and Clarke have figured in all of those; something which Clarke’s army of critics, who seem to be ignoring his recent upturn in form, might want to mull over.

Boyeson’s bizarre style of refereeing took more centre stage in the second half. He let a series of fouls from both sides go and at one stage left the impression he’d forgotten his cards – Arnison should have been booked – while displaying an anal-like determination to ensure all throw ins were taken from exactly the right spot. Frustration of the officials and from losing seemed to get the better of Wycombe players who began to self-destruct with a series of poor challenges. None more so than Docherty, who’s coolness in the first half had given way to recklessness and who should have been booked long before he eventually was.

Boiling point was reached after Zebroski’s ludicrous high challenge on Clarke which saw boot connect with face. The red card was quickly issued and the final 12 minutes were that little bit more comfortable for City. A second goal might have come before that with Boulding volleying over, but in the final stages Law and substitute Joe Colbeck went agonisingly close to ensuring Wycombe would not be able to produce a sucker punch at the other end.

It was close, but City just about edged the game and three wins in a row provide great confidence ahead of another vital encounter on Tuesday. The team is finding form in all areas – Thorne for example was outstanding leading the line and contributed more than he usually seems to – and one only has to look at who can’t get in the team to see how well the players in it are doing. Lee will presumably join Paul McLaren, Lee Bullock, Barry Conlon and Colbeck on the bench Tuesday with the clear message to those on the field that they must keep producing.

Or should Lee go back in and Arnison be dropped? Should Colbeck start on Tuesday and Daley be rested? Yesterday conversations on such matters will have filled the air instead of whether to pack up and do this all someplace else. Maybe we’re on the final chapter of Valley Parade’s history and such occasions will shortly be over, though as we listened to the radio on the journey home we heard of renewed hope that a deal to buy Valley Parade might be reached.

It was good timing, for yesterday at least the head had no chance of winning over the heart.

More backing than barracking

This is my first article for BfB for a few years but I’m incensed after reading Omar Daley defending himself against criticism from fans.

The Telegraph and Argus website reports Omar Daley is not affected by recent criticism. The BBC reports the same with the City winger saying The fans pay their money to come and see me. The criticism hasn’t got to me, I’m just working hard.

I am baffled that Omar has to defend himself at all. What do we actually expect of Omar? As a player is what he is.

How much did we miss him earlier in the season when he was injured and when under the cosh we had no out ball at all? Are his performances not consistently better than those of last season? How many goals have City scored this season that have been down to him, his running and his pace?

I’m not suggesting he is our most prolific player of the season, but he has played a part? Yes. Why the hell is he getting criticised?

I’m so impressed with his character this year. He tracks back and tackles, he has helped his new mate Luke O’Brien out a few times when he breaks forward, he is always dangerous when running with the ball. Of course he loses the ball, makes the wrong pass or takes the wrong option from time to time, but he isn’t perfect but who is? You can not tell me that Manchester United’s Ronaldo takes the right option all the time, or that Fank Lampard should not always shoot for goal from long range when so many of Chelsea’s goals from from that.

Daley isn’t in the same class – no offence Omar – but thats why he is at the level he is at. Yes, he is an international player but for Jamaica, not Brazil – again no offence meant!

The bottom line is that some City fans are really starting to annoy me.

This season has been the best for at least six or seven yet some still find something to complain about, someone to pick fault with, someone to shoulder the blame and I think its completely out of order. We have had a mini blip, which all teams have, but the last 2 performances show that Stuart McCall has got tactics, performances, motivation levels right where they need to be coming up to some big games with Wycombe and Darlington and as we run in to the end of the season.

So I’ll ask something – as I prepare to be shot down – can we give the boys more backing than barracking please? We are five points of the top with two big teams coming to us in the next ten days, so lets get behind the boys and aim for six points which will put us firmly back in the automatic promotion hunt.

Good, but…

For sure we have being good this season, but to ultimately succeed we may need to be better.

Bradford City kicked off the season as promotion favourites and started in exhilarating fashion. Performances then stuttered as autumn leaves began falling but improved after the clocks turned back. In recent weeks results have been better than performances but surely the former won’t continue unless the latter improves.

For sure we have a good team, but one we hope can be better. Goals have been plentiful though we seem to have the usual City jinx of only one striker consistently scoring at a time. Early season Peter Thorne couldn’t miss and then Barry Conlon took over the mantle as the regular scorer. Now it’s Michael Boulding with four in four games and though there are concerns over how long it is since Thorne last scored – Barnet home – it shouldn’t be forgotten that was also the last time Conlon netted from open play. Get two of the three in a run of form at the same time and surely City will climb up the league.

For sure we’ve improved defensively and in the middle of the park in recent games, but we still need to be better. Some have tried to blame all the defensive shortcomings on TJ Moncur and Matt Clarke and have at least had half their wish – Paul Arnison reinstated ahead of Moncur – granted. Clarke isn’t playing as badly as some tell us but needs to maintain a higher level of concentration and rediscover confidence, otherwise his run in the team will come to an end. We saw a dip in form from Graeme Lee which he has recovered from and Stuart will be hoping Clarke can too. Meanwhile in midfield Paul McLaren is winning over the doubters and we wait for four injured players to come back and provide stronger competition for those alongside him.

For sure Stuart McCall has done well as manager this season, but we still hope he can be better. Every poor result has been greeted by a blast of criticism from some fans and much of it is as unjustified as it is ludicrous. Go online to the and you’ll be able to read serious debates about whether we should sack Stuart if promotion is not achieved this season and you begin to wonder whether some believe we’re the Real Madrid of League Two. We don’t have a god-given right to get promoted and debating Stuart’s future now is as pointless as it could be a hindrance.

Not that Stuart has been flawless. It is worrying to watch your team outplayed at home by opposition adopting crude long ball tactics, as we saw against Dagenham last week, and it’s hard to shake off the feeling City were there for the taking and Stuart did not know how to prevent it. There’s seemingly being a reluctance to change around a defence which has made too many mistakes.Rightly or wrongly there’s a lack of confidence that Stuart possesses the ability to address problem areas during games, though sometimes doing so increases the risk of making mistakes and receiving more criticism.

Yet for sure City’s support this season has being good, but could be much better. We can get a cracking atmosphere going home and away but invariably only when things are going well. When they’re not to many people adopt a negative mindset and look for fault. Straight after listening to the Brentford defeat I visited the club’s official message board. The first two posts I read were to blame Clarke and then Stuart for the loss and I was left wondering how people can be so quick to criticise when it’s not even backed up by having seen the game.

Even when City are doing well many fans are guilty of sitting in silence or still finding fault. Blind faith may be both unrealistic and undesirable but there is no justification for exaggerating failures. Against Dagenham the team struggled but received some great backing from the crowd in the second half which helped inspire them into the lead, but as soon as it was lost the noise level dropped and boos were soon filling the air. We wouldn’t expect players to stop making effort and letting things get them down during adversity, so why do we act this way ourselves?

What’s the solution? City have three winnable looking fixtures to end 2008 with and a good points haul is vital to push clear of the pack. Much has been made of the fact we’ve lost to four of the top eight on our travels, but they have all to visit Valley Parade in the New Year, a venue from which the other three top eight sides – Rochdale, Exeter and Bury – have all returned pointless. Indeed home games in 2009 appear to be a fascinating mixture of promotion six-pointers and teams near the bottom of the table. Our record of only one home defeat will probably get worse, but come May we should still be looking at our best home points tally in years.

Injuries will all have cleared up as we get into January and the prospect of a bulkier squad battling for starting places should guarantee those who make it do so because they truly deserve it. With Stuart in the market for a new striker the goals should continue to flow. Lee Bullock back in midfield will also do much for the defence and though Nicky Law and Steve Jones may be bidding farewell it’s not unrealistic to expect Dean Furman and TJ Moncur to stay on, possibly even permanently.

What of Stuart? Before the Brentford game an Omar Daley interview was played on the radio where he praised his manager for improving his confidence and helping him discover top form. Remember Barnet home last season where the Jamaican was subbed at half time following a poor performance which attracted heavy abuse? Stuart stood by him at his lowest ebb and has coached Daley into the player he’s always threatened to be. This is just one example which shows Stuart is a manager of patience willing to work with players rather than follow the supporters’ cry of ‘get rid’. If Clarke plays as many games in the second half of the season as he has in the first it is likely to be because the management stood by and saw him improve through this rough patch.

Stuart is accused of playing too direct, not having a ‘plan B’ and the crime that has apparently befallen every City manager in history – not bringing his subs on soon enough. But as he keeps learning from mistakes while still guiding City forward we should remember he’s still a rookie manager doing a good job. Better? Of course in time, and we should not underestimate that desire. Stuart is not Colin Todd, a man who, for all the unfair criticism he got in the Valley Parade hotseat, was ultimately earning a living he’d happily have made elsewhere. Stuart took a risk by starting with City; his managerial career could be defined at the club where he was such a magnificent player.

And what of us fans? When City take to the field against Chester this Saturday will we merely sit back and wait for the expected win, or will we get behind the players from kick off, ten minutes in, half time – even if it’s 0-0 or worse? We face opposition every fortnight who aren’t used to playing in front of a fraction of the support we enjoy. Surely it can be more advantageous, surely passionately cheering on our players is a better route to them succeeding?

For sure this season has being good, but everyone has a role to play in making it better.

Thorne leads where we should follow

Bradford City’s top scorer Peter Thorne is looking forward to facing promotion rivals Wycombe this Saturday. It’s not just that the striker, rested for the FA Cup win at MK Dons on Saturday, is hoping his team can win the ‘six-pointer’ against a team yet to lose in the league, but the challenge and battle he will face from the Football League’s meanest defence.

Thorne said, “I look at it as a big challenge. I’m not the sort of person who thinks ‘oh no, this will be a hard battle’. It would be great to score against them…If I do play, I’ll expect a bit more special attention as well, being the top goal-scorer at the moment. The defenders will know they have to raise their game but that’s football and is why I love it.”

It’s the last part of Thorne’s comments which really stand out. He love’s football? Might seem like an obvious thing to say for someone paid to do just that, but in age where footballers are widely viewed as money-grabbing, mercenary folk with little grasp of reality, his views seem somehow refreshing.

This is a man who admitted he’d fallen out of love with The Game a couple of years ago and took a pay cut to remain a Bantam during the summer after rediscovering it during a superb season – and it’s the sort of attitude you’d want from your players on the eve of a tough match. Wycombe’s defence has only been breached four times at Adams Park, but they’ve yet to face a clearly-excited top scorer of League Two…

Such views also stand out given how little it seems to be reflected among City supporters. Of course we all love football, why else would we bother spending so much money and travel so many miles in support of City? Yet the negative mood which has hung around Valley Parade for the last few disappointing years has been curiously hard to shift this season.

At the end of City’s last home game, against Barnet, they were booed off the pitch by some – despite the draw leaving the Bantams only a point from top of the league. Of course it had been a disappointing second half performance and its not the first time the team had struggled this campaign; but City are third in the league and it’s a long time since we’ve been able to say that in November, shouldn’t we be enjoying this a bit more?

There seems to be such an extreme range of emotions and comments expressed about City from many supporters this season, often during the same game. The opening goal against Barnet was described as some as one of the finest goals we’ve seen at Valley Parade for years, but then howls of derision are heaped on those same players when goals go in the other end. Is TJ Moncur a good player? He set up two goals and was widely praised, but then makes a mistake at the other end and is ridiculed. It may not be like watching Brazil, but we’re not watching East Timor either.

Sunday’s news that City would face Leyton Orient in the next round of the FA Cup has brought back some sore memories, following the 2-0 defeat to them 19 months ago which proved critical in the failed attempt to beat the drop. City could just have easily been drawn to face Chesterfield, Accrington, Luton, Scunthorpe, Stockport or Bournemouth – opposition which can also prompt flashbacks of previous disappointments. There’s been so little to celebrate in recent years, which would only accentuate how happy we’d be if promotion is achieved this season.

But there’s a long way to go yet, so can’t we try to enjoy things a bit more? Apart from those in the Bradford End, the atmosphere at Valley Parade this season has been disappointing. I’m tired of people around me sitting in silence when things are going well, only coming alive when the team is struggling to moan and criticise. I’m tired of fans making pointless digs at Stuart’s management while failing to provide reasoning; no one should be immune and he’s made mistakes, but half of the complaints are embarrassingly stupid and unnecessary. I’m tired of hearing what’s wrong with the team when I see them sitting high up in the league and wonder if people really do believe we should win every game. I’m tired of hearing booing, so very tired.

There are no guarantees this season and there’s every chance we could be discussing where it went wrong come May, but what we should know is we have a bunch of honest and hardworking players giving their all, managed by someone who wouldn’t tolerate anything less. They will make mistakes because they’re League Two players competing in a league where those near the bottom are capable of beating those near the top. They will lose games, give away bad goals and miss easy chances. Yet the evidence shows they will win more games, score many great goals and maintain their promotion challenge throughout the season. When was the last time we played a match in May which meant something?

And that’s what we should love about football, right? Up there near the top of the league, competing with other teams and going through all those ups and downs. The nervousness before the big games, the hours studying the league table and remaining fixtures and, hopefully, one night sinking many pints in celebration as it all comes together.

Nothing is settled in November, but we can still enjoy the ride now.

Barryboogate just leaves me confused

I’m not normally the level headed one but as all the dust settles on the weekend and BarryBooGate I find myself with the calm voice for once.

I loathe the people who boo Barry. They are miserable people and I’d rather push my face over a cheese grater than knock about with someone that quick to criticise a bloke who seems so bloody likeable but that is them.

I guess you can see their point in booing Barry cause if they want to find the guy who is least able to kick a football in she squad they have probably got it bang on. Me, if I was the type who got his porks letting it out at the football, I’d probably be more likely to boo someone like Michael Standing who could play well if he could be bothered.

I guess I’d think that no matter how much you shout at Barry he is never going to be able to kick a ball better but shouting at Standing might have made him get his finger out. Personally I’d like shouting at people who shout at players to try get them to close their mouths. I get really tired of people wanting to defend their right to spout garbage. Have you noticed that people who talk sense never bleat on about freedom of speech? They just speak.

But that is not the point the point is this.

Booing Barry is nothing compared to the grumbling and the booing that we got against Exeter and Bournemouth as well as Luton. I’m a big one for saying that everyone should get behind the boys and all and most of the time I get that people are not going to go crazy when the team is not winning but we got booed off at half time against Exeter and at full time we were top of the league.

I mean it might just be me but there is something wrong with this picture.

I hate booing at football. I don’t think it makes players play any better and if anything it makes them play worse but I’m proper puzzled at the trend to boo players when they are doing well.

Forty five minutes from the top of the league is doing well. In the play off places is doing well. To be honest in terms of this club over the last ten years not being relegated is doing well. I just don’t understand.

I guess if you were the type that thought a good boo made people play better then you might be thinking you were doing everyone a favour but I don’t think if you talked to any of the players they would agree. In fact I think if you went up to Barry Conlon and said “I booed you cause I thought you would play better” he would say “Well I guess it did cause I scored” but be thinking about how good it would feel to smack you about the head.

I hate booking at football cause I think it is kicking guys when they are down but this kicking of the guys when they are up is beyond hating and is just confusing.

Believe your own eyes not a person on a message board

If you go to enough places you can find some big idiots. Football is full of them.

Like at Watford at the weekend. You can bet your bottom dollar that some of the Watford fans were telling others to sit down and stop being so biased to say that that ball didn’t go in just like City fans can watch Omar Daley do the exact same trick that wins penalties off clumsy defenders week in week out and still moan that he wasn’t touched.

You can find people ready to forget what they see and say what the thought they should have seen everywhere. Sometimes I wonder why some people bother going to games when they ignore the evidence of their own eyes.

Last week is was morons booing totally ignoring that fact you could see City had played well. This week it is people taking a pop at McCall and Jacobs after we lost 3-1.

First the Jacobs factor. I’ve no respect for people who single out Wayne Jacobs. These people are cowards too scared to have a go at Stuart. They don’t want to comment on the hero so they act like they know the difference between what the manager and is assistant do and blame the softer target. Cowards.

I don’t have much respect for the things thrown at the manager either. Reading the monotony of tripe that is the Official Message Board I read people saying McCall has on Plan B two days after I’ve seen the skip replaced by Barry Conlon and City play a 343.

I read that McCall has lost the plot. I’m speechless! We went into the game top! Did he lose that plot between 3 and 3:45? If so it is probably on the touchline somewhere.

It is not that I think that Stuart should be above comment it is that I worry that people might take this idiot commentary seriously.

Have a go at anyone but make sure when you do it makes sense and isn’t just ignoring what you see so say something else. Say Stuart’s plan B was stupid but saying he doesn’t have one just means you were not paying attention.

This is the age of the Internet and and everyone gets their opinion listened (including me, which so I’m telling you mine now) to but I just hope that the when listening to the sort of people who make the kind of moronic comments aimed at Stuart and Jakes this week people remember what they saw with their own eyes and ignore the kind of voices that complain at anything.

These kind of people who want to be negative about everything are not the sort of people who deserve listening to. They are not the people who saved this club, they don’t represent the people who saved this club, they are not the people who the club was saved for.

Football at the speed of thought

Remember when Michael Boulding was a bit dodgy, a bit of bother who wanted to sign but only if we would take his brother?

Remember when Darren Moore snubbed us for what looks like one season of Championship football and we had to ‘make do’ with Graeme Lee?

Remember when Omar Lazy used to get groaned at every five minutes?

Remember when City used to lose at home?

These ideas and loads like them have changed at City so quickly that the club seems to have altered itself over night. Going top of the league seemed a long way away after Huddersfield but we are and suddenly Stuart has a whole new set of problems.

How are we gonna get rid of Daley has become who will come in for him at Christmas? Boulding is starring and the summer is long forgotten. The City who no one ever thought much of are now expected to win every week. Hell even the full backs can go 90 minutes without being jeered.

After eight years of falling how quickly it has all turned around. How ready we are to have some feel good factor. Sure this is a good month and not a good season but the quickness of the people with brains to condemn the morons who booed on Saturday suggests that the City fan has a bit of belief and wants to enjoy his football again.

All this the result of two good months? Probably not.

Hard work on and off the field by Julian Rhodes first to keep the club and Mark Lawn to build it. By Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs and by a group of players prepared to put in hard work. Barry Conlon I’m talking about here, showing everyone that giving your all is the minimum.

So to us City fans. Away from home everyone is a Barry shouting and cheering but at home we have some of last season’s Omars needing to turn their performances round and believe in the team a bit more.

The good news is that we can do that turnaround at the speed of thought.

City take the pride, but could have left with more from Leeds

The new season may be less than a month old, but for Bradford City it has already featured defeats from its two biggest rivals. Unlike the 4-0 humiliation at Huddersfield in the Carling Cup, Tuesday’s narrow defeat saw the Bantams leave the field with pride. Yet for how well merited the standing ovation 4,000+ City fans awarded their team at the end was, the feeling that it was an opportunity not fully taken remained.

It was a night of agonising what ifs and if onlys. The penalty decision that set Leeds on their way seemed harsh, there was the controversy of the disallowed equaliser by Omar Daley which captain Graeme Lee held an animated conversation with the referee about at half time. Barry Conlon’s miss, which was punished two minutes later by a momentary lapse in concentration for the second goal, and a few chances in the second half where the ball just didn’t fall in the box in a way City players could profit from. Leeds were deserving of their victory and, if they weren’t necessarily a class above in terms of their play, that extra professionalism and concentration to take advantage of the luck which came their way was evident.

It was no surprise to see both managers make changes with the league in mind, or for City to line up in a 4-5-1 formation. The collapse at Huddersfield has clearly been weighing on Stuart’s mind since the draw for this game was made and he set about at least avoiding a repeat. City packed the midfield and denied Leeds space but going forward there was a lack of support for lone striker Barry Conlon, who had an average game at best. City needed to have more runners from midfield and would arguably have been more effective had Lee Bullock started, as late surges into the box are more his game.

Defensively City were shaky on occasions, with Mark Bower and TJ Moncur not having the best of first starts of the season. Rhys Evans also had a disappointing first half where he flapped and panicked too often; had this been Donovan Ricketts the abuse would have been reigning down from City fans behind his goal. Joe Colbeck was praised by Gary McAllister after the game but, given he was up against a 16-year-old left back starting only his second game, he might have hoped to make a bigger impact. Daley and Lee were probably City’s best players but Dean Furman and Kyle Nix also did well, if the latter giving the ball away a bit too much.

At half time we were unfortunate to be 2-0 behind but, until a goal was pulled back, the second half was a frustrating affair as the game became too easy for Leeds. It’s questionable why an attacking change wasn’t made sooner so City could force more pressure and Stuart’s thoughts were probably influenced by that horrible night at Huddersfield, but for a while it seemed City’s ambition didn’t stretch beyond walking off the field only losing 2-0.

I can understand the decision to rest Thorne, but if there was no intention to even give him 10 minutes on the field why include him on the bench? Rory Boulding was kicking his heels somewhere and the wait for changes to be made was frustrating. Belatedly Lee Bullock and Michael Boulding came on, but only after the heavy pressure that pulling a goal back sparked had died down and Leeds were firmly in control again.

Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference; but as I stood there surrounded by fellow supporters looking nervously on while singing our hearts out, desperate for a late equaliser that would have sparked scenes of celebration probably not matched since the Liverpool game eight years ago, it was hard to escape the feeling that the belief it could happen was not shared on the bench.

There was a lot to be proud of – the atmosphere from the City fans (I’ve a croaky voice today), the commitment and resilience from the players, receiving a text from a Leeds fan in the home end expressing how worried he was with ten minutes to go and the excitment the match produced.

Stuart certainly deserves credit for the way he lined up City and the performance was very encouraging but, with a bit more positivity, we could have been walking out of Elland Road (after a 25 minute delay) with more than just our heads held high.

BfB’s Top Five Review of 2007/2008

www.boyfrombrazil.co.uk Player of the Season

  1. Peter Thorne
    The If Only… Had Peter Thorne been fit all season and the Bantams been scoring and winning then who knows what the result of Stuart McCall’s first season would have been? He is the predatory poacher we missed without Dean Windass and as soon as he returned to full fitness with his intelligent play and able striking abilities City started to win. More please.
  2. Kyle Nix
    Plucked from the season string at Sheffield United Nix has everything that a young player should have. He plays with equal measures of heart and skill and is a joy to watch with his vivacious and effective style. The finish on the end of Willy Topp’s turn aganist Shrewsbury lives long in the memory.
  3. Joe Colbeck
    To say opinion was divided on Colbeck last season is an understatement with blows almost being exchanged over the winger who after returning from a loan Darlington ripped up League Two. Getting that form out of Joe Colbeck again next season is key to City’s promotion push. Keeping him long term may prove difficult.
  4. Barry Conlon
    How many players turn around the Valley Parade crowd from the angry mob to the appreciative whole who may have debated his abilities but saluted his commitment and effort. If anyone has ever deserved a contract extension it is Barry Conlon.
  5. David Wetherall
    The sentimental vote? Perhaps but David Wetherall organised a back four as well as he ever has done. The legs might have struggled but the brain was in full effect and it is that brain that will be behind the Bantams next year.

BfB poled eight contributors to get these results. The follow top fives are written by (one of) Jason, Roland, Michael, Omar and Paul.

The five best results and performances of the season

  1. City 3 Rotherham 2
    Oh what a Tuesday night. We proved in this game that we can actually play well against a very decent side.
  2. Darlington 1 City 3
    Stunning away victory against a promotion chasing team
  3. City 3 Notts County 0
    One of the most comprehensive victories we have seen in some years.
  4. City 4 Shrewsbury 2
    Another excellent Tuesday night, with Mr Willy Topp annoucing his arrival in Bradford with his first start, and setting up Nixy for the first goal.
  5. Dagenham and Redbridge 1 City 4
    Superb away victory – what a reward for those of us who made the trip down to London down. Nicky Law Jnr made sure of the points with an excellent late brace

Five moments when we thought we might be going up…

  1. Beating high-flying Peterborough at Valley Parade in September to go seventh.
  2. Stoppage time at Bury in January, City are 2-1 up and they have a harmless looking throw in…
  3. Luckily beating Macclesfield when they dominated second half. “Sign of a good team playing rubbish and winning,” we thought. If only…
  4. Billy Topp beautifully setting up Kyle Nix to score, six minutes into his full debut.
  5. When Joe Colbeck broke through to net the third goal at Darlington.

…and five moments when we knew we weren’t.

  1. Watching Accrington play us off the park at Valley Parade in October.
  2. Being the better side at home to Brentford but watching the Bees have two shots and score two goals.
  3. Half time at home to Rochdale, somehow it was 1-1 but the opposition were on another level.
  4. Barry Conlon’s penalty miss against Dagenham.
  5. Must-win game at Rochdale in April, 1-0 down inside 24 seconds.

Top five that the gaffer got in – McCall’s best signings

  1. Barry Conlon
    The example for everyone. Put in effort, get rewarded.
  2. Kyle Nix
    Skillful, talented, young. Fingers crossed we keep hold of him.
  3. Peter Thorne
    Showed class.
  4. Ben Starosta
    Looks like the sort of full back who can defend well and then add to the attack.
  5. Scott Loach
    They say that he will be England keeper one day. A way to go but impressive so far.

No Thanks – Five disappointing signings McCall made

  1. Paul Evans
    What gives Evo?
  2. Alex Rhodes
    Caught in the act of making Omar Daley look like a winger who tracks back.
  3. Willy Topp
    So much fanfare, so much wait ’til next season.
  4. Darren Williams
    Good, but like having Darren Holloway back.
  5. Nathan Joynes
    Barnsley said he was great, he was not.

We will miss you – Five players who impressed but have gone

  1. David Wetherall
    A legend.
  2. Donovan Ricketts
    Capable of making blinding saves.
  3. Tom Penford
    A favourite of this parish
  4. Nicky Law Jnr
    Who looked like a very good player. Better than his Dad for sure.
  5. Eddie Johnson
    Because the lad deserves credit for effort.

That went well – Five great things about 2007/2008

  1. The atmosphere, and home performances, at Valley Parade improved thanks to proper priced tickets.
  2. Stuart McCall back is great. Having him answer critics in the second half of the season is better.
  3. Barry Conlon turned around the fans with some gutsy displays proving that it is possible to turn around the fans with gutsy displays…
  4. …and nowhere was this better seen than Joe Colbeck who tore down the right wing brilliantly for four months.
  5. We broke even for the first time since the Premiership. Now that is progress.

Next year – Five things to get excited about

  1. Stuart McCall is up to speed.
  2. 20,000 supporters in Valley Parade? Would be great if it came off.
  3. Willy Topp is resting in Chile as we speak and raring to go at League Two next season.
  4. Should Joe Colbeck continue his form from the end of this term then expect dewy eyed thirty somethings to compare him to John Hendrie with every other breath.
  5. Promotion. You know its gonna happen someday.

The Confession

I have a confession to make. It’s probably going to lead to ridicule from some, while others will question my sanity; but it’s been bothering me for some time and I think I’ll at least feel better for saying it.

I’ve really enjoyed this season.

There, I’ve admitted it. Chuckles from some, accusations I’m some sort of clap-happy supporter willing to embrace mediocrity from others; but I’ll go even further and say I’ve not enjoyed a season this much since the first Premiership campaign eight years ago.

I know that many people, not least Stuart McCall, continue to refer to this season as ‘disappointing’ and finishing 9th or 10th after such high pre-season promotion expectations isn’t good enough. I accept the team have ultimately failed and that another year in the basement league is a sad state of affairs. I understand all of this, yet I can’t bring myself to feel as miserable about it as others appear to be.

So what have I enjoyed? Well certainly not the numerous disappointing home defeats. The Mansfield debacle can be summed up by the pathetic winning goal conceded, the Bury performance was that of a team over-confident from a six game unbeaten run and watching Rochdale run rings around us for the opening 45 minutes left me embarrassed to celebrate Peter Thorne’s underserved equaliser. Since relegation from the Premiership we’ve seen so many lame home defeats which, while the opposition has consistently changed, have felt remarkably similar.

I’ve not enjoyed it that we couldn’t make a better fist of challenging for promotion. Many have pointed out that Stuart had the fourth biggest wage budget at the start of the season and should have done more with it, but it’s obvious his lack of knowledge of League Two when taking over set us back. Having only six senior professionals on the books to start with meant a lot of strengthening was required, but it’s a situation that shouldn’t be repeated this summer.

Of course the biggest reason City haven’t mounted a meaningful promotion challenge was that woeful eight game winless run in autumn. With the pain of the previous season’s relegation not fully healed, it was particularly depressing to see City struggle so badly. This run of form included the 3-0 Accrington shocker and the memory of Eddie Johnson carelessly giving the ball to a blue shirt to score inside two minutes that evening is still vivid.

For real heartbreak though, the 2-1 defeat at Morecambe a week later takes some beating. We should have won, but the careless efforts of certain players that night cost us with the Morecambe winner coming in injury time. Five defeats in a row, the journey home that night was almost unbearable and is undoubtedly one of the most painful moments of my time supporting Bradford City.

But for all those disappointing moments, the number of brilliant ones has been greater for me. From the moment Stuart walked to the Valley Parade dug out for the first time, on the opening day of the season, to a rapturous reception against Macclesfield, you felt we were in for a special season. It may not have worked out that way but, the huge crowd that day, repeated at the other 22 home games, has been. One day I’ll stop staring at the Kop to my right, when at games, and not be thrilled by how full it looks. If next year’s season ticket offer comes off and it’s even fuller, it’ll be a nice sight to get used to.

The largest crowds in the division haven’t always resulted in a good atmosphere, but there have still been some hairs-on-the-back-of-neck moments. Apart from the Barnet game a few weeks ago, the Tuesday night kick offs have all felt special. The superb atmosphere in the Kop while City surrendered to Accrington should have brought shame on the players, and the atmosphere for the midweek wins over Chester, Shrewsbury and Rotherham was also fantastic. It was great to end the home season against the MK Dons, with plenty of noise emanating from both ends.

And it’s the atmosphere on the road which is ultimately why I’ve enjoyed this season so much, with performances undoubtedly better than at home. It’s been great fun travelling the country to visit the various League Two grounds and the chanting from our fans during the games has often been non-stop, from the moment the players came out to warm up until the final whistle, regardless of the result. If the evidence of visiting supporters to Valley Parade is anything to go by, our fanatical away support must stand out compared to most other League Two clubs.

This has helped produce many special moments, such as the second half at Darlington where City played their promotion-chasing opponents off the park and we celebrated each goal wildly; chanting non-stop through the half time break at Stockport, despite being fully exposed to the strong wind and rain; Scott Loach’s miraculous double block from a penalty against Macclesfield; the comeback at Notts County; Wetherall Day at Rotherham. I’m sure those who were there won’t forget Guylian Ndumbu-Nsungu’s 95th minute penalty equaliser at Grimsby, which prompted manic celebrations that spilled onto the pitch and saw Stuart run over to us and appeal for calm. It was one of those moments supporting your team where you completely lose it and temporarily forget where you are.

Quality football might not have been in as regular supply as we’d have liked, but there have been some great moments to enjoy. Luke Medley’s first touch in professional football; Omar Daley’s performance at Accrington; Willy Topp’s promising debut against Shrewsbury; the transformation of Joe Colbeck; Peter Thorne’s hat trick at Notts County and brilliant goal in the Meadow Lane meeting; Barry Conlon’s penalties (until he missed); the emergence of Matt Clarke into a solid defender; the superb second half of season form from David Wetherall that leaves you wondering why he is calling it a day.

My ultimate highlights of the season both centre around Lincoln City though. The Boxing Day Valley Parade game was an emotional afternoon carried out superbly by both clubs and sets of supporters. Barry Conlon’s late winner may have been comical, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who went crazy when I realised the keeper had improbably allowed it in. Emotions also ran high at the Sincil Bank meeting in September and the atmosphere in the away stand that evening makes it one of my all-time favourite away games. The singing was non-stop, so passionate and so enthusiastic. It might have become the norm since, but that evening was particularly special.

The 2-1 victory that night lifted City to 9th at the time and the final league table will suggest little progress has since been made; yet the potential of what City can achieve remains and there will be strong optimism it can followed through next season. It often appears to be the case we spend the summer believing it’s going to be our year, but in Stuart we can be confident we have a manager quickly learning and with a huge passion to lead this club to glory in 12 months time.

A better season hopefully awaits, but I hope I’m not the only supporter who’ll take fond memories from this one.

The pressure cooker

It had been a dreadful first half performance, of that no one could argue.

Trailing 1-0, poor in possession, uncertain at the back and limited going forward, City didn’t appear to have the desire of a Mansfield team fighting for their lives. Perhaps most worrying, some players appeared to be hiding; giving the ball to others when they could have taken the initiative and hoping someone else would get City back in the game. Then just as the game moved into injury time Paul Heckingbottom fired over a free kick and Barry Conlon headed home the equaliser.

To the players it must have been a great relief; they’d failed to do themselves justice but could now put it right having got back level. It’s often said the best time to score is just before half time and how those visiting players’ fragile confidence must be rocking at seeing their good work undone. Roll on the second half, our players must have been thinking.

Then the half time whistle blew and boos rang out from the three home stands. Whatever psychological advantage City held was gone. Instead of going in on a high they were bluntly reminded of their failings. If Mansfield players had begun fearing the worst they were given a loud reminder of just how well they’d done. Instead of looking forward to coming out for the second half and putting right their wrongs, home players probably feared leaving the warmer confines of the dressing room. Soon after half time City fall behind and ultimately the game is lost.

We can criticise the players and consider it shameful they’re underperforming, but their League Two counterparts don’t have to face such a level of hostile abuse from their own crowd and it’s painfully obvious our players are, at best, average players for this level.

I wouldn’t disagree that the players deserved to be booed off at half time, but I don’t understand how anyone thinks it helps them. There was a lot wrong with City’s first half display and the players must have realised that, but there was no doubt Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs would be telling them so. We all wanted City to win but, while the players let the club down, wouldn’t warm applause and cries of “come on City” have being a better confidence boost as they trudged off for the interval, rather than loud boos ringing in their ears?

The booing culture is nothing new at Valley Parade of course and the dismal football we’ve largely endured in recent years has understandably resulted in low patience, but as City enjoy the biggest crowds in this division you wonder what sort of advantage it really gives us. It must be fantastic playing in front of a five figure crowd when they’re right behind you, but when things go wrong and the booing starts it must be very difficult. We can criticise the players and consider it shameful they’re underperforming, but their League Two counterparts don’t have to face such a level of hostile abuse from their own crowd and it’s painfully obvious our players are, at best, average players for this level.

Are our players scared to play at Valley Parade? Four defeats in the last five home games suggest that’s the case. During that same period there have been three wins from four on the road. Our midweek kick offs have seen some superb atmospheres but on Saturday afternoons the place can be too quiet with the opposition fans making all the noise. Just at the players are guilty of failing to set their own tempo, surely we supporters should be getting behind the players better?

When I look back on the home games this season the Peterborough win in September really sticks out. Not because Mark Bower’s second half header helped City climb to a season-best seventh position, but the fact the players were booed off at half time that afternoon. The score was 0-0 and, while Peterborough had dominated possession, they’d barely created a chance. I was stunned at the booing and looking at where Peterborough are now makes it even more incredible. Peterborough were a good side, but we weren’t playing that badly and went on to win the game. The reaction of the fans in booing the team off at the interval that day probably epitomises the pressure those wearing Claret and Amber have had to cope with all season.

But what’s the solution? Next season we’re dreaming of 20,000+ attendences, which some Premiership and Championship clubs can’t even manage. Yet we won’t be signing many players used to playing in front of such large crowds and we can only hope they can cope much better with the expectations and pressure than this season’s lot have managed.

I’d love to think that we fans could better our attitude and make the huge crowds more of an advantage, but the fall out and huge level of criticism over the last couple of days shows it’s unlikely. We now have a small percentage of fans who would actually be happy if Stuart was sacked tomorrow. That won’t happen and he will get the opportunity to build a better team for next season, but what happens if we then experience another slow start? The pressure and level of booing is probably only going to get worse. True it might be directed more at the management than the new players, but what will they think if they hear their manager, a supposed legend at this club, barracked by fans who claim to worship him?

In some ways it’s good there was little riding on the Mansfield defeat and I’d like to think such a reaction wouldn’t have occurred if City were in contention for promotion and struggling during a home game, though I’m not so sure.

Who to blame?

Like 13,197 other City fans I left Valley Parade in a bad mood on Saturday. I spent the journey back to the car complaining with my friend Steve about certain aspects of City’s display and our mutterings were in unison over the tactical changes which appeared to work against the team. “That’s the play offs ruled out,” I hastily concluded, thinking back to only a couple of hours ago where, walking from the pub down Manningham Lane to the ground we half-joked about going to the Mexican restaurant we always pass to celebrate after we got back from Wembley in May, having witnessed City go up. How stupid did we now feel even to kid about it?

We listened to Stuart McCall’s interview on the radio as we drove back, faintly satisfied, at least, to hear that Billy Topp had been taken off due to flagging fitness. I wanted Stuart to be asked why he took off Peter Thorne, our best player, and replaced him with the lightweight and ineffective David Brown, who barely touched the ball. Or why, despite playing below standards and suffering some utterly abysmal abuse from so-called supporters, Omar Daley was hauled off when he at least looked as though he could do something, which couldn’t be said of Kyle Nix on the opposite side. The calm and honest words of Stuart at least made me feel better and, while I wasn’t impressed with his changes, I felt confident they were mistakes the manager will learn from going forward.

So gradually I calmed down, watched a bit of the Man U v Arsenal game with a beer at home. Seeing the own goal again on The Championship the following morning was difficult viewing but, sharing opinions with other City fans I bumped into that day calmed me down further and, while I was still in a bad mood back at work Monday morning, I began to look forward to the trip to Notts County on Saturday which I hope can only be better.

I appreciate it’s not the same for everyone and that anger over the two recent performances is still high, but I’ve found some of the opinions posted on various City-related websites difficult to read calmly. It appears we’re back to the blame game, where some folk seem determined to pick on players and declare everything the club is doing is wrong. Just over a week ago we were excitedly talking up the play offs with our chances looking increasingly better, now we’re back to describing the season as dreadful.

There are the usual targets for criticism when it all goes wrong. When Wayne Jacobs returned to the club during the summer I remember thinking he might be the easy target for some. 12 years service as a player, but he was never universally popular. Now a very slim minority have decided the last two defeats are entirely down to our assistant manager. When I read these views I struggle to find the reasons for why it’s Jacobs fault, probably because those making such comments don’t know either.

Then there’s our training which is prehistoric, dated and nothing like as good as Rochdale’s, a small insignificant club we should be thrashing. I’m not sure if the people criticising City’s training methods have actually witnessed them to know they are bad as they make out, and I’m even less certain they will have seen Rochdale’s to compare.

Of course it’s down to Stuart’s failure to pick certain players which is to blame. Have a quick scan through our reserves team, choose a couple of names who are been ‘disgracefully’ ignored, Alex Rhodes and, of course, Luke Medley on this occasion, and tell the world they should be playing. It doesn’t matter that the players keeping them out of the side have recently gone on a six match unbeaten run – that was two weeks ago, why haven’t they been sacked yet?!

Last but not least, after every player, member of management team and coaching method has been blamed; let’s have a go at the Chairmen for not backing the manager and hoarding all the cash. What a joke of a football club we really are, from top to bottom.

Among the message board comments and views added below T&A website stories, there is a lot of sense spoken. It’s just unfortunate that a lot of it is diluted by the strange and nonsense views of others. They who should loudest are usually heard, but that doesn’t mean their views make any sense.

The reality of the situation is that, after showing some real promise in recent weeks, we’ve suffered a set back. There are things that need to be improved about the team clearly; the first half against Rochdale was embarrassingly one-sided. Yet after grabbing an underserved equaliser the team improved considerably in the second. For all the feelings of disgust we all had about the performance Saturday night, we nearly won the game. When Peter Thorne cracked the outside of the post with that long range effort with five minutes to go it wasn’t only nearly a winner for us, with the beautiful way Barry Conlon back-heeled the ball into Joe Colbeck’s path and marvellous through ball to set up Thorne’s volley, we were agonisingly close to witnessing one of the best Valley Parade goals seen in years. Rochdale won it through our mistake, but for how bad that left us feeling we could easily have been celebrating a win.

And now, rather than carve the team up and start everything again, we face three presentable-looking games in a week where a decent points haul is achievable. Stuart will have seen a lot of things he didn’t like during the performance and certain players have some making up to do, but while changes will be made the progress from the team since the turn of the year should not be forgotten.

The players and management made mistakes on Saturday, but anyone among the 13,198 City fans that witnessed them who says they have never made mistakes in their career and life is lying. The key is to accept and learn from mistakes, so that you move on and develop. No football manager gets their tactics correct all the time. We, as fans, now need to forgive and hope Stuart never forgets.

As for our own contribution, well it was hardly great was it? 10 minutes to go, an enthralling end to end game that is clearly a battle; where are we making noise and backing the players? We’re sat glumly in our seats groaning everytime something goes wrong and hammering on individuals’ mistakes. We have the biggest crowds in the division, but where’s the advantage we give to the team from it?

But we move on, get over these defeats and back the players for the next three important games. We probably won’t win them all and we almost definitely won’t make a late play off surge now, but there has been some progress made this season which we all hope will be more visible next season.

Me and Steve might not get chance to enjoy that Mexican after Wembley, but we might just go for it anyway on the journey back from Wycombe May 3. If you can see the positives and don’t believe everything should be considered a failure just because we’re unlikely to bounce straight back up this season, I invite you to join us for a Corona or five. The rest may as well get off home and inflict their usual moaning all over our City cyber world.

Rubbish

If you want to read about which players were to blame for yesterday’s defeat and who we should ‘get rid’, you’d be better advised reading the numerous City message boards instead of this. Most of these will be filled with views of who is the biggest disgrace, which players aren’t fit to wear the shirt and how it’s also Stuart and the Board’s fault. A lot of these opinions will be hysterical rubbish, but are likely to satisfy the need of the many fans who consider everything disgusting.

They’re right of course; Saturday was indeed disgusting. I left Valley Parade feeling appalled and pessimistic about the future. However, it wasn’t the performance and attitude of the players that left me feeling angry – it was those in the stands.

What happened? To date the efforts of supporters has been largely fantastic, but on Saturday I felt it was us who didn’t turn up. From the moment the teams came onto the field and Donovan Ricketts, back in the team after his four game ‘rest’, failed to receive a good reception, the atmosphere felt odd. The game kicked off but there was no chanting, no cheering and little support offered towards the players. The place felt flat and at one stage I could hear the players shouting at each other on the pitch – I sit close to the back of the Midland Road stand and I’m half deaf! In a ground with 13,000+ supporters that simply isn’t good enough.

I’m sure you’re backing will be fantastic again. I can’t ask for any more than that – Stuart McCall’s programme notes

The fans in the Kop have been fantastic this season, but only seem to find their voice when the players kick off towards them in the second half. Why don’t you start chanting from kick off? The support in the Midland Road stand was even more pathetic, save for a handful of fans in C block attempting to start chants. As fans, we expect the players to show 100% effort and commitment for the cause – yet we can’t even be bothered to sing a few chants.

No one was getting behind the team, who after a slow start began to get on top and created some decent chances. Everyone appeared more happy to moan and find fault with the team’s efforts, no matter how tedious their complaints were. After a few good passing moves into the Brentford area didn’t quite result in a goal, City played a long ball which went through to the Brentford keeper. “You see!” said one fan a few rows in front of me, “all we do is launch long balls up, we’re so predictable!” Yes, of course that’s all we do.

I wouldn’t argue City were fantastic in the first half, but we were the better side and desperately unlucky not to take the lead. Then Brentford scored with a wonder strike. At half time the boos came down from all three stands, undeserved in my view. Walking around the concourse with steam coming out of my ears, one fan decided to helpfully tell me that City were going to be relegated this season. Thanks for this insightful knowledge, now I know not to bother with the rest of the season. Maybe we should tell the players and management this so they can give up on the season as well?

In the second half City came out all guns blazing and fans finally started getting behind the team. Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu hit the bar with a header and Barry Conlon wasted the rebound. When Conlon missed another easy chance minutes later, the boos started again. At one stage there was the ridiculous situation of Conlon being booed while in possession, as it appeared he was about to lose it. The Irish striker then did well to keep the ball and play it to another City player, the silence from these fans was deafening! Where’s the “good play Conlon, come on City!”?

They were soon booing him again when he was subbed though, which I thought was completely unfair. Conlon was guilty of missing some excellent chances and didn’t play well, but he gave everything and hardly meant to miss.

After Brentford scored the second, again against the run of play which most fans chose to ignore, we had more boos and anger. A friend in the main stand told me that a couple of fans in the Kop threw their season tickets onto the pitch in disgust. At the final whistle, despite City almost coming back after Mark Bower scored, there were more boos from the fans who hadn’t already left. Some stayed back to wait until the players had shaken hands with the Brentford players and began walking over to applaud the fans, so they could boo the team again. The players just turned away and walked off and who can blame them?

Let’s put this into perspective. I think City were very unfortunate to lose this game. It wasn’t a great performance, but they were on top for large spells and created some excellent chances. The ball just wouldn’t go in, while Brentford created two chances and scored them both. The only time I thought the players were poor was in their response to going 2-0 behind. Their heads dropped and they looked beaten, despite there been 30 minutes still to play. But as supporters had given up – on both the game and the season – who can blame them?

I’ve seen worse performances from City this season and to receive such a high level of abuse was unjustified. We’re on a really poor run of form and confidence is low. Understandably we’re all really frustrated, we expected to be around 4th in the league – not 4th bottom! But for how bad our recent form is I really don’t believe we should write off the season like this. There’s a long way to go and I still think we can sneak a play off spot this season.

Fans demanding we get rid of certain players are being simplistic. Should City really throw money away cancelling contracts of players not performing? Where do they think this money will come from? More than likely it would be from whatever transfer budget Stuart has for improving the ability of the playing squad. We can demand some of the younger players come in, but would they have the mental strength to cope with the boos from 13,000 people? It could destroy them.

I continue to be both astounded and humbled by the level of support both at home and away and I can only hope your patience is rewarded eventually – Julian Rhodes’ programme notes.

The simple fact is that, until January, we have to persist with the playing squad we have. Of course changes have to be made for Tuesday and Stuart will do so – a recall for Paul Evans is surely a must. This current squad can do much better than present form and we should get behind them in attempting to do so. There’s no magic wand to make it all better, they need to keep working hard and give their all and eventually our luck will turn.

As fans, we have a huge role to play. I really think that the reaction and atmosphere on Saturday harmed the team far greater than Conlon’s misses. It felt like the day the fans wrote off for the season but this shouldn’t be the case. On Tuesday we should be getting behind the players from the first whistle to the last. Players will make mistakes and there are times we all groan but, if we stick with them and save the moaning until half time or the pub after, our support can make the difference.

We’re all sick of losing and being where we are in the league, but everyone needs to take responsibility in turning the situation around. That especially includes us supporters.

Point Made

It was not feeling miserable when leaving, that was the best part about Saturday.

After four weekends where City have lost, not to mention the midweek Accrington debacle, that empty feeling that stays with you most of the week and leaves you not wanting to think about football had become all too familiar. I walked down Midland Road after the game feeling a little disappointed that City had failed to turn their superiority into a win and felt worried about the lack of goals and decent service running through the team, but I also left feeling much more positive about City’s prospects for the season and had renewed belief that happier times were not that far around the corner.

A lot of people came out of Saturday with credit. Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs have clearly worked hard on the training ground at lifting sagging spirits and raising confidence. Stuart has recently commented that it’s going to take a while to build a team that he is happy with, but the one assembled so far competed much better to belatedly demonstrate that fourth bottom of the entire Football League was a false position.

There wasn’t much different about the way the team lined up against Darlington than in previous games and Stuart resisted the urge to make wholesome changes. He was rewarded by those he kept faith with and seems to have a clear vision of how he wants his team to play. The sight of a second place team clearly time wasting and settling for a draw in the closing stages showed just how effective that play had been.

Credit also to the supporters who got behind the team. I was partly dreading Saturday’s game for fear of another defeat, I also feared the reaction of supporters to another loss. After the first 20 minutes there was barely a moan to be heard among supporters, apart from at the officials anyway, as everyone seemed to recognise that the 11 in claret and amber shirts were giving their all. The atmosphere felt a bit flat in the first half, but those in the Kop again got suitably behind the players as they attacked towards them in the second.

Having the biggest crowds in the division can be an effective weapon, but it can also be a hindrance. 12,000 moaning and complaining is a lot louder than 7,000 and we’ve already seen certain players disappear into their shells when the grumbles get louder. It’s hard to stay positive at times, but it was heartening that the crowd really got behind the players and encouraged them to keep going forward. It’s extremely rare for a 0-0 draw to be recognised with a standing ovation and it seemed clear the players really appreciated the support, by the way they held back to applaud the three stands. I don’t think they could have got off the pitch quicker at the final whistle against Accrington!

But credit most of all should go to the players. Their performances and general attitude have been openly questioned in recent weeks and deservedly so. We all know they can do better than five defeats in a row, but the criticism must have hurt. Only a year ago a couple of defeats became a crisis and performances got worse, as those paid to represent City struggled and failed to handle the pressure. Stuart spoke before the Darlo match of expecting no one to hide and every player responded well. It was hard to find fault with anyone’s performance, if only one of the numerous chances created could have been put away.

I arrived at Valley Parade expecting little, I certainly didn’t imagine I would witness City’s best home performance of the season so far. To an uninformed observer, it would have been easy to be confused over which team sat second in the league and which was near the bottom. The quality of the final ball still leaves a lot to be desired and I can’t remember a City side who have ever put in so many awful corners, but we weren’t far away from giving Darlo a real spanking.

Perhaps the most heartening thing about the display was the work rate from everyone, something lacking in recent weeks. Omar Daley has excited and then frustrated all too often, but has barely tracked back into his own half during the last few defeats. On Saturday he was helping his defence and getting up and down the pitch really well. We know he has plenty of skill and pace, but it’s the end product and desire to work hard when City don’t have the ball that’s been lacking.

Omar was often back in the City penalty area on Saturday helping out Darren Williams, who was outstanding, while he also looked a threat going forward. On the other winger Kyle Nix looks a really impressive player and a winger who can also tackle. He’s not the quickest, especially compared to Daley, but his dribbling is excellent and he showed a cool head to work the ball into good positions and find a team mate.

Up front, Barry Conlon has looked a different player the last two games. Yes he should have scored at least twice and he does seem to hesitate when a chance comes his way, but as a target man holding up the ball he was phenomenal. Players could clear the ball up to him, when under pressure, and the ball would stick there. He helped lay on some excellent chances and also has a reasonable first touch.

It’s hard to imagine Conlon reaching double figures for us this season, but if he can get a goal from open play his confidence will surely go up another notch. The challenge for Conlon is to maintain and perhaps better his last two performances. Should he keep it up, he will be a regular name on the team sheet regardless of how often he finds the net.

Defensively City were much better and, while Mark Bower and David Wetherall have performed much better the last three games, the protection the whole midfield gave them also helped. Watching recent games, to me it has felt too many forward players were expecting the defence to win the ball back and waited up field for a pass. Against Morecambe we often appeared outnumbered when the home side attacked so it was good to see Nicky Law and Eddie Johnson working hard in both boxes. Paul Heckingbottom also bounced back well after a series of poor displays.

Ultimately it’s down to the players to turn around the slump and get City into winning ways. Saturday was a great start and hopefully confidence and belief will have returned. The performance was heartening and we should have won, but it’s important the result becomes something to build on rather than a high point. It’s worth noting that Saturday’s failure to find the breakthrough means it’s over 300 minutes since City last scored at Valley Parade.

On Saturday City travel to face a Grimsby side which has lost four on the bounce and so won’t be feeling too confident themselves. It’s important City stand up to the challenge and come away with something. After our own dismal run it’s fair to say that our players will know how Grimsby will be feeling right now – and also know why we shouldn’t underestimate them. Hopefully Darlo will be the turning point but, for how well City’s players performed against the high flying Quakers, it’s a level of performance and effort required every week.

So we left Valley Parade much happier than we arrived, with more confidence about our season and the hope that the slide has been arrested. After four Saturday’s in a row feeling miserable, let’s hope we’ve had our quota for a while and can enjoy the rest of our weekend once more. Surely it’s time the footballing gods started sharing out the misery, starting with that lot t’other side of Pudsey.

Strength on the road

Stuart McCall unleashed his secret weapon on Lincoln City last night – and it wasn’t the belated debut of an injury-plagued number 10.

1,064 members of his barmy army had made the 90 mile trip to Lincolnshire and provided a 90 minute non-stop performance of passionate noise to help City come from behind and earn their first away win of the season. Our contribution in the away section might not have been as significant as the fantastic run and pass of Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu that set up Joe Colbeck’s winner, but it was no less meaningful on an evening that offered the strongest evidence yet that City can challenge for an immediate return to League One this season.

Much has been made about the huge home crowds City will be enjoying this season, but less has been mentioned about the power of our away support. It’s hard to imagine another League Two side bringing as many supporters and making as much noise at Sincil Bank all season – and that includes their local rivals Grimsby and Mansfield. This will be the same at so many other grounds and this level of support can make a huge difference in where City end up come May.

It was a certainly a large factor in this deserved win as City fans out-sung and humiliated their Lincoln counterparts. As balloons, beach bags and mini footballs were tossed in the air among City supporters before kick off, you sensed it could be a special night. An emotional tribute to the events of 22 years ago was impeccably observed before the action began. The chanting continued from the start and didn’t even let up when Lincoln took the lead, although the fact it was in controversial circumstances undoubtedly helped keep up the wall of noise.

The home side started the match much brighter, a decent save from an Eddie Johnson shot aside, and created several good chances. In defence, City looked strong with our back four reacting well to the busy night that lay in front of them. “Don-don-don-don-don-don-don-don-don-don-Donovan Ricketts!” (to the tune of No Limits’) made two smart stops but then City fell behind from a corner. Ricketts made a great save from a header but the ball was still scrambling around in the area. Louis Dodds stabbed the loose ball goalwards only for Ricketts to make another brilliant block on the goalline. Yet incredibly, as the ball was finally cleared, the linesman put up his flag to signify the ball had crossed the line.

The goal was awarded and City’s protests were waved away. It looked like a very poor decision but, thankfully, City didn’t let the injustice affect them as they clawed their way back into the game. With Eddie Johnson and Scott Phelan beginning to control things in the middle of the park, City got back on level terms after some great work from Omar Daley.

Since signing in January, we’ve been waiting for Daley to hit his best form and in the opening 35 minutes he continued to frustrate with his tendency to always cut inside rather than stretch the opposition by running down the channels. On this attack he finally did stay out wide, knocking the ball past a defender and then showed his incredible pace to reach the ball before another defender. Now level with the penalty area, he cut inside and continued his run into the box before squaring the ball for Ndumbu-Nsungu to fire home.

“1-0 to the Bradford Boys” we sang matter-of-factly. Daley’s reward for his assist was taking a knock from the challenging defender which threatened to end his evening and rule him out of international duty. Thankfully he was able to carry on and his subsequent performance was that of a player who had reached a new notch in self confidence. Daley continued to look a threat everytime he got the ball and trigged some of City’s best moves.

In the second half the level of noise in the away section was kept up with our versions of White Stripes, Beatles and Johnny Cash songs, and City began to get on top. Eddie Johnson went close with a brilliant free kick that was tipped away by Alan Marriott, Peter Thorne linked up well with G on his debut and the defence continued to keep Lincoln’s increasingly sporadic attacks at bay. The Imps did come close to retaking the lead when a long range shot rattled the post. Given how many times City have struck the woodwork in the opening six games, it was somewhat satisfying to watch another team rue their luck.

It looked like a winner might allude City but they finally made the break through 12 minutes from time. Lincoln were on the attack when City cleared the ball up to G on the half way line. The Congo striker produced a devastating first touch to lift the ball past a defender and then had the speed to charge forward. Two defenders chased him, blocking his route to goal. But no one picked up Colbeck racing clear in the middle. G’s through ball was inch perfect and Colbeck charged forward and beat the advancing Marriott with a low shot that rolled slowly into the corner. Cue pandemonium in the away section.

It was fair to say that the recalled Colbeck did not enjoy the best of nights and he consistently struggled to beat his full back, either by running at him or whipping in early crosses. But his goal was reward at least for his undoubted level of effort and may just give him that added belief to perform better. Joe can often look tentative and unsure of himself, although the subtle, unnoticed stamp he executed on the full back while he was on the ground showed that he isn’t intimidated by the opposition.

Apart from a couple of late scares, City stood firm to claim the three points and end a difficult week on a high. Lincoln might not have made the best of starts themselves, but they’re a wise outfit who know what it takes to be successful at this level. They certainly gave City a tough game, making this result and performance even more impressive.

“You’ve only come cos it’s Bradford!” we chanted at the home fans. Probably not true but, as Stuart’s Bradford Army marched into an away ground and made sure they were noticed by everyone, you suspected it was an evening that won’t be quickly forgotten by either side. The high number of away fans for a Friday night fixture was impressive and, temporarily we hope, it feels quite nice being the big fish in a small pond.

On a personal level, the non-stop chanting and stunning atmosphere, plus the result, contributed to one of the most enjoyable City games I have been too in years. The evening felt special and I left proud to be a City fan and being one of some of the best fans in the country (best in League Two without doubt!). The strength and enthusiasm among fans can be partly attributed to Stuart and Wayne’s return, but ultimately it’s about a passionate bunch of people finally able to dream of better things. Something feels special about supporting City right now and hopefully its going to lead to big celebrations come May.

Stuart’s Bradford Army makes trips to Hereford, MK Dons, Morecambe and Grimsby in the next two months. If we fans can maintain the high standards of this away performance we should help City become stronger on the road.

Although the level of noise we’re making means that Stuart’s secret weapon will not be staying secret much longer.

Roll On Up As The Greatest Show On Earth Begins Anew

Much effort and energy has gone into the decision made by Julian Rhodes to cut Bradford City season tickets from the £15 a game prices that are common in all football to the £138 they went on sale at today. Six quid a game is cheaper than the cinema and the best value in football. It is brave, it is ambitious, it is innovative and brand defining. It is everything people who work in marketing and branding would want. It deserves to work.

Rhodes cuts prices with the hope of increasing demand and nurturing an atmospherical fan base for the future. In a way Julian Rhodes is legacy building the in same areas that Geoffrey Richmond started. The Quid-a-Kid generation at Valley Parade are now the foot soldiers of our fans.

For so long Rhodes has stood alone at the helm. The Gang of Five do in some cases superb work – David Bosomworth’s dealings with the youth set up is paramount – but Jim Brown’s ability to take up the mantel of leadership above and beyond struggling with Peter Etherington for that position has been noticeable. Enter Stuart McCall.

McCall provides the leadership to push Rhodes’s plan to fruition. We are Stuart’s club again. This is a good thing and everyone sees it. The Midland Road stand – unsponsored for a year following Peter Etherington’s promises – is to be redubbed The Morrison’s Stand as the local supermarket magnet Sir Ken’s grip on the company that holds his name lessens and the board of Bradford’s biggest plc come round to the community the inhabit. Should Intersonic not want to continue then – as BfB understand it – Bradford City would play at The Morrison’s Stadium.

Sponsorship – as with bums on seats – is on the up. So is Mood.

Simon Ainge signed a new two year deal to do the job he loves and boomed

We should be expected to do well because we are a big club. We were a big club in League One so of course people will be looking at us to be up there. We obviously need some more players but with the ones we’ve got here already, I can’t see why we won’t go back up.

Stuart McCall must be pleased. Ainge has offered to play right back next term should the David Wetherall/Mark Bower partnership not be plundered. McCall himself started in the number two slot for the Bantams and the fact that Ainge joins Tom Penford, Joe Colbeck and Craig Bentham in signing contracts with the club shows a spirit of trust in the products of Bradford City.

On a Friday afternoon the mind is given to idle speculation and the mix of young players and a new serge of supporters all playing for a man who has gone from bootroom skinny to backroom manager fills the heart with anticipation and joy.

£138? I’ll be getting one.

In Consideration of Stuart McCall

League Two is beginning to settle into my mind. I’ve done a look up and down the list of teams – nothing very impressive – and I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason we are going to be at the same level as Rochdale is that the characterlessness of the club means we deserves to be at the level of Rochdale.

Characterlessness I’ll qualify. This season City have been subject to some appalling and frankly biased refereeing decisions and have had a share of bad luck that hampers most teams. Our reaction to these knock downs has been to hug the canvas for as long as possible. There are many reasons for this – too many loan players, a change in manager, losing key members of the squad, injuries, a hostile crowd, an inequity in the structure of the game – but few would argue that it is the case.

To escape this League Two the club is going to need major work and prime in that work is the appointment of a manager. Julian Rhodes wants someone in the chair by the end of May and he wants to talk to Stuart McCall about the job.

It is probably clear that City need McCall more than McCall need City but need him we do. No other names suggest themselves as being able to have the sea-change in atmosphere – who would boo a McCall team? McCall would get the shield of bullet-proofness for longer than other managers and might actually get some work done – and culture at the club.

Adding McCall to City could put a few thousand bums on seats, it could get people behind the club again. It could be the answer to all the minor problems that have added up to a major crisis for this club.

Make no mistake Julian Rhodes cannot keep bank rolling a City side that loses him money. We need McCall to return to kick-start all the things we need to turn the club around. We need a manager whom people want to do well rather than the procession of gaffers who it seems failure was almost welcomed for. I heard I don’t mind if we lose cause then Todd will be sacked far too many times last year.

However it is said that McCall would not want to join a League Two club. That relegation has cut off our chances of getting the number four for his third stay at VP. Perhaps so.

To that all I can say is that Bradford City is in dire need – in dire need for the changes that McCall could bring – and should he decided as he has a right to that he can watch the club flounder from afar in what is in a very real and very serious way our hour of need then perhaps I hold him in too high regard.

A club’s legend – this club’s legend – needs to be prepared to get hands dirty otherwise what is the point of being the legend?

Bradford City’s problem since the McCall/Paul Jewell/Geoffrey Richmond days has been a critical lack of leadership. A McCall led City have a chance to establish a direction again – to rally under a banner so lacking under Colin Todd or Nicky Law – and stop the backbiting and arguments that go along with every game. Valley Parade could unify behind Peter Beagrie or John Hendrie but it would be behind McCall and the divisiveness of the last seven years could be put to rest.

Beagrie, Hendrie, Chris Wilder, Wayne Jacobs. Other managers could turn around the club but McCall – with the status he would bring – has the best chance to avoid a future in which attendances dwindle, in which Rhodes can no longer fund a club making less and less money every year, which is so far away from the top table of English football that the risible, lamentable trickle down hardly registers.

In the twenty five years since we were last in the bottom division football has changed beyond recognition. For most of those twenty-five years we put the club on a progressively higher footing but – and apologies to the sensibilities on this but it is a grim fact – we are at a storm front in football where the haves have and the have nots are swept away.

Twenty-five years ago we were in the have nots by some degree. We rose into the haves of the Premiership and the Championship and black balance sheets and entertaining football, we need to get back not just to have a better future but to have a future.

Twenty-five years ago when City started our last campaign in the bottom division in the first game we have a debut at right back to a 16 year old picked up after being released.

You can guess what his name was?

A Day of Gloom, A Lifetime of Joy

With around 10 minutes to go at Saltergate on Saturday, I looked around the pitch at our players and began to feel a huge sense of relief.

Part of this relief was because the game was almost over and I could stop watching this wretched, gutless City display. Part of the relief was also because I knew I would soon be leaving the ground and my backside could recover from the numbness of sitting on an uncomfortable wooden bench for three hours. But the main reason for feeling relieved was because City’s outcome had finally been decided and I could stop fretting about their frankly feeble fight to avoid the drop to basement league football.

Of course we were hoping to leave Saltergate in celebratory mood. Two weeks ago that seemed a huge possibility after City’s welcome three points at Brighton. Last Saturday’s home defeat to Leyton Orient had killed off any realisitic hope and if anyone still felt we could do it, to many of our players clearly didn’t and failed to put up a fight. Each of the three goals conceded had an air of comedy about them as the players put in a performance as poor as anything they have managed all season.

With hope over long before the final whistle, it was easier to stop feeling gloomy and relax instead of worrying about whether Rotherham, Forest, Gillingham or Oldham could do us a favour by beating sides above us. We can now stop spending hours carefully studying the league table and trying to predict other teams results. All that’s left is a carefree, meaningless home game with Millwall next Saturday and then we can all take a break from City and come back refreshed for a League Two campaign in August.

And that is why I don’t feel too sad about the relegation at this moment. It just seems to have been inevitable and watching our players raise hopes and then fail miserably over the last few weeks has been deperessing enough. It’s often said that it’s the hope that kills you and it has been so frustrating to watch the team fail to make a better fist on avoiding relegation. It looked straightforward enough weeks ago, just a few more wins and the odd draw. At half time against Orient last week, survival seemed within touching distance. Frankly I have had enough of walking to work on a Monday morning feeling anxious/worried/depressed at City’s plight and I aim to go in with a smile on my face this Monday (especially as a couple of my colleagues support a certain Yorkshire club who have also had a bad weekend!).

After Saturday’s despair turned to relief at Saltergate, I joined in with other City supporters in singing away during the closing stages. The atmosphere became fantastic as everyone seemed to join in. Deep in stoppage time, “City till I die” boomed out of our end of the ground. It was a hugely uplifting moment that reminded me no matter how bad things get, there is always next season. This won’t be the last time I see City relegated, but I also haven’t witnessed my last City promotion.

During the last few years supporting City I have seen us get relegated from the Premiership to League One, suffer two periods of adminstration and watch countless decent players depart to be replaced by inferior ones. I’ve seen us lose woefully home and away on too many occasions to think about, watched other teams turn up at Valley Parade and win crucial games that left their fans going crazy in celebration. I’ve watched us concede a glut of horror goals through bad defending or goalkeeping, I’ve seen our strikers miss chances that even I could have scored, I’ve seen referee’s get decisions badly wrong and loads of injury time winning goals for the opposing team. Saturday’s defeat can be added to this list, but misery and City have gone hand in hand in recent years so it hardly comes as a shock.

As I looked down at the away terrace at the end of the game, I recognised a couple of City fans who I have known/seen around Valley Parade for many years. Almost 2,000 City fans had decended on Saltergate, a sizeable following that will dwarf many of our new rivals. We will all be back in August, whether it’s Accrington and Macclesfield gracing our turf. Most of the current bunch of players will have left, new players and a new manager will be in place. That old killer, hope, will return. Hopefully this time our particular hopes will finally be realised.

Despite the misery, going to watch City has given me hours of joy that I wouldn’t swap for anything. I love our club with a passion and know I will be supporting them until my dying day. Many of us feel the same and, with our continuing support, our club will turn it round and earn success. Eventually City will win a promotion, go on a good cup run and rise back up the leagues. In the not to distant future, our players will be pararding silverware around the pitch and the open top bus will come out of its garage.

It might take years but it will happen and, when it does, the memories and pain of occasions like Saturday will seem distant. We’re City till we die and we will all be there celebrate our club rising again.

So It Has Come To This

I’m still not really sure how this happened this relegation thing.

I remember having an argument with a few people about how City were going to grind away to mid-table mediocrity under Colin Todd and I was saying that we should give the guy time cause he was doing a good job just having us in League One and then I was told that sacking him we could get promoted.

It was like a promise that getting rid of Todd would make things better. Someone must have believed it. I wish this was me being wise after the event but I said it at the time.

I remember that we had a guy up front called Dean Windass who could do some stupid stuff but was the best striker in the league and people were telling me we shouldn’t play him to teach him a lesson or punish him for getting sent off and then someone said he should not even play for us again and now it looks like he won’t.

I’m pretty sure that things were not perfect and that basically things have been wrong at City since Richmond’s summer of madness but it struck me on Saturday that this club has a load of problems caused by Richmond and a load of problems caused by the way that big football screws over little football and a lot of problems caused by rubbish refereeing but we also had a load of problems caused by us.

The booing, the insisting that the gaffer is sacked, the guys who pick on one player be it Deano or Ben Parker or Billy Paynter or anyone, the mood at VP that is so negative. All stopping people coming to Valley Parade. All real problems.

So I remembered that City had loads of problems outside the camp and then it struck me as I watched half a team playing out the end of League One football that we should sort out the problems inside the ground and inside us fans first.

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