Strikers / Trajectory

There are many reasons, dear reader, as to why Bradford City are struggling to sign a striker following a two goalless draws one of which resulted in a penalty shoot out defeat to Accrington Stanley and what I am going to do is add a reason to the list.

Understand that I’m suggesting that this is a part of a nexus of a causal events that are conspiring to bring about an outcome and not the single and sole reason for Stuart McCall’s struggle to get a number nine who can put the ball in the onion bag.

It has to do with Japan, Andy Cooke, and West Bromwich in Birmingham.

1996

There is a temptation for anyone recalling the past to see it as halcyon. I am forty three years old next week and that means I’m old enough – just about – to remember that twenty years ago people were saying that things where better twenty years ago and to have lived through both time periods.

But I do recall that the character of football in 1996 differed from the current game in many ways but specifically in this one: Player used to decline.

Which is to say that one could watch a player on Match of the Day in the First Division for a few years of his career and when he lost a yard of pace or a touch of sharpness one could be sure that one would be seeing him at a lower league ground soon.

It was the natural order of things. Bradford City – like many clubs – number some players who declined from the top league to the grace of a good career lower down amongst their iconic figures. The top flight was done with Peter Beagrie when he came to Valley Parade, it was done with Trevor Cherry, it was done with Roy McFarland.

There was a steady stream of players who would have had a good career at the top level and would take a few stop offs down the leagues before they went to the job as a landlord/raconteur at some local boozer back near the ground where they were most fondly remembered.

2007

When Andy Cooke signed for Bradford City under Colin Todd he joined the club for a Korean side having had a few months in the Far East and got home sick. Cooke was a decent enough worker although he would not have been an answer to anyone’s goalscoring problems but he did show an interesting route a football could take.

Way batter yourself around Bristol Rover and Burton when Busan I’Cons will give you a year living somewhere exotic. Cooke was last seen playing for Market Drayton Town and one wonders if he might have thought that Busan to Bradford was not the best move he ever made.

Jay Bothroyd came through the Arsenal youth system and played for Coventry City in the top division and as he declined it became clear his career was a slow decline. Bothroyd handled that decline differently to most and cut a path that is increasingly common.

When QPR had done with him and the contracts on the table would have seen him schlepping around League One and Two he upped sticks and moved on to Thailand and Muangthong United and then to Júbilo Iwata in J2. He was J2 top scorer and got a promotion to J1.

Rather than opting to struggle in League One and Two Bothroyd went to someone else’s top flight. A modern football does not need the last pay day as was the mark of many a footballer. They can go where they going is good?

Or not.

2014

Rickie Lambert got his dream move to his boyhood club Liverpool and he got to play for England in what was an unexpected Indian Summer to his career aged 32. Liverpool moved him on to West Brom a year later and if Lambert was not already set up for life following his Bristol Rovers and Southampton career he was after a year going into an out of Anfield.

Lambert is currently at West Brom but played only eighteen games last season scoring once. I’d suggest that he is the type of player who twenty years ago would have been keen to not run down his contract at The Hawthornes and see what happened after knowing he had the comfort of a near limitless financial cushion but would have been telling his manager today that he wanted to find a club lower down to give him a three year deal to secure him a decent future.

Lambert is atypical in the Premier League in having played in the lower divisions of English football. I do not wish to cast aspersions on Lambert’s Baggy team mate José Salomón Rondón but there seems to be no future in which Rondón joined Walsall after four good years at Albion but accepting his yard of pace has gone.

Indeed it seems that when a Premier League player begins to decline rather than accepting a deterioration in contract terms lower down the league they head for the money of China, or Dubai, or somewhere else that allows you to fail upwards.

2016

It is not the sole reason that Stuart McCall struggles to find a striker but football – at the moment – has a supply problem. Players do not have the career trajectories they once had and do not end up coming to a Valley Parade aged thirty plus looking for a solid three year deal to secure their futures.

The scarcity of that sort of player makes other good strikers – the Rickie Lamberts on the way up – harder to come by and McCall, like many managers, is looking for scraps.

Timeline / Reboot

There is a difference between you and me. We both looked into the abyss, but when it looked back at us, you blinked – Bruce Wayne, Crisis

There was a point in the history of Bradford City where the club took one turn, and could have taken another.

To be more accurate these points happen all the time but watching Stuart McCall take a Bradford City through pre-season at Guiseley I ended up thinking back to the days of January and February 2007 when Dean Windass was allowed to leave City and join Hull, and Colin Todd was sacked.

Todd’s contract was up at the end of the season and it was an open secret that Julian Rhodes wanted McCall to replace him. The need for totemic best player Windass seemed to be over with Rhodes convinced that the Bantams had enough points that David Wetherall could not possibly get them relegated in his time as manager (which he did) and had he not Rhodes might have used – not certainly not needed – an investment from then supporter Mark Lawn.

And had Rhodes excersized restraint and kept Todd, or Windass, or both, or taken another option then McCall may well have arrived in June 2007 to the very type of situation he found himself in some nine years later.

But these things happen all the time. Had Notts County’s one yarder in the first round of the League Cup 2011/2012 gone a foot lower then there would not be a Phil Parkinson legacy – such as it is – for McCall to adopt.

That legacy is not to be understated either. Parkinson has left City in rude health. The leanness of the squad in summer which caused so much consternation is purposeful and a feature of the majority of clubs outside the higher reaches of the game where lengthy deals on players are more often liabilities than assets. Only the foundations are secured in League One football these days.

And the foundations off the field are secured.

Parkinson – as far as the story is told – never walked into the boardroom and demanded money the club could not afford for players and given how easily led the boardroom seemed to be that is a good thing. That the squad last season was patched with loan players rather than panic purchases says a lot.

List the players from last season who City owned to still be at the club this season and names like Rory McArdle and Stephen Darby – both absent today and for the start of the season following operations – would be iterated through. Ben Williams and Jamie Proctor would not.

“The owl of Athena spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk” – as Hegel should have said – and it seems that dusk has not come yet for Parkinson.

Rather than a reboot of 2007/2008 and McCall’s first time as Bradford City manager in League Two it seemed that the manager was on the road not travelled, and playing in what could have been.

What was was an entertaining encounter. It would be wrong to talk about Guiseley as more than an extended and expensive training session and so to pick out specifics rather than trends seems to miss the point of the exercise.

Those trends though seemed positive.

The young players who stepped up from the lower ranks which Parkinson ignored and played with the élan of The Lisbon Girls allowed out to party for the first time. Daniel Devine’s name suggests itself.

The trialists looked lively in a way that seemed different to those Parkinson brought in. All looked capable and some looked impressive. The wheat from the chaff comes in spending time with the characters and seeing how they fit into a unit which is what games like this are all about.

It was good to see George Green make a long awaited debut. George Green and the subject of paths not taken is interesting assuming you remember the name.

And of the new signings Nathaniel Knight-Percival did not have much to do while Nicky Law Jnr set up an equalising goal for Tom Hateley (trialist) to score from. That moment when Hateley equalised revealed the game for what it was. The Bantams were happy to kick the ball around but would not go home in a defeat. The gears shifted up after falling behind showed a team working fitness rather than working to win.

And all seemed new. Parkinson has left something good at Bradford City but his exit seems to have taken with it some of the stolid tenancies which mired City’s thinking. All that was good seems good and all that was not seems new.

Which is not something that one would have expected.

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.”

Wembley: One year on and 176 miles away

Less than a year on from Bradford City’s League Cup final at Wembley it is not hard to see the difference between where the club sat then and where it is now in Yorkshire. In Wales though on the night our opposition that day Swansea City sack Michael Laudrup from his position as manager the improvements in the Principality are under question.

Swansea City’s League Cup win was the coming out party for a club run well by chairman Huw Stephens who has reportedly fallen out with the Dane over his desire, or lack of desire, to sign a deal for next season. Managers had come and gone at The Liberty Stadium but a principal of good football with players who fit the budgets remained.

Giving Stephens the benefit of the doubt it probably still does unless he has – Geoffrey Richmond style – decided that modest success one year must be translated into massive gains the next. Let us hope for our sporting vanquishers of March 2013 that he has not.

Laudrup has performed the brief of Swansea manager this season well. The spell of defeats his team was on was surely not the whole reason for his exit. The campaign in Europe included some impressive wins and the team recorded a first ever victory at Old Trafford in the FA Cup. 12th in the Premier League is nothing to be sniffed at. If the issue is about contract length and signing up beyond the end of the season one hopes that Stephens does not come to regret that decision.

Indeed one recalls the sacking of Colin Todd as City boss after the misanthropic manager suggested he would not be interested in a new deal in the summer. David Wetherall was given a chance and relegation followed. Todd’s team were in no danger of relegation whatsoever and it was the change was the cause of the problems.

The progress Laudrup has made is now in the hands of such a situation. The team he leaves is in the same position this year as last – the middle of the Premier League – but watching them this season they seemed more at home in the top flight. No longer wide eyed they played their brand of impressive passing football not trying to prove that they were worthy of a top flight place but being worthy of it. They were on the verge of being Premier League rank and file.

The new Fulham, so to speak, as the old one beats a path back to the Championship.

Stephens believes what he has done in removing Laudrup has made that more likely, one worries that it has made it less.

No disrespect is meant to Gary Megson but, really, Sheffield Wednesday should fire him

No disrespect to the competition or Bradford – it’s fantastic that Johnstone’s Paint sponsor the competition – but we have to do what is right for Sheffield Wednesday.

Which is to say losing matches. Gary Megson’s actions in the defeat on penalties to Bradford City seemed to make that more likely and while I’m not expert on the amount of effort put in by a custodian in a Tuesday night match and how it would tire him out for Saturday if I were facing a penalty shoot out I’d be glad to have Nicky Weaver in goal.

If I were a Sheffield Wednesday fan I’d probably wish the Megson did the kind of unexpected exit which our own Peter Jackson performed last week and not because of the idea that he has shamed the club, or disgraced the competition or anything so emotive but because in two ways Megson indicated that he failed to grasp the task in hand managing a club like the Owls in League One.

Bradford City are not a club the size of Wednesday, but we are big guns in these lower leagues and have been there to have had pot shots taken at us for the best part of a decade now. For a time there was a hushed aware when teams visited Valley Parade – the kind that comes when a player who is used to 3,000 capacity stadiums visits a proper ground – but that did not last long. Bit by bit the reputation City had of a top club at the bottom was chipped away by the odd home defeat here, the weakness shown there and by season after season of being knocked out of competitions like the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy by teams from further down the football pyramid.

Under Colin Todd’s management a lot of the things he was doing in the league were undermined by constant defeat to the likes of Accrington Stanley – then a non-league outfit – and Notts County before the fraud. For a half decade City were ground out of cup competitions at the first time of asking and – in retrospect – the sight of “Premier League Bradford City” going out to Acky Stanley chipped away at any fear factor we had.

So players of other clubs reading this morning that Sheffield Wednesday lost to Bradford City will see Megson’s Owls as a little less than they were, a little bit more beatable. Likewise the players on the field – struggling to maintain the idea that they are not League One players but rather Championship players waiting for re-promotion – have a niggling doubt that something at Wednesday is not what it was.

Understanding how cup form sabotaged the long league seasons has come through hindsight mostly, but as a manager who is going to get promotion Megson should understand the perils mentally of losing to a club in the leagues below you.

And lose they did. The other strike against Megson for a Wednesday fan is that they team he put out against City were ill prepared and it showed. Luke Oliver hit the bar in the last minute but more importantly he converted a header which was nodded away from what looked to be behind the line. There was no bad luck in the game, Wednesday got what they deserved, nothing.

The players oozed a mentality that they had been sent out as second class citizens at the club. They did not play like the people who would be expected to be dropped into a League One game next week, they played like they were the off cuts. Many a manager had challenged his fridge fringe players to “show me what you can do” but Megson seemed to say “Show me what you can’t.”

At any level of football a manager should not send a team out with that attitude. Tell a team that they are second best and they will prove it on the pitch. Take Arsene Wenger’s 8-2 reversal at Manchester United. As two midfielder’s exited Arsene told Arsenal’s players that they were not good enough – certainly not as good as the guys who had left – and his players showed that at Old Trafford. Imagine – if you will – had Arsenal played that game with Ces Fabregas suspended and Sami Nasri injured. Would the attitude of the Arsenal players been the same or would they have pulled together to cover the missing men? Had Sheffield Wednesday gone into last night as the young heroes being called on in an injury crisis then would they have walked taller, won more tackles, felt better?

Not only is preparing players as Megson did unprofessional but it is avoidable. Clinton Morrison screaming his head off at team mates is not a way to prepare footballers. A young kid making his debut at the back deserves more than his team mates being told that they have to play. Tell the seniors that they are there to help the juniors, tell the juniors that you need a performance from them.

The next time one of the players who finished the game for Sheffield Wednesday is called on by Gary Megson how is the feeling of knowing they are part of the cut offs team going to effect them. Megson might be schooled in 38 games of a Premier League season with Bolton Wanderers but the demands of the game lower down are that the division between first team and reserves is much finer, and the need to have a squad all pulling in the same direction has been aptly illustrated by the last three years at Bradford City.

So, while one means no disrespect to Sheffield Wednesday or their manager my experience of watching a team in similar circumstances suggests that the manager lacks what is needed to take a big club back up.

When the fear factor goes, much goes with it, and Megson chipped away at that last night.

Parkinson offers Lawn a chance to revisit his moment of decision

Phil Parkinson’s arrival at Bradford City might be the repetition of the familiar sight of the club unveiling a new manager but for Mark Lawn his appointment represents a chance to revisit the most decisive moment he had taken as The Bantams chairman, and to try put right what went wrong.

Parkinson replaces former City captain turned manager Peter Jackson coming to the club with a CV that suggests that one should not expect expansive, attacking football. When City team drew 1-1 with Parkinson’s Colchester United in 2006 City boss Colin Todd called the man who now takes his seat “the death of football.”

It is fair to say that Parkinson is a footballing pragmatist although how this pragmatism will impact his City team is debatable. Having spent the summer talking about replacing Pat Rice as Arsene Wenger’s number two at Arsenal perhaps the negative football that raised Todd’s anger so was the best he could get out of his Colchester side, and that at Arsenal he would had done things differently. At City it might be worth seeing what practicalities he puts in place.

Nevertheless it is the icon replaced by the pragmatist. It is hard to not cast the decision as Mark Lawn’s chance to revisit the change he made at the club in 2010 when Stuart McCall was replaced by Peter Taylor. Lawn proudly stood alongside Taylor and there was a suggestion that amateur hour was over and a “proper manager” had taken over. Twelve months later and Lawn was recruiting again. Parkinson was interviewed for that position but Peter Jackson favoured.

Even in retrospect it is hard to piece together what went wrong with Lawn’s appointment of Taylor. He was welcomed to the club on the strength of his reputation for winning promotion – his CV is more impressive than Parkinson’s – and he pointed the club in the direction of the improvements which are now trumpeted. The new and better facilities were a demand of Taylor’s which were promised, then said to be not required, and then given to Peter Jackson.

But things went wrong – very obviously – and Taylor left after twelve months. Mark Lawn was the last of the board to agree on appointing Taylor but agree he did and he spent the summer pumping up City as promotion favourites.

When talking about Taylor’s team as being on the way out of football saved by Peter Jackson Lawn might deal in exaggeration but he also exonerates himself of any responsibility in the failure of the club to challenge for promotion that year. Lawn made his move in replacing the manager, his move failed, and Parkinson offers a chance to revisit that.

One wonders though is Lawn has learnt from the mistakes made with Taylor as he takes the chance to relive them?

Back when there was talk about Colin Todd being sacked as he approached 100 games in charge of City his record split pretty evenly down in thirds between wins, defeats and losses but – at the time – it was a better record that Parkinson (his Colchester team were top of League One at the time) had after the same number of games. In other words two years plus change into Todd’s contract he was doing better than Parkinson, when Parkinson got to three years his team were well on the way to promotion.

Parkinson’s old boss Alan Pardew has been given a five year deal at Newcastle United – a club no stranger to replacing gaffers – as an indication of how much the chairman believes in the decision he had made. One year, two years, the indication is still that the club is going to see how things go.

The club have stated that there is an aim to reach the Championship in five years time. If Parkinson is the man to start that process off then are we to take it he is not the man to finish it? If he is worth giving being trusted with the first two years of that process why not all five? Obviously his contract would be extended were he to do well but once again we are in the process not of finding the man we want for our future but rather auditioning managers on a short term basis to see if they are worth keeping in the long term.

This season is for building, and in the last year of his contract Parkinson must follow that the next is for promotion and should he achieve that the he will have earned himself the chance to be the club’s long term manager.

So Mark Lawn gives a manager a remit to get promotion next season – which is what he did with Taylor – and hopes that things go better than they did last time.

One hopes that Lawn has learnt more from his mistakes than the ability to repeat them.

Phil Parkinson takes over at Bradford City

Bradford City have today confirmed that Phil Parkinson is to become the new manager, after agreeing a two year contract. The Bantams have already made a sizeable bid for striker Paul Benson, a fan of Parkinson, and are said to be chasing out of contract winger Kyel Reid.

Who is he?

43-year-old Parkinson has been out of work since been sacked as Charlton manager in January. Having taken over the South London club when it was clear they were already doomed to relegation from the Championship in 2009, Parkinson led the Addicks to a play off semi final – which they lost on penalties to Swindon – in his first full season in charge, before losing his job last season due to a poor run of form but with Charlton still fifth in League One and only three points off the top two.

Parkinson was previously given just 24 games as manager of Hull – making way for Phil Brown, which didn’t work out too badly for the Tigers. He built his reputation as a bright young manager by guiding Colchester to the Championship despite the Essex club having one of the lowest budgets and smallest gates in a League One that included Colin Todd’s Bradford City. He had been appointed United boss in 2003, steering them clear of relegation in that first season.

In 2007 Parkinson was set to take over as Huddersfield manager before making a last-minute u-turn and choosing to remain assistant to Alan Pardew at Charlton – prompting this memorable press conference.

As impressive as promotion for Colchester was, it needs noting that it took him three and a half seasons to achieve it – demonstrating once again the importance of giving a manager time. Rightly or wrongly he will probably not get such patience at City unless progress is swift in these next two seasons.

Since leaving Charlton, Parkinson has been assisting Arsenal with scouting work and is said to have turned down a position within their coaching staff.

What sort of football can we expect?

Parkinson rocks up to Valley Parade with accusations of playing dour football that echo Peter Taylor, the man he once succeeded at Hull. His successful promotion at Colchester saw his tough to beat side concede just 40 goals – less than a goal per game, making it the best defensive record in the division – and score only 58. At Charlton he endured criticism for negative football, though the play off finish season featured the Addicks scoring 71 and conceding 48.

That said what classes as dour football isn’t always truly the case. Todd’s City were routinely criticised as boring to watch, yet the former England centre half maintained a passing philosophy and usually played two out-and-out wingers, which made this common complaint somewhat dubious in truth. Relatively speaking, no recent City manager has managed to get his side as defensively strong as Todd did; but flair was not exactly short either in the likes of Nicky Summerbee, Marc Bridge-Wilkinson and Jermaine Johnson.

As Jackson began to lose his way in his final two games, the level of organisation Parkinson’s methods would appear to offer might prove beneficial to a team clearly bursting with enthusiasm but so far lacking League Two know-how.

What about the club’s long-term Development Squad initiative?

Parkinson has a decent reputation for giving opportunities to and improving young players – his Colchester team included Greg Halford, Chris Iwelumo, Neil Danns and Wayne Brown.

At Charlton Parkinson was said to have been given less money to spend than any previous manager since Lennie Lawrence in the 1980s. This meant he had to partly rely on young players and loans from clubs in lower leagues.

While forging a positive relationship with Archie Christie would seem to be key, there is every reason to be confident Parkinson has the experience to thrive in this environment. He seems unlikely to be diving into the loan market as often as Taylor did last season, which was to the detriment of the squad and to results.

What will change from Jackson?

Not much one would think. Unlike many of his predecessors in the Valley Parade dugout, Parkinson takes over with the squad in a relatively strong position and no great need to make wholesale changes other than the two signings already lined up. While he probably won’t be entirely happy with the squad he inherits and there will be winners and losers to this change of management, Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes are likely to have told him all about the summer recruiting and the path started by Jackson should be continued.

What is expected of Parkinson?

These turbulent days have not exactly centered around expectations being or not being met, and so the remit that this is a building season with promotion welcomed but not expected will be the same. An improvement on last season is the minimum, and Parkinson has the time and the resources already available to attempt to make that happen.

The two-year deal is interesting given Taylor and Jackson were not awarded such long contracts, and City will probably need to finish in the top seven next season for it to be extended.

What about Lawn and the Board?

Even allowing for the fact the last managerial recruitment process of assessing candidates will have been fresh in the memory from last time, there is an impressiveness about the speed and manner the club has sought to replace Jackson. Compared to the uncertainty in way the manager situation was handled towards the end of last season, which must have played a part in the club’s poor form and near-miss with relegation, the transition has been relatively smooth.

The Board claim to have been stunned by the resignation of Jackson, but what could have proved a turbulent time has in fact gone relatively smoothly with a badly needed win followed by proactive action recruiting Parkinson. The long-term plan could easily have been ripped apart, but Lawn and the Board have maintained their conviction in the summer’s approach and moved sharply to ensure it should be continued.

What’s next?

Colin Cooper is expected to remain in charge of the team for Tuesday’s game with Sheffield Wednesday; so the new manager should lead his team for the first time at Morecambe on Saturday.

City offer Omar Daley a new two year deal

Omar Daley has been offered a new two year deal by Bradford City and – BfB understands – the thirty year old winger is considering the Bantams offer.

Daley – who joined City in January 2007 signed by Colin Todd – played 112 for the club scoring 14 times but was thought to have played his final game for the club after his contract expired at the end of last season following his unsuccessful loan at Rotherham United. It would seem that the Jamaican winger is once again figuring in City’s plans.

BfB understands that Daley is considering City’s offer along with deals from at least one Major League Soccer club in the United States of America and that City’s offer would see Daley take a significant pay cut from last season to return to Valley Parade.

Looking at the team for next season it is not hard to see why Peter Jackson might be interested in bringing Daley back. Aside from Jackson’s attempts to bring in a keeper – and his worry about signing a holding midfielder which has seen a reported interest in Charlton’s 27 year old Alan McCormack – the position which seems unaddressed is that of an out and out winger.

A midfield four which anchored by Richie Jones and with David Syers (or Michael Flynn) alongside could be given balance with one of the two left sided defensive players (three, should Jamie Green sign) along with a more direct wideman on the right. Without that option – or solely relying on Dominic Rowe for that option – Jackson goes into the season with fewer tactical options at his disposal. Rowe looks like he could be a good player, but Daley is, undoubtedly.

Which is to make mention of Daley’s abilities. Some have reservations but – from a personal point of view – I see Daley as a player who on occasions is near unstoppable by opposition teams. His pace is peerless in League Two, his abilities are excellent and his attitude – while not always as outstanding as his pace – was by no means the worst at the club last season. He works hard to address his weaknesses and plays with an honesty in his game. He scores goals of unbelievable quality but more impressive – and more fearsome especially away from home – is the way he forces the opposition into sitting deep as they worry about of his speed.

The usual rider on articles which deal with the possible applies. BfB avoids idle speculation and nothing may come of any offer in the fullness of time. However it seems that Jackson and City are preparing to address the issue with the weakness on the wing in the squad and address it with a familiar solution.

Pre-season preparations hit some bumps – time to panic?

Despite the arrival of two young players last week, there’s little doubt that the very public rejections of Tommy Miller and Gavin Skelton have proved the larger contributors to the current overall mood of us Bradford City supporters. Hot on the heels of Ashley Grimes and Clayton Donaldson turning down opportunities to join the Bantams, the fear is that manager Peter Jackson is targeting the wrong people and could fail to build a squad good enough to fulfil this season’s objectives.

Time is ticking, with the start of pre-season friendlies this week acting as another marker on the road to the big kick off in just under a month’s time. Other teams seem to be making a much better fist of strengthening their squad, while there are some murmurs of criticism that Archie Christie’s Development Squad plans are disrupting the focus away from the immediate priorities.

BfB did put together some research into the speed at which City have historically signed new players during the summer. But of the 114 summer signings made between Darren Moore on 4th June 1997 and the Scottish duo of Mark Stewart and Chris Mitchell on 1st July 2011 – there is no obvious correlation between how soon players arrive and how the team then goes onto perform. On average at this point of the summer, City have completed 50% of their business. The rejections of Donaldson, Grimes, Miller and Skelton would suggest Jackson is still less than 50% of his way through his summer recruitment plans this time around, but it may not mean that it’s time to panic.

For a start it’s worth considering what’s so good about signing players early? Do all the best players get snapped up immediately? Jon Worthington, Gareth Evans, Lenny Pidgley and Jake Speight all got signed up by clubs before July – would we have been happy to have signed them if they hadn’t played for us before?

As an example of the inconsistencies in the speedness of signing players we can look at two seasons where summer signings were made very late on. First in 2006, where Colin Todd had only made three of his eight close season signings with a fortnight to go before the campaign kicked off. The relegation that followed suggests it had a negative effect, though curiously City’s hastily assembled squad began that season in brilliant form.

Then there was the 1998/99 season, where Lee Mills was famously signed barely 24 hours before the season began and Isaiah Rankin a week after. Similarly with Todd in 2006, Paul Jewell had only made three of his seven summer signings a fortnight before the season began. No one needs reminding what the team achieved that season.

But when we do think back to those halcyon days, a lesson we can reflect on is the role players we weren’t sure were good enough went onto fulfil. The star players of that season included Peter Beagrie, Jamie Lawrence, Wayne Jacobs, Robbie Blake, John Dreyer and Darren Moore – some of which we were expecting Jewell to replace. Though Blake, Lawrence and Moore in particular had shown promise the season before, few would have predicted that they and other team mates were capable of scaling such heights as they did. It’s interesting to note that seven of the 11 players who started at Molineux on that never to be forgotten May afternoon were at the club the year before.

Which is why we shouldn’t write off the players who were part of last season’s dismal failures just yet. Jackson may have been keen to get rid of more when sorting out the retained list, but it would be wrong to tar them all with the same ‘not-good-enough’ brush and to assume a complete overhaul is needed if City are to have any chance of enjoying a good season.

A new goalkeeper has been targeted and is probably required. Jon McLaughlin had spells of good form last season, but perhaps isn’t ready to be entrusted with the responsibility of being number one for an entire campaign just yet. At full backs City were well equipped even before right back Mitchell arrived. A fully fit Simon Ramsden will seem like a new signing while Lewis Hunt hangs on; on the left side Robbie Threlfall and Luke O’Brien will continue to battle each other for the first team spot.

At centre backs City still have the talented Steve Williams to nurture. He was outstanding during the first half of last season before suffering a serious injury at Colchester in the FA Cup, but didn’t look the same player on his return and struggled to find form. Nevertheless he has a great future and should benefit from playing alongside new signing Guy Branston. There’s also the much-maligned Luke Oliver, who had a strong end to the season. It could be that Oliver leaves, but if he stays he can be a reasonable back up option.

In the wide midfield positions we come to the biggest problem, as Taylor’s reluctance to sign or keep hold of any wingers left City weak in this area. Should Jackson bring in wingers in addition to using youngsters Dominic Rowe and Leon Osborne, it will almost feel like a novelty to see players charging down the touchline and crossing the ball, instead of the route one stuff that was so often the main feature last year. BfB has heard an extremely intriguing piece of information over who Jackson is trying to recruit as one of his wingers. If it comes off, expect it to cause one heck of a stir.

In the centre City still have the hugely popular David Syers and are clearly looking for a regular partner to play alongside him. If this doesn’t come off though, City could do worse than turn to Michael Flynn. Jackson admitted he wanted to release Flynn at the end of last season and clearly hasn’t being able to see him at his best due to the struggles the Welshman had returning from injury. However if he can recapture his form of 2009/10 season – and with a full pre-season behind him there’s every chance – he can make a hugely positive impact. Lee Bullock is also a decent player to call upon, though it’s difficult to imagine he’ll get too many opportunities this season.

Up front the dearth of goals last season was a major problem, but it would be wrong to blame it solely on the strikers. The service they received was pathetic at times, and rather than them missing opportunities the team struggled to create any for them. Sadly James Hanson has been written off by a lot of supporters and is likely to become a major target of the moaners unless he begins the season well. I personally think he’s still got a lot to offer this club, and is capable of playing at a higher level if he can apply himself.

The summer recruits Hannah and Stewart have never played at this level, so despite their impressive goal tallies there is a big question over whether they can make the step up. For that reason Jackson probably needs to sign at least one more striker – someone with experience.

So a keeper, two or three wide players, a central midfielder and a striker. A host of trialists are attempting to fill some of these roles, but there are plenty of players available now or in the future who Jackson can target. A trickle affect runs through clubs’ recruitment efforts – sign the player you’re targeting, and a squad player is suddenly surplus to requirements and is sold to someone else.

Jackson will get there, and while players publically turning down his advances is not good for anyone’s morale, the squad he already has available is not as bad as we might sometimes think. In recent years City players have generally performed okay but failed to show it often enough. For City and Jackson, the key to this season may not lie in the ability levels of the players he already has and wants to bring in – but in the manager developing the players’ mental capacity to consistently perform to their true capabilities.

The bus ride to Kent as Bradford City face Gillingham

If there is a place to want to be this weekend it is apparently on the Bradford City team bus that will be taking the players to and from the Priestfield Stadium for the Bantams’ important League Two clash with Gillingham.

Interim manager Peter Jackson has been quick to point out that there are a lot of southern players in the bulging squad he has inherited. He’s not saying there’s a North-South divide, just that no longer will players, who have friends and family close by the Southern excursions that form part of the League Two fixture programme, be allowed to get off the bus early. A statement that has attracted strong approval from some impressed supporters.

With such a strong keenness to get the full time job, it is perhaps understandable that Jackson is keen to differentiate himself from the previous regime and drop not-so subtle hints that he believes the more relaxed stance the last guy took was wrong. However a few media soundbites to curry favour with supporters willing to embrace new reasons for why Peter Taylor was a poor manager deserve to be taken with large a pinch of salt.

For much of this week, every word uttered by Jackson has seemingly been met with strong approval by some supporters – and there is already some clamour to sign him up before he has even taken charge of a game. But the simple, overlooked reality is that every new manager over the years is the recipient of warm approval for what they initially say, and the idea that Jackson forcing the players to eat breakfast together is a meaningful reason towards why he’d be the right man for the job is somewhat over-simplistic.

Just one year ago, Peter Taylor was receiving exactly the same treatment from some supporters. Every public utterance was not only considered over-whelming evidence of his brilliance – it was another opportunity to slate the last guy. So if Jackson feels the need to talk down Taylor’s approach – and he is entitled to do that if he believes it will earn him the job – he should do so knowing full well that, should he succeed in getting a contract, in one or two years time his successor will making similar statements about why his different methods will be more effective  – which will be leapt upon by some as evidence Jackson was a terrible manager.

It’s happened before, countless times.

City Director Roger Owen was last year quick to ensure we all knew that Taylor – unlike his scruffy, ill-disciplined predecessor Stuart McCall – was making the players wear suits on matchdays. ‘Brilliant’ was the general reaction, but it hardly boosted results. David Wetherall was quick to deride the players’ lack of fitness after taking over from Colin Todd in 2007, but his efforts to introduce a high-intense approach coincided with some of the worst performances of the season. Bryan Robson and Todd claimed they would play attractive passing football “unlike the previous manager who preferred direct football”, even though Nicky Law hadn’t actually played in this way.

And this need for a new manager to provide tedious reasons for they are different to the last man – in order to earn praise and encourage favourable comparisons to the outgoing guy – isn’t exclusive to City. Witness the always positive welcome new England managers receive. Sven Goran Eriksson supposedly failed at the 2006 World Cup because he let the WAGS stay in the same hotel; under Steve McLaren the squad didn’t eat their meals together. So Fabio Capello was praised for banning the WAGS and for not allowing players to leave the dinner table until the last man had finished, but England’s fortunes failed to improve.

All of this is not supposed to be intended as an attack on Jackson. BfB has been criticised in recent days for not being positive enough on his interim arrival; but, for me at least, it’s more a weariness about this reoccurring situation than anything personal.

The club continues to under-perform, and somehow all the blame for it ends its way solely on the manager’s shoulders, and he is got rid of. Then a huge wave of positivity greets the next man and he is initially praised for nothing more than a couple of nice comments in the press, before in time it all becomes his fault all over again.

Maybe Jackson is the right man; but after so many failed managerial appointments over the last decade, it seems foolish to dive into falling head over heels for him so willingly and so quickly.

Is he right to keep Southern-based players on the team bus all the way back to Bradford? Who knows, but the insinuation that Taylor failed because he made certain allowances for people who have family and friends hundreds of miles away from Bradford is misguided and somewhat trivial. Paul Jewell was known to make similar allowances to his players during the last promotion season, and team spirit wasn’t a problem then. At worst, Taylor stands accused of treating adults like adults.

Let us, for example, imagine the negotiations for signing Tommy Doherty last summer – someone who has previously played all his career in the South. Doherty might not have been keen to move so far North, away from loved ones, so Taylor may have offered a concession that he can go home at weekends after the match, including not travelling back to Bradford after a game in the South. As a result City can sign a talented player who would have proved more effective had an injury not hampered his efforts.

More realistically what Jackson offers the club is someone who will do things different to Taylor. There will be some methods he’d employ that would work better than Taylor’s equivalent approach, but other ideas which won’t. However we come to view Taylor’s time in charge, the facts are his strategy has delivered outstanding success at certain clubs but didn’t work at Valley Parade. That doesn’t mean those methods are wrong, more that we need a manager who’ll be able to flourish in the Bantams’ environment.

Jackson gets his first true outward opportunity to stake a claim for the job with the long trip to Priestfield tomorrow. The Gills have always been strong at home – even last season when they were relegated from League One – and though City have been able to enjoy success in Kent, most notably in the last meeting two years ago, it is the kind of place they often return from pointless. An interesting first test for Jacko.

It seems a waste of time to predict his team, other than to expect a 4-4-2 formation that will include some of the players who clearly impressed him during the reserves 6-2 hiding of Port Vale on Tuesday. So expect Scott Dobie, Gareth Evans and Jake Speight to be knocking on the door to partner James Hanson. In addition Jon Worthington, who played under Jackson at Town, will be hopeful of a recall.

Whoever makes the cut, it’s to be hoped the coach journey doesn’t prove to be the day’s only highlight.

The managerial failure cycle – bad choices or bad strategy?

The recent demoralising defeats to Port Vale and Chesterfield have once again heaped the pressure on Bradford City manager Peter Taylor. This weekend the Bantams face a crucial home game with Stockport that could determine his immediate future, but already it seems implausible to believe Taylor will be employed at Valley Parade beyond the expiration of his contract in May.

It will soon be time to search again for the man to revive this ailing football club but the fact we keep going around this cycle of getting rid of a manager and replacing him with new one – with little success in reversing a slide down the leagues – can already leave us pessimistic that the next manager isn’t going to be any better.

To blame the club’s decline on poor managers would be over-simplistic and, no matter who takes residence in the dug out after Taylor, there will still be all manner of financial issues that hold us back. Yet so much is reliant upon the manager that it is such a key position to get right, and as thoughts soon turn to filling a vacancy it is a process that needs to be reviewed in order to increase the chances of it succeeding. We can’t just keep hiring and firing and hope the law of probabilities means we’ll stumble on the right manager eventually, can we?

Over the last few days Michael has written two excellent articles – here and here – on what the club and supporters might be looking for in the next manager. Too often, it seems, football clubs in general appear to have no thoughts on the right person to take their club forwards beyond sacking the present incumbent and waiting for CVs to file through in the post. It seems a backwards methodology in these days of recruitment specialists and head hunters and, as City apparently keep getting the choice of manager wrong, it’s worth posing the question of whether this is because as employees we keep making bad choices, or because the qualities we are looking for have either not been considered enough or were misguided.

Let’s try and find out…

Chris Hutchings
“Oh Wetherall’s free! Fantastic header!”

Sunday 14 May 2000, and Martin Tyler’s description of David Wetherall’s winner for Bradford City against Liverpool – which confirmed the club’s Premier League survival – is relayed around the world. A pitch invasion follows the final whistle and the celebrations in and around Bradford go on long into the night.

But something’s not right. Rather than looking joyous or even relieved, manager Paul Jewell is sporting a scowling face that radiates the pressure he has been under from media, supporters and his boss. A few weeks later he quits, fed up of the way he has been treated. And the last successful Bradford City manager we’ve had goes onto enjoy a fine career elsewhere.

It is at this point the look behind the strategy should begin; because although the steep decline that followed was more to do with finances than bad management, nothing on the pitch has proved a success since.

I never agreed with the decision to appoint Chris Hutchings as Jewell’s successor, but it’s difficult to dispute the logic that led to Chairman Geoffrey Richmond promoting Jagger’s assistant. Since Lennie Lawrence departed in 1995, Richmond had enjoyed great success promoting from within after both Chris Kamara and Jewell delivered a promotion and survival in the division above the following season. An Anfield-esqe bootroom culture that promoted continuity was a worthy blueprint.

I never agreed, because the circumstances were different. Kamara and Jewell took over a club with the resources and capacity to be better than they were, but City had now climbed to a level they had not previously reached for almost 80 years – and we needed some experience to help us negotiate uncharted territory. Instead Hutchings was entrusted with the biggest transfer budget this club is ever likely to have, and given a remit to improve the style of football and guide City to a mid-table spot.

History shows this was far too ambitious – not to mention damagingly expensive – and, as clubs like Stoke and Wigan continue to battle to preserve their top flight status year-on-year, the idea that City could prosper by turning to flair and playing 4-4-2 at Old Trafford now seems breathtakingly naive. A more experienced manager would surely have known that the strategy was all wrong.

Jim Jefferies
“It is my opinion that he was an undiluted disaster for Bradford City from beginning to end”

With such a talented squad at his disposal, it was no surprise that Hutchings quickly came under pressure as results were poor, and Richmond – to his later regret – failed to back his man and sacked him. What we needed was an experienced man who’ll who whip these under-achievers into shape. A no-nonsense manager.

Such requirements led to Jim Jefferies, a tough-talking Scot who’d enjoyed great success in Scotland, taking charge. Yet within weeks he was telling Richmond that the club was effectively relegated and needed to get rid of the fancy Dans. It was only December.

In the excellent ‘The Pain and the Glory’ book Richmond was scathing of the job Jefferies did, but in some respects ‘the Judge’ did a good job in at least helping the club prepare for tough financial times ahead by getting rid of high-earners and sellable assets before the end of the season. He was given little money to spend on replacements with City now in Division One, and it proved a thankless task trying to take the club forwards when so much quality was being taken out.

Jefferies left the club after 13 months, and with such fiscal times on the horizon, the search for a new manager centered on candidates with experience of finding lower league bargains and happy to manage on a small budget. Peter Jackson turned the position down, so in came the Lawman.

Nicky Law/Bryan Robson
“I’m just hoping we can bring back the 16,000 who were here for the first game.”

As City went through the turmoil of administration and emerged skint and picking up out-of-contract players from Brentford, it was difficult to imagine a better person to have in charge than Nicky Law. He managed the club well through a very difficult 2002/03 season – targeting battlers over flair – but was a victim of rising expectations soon after. The remaining high earners departed in the summer of 2003, and the wage constraints meant that Law struggled to find replacements good enough to keep City in the division.

So Law was sacked after 12 winless games, and with Gordon Gibb now in charge it is interesting to speculate how his approach to recruiting the next manager differed. Gibb had enjoyed success building a theme park with sufficient attractions to keep people visiting, and it was clear that much of the thought behind appointing former England captain Bryan Robson was to increase falling attendances.

It didn’t work, and a deflated Gibb would depart just 8 weeks later with Administration 2 just around the corner. Meanwhile Robson was benefiting from a larger budget than Law and was able to bring in experienced loan players, with a greater focus on skill over graft. Results were improving, and though it would probably have proved too little too late City might have managed to avoid relegation had the administrators not taken over and being forced to sell key players.

Robson was left trying to keep City up with players he’d declared only two months earlier to not be good enough for the club and who were welcome to leave. With the prospect of limited funds in League One, he felt it was a job he could not continue.

Colin Todd
“I honestly think Colin should be right up there for any manager of the season…I see him as the man to take us back up the football pyramid.”

With the club in such dire straits that summer, appointing a new manager was hardly the most important priority. Colin Todd, assistant to Robson having come close to landing the job the November before, was handed the reins. However sour it ended, it proved a good choice as Todd steadied the ship while the club limped on following the narrow survival of administration. An 11th place in the first season was beyond Julian Rhodes’ expectations:

I thought we would be facing a relegation battle. Bearing in mind this season was going to be about coming out of administration, I thought we might well be facing life in League 2 when the rebuilding could really begin.

Todd’s time in charge was categorised by low budgets and limited stability. He put together a decent team that threatened to finish in the play off picture, and though the following season saw little progress (another 11th place) the Bantams still only lost 13 games. Todd, however, was under pressure from a section of supporters.

Some argued the former England international lacked passion for the job, and that defeats didn’t hurt him enough. Some argued we could do better than treading water in mid-table. But when he was eventually sacked midway through his third season, City drowned.

Rhodes, who had previously backed his man strongly even during difficult times, admitted that the pressure of supporters and stalling attendances was a telling factor in booting out Todd, especially now he had just launched an innovative season ticket deal that required thousands of people’s commitment.

When it gets to the stage where they [supporters] stop coming then something has to be done. At the end of the day it’s their club.

He was right, only now it was our League Two club.

Stuart McCall
“I will see myself as a failure if I don’t get the club back up at the first attempt, and I’ve got the strongest desire anyone could possibly have to achieve that.”

So out with Todd’s lack of passion and after David Wetherall’s unsuccessful caretaker stint, the hunt for the next manager did not require an advert in the classifieds. We needed someone who cares, someone who will get the players going and someone who will not tolerate underachievers. We need arguably the greatest achiever of City’s modern history.

In came Stuart McCall, along with the investment of Mark Lawn that allowed the club to hand the manager a relatively strong playing budget for the first time since Chris Hutchings. McCall was the overwhelming choice as next manager from fans because of the passion he’d put in to the job, no one can argue they were disappointed on that front at least.

Unfortunately, no matter how much Stuart cared he was in his first manager role and working in a division he didn’t know, and the inexperience was to show as success continued to allude the club. McCall put his neck on the chopping board straightaway by declaring he’d be a failure if he didn’t guide City to promotion at the first attempt – but he did fail attempt one, and then attempt two, and he was on course to fail attempt three before he eventually quit.

Of course the experiences along the way helped him to become a better manager, and by the end he had enough knowledge of the lower leagues to be able to use a reduced budget to bring in non-league players that could make the step up. Nevertheless, just like with Todd, the lack of speed to the progress left McCall under heavy pressure.

The passion and how much he cared went against him in the end. We didn’t want someone who would be more upset than us if they lost, we needed a wise head who had a track record for success. Passion was good, but the very reasons McCall was brought in were no longer what the club was looking for. This time a job advertisement would be needed.

Peter Taylor
“4-3-3 can be 4-3-3 and not just 4-5-1”

Which brings us back to Taylor, who was appointed on the basis of his outstanding track record in delivering success and high level of experience. However, criticisms over the football Taylor favours have followed him throughout his long managerial career, and he is now heavily slated for style of play City have produced for much of the season. We know Taylor will be gone soon and, when the discussions over the qualities to look for in his replacement begin, it’s likely that style of football will feature strongly on the next list of interview questions.

So there we have it

“There’s only two types of manager. Those who’ve been sacked and those who will be sacked in the future.” (Howard Wilkinson)

Hutchings to Taylor via Jefferies, Law, Todd and McCall. All were branded failures and, with such a cycle of hiring and firing helping the Bantams fall from the Premier League to League Two, one is again left to wonder what could possibly lead us to believe the next guy will prove any more successful?

But is it a matter of changing managers proving futile, or is our ongoing failure to find the right man more to do with the goalposts continually shifting?

Was Nicky Law sacked because the lower league manager route was wrong, or was hiring someone with great experience of handling small budgets actually a sound strategy that should have been continued? Instead of getting some guy who used to play for Man United to pack the stadium out, after Law should we have recruited then-Doncaster manager Dave Penny, for example?

Did Stuart McCall fail because he cared too much, or was the passion we hired him for the right quality required and Dean Windass should have been given the job instead of Taylor? We ask for one quality in a manager, don’t like some of the other characteristics that manager brings and then dismiss that original quality during the next search.

We want a manager who is not the last one, and so we go and get one – and in doing so we always find that the next guy is lacking some things but not the same things. So while we might have thought we’d found the solution, we end up finding a new thing to be the problem.

Circumstances – not least City’s changing financial capabilities – have changed often during the last decade. But as we soon start to prepare to recruit another manager it’s to be hoped the criteria will be more thought out than finding someone “not like the last manager.” Because over much of the past decade, that has often appeared to be the case.

Omar Daley out, Kevin Ellison in – Taylor’s football intentions become ever-clearer

Surprise news emerged yesterday evening that Omar Daley is heading on loan to Rotherham United with Kevin Ellison swapping places and joining the Bantams.

Daley, who is out of contract at the end of the season, was just over a week ago substituted in the final stages of the Lincoln City defeat to some people booing. The Jamaican international had endured a difficult evening where he appeared reluctant to follow his manager’s instructions, and perhaps his ineffective performance has lead Taylor to accepting an offer from a Rotherham United outfit desperate for new players to maintain a faltering promotion bid.

Yet still this is a hugely controversial decision by Taylor – and one that I personally struggle to agree with him on. After a slow start to the season, Daley showed some superb form in late autumn/winter that helped to lift the Bantams up the table following an appalling start. Indeed the free role Daley was entrusted with seemed to be proof Taylor does not always favour negative football. Who can forget the way Daley tore Oxford apart and scored two stunning goals at the end of October? Nor should we discount the fact that City’s last win, over a month ago now, was delivered by an outstanding Daley volley.

Is the relegation battle we are now embroiled in all about backs to the walls and grinding out results, or should there be room for the sort of creative spark Daley delivers? I’m sure that City’s new relegation ‘rivals’ would certainly kill to be able to call upon a player capable of proving a devastating match winner, rather than packing him off.

Daley though is inconsistent and does not always deliver but the moments of brilliance that are in his locker often trigger a level of joy that makes watching football so worthwhile. Daley might have days where you’d love to strangle him – and he might have them a bit too often – but the moments of jubilation he has provided us since joining the club four years ago will stay with us for many years.

If this is Taylor’s intentions – getting rid of the flair – let us look forward to his departure this summer and let us find a manager who will be willing to get the most out of the gifts he has got; rather than force them to play in a way that is not natural to them and leaves them subject to booing from their own fans.

All of which hugely overshadows the arrival of Kevin Ellison, who has been linked with a move to Valley Parade in the past. Ellison has featured against City many times – not just for Rotherham, but previous clubs Stockport, Tranmere and Chester City – and worked under Taylor at Hull in 2005-06. Able to play out wide or as a striker, he is probably seen as Taylor as more willing to play the wide striker position of the recently-preferred 4-3-3.

Ellison offers great consistency if nothing else. And with Taylor having maximised his playing budget, it has to be acknowledged that he must wheel and deal in order to improve the squad. If, in his opinion, Ellison offers more than Daley he is within his rights to effectively end the Jamaican’s time at City. However Ellison is more workmanlike, and Daley’s exit suggests much about the type of football we are likely to endure over the coming weeks

Ellison has been a regular for Rotherham this season, so his release would suggest manager Ronnie Moore sees him worth letting go in order to secure the services of Daley.

Taylor, on the other hand, looks to use Ellison to guide the Bantams away from same relegation which the player suffered in the Summer of 2009 with Chester City and in doing so takes the same gamble which Colin Todd did in allowing Dean Windass to leave the club on loan four years ago.

The result of that action was relegation, Taylor will hope that history does not repeat itself.

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.

Taylor’s revival avoids a pressing problem

Only a fool would consider sacking Peter Taylor as Bradford City manager now but five games and twelve points ago it seemed that the City boss was a game away from his P45.

The game changes quickly and probably having lived his life in it this comes as no surprise to the 57 year old manager. One has to wonder what he made of the pressure he was coming under and the asked for and not received backing. No matter. For now, Taylor is safe.

Safe because only a fool would sack him now and Mark Lawn is no fool – indeed he did not act when other itched five games ago – but he is also no expert. Indeed looking at Bradford City at the moment and making a list of which person at the club knows enough about football to be qualified to make a call on the job that Taylor is doing and one is forced to conclude that at the head of the list is the manager himself and the gap to the others is startling.

Wayne Jacobs and Junior Lewis – and a few of the players – have some knowledge on the field and Mark Lawn, Julian Rhodes et al have some off it but like the vast majority of football club chairmen they were set the task of assessing the all round performance of the manager without the required domain knowledge to make a decision.

Take as an example Liverpool – a great reference for many things – who when replacing Rafa Benitez with Roy Hodgson did so with the idea that they were replacing a lame duck with a soaring eagle. At the moment Liverpool struggle and it seems not that Hodgson is doing an especially poor job but that Benitez had been doing a rather impressive one taking the team to second place.

In essence there was no one able to tell the difference between a good manager doing well with a bad team and a bad manager hampering a good side or – as is the case with the vast majority of situations a hard working manager doing his best only to be replaced by another hard working manager doing his best.

Indeed the idea of a good manager is questionable. Nigel Clough built Burton a season at a time over ten years and created a strong club which managed his departure without much of a blip. That is to me the measure of a good manager, not a win percentage figure.

Yet chairmen are constantly forced to look at the win percentage, the most recent trophies in the cabinet, the flavour of the month. Hodgson got the Liverpool job for taking Fulham to a cup final, Steve McLaren got the England job for similar. The list of managers sacked from doing the long term job because of poor short term results contains some impressive names.

Sir Bobby Robson – after all – was replaced at Newcastle United by Graeme Souness because he failed to secure Champions League football and Peter Reid was given the boot by Manchester City for not finishing high enough up the Premier League. United spent a year in the second tier, City ended up in the third.

Looking back at the last three decades of City managers and noting the only common factor in success – the two promotion winning managers were appointed from within – and one sees many examples of this practice of a chairman who knows less about football than the man sitting opposite him, trying to make a judgement on the man opposite him.

Gordon Gibb was wowed by Bryan Robson, but how could judge between Robson and Todd the two men in for the job? Gibb had some experience as a junior footballer but how did that qualify him to know which of the two potential gaffers would be the best for the club?

Plenty of people would tell you that Mark Lawn make a mistake when appointing Stuart McCall, or when sacking him, but most would agree that when appointing a replacement and trumpeting that man’s years in the game and experience the joint chairman was basically saying that he did not really know what he was looking for the first time, now he thinks he does.

He is not alone. Most chairmen hire managers on promises and sack them in disappointment that those promises have yet to deliver a promotion or a trophy and at no point are they qualified to judge anything other than what can be seen from the league table. The decision to move on Taylor from Hull City and replace him with Phil Brown ended up in promotion (and relegation) but the club rode on what the current City manager had built and Brown’s magic wore off in the top flight.

Chairmen lack the domain knowledge to make decisions on their managers. They can be unhappy at results but most lack the calibration to know if those are bad results with a good team or good results with a bad one. Lincoln City have replaced Chris Sutton who was gaffer for a year replacing Peter Jackson with almost no net result at all. Sutton’s side did no better than Jackson and – one was forced to conclude – that the factors in play at Sincil bank are deeper than the dug out.

To borrow a phrase Mark Lawn needs an experienced assistant. Someone with football experience at boardroom level. Most chairmen do. They need someone next to them who knows the difference between a manager building something and one who is doing badly. Someone who can tell them that things are going well at the training pitch, that the young players coming through have real potential, that the manager is doing his job well.

They do not have this, and so they sack on form and results.

Only a fool would sack Peter Taylor now, and in retrospect the decision to not make a decision on him five games ago looks a great on indeed but Mark Lawn – in common with a great number of football chairmen – needs to bring in expertise to give him the ability to make that call should it ever arise again.

Good player, bad player

Nathan Doyle’s accent to the top of football predicted by many during his four months at Valley Parade could not have gone much further off track than it did yesterday. Released from Hull City and then signed by Barnsley where he spends most of his time on the bench. Yesterday Doyle and two other men were pulled over while driving in Derby which resulted in three men being arrested for possession of a Class A substance.

The future for Doyle is difficult to appreciate – footballers like Mark Bosnich, Roman Bednar and Shane Nicholson have played after public abuse of cocaine – but the fact that his projected career did not match his actual career is a lesson for all when it comes to gradating and valuing footballers.

We hang onto words like “good player”, “bad player” and “not good enough” but which would be categorise Doyle as simply on the basis of his playing career? He was “good player” when he left Bradford City, “not good enough” when he was at Hull City and probably considered “bad player” now yet one doubts his abilities have changed. If anything having played with Premier League players at Hull for two years he has probably learnt much.

His motivations, on the other hand, are no doubt different. Leaving Bradford City after being picked by Colin Todd from the stiffs at Derby Doyle seemed to relish every game and no doubt he was spirited enough when he arrived at the KC Stadium but a year or two of reserve football, the infamous on pitch telling off and a few changes of manager later and Nathan Doyle is where he is now.

From a playing point of view Nathan Doyle is far from alone. Football is peopled with players who kicked up a storm when they were young and spend the next few years trying to get back to where they were predicted to be going. Robbie Threlfall – wowing all with his youth team performances for Liverpool a few years ago – is a current example of this in the City team but scanning down the squads of most teams turns up many a player who was subject to “The Boys A Bit Special” articles a few years before.

There are no “good players” or “bad players”. Players play well, or they play poorly. That is all.

Motivation changes, colleagues change, situations change but the idea that Threlfall kicks a ball worse than he did two years ago or that Doyle so forgotten how to control a ball is a little silly. The more anyone does anything the better they get at it. Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers creates a rule of thumb that the one things that unites World Class performers is not a genetic quirk or an enlarged part of the brain but that all have put in 10,000 hour of practice.

For all the talk of “God given” talent David Beckham got good at free kicks by kicking a ball at a traffic cone on the park until after it had gone dark. Physical changes might rob a player of his skills – broken legs that do not heal and all – but just like you never forget how to swim a player never forgets how to play.

In the event of a player like Lee Hendrie – coming back from years of injury – then perhaps one can suggest that a player has lost the ability to access his skills. Hendrie might not be able to get up and down the pitch like he used to but he knows what to do, and how to do it, if his body will let him.

Motivation changes and managers try to control the mind-set of players as Peter Taylor has done and one can imagine that for a player like Doyle going up the leagues but into the reserves, or a player like Hendrie used to checking into the training facilities of Aston Villa and now avoiding dog poo on Apperley Bridge, retaining the mind set that brought you to prominence is hard.

The French side Olympique Lyonnais – masters of the transfer market – identified a different problem in motivation in that they looked at the performance of players signed after winning World Cups, Champions Leagues or European Championships and noted a dip which they put down to motivation. Such players are not hungry for success any more – they are successful – and their performance suffers as a result. It is probably not going a problem that is going to apply to City any time soon but it explains why Fernando Torres and Stephane Guivarch did not set the Premier League alight on return with a World Cup winners medals.

Following Lyon offers a set of rules for the transfer market that are tried and tested as the French side won their domestic league from 2001-2008. Lyon were one of the first clubs to seriously engaging in “settling” which is often lampooned as “telling spoilt rich footballers how to get to Tescos” but they have found is a way to protect their investment. They sign – pretty much – only French and Brazilian players because they know they can settle them. From Bruno Rodriguez to Billy Topp, Juanjo to Jorge Cadete City have a string of players who would not have been signed under the Lyon guidelines.

Another of Lyon’s maxims of the market revolves around the notion that players are not the subject to wild fluctuations in ability and – having accepted that – any problems they do have can be solved and the player can be returned to form.

“Buy broken players, and fix them” is the summation and it would apply to Doyle right now. Pick him up, straighten him out and get him back on track and then you have the player who left for Hull City. If Barnsley decide they have had enough of him then from a purely footballing point of view it would make sense for any club to sign him although as City saw after signing Jake Speight the ethics of the broken player are a different thing indeed.

The Taylor Factor

Put your self in the place of a professional footballer this summer. You have an eye on the World Cup like everyone does but that is not within your province as you find yourself out of contract having had a season in League One or Two.

South Africa is far away, West Yorkshire offers you a chance and that chance is a meeting with Peter Taylor and Mark Lawn about a new contract at Bradford City.

Such is the situation as Lawn reveals the Bantams have had discussions with some players. Talking to the Telegraph and Argus Lawn beamed

Two or three have come back to us and made it known that they’d like to play for Peter (Taylor).

Football transfers have changed beyond recognition in the last fifteen years. At the top level players are able to stride like Gods between clubs being flattered and wooed between clubs. Barcelona’s pursuit of Cesc Fabrigas is reported to include half of his salary of £9m paid on his first day.

Somewhere between Fabrigas and the lads City are trying to sign the balance of power shifts and players are left trying to impress potential clubs. A call after a meeting to say you would be excited about working with Peter Taylor is a wise move, but one suspects that the players involved would have been as excited about any gaffer, or at least say they were.

Players flatter the clubs that chase them, clubs flatter the player and one hopes that Peter Taylor has enough experience in the market to help Mark Lawn see through the flannel. Lawn negotiated the deal that saw Chris Brandon end up as a drain on the club but unable to play another game.

Much is being made in the message that comes out of Valley Parade about Taylor and it is not hard to see why. Taylor is Lawn’s man and much has been made of the new manager and his ability to get City into fighting shape over this summer to result in promotion next. He is not alone with new Gillingham boss (and former captain of Taylor’s Gills) Andy Hessenthaler being told that promotion is expected this term on the day of his appointment.

So Lawn begins to try maximise the Taylor factor with stories about the attempts to improve the quality of the pitch and the newly found training facilities being trumpeted as the tools a manager needs to do his job afforded to him by Lawn to get the job done. Let us not consider the £650,000 previously spent on players in preference to these changes.

Backing Taylor – and giving him what he wants off the field – is good sense but has so far not proved to be good business with season ticket sales down. Suggestions of how to address this problem are plentiful but it is worrying that should Taylor’s side not be riding high in January when next season’s tickets are to start to be sold then demand may fall further.

The Taylor factor depends on success – certainly more so than the support of Stuart McCall or Colin Todd the former being iconic, the latter clear on the restrictions he was working under – and should that success not follow then Lawn is hoisted on the petard he has created.

Every season we would like promotion but one worries if The Taylor Factor means that this season, for some people at the club, we need it.

The legacy of Stuart begins as the Bantams welcome Grimsby Town

The pile of CVs has been sifted through, the initial interviews held. Events are moving quickly and we may have a strong idea of who the Bradford City caretaker manager for the rest of the season is to be before the weekend is over, possibly even before kick off of Saturday’s visit of Grimsby.

For the players especially, it’s a case of who they need to impress. It’s perhaps testament to just how small former manager Stuart McCall’s squad was – or his indecision – that there are no senior players rotting in the reserves. However well or badly they have performed, each player has it all to do all over again. Wayne Jacobs will be in charge from the touchline, but it may be a question of who might be watching from the stands.

And if the caretaker-to-be is able to run the rule over his new charges, he shouldn’t be too disappointed with what he to work with. McCall had to work under tough financial constraints which will have hindered his ability to build the team he wanted, but what the players lack in quality they have almost always compensated by their effort.

I’ve always found that a fair summary of how well a manager did can only be drawn after a lengthy period, and though we may in time label McCall a failed manager it would be premature to do so. Like with Nicky Law and Colin Todd, we may soon discover a change makes no difference, in which case the proportion of blame McCall would be considered to deserve for this season’s under-achievement lessens.

But what we do hope to learn in this season’s squad is that McCall has achieved one of his original stated aims, revealed during his first interview after becoming the manager in May 2007. He said then, “I think back to the first time I was here when we signed people like Greg Abbott, John Hendrie and Chris Withe…they went on to be great servants for the club and loved being part of it…I want to bring in players like that who will hopefully develop and grow with the club.”

McCall’s Monday departure ensured few people were too bothered with talking about the Bury defeat, and the post match comments of defender Simon Ramsden appear to have been widely missed. He told the Telegraph & Argus, “The gaffer has got a history with the club from playing and manager. You can see the club means a lot to him, as it does with all of us. Every time you put on the shirt you should wear it with pride and give 100 per cent.”

If three, four or five of the current crop of players can become entrenched in the hearts of us supporters in the same vein as Abbot, Hendrie, McCall and co, the departing manager can be considered to have delivered some success. If these players can continue their development and lift the club forwards, the foundations can be credited to the biggest legend of them all for rubbing off the passion he had. McCall didn’t view managing City as just any old employment, his legacy may prove to be a playing squad which shares this outlook.

The worry is the eventual long-term successor might rip this work up, rather than build on it. But if the caretaker-to-be is watching and they’re looking to do more over the next three months than merely put themselves in the shop window for a better job, tomorrow could be the day the players start proving themselves as key components of the next chapter.

Quite who’ll be given the chance to impress is another question. This is Jacobs’ second game in charge of the club after acting as caretaker for the then-Division One club’s trip to Stoke back in 2003. He certainly caused an impression that day, consigning Dean Windass to sit amongst us away fans. Second time around, Jacobs will certainly pick Matt Glennon in goal with the experienced stopper having had little to do but conceding six goals in his first four Bantams games.

The passionate Simon Ramsden was outstanding as a centre back last week and will surely continue there alongside an equally impressive Matt Clarke. I didn’t agree with the decision to push Zesh Rehman over to right back, and though Stuart could no doubt explain the logic to me I’m not sure he’d go as far as to claim it worked. The promising-but-raw Jonathan Bateson may be recalled, with Luke O’Brien at left back.

Last week Omar Daley reminded us of his frustrating inconsistency after an ineffective performance as part of a midfield three, which at one stage drew an angry tirade from Michael Flynn. In the second half a Bury breakaway was thwarted by the Jamaican racing back to clear, which emphasises how his patchy form cannot just be labelled as ‘laziness’. He should start in what may instead be a 4-4-2.

Flynn and Lee Bullock will look to continue in the middle, though this writer craves for young Luke Sharry to be given more opportunities before the season ends. Steve O’Leary skippered the reserves to a rare win midweek and may be considered ahead of Bullock. Chris Brandon and Scott Nielson, both struggling for form but not involved with the second string, will hope for a recall. Leon Osborne is back from injury and worth considering for the bench.

Up front Jacobs has the luxury rarely afforded to McCall of having four fit strikers to choose from, though form is another matter. Gareth Evans netted twice at Torquay, but still looks unconfident and is fast-becoming the main target for the boo boys. Michael Boulding flatters to deceive and James Hanson and Peter Thorne’s recent injuries leave them rusty.

Grimsby rock up to Valley Parade deep in relegation mire, winless in 19 and 13 points behind City – but if that gap has decreased come 5pm Saturday, Bantams’ alarm bells will start to ring.  The Mariners have not beaten City in 11 attempts and their last win at Valley Parade was back in 1997. They’ve managed just 20 goals in 28 league games this season; if they play half as bad as they did against City at Blundell Park earlier this season, a comfortable home win will be achieved.

Personally I would be sad to see Grimsby go down. Cleethorpes is a pretty ugly place, but there are worse away ends than the one at Blundell Park and the fish & chip shop nearby is astonishingly good. They are six points adrift of safety and former City striker Neil Woods has so far been able to turn the tide.

According to the chairmen City go into this game with nothing to play for; but with such an uncertain future for the players and coaching staff, it’s not a time to be deliberating the summer holidays just yet. McCall’s legacy does not deserve to be players who’d give up trying now, tomorrow is their first chance to honour the former boss.

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.

A decade of decline, misery and still existing

Played 495, won 150, drawn 124, lost 221, scored 604 goals and conceded 728. As a decade, the noughties have been long and largely miserable for Bradford City.

It began with the Bantams scrapping for their lives in the Premier League under Paul Jewell, it has ended four divisions below and with typical pessimism over the immediate prospects of beginning the ascent back. Dashed hopes, repeated agony, fruitless endeavour. Even though the club’s history is littered with underachievement, the last 10 years have set some new standards.

In fact, looking around at others, it would not be an exaggeration to label Bradford City English professional football’s most unsuccessful club of the 00’s.

It hasn’t all been doom and gloom – five months into the new millennium was that never-to-be-forgotten afternoon City defeated England’s most successful club to seal Premier League survival. It prompted scenes of delirium as the final whistle was greeted by fans swarming onto the pitch to mob their heroic players and join in singing You’ll Never Walk Alone with the gracious Liverpool supporters. The bars in Bradford were heaving that night and we supporters dreamt of a future of top flight football as the mid-90’s momentum that had seen City climb from England’s third tier saw few signs of slowing. A fantastic day, but what’s next?

With each passing year of disappointment, that victory over Liverpool has given rise to another debate about whether it would have been better City had lost and been relegated instead. If City’s first top flight campaign in 77 years ended in heroic failure rather than plain heroic, City might have rebuilt more sensibly in the Football League; perhaps bouncing up and down like Birmingham. More likely, City might now be muddling along like a Barnsley or Ipswich; still having undergone some financial difficulties – for then-Chairman Geoffrey Richmond would have still spent relatively significant money and the 7.5 million pound new stand would have been built anyway – but strong enough to be a firm fixture in the Championship, a place we now aspire to be.

Instead David Wetherall’s headed winner paved the way for those six weeks of madness and almost complete financial meltdown two years later, with debts of over 35 million. The financial strife was self-inflicted and the damage is still endured now. Every subsequent failure since Dermot Gallagher blew for full time against Liverpool can ultimately be traced back to those six weeks.

The question of whether we’d use a time machine to fly back to May 2000 and warn a Liverpool defender to mark Wetherall in the 12th minute is one we’d all answer differently. Me, I’d like to think that one day the financial ball and chain will be removed and when it is the memories of that warm May afternoon will still feel as joyful as it continues to do now. Liverpool at home is a life moment I’ll always be grateful to have experienced, and I hope one day to be truly able to say it was worth it.

As for other great moments of the decade, City’s continuing existence will go down as the biggest achievement. It’s often a point of criticism from other fans that supporters who still talk of their gratitude for still having a club to support are excusing subsequent underachievement and need to move on. I agree to a point, but the lessons learned in 2002 and 2004 are ones which cannot be forgotten.

It’s commonplace for lower league clubs to hit financial troubles and, as Watford, Southend, Accrington and Stockport take the national media’s sympathy spot this season, it’s always tempting to shrug the shoulders and mutter “so what?’. Like a typical Richard Curtis film we all know there will be a happy ending, don’t we?

In both of City’s spells in administration the prospect of the club’s termination was very real and very scary. That July morning in 2004 when it looked all over and fans stood outside Valley Parade, ready to mourn as the noon deadline for the end approached, was a day I was flying from the UK to the States, agonisingly stuck on an eight hour flight then a two-hour car drive before I could access any information about whether I still had a club to support.

The joy each time when at the last minute the club was saved and the relief as the players ran out onto the Valley Parade pitch for the first time since a few weeks later. It was easy to take it all for granted before, but the traumatic summers of 2002 and 2004 taught us to be thankful of this special relationship in our lives, which can cause us frustration and pain but that we cannot cope without.

Post-administration on both occasions, it was clear the immediate future was one of tredding water rather than a time to draw up blue sky five-year plans. Unfortunately relegation was not too far away both times – the common thread being the enforced lack of investment in the playing squad having disastrous results. City’s 2003/04 centenary celebrations were hollow as a squad of Premier League cast offs struggled dismally, setting a new Football League record for most single goal defeats in a season. In 2006/07 the squad depended on loan signings – those who did well quickly disappeared and those who remained failed to possess enough fight to rescue their temporary employers from the League Two abyss.

At other times, seasons often began with seemingly reasonable expectations of challenging for the play offs, but as the nights drew darker in winter early season promise drifted to usual mediocrity. The only season where promotion hopes remained in tact with less than a quarter of it remaining was last year, but then a talented squad’s form collapsed bringing with it that distressingly familiar feeling of despair.

There’s been little cup cheer as a distraction either, save for this season’s run in the JPT and the Intertoto adventure back in 2000.

Underpinning much of the decline has been musical chairs in the managerial seat. Jewell was controversially gone in the summer of 2000. His replacement Chris Hutchings exited 12 Premier League games later. The no-nonsense Jim Jefferies quickly waved the white flag on City’s Premiership survival hopes. He departed the following Christmas Eve with his rebuilding job struggling to get going.

The pace of change at least slowed then, with Nicky Law, Colin Todd and now Stuart McCall afforded more time to get things right. Bryan Robson did have a short spell after Law was sacked in 2003, but Captain Marvel talked a better game off the field than his charges did on it.

All since Jewell have been branded failures at City, but the hiring and firing policy has also played its part in the fall to League Two. If Richmond’s big mistake was to go mad for a month and a half, Julian Rhodes’ decision to sack Todd in February 2007 – with City three points clear of the relegation zone and displaying midtable form – is one to regret. Todd was ready to leave at the end of the season and, despite the handicap of losing his three best players, the chances of survival were far greater with the experienced hand rather than under the rookie tutelage of caretaker Wetherall, who’s concentration would have been better served on just leading the team as captain.

Todd was sacked for frustration at City being stuck in the mid-table of League One, now McCall is under pressure for so far failing to reverse the damage from becoming unstuck.

Not that Rhodes’ influence over the past decade should be dismissed by that one action. After Richmond’s borrow-heavily-self-reward-through-dividends-a-plenty policy failed disastrously in 2002, the Rhodes family – also recipients of those controversial dividend payments – did everything they could financially to maintain the club’s existence. A fortune built up through the success of their Filtronics company has declined through their obvious love of the Bantams, and though for a time they were helped by Gordon Gibb the Rhodeses were once again the only saviours around in 2004, alongside supporters who did everything they could to raise money to keep the club going over that summer.

One can only admire the Rhodes family’s resolve in attempting to put the club on an even keel again. There was hope in 2006 that then-commercial manager Peter Etherington was to ease that load and inject much needed capital, but in the end it proved a false dawn. At least Julian now has the added support of Mark Lawn since 2007. Rhodes has made it known he is less comfortable in the spotlight, and Lawn has over the last three years become the public front of house.

It’s to be hoped that, ultimately, Rhodes’ legacy will not just be saving the club twice, but to have made professional football affordable in a part of the country that is far from affluent. City’s demise to League Two should have seemed a catastrophe, but with Rhodes’ cheap season ticket initiative taking off and McCall appointed manager it was a club reborn.

The offer has so far being repeated three times and there is every indication it will continue for sometime. In League One, the lower crowds City attracted affected the atmosphere with the limited noise rattling around a two-thirds empty stadium. There are still plenty of unsold seats on matchdays, but the atmosphere is undoubtedly better for the season ticket offer bringing in 10,000+ supporters.

Though as Rhodes will have learned many years ago, success on the field is an outcome almost impossible for the board to determine. There has been a high turnover of players at Valley Parade ever since Jefferies told Richmond the flair players he inherited had to go. A cycle of underperforming players being replaced by poorer ones has continued through to League Two. When it’s a few players not up to the job it has hampered progress – much was expected of the likes of Dan Petrescu, Ashley Ward, Jason Gavin, Bobby Petta, Owen Morrison and Paul McLaren, but they and many others regularly failed to make the right impact – when it is almost a whole team relegation has followed.

Plenty of wretched team performances along the way – Stockport ’01, Wimbledon ’02, Sunderland ’03, Forest ’05, Oldham ’06, Huddersfield ’07, Accrington ’07, Notts County  ’09 and Rochdale ’09. Though on other occasions the 11 players (or nine) have got it right and prompted giddy celebrations; defeating Chelsea in ’00, a Benito Carbone-inspired Gillingham thrashing in ’01, the last minute Michael Proctor equaliser against Burnley in ’02, Bryan Robson’s managerial debut where City came from 2-0 down to win 3-2 in the last minute in ’03, the five wins in a row of ’04, completing the double over Huddersfield in ’05, Joe Brown’s late winner against Blackpool in ’06, Lincoln away ’07 and Accrington away last season.

10 years is a long time, and for each of us watching in the stands it will have been a decade of personal change too. My perceptions and outlook on City has altered; I’m now older than many of the players and the obvious decline in quality of the playing staff since the Premiership means I’m more likely to admire players – Donovan Ricketts, Nathan Doyle, Andy Gray, Simon Francis, Dean Windass, Dean Furman and Carbone – rather than treat them as heroes.

This Christmas a thoughtful relative got me an Edinho t-shirt which I love but it also hit home that, over the past decade, there’s been few players who can come close to matching the feelings I had for our Brazilian striker. Of course we also live in a time of message board users ripping apart everyone connected with the club which makes hero status harder to achieve, and though this type of criticism existed in 2000 I was unaware of it – and much happier for that.

There’s still no better feeling than the joy of the ball flying into the back of the net and celebrating wildly.

I’m always thrilled by the experience of a feisty game where City are on top and all four sides of the ground are backing the players positively, urging them forward to score. All negative moaners are drowned out, all problems the club has to meet are suspended. The noise carries over the thousands of empty seats so they don’t matter, everything else in our lives has been left at the turnstile door for later.

This was the decade we nearly lost all of this. It may go down as one of most unsuccessful periods in the club’s history, but the noughties have been unforgettable.

One Michael Symes

It was in an 8-1 win where I became unimpressed with Michael Symes.

The forward – who returns to Valley Parade on Saturday and has talked about the frustrations he felt at City under Colin Todd who “messed with his head” – was paired in the forward line with Dean Windass in the opening match of pre-season at Farsley Celtic.

Symes scored one, Liam Flynn scored one, Windass got six.

That was impressive about Windass’s doubt hat-trick was the simplicity of the goals he scored. Each one he controlled the ball taking a touch to give him time, aimed for an area of the goal where the keeper was not and placed the ball. He did the same in the Premiership against David Seaman once. Dean was impressive like that.

Symes – on the other hand – fumbled and flustered during the game scrambling home his goal not never showing the composure that hinted he would be the partner for Windass we sought so badly. It is interesting to note that any number of players claim that Colin Todd should have partnered them with Windass during their times at City – Steve Claridge was very vocal on the subject – but for all the talk of Symes, Claridge, Joe Brown who was preferred to Symes at times it was Andy Cooke who did the most to earn the chance.

One wonders what Cooke – who retired in 2008 – thinks of the players so ready to suggest that they deserved his place in the side. Cooke work rate was there for all to see at Valley Parade and his rare goals were celebrated with an added gusto. Symes, on the other hand, was taken off in a game on New Years Day after 38 minutes once cause – well – he just did not look sufficiently interested.

Symes wanted to start games – who wouldn’t? – but as with the talk of Rory Boulding this week did he do enough to merit the chance over Brown or Cooke?

None of which is to suggest that the Stanley man – who the fans rate so high as to suggest he will be sold in the transfer window to balance the books – has not learnt from his experiences at Valley Parade or that his insights are not relevant and interesting just that as City slid down the leagues we left behind us a trail of players who are all too ready to suggest that if things had been done differently – normally including them – that slide could have been halted. This attitude reached its apotheosis at the end of last season when quality players spend three months looking at year other with blame rather than take on responsibility.

Responsibility for performance being one of the key parts of the current City team which while it idles in mid-table is considerably more enjoyable to watch than the teams that Symes featured in.

It is a difference worth appreciating.

Everything changes after City gorge in nine goals

The nine goals that City and Cheltenham enjoyed on Saturday changed the context of the debate on the Bantams as rapidly as they hit the back of the net at Wealden Road.

Within eight minutes when Gareth Evans powerfully ran from the left to slot in suddenly suggestions of how best to use Michael Boulding and what to do with Peter Thorne were cast far from the mind and as equalisers followed goal the discussion switched to the defence and how to stop it leaking goals. With Bradford City – it seems – there is one glass worth of water and two glasses. One is always going to be half full.

Nevertheless without want to pre-empt or even join either of these discussions one recalls City’s two recent odd wins in nine goal thrillers and how they effected things at Valley Parade hoping to get a pointer as to what the upshot of this match maybe.

Colin Todd’s men who went to Tranmere Rovers on the back of three straight wins won 5-4 thanks to a late David Wetherall goal. That 5-4 win at Prenton Park became the stuff of short term legend with the gate – then a more mutable figure – rising as a result as the Bantams made some news for a display full of character and in that say Stuart McCall’s side may be similar to that of Todd. The Bantams are opt characterised as being a spineless team who are too ready to use adversity as a chance to put heads down.

However three times City were dragged back to level terms and three times the players established a lead once more. Also tellingly every lead was given by a player Stuart McCall had brought into the club following the collapses of the end of last season. James O’Brien, James Hanson, Gareth Evans and Steve Williams all were brought in in the summer by the manager and all gave City the lead at some point.

The 5-4 at Prenton Park saw troubled top spot in the league for a while until encountering Luton Town and Joe Ross who combined to inflict a 4-0 defeat which Todd’s side – in retrospect – never recovered from and perhaps it was precinct that the defence at Tranmere was breached by the Hatters and their many account paid players and of which the utterly impartial Ross said “You need to sort your defending out.”

How true – and utterly inappropriate – the Referee was and so McCall will think the same. One never likes to trust the Press Association stats that are produced (and reproduced on the BBC Website) but over the course of the last two games with Lincoln and Cheltenham the opposition has mustered as many shots on target as they have scored goals with the homes side at the weekend (recordedly) having four at Simon Eastwood’s goal and me struggling to recall Lincoln having to make the City keeper do more work than pick the ball out of his net twice.

All of which will worry McCall but he may cast his mind back to the other 5-4 when the Bantams were beaten by West Ham United in the Premiership in one of the games dubbed as the best the top flight has ever seen.

McCall famously chewed out Dean Saunders for not squaring a chance for City to get a fifth in that game but will reflect that the Bantams backline and goalkeeper that day were hardly a settled unit with Aidan Davison the third of City’s three keepers that year not really getting to grips with sitting behind David Wetherall and Andrew O’Brien.

Defensive units are hard things to gel for sure and anyone who is ready to put all the blame for concessions two the goalkeeper – and Simon Eastwood has been criticised from the second he took to the field for City for not being a bigger name keeper – is naive but it will have escaped the notice of none that the triangle of Zesh Rehman, Eastwood and Williams has not been enjoying the greatest of births.

The West Ham game though – while taken in some quarters as a nail in the coffin for the Premiership City – was used by Paul Jewell to bring heart to his players suggesting that the game was proof that while they lost the game they were involved in the scrap and that he would ask of them only that – that the brought the effort needed to compete.

A lesson which McCall will draw for his players in the coming week. When heads are up the far forward becomes so much clearer.

Did we not already have this debate?

There is an article on BfB about Stuart McCall saying that he should not be City manager after the 5-0 defeat to Notts County at the weekend and similar discussions are being had on other fora. I respect David’s opinion on BfB and I understand his worries but I do not agree.

It is three months since Valley Parade demanded that Stuart McCall stay as manager. What has changed in those three months? Not much, but for some reason the people on the thin end of the argument think it is time to reopen it.

The argument has been had and a decision was reached. Those people who wanted Stuart McCall to leave City made a case, had a say, and should remain in the back seat understanding that Valley Parade has had its say and backed McCall in big numbers. We remember the SOS signs and the banners? One banner at the end of last season summed it up: Save Our Stuart, Stuart Must Stay.

One defeat does not change that.

One defeat to a team that has just spent oil millions on bringing in the best quality of management in Sven Goran Errikson and a collection of players who are too good for the division certainly does not change anything. It is not that case that we look at Notts County being really rich and should decide we have to do something, anything!

City the same problem a few years ago Colin Todd’s side lost to Southend United in the first game of the season and everyone screamed cause that we had lost to a newly promoted side but eight months later they were promoted and we had ripped ourselves up over being beaten by a team that went to The Championship. You do not change a determined attitude on the basis of a single result.

That decision was a value judgement made by the widest collective of City fans one can remember – minute’s silences and protests about administration aside when else can one remember Valley Parade reaching a consensus as it did at the end of last season when it backed Stuart McCall?

There are a couple of things to notice.

Firstly that for all the changes at Notts County this summer one thing that is not changing is the manager – Ian “Charlie” McPartland – who has been at the club for a decade and is trusted to carry on his work that includes finishing 19th last season because he knows the club. For all the money of the Munto Group and the Sexy Swede’s spending the thing that the boardroom at County know you can’t buy is the passion for the club to want to do well or the continuity of an establishment at a club. Can we not take that as a lesson from yesterday?

Second we need to know that sticking with your manager is not something you give up after a bad result in any game. Sticking with your manager is a belief that things get better with time, when patterns are built up, when knowledge is pooled and shared and that belief that that banner at Valley Parade summed up perfectly: Eight managers in six years we need stability (I paraphrase) and it is a belief that people at Valley Parade sung for, stood up for, and want.

That is a belief. If you change your belief after a bad result it’s not a belief at all, It’s a hobby.

I do not have a problem with people not rating Stuart or not thinking he is a good manager but we have already had this debate at City at the end of last year and we came to a decision to keep faith in our manager not just for the summer but for the long term. Some people made it really clear they did not want Stuart at the club but more people did want him.

Three months on the (and I used a broad brush here) anti-McCall people are back and they are intent on trying to unsettle the manager that everyone else wanted. These people lost the argument in the last breath and in the next want to carry it on.

Managing a club in the long term is done over years, not single games, and I would suggest that McCall’s position should not be questioned for years. Realistically though those people who argued that McCall should not be City manager and lost the argument can take a back seat for at least twelve months if not more rather than trying to pedal short term solutions to longer term issues.

The people who lost the argument need to show some respect for everyone else, sit down and shut up to allow McCall to get on with what people wanted – managing the club on something other than a game to game basis – rather than trying to push the agenda back around to something that has already been decided.


Writer’s Note: Comments are not on on this article. This is a debate that has already been done and I do not believe it should be reopened now.

No football for us but plenty for others

On a day when the team who finished in the top 10 of Division 4 with the worst goal difference gets promoted to Division 3, we, the Bradford City supporters can only think of what might have been if our form had been better in March. Well done to Gillingham for beating Shrewsbury Town 1-0 in the play-off final. We can only think back to 1996 and our 2-0 play-off final victory over Notts County.

At this time of the year when we have no Bradford City matches to go and watch, what else is going on in the world of football? Well, I’m sure that many of you who have taken the effort to read this article will know that our club has offered professional contracts to Rory Carson, Luke Dean and Lewis Horne. I must confess that I know very little about this trio of players but it will be interesting to see if any of them make their first team debut during the 2009/2010 season. Most supporters love to see a home-grown player forcing their way into the first team so lets hope that at least one of these three players can follow the like of Dean Richards, Graeme Tomlinson, Andy O’Brien, Joe Colbeck and Luke O’Brien.

An article has already featured on this website about Colin Todd taking charge at Darlington but now a player who could have been securing Hull City’s Division 1 status tomorrow is now been linked with a move to Darlington. Dean Windass could be a player-coach at Darlington next season. We are all aware of Dean’s love of playing football and following his loan spell at Oldham Athletic earlier on this season and now been unable to play for his beloved Hull City, Windass is looking to continue his playing career else where.

Whilst Windass has the relevant qualifications to manage in Divisions 2, 3 and 4, there will be two unqualified managers tomorrow trying to save their teams from relegation into Division 2. Much has been written about Alan Shearer taking over at Newcastle but why was he allowed to when he doesn’t have the relevant qualifications? I also believe that Gareth Southgate will have completed his relevant coaching qualifications but not until after the season has finished. Why do the supposed people who govern our game allow clubs to break the rules?

Speaking of breaking the rules, I’m sure that there are plenty of Sheffield United supporters who haven’t forgot about Carlos Tevez and West Ham. If Sheffield United can overcome Burnley with former Bantam Robbie Blake, on Bank Holiday Monday, I bet that the first fixtures they will be looking out for are the two against West Ham. But don’t count against our neighbours from over the Pennines. Whatever your thoughts are on Burnley, you have to say that for a town with a population of about 73,000, they attract fantastic support. It’s hard to imagine that this famous Lancashire club nearly slipped out of the football league 22 years ago. But Burnley beat Leyton Orient 2-1 and Lincoln City slipped into non-league football.

So as we, the Bradford City supporters can only watch the various play-off finals, find out if Hull City can preserve their top-flight status at the expense of two North-east clubs and see if David Moyes’s Everton can overcome the cash-rich Chelsea in the FA cup final, other supporters have much to look forward to over the next week or so.

Todd, Robson and some unresolved history

Those who tuned into watch Manchester United lift the Premier League title on Saturday will have seen shots of Bryan Robson in the stands before and after the game. Now assuming the role of Manchester United Ambassador (nice work if you can get it), the TV director cut to the Red Devils legend at irregular intervals so the commentators could point out he was captain of the first of manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s 11 title triumphs. On the day he even had a role in presenting the trophy to the current players, receiving a warm reception from home fans as he walked out onto the pitch.

What the commentators didn’t find time to reflect upon was how Robson was once considered the air to Ferguson’s managerial throne. His early managerial career appeared to offer great promise, with two promotions and two domestic cup finals with Middlesbrough, but his inability to lift the North East club above the lower echelons of the Premier League would eventually cost him his job. A tarnished reputation appeared to have been rebuilt after pulling off the great escape with West Brom in 2005, but he ultimately lost his job after adding another unwanted blemish to his CV – three clubs managed, three clubs relegated.

The other club in that trio was Bradford City, who five years ago he turned his back on. After taking over six months earlier he was tasked with preventing City’s relegation from then-Division One, but such were the financial difficulties which threatened to kill off the club that even Sir Alex wouldn’t have been able to overcome such insurmountable odds. Robson did okay, but the impression he wasn’t exactly displaying the level of courage and commitment he exhibited as a player was difficult to shake off. A comparison of the hours he and Stuart McCall put in would be unlikely to reflect well on the former England captain.

So Robson seems destined to spend the rest of his life shaking hands with important guests in the Old Trafford boardroom, while the man who worked under him at Valley Parade and who took on the challenge at City he eventually baulked is back in English football. The similarities in the situation Colin Todd inherited at City to that he faces at Darlington have been talked up by the North East media and the reaction of the fans is likely to be comparable too. With all the anxiousness over the club’s ability to even start the next season, a new manager isn’t going to cause much excitement. Great to have you Colin, though in all honesty who else would have taken such an unattractive-looking position?

Todd’s time at Valley Parade is viewed differently by many. The fact he worked with such limited resources seen by his biggest critics as a poor excuse for accepting mediocrity. The entertainment factor was questionable at times, though was arguably masked by the fact his appointment coincided with a drop down a division where the difference in quality was particularly notable. I know of people who gave up watching City during Todd’s reign.

Yet for a club which had suffered such dark times, the more stable footing he achieved should not be discounted. There was enough of the wrong type of excitement for a period of calm to be needed, and the consecutive 11th place finishes he guided City to included signs of promise. Todd’s ultimate failing was his inability to take the club forward, though the transfer strategy of relying heavily on loans during his final season did much to undermine such hopes of progression. The time was coming for new direction, ideas and enthusiasm – but history suggests that time was called prematurely.

For while many will disagree, I don’t believe City would be in League Two right now had we not sacked Colin Todd when we did. The club was on a poor run of form just as the axe fell, but a similar scenario had been the case the season before and Todd had been able to avert the nose dive. Instead David Wetherall took charge, moaned about the fitness levels and declared intentions for City to play a more high tempo style of football. The subsequent results and wretched performances suggest he didn’t have the right players for such a philosophy to work.

Had we kept Todd until the summer before taking the decision to look for a new man we’d probably still have ended up with Stuart as manager, but in a higher division which we’d be sharing with Leeds and Huddersfield and from which, with Mark Lawn joining, we might have been able to mount a more realistic promotion challenge than Todd was ever able to. Instead the depths of League Two are proving troublesome to climb out of and the first target is just to get back to where we were under Todd.

For next season, Todd will be back at Valley Parade and the reception he’ll receive is likely to be mixed. It’s a chapter of City’s history that will never be universally agreed upon, but one for which Todd deserve at least some appreciation given his undoubted high efforts towards moving the club out of the mire. I for one will applaud Todd when he walks down the touchline and starts leaning on the dugout in a manner which so wound some fans up.

Some will say he’s still got the stomach for a tough challenge, still got the belief he has something to offer. Others will argue the 60-year-old’s not even good enough to get an ambassador’s job.

Leaving his Mark

I remember Mark Bower’s debut for City.

Down at Carrow Road in April 1998, City had climbed into a seemingly unassailable 3-0 advantage thanks to quick-fire goals either side of half time. The first of those scorers, Wayne Jacobs, had to go off injured, so off the bench stepped an 18-year old to take the City skipper’s spot. Norwich, trying to avoid relegation from then-Division One, came back to 3-2, and we were too busy willing the referee to blow for full time to be pre-occupied with how the debut boy was getting on. He must have quietly got through it, never giving cause for a fuss.

And that’s what is both great and not so great about the long-serving defender, who today it was officially announced has been released. Bower’s City career has rarely featured controversial headlines or given managers cause for headaches, but it hasn’t included too many good times either. During his 11 years he’s generally looked solid and dependable, but when his understated presence was taken away, for manager Stuart McCall, it wasn’t missed enough.

That said there is great sadness in thinking of the Bradford-born defender out of work and facing an uncertain future right now. His presence at Valley Parade, for the past decade, was something we took for granted.

The next time I saw Bower was when we were beaten at home to Portsmouth at the end of a season his team mates had long since given up on. The following two campaigns were unforgettable, with promotion and then that exciting first season in the Premiership, but what Bower saw of it was from the sidelines or from afar while on loan at York City, near the bottom of the Football League.

He did at least get to play for City in Europe the following season, but was back at York for half a season as City sank miserably from the Premier League. A fleeting appearance here and there, including another game at Carrow Road during which he scored his first City goal, was all he had to show as City laboured to get going back in Division One. Eventually Nicky Law, already Bower’s fourth different manager, gave him a run in the side and he played a significant role in ensuring a second successive relegation was avoided, even scoring the winning goal at Wimbledon to confirm mathematical survival.

Typical of Bower’s luck, he became more part of the scene just as the bad times really begun. As the club fell into administration, Bower was one of only five players it did not attempt to sack. At times that summer City staying in existence was touch and go and, while the immediate concern for Bower the City fan would have been for the future of his club, it would equally have been on his own given he was the verge of making it. In the end City survived and Bower prospered in a reduced squad with reduced expectations the following season, playing 39 times.

The centenary that City celebrated during the 2003/04 season was marked by relegation and administration, with Bower not for the first time watching others underperform in his place. Jason Gavin was brought in and played ahead of Bower by first Nicky Law then Bryan Robson, and if there was one early thing to trumpet Colin Todd for after he took over that summer it was his decision to pick Bower ahead of the hapless Irishman.

And under the tutelage of the former England defender it seemed Bower had finally arrived. City, now in League One, bobbled about in mid table for two seasons with David Wetherall and Bower mainstays at the back. Bower picked up the 2004/05 Player of the Season award ahead of an undoubtedly aghast 28-goal Dean Windass. Yet a year later came further clues that Bower was not the kingpin to build a defence around, with Todd shifting him to left back for a time so the impressive Damion Stewart could partner Wetherall. Todd’s now-huge army of critics saw it as an opportunity to slam the City boss, while ignoring the fact Bower looked excellent charging forward down the left flank.

With the club seemingly on irreversible decline, it seemed to finally catch up with Bower a year later. Todd was sacked in February and Wetherall asked to assume a caretaker role, and the opportunity was there for Bower, newly appointed as skipper, to emerge from Wetherall’s shadow and become a rock to depend upon. He was hardly the only player to fail to reach the heights expected as the club crashed to a seemingly avoidable relegation, but the player who had never let anyone down failed to convincingly prove he could step things up and be a hero.

With two years of a four-year deal still to run, Bower stayed on for life in League Two but it has been far from kind. If asked to name regrets, Bower might just list his willingness to play in goal away at Grimsby, when an injury to keeper Evans left manager Stuart McCall without a specialist to take the role. Bower let no one down in goal, but his replacement at the back, Matt Clarke, impressed instantly alongside Wetherall and suddenly a worrying dip in form meant Bower was dropped two weeks later. There has been the occasional appearance since, but no one should be surprised that, with the club now needing to release high earners, the highest earner of the lot has being shown the door.

Much of this season has included a soundtrack of fans whining about Bower’s exclusion and Clarke’s inclusion, which is a testament to short memories and of absence making hearts grow fonder. Back in the autumn of 2007, Bower was crucified by some supporters but it’s almost been airbrushed from history as some openly questioned “what he ever did wrong?” and screamed abuse at Clarke. Bower did little to deserve the abuse he was getting back then, but he’s equally done nothing to prompt some fans to elevate him to to the status of saviour and, belatedly, chant his name at games.

Bower will be no fan of Stuart and no one can blame him. But Stuart is the manager of this club and is entitled to make what he believes to be the best decision. One can only speculate that, for how much Bower’s weekly wage was, Zesh Rehman’s contract at QPR would be comparable. Rehman has been offered a deal and I for one am delighted. Clarke has also received another contract offer and, though he’s never going to be able to win over a section of support, has largely looked strong this season.

As for Bower, he should have little trouble finding another club, maybe even one in League One. He will go onto to enjoy a decent career elsewhere because, like the last home-grown City defender to ‘make it’, Andy O’Brien, he has plenty of talent and a good attitude.

He will be missed back at Valley Parade, but perhaps not quite enough. A player who will always be guaranteed a good reception on his return, a player who may one day be welcomed back with open arms, but sadly also a player for whom it’s difficult to associate with too many happy times.

It’s time that both he and City enjoyed a turn of luck.

Yeah, but if it wasn’t Stuart…

I have come to the conclusion that the debate on Stuart McCall is impossible to have in an emotional vacuum that is presented with the opening gambit “Yeah, but if it wasn’t Stuart…”

The City boss is Stuart McCall and – when Peter Jackson became persona non grata in the 1990s – he is the only club legend we have. Sacking him, or pressuring him into leaving because it amounts to the same thing, is a permanent severing of that relationship. For confirmation one need only to look how Andrew Stuart McCall Junior turned his back on Elland Road after the way that Leeds United behaved towards Andrew McCall Senior. “I’ll know that a few thousand people in Bradford want me to put one over Leeds.” said the then Rangers midfielder before 1992’s European Cup Battle of Britain.

Nevertheless it is perhaps worth exploring that question of “Yes, but if it wasn’t Stuart” as we come to terms with the manager’s statement that should the Bantams not make the play-offs this season then he will not be in charge next.

Three away defeats in a row have blotted out moving fourth after a 5-0 win at Valley Parade and we are forced to ask what would previous incumbents of the manager’s job at Valley Parade had done in the circumstances that McCall admits, and few would deny, hurt him as much as anyone.

David Wetherall certainly faced his darkest day when the Bantams were so easily swept aside by Huddersfield Town 2-0 in 2006. Wetherall’s response was muted to say the least but as a caretaker – almost house sitter – manager one can expect little else so we move back to the last permanent City manager Colin Todd.

Todd was not popular with the same people who would have rid of McCall, and more besides, and approached his time at Valley Parade as casually as could be. A man who had seen the highs of football and is soon to be glorified as such on the silver screen viewed his time at City with the dispassion of a hired hand. Not that one could say that Todd did not care for the club and his charges but that he cared because of his professional pride rather than being felt from the heart.

Perhaps after three away defeats Todd would have said that winning away from home in football is hard and not to be expected and while he hoped we could improve our form and that he would do everything to ensure we did, he worked under tight restraints. Of the managers I shall mention today Todd is perhaps the only one I would rank above McCall in terms of what one might call “management ability”. Todd was going to leave at the end of the season he was fired in and one can speculate that he had grown weary of the constant unbalance of expectations and resources.

“The job gets harder every year” the man from Chester-le-Street said.

Another man from Chester-le-Street would have lost no sleep over Bradford City’s three defeats on the road. The heart that Bryan Robson put into playing for England and Manchester United was sorely lacking from his time at Valley Parade. When, it seemed, the excuse of administration offered itself Robson accepted that his then second step into management would be a failure and marked time until the end of the season making no enemies and ensuring he would be continue to be thought of as a good guy, a nice bloke.

Bryan Robson would not have lost any sleep over three defeats.

That Nicky Law might be doing now is, one hopes, a result of worries about his son’s place in professional football next season. Law Jnr is much trumpeted but, as with perhaps all the Bradford City players, he is hidden under this criticism of McCall while not putting in as much as he should. Nicky Law Snr’s time at Valley Parade can be defined in a single comment – “At some grounds the crowd is worth a goal for home team, here it is worth one for the opposition.” – and while that became the epitaph of his career as the Bantams manager it is as true today as it was then.

There is a poison in the support at Valley Parade, a cancer, that undermines any work that is attempted and that cancer is so significant than now results are not viewed to their ends but rather to the reaction of the reactionaries. I am told this is the same at all clubs but an appeal to how ordinary and how unremarkable we have allowed ourselves to become is no comfort.

As manager Law would no doubt have made the right noises about how to solve the problems of defeat but perhaps been incapable of solving those problems. As a manager he suffered the same problems of reducing resources, and had boardroom in-fighting to contend with to boot, but one suspected he saw the job as his big chance and in contrast to Robson he would have faught with all the strength he could muster against that chance dwindling.

Law’s predecessor Jim Jefferies reacted to defeats with a retreat, back to Scotland and the safety of the middle of the SPL. His character shall never recover from the smut of it being said that when they going got tough, he went. The impression from Jefferies, who was no fan of Stuart McCall and attempted to drum him out of Bradford City for the sake of winning over the dressing room suggesting a style of management that demanded fealty rather than respect, was that ultimately he cared not for the future of the club as long as he was ensured his pay out to leave a club that five months later would be making redundancies.

A stark contrast to McCall who did all he could to help in 2004 when the club faced closure and, when prompted in 2007 by Mark Lawn’s stabilising investment, answered the call and took on this his role as Bradford City manager. One wonders too about the long term interest and investment of Lawn in a situation in which his choice for manager resigns on the grounds that the effects of the job are too great.

So to answer the question “Yeah, but if it wasn’t Stuart” I would say that if it was not Stuart then I worry whom it would be. If it was not Stuart I worry that we would have someone who cared less, who did the job for the financial situation or personal betterment, who slept well knowing that the football club paid him today but another would tomorrow.

If it was not Stuart then I would worry that we would go once more down the ridiculous route of believing that the next manager, whoever he may be, will be better than the previous despite all the evidence to the contrary. If one will talk about rose tinted spectacles then one would do well to explain that contradiction.

Primarily though I would say that if it was not Stuart then Bradford City would be worse off because the chances of any successor being a vast improvement on McCall’s abilities are slight while there is a certainty that whomever should follow McCall as manager of this club whenever that change comes will care less about the club, will put less effort into the club, will engage less of his heart into ensuring the clubs improvement and will have less reason to engage whatever abilities he has into the progress of the club and in those very real, very important ways will be guaranteed to be a lesser manager than Stuart McCall.

Brave Gannon shows the management of old

As far back as I remember I wanted to be a football manager.

Perhaps it was Kevin Toms that gave me the taste for it, perhaps it was the sight of people like Bob Paisley winning with charm or Bobby Robson managing with dignity but to me being a football manager would have been better than being President of the United States.

Managers ran the clubs that we lucky to have them and they ran them how they pleased. They didn’t take on players who board decided they should have and they didn’t play spin games around the truth they wanted to say. Alan Durban said that his job was to win football matches and the media could lump it. Brian Clough was not the manager of Nottingham Forest – he was Nottingham Forest.

And now it is all over.

Clough’s heir – Roy Keane – has spoken out on the attitude of fans and players at Sunderland and will not have the abuse thrown at him. Keane’s talk of late has impressed me but he is so often an isolated voice. He says he will not have Sunderland fans abusing him but he must envy Clough who would not have been abused by Forest supporters who would fear a thick ear.

The manager is a lesser figure now sharing his club with chairmen and chief executives, with directors of football and heads of football development and these may all but good things for the long term future of clubs, the stability of the game and the wellness of managers themselves but without a doubt he is a neutered figure.

He takes what is given to him. Taking what is given to him and smiling sweetly as he gets it is practically Gianfranco Zola’s job description.

Enter Jim Gannon.

Gannon is manager of Stockport County – not a club to raise excitement normally – but what he has done in issuing a statement accusing Referees of bias is exciting. It is exciting for all the reasons that the old managers – so unwilling to allow anything to harm their clubs – were exciting. It is a manager not worried about his future CV and how he will get the job after this one but just furious at seeing an unjustice time and time again and wanting to do something about it.

I agree with Jim Gannon. I agreed with him when Hereford won 3-1 in a game that every football watching instinct in my body tells me was fixed and I agree with him after watching Blackpool steal a win at Valley Parade by the same score.

Gannon’s claim is that because he has criticised some Referees in the past other Referees are victimising his club. He details untrue allegations which are accepted by the authorities as being made up by Referees and a list of incorrect and improper sendings off for his players. He says he has lost faith in the Referees.

When City were beaten by a Luton Town team – who have seen been convicted of improper behaviour – Colin Todd and Dean Windass were furious after Referee Joe Ross mocked them for the result (which now, it turns out, was gained on less of a level playing field as we were told at the time)

From that day on some say City have not had an even break from Referees. Todd – who no matter how much or how little one thought of him was almost by definition a jobbing manager – did not have the courage of his convictions that Gannon has.

Is Gannon right? Are Stockport County being victimised? Perhaps, perhaps not but every football fan who has ever seen a dodgy offside and wondered if the officials have made a mistake or perhaps something more should back him to the hilt in his attempts to get an investigation.

If Gannon is found to be wrong and referees have not been punishing him and his team then they are proved to be innocent and while they have no requirement for that in a game built on the core trust that the man in the middle is impartial – and when that trust is so obviously and openly questioned – exoneration would do much to move the game forward. Perhaps though – as Gannon believes – that exoneration would not come.

Regardless the audaciousness of Gannon brings back thoughts of old. Who would be a football manager?

The End of the Beginning of the Road for Tom Penford

Thirteen players were released by Bradford City today and they included a former player of the season in Donovan Ricketts and a high profile signing in Eddie Johnson but none leave me with as heavy a heart as the end of Tom Penford’s career at Valley Parade.

Penford came onto the scene in a collection of bright young prospects who looked to turn around City’s fall from grace five years ago and while Simon Francis moved on and Danny Forrest moved out Penford remained coming into the side as a bit part player, suggesting much but never nailing down a place in the side.

His latest spring into the first team was typical of this. He looked more than capable of doing a job in League Two but some would say his form dipped and it seems that Penford has run out of last chances under Stuart McCall taking with him a complement that the City gaffer believed the Leeds born midfielder to be capable of filling his holding midfield role – a task he did in a team which performed well.

In those games Penford played as he always had for City. He has an intelligence to his play and to how he handled himself that is rare in young players and arguably players of any age. He seemed more considered than most footballers and in this writers opinion was often a joy to watch. He played type of pass that Stuart would have attempted and while everything changes and everyone moves on eventually I will miss having a player who can be relied on for that in the City squad.

Tom Penford had cracks of whip and no doubt he could have made more of an impact but as Colin Todd said of him He clearly has something. One can only wish him the best that that something takes him elsewhere and on to a good career as a professional footballer.

Finger off the Pulse

There are several things I’m looking forward to about my trip to Moss Rose for the Macclesfield game on Saturday. A visit to a ground I’ve never been before, the hope that the pub where we enjoy our pre-match pint will be as good as the one at Accrington, hopefully City will play well and grab three much-needed points and, while the away stand is apparently roofless leaving me anxious about the weather, there’s a chance to have a good sing song.

Another part I’m looking forward to is not following the match from home like I had to for the Wrexham game. Of course it’s not the same when you’re not there, but it can be deeply frustrating relying on the media to let you know what’s happening. Listening on the radio, every opposition attack sounds dangerous and the roar when the home side score reaches you before the words of the commentator describing the bad news. Even when we score, excitedly jumping around the room isn’t the same on your own.

And it’s the negative approach of one local radio station that especially leaves me wishing I could afford every away trip. It’s only over the last couple of years that I’ve bothered to tune into The Pulse for commentaries as Radio Leeds, with three teams to cover, can’t be relied on to feature every City game. The first time I listened to their commentary team, Tim Thornton and Ian Ormondroyd, I thought City must be playing abysmally given how much they slated the performance. I was therefore very confused when the draw received a more favourable write up in media reports elsewhere.

Since then I’ve listened to commentaries on a handful of occasions and learned that Tim and Stix’s negative attitude is no better than some of our more miserable fans watching in the stands. Everything we do is rubbish, our tactics are clueless and our players are hopeless. Switch between coverage on The Pulse and Radio Leeds and you would think you’re listening to a different game.

Last season Tim Thornton’s post match interview with Colin Todd after the Cheltenham home draw was considered so unfair on the under pressure City manager that it led to him boycotting radio interviews for a month and BCST’s Phill Marshall taking the unusual step of blasting Thornton in the matchday programme. I had the misfortune of listening to The Pulse’s commentary of Todd’s last game at Gillingham, where they complained and ripped apart everything City did. If Julian Rhodes had also been listening, it was no wonder he sacked Todd the following Monday.

A year on and, despite a new man being in the hot seat, the familiar moans and criticisms fill the airwaves. I understand Thornton is a passionate City fan of many years so fair to play to him, he is certainly no worse than some of the resident moaners who attend Valley Parade every fortnight singling out home players for abuse. For Ormondroyd I find his opinions slightly embarrassing. He is a supposed to be a good friend of Stuart McCall’s, so to hear him slate the City manager’s tactics is disappointing. Of course he’s paid to give his views and no one expects him to say false nice things, but surely a more balanced perspective isn’t too much to ask for?

It’s also worth noting that Ormondroyd’s day job is Football in the Community Officer for City. I’m not sure if he is directly paid by City or the organisation for this work, but it seems wrong to have a person who represents Bradford City in the community to be publicly questioning another most weekends. I wonder what Stuart would think if he knew what Ormondroyd was saying behind his back?

I’ve heard some City fans stick up for The Pulse commentary team because they “tell it like it really is”. Their outlook may appeal to a section of supporters unhappy about the way this season has gone, but it’s contradictory to that of a side unbeaten in five.

The draw at Wrexham produced some very mixed reactions from fans and those particularly upset with the result kept using the argument “they are bottom of the league.” I think it would be a useful exercise to revisit this draw at the end of February and see how City and Wrexham have done since then. That ‘disgraceful’ draw may look like a decent result, or it may not, but with Wrexham improving it was never going to be the easy game some imagined.

Personally, if City dismiss Stuart anytime soon I would like to see Ormondroyd given the manager’s job so that I can take text The Pulse to slate his tactics. Until then I’ll continue to attend as many City away games as possible, where I can make my own mind up at to whether things are as bad as The Pulse would have us believe.

Todd’s Danish Wanderings Show A Path Forward For Many

Colin Todd went from Bradford City to manage Randers FC and complains about clubs – all keen to unearth the new Paul Jewell – go for younger managers rather than bringing in experienced gaffers.

Todd’s time at Bradford City is not well viewed but the former City boss would point to the club’s slump to League Two on his exit as proof of what a good job he was doing rather than a suggestion that he had been underachieving.

Indeed it would be hard to argue that City are a better team post-Todd although very few are not much more happy to see Stuart McCall in the dug out rather than Todd.

In a week where English managers have been founding wanting by the FA Todd’s example of going aboard to further his career is a revealing one. After his team’s 2-0 defeat by Everton yesterday Alan Curbishley bemoaned the inability for an English manager to get a job at a club that can offer Champions League experience.

Curbishley jumped ship from Charlton and ended up at West Ham just as Sam Allardyce went to Newcastle United with the idea that excelling there could get the fourth place in the Premiership that while previously a could do better season is now bigger than the FA Cup.

There managers could take a look at Todd’s example and set there sights away from these shores. Should Curbs set his sights further than the other side of that London and looked at jobs in places like Denmark, Portugal or France or even the Charltons of Italy and Spain then he and his peers could have returned to England a few years down the line with more varied experience than a decade at a sturdy, steady football league club.

Take a manager like Sven-Göran Eriksson who moved from Sweden after winning a double with IFK Göteborg onto a more respected league Portugal – and taking another double with Benfica before heading off to Italy and picking up another double and an armful of other titles and then – eventually – the England job, Jingoism aside it is no wonder that overseas managers are getting the better jobs in British football – they are prepared to take a few risks to further their career rather than sitting at The Reebok or The Valley until the blindingly obvious becomes apparent. Paul Jewell and Martin O’Niell take career risks for progression but even they do not think that the way to get a job at one of the clubs that plays European football is to manage a continental European club.

With risks comes failure – take a look at the Chris Hutchings style sackings on Rafa Beneitz’s CV before he got it right and got rewarded – but setting off the risk is the rewards of success.

Colin Todd will probably not be offered the England job but a good display with Randers could see him move about the Danish league and further around Europe augmenting his CV much more than a few more years battling the reducing budget at Valley Parade ever did.

Paul Jewell has ended up at Derby. Lens, Auxerre, PSG and Metz are four of the bottom five of the French league and a survival great escape in that League would be much more of a feather in the cap than even doing the same at Pride Park.

It would seem that in being banish to Denmark Colin Todd has fallen on a way to push his career back on track far better than jobbing around the lower leagues of English football.

Fundraising Efforts Prove Worthy

So, as our beloved Bradford City begin a new era with Stuart McCall as our new manager and Mark Lawn as the new Co-chairman, those supporters who put their heart and soul into fundraising during the perilous summer of 2004 can say “it was all worthwhile”. At the time, these people who were completing sponsored walks, eating maggots and ground hopping across Lancashire to non league grounds such as Leigh RMI, were raising monies to assist with the survival of the football club. That was the short term aim which provided a platform for Julian Rhodes to then keep the club afloat.

However, without these people’s efforts, there would be no Bradford City today. Make no mistake about it, our club was within minutes of going out of business back in the summer of 2004. Individuals including Julian Rhodes, Colin Todd and ex-Chairman of the Bradford City Supporters’ Trust, Mark Boocock, should be applauded for staying loyal to the football club during some of our darkest hours. I realise that many supporters wanted to see the sacking of Colin last season, but whether you were pro-Todd or anti-Todd, one fact remains and that is that is stayed around at Valley Parade whilst Bryan Robson couldn’t wait to get away from Valley Parade. (All very strange as Robson the player was such a battler.)

So firstly there was the individual supporters’ efforts, then there has been Julian’s tremendous support over the past five or so very difficult years. Now we have a new hero in Mark Lawn. The one thing that impresses me about Mark Lawn, is like Julian, he is a Bradford City supporter, which should count for a lot in the coming months and years.

If you raised any money, no matter how much, stand up and be counted. Your efforts have allowed, first Julian Rhodes, and now Mark Lawn to bring the football club back onto a financial even keel. Be proud of your actions. It just proves that a team effort can have a positive impact. Let’s hope that Stuart gets the team pulling together on the pitch. Now then, where are those map directions to Morecambe?

Good Things Happen At Last

It’s five years since Stuart McCall was shown the door by Bradford City. Considered too old, too expensive and a little disruptive, his contract was not renewed and his number four shirt handed to someone else.

The impending financial meltdown that would come to light weeks later was the true reason behind showing a City legend the door. Yet as a near full house waved goodbye to Stuart during his testimonial game with former club Rangers, it appeared his best days were behind him.

Stuart hooked up with Neil Warnock’s Sheffield United and enjoyed a new leash of life by playing a significant part in the Blades reaching the League and FA Cup semi-finals and losing the Play Off final. Not bad for a player who Jim Jefferies, less than a year earlier, famously wrote off by saying his legs had gone. When those legs did eventually go, his coaching career took off. Rising to Warnock’s assistant, the sight of Stuart stood behind the Blades boss in the dugout has become a regular sight on Match Of The Day this season.

As for his first love Bradford City, it’s not been pretty. Administration, administration again, relegation, relegation again. Six years ago City were the butt of people’s jokes as they exited the Premiership, relegation to League Two was deemed barely worth a mention. The fall from grace may not have been as quick as the club formerly known as Wimbledon, but it’s still startling.

But just as we wondered if good things would ever happen to City again, Stuart comes over the hill as the proverbial knight in shining armour. City shocked the footballing world by signing Benito Carbone seven years ago and some will again be left scratching their heads in disbelief at Stuart’s decision to take the reigns at Valley Parade. Chiefly among them will be us City supporters and the staff, probably even Julian Rhodes himself.

When Colin Todd was dismissed last February, Stuart became number one target. There was nothing doing at the time, so Rhodes entrusted David Wetherall to look after the team and saw it relegated in feeble fashion. The wait continued and, after a turbulent week for the Blades, Rhodes incredibly got his man.

Through all of the waiting and debate of who should be manager, most supporters wanted Stuart in charge. We hoped he’d take the job, but who really believed he would? This is a club that has sunk to its lowest position in quarter of a century, become saddled with debts and played increasingly poor football. Decent players were replaced by average players – and then they were replaced by even poorer ones.

What have we achieved, other than continuing survival, since Stuart left? Staying up in 2002-03, but losing relegation battles in 2003-04 and 2006-07. Signing some decent players like Paul Henderson, Damion Stewart and Andy Gray, but only receiving a fraction of their value back. Attracting a world class big name manager, but discovering he was not a world class manager. Winning some memorable games, but losing more often and when it really mattered.

Good things haven’t happened to Bradford City for a long time. So who would have been surprised if Stuart had of landed the Sheffield United position and turned us down? Of course part of the reason we have got him was because the Blades decided he wasn’t right. But it hardly matters a jot.

A manager to finally unite the fans, attract more interest in the club and breed genuine optimism. A Bradford City man to inspire those who work under him, emphasise with the fans and demonstrate the long sought after ‘passion’ that some supporters believed was lacking in previous managers. A hungry individual with a point to prove to those who rejected him, ambitious for a good career and determined to succeed.

A man to help us remember happier times and look to the future with new belief. Good things haven’t happened to Bradford City for a long time, Stuart’s arrival will hopefully herald a change.

Ben, Muirhead Leave City

Ben Muirhead has been released by Bradford City bringing to an end a turbulent five year connection between player and club that say him signed, released, signed again and go from favourite to failure to favourite to great white hope before his career with the club petered out.

Muirhead was signed from Manchester United and wasted no time in impressing with his right wing play that recalled the buccaneering style of Jamie Lawrence. At Turf Moor he ripped Burnley apart in a 2-1 win and he looked a huge threat for Nicky Law’s team.

However for all his exciting front foot play Ben had a number of flaws in his game – he would give the ball away when charging forward rather than win continued possession, he would try the impossible cross rather than winning the odd throw in – and these problems soon saw him benched as Law’s team struggled and Nicky Summerbee offered more crossing.

Nevertheless his flair cameos made sure he stayed popular and under Bryan Robson one Manchester United number seven told another how to play and he returned a Ben all about the end product.

He was the Ben Muirhead of forcing corners and tidy football and for a while that seemed to impress some however as his game improved the tide seemed to turn and – as famously identified by The City Gent’s John Watmough – “Ben” left and was replaced by “Muirhead”.

“Muirhead” was released as the club’s money problem mounted and Bryan Robson exited – he seemed to show most improvement under the famously good coach/bad manager that was Robson – only to be signed again as the club exited administration and start the next season well loved for his loyalty.

However while Muirhead was a better player for the team he seemed to lack the excitement of the flying winger Ben and he was not a regular feature in Colin Todd’s teams. By the time Jermaine Johnson and Omar Daley – both of whom could stand accused of all the worst and best points of Ben’s early play – arrived at the club the sun had set on Ben’s career at City and he was loaned to Rochdale.

His release from Bradford City comes at the end of that season and no doubt Rochdale will be interested in signing him – he scored three in nine games – after which we will no doubt see him again next year.

At such point – with the distance of opposition – we may discover if that winger is “Muirhead” or “Ben” after all.

The Name is Clear, The Tools Are Not

David Wetherall added his weight to the calls for Stuart McCall to become the next manager of Bradford City and while the former Bantams skipper is keeping his own council it does seem that there is a growing momentum that will install he ginger one as the gaffer at VP.

McCall spent yesterday at Oakwell as the best player on the park in a Bantams legends vs Barnsley match to mark ten years since the Tykes went to the Premiership. He was asked and dodged the question as to if he was to be the new City boss. He has to focus on Sunday when either he or former boss Paul Jewell will probably be relegated from the Premiership. It would be unwise for him to talk other jobs at this point but he only has a week left at Sheffield United before his contract is up.

At 42 he looked a tidy player on the field. His last game was a reserve match at Valley Parade against City – McCall going out of professional football as he came in and on that day as yesterday he plays with vigour combined with smarts. Watching Stuart McCall play has been a joy in my life.

Watching him manage I’m hoping for. I think we need it. Should he come in the summer then he will look at his charges as a depleted unit in need of re-enforcing.

Donovan Ricketts between the sticks has probably made enough mistakes to remain at the club next term but really he deserves a higher level. Russell Howarth has never impressed nor looked worth giving a chance to. If the Jamaica number one is still at City next year then the incoming gaffer could have the best sticksman in League Two.

At right back Richard Edghill is thought to be on his way and John Swift is absent without leave. Swift looks and talks the part in the juniors and reserves and his failure to ascend is an enduring mystery at VP. The new manager would be advised to go to Swift over the uncommitted Edghill but will probably end up bringing in a new face.

At left back word has it Ben Parker is ready to join with his own team – Leeds United – having hit the skids hard. Parker is a player of some potential – not in the bracket of a Nathan Doyle or a Lee Holmes but good enough for this level and above – and so the next manager would do well to sign him.

The next manager will hope to have the previous manager to call on in David Wetherall but will probably be looking for another partner as Mark Bower moves to the Championship – Burnley and Stoke are interested and figures of £450,000 have been mentioned – but the pace and presence of Simon Ainge is worth giving a chance to. Ainge was called on periodically though the season and never looked less than impressive. Certainly he seems more able than the League Two stalwart Matthew Clarke.

Should the next manager be McCall then he will look to his own position – holding midfield – as being underused by the previous two managers. Neither Colin Todd nor David Wetherall favoured a break up man and both tried to mesh two more attacking players into the midfield. Craig Bentham is City’s only McCall and for sure he should be the number four next season regardless of who the gaffer is.

The opportunity to link Marc Bridge-Wilkinson and Steven Schumacher is probably over with MBW reported to be rejoining Port Vale. Schumacher is thought to be ready to return but might rethink when he gets City’s contract offer. Tom Penford – who has a season cameo on Saturday – is of course a favourite of this parish and could do a job replacing MBW were he given a chance. I can only hope he will be.

Omar Daley and Joe Colbeck are both contracted beyond the summer leaving the next manager with a Ben Muirhead too many on the right wing. On the left Xaviar Barrus will hope for a contract and should a new manager favour a 442 then it is probably a good idea to do more than nominally look at the idea of having a pair of left wingers to use.

One of the failures of managers at City and beyond is believing that the left wing role is to be given to a third striker – Danny Cadamarteri springs to mind – leading to a huge gap appearing in front of the left back and very little coming forward. If we are to raid down the flanks we need proper left wingers to do it with.

Up front Dean Windass will exit stage left for the right price with Hull City his probably destination. Spencer Weir-Daley is hoping to have impressed City into offering him a two year deal and the word that has reached our BfB ear is that he has done that. Joe Brown is looking over his shoulder at Saturday’s sub Leon Osborne who is pushing for a role up in the squad.

The top four of League Two this year are the bottom four of League One the year before. Bouncing back is common place but to do that City’s new manager is going to have to take the picked over bones of the club and build a team.

The experience of the past few years suggests that building teams out of loan players is an ultimately fruitless exercise. The likes of Richard Edghill – jobbing footballers signed to 18 month deals – are also hardly likely to be the stuff of success either.

The next manager needs to make a squad that is able to play the kind of committed football that McCall typifies. To do that we need to think beyond temporary players and start to make some long term deals.

We need to start putting faith back into the players – be bold and mighty forces will come to you aid – and to do that we need to put our faith in a manager we want to employ for more than the statutory Bradford City sixteen months.

Julian Rhodes. You know what you have to do.

Into The Darkness as City Face the Last Day of League One

We always worried that the final day of the League One season this year woudl have City having nothing to play for but I doubt we ever thought it would be like this.

Colin Todd’s team is going to end up in mid-table mediocrity I recall people saying. Perhaps Todd put that on his CV as a plus point judging by how we have plummeted since he left.

To be fair to David Wetherall and Julian Rhodes it would seem that City – Todd and all – have been dodging bullets for years and failed to this term. We start in League Two next year because that is the way that we are being pushed and yes that is down to finance and yes that is boring to read and only half of the truth but there it is.

So news this week that Julian Rhodes is talking to investors is music to the ears. The scale and feasibility of investment in the past nine years – since The Rhodes Family in fact – has been risible so a measured approach would probably be best. If someone wants to help with the rent then that is cool but if someone is coming to buy players then let us not fall for it again. It is a year since Peter Etherington was going to put us in the Championship. Look what happened.

Rhodes wants a new manager in place within three weeks and will be talking to Stuart McCall about the job so this could be David Wetherall’s final game as gaffer. He has Donovan Ricketts in goal and Ricketts had made enough mistakes this term to suggest he will still be around next. Richard Edghill is probably going to get a final game although John Swift would be – in my humble opinion – a better option. Wetherall’s mistake is fielding too many players who have no investment in the future of the club. He needs to start to look at the players who will be around next season so like Swift Simon Ainge should play and probably will in place of Wetherall who will step down to sub.

This could be his last game at Valley Parade – he deserves a rapture of applause when he appears.

Mark Bower is fancied by Burnley so this could be his final game. Ben Parker at left back will return to Leeds but may be back as they lose players. He his a decent player and would be welcome.

Omar Daley, Joe Colbeck or Ben Muirhead have the two flanks – perm any two from three they all have their merits. Steven Schumacher is forgiven for swearing at City fans last week – tempers were frayed – so take the midfield role with Tom Penford. I’m a confirmed fan of Penford’s cool midfield calm and believe he should have been considered long before this stage of the season. Eddie Johnson is out injured.

Billy Paynter and Joe Brown are expected to start up front with Spencer Weir-Daley returning to Nottingham Forest. Weir-Daley may return next season – rumour has it we have offered him a two year deal – and should Paynter be kicking his heels should he be released from Southend then he would be welcome too.

Billy Paynter and Spencer Weir-Daley are expected to start up front with Joe Brown and Nick Smith standing by in case Weir-Daley’s injury problems continue. Weir-Daley may return next season – rumour has it we have offered him a two year deal – and should Paynter be kicking his heels should he be released from Southend then he would be welcome too.

Welcome too no doubt is the break. Next season needs to be so much better.

In Consideration of Stuart McCall

League Two is beginning to settle into my mind. I’ve done a look up and down the list of teams – nothing very impressive – and I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason we are going to be at the same level as Rochdale is that the characterlessness of the club means we deserves to be at the level of Rochdale.

Characterlessness I’ll qualify. This season City have been subject to some appalling and frankly biased refereeing decisions and have had a share of bad luck that hampers most teams. Our reaction to these knock downs has been to hug the canvas for as long as possible. There are many reasons for this – too many loan players, a change in manager, losing key members of the squad, injuries, a hostile crowd, an inequity in the structure of the game – but few would argue that it is the case.

To escape this League Two the club is going to need major work and prime in that work is the appointment of a manager. Julian Rhodes wants someone in the chair by the end of May and he wants to talk to Stuart McCall about the job.

It is probably clear that City need McCall more than McCall need City but need him we do. No other names suggest themselves as being able to have the sea-change in atmosphere – who would boo a McCall team? McCall would get the shield of bullet-proofness for longer than other managers and might actually get some work done – and culture at the club.

Adding McCall to City could put a few thousand bums on seats, it could get people behind the club again. It could be the answer to all the minor problems that have added up to a major crisis for this club.

Make no mistake Julian Rhodes cannot keep bank rolling a City side that loses him money. We need McCall to return to kick-start all the things we need to turn the club around. We need a manager whom people want to do well rather than the procession of gaffers who it seems failure was almost welcomed for. I heard I don’t mind if we lose cause then Todd will be sacked far too many times last year.

However it is said that McCall would not want to join a League Two club. That relegation has cut off our chances of getting the number four for his third stay at VP. Perhaps so.

To that all I can say is that Bradford City is in dire need – in dire need for the changes that McCall could bring – and should he decided as he has a right to that he can watch the club flounder from afar in what is in a very real and very serious way our hour of need then perhaps I hold him in too high regard.

A club’s legend – this club’s legend – needs to be prepared to get hands dirty otherwise what is the point of being the legend?

Bradford City’s problem since the McCall/Paul Jewell/Geoffrey Richmond days has been a critical lack of leadership. A McCall led City have a chance to establish a direction again – to rally under a banner so lacking under Colin Todd or Nicky Law – and stop the backbiting and arguments that go along with every game. Valley Parade could unify behind Peter Beagrie or John Hendrie but it would be behind McCall and the divisiveness of the last seven years could be put to rest.

Beagrie, Hendrie, Chris Wilder, Wayne Jacobs. Other managers could turn around the club but McCall – with the status he would bring – has the best chance to avoid a future in which attendances dwindle, in which Rhodes can no longer fund a club making less and less money every year, which is so far away from the top table of English football that the risible, lamentable trickle down hardly registers.

In the twenty five years since we were last in the bottom division football has changed beyond recognition. For most of those twenty-five years we put the club on a progressively higher footing but – and apologies to the sensibilities on this but it is a grim fact – we are at a storm front in football where the haves have and the have nots are swept away.

Twenty-five years ago we were in the have nots by some degree. We rose into the haves of the Premiership and the Championship and black balance sheets and entertaining football, we need to get back not just to have a better future but to have a future.

Twenty-five years ago when City started our last campaign in the bottom division in the first game we have a debut at right back to a 16 year old picked up after being released.

You can guess what his name was?

League Two is a Series of Bad Decisions

Donovan Ricketts let the ball go through his legs after Jamie Ward hit the ball at goal. Slowly it squirmed over the line. So slowly, so slowly.

Eight years ago I felt sick with anticipation. It was barely something I could understand and certainly was something that while I hoped for it I never thought it would happen. City – my team – were in a two way shoot out with Ipswich Town for a place in the Premiership. For sure we had lost to Huddersfield Town but as our form started to stumble so did the East Anglians. Eight years ago I could hardly believe it. It was hard to form in my mind.

But it was formed in my mind. It was believable.

Six months earlier City had played Sheffield United – who themselves were chasing promotion – and then Paul Jewell’s Bantams were second bottom and people were saying that Geoffrey Richmond was frittering away the talents of the recently returned Stuart McCall by allowing him to be managed by the Scouser. The game ended 2-2 but the way the Bantams organised themselves that day convinced me we would be in the play-offs at least.

So eight years ago I could believe it was us or Ipswich to follow Sunderland into the Premiership because on the field and off it we were a superbly run club. Jewell had a team that played effective, percentage football and Richmond – turning a profit every year – led a tightly run ship.

I could believe it because we were a well run club at (the vast majority of) levels and perhaps it was naive but my sense of social justice tells me that when you do things right good things happen. Not that the cream rises to the top but rather that the top is layered with people that do things in the right way.

I could believe it.

I guess the second goal was unlucky. A shot cannoned off the post and Ward was the first to react it it. Ricketts did well and shot glances around the area as if to ask Am I playing on my own here. Rebounds always seem to fall to them when you are at the bottom don’t they? We never seem to get there first. Bad luck.

Move forward a few years and I’m standing on the pitch with a dozen other City fans watching Geoffrey Richmond argue with Matthew Ward a Daily Express journalist – about the merits of the Italian footballer he had unveiled as a new signing half an hour ago. We stood in the centre circle watching Richmond ebulliently wag his finger in Ward’s face as Ward impressively went toe-to-toe with the powerful figure of the Bradford City chairman.

The sun beat down on Richmond as he told Ward that Bradford City would no longer be considered a small club and as he said it from the corner of my eye I noticed recently installed manager Chris Hutchings wandering the full length of the field untroubled by press men or supporters and in retrospect Richmond’s ebullience was his bullish attempts to keep the club together following the departure of Paul Jewell.

For the first time Richmond was putting his not inconsiderable efforts into the wrong area so badly and it bore such consequences. Richmond was no longer running the club well and the club was running away and the debate on the scale of Richmonds (mis)management and the effects of external elements in football will go on forever but unequivocally in the Summer of 2000 with Richmond out of control and Hutchings a shadow Bradford City were a badly run club and a year later we deserved relegation.

It was irritating to see a team show so little fight. Bill Shankley said that he preferred to use the language of the people and that he would not call a player lackadaisical when he could call him lazy. Omar Daley is a lazy footballer and he while he is not alone today there are too many players on the field for City who are not invested in the future of the club. Too many loan players so do not need to perform and too many last year of contract players who can see the exit door. How have we got to a position where you can write the names of the starting eleven down and you cross off the ones you think you will see next season rather than the ones you thing will go: Ricketts, Edghill, Wetherall Will he stay not being manager?, Bower Better than Div 4, Clarke , Daley, Johnson, Schumacher Out of contract, would be good to get him to stay, Parker, Paynter, Weir-Daley Rumoured to have a two year deal on the table – who offered him it?

How can a team play well when so few of the players have anything invested in the future of the club?

I stood outside Valley Parade – this was three years ago – with Bradford City Supporters Trust chair (and the reason we still have a Bradford City, but that is another point) Mark Boocock and we waited for administrator Kroll to get an agreement on the CVA document that would end City’s second spell of administration which had come about after Gordon Gibb and Julian Rhodes had fallen out and the club had slipped into League One.

Gordon Gibb would not agree to the terms of the CVA which left the one hundred year old club waiting for one of our former players – Ashley Ward – to agree to drop his objection and take the club over the needed percentage of agreed creditors but Ward was out on the training field and could not be reached and so we sat in the Banqueting Suite which stands above a place were 56 people died and in a location where professional football had been played for a century waiting for a guy who did very little for his £18,000 a week to get out of the shower and decide if the club would continue or if it would be liquidated.

So we waited and we talked to one of the officials of Kroll the administrator and asked him about the future of the club and he saw reason for optimism because unlike the rest of League One we would not be riddled with debt so “all” we had to do was to get income over expenditure and we would be debt free. We pondered as Ward finished his shower and told us we could continue to be a City with a football club and I walked away thinking that this surely, surely is not how a football club should be run.

Jamie Ward ran fifty yards pretty such unchecked before putting in a shot which Mark Bower turned into his own net. 3-0 and all the booing to date – the chiding of good players and the atmosphere of poison – has cheapened the criticism given out to some players who are not even going through the motions.

Six months ago Colin Todd was not sacked not as a solution to get the playing side back on track or to flood the club with new ideas on how to play the game or even to change the focus of the system to a more or less direct game but as a punishment because results were bad and as a sop to the fans who wanted rid of him. Sacking a manager is a way to effect a change to bring improvement but it is not a change in itself. Julian Rhodes is a good man, a good fan and he is applauded for his innovations but decisions often outside his control have been poor. The debts we have no are caused by bad decisions, the way we ended up paying rent of our own ground was a bad decision and yes changing managers without ever effecting a change on the field was a string of bad decisions.

So slowly the ball crept over the line. So slow the decline of this club but along the way bad decisions have been made metronomically – from the boardroom to the pitch to the stands – and this is by no means the lowest Bradford City can sink.

League Two? Can I believe it? Of course. Seven years of bad decisions should result in this.

Anticipation Has The Habit To Set You Up For Disappointment

There is something wonderful about the sense of anticipation before a big game. In a good two decades plus change of watching City I’ve seen bigger than Saturday’s relegation crunch against Leyton Orient but the stomach churning wait – the mixture of excitement and dread – is the same this Friday as it was the weekend of the 9th of May, 1999.

Remember that weekend at Wolves I recall a sense of foreboding not at the idea that City might not win the game or might not be promoted but at the idea that a resolution was going to come at all. From the Sunday before when Birmingham beat Ipswich 1-0 to put City in the driving seat for promotion to the kick off at Molineux on Sunday we enjoyed a suspended animation of being on the brink. For seven days the mind buzzed with pleasure delaying thoughts which inexorably drew to a close once the first ball was kicked.

The ninety minutes at Wolves was pretty much Hell but everything up to that was a blast.

Which is how the mood for Saturday’s game is. Right now City are in good form going into a crucial game – we are potentially safe, wonderfully poised and waiting for the swing of genius that will make a crucial difference – but come 15:00 reality will set in and two hours later wonderful poise will be either realised or not. City will either be looking at a win or two from two games to stay up or look at League Two.

Not strictly true. A draw delays things. No one seems to have considered the possibility that City might draw the game despite the fact that Orient will most likely come to Valley Parade to get a point and keep City beneath them.

City go into the game minus Moses Ashikodi following his broken leg at Brighton but with Spencer Weir-Daley – SWD – ready to fill the gap. The striking change aside David Wetherall has picked a settled side in marked contrast to Colin Todd’s later tendency to tinker. That Wetherall has nailed down a best team – even if it is not the best team – has started to bring rewards of which the anticipation is one.

Let The Lessons Of Todd Point The Way For The Next City Boss

Colin Todd has until the summer to watch the Bradford City team that sacked him struggle to maintain a place in League One and then the former Bantams boss has agreed to join Danish club Randers FC as their new manager. Good luck to him.

I doubt that history will record that Colin Todd did a good job at Valley Parade – history is so often formed by ill feeling – indeed he will probably be ranked alongside the likes of Jack Napier and John Docherty as one of the club’s most unpopular ergo worst bosses but as David Wetherall’s struggle to get winning ways back attests to if Todd was the great problem at the club sacking him has been far from the great solution.

Appointed by administrators Todd’s job at Valley Parade was done with one hand tied behind his back but in the interests of not giving whichever players he could afford to bring to Bradford City the kind of negativity complex that so often takes hold at clubs this fact which was never really discussed above a murmur.

Indeed more than once BfB heard suggestions that the club was “sorted”, “fixed”, “ok now” and generally had “put all that financial business behind them”. Having looked at the books I can tell you, dear reader, that this is far from the case.

So Todd manfully brought in players and some worked out well and other did not and he bolstered the team with loan players and some worked out well and some did not and he looked for all the world like a man pushing to keep his head above water in a job he could not do. Without wanting to dismiss David Wetherall’s efforts as gaffer it is increasingly clear that the good job was keeping City bubbling under.

And they said

Another season of mid-table mediocrity under Todd.

If only.

Todd’s failing as a manager at Bradford City was not results – his record is much better than Bryan Robson’s who is rarely reguarded as lowly – but rather public relations. While a genuinely pleasent guy to be in the company of Todd appeared truculent and obtusely defensive when speaking about his team. He famously fell out with The Pulse’s commentators on a weekly basis when questioned about the style of his results. One can only imagine how much he would have wanted to grab the mic from Tim and Sticks and state as clear as a bell These are the best players we can bring in with the pitiful resources the club has. Boo Dean Windass if you want but if you drive him away then you will go down. The other strike against Todd is that – that Bradford City were you and not us for the hired hand.

So management of Bradford City – and in a way of any club – is as much about public relations as it is about results with the good feeling that a popular gaffer can bring begetting improved performances on the field. The club – chairman and all – are pointed in the direction of one man regardless of which league we are in.

Todd will watch that from afar and probably with moderate success and truculence put down to foreignness.

The Thing About Football

One thing I’ve noticed about football is that often I’m right and you are wrong. Maybes not you but other people. Most people. Most people are wrong about football.

It is not most people’s fault. They watch SKY TV and read The Sun and what they read and see must be true cause everyone around them is saying it but a million people can say one thing and still be wrong. Majority might rule but it ain’t always right.

Now I’m not always right either but when I said Colin Todd should not be sacked I was not off the mark. Nothing has improved since the manager got the bullet at Bradford City as we sink down and down the division until we sit in League Two next season.

David Wetherall’s job was to add a short term boost and nothing more and everyone knows that Stuart McCall just has to say the word and he will be gaffer. Wetherall is supposed to be a short term fix but Todd’s team wasn’t in the problems that the skipper finds his in.

Todd was not pulling up trees but he kept things going along and we would have sailed out to close season in a rather dull mid-table place but that was not good enough for some and they demanded and got a change. I think they said something about more excitement. I don’t know if they are happy now.

And of course we miss Deano and JJ and of course that is not Wetherall’s fault cause cash needed to be got in but what we paid to let the gaffer go was wasted.

I’m wrong lots of the time too by the way but I’m not wrong here and I’m not wrong when I say that what we have left after this 2-0 defeat to the league leaders is a lottery numbers chance of staying in the league.

City did well today keeping back a team on the way to promotion for so long but pressure always counts in football and sure enough Billy Sharp looks a striker on his way to bigger and better things. He lashed home and after that City were all but out of it save a Dave Wetherall header that got flagged away for some reason.

I’m losing count of goals chalked off for some reason. One thing we can all agree on is that in football if you don’t score goals you don’t win and Referees are determined to stop City scoring. Not that that seems to be stopping Dean Windass.

I guess it is not worth talking about what might have been and we should look at what is and what is is that we need wins and God knows where we are going to get them from. Easter is moving time Sir Ferguson says. We can only hope.

Last Time On BfB…

Since we last talked, dear reader, things have not gone well at Valley Parade.

You may recall this website being dubbed “pro-Todd” and in the months of our absence he was fired from the club one Monday morning for suggesting to the chairman that he may leave in the Summer. Todd’s replacement – skipper David Wetherall – has struggled to get results and if one were to formulate the opinion that Todd’s management abilities were shown by the fact that he could get the club mid-table not shown up by that then some would not argue.

Nevertheless to suggest that Todd was some kind of miracle worker is off the mark too. It would perhaps be a miracle to get the team we have out of the division the right way and it was certainly something that the former Derby man very rarely like achieving. That Todd’s steady hand on the tiller would is missed should not be mistaken for an idea that he was over-achieving. “Thanks Colin,” we would say, “But we are going to move it on.”

Moving it on to David Wetherall has not reaped results thus far but the skipper turned gaffer is switched onto the sort of ideas that Todd may have needed to listen to. So many of the issues around managers seem to resolve about Craig Bentham or whomever is assigned to play that holding midfield role that has been a problem since Stuart McCall went south. Marc Bridge-Wilkinson and Steven Schumacher need a muscle to win the ball but Bentham – as with Crooks, Kearney and other players given the number four role – never seems to be glued into position in the side and always is the first to go in the name of pressing for attacking play.

As this is the new opinion bursting full BfB then unequivocally I’ll say that there is nothing attacking about not possession and too often without Bentham or similar in the side we left with creative players chasing attackers rather than using the ball. Should Stuart McCall end up in the Bradford City job in the summer then one can only hope he knows his own position well enough to cement a ball winner in the middle of the midfield and build out from there.

McCall may or may not return in the summer when season ticket prices may or may not go down depending on the willingness of 10,000 supporters to commit to the club. The old BfB’s pressing for a price revolution is doubly underlined by this new site and Julian Rhodes should be congratulated – and hopefully rewarded – for this innovation.

To be damned are those who drove Dean Windass out of Valley Parade. Death threats to a player who got sent off is appalling, death threats to a player is appalling, death threats to a person is appalling but most appalling is the lack of condemnation for the people who drove away a player who is increasingly looking like the reason we were half way up the league.

For sure Windass may have only received two or three letters but the brickbats and booing that came before those letters set the tone. From a humanistic point of view Windass was pushed towards the door by an ill feeling towards him that was far more common – and totally unjustified – than two or three letters.

Opinions about the man and the way he plays football are valid but the abuse of Windass from a significant section of Bradford City supporters far beyond the two or three letters are tantamount to vandalism of the club and the results are manifest now Windass has gone on loan to Hull.

Of the newer signings – all loan players – Billy Paynter looks impressive and Kelly Youga is starting to be very useful. Loan football – which seems to be on the increase – is not desirable and for every Paynter or Nathan Doyle who comes to the club City end up with a decent young lad playing within his limits. Ben Parker is probably a nice guy and is a decent footballer but that we expect the same level of commitment from him as we do from our own players and I see no reason why he should be able to give it. I would much rather see our young lads given the chance to play week in week out than I would blood someone else’s youth talent. Parker will be back at Valley Parade next season no doubt but probably as a member of the team that replaces the team that they call the worst Leeds side ever so why we expect players who’s futures are so obviously separate from the club to put in the same level of commitment is beyond me.

The young lads need a chance. They need more than the odd sprinkling of games too. They need to be given runs in the side just as Joe Colbeck is being given now. Then they need the understanding that being a young player means being inconsistent and being inconsistent means sometimes having bad games and – and this is the important bit – being a fan of a particular club means supporting your players through bad games.

I’ve not got much of a problem with people booing slackers and shirkers – I doubt it really does any good because and think that booing Lee Sharpe or Nicky Summerbee for not playing hard enough just justified their appalling attitudes – but I have a big problem with people booing players who are trying hard and having a bad game and I have a big problem with people booing the kids that come through the ranks and are trying to make it work in professional football for Bradford City.

At present City face a seven game struggle to start in League One and after that God only knows. That is where we are. Let’s see what happens…

The best losing team always wins the league

Bradford City and Colin Todd took a kicking on Saturday in more ways that one. Fans went to offices to be tormented by Town Terriers and the T&A told a tale of City’s defeat. It was not the worst day to be a Bantam but it was probably the worst we will have this season.

Aside from the losing aspect the Town jeers were all the more sweet because we knew that that knew that they did not deserve the three points they emerged from VP with. For every talk of a one sided games and robberies came the calm smile back that that really was football and teams need to know how to defend as well as attack.

And so it went and so it will go and so it will play on the minds of the City squad and management. Questions will come? Are City that good? Are we that good without Jermaine Johnson? Have we hit a limit when we get towards the top of League One? Questions, questions, questions and all undermining confidence but pointing to a truism of football.

The best team at losing always wins the league.

And there it is. The big secret of football at any level. The champions at every level are always the team that handles the inevitability of losing the best because losing – as much as winning – is the fabric of football and while it is important that a team can get three points on a regular basis it is also crucial that on weekends such as City’s when good runs are halted by frustrating and upsetting defeats that those defeats are not dwelled on, that they dwindle and do not dwarf the achievements.

Bradford City – unbeaten at Valley Parade for thirteen games. Worth remembering.

Bradford City in the play offs for League One after recording impressive wins and putting in good performances. Worth remembering.

Worth remembering and worth bringing to the attention of the players to underline the quality of the season thus far that does not evaporate because game thirteen is a poor display compared to the previous ones. The teams that can lose the best win championships and promotions. If Huddersfield at home is looked on as a defeat in singularity and as different from the rest of the season and if lessons are learned and if we move on then this game becomes a minimised downturn in an otherwise successful season.

If defeat is dwelled on then one risks it becoming endemic at the club. One risks a defeat chipping away at morale and becoming a bad run, becoming poor form.

Let us look, if we will, at the Arsenal team which went 49 games unbeaten but went to Old Trafford and lost one game. One game defeated in fifty is nothing but for Arsene’s men it became all sending them into a downward spiral. Confidence all gone after one defeat in fifty and all because the defeat was handled badly.

Contrast that with Chelsea of now, Manchester United of the 1990s, Liverpool of the 1980s. Teams that took losses in isolation. I only once recall the 1980s Liverpool side losing two games on the bounce and I often remember them roaring back from a defeat to give someone a spanking. Even without impressive returns following defeats the likes of Chelsea stop any rot before it happens and that is what Colin Todd and Bradford City have to do now.

Defeat is bad, Saturday’s defeat worse but in context it is only a single game for a side picking up points on a regular basis.

Todd makes it easy to go

Note: This article has swear words in it.

After a couple of seasons of making the best – or at least an average – fist of a bad hand given to him at Bradford City Colin Todd has committed the cardinal sin of football managers and in doing so given plenty of reason why he should now be fired.

Reports and rumours from those coming back from Gillingham have Todd telling some of the ravelling City support who were barracking him at the end of the game to “Fuck Off”. In the two years he has been boss Todd has shown an unargued professionalism to the point where people accused him of being professional to the expense of having passion and this outburst has coloured that image. No matter. Todd has just about ensured that sooner rather than later he will be leaving Valley Parade.

Let me be clear on this. I could not give a hoot if Todd – or for that matter anyone – swears in heated conversation. What is good enough for Philip Larkin will do for me when expression in anger is on the table and I doubt any of the City fans in debate with Todd at the end of the game had not heard and used similar while following the club. I do not expect Todd holding the a higher standard than any supporter and as a result I do not expect him to work the miricles some would have him do – but he must know that on the whole he is held to that high standard and this slip gives a silver bullet of ammunition to those who want him out of the club.

Because for the time Todd has been under fire he has always had the catch-all that while some may disagree with his team and the way he plays the game he stands alone in experiencing the life as City boss in the current situation and those who comment do so for the safety of the sides. Such talk is unarguable and in my opinion has validity but now becomes moot. The accusation at Todd now no longer needs to be about the players he picks out of position or the performances of the team on the day or any of the factors that justified and justifiable debate continues on but on the duality of ideas that mealy-mouthed Todd is not the sort who should be given a chance to run our football club and that by swearing at one group of supporters he was expressing an inner loathing of many. In short – that Todd has told us all to fuck off.

Like Bill and Monica or Glenn Hoddle and the “karma induced disabled” comments it was only a matter of time before Todd reacted to the abuse that he gets – justified or otherwise – and expressed the kind of distaste for the supporters which is common throughout football but never verbalised.

At most levels of football supporters are viewed on as a distraction at best and a necessary evil at worse. It is no different for managers but like chairman who talk of the lifeblood of the club and players who sign autographs one minute and walk out the next the public face is always that the club has “The best supporters in the World.” There are 3,300,000 football clubs in the World and around 100 professional ones in the UK and all claim to have the best supporters in the World. That if nothing else should tell you of the sincerity of such claims.

Which is not to suggest that City’s support are bad or that they deserve swearing at on a regular basis. They are a divergent bunch with many opinions – I know because at BfB we have put forward four or five dozen different fan’s opinions at least and none of them have had any unity of thought other than that they were all from Bradford City supporters – and the significant and vocal collection who want rid of Todd are no less aware of these points. They are not offended by Todd swearing or especially surprised by the idea that football managers may not have the same passion for clubs as supporters do. They now have the chance to act righteously justified and call for the manager to go for not respecting the supporters or the club. Todd has foolishly given them one although with a contract which is reported to run for three more years and the chance of that being paid out as a result of thins I’m not sure who the fool would be.

So what do we conclude from this event and if the two years of Colin Todd’s management are coming to an end? possibly that managing a club with massive financial problems under ongoing trading restrictions is extremely difficult – well we could have asked Nicky Law who would have told us that – and that the guy in the manager’s chair thinks that the support at this club helps the opposition – well Law told us that too. Neither of these issues at City are helped by a total unwillingness by subsection – everything is about subsections – of fans who refuse to believe both of these points. The atmosphere is negative at Valley Parade as shown in contrast against Blackpool and the fact that before a ball is kicked in the season £600,000 goes out to Gordon Gibb and others who rent bits of VP back to the club hampers the club compared to the rest of the division.

In fact in the reckoning if Todd does go he will list his two years at VP on his CV as having done a stabilising job with no money to sign players and a historic debt problem to service and he will say that in those circumstances he did a good job. The recipients of that CV – chairman who are sick of managers mortgaging their clubs to save their jobs – would probably agree with him.

We have learned very little in the last two years about the promise of success based on consistency. BfB is constantly characterised as being pro-Todd despite having given the current City boss more criticism than any who have preceded him but in truth the call for consistency is not a call for this manager to keep his job but for all City managers to be given a chance to make a fist of the job. It is a call to try stop the process of appoint and sack and let managers get some work done at Bradford City.

The call for keeping Todd in his job for football reasons is no different now as it was to keep Paul Jewell after two points in seven games in 1999 or it will be to keep the next boss when things go bad for him but those calls are made on the basis of footballing reasons. What Todd has done now opens him up to pressure on his job away from the field of play and should it be decided on the basis that Todd and the supporters have an incorrigible relationship then how can he be defended? The board have the prerogative of deciding on a manager who has a better built in relationship with the fans such as Peter Beagrie or Stuart McCall but in doing so set a dangerous precedent for allowing the whim of a group of fans dictate policy.

Regardless if this argument between boss and fans has hastened the next manager settling into his chair at Valley Parade then all the calls for Todd to keep his job have been far from in vain. The same principal that backs our calls for Todd to keep his position will be applied to either of the rookie pair mentioned above and – as they learn the ropes of football management at a cash strapped club – they may need it.

Managing failure

Without much doubt Bradford City have had a season of failure.

From top to bottom with the exceptions of the increasingly effective department run by Peter Etherington and David Bosomworth’s efforts which have seen the growing numbers of young players breaking into the squad the standards that have been set at VP have not been reached.

All things are relative of course. Julian Rhodes said at the start of the season when a bid for Dean Windass was rejected that one does not achieve the aim of the club – promotion – by allowing the best players to leave and under those terms the Bantams have failed. Perspective on all things though. Should they be relegated Milton Keynes Dons have failed, Rotherham United have failed, Walsall have failed. We have not succeeded.

Semantics aside though in the summer the word around VP will be how can we make sure that next season is better than last and the word failure will be used in relation to Colin Todd, to the team of players, to his signings, to the lack of leadership from the club, the falling gates and on and on.

Things that have failed – relatively failed – and things which are to be put right.

The pressing question is how will the Bantams higher echelons try to put these things right. The pressing question is how will the Bantams manage failure?

Conventional wisdom – as typified by the Sir Alan Sugar “You’re fired!” shout – is that the way to manage failure is to get a P45 out and write on it the name of whichever poor sap happens to have the job of managing the team.

It would insult your intelligence, dear reader who has seen six managers in as many years, to suggest that this is a course of action which is proven to work but it would also not be out of the question for the board to look at Colin Todd’s record and the signings he has made and conclude that so far in his City career has been so average.

Todd’s record at City to date is the picture of average being almost equally split between wins draws and defeats. Played 97 games – won 32, drew 32, lost 33. Todd’s record is better than Phil Parkinson’s at Colchester was at this stage of his career with the now high flying Essex side and obviously the potential for the same pattern which the Parkinson has enjoyed this season exists.

In fact there is nothing to suggest that Todd will improve next season. His signings are hit and miss – for every Marc Bridge-Wilkinson we have a Bobby Petta – and his approach to the game is built on the tried and tested rather than the outlandish and risky but potentially successful. Todd is a manager who does not look at runs of wins but sees a home and away pairing of games as the chance to get four points.

Todd is not going to change. Some subscribe to his management philosophy, others do not but few would deny that continuity of employment for any manager is more likely to bring success than does rapid change. For what it is worth in the poker game of football management I say stick because I tire of the disappointment of the twist.

Replacing Colin Todd is a valid way forward but only a handful – probably less than a handful – of candidates suggest themselves as being able to guarantee to have anything to offer that Todd does not. Sacking him in the name of “anyone is better than this” is the kind of thinking that has laid the club low and more than any other decision in a club the choice of manager is about managing the levels of failure.

Because ultimately failure is the natural state of the vast majority of football clubs the world over. Every season 70 of 92 professional clubs in England fail in some way – not getting promotions or winning anything – and I would suggest the fact that they respond to that failure not by emulating those who are successful but rather by breaking with ways they are similar to the Manchester Uniteds of this world. You never have a manager for ten years if you sack them after 18 months.

Which is not to suggest that failure and success are entirely a product of a sum which includes the time served by a manager but that the tendency in football to view anything other than success as a significant failure which requires revolution at a club hampers most clubs efforts causing them to lose focus on what is being done well and what is done poorly. A manager is sacked and takes with him a back room team many of who may have been doing good work. A club does poorly and the good people within it leave with the bad. The streets of football are full of babies sitting in the thrown out bathwater.

Failure is the way of things in football and with it comes re-evaluation. The late, great Brian Clough used to say that when a manager was sacked the chairman who appointed him should go with him and while Clough’s comments are rough around the edges they have a truth to them. The manager’s performance – ergo the team’s performance – are so yoked into the general structure of the club from chairman down that one struggles to think of occasions where great success on the field was achieved in run down surroundings of it (or vice versa).

When failure – or poor performance if you will – is the case then there is cause for re-evaluation at all levels. Few would say that Bradford City have a perfect set up which Colin Todd is frittering away. Most City fans would want to emulate the progress of Charlton Athletic from small club to Premiership regular and that progress was built on a slow process of measured improvement season in, season out.

So on the agenda at the post-season review meetings many, many arms of Bradford City will be called to account and in the most cases the decisions to be made will be about how to improve things rather than to assess that something is in such a terminal state it must be done away with. Even the official message board – which has as many who loathe it as are devoted to it – undergoes improvement processes with the appointment of moderators. The way to manage failure is to plan improvement. If the commercial staff are not making enough then they are supported and maintained and plans for performance improvements are produced which take into account the failures of the past. The ability to learn from mistakes has been key to human development since the guy realised that he had to cut the edges off his square wheel.

Which leads back to the players and Colin Todd and the mistakes – the failures – which have been made in signing players and deploying them. The mistakes in tactics, selection and all the other things that have made this an average season. We really do not need another manager spending six months working out that Dean Windass is big and strong but is not best played as a target man?

In terms of the season “Average” is used advisably. We are mid-table flirting with the bottom half of the top and the top half of the bottom not because we have done badly or well but because we have been very average. The majority of the squad could not claim to have anything more than an average season. The derided Darren Holloway has had a few duff moments but put in mostly solid games – if you think that Holloway is a bad player then you never saw Darren Morgan or Tom Steele play – while never being that impressive. Holloway is a perfect example of the average and the inconstant which has been Bradford City’s season and illustrates the problems City face. His contract is up in the summer and if we replace him he lose the understanding that he has built with the rest of the squad – admittedly this is a poor part of Holloway’s game – and the assurance of what level of performance he offers. His replacement could be much better than him but seriously how often has this occurred at City? How many clubs these days are giving away players who are good enough to come straight into a League One team and impress enough to drive a promotion campaign in their first season?

A decision must be made over if the average that City have fallen into represents the mid-point of a terminal decline or not and on that basis the failures are managed – lessons learned, mistakes recognised not to be repeated – and the club moves forward.

Football has a business side to for sure but is more about the playing and contrary to what everyone with an opinion will say it is not all money but business planning and practices can inform the way the playing side works and in this case should be. The club should be looking to make changes in the areas that offer the most benefit and those benefits need to be nailed down before a replacement is made and not assumed as a product of the replacement process.

If/When Todd is on his way out of Bradford City we need a managed process to replace him that guarantees an improvement of the position. Until we learn that lesson we are not going to be managing failure, we are going to be bringing it about.

Todd and making the future work this time

Prefacing this by saying I like The City Gent and Chris Armstrong who runs The City Gent website we at BfB were interested to see that website use it’s front page to make a case for the prosecution against Colin Todd calling for the City manager to be sacked.

The content of the article runs through a damning list of “crimes” and makes it clear that Todd should be held accountable for the teams performance – a view I personally think always lets the team off with ineffectual displays but one I respect the writer’s right to hold.

However such talk is neither especially interesting or especially new. Indeed City fans need only cast minds back to October 2003 when the same comments were being made about Nicky Law.

That those comments may – or may not, depending on your opinion – have been proved true is hardly important. What is important and what would be needed to convince me that the Todd Out protests had enough merit to be worth supporting is an answer to the questions asked back when Law was sacked.

For all the talk about from City fans about the relative merits – or lack of merit – of Todd and his position at the club I have yet to hear anything approaching a convincing argument which tells me that sacking this manager would not be as ineffectual in halting City’s decline as axing Law was.

Genuinely curiously I wonder why would sacking Colin Todd improve the club any more than sacking Nicky Law? Or Jim Jefferies? Or Chris Hutchings? Why would the next manager turn our fortunes around when Bryan Robson’s arrival did not? Or when the return of popular coach Terry Yorath as manager in 1988 could not?

By anyone’s yardstick – including the one Colin Todd applies to Sven Goran Eriksson – Todd would be overdue the bullet from the vast majority of jobs in football. What I am interested in – and what we as supporters of this club should be interested in – is the future of the club beyond the short term buzz of a sack and search.

How will the job of managing Bradford City be different for the next manager than it is for this one and it was for the last one, and the one before that, and before him and before him?

Rhodes and the Catch 22

I spent much of this evening in debate with an eager reader who asked me how I could still support Colin Todd despite the 2-1 reversal at Milton Keynes Dons this weekend. He is to start a protest against Todd on Saturday – the protest will involve t-shirts – and wanted to know if I would making him a website for it.

I mulled it over – the idea that BfB supported Colin Todd not the idea of doing a free website for someone – and wondered how accurate it was. I flicked back through enough editorials to know that the Gaffer does not have a ringing endorsement from my comments but that there is much talk about the need for continuity.

At this point I cannot imagine the decision Julian Rhodes has to make. Certainly it is true to say that Rhodes’s faith in Todd has been shaken in recent months and with one win in eleven the chairman must be thinking issuing a P45 to a manager he inherited appointed as assistant by Gordon Gibb and then as manager by an administrator.

Rhodes probably knows that axing Todd would give him a popularity boost and lift the mood around Bradford City. Todd’s popularity has hit such low levels it is almost impossible to see it being turned around. The manager who was lambasted for negative tactics for most of the season now picks midfields of passing players – Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, Tom Penford, Steven Schumacher and Owen Morrison are no one’s defensive line up – but having given the fans what they wanted he now carries the can for bad results.

And as results go bad so does mood. City walked onto the field at Milton Keynes a team which looks mentally beaten before a ball is kicked. It could have been the loss of Dean Windass but more likely the mood which effects the fans is deeply rooted in the club. Football is game played mostly in the head and built on confidence and just as in the stands the idea that Todd’s team will win has gone from the dressing room. It does not matter if this is true or not the presence of the idea is enough to curse the side.

In short – and to quote my late Nan – the poor Buggar cannot do right for wrong. I have no idea if Todd has “lost the dressing room” or even what losing the dressing room is but I have seen enough football to know that City are in the sort of situation where a someone would get a pasting in the game after a management change and for a while everything would be right again.

However Julian Rhodes has sat in on the last four management changes at City in some way and the Bantams have gone though the man appointed from within, the experienced professional boss, the young up and coming boss and the top international without any turnaround of fortunes. It would take an especially dense man not to at least pause at the idea of having to go back into the job market to find someone to follow in those footsteps without being worried that the problem is not in another area of the club and that changing the manager is not the so much nothing which it has proved to be over the last half decade.

In all honesty I could not say to Julian Rhodes that any of the candidates likely to apply for the job of Bantams manager would be better than any of the last five bosses who have been in charge at Valley Parade but I’d suspect that a great number of much worse bosses would apply. I could be pretty sure that the change would boost morale and Rhodes would know the cost of that in hard cash. Todd has a twelve month contract to pay off and for the £100,000 plus the chairman gives away the reward is the randomness of appointment and a very good chance that an application process would make hardly any difference whatsoever in anything other than the short term. Chris Kamara was three numbers, Paul Jewell was a big lottery win. Almost every other change has been a zero baller.

So faced with the level of uncertainty Rhodes is stuck in a Catch 22 situation. Todd’s presence at the club is deflating matters to such a point where it is hard to see a win coming – although they always do – but to get rid of him is expensive and repeats an often failing policy of football chairmanship. 99% of the time the new manager is no better than the old one and the whole process of paying off the one, getting rid of players, bringing players in and then eighteen months later sacking is costly and tedious.

So expect Rhodes to do as all chairmen faced with this problem do. He will hold onto Colin Todd for as long as he can because should the team manage to get past fifty points he has less pressure to make a change. Should he need to make the change – and after Saturday that change could be made on Monday morning – then he will fall back on what he is familiar with and appoint David Wetherall as manager until the end of the season. An untried manager coming in with a need to get points quickly. Sure Wetherall might get the wins need but things could go wrong in a bigger way than they are doing now. Such is untried managers.

So why do we back Colin Todd? Because I don’t like gambles being made with my club’s future when the stakes are so high.

Hand me that Todd Out banner

I want a Todd Out banner for Saturday.

But more than just a banner – a bit of shoe polish on Mum’s table cloth – I want to believe in my Todd out banner.

Which is where I fall out. Odd for me being a good Catholic boy and all but when push comes to shove Toddy out the door I lack the faith required to see the benefit.

Naturally I see the good points in getting rid of the manager – bad results lead to a lack of confidence in the squad and in the supporters and this translates into games so obviously. Footballers – being simple lads – are under the impression that if you get rid of one man who tells you to play 442 (or sometimes not) and jockey the other side’s for’rad and get someone else to tell you to play 442 and jockey the other side’s for’rad then fortunes are immediately turned around. Who is to say that the next guy will not be better than the last? Sure it reeks of randomness but it has some sense to it.

Football is a mostly mental game – especially at this level – and as such it could be argued that if the players believed that a change of manager would equal a change of fortunes then the ends would justify the means regardless of the qualities of the incumbents of the job. The cult of the manager has a firm hold in football now but sometimes one must wonder how much influence the man who wears the big coat has over the team. Kevin Keegan used to say that his job finished at three on a Saturday and started again at quarter to five because the players were in charge in between those times.

Regardless of the short term boons it might grant I wish I could believe that sacking Todd would cure the problems of Bradford City but experience tells me that it probably would not. I have a genuine envy of those people who can be so sure that a P45 here and there would fix the team in the same way I wish I could be sure that Heaven, God and all that stuff was really real. Back to the good Catholic boy bit. It would be good to know for sure but perhaps faith is the order of the day and blind faith at that. Faith in the face of all evidence to the contrary.

Unfortunately I will no doubt find out both the answers to the mysteries of life and the question of what will happen to City post-Todd all too soon. Perhaps taking the Catholic religion as a metaphor is my problem when it comes to believing. The Buddhists believe in reincarnation and so perhaps should we? Are we really just Paul Jewell’s Bradford City reborn for the fifth time? Is it – as the man said – “the karma working from a previous lifetime”?

Colin Todd’s Bradford City will no doubt be reincarnated as someone else’s – perhaps Stuart McCall’s if rumour watch tells us anything – before too long but the new body will face the same problems as the old. We live in a world where Rotherham announce that they are £1m and a few weeks away from liquidation (not administration – liquidation) and being the first team to go out of the league mid-season since Aldershot but the leading stories on BBC and Sky Sports were that Chelsea were holding off on relaying the pitch.

Dwindling numbers and lack of interest – back to Catholicism again it seems. We are in an increasingly diminishing scenario where fans exit and are not replaced. Aggressive pricing has put off a generation – we all know a few who have stopped going to VP but who can remember the last time we saw a new face? – and takes chunks out of the previous ones. Rotherham gulp for air and the likes of Chelsea are using the aqualungs for breathing laughing gas. To suggest that no one cares outside of us is the understatement to kill a game.

I wish I could believe that this could be turned around by sacking Colin Todd.

Hell I wish I could believe that this could be turned around.

The phoney race for the Todd job is in full swing

Colin Todd still has a job at Valley Parade.

He still picks the team and is right to do so. For the record and for reasons I’ve mentioned ad nausem I’d have him keep that job because I do not believe we would do anything other than harm the club in replacing the manager at this point.

I mention this because watching the media output in recent weeks one could think that the Bradford City job is up for grabs.

Certainly there is a growing idea – rightly or wrongly – that Todd might not be in his position for the medium to long term and the runners and riders to replace him have started to get into position.

Take Dean Windass – the outsider of our four – who honestly pledges loyalty to Todd positioning him as something of a continuity candidate while pointing out his sacrifices for the club. He could be on £10,000 a week at Wigan but he is here and should Todd lose his job then we would do well to remember this point. Of the four we talk about Windass is the rank outsider.

Fan’s favourite for the Todd job – should it come available – is Stuart McCall. McCall was on Football Focus a week ago talking about how he loved Bradford City and would welcome the chance to manager a club after being in many positions at Sheffield United showing his versatility and wide experience. McCall was keeping his name in the ring in response to increased noise from another candidate.

That other candidate for the job that does not exist is Peter Beagrie who was on YTV Soccer Night telling all that he was flattered to be linked to the City job but that Bradford had a very good manager. Beagrie is increasingly being mentioned in connection to City with appearances at book launches, mentioned on Sky Sports on the increase and of course the link in The Sun. Should the job come up then Beagrie would have an outside track compared to McCall but the more links between club and former player continue the more he assumes the position of manager in waiting.

All of which is right and proper. Football is a world of pragmatists and while none of the people mentioned would want Colin Todd sacked – indeed they all would probably prefer that if the City job was to come available it did so at the end of the season allowing them to finish off current jobs – all recognise the inevitability of managerial change at some point and seek to position themselves for that eventuality.

However in the box seat should Todd leave Valley Parade is David Wetherall who moved into talking to the press last week when Todd acquiesced, has a firm friendship with Julian Rhodes who once described him as “The Reason we stayed in the Premiership”, knows the current squad, has shown loyalty and commitment to the club and is available to work immediately.

Windass, McCall and Beagrie may push their names forward but it is Wetherall who would be offered the chance to take over from Colin Todd should be leave Valley Parade especially if that departure came during the season.

Like Chris Kamara and Paul Jewell before him Wetherall would get the chance to show what he could do for the rest of a dead season. Should he make a fist of that all the links and mentions would not be able to push him out.

Vox populi, vox Dei: The right and proper coverage of anti-Todd

I was begged by email today – always a curiosity – to give coverage o the counter-point argument to three articles which had run this week on BfB all of which concluded that keeping Colin Todd as Bradford City manager was the right thing to do.

I did not write any of the articles nor did I ask for them to be written – submissions are always welcomed with open arms but rarely solicited with the mood of the day prompting writers more than I could ever do – and I thought the second of the three was written in reaction to the first but nevertheless the idea was that there was a counterpoint I was wilfully ignoring.

I was failing to represent the “anti-Todd” side I was told.

The phrase mulled around my head on Friday night’s journey back from Manchester. “Anti-Todd” as if the other three articles had been personal aggrandiseations of the City boss rather than comments more on the merits of stability and of the manager’s performance. I dislike the phrase “anti-Todd” intensely – BfB is not a place for personal attacks – but poor phrasing is not enough to mask a growing voice around Valley Parade.

All of which was moot in any case. No article landed in the BfB inbox and went unpublished this week – only two have in six years – and as of this morning (Friday) nothing “anti-Todd” had been submitted.

Now counter-point has been received and is online for all to read. One columnist requested a screen name for his article a request we denied – we have a policy of not publishing in anonymity lest this site becomes like so many other dismembered floating voices of Message Boards without accountability for opinion which certainly Roland Harris has had this week – and I hope that in denying that request the article can still be published.

Nevertheless the verbalisation of the comments against Colin Todd’s management of the club has begun and is on BfB.

At BfB we often read comments about how a reader enjoys the site but does not understand why writer x gets column inches. The fact we throw the doors open to all opinions is a strength of the website and a strength I am proud of. Love or loathe BfB it is always going to carry the opinion of those who write for us. As Franklin said “Decisions are made by those who turn up.”

Opinion is good. Both comments are soft-tagged as “anti-Todd” but neither makes a personal attack on the man. They talk about how he does his job something we as City fans are free to – if not obliged to – comment on.

My personal opinion on Todd – the one which informs the majority of the news on this website – is that he needs to make some changes in how the team plays and could make more of the playing resources at the club. I believe that he is a man of some experience in football and a reasonable amount of flexibility which comes with having had many jobs and can make those changes in situ.

That is my opinion on Colin Todd. If Colin Todd were to give his views on this website and on websites in general I’m sure I’d give it the same weight he gives my comments on his job and rightly so.

However it is also right that those who have a grievance to air with Todd have a forum to do so – this forum – and use it to state considered opinion without anonymity.

Ultimately opinions voiced in what is one of the more trusted forums than most for football fans – well City fans – to air their views adds to a general pressure on Julian Rhodes and Colin Todd that suggests a change or a course of action. If the only way for supporters to suggest a course of action to Rhodes and Todd is to use the banner headline comments of manager sacking then it is sad and hints at an inflexible polarisation which should not be at any level in any football club but especially not this football club.

Should the pressure suggest a change to Todd – a change of tactics or picking policy – then so be it. Vox populi, vox Dei. It is right and proper that the supporters have a voice – no – a chorus of voices representing the differing opinions around Valley Parade – which is listened to.

Personally I hope that Colin Todd stays at Valley Parade – many of his ideas make sense to me – but it concerns me that after the lessons of the authoritarian years of Geoffrey Richmond’s time at Bradford City still the only way for a dialogue between club and supporters to exist is in calls for sackings.

Only one Grant Hegley

After defeat at The City Ground Colin Todd said he had no ‘qualms with the sending off whatsoever’ and was ‘not blaming the referee for us losing’. He was also quoted as saying ‘but we had six players booked and one sent off and I didn’t think it was that type of game’. In total these hardly seem like the rants of an unreasonable man. For the sake of completeness Forest also had three players booked, so ten bookings for not ‘that type of game’ is quite something. When did you last see ten bookings in a match for any type of game?

Could this have anything to do with the referee? Silly question, you may think, until you look at the F.A’s website. Remember the game was played on 29th October and the referee was Mr G.K. Hegley. According to a piece on the F.A’s website dated 26th October, ‘Following a meeting of the FA Referees Committee this week, referee Grant Hegley has been suspended for 14 days. Hegley was charged with less than proficiently applying the Laws of the Game after failing to send off Sheffield United’s Keith Gillespie after the final whistle of the match against Reading on 1 October.’

The first and perhaps most obvious question is ‘Are there two Mr Hegley’s?’ Can we perhaps assume not, especially since the man in the picture on the F.A. website would seem to be bear more than just a passing resemblance to the man in the middle at The City Ground.

So let’s look at the next question, namely ‘When is a suspension not a suspension?’ The answer might appear to be ‘When it’s for a referee.’ Just when did Mr Hegley’s suspension begin and end? He obviously wasn’t suspended three days after the date of the piece on the F.A’s website. Perhaps he was wearing a tag and was allowed out early.

So, assuming as we might that it was the same Mr H and that his suspension hadn’t taken effect three days later, can we find an explanation for the flood of cards (Darren Holloway’s excepted) that baffled Colin Todd? Look again at why Mr H was suspended – for not sending off Keith Gillespie. It may be recalled that Gillespie’s grouse at the end of the match was to do with a penalty or, rather, the absence of a penalty. I’ve only seen it on the TV two or three times and in slow motion, but I’d love to hear why Mr H didn’t give a penalty. At the end of the game Gillespie was joined by his manager in ‘an exchange of words’ with the referee, for which Gillespie should, it seems, have been red carded and Neil Warnock faces a disciplinary hearing. It was the same game where Paddy Kenny could rather easily have been sent off (compare that poor chap Flitney from Barnet) for denying a goal-scoring opportunity by handling the ball outside his area, only to be rescued by Mr H’s apparent view that the ball was going wide. Even Neil Warnock was quoted as saying ‘I thought he was gong to get sent off straight away.’

What we have, then, on 1st October is a referee accused by managers of being slow to give fouls and red cards, found guilty on 25th October of ‘less than proficiently applying the Laws of the Game’ and then on 29th October applying the same Laws to our game in such a manner that he brought out his yellow card no fewer than ten times.

Let us also remember the severe limits on appeals against cards, limits which seem to be based on the perceived need to preserve the omniscience of referees as far as possible. We need go no further back than Dean Windass’ statement that Mark Clattenburg, the Premiership ref who booked Deano at Doncaster, ‘admitted to me afterwards that he had got it wrong, but unfortunately he cannot do anything about it now.’ The suggestion is that refs can’t be seen to make mistakes, which is one way of saying that they can’t be seen to be human. Well, they may not all have fathers, but they are, so far as I know, all human.

So City cannot appeal any of Mr Hegley’s yellow cards or the £2500 fine we would have avoided if even one or two could be overturned. Mr H has come off a disciplinary for not proficiently applying the Laws by being too lenient and has jogged straight into a game where no one could accuse him of being too lenient. Wouldn’t it have been better to have started his suspension immediately, as would have happened with a player sent off or disciplined before a similar F.A. committee? Isn’t it only too human to react to an accusation of leniency by being just the opposite? Could none of this have been foreseen by the F.A? Ah, but to get an admission out of the F.A. might not allowed either. And we don’t really know that they are human, do we?

And a ‘by the way’ to finish with. There may be one or two people out there who think I’m being unduly harsh on refs and that they should be protected. Maybe I am, but I can only compare things with my old day job which I left on Monday. I was a District Judge. I gave reasons in public for every decision I made, even the most trivial decisions. The press came whenever they wanted and reported whatever they felt like. Almost every real decision – guilty or not guilty, prison, fine or whatever – was liable to appeal without further ado. Some times the appeal court came to a different decision. Some times even that decision was appealed. The judges there, like me, are only human. What’s so special about referees that their very human nature has to be so jealously protected? Answers in an e mail!

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