Boo boys, boards and Bradford City

Having been a Bradford City fan for the last 20 years it is safe to say that I hold a ‘football supporters’ CV that possesses, more ups and downs than the average football fan.

I have spent many a Saturday afternoon stood on the Kop watching claret and amber clad footballers run up and down the hallowed turf. Or, during away games, sat at home, with the radio pressed to my ear, attempting to pick up the coverage from hosts such as Chris Cooper, Tim and Stix and the legend that is Mr Derm Tanner; as they attempt to paint a picture of the events of the game into the listeners’ ear (some better than others in my personal opinion).

I have witnessed chairmen come and go, managers change in the blink of an eye only for the new one themselves to fall victim to the rotating door that is Valley Parade. The stadium itself has changed over the time I’ve held my season ticket.  Stands have grown, changed, lost their roofs, gained a corner, been opened by the Queen and graced by fans throughout the football league ladder.

So why now have I have decided to type (or attempt to type) an article/rant/opinion or even a question…

I have become, like many other City fans, upset, disillusioned and almost embarrassed at times in the last few years with life down at Valley Parade. But being a fan for 20 years, I don’t see this as something that is out of the ordinary for the everyday City fan. However, it does seem that for an alarming  number of ‘City fans’ this discontentment must be voiced at every opportunity wherever and whenever possible.

I don’t know whether this negativity is something that has always murmured and occasionally rumbled throughout the terraces, and that I have been naive enough to think that it didn’t; or whether it is indeed it is something like Town – unfortunately on the rise. Don’t get me wrong, I have had my moments as an adolescent and as twenty plus year old man screaming at players and managers alike. I have spent many a Saturday, after a horrendous display, complaining to mates over a pint or on the bus home about certain players’ performance and worth in the team. I have even been known to, on rare occasions I can honestly say, call for a manager or chairman to resign or be sacked.

However I do not understand those ‘fans’ who seem to want to pick fault with everything that is Bradford City Association Football Club, in particular, and ironically do so via the club’s official message board.

Rant part over – the question I would like to raise to these people is simply, “What is the point?” Yes, we know that City are not having the best time of it at the moment; yes, we know that sometimes the manager’s tactics may not always match those of our own expectations; and yes we know that those higher up have made decisions that have sat like a bad curry.

But what do these people expect? I am not for one minute suggesting that voicing an opinion is wrong or unhealthy, but what I am saying is that those who voice opinions that do not seem based on fact or reasonable argument can only further disrupt or upset those involved with the club at whatever level. I am not trying to point the finger, as I truly believe that those City fans that have been with the club through thick and thin will share my feelings and know who I am talking about.

A case example can easily be found during, I hasten to add, City’s game against Swindon. As mentioned, I am a huge fan of Derm Tanner and believe he paints as honest a picture of the game as he can, for which I have no doubt he is respected by a vast majority of City fans.  It therefore baffled me that no sooner had Andrew Davies been dismissed for reasons unknown to Derm and Mike Harrison, that messages began to appear calling for not only Davies’ head but also that of Parkinson’s. What further baffled me was that it seemed as though those who had found this information out had simply been watching the very brilliant ‘panto’ that is Soccer Saturday, and had not actually been listening to or been present at the game!

Unfortunately these incidents are not a rare occurrence and other forms of social networking seem to be a good place for these people to berate players both past and present as well as fellow supporters, even on a personal level.

I’m sure and hope I have opened a can of worms surrounding this subject and hopefully spoken on behalf of a number of City fans. I could go on further but I shall leave that to someone else. Hopefully I’ve started the ball rolling that will begin to squash theses ‘so-called’ fans and help give the club I love a push in the right direction.

Why I’m fed up of this player-bashing culture

Like an experienced performer trying to win over a sceptical audience, Peter Jackson seems to appreciate the value of pulling out a crowd pleaser every now and then. And his announcement earlier this week that Bradford City players will next season have to wash their own kit predictably prompted roars of approval from far and wide.

There’s nothing, it seems at the moment, that can prompt wider agreement and glee among Bradford City supporters than the barracking of our useless, under-achieving players.

Talking to the Telegraph & Argus, Jackson played to the gallery with this delightful soundbite: “They have to take more responsibility in themselves and in the club.” Who wouldn’t cheer in agreement at such sentiments? And who, with passionate managers back in vogue following the much-derided impassive style of Peter Taylor, wouldn’t want to hand Jackson the City job for next season?

The T&A has continued that theme this week, somewhat oddly gloating about the fact none of the players (or ‘flops’ as they dubbed them in their headline) available for transfer have yet been the subject of interest from other clubs. Try reading some of the reader comments that appear below the story, if you can stomach it, and feel the vitriol aimed at the players. “I hope most of them end up working in a call centre”, “Would you want any of this shower of sh1te?” and the hilarious “Ive heard the dry cleaners at wibsey are considering signing half of them.” Ouch.

The message is reverberating very loudly: last season’s failings were largely down to the players, collectively they are a disgrace and have brought shame upon the club. “Love the club, hate the team” was sung at Southend just over a month ago, and this sentiment has been continued at subsequent matches, on message boards and via the local media ever since.

But when do we get past this? Don’t get me wrong, I understand the anger and disappointment with the efforts of the players last season. As a group of professionals, they should have delivered a much stronger performance than 18th in League Two. Of the players still contracted to the club – forced to endure this non-stop barracking and taunts from Jackson that “I bet some of them don’t even know how to use a washing machine” – there are a few I’d prefer we got rid of.

Yet unless everyone is miraculously sold, it looks highly likely that the players we continue to bash will be expected to be the cornerstone of next season’s efforts on the pitch. So when do we stop these attacks and start to support them again? And in the long-run, what damage might this climate of hating the team cause?

The washing your own kit idea by Jackson is ultimately pretty silly and as big a gimmick as last season’s talk of Taylor demanding the players wore suits before the match. As Mark Lawn told this site in January, Blackpool players currently wash their own kit. But the implication that Blackpool’s over-performance of the past two seasons is down to their players knowing how to use a washing machine, rather than their abilities and collective team spirit, not to mention the inspirational management of Ian Holloway, makes little sense. Tomorrow Blackpool’s players take their self-washed kits to Old Trafford for the biggest game of their lives, and perhaps their focus will have been better served solely on achieving an improbable victory rather than the additional worry of getting rid of stubborn grass stains.

Back at City though, one is left to query whether the washing own kit punishment is fitting to everyone who will be asked to perform it. Does David Syers deserve to have to wash his own kit? What about Luke O’Brien or other youngsters on the verge of the first team? How about potential summer targets, will they be keen to choose City over other suitors if they hear of a culture where under-performance is rewarded by petty punishments? What has Ross Hannah done to deserve being penalised for other people’s failings?

Personally I don’t think having to wash your own kit will make much difference to the players’ efforts in the same way looking smart before the match had no bearing on the league table last season, but the thinking and reasoning behind it does concern me. Football supporters up and down the country seem keen to treat players like school children, getting upset if they go drinking five days before a match or demanding they are punished with extra training or a placing on the transfer list for poor performance. I don’t know about you, but being treated in this way wouldn’t motivate me to do better.

Instead of building and maintaining a culture of fear of retribution, shouldn’t we try looking at how we can encourage players to perform better in a more positive manner? What is stopping players with proven track records from displaying their ability when they cross the white line at Valley Parade? How can we build their confidence and belief? Instead of wailing about how disgraceful they are when they make mistakes, how can we work as one to achieve our aspirations?

Everyone knows there is a booing culture at Valley Parade. And that fear of failure, that mindset of punishing mistakes – by booing them on Saturday or demanding they wash their own kit during the week – seems to lead to the same result. Players hide away from taking responsibility, hide away from attempting the more difficult things, hide away from the risk of falling into the firing line.

The infamous backpass by Tommy Doherty against Port Vale in September sums up much of the past decade. His team mates were looking to him to take on too much responsibility – he shouldn’t have been passed the ball in such a dangerous area in the first place – and when he made that mistake we booed him. Forget how the Doc felt that day, what were his team mates supposed to think?

It doesn’t have to be this way. Look at Accrington Stanley. Anyone who was there for our 3-0 defeat last month can’t fail to have been impressed by their attractive style of football, and also how the supporters backed them positively throughout. On a number of occasions their passing moves broke down through individual mistakes, or the build up approach seemed very slow. None of the Accrington fans booed mistakes, or screamed “forward” impatiently like we do at Valley Parade. The league table shows what a difference it can make, so why can’t we be more like that?

Above all else, I hope this player bashing culture ends sooner than later. I don’t support Bradford City so I can flaunt my outrage over how players can have the contempt to fail to achieve my expectations. I go to cheer on a group of players who may not be the best in the world but who are our own, playing and trying to succeed for my club. Sure we have duffers and languorous players every now and then, but in general I don’t enjoy hating people and I don’t view the fact I pay good money to cheer on my team as a right to bawl at them if they let me down.

So let’s get behind Jon McLaughlin, Simon Ramsden, Luke O’Brien, Michael Flynn, Luke Oliver, Jake Speight, Steve Williams, Leon Osborne, Lewis Hunt, James Hanson, Luke Dean, Lee Bullock, Robbie Threfall, Syers and Hannah. If they all remain the nucleus of our squad next season, it’s time to stop punishing them for past failures and work with them to put right past wrongs. We all have a role to play in making that happen, instead of keeping up this sulking viewpoint that we have been wronged.

And if these players ever read this, I just about know how to operate a washing machine. So give us a shout if you need a hand.

Those small victories

The Team

Lenny Pidgley | Richard Eckersley, Rob Kiernan, Luke Oliver, Luke O'Brien | Tom Adeyemi, Tommy Doherty, David Syers, Lee Hendrie | Omar Daley, James Hanson | Price (for Daley), Osborne (for Hendrie), Bullock (for Kiernan)

Over the years supporting Bradford City, I’ve always taken greater pleasure in those occasions where we get one over someone or something. A cocky set of opposition supporters; a petty referee; a manager who made derogatory pre-match remarks; Rodney Marsh.

But rarely has putting someone in their place felt so unenjoyable as City supporters ‘victory’ over Joe Colbeck today.

That was the sideshow which overshadowed a reasonable contest that saw the Bantams gain a precious victory over bottom-club Hereford to move back into the play off hunt. David Syers’ eighth-minute belting shot ultimately proved decisive. It was a nice moment for the early player of the season frontrunner given the frustration of missing numerous chances in his last outing against Macclesfield, three weeks ago.

And though it was hardly a sparkling team performance and offered little evidence that City are good enough to be successful this season, it was the sort of result that promotion-winning sides routinely grind out. That was the most important aspect.

But the joy of victory was tempered by the unpleasant atmosphere in which it was played in, and the specific targeting of one man. Colbeck’s first return to Bradford since departing 16 months ago was always going to prompt a mixed reception, but the lengths taken by those keen to register their dislike of a player who rose through the ranks – playing over 100 times in Claret and Amber – was nothing short of disgusting.

“Colbeck is a wanker!” chanted the Bradford End for most of the first half, and before long fans in all four stands were joining in the jeering. Jeering a 24-year-old lad who joined the club when he was 16, with his family and friends watching in the crowd.

It seemed as though the game itself was the sideshow, as such strong focus was placed on barracking the former City youngster. Every time he picked up possession he was booed; when he failed to stop straightaway following an offside flag there was outrage at his cockiness; when an inaccurate pass towards Joe caused him to stretch and fall over he was laughed at. Even after City scored the first subsequent chant was “Colbeck, Colbeck what’s the score?”

And after pausing from calling him a wanker, the Bradford End chanted “Greedy Bastard” and then “Judas”; and then a “City reject.” So hang on a minute, he’s a Judas for betraying us and we rejected him anyway – Judas the reject, an interesting concept.

Let me pause by saying that I appreciate not everyone likes Colbeck and those who have feelings of disapproval towards him will have valid reasons. In the group of people I go to watch City with, opinions on him were mixed and it was mentioned that his attitude during his final few weeks at the club was poor. Me, I’ve got a lot of time for a young lad I watched try to make it at City and who provided me with some happy memories, so I personally wanted to applaud him. But if others want to boo him, that’s fair enough.

Yet the chanting, the abuse and the negativity that perpetrated from the Bradford End and spread around the four sides was too much. If you were one of the people who thinks you have the right to call Joe Colbeck a wanker, please can you explain what he has done to justify this personal abuse. Yes, we know he had a contract dispute and that made him “greedy” in some people’s eyes. Though Colbeck’s reminder of what happened – which was confirmed by Stuart McCall at the time – is hardly up there with the great contract disputes we’ve seen over the years at City.

So what else? Oh yeah, he was crap. Apparently. Funny as I remember the fantastic performances he put in for City during the 2007/08 season, especially in away games, that was appreciated by enough City fans for him to be voted player of the season. The following year he started slow and then got injured for four months. As he returned to fitness, the holes in City’s promotion bid were getting larger and Colbeck was a scapegoat as the season collapsed.

Then came the contract dispute in the summer of 2009, and I remember going to the York pre-season friendly and hearing a group of fans boo his every touch and chant about how he is a “druggy” (no evidence was offered to back this up). Then at Bradford Park Avenue, where Oldham manager Dave Penny attended as he considered signing him and some fans were urging him to do so, telling Penny we didn’t want Joe. Then he left. Driven out the club. And don’t come back.

I can only assume those who wanted him gone were leading the abuse today, but the wanker chants were aired so loud it was like they were speaking for the rest of us too. And the messages they sent both on and off the field were disturbing. Looking through my old programmes from Joe’s time at City, it’s interesting how many of the ‘Today’s Mascot’s’ rated him as their favourite player. I also remember lots of kids with Colbeck on their shirts. And why not? Here was a young lad who’d made it to the first team, an inspiration to young supporters and juniors at the club.

What’s the message these kids are supposed to take from the actions of the boo-boys today? Don’t bother following that dream of one day playing for the club you love, because these lot will rip you apart. Just look at Leon Osborne.

The one saving grace of the whole affair was Hereford manager Jamie Pitman’s decision to sub Colbeck after an hour, so at least the rest of us who’d had our views drowned out could award Colbeck the warm applause we wanted to give him. And then when he’d been subbed perhaps we could concentrate on the game, trying to ignore the fact that a poor bit of play from the other Hereford winger soon after sparked a chant of “Are you Colbeck in disguise?”

By that stage City were beginning to be pegged back by a spirited Hereford side who looked short on quality but good enough to climb out of the bottom two before May. Syers’ early strike smashed any hopes the visitors had of sitting back and frustrating City. Instead it triggered a first half of numerous chances which should have seen City go in more than 1-0 up at the break.

The outstanding Luke O’Brien’s long-range pile driver was pushed away by the erratic Bulls keeper Adam Bartlett; Tom Adeyemi’s through ball to Omar Daley was just behind the Jamaican’s feet, spoiling a one-on-one chance; Adeyemi himself should have scored when played through with just the keeper to beat.

The one-touch attacking football from City was impressive, if conservative in its frequency. Tommy Doherty and Syers were running the show and masterful to watch. Lee Hendrie, this week’s captain, also played well.

Hereford had sporadic bursts of pressure and exposed some uncertain decision-making from Lenny Pidgley in claiming crosses. One flapped corner saw a powerful Hereford effort strike a City body and bounce over the bar, although later a brilliant cross by Colbeck saw the lively Guillem Bauza’s header superbly tipped over.

After James Hanson and Syers both had opportunities early in the second half, Hereford began to threaten more and Nicky Featherstone saw a shot come back off the post, while the veteran Kenny Lunt and striker Mathieu Manset looked busy and purposeful. For City, Daley’s long range effort deflected and looped onto the post; but as the minutes past the involvement of either keeper became less frequent.

For despite Hereford exerting strong pressure in the final 20 minutes, in truth they didn’t look like scoring and struggled to create clear-cut chances. City’s back four defended well with Rob Kiernan showing the form he’d displayed on his debut at Wycombe and Luke Oliver’s head a magnetic presence to high, dangerous balls. Kiernan had to go off injured and Peter Taylor, who rather foolishly had not even afforded Zesh Rehman a place on the bench, was forced to play Jason Price as emergency centre half.

The final whistle eventually came but the joy was limited and glum faces surrounded me on the journey out through the Midland Road concourse. That, as much as the Joe-bashing, was the downer of the day. In the final 20 minutes City were on the backfoot, but holding on – and the lack of support from fans was baffling. Moans and groans filled the air and every mistake and poor touch was met with anger and swearing.

Today simply wasn’t a nice day to be at Valley Parade, it wasn’t a nice day to be a Bradford City supporter. Because the want of some to be negative overshadowed others efforts to support the team. Yeah it wasn’t a great performance and we expect better, but surely it is occasions like this – rather than 5-0 up over Oxford – where we supporters should be giving our all.

Instead many of us focus on ridiculing a former player who most of us in the crowd are older than, on waiting for Adeyemi’s next mistake, on slating Hanson for daring to believe “he’s already made it”, on moaning about Taylor’s insistence on bringing all 11 players back to defend corners, and then on criticising his choice and timing of subs.

Valley Parade was today a cauldron of negativity, yet again. There’s so much crap going on in the world, there’s plenty of stress and difficulties in our own lives. Supporting your football team is supposed to be a release – a pleasure, not a chore. Days like this should at least leave a smile on the face.

Surely we can all be better than this?

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.

Club v country

As Peter Taylor continues to quietly devise his plans for next season, a huge wave of approval from Bradford City supporters’ greets his every decision.

Impressing when handed a short-term deal last February, the Bantams boss currently enjoys high levels of popularity; and there is growing excitement and belief at what can be achieved next season. At times Taylor is receiving praise when he hasn’t necessarily done anything to deserve it, such is the level of goodwill. Come the big kick off on Saturday 7 August, a sold out City away end will roar on the players at Shrewsbury. The supporters will be right behind the team and management.

A huge contrast to the England national team right now. After a truly dismal 0-0 draw with Algeria on Friday, anger is widespread. The players were booed off the field by England fans in South Africa – and in thousands of pubs and homes up and down England. Wayne Rooney reacted badly, prompting further rage from fans. The country is not united in support of the team, the consequences of failure in the final group game on Wednesday aren’t worth thinking about it.

For us City fans, used to years of failure, it’s a scenario we know all too well. Team under-performs, leading to boos and angry reactions from fans, leading to the never-ending debate about what makes a good supporter and how paying money to watch the team entitles you to express your feelings. It will happen again next season, no matter how good a job Taylor does.

But though I sometimes despair at the way fellow City fans moan and heap over-the-top criticism on players and management, it’s a different type of anger to the public mood towards the England team. And even if England get it right on Wednesday and go onto lift the World Cup, you suspect it won’t quite prompt the level of joy we might imagine it would.

Whatever the merits of Rooney’s outburst, he had a point when he spoke about the loyalty of England supporters. This is not an attack on any fan or even a question of patriotism, but more how we really feel about those who wear three lions on their shirt. Quite simply, we don’t really like this English team. We don’t look upon them as national heroes in the way we did of Terry Butcher, Paul Gascoigne and Stuart Pearce. We don’t believe they feel the same way as us.

As almost every man, woman and dog has uttered since full time on Friday, England players are overpaid. At the best of times we don’t like that, but in the midst of economic turmoil and ahead of a week where we all might learn some bad news when the new coalition Government reveals its emergency budget, we especially hate players for it. Throw in some less than heroic behaviour from the likes of John Terry, Ashley Cole, Rooney and Steven Gerrard, and we don’t exactly have the England team we’d aspire to cheer on.

Which means the mood towards the players can be lukewarm at best, and when it goes wrong we throw our anger about them being overpaid and badly-behaved back in their faces. They are guilty of crimes we cannot really ever forgive them for. We’d all love Ashley Cole to score the winner against Spain in the World Cup Final, but few will be calling for a statue of Cole to be erected, or ever feel warmth towards him that a generation continue to hold towards Geoff Hurst.

So no, we’re generally not loyal supporters – but with good reason. And while the reaction to England’s draw with Algeria is comparable to when City were defeated by Accrington last February, the fact we supporters responded by travelling in numbers to league leaders Rochdale three days later and passionately cheered on those same players who let us down says much about the difference between club and country.

Taylor is currently being praised for the urgent manner he has gone about getting next season’s squad ready, but when you look at it more closely he has so far only brought in two players who didn’t pull on a Bradford City shirt last season. What he has done is re-sign the bulk of last season’s team – that’s the team which led the club to a lowest league finish since the 70’s – and we couldn’t be happier.

However disappointing last season was, watching the team when it was on form was hugely enjoyable. Whatever criticisms you want to continue throwing at Stuart McCall, he got his signings right last summer and City were only lacking two or three players and a heap more luck then they were granted during December and January. Who can forget the standing ovation the players received after losing at home to Crewe? They exasperated us at times, but a meaningful affinity was built between the team and supporters. How can we ever cheer the ‘overpaid’ Emile Heskey in the same manner we do James Hanson?

And we’re no different to other clubs. Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United supporters will be disappointed with their team’s overall performance last season, but in defeat they did not turn around and start hammering the players for being overpaid. Steven Gerrard did not have a good season for Liverpool, but his wage packet was never an issue to Reds supporters in the way his under-performance for England on Friday was to the country. They generally stayed behind the bulk of their players.

Which shows the difference in loyalty for your club and loyalty for your country. I admit I’m not really an England supporter and to me international football is usually a pain because it means Match of the Day won’t be on, or a welcome respite during the summer when the gap between City seasons seems so long. But even for passionate England fans, what exactly have been the highlights over the last few years? Euro 96 was fantastic, the Beckham-inspired 2-2 draw with Greece and 5-1 demolition of Germany in ’01 superb. After that I’m struggling. Certainly nothing to match the feelings of joy we experienced during the high points of City’s very disappointing 2009/10 season, or any other.

So as I read comments from England fans demanding Rooney be dropped to teach him a lesson – or worse, from some, that he dies – I feel prouder to be a Bradford City supporter and know what really matters. We City supporters have our arguments and the booing and moaning at games can get me and others down, but at the end of the day we all deeply care for the same cause and when it does go right it means so much more than anything our national team can ever do for us.

Bradford City win promotion next season or England to lift the World Cup? I know where my loyalty lies.

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.

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.

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.

A question of spirit

With 10 minutes to go at Christie Park, Bradford City had a one goal deficit to overcome and – with Shrewsbury’s defeat at Bury confirmed – a one point deficit to turn around in order to climb back into the play offs. That the players could only muster the feeblest of efforts towards reversing the former leaves belief in achieving the latter all but obsolete.

The third of the three main contenders for seventh, Chesterfield, can push the gap to four points by winning today, but on this evidence it might as well be 40 such is the apparent lack of stomach for the fight. It wasn’t so much losing the precious advantage Matt Clarke’s 37th minute header had earned City by half time, but the lack of confidence and belief to come back after falling behind. The qualities which had been on display in the first half were forgotten and, as Graeme Lee dithered about with the ball in his own half in the 90th minute, allowing his attempted launch forward to be charged down, the questions over leadership were raised louder. How Stuart McCall the manager needed Stuart McCall the player.

All of this should not eclipse the sense of injustice of seeing Peter Thorne’s header early in the second half incorrectly disallowed after the referee Nigel Miller appeared to overrule his own seemingly decent view of it crossing the line, after slipping out of Barry Roche’s hands, by going with the assistant’s judgment that it hadn’t. There was also a hint of offside to the build up to Morecambe’s equaliser, which ultimately resulted in Danny Adams crossing for Stewart Drummond to head home. But instead of heads complaining, they dropped – with dire consequences for the Bantams faltering play off push.

Sure there was fight, determination and willingness to go in for the 50-50 challenges, but largely only from those wearing red. Morecambe’s commitment was curious in that their own play off hopes appear improbable, but with their tails up they became dominant and were rewarded by Rene Howe’s spectacular strike. At the final whistle players and manager Sammy Mcllroy celebrated in a manner that suggested they believed a trophy presentation would shortly follow. It may be patronising to suggest they treated the occasion as their cup final, though it might be the closest either side gets to one in the coming weeks.

It wasn’t so much you couldn’t see it coming, but after an encouraging first half performance there was every reason to believe a much-needed first win in over a month was on the cards. Roared on by a sell-out away following which took up two-and-a-half of the four stands, City started in a positive manner and worked hard to retain possession and get forward. The recalled Joe Colbeck brought energy and pace outwide, which had been lacking from Keith Gillespie during the last two home games. Nicky Law, back from the start after a rest last Saturday and in place of the injured Dean Furman, added drive. Paul McLaren looked composed alongside him while Chris Brandon showed some nice touches on the left.

Morecambe, backed by an equally vociferous support, pressed hard and their forwards Michael Twiss and Howe provided some uncomfortable moments for Lee and Clarke, but the goalmouth action was mainly at the other end. Paul Mullin latched onto Thorne’s flick on, but saw his low drive tipped wide by Roche. Then Colbeck’s endeavour in closing down Adams allowed Thorne a shooting chance with the ball rolling narrowly past the far post. The lead provided by Clarke’s header from Law’s corner was well deserved and, with Zesh Rehman looking more the part at right back and Luke O’Brien getting forward well, the platform for victory was seemingly there.

Yet the battling qualities slowly evaporated after the interval. Morecambe’s equaliser came after 10 minutes of decent football from City which included the disallowed goal, but the threat wilted and the pressure began almost entirely coming from Morecambe. Evans had to make one excellent low save and was clearly frustrated by how quickly possession was surrendered by those in white shirts. In recent weeks one of the team’s biggest failings has been the failure to win second balls and the casualness in which home players were allowed to charge forward through a rapidly non-existent midfield led to some tense moments. Howe’s stunning shot from well outside the area left Evans with no chance as it flew into the corner.

But, unlike last season when the Shrimpers had come from 1-0 down at half time to go 2-1 up in stoppage time, there was still time for City to come back.

The desire and fight to do so, to not only salvage something from the game but keep the promotion dream alive, gave way to a seemingly weak surrender. The basics were forgotten and too quickly the team resorted to booting the ball forward from the back in a manner that reeked of desperation, instead of finding the composure to use a midfield which had been so effective in the first half at creating chances. Colbeck might as well have left the field – no reflection on his performance or desire, at one stage he booted the ball in frustration – such was the unwillingness of team mates to do anything but hit and hope.

Stuart’s changes, which had been so effective last week, did little to swing momentum back in City’s direction. Some City fans choose to boo the City manager after he replaced Thorne with Michael Boulding at 1-1 though, after been part of such a stand off when playing for City – when he was taken off away to Sheffield Wednesday in January 2000 to a chorus of “you don’t know what you’re doing” – involving then-manager Paul Jewell, he should take it with a pinch of salt. Thorne had done okay, but the decision to bring on Boulding looked logical to me at least. Steve Jones came on for the tiring Brandon but was too starved of the ball to be a threat, though he might have snatched an unlikely equaliser after heading wide of Roche’s goal. Lee Bullock came on for Law and Stuart received more abuse from fans nearby.

It’s easy to point the finger of blame for defeat at Stuart, who may now be four games away from leaving the club and possibly management for good, but the players cannot be exempt. The spirit is alarmingly lacking and there’s too much of an acceptance for allowing things to go against them. Maybe they can’t make each other play better, but the personal responsibility to at leave give their all should be a minimum obligation in return for the living their club provides them. Only a few could argue they did that in the second half.

Equally of concern is the regularity of losing points on the road. This was City’s 12th away defeat of the season, a record which matches the dismal relegation season two years ago and which has only been worsened during the even more traumatic relegation of the 2003/04 season, since exiting the Premiership. Only Aldershot and Chester have been beaten away from their own patch more often and the final two away games – at Dagenham and Chesterfield – don’t inspire great confidence of City improving.

On Monday they are at least at home with a quick opportunity for the players to redeem themselves. The ability of the squad to turn the situation round isn’t in great doubt, but the mental strength and desire sadly is. There are 360 minutes of the regular campaign for the players to demonstrate they want to end it with a chance of taking their team into League One – those who fail to should be first in line to exit Valley Parade during the summer.

CityCheerGate

Only nine days ago I was writing about my concerns after the game at Notts County. For those with very short memories, City lost 3-1 and a significant proportion of the 1200 ‘supporters’ began the booing and chanting of ‘you’re not fit to wear the shirt’ before half-time, when the home team had scored three goals from their only four shots (the fourth sailed miles over the bar).

Fast forward to the next away game and even more City fans turn up at Spotland. City lost 3-0; Rochdale had rather more than three shots on goal; and there was not a negative chant or a faint boo to be heard. Indeed, the fans who stayed to the final whistle – and those who left early to try to avoid the terrible traffic could almost be forgiven – carried on cheering and supporting the team and the manager in every possible way.

If a week is a long time in politics, how long is nine days in football? Don’t say ‘nine days’, please.

What has happened in that short space of time to produce a wholly different response? It couldn’t just be two home wins, could it? Not even when one of them was a 5-0 win. City’s lasst 5-0 win came under Colin Todd in the first round of the League Cup ironically at Rochdale.

My explanation for the change is three-fold. The first part is that the fans have taken to heart the words of the manager that we’re all in this together. If City are going to get promoted, the cause will not be helped by booing and the rest. I’d like to think that the fans took my words to heart from nine days ago, but I know better than that!

The second part of my explanation is that the 3,000 plus (or minus, if you’re giving the Rochdale version of the attendance) were united with the team in adversity. Most of us had suffered the ludicrous delays getting to the game that simply prove the accuracy, as well as the irony, of the chants of ‘what’s it like to see a crowd?’ I travelled from the ‘wrong’ end of the M62, but met the Bradfordians at the same motorway junction. Did you see that police traffic car undertaking us on the hard shoulder of the A627M? What contribution did he make to getting the traffic moving? I gather we may not have started the game too well – I rely on others for an account of the first few minutes – but for what I saw of the first half City were on top.

And then the team’s own adversity took over well and truly. From my seat over the assistant referee’s shoulder, neither of the penalties was a penalty. Being hit by the ball with your arms down is not within my definition of ‘deliberate’ and just because the forward falls over doesn’t necessarily mean it was a foul, ref. The assistant, who looked to have a much better view than the ref, flagged for neither. And Lee was obvious still so aggrieved after the final whistle about the elbow in his face that he showed the ref exactly how it had happened. So that’s the fans and the team – oh, and the management, since Jakes was sent to the stand – all suffering one injustice after another.

But the third part of my explanation for the absence of negativity is a reflection of something I’ve been saying all season. The boos at Notts County and the reaction at Bury followed what looked like a lack of response or effort from the players in those games. Too many times I have looked in vain for a spirited reply, of the type we always seemed to have in those glorious days when the coaching team were players. It was the spirit that kept us up one famous year. But I didn’t have to look too hard last night.

I wasn’t trying to find Radio Leeds as we battled back through the Greater Manchester traffic after the game, but I gather one articulate caller made out a case for a lack of effort. It’s a good job football (and BfB in particular) is all about opinions. It struck me that, even after the realisation that we’re all in this together and even allowing for the unity from adversity, a lack of spirit would still have been greeted unceremoniously last night. That so many disappointed fans still cheered the team off says it all for me.

So, whatever the reason or reasons may be, effort will rarely be booed, even in defeat. Every club wants to tell you how it has the best fans. At Notts County I would not have been convinced that City could make such a claim. After Rochdale, all that I’m looking for is the same support and the same effort (and a different ref). The next two away games won’t be easy, but they will be as important as Rochdale – especially if automatic promotion is to remain the prospect it should still be. I look forward to writing about two more games where the supporters have done their bit and maybe where the team’s efforts have produced a more fitting reward.

The Passionate Customer

For me going to away games is a very different experience from the regular trips to Valley Parade – and not just because some of the away trips are shorter. Saturday’s (longer) journey to Meadow Lane gave me cause to think about one of the main differences – the fans. I choose that word ‘fans’ carefully, for reasons I shall come to in a moment.

Back at our home ground I have had the same seat in the Midland Road ever since the stand was rebuilt. Around me are many of the same faces that have always been there, albeit the younger ones are grown up now. (The forty somethings who have become fifty somethings don’t look a day older, of course.) Through all those Midland Road years no one around me has ever shouted abuse at opposition fans or started a chant that has more to do with the team we hate. I still wonder how either of those helps my team.

I wouldn’t want you to think that we sit in silence. That would be very far from the truth. We have plenty to say and, even if the comments of one regular – ‘McCall, do something!’ – are less than obviously constructive, we have plenty to say about the team’s performance, be it good or bad. I am especially fond of letting the officials know what I think of them, although I doubt that they hear me.

Away from home, those around me are a different crowd and can be vocal in an altogether dissimilar style. There were over 1,200 City fans at Meadow Lane, about 10% of those who go to home games. A fairly representative sample, you might think. For the 90% who are relying on Jason Mckeown’s match report for their knowledge of how the fans reacted to the performance, I want to add a few thoughts of my own, particularly about supporters, as contrasted with fans.

The cries of ‘You’re not fit to wear the shirt’ were loudest in that short interval between the third goal and the players leaving the field at half-time. There were other chants, some of which are not for a site like this, but the more interesting ones showed a different slant on the fans’ views of the team performance. It was ‘We want our money back’ and ‘What a waste of money’ that got me thinking.

What those latter chants showed was that the fans go to watch their team with certain expectations. On Saturday the expectations were clearly not met when the second and third goals went in before half time. Had it been Chelsea scoring those goals, that response might not have happened. But this was a mid-table fourth division side and City were supposed to be better than them, especially after the promises of improvement after Barnet.

What the fans were complaining about was not just that the team was playing badly (which was plainly true), but that they had come to expect better. They had spent their hard earned twenty pounds each (plus travel costs and the rest) not just to see a game of football and to support the team, but to see them perform well and preferably to win. The whole notion of supporting the team through thick and thin had gone out of the window. It had been replaced by the customer’s privilege to complain about the quality of the product he had paid for.

If I go to my local supermarket and buy a full priced tin of beans, only to get home and discover that there is more juice than bean, then I am well within my rights to take it back and complain. I do that because I feel I have paid for better; I have been cheated; I want some recompense from the store; and perhaps I hope for improvement in the future. But nobody would dream of calling me a supporter of the store. I am a customer.

Professional football, as must be obvious to the thoughtful observer, is a curious mixture of sport and business. The business end has taken an increasingly leading role for some years now. The Prawn Sandwich Brigade are the extreme example of this change toward the customer. But the vocal away fans at Meadow Lane are different from the Prawn Sandwich Brigade only in the way they express their desire to obtain value for money. One lot keep quiet, because they don’t care about what is happening out there on the field; the other lot do care, but in the same sense as a customer cares.

Experience suggests that constructive criticism, especially from our managers, is the best way forward. Very few professionals in any walk of life improve by being abused by their customers. Many more will react by saying ‘I don’t have to take this, even though your custom is going toward paying my wages.’ Just try shouting abuse down the phone at a call centre employee and see where it gets you. Cut off, is where it gets you and you still haven’t got your complaint resolved. And shouting abuse face to face at the customer service desk when you return your beans will get you arrested.

Now I would be the first to agree that supporting (and this time I chose that word carefully) your team is a passionate business, not to be compared with buying baked beans. But I thought we’d all agreed after BarryBooGate that support means just that. You cheer and clap the good moments, few as they might have been on Saturday, and encourage improvement in the not so good moments.

There is a story often repeated where I live about the Liverpool team that won the European Cup in 2005. They went off at half time 3-0 down and all they could hear was their own supporters still singing at the tops of their voices all the way through the interval. We all know what happened in the second half and the likes of Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerard will tell you that they couldn’t let down their own supporters.

There was a little less hostility from the away crowd in the second half on Saturday. Some of it turned to sarcasm – the olés when the opposition kept passing the ball among themselves – and some of it became quite amusing – the chants of ‘Let’s pretend we’ve scored a goal’ followed by a mock celebration. Just how these changes of mood come about would no doubt be a fascinating study for some psychologist. But what would they know?

What I’m trying to find out is whether football fans, and City fans in particular, have stopped being supporters and have become customers.

Supporters can still express any view after the match, especially in this Internet age. Sometimes for the players during the match silence says it all and I have to say that’s my attitude. If I’ve nothing to cheer or encourage, I stay quiet. Lots of people back in the Midland Road adopt a similar approach. We support whenever we can; we criticise among ourselves, not directly at the players while they’re still out there and there’s still hope. Even as a passionate customer, always seeking improvement in the quality of the product, how can I expect to achieve what I’m looking for by joining in mass negativity?

I may feel it appropriate to be negative and even abusive, if I want to be a passionate customer and put the ‘customer’ part above anything else. But is that still part of being a supporter? Haven’t I stopped supporting in any meaningful sense of that word?

Counting to ten…

I hate these types of weeks after City have lost. The league table inevitably looks worse, there’s a moment where you get up each morning and the pain of defeat suddenly comes back, work colleagues mercilessly take the mick out of you.

What I really hate about these weeks though is the level of debate among City supporters, or should that be lack of. Any sensible discussions online are hidden in a flurry of anger and the blame culture which so often blights this country. From everything going well, the club is apparently verging on crisis. Everyone and everything is wrong – and it has been all along.

The decision of manager Stuart McCall to play Rhys Evans has been the subject of most of the discussion and, ignoring rationale reason or the fact Stuart says the City stopper was fit enough to play, another entry has been added to Stuart’s list of crimes.

You almost want to laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of the arguments some are making for why, even if Evans was fit enough to play, it was a suicidal decision of Stuart to do so. At one stage there was a good argument against Stuart for this, but it’s been lost in a sea of drivel.

Adding to the debate of course has been Barnet manager Ian Hendon who, according to one supporter, has shown Stuart up to be the novice we all know he is after the Bees manager declared hearing City had the nerve to play a half-fit keeper motivated his team to win.

That’ll be the same Hendon who was celebrating his first ever managerial win and who enjoyed a stunning playing career with Leyton Orient, Notts County and Northampton. One would have thought most people would argue Stuart knows what he was talking about more than a bloke clearly trying to make some headlines, but not some City fans it seems.

If I was a Barnet fan reading the comments made by my manager I’d be curious, why on earth has a team which has not won at home since October need such a dubious motivation to spur them into playing like Real Madrid? Haven’t they been cheated their supporters somewhere?

But fine, add this to the list of Stuart’s crimes along with the others because it’s not one which contains rationale arguments anyway. Reading online some of the reasons for why Stuart doesn’t have a clue almost gives you renewed faith in believing he is the man – because if these are the best arguments people can come up with no one, least of all Stuart, need pay any attention.

Wycombe away we didn’t have enough shots on goal, is one argument I read today, wow why have we just offered Stuart a new deal? Apparently he gives too much praise to opposition teams, whatever that means. To me it implies people are not clever enough to realise there’s a difference between what a manager says to a journalist and to his players, though I do like the idea that opposition players spend their Fridays scanning the T&A website to read what Stuart says and are more confident as a result. I wonder if our players do the same?

Another fan argues that it’s disgraceful he plays Matt Clarke ahead of Mark Bower. Come off it, are you serious? Are you going to games with your eyes fixed onto your shoelaces, determined not to notice, never mind acknowledge that Clarke has been in excellent form? “We played rubbish last October.” “We were lucky to win a few weeks ago.” “Can you believe the muppet signed Chris O’Grady?” “We’re struggling for goals, and he got rid of the prolific Willy Topp.” “He never makes his subs early enough.” “He needs a hair cut.”

Then of course is the persistent criticism of Wayne Jacobs which makes no sense. It’s been going on almost since the day he re-joined and to date I’ve still not heard a single valid reason for why he should be sacked. I’m also intrigued to know this magical ‘experienced’ coach is who is going to come in for Jakes, tell Stuart everything he’s doing wrong and inspire City to the Champions League in four seasons, or something similar.

The criticism of Wayne Jacobs is similar to the abuse many persistently threw at him when he played for this club and just as much as I had no idea why it was justified then I don’t have a clue now. No one can possibly know what sort of job he is doing because no one is seeing his conversations with Stuart, training the team or scouting opposition. It’s disgusting and unfair abuse towards a loyal club employee who has done nothing to deserve it. Some would even call it bullying.

Any attempt to argue back at supporters who are so determined to be negative is usually met with abuse and ridicule, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been accused of wearing rose-tinted spectacles in recent years. I genuinely don’t understand why people are so determined to see everything so negative and it scares me. Scares me because if this is the logic they can display to football how do they react to stuff in their own life?

What’s the answer for those of us who might be upset at what happened on Saturday but don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater? Stay off the message boards, do not pass the heading ‘Your say’ when reading the T&A website, resist the urge to call the person labelling Stuart a muppet something stronger back. Ultimately just like the management and players, we need to keep looking ahead.

All of this criticism will go away if City win at Notts County of course, but I’m worried about our chances to be honest because it looks like Chris Brandon could make the bench. Stuart isn’t really contemplating using a half-fit player is he? Didn’t the idiot learn anything from what happened last week?

What arrogance. Ian McPharland won’t even need to bother with his pre-match teamtalk…

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