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

The Team

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

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

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

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

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

Is Parkinson a special one?

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

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

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

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

Which raises an interesting question for City fans to consider.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parkinson has his thoughts on the bread and butter.

Devitt with the best and worse of Chris Waddle

We are getting to an age at Bradford City were one can no longer assume that the younger supporters have a knowledge of what has proceeded them – I knew little of the late sixties when I started watching City – and so for those you remember indulge me the recap, those who do not pull up a chair.

There was a footballer called Chris Waddle and he was one of the most able players of his generation. He played for England missing a penalty in the World Cup semi-finals and he played in a European Cup final which went down on record as one of the worst games to have been seen at such a level. At the end of his career Waddle turned up at Valley Parade.

He was signed by Chris Kamara after Kamara sent his chief scout up to Falkirk to find out if the former England man still had the legs – he did – and his months at City are the stuff of legend.

The goal at Everton, the pass at Grimsby, Waddle would do one thing a game which no other player you had ever seen would do. It was a joy to behold for sure but it was a pain too and the pain was of lingering relegation worries. For all Waddle’s personal abilities – and they were significant – the team he was in lost far too often.

Waddle exited and was replaced by Shaun Murray who – despite being a highly touted George Green of a youngster in his day – was hardly a player of Waddle’s stature. Nevertheless it is my belief that Murray saved City that season and that with Waddle we would have been relegated.

It is a contradiction for sure. Very good players are sometimes not able to feature in good teams and – at times – take something from that team.

History over we return to the current Bradford City side and the problems which it faces in the form of Jamie Devitt – the Waddle of our story. Without a doubt Devitt is a confident and able footballer and his runs and control on the ball are great to watch. We used to way that Waddle seemed like he had an extra second on the ball – he did seem to – but Devitt like Waddle took their time in going forward and so the pace of attacking moves slowed down.

Devitt – a link man between the forward and the midfield – has that Waddle habit of hanging onto the ball and taking the sting out of an attacking move. As midfielders advance forward and wide men run towards space Devitt’s holding onto the ball means that midfielders go from being in space to being next to him and wide men check back for fear of running offside.

There is a theory in sports psychology that the longer that one holds onto possession the fewer options there will be – defending players being more able to cover attacking players than attacking players are able to create opportunities – and that problem is illustrated with Devitt.

But it is not illustrated when Devitt surges into the box beating men for fun, nor when he hits an arrow-like shot at goal. This is not some mealy mouthed criticism of a player but rather the way that the player is deployed. At the moment Devitt takes the sting out of City when coming forward, but when forward he presents problems for defenders.

Which sets Phil Parkinson a problem. Keen on his 4411 Parkinson has Devitt as his link man but I believe that that link is negated by its ponderousness. Much better to press Devitt against the defensive line and allow him to get the ball in the second phase of play after the ball arrives in the final third. Much better to have him having the ball delivered to him and much better for City to attack without having to go via a slowing factor. The win over Torquay saw City sacrifice the link man position and look the better for it.

Of course watching City one might worry about the supply not being available but I believe that with Devitt deployed further forward that supply will come from a driving midfield which does not have to check when it feeds the link man. Like Shaun Murray rather than Chris Waddle Devitt could get on with doing what he does rather than being the focus of a fulcrum of expectation that the ball must go through him.

Jackson veers between Kamara and Jewell

When the opening weeks of the season were put together by “the fixture computer” – which is to say some ludicrously complex set theory and a few blokes making sure that Hartlepool United get as long a trip away on Boxing day as possible – few people looked at the Bantams’ opening four games with any relish at all.

Aldershot Town looked like they could be tough – they were – and Leeds United away promised little. Following them up with trips on the road to Oxford United and Accrington Stanley and there was a sense that in these opening two weeks it would become apparent if the instant team alchemy which football managers dream of had taken place.

It had not.

Brighton and Hove Albion – now resplendent in a new stadium – and Chesterfield – then resplendent in a new stadium – both seemed to be touched by that alchemy last season with neither favourites for their divisions but both teams clicked quickly and they romped to titles. For everyone else it seemed there was but hard work.

And so there is for Bradford City. As everyone at the club and many in the stands talked about how this season the club would be starting to build long term and to create its own future rather than going all out for promotion. However an unhealthy – but not entirely unforgivable – hope that that future might start with a lightning strike of a team coming together instantly.

The 1-0 reversal at Accrington Stanley confirmed that City have – as was commented within my ear shot on Tuesday night – a long way to go. Having started that “long way” four matches ago that is hardly surprising and is sobering. Those looking at the Stanley team which finished fifth and lost a half dozen players miss the point of what the Bantams – and other clubs – try to build.

A half dozen players leave Stanley but the structures which have had the club progress to the level it enjoys remain, the culture remains, the team spirit remains. In short there is stability which enables Accrington to continue plodding along. This is very much the sort of thing that Bradford City are trying to build.

Bradford City and Archie Christie who arrived at Valley Parade from Dagenham & Redbridge in the Summer as the Bantams interviewed Daggers boss John Still and his backroom team before deciding that Still was the goods in the window and Christie the merchandise out back.

Christie’s plans are the dose of sense which has been missing from Valley Parade for over a decade. The Scot sees City as – perhaps – a better location to repeat what he had done in Dagenham on a bigger scale. The Daggers – fresh from League One – have come far with Still and company at the helm but getting it right at Valley Parade promises more than being a dot on the map of London football.

So Christie builds his development squad with the aim of bringing through three or four players a season who are good enough to press into the City squad. Logic suggests that might have to wait a two or three years to judge such long term plans rather than – as some seem Hell bent on doing – writing them off after that many weeks.

Christie’s work behind the scenes aims to create a stability for City to aid the manager who has struggled in his start to the season. Jackson – the man of Jose Mourinho action at Huddersfield Town – seems a reduced figure in the City dug out at the moment. What – when looking at in the Town dugout – seemed like calculated master strokes (Paul Barnes’ entry in 1998 which turned a 1-0 defeat into a 2-1 jumps to mind) when viewed in the home dug out seem to be random flailings.

Having played a tight passing game in pre-season Jackson’s side too often favour a long punt to James Hanson and while the switches in formation are more noticeable it seems as if Jackson has yet to decide a shape for his midfield.

Consider – if you will – Chris Mitchell who for all the talk of his only being in the team for set plays spend an hour of Tuesday night making sure that when a blue shirt came forward he was standing between ball and goal. He delayed, he stood up, he made sure that Stanley would not get through and all to the tune of people talking about how he should tackle more, even when doing so and failing would have left a bus sized hole in the midfield.

And so it was when Jackson went to a midfield that more evenly distributed the weight between Michael Flynn and Richie Jones rather than had Flynn forward and Mitchell back that Stanley wandered through the middle of the Bantams to get the goal which won the game.

It is hard to find anyone who could say that Mitchell has played well but taking him out of the position he was in brought problems and a pragmatist such as Jewell would see that as justification to have him in the side while the Chris Kamaras – given to flights of fancy – would think that another player who could add more going forward might be trusted to that role on the hope that both could be done. It was such a fancy which Jackson gambled, and lost, on on Tuesday night.

So Jackson flits between: a defensive midfielder behind three more attacking players, a tight three midfield with one winger and the unit of five which worked well at Elland Road; but so far he struggles to maintain a shape in a way which gains the upper hand in games. The first half against Leeds and Jackson had everything going right, when Leeds changed he seemed inactive.

On Tuesday night with scores level Naille Rodney came on for Ross Hannah to play a withdrawn role and the midfield to press on which seemed to leave City with far too many players drifting between the Stanley midfield and defensive lines and no one grabbing the ball. Bit by bit Jackson drifts towards Kamara and his hit and miss deployments of players and tactics and one worries that – like Kamara – it might be possible that Jackson finds the right combination at times and then moves away from it not knowing what is good.

In that one recalls the dogmatic Paul Jewell who stuck with the team he wanted to play after it had returned two points from twenty one in 1998. Jewell had an idea of how he wanted his team to play, and who he wanted in that team, and the same at the moment (and at the time) can not be said about Jackson.

So the City manager goes into the game with injuries ruling out David Syers, Lee Bullock and Simon Ramsden but with pressure to make changes to a team which has but one of the five points Jackson might have targeted.

Jackson is under pressure to drop James Hanson for reasons much discussed but doing so would strike one as popularist rather than practical – especially considering the team’s tendency to hit the ball long. Mark Stewart played no part against Accrington a week after looking superb against Leeds United but Naille Rodney – willing worker – has staked a claim and may get the chance. Ross Hannah was praised for his rewardless efforts on Tuesday but one doubts that he will be selected against Dagenham. Perhaps Jackson will use a 433 having tried it against Carlisle United in pre-season.

The midfield could see Jack Compton on the left and Michael Bryan on the right with Michael Flynn and Chris Mitchell in the middle but Richie Jones looks like a capable player waiting to find a role to fill and should Jackson not want a defensive minded midfielder then he may slot in next to Flynn. Bryan started Accrington well but faded.

At the back Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall are making good at full back – Luke O’Brien’s continued absence is the stuff of conjecture but it seems that Threlfall has made good his chance and is playing well which is more than can be said for Guy Branston who has struggled to put in consistent ninety minute performances since arriving. He is partnered by Luke Oliver who played a superb game at Stanley and if Steve Williams does return to fitness then dropping Oliver would be a very tough decision, although one Jackson would make if he had a clear back two in his mind the excluded the former Wycombe man.

Martin Hansen continues in goal. He shouted on Tuesday night, a couple of times, and that is an improvement and something the keeper can work on. A young lad Hansen has years of improvement in front of him and should not chuck his gloves over just because he has let in a few goals.

Nor should the rest of us.

Shaun Murray, the unexpected

Some players are predicted to do better than others. Whether it be the club they came from, the price tag they carried, the league position City finished in last season, or even their mere physical presence – the simple fact is that the weight of expectation lays heavier on the shoulders of some players than others.

When Shaun Murray, who could generously be described as “diminutive” signed for an undisclosed (read: pennies) fee from Scarborough in the pre-season of 1994/95 (after the 6,000 or so that regularly turned up to VP had witnessed a finish three points outside the play-offs in the Third Division the previous term), it is fair to say that he was not viewed as a key signing.

Oh, expectation.

True, the maiden season for Murray was not a good one for the side: Lennie Lawrence steered the club to a mid-table finish, and left by November of 95/96. And, yes, some would cite his unwillingness to shoot and, true, it could be said that he’d have added to his tally of goals had he attempted to do more than pass it into the net once he’d reached the target. But, man, the route he took in reaching that target.

Murray possessed a relentlessness rarely seen before or since at VP when it came to getting the ball into the box. The only difference between his brand of route one and the route one of The Doc was that with Murray, the ball was stuck to his feet – and that’s not to say he was a greedy player: far from it. Murray wouldn’t stick to the wing and run, like, say, Daley. He would be in the middle, at full-back, seemingly devoid of the concept of energy conservation. Every passing triangle there was, Murray formed part of it.

You can imagine the opposition right-back turning up and stifling a snigger as they saw the tiny wee Geordie standing opposite them. By the end of the match, that smirk was well and truly wiped off their faces, as Murray would meander past them with guile and trickery that belied everything he should have been like.

After the 1994/95 season, and being the player of the season by quite some shout (at least in my own personal recollection of events), and the club pushing closer and closer (before making good on the threat) of making the play-offs, new manager Chris Kamara seemed to stop looking at what the player was like, and started to look at what he thought the player should be like. By Wembley in 1996, Murray was not in the team. He was not even on the bench.

In the season afterwards, we had the fun of Chris Waddle and that goal against Everton in the cup. We also had a very close scrape with relegation that was very much staring us in the face as the inevitable, not a mere threat. When Waddle left, the fans were crestfallen – the talisman had gone, and we were going to get relegated. Only João Pinto’s brother could save us now – except that the man from Portugal was finding that Bradford in March was not quite as alluring as his native Porto and, out of options, Murray found himself back in the side. Again, there was no expectation. We were going down, already – what would it matter that we played a bit-part player, most of the time playing on his wrong side?

Again, expectations were wrong.

In the end, City did stay up (on the final day), and Murray excelled in making the unthinkable achievable, again by bucking the trend of expectation. He had another season with City before the class of 1999 who took City up to the Premiership, but, make no bones about it, without Shaun Murray, Bradford City would not have been a Premiership club.

And who could have ever expected that?

Travelling more in expectation than hope

The Team

Lenny Pidgeley | Lewis Hunt, Lee Bullock, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | Gareth Evans, David Syers, Jon Worthington, Omar Daley | James Hanson, Jake Speight | Luke O'Brien, Steve Williams, Luke Dean

Thirty years ago if you were a member of St Anthony’s Primary School football team – or the brother of a member who’s Dad drove kids to games – then as a reward for a season of not much return you were given the chance to go watch Bradford City’s last game of the 1980/81 season as the Bantams took on Hereford United.

That was my introduction to Bradford City, and there is a certain symmetry to this afternoon’s entertainment as the Bantams travel to Edgar Street to meet Hereford United. The first game was a scrappy end of season affair – although at the time an impressive watch – where the visitors nicked a 1-0 win. Today a point for both teams would have secured League football for both next season and unsurprisingly a point each was the return.

Unsurprisingly because the home side set out to secure such a return trying to retain possession as far back the field as they could for as long as they could seldom venturing into the Bantams penalty area.

The illusion was a strange one. It seemed like City were penning in Hereford and certainly the Bantams were enjoying playing with a sense of freedom that allowed the likes of David Syers – playing central midfield well – and Gareth Evans to lash at goal following James Hanson’s early attempt which threatened to derail the Bull’s afternoon.

The Bulls afternoon though was taking place miles away at the Crown Ground, Accrington where Barnet played Stanley. The machinations of that game seemed to tilt to this. Barnet level at 1-1 and there was a nervousness in the home side’s play but that nervousness lifted as Accrington took a lead which proved decisive.

That took until the second half and after the first forty five minutes the scorelessness seemed like a fog never to lift. The Bantams were unthreatened – Joe Colbeck was given the reception by the visiting fans one would expect but that seemed to serve to suggest he was more dangerous than he was and while no one especially enjoys hearing themselves abuse the look on Colbeck’s face as he banged a cross into the middle which was attacked by nobody looked more like distraction than upset.

If a winger putting in crosses for no one makes a wonderfully illustrative example of the game then City’s striker with no crosses seems to make another. James Hanson – at times – seems to never lose a ball in the air and one wonders what he could have done with the type of accurate crossing that Colbeck could do, and that the likes of Nick Summerbee and Peter Beagrie did.

Colbeck’s time at City – and his time since he left and the schadenfreude some City fans seemed to follow it with – sends my mind back sprawling to that first game on the 15th of May 1981 and how football has changed since then. Thirty years allows a guy the chance to reflect and that reflection is in the level of hope which used to be the currency and how that has been replaced with an unsavoury expectation.

Reading articles about the Bantams last decade you often read the phrase “ten years of failure” and while this is true from the prevalent point of view that anything other than promotion is failure but watching this last decade they were no different to many of the two which proceeded it.

Consider – if you will – the 1996/97 season of Chris Waddle and Edinho where relegation was avoided on the final day of the season. What we had that year was built on the next. That season of struggle Chris Kamara signed players like Robbie Blake and Jon Dreyer who were on the pitch two years later at Wolves when the Bantams were promoted to the Premiership.

No one ever said that finishing 21st was a roaring success that season but no one ever lambasted all involved as failures either and after that season lessons were learnt that drew a line directly to the successes which followed.

At some point after that failure started to describe anything which not success – this is semantics – and the rhetoric is that the club and supporters demand the best and should have high aims lest they achieve nothing but the practical upshot of throwing the word failure at anything which has not been promotion over the last decade is that Bradford City systematically rip the club apart over the course of every summer, throw things in the air and see where they land.

Failure – finding it wherever it can be hinted at – is the obsession of the current football mindset from top to bottom to such an extent that progress along the path to success is talked of as being it. Those who run football clubs need to be strong and need to stress that if the right things are being done then those things will not be changed because they have not come to fruition yet.

Are Bradford City at present on this path? You will judge for yourself on that, dear reader, just as you will also have a view on the merits and effectiveness of addressing the “failures” of Colin Todd, or Stuart McCall, and how the attempts to deal with those so called “failures” have brought us to the position we are in now.

Would City have been any worse if Colbeck – squarely presented as a problem and the cause of failure – had remained at the club? Would the last few years have been so different had Danny Forrest been up front? Has the season on season change of right backs produced a player more effective than Gareth Edds or has it just given us a series of different players?

Different players who have the same problems and ultimately exit in the same way and we – as a club and as supporters – relinquish our responsibly for the impact of that. The justification for replacing players is that those players seldom go on to a higher level following their time at the club as if the confidence lost, the access to a better standard of coaching lost, the experience of playing league football lost has no impact on the (lack of) progression of those players.

Joe Colbeck wanders up and down the Hereford United wing on one side, Gareth Evans on the City wing on the other, both look like players who seem on the edge of dropping out of professional football not because they are not useful, or skilled, or have potential but just to appease a desire to smash up what is there in the name of not tolerating failure but with the effect of not allowing building.

I think back to Robbie Blake and his goal at Wolves in another final away game of the season and how many times – had the current attitude in football been the way of thinking then – he would have been bounced out of Valley Parade rather than being allowed to be a part of a team which matured.

In thirty years between two games with Hereford United expectation has overcome hope. Everything about Bradford City is about the expectation that better can be demanded. It used to be that better was hoped for, but if that hope failed then it was renewed over the summer. This is only important because in the times of hope, rather than expectations, things improved more often.

What do we have in the summer? Hope or expectation? Or neither?

Peter Jackson took his Bradford City team to Hereford United looking for a point to keep League Two status secure – a modest return – and Hereford’s Jamie Pitman had the same aim which once results started to fall into place bound the teams to a defensive display a little less. Both ended the day safe from relegation with Barnet’s defeat seeing them battle Lincoln City to stay in the division. Stockport County were relegated.

Ultimately – at Edgar Street – James Hanson proved too much of a handful for home defender Stefan Stam and after he was fouled Jake Speight scored a penalty with ten minutes on the clock. Stuart Fleetwood equalised a few minutes later with a great free kick. That shot was the home side’s only attempt on target of the afternoon but it was the draw that everyone seemed happy with.

For the summer though who can tell. Over the last thirty years – and specifically the last decade or so – football’s expectation level has outstripped its ability to bring enjoyment in a great many ways. Supporting was its own reward, but now all rewards are delayed until there is a manifestation of success. Goals are cheered, wins are welcomed, promotions are celebrated but anything other than those things – and including the build up to those things – are drawn out grimly.

Football League safety is assure and the summer yawns out ahead with its own troubles and with that the idea that the unifying mood in August will be one of hope seems very, very far away and utterly old fashioned.

Will City Still be looking for the magic manager?

If you believe Simon Parker of the Telegraph and Argus then Bradford City are trying to decide between two managers: Interim boss Peter Jackson and Dagenham & Redbridge gaffer John Still.

One of these two men – it is said by Parker – will be appointed as City’s full time manager in the Summer. Extrapolation theory has it that if the job is Jackson’s then he will be given a contract at the end of the season while if it is to be Still then he will not arrive until after the end of Dag & Red’s fight against League One relegation and Jackson will remain in charge until then. Either way it is Jackson until May.

For those who do not know him John Still is a one game Leyton Orient defender turned non-league manager who took Maidstone United into the football league before exiting and then ended up as the man in charge of the merged Dag & Red (being the Redbridge Forest manager) taking them into the league and then up from League Two last season.

That is the headline on Still’s CV – that he took a team with limited resources to promotion – and it is not hard to see why such a quality would impress the Bradford City board although it is hard to compare that with Peter Taylor’s record. Indeed many things about Still suggest that as a candidate the only thing he offers which Taylor does not is that he is not Peter Taylor. His football is similar, his track record equally hit and miss, and like Taylor he would be accused of being out of touch by virtue of his age. He is sixty.

Ten years younger is Peter Jackson who has performed in a way which describes adequate perfectly. He has sorted out the basics of the team quickly: a 442, a holding midfielder, a big man little man forward line up; and that has been shown in the move away from relegation. He is all the things one suspects and more and there is something about his opportunism which endears, although for how long one wonders.

Certainly Jackson would have been upset with his charges on Saturday. Two players were given chances to impress and failed to do so. Gareth Evans – most obviously – seemed to choke when given the chance to lead the line while David Syers was not able to control central midfield in the way that Michael Flynn does. Jackson will have been disappointed with both.

Disappointed and frustrated no doubt by the fact that having given Syers that chance the manager will not – should he not be appointed – get to build on what he saw in Syers on Saturday. It is obvious to say that consistency allows a manager to work with his players and improve them and I’m sure that no one reading this article would be in much doubt to the importance I would place on giving the manager a long term contract and allowing him to build.

However assuming that – as the philosopher Jagger says – you can’t always get what you want then what sort of manager is perfect for City? What sort of manager do City need? One who can make an instant impact, build a team before the season starts, is able to conjure something out of something which some would say is nothing.

Some would be I – and Luke Oliver – would not. After four years of League Two football I am convinced that the difference between the top and the bottom is which team gets the odd break and goes for the odd pint. Togetherness, team spirit, a willingness to be brave and to take responsibility for your performance and the collective display are what matter far more than the ability to bend a ball in from thirty yards.

Looking at Still’s record – in common with most managers – there is very little to suggest he is a man of instant impacts while Jackson’s impact has already been felt. One would shy from criticising either manager’s ability but one would question their ability to turn around the team in the time frames which seem to be demanded from the Bantams.

For, it seems, the perfect manager for the Bantams is the magician. The magician like Chris Kamara who can take a team going nowhere and some how take it on a seventeen game run that ended at Wembley, the magician like Terry Dolan who could take a team heading for relegation and win sixteen of his next twenty games. Neither of those could repeat their magic trick.

So City can’t get what they want but – on occasion – they get what they need and what they need is the magic manager.

Taylor stays as manager for now: probably the sensible decision, now for sensible planning

We may all carry very strong views on the subject but, ultimately, very few of us would have wanted to swap places with Bradford City Chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn on Wednesday.

The day after the Bantams had disastrously suffered a fifth defeat in six games, Peter Taylor was called in for a meeting with the pair. And a decision over whether to sack the City manager or allow him more time to turnaround a sinking season must have been a difficult one to make. It carried a huge weight of responsibility, and only time will reveal whether retaining him for now proves the right or wrong call.

There is growing pressure for Rhodes and Lawn to take action. Taylor could not have picked a worse time to make catastrophically-bad management calls, and the situation is becoming desperate. Just like the Burton Albion postponement two weeks ago, the cancelling of Saturday’s game at Macclesfield seems especially ill-timed for Taylor. By the time City welcome 2nd-placed Wycombe to Valley Parade next Saturday, midweek results could have dragged them ever-closer to a desperate relegation battle.

And that’s why, despite the huge levels of unrest over Taylor from what can surely be considered the majority of City supporters, sacking him now is not the straightforward answer many assume it would be.

Lessons from the past

Certainly it would be interesting to gauge Rhodes’ take on the situation, and I’m sure the name of Colin Todd must be playing on his mind. Almost exactly four years ago Rhodes took the decision to sack the then-City manager with the Bantams slipping down League One but still in mid-table, and come May the club was relegated. The rights and wrongs of Rhodes’ actions then are still argued to this day, but it’s difficult to dispute that dismissing the experienced manager just after a turbulent period of transfers and replacing him with the club captain made City much weaker for the battle ahead.

Perhaps more telling is to look back a year before that, when Todd was under-pressure from a large proportion of supporters during the 2005-06. Just like in 2006-07 and just like now, the expected promotion push had faltered and City were becoming embroiled in a relegation zone. When Oldham thrashed the Bantams 4-1 in March, it looked curtains for Todd. Yet Rhodes stuck by him and Todd was able to turn it around during the final few weeks and ensure a mid-table position.

It is a repeat of that type of situation that Rhodes and Lawn will be hoping Taylor can deliver. Because as bad as the last few weeks have been for City, it should be remembered that, up to the collapse at Barnet, the players had proved they were capable of winning matches (just badly lacking consistency). The squad Taylor has built are not proving good enough for promotion, but that doesn’t mean they’re not good enough to keep the club in League Two.

Equally Taylor has shown over the past 12 months that he is capable of turning around poor runs of form. It will take a long time for those of us who attended both games to forget the Accrington and Rochdale away games when Taylor first took charge last season. At Accrington it looked desperate, and no -one would have predicted City would follow up their worst performance of the season with their best to defeat the then-league leaders. Even earlier this season it looked bleak for Taylor and City after a dismal 1-0 loss to Morecambe – City won four of their next five matches.

Can City recover from Tuesday’s debacle? Taylor’s history suggests so.

The negligible impact of changing managers

It’s exactly a year to the day since Stuart McCall’s final match in charge of City. The 1-0 defeat to Bury left the Bantams languishing in 15th place and eight points from the play offs – they finished the season 14th and 10 points short of the top seven.

It can be argued Taylor halted the slide that had occurred during McCall’s final two months of the season, but that there was no improvement in results underlined yet again the ineffectiveness of changing managers mid-season. Sure at other clubs a new manager can have a dramatic upturn, but it never happens here. Sacking Todd didn’t improve the club, dismissing Chris Hutchings and Nicky Law didn’t prevent relegation in 2001 and 2004 respectively. Even when the club’s last successful manager, Paul Jewell, was first appointed as caretaker he failed to improve results instantly.

You have to go back to Chris Kamara to find the last time changing managers mid-season improved the club – and that was 15 years ago.

Lawn and Rhodes may not have been around to make all of these managerial changes, but they were involved in the club as supporters at least and they should know that the history of City changing managers mid-season has undeniably proven a flawed strategy. At best it makes no difference, at worst – like when David Wetherall replaced Todd four years ago – it can prove a fatal mistake. Neither may like Taylor very much right now, but the risks of removing him are so great that sticking by him at this moment is surely the sensible option.

Taylor needs to save the club in the short-term, then the Chairmen need to start focusing on the long-term

City’s situation doesn’t look great, but it could certainly be a lot worse. If a victory can be ground out and followed by another two or three quickly afterwards, relegation will no longer be the potential issue it is becoming and a mid-table finish will be assured. Right now City are battling to ensure they can enjoy a meaningless end to the season.

Whatever happens, it’s highly unlikely Taylor will be our manager beyond May and, if the Bantams ship can be steered back onto a safe course, the thoughts of Rhodes and Lawn have to quickly turn towards finding his replacement.

And that above all is the futility of sacking Taylor now. It will cost City a certain amount of money to issue him an early P45 and to hire his successor before the end of the season. And, with the playing budget likely to be reduced next season, is it the best use of limited finances to make that change now because we’re sick of the dreadful style of football Taylor persists with?

Instead City can take their time, assuming results are quickly turned around. Rather than rushing in to finding the next manager, they can conduct a lengthy search and even enlist help from people outside the club in choosing the right person. They can think long and hard about the type of manager they believe can take City forwards, and start the recruitment process sooner rather than later.

Why wait?

Because why wait? Taylor wants to see out the remainder of his contract, City are highly unlikely to renew it. As long as results improve and City are comfortably in mid-table, what’s stopping Rhodes and Lawn from confirming to him there will be no new contract and that they are beginning the search for his replacement? Taylor can be free to see out the final few games, and his successor can be lined up to take over before the season ends.

That way the next City manager can assess the playing squad and make decisions on whether to offer out-of-contract players new deals and which areas of the squad needs strengthening in the summer; rather than arriving sometime in June with a number of players having left and limited opportunities to assess the players he has until next season gets underway. Taylor can even offer advice and information before he departs.

Maybe this isn’t a practical idea – though this sort of transition would take place in pretty much every other walk of working life, so why are football clubs different? Who knows, by taking this approach Taylor can even be assured of leaving the club with his dignity still in tact, rather than a scenario of his final few days being played out with City underachieving in mid-table and Taylor continually being quoted in the Telegraph & Argus that he is “hopeful of a new deal”.

In the end, most of us will get what we want

Let’s be frank – this is one of the bleakest periods supporting Bradford City we’ve ever experienced. The last 10 years have been woeful at times, but this current mixture of poor results and appalling style of football is crushing to watch. I’ve never known a season where City have won matches and I’ve still felt miserable, such has been the way some victories have been achieved. Taylor was an outstanding appointment a year ago, but for whatever reason it’s not worked out.

However, it’s clear Taylor will be leaving the club within the next few months. And so as much as some of us want him to depart instantly, in the end the potential negative consequences – plus financial implications – of speeding that process mean that sticking by him, for now, is the sensible option.

That said, if the league position gets worse the pressure for Lawn and Rhodes to act will become intense and they will have to re-assess Taylor’s immediate future .

This club has never fallen into non-league before, having been elected into the Football League in 1903 before a ball was even kicked. 100 years on from our greatest triumph of winning the FA Cup, it falls on Taylor to ensure we don’t experience our lowest-ever on-the-pitch moment.

We need him to turn it around urgently. We don’t have to like the guy, but right now we should be supporting Taylor in keeping our beloved football club alive.

Kamara’s book in the T&A

Chris Kamara

(Richard) Liburd’s attitude really grated. He ambled in like he couldn’t have cared less. All he had to do was apologise or maybe ask if he was on the bench – anything to appear interested. But he turned around and walked out like a spoilt teenager.

A fuming Kamara grabbed a practice ball and fired a half-volley at Liburd down the corridor.

Within an instant it had smacked him on the back of the head with a satisfying thudding sound, rocking him forward on his toes and into a stumble. I turned back to the dressing room where (assistant manager) Gary Megson was standing. ‘That’ll be the art of football management then’, he said, laughing.

Read the T∓A for more.

Where is the plan as the search for a new manager starts?

As Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes start to look for a new manager for Bradford City they no doubt have talked a few things over – assuming they do still talk – about what they want from this change they are presiding over at Valley Parade.

Perhaps they think they are about to kick start a revolution. They are not. The search for a new manager after less than 150 games – around three seasons of matches – is the status quo at the club. Since Trevor Cherry’s sacking in January 1987 no manager has been in charge of the club for longer than two and a bit seasons and City have had far more failure than they have success.

As they start looking for a replacement for Stuart McCall it might be worth Mark Lawn reflecting what what he is doing is not looking for new ideas and a new direction for the club but rather staying with the tried and tested methods of failure. Perhaps Julian Rhodes could point that out to him having been an advocate of keeping managers to an extent where two of his – McCall and Todd – are the two longest serving gaffers since Cherry.

Naturally it would be wrong to suggest that changing a manager cannot have success – although anyone who points to the changes at this club that brought us Chris Kamara and Paul Jewell should today be demanding Wayne Jacobs accent to the manager’s job – but given the period since Cherry and how frequently these changes have not brought success one could hardly call it a way to guarantee success.

More often than not in the recent history of the club changing manager has resulted in a worse finish in the league this season than it has last. Curiously the only two times in the last two years that the club’s manager on the first day of the previous season was the manager on the last day of the next the the club did not suffer this decline.

Nevertheless Geoff Twentyman, Tim Ward and Allan Brown are only remembered as the men who proceeded Brian Clough at clubs none of those clubs would think they made the wrong decision in replacing a manager. It works sometimes.

Then again not paying your mortgage and spending the money on lottery tickets might make you a millionaire, but will probably leave you homeless.

The problem with most football clubs – and with Bradford City – is that they crave success but try to cut corners to achieve it. They have no plan worth the paper it is written on.

The last three years at City are a great example of this. The middle season of McCall’s three saw him given a huge chunk of money to spend – against a transfer fee from another club – and a few months in whch to spend it requiring a revolution in the squad. When that failed a second revolution was needed to put back what was previously there and once again – in common with all football clubs in England in the last two decades – have once again found riches and frittered them away for the want of a plan.

Bradford City need better training facilities, we need better scouting, we need a better youth set up and the people who run these things at City need more backing in what they do. These are what a club can plan for and what increases the quality of the club.

One has to wonder what Mark Lawn’s plan for improving the club is? Does he have one? When he sits opposite people at interview is he going to be outlining the ways he is going to be improving Bradford City and looking for a man who can serve those aims or is he going to be looking for that potiential manager to bring the plan with him?

How is next season going to be better than this considering that the pointers of our recent history are that changing managers results in a deterioration in performance?

Where is the plan for improving the club? If it is simply changing the manager then that plan is a tried and tested failure and in backing it Lawn is taking a massive gamble not just with his money, but with our club.

Any new manager who arrives at Valley Parade will want money to spend to change the squad and aside from allowing dead wood like Chris Brandon to leave there is no increased revenue stream coming in so the club will have to borrow – Lawn has made it clear when he gave the club an advance on the Fabian Delph cash and not a gift of money – against the idea of increased revenues in the future.

So the club will end up spending money on players it cannot afford with the need for success which – should it not follow – will put the very future of the club at risk.

If Lawn has a plan to improve the club which is not just changing the manager then now might be the time to share it because failing that he cuts a figure of someone who believes they are innovating and pushing the club forward as he marches relentlessly down the path of failure.

Homeless, or a winning lottery ticket. What do you do with your mortgage payments?

McCall and the never-ending cycle

Stuart McCall once stated he’d rather be a lucky manager than a good one. With dismal recent form threatening to prematurely terminate Bradford City’s promotion chances, a debate is in full swing over which of these two adjectives he is not.

From a largely encouraging first quarter to the season which saw only 6 defeats from 23, a run of just one win, one draw and four defeats has seen cup interest ended and the distance from the play offs increase, with heavy traffic in-between. With each disappointing result, the pressure is growing on McCall. Five of City’s next six games are on the road, January may prove the month which defines the Bantams season and their manager.

It’s hardly new territory for City to be in a position of contemplating a managerial change. In recent times we’ve been here before with Nicky Law and Colin Todd teetering on the edge before the axe finally fell. What’s always curious is the silence in some quarters.

You won’t find the local media – print or radio – mentioning the manager might be under pressure, save for reading out supporters’ texts on air or allowing supporters’ comments underneath articles.

You won’t find public comment from the Board. Speculation continues to rage over one of the joint Chairmen wanting to issue Stuart his p45 and the other disagreeing; from neither has there been public support for the manager, either.

Yet amongst supporters, there’s barely any other topic of conversation.

Just like with Law and Todd, there’s a split of opinion and a disunity amongst City’s fanbase which will only be repaired by an upturn of results or the pull of the trigger. Typically those who want to see a change are shouting the loudest, on the message boards and, increasingly, at games. Short of risking getting into an ugly fight by registering disagreement, it’s more difficult for those who still support McCall to make their views known as loudly. It makes estimations over percentages for and against his continuing employment near-impossible to make.

The arguments for a change of manager largely focus on the lack of progress McCall has delivered since taking charge two and a half years ago. Admitting he’d consider himself a failure if he didn’t deliver instant promotion before a ball had even been kicked in June 2007, the season after that first failed promotion attempt he vowed to quit if a play off spot wasn’t achieved. It wasn’t, but after many supporters begged him to stay he remained anyway.

To some fans, this is now looked back on as him breaking his own promises and almost considered an act of selfishness. The supporters who had persuaded him to stay, be it through writing to him or holding up an SOS sign during the home game with Rotherham last April, have been regularly attacked online too.

But if most fans forgave the failings of his first two seasons, that this year progress on the field has been limited is causing some to lose faith in McCall’s ability. While the last six results have been disappointing, the frustration was growing in the preceding weeks as City’s 10 game unbeaten run of early autumn gave way to a succession of draws.

The improved home form of last season has disappeared and City are winless at Valley Parade since October 24. Even on the road since impressively beating Shrewsbury in early September, the only two victories have come at the division’s bottom two clubs.

The stats simply do not look good.

Yet coherent calls and sensible arguments for managerial change have largely been lost in a sea of over-the-top criticism which has got nasty, ugly and personal. Many have chosen to go beyond reasonableness in the arguments put forward, in doing so exposing a blinkered view that everything will be okay once McCall has been sacked.

It’s a style and tone of criticism striking similar to what Law and Todd endured. For both it was unfair and wrong, for a City playing legend to be targeted so loathsomely is disgusting and undermines the credibility of the protagonists.

The stats simply do not look good – so why the need to embellish them by expressing half-truths, cooking up improbable analysis, uttering spiteful comments and offering no balance?

In recent weeks results have been influenced by some atrocious refereeing decisions, the squad has been disrupted by injuries and suspensions, while some players have shown poor application over a full 90 minutes – yet rather than acknowledge any lack of fortune, these contributory factors are dismissed as McCall “excuses”. Some fans are more sensible in their reasons for wanting change, but the anger of others is threatening to drown them and everybody else out.

Clearly, there remains a proportion of City supporters who believe in sticking by McCall. While no one could qualify his reign as successful so far, there are nevertheless signs that under Stuart the club is being rebuilt in the right way. Off the field much has improved in recent years and much of this – for example youth set up – can be attributed to the rookie manager, who clearly doesn’t view managing City as just managing any old club.

On the pitch, perhaps belatedly, the balance is finally there. From lack of knowledge of the division undermining McCall’s first season – despite successfully turning round a difficult start – through to bringing in players too good for this level but with not enough heart, it finally seems that McCall is setting out to do what he first promised at the time he declared he’d consider himself a failure if City weren’t promoted at the first attempt. That is to bring in players who would have long term careers at the club, rather than be here for one/two years and then be replaced by another short term player.

Are Gareth Evans, James Hanson, Scott Neilson, Steve Williams, Jonathan Bateson, James O’Brien and Luke O’Brien the finished article which we should get rid of in May? For me they are players of great potential who I look forward to seeing the majority of developing at Valley Parade over subsequent weeks, months and years, with other new additions to add to the squad along the way.

This is the path Stuart has now gone down, but it is not a path of instant success. Julian Rhodes recently stated he considered this year’s squad to be better than last year, but he won’t find many regular City watchers who’d agree. However, in time, he might be proven right. Apart from the defeat to Lincoln in August, City’s defeats have all been to teams who it can be reasonably argued have better squads. Last season’s squad was careless in how often it lost winnable games, this one is short of experience but not effort.

The irony of McCall’s reign at City is the longer-term strategy has started up so late, meaning the patience to be allowed to carry it out has worn thin in many fans’ eyes. But it doesn’t make abandoning it the right thing to do. Of course the idea of being stuck in this division another year or worse is one to cause dismay, but change means starting all over again and hoping the rate of progression is then faster. Hoping being the key word.

For as often as we read or hear fans urging the board to sack McCall, ideas about what should happen next are in short supply. Appeals for an answer to the valid question of how sacking a manager improves the club fall on deaf ears.

There’s seems to be a belief that sacking McCall will make all the difficulties which influence the club disappear, that it will instantly herald the long-awaited upturn.

It is a belief that the success and failure of a football is entirely down to the man in the dug out. It is a belief that a manager who succeeded elsewhere will guarantee the same results in a completely different environment – remember that last season a number of fans wanted Dave Penny to replace McCall, he’s hardly pulling up trees at Oldham. It is a belief that placing faith in leaping into the unknown will eventually be rewarded if you keep trying it.

And it is these beliefs which stop me, and others, from supporting the idea of dismissing McCall. As Michael eloquently put it a few years ago when Todd was under similarly fierce pressure, hand me the ‘McCall out’ banner as I want to believe his removal would send the club soaring back up the leagues. You, me, Mark, Julian and everyone else is sick of City failing and hurt by the recent results, so if Stuart leaving guarantees the pain will be over – let’s do it.

The problem is that his removal guarantees nothing. It just seems like the only thing which can be done. It is the only immediate and obvious remedy.

But what’s the subsequent tactics? Sit back and wait for a pile of managerial CVs to fly through the letter box, pick the best interviewee and hope they can bring instant success? What happens if they don’t, go through the whole CV-picking process again?

It is through this strategy that the club’s success and failure becomes utterly dependent on the manager. It is through this strategy that a revolving door will be needed for all the players coming and going. It is through this strategy that the structure of the club will ultimately suffer because no one is around long enough to give a damn.

Which is not to say City should stick with McCall come what may, but to at least ensure there is that much-fabled ‘Plan B’ in place. In the 90s City adopted a strategy of recruiting internally and grooming the next person, which worked fantastically with Chris Kamara and Paul Jewell before being abandoned after 12 Chris Hutchings games. It provided continuity during a period of rapid change, it ensured that the club was always bigger than any manager.

Maybe right now, an internal replacement for McCall isn’t ready, but maybe right now the change isn’t needed. Maybe just as history shows clubs such as Liverpool, Man United and Nottingham Forest moved upwards because of periods of building under the long term influence of sticking by a manager, City can one day enjoy relative success by allowing McCall time to do the same.

I still believe that he should get to stay in charge until at least the end of the season, I’d ideally like it if he was able to at least finish his two-year contract. For that to happen progress must be made and recent results increase the urgency for improvement.

If the overwhelming feeling is a change must be made, I and others will have to accept it. But if change is only made because a few loudmouths got more say than others as usual, it’s not a well-rounded decision and it becomes an even riskier gamble. For those who didn’t want to come to such a decision, the strong relationship many of us have with City will be weakened because of the usual suspects getting their way, yet again.

Because whether McCall is a bad or unlucky manager, we can all be sure who’ll be the first people calling for the head of his replacement.

Sack the manager? It just doesn’t add up

“Everybody knows the dice are loaded, everybody rolls with their fingers crossed.” Leonard Cohen

As predictable as the boos circling around Valley Parade at the final whistle against Rochdale, was the resulting strong wave of criticism emanating from Bradford City supporters in the days following the 3-0 humbling.

In contrast to the relative quiet satisfaction following the success at Grimsby, the City cyber-world went into overdrive as complaints and criticisms were boisterously aired. BBC Radio Leeds listeners learned of a publicity-seeking Bantams fan from Accrington, who texted in straight after the match to absurdly label the performance the worst of his 15 years as fan, and to reveal he’d ripped up his season ticket renewal form and Darlington match tickets. Ah well,  he didn’t miss much in terms of the latter.

The main thrust of the displeasure was once again regarding the capabilities of manager Stuart McCall, with the returning of cries for him to be sacked which were last aired in August. Often such arguments are defined by the short and long term viewpoint, with the pro-manager supporters arguing for the long term and dismissing the opposing views as short term-ism. On this occasion, fans calling for McCall to be sacked notably adopted a more durable stance themselves; arguing that, after two-and-a-half years at the helm, the former Scottish international has had long enough to deliver a promotion-winning team.

But ultimately, it remains a short term viewpoint, for question marks over McCall’s future would not have been raised had City beaten Rochdale or at least not been so badly embarrassed by the leaders. Equally, the opinion he should be handed a P45 would have more weight were it not only uttered when City have a bad result. Sacking a manager should be a decision made on a bigger picture than merely the form guide, sadly in football that is all too rarely the case.

And the problem, rarely considered it seems, is what happens after the sacking. It’s apparently accepted practice within football that no thought is paid to a successor before the dismissal, often triggering a period of uncertainty while the position is advertised. Sometimes results improve under the caretaker, in other situations the damage gets worse. If things are so bad a club must sack its manager, why is it so often done with little preparation for the immediate aftermath?

When the new manager is finally installed, the prospects of an immediate revolution usually fail to materialise. Approximately 20 of the 92 English professional clubs have already dismissed their manager this season, but few are betteroff for it. In the Championship, the promotion prospects for Middlesbrough have hardly improved by sacking Gareth Southgate. On his dismissal Boro were a point away from the leaders, now the best they can hope for is a play off spot.

Meanwhile in League One Wycombe remain near the bottom, despite allowing Peter Taylor to leave, where they currently sit level with Tranmere Rovers, who sacked John Barnes. In fact Tranmere are perhaps the strongest example of the perils of readily changing managers; inexplicably sacking Ronnie Moore during the summer despite Rovers just missing out on the play offs, they now look set to exit the division the wrong way.

Throw in bottom-placed Stockport and Brighton and Oldham just above, and League One’s current bottom five clubs have all failed to benefit from swapping managers during 2009. In League Two, the bottom three teams have also fired their managers this season.

Perhaps this argument is flawed by the fact clubs near the foot of leagues are naturally more likely to want to make a change; but that Lincoln manager Chris Sutton this week declared his third-bottom side were in a relegation battle can’t have been great news to Imps supporters, who called for then-manager Peter Jackson to be sacked for losing three early season games on the basis the club had to be challenging for the play offs.

Indeed Sutton’s downbeat outlook is a complete contrast to Jackson, who at the beginning of the 2008/2009 season boldly predicted Lincoln would end it as Champions. A similarly statement of foolishness to McCall’s “I’ll consider myself a failure if we don’t go up” of 2007 perhaps, but the chalk of Sutton to Jackson’s cheese is hardly a statement of progression. At least Barnsley and Norwich fans can argue their teams have been boosted by making a change, but the success ratio across the country is hardly inspiring.

Nor is City’s recent history of giving bosses the boot. If two managers – Chris Kamara and Paul Jewell – were responsible for lifting City two divisions, the subsequent six have all played their part in City’s fall to League Two. Appointing Chris Hutchings may have been a mistake, but dismissing him after 12 games hardly made much difference given replacement Jim Jefferies told Geoffrey Richmond City were doomed just eight further league games later.

At least Jefferies was then afforded time to reshape the squad, but his departure just before he was pushed mid-way through the first season back in the Football league did not lead to the promotion which had been targeted at the beginning of it.

Nicky Law’s sacking was a watershed moment for me. I was undecided over whether he should be dismissed in the autumn of 2003 as City lay in the relegation zone, but despite replacing him with Bryan Robson the Bantams still ended the season in the same position they were the day Law was sacked. Despite the ongoing financial difficulties which saw Colin Todd lose his best three players, sacking him with City in 16th place proved a mistake as the season ended with relegation under caretaker David Wetherall.

The same criticisms aimed at Hutchings, Jefferies, Law and Todd are repeated towards McCall. Yet the proven failure of sacking City managers mid-season seems to be forgotten. Perhaps by firing McCall now we’ll get a fantastic replacement who ends up leading City up the steps of the Wembley Royal Box next May to lift the League Two play off trophy. Against the evidence of recent City history and how other teams have fared from recently making a change, you wouldn’t exactly bet on it.

Of course this doesn’t necessarily mean City should stick with McCall if he’s not meeting expectations. In the cold light of day the last two seasons were failures, as McCall himself admitted, but the signs since agreeing to remain as manager last May offer renewed encouragement. The summer signings have all largely been young players with something to prove. There’s a clear determination to self-improve and every indication the squad sees playing for Bradford City as a privilege.

Were the end of the season now, how many of this present squad would McCall and supporters want to release? The total would be low, certainly compared to recent summers. No matter how this campaign ends, if McCall is allowed to remain in charge the focus will be on building on it rather than starting all over again.

If McCall had only just taken over this summer, this policy would be universally accepted. That he has the baggage of two years failure counts against him, but if the ethos of what he is now trying to achieve is one which can be agreed is a good thing, shouldn’t it be pursued anyway?

Because ultimately the lesson to be taken from sacking a manager is that the problems inflicting the club rarely disappear as quickly. Maybe by sacking McCall now we’d find our own Jim Gannon, John Still, Keith Hill or Andy Scott instead, or maybe by sacking McCall now we’d find our own Egil Olsen, David Platt, Glen Roeder or Carlton Palmer. Maybe by sacking McCall we’d discover he was holding us back, or maybe by sacking McCall we’d discover he was moving us forwards.

At best it would be a gamble, a roll of the dice which might land a six but could just as easily come to a one. Until the summer at least, it would best to leave the dice for someone else to roll.

Vintage Claret (and Amber)

After sitting inside Ewood Park for 30 minutes before kick off and witnessing the singing efforts of Blackburn Rovers’ supporters getting louder and louder, the temporary stunned silence former Bradford City striker Robbie Blake has just triggered left me wondering where to look.

Blake had just received the ball out wide, darted inside and unleashed a stunning curling shot which flew into the corner past former England keeper Paul Robinson to put Burnley 1-0 up over Blackburn Rovers in an East Lancashire derby they would go on to lose. I’m sat in the perfect position to appreciate the distance of Blake’s effort (I’m at Ewood Park thanks to a freebie, not a change of alligence) and as all around me Blackburn supporters are on their feet yelling abuse towards ecstatic Burnley fans at the other end of the field, I’m relieved no one has noticed my smile.

Robbie Blake, is it really eight years since you departed City? What are you doing here, scoring brilliant goals in the Premier League? When he departed Valley Parade, the move across the Lancashire border to Burnley felt like a sideways step, or even a move downwards.

Robbie Blake, the guy signed by Chris Kamara and then almost instantly placed on the transfer list for off-the-field misbehaviour. I remember meeting you a few weeks later when you and Craig Midgely attended a community programme which was also my poorly-paid summer job.  You joked with my then-boss about how Craig had to drive you about because you were banned, but I was too awestruck at meeting two City players to cringe or laugh along.

Robbie Blake, the guy who Chris Kamara belatedly put in the team mid-way through the next campaign as an early season promotion bid started to hit the buffers. Too bad it was too late to save him from the chop. Chris, what were you thinking persisting with John McGinlay? All he did was complain to the referee and stand by the opposition keeper as he tried to kick the ball forwards. Robbie came in and scored against Huddersfield, but after defeat to Man City the week after Kamara was gone. I used to appreciate Paul Jewell employing Robbie and Edinho together subsequently, shame you couldn’t sustain your form. Sent off on the last day of the season against Portsmouth, by the time you could play the following season there were two £1 million strikers in front of you.

Robbie Blake, part of the dream double act with Lee Mills. After winning your place, initially on the right wing, you helped the team recover from a bad start to join the promotion-chasing pack. We all liked Issy Rankin for a bit, but he kept missing chances even that fat guy who used to start anti-Peter Jackson chants on the Kop behind me could have scored. Then Jagger dropped him and Mills and Blake was formed. Each week it was Mills and Blake, or Blake and Mills, banging in the goals. That wonder strike you scored against Crewe, that double against Sheff United on the tele. You got the winning goal against Wolves on the final day after earlier setting up Mills’ effort which put us 2-1 up. As the person sat next to me at Molineux remarked near the end, it was the only two things you did that day. Still it got us promoted to the Premier League, so not bad going.

Robbie Blake, the star in waiting for our Premier League who threw it away. What were you doing handing in a transfer request on the eve of the season, Robbie? We were going to shock those pundits who said we’d be relegated by Christmas, and at the end of the season, after finishing comfortably mid-table, you’d be leading England at Euro 2000 as the next Peter Beardsley.  Two Premier League goals was all you managed that season. Mind you, Millsy wasn’t the most reliable guy when the chips were down either. Thank heavens for Dean Windass.

Robbie Blake, back to form in Division One. The second Premier League season was marginally better for you but not very good for City. Back in the Football League, you were the main man after Benito Carbone was loaned here and there, but the financial catastrophe was around the corner and £1 million from Burnley looked good business from the Bantams point of view. We quietly chuckled when you didn’t manage a goal for Burnley during the rest of that campaign. It was less amusing when you returned to Valley Parade and netted the following season, though.

Robbie Blake, adding to the heartbreak. In hindsight we were always doomed to relegation in 2003-04 season, but you didn’t need to add to our woes with three goals in the two games against us. I’ve rarely felt as heartbroken as the day you, your mate Brian Jensen and Ian Moore poured untold misery on us in the flukiest 2-1 away win you’ll ever see, with the winner from Moore deep in injury time. That was the day we were down and a part of this club died, which we’ve not yet been able to resuscitate. How did you sleep that night, Robbie?

Robbie Blake, back in the Premier League. I remember reading comments from then-Birmingham boss Steve Bruce when he signed you, which suggested he wasn’t convinced you’d prove to be a Premier League player. Two league starts and nine sub appearances later you were heading back to the Football League. I guess you never were Premier league class really, eh Robbie?

Robbie Blake, in a Leeds shirt. Less said the better I suppose, though you were part of the team which got relegated to League One. Thanks for giving us a chuckle.

Robbie Blake, back at Valley Parade summer after summer. Having re-joined Burnley we’ve seen you on the Valley Parade turf three pre-seasons in a row. Like with your previous returns for league games, there’s been a mixed response from City fans with some choosing to boo and others applaud. Me I’ve always been the applauding type, remembering that for how much you messed us about over that contract dispute and how disappointing it was you failed to find your best form in the top flight, you remain one of the most entertaining players to have worn claret and amber that I’ve had the pleasure to watch. I will always remember you for your mazy runs, your powerful drives at goal and your clever tricks and passes.

Thanks for allowing me to admire your brilliance again at Ewood Park today, even though I had to pretend to tell you to ‘eff off.

Recent Posts