Incommensurable / McCall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Team

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

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

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

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

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

Is Parkinson a special one?

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

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

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

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

Which raises an interesting question for City fans to consider.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parkinson has his thoughts on the bread and butter.

Aaron McLean and the heroes of failure

The collective view of history

There is a view of history which holds that if there had never been a Genghis Khan, a Joseph Stalin, a Pol Pot, then the course of the world would have been drastically different. No Mongol hordes, no Cold War, no pogrom.

This is the individual view of history.

There is a competing view that suggests that those three people, indeed any person of history, is only of history because of the rising and falling of collective events. That if it had not been Genghis Khan then someone else would have been credited for leading the hordes, and history would have remember their name instead. That large groups rather than an individual caused the world to turn.

This is the collective view of history. It is less exciting, but probably more accurate.

From Pol Pot to Pulis

Stoke City’s rise to the place of mid-table in the Premier League is largely down to former manager Tony Pulis, and Pulis puts any success he has had down to a recruitment policy based on character.

When speaking about Ryan Shawcross Pulis commended the defender’s character – which is to say his desire to win football matches – saying that a team was built on players such as Shawcross.

“You can have other players who don’t have that (character),” Pulis added, “but only for eighteen months and then you have to move them on.”

The heroes of failure

Why do Bradford City supporters not curse the name Benito Carbone? Why is Ashley Ward’s time at the club given a light disregard when the memory of Mike Duxbury can cause grown men to froth at the mouth? What is it about Darren Morgan that has some City fans reserving a place in the inner circle of failure which even Aaron McLean – seemingly leaving City this week – need not fear reaching?

And what is this word scapegoat which is applied in defence of McLean? Has his treatment been unfair? What are the mechanics of failure at a club like Bradford City that can lionise one player and condemn another.

And let me start by saying…

When Aaron McLean leaves Bradford City, few will be upset. McLean has done well in the past proving his ability but did not do well at Bradford City. The sort of ability McLean is credited with is rare for Bradford City players over the last decade. Few players have been criticised for want of motivation rather than ability.

More common in the last decade have been the players who have shown a level of effort that defined their abilities. The words “give everything” are used about James Hanson, Gary Jones, and Andrew Davies. Players like Barry Conlon, Matthew Clarke and Lee Crooks were never said to be shirking, just that they were poor footballers.

McLean gets to nestle his name alongside Ashley Ward, Nicky Summerbee and Bobby Petta in the players who idled away their talents rather than had no talent to begin with.

In the worst possible way

Aaron McLean arrived to replace Nahki Wells. Wells enjoyed a meteoric rise at Bradford City. His speed and eye for goal were impressive and he played a role in taking City to Wembley twice in three months. After an early exchange of distaste for his choice of clubs following City it seems that Wells has settled back into his place in the hearts of City fans.

One might speculate that the fact that Wells has joined a Huddersfield side in the year they have achieved next to nothing is his saving grace for City fans. Were Town in the play-offs and Wells the architect of that, then things may be different.

But Wells is not an architect. The type of player he is – they are called “finishers” for a reason – puts him at the necessary end point rather than the engine room of a team. Wells was the end of a team of Gary Jones, Rory McArdle, James Hanson et al. Those players were the big characters who pushed the team. Wells, Nathan Doyle, Will Atkinson, Carl McHugh were (seemingly, and by virtue of their exit) the “eighteen monthers” that Pulis talks about.

Being Phil Parkinson

Losing Gary Jones was inevitable. Phil Parkinson probably joins with the rest of City fans who watch the skipper playing for Notts County and wonders if there was another year in the now 37-year old midfielder, but giving him that extra year is a delay of the inevitable need to replace him.

Losing a player like Gary Jones from your team – be it from age or transfer – matters more than losing a player like Wells because of the type of strong character he is. Bringing in or building a replacement takes time and may not be achieved. Those old enough may remember the attempt to replace the massive presence of Stuart McCall with Iain Banks and wince at the memory. If you are younger, read “Gary Locke” for Banks.

It is Parkinson’s hardest job and while developing Billy Knott may be a long term solution, one suspects the City manager has concluded that he needs to bring a character into the side and is working to that end. At the moment though Parkinson puts out the team he has and that team has some qualities, although is lacking in others.

Who does not love Xaviar Barrau?

Who was the scapegoat in David Wetherall’s relegation side which was the worst team Bradford City have fielded in my lifetime? Who carries the can for those feeble months? Not Wetherall, and not his players. Spencer Weir-Daley’s many misses against Leyton Orient and Omar Daley’s giving up of the ball on the wing are critical memories but on the whole the players are not criticised. Kelly Youga (injured during his time at the club) is fondly remembered. Who does not a place in his heart for Xaviar Barrau?

Wetherall’s side were simply too poor for scapegoats. To single out one player is to allow a club and a culture at a club to be freed from blame. No one points the finger because no one has enough fingers to point.

Likewise relegation from the Premier League is never assigned to a group of players, and the likes of Benito Carbone are heroes of the club. Circumstances dictate that a scapegoat will not be found, at least not on the field.

Parkinson’s team are not so outgunned as those two examples. The are far better than Wetherall’s side for sure, and the rest of League One is – in relative terms to City – not as good as the rest of the Premiership was in 2000.

Phil Parkinson’s team are closer to success. Indeed at the moment City win and lose on the basis (seemingly, but probably not in the opinion of the management) of individual actions. Billy Clarke puts the ball an inch lower and Oldham away is a good point; Christopher Routis heads a ball into the stands against Sheffield United then City get a battling point with ten men and so on.

Just as two years ago Rory McArdle’s determination was the difference between winning and losing against Aston Villa in the League Cup semi-final. When the difference between success and failure is small there is a temptation to assign it to individuals and individual actions.

Stevie Gee

Importantly though one can only justify assigning success to individuals when margins are small. A scapegoat is the player who did not apply the marginal difference. The opposite – a player who applied the individual difference between success and failure – is what he call in football a hero

Watching the career of Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard is watching that that theory in action. In European Cup and FA Cup finals (both of which ended 3-3) he has been heroic because he has been the individual difference between success and failure.

Last season his defensive slip against Chelsea – an individual mistake – seemed to cost his team the Premier League title. “If he had not slipped” is said with a misty eye by many, but few ask what would have happened if (now Liverpool’s) Dejan Lovren foul on Daniel Sturridge in November 2013 in a Southampton 1-0 win at Anfield had been given as a penalty.

Scapegoating is arbitrary.

Had Aaron set off in time

Aaron McLean’s first game at Sheffield United for City – a 2-2 draw – had the striker almost score the goal which almost built his confidence and almost put him on a run of goalscoring, and so on.

McLean is in poor form, and plays like a player in poor form, and many people (not me) consider that the problem City face at the moment is the need for a finisher. The logic follows easily that McLean, a finisher, could be difference between wins and defeats.

My view of football is increasingly more inline with Pulis, and it is more inline with the collective view of history. When Nahki Wells was scoring for City it was not because of his abilities so much as because of the team’s abilities (which he was a part of) and had you dropped Aaron McLean in then, McLean would be the “Goal Machine” his name so cruelly rhymes with. If you put Wells into the current City team, he would struggle.

The team struggles because of the recrafting job that is needed on its core following Jones’ departure. and the wider break up of the “History Makers” team that Phil Parkinson built. The eighteen months were up, and now Parkinson starts again. The manager is not back at square one, and the fact that the gap between success and failure seems bridgeable is a frustration, and causes this illusion.

Nahki Wells was a hero of Bradford City’s success.

Aaron McLean, because of his place in our history, is a hero of failure.

Accrington Stanley and the Bar(ry)ometer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not so Speight

As Bradford City were struggling and failing to snatch a late winner over Accrington on Tuesday evening, 44 miles away down the M62, Jake Speight was netting his first goal for his temporary employers, Port Vale.

The strike itself was nothing to write home about. With Stockport’s former City keeper Matt Glennon seemingly resigned to conceding five goals for the third time already this season and rushing out of his area with three Vale players charging towards him, Speight was presented with an open goal that you and I could have tapped home. But still a first Football League goal since 2007 was a personal achievement and, with City’s efforts to break down Accrington going unrewarded, it also threw up some question marks over why he was playing over at Edgley Park for a team that was about to go top of the league.

Speight’s loan spell has since been extended until January, with Peter Taylor dropping less than subtle hints that his Valley Parade career may already be over. Talking about the fact Speight was not allowed to be cup-tied, the City manager stated, “That doesn’t help his value in that respect.”

With City suddenly struggling for goals – just one goal in their last three games – and with Louis Moult absent from even bench duty at Wycombe and home to Accrington, one might have assumed the expiration of Speight’s one month loan at Vale would see the striker return to the parent club he only signed for during the summer.

No one needs a reminder of the fuss that occurred back then, but Speight had impressed in early season games and appeared firmly in Taylor’s plans. Since 24 minutes from the bench at Barnet, Speight hasn’t figured and the success of James Hanson/Jason Price partnering Omar Daley lifted the Bantams from a dismal start. But still, Speight’s demotion from first team starter to the bench to shut out on loan has taken place in a considerably short space of time.

It would pointless to speculate on what may or may not have happened behind the scenes, but Taylor has seemingly made an early judgment for whatever reason and it appears Speight will be departing permanently come January. Meanwhile City have just four strikers on a permanent contract – Hanson, Daley, Gareth Evans and Chibuzor Chilaka – and is relying on the same loan market that led to Speight taking temporary residence at Vale Park to widen his options.

This might seem an odd set of circumstances, but in many ways Taylor deserves credit for the way it appears he is handling the situation. City paid £25k for Speight’s services during the summer. Not a colossal amount of money in modern football terms, but to Bradford City this is still a significant fee. Since 2001 City have only paid transfer fees for three other players – Willy Topp, Evans and Hanson – and are not in a position to write off such an investment and call on further transfer reserves to replace Speight.

Taylor, responsible for signing him, appears to have made an early decision. Rather than allow Speight to rot in the reserves or make do with 10 minutes from the bench here and there, he has allowed a player not in his plans to appear in the shop window through featuring more regularly for one of the best League Two sides. A few more goals and Vale may want to talk about a permanent transfer, or other clubs may even enter a bidding war. Perhaps after all that has gone on, Taylor will be able to recuperate the full transfer fee he paid for a player who proved a headache from day one.

Yet the danger for Taylor is closer to home. If City continue to struggle for goals and Speight starts appearing on the Vale score sheet more frequently, questions will be loudly asked of the manager’s judgment. One only needs to recall the failed gamble of his predecessor Stuart McCall, in shipping an increasingly poor-performing Barry Conlon on loan to Grimsby in March 2009 and bringing in Accrington’s Paul Mullin as a direct replacement. Conlon was reborn for a brief time at Blundell Park, scoring crucial goals that kept the Mariners in the division. Mullin failed to find the net at all, and City slipped out of the play offs.

But that is a short-term concern, and if Taylor has determined Speight is not the player to ignite City’s promotion chances it is best he is performing well for Vale, so City can potentially receive their money back. The number of injuries to the defence has probably already pushed the playing budget to the limit.

If, as the evidence of the last two games suggests, there isn’t enough quality in Taylor’s squad to mount a play off push, the potential injection of capital from selling a player ruled not good enough or perhaps too disruptive to the squad’s morale (there is no evidence to suggest this is the case) could be gratefully received in January.

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.

Taylor gets back to being tough with Williams injury

Steve Williams was left out of the squad for the game with Stevenage after breaking one of Peter Taylor’s club rules.

Taylor requires that players report injuries they have and Williams – following his excellent display against Nottingham Forest – did not. The manager’s rod of iron rule saw the defender excluded from the squad. Discipline in the squad – for Taylor – is everything.

Williams returns to the squad for the weekend game with Torquay United with the manager unequivocal in his punishment and the reasons for it. Williams had a day off when he should have been in having treatment on a sore hamstring – Taylor says – and that is unprofessional. Punishment done, Williams back in the squad.

For Taylor WilliamsHamstringGate gives the manager a chance to publicly re-flex his muscles as a disciplinarian following a summer in which it was hard for him to project that image. Gavin Grant might have reported every injury, never turned up late for training and always tracked back but being the manager of a player who is sent to prison for murder – especially the manager who had re-signed the player – painted the gaffer in a poor light.

Add to that Jake Speight’s jailing and – rightly or wrongly – City looked like a team ill disciplined and Taylor out of touch. Swinging the bat at Williams for his transgression in a public way reasserts Taylor as the hard task master – cross him and suffer.

While the public glare might be unfair on Williams once again the ends for Taylor justify his means. Taylor rates the discipline of his squad – which is to say their willingness to do as he tells them rather than to avoid yellow cards – above all. His comments on players reflect this working around the idea that if a player “works hard and does the right things” then he will do well. The right things are laid out by the manager.

Laid out by all managers up and down the leagues – one recalls the famed Ryan Giggs/Lee Sharpe party story – oft ignored by players. When manager Stuart McCall had Matthew Clarke and Barry Conlon out drinking and dealt with it half-heartedly, Taylor will not do the same.

The risk is that Taylor the Taskmaster – as Corporal Capello stands accused of – will squeeze the enjoyment from the squad with restrictions and rules but the manager would counter that enjoyment comes from winning and that is worth the sacrifices. The booing following a hard working victory undermines what Taylor is doing in that regard.

Williams moves on – probably in need of a break on Saturday following a superb display midweek – and Taylor reasserts for him, for the rest of the players and to Bradford City supporters that there is one man you should listen to at Valley Parade, and it is he.

How good is James Hanson?

When a shelf stacker and Guiseley forward put a couple of goals past Bradford (Park Avenue) on new year’s day two years ago one has to wonder if the people at the other Leeds/Bradford game asked the question “How good is James Hanson?”

For sure he had – by all accounts – dominated the Park Avenue defenders but – like Hanson – they were part times and while the Guiseley looked good he did not stride the field like a Colossus. Eventually Mark Ellis had a whisper to Stuart McCall who took him to Bradford City where he became top scorer in his first season.

When watching England beat Hungry on Wednesday night most of the discussion around our sofa was on the young players called up by Fabio Capello and the ramifications of that. There was a contention – by yours truly – that Newcastle United’s much coveted Andy Carroll should have been given a call up. Others thought that (amongst other things on a lively night of discourse) a player could not be judged as good enough for the England side if he had not been proven good enough in the Premier League.

So the question formulated that if Carroll might be considered good enough on the basis of a season not competing against the top class of English football how good could Hanson be?

Rewind to Hanson’s first season at Valley Parade and one recalls on many occasions turning to those around and exclaiming with an amazement that “that guy just does not lose headers!”

Indeed Hanson – when fit and on form – is uncanny in his abilities to rise high, win the ball and feed it accurately to his team mates. Ball winning was a Barry Conlon thing but Barry did not win as often, nor did he head it as accurately, nor did even he put in the effort of James Hanson and when watching last season’s player of the season very few would have put the limits on him that were placed on Conlon.

Conlon – it was said – had to have his best game to be as good as the rest of the side and “good enough” for League Two. Hanson – thus far – has not come up against a League Two defence where he did not enough the balance of play. Long may his superb attitude continue because – at the moment – one doubts that League Two is poising different problems than that game with Park Avenue.

Then came Nottingham Forest a team that – were it not for the randomness of the play-offs – be in the Premier League and the squad to go with it. Hanson – a half time sub – enjoyed as good a return against the twice European Champions as he did against League Two sides, and did in his non-league days. He won more in the air than one would expect against a League Two side, let alone a side who have pretensions for the Premier League.

So how good is James Hanson? Tongue in cheek one might say that if Andy Carroll might wear the three lions then why not give Hanson a call up? If one does not believe that having played in the top flight is essential for England honours – and Steve Bull‘s five in thirteen suggest that a player who has not been at the highest level can offer something to England – then perhaps the national management should be looking at the League Two players who impressively play up when facing a side from a higher division. Scalability in football play is a rare concept.

Returning to the question in hand – and not suggesting that he should be partnered with Wayne Rooney next game – how good is James Hanson?

Certainly he has proved himself able at levels lower than League Two and at League Two itself. His first game against a higher opposition did not curtail his progress so perhaps all one can say is that so far we have yet to see a ceiling on his abilities.

Perhaps though for an answer to the question we need to look not at ourselves, but at the stars. The younger stars of Nottingham Forest that is who were used that night and that manager Billy Davies described as having things come to easy to. Davies’ criticism that a young player has the big car and the nice house too early at his club and as a result they lack the hunger makes a sharp contrast to the two City goalscorers on the evening.

As Davies bemoans the BMWs that his teenagers drive Hanson and fellow goal getter David Syers and men of the match Jon McLaughlin Steve Williams know that a failure will take them back to the days of part time football and a day job. If they ever drive a BMW it is because they have rewarded themselves for a lot of hard work by replacing the broken down Skoda.

There is something utterly refreshing about watching Hanson, Syers, McLauglin and Williams play. When asking how good one of these players can be then the answer is something of a cop out – they can be as good as they want to be.

At present there is a debate on McLaughlin and if he is “good enough” as if this were a binary situation and one which should the player kick back and stop making the effort that has put in him in the position he is in now he would remain at the level he is now.

It is an excellent attitude which has brought them into league football and that same attitude that saw them as the core members of a team which beat Nottingham Forest. Maintain that attitude and it is hard to set a limit on what they can achieve, lose it and they will stop being “good”.

The uncomfortable truth at the heart of football supporting

There was a public clamour to discover the detail of the crime that saw Jake Speight convicted of assault and so the lower end of the tabloid press responded and laid out in grisliness the other side of the story.

Dig out the story if you want. I think – with some personal experience – that stories of domestic assault are are horrible enough without the needless tone of an article like this but obviously The Daily Star’s editors feel that there is a need to egg the pudding describing the victim as “Stunning”.

If the article changes your level of sympathy or empathy for the victim, if it makes you think more about the need to take action against Speight, then you need to take a long, hard look at yourself.

And the question asks: Does it matter?

The reaction to the article has been a return of the debate between fans as to whether Speight should be sacked with people believing that there should be no place at the club for someone who behaves as the new signing has done and others attesting to the idea that player’s personal lives are away from the game and that in effect aside from missing a week of training his assault simply does not matter.

Does not matter that is as much as his capacity to score goals and be a part of a winning Bradford City side. It is hard not to have some agreement with this point of view when considering the recent history of this football club. If what matters about Bradford City is not the merciless pursuit of wins then why are we four months down the line from firing Stuart McCall as manager? The club was much nicer with our favourite player in charge.

If the aim of Bradford City is to be a collective of people who you are proud to applaud onto the field and think would probably like to share a beer with you then what was the purpose for anyone of removing the most beloved figure in the club’s history? If we want a Bradford City full of nice guys then why is Wayne Jacobs criticised for being “too nice.”

The past six months have seen a definitive statement made by a section of the supporters and by the club itself that winning football matches is more important than almost any other concern. Should Speight start to score goals then – one is forced to assume – he will win around the people who pushed so hard to see McCall ousted from the club because nothing matters more than winning games.

Indeed some would point to Speight – who has been tried and convicted – having a right to carry on his life and career on the basis of his application and ability rather than his past. You can, dear reader, take a view on that but we need not debate it again on these pages.

Why do we think we know footballers?

The counter opinion is that that Speight should not be allowed to wear a Bradford City shirt because he is to be considered unworthy of such distinction brings us to a more uncomfortable truth and one which sits at the heart of football supporting.

As football supporters the common ideal is that – with the odd exception – were we to meet the footballers we cheer on the field we would probably enjoy their company off it, what is more they would enjoy ours.

In the back of his mind the football supporter has a belief that were he to be in a pub on the Saturday night next to the player he watches on a Saturday afternoon then he could share a thought and talk over the game. Confuse this not with sycophancy – this is not about hero worship – but rather the idea that there would be an automatic magnetism between player and supporters because they were concerned with the same passions: Football, and the club.

Not only that but without evidence to the contrary we assume that the footballer is probably a good bloke. We think he will be someone we find likeable because – after all – we like him. We look at how the game is played by the footballers we like and from that infer a set of characteristics which find admirable.

We decide that James Hanson is a solid, hard working lad with Roy of the Rovers dreams in his head and stars in his eyes now he has been given a chance to play in the big leagues. I’ve never met him but he might be an utterly insufferable man bloated with egotism at his own achievements however I’ve seen his play from that feel I have some connection to him. That I somehow know him.

So when it emerges that the footballer is not what we would have thought he would be we are robbed of our disillusion – even if we have rarely given them serious thought or fantasy – and for some people that perceived betrayal is unforgivable. I’ve never met John Terry and I’m not the sort given to indulging the kind of inference of character I talk about above but some people are and those people found the revelations about him to be almost a personal slight.

How well do you know John Terry?

To some people it was as if Terry had put up a front to them, pretending to be an all round nice guy and good bloke, and that because they knew him through his game when he turned out to be a bit of a shit they we outraged by the duplicity of the man. How dare he pretend to be the thing I want him to be only to prove he is not?

All along John Terry has always been John Terry and while he might not want the world to know about it because of the effect on his lucrative sponsorship deals and his personal privacy it is our inference as football supporters watching him play that has afforded him that status. All along he has been a bit of a git but the fact that he kicked a ball around well created – in the mind of fans – the persona of “JT The Great Guy.”

Confuse this not too with the idea of idols and Gods with feet of clay. This is not a situation where we find a hidden truth where previously we had some knowledge but rather one where we find only a truth where before we had assumption.

Smarter footballers are able to manage their public persona in a way that hides any negative traits in the same way that actors such as Leonardo DiCaprio are able to spend years ensuring that they do as little as possible which anyone might find objectionable in order to allow the public to project onto them some positive characteristics. Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise saw their stars dim when the public started to see too much of their own shapes, taking away the forms they were ale to afford them themselves.

The uncomfortable truth at the heart of football supporting is that the chances are that were we to be given the chance to have that drink with a player then we would probably not like them. We would try talk about the club, about the game and they would have different passions, different interests. They might even find us odd. For various reasons few players are as interested in football as supporters are and – like Benoît Assou-Ekotto who plays for Spurs and represented Cameroon in the World Cup – sees the game just as his day job.

When we are presented with a story like Jake Speight’s assault then it becomes clear that some footballers might be down right objectionable (or they may not be, again I’ve never met Speight so have only mediated and assumed lore to make a judgement on) then this distance between what we would want a player to be and what they actually are is brought into sharp focus.

And so, to personal matters

Some years ago I was out in Leeds in the aftermath of City’s 3-1 win over Portsmouth in which Lee Sharpe had had a rare great game and bumped into the player in The Courthouse. Without going into details let it be known that Sharpe was not enthusing about football or his performance – not that he should be, it was his night out too – and following that night the BfB policy of trying to avoid matters off the pitch fermented.

In the eight years since I have lost track of the number of emails which I’ve received which detail the transgressions of various players as detailed by City fans the majority of whom were some how disgruntled by an encounter with a player.

Recently and most benignly Barry Conlon was “outed” as liking a drink and not really being that bothered about the club as if the man who had at that point had twelve clubs in ten years should be a teetotal dyed in the wool Bantam. Every year one sees a dozen or so players come or go from Valley Parade and to expect them all to care about the club as deeply as a support does is unrealistic to the point of madness. Opinion was divided on Conlon but – from this corner of the web – it was given on the basis of what he did on the field and not an expectation that he should be as interested in Bradford City as a supporter.

Nicky Summerbee was vilified following an exchange with City fans who thought he should care more – or like Omar Daley appear to care more – but to demand the commitment of fans such from hired hands is setting oneself up for a fall. On Summerbee and Daley and all others who seem to not – and indeed probably don’t – care as much as fans then again one looks at the performance on the field rather than judging them against some perceived idea of the player who cares as much as the fan. This is not the fifties, and there is only one Wor Jackie.

When City signed Gavin Grant mails came in talking about the player and repeating things which have since turned up in court and BfB was once again left with questions as to how to talk about a player who was scary in his deviation from what supporters would want him to be. What can one do in that position when talking about football other than just talk about football?

Supporters have expectations of players and it is not for me to say if the expectation that Jake Speight be an model citizen is appropriate enough on a personal basis is a healthy thing or not but I will say that anyone anyone who expects footballers to be in life what they are in the mental fiction we build around them is going to be disappointed. As my brother is so fond of saying “(I) hate everything about football apart from the football.”

At BfB we try to talks about the club on the basis of what happens on the pitch and – even in a case as trying as Jake Speight – we will continue to try to do so.

Knowing what you have at Chesterfield

When Barry Conlon unceremoniously left Valley Parade following a fall out with Stuart McCall many were pleased to see the back of the Irish striker.

Conlon had sniggered – or so it is said – at a dressing down that he was given by the manager and thus when the chance came to push him in the direction of Grimsby Town it was taken. His time at Grimsby seemed to have similar results with some goals but an unimpressed manager who shipped him out.

Barry is at Chesterfield now and has scored seven as the Spireites stumble in a chase for the final play-off place with seventh being surrendered after a 2-0 defeat at Macclesfield last week. One doubts the blunderbuss forward has suddenly started to show the skills of Lionel Messi so when seeing Barry for a second time this season City fans can expect more of the same.

Big forward, a lot of effort, maybe a goal. That was what Conlon produced at Grimsby, that was what he showed at City, it is what he does.

The fact he does it well was illustrated by his replacement Paul Mullin – the Accrington Stanley forward who moved to Morecambe after a stint at Valley Parade – and the chasm in effectiveness between the pair. Barry did the business, Mullin did not and as the Bantams slipped from the play-off picture one had to wonder how many people who criticised him would have bought Barry all the booze he wanted in exchange for a goal or two.

So City are once again in a situation of not knowing what they have until it was gone. Conlon joins a list of players who have been Bantams, were pushed through the door and replaced with players who – well – were very little better. One could pull out any number of examples and argue the toss over most of them from Michael Symes – including the Grimsby boss who tried to swap him for Barry and money – who many look longingly at to Danny Forrest who was considered not good enough by club and many fans but – when watching David Wetherall’s side slip to the wretched 2-0 defeat at Huddersfield with wandering loanees up front – would have been much welcomed.

Players come, players go and the replacements come and then go with the expense of replacing or the unevenness of a constantly changing squad never seeming to be questioned. Barry’s replacement was no better and as he came and left within three months Paul Mullin seemed significantly worse.

Mullin’s replacement – however – is better than both and the exceptional thing about James Hanson – injured today at the end of a great first season – is that he represents a player who has come in and improved the squad. Examples of this over the past decade have been rare.

So perhaps the moral of this story is that if improvement is rare then as Peter Taylor looks to start working on his squad in the summer perhaps it is better to stay with what you know rather than change in the idea that the next free transfer to a league two club will be better. A Barry in the hand is worth any number of Paul Mullins in the bush, but a James Hanson is better than all.

Hanson’s absence as given Gareth Evans the role of chasing direct balls from the back and shaped Peter Taylor’s side’s approach seeing more channel balls and more chasing from the widemen of Leon Osbourn and Gavin Grant and the Bantams boss seems likely to repeat the 433 that has started the previous two wins however the return of Michael Flynn – the five o’clock hero last week – give the gaffer the ability to opt for the 4411 which won at Rochdale with Flynn and Evans up front.

So a three in midfield might see James O’Brien dropped for Flynn to partner Adam Bolder and Lee Bullock while a four would see another goalscorer Luke O’Brien recalled on the left with Grant on the right and Bolder and Bullock in the middle. Stephen O’Leary seems to have seen the boat sail on his chance to stay at the Bantams but James O’Brien seems to be well thought of by Taylor.

The back four seems to pick itself. In the absence of Simon Ramsden Jonathan Bateson plays right back and Robbie Threlfall at left back. Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams take central defence.

In goal Jon McLaughlin – who played at Saltergate last season in what was an end of season affair – and suggested himself to many (on what it has to be said was slight evidence) as an able replacement for Rhys Evans. Of course Simon Eastwood was brought in and given the gloves for the start of the next season and McLaughlin had to wait until two weeks ago to get back into the side.

There is something there about knowing what you have.

About The Barry Articles

The Barry Articles – named after the ever divisive figure of City history that is Barry Conlon – are a series of questions asked to people connected to the Bradford City community to stimulate debate and give further breadth of opinion on the site.

We have cast a wide net to find the authors who are writing The Barry Articles – fans, writers, radio people, print journalist and players have been asked if they want to partake – and like the centre forward himself we hope that The Barry Articles will never without something to enjoy.

53 weeks ago – City were on top of the world

It was 53 short weeks ago that Bradford City crushed Aldershot Town on their last visit to Valley Parade. Two goals from the returning-to-form Peter Thorne, a beauty of an effort from the edge of the box by Dean Furman, a tap in for Barry Conlon and a comical own-goal set up by Joe Colbeck. 5-0, City fourth in the league with 11 games to go. The excitement was growing at the prospect of ending the season with the glory of promotion.

As we all know, it ended miserably with the platform that victory had laid on for City proving something of a peak to the second half of the season at least. The next nine of those remaining 11 were winless as the Bantams fell out of the promotion picture, the ending of the season with back-to-back victories thus meaningless. The backwards steps have continued into this season.

City now have a long way to go just to get to where they were after that Spring demolition of the Shots. The up and down nature of results since Peter Taylor took over the reins has at times given hope of a late play off push this time around, but the slip ups and barely decreasing distance from the top seven has all but extinguished such faint chances. After Saturday’s clash with Aldershot is over, there will again be 11 games to go – even a complete reversal of results compared to those nine games at the end of last season probably wouldn’t be enough.

If we could turn the clocks back to the final whistle a year ago and apply hindsight, what warnings would we now offer and to whom? Perhaps the most obvious would seem to be changing Stuart McCall’s u-turn over his threat to quit. As Taylor impresses for the composure and organisation he has brought to the team, the growing temptation is to look back over McCall’s final season and dismiss it a waste of time. If only Taylor had taken over sooner, it can be argued, the club might still be approaching the final section of the season with promotion hopes.

The ‘SOS’ demonstration at the end of the last season might be something we’d go back and urge the organisers to cancel. The holding up of banners in support of McCall has caused widespread debate even during this season, with the number of supporters willing to admit they displayed a sign surprisingly few.

Where I sit in the Midland Road Stand, a previously quiet and pleasant woman suddenly can’t stop ranting, during the last few months, about how poor a manager McCall is/was, and inadvertently slamming those who backed him. Prior to the start of recent homes games she’s repeatedly uttered, “Do you know who I blame for this season? All those supporters who held up signs supporting him at the last home game” out loud to everyone around her, the majority of whom did hold up signs. Sorry lady, it’s all my fault.

But perhaps we’d take a different approach if we could go back, considering where City might be today but for that late season collapse. If City have gone onto earn promotion during those final 11 games a year ago, there would have been no need to reduce the transfer and wage budgets by a third for this campaign – an action which has undoubtedly undermined efforts.

Instead we might warn McCall where it would all go wrong –  to be mindful of defending set pieces at Spotland a few days later, to make sure Barry Conlon and Matt Clarke are behaving while staying in Devon prior to the Exeter game, how tinkering with the team too much leads to the inconsistent form, how a linesman will rob the team at Morecambe, not to sign Paul chuffin Mullin, that certain players cannot be counted on when the chips are down, and why it’s so important he doesn’t let it all get him down too much.

Perhaps most of all we’d warn him not to publicly threaten to quit in the manner he did after losing to Bournemouth, because it seemed to only breed instability and nervousness in the team rather than help it. The decline was already starting and he needed to be more positive in addressing it. The Bournemouth defeat was the third in a row; worrying form – but it needn’t have turned into the disastrous form that would continue another six games.

Mistakes were made, as McCall himself readily admits, and they soon added up to something far bigger. Ultimately City’s failure this season is due to the failure of the one before, and the immediate challenge remains reversing those backward steps. 53 weeks after thrashing Aldershot 5-0, it is now the visitors who harbour the promotion hopes. They, and so many other clubs, have been able to catch up and overtake City over the last 12 months, it’s already going to be a long road back.

But like in any aspect of life – it’s not how many mistakes are made, but how quickly they are learned from. Sometimes it’s a torturous and miserable path, but if the resultant lessons can be applied positively it will be a journey worth taking. If we had not put up our SOS posters and if McCall had departed during the summer, it’s highly unlikely City would be currently employing Taylor. Someone else would have come in and, with the same budget constraints, may have done no better.

The lessons McCall learned from his first two seasons would not have been applied, the new guy may have repeated the City legend’s mistakes of hiring players not up to this level or lacking in desire. However well it can be judged McCall performed this season, there’s little doubt Taylor has inherited a squad to build on rather than start all over again – due to McCall targeting the right kind of players within the budget constraints.

And if the short-term deal works out and Taylor can replicate the kind of success he enjoyed at Hull, the misery of the last 12 months and the refusal of McCall to quit last summer will ultimately have been worth it. Life doesn’t allow you to turn back the clock, mistakes cannot be undone.  City have had 53 weeks of regrets and now more than ever is the time to apply those lessons. Taylor is impressing in both victory and defeat. We know he has the experience, he’s proving he has the knowledge, the main question mark is that of his own appetite – and that of the Chairmen – to make it work.

53 weeks on Taylor has so far used only seven players from the sixteen involved against the Shots last season  – only three of which have started the last four games. Luke O’Brien, Lee Bullock and Matt Clarke have themselves been the subject of healthy debates for much of this season, but all appear to be impressing Taylor. Meanwhile the futures of the other four – Thorne, Michael Boulding, Zesh Rehman and Chris Brandon – look decidedly shaky.  Taylor vowed to give everyone a go and would seem to already be making his mind up over who he would offer a City future too and who he’d move on.

Two of his own short-term recruits have yet to really feature but, after a disappointing performance in losing to Port Vale, may now get their chance. Little is known of Luke Oliver, other than his height, but he could make his debut alongside Clarke in the centre of defence. Gavin Grant has arrived on a pay-as-you-play basis and in need of building fitness. With Gareth Evans having a poor game at Vale Park, that fitness might be tested from the start tomorrow. Omar Daley too will be vying for only a fourth start in a year.

Daley is one of the few players not out of contract this summer and Taylor’s ability to judge the Jamaican is hampered by his understandable lack of fitness. So far Taylor has gone for the workrate of Evans and O’Brien on the flanks to start and, if Daley watched AC Milan’s pathetic surrender at Old Trafford this week largely due to widemen not bothering to track back and Manchester United murdering the Italians down the flanks, he will have some idea of what he needs to do to fit in with the new-look City.

Elsewhere Mark McCammon will have arrived for a month at City with greater ambition than swapping one sub bench for another, and Taylor may consider him to start ahead of James Hanson or Michael Flynn, the latter moving back to midfield. The arrival of Adam Bolder sees greater competition in the centre of midfield, with Steve O’Leary still on the fringes, but Taylor would surely be reluctant to leave out either Bolder or the in-form Bullock.

Matt Glennon keeps goal, having been faintly criticised in public by Taylor for not stopping Vale’s winning goal on Tuesday. Glennon’s spell at City has been curious for its lack of incident. He has made some good saves, but nothing too noteworthy. He has also conceded a few goals he might have been expected to save. He has impressed in the command of his penalty area, but the long-term custodian he may not be. Having played only seven games for Bristol Rovers, a third return of Rhys Evans this summer would be widely cheered by fans.

Simon Ramsden and Robbie Threlfall retain the full back slots; Steve Williams may face the axe for Oliver; Jon Bateson, Michael Boulding and Thorne wait impatiently for rare opportunities.

Recent Posts