Why I was glad to see the back of Mark Yeates after Bradford City beat Crawley Town 1-0

The Team

Jordan Pickford | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Gary McKenzie, James Meredith | Christopher Routis, Matt Dolan, Andy Halliday | Mark Yeates | Francois Zoko, James Hanson | Billy Knott, Alan Sheehan, Jon Stead

Mark Stephen Anthony Yeates walked up to the three official who had been in charge of the game between Bradford City Football Club and Crawley Town Football Club in the game which Bradford City Football Club had won by one goal to nil and Mark Stephen Anthony Yeates put his hand out. Mark Stephen Anthony Yeates of Bradford City Football Club shook the hand of one assistant referees. Then Mark Stephen Anthony Yeates shook the hand of the second assistant referee. Mark Stephen Anthony Yeates did not shake the hand of the Referee. Mark Stephen Anthony Yeates turned his back on the Referee and walked away without shaking his hand.

Jordan Pickford did not shake the hand of the Referee Darren Drysdale. Stephen Mark Darby did not shake his hand. James Meredith did not shake Mr Drysdale’s hand after the game and Rory Alexander McArdle did not shake Mr Drysdale’s hand. Alan Sheehan did not shake the Referee Darren Drysdale’s hand and Billy Knott did not shake the Referee Darren Drysdale’s hand. James Robert Hanson did not shake the Referee’s hand and Jonathan Graeme Stead did not shake the Referee’s hand. Bernard François Dassise Zoko scored the winning goal early in the game and he returned to the field at the end to walk around the field with his team mates but Bernard François Dassise Zoko did not shake the Referee Darren Drysdale’s hand.

In 2008 Darren Drysdale said that Dean Windass had sworn at him in the car park after a game. Bradford City complained and Windass insisted that Drysdale was lying but the FA backed their Referee at the time. It is seven years on and Drysdale is still refereeing in League One.

After watching Bradford City Football Club play Crawley Town Football Club in April 2012 Philip John Parkinson watched the players of Bradford City Football Club brawl with the players of Crawley Town Football Club. He watched Crawley Town Football Club win promotion while he continued to assemble a team at Bradford City Football Club that would gain honours for Bradford City Football Club.

It is said by the people who say things that Philip John Parkinson was very close to being dismissed from his role at Bradford City Football Club following that brawl but that Philip John Parkinson continued and Philip John Parkinson created a team that beat Arsenal Football Club and Aston Villa Football Club and Wigan Athletic Football Club as well as Burton Albion Football Club and Torquay United Football Club and Northampton Town Football Club.

Philip John Parkinson made a team which won games by small margins because Philip John Parkinson had a belief in how football should be played and who should be playing it. Football, Philip John Parkinson believed, should be played by people who believed in their team mates and battled for their team mates and who believed in Philip John Parkinson and who battled for Philip John Parkinson.

City won by a single goal in a tough game against Crawley. The number of changes to the side caused by injury, suspension, and the saving players for the Reading FA Cup tie put out a disrupted team but even with changes the work ethic of the team remained.

The only goal of the game came eight minutes in when a deep cross should have been caught by Crawley keeper Lewis Price but his positioning suggested he thought the ball would clear François Zoko. It did not, and Zoko headed in.

Then City contained rather than pressed. Crawley were poor – they seem set for a first Football League relegation this summer – but since Parkinson arrived the frequency which other teams are made to look poor by a City team prepared to close down quickly and apply spoiling pressure has increased. City scored, and then made sure they would not concede, and won the game.

But that win was a battle on a heavy pitch with a curious referee and a broken up team. In many ways it was the game which City fans say they want: a hard battle that is won by graft;

Odd that it was not better supported in a quiet Valley Parade.

Letter to a person who did not like Garry Thompson

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, Adam Drury | Rafa De Vita, Nathan Doyle, Gary Jones, Mark Yeates | Aaron McLean, Jon Stead | Carl McHugh, Garry Thompson, Kyle Bennett

To the person who did not like Garry Thompson,

You and I share a football club and I am sure we share the same ambitions for that club. Probably, if we talked, we would quickly find common ground but that agreement would end on the subject of Garry Thompson.

I’m sure you clapped when Garry Thompson scored the winning goal at the end of a lackluster with Crawley Town that had seen both teams go in scoreless after a flat first half and Aaron McLean give City a lead after he finished a divine long pass by Nathan Doyle. We might have had the same reaction to Carl McHugh failing to follow a pass out of defence by Kyle McFadzean allowing Jamie Proctor to equalise.

I’m sure you clapped that just as you and I will have cheered Thompson’s goal against Arsenal, or the one against Burton Albion when all seemed lost, or his work in the goals against Northampton at Wembley and I’m sure that as I iterated through those goals you started to form an idea that those goals do not constituent a defence of a player who you believe is not good enough for League One.

Because that is what you have been saying about Garry Thompson this season: that he is not good enough; and while I’d hope your opinions did not effect Phil Parkinson’s decision to bring in the Kyle Bennett to take the right wing I am forced to wonder if you have been forced to consider your opinion of Thompson after seeing such an inadequate replacement.

When I watch Garry Thompson I wonder what you want from him other than what he shows? I watch him and see a player who puts everything into his performances and takes responsibility for those performances. I see a player with enough skill to take the ball past a player some of the time, good enough crosses to pick out a striker some of the time, who fires the ball in some of the time.

And I see a player who when he does get it wrong beats himself up about it.

When you watched Jon Stead being given a pass by Mark Yeates to leave him on his own in the Crawley half this afternoon and watched Stead fudge the chance and end up with nothing did you feel as I did that that failure should have hurt Stead more?

It can be hard to tell how players feel from the stands but having watched Thompson for long enough I like the fact that his mistakes are not shrugged off. I see a player who holds himself to a high standard.

I wonder what you see. I can probably understand how you are able to rationalise away the good things but I can not understand how you can see a player who embodies the effort that has seen the City team go from the arse end of League Two to secure in League One via a League Cup final in two years.

Perhaps you look at players like Paul McLaren or Tommy Doherty and thought they were better players because of abilities with a dead ball in the former case or the latter’s occasionally masterful displays but what those players were lacking was what to me is obvious from watching Thompson. Both lacked Thompson’s work ethic. Every time he has been asked Thompson has done everything he could for our team. The same could not be said of those other players mentioned.

And if you do not value that work ethic then you do not understand what is good in football, and it is wasted on you. You talk about Thompson as if his presence (and goals) in the key games of the last few years were an accident, and perhaps those games were wasted on you too.

All season you have mumbled and grumbled about Garry Thompson. Sometimes you went so far as to abuse him and I wonder how that will have impacted his confidence. He lost his place in the side and as he led the lap around Valley Parade at the end of the game probably having played his last game for City his contract is up and you are probably happy about that.

On that all I can say is that to replace Garry Thompson is about more than getting a better right foot in. It is about a player and a team ethic which was prepared to be held to a high standard and about understanding that it is that high standard which has driven the team in the last few years.

You do not put enough value on Garry Thompson, you never did, and because of that I feel sorry for you because I bloody loved watching him play.

Yours,
Michael

Next to Parkinson in the best or times and the worst of times

The greatest success of Phil Parkinson’s time at Bradford City came on the day he lead the team out for a League Cup final against Swansea City but it did not happen at Wembley stadium or during the game but after when the City manager addressed his players.

At some post-game party – if party is the right word after being beaten 5-0 – Parkinson told the players, the player’s wives, the club officials, and anyone with YouTube that the success of the season was not in that trip to the capital but the one that would come after in the play-off final. “Eleven cup finals” formed an especially cogent part of it.

Parkinson’s success last season was to take a team which was idling in the middle of League Two and – because of two hard earned penalty shoot out victories – convince them that they were far better than the position in the division suggested. And once Parkinson convinced the players they were better, they played better, and so they got better results which Parkinson used.

We could call this a Parkinson Loop if we wanted to.

We often talk about managers being good or bad but seldom are we able to say what they are good at. Parkinson is good at creating a sum of the experiences of the players and turning them into a shared belief in the squad. He recycles the experience from games into belief in the squad, and he seems to be good at it.

And so the fight against Crawley Town became the birth or a team spirit. The defeat to Burton Albion became a chance to show character. The loss of Nahki Wells is the rest of the squad showing their abilities. Indeed James Hanson has responded with a goal in each game since Wells’ exit.

And perhaps the outcome of this fruitless spell of games will be similarly positive. Parkinson will tell the players that if they can stay together through this barren run they can stay together through anything and when the self-righting nature of football form addresses the results then City will be all the stronger.

Which is the opposite of Paul Jewell’s modus operandi which was to treat each game – Premier League games mostly – as discreet and heavy defeat in one having no influence on the next and perhaps we might wonder if that part of this idea of being a good manager is not that you do something that is “right” just that you do something effectively.

All of which points to a reason to retain Parkinson’s services when there is an increasingly grumble about the number of wins in the last few months. The experience of Parkinson is that he wins, or he takes defeats and makes them into wins, and that the worst of times feed into the best.

And at some point that will end one suspects and Parkinson’s abilities to spin gold from straw will fade but why rush to that conclusion now when the past few years have shown the capacity to make bad times feed into the good?

The week we lost our faith

The round trip to Crawley Town was a long and tedious 496 miles in total, but by the time City’s players alighted from the bus back at Valley Parade the mood of the season had quickly turned as dark as the Bradford night they walked into.

By all accounts, the team was poor in losing to Crawley – surrendering a 1-0 half time lead to concede three goals in dismal fashion. The result kept the Bantams third bottom of the entire Football League, with a gap to the clubs above beginning to emerge. Small wonder then, that many of us supporters are feeling so despondent.

Yet at the same time, the outcries of anguish and the anger which has been directed at individuals who represent the club has been difficult to observe this week. The criticisms have been loud and far reaching, and suddenly the outlook of how the season is going appears to have been altered. The likes of Guy Branston and James Hanson are singled out unfairly; Phil Parkinson’s signings are retrospectively criticised; while a sinister and unhelpful vendetta from some towards Archie Christie continues.

One can understand the concern over City only winning one of their opening eight league matches, but less so the need to be so negative and to panic.

Weeks like this – coping with a Bantams defeat – have become such a regular occurrence in recent years that it’s all depressingly familiar. And as a result the only option to avoid having to feel miserable and upse  is to switch off as much as possible and try to focus on other things in life until Saturday. But it’s always there, at the back of your mind – worrying and fretting about your club. And as much as you want to ignore people on message boards and on Twitter attacking the players, there’s an overriding worry that others will be listening and acting upon this vitriol.

Is it justified to suddenly allow a glass half empty outlook to dictate the overall mood of us supporters? Perhaps in the past yes, but on this occasion I strongly believe it isn’t. Crawley sounded bad for sure, but only four days earlier I and some 300 other City fans had watched the players put in a strong performance against Port Vale, where they were very unfortunate to lose. The last time the team played at Valley Parade, they produced an eye-catching display that included a first half performance as good as anything we’ve seen for years.

Looking at the season as a whole, the effort levels and standard of performances have also been encouraging. To date I have seen every game but Accrington, Dagenham and Crawley. Each time the workrate and determination of the team has been commendably high – and I understand this was the case against Accrington and Dagenham too. Application-wise there is room for improvement, but it seems Crawley was the first occasion this season where we can agree the players really let us down.

So why be so quick to jump upon them and write them off? Branston was in the PFA League Two team of the season last year, has he become a bad player overnight or is it a question of him finding better form and confidence? Hanson is picked upon time and time again, yet so often this season the team has not played to his strengths making it very difficult for him. Chris Mitchell is viewed as slow and lightweight, rather than us focusing on his on-the-ball qualities. Matt Duke is clearly lacking match sharpness, but some have seemingly written him off.

The strategy adopted by the club this summer should not need repeating, yet it is now criticised in retrospect by some in the laziest of ways. If Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes had ignored the idea of the Development Squad and once again thrown money at the first team this summer, I personally fail to see how we’d be any better off save for a few more points at this stage. The club has lacked a sufficient infrastructure off the field for a number of years and progress is too much at the whim of how big the playing budget is for a particular season. This long-term approach is just that, long-term. We should not be writing it off after just eight league games.

There has been talk that the emphasis of the club has changed from a “building season” to “promotion or bust”, because of the signings Parkinson has been allowed to make – but when viewed closely the facts don’t support this theory. The new boss has sought to make changes to the two positions in the team covered by loanees – wide left and goalkeeper – by bringing in players on permanent contracts. Surely this is in support of a longer-term focus?

Craig Fagan has arrived too, but we know from Peter Jackson’s final days that a need for a striker had been identified and he was actively searching. Fagan is a notable signing and it’s been suggested won’t have come cheap. Perhaps but, given the former Hull striker had missed a year’s football through a broken leg and was struggling to find a club, it seems more likely he is here on low wages with an eye on impressing enough to ultimately attract interest from higher up the leagues (or even a better contract with City next summer).

This is similar to Lee Hendrie last season, who had a decent short-term impact. We can question the wisdom of signing Fagan and where this leaves the promising Mark Stewart, but that doesn’t mean the club has abandoned the strategy agreed in the summer. The problem with suggesting it is now “promotion or bust” is that the expectation bar is suddenley raised and City’s performance seems all the poorer as a result.

In many ways, weeks like this one show a lack of perspective to our judgements and emotions. Losing to Crawley is upsetting, looking at the league table is painful – yet with rationale thinking and remembering the bigger picture, the level of doom and gloom should have its limits. If you’ve sent Branston a nasty tweet this week – as many did – shame on you, because you are not in any way helping the club progress. If you attack players and management on message boards, at least throw up constructive solutions to the problems you deride.

Football supporting seems to allow us to be childish and moody in how we behave – especially in defeat – when in every other walk of life we would never dream of acting in the same way. It’s time to take a step back more often, appreciate the difficulties the club faces rather than jumping in with anger and blame. Passion is a good thing, but directing it in a destructive way does little to help and this seems to be all that some can do.

Bradford City is a club that has to welcome and be grateful for every supporter it can get, but it needs to be remembered that it is our choice to support them and this sense of personal injustice we throw back at them when they struggle isn’t always their fault.

The actions taken this summer mean that this season we have the chance to help create something special. A team we can be truly proud of, because they care deeply about our club and understand what makes us special. Parkinson is trying to implement an attacking, passing style of game that is a welcome relief from the direct football we’ve endured so often in recent years. The Development Squad offers the promise of providing a handful of players good enough to make the first team in time. Scott Brown looks amazing, and he can play soon.

We are not that far off from been a good side, already too much hard work has been completed to throw it all away. So please, let’s not go to the Wimbledon game on Saturday with arms folded waiting for an opportunity to act indignant; let’s do our bit and prove to the team and to each other what being a football supporter is really all about.

Crawley Town 3 Bradford City 1

Bradford City suffered a second defeat in a week going down 3-1 at Crawley Town after taking a first half lead though Kyel Ried. Two second half goals from Tyrone Barnett and one from Andy Drury ends a spell of defeats for the home side and leaves City 22nd with the visit from AFC Wimbledon next week.

Our able BfB match reporter spent the game on the hard shoulder of some motorway and so – unless you, dear reader, step into the gap – we shall present:

The hare and tortoise approach to team building as Bradford City head to Crawley Town

The Manchester City defender Wayne Bridge will always hold a special place in Bradford City’s history – for it was his free kick goal for Southampton vs Wimbledon in 2000 that indirectly helped the Bantams avoid relegation from the Premier League. But in the wider football world, it seems unlikely he will be remembered beyond once refusing a handshake.

Bridge has recently been in the spotlight after turning down numerous offers of first team football away from Eastlands, in preference for stagnating in the reserves and training alone.

He has not started a Premier League match for Man City since last October. And though he may shortly be persuaded into joining a Championship club on loan, the £90,000-a-week left back apparently seems more concerned with living the footballers’ lifestyle than playing football itself.

The deep pockets approach to building a team

It didn’t have to be like this, and Bridge can hardly argue he wasn’t warned. He left Southampton to join Chelsea’s sudden Roman Abramovich revolution in 2003 – a star signing for the club at the time – but as the Blues progressed and could attract a better calibre of player, Ashley Cole arrived and took his place.

So when Man City, suddenly flush with money, came knocking in 2009, one might have thought he’d realise what would eventually happen and say no. Perhaps, with The Guardian quoting a Man City insider declaring Bridge has become “more interested in what he’s doing on his Saturday nights rather than Saturday afternoons”, he was happy to fulfil his fate.

Nevertheless Bridge has been both the beneficiary and victim of two of the highest profile team building strategies of recent years. Considered a key arrival for both Chelsea and Man City at one stage; each club’s speed of progress then left him no longer good enough for its ambitions.

Yet for both Chelsea and Man City this left a difficult problem. Huge wages were committed on signing the likes of Bridge, Hernando Crespo and Adrian Mutu at Chelsea, and Bridge, Emmanuel Adebayor and Craig Bellamy at City – and with even bigger wages then needed to bring in the ‘next level’ players, a very expensive and unneeded reserve team was a legacy and a headache.

Man City might have bottomless pockets for the moment, but most other clubs do not. And so the folly of splashing out heavily on players, who can only take you some of the way towards your intended destination before you need to replace them, becomes clear in time.

2008/09 revisited – the flaw in the plan

At Bradford City, and on an altogether different scale of budget, such an approach was tried in the summer of 2008 when then-manager Stuart McCall was handed a budget of £1.9 million and joint-Chairman Julian Rhodes spoke publically of aiming for back-to-back promotions.

That money largely went on the wages of Chris Brandon, Paul McLaren, Graeme Lee and Michael Boulding. Let’s ignore for one moment the fact this strategy failed on account of the Bantams failing to go up, and pretend the season hadn’t collapsed with 11 games to go.

Had City crossed the promotion line, would these four players have been good enough to lead the Bantams straight through League One and into the Championship the following season? Or would they be near the top of a list of players needing selling, as McCall would have looked to spend money securing the on-loan season stars Dean Furman, Nicky Law and Steve Jones – on top of targeting other new signings?

And herein perhaps would have lied a significant problem. For the wages of Brandon, McLaren, Lee and Boulding would have proved too high to allow them to sit on the sidelines, and efforts to move them on would have been just as troublesome as they were when McCall had to try to get rid of them because the promotion effort had failed. Meanwhile to get Furman and co, plus others, would have needed the Chairmen to dig deeper once again. The path of progression would have come at a much higher cost, and may not have been sustainable.

£100,000 a year to sit on Crawley’s bench

Crawley Town arrive to Valley Parade tomorrow with very real concerns of this type. Benefiting from sizeable investment which is dubious in its origin, the Red Devils spent some £600k on transfer fees alone last season and were rewarded with a stroll to the Conference title. Having again been heavy spenders this summer, they began as pre-season favourites for promotion and have gone into their first ever Football League campaign with the pressure and expectation they will sail straight into League One.

Yet recent results are not good. Having not lost a league game since October 2010, they have been defeated in three of their last four games. Add in cup matches, and it’s five defeats from six. Last Saturday they were thrashed 6-0 at Morecambe, on Tuesday they were beaten 3-0 at home to Swindon. Not exactly the form of would-be champions.

And for the dislikeable Steve Evans and his wealthy benefactors, a new and perhaps unexpected problem is emerging. All that money has only got them so far, and to fulfil their ambitions it looks like they will need to spend a great deal more. Some of the players who may no longer be good enough are reportedly earning £100,000 a year – who else would be willing to match that and take these unwanted players off their hands? Last season Crawley were nicknamed the ‘Man City of non-league’. It looks like they could soon have a few Wayne Bridges of their own.

Work in progress

The contrast in the Bantams’ new approach is stark. So much has been talked about this building for the future outlook that it is getting repetitive, but with City electing to buy potential rather than buy expensive a more sustainable approach is developing. Relatively speaking most of the summer signings came cheap, and if they don’t prove good enough or can’t match the progress of the club they will not be expensive to move on. On the other side of the coin they may also become valuable assets if they develop strongly, potentially providing decent transfer fees.

If this strategy and this team can take City upwards, there would be a less likelihood of a nosebleed halfway on route to the top and fear that vast money must be found to sustain improvement. The speed of progress may be slower, but perhaps along the journey we’ll skip past a few clubs who had apparently spent their way to success, but are finding it a struggle to maintain momentum.

The midweek defeat to Port Vale emphasised that this is a slow burner approach. Eight games in and City have produced some wonderful football and the team is developing into one many of us have fallen in love with, because of their high work rate and commitment. Yet only one win has been recorded and four defeats have already been chalked up. As the league table begins to carry meaning, 22nd-placed City are one point worse off compared to last season’s dreadful start.

Promising displays are not yet turning into results. No one is panicking, but for now an uneasy feeling is difficult to avoid.

Bouncing back from a first defeat in five

Despite Crawley’s recent results, tomorrow is a tough test for a City side looking for an immediate response to Tuesday’s set back. Matt Duke is top of the list aiming for redemption after his howler for Vale’s second goal raised questions about his match sharpness. At the moment he is averaging two goals conceded per game; and while some of those were unstoppable strikes, we’ve not yet seen him make too many noteworthy saves to prevent opposition attacks.

The back four may be shaken up or Parkinson – who at half time at Vale Park told his defence not to sit so deep, which brought about an improvement – may be tweaking other areas of the set up to provide greater defensive protection. Liam Moore got through a tough first half to again impress, and his long throws are a useful weapon. Robbie Threlfall did okay, but the more attack-minded Luke O’Brien could flourish in this team. Guy Branston had a tough evening at Vale Park and – if Steve Williams is back soon – could be favourite for a breather with Luke Oliver showing better form.

The midfield four often becomes a five when Jamie Devitt floats deeper, and is impressing greatly when City have the ball but are a concern when they don’t. Michael Flynn has received some criticism for his performances this season, but to me it seems he is playing a deeper role than he used to which might be confusing some. Just like Lee Bullock two years ago, it seems Flynn is being asked to perform in a way that better conserves his ageing energy levels while still contributing positively. Ritchie Jones will play alongside him, with Chris Mitchell wide right and Kyel Reid wide left.

Mitchell is another with his critics in the stands. I had the misfortune of sitting next to a no-doubt-committed-but-ridiculously-negative supporter in the first half on Tuesday, who commented that Mitchell reminds him of Gary Locke because “he was half a yard off the pace too.” Mitchell is the kind of non-tackler, methodical player many fans always seem to hate, but continues to be quietly effective in his positioning and passing ability. The direct-minded Reid gets better every game – he is Omar Daley v2.

Up front Parkinson’s search for a striker concluded with the signing of Craig Fagan but the former Hull City man has not played much in over a year so will be lacking match fitness so expect James Hanson to partner Devitt. Hanson’s time in the first eleven is probably coming to an end for now, but in away games his value in holding up the ball to relieve the pressure on the rest of the team is especially invaluable and he emerged from Vale Park with plenty of credit. Ross Hannah bangs loudly on the door but the excellent Concentrate on the League website argues why he should be super sub for now. Nahki Wells has also moved up the pecking order; worrying times for Mark Stewart.

Undoubtedly the pressure tomorrow is on the home side. Defeat for Crawley and who knows what ambitious owners would do about Steve Evans. A loss for City would spell greater relegation fears but, as Micky Adams declared in midweek, this team has the potential to challenge at the top.

Crawley climbed to the summit much faster, but may increasingly become envious of the Bantams and their plan.

2011/2012 IV/IV: The teams

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

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

The Favourites

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

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

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

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

“Local” Rivals

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

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

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

Conference Call

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

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

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

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

League Newcomers

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

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

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

Familiar Faces

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

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

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

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

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

On the Buses…(or coaches)

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

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

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

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

Here comes Crawley Town

Wes Thomas’ 18 goals for League Two Cheltenham Town last season understandably made him a man in demand. But rather than moving up the football pyramid, the 24-year-old has joined the league’s newest and most inexperienced club.

Crawley Town, promoted from the Blue Square Premier last season, have beaten off interest from other clubs – not to mention Cheltenham’s own hopes of retaining a striker they had rescued from non-league after a less than impressive time at Dagenham – to land Thomas. And while this may be largely considered unremarkable, the comments from Cheltenham chairman Paul Baker should be of concern to the other 22 clubs in next season’s League Two:

I’ve heard the package he’s on and he wouldn’t get that at a lot of clubs in League One, it’s staggering. It shows the money someone is putting in at Crawley to sustain the wage bill. They’re not doing it on gates.”

The rise of Crawley was well publicised last season during their extraordinary FA Cup run which was only ended in the fifth round, following a commendable performance in losing 1-0 at Manchester United. They earned promotion with a stunning 105 points – only losing three games all season, the last of which was on the 16th October 2010 – and in the FA Cup defeated League One Swindon, Championship Derby and League Two Torquay on route to Old Trafford.

More notable, however, is their financial strength that led to such remarkable results. Some £600k was apparently spent on transfer fees alone last season – astonishing for the Conference, and last season was a higher spend than all of the League Two clubs combined – while the aftermath of Derby’s 2-1 FA Cup defeat saw Rams manager Nigel Clough reveal some of his players were on lower wages than some of the Crawley players. True, Derby’s efforts to trim their sizeable wage bill will have caused them to pay very low wages for new signings, but it is still a startling fact that a club then-three divisions lower had greater financial capability.

For next season’s League Two campaign, the consequences of Crawley’s continuing high spending are becoming clear. Crawley are not just widely considered favourites for promotion, but in one bookie’s eyes ODDS ON favourites to climb straight into League One. Over the last few years, recently promoted teams into the Football League – with nothing like the resources Crawley enjoy – have had little trouble ascending into England’s third tier. It would seem the type of forwards momentum exhibited by the likes of Exeter and Stevenage will be replicated at the Broadfield Stadium next season.

The big question is how fair that is on the rest of League Two – just as whether Crawley’s spending was fair on Conference clubs last season. As Cheltenham’s Baker said, it’s not being achieved on their gates (average 2,535 last season, while the Robins’ – who couldn’t match the wages Town offered for Thomas – averaged 2,980).

The actual source of Crawley’s financial support has not been disclosed to date, with the financial backers brought to the club by late chairman Bruce Winfield wishing to remain anonymous. Before these backers arrived Crawley, who had suffered significant financial problems for many seasons, were said to be losing £400,000 a year. To go from this to suddenly spending £600k on players such as City’s Scott Neilson – not to mention the wages being paid for persuading talented players like Sergio Torres to step down to non-league – should be considered troubling.

Crawley’s owners may have perfectly good reasons for remaining anonymous, and there is no evidence to suggest the club or their backers are acting illegally, but the mystery surrounding the ownership issue is not good for the wider game.

And it makes for an interesting test for the Football League. The comparisons between Crawley’s financial might next season and Notts County in 2009/10 are obvious. County, bought by the enigmatic Munto Finance, spent unprecedented sums of money at this level to build a squad that eventually won the division at a canter. In County’s case, however, it was all part of an epic swindle that almost ended with the club collapsing.

The validity of the promotion they achieved is still hugely questionable, and for the rest of League Two the distorting affects it had on that season are still felt today. Fourth-placed Morecambe, for example, might feel a sense of injustice that they missed out on promotion to a club who were bending the rules. The 5-0 defeat City suffered on the opening day immediately put Stuart McCall under pressure and set the mood for a difficult season.

Yet the Football League failed to get to grips with County at all. The fit and proper rules in place were easily bypassed by County’s owners, and their inaction almost saw the world’s oldest professional football club go out of business. Like with Crawley, the FA claimed they had seen the necessary documents from Notts County that apparently proved the fit and propeness of Munto. Equally poor has been the Football League’s failure to establish the true owners of Leeds United, and the situation was only cleared up when the Elland Road club looked to be on the brink of the Premier League but were warned they might not be allowed in it if the ownership matter remained unresolved.

As a supporter of a club entering League Two next season I want to know that there is a level playing field. After Notts County, the Football Authorities have lost the trust that they can be left to ensure that publicly hidden ownership is for the good of the game. Fair play must not only be the case, it must be seen to be the case.

There is nothing to suggest the owners of Crawley Town are as crooked as Munto Finance or acting as dubiously as Leeds chairman Ken Bates, but in the interests of fair and honest competition they surely cannot be allowed to remain annoymous while the rest of the Football League must follow the rules. If Crawley’s owners are whiter than white – and let’s hope they are – they should have nothing to fear in revealing themselves to the authorities and their own supporters.

But beyond that, this ongoing situation of football clubs living beyond their means is not one to be encouraged. Crawley, like many other clubs in England, most notably Chelsea, apparently do not operate in a self-sustainable way; meaning they are at the whims of the investors and will be left in an almighty mess should they withdraw their backing. If it is wrong to compare Crawley to Notts County, the lessons of Gretna’s rise up the Scottish leagues and subsequent demise should be noted by all.

Crawley’s summer spending isn’t going to end with Thomas, and come August it looks likely they will have built a squad good enough to romp League Two. It doesn’t seem fair and, as long as the sources of their financial capabilities remains anonymous, there will be those crying foul over their approach and many others hoping it all comes tumbling down for probably the least welcome Football League newcomers of all time.

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