The first day, the fourth year, and Bradford City beating Doncaster Rovers 1-0

The Team

Ben Williams | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Reece Burke, James Meredith | Tony McMahon, Lee Evans, Gary Liddle, Kyel Reid | Steve Davies, Devante Cole | James Hanson, Mark Marshall

Day one

There is a much mangled by often said phrase which mumbles around the words that time will make strangers of us all. It is is a gnomic observation and one which has little denoted meaning. “Death” is sometimes substituted for “Time”, “Angels” for “Strangers”

But it is not perhaps unfair to suggest that if the phrase can be applied to mean anything it means that people change over time. I am not the man I was four years ago, dear reader, and probably neither are you.

And nor is Phil Parkinson who has been Bradford City manager for a shade longer than that period.

The friend who is a new manager

The talk before this game is about the new manager. The new manager of Liverpool Jurgen Klopp has taken the national headlines. At Doncaster Rovers Darren Ferguson arrived on Friday to take charge of the home side.

Doncaster Rovers and Liverpool are not often united in expectations but both are united in a sense that pervades that both feel as if they should be higher up in football without any real justification for that. Klopp’s arrival at Liverpool will not make Manchester City any poorer, or Arsene Wenger any less keen to focus on finishing third or forth without risk of second of fifth.

Likewise there is little about Doncaster Rovers that suggests they have a natural place in The Championship and plenty to suggest that – as with a few other club in this level – they do some things right and others not. Standing around the Keepmoat Stadium looking at the pitches for juniors, the modern facilities, the ample parking one cannot help but be half impressed and half underwhelmed.

For all that impresses in the environment there is a sense that as Ferguson arrives the manager is an afterthought in a club doing all the right things to be an impressive 40-60 ranked side. They have created a setup for a team at this level. I contrasts sharply to City who are a club built in the image of the manager, and entirely dependent on that manager.

Ferguson might change that at Doncaster. He could take Doncaster to “the next level” that I’m sure has been mentioned in his recruitment. He, and Klopp, are welcome friends. Time has not made them strangers yet.

Phil Parkinson the Stranger

Which is the excitement of a new manager and the contrast with having a manager for as long as City have had Phil Parkinson. Ferguson, and Klopp, are dealing in potential. Today could be the start of the Ferguson-Era at Doncaster – in two years they could have been at Wembley twice – but it probably will not be. What is most odd about considering four years of Phil Parkinson is that most managerial appointments do not work out but Parkinson has.

Nevertheless there is a growing conflict within the Bradford City support that divides along an analytical style of Phil Parkinson’s style of play.

That style of play has always been pragmatic more than pretty and the defence for it – if a defence is needed which I would say it is not – is that the directness brought about success. “Would you rather be playing pretty football in League Two?” comes the retort, as if that sort of weighing of options were ever offered.

It has been noted that City are not progressing up League One – although the league position finished suggest otherwise – and that results at home are not good – especially if one excludes Sunderland and Millwall which in this argument one does – and so if results are not what one would want why suffer a manager playing a style of football which is not pleasing on the eye?

And of course it is never phrased that way – no one suggests Parkinson should leave Bradford City – rather it is phrased that things would be better if Parkinson were to adopt a different style of play. That if Parkinson cannot bring progress (and that is some assumption, considering he is doing) then he could at least have the decency to stagnate in an attractive way.

To wish for the end of things

Time makes strangers of us all, but Parkinson is no so strange.

When he arrived at Hull City – a larger club than Colchester United where he had made his name – Phil Parkinson was offered the opportunity to change his methods. I am told that he believed he flexed too much, and that senior Hull City players believed he flexed too little, and after an indecently short length of time Parkinson was sacked.

That Parkinson walked away from that experience – and from his time at Charlton Athletic – with the belief that he needed to be more committed to his approach rather than more flexible to change as he accuses himself of being in the past says much about why the manager is not about to begin Tiki-taka football now.

(An aside on Tiki-taka)

(It is worth noting that Tiki-taka – lauded as the most attractive way of playing the game that speaks of Spanish passion and flair – is at its heart a statistical reductionism of football tactics based on the correlation between the amount of possession a team has an its frequency of victory.)

(It is a Moneyball tactic that objectives the number of goals scored as a function of possession and thus makes possession the most important aim within a game. Possession in Tiki-taka is more important than scoring goals because retaining possession minimises the oppositions opportunity to score goals. It is, at its heart, a defensive approach.)

Not changing

To wish for Phil Parkinson the Bradford City manager to take a different approach to the game is to wish for another manager of Bradford City.

When after thirty seconds of the game with Doncaster a throw in cleared the first defenders and ended up in the middle of the penalty area one wished for City to have the sort of player who poked the ball in in such positions and there was Devante Cole to do just that.

One goal in less than a minute and to hope that Phil Parkinson would use the early goal as a platform for more is to not understand the manager who it was said of that he made teams which could defend. Recall Parkinson’s coming out party as City manager against Wigan Athletic, or the follow up against Arsenal, and Parkinson played a team of pragmatism and pressing.

The management of players working hard to constantly defend is what Parkinson brought to City and what he will hope to return to. With eighty nine minutes left to play were the situation reversed and who in Doncaster knows what new manager Ferguson would have done?

How does a Doncaster Rovers fan know how a new manager will react 45 seconds into his first game? Every City fan with an attention span know what Parkinson would do.

What Parkinson did

The performance, as it arrived, was in the spirit of 2012/2013.

The midfield pair of Lee Evans and Gary Liddle sat on top of the Rory McArdle and Reece Burke back line, and Steve Davies (and then James Hanson) defended the midfield. Tony McMahon came inside to bolster and Kyel Reid and Devante Cole stretched the home side to prevent them coming too far forward, and to stop them adding pressure to pressure.

Attack sporadic, and pushed wide it was the Parkinson we had become familiar with and perhaps forgotten. The feeling that if Nahki Wells can nick a goal then the defence could see any game out was the stuff of that season that ended at Wembley.

The best laid plans…

Which is not to suggest that there were not chances for Doncaster to get back into the game – indeed they will still be smarting over a chance that hit the bar, came down and was not ruled to be in before it was punched in by a Keshi Anderson – but the chances were minimised, and they were pushed out wide then soaked up by the central defensive pair.

Up front Devante Cole scored – he seems to do that often – but most important ran his legs off chasing down clearances and putting defenders under pressure damaging the delivery forward for Doncaster.

Like Ferguson Devante is another Manchester “son of” and that will take a line in a report despite Darren not taking the job officially until Monday. Whatever Ferguson attempts to do with Doncaster Rovers it would be easier with a striker like Cole to do it with. It is easy to forget after five Cole goals in eight games that had Parkinson had his way then Doncaster forward Andy Williams would have been leading the line for City.

We have got to know much about Parkinson. We know that he is not the greatest recruiter in football – and no one’s idea of a wheeler-dealer – and struggles to replace players he has made on the training field. Wells was replaced by Cole after eighteen months of looking at players like Williams but City still wait to see a new Gary Jones, a new Andrew Davies.

Cole fits more and more into Parkinson’s plans and Parkinson’s plans continue unchanged. Today those plans came good while often of late City have looked incapable of seeing out a lead. Parkinson makes his players, and his teams, on the training field. Improvement happens slowly but is permanent when it does.

The poster boy for this is is James Hanson. There is a school of thought that Hanson – working hard off the bench today – is “not good enough”. The people saying this flatter themselves having said that Hanson was not good enough for the bottom of League Two, and then for the top of League Two, and then to fight relegation in League One, and then to play in team fighting for promotion from League One.

The retort writes itself of course but the more salient point is that under Parkinson players like Hanson, like Rory McArdle, like James Meredith who could have spent careers in League Two are continuing to improve. “Hanson is not good enough” will eventually be right, because time will make a stranger of us all.

Parkinson is at City – Parkinson is in football management – because he believes that a team that plays as City did today defending, pressing, working with each other, will be successful.

After four years that is no different than it was on his first day at the club.

Colchester United and the Crawley Brawl

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

Colchester will probably have harder training sessions than that.

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

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

Original sin

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

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

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

Street fighting man

McLaughlin’s exit plays heavy on the mind.

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

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

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

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

Character study

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It has always been thus.

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

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

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

A side note, for the foolish only

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

Perish that thought.

History

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

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

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

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

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

The obvious quality of Phil Parkinson and how he could be the decisive factor in 2015/16 Promotion

The season starts and one thing is obvious: Bradford City will be promoted.

That is obvious. It is obvious because I’ve read it in FourFourTwo and it is obvious because Bradford City beat Champions Chelsea last season and that must mean that Bradford City can win League One.

It is obvious because City have brought in some real quality in the form of Paul Anderson and Mark Marshy Marshall, and while seeing Andrew Davies go is hard seeing Mark Yeates and Andy Halliday go is not.

And it is obvious because City finished a place off the play offs last season, and every season Phil Parkinson has improved Bradford City’s league finish, and as we all know no one ever gets in the play offs and does not win.

It is obvious and because of that it is a thought that has passed the mind of even the most negative Bradford City supporter.

No matter how many layers of cynicism a person might surround themselves with one cannot escape that feeling on a sunning Tuesday morning that this year is the year that City return to the top two divisions for the first time since May 2004.

But wait…

A Barnsley website who had, one assumed, lost Jason McKeown’s email address asked me to preview the coming season. They asked what my realistic view on the Bradford City season was. I chewed my pen (metaphorically speaking) and considered beating Arsenal, beating Aston Villa, late serge and beating Burton, Wembley again, beating Chelsea, getting to Wembley for a major Cup Final.

It struck me that at Valley Parade of late realism is in short supply.

And perhaps in that context it is excusable if all of us go on a little fantasy safari when considering the prospects for the season that starts at Swindon on Saturday.

The counter to those thoughts are the huge gulf that was obvious between Bradford City and Bristol City in the mauling of last season and the general lack of character in the team around that time. Reality comes in wondering if the Bantams have a Marlon Pack/Luke Freeman pairing as Bristol City had or a back line as strong as the one that took Preston North End up? Or a 25 goals a year striker?

At that point obvious stops being the operative word.

The multi-polar world

The temptation is, of course, to take the team one follows in isolation and to consider that if your team has done well in recruitment, or preparation, then it will improve in absolute terms in League One. League structures are always relative.

You can be better than last year (or worse) but your position will on the whole be decided by the strength of the other teams in the League. Was the Benito Carbone team in the second year of the Premier League worse than the one which finished 17th the year before?

It certainly was at the end of the season but after the other win over Chelsea in August 2000 was the team worse or was the problem that there were no Watford, Wednesday and a woeful Wimbledon dropping like a stone to finish beneath them?

Football is a multi-polar world. Your league achievements are necessarily measured against the other teams around you. It might be obvious that City have improved (or not) but have they improved more than the teams around them in League One?

Looking at the teams in League One this season first day opposition Swindon Town lost in the play off final last season which normally denotes a challenger but they seem to have lost a lot of players and are blooding a new team.

Relegated clubs can be strong but few will fear Millwall considering how easily the were brushed aside eight months ago at Valley Parade. Wigan Athletic have a lot to do to end a losing mentality which has come into the club since it got to an FA Cup final three years ago. As for Blackpool it is very possible they will carry on where they left off last season and finish bottom.

The likes of Peterborough United, Doncaster Rovers, and Barnsley would all argue that they have as much of a right to be considered promotion contenders as anyone. Scunthorpe United, Bury and Fleetwood Town have spent money to get where they are but not Bristol City levels of money and even if they had sometimes when you spend money you get Aaron McLean.

I have a belief that Burton Albion are worth considering as having an interest in the play off places. They are a club that seem able to transcend managerial changes and maintain steady progress. Coventry City have potential and in Tony Mowbray they have a pragmatic manager.

All of which leaves Sheffield United as being everyone’s favourite for promotion. They reach semi-finals, they bubble under in League One, they have a strong fan base and get great noisy crowds. They seem to have everything that a club that is trying to get out of League One wants.

Except for the manager.

They have their second choice as manager.

Nigel Atkins manages Sheffield United now but they wanted to take Phil Parkinson to South Yorkshire. It seems that the Blades boardroom came to the same conclusion that echoes around the City manager.

Parkinson: Special One

If all league football is relative then perhaps management is absolute.

Perhaps a manager who improves a team always improves a team. Perhaps when Parkinson is given the chance to manage – a chance Hull City did not give him in his brief time at that club but did at Colchester United – he will always improve a club as he has Bradford City.

It is hard to draw a conclusion but Parkinson’s admirers are many and growing with every achievement.

From the outside when looking at the twenty four teams lining up in League One some teams have spent more, and some teams have more season ticket holders than others, but no team has a better manager in a better position to manage his club than Phil Parkinson at Bradford City.

Parkinson has carved a space out for himself. He arrived at a club where Mark Lawn was accusing the players of not passing to a prospective signing, that had had a manager who (reportedly) felt bullied out of the club, and where the dysfunctions at the club had become endemic.

The success Parkinson earned on the field gave him the scope to create the role he wants off it. Parkinson is as powerful a manager as Bradford City have had but still had challenges to his role. One could worry about how success would be maintained should he exit if one wanted but more important would be ensuring that he is allowed to do his job and shapes the club around that.

We are, perhaps, lucky that the Sheffield United approach and the moment Parkinson had to bend the knee to the boardroom were separated by six months. Imagine starting this season without Parkinson. Where would thoughts of promotion be then?

When looking at which teams will be promoted what is most often the decisive factor? It is not in the quality of players but rather the quality of manager. The thing that unites the clubs that went up was that they had experienced managers who are spoken of in terms of their quality.

What Steve Cotterill, Karl Robinson and Simon Grayson offered last season is the thing that Phil Parkinson offers this. Likewise when José Mourinho got over his defeat at City by winning the Premier League it was – we are told – because he was the best manager. Success – the theory goes – goes to the best manager.

That, at least, is obvious.

How far can Phil Parkinson take Bradford City as his old team come to Valley Parade

Phil Parkinson’s time at Colchester United intersected at Valley Parade when Colin Todd dubbed him “the enemy of football” for the negative tactics which Parkinson used then, and uses now, to get success.

At Charlton Athletic Parkinson inherited a team from Alan Pardew which ended up being relegated but reached the play-offs places before his exit with one fan summing up the manager as offering nothing more than long ball to (Paul) Benson.

When Parkinson took over at Bradford City he was dubbed by some “Peter Taylor Two” so well known was the manager’s faith in a brand of football which few would describe as expansive and Coventry City manager Steven Pressley called “dark ages football”.

Few in The Shed at Stamford Bridge felt the lack of light.

The debate now over

For Parkinson the discussion on tactics has ended – if he ever considered it open – in the years since he took Colchester United to the second tier of the game and exited for Hull City. Parkinson’s teams play a certain way, and they get win, and that is that.

They win against Arsenal and Aston Villa and Chelsea for sure but against Burton and Preston and Rochdale too. They win individual games which get world wide coverage but they pick up a good number league points on their travels in games which are barely reported.

The 1-1 draw between Todd’s Bradford and Parkinson’s Colchester is remembered only for the irony of the manager’s statements when Parkinson arrived at City but it is typical of the type of result that Parkinson gets to trundle his team to improvement.

That improvement is metronomic. It creeps into the team. Three months ago and Filipe Morias was a mystery – to me at least – but Parkinson saw something and Parkinson tweaked something and Parkinson ended up with a player who for all his headline stealing is best because he is so practical. He fits into the hole Parkinson gives him to play in and – that run into the Chelsea midfield on 38 minutes aside – he has bought into Parkinson’s ethic.

Parkinson took a Colchester United side with the division’s lowest attendance – an a small budget – past Todd’s City and into The Championship. He left to join Hull City because of the greater scope that Hull offered with more money and bigger crowds.

The question that poises itself as old plays current at Valley Parade today is what is the scope for Parkinson at Valley Parade? How far, with an eye on realism, can City go under Phil Parkinson.

Mr. Christie

Former Bradford City Chief Scout/Director of Football/Whatever Archie Christie – who had a hand in appointing Parkinson – had his eyes set on the club sitting smack in the middle of the Championship. He thought it would take five years to achieve and that after that he would have no idea of how to progress the club from that.

“I’ll have tea think ov another plan” was his light hearted reply but his attitude is not uncommon in the perceived wisdom in football that has it that most teams if run well, playing well, and possessed of a decent budget will hit a glass ceiling in the middle of the second tier.

From that point one is playing against clubs with budgets that dwarf your own, facilities that are Premier League standard (often because the clubs have recently been in the Premier League) and there will always be enough of these teams outside the top league trying to get back in to make sure you cannot. For all the football you play, the good lads you have, the spirit you create and the Chelsea aways you enjoy the top table will always be denied to you.

I call this the 30-man-top-table theory which suggest that the Premier League is basically too small for all the teams who should be in the Premier League but those teams – the 20 who are in it, and those teams who have been relegated but are still rich – are constantly the sides who will be contesting places in the top division.

That some of them spend some time outside the top division is immaterial. They are a league within themselves and only from their ranks will the next Premier League be formed.

The problem with this theory though is that it is objectively wrong. There are plenty of teams who have put themselves into the Premier League on smaller budgets and maintained that position for sometime. Stoke City are a celebrated example, Hull City too. Likewise there are plenty of one time established teams who having fallen out of the Premier League now are the rank and file of the Football League. Leeds United and Nottingham Forest spring to mind.

AFC Bournemouth and Brentford are both pushing for promotion this season. If the second half at Stamford Bridge tells you anything it is that football is more or a meritocracy than people want to tell you it is.

What does Parkinson need?

What does Phil Parkinson need to move City on?

Time is an obvious factor. That City have not sacked Phil Parkinson is largely because of the bi-annual giant killing fillups. Had City not beaten Arsenal then the middle of League Two position was hardly recommending Parkinson to the board (who, I am told, have had cause to discuss the manager’s position) but after Aston Villa Parkinson’s stock was so high as to render him untouchable but halo glows only last so long.

Likewise when the Reading job came up a few months ago there were pockets of supporters who suggested that Parkinson had taken City as far as he could and it would be best if he did exit. Malcontent malingered and defeats to Rochdale and Yeovil gave it a voice that was silenced seven days ago.

That Parkinson does not come under pressure for his league form (which I believe to be good, but I understand that other do not) is a result of his side’s performances in the cups. The worry is that if Parkinson stopped performing “miracles” in the cups then the good progress he makes in the league would be for nothing.

In the medium term money is an obvious factor too. The higher City rise the more the club gets and needs but in Parkinson City have a manager who understands how to get efficacy of the player market and how a squad of 18 who are bonded can be better than two dozen players some of whom never play. I believe he needs support in this – the higher a club goes the harder the “right” player is to find – but I believe his philosophies are the ones the club should follow.

More than that I believe that the philosophies that Parkinson follows – and that Eddie Howe and Sean Dyche follow at their clubs – will become common at the top level of football. How it happens I could not say but Financial Fair Play will force smaller squads which will play better than larger squads. Parkinson and City are ahead of the curve on this and have a competitive advantage which will not last but can propel the club as it does.

Finally there is the question of City’s support level. It was a happen stance that the proposal for affordable season tickets which have changed the nature of the Bradford City support for the better. Jose Mourinho might have spent the second half watching the City fans and worrying about the noise but pre-Wembley-and-Wembley Roberto Martinez at Wigan Athletic did the same.

Cheaper season tickets had brought younger fans, and a broader fan base, which is a more vibrant fan base. That is what lets BfB sit hear at the rambling esoteric end of the market and Bantams Banter at the ranting, pleasing end and everyone to be happy. Because of the shot in the arm that was affordable season tickets City have a great mix of fans including more younger fans than one sees at most Football League clubs who – when a boy gets to be a man and money is most needed – jack up the prices to unreachable levels.

I’d like City to go further in this but they are unique in football in how far they have gone and while every year we have a debate over if the club can “afford” to keep the tickets I’d suggest we cannot afford not to. We need to keep the fan base energised, and the way to do this is to not exclude anyone with an interest in the club but without the means to buy a season ticket.

This third factor is key to the long term future of the club. The boys who bought a ticket because it was a hundred quid that they could afford at eighteen will bring friends, and eventually children, and I would expect Bradford City to buck the age trend in the Football League. Attendances will dwindle at the clubs that are pricing younger people out of the game and City will have the advantage again.

The two Phil Parkinsons

If Phil Parkinson could have been in two places at once at Layer Road Colchester on Tuesday night he would have been.

He would have been in the Bradford City dug out watching a team win 2-0. He would have been happy to see James Hanson barge his way past two defenders to power a headed goal in in the first half, he would have been happy to see Kyle Bennett score in the second and at full time he will have reflected that after a hard Winter Spring is starting to come for his Bradford City side.

But he would have been in the Colchester dug out too, ten years ago.

He would have been that rookie manager starting out in the game just as Joe Dunne is now. He would have got the bit between his teeth and got his teeth into City in a way that Colchester failed to do.

One wonders what the one Parkinson would have shared with the other. What he would impart back through a decade of experience. Ten years ago no less than Bantams gaffer Colin Todd was calling Parkinson the enemy of football. Perhaps he would have shared a smile that Parkinson – for any validity in Todd’s statement – will always be better thought of at Valley Parade than the former England player was.

Parkinson took two seasons to get Colchester to the top of League One. After 99 games he had a third wins, a third draws, a third defeats but he stuck to his principals and promotion followed. The older Parkinson might underline that point.

He might say “Son,” as all of us would, “make sure you never let those principals slide. It’s what will matter in the end.”

Parkinson’s time at Charlton Athletic was the holding pattern of his career. A nothing of a time when he was not his own man nor was he surrounded by his own men. He has, he has said, promised Mrs Parkinson that he would assure he would never get into that situation again.

Hull City things were different. He stuck to principals about how he wanted senior players to behave and as a result they stuck the knife into him, between shoulder blade, and it seemed that his chance had gone when Phil Brown took what he had and took it to the Premier League.

One wonders what it would have been like to be Parkinson in 2007 watching Dean Windass send Hull to the top flight thinking that if only you had allowed Ian Ashbee to do what he wanted then you would have been leading that charge.

“Be calm,” the older Parkinson would have said, “you are making the right decision.”

And when Bradford City turned him down to appoint Peter Taylor Parkinson had to cool his heels and not jump at a job that would not have served him well. “Be calm.”

Its hard to imagine that any young, ambitious man would have listened to an echo from the future. “Make your own mistakes” might have been the right thing to say.

And then, thinking of the persistence it has taken to stand by his principals this season, he might have added “but don’t make them twice.”

Phil Parkinson looks to address the mentality, but the problems run deep

Phil Parkinson’s post-Wimbledon defeat comments about a losing mentality at Bradford City may be entirely accurate, but it remains curious where this mindset has originated from and how it can be addressed.

After the Bantams third successive defeat, Parkinson declared: “In the second half after we conceded their second goal I thought there was just too much acceptance that it wasn’t going to be our day… The club is fragile in terms of getting beaten too often and I’ve got to change that mentality around.”

It might seem an obvious statement to make that a club which has endured such a dismal 11 years has a losing mentality, yet a look at the starting eleven on Saturday suggests it’s worrying if this is the case. Seven had either joined the club during the summer or within the past month. Of the other four, only Michael Flynn and James Hanson were at Valley Parade just two short years ago. If it’s all about mentality, how does it spread so quickly to relatively new faces and what is causing it?

On a day where we celebrated our 125-year-old home, it was the long-standing problem of a poor Valley Parade record which again came into focus. Since returning to the Football League in 2001, City have won 85, drawn 62 and lost 88 matches at home – a weak platform which has hindered attempts to halt the slide down the divisions. Only once over the previous 10 seasons – the 2008/09 promotion failure – have the Bantams not lost at least a quarter of their home games. The rate of player turnover has been relentless over that time, but it seems the problem cannot be solved.

What is it about our own turf that opposition players find so welcoming and our own so daunting? Perhaps the lack of width – Valley Parade is one of the narrowest pitches in the country – is a hindrance. On Saturday Wimbledon lined up in a 5-3-2 formation which made it very difficult for City to get in behind, especially on the flanks. Looking at many of the teams who have triumphed over the years, a defensive focus is a common feature in how they line up. Either flood the midfield or keep numbers at the back, and City struggle to find the space to play in the opposition half. Other clubs with wider pitches don’t seem to have this same issue.

At a considerable cost, the pitch could be widened by getting rid of the first few rows on the Main Stand and Midland Road sides, although the disabled facilities in the latter are hugely important and would need to be adequately replaced. All of which is perhaps unrealistic and it’s worth noting that Peter Beagrie had few problems with the pitch; but as Kyel Reid struggled to get past his full back all afternoon on Saturday and attracted a barrage of abuse from fans, you couldn’t help but feel he would have benefited from a bit more space to utilise.

As for that barrage of abuse, it remains a bone of contention just how well we as supporters get behind the team at times. Earlier on in the season the atmosphere was much improved and the standing ovation the players received when trailing 1-0 to Bristol Rovers two weeks ago undoubtedly had an influence in the second half recovery. As the half time whistle was blown on Saturday and with City having played okay but not fantastic, a fan nearby kept his arms folded before breaking out into a smug grin and telling his friend “I’m not applauding that”.

Fine, not exactly the finest 45 minutes we’ve seen, but surely missing the point of what been a football fan is supposed to be about?

Too often people seem to have this viewpoint that they are not on the same side at the team. If the players don’t do the business, it becomes their job to tell them by booing and swearing and moaning and a variety of other negative reactions. We undoubtedly have the most fans in League Two, but no one can tell me that we have the most supporters. I genuinely don’t understand this refusal to get behind the players when they struggle, and instead opt to be personally outraged.

Of course such attitudes prevail at football grounds up and down the country and so can hardly be used as an excuse for repeated failure. Deep down, I think, we all know that being positive and cheering for the players would make some difference, but we each have our reasons for choosing to behave the way we do. Perhaps, for the seven players which started on Saturday who are new to the club, coping with the obstacle of fan abuse is something they simply have to get past and they will become better players for it.

Looking beyond the mentality issue and for other reasons for the backwards steps in form recently, the early days of Parkinson in the Valley Parade dug out deserve some consideration. Two weeks ago it seemed the unexpected transition from Peter Jackson to Parkinson had gone remarkably smoothly, but now the disruption in line ups and strategy is becoming clear.

Parkinson hasn’t changed a great deal in truth, replacing two loanees from the previous starting line up with permanent players and strengthening the attack and defence. The victims of these changes – Oscar Jansson, Jack Compton, Mark Stewart and Guy Branston – can certainly feel hard down by, but the potential shown by Reid, Jamie Devitt, Craig Fagan and Andrew Davies suggests the squad is stronger as a result of these arrivals. Just as the season started with Jackson’s team struggling to find its rhythm; it is now taking time for the new-look team to come together.

Time being a key word when looking at the job Parkinson performed at other clubs. He has never been an instant impact type of manager that Ron Atkinson was famous for in the 1990s. The promotion achieved at Colchester took four seasons of building work; he was sacked by Hull before been given time to turn a poor start around; and he was relegated as Charlton boss in his first season before developing them into play off semi finalists the year after.

His methods appear to be proven in the long-term, but short-term pain has to be lived through first.

Indeed his first 10 games at his three previous clubs show an interesting pattern for two at least. At Colchester he made a great start, taking 19 points from a possible 30 – though the team had already been in good form before he took over under caretaker boss Geraint Williams. At Hull, his first 10 league games saw only one win and a total of five points acquired. At Charlton he lost six of the first 10 league games, picking up only six points. The two points from a possible 15 achieved at City so far are very much along these slow-burner lines.

All of which fits in with the club’s abandonment of short-term thinking which has occurred so often in the past. Parkinson has delivered clear improvement over time at Colchester and Charlton (at Hull we’ll never know), but it wasn’t a speedy journey. Even before we get depressed about the League Two table after 10 games, we can probably predict with confidence that Parkinson will not deliver promotion during his first season at Valley Parade. For him to succeed, patience will be required.

If a losing mentality really does exist at the club, it’s been proven in the past that drastic changes are not the answer. Defeats like Saturday hurt a lot, but as fans it often seems like the lows are more severe than the highs. It’s almost as though we’re collectively nursing an open wound that isn’t allowed any time to heal, causing every subsequent bump to seem even more painful.

There is – perfectly understandably – a losing mentality amongst us supporters in that we are far too quick to allow the gloom to descend; indirectly forcing the recent past to weigh heavily on the shoulders of everyone connected with the club. We have to find a way of coping with defeat better; we have to find a way of not allowing the most recent 90 minutes of football to dictate our mood for the next seven days; we have to change this scapegoat culture and learn to better support our players in good and bad times.

The only constant of the past decade is our narrow Valley Parade pitch and us supporters. The misery we’ve endured over that time certainly isn’t our fault, but we can all play a role in turning around the club’s fortunes by challenging the mindset that this constant failure has inflicted upon us.

Not feeling welcome

Who else made the trip to the Weston Homes Community Stadium last Saturday for the FA Cup 1st round game against Colchester United?

I imagine that a large proportion of the people in the away section were southern based Bradford City supporters. Did any of you feel unwelcome at this game? I certainly did. It wasn’t the behaviour of the home supporters or the stewards though.

It was the fact that this newish stadium which was opened in 2008 is very isolated on the northern edge of Colchester. The options that you have are to pre-book a car parking space at the ground for which you pay £6, or you can use a park and ride scheme.

My friend and I arrived in plenty of time and having done our homework on the location of the ground and the facilities. This was essential as we ended up having a 25 minute walk from where we parked the car to get to the ground. I don’t mind walking but it was as we approached the stadium that I felt uneasy and not welcome.

Stewards and notices were located at the end of roads near to the ground making me feel like we shouldn’t have made the long journey from Yorkshire. I can understand the local residents not wanting people parking at the end of their driveways and thus blocking access to their house but the “tactics” used weren’t very hospitable. This 25 minute walk made the walk to the New Meadow in Shrewsbury on the opening day of the season feel like a hop, skip and a jump. (People who have been to the New Meadow will understand what I mean.)

Once at the ground we were then greeted with a barcode operating system to enter the ground; no turnstile operator although the steward on the other side of the turnstile was friendly enough. However, even this faceless barcode entry system niggled me. It reminded me of the self scan checkouts that you now find in a supermarket.

I suppose this is a sign of our ever changing society but what has happened to good old face to face communication? (Do I sound like a grumpy old man?)

Maybe Colchester United should have stayed at their old site at Layer Road? At least you could get a good pint at the nearby CAMRA award winning Donkey & Buskins. As for these new grounds, they just feel lifeless and in some cases unwelcoming.

Shocking things in the FA Cup

The Team

Lenny Pidgeley | Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver, Luke O'Brien | Tom Adeyemi, David Syers, Tommy Doherty, Lee Hendrie | Louis Moult, James Hanson | Jason Price, Gareth Evans, Chib Chilaka

What is an FA Cup shock? Last night FC United of Manchester beat Rochdale and the result was hardly unpredictable. In fact as the masses of disenchanted Mancunians descended on Spotland it seemed to me that it would be more of a surprise if the league club had won.

That is the problem with the FA Cup. Some clubs want it, others don’t, and when you turn up at a game you do not know which of those two your club will be in. If one side does not care as much about the game as they do the league on Saturday then even if you win, you don’t get a good game.

So it was more geography that meant I trotted up to Colchester to watch City and probably the fact that not many City fans were coming down to the game that means I ended up doing this match report. I was fully prepared for seeing a second string from one side or the other and not much of a game. As it was City went into the game with pretty much a full strength side, Omar Daley was out and Louis Moult in, and Colchester seemed to have done similar and the result was a bit of a humdinger of a game.

Colchester took an early lead, City equalised, that happened again and at half time you would have done well to pick who the higher league team were and certainly who the better one was. City seemed a soft touch at the back but in James Hanson have a striker who seems to be on his way to better things. Steve Williams did not finish the game limping off with a quarter of an hour left so any watching scouts from the East Midlands will have gone home early but it is to be hoped that Sven does not see Hanson who scored twice and put in a great troublesome performance.

Moult set up Hanson’s first goal with a nice pass between defenders as the first equaliser and Luke O’Brien set up Hanson’s second and City’s third with a corner. O’Brien also set up David Syers’ goal with a cross too. O’Brien has come on so much under Peter Taylor and like Hanson, Williams and Syers looks like players who will play at a higher level.

Two second half goals from Colchester United tipped the game their way with the second second half goal was a penalty which seemed to leave Peter Taylor fuming and in the end was the difference between the two teams. Luke Oliver seemed to challenge him fairly enough but any challenge in the box is dangerous in modern football. Oliver and Zesh Rehman are so far behind O’Brien and Williams and it shows when City defend.

Modern football does not seem to have much room for the FA Cup any more though. The game was exciting enough but at the end of the day (and after giving it a good go) City were out and Colchester through but it hardly seemed to matter to people. The excitement was not there and the game felt a little but too much like a pre-season friendly than what used to be one of the most exciting games of the year.

Perhaps it is cause City have been to the top and back that trips to Colchester do not inspire but then again Colchester’s fans wandered away from the game without much of a spring in the step. Maybe it is rose tinted glasses but we always used to get more excited by the FA Cup.

No complaints from the players today though

As it was this was an exciting game of football, both teams went for it, and it was not about cup shocks or giant killing or people who or have a day job scoring against professionals all those boring ITV cliches. It was just a proper game of football, and that was a bit of a cup shock for me.

The modern day FA Cup

The FA Cup is back for another season. Cue up that increasingly-grainy footage of shocks from 30 years ago, let us revel once more at Rocket Ronnie’s goal and don’t forget to keep reminding us that the FA Cup is “the greatest competition in the world”. Again and again.

In recent years – and largely due to the permanently sunny outlook ITV Sport always seems to take – we’ve had to get used to a modern day FA Cup cliche. It’s deployed every time something remotely exciting happens as a moment of mini-triumph for the commentator: “Who said the magic of the FA Cup is dead?”, or for a variant “The magic of the FA Cup is well and truly alive.” Either way this competition has magical powers. So don’t question it. Okay?

Of course the magic of the FA Cup has waned in modern times, and anyone who wants to argue it is still the greatest competition on the basis of showing old footage and over-hyping modern day David v Goliath clashes is either foolish or has advertising space to sell. But even if you face up to that reality, it doesn’t mean the FA Cup is dead. More than it needs to stop living in the past.

There are many theories as to why the FA Cup has lost its prestige – the poor attitude of big clubs and too much football on TV the most quoted. But my personal view is that it is the victim of the successful evolving of league football during the past 20 years. In the Premier League the increase to Champions League spots has pushed down the qualification places for the Europa League (formerly UEFA Cup). This suddenly makes achieving a European spot a realistic objective for more clubs, with hopes able to stay in tact for most of the season.

And in the Football League, the introduction of the play offs in the mid-80s has also devalued the FA Cup. Every team can tangibly dream of reaching a play off spot, and even if you’re stuck in mid-table come Christmas the possibility of a late surge remains alive. Before the play offs, many teams’ seasons would be over before January and, as long as they weren’t in relegation trouble, there’d be nothing to play for with over a half a season left. So the FA Cup meant much more.

In short, the death of midtable meaningless across English football’s four divisions has killed the prestige of the FA Cup. And it’s time traditionalists stopped ignoring the facts and gave up banging on about the so-called magic, so the FA Cup can also evolve for the modern day. The resurgence in popularity of the League Cup in recent years should act as inspiration.

All of this ignores the fact that, for Bradford City at least, this should be considered a special year for the FA Cup. This club doesn’t have an especially successful history to be proud of, but a century ago this season came the Bantams’ finest hour as they defeated Newcastle United 1-0 to lift the FA Cup. Numerous special events are planned to commemorate the landmark, including a new City book to look forward to. It is right to celebrate such an achievement which, in the modern day, looks so absurdly unlikely the club will ever repeat, but how big an appetite there is for a worthy FA Cup run this season to honour that past is debatable.

Tomorrow City begin their FA Cup campaign at Colchester, and with league form suddenly taking off this tie is in truth an unwelcome distraction. Ask pretty much every City fan if they’d rather win tomorrow or at Wycombe in the league next Saturday and yet another early exit would be gladly sacrificed for the chance to close the gap on the play offs. Sure, we’d love to get to the third round and the chance to play David to a Premier League club, but not at the expense of it distracting the players from the all important bread and butter stuff.

Manager Peter Taylor is likely to make some changes given a busy week and important league matches to come, but with momentum so important in football it’s hoped his selection won’t differ too greatly from the side which is building understandings and has won four out of five games. Lenny Pidgley will continue in goal and, with injuries to Shane Duff, Simon Ramsden and Lewis Hunt, expect the same back four which has kept City consecutive clean sheets for the first time since May. Robbie Threlfall could, however, be afforded a first start since getting injured against Gillingham in September.

In midfield Lee Hendrie may not be risked as a minor knock has kept him out of the games at Burton and Bury. Expect Tommy Doherty – still struggling with an injury – to join him in sitting this one out. Doherty’s influence is growing with each game, but the minor complaints from some fans are also being maintained.

After Saturday’s accomplished display he was criticised for lack of pace, on Tuesday the fact he failed to acknowledge us visiting supporters as we chanted his name when he was subbed has caused a bizarrely-angry reaction from a minority. If memory serves me correct, Doherty is yet to speak publicly since signing during the summer and appears to be a shy, retiring sort of fella rather than an arrogant prat who believes he is above thanking his supporters.

Tom Adeyemi and Leon Osborne will likely continue on the flanks, with David Syers possibly joined by the forgotten Lee Bullock in the centre. Almost unnoticed and way ahead of predictions, Gareth Evans returned to the bench on Tuesday after getting injured last month. With the success of the strikers, it appears Evans’ most likely route to a regular starting place is a wide midfield spot, probably for Osborne.

Up front on-loan Jason Price and Louis Moult have been cleared to play and Taylor may favour this partnership to give Omar Daley a breather and to allow James Hanson to continue his recovery from injury. Chibuzor Chilaka will also be pressing for a first start, but after Moult’s first goal last week it would be cruel not to give him a go.

League One Colchester are going great guns and in superb form – so an early exit from the FA Cup seems likely for City. That is hardly the way to honour the heroes of 1911; but the modern day view to take is that the best way to recognise this centenary would not be a cup run but to achieve success in the league.

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