How Bradford City mastered calm seas beating Carlisle United 2-0 in pre-season

The Team

Ben Williams | Tony McMahon, Rory McArdle, Gary Little, James Meredith | Mark Marshall, Christopher Routis, Gary Liddle, Josh Morris | James Hanson, Billy Clarke | Luke James, Steve Davies, Alan Sheehan, Jon Lewis, Luke Hendrie

And the day continued well. Phil Parkinson and his entire back room staff are in talks over new contracts and that was the discussion as fans mingled with players following the 2-0 pre-season win over Carlisle United. The drizzle gave way to a pleasant sun the early evening and all seemed to bode well.

Parkinson’s team had been in full race trim for the only Valley Parade friendly of pre-season and while Carlisle United had a moment or two they seemed a keen poorly set up by manager Keith Curle and set to struggle.

Curle approach centres around switched on midfielders who can dynamically move from the holding role to forward positions and he gives that responsibility to Jason Kennedy as if Jason Kennedy were able to be Steven Gerrard if Curle wants him to. I doubt he will last the year.

Parkinson’s approach is as contrasting as one can get. James Hanson is target man, Billy Clarke plays off him and with two banks of four behind them. For forty five minutes City play meat and potatoes football and they play it well grinding Carlisle in the first half and scoring two in the second.

The second saw Parkinson’s playmaker return but rather than trying to play through the man behind the front two the role was more space hunting third striker looking for the ball that came from Hanson’s head or – later – Steve Davies.

Davies was an inch away from scoring with his first kick but rather was next to Gary Liddle as he tapped in a flick down. Josh Morris had scored the first after switching to the right wing following a productive first hour on the left hand side.

Morris was impressive on the day, as was Liddle who played next to Rory McArdle in the back four, but all impressive performances were set in a context of how little trouble the visitors caused.

And there are things to write about the squad. Things to write about how Josh Morris provides a better supply of crosses than Mark Yeates in that he will cross from the byline. There are things to right about how when Gary Liddle moves out of central midfield there is no cover for him. Things to write about how Parkinson has a better first team but a weaker squad.

But all those things are conjecture based on a weak sample. Most pre-season tells one little, this one has said virtually nothing. Leyton Orient’s Nathan Clarke watched the game from the stands an looks set to sign during the coming week which will replace Andrew Davies.

One wonders if Parkinson hopes that he can maintain a small squad with players able to cover more than one position rather than bring in poor characters. Tony McMahon seems to cover one half of the defence and Alan Sheehan the other while Parkinson would rather play Christopher Routis in whatever hole the team presents than he would bring in players he does not know, who might not have the character he wants, who might not fit into his dressing room.

At the end of August Phil Parkinson will have managed more Bradford City games than Trevor Cherry did which we can broadly define as being the longest serving manager in the modern era. At the end of the season he will be the third on the list of most games managed.

This, it seems, is what stability looks like. Parkinson has players he trusts in the dressing room – players like McArdle, and Stephen Darby, and James Hanson – and he understands that those players have bought into an ethos. With that comes the tacit understanding that that ethos will be maintained.

That puts the onus on Parkinson to only bring in the right sort of character. Football is replete with players who can kick a ball well but are bad characters and it is those people who Parkinson has spent the summer avoiding. Judging a players ability to kick a ball can be seen in a friendly game, seeing how well a player fits into the dressing room will only be obvious as the season goes on.

The sense of entitlement

A few questions this week on this comment following the 1-0 defeat to Carlisle United.

If you think you “deserve better” then I don’t know what to say to you other than that you have an inflated sense of entitlement

Let me be clear I’m not suggesting that Bradford City fans should not expect things from their club. I’m not suggesting that supporters should not expect the players who represent the team to put in a level of effort into performances. Nor am I saying that supporters should not expect a lot from the manager or coaching staff or boardroom at Bradford City. I have those high expectations.

Those expectations are positive. They push the club to try be better next season than it is last and trying to make the club better is what every supporter wants.

There, though, is the rub. It is what every supporter wants not just every City supporter. Every club in football has supporters pushing them on expecting players and managers to do better.

So when I hear someone saying that Parkinson should be sacked because the fans who travel to Carlisle deserve better than the 1-0 reversal to the Cumbrians then I fear that an inflated sense of entitlement has become an issue.

Because one set of supporters do not “deserve better” than another and football is a multi-polar world. Everyone is trying to do well and not everyone can and effort in football is not zero-sum. A team can play well and be beaten by one which plays better. There is no case that the losing supporters “deserve better” than the winning supporters and if no case can be made in single games then it can’t be made in a sequence of games.

One could make a judgement that players or managers or boardrooms are not performing well enough but that must be an absolute judgement against an accurate perception of how those people could be performing.

The inflated sense of entitlement comes when a supporter (or any club, but in this case of City) believes that the fact that they “deserve better” more than a rival supporter. The idea that one’s personal needs are greater than another person’s to the wider society is not something that we should countenance.

The club cannot – and should not – be pushed into making decisions on the basis “deserving better” when every supporter “deserves better” and have to exclude those considerations and the people who have them from the decision making process.

Carlisle United defeat leaves City thinking about the punitive sacking

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, Matthew Bates | Gary Thompson, Gary Jones, Matthew Dolan, Adam Reach | Aaron McLean, James Hanson | Nathan Doyle, Kyle Bennett, Andy Gray

Let us, dear reader, forgo discussions of the 1-0 defeat to Carlisle United and move without flinching to the mainstay of this discussion. Should Phil Parkinson remain Bradford City manager?

I shall ruin the surprise. I think he should

I think he should but I think that a club and community that sacks Stuart McCall can sack anyone – Wembley or no Wembley – and unless there is a change in the boardroom that is the reality in which we live.

My contention on Parkinson is that he has the abilities that Bradford City need in a manager and that if he were not the current manager, and he were available, he would be the top of our list for the job.

We save ourselves the effort and the expense if we just ride out this bad run.

That idea is not one that has traction in the modern culture of football management which revolves around the punitive sacking and let us not make any mistake removing Phil Parkinson would be a punitive sacking.

You can hear it in how people talk about the idea. “One win in twenty one” they say (it is beginning to be a credible sample size) and then mumble about deserving better. The second half troubles me in this. Poor results, even poor performances, are not personal slights and trust no one who treats them as such.

Nevertheless the punishment for such a return is to be sacked. Why is that the so? Because received wisdom tells us it is so.

When I was younger (I was born in 1973) the idea of a rapid manager turnaround was a joke that was becoming a reality at the poorer run clubs. Now it is a truism that almost every manager is considered to be a dozen games away from being fired.

Arsene Wenger loses at City and there are calls for him to be sacked. He loses 5-1 at Liverpool and there are calls for him to be sacked. Someone notices that Arsenal have not won a trophy for a good few years and there are calls for him to be sacked. Spurs have sacked manager after manager as Arsenal stuck with Wenger and have never passed them. They simply burn resources in the changes.

What was a joke is the conversation that has seeped beyond the more tedious parts of Talk Sport into football culture like a drop of ink into water. It is everywhere now. As much in boardrooms as it is on Twitter. We even have a song about it.

If a manager suffers bad results he’ll be sacked in the morning.

Statistics say that bad form rights itself with or without punitive sackings but that hardly seems to be the point. Boardrooms can do very little in terms of direct action to be able to suggest they have a manifest control over the destinies of their teams.

Sacking a manager looks like action but seldom does it come with any change of policy and so aside from the cosmetics of looking like a boardroom is taking action the result of a punitive sacking is almost always negative.

Using Bradford City as an example we call recall Trevor Cherry was sacked as a punishment for bad form and replaced by Terry Dolan who seemed to do a better job taking the team to the edge of the top flight but he in turn was sacked for the same kind of poor run and the Bantams did not get lucky again and Terry Yorath did worse.

If Hutchings, Wetherall, and Jackson do not tell you what the impact of the punitive (rather than planned, from a policy change such as Geoffrey Richmond’s arrival) sacking is then an article by this writer never will.

But this writer would not make that case. Not only is it a pointless argument to have – the boardroom at Bradford City acts as it will – but it’s also not the reason to keep Parkinson.

We should keep Phil Parkinson as Bradford City manager because he is a hard working manager who knows how to bring success. It is not the only way to bring success but it is a proven way. He brings success by instilling a work ethic and having a set pattern of play which is rugged and practical.

I’ve seen more attractive teams playing football although rarely ones with more character, but the fact that those things are the right things to have do not change with a run of bad results or even with relegation.

If you think the answer is to install a manager who promises to play a 352 and drag in some playmaker to Platini around the pitch then you must have been sleeping all last season, or faced in a direction away from the ball.

If you think the answer is just to change to anyone else then go lay down until your sense returns. If you think you “deserve better” then I don’t know what to say to you other than that you have an inflated sense of entitlement.

If you did pay attention last season (and in the other good seasons the club has had, and not just the ones which brought promotions) then you’ll notice that there is only hard work and effort. If you have a manager who prizes those things above all else then why change other than because you want to mete out punishment?

Pre-season ends on a bum note as Jackson’s three-man midfield is outgunned

The Team

Martin Hansen | Andrew Burns, Guy Branston, Lee Bullock, Robbie Threlfall | Michael Flynn, Chris Mitchell, David Syers | Mark Stewart, James Hanson, Ross Hannah | Nialle Rodney, Nahki Wells, Jack Crompton, Scott Brown

A mood of despondency could be felt across Valley Parade’s main stand during the final 12 minutes that followed James Berrett’s clinching goal for Carlisle United. Pre-season results may be meaningless, but a third straight first team friendly defeat is hardly the greatest morale-booster for Bradford City’s new season. A hard week of training aside, all preparations are now completed and – as the final whistle sounded – unsettling concerns over how well this team can perform when it really counts next week were unavoidable.

Just like against Bolton the week before, in the end Carlisle’s greater quality had told following a strong second half performance that left City struggling to get the ball from them. It could easily have been different: before and after the three visitor goals, all the best chances fell to a Bantams side who were continually frustrated by a superb display from United stopper Adam Collin. But despite Jack Compton and Nialle Rodney almost triggering a late rally with well-struck shots magnificently saved, the optimistic mood in the stands and even in the dugout had been firmly punctured.

Indeed Peter Jackson and Colin Cooper – vocal for much of the game – were silent and apparently resigned to defeat well before the end. This game will have offered them plenty to ponder over, with numerous positives that should not be discounted. But perhaps the biggest lesson of all was the limitations triggered from employing a 4-3-3 formation, especially when games really matter.

As Compton and Nahki Wells were brought on as subs with 21 minutes to play, a frustrated Michael Flynn came over to the bench to ask if formation was to be changed because “we’re getting murdered as a three.” The Welshman, David Syers and Chris Mitchell had been deployed as a midfield three, with Mitchell instructed to sit back and protect the back four, but once Carlisle’s 4-4-2 got into their stride the Cumbrians were able to use their extra midfield man to pass the ball through City with far too much comfort.

The familiar problem of 4-3-3 was also evident – the opposition doubling up on the full backs. Andrew Burns was selected at right back and the Development Squad member had a highly impressive game, but on the left side an on-the-way-out the now-staying-at-City Robbie Threlfall was less reliable and easily outnumbered by Carlisle attacking two-on-one. Unlike Luke O’Brien, Threlfall was less willing to go forward and take people on. The result was a City side struggling to get hold of possession and attack with any greater subtly than direct balls down the channels for wide forwards Ross Hannah and Mark Stewart.

Though for a while the formation was working well. Just two minutes into the game, Hannah chased after a forward pass and did brilliantly to turn and hold off a defender, before laying the ball off into Stewart’s path. The Scotsman charged into the area and hit an emphatic shot into the top corner to give City the lead. Stewart had another hugely promising afternoon where his movement and clever running caught the eye. Supplying him with the ball in areas he can hurt the opposition is a must this season.

With James Hanson in the middle of the three-man forward line and maintaining his form from the Bolton game during the first half at least, City were a handful and attacked with regular frequency and purpose. Hanson headed over from yet another brilliant Mitchell corner, while Stewart hit a shot narrowly over the bar. Hannah then had a one-on-one chance but failed to beat Collin, before later hesitating in the area when a loose ball fell his way.

A special word on Hannah, who’s pre-season has been largely anonymous for City and who may have fallen behind Rodney in the striker pecking order. Today was easily his most effective performance and on several occasions he showed decent feet in beating his man, good strength in holding up the ball, while his running down the channels demonstrated an intelligent football brain. Not everything he did came off, but the fact he was mostly doing the right things bodes well for this season.

Rather unexpectedly, Carlisle found an equaliser seconds before the interval through their first meaningful attack. Good build up play left Threlfall up against two men, and the resultant cross was headed home Tom Taiwo with Lee Bullock having lost his man. Despite this mistake, the club’s third-longest serving player performed strongly as centre back and Bullock’s increasing versatility should prove a useful back option over the coming months.

The half time break helped Carlisle more than City, and eight minutes into the second half they had an underserved lead through a magnificent curling shot from Barrett. From then on the League One side assumed control and though the Bantams’ efforts to stem the tide showed spirit they lacked true conviction. Flynn and Syers firing efforts over the bar and a belated switch to 4-4-2 were not enough to suggest a comeback, and soon after Barrett hit another stinging shot that flew past Martin Hansen to complete the scoring.

Hansen’s 90-minute performance in goal showed promise, and there was certainly no blame for any of the goals. He handles crosses well and his kicking impressed, though his lack of shouting will hopefully be improved upon through the confidence of getting to know team mates better. Jon McLaughlin watched the game from the bench and – given he’s not played a minute of pre-season action – it looks as though the on-loan Danish keeper will begin the season City’s number one.

For Jackson, most of the other first game starters will already be pencilled in, though a few areas might cause concern. Defensively City looked reasonably strong, though Guy Branston’s approach of diving in for tackles worries me and at one stage drew the anger of Cooper. The City captain had charged into a tackle that he didn’t need to make, and though he won the ball on this occasion, this manner of defending could easily led to him missing the ball and enabling a striker to run through on goal. His style of going in for the ball straight away may work well if his central defensive partner is primed to cover for any mistakes, but staying on his feet more often would seem advisable.

Where to play Mitchell is also a nagging question. He did okay as defensive midfielder before getting overrun in the second half, and his slight lack of height may make him better suited to right back. His ability with deadballs is a massive weapon for City this season, meaning he needs to start games. Alongside him today Flynn continued his excellent pre-season form, though David Syers is yet to really find his rhythm. Who plays in the centre with Flynn is still questionable.

As is the formation. All pre-season long, Jackson has used 4-4-2 and the change this afternoon was curious given it was the final rehearsal for the season. The manager’s despondent outlook at full time may be caused by how limited it was in success, but even with Compton having signed on loan and looking impressive when he came on as sub, widemen are not the strongest areas of the squad. The unused sub Jamie Green is presumably not going to win a contract, especially now Threlfall is staying.

There’s no need to panic about the upcoming season on the back of a few friendly defeats, but as Aldershot and the campaign’s commencement comes sharply into focus there is a nagging feeling that – as promising as this squad of players looks and as pleasing as they potentially will be to watch – it may not be as ready as we’d ideally like. One can envisage a slow start to the season as players develop, which may not be tolerated by some with patience in short supply.

Perhaps it’s good to rein back expectations now. Unlike a year ago no one seems willing to talk up this season’s prospects. If we believe promotion is a possibility we’re not shouting about it. The quality of the players Jackson has brought in suggest a challenge for the top seven at least is a realistic target, and overall we should be excited rather than apprehensive.

But perhaps the despondency felt in the closing stages this afternoon was an acknowledgement that – while this season can prove much more enjoyable than the last few – there is likely to be a few more bumps on the road ahead yet.

Too much pre-season

Pre-season rumbles too a close.

The defeat to Hull City was remarkable only because City wore a superb looking pink strip and Peter Jackson was not that pleased with the performance talking about some players having done well, others not so much.

New keeper Martin Hansen was a positive. The Liverpool keeper swatted a few away despite picked the ball out of his net three times. Nialle Rodney could have probably won himself a starting position had he scored, but he did not and Mark Stewart did giving the Scot the box seat come Aldershot.

This weekend’s two games represent the end of what seems to have been a long pre-season. The squad assembled for Silsden has pretty much stayed as it was throughout the games which have contained little of note with the Bantams beating teams below them and losing to teams above them.

So far, so dull really and there is a sense that most people can not wait to be done with the friendlies and onto the proper games. Twenty years ago the regular fan would rock up on day one and find a clutch of new faces, with rumours of pre-season but never having seen them or at least that is what it seemed like. Perhaps it was the day Carlos Valderrama rocked up for Real Valladolid and did midfield battle against a City team who fielded Paul Jewell at right back that pre-season became something I watched rather than something I heard about.

Pre-season seems to go on for more then the month it shows in the calendar and at this level it is unfulfilling. The game with Carlisle United represents a team close to City in the structure of football and perhaps the best chance of a decent game but with City’s squad – or squads – well defined at this stage the players seem to be keeping away from injury with a decent knowledge of who will be in the sixteen on opening day.

Indeed the back five of Hansen, Simon Ramsden, Steve Williams, Guy Branston and Luke O’Brien seems inked in and Stewart has added his name to James Hanson up front. The midfield has some movement but seems to have Dominic Rowe on the right, Michael Flynn in the middle and one of David Syers, Chris Mitchell and Richie Jones in there too. Jamie Green is trying to play for a contract but should he sign one then the left wing is his with only former Carlisle man Nakhi Wells seemingly offering another option.

The day previous to that match at Valley Parade a minor event occurs as City return to Horsfall Stadium as Archie Christie’s development squad take on Albion Sports in the Bantams’ first game against the former Sunday league club formed in 1974 and recently turned Saturday.

There is a family link for me – Uncle Bill used to manage them – but Albion Sports also provided the kit for my team at University. At the time it was the same kit which Bradford Park Avenue were wearing.

That Albion Sports – formed by two men named Singh just after Park Avenue went out of business – have move into sharing the stadium with the Stans perhaps has a significance beyond this game in the shifting patterns of local football.

Christie’s Development team is likely to feature a mixed bag of players with the likes of Luke Oliver keeping fit, Darren Stephenson trying to get back in from the cold and no doubt whichever trialists the former Dag & Red man scout has found.

Some do not care for the idea that Christie does more than scouting at City – why he should not considering his title is Head of Football Development one has to wonder – but there seems to be a benefit for a team which so freely hires and fires managers in taking the responsibility for passing players from the youth levels to the first team away from the temporary position of “manager”.

When Jackson leaves – and let us face it the only certainty about any manager in City is at some point his critics will outnumber his advocates and drum him out – then it is a good thing that young players like Scott Brown or Patrick Lacey do not have their development interrupted by the new broom of a new gaffer.

Christie’s role is to bring the manager – whoever it is – new players who are good enough to be given a first team role. He can do this though scouting and signing or he can do it through picking up young players and filing off the rough edges to make them good enough. If he can grab a player from a local league and give him a six months in the Development squad getting him ready to hand on to the manager then that is a way to improve the club other than just the hiring and firing of men in the big chair marked boss.

So plenty to play for at Horsfall Stadium, perhaps for both sets of players, but at Valley Parade there is a water treading and a waiting for the pre-season to be over and for football to begin.

Pre-season plans take shape as Bolton Wanderers head to “Valley Parade”

Bradford City have today announced their pre-season friendlies for the 2011/12 campaign, which throw up a number of intriguing games. The headlines unsurprisingly centre around a visit from Premier League Bolton Wanderers. And, whether a slip of the tongue or an indication of how the rental negotiations are going, the Telegraph & Argus has stated the friendly will be played at Valley Parade.

Bolton travel to West Yorkshire on Sunday 24 July; the first time they have played the Bantams since Wayne Jacobs’ testimonial in July 2004 ended with the long-serving left back scoring a penalty in the last minute that was so weak you had to question whether it had all been contrived. Bolton manager Owen Coyle has been a regular pre-season visitor to Valley Parade, however, bringing along his Burnley side in 2008 and 2009.

Before that pre-season will begin at Silsden AFC’s new ASDA Foundation Stadium on Wednesday 13 July. As a Skipton resident, the seven-mile journey to watch this game will be the shortest trip I will have ever made to watch the Bantams. Two days later (Friday 15 July) City travel to Ross Hannah’s old club Matlock Town, before the much-discussed friendly with Guiesley (Tuesday 19 July) finally takes place, as part of the James Hanson transfer two years ago.

After Bolton’s visit is the annual game with Bradford (Park Avenue), on Wednesday 27 July, this time at the Horsfall stadium – two miles away from Odsal (so maybe a chance to check out pre-match pubs for next season?). Pre-season ends with a home visit from Greg Abbott’s Carlisle United on Saturday 30 July, one week before the opening League Two fixtures.

Bad Ref Afternoon

I’m becoming increasingly fed up with paying my money to watch games refereed by officials so one-sided you have to wonder whether they are cheating.

There is a problem in football and Andy Utley’s comment on the BfB report on the Rotherham United game sums it up. Tired from asking the question “bias or bloody rubbish?” supporters such as Andy – and myself – are frustrated at the inaction of the game’s authorities to these Bad Ref Afternoons are voting with their wallets.

Andy’s comments about contacting the Football League about a Referee’s performance are far from unique in the BfB post bag and a good few City fans after the Oldham/Blackpool/Southend/Shrewsbury games a few years ago wrote to the football authorities to complain about what they saw as bias in the officials and all got the same response of “say what you like about the Refs but never say they are cheating.”

Not that Andy’s comments – or my thoughts on the subject – are the only voice to be heard. Chris Barlow on BfB – late on an evening – added

To talk of conspiracy between referees against BCFC due to SM’s attitude even defies my current drunken state.

Chris has a valid point too and one which Tony Pulis the Stoke manager would agree with – he would not see Referees as against City but rather suggest that Lee Probert is just not giving the right decisions. The flaw in the idea that Referees are blighted by a bias against Bradford City is that they have seemingly been for Bradford City and while aspersion are not to be cast our chairmen are no whiter than any others.

This is countered by the idea that it is rare for a team who wins a game to have a lasting memory of any referee. Think back now to the last time City got what you could call a favour from an official. It is a much harder task than recalling the last time you stomped away in anger.

There is an attitude in football that any cheating in the game is always detected and thus the suggestion of cheating is always wrong. This is often and obviously untrue. In League Two Accrington players have been banned for betting on their own team to lose while at the other end of professional football the likes of Juventus were relegated for fixing matches.

We see that cheating is commonplace – certainly more commonplace than the Football League’s terse replies to genuine concerns suggest – with the Italian example being a very high profile collection of games in which teams had favourable Referees. One wonders if any Inter supporter trooping away from a game with Juve, AC Milan et al complaining about the offside goal that the Ref “just got wrong” was told that “referee’s don’t cheat.”

The word “cheat” has a strange set of connotations in football. It is a given that players cheat all the time – when Thierry Henry did it in the World Cup play-offs the reaction was a condemnation not for the player for blatantly abusing the rules but for the officials for not spotting the abuse – and in some cases plaudits are expected when players show any honesty at all. I recall being invited to admire Cristiano Ronaldo by a work mate because he had “cut diving out of his game” as if the fact that he no longer cheated was something to be celebrated rather than the fact he had condemned.

Managers tend to avoid the “cheat” word for fear of the FA sanction it brings although Stockport County’s Jim Gannon feared it not – and fell foul of it not – when he stated that he believed that having kicked up a fuss over one Referee’s poor performance officials were penalising County as a result. Gannon was never charged by the FA and the comments fizzled out after his move to Motherwell. He was last seen in colourful debate with Hugh Dallas about the standard of Scots officials.

The manager’s secret language though contains a number of phrases the heart of which is the asserting that the Referees have shown a bias. From “FIFA will be pleased” to “You don’t get those decisions at Old Trafford” they say meaning that bias has been shown against their side but stopping short of airing the words. Stuart McCall employed some Referee code saying that a recent official would find the decision embarrassing meaning simply that the man in the middle was wrong. As a result the people of Carlisle grew angry suggesting once again that anyone who questions the officials should be made to shut up.

McCall’s comments after the Carlisle United game echoed Andy’s as the City manager added that he felt sorry for Bantams supporters who had paid to come North on a Tuesday night only to see a game ruined by an official and his decision making. Tellingly in the spat between McCall, his old mate Greg Abbott and the local Carlisle newspaper the referee of the day – Tony Bates – kept his mouth shut.

Therein is the problem – and perhaps the solution – in Refereeing. For ninety minutes a week officials issue edicts to players which ripple through to managers and to supporters but once that ninety minutes is up they walk away from the ground never to utter a word about the game again (stopping only, perhaps, to summarily judge that someone has sworn at them in the car park).

Managers talk about games, players talk about games, fans talk about games but referees will not. Indeed it is in the Laws of the Game that officials are not to use body language as signals inform supporters of the reasons for decisions so the generous Ref who points to his palm to signal handball is risking the wrath of his superiors who would have him make, but never explain, decisions.

With that in mind Bates could not mime a second tug to show all why Simon Ramsden was sent off at Carlisle and Lee Probert could not make the dive motion he obviously though the Bantams defenders were doing when the Rotherham’s Broughton’s elbows were flying around. Perhaps this is for the best. Referees already seem to be falling into Pantomime, we do not want it to be mime.

Referee do make a detailed report for the FA after every game but trying to get a look at that report is out of the question. A polite mail to the authorities, a raging demand as a consumer of the football product, a pleasing begging letter. No matter what you are not seeing why the man who ruined your trip to Cumbria did what he did. It is a policy which is supercilious to the point of an insult.

Supercilious and utterly unnecessary. It is well within possibilities that a referee could fill in his report online with the ability to add a note on every yellow card or goal given, to make general comments on the game and give reasons that on a Monday morning every fan who had spent good money going to a match could log on and read.

So if Lee Probert had made a couple of notes on his match report: “44 mins – I felt that Ramsden was injured not the contact from the player and not by an elbow” and “3-2 Rotherham – I thought the Free Kick was taken from within an acceptable area of the offence penalised” then at least supporters would have a reason for the decisions. Communication is important in increasing respect and trust. It is good to talk, I know I heard it on an advert.

Sadly though the line from officials is not that they want respect – as the campaign is titled – but rather fealty and this is a problem for football. Supporters have past being tired with this position and have moved into an action of inaction.

Me, Andy and many others are fed up with paying money (and spending a day of the weekend) watching referees that behave in the way we so often see and knowing genuine worries will be summarily dismissed out of hand by the FL simply which only serves to thumb the nose of the footballing authorities at the supporters. The outcome seems to be that more and more supporters decide against a trip to Barnet or Exeter because of the risk of one of these “bad ref afternoons”.

There are other reasons why football trips are less enjoyable now that they were ten or fifteen years ago but no matter what list one draws up the quality of refereeing is a significant reason why a fan can’t justify spending the thick end of £50 on an away trip.

The culture of secrecy that officials live under not only leaves supporters asking the “bent or bloody rubbish” question but also creates a set of conditions in which cheating referees would be allowed to prosper. Start to address the issue with refereeing by creating a feedback loop in which fans can at least find out why decisions are made and one shines a cleansing light into the world of officials.

Failure to address this issue and the game carries on turning off supporters by tiny, significant and avoidable increments.

Where does the truth lie anymore as Carlisle newspaper calls for Stuart McCall to be fined

McCall is choosing the lazy route of attacking officialdom when he would be wiser to deal with the indiscipline of his own players.

In the wake of Bradford City’s 3-0 defeat to Carlisle United in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy earlier this week, Carlisle’s local paper, Times & Star, has run a sports opinion piece calling for Bantams boss Stuart McCall to be fined for his post-match comments that the decision to send off his full back Simon Ramsden was an “embarrassing” one.

Stuart was upset with referee Tony Bates after a second yellow card was issued to Ramsden on the stroke of half time for tugging on the shirt of home winger Matty Robson. With the game evenly poised at 0-0, it was clearly the decisive point of the evening and one would assume it was fair both managers were allowed to pass their judgement on it, yet with McCall disputing it and home manager Greg Abbott arguing it was a just sending off, it seems the paper has ruled one opinion is correct and one opinion is wrong – so Stuart should be fined and censured.

It’s become an increasingly frustrating aspect that, at lower league level, managers so often disagree on the way key decisions go and the local media falls in line with sticking up for their own. Within the Times & Star piece it even admits it is “easier to throw flames at an opposition manager rather than the blokes we speak to every week.” Imagine if the boot was on the other foot and it had been a Carlisle player controversially sent off, would the Times & Star be calling for their manager to be fined if he’d labelled the decision “embarrassing”, or would they be issuing opinion pieces calling for video technology to overturn travesties of justice?

The sad fact is that a discussion about the rights and wrongs of Ramsden’s dismissal becomes almost impossible as both sides feverishly stick up for their team. Looking at the moment on TV again, it’s clear Ramsden holds back Robson as he tries to run forward. Yet crucially, Carlisle don’t have the ball after Scott Neilson, a few yards away from Ramsden and Robson, fairly wins possession and is running the other direction as Ramsden grabs the shirt. It is therefore not clear if it really was a free kick, and it certainly isn’t clear if a yellow card is deserved. This is a highly subjective decision, so how anyone from Carlisle can rule it cut and dry and attack anyone who questions it is beyond me.

It’s also worth pointing out the backdrop of poor refereeing McCall went into the game still seething from. Imagine if Bates had been in charge for City’s game against Rotherham three days earlier? Lee Probert decided to allow Millers striker Drew Braughton and defender Pablo Mills off the hook for a series of crude and highly physical challenges that left home defenders lying on the floor in a daze and Michael Boulding on crutches for the Christmas period. Rotherham got away with it and won the game, then in the next game McCall sees one of his players sent off for something minor in comparison.

In the Times & Star piece it is ludicrously argued “Mr Bates was doing the game a service by dismissing Ramsden, not ruining it.” Perhaps McCall should post them a DVD copy of the Rotherham game to find out their opinions on elbows. Funnily enough the Rotherham Advertiser didn’t feel it fit to mention their team’s questionable methods.

Which sums up the sheer hypocrisy of local papers. The Times & Star can climb on its high horse and write that, “Stuart McCall should know that “embarrassment” is what the rest of us feel when managers swap decency for unjustified venom”, but soon after they’ll be devoting column inches to their grumbles of their own manager – as they have before. Local papers are, to be fair, only replicating the behaviour of their manager, but they are writing for an audience of their own supporters and trying to stay on friendly terms with the boss so they can keep selling papers in their area, the moral high ground is not theirs to claim.

Ultimately, it’s time their was more honesty in the lower reaches of the game. Why managers can’t admit to have benefited from unjust decisions is a question officials should be pondering, why local newspaper hacks can’t form their own opinions instead of what the manager says is another readers might want to bring up.

The Times & Star accuses McCall of “laziness”, the Bradford City manager would be within his rights to throw such an accusation firmly back at the finger pointer.

The way to the middle

Teams like Aldershot Town provide a stark contrast for Bradford City supporters. Aldershot – as with the Accrington Stanley fans who out sung the 10,000 Bantams fans at Valley Parade – have struggled seen their club cast out of football and brought it back from the bottom. City, on the other hand, have fallen from the top.

The Shots were thrown out of the league Mid-season in the early 1990s following a series of chairman abuses but returned to the league in the last few years having shown the kind of spirit to rebuild the club that City fans did to raise the £250,000 to keep the club in business in its centenary year. In the words of Lester Bangs “Everyone meets again on the way back to the middle.”

Aldershot sit a place behind the play-off positions but are nursing heads from a 6-1 thrashing by Burton Albion last time out. City struggle for results but have shown admirable hearts in the two defeats last week to Rotherham and Carlisle. It is thought that the Bantams are entering a crucial time in the season and a crucial period for manager Stuart McCall but honestly – when is it not a crucial time?

McCall goes into the game without Simon Ramsden – sent off the first half of the Carlisle defeat – but will slot Jonathan Bateson in at right back alongside Zesh Rehman and Matthew Clarke should Steve Williams not be fit to return in the place of the latter. Luke O’Brien and Simon Eastwood continue at left back and in goal respectively.

The Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock midfield is starting to resemble the pairing of Dean Furman and Nicky Law last season in that all agree with it, all think it is good, but it seems to be the middle of a team which loses too often. Both Flynn and Bullock work hard – certainly they bossed Law’s midfield last week – and offer the best option for the positions.

James O’Brien had a cameo in the JPT game before being taken off as a result of the red card – many feel that without him City lack set piece delivery – but with Simon Whaley having struggled to live up to early form culminating in his annoyingly slow run off in the Rotherham game and Chris Brandon seemingly prepared to meander through a season has highest paid player for his home town club O’Brien could be the best option.

Adding James O’Brien to the left and creating a tight three with a right winger able to provide a link to the forward line which is very much what Scott Neilson has been doing all season from the attacking coming back but with the last sixteen minutes of Carlisle returning Omar Daley to the fold there is a chase the Bantams could field both Daley and Neilson in a pair of attacking widemen.

Gareth Evans and James Hanson carry on up front.

End of the ride

Bradford City’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy interest ended at Carlisle tonight and I’m gutted. I’m gutted about the manner of the defeat, and I’m gutted about the agony of coming so close to a mouth-watering two-legged semi final with Leeds United.

But I’m also grateful for the adventure.

Progressing four rounds in a lower league knockout competition might not seem much to shout about, but against a backdrop of years of Bantams cup feebleness this season’s JPT run has been a memorable experience. Each encounter along the way to last night has been laced with drama and ultimate jubilation, with the prospect of City standing in the Wembley Royal Box lifting a trophy seemingly far from fanciful.

It certainly beats year-on-year hoping for progression to the FA Cup 3rd Round and the prospect of a glamour defeat to a Premier League reserve team.

The dream died at Brunton Park tonight, where once again the Bantams were left questioning the officials. Long-serving referee Anthony Bates decided to issue a second yellow card to City’s Simon Ramsden after the defender got into an argument with a home player which seemed to spur on the home fans nearby into screaming for action. It was one where, viewing from across the opposite side of the pitch, it was difficult to see if Ramsden had provided ample cause to trigger an early bath, but it tipped an evenly-matched encounter in favour of the team from a division higher.

City tried to hold out until half time, bringing on Jonathan Bateson for the unfortunate to be sacrificed James O’Brien, but the deadlock was broken with even more controversy as the impressive Vincent Pericard clearly handled the ball in the area, unspotted, and fired a low shot which Simon Eastwood did well to palm away only for Richard Keogh, looking very offside, to fire the rebound home. City behind, and with a mountain to climb.

Falling behind was a regular feature of City’s JPT run. At Rochdale in the first round, highly-rated home defender Craig Dawson hooked the ball into the net after picking up a stray clearance from a free kick. We slumped back in our seats a bit, groaning at the prospect of another defeat at Spotland and another fourth consecutive JPT first round exit, with weary resignation.

But City, recovering from that poor start to the season, didn’t throw in the towel and soon after Michael Flynn belted in a screamer of a free kick and Scott Neilson’s impressive full debut was capped off by a thrilling run and deflected shot which looped over the back peddling Kenny Arthur and into the net. There were only 315 of us City fans their that night, had Wembley being reached this season we should have been awarded our own little royal box. There was a small slice of fortune in the win, with City’s equaliser coming from an attack where Rochdale should have had a free kick, but from that stroke of luck a great win was achieved.

At Brunton Park we spend half time once again bemoaning our lack of luck. The number of decisions to go against City in recent weeks is startling and is playing a far greater impact on the club’s fortunes than any season I can remember. Everyone has a theory so here’s mine, after much bellyaching about Stuart Attwell following the inexperienced official’s decision to dismiss Gareth Evans at Morecambe, the failure to follow up those complaints by appealing the red card may have backfired. Perhaps other referees have interpreted Stuart McCall’s outburst but lack of action as that of a manager too eager to pass the blame for failings elsewhere. I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but the standard of refereeing City have since received suggests officials are taking charge of Bantams games with certain pre-judgements.

Still hope remained tonight, despite the 1-0 half time scoreline. City had played some good stuff in the first half. Neilson, James O’Brien and Ramsden had all gone close and though the Cambrians had dominated possession Eastwood was no more busy than home keeper Lenny Pidgley. One scare had seen City twice clear the ball off the line after Eastwood misjudged a corner, but despite Matt Clarke and Zesh Rehman struggling with their distribution City remained solid.  So even with 10 men and a goal deficit to overcome, the glamour tie with Leeds still seemed a realistic prospect.

There was a touch of glamour in the air for the second round encounter at home to Notts County. Despite only being a fifth full, the queue to get inside Valley Parade prior to kick off snaked around the corner as heavy rain flung down. Finding a seat in the packed Main Stand was a challenge, but we were quite grateful to have sat at the back when at half time we realised Sven Goran Eriksson was sat a few rows behind us in one of the exec seats.

By that point each team had traded a goal with the early threat of another Notts County thrashing receding after Michael Boulding’s well-placed low finish from Flynn’s glorious through ball cancelled out their lead. It seemed to take an age to roll in after it had passed Kasper Schemiecal’s outstretched arm, the second of three goals in a week for the inconsistent forward.

Boulding is now injured for a month, and with 10 men City looked especially short in the final third as the second half resumes at Carlisle, with James Hanson deployed on his own and Neilson and Gareth Evans eager support workers when claret shirts have the ball. Just like on Saturday, McCall’s half time words clearly inspired the team and for 20 minutes it was all City. An almighty scramble from a corner sees Carlisle players clear the ball off the line three times.  Soon after, Evans’ shot was parried by Pidgley and Hanson rushes in to attempt to head the ball into the net. Pidgley gets back onto his feet in time to claw it out, Hanson has another go and when it’s blocked again it was Evans’ turn to strike the ball goalwards, but a blue shirt just manages to get in the way. The pressure continued to grow, City are impressing,

Sven didn’t look impressed when Graeme Lee was sent off for one too many hacks at Boulding back in the second round, his thoughts were probably occupied by questioning the judgment of his then-manager Ian McParland ,who had signed the defender been given the run around by former team mates. Yet with 10 men County grew strong and re-took the lead with five minutes to go. We’re out, what a shame but hey it’s only the JPT.

But then City get second wind and Chris Brandon equalised from a corner in stoppage time. It was one of those moments where it’s at the other end to where you’re sat so you wait for reaction of fans around you to judge if it has gone in, but this rare time I’m the first one to cheer and a split second later everyone around me follows. Time for penalties.

We’d certainly settled for penalties again back at Brunton Park with City pressing hard, but then completely against the run of play substitute Scott Dobie scores Carlisle’s second. There is again a hint of offside, but the fact Lee Bullock had cheaply coughed up possession in his own final third to set up the chance to play Dobie through is the most damaging. It will now take a miracle for City to stay in the competition, but hey City did go 2-0 down and recover in a previous round.

A penalty shootout against County, a penny for Sven’s thoughts. The stakes are hardly the same as Portugal ’04 or Germany ’06, but the memories must stir. Sven is stood up talking to an elderly City fan in the row in front while the players get ready; it’s the type of story oft-reported around League Two that, as ridiculous it is he is with us, Sven is at least making an effort everywhere he goes.

The penalties look like going County’s way when Kasper saves from Peter Thorne and the visitors are 2-0 ahead, but City dig in and start finding the net and Eastwood starts saving. The game is decided by Kasper lining up against Easty and the sometimes-City hero prevails, sparking a somewhat over the top pitch invasion and Kasper to smash a hole in the dressing room wall. Sven looks unmoved. What a night.

If there are any fairytales at Carlisle tonight they would surely involve Omar Daley, who makes the long-awaited return to first team action by coming on as a substitute with 18 minutes to go. His name is sung excitedly and nearby team mates run over to shake his hand. It’s a special Bradford City moment on a night looking increasingly forgettable, it could prove a significant moment if his gradual return to fitness heralds an improvement in Bantams league form.

Daley soon gets his first chance to run at a full back, playing a quick one-two before his cross is put behind for a corner. Daley takes it himself, but it barely reaches the near post and is cleared towards Matty Robson. Despite two defenders staying back he has all the time in the world to charge towards Eastwood and slot the ball into the corner. It truly is good night now.

It was Port Vale in round three, 999 visiting fans and the lower tier of the Kop closed to deter pitch invasions. We went into the top tier this time and chanted like we haven’t chanted at a home game for years. 1-0 down yet again, but coming back strongly in the second half with Flynn and Hanson scoring. Me and my friend start talking about the next round draw but then Vale equalised. Penalties again, does lightning strike twice?

The sense of disappointment at Brunton Park is nearly added to after a defensive slip up allows Dobie in, but Eastwood makes a good save. There is still a spirit to City’s efforts, but this is a beaten side. How we’d love a consolation, something to cheer on a cold night, some reward for the endeavour shown on the pitch. Hanson and Flynn don’t come far away, but the only cheering comes from the Carlisle supporters as they mock.

The penalties against Port Vale lasted forever. Score, score, miss, miss, miss, miss, score, score, score, score. Every adequate-looking City penalty taker has gone and what’s left are defenders who struggle to direct their clearances as intended never mind smashing home a penalty. Oh god Luke O’Brien, he’s going to miss…phew. Clarke? Deary me…phew. Then Eastwood saves a third penalty on the night and the winner is scored by the unlikely figure of Steve Williams. We go mental, we’re through to the quarter finals, bring on the draw and lets make it another home one.

And as the game at Brunton Park comes to an end it is the one factor of luck we could do nothing about which sees the JPT run end unsatisfactorily here. If only the luck of the draw had seen City at home to Accrington, or even at home to Carlisle. If this was to be the round progress was to be halted, it would have been nice, if painful. to have gone out to Leeds and at least have enjoyed the occasion and boasted the club’s finances. Instead it’s all over, and the final whistle brings Stuart McCall over to us to applaud. Not a cross word has been uttered about the possibly-under-pressure manager tonight, and while that doesn’t mean no one here doesn’t want him replaced this was not the occasion to air it.

That’s been a difference with the JPT run; because as memorable as it has been to some supporters like me, the majority of fans who turn up to league home games have not witnessed a single minute of this adventure. Low away following at Rochdale, low home turnouts against Notts County and Port Vale. And while this doesn’t make those of us who have attended better supporters than those who have not, the atmosphere each time has been a refreshing change from the usual afternoons of little but singling out players for criticism, moaning about when subs should be made and booing. The JPT adventure has been positive, we’ve all strongly got behind the team and whatever the failings along the way they have not been made too much of in the heat of the battle, as this can so often be to the detriment of the team.

What a shame it can’t always be like this, but despite the crushing disappointment of tonight I’m sure I’m not the only supporter looking forward to starting it all over again next September.

Three steps from Wembley as City face Carlisle in the JPT

City are three steps away from a day out at Wembley.

Carlisle United stand in the way of the Bantams reaching a Northern Final of the Associate Members’ Cup against either Leeds United or Accrington Stanley and while “form” – i.e. the fact that League One clubs take on League Two clubs – suggest that the Uniteds will meet last season’s winners finished bottom of the whole football league beating a team that is now in the Championship in the final event.

Carlisle United have four times been for the big day out at the end of this competition losing three but holding the trophy in 1997 while the Bantams have never performed better than we currently are doing in this cup competition.

Bradford City and cup competitions have long since fallen out with memories of a cup run dim in the mind so this endeavour – the result of two 2-2 games in which Simon Eastwood saved penalties to win the ties and a 2-1 win over Real Rochdale – has warmed the heart on poorly attended Tuesday nights.

A point on those two games which are listed in City’s history as “draws” or “wins on penalties” yet reading The Observer a week ago it turns out that England crashed out on penalties in the last two world cups. City won both shoot outs by a single penalty kick – the same margin that England crashed to – which would seem to suggest that the Bantams pasted Notts County and blitzed Port Vale… on penalties. Now that is spin for you.

Not that one could expect a home and away tie with Leeds United to be poorly attended for either of these clubs and that two legged affair – more than the final – represents a pot of gold although if one were an Accrington Stanley fan one might suggest that if Kettering Town can play Leeds to a stand still then the Lancashire side can too.

Never one to standstill Omar Daley returns for City after ten months having his leg sown back on following a “perfectly fair and legal” (or so the Referee thought) tackle left him out of the game for almost year while Michael Boulding starts a month on the sidelines after being chunked in the air by Pablo Probert (sorry, Mills) on Saturday.

Daley’s return was eagerly anticipated and if one player can raise spirits of a City community rendered flat after a Referee who provoked comments that ranged from “bloody awful” to “awfully biased” and a series of home results that sees the Bantams without a victory at Valley Parade in some time. On the road the Bantams have more success winning the last two keeping clean sheets in the process.

Much of this is – as always – put down to the ability to be more defensive away from home and with Stuart McCall’s side facing a club 11th in the division above few will complain if the Bantams boss employs his 442 once more.

Simon Eastwood keeps goal again – he is made of this competition – with injuries to Steve Williams and – probably – Zesh Rehman allowing Matthew Clarke and Simon Ramsden to pair at the back once more. Jonathan Bateson thus continues at right back with Luke O’Brien on the left.

The four in the middle see Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock continue – Bullock must be suspended again soon considering he is booked whenever he sneezes – but Simon Whaley misses having played for Norwich in a previous round giving Chris Brandon the chance to start on the left opposite Scott Neilson (Scott Neilson/Olly Murs, separated at birth) who will start the game by may come off to allow Omar a run in the team and at the left back.

James Hanson and Gareth Evans continue up front with Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne both injured.

McCall vs Abbott recalls the biggest mistake

Stuart McCall will take his Bradford City team to old Bantams midfield team mate Greg Abbott’s Carlisle United as both club’s look towards a place in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy finals.

McCall and Abbott go further back than that though. When a young Abbott moved North from his Coventry home when he signed for City in the early 1980s he was housed by the club in the bedroom next to Stuart at the McCall house. Andy McCall – father of Stuart and a former footballer – can take credit for the good habits that both were brought up with and it is no surprise that both have made management.

Watching the pair in the midfield for Trevor Cherry’s Bantams in the mid-eighties was something of a cathartic experience for the City both before and after the fire of 1985. The pair battled, tackled, prompted and played in a way that demanded respect for the team in claret and amber who were moving up the football pyramid and for the City at as a whole. Bradford – in the hands of Abbott and McCall – was bouncing back.

Naturally McCall – who went on to the World Cup, six titles with Rangers and being cheated out of the European Cup – was impressive as the side moved through the leagues but Abbott struggled. A player of heart and tackle Abbott’s suspensions – and make no mistake Abbo could put it about – allowed others a chance to take a place in the side.

Trevor Cherry’s replacement – and even with the club floundering second bottom of the second tier playing nomadically around West Yorkshire and up to Odsal few demanded Cherry’s head – was Terry Dolan who as caretaker won eight of ten games and steered the club to tenth in the division being given the job full time as a result. It was perhaps as deserved at the end of those ten games as it was unexpected at the start.

Abbott’s absences – and his deficiencies – were filled as Dolan employed skilful young midfielder Leigh Palin in his place. Palin was an opposite to Abbott lacking the heart of Abbo but having skill which could surpass even McCall. One time City assistant boss Norman Hunter – who went to the World Cup in 1770 and won Championships – once called Palin the best footballer he had ever seen but qualified it with “but only for ten minutes in a game. For the rest of the match he is…”

Such was Palin’s problem. When he was not magic he vanished and while he is in Bradford City’s history for a headed goal against Everton in Stuart McCall’s return and 3-1 defeat the next season his level of ability – no matter how transient – should have seen him achieve more.

It seemed though that Dolan – who had his City team riding high in the second tier in the first third of the season but was watching them falter – thought on the one hand that Palin could provide an edge of quality which would rival fellow promotion runners Aston Villa’s attacking midfielder David Platt but on the other longed for Abbott’s ferocity. He veered between the two all season but identified a player he believed could give him both and went to the chairman – Jack Tordoff – to ask for the money to make the purchase.

Enter Mick Kennedy who at £250,000 was a record signing from Portsmouth. Ultimately he offered neither the skill of Palin nor the commitment of Abbot although he could match the latter for violence in play. City faltered, McCall left, Dolan was fired the next season and the top tier remained a distant dream for some eleven years.

Perhaps this moment was the biggest mistake. Some thought Palin a passenger and that Abbot should be in the side, some that were Palin given the time in the side to settle rather than being in and out of the side then he would be the player he promised to be, others – significantly in the boardroom – had ideas about the signing Dolan wanted.

Dolan had wanted to sign a young Andy Townsend – who was a better footballer than he is a pundit – an equally fresh faced Keith Curle and a striker called Jimmy Gilligan which would have set the club back around £1m but he got Kennedy and the word from the chairman that there was no point paying for a footballer who “might break his leg tomorrow.”

Perhaps it was a weakness on Dolan’s part – he has not been appointed by Tordoff who went on to give former assistant Terry Yorath the job prompting Jimmy Greaves to say on “On The Ball with Saint & Greavies” that it was “just the chairman giving his mate a job.” If it was a weakness on Dolan’s part then it might be noted that when he got the job as caretaker it was at the expense of the wannabe manager who had been successful in the application process: Martin O’Neill.

All of which said we have seen at the club since the effects of spending money that would only be recouped later with success and Dolan’s ambitions might have proved catastrophic. Hindsight in this case is not 20:20 and had O’Neill been City manager, had McCall and Townsend been a midfield pair, had Palin or Abbott been assured the shirt, had Dolan had spent a million we did not have, had John Hendrie not been unfairly sent off in the away game at Manchester City then would things have worked out better? One can only guess, but guess away.

Some twenty years after those events McCall and Abbott square off as managers for a place in a cup final – albeit a minor one – and put all those experiences to the test.

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