Burton / Bolton

There was so little in the statement and interviews given by Edin Rahic on his first day as Bradford City chairman that there seemed to be a challenge to the accepted wisdom that it is always easy to be negative.

The German’s remarks ticked so many of the boxes Bradford City fans wanted ticking that they presented even the most pessimistic person a problem finding something to be unhappy about. Rahic respects the club’s traditions, is looking forward to working with Phil Parkinson, and wants to bring success a measured way.

Rahic said that he and Stefan Rupp had looked at four or five clubs and settled on City because of a alignment of aims. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Could be.

While everyone hopes Rahic and Rupp will be everything they say they will be the fact is that the Football League has welcomed these new owners with only a tick on a Fit and Proper Test which many have serious reservations over and very little else.

What have Rahic and Rupp had to do to prove they should own a big community assets in one of England’s top ten cities? What did Massimo Cellino have to do to show he should own Leeds United? What did Ken Bates have to prove? Very little.

And this is not a comparison between Rahic and Rupp and those two brigands just a realisation of the lack of protection afforded supporters as they watched the process of the club being sold. A recognition that the level of regulation in English football around clubs is so scant as to be virtually non-existent.

The Football League has made some movement in the past decade to regulating the owners of clubs – a response perhaps to the “never again” moment of Milton Keynes – but still it is an under-regulated body with members who like to keep regulation loose.

Even though many clubs struggle, many are run by directors who are using the under-regulated environment to take a few chances with their club’s futures.

City will face Bolton Wanderers – recently of the Premier League – in League One next season. League One is littered with clubs – clubs like Bolton Wanderers, Charlton Athletic, and for that matter City – who have gambled and lost.

Bolton Wanderers were £172.9m in debt at the end of 2015 having fallen from the Premier League and seemingly had no method of dealing with the decline. I cannot say why no one at Bolton arrested this financial situation sooner but I feel sure that it is uncontroversial to say that there is something wrong with a system where a club can spend that much money unchecked.

Another former Premier League club Charlton Athletic are run in a way that scares the Football League to an extent that they fear their supporters protesting the Championship presentation. Blackpool have exited League One downwards with their fans practically at war with the the people who run it.

When the likes of Burton Albion – the new Crewe if you will – reach the second tier of English football seemingly just by being persistently sensible in a sea of insanity you might wonder if Rahic and Rupp wanted an English club because all you need to get on is an ounce of good business planning.

Burton Albion, AFC Bournemouth, even Leicester City all have some money behind them but they are mostly characterised by sensible management. Contrast that with Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Leeds United, Bolton Wanderers, Charlton and on and on.

Nevertheless there is little appetite in football for any type of regulation which might stand in the way of clubs being run exactly how clubs wish to be run.

The hope for supporters is that it is run like a Burton and not like a Bolton.

Colchester United and the Crawley Brawl

As far as match reports go few are more erudite than Damien Wilkinson’s comment on Bradford City’s 2-0 defeat in Essex at Colechester United.

Colchester will probably have harder training sessions than that.

The names may have changed but the problems remain for Bradford City. A goalkeeper making a mistake, a team playing without character, a ninety minutes where there were not enough threats to the opposition goal. A replay of Saturday but one could pick a dozen games since City returned to League One where the same could be said.

It has become manager Phil Parkinson’s nadir. The manager who builds teams – including one at Layer Road at the start of his career – based on players who will play for each other turning out teams who do not play for each other.

Original sin

Brad Jones – signed with fanfare – may step down as goalkeeper for the weekend trip to Rochdale after his mistake led to Colchester’s first goal.

Jones’ mistake does nothing for Ben Williams’ ability to control the space between where he can reach and where he positions his central defenders which is more Williams’ problem than his occasional mistake. Goalkeeper – more than any other position on the field – is a judgement made and stuck to. It is worrying that Parkinson believes in a fluidity between his custodians.

Worrying but not unprecedented. The City manager moved between Matt Duke and Jon McLaughlin when they were sharing goalkeeping responsibilities. Only Jordan Pickford – probably as a product of his loan arrangement – has been cemented into the City goal.

Street fighting man

McLaughlin’s exit plays heavy on the mind.

In Jon McLaughlin – who is keeping goal for League One leaders Burton Albion – City had a keeper who some still recall as making more than his fair share of mistakes but was vocal enough and improving to a point where he holds down a spot in the team at the top of City’s division.

McLaughlin’s play aside when considering the character problem in the team which City put out I cannot help but recall the sight of the City goalkeeper sprinting fifty yards to punch Crawley Town players after they had started to fight with City, and City’s Andrew Davies.

And while I’m not suggesting that there is a nobility in scrapping on the field I think back to The Crawley Brawl as a galvanising point for that City team.

I cannot – with all my powers of imagination – see many of the current City squad prepared to do what McLaughlin did that night. I cannot picture Williams or Jones or many of the current team sprinting fifty yards to stick up for their team mates in a fight.

Character study

As City warmed up against Colchester United Radio Five Live hosted a debate where they bemoaned the lack of leadership within the current Arsenal team. Arsene Wenger stood accused of inheriting leaders like Tony Adams and not being able to create anyone to replace them once they had passed into memory.

Journalist Henry Winter suggested that Wenger’s problems were the problems of all football. That in an era of squad players who understand that they will not be in the side every game, and in the era of increased player movement between clubs that can see someone like Mikeal Arteta leave Everton for Arsenal having seemingly become a part of the Goodison Park furniture, that the sort of leadership and character of a Tony Adams was not appropriate.

Expanding on Winter’s hypothesis would seem that managers have pursued players who can be used sparingly, and who understand that they are not essential to a team and can be rotated out, and so they do not grow the characteristics of the ever-present leader.

League One football is not Arsenal’s concern but the hypothesis may hold true.

It is hard to have players who could be described as leaders when those players after often at clubs over relatively short terms. Not every player had it in them to concern themselves with the general performance. Most look after their own game and – if you are lucky – that of the player next to them in a partnership.

Leadership – the type that promotes character in the team – seems an increasingly rare commodity and one which is not suited to being rotate or traded. For a player who has arrived on a two year deal as most do the point in which he starts to grow into a role at the club seems to be the point where the club start to look beyond him.

Take – as an example – Lee Bullock who in 2010 was the player’s player of the year but having spent eighteen months at VP. He signed a new contract that summer but changes of manager and focus saw Bullock play less and move on. While not wanting to comment on Bullock’s skills as a player it seems uncontroversial to suggest that no sooner had Bullock settled in then he was being marginalised in the number of games he played, and ultimately in his position at the club.

With players coming and going in this way it it hard to imagine how a player will establish themselves as leaders in the group of players to have the effect on the field we talk about. After six months you know everyone’s name, after eighteen months you might have everyone’s respect, but if you are marginalised after that how do you lead?

It has always been thus.

Stuart McCall was made, not bought, and both Andrew Davies and Gary Jones who also typified the trait were rehabilitated having started their role at the club as curios and ended them as key men.

Parkinson needs to grow leadership from within the squad – and perhaps allow the squad to promote their own leader – and that is a process which takes time if it happens at all.

Right now we are waiting for that before the club can progress.

A side note, for the foolish only

There is no question of another manager being best suited to carry out that process.

Perish that thought.

History

Until leadership emerges within the squad City are subject to defeats and bad performances as befits any team. Two defeats – marked out because of their lifeless performances – are set in the context of a season which is in turn set in the wider context of the club’s history.

Just like the display against Gillingham in September 2001 – a 5-1 win which represents the best I’ve ever seen City play in a season which had little else of skill – the highs and lows are modulated to fit in with the overall view of the season.

The good are forgotten in bad seasons. The bad in good ones.

Much of what came before the Crawley Brawl is not remembered now. The brawl itself though – the way the squad stood literally shoulder to shoulder in the fight – seemed to jump start the team spirit of 2013 and beyond.

Colchester United 2-0 away will sink into that context too, providing Phil Parkinson can find another way to galvanise Bradford City, to create team spirit where there is none, and to enable the team to create its own leaders and character.

The Return of the Boy from Brazil

Fukuda Denshi Arena, Chiba, Japan, June 2013

We had come all this way, but there was no Boy from Brazil.

Valley Parade, Bradford, England, November 2012

Chesterfield are a stern footballing side and Bradford City are struggling to break them down. I’ve moved seats for the night parking myself next to Nick – young Nick if you will – who apologises for the frequent, violent bursts of swearing from one of his seat neighbours. “He is always like that,” my host says wearily and I nod full in the knowledge that were positions reversed I would end up saying the same thing about the people who sit around me.

“We fucking need to be fucking winning fucking games like this if we are not going to be shite.” The linguistics are laughable, the sentiment anything but supportive.

Wembley Stadium, London, England, February 2013

I will confess, dear reader, that there had been a time that I was partial to things Danish and in those few weeks of 1986 when the red shirted Scandinavians were enthralling in the late night glow of the World Cup in Mexico that Michael Laudrup was everything a footballer should be. The second round 5-1 exit to Spain derailing what seemed to be the birth of a new footballing power from the tiny Northern European democracy.

That defeat seemed to be born of a Danish belief that they were the anointed team that a thirteen year old in Bradford thought they were and was an object lesson in the beautiful game and how it rewards completeness. Six years later when the Danes won Euro 92 their most notable player was John Jensen, a holding midfielder.

That lesson that all games had to be won seemed to have settled in the mind of Laudrup. His Swansea City team were adorable on the ball and worked peerlessly hard off it. The victory over Bradford City – a handsome 5-0 – was made easy to take by virtue of the elan of the opposition.

Laudrup gathered his players into an honour guard to greet Gary Jones’ and his side on the way down the Wembley stairs. At least half the City fans had left Wembley when Ashley Williams lifted the Capital One Cup, deserved champions that they were. They will regret that.

Fukuda Denshi Arena, Chiba, Japan, June 2013

To suggest there is a manufacturer air to football in Japan is to mistake the construction of palaces for the tilling of gardens.

Arrive at Soga station, some forty minutes from central Tokyo, on the evening of a match is to better understand the idea of the sea of support. The yellow floor rises to the station which boasts a burger bar on one side of the corridor and profiles of the players along the other. Indeed the staff of the station have broken with the cliche of reserve and are wearing football shirts belonging to the home side. Make no mistake traveller, you are in JEF United country.

JEF United, founder of the J-League but now in its recently established second tier having failed to win promotion through the play-offs last season, are woven into the fabric of this part of Toyko’s industrial lands. They play in the Fukuda Denshi Arena, an 18,000 capacity venue a strong stone’s throw from a collection of oppressive looking oil refineries, and even at 75% full it is an impressive stadium. No running track, and the close to the action, the support is fervent without aggression.

The politeness which oils Japan’s societal wheels is evident. The Referee leads the players in a thirty second silent meditation before the match, the players bow to all four sides of the arena before kick off.

It is a derby of sorts. JEF United take on Toyko Verdy and both are chasing play off places. I know this because I have been following JEF United for a month now. The J-League is on hiatus while Japan play in the Confederations Cup and this game offered the closest available match on our tour of the Far East nation. JEF United have been in good form since they gathered my interest. They have won three on the bounce and can move up to fifth with a win against a Verdy side who would overtake them in victory.

In any language, this is a tasty encounter.

The J-League restricts the number of non-Japanese players, part of a plan that the JFA and its clubs follow that aims to create a game in touch with the communities they are based in (the full name of the club is JEF United Ichihara Chiba) and guarantees that the clubs are financially sustainable. The league has come a long way and a burst bubble since the days of Gary Lineker and Hidetoshi Nakata which marked its formation. Those were early years in what is a 100 year plan.

Following JEF United from afar is an abstracted version of football. JEF United’s top scorer – and thus one assumes their finest asset – is physically big striker called Kempes. Each team can have two designated non-Japanese players, and a single non-Japanese Asian player who is most likely a Korean. Like most of the non-Japanese players Kempes is Brazilian.

Taking up seats before kick off the stadium is an array of waving flags. All JEF United fans are given yellow hand flags on the way in and behind the goal the mass of yellow supporters fans are housed behind giant standards to be waved on queue. The singing is led by a megaphoned leader, and is as passionate as any I have seen.

On the other side of the stadium are Toyko Verdy. They have flags, they have songs, they have a singer with a megaphone. Having mingled with Toyko’s supporters on the way to the game I can also attest to the fact that they have nothing to fear. I’m told that fights have been seen at Japanese grounds but they are uncommon, and no one attempts intimidation. There are songs I understand: “Chiba, Chiba, Chiba”; and ones I do not but there is no aggression in the voices.

The hair on the back of my neck stands up. I catch my breath as the first ball is kicked. I listen for the voices of those around me. There is passion, but not aggression. No fists are shaken and when hands are raised the palm is open. It is football with a partisan edge but without an aggressive one and for the first time in weeks, in months, in over a year, I feel like I am home.

Looking at the line up though – and unable to understand the discussion as to why – there is no Kempes in the JEF United side tonight. We had come all this way, but there was no Boy from Brazil.

Back at Valley Parade, Bradford, England, November 2012

Chesterfield frustrate, causing the aggression, and ultimately take a point away from a City team which already look tired in a campaign that will include an historic run the League Cup, a good stint in two other competitions and victory in the play offs.

In six months time the league table will show Bradford City in the final play off place with 69 points, Chesterfield a place below with 67. A reversal in this game would have switched though positions.

If there is a reality to supporting football it may be on nights like this. The final reckoning will make this the keystone game in the season but how many would walk away from Valley Parade having enjoyed the match. If voices are raw and sore the morning after it is from those who shouted abuse, not support, through the game which would end up being decisive.

The reality of supporting football clubs is that these steps are the significant ones and, it seems, as much as the destination of Wembley (twice) and a victory parade in an empty fountain in the middle of Bradford was celebrated that was an antipathy on the journey.

The Pirelli Stadium, Burton, England, May 2013

One am, Friday night or Saturday morning. Queue for tickets in the bowl of the stands at Valley Parade. A line is drawn at about seven and no one who comes at what might be called a reasonable hour will get tickets. The queue is somber.

Having lost 3-2 in the first leg, and not playing especially well at Burton it seemed that Phil Parkinson’s team’s run was in danger of ending. Burton’s backline was repelling James Hanson’s strength and pushed Nahki Wells wide nullifying him. Burton Albion manager Gary Rowett had paid City the respect of doing his homework, and in doing so had found a way of snuffing out the threat that City poised.

And then there was a poor back pass that was too close to Wells, who has a turn of pace to surprise even those who feel ready for it, and then everything was as it was supposed that it should be.

Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton, England, May 1999

After Robbie Keane scored for Wolves on the day that would end up with City winning 3-2 and getting promoted to the Premiership it seemed that the entire support had concluded that this was a bridge too far for the Bantams. That this noble effort would end in failure.

There was a core of strength in the players though, a belief which transcended the terraces and it was that which turned the game around.

Wembley Stadium, London, England, May 2013

It is easy, and rather lazy, to say that Bradford City put in three goals while Northampton were still taking photographs and waving at their families in the League Two Play Off final. Put that City team up against a side that had been the the National Stadium ten times and the result would have been the same. It was a belief, a belief in each other’s abilities and in the unit as a whole which was the DNA of Phil Parkinson’s side and the reason why the Bantams were victorious.

A long time ago Parkinson told a story about how he once let a player – a player some would have called the best at the club he was at – leave because he did not fit into the mentality that the manager was looking to build.

Toyama Athletic Recreation Park Stadium, Toyama, Japan, July 2013

And there he was: Kempes; The boy from Brazil.

Toyama is 263 miles from Chiba but we’ve come from Hiroshima via Kyoto because one of the things about wandering around a country with a backpack is that you need to find a destination. Hiroshima is about the distance from Bradford to Portsmouth four times over away. The Shinkansen is a thing of beauty.

We pull into Kataller Toyama. Its a big town or a small city. No skyscrapers but the odd tall building. Its hot but everywhere is hot in Japan in July and I’ve given up worrying about it. I have no idea what we are going to find but looking down the main street at the shops boasting with pride the local dish it is, evidently, Chickentown.

JEF United, away. There were ten thousand or more at the home match but around two hundred at this athletics stadium. Cups of barbecued chicken are available for very few yen under the stands. Going up to the away section you can see the kind of stunning mountain view that takes breath away in the midst of an oncoming shower. The chicken tastes good sitting on the grassy bank behind the goal before the rain and we attract a few glances. Being six foot two in a claret and amber shirt will do that. This is Japan and reticence and politeness are a culture. No one interferes.

The game is played out in an welcome shower of warm rain that cools the blood. A song comes up – the man with the megaphone is there again – and the songs are about Kempes. He will finish the J-League 2 season as top scorer but he is off the pace today and unimpressive. His first touch is woeful and he strolls through the game. To counter this the group of around sixty singers wave banners, sing songs and get behind their team, and the Brazilian.

They are rewarded and so am I. Yusuke Tanaka – number six – darts out of midfield and is found by a diagonal ball into the middle. He checks over both shoulders and he runs and completes and side footed lob from an angle over the home keeper who did not realise he was stranded until he saw the ball nestling behind him in the goal.

I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of better goals I have seen with my own eyes. It is beautiful. The acceleration from midfield, the precision of the finish, the ambition, the craft, the subtle magnificence.

The game ends 2-1 with and by the time it does I’ve joined the JEF support bouncing, singing songs in a language I do not understand, being welcomed having transitioned from interested outsider to lifetime supporter. #winbyall we like to say.

There was a bus back to Toyama – the stadium about forty minutes walk away – and not many people talked on the way back because even after the ebullience of football this is still Japan and there is a reserve to these things. I pick up words pulled out of few conversations like the old Fast Show sketch.

“Something something something Kempes.”

Kempes was withdrawn after about seventy minutes and unimpressive on the night. JEF United would finish the season fifth on to draw in the play-offs (lower team plays higher and has to win to progress). They will spend another year in J-League 2, a fifth out of the top division they were founder members of in 1994.

“Something Kempes something something something something.”

Valley Parade, Bradford, England, January 2014

James Hanson scores in the first minutes and Nahki Wells has gone to Huddersfield to be replaced in the first team by the son of one of my friends. Seventeen and eager his name is sung in support not just of the player but of the spirit which had emerged in the supporters of the club.

Something bigger than one player or than one person, bigger than bad results and bad performances. Something that speaks of an opposition to apathy and cowardice dressed as pessimism.

Something that sounds like support should. That sounds like belief.

A slow revival

The Team

Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Andrew Davies, Robbie Threlfall | Ritchie Jones, Michael Flynn, Adam Reed, Kyel Reid | James Hanson, Craig Fagan | Ross Hannah, Luke O'Brien, Jack Compton

There is a theory in football that you can score a goal too early. Either because the subsequent psychological effect causes players to falsely believe the match is going to be easier than it proves, or it results in them worrying too much about defending the lead instead of following the pre-agreed game plan. Whichever it was for Bradford City this afternoon, they paid the price for surprising everyone – not least themselves – in how brilliantly they began.

2-0 up inside 15 minutes, the Bantams were in complete control against Burton Albion. But somewhere in the last third of the first half, they took the foot off the gas and switched over to cruise control. Burton had looked beleaguered, but were sufficiently encouraged to make a quick-fire comeback, going into the half time break on equal terms.

Losing a 2-0 advantage never looks clever, but it should not detract from the fact City’s performance was much improved and that the point taken back up the M1 is progress on the three previous defeats. The league table still looks dismal and the run without a win now stretches to six games; but slowly, perhaps, the tide is beginning to turn.

Considering it has been such a slow start to the season, for City to come flying out of the blocks this afternoon was an unexpected pleasure. Only six minutes had been played when Kyel Reid picked up a loose ball midway in the Burton half, raced to the edge of the penalty area and struck a powerful shot into the corner. Colour restored to the players’ cheeks, they continued to knock the ball around with purpose and Craig Fagan – making his full debut – and Liam Moore both came close.

A second goal wasn’t long in coming though, with James Hanson poking home the ball after more superb work by Reid saw him skip past his defender and send a low cross into the tall striker’s path. And suddenly a rout looked entirely possible.

With Adam Reed brought into the centre for his debut – pushing Ritchie Jones to wide right and Chris Mitchell into the stands – the team was back to the attractive passing, zestful style that had gone missing since the unfortunate defeat to Port Vale. Reed impressed in the first half at least with his purposeful forward passing, as Reid and Jones pushed strongly down the flanks and Michael Flynn protected the back four.

City were dominant, Burton poor and ponderous at the back – attracting the ire of home fans, who had booed their former defender Guy Branston as the substitute warmed up pre-match. Yet they found a way back when City switched off. Out of nothing a deflected cross found Billy Kee to fire past Matt Duke, and just as it seemed the visitors had survived through three minutes of first half stoppage time to head back to the dressing room with a slender advantage, Burton won a penalty and Justin Richards levelled the score.

That a penalty was awarded was a contentious point. Jimmy Phillips had seen a low shot palmed away by Duke, and Kee had fired the rebound against the post. Just as it seemed the goalmouth scramble was over, the ball was worked back into the box from out wide and Robbie Threlfall was adjudged to have handled the ball as Adam Bolder shot towards goal. Threlfall has since angrily Tweeted that he did not touch the ball with his hand and the referee was wrong, but if so what is more troubling is the fact that – at the time – none of City’s players appeared to contest the decision.

The second half was more even, but the Bantams undoubtedly shaded it. Andrew Davies headed just wide; Reed forced a good save from Ross Atkins. Plenty of good approach play – with Reid scaring the life out of Burton every time he ran at them and Fagan producing some great touches – but perhaps a lack of cutting edge which saw attacking mores fizzle out. Burton created a few half chances, but the back four was much improved with Davies and Oliver again outstanding.

Manager Phil Parkinson looked to the bench to find the extra something needed to win the game, and during the final quarter of the game Ross Hannah, Luke O’Brien and Jack Compton were introduced. Aside from O’Brien, on this occasion the changes seemed to weaken City and in the closing stages it was Burton who looked more likely.

And that may be telling, for the three players taken off are – it can be reasonably argued – the best three forward players Parkinson has at his disposal. Jones’ move to wide right wasn’t a failure, but his influence on the game was less than it has been and one is left querying why Parkinson has sought to disrupt the promising partnership he was building with Flynn. Jones was replaced instead of Reed and, although on-loan Sunderlandlooks a good player, he faded in the second half and seemed less demanding of the ball than Flynn; even if the Welshman was then guilty of being too wasteful when he did receive it.

With the other two taken off – Reid and Fagan – it’s a matter of lack of match fitness. This can only be developed with games, and once Parkinson can get 90-minute performances from the pair it’s more likely that City will end games as powerfully as they started today.

Over the past two weeks there has been the familiar but still frustrating slating of the manager by a vocal minority of supporters. Parkinson is accused by them of ripping up Peter Jackson’s team by bringing in “old friends” who are of less quality – conveniently ignoring the fact Jackson’s team lost four of their five games.

Yet it’s clear the signings Parkinson has made are an improvement on what we had before, and the squad is stronger as a result. Right now this is not reflected in results, and we could very well look back upon this start to the season in a few months time and bemoan how costly it ultimately proved. But that doesn’t mean there should be as much doom and gloom as exists right now.

The set backs against Crawley and Wimbledon were hard to take, yet before them there have been genuine signs it’s beginning to come together and that encouraging feeling was taken away from the Pirelli Stadium. The speed of progress has so far been painfully slow, yet as today proved football is not always about how well you start.

Parkinson turns the ship

Taking his Bradford City team to Burton Albion in search of his first win as City boss Phil Parkinson talks like a man who can see the turn of the tide.

We have worked hard again in training this week, we’ve brought another player into the football club – the squad’s evolving (Adam Reed) – I feel it’s getting better all the time. The positions that we are filling now are the key positions that I felt needed addressing when I sat down with the chairmen at the very beginning.

Reed’s arrival at Sunderland to join the central midfielders adds to Andrew Davies’ joining from Stoke City, and Craig Fagan and Kyel Reid’s signings, in a Bantams team that starts to be shaped in the manager’s image.

The frustration of the AFC Wimbledon game was clear for all to see with too little decisiveness and responsibility taken and too few links between the midfield and the forward line leaving James Hanson once again isolated up front and four players attempting to make the connection between the lines and none quiet able to get it right against a five man defence which enjoyed sitting deep.

Away from home – and with less onus to attack – Parkinson’s team are perhaps better suited at this stage as they look to build confidence. Parkinson has a plethora of options available but has he calls on those he looks to do so in a way that blends a change in attitude on the field. The losing culture talked about in the week seems to have been obvious to the manager, as to managers before him.

That culture has proved near impossible to turn around and Bradford City is like a large ship struggling to alter course. Parkinson has identified the problem quickly in his time at City, which is a step in the right direction. Previous managers have not found a way to deal with it.

Sitting ninth Burton Albion come into the game with suspensions to Aaron Webster and Ryan Austin following the 3-1 defeat to Gillingham.

The value of local bragging rights

Consider – if you will – Burnley and Burton Albion. Two clubs which have not much to link them other than the fact that they finished the place below Leeds United and Bradford City in their respective leagues last season. Burnley nudged in behind Leeds in 8th in the Championship while Burton wound up just behind the Bantams in the lower reaches of League Two.

Cast your mind forward five years and can one imagine Burton (or a team in a similar position) playing against Burnley in second tier game? The Championship has the likes of Peterborough United, Hull City and Doncaster Rovers in it showing a kind of movement between the leagues which suggests that the likes of Burton playing Burnley has a likelihood to it. Teams like Swansea City and Blackpool have battled – and won – for the play off places which Burnley aim for. Burton are not the close to Burnley, but they are in sight of each other albeit from distance.

In five years time could one imagine Burnley battling with Manchester United for the Premier League title and Champions League? Even with unprecedented investment Manchester City have not been capable of doing that (thus far) and more and more the top of European football where Manchester United reside recedes away from the rest of the game where the likes of Burton and Burnley play. In the world of Oil wealth and Oligarchs the chance of Burnley battling with Manchester United is minuscule.

For sure it would only take a promotion for the Clarets to enjoy the odd game against The Red Devils but that is a long way from competing at the same level which – in the case of Manchester United – would include a top for finish to qualify for the Champions League. The idea of a Burnley/Manchester United Champions League match seems far less likely than a Burton Albion/Burnley play-off game.

Which is to say that Burton Albion are closer to Burnley than Burnley are to Manchester United and by extension that when one considers the idea that Leeds United and their supporters are not concerned with the rivalry with Bradford City because they consider Manchester United to be their peers then one must wonder why they are so keen to be in a contest in which they are so massively the junior partner.

No win, no lose

Of course two years ago Leeds United supporters were celebrating beating Manchester United at Old Trafford – a 1-0 victory in the third round of the FA Cup – but there was no shifting of the tides as a result of that. Leeds went on to promotion, Manchester United console themselves with a record number of league titles. Were City to record a similar win at Elland Road then one doubts too that there would be a reform of West Yorkshire football recognised, but it would be fun. Likewise were City to be defeated then having lost to the team that finished 7th in the Championship is merely an “as expected” in what is on paper one of the most mis-matched ties possible. When it came out of the bag this was 27th in the ladder plays 86th.

In fact it is hard to imagine any situation in which this game can go against the Bantams. The money generated from the gate receipts and the SKY TV coverage funded City’s first six figure bid for a player.

A win and everyone in claret and amber is happy for a time but this time last season City beat a team who finished higher in the league than Leeds – Nottingham Forest but in no way was it a springboard to anything bigger or better and it has no impact on the league form at all, nor did it matter after a month of the season when results faultered.

A draw and resulting penalties offers no shame and a defeat is softened by the estimated £200,000 which goes a long way in League Two. Even if the season gutting 4-0 defeat at Huddersfield Town was equalled then it would be set in a different context. The club is following a plan in which talk of promotion is gone and replaced with Archie Christie setting City as a University for 18-21 year olds looking to learn football. Nothing that happens in the first week of that could change that but the money goes a way to funding it.

Why don’t we all just, get along?

And perhaps that is where I divert from much of the build up to this West Yorkshire derby in which there taunting talk is of Cup Finals and opening day defeats because – to be honest – I find much of the local rivalry of football counter-productive. If we generously exclude the horrors of the 1980s on the grounds that we should all condemn the sort of morons who burn chip vans, riot around the South Coast and generally disgrace their club (and my county and country) and focus instead on the football clubs then from West Yorkshire to the West Country all local rivalry in football does is to distract. While Derby and Forest, Bristols City and Rovers, and Leeds and whomever they feel are falling out then the higher echelons of the game carry on trying to kick the ladder away.

Squabble about who is kings of West Yorkshire all you want, it makes little difference should Manchester City’s Executive Garry Cook’s plan for a ten team Premier League with no relegation come about. Rather than the 72 football league clubs standing as one against this sort of perversion of football there is argument, and there is weakness.

Moreover though I personally find the West Yorkshire derby to be a tedious affair. The games are interesting or course but almost everything around it is not. Try strike up a conversation with another supporter and not have it follow a familiar pattern that involves the words “chip van”. Sadly talking about Leeds United is talking about the racism of the 1980s, the violence and death caused by the infamous, disgusting subset of their supporters, about the equally loathsome subset that sing songs about the fire of 1985. Who wants to discuss such things? Who wants to discuss them with someone who would not condemn them outright?

The end of the season

It look ninety minutes of Saturday’s football for some supporters of both these clubs to declare the season over. The first half display which allowed Aldershot Town to best City and with ten minutes left on the clock and three goals conceded at Southampton you could find a good few Leeds fans on social networks saying that relegation was probably unless Ken Bates left and took his Yes Man (former Bantam and current Leeds manager Simon Grayson) with him. Bates apparently needs to spend some money or get out of Elland Road. Of course Bates has just bought Leeds having taken control of the club from someone who we shall call Ben Kates, who is almost definately absolutely not Ken Bates.

It might be interesting to see how the Leeds supporters – watching a team robbed of Max Gradel to a call up for Côte d’Ivoire and featuring the unimpressive (although I thought he had his charms) former City man Billy Paynter in the forward line – would react to choppy seas in the game but the same is true of City fans with talk of scrapping in the main stand within thirty minutes in an argument about manager Peter Jackson.

Jackson once scored in a thrilling 3-3 draw at Elland Road for City – his best contribution in his second spell at City – and was the subject of a rather amusing rumour that he was in fact a Leeds United supporter. A blood sample would show if his loyalties are East or Pudsey or not.

Jackson’s team is expected to feature a new keeper with Jon McLauglin recovering from illness and Martin Hansen not allowed to play by parent club Liverpool. Spurs man Oscar Jansson has taken up the gloves. The twenty year old Swede arrives at the club on loan from Spursbut coming into the West Yorkshire derby as a late replacement keeper does not bode well. Neville Southall and all.

At right back Liam Moore – another loanee – may also sit the game out giving Jackson the chance to move Chris Mitchell back to right back the position he seemed to end up trying to play on Saturday. Mitchell’s delivery is impressive to say the least and one can expect a place to be found for him in the side. At left back Robbie Threlfall is expected to continue but with Luke O’Brien reported move to Preston North End for £50,000 being but a rumour there is a question as to how the former Liverpool man went from nowhere to the first team so quickly.

Steve Williams will hope to be fit to play alongside Guy Branston but Lee Bullock will stand by to replace him once again.

Jackson is expected to keep faith with the shape his midfield which improved towards the end of the game with Aldershot with Michael Flynn in the middle although if Mitchell moved back then Richie Jones – fitness willing – may look to come into the middle moving David Syers out to the right. Failing that Dominic Rowe may make his first start of the season on the right. Jack Compton is expected to feature on the left supporting Mark Stewart and James Hanson who will test themselves against the fine man marking of former Bantam Andrew O’Brien and the, ahem, robust Patrick Kisnorbo. Stewart was unhappy with his first display for City on Saturday and has a tough night against O’Brien, Hanson deserved to be pleased with his goal scoring opening day and Kisnorbo represents a similar tough test to the six strong men of Aldershot faced on Saturday.

The game is the first of three away trips the Bantams have before returning to Valley Parade on the 20th to face Dagenham & Redbridge while anything that Leeds could gain with a result on this night would be lost should a defeat follow in the league to Middlesbrough on Saturday. A place in the second round of the league cup has some value, and so do local bragging rights, although it is not clear what those values are.

2011/2012 IV/IV: The teams

Following last season’s disappointment a new air of optimism currently surrounds the much changed, younger City squad compiled by Peter Jackson, but what can we expect from those who the Bantams will line up against in the new season?

With the loss of Bury, Chesterfield, Stockport and Lincoln from League 2 last time out, the division this year has taken on a very Southern feel with the addition to the League of Plymouth, Bristol Rovers, AFC Wimbledon, Crawley Town, Swindon and Dagenham & Redbridge. It seems that away day dedication will be pushed even further this year, with City set to clock up the miles – where are the Peter Taylor over night stays when you need them!?

The Favourites

For the first time since City were relegated to League 2 they have not been tipped for automatic promotion, that acclaim has gone to the league’s big spending new boys Crawley Town. Following last season’s romp to the Conference title and lucrative FA Cup run, only ended by the champions of England, Crawley have flexed their financial muscles once again signing the likes of Wes Thomas (Cheltenham) and Tyrone Barnett (Macclesfield) on huge salaries. Although popularity amongst other teams and fans will be in short supply, this is unlikely to phase Steve Evans who appears to have unlimited funds to see that the Red Devils make it back to back promotions. And with the likes of Dagenham and Stevenage proving that it is not impossible to make that immediate leap, it is unsurprising that the club have been highly backed at the bookies. Former Bantam Scott Nielson is still on the books and will no doubt be on the end of a ‘warm’ welcome when returning to VP, following comments he made after his City exit.

Hot on the promotional heels of Crawley are fellow league new boys Swindon Town. Over the summer they have introduced some Italian flair on the touchline following the appointment of Paolo Di Canio. Expect much gesticulation and passion when the Bantams meet The Robins in the final game of the season (and that’s just from Jackson!). In the close season Di Canio has signed the relatively unknown Oliver Risser and appointed him the club’s captain as well as several established League 1 players. Also don’t be surprised if a few hot prospects from the Premier League turn up on loan over the coming weeks – I’m sure Paolo will still have Mr. Redknapp’s phone number!

Former Torquay boss Paul Buckle will be hoping that he can use his League 2 experience to guide league newcomers Bristol Rovers back into League 1 at the first attempt. Signing the likes of Chris Zebroski (you may remember him drop kicking Matt Clarke in the face!) and Joe Ayinsah (Charlton), expect attacking football from The Pirates who visit VP in September.

As well as the new boys, League 2’s bridesmaids Shrewsbury Town have also been tipped to go well again this year. Following play-off disappointment for the past three seasons “Salop” will be hoping they can go one better and achieve automatic promotion this year. In the close season Graham Turner has signed proven League 2 players such as: Marvin Morgan (Aldershot); Andy Gornell and Joe Jacobson (Accrington) and will be hoping that these will provide the extra ammunition to get The Shrews over the line.

“Local” Rivals

With the loss of so many Northern teams from the division, local rivalries are few and far between for the Bantams this year. Nearest geographically are Rotherham United, who despite the loss of player maker Nicky Law to McGod’s Motherwell, will be hoping for a strong season under relatively new boss Andy Scott. Scott’s first priority will be to keep hold of the much coveted Adam Le Fondre, whilst quickly hoping he can get the best out of hard-working City reject Gareth Evans (‘The goal is that way Gareth…’). The Millers will be trying to make sure that they don’t fall away as they have in previous years despite promising starts. City host Rotherham in November, with the away leg early in the New Year.

One time City managerial target John Coleman, will be hoping that Accrington Stanley will be able to maintain their strong form of last year despite losing their best players to other teams (Ryan, McConville, Gornell). Coleman will have to manage once again on a shoe-string budget and has so far snapped up the likes of defender Danny Coid (Blackpool) and young striker Kurtis Guthrie, whilst former Bantam Rory Boulding still features in the squad. Expect Stanley to finish mid-table this year as the loss of quality players will surely take its toll.

Morecambe (Bradford-on-sea) are entering the new campaign with a rallying cry in the hope to recapture the ‘fortress’ mentality of Christie Park at their new home ‘The Globe Arena’ (incidentally it’s not an arena, it has 3 sides!). Shrimps boss Jim Bentley will be hoping the combative style of former Bantam loanee Kevin Ellison will help them improve on a disappointing 20th position, achieved last time out. A big City following will once again will flock to Morecambe in early September, with the return fixture at VP in mid-January.

Conference Call

Gary Simpson’s Macclesfield Town have been made favourites for relegation to the Conference this year. Despite a comfortable 15th place finish last season The Silkmen are tipped to struggle, with bookmakers offering them at 2/1 to drop into non-league. The Moss Rose outfit will be hoping that new signings Waide Fairhust (Doncaster), former Bantam Jonathan Bateson (Accrington), along with others like the quick forward Emile Sinclair, will be enough to steer them clear of trouble.

Second favourites to face the drop are Cheltenham Town, following their disappointing second half to last season, which left them with a 17th place finish – one place above the Bantams. This is not a sentiment shared by the Robins new signing Sido Jombati, who claims the club should be aiming for promotion. Cheltenham have invested mainly in non-league players, much the same as City, with the hope of bringing success to Whaddon Road next season.

Once again Barnet have been backed to struggle this term, despite retaining the majority of their top performers from last year. Lawrie Sanchez continues as boss as the Bees aim to gain compensation for the move of last year’s demi-saviour, Martin Allen, to Notts County. With plenty of forward options in the form of Izale McLeod, Sam Deering, Steve Kabba and Mark Marshall (remember him embarrassing City last year?), Barnet will be hoping that they can sort out their defence which saw them leak 77 goals last season.

Hereford United will be hoping to make things a little more comfortable this year following their close shave for survival last season. Former ‘physio’ boss, Jamie Pitman, has signed the likes of Delroy Facey (Lincoln) and Stefan Stam (Yeovil) in the hope of playing attacking, entertaining football next term. The Bantams travel to Edgar Street in late October, with the Bulls coming to VP in February.

League Newcomers

Cash-strapped Plymouth Argyle will face a race against time to assemble a squad before the big kick-off on the 6th of August. With the likely take over by Peter Risdale not yet finalised and the club selling off the ground and its land to a third party: ‘Bishop International’ (sound familiar!?) it will be a success just to put a team out for the Pilgrims next season. Already potential signings have swerved away from the financially stricken club, Antony Elding (Rochdale) opted to sign for non-league Grimsby despite initially agreeing to sign for Plymouth. Survival will have to be their first priority and it is hoped that with the re-signing of influential defender Stephane Zubar, others will follow to sign up for Peter Reid’s cause.

The Crazy Gang return to Valley Parade next season and it is expected that they will bring more than 53 fans when they visit Bradford in late-September. Following five promotions in nine years, since their formation in 2002, AFC Wimbledon will take their place in the football league once again. They will start the campaign without last season’s top goalscorer Danny Kedwell, who has signed for Gillingham, but have retained the services of their player of the season Sam Hatton. Boss Terry Brown has signed up several new recruits: Jack Midson (Oxford); Mat Mitchell-King (Crewe); Chris Bush (Brentford) and Charles Ademeno (Grimsby) in hope of maintaining the club’s position in League 2 next year.

John Still’s Dagenham & Redbridge return to League 2 following only one season in League 1. The one-time City managerial target has managed to maintain the majority of his squad, but has lost key man, and former Bantams’ target, Ramon Vincelot to Championship new-boys Brighton. The Daggers are expected to finish mid-table this time out and will face the Bantams at VP in August, with the return fixture at Victoria Road in March.

Familiar Faces

Burton Albion boss Paul Peschisolido has signed several attacking options over the close season with the intention of pushing the Brewers further up the table than their 19th place finish last season. The Nottinghamshire club will be hoping to avoid the fixture congestion that plagued them last year. New signing Justin Richards (Port Vale) should be the main attacking threat and City play Albion away in October, with the home fixture in January.

Dario Gradi will take charge of Crewe for his 26th season at the helm. With the loss of Clayton Donaldson over the summer, Alex striker Shaun Miller will be hoping to fill the former Bradford youngster’s boots and build on his own 19 goal haul last season. Crewe have been internally backing themselves for promotion this year and will aim to get there playing attractive, technical football, the likes of which the Bantams experienced on the last day of the season.

Gary Johnson’s Northampton Town will once again carry high expectations into the coming season, with their expectant fans insisting that they improve on their disappointing 16th place last season. With a glut of new signings, including big striker Adebayo Akinfenwa, the Cobblers will enter the 2011/2012 season with aspirations of reaching the play-offs. City face Northampton at VP in late October and travel to the Sixfields Stadium in April.

Former City man Chris Wilder will be entering the new season in the hope that his Oxford United team can build on their promising first season back in the football league. Ex-City flop Paul McLaren will take his place for the U’s next season and will hope for more consistency in League 2 this time out. Experience seems to be the order of the day for Wilder who has also recruited former Leeds player Michael Dubbery and ex-Bury goal keeper Wayne Brown.

In a repeat of last season, Micky Adams will lead out Port Vale and will want to finish the job he started before leaving for a forgettable stay at boyhood club Sheffield United. Marc Richards remains the main danger man for the Stoke club and will hope that he can find sufficient support from new signings Gary Roberts (scorer for Rotherham from halfway at VP) and fellow striker Louis Dodds. Vale face the Bantams at Vale Park in September and at VP on Valentine’s day.

On the Buses…(or coaches)

Industrious Aldershot will be hoping to build on their solid 14th place finish last time out. The Bantams play host to the Shots on the opening day and will have to be wary of the goal-threat of defender Antony Charles who had success against the Bantams last year. Dean Holdsworth will be hoping that the recent loan deal for Reading’s attacking midfielder Jake Taylor will help get the Shots off to a flier… obviously after losing to City!

Gillingham have made several signings over the summer and diminutive boss Andy Hessenthaler will be hoping that by signing non-league success stories like Danny Ked well (AFC Wimbledon) will be enough to push the Gills one step further than their play-off spot last year. Hot striking prospect Adam Birchall, signed from Hessenthaler’s former club Dover, is already facing a 6 month lay off with knee ligament damage, which will leave the Priestfield club on the look out for another ‘Cody MacDonald’ type player from the loan market.

Southend will enter the new season hoping to gain the consistency that saw the play-offs elude them last year. Shrimpers boss Paul Sturrock has made several signings to complement last seasons top performers Antony Grant and Barry Corr. City will once again travel to Roots Hall on a Friday night (Decemeber) and will host the Essex club, again on a Friday night, in April.

Torquay boss Martin Ling will want his side to go one better this year to soar into League 1. In order to replace target man Chris Zebroski the Gulls have signed former Morecambe hitman Rene Howe, and have strengthened their midfield with the signing of left-sided trickster Ian Morris (Scunthorpe). City travel to the English Riviera in mid-February (Brrrr…) and host the Gulls at VP in early October.

An ordinary Guy

On the surface at least, the arrival of Guy Branston to Valley Parade would go against Peter Jackson’s end-of-season aim to bring in players who truly care about Bradford City.

32-year-old Branston has played for 17 different clubs , and it’s difficult to avoid the term ‘journeyman’ when describing the distinctive-looking defender’s 400+ game career. It is exactly this profile of player – seemingly happy to play for any club and with no particular affection for the Bantams – that Jackson has talked of getting rid of. All of this is not a criticism of the manager or of this particular signing, but more a reflection of the realities that exist beyond nicely put sentiments.

As joint-Chairman Mark Lawn told the Telegraph & Argus in a somewhat duplicitous manner, City are not considered among the favourites for promotion next season – further pushing them down the pecking order when attempting to attract players. With finances also tighter than the previous season, the prospects of becoming wealthier would also appear lower at City compared to other clubs. Still a big club for sure, among the highest crowds in the division yes; but City are not necessarily so special when viewed externally through transfer targets’ eyes.

So as laudable as the principle of only bringing in players who are desperate to play for this club is, it’s not a strategy that will see the better available players appear on the Valley Parade pitch holding up a claret and amber scarf this summer. A big part of Jackson’s role is to sell the club to the players he wants, and to find common ground in the player and club’s ambition that can be realised by getting together. The signing of Ross Hannah is a good example of this. He had more attractive offers elsewhere, but the greater chance of first team football probably influenced his decision.

One wonders if the two-year contract Branston has received helped to sway him too. With his career almost over, the greater security a deal until 2013 offers is one few other clubs who might have been interested in his signature would have been prepared to offer. Despite talking up his Yorkshire background and desire to play for Jackson, uprooting from Torquay is a big deal and would undoubtedly been less appealing if there was a chance he’d be out of work a year from now.

Both the signings of Hannah and Branston represent an element of risk for different reasons. Hannah is unproven at this level, and the fact he will probably be looked upon as a key player next season could hinder the club’s efforts if he fails to make an impact. Just like a year ago with Peter Taylor, in Branston Jackson has signed a player on a longer contract than his own. As much as he complained about the squad he is stuck with from Taylor, it’s not hard to envisage a successor a year from now grumbling about Jackson’s players in a similar manner.

The reality of the situation – especially bearing in mind the tighter resources – is that Jackson will be like every other City manager in that some of his summer signings will be good and some will prove disappointing. The ratio of good to bad is likely to define how well the season goes, just as the summer recruitment efforts of Taylor last year proved.

So we welcome Branston to the club knowing that he is not some world-beater who will dramatically improve the club, but a lower league player with different strengths and weaknesses that we’ll get to know over the coming months. At some clubs, such as Torquay last season, he has done very well. At others, such as at his previous club Burton, he was less popular among supporters. His previous spell at Sheffield Wednesday will have provided him experience of dealing with the expectations of a big crowd, something which Lawn has identified as a key quality needed in players next season.

Such ordinariness though is a fact of City’s circumstances, and is not something to feel negative about. In recent years so many new signings have come with great expectations and failed to deliver that the idea of believing Branston is anything but a human being with some flaws seems foolish (yet in the past we’ve all been guilty of overlooking this fact in new arrivals). On paper he looks an ideal signing for a club looking to improve on its lowest league position for 40 years, and his imperfections have to be accepted and worked around because recruiting such a type of player is our place in English football.

An ordinary Guy, for an ordinary football club.

I, as in team

The Team

Lenny Pidgeley | Lewis Hunt, Lee Bullock, Luke Oliver, Luke O'Brien | David Syers, Jon Worthington, Michael Flynn, Omar Daley | James Hanson, Jake Speight | Gareth Evans, Chib Chilaka

David Syers met the ball and headed it firmly into the back of Aldershot Town’s goal. I stood and raised two hands in the air and I heard sounds around me but I made no sound.

A contrast then. Within the first five minutes of City’s penultimate home game of the season City pressed well and Omar Daley won a throw in on the left wing. Robbie Threlfall acted quickly taking the throw from some way back and feeding Daley.

There is something about Daley which divides people – or so popular thinking goes – but there is no division when the Jamaican winger takes the ball forward. People might say pass when they see Omar heading towards goal and the certainly say it after an aborted forward thrust but when he is on the ball I’d wager that everyone wants the same thing.

The skip forward, the drag inside, the look up, the shot from twenty five yards out that arcs past a poorly positioned Aldershot keeper Jamie Young and into the far corner of the goal.

It is the goal anyone would want to score and when it ripples the goal there is an burst of relief audible and loud. Everyone on their feet, everyone cheering, everyone as one. It is times like that as Daley skids to a cheering slide and is mobbed that football is at its best.

Stay in the moment. The explosion of joy, the happiness. The weeks of following Bradford City have been grim but the moments on a Saturday justify those.

From then on it is all Bradford City coming forward with the sort of gusto that a confident team does. Michael Flynn prompted from midfield, Daley looked threatening but everyone wanted the ball and it seemed that that willingness would bring a second goal. James Hanson hit a long range effort that beat Young and bounced back into play from the post only for Jake Speight to catch the follow up with his knees and spur the chance.

Young performed better, saving a header from Luke Oliver following an Omar Daley corner, but ever corner which came over from the Bantams was battled between strikers and defenders. Young came for not one. This would prove conclusive.

Not conclusive but seemingly so was the moment though when Aldershot burst down the left flank following a Lewis Hunt overlap. Michael Flynn tracked back and a sudden snap was obvious as the Welshman’s hand reached to his right thigh.

Right leg lame, left leg darts out to take the ball in a tackle taking the ball. Flynn prostrate on the turf, probably his last kick of the season, maybe his last kick for the club, but he made the tackle. Outside of football the loudest sound I make is waking up at night with a cramp. That requires Mrs Wood to be awoken and sympathy give. One leg goes, the other tackles. Michael Flynn limps away to the sound of his name being sung.

It is the lack of that sort of personal effort which has put City into the position we are in. For a team of Michael Flynn.

Flynn’s absence saw Gareth Evans come on and David Syers move to central midfield. Evans is chunked to the ground in an attacking move and the ball attacks the weakened right hand side allowing Peter Vincenti to equalise. It is one of a series of decisions which referee Mathieson allows creating a kind of Wild West atmosphere on the field.

Tackles are hard and some use two feet. Gary Charles – one of the best defenders in League Two – pulls down Speight as he runs towards goal and is not cautioned when a red card seems the only option. Speight gets involved with defenders with pushing and shoving but no discipline. Both teams are lucky that Mathieson’s approach to refereeing does not leave them with injuries and one tackle that stamped into Jon Worthington seemed to be worth a red card.

Worthington is struggling though. Two games in three days seem to have sapped his energy and Syers is carrying much of the weight of the midfield. Evans and Daley put in effort for different awards. Daley jinks forward beating two men with a step over flick on which gets you to the edge of the seat, Evans makes mistakes but taps on a reserve missing for the last few weeks and keeps going.

Results ping around the ground. Barnet are winning, the they are not. Burton are ahead of us and then they are not and for a moment the mental image of Howard Wilkinson eating his dinner as Leeds won the 1992 Championship came to mind. Control what you can control, filter out what you cannot.

But there is a nervousness. Lenny Pidgeley is not over employed but there seems to a worry that Aldershot Town – nothing much to play for – have something in store for City. David Syers is booked. He has stepped up to a level of performance which carries the team. A real central midfield display of which one can only admire. A year ago he was a non-league footballer. Today he graduated.

Syers performance won the game but the performance as a team was excellent. Individual players taking responsibility for the collective performance. Syers gave City the steel and with that steel City took the midfield battle and – just – won it.

A free kick driven towards goal by Robbie Threlfall and Young excelled himself with a save. Gareth Evans hit the corner true and Syers heads the ball heading it firmly into the Aldershot goal just as the clock ticks into injury time. I hear noise around me but I am alone in my silence. In fifteen minutes the adrenaline kicks in and I start to rabbit to the people I’m walking back to the car with.

The game ends an age later and City have 51 points. There are mathematics which mean City could be relegated but they are slight and City are probably safe. Superb performance from David Syers, brilliant goal from Omar Daley. Individuals taking responsibility for their own performance, and the performance of the team.

The I, as in team.

Relatively miserable

Like the bad guy or monster in a film who you think has finally been defeated, only to keep reappearing and causing further havoc – Bradford City’s relegation prospects have become a recurring nightmare in recent weeks. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water and be consoled by mid-table mediocrity, it has been back to looking over the shoulder.

So as a confident Burton Albion raced into a lead on Tuesday which, in truth, they rarely looked like surrendering until Jake Speight popped up to equalise with 15 minutes to go, I – and no doubt thousands of others inside Valley Parade – was gripped by fear and pessimism about the immediate future.

Just like after we lost at home to Chesterfield, trailed 2-1 to a nine-man Stockport and were defeated 2-1 at Stevenage; I was fearful that this relegation threat – as daft as it seemed at other times – was very real. And with the club making loud noises about its long-term future being uncertain, the additional problem of a demotion to non-league could be terminal. Well-placed sources claim City’s Board has approached the Football League for their views on the ‘doomsday’ scenario of the Bantams entering administration and moving to Odsal. The League is said to relatively sympathetic, but the experiences of Chester and Boston suggest Conference officials may not be so helpful if City were to drop out of the Football League and go into administration.

Such dark thoughts occupied my mind as, in front of me, on the pitch, City’s players struggled to find the desire – not to mention the guile – to cancel out Burton’s lead. And as the atmosphere inside Valley Parade simmered backwards and forwards between discontent and positive support, I feared not just that we were in a losing battle to stay up but witnessing the third to last match ever at our 108-year home, before we start again next season supporting some AFC Bradford City on a Sunday league pitch.

Then Speight scored, and joy quickly turned to relief that things might not turn out so bad after all. And as the cheering subsided and we roared City onwards towards an unlikely – and what would have been undeserved – victory, a chant of “We are staying up” bellowed out the Bradford End. And I half-joined in, feeling much better about everything.

And then someone near me got angry, and I felt a bit stupid and very frustrated before wondering what’s the point.

The angry person was upset at the Bradford End chant, and it triggered him into a sarcastic rant about how pathetic it is that people are pleased over such a small achievement that City should now be able to survive the drop. His point had some validity; we began this season with credible hopes of achieving so much more and, as a club, we largely still believe ourselves too important for our surroundings. But still the timing of his outburst – firmly puncturing the mood of those around him just as we had something to celebrate – revealed a side to football supporting that I struggle to understand.

Unhappy that we can now be happier, because it’s not good enough to be thankful of avoiding the worst. Nothing can change how disappointing this season has been – and a huge inquest needs to take place when the dust finally settles – but limiting the damage at least should allow us to break into the briefest of smiles.

But that negative attitude has become such a widespread fabric of supporting Bradford City. 10 years ago, a Premier League club getting booed off for playing poorly against Southampton. Ever since it’s has been a downwards spiral of ever-lowering standards.

Under-performing players who in the end have to be ditched to save money. That weaker financial position leads to weaker replacements who become equally unloved, who are then swapped with even more inferior players. It has gone on and on like this. Performances always seemingly getting worse – from the disgrace of losing to Southampton in the Premier League to getting thrashed 3-0 at home to Torquay in League Two. Even the wins are tempered by the fact they generally came against teams we were recently much higher above.

It’s been on heck of a bumpy, uncomfortable fall. This past decade.

Aside from an almost year-on-year decline in league position, it’s the lack of good times and moments widely savoured along the way which illustrate how low the enjoyment factor has been allowed to fall. And this circle of decline means that even players who deserve some recognition for their efforts in claret and amber have largely been quickly forgotten or are widely derided.

Imagine you were asked to draw up a six-player shortlist – PFA-style – of the best City players over the past decade, in terms of their impact over at least one season. We’d all struggle to compile such a list, and even then widely disagree. (For what it’s worth, my personal top six from this decade of despair would be Mark Bower, Dean Furman, Stuart McCall, Donovan Ricketts, David Wetherall and Dean Windass – bet you disagree with at least two if not more of my choices). Top six team performances of the past decade? Top six moments? Not a great deal of choice to go for, is there?

But the upshot of all of this is that the pressure of continued failure and lowering expectations lies heavily on these inferior players of the present. This current team isn’t capable of much, other than preserving our league status. That might not be good enough, but one has to wonder whether the blame of failing to realise expectations beyond what the players are collectively – and individually – capable of should be fully piled onto their shoulders?

For 90 minutes on Tuesday, many received non-stop abuse for their failings. It ain’t Gareth Evans fault we’re in League Two, forced to recruit players like Gareth Evans.

Above all else, I guess I wish we could act as though we are on the same side as our players more often, instead of this near-constant outrage that they are letting us down. So when we are urging our team to equalise against Burton, but then – when they manage that – instantly turn around and slate them for not being good enough, it seems we are merely trying to inflict as much misery as we can upon ourselves – and. ultimately, it is we who suffer for that.

No one would suggest we get out the open top bus should City stay up this season. But, after staring down the barrel of the non-league gun, we should take some degree of consolation that it probably won’t turn out as badly as it might have.

Hate the team, I mean really hate the team

“Love the club, hate the team” or so went the special demotivational chant as City played Southend United on Friday night and its is almost impossible not to suggest that both players and supporters put in the level of effort that befit the result.

Which is not to criticise anyone who went down to Southend United for Bradford City – both players and fans were on the road for twelve hours that day – but that while some things in life are about the journey others are about what you do when you reach the destination and in terms of achieving a result it could hardly be said that either excelled.

It is said that one of the City players at the end of the game as he was “in debate” with a supporter colourfully told him – as a retort to something equally colourful – that he cared not about the abuse because he would not be at the club next season.

No more dog poo training pitch, no more hostile crowds, no more ludicrous level of expectation, no more revolving door on the manager’s office, no more seeing good players dropped for loanees, no more having the chairman tell people that you have under performed despite all the things listed. One can imagine that if you really hated the team the best punishment might be to trigger one of those contract extensions.

Which is only half in jest. While being a professional football is – no doubt – a superb job most of the time but like any job the minutia of it grinds and that grind must be apparent when after being dragged to and from Southend in a day the only thing to look forward to is more of the same. Certainly looking at Bradford City and they way that the club chooses to direct its resources would hardly fill you with anticipation that next season would be any better.

The club’s public position is that it has no money so there are no improvements in the offing and there is a tendency for the promises made one minute to be broken the next. Lewis Hunt is not involved at the moment, and as a player you will have your own views on that. You might also recall signing for a club which talked about having overnight stays which – seemingly – were not needed for Southend despite one assumes being budgeted for at the start of the season.

Against this backdrop the only real prospect of improvement is not from the club but from the players working together and summoning the individual character to improve and – in short – there is very little reason for them to do that. With many five game away from being out of work the motivation to put a foot in where it hurts (and by hurts one could say “leaves injured to make a trail for someone else in the summer impossible”) must be very low.

Such is the situation the players – and by extension the club – finds itself in. Fighting for Fourth Division survival with an army of near de-mob mercenaries. If we do have a club next season I do hope we stop this obsession football has with the season long contract and start giving players good, long, proper deals. To get loyalty, you have to give loyalty.

One wonders what loyalty Omar Daley will have left. Daley is out of contract at the end of the season and needs to impress with Rotherham United seemingly changed direction from the management which signed him two months ago and City being without a manager who can be sure of being in the big chair next season. The idea that he might be going to one of the Scottish Cup finalists lingers.

Daley will return to the City team on the left wing as Peter Jackson looks to recall the walking wounded for the game against Burton Albion which is being billed – somewhat curiously – as giving the winner a safe place in League Two next season.

The game is part of a good season for Burton which was ruined by games called off and the team has struggled with the arduous games in hand catch up of which this is the final one. The games in hand which people thought would propel them up the league have not and they hover nervously above the drop.

City hover above them, but are still nervous.

Jackson – who seems to see his hopes of being City’s full time manager evaporate in front of him – is tasked with getting the performance that has been lacking from his previous two matches and will try get the spark from Daley which has been lacking. Daley is expected to be on the left wing opposite Gareth Evans on the right but he could be deployed on the other flank, or up front.

However the Daley and Evans with Jon Worthington and David Syers in the middle seems to best suit Jackson’s style of play with Michael Flynn up front alongside the also returning James Hanson. Jackson’s dropping of A in a quest for more goals seems to have failed drastically. The replacements have looked no more likely to score than the maligned forward but the ball has spent less time in the final third.

Likewise the decision to drop Lewis Hunt is probably not the only factor in the seven concessions in two games but the disturbance to what was a decent defensive unit has helped not one jot. Lee Bullock and Luke O’Brien have suffered at right back and Jackson is left looking at youngster Adam Robinson making his debut or someone else filling in. Steve Williams is back to partner Luke Oliver and O’Brien is expected back at left back.

Jon McLaughlin keeps goal.

A win will move City to fifty points – since two teams started to be relegated from League Two no club has gone down with that many – but only twice have teams with 47 points been relegated in those eight years which is motivation for Burton who would reach that total.

One wonders how Burton’s fans think of their club, and if they hate their players.

Note No comments on this. We have no time to moderate them during the day and after the game comments are best directed at the report.

Macclesfield Town game off

City’s trip to Macclesfield Town has been called off owing to a waterlogged pitch which is captured by this photograph from Shane Duff who tweeted “Can’t believe they made us travel. Back to Bradford for training.”

The Moss Rose Ground has been subject to heavy rain over night which has left the pitch unplayable.

Silkmen chairman Mike Rance hit a disappointed note saying

We’ve been pumping water from the corners for the best part of two hours, but the water levels are so high that is was always going to be a losing battle. I understand Bury and Altrincham are also off and such has been the downpour I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few more matches get called off.

Should Barnet win at Northampton and Stockport win at Torquay then Macclesfield would drop into the bottom two with Burton Albion – due to play Bury – put at the bottom of the division having played eight fewer games than Stockport. That is 17% of the season – including a game at City – which Burton have to play.

City will drop below either Lincoln City or Hereford United depending on the result of the game between those teams who play today but no further leaving the Bantams 19th going into next week’s home game with Peter Taylor’s former club Wycombe Wanderers.

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