Using the power of home supporters to bring down the prices for away fans

For some of us, it is a matter of principle. It is going to hurt to do this, but the board of the Supporters Club & Trust have collectively decided not to attend this game. – Bristol City Supporters Trust on the season opening game with Sheffield Wednesday.

The attempts of Bristol City supporters to mobilise a boycott of one their club’s games is not new in the bowels of English football nor is it likely to have any serious impact on the authorities who it targets.

The Robins Supporters – or some of them at least – are refusing the £39 entrance fee to Hillsborough to watch Bristol City’s return to The Championship. The argument is almost entirely economic on their part in that they believe that a pound short of forty is simply too much to pay for a football match.

The economics of the situation go deeper than the reach of one club into the pockets of supporters of another. The higher up in football one attempts to go the more the expenditure of clubs is, and the more the income rises to match that. Clubs pay out more to stage a Championship game than a League One game and do that by higher TV deals, and higher admission prices.

Stroke Leo: £20 a time

Football runs on a common assumption that the higher up a team a person supporters in the pyramid the more money they have to support them. I’m a Bradford City supporter as an accident of birth – I am because I was raised in Bradford – rather than as a function of what I earn.

Bristol City as a club are no strangers to the idea of throwing a lot of money around – we remember their approach to last season’s League One – but the club Bristol City and the people who follow them are not the same.

The governing assumption in football support is that whatever our football club do we are conspirator to and that we lend our support to. On the most case this is a harmless assumption although I know of a good few who have involved themselves with clubs (myself included) who end up with a Go Set A Watchman moment.

In the case of teams like Sheffield United, or Oldham Athletic, when they were trying to sign Ched Evans that assumption is tested to breaking point but those cases are rare. Most of the time if our club do it then we have done it.

This was illustrated to me in an argument with Rochdale Football Club (No, not that argument with Rochdale Football Club) when I suggested on this very site that £20 admission to a League Two game was too much and was told by Rochdale’s fans that “I charged the same.”

Do I? Personally?

Economics is ethics

Refusing to pay to go to Sheffield Wednesday for Bristol City supporters is an inherently ethically based act but when they stand on a point of principle the ground beneath them is shaky.

Well meaning though they are the Bristol City Supporters Trust compare the price they pay to £25 that Reading and in doing so charge Sheffield Wednesday with this greed rather than the culture of football that gives us these assumptions.

If only this were someone else’s problem and Bristol City’s trip to South Yorkshire was on a Tuesday night in January and priced accordingly.

Which is not to criticise the Bristol City Supporters at all just to suggest that they redirect their ire. The people at Hillsborough probably do not care about what Bristol City fans think. The people at Ashton Gate probably do.

Mark and Me, Me and Mark

I once suggested to (Joint-Chairman) Mark Lawn that Bradford City look at extending the policy of affordable football – which is an economic rather than an ethical decision from the Valley Parade boardroom – to away supporters.

Mr Lawn said that the support had 1,000 “walk ups” a week – this was back in League Two – who paid £20 each and I suggested that had someone travelled all the way from Torquay to watch a League Two game they deserved a medal for services to the game rather than what I considered to be an expensive admission charge.

To his credit Mr Lawn agreed with the principal and said he would have a look at it. He was unhappy with the interview that that meeting resulted in and I could not say what happened to the idea.

So I speak from experience – albeit thwarted – when I suggest that the Bristol City Supporters Trust should be talking to their boardroom about how much away supporters (and home fans without season tickets) pay and that Sheffield Wednesday supporters should be doing the same at Hillsborough.

Clubs listen to their own supporters, not someone else’s, and it is with their own clubs where supporters have power.

There is an obvious solidarity here. You get your club to bring prices down, we will get ours to do the same.

Using the power of home supporters

Bradford City have – almost by accident – become a case study in how to build a fan base that has resulted in the superb #onefournine effort. Massive credit goes to James Mason at the club for realising the potential and for starting enacting a social reform in football pricing.

When any club says they simply have to put up prices they can be directed at Bradford City as a riposte which says that building a fanbase is about committing to making football affordable.

I’d like a constitution of Bradford City that enshrined affordable football as a permanent value but failing that I’d call on the club to take affordable football a step further to away fans and to walk ups. I’d like a pricing structure for season ticket holders, walk ups and away fans that was built around a common ethic that football is affordable for football supporters.

I’d like the club to reduce the price for the Torquay supporter who has come from Devon, or the walk up at Valley Parade, or anyone to (for example) £10 not because of the economics of the situation but because of the ethics. I’d like Bradford City fans to politely suggest to those who run Bradford City that they do this. I’d like those who run Bradford City to politely suggest to boardrooms we visit that they do the same.

Away supporters have no power in football. They are the moveable problem that home teams deal with as a crowd and then forget about. It is perhaps overstating matters to suggest that to the home team away fans are second class citizens but you will, Dear Reader, have your own experience to draw on on that conclusion.

But home supporters have a degree of power over the clubs they support. Home supporters can put pressure on their club and put points on a club’s agenda. A boycott of away fans represents a smaller policing bill, a boycott of home fans represents a probem. We have power as home fans.

I think you, I and the Bristol City supporters should start using that power for the common good.

The thrashing by Bristol City that taught us what we already knew

The Team

Ben Williams | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Gary MacKenzie, James Meredith | Filipe Morais, Gary Liddle, Billy Knott, Mark Yeates | James Hanson, Billy Clarke | Jon Stead, Tony McMahon, Christopher Routis

The emotion

“Eight One.

Eight Bloody One!

Eight One To Brighouse. They are a team of old aged pensioners! The centre forward wears glasses. During the match!”

Eight goals! Four of them from back passes to the goalkeeper!

They were the worst.”

Michael Palin’s Ripping Yarns

The substance

If the one goal defeat at Gillingham did not finalise Bradford City’s inability to make the League One play offs in 2015 then the goal sodden mess of a 6-0 home defeat to Bristol City did.

For those who had seen City only in the brightest moments: the Chelsea, the Sunderland, the Doncaster Rovers, the Millwall at home, the Preston away; then this result might not be able to be set in context. For those of us – and this is most of us – this represents the low watermark in a season which offered equally contrasting highs but was always due to tend to the middle.

That Bristol City looked like the all-stars of the bottom two divisions goes some way to explaining their success this year. The likes of Luke Freeman, Marlon Pack, Wade Elliott, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, and Aaron Wilbraham have been best players for different teams for the last few years. The Robins have put them together with devastating results for the Bantams.

Bradford City – on the other hand – endured a night of compounded mistakes passing through the team like a virus and starting from the dis-effective. There was something in the way that Mark Yeates kept playing James Meredith short that caused Meredith problems and those problems chipped into a decent display from the left back which became a very poor one.

From Meredith it spread. After the left back was beaten by the effervescent Freeman for a second goal which Stephen Darby was massively outjumped for it had passed to the opposite full back (credit Darby, he strode on manfully) but most crucially to the goalkeeper Ben Williams.

Williams’ command of his box was shot and the area behind Rory McArdle and Gary MacKenzie was freeland for the opposition where it should be an area for a all out keeper to come claim balls. This would be seen in the 4th goal, or perhaps the 5th, where Pack bent a ball behind the central defenders and in front of Williams and there was the freedom of the pitch to head home in.

It is horrible to write off a man’s career but Williams seemed a spent force. A technical goalkeeper who needs to show a command of his box which he does not he is like the minutes after a goal when Jon McLaughlin would sulk stretched out for entire games. Jordan Pickford’s mouth on style will take him to places Williams’ laconic ways will not, and are far more useful.

MacKenzie caught what was going around. His defending was average but his failure was in attempts to play controlled passes rather than clearances, and a strange choke that saw him trying to volley away things he would previously have headed.

The Choke – an interesting concept in Sports Psychology – I use to to describe a failure to win what was expected but to do what is normally done. MacKenzie – when under pressure and at three goals down – stops being the reliable clearance based replacement for Andrew Davies and starts trying to play the ball like Beckenbauer.

The midfield were out muscled – at times unfairly and Gary Liddle will wonder how his being elbowed in the closing stages is something that can be ignored – but at times by a Bristol City side who were more committed to winning the game. The 442 Phil Parkinson favoured for the evening badly needs a speedy winger to stop an opposition midfield sitting toe to toe knowing it will not be beaten for pace.

Parkinson switched to a 4312 for the second half. If the manager wants to maintain an ability to move between the two formations he needs at least one fast wide player who can make the flat four lass flat and he needs to rethink Billy Clarke’s ability in the playmaker role in a three man with one behind formation.

Clarke drifted out of the game at about fifty five minutes last out never to be seen again. Pack dealt with him well – one seldom comes up against such a player – but to highlight the problem Luke Freeman was offering a masterclass in playing the playmaker role for the opposition.

Freeman was a constant threat – the type of player you do not want to see on the ball – in a way that Clarke has not been. In truth Freeman offers a model the playmaker role – set out for Mark Yeates at the start of the season – to be filled by Billy Knott who does the job of constant annoyance better than Clarke.

As it was Clarke was ineffective as was Jon Stead. Stead fills the heart with joy – Chelsea and all that – and typifies City’s season. Sometimes he is Chelsea, sometimes he is this, and when negotiating with the forward (perhaps in Lira, so to speak) one hopes nights like this where he offered very little of note are remembered.

Which is not to criticise the former England u21 player but while he was an England u21 player James Hanson was working at the Co-op and on the night when he saw his team get battered Hanson emerged with credibility. His head did not go down, his levels did not drop, and he alone could be said to have earned his corn on this woeful evening.

What then for Parkinson and his squad. As obliquely referenced above takeover talk buzzed around Valley Parade with the idea of investment on the horizon. Often a double edged sword this investment may give Parkinson the wage budget to improve his side but Parkinson will look for characters to do that, and it is character that was lacking tonight.

The squad – at the moment – seems to break into three groups. There are players who lead and who have the character needed for success: Hanson, McArdle, Davies, Darby and more; and there are players who when led will show the character to create a great group and team: Morais, Knott, Meredith, MacKenzie and more; and there are players who seem to have failed a test of character or of usefulness: Yeates, Routis, Zoko, Williams and more; who the manager has taken a look at must have found wanting.

The ability to process the side to sift the one from the other is the test that Parkinson faces every year. It seems more pressing when one throws a carriage clock out of a window but it is not.

Promotion this year was an optical illusion based on the curvature of a win over Chelsea and ignoring the displays where City came up short mentally, and in character, and was a practice in confirmation bias.

The 6-0 home defeat to Bristol City confirmed promotion for them but told us what we already knew – that Bradford City were not going to be promoted this season – and so we move onto next.

Why Steve Cotterill left Phil Parkinson lost for words

From these marble halls

In the marble halls of Arsenal’s Highbury ground sat a besieged Stoke City manager Alan Durban under criticism from a press corp who had had to suffer The Potter’s defensive tactics attempted to frustrate the home side.

Unsuccessfully as it turned out – Arsenal had won 2-0 – but Durban was unrepentant on his approach. He was not going to send out an attacking team that Arsenal would look good beating. He had come with the aim of splitting the points.

Told that the ninety minutes had not been entertaining he offered up a reply to posterity: “If you want entertainment go and watch a bunch of clowns.”

He does not detach from reality for long

Perhaps it was frustration at seeing his Bristol City team fail to beat a Bradford City side which was in poor form before Tuesday night’s 2-2 draw that prompted Steve Cotterill to say that Bradford City would see the game as a good point gained where as he reflected on two lost.

Cotterill’s comments not would be appreciated by his opposite number Phil Parkinson. “We were the only team trying to win it, Bradford came for a draw and they got it.” Parkinson disagreed.

Cotterill’s frustrations are understandable – his team twice led the game – but he allows them to cloud obvious (if received) wisdom. A manager who loses sight of the idea that any point away from home should be welcomed as the most which could be expected is one who is unnecessarily detached from the realities of League football. Cotterill, one of the brighter managers in the game, does not detach from reality for long.

Nor does Parkinson who was quick to point that he had sent a team out to win and but for an injury and a foul on Jordan Pickford they might have done that. Parkinson has good reason too make the correction too.

His remit to create an attacking team this season has been laid out in the boardroom and Cotterill questions the City manager’s attempts to achieve that.

Wanted: A bunch of clowns

At the start of the season Julian Rhodes talked about how the board had told Parkinson that there was a need for City to be more attacking this season. Indeed Rhodes’ ally Mark Lawn had been “the last to sign off” on appointing Peter Taylor as City manager because he feared that the football would be less attractive.

Parkinson is not required to win promotion, just be more entertaining while maintaining a similar position to last season, and Cotterill is suggesting that the opposite is true. “We (Cotterill’s Bristol City) couldn’t get the tempo of our game going in the first half because Bradford kept slowing things down, but fair play to them for that.”

The accusation that Phil Parkinson’s teams are not engaged in creating exciting football matches is not uncommon. The first time Parkinson came onto City fans’ radar it was during a spat with then manager Colin Todd in September 2005 in which Todd accused Parkinson’s Colchester United team of “killing the game as a spectacle.”

Parkinson’s response was confident and erudite in it simplicity. “He’s looking for an excuse for his team’s failure. Rather than analysing his side’s performance, he’s looking to blame me and it’s disappointing from a man of his experience.”

“I don’t have to justify my tactics to anybody.”

Parkinson’s position has changed, or been changed. As City manager he has to justify his tactics to Julian Rhodes and the Bradford City board who wanted more attacking football.

Is Parkinson failing?

So is Parkinson failing to do as he is told by his employers? If he is then what will the ramifications of that be?

Answers to these questions are not clear. If City are less attacking then losing Nahki Wells – a transfer was handled in the boardroom after the player had declared he wanted to leave – would have to be taken into account. Some players are just more exciting to watch than others.

But the difference between this season and last is more than players in shirts. Last season’s wingers have been replaced by (save us from the dumbing down of the word “diamond”) a three man midfield with a playmaker between the forward lines.

Fast, flying wingers are the most elaborate display of attacking football the game has to offer regardless of the result of that play. Teams with flying wingers will always be loved even if they lose because they are attacking. Yet Phil Parkinson allowed Kyel Reid to go unreplaced in the City squad.

Mark Yeates’ playmaking role is less about skipping over tackles and more about intelligent use of the ball. When winger moves end (if they end poorly) it is in sprints and limbs. When playmaker’s do not achieve their aims it ends in the ball being shuffled back to defenders.

When playing well a playmaker is insightful but looking for flashes of insight to play killer balls is not as “attacking” as flying wingers, at least not in the meaning which Rhodes seemed to present it.

Are City more attacking this season? Steve Cotterill does not think so, and not do I, and one doubts that the boardroom does.

So what does this mean for Phil Parkinson?

What does Phil Parkinson say on the subject of attacking football when he sits and talks to his bosses?

He may point out that with the team in poor form its not clear if a City playing better would not look better, or he may point out that this time last season City were on the back of an amazing run that led to promotion, or he may say that the team is more attacking as is shown by the result especially away from home.

You will have you own thoughts, dear reader, on if those arguments are compelling and if Parkinson has delivered what he was told to deliver – attacking football.

Perhaps though when told not only that he should win but how he should win Parkinson might regret not having taken a lead from Durban and stuck to the line “I don’t have to justify my tactics to anybody.”

But he did not, and so he could not offer it as a riposte to Steve Cotterill either.

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